IT WAS early summer in 1970. I lay in my hospital bed at the Valley Forge General Hospital, Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, in the United States. A male nurse was taking my blood pressure every half hour. I was a 20-year-old soldier suffering from a serious infectious illness. The nurse, who was a few years older than I was, looked troubled. As my blood pressure continued to drop, I said, “You’ve never seen anybody die before, have you?” The color left his face, and he answered, “No, I haven’t.”
At that time, my future looked bleak. But how did I end up in the hospital? Well, let me tell you some of my life story.
MY INTRODUCTION TO WAR
I became ill while serving as an operating room technician during the war in Vietnam. I enjoyed helping the sick and injured and had the goal of becoming a surgeon. I landed in Vietnam in July 1969. Like all new arrivals, I was allowed one week of orientation so that I could adapt to the different time zone and the intense heat.
Soon after I reported for duty at a surgical hospital in the Mekong Delta, in Dong Tam, numerous helicopters filled with casualties arrived. I was very patriotic and loved to work, so I wanted to get involved right away. The wounded were prepared and then rushed to the small air-conditioned metal containers that served as operating rooms. There a surgeon, an anesthetist, a scrub nurse, and a circulating nurse were crammed into the tiny space, doing their best to save lives. I noticed that some cargo in large, black bags was not unloaded from the helicopters. I was told that those bags contained the body parts of soldiers who had been blown apart in battle. That was my introduction to war.
MY SEARCH FOR GOD
As a young person, I had some exposure to the truth taught by Jehovah’s Witnesses. My dear mother studied the Bible with the Witnesses, but she did not progress toward baptism. I thoroughly enjoyed sitting in on my mother’s studies. About that same time, I went by a Kingdom Hall with my stepfather. I asked him, “What is that?” He answered, “Don’t ever go near those people!” Because I loved and trusted my stepfather, I took his advice. Thus, I lost contact with Jehovah’s Witnesses.
After returning from Vietnam, I felt a need for God in my life. Painful memories had numbed me emotionally. It seemed that no one really understood what was going on in Vietnam. I remember demonstrations where protesters called the U.S. soldiers baby killers because of reports that innocent children were being slaughtered in the war.
To satisfy my spiritual hunger, I began attending services at different churches. I had always had a love for God but was not impressed with what I experienced in the churches. Finally, I ended up going to a Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Delray Beach, Florida. It was on a Sunday in February 1971.
When I entered, the public talk was about to end, so I stayed for the study of The Watchtower that followed. I do not remember the subject being discussed, but I still remember the small children who were turning the pages of their Bibles to locate scriptures. That really impressed me! I quietly listened and observed. As I was leaving the Kingdom Hall, a dear brother who was about 80 years old approached me. His name was Jim Gardner. He held out a book entitled The Truth That Leads to Eternal Life and asked, “Would you please accept this?” We set up an appointment for Thursday morning to have our first Bible study.
That Sunday night I had to work. I was employed at a private hospital in Boca Raton, Florida, where I worked in the emergency room. My shift was from 11:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m. Since it was a quiet night, I was able to read the Truth book. A senior nurse approached me, grabbed the book out of my hands, looked at the cover and yelled, “You’re not going to be one of them, are you?” I grabbed my Truth book back and said, “I’m only halfway through the book, but it sure looks like it!” She left me alone, and I finished reading the book that night.
I began my first Bible study with Brother Gardner by asking, “So, what are we going to study?” He answered, “The book that I gave you.” I said, “I’ve already read it.” Brother Gardner kindly replied, “Well, let’s just consider this first chapter.” I was amazed at how much I had missed. He had me look up many scriptures in my red-letter edition of the King James Version of the Bible. I was finally learning about the true God, Jehovah. Brother Gardner, whom I affectionately called Jim, studied three chapters of the Truth book with me that morning. Every Thursday morning thereafter, we studied three chapters. I thoroughly enjoyed those studies. What a privilege it was for me to be taught by that anointed brother who had personally known Charles T. Russell!
After a few weeks, I was approved to be a publisher of the good news. Jim helped me with my many concerns, including the challenge of the house-to-house ministry. (Acts 20:20) As Jim worked along with me, I came to enjoy the preaching work. I still regard the ministry as my greatest privilege. How delightful it is to be God’s fellow worker!
MY FIRST LOVE FOR JEHOVAH
My love for Jehovah has helped me to deal with painful wartime memories and many other trials
I recall a special day in the spring of 1971. I had recently been evicted from the condominium where my parents had allowed me to live. My stepfather was not going to have one of Jehovah’s Witnesses on his property! I did not have much money at that time. The hospital where I worked paid me every two weeks, and I had just spent most of my check on dress clothes so that I could engage in the ministry and properly represent Jehovah. I had some money saved, but it was in a bank in Michigan, the state I grew up in. So I needed to live out of my car for a few days. I would shave and clean up at gas-station restrooms.
