The Bible Changes Lives
How did a man who began smoking marijuana and tobacco while young find the strength to break the habit? What enabled a violent gang member to control his anger and overcome racial hatred? Consider what each of them has to say.
NAME: HEINRICH MAAR
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN: KAZAKHSTAN
HISTORY: MARIJUANA AND TOBACCO ADDICT
MY PAST: I was born in southern Kazakhstan, about 70 miles [120 km] from the city of Tashkent. The area was dry and hot in summer, with temperatures reaching 110 degrees Fahrenheit [45°C], and in winter the temperature dropped to about 15 degrees [−10°C]—ideal conditions for growing both grapes and marijuana.
My parents were of German descent. Both were evangelical Christians but did not practice their religion. However, they did teach me to recite the Our Father from memory. When I was 14 years old, my mother and older sister studied the Bible for a while with Jehovah’s Witnesses. Once, I listened in when the two Witnesses who studied with my mother showed her the divine name, Jehovah, in her own old Bible. That impressed me. Mother discontinued the study, and my interest in spiritual things remained undeveloped. Even so, sometime later at school, our teacher repeated all sorts of false stories about the so-called sect of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Since I had been to some meetings of Jehovah’s Witnesses with my sister, I told my teacher that the things she was repeating were not true.
When I turned 15, I was sent to Leningrad, now St. Petersburg, Russia, to learn a trade. I shared with my roommates the little I had learned about Jehovah. However, I started to smoke. When visiting my home in Kazakhstan, it was easy for me to buy marijuana, even though it was illegal to do so. I also drank too much vodka and homemade wine.
I finished trade school and then enlisted in the Soviet army for two years. Nevertheless, some of the facts that I had learnedfrom the Bible when I was young stayed with me. As opportunities came up, I talked to my fellow soldiers about Jehovah and defended the Witnesses when lies were told about them.
After finishing military service, I moved to Germany. While in a camp for immigrants, I received a copy of a Bible study handbook produced by the Witnesses. I read it with great enthusiasm and decided that what it said was the truth. However, I was unable to break my addiction to tobacco and marijuana. After a while, I moved to the vicinity of the city of Karlsruhe. There I met one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, and he began studying the Bible with me.
HOW THE BIBLE CHANGED MY LIFE: For a long time, I had a feeling that the Bible was God’s Word. And after reading the Bible study handbook I received, I was convinced that the Bible answered all the important questions in life. Still, it took me some time to change my habits. Eventually, I took to heart the Bible’s counsel at 2 Corinthians 7:1 and made up my mind to cleanse myself of “every defilement of flesh and spirit,” which meant giving up marijuana and tobacco.
I was able to stop smoking marijuana almost immediately. But it took six long months to free myself of the tobacco habit. One day the Witness conducting the Bible study with me asked, “What is the purpose of your life?” That really got me thinking about my addiction to tobacco. Several times I had tried to stop smoking. Now, though, I decided to pray before I reached for a cigarette rather than ask God for forgiveness afterward. In 1993, I set a day when I would quit. With Jehovah’s help, I haven’t touched a cigarette since.
HOW I HAVE BENEFITED: Now that I am free of the expensive and damaging addiction to marijuana and tobacco, my health has improved. Today, I have the privilege of being a volunteer worker at the Germany branch office of Jehovah’s Witnesses. I am so glad that I learned to apply the Bible’s wisdom in my life! Knowing what the Bible teaches has given my life real purpose.
NAME: TITUS SHANGADI
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN: NAMIBIA
HISTORY: VIOLENT GANG MEMBER
MY PAST: I grew up in a rural village in the Ohangwena region of northern Namibia. People in my village were beaten and killed during the war that was fought in this region during the 1980’s. In my village, a boy was considered manly only if he was a good fighter and could beat up other boys. So I learned to fight!
When I completed school, I went to live with my uncle in the coastal town of Swakopmund.Soon after my arrival, I joined a gang of rebellious young men. We would go to places in town where black men were not welcome, such as hotels and bars, just to provoke fights. On several occasions, we fought with security guards and the police. Every night I equipped myself with a sharp, long knife or a panga, a machete, to be ready to attack anyone who got in my way.
One night while fighting with a rival gang, I was almost killed. An opposing gang member came at me from behind and was about to chop my head off when a fellow gang member knocked him unconscious. Despite this brush with death, violence continued to rule my life. If I got into an argument with anyone, man or woman, I would always be the one to strike the first blow.
HOW THE BIBLE CHANGED MY LIFE: When I first met one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, the woman read to me verses from Psalm 37 and then told me that the Bible book of Revelation held other wonderful promises for the future. But since she did not say where in the book these promises were, I got ahold of a Bible and read the whole of Revelation that night. I loved the promise I read at Revelation 21:3, 4 that “death will be no more, neither will mourning nor outcry nor pain be anymore.” When the Witnesses returned, I accepted the offer of a Bible study.
It was very difficult to change my way of thinking and acting. But I learned from Acts 10:34, 35 that “God is not partial, but in every nation the man that fears him and works righteousness is acceptable to him.” I also worked hard to apply Romans 12:18: “If possible, as far as it depends upon you, be peaceable with all men.”
In addition to learning to control my anger, I also had to break a strong addiction to tobacco. Often, with tears in my eyes, I prayed to Jehovah to help me. But at first I obviously did things the wrong way, saying that I was smoking my “last” cigarette and then praying afterward. The Witness who conducted the Bible study with me helped me see the value of praying before I picked up a cigarette. I also needed to avoid being around others who were smoking. Further, I followed the suggestion to speak to my coworkers about how bad smoking was. This really helped, for it cut off my access to free cigarettes—the other smokers at work would no longer offer them to me.
Eventually, I was able to quit smoking and broke away from my former lifestyle. After six months of learning and applying Bible principles, I qualified to be baptized as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
HOW I HAVE BENEFITED: I became convinced that Jehovah’s Witnesses practice the true religion when I saw the love evident among them, no matter what their race or color. Even before I was baptized as a Witness, a white member of the congregation invited me to his house to share a meal. It was like a dream. I had never before sat down peacefully with a white person, let alone shared a meal in his home. Now I was part of a genuine international brotherhood.
In the past, security guards and the police had tried to force me to change my way of thinking and acting, but they did not succeed. Only the Bible had the power to help me change my personality and to become a happy man.
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“Often, with tears in my eyes, I prayed to Jehovah to help me”