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Jehovah’s Witnesses

THE WATCHTOWER AUGUST 2011

The Bible Changes Lives

WHY did a former polygamist and opposer of Jehovah’s Witnesses decide to become a Witness? What moved a pastor of the Pentecostal Church to change his beliefs? What helped a woman with a tragic upbringing overcome her self-loathing and draw close to God? Why did a heavy-metal enthusiast become a minister of religion? Read these accounts to find the answers.

“I Have Become a Better Husband.”—RIGOBERT HOUETO

  • YEAR BORN: 1941
  • COUNTRY OF ORIGIN: BENIN
  • HISTORY: POLYGAMIST, OPPOSER OF JEHOVAH’S WITNESSES

MY PAST:

I am from Cotonou, a large city in Benin. I was raised a Catholic but did not attend church regularly. Many Catholics where I lived had multiple wives, as polygamy was legally recognized back then. I eventually married four women.

When a revolution broke out in the 1970’s, I thought that it would benefit my country. I gave the revolution my full support and became involved in politics. The revolutionaries did not like Jehovah’s Witnesses because the Witnesses remained politically neutral. I was among those who persecuted the Witnesses. When Witness missionaries were expelled from the country in 1976, I was certain that they would never return.

HOW THE BIBLE CHANGED MY LIFE:

The revolution ended in 1990. To my surprise, Witness missionaries soon appeared. I began to think that perhaps God was with these people. About that time, I changed my place of work. One of my new coworkers was a Witness, and he wasted no time in sharing his beliefs. He showed me Bible verses that describe Jehovah as a God of love and justice. (Deuteronomy 32:4; 1 John 4:8) Those qualities appealed to me. I wanted to learn more about Jehovah, so I accepted the offer of a Bible study.

Soon I began attending the meetings of Jehovah’s Witnesses. I was impressed by the genuine love that I saw—there were no distinctions of race or social class. The more I associated with the Witnesses, the more obvious it became that these were Jesus’ true followers.John 13:35.

I decided that if I wanted to serve Jehovah, I would need to leave the Catholic Church. That was not an easy step to take, as I was afraid of what others would think. After a long time and with Jehovah’s help, I mustered  up the courage and withdrew from the church.

There was yet another big change that I needed to make. My study of the Bible taught me that God does not approve of polygamy. (Genesis 2:18-24; Matthew 19:4-6) In his eyes, only my first marriage was valid. So I legally registered this marriage and dismissed my other wives, arranging for their material needs to be met. In time, two of my former wives became Jehovah’s Witnesses.

HOW I HAVE BENEFITED:

Although my wife remains a Catholic, she respects my decision to serve Jehovah. We both feel that I have become a better husband.

I used to think that I could improve my community through politics, but those efforts proved futile. Now I see that God’s Kingdom is the only solution to mankind’s problems. (Matthew 6:9, 10) I am grateful to Jehovah for showing me how to lead a truly happy life.

“It Was Not Easy to Make the Needed Changes.”—ALEX LEMOS SILVA

  • YEAR BORN: 1977
  • COUNTRY OF ORIGIN: BRAZIL
  • HISTORY: PENTECOSTAL PASTOR

MY PAST:

I was raised on the outskirts of Itu, in São Paulo State. This part of town was known for its high crime rate.

I was extremely violent and immoral. Moreover, I was involved in drug trafficking. In time, I came to realize that such a life would lead me either to jail or to the cemetery, so I quit. I then joined the Pentecostal Church, and I eventually became a pastor.

I felt that I could really help people through my ministry with the church. I even broadcast a religious program over the community radio and thus became well-known in the area. Yet, I gradually came to believe that the church, as a whole, was not concerned about the welfare of its members—it was even less concerned about honoring God. I felt that the church’s only aim was to raise money. I decided to resign from the church.