One day during the time I was living in my car, I arrived at the Kingdom Hall a couple of hours before the group met for field service. I had just finished my shift at the hospital. As I sat behind the Kingdom Hall where no one could see me, the memories of Vietnam
I have done my best, especially when going through trials and difficulties, never to lose my first love for Jehovah
I prayed as a torrent of tears poured down my cheeks. (Ps. 56:8) I began to think deeply about the resurrection hope. Then it hit me: By means of the resurrection, Jehovah God will undo all the carnage I had seen and the emotional pain I and others had experienced. God will bring those young men back to life, and they will have the opportunity to learn the truth about him. (Acts 24:15) At that point, my heart overflowed with love for Jehovah that touched the deepest part of my soul. That day remains special to me. Since then, I have done my best, especially when going through trials and difficulties, never to lose my first love for Jehovah.
JEHOVAH HAS BEEN GOOD TO ME
In war, people do terrible things. I was no exception. But I have been helped by meditating on two of my favorite scriptures. The first is Revelation 12:10, 11, which says that the Devil is conquered not only by the word of our witnessing but also by the blood of the Lamb. The second is Galatians 2:20. From that verse, I know that Christ Jesus died “for me.” Jehovah looks at me through the blood of Jesus, and He has forgiven me for what I have done. Knowing that fact has enabled me to have a cleansed conscience and has motivated me to do all I can to help others come to know the truth about our merciful God, Jehovah!
As I look back on my life, I deeply appreciate that Jehovah has always taken care of me. For example, the very day Jim found out that I was living out of my car, he put me in contact with a sister who owned a boarding house. I truly believe that Jehovah used Jim and that dear sister to provide a nice place for me to stay. Jehovah is so kind! He takes care of his faithful worshippers.
LEARNING TO BALANCE ZEAL WITH TACT
In May 1971, it became necessary for me to go to Michigan to care for some business. Before leaving the Delray Beach Congregation in Florida, I filled the trunk of my car with literature, and then I headed north on Interstate 75. The trunk was empty before I left the adjoining state of Georgia. I zealously preached the good news of the Kingdom in all sorts of places. I stopped at prisons and even placed tracts with men in the restrooms of the rest areas. To this day, I wonder if any of those seeds that were planted ever sprouted.
I must confess, however, that when I first learned the truth, I was not very tactful, especially when I talked to my immediate family. Because my first love for Jehovah burned so strongly within me, I boldly but bluntly preached to them. I dearly love my brothers, John and Ron, and forcefully shared the truth with them. I later had to apologize for my insensitive manner. However, I never cease praying that they will accept the truth. Since then, Jehovah has educated me, and I have become more tactful when I preach and teach.
OTHER LOVES IN MY LIFE
While I certainly remember my love for Jehovah, I do not forget the other loves in my life. My next love is my precious wife, Susan. I knew that I wanted a partner who would assist me in carrying out the Kingdom work. Susan is a strong, spiritual woman. I vividly remember visiting her one day when we were dating. Susan was sitting on the front porch of her parents’ home in Cranston, Rhode Island. She was reading The Watchtower along with her Bible. What impressed me was that she was reading one of the secondary articles and looking up the scriptures. I thought, ‘This is a spiritual woman!’ We got married in December 1971, and I am grateful that ever since, she has stayed by my side and supported me. What I really appreciate about her is that while she loves me, she loves Jehovah more.
Susan and I were blessed with two sons, Jesse and Paul. As they grew up, Jehovah was with them. (1 Sam. 3:19) Because they made the truth their own, they make Susan and me look good. They have continued to serve Jehovah because they have remembered their own first love for him. Each of them has been in full-time service for over 20 years. Also, I am proud of my two beautiful daughters-in-law, Stephanie and Racquel, whom I view as my own daughters. Both of my sons married spiritual women who love Jehovah God with all their heart and soul.
After my baptism, I served for 16 years in Rhode Island, where I developed precious friendships. I have many wonderful memories of outstanding elders with whom I served. In addition, I am grateful for traveling overseers, too numerous to mention, who had a good influence on me. What a great privilege to work along with men who have maintained their first love for Jehovah! In 1987 we moved to North Carolina to serve where the need was greater, and there we developed additional precious relationships. *
In August 2002, Susan and I accepted the invitation to become a part of the Patterson Bethel family in the United States. I worked in the Service Department, and Susan in the laundry. She loved working there! Then, in August 2005, I was given the privilege of serving as a member of the Governing Body. I felt humbled by the assignment. My dear wife was overwhelmed by the thought of the responsibility, the work, and the travel involved. Susan has never been comfortable with flying, but we do a lot of flying! Susan says that comments from other wives of Governing Body members, given in a loving way, have helped her to be determined to support me as much as possible. She certainly has done that, and I love her for it.
In my office I am surrounded by many pictures that mean so much to me! They remind me of what a great life I have enjoyed. I have already received many wonderful rewards for doing my best to remember my first love for Jehovah!