IN June 1970, I lay in a hospital bed in Pennsylvania, United States. I was a 20-year-old soldier suffering from a serious infection. A male nurse was taking my blood pressure every half hour. The nurse, who was a few years older than I was, looked worried. As my blood pressure continued to drop, I said, “You’ve never seen anybody die before, have you?” His face became pale, and he answered, “No, I haven’t.” It looked as if I was not going to survive, but I did. Let me tell you some of my life story.
MY FIRST EXPERIENCES OF WAR
I became sick while working as a technician in an operating room during the war in Vietnam. I enjoyed helping the sick and injured and had the goal of becoming a surgeon. I arrived in Vietnam in July 1969. Like all new soldiers, I was allowed one week to adjust to the time difference and the heat.
I was assigned to work in an army hospital in the Mekong Delta. Many helicopters brought wounded soldiers to the hospital. I loved my country and I loved to work, so I wanted to help my fellow countrymen right away. The injured soldiers were prepared for surgery and then quickly sent to small air-conditioned metal containers that were used as operating rooms. A surgeon, an anesthetist, and two nurses did their best to save lives. I noticed large black bags that were 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 one of my first experiences of war.
MY SEARCH FOR GOD
I first heard the truth from Jehovah’s Witnesses when I was young. My mother studied the Bible with the Witnesses, but she never got baptized. Still, I really enjoyed attending those studies. One day, my stepfather and I passed by a Kingdom Hall. I asked him, “What is that?” He answered, “Don’t ever go near those people!” Because I loved and trusted my stepfather, I obeyed and no longer met with Jehovah’s Witnesses.
However, when I returned from Vietnam, I had many painful memories. Because of the things I experienced during the war, I could not feel any emotions. It seemed that no one really understood what was happening in Vietnam. I remember hearing protesters call U.S. soldiers baby killers because of reports that innocent children were being murdered. All these things made me feel that I needed a relationship with God.
In my search for God, I began to visit different churches. I always loved God, but I did not like what I saw in those churches. Eventually, I went to a Kingdom Hall in Delray Beach, Florida. My first meeting was on a Sunday in February 1971.
When I walked into the Kingdom Hall, the public talk was ending, so I stayed for the Watchtower Study. I do not remember the subject of the article, but I do remember watching the children finding the scriptures in their Bibles. I was so impressed! I just listened and watched. As I was leaving, a brother who was about 80 years old came over to me. His name was Jim Gardner. He handed me the book The Truth That Leads to Eternal Life and asked, “Would you please accept this?” I said yes, and we decided to meet for my first Bible study on Thursday morning.
After the meeting on Sunday, I had to go to work. I had a job at a hospital in Boca Raton, Florida, and was scheduled to work from 11 o’clock at night to 7 o’clock in the morning. There were not many patients that night, so I was able to read the Truth book. A nurse grabbed the book from me, looked at the cover, and demanded to know whether I was going to become one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. I grabbed the book back and told her that even though I had only read part of the book, I was definitely thinking of becoming a Witness. 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 said, “Well, let’s just consider this first chapter.” I was amazed at how many details I had missed. He asked me to look up many scriptures in my King James Version of the Bible. I was finally learning about the true God, Jehovah. Jim studied three chapters of the Truth book with me that morning. After that, we studied three chapters every Thursday morning. I enjoyed those studies very much. It was a privilege for me to be taught by that anointed brother who had known Charles T. Russell!
After a few weeks of studying, I was approved to preach the good news. Preaching from house to house was not easy for me, but Jim helped me to overcome my anxieties. (Acts 20:20) Because of his help, I learned to love the ministry. I feel that the ministry is the greatest privilege I have. I am so happy that I can be God’s fellow worker!
MY FIRST LOVE FOR JEHOVAH
Now let me tell you about something very special to me, my first love for Jehovah. (Revelation 2:4) That love for Jehovah has helped me to endure painful memories from the war and many other problems.
My love for Jehovah has helped me to endure painful memories from the war and many other problems
In 1971, I was told to leave the apartment where my parents had allowed me to live. Why? My stepfather did not want one of Jehovah’s Witnesses living there! I did not have a lot of money at that time. The hospital only paid me every two weeks, and I had just spent most of my money on clothes for the ministry because I wanted to represent Jehovah well. I had some money saved in a bank, but it was in my hometown in Michigan. So I needed to live in my car for a few days. I washed and shaved in gas-station restrooms.
