What Attracted Me to Jehovah’s Witnesses
As told by Tomás Orosco
The first time I attended a meeting of the Witnesses at their Kingdom Hall, a little boy gave a talk. Although he was barely able to see over the speaker’s stand, his poise and skill were remarkable. I was truly impressed.
THE audience, I could see, was paying rapt attention. Since I had served as a Bolivian military diplomat to the United States, a commander of the armed forces, and a personal assistant to the president, I was used to receiving respect. But the respect this child received caused me to reexamine my goals in life.
My father died in the mid-1930’s, in the Chaco War between Paraguay and Bolivia. Soon afterward, I was sent to a Catholic boarding school. For many years, I attended daily Mass, where we sang hymns, listened to catechism, and repeated memorized prayers. I even served as an altar boy and sang in the choir. Yet, I never read the Bible; in fact, I had never seen one.
I enjoyed the religious holy days because they were more like a party, and I liked the change of routine. But the priests and others who taught religion were harsh. They repelled rather than attracted me. I felt I had gone as far as I could with religion.
Military Order Attracted Me
One fine sunny day, two smartly dressed young military officers came to my hometown, Tarija. They were on leave from La Paz, Bolivia’s principal city. They walked through the main plaza with ease and grace. I was impressed with their regal, clean, dignified appearance. They were sporting green dress uniforms, complete with a hat that had a shiny brim. Right then and there, I decided to become a military officer. I thought their lives must be rich with experiences and filled with honorable deeds.
In 1949, when I was 16, I was admitted to Bolivia’s military college. My older brother accompanied me in the long line of young men that stretched up to the gate to the barracks. He introduced me to the lieutenant, with a request that he take good care of me. Then he put in a word of recommendation in my behalf. When he left, I received the customary greeting for new recruits. I was knocked to the ground and told, “We will see who recommends whom here!” Such was my introduction to military discipline and intimidation. However, I was resilient, and nothing more than my pride was hurt.
In time, I learned how to wage war and became a respected military officer. But through experience, I learned that the clean and dignified exterior of military personnel can be misleading.
Achieving a Distinguished Position
Early in my career, I trained aboard the Argentine Navy battle cruiser General Belgrano, which could accommodate over a thousand personnel. Before World War II, it had been launched in the United States as the USS Phoenix and later survived the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, in 1941.
Eventually, I ascended through the ranks and became second in command of Bolivia’s Navy, which patrols the waterways that form Bolivia’s frontiers. These waterways included the rivers of the Amazon Basin, as well as the highest navigable lake in the world, Lake Titicaca.
In the meantime, in May 1980, I was chosen to be part of a commission of military diplomats sent to Washington, D.C., the capital of the United States. A top-ranking officer was chosen from each branch of service—army, air force, and navy—and I was named coordinator of the group because of my seniority. I lived in the United States for almost two years and later became the personal assistant to the president of Bolivia.
As a military commander, I was obligated to attend church every Sunday. The involvement of the army chaplain and the priests in revolutions and wars left me disillusioned with religion. I knew that the position of the churches in supporting such bloodshed was wrong. Yet, instead of such hypocrisy causing me to abandon religion, it nudged me to search for spiritual truth. I had never read the Bible, so I began to pick it up from time to time and read random texts.
Orderliness at the Kingdom Hall
To my surprise, my wife, Manuela, started studying the Bible with one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, a missionary named Janet. Later, Manuela began attending meetings at their place of worship, the Kingdom Hall. I had no problem with driving her there, but I didn’t want to attend. I assumed that the meetings would be noisy and emotional.
One day Manuela asked if I would accept a visit from Janet’s husband. At first, I resisted the proposal. Then I thought that with all my religious training, I would be able to refute anything he could say. When I first met Ian, it was his demeanor that impressed me—not particularly what he said. He didn’t try to embarrass me with his training and Bible knowledge. Rather, he was kind and respectful.
The following week, I decided to go to the Kingdom Hall where, as I mentioned at the outset, I heard the little boy speak. As I listened to him read and explain texts from the Bible book of Isaiah, I knew I had found a unique organization. It is ironic that as a youth, I wanted to be a respected military officer, yet now I wanted to be like that boy and provide Bible instruction. It was as if my heart suddenly softened and became receptive.
