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The Best Prize of My Life

The Best Prize of My Life
  • YEAR BORN 1967




 I grew up in the quiet, green outskirts of Tampere, Finland. My family was not very religious but valued education and good manners. My mother is German, and when I was little, I would occasionally spend time in West Germany, where my grandparents lived.

 I have liked sports since childhood. In my early years, I played all kinds of sports, but when I was about 14, I made the choice to concentrate on tennis. By the age of 16, I was training two or three times a day​—I had two professional training sessions and then practiced on my own in the evening. I was fascinated by the different aspects of the game; playing tennis was a way to challenge myself both mentally and physically. Although I enjoyed associating with my friends and having a beer every now and then, I never got into trouble because of drugs or alcohol. My life revolved around tennis​—it was my priority.

 I started playing in ATP tournaments when I was 17. a After winning a number of tournaments, I gained national popularity. At the age of 22, I was among the top 50 tennis players in the world.

 For years, I traveled around the world playing professional tennis. I saw some fascinating places, but I also became aware of many global problems, including crime, drug abuse, and environmental issues. For example, while in the United States, we were told not to visit certain areas in some cities because of the high crime rate. All of this bothered me. Moreover, even though I was doing something I loved, at the end of the day, I felt empty inside.


 My girlfriend, Sanna, had started to study the Bible with Jehovah’s Witnesses. I was a bit amused to see this religious side of her, but I had no objection to her studying. In 1990 we got married, and she was baptized as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses the next year. As for me, I did not consider myself a religious person, though I did believe that there is a God. I remembered that my German grandmother used to read the Bible a lot, and she had even taught me how to pray.

 One day, when Sanna and I were visiting with a Witness couple, the husband, Kari, showed me the Bible’s prophecy concerning “the last days.” (2 Timothy 3:​1-5) This really struck me, as I realized this explained why things are so bad in the world. That day, we did not talk much more about religion. From that moment, however, I started to have conversations with Kari about the Bible, and everything that I learned made sense. My busy life and frequent travels made it difficult for us to meet regularly, but Kari was not deterred. He would simply reply by letter to the questions I raised during our study sessions. All the deep questions of life were answered logically in the Bible, and little by little, I started to see its overall theme​—that the Kingdom of God will bring God’s purpose to a completion. Learning God’s name, Jehovah, and seeing what he has done for us made a deep impression on me. (Psalm 83:18) What struck me the most was his provision of the ransom sacrifice​—it was not just a technical arrangement or a legal formality but an expression of God’s love. (John 3:​16) I also learned that I had the opportunity to become God’s friend and live forever in a peaceful paradise. (James 4:8) I began to ask myself, “How can I show my gratitude?”

 I took a long look at my life. I was learning from the Bible that the greatest happiness comes from giving, and I felt the desire to share my beliefs with others. (Acts 20:35) As a professional athlete, I was away from home about 200 days a year participating in tournaments. Our family’s whole life was centered on me​—my training, my routine, my career. I realized that I had to make a change.

 I knew that quitting a promising sports career for religious reasons would be a decision that many would not understand. But the opportunity to know Jehovah better and have everlasting life was far more valuable than any prize I could ever win playing tennis, so deciding what to do was quite easy. I was determined not to pay attention to what other people might say​—this was my decision to make. A Bible verse that especially encouraged me to resist such pressure was Psalm 118:6: “Jehovah is on my side; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?”

 About this time, some sponsors offered me a lucrative deal that would enable me to play professional tennis, worry free, for years to come. However, my mind was already made up, so I turned down the offer and eventually quit playing in ATP tournaments. I continued to study the Bible, and on July 2, 1994, I was baptized as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses.


 In my case, it did not take a personal tragedy to make me think about God. Nor did I consider myself a person who was searching for the truth. I felt that my life was fairly good and that I could not ask for more. Yet, unexpectedly, as if Bible truth had been waiting for me to find it, I discovered that life has a deeper meaning, and my life has become far better than I could have imagined! Our family is stronger and more united than ever. And I’m very glad that my three sons have followed in my footsteps​—not as sportsmen, but as Christians.

 I still enjoy playing tennis. Throughout the years I have been able to make a living by working in tennis-related activities, for example, as a coach and as a manager of a tennis center. But my life is no longer centered on sports. Before, I would train many hours every week to become a better tennis player, a champion. Now, as a full-time evangelizer, I’m happy to use my time in helping others to learn and apply the Bible principles that changed my life. I find the greatest happiness in giving priority to my relationship with Jehovah God and to sharing with others my hope for a brighter future.​—1 Timothy 6:​19.

a ATP stands for Association of Tennis Professionals. It is the governing body of men’s professional tennis circuits. The ATP Tour includes several professional tournaments with points and cash prizes awarded to winners. The total points scored in tournaments determine the player’s world ranking.