One day while I was still living in my car, I finished work at the hospital and went to the Kingdom Hall a few hours before the meeting for field service. As I sat behind the Kingdom Hall where no one could see me, memories of Vietnam returned to me. It seemed that I could smell the burned human flesh and see all the blood, and I began to feel anxious. It was as if I could hear and see the young men begging me: “Am I going to make it? Am I going to make it?” I knew they would die, but I tried to comfort them and pretended that everything would be fine. As I sat there, I was overwhelmed with emotion.
Whenever I have problems in life, I do my best to remember my first love for Jehovah
I prayed to Jehovah as I cried and cried. (Psalm 56:8) I began to think seriously about the resurrection. It was then that I realized how wonderful this hope is! Jehovah will bring those young men back to life, and they will have the chance to learn the truth about him. The resurrection will undo all the pain and suffering we have experienced. (Acts 24:15) When I understood that, my love for Jehovah became stronger than ever before. That day is still special to me. Since then, whenever I have problems in life, I do my best to remember my first love for Jehovah.
JEHOVAH HAS BEEN GOOD TO ME
People do terrible things during war, and so did I. But I have been comforted by meditating on two of my favorite scriptures. The first one is Revelation 12:10, 11, which says that the Devil is conquered not only through our preaching but also by the blood of Jesus. The second is Galatians 2:20, which reminds me that Jesus died for me. Thanks to Christ’s sacrifice, Jehovah has forgiven me for what I have done. So now I have a clean conscience and a strong desire to tell others about our merciful God, Jehovah!
When I think about what I have experienced in life, it is clear to me that Jehovah has always taken good care of me. For example, the day Jim found out that I was living in my car, he introduced me to a sister who rented rooms in her home. I am sure that Jehovah used Jim and the sister to provide a good home for me. Jehovah is so kind! He takes care of his faithful worshippers.
LEARNING TO BE BOTH ZEALOUS AND TACTFUL
In May 1971, I needed to go to Michigan. So before I left Florida, I filled the trunk of my car with a lot of literature, and then I traveled north. Before I left the next state, Georgia, I had placed all the literature. I zealously preached the good news of the Kingdom everywhere I went. I preached in prisons and even gave tracts to men in the restrooms of the rest areas. I still wonder if any of the people I spoke to ever learned the truth.
I must admit that when I first learned the truth, I was not always tactful, especially when I talked to my family. Sometimes I was too direct. I love my brothers, John and Ron, very much, and when I preached to them, I tried to force them to accept my new beliefs. Later, I had to apologize. But I continue to pray that they will accept the truth. Since then, Jehovah has helped me to become more tactful when I preach and teach.
OTHERS WHOM I LOVE
My relationship with Jehovah will always be first in my life. However, there are others whom I love very much, especially my precious wife, Susan. I always wanted a wife who would help me to continue serving Jehovah. Susan is a determined woman who loves Jehovah very much. One day while we were dating, I visited her at her parents’ home in Rhode Island. There she was, sitting on the porch, reading The Watchtower along with her Bible. What impressed me was that she looked up all the scriptures, even though she was not reading a study article. I could see that her relationship with Jehovah was very important to her. We got married in December 1971. I am so thankful to have such a supportive wife. What I appreciate most is that although she loves me, she loves Jehovah even more.
Jehovah has given us two wonderful sons, Jesse and Paul. As they grew up, Jehovah guided them. (1 Samuel 3:19) They have their own personal relationship with him, and this makes us very happy. They have each served Jehovah full-time for more than 20 years. And they continue to serve him because they too have remembered their first love for him. I am also proud of my two beautiful daughters-in-law, Stephanie and Racquel, whom I view as my own daughters. I am so grateful that my sons have married women who love Jehovah with all their heart and who use their lives to serve him.
I served for 16 years in Rhode Island, where I made many friends. I still remember the excellent elders with whom I served. I am also thankful for the many traveling overseers who helped me. It has been a privilege to serve Jehovah along with men who have kept their first love for Jehovah. In 1987, we moved to North Carolina where the need was greater, and there we also made many good friends. *
In August 2002, Susan and I accepted the invitation to become members of the United States Bethel family in Patterson. I worked in the Service Department, and Susan worked in the laundry, which she loved! In August 2005, I received the privilege of becoming a member of the Governing Body. I did not feel qualified for this new assignment. Susan was also overwhelmed by the responsibility, the work, and the travel involved. She has never liked traveling by airplane; however, we travel by plane a lot. The loving advice from other wives of members of the Governing Body has been a great help to her. It makes her more determined to support me, and I love her for that!
In my office I have many wonderful pictures that remind me of what a great life I have enjoyed. I have received many blessings for doing my best to remember my first love for Jehovah!