As time went by, I was also struck by the punctuality of the Witnesses and the cordial way they always greeted me and made me feel at home. Their clean, neat dress also impressed me. What I especially liked was the good order of the meetings—if a certain talk was scheduled, that is exactly what I would hear that day. I could appreciate that this was discipline based on love, not intimidation.
After my first meeting, I agreed to study the Bible with Ian. We used the book You Can Live Forever in Paradise on Earth as a study guide. * I can still remember the third chapter, with its picture of a bishop blessing the troops before a battle. I didn’t doubt its accuracy for a moment because with my own eyes, I had seen that very thing happen. At the Kingdom Hall, I obtained the book Reasoning From the Scriptures. When I read what the Bible says about neutrality, I knew I had some changes to make. I decided never to return to the Catholic Church, and I began regularly attending meetings at the Kingdom Hall. I also made plans to retire from the military.
Progressing Toward Baptism
A few weeks later, I heard that the congregation would be cleaning the coliseum that was to be used for an upcoming convention. I was excited about attending and went along to help with cleaning the facilities. I worked right along with the others, truly enjoying the work and association. As I was sweeping the floor, a young man approached and asked if I was the admiral.
“Yes,” I replied.
“I can’t believe it!” he cried in amazement. “An admiral is sweeping the floor!” A high-ranking officer would never be seen picking up a piece of paper, let alone cleaning the floor. The man had been my personal military chauffeur and was now one of Jehovah’s Witnesses!
Cooperation Based on Love
Military order is based on respect for rank, which had become in me a deeply embedded concept. For instance, I remember asking if some of Jehovah’s Witnesses were higher than others by virtue of their positions of responsibility or the tasks they performed. My view regarding rank and position was still deeply ingrained, but it was soon to change dramatically.
About that time—in 1989—I learned that a member of the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses from New York was scheduled to visit Bolivia and give a talk in the coliseum. I looked forward to seeing how an “elite” member of the organization would be treated. I thought that one with such responsibility would arrive with a certain amount of pomp and fanfare.
Well, when the meeting started, there was no indication that anyone special had arrived, and I began to wonder. It happened that sitting next to me and Manuela was an elderly couple. Manuela noticed that the wife had an English songbook, so during a break in the program, Manuela began conversing with the woman. But after that the couple left.
How surprised both of us were when later the woman’s husband walked to the platform to deliver the main talk! In that moment, in my mind, everything I had learned in the military about rank, respect, power, and position was rewritten. “Imagine that,” I said afterward, “the brother sitting with us in those uncomfortable stadium seats was a member of the Governing Body!”
I smile now when I think of how many times Ian had tried to help me understand Jesus’ words found at Matthew 23:8: “All you are brothers.”
Preaching for the First Time
When I completed my military obligations, Ian invited me to share in house-to-house preaching with him. (Acts 20:20) The neighborhood we went to was one I was hoping to avoid—it was filled with military housing. A general whom I especially wanted to avoid answered the door. I felt nervous and scared, especially when he noted my briefcase and Bible and asked with disdain, “What happened to you?”
After a quick prayer, a feeling of confidence and calm swept over me. The general listened to my presentation and even accepted some Bible literature. That experience encouraged me to dedicate my life to Jehovah. I symbolized my dedication by water baptism on January 3, 1990.
In time, my wife, my son, and my daughter also became Jehovah’s Witnesses. I now enjoy serving in the congregation as an elder and full-time preacher of the good news of God’s Kingdom. The most precious privilege I have is to know Jehovah and be known by him. This eclipses any rank or position anyone could aspire to or reach. Indeed, orderliness should not be harsh and unyielding but warm and caring. Jehovah is a God of order, but more important, he is a God of love.—1 Corinthians 14:33, 40; 1 John 4:8.
^ par. 21 Published by Jehovah’s Witnesses but now out of print.
[Picture on page 13]
With my brother Renato, in 1950
[Picture on page 13]
Attending a social event together with military personnel from China and other countries