God’s Grace in My Life
Free in Christ, Active JW wife
I’m from an Italian Catholic family in Brooklyn, New York. My grandfather was a very religious Catholic. He went to church every day and I remember him always lighting candles; he even had an altar in one of the rooms of his home. My mom and dad were not very religious, and would send me, my sister, and my brother to church, but they never went. We knew little or nothing about the Bible or any Bible stories.
I attended parochial school until the third grade. Then one day my mother transferred me to public school because she had become a Jehovah’s Witness. She was introduced to the religion by her brother. I came home from school one day to find my uncle and mother at the kitchen table with a Bible and religious books. Very unusual. Soon after that, we were attending the Watchtower meetings regularly.
I was baptized at age eleven at one of the large international assemblies at Yankee Stadium. As I grew into adulthood, I became an active Jehovah’s Witness including being in the ministry school and auxiliary pioneering. I advanced to the point of giving fifteen minute “Instruction Talks” and a few times I was called on to give the main lecture on Sunday morning, even as a visiting speaker in other congregations.
Even though it was not the common practice for us as Jehovah’s Witnesses, I went to college to study engineering. In my group of kingdom hall friends, I was the only one to go to college. After graduation, I accepted a job with IBM, married my girlfriend from the kingdom hall, and we moved out of Brooklyn to Upstate New York.
There came a time when my job at IBM was relocated one hour north of our home. Instead of moving the family, I opted to commute. I was in a car pool with four other men, but once in a while I would ride with just one of the men. He was a Christian and he would take the time in the car to witness to me about Jesus Christ. I would present to him Jehovah’s Witness doctrine, but I always had to use the magazines and books to explain myself. He only used the Bible. I realized how little I really knew about the Bible even after many years as a Jehovah’s Witness and especially about my ignorance of the early church and the teachings about Jesus Christ, grace, and salvation.
Meanwhile at my new work location, I was introduced to my new secretary who made it known on the first day that she was a born-again Christian. She would take every opportunity to share her faith with me during opportune times in the office. I found out later that she had several of her Christian friends praying for me. She was not as skilled as my carpool friend to explain doctrine and scripture, but she impressed me with her very personal relationship with God. She would speak about God as her Father and would explain the things that she would bring to Him in prayer.
One time she told me that God had given her the car she was driving as an answer to prayer. I thought that was quite an outrageous claim to make, but it made me jealous that I did not know Jehovah God in that personal way. As Jehovah’s Witnesses, we always prayed in a more general “bless everyone and the organization” style, and never prayed for specific things like she did. I clearly saw in her someone who had a personal relationship with God, a relationship that I knew I did not have.
In time, this double-teamed effort of God to get my attention did not result in my totally giving up on Jehovah’s Witnesses, but I did decide I would read the Bible alone without any books or magazines. I would pray for God to teach me and show me truth. My carpool friend encouraged me that I should just accept what the Bible says and not spiritualize the texts nor look for hidden meanings. “If the text makes common sense, seek no other sense,” he used to say.
I found myself in the book department of a Kmart store one day and I picked up a Good News Bible. A young lady next to me said, “That is a great Bible. You ought to buy it.” So I did.
I prayed before reading it, and as I read it I began making notes in the margins about things God was teaching me. This went on while God continued to pursue me through the two born-again Christians He had brought into my life, and through the people they had praying for me which I only found out about later.
I remember that I had lots of questions, although I would not say that my coming to Christ was a result of checking off all the answered questions one at a time. It was not like that at all. It was one day when I realized that what I was looking for was not more and more information, but it was a person, and a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ. What I had missed in years of study with Jehovah’s Witnesses was what John 17:3 speaks about in the English Standard Version (ESV): “And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” It was not taking in more and more knowledge ABOUT God and Christ, but knowing God and Christ personally.
This realization that I was not searching for more and more information to intellectually know more about God, but I was actually searching to know God and Christ in a personal way, was made clear when one day. I found myself meditating on the passage at John 5:39 which says, “You study the Scriptures, because you think that in them you will find eternal life. And these very Scriptures speak about me!” (Good News Translation) And that was what I needed most of all.
I had spent so many years trying to work my way to God. I thought of myself as not such a bad sinner, especially when I compared myself to some others to whom I would selectively point to make myself feel okay. But when I came face to face with the truth of scripture, I realized that I could not earn my way to God. My carpool friend had shown me Ephesians 2:8-9 (New American Standard) which says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” He also showed me Romans 4 which describes that Abraham was not saved by his righteous works or even circumcision–or offering his son Isaac, but only by his faith. This shattered my entire life as a Jehovah’s Witness.
Looking back on that time now, I realize that I had found, not an alternative religion to follow, but a Person, Jesus Christ. It is like what Paul says in 2 Timothy 1:12 (New International Version): “…I know WHOM I have believed…” (emphasis mine). He does not speak of knowing WHAT he had believed, nor WHEN he had believed, nor HOW he had believed, but in WHOM he had believed. Finding this personal relationship with Christ through prayer and reading His word and with the help of two of God’s servants made all the difference.