HOW THE BIBLE CHANGED MY LIFE:

When I started to study the Bible with Jehovah’s Witnesses, I could see right away that they are different from other religions. To me, two things stood out. First, Jehovah’s Witnesses do not simply talk about love of God and neighbor; they show it. Second, they do not become involved in politics or warfare. (Isaiah 2:4) Those two facts convinced me that I had found the true religion—the cramped road that leads to everlasting life.Matthew 7:13, 14.

I realized that if I wanted to be pleasing to God, I would have to make some big changes. I needed to give more attention to my family. I also needed to become more humble. It was not easy to make the needed  changes, but with Jehovah’s help, I succeeded. My wife was impressed by these changes. She had begun to study the Bible before me, but now she progressed more quickly in her studies. Soon we both knew that we wanted to become Jehovah’s Witnesses. We were baptized on the same day.

HOW I HAVE BENEFITED:

My wife and I have the joy of helping our three children to develop a close friendship with Jehovah. We are a happy family. I thank Jehovah for having drawn me to the truth found in his Word, the Bible. It really does change people’s lives! I am living proof.

“I Feel Clean, Alive, and Whole.”—VICTORIA TONG

  • YEAR BORN: 1957
  • COUNTRY OF ORIGIN: AUSTRALIA
  • HISTORY: TRAGIC CHILDHOOD

MY PAST:

I grew up in Newcastle, New South Wales. I am the eldest of seven children born to a violent, alcoholic father and a violent mother. My mother abused me both physically and verbally. She repeatedly told me that I was bad and that I would be tormented in hellfire. Such threats terrified me.

The physical injuries my mother inflicted on me often caused me to miss school. At age 11, I was taken from my parents and placed first in a government institution and later in a convent. When I turned 14, I ran away from the convent. I did not want to go back home, so I lived on the streets of Kings Cross, a Sydney suburb.

While living on the streets, I became involved with drugs, alcohol, pornography, and prostitution. One experience really frightened me. I had been staying in the flat of a nightclub owner. One evening, two men came to see him. He sent me to the bedroom, but I could overhear their conversation. The club owner was making arrangements to sell me to these men. They were going to hide me aboard a cargo ship and take me to Japan to work in a bar. I panicked, jumped from the balcony, and ran for help.

I found a man who was visiting Sydney, and I explained my situation, hoping he would give me some money. Instead, he invited me to the place where he was staying so that I could take a shower and eat something. As things turned out, I never left. One year later, we were married.

HOW THE BIBLE CHANGED MY LIFE:

When I began to study the Bible with Jehovah’s Witnesses, I experienced a range of emotions. I felt angry when I learned that Satan is the cause of evil; I had always been taught that it is God who makes us suffer. I felt great relief when I learned that he does not punish people in hellfire, a teaching that had terrified me for as long as I could remember.

 I was impressed by how the Witnesses let the Bible affect their every decision. They live their faith. I was a difficult person, but no matter what I said or did, the Witnesses treated me with love and respect.

My greatest struggle has been with feelings of worthlessness. I had a real self-loathing, and these feelings persisted long after I was baptized as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. I knew that I loved Jehovah, but I was convinced that he could never love someone like me.

A turning point came about 15 years after I was baptized. During a talk at a Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses, the speaker referred to James 1:23, 24. Those verses liken God’s Word to a mirror in which we can see ourselves the way Jehovah sees us. I began to wonder if what I saw in myself was different from what Jehovah saw. At first, I resisted this new idea. I still felt that loving me was too much to expect of Jehovah.

A few days later, I read a scripture that changed my life. The verse was Isaiah 1:18, where Jehovah is quoted as saying: “Come, now, you people, and let us set matters straight between us. . . . Though the sins of you people should prove to be as scarlet, they will be made white just like snow.” I felt as if Jehovah were speaking to me, saying: “Come on, Vicky, let’s set matters straight between us. I know you, I know your sins, I know your heart—and I love you.”

