As a Refugee, I Found True Justice
AS IT was still cold and there was snow on the ground, I dressed in a heavy coat. Then I swallowed a mixture of everything poisonous that I could find in my closet, including cleaning fluid (carbon tetrachloride). I made my way down to the Charles River in Cambridge, Massachusetts, hoping that I would pass out there. Instead of death, all I got for my despair was five days in a hospital’s intensive care unit. What had led me to such a desperate measure? Let us go back to my origins.
I was born in Jaffa, Palestine, in 1932, a Greek Palestinian. I was raised in the Greek Orthodox religion, which meant weekly visits to church and fasts when they were called for. But it was a meaningless routine for me.
My parents were fairly well-off, since our family had an extensive food and liquor distribution company. At the age of ten, I was sent to the Friends’ Boarding School in Ramallah and then to the St. George’s Anglican School in Jerusalem. The latter made quite an impression on me—there were students of Christian, Arab, and Jewish backgrounds all studying together in relative peace. The school taught reconciliation, good manners, and courtesy. But the school and reality were two different things.
During my childhood, civil strife was the order of the day, with Jews, Arabs, and British acting like scorpions in a bottle. As a small child, I witnessed the killing of a man outside our house. Many times my parents had near-misses in cross fire. Then World War II made Haifa, an important port city, a target for German bombardment—more death and destruction.
With the end of the British mandate over Palestine coming up in May 1948, civil strife intensified. In July 1946 the King David Hotel, Jerusalem’s most prestigious, was blown up. The death toll was indiscriminate—41 Arabs, 28 British, 17 Jews, and 5 others. Our family decided to flee the anarchy. We moved in one night to Cyprus, where Mother had relatives. Dad left behind his business and his various properties.
These events shaped my early attitudes. At 16 years of age, I was interested in politics and read the newspapers daily to keep up with events. Egypt’s leader, Gamal Abdel Nasser, was my idol. He weakened foreign influence in his country.
In 1950 our family moved to the United States. The Korean War was in progress, and I wanted to do my part for a country that had saved my family from an oppressive situation. I volunteered for the Air Force, where I rose to the rank of staff sergeant. However, I never got to Korea—only as far as the air base at Omaha, Nebraska.
A Reformer at a Theological School
After my release from the Air Force, I went to the University of Texas and then to Ohio University, where I gained a degree in economics. I was very outspoken about injustices in the Middle East and was even invited to lecture on the subject. An Episcopal professor, Dr. David Anderson, who heard me speak, suggested that I accept a scholarship to the Episcopal Theological School in Boston for a postgraduate course. Since I did not agree with a paid clergy system, I had no intention of becoming a clergyman. Nevertheless, in 1958, I was accepted at the school.
The study course included working in mental institutions along with chaplains. The theoretical and academic side of the school was very interesting, but I wanted to see more action and justice in the world. So I founded a reform action group called “His Name Made Known Amongst All the Nations.” I wanted the school to be action oriented. I wanted to follow Jesus, not to the library, but to the world.
However, I soon discovered that my suggested reforms were not going to be implemented. Eventually, I was invited to leave the school. About this time I fell in love with a young woman who was the culmination of my search for a person with whom I could share my future. I felt we were made for each other. Then I discovered that she did not reciprocate my feelings. The sudden jolt of rejection was overwhelming. It was the final straw that led to the attempt I made on my life.
A Career as a Teacher
After a period of rehabilitation, I attended New York’s Columbia University to pursue a master’s program for teaching geography and history. During all this time, I was still looking for what I called real Christianity in action. My teaching took me to South Glens Falls, New York. There a big change took place in my life. I met a teacher named Georgia who became my wife and partner in 1964.
I was still very political and followed the speeches of Senator James Fulbright, who spoke out against the war in Vietnam. I too was against that war. A big blow came with the death of President John F. Kennedy in November 1963. I was so affected that I attended his funeral in Washington.
My Search for Christianity
In 1966 we moved to Long Island, New York, where I took up a teaching post at Northport High School. I was deeply concerned about world events—it was the period of drug innovation, hippies, and Jesus freaks. I attended a charismatic group and saw that they too were falling short of the true Christian message, with more emphasis on emotion than action. On another occasion I even heard an Episcopal minister advocate the war in Vietnam. I began to think that some atheists were more humane than church people.
I lost my faith in God but not in the political value of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. For me he broke the cycle of hatred with his teaching, and I saw that as the solution to the Middle East problem. I tried so many religions—Catholic, Salvation Army, Baptist, Pentecostal—but always came away with the empty feeling that they were not practicing the Christianity of the early Christians. Then, in 1974, I met a real-estate agent who changed my life.
His name was Frank Born. I was consulting him about some property. In the course of the conversation, he pulled out a Bible. I immediately rejected it, saying: “You can’t find anybody who lives by those principles.” He responded: “Come with me, and see for yourself at the Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses.” But I wanted him to answer some basic questions before I would visit his Kingdom Hall.
Number one: “Do you have a paid clergy?” His answer was: “No. All our elders are volunteers who support themselves and their families by their secular work.” My next question was: “Do you meet in private homes as the early Christians did to study the Bible?” The answer was: “Yes. We have a weekly meeting in private homes in different parts of the neighborhood.” My third question must have seemed unusual to him. “Does your church send a minister to presidential inauguration ceremonies to pray for the president?” Frank responded: “We are neutral in all political affairs and take no part. Our allegiance is to God’s Kingdom as the only solution to the problems afflicting mankind today.”
I could not believe what I was hearing. I could not wait to see where these Christians met. What did I find? Not emotionalism but a rational approach to the Bible. Their meetings were educational, qualifying people to explain and defend their Christian faith. They were an action group, getting out among the people to find those who yearn for God’s just rule. Here was my answer to the Middle East problem—people of all races, languages, and cultures joined in the peaceful worship of the Sovereign Lord of the universe, Jehovah God. And all of this in accordance with the example and teaching of Christ. Here there was no hatred and strife. Just peace and unity.
I became a baptized Witness in 1975, and Georgia followed me in that step five years later. We have two sons, Robert and John, who are actively proclaiming the good news of God’s Kingdom.
Over the years my attitudes have softened. Formerly, I was an abrasive militant with very little sympathy for others’ ideals. Like so many millions, my thinking had been manipulated by false religion and politics. Now I realize that God is not partial and that honesthearted people of all races can serve him in peace and unity.
In the ranks of Jehovah’s Witnesses, I have found people of every conceivable background, people who formerly hated others. Now, like me, they have come to realize that God truly is love, and that is one of the things that Jesus came to teach us. He said: “I am giving you a new commandment, that you love one another; just as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love among yourselves.” (John 13:34, 35)—As told by Constantine Louisidis.
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Ten-year-old Constantine Louisidis attending Friends’ Boys School
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A big blow came with the death of President John F. Kennedy