So, WITHOUT all the answers to my questions about hell fire, and the trinity, and the deity of Christ, and the soul, and holidays that I did not celebrate, and blood transfusions, and on and on—without those answers, I invited Jesus Christ to be Lord of my life and simply asked Him to show me the truth in His time. I just trusted Christ and when I did, the answers to the questions were really so much less important than knowing Christ.
During this time, both my wife and I had not been attending meetings at the kingdom hall. I would share with my wife things I had discovered in my Bible study time and for a while she seemed to respond and also have questions but she never came to the point of walking away from the Watchtower teachings.
There came a time when I wrote a letter to formally resign from the congregation and the organization. The letter I wrote was a long letter of around 10 pages and included many scriptures and things that convinced me to leave. I sent a copy to the elders of the congregation and also to my closest friends, knowing I would not get to speak with them after resigning. I had hoped they would read the letter and be convinced as well and be saved, but that did not happen and I never heard from any of them.
Some time later, my wife received a call from one of the elders of the congregation. Since we had not been attending, they wanted to let my wife know that they had disfellowshipped me. I was never invited to attend a judicial meeting and this was the only notification we received about the disfellowshipping. To this day, we both believe it was not handled correctly. I think the elder who called must have had a “crisis of conscience” of sorts and thought he owed it to us to let us know what they had done.
Over time, God was faithful to answer my questions. It took years, maybe five years before I would enter a church. I had listened to Bible tapes, and continued to have Bible discussions with my Christian friends and then one day, I went to church. It was a traumatic experience. A cross on the front wall. An American flag that I was not to salute as a small boy in school. Another strange “Christian” flag, whatever that was? Strange music. But I also found fellowship with like-minded Christians and good Bible teaching.
There came a time when I was asked by the church leaders to teach a class about Jehovah’s Witnesses. Later I was asked to teach other adult classes on the Bible. At times I was even given an opportunity to give a Sunday sermon. Incredible! Absolutely incredible where God had taken me over these few years. All I can say is, “Amazing!” “Amazing grace!”
Well, that was all about thirty-five years ago. God has been faithful to His Word and His promises over these last many years. So my life consists of about nine years as a Catholic, about thirty years as a Jehovah’s Witness, and the remainder unto eternity as a born-again, evangelical Christian. I like to tell people that I am probably one of the only people they know who was baptized three times. Once as a Catholic baby, once as a Jehovah’s Witness, and finally the real thing as a follower of Christ.
I praise God for what he has done in my life. Anyone’s salvation is indeed a miracle of God because while we were yet His enemies, He loved us and Christ died for us. (Ephesians 5:2) But I think in some way it is a major miracle when a Jehovah’s Witness, who is steeped in such twisted doctrine, and when they are so isolated from truth because of the grip the organization has on them, gets to see the chains fall off and finds Christ.
So … “Thank you Lord, and may you give me the opportunity to yet see many other Jehovah’s Witnesses come to know you, especially my wife and friends whom I have left behind.” Amen.
After a while as a Christian, the memories of my life as a Jehovah’s Witness began to fade and I just focused on my life and walk as a follower of Christ. Recently I sat through a teaching series by Andy Stanley called “Gone Fishing.” It is a great series on learning to be faithful to our callings as fishers of men (Matthew 4:19). In one of the lessons, Andy teaches on the passage in 2 Kings 6-7 where King Ben-Hadad of Syria lays siege and surrounds the Israelites in Samaria and the people are starving to death.
At the gate of the city there were four lepers; they were starving and wondering what to do. Paraphrasing, they say, “If we stay here, we die. If we go into the city and ask for help, they will not help us and we will die. Why don’t we go to the Syrians and ask for help from them. The worst that can happen is that they will kill us. But…we are going to die anyway!”
They leave the city and go to the camp of the Syrians and to their surprise, the armies had left. The scripture says that God caused the Syrians to hear noise of chariots and horses and they fled. The lepers find the camp empty and they go from tent to tent finding food and water and riches.
Suddenly, in 2 Kings 7:7 one of the lepers says, again paraphrasing, “Wait a minute…we are not doing right keeping all this to ourselves. This is a day of GOOD NEWS, and we remain silent.”
The story goes on to tell of how they share the good news about the Syrian army having left, and there is joy and salvation. Andy goes on to apply this to us and reminds us of the obligation we have to share the Good News of Christ with others who are lost and spiritually starving.
When I heard this teaching, I thought about my life as a Jehovah’s Witness again, and how I had allowed it to fade so far into my past. It became a turning point for my desire to help others as best I can to break free from their bondage and find Christ too.
May we all be faithful to His calling on us to be “fishers of men.”