“STOP talking to me,” Araceli, my younger sister, shouted. “I don’t want to listen to anything else about your religion. It makes me feel sick. I hate you!” Even at 91 years of age, I can still remember how painful it was to hear those words. But as Ecclesiastes 7:8 says, “better is the end of a matter than its beginning,” and that was true in our case.
Felisa: I came from a very devout family. In fact, 13 of our relatives were priests or members of Catholic orders. Pope John Paul II even beatified my mother’s cousin, a priest who taught in a Catholic school. Ours was also a humble family. My father was a blacksmith, and my mother worked in the fields. I was the eldest of eight children.
When I was 12, the Spanish Civil War broke out. After the war, my father was imprisoned. His liberal ideas displeased the dictatorial government. My mother struggled to feed the family, so a friend recommended that she send my three younger sisters
Araceli: We were only 14, 12, and 10 years old at the time, and the separation from our family was very difficult. In Bilbao we did cleaning work. Two years later, the nuns transferred us to a large convent in Zaragoza that cared for elderly people. Our job was to clean the kitchen, exhausting work for young teenagers.
Felisa: When my sisters went to Zaragoza, my mother and the local priest, who was also my uncle, decided that I should go to work at the same convent. They thought that the move would keep me away from a local boy who was showing an interest in me. Since I was a very religious girl, I liked the idea of staying at a convent for a while. I used to attend Mass every day, and I had even thought of becoming a missionary like a cousin of mine who was a friar in Africa.
The nuns did nothing to encourage my desire to serve God in other lands, and I felt imprisoned by convent life. So a year later, I decided to return home to take care of my uncle, the priest. Besides doing housework, I recited the Rosary with him every evening. I also liked to arrange the church flowers and dress the images of the virgin and the “saints.”
Araceli: Meanwhile, our life in the convent changed. After I took my initial vows, the nuns decided to separate us girls. Ramoni stayed in Zaragoza, Lauri went to Valencia, and I was sent to Madrid, where I took my second set of vows. The Madrid convent provided lodgings for students, elderly people, and other visitors, so there was a tremendous amount of work to do. I worked in the convent infirmary.
Frankly, I expected the life of a nun to be more rewarding. I had looked forward to reading and understanding the Bible. But no one talked about God or Jesus, and we did not use the Bible. I just learned some Latin, studied the lives of the “saints,” and worshipped Mary. Everything else was hard physical labor.
I began to experience anxiety, and I talked to the mother superior. I told her that it did not make sense for me to work hard so that others could line their pockets while my family needed my help. She locked me in a cell, hoping that this would change my mind and deter me from leaving the convent.
On three occasions, the nuns released me, merely to see if I still wanted to leave. Because of my determination, they told me to state in writing, “I am leaving because I prefer to serve Satan rather than God.” That requirement shocked me, and although I was desperate to leave the convent, I could never write those words. Finally I asked for a confessor, and I told him what had happened. He arranged for the diocese to transfer me to my previous convent in Zaragoza. After a few months there, I was permitted to leave. Soon afterward, Lauri and Ramoni also left the convent.
A “FORBIDDEN” BOOK DIVIDES US
Felisa: In time, I married and moved to Cantabria. I still went to Mass regularly, and one Sunday I heard a startling announcement from the pulpit. The priest angrily shouted, “Look at this book!” and pointed at the book The Truth That Leads to Eternal Life. He continued, “If someone has given you a copy, give it to me or throw it away!”
I did not have a copy, but I wanted one right away. As it happened, a few days later two Witnesses knocked on my door and offered me the “forbidden” book. That same night, I read it, and when the women returned, I agreed to study the Bible with them.
The truth soon touched my heart. My former religious devotion turned into a deep love for Jehovah and a zeal for the ministry. I got baptized in 1973. Although I had few opportunities to share the truth with my family, I did do so as much as I could. As I explained at the outset, they vigorously opposed my beliefs, especially my sister Araceli.
Araceli: My negative experiences in the convent had made me bitter. However, I kept on attending Mass on Sundays, and I daily recited the Rosary. I still had an intense desire to understand the Bible, and I asked God to help me. But when my sister Felisa talked to me about her newfound beliefs, she sounded so passionate that I thought she was a fanatic. I strongly disagreed with her.
After a few years, I returned to Madrid for work and I got married. In time, I became very skeptical. I noticed that people who regularly attended Mass did not practice the teachings of the Gospels. So I stopped going to church. I no longer believed in “saints,” in confession, or in hellfire. And I even got rid of all my images. I did not know whether I was doing the right thing. I felt disappointed, but I kept praying to God: “I want to get to know you. Help me!” I remember that Jehovah’s Witnesses called at my home on several occasions, but I never opened the door. I did not trust any religion.
In the early 1980’s, my sisters Lauri and Ramoni, who were living in France and Spain respectively, started to study the Bible with the Witnesses. I assumed that they had been misled, as Felisa had been. Later, I met a neighbor, Angelines, who became a close friend. She too was one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Time and again, Angelines and her husband asked me to study the Bible. They perceived that behind my facade of skepticism was a thirst for Bible knowledge. Eventually, I told them: “All right. I will agree to study with you but only if I can use my own Bible,” referring to my Nácar-Colunga Bible translation.
THE BIBLE FINALLY UNITES US
Felisa: When I got baptized in 1973, there were about 70 Witnesses in the city of Santander, the capital of the province of Cantabria, Spain. We had a vast territory, so we traveled by bus and later by car to preach throughout the province. We went from village to village until we had visited the hundreds of villages in the region.
Over the years, I have had the privilege of conducting many Bible studies, and 11 of the students got baptized. Most of them were Catholic. Because I had once been a fervent believer myself, I knew I had to be patient and understanding. I realized that they needed time to let go of strongly held beliefs and that the Bible and Jehovah’s holy spirit had to touch their hearts to help them identify the truth. (Heb. 4:12) My husband, Bienvenido, who had been a policeman, got baptized in 1979, and my mother began to study the Bible shortly before she died.
Araceli: I was very suspicious when I started to study the Bible with the Witnesses. But as the weeks went by, I noticed that my feelings of bitterness vanished. What impressed me most about the Witnesses was that they practiced what they preached. Faith replaced skepticism, and I felt much happier. Even some neighbors told me, “Araceli, keep going on the way you have chosen!”
I remember praying, “Thank you, Jehovah, for not giving up on me and for giving me so many opportunities to find what I was looking for
Felisa: Now at the age of 91, I am a widow and do not have the strength I once had. But I do read the Bible every day, attend meetings when my health permits, and enjoy participating in the ministry as much as I can.
Araceli: Possibly because I was a nun, I like to give a witness to all the priests and nuns I meet in the ministry. I have left many publications with them and have had some interesting conversations. I recall one priest who, after several visits, told me: “Araceli, I wholly agree with you, but where could I go at my age? What would my parishioners and my family say?” I replied: “And what will God say?” He nodded sadly, but at the time, he did not have the courage to continue searching for the truth.
I remember a special moment in my life. It was when my husband first said he wanted to accompany me to a meeting. Although he was over 80 years old at the time, he never missed a meeting after that. He studied the Bible and became an unbaptized publisher. I have fond memories of us going in the ministry together. He died two months before the day he was going to get baptized.
Felisa: One of the greatest satisfactions in my life has been seeing my three younger sisters, who initially opposed me, become my spiritual sisters. How much we have enjoyed being together, talking about our dear God, Jehovah, and his Word! Finally, my sisters and I are united spiritually. *
^ par. 29 Araceli, Felisa, and Ramoni