I was unable to sleep that night. I still doubted that Jehovah could love me, but I began thinking about Jesus’ ransom sacrifice. All of a sudden, it dawned on me that Jehovah had been patient with me for so long, showing me that he loved me in so many ways. Yet, I was, in effect, saying to him: “Your love is not great enough to reach me. Your Son’s sacrifice is not enough to cover me.” It was as if I had been throwing the ransom back at Jehovah. But now, at last, by meditating on this gift of the ransom, I began to feel loved by Jehovah.

HOW I HAVE BENEFITED:

I feel clean, alive, and whole. My marriage has improved, and I am happy that I can use my experiences to help others. I am coming to feel ever closer to Jehovah.

“This Was the Answer to My Prayer.”—SERGEY BOTANKIN

  • YEAR BORN: 1974
  • COUNTRY OF ORIGIN: RUSSIA
  • HISTORY: HEAVY-METAL ENTHUSIAST

MY PAST:

I was born in Votkinsk, the birthplace of the famous composer Pyotr Ilich Tchaikovsky. Our family was poor. My father had many good qualities, but he was an alcoholic, so there was always a tense atmosphere in the household.

I was not a very good student, and as the years went by, I developed an inferiority complex. I became withdrawn and distrustful of others. Attending school was  very stressful. When I had to deliver a report, for example, I was often unable to explain even basic concepts that I could express at other times. When I graduated from the eighth grade, my report card read: “Limited vocabulary, unable to express his thoughts.” Those words crushed me and left me feeling even more worthless. I began to wonder about the purpose of my life.

During my teenage years, I started drinking alcoholic beverages. At first, drinking made me feel good. But when I drank too much, my conscience bothered me. My life seemed meaningless. I began to feel more depressed, sometimes not leaving my house for days. I started thinking about suicide.

When I reached the age of 20, a new but temporary respite came. I discovered heavy-metal music. I felt energized by the music and sought out others who listened to it. I let my hair grow long, had my ears pierced, and dressed like the musicians whom I admired. Gradually, I became reckless and aggressive, often arguing with my family.

I thought that listening to heavy-metal music would make me happy, but just the opposite was happening. I was becoming a different person! And when I learned some bad things about the music stars whom I had looked up to, I felt betrayed.

Once again, I began to think about suicide—this time seriously. The only thing that stopped me was the thought of how my mother would be affected. She loved me very much, and she had done so much for me. The situation was torturous. I did not want to continue living, but I could not end my life.

To distract myself, I started reading classic Russian literature. One story involved a hero who served in a church. Suddenly I felt a burning desire to do something for God and for other people. I poured out my heart to God in prayer, something that I had never done before. I asked God to show me how I could live a purposeful life. During that prayer, I felt an amazing sense of relief. Even more amazing, though, was what happened next. Just two hours later, one of Jehovah’s Witnesses knocked on my door and offered me a Bible study. I believe that this was the answer to my prayer. That was the first day of a new, happy life for me.

HOW THE BIBLE CHANGED MY LIFE:

Although it was very difficult, I threw away everything I owned that was associated with heavy-metal music. Yet, the music stayed in my mind for a long time. Whenever I happened to walk by a place where that music was playing, I immediately thought of my past. I did not want to mix those unpleasant memories with everything good that was now taking root in my mind and heart. So I intentionally avoided such places. And whenever I was tempted to dwell on the past, I prayed fervently. Doing so helped me to experience “the peace of God that excels all thought.”Philippians 4:7.

As I studied the Bible, I learned that Christians have an obligation to share their faith with others. (Matthew 28:19, 20) I sincerely believed that I could never do that. At the same time, the new things I was learning brought me great happiness and inner peace. I knew that others needed to learn these truths too. Despite my fear, I began to talk to others about what I was learning. To my great surprise, telling others about the Bible actually boosted my self-confidence. It also strengthened these new beliefs in my own heart.

HOW I HAVE BENEFITED:

I am now happily married and have had the joy of helping a number of people learn about the Bible, including my sister and my mother. Serving God and helping others to learn about him have given my life true meaning.