Our Search for Justice
AS TOLD BY ANTONIO VILLA
In 1836 all Texan defenders of The Alamo—numbering fewer than 200—were killed by a Mexican army of some 4,000 men. Afterward, the war cry “Remember the Alamo” was used to inflame the fight for independence, which was gained later that year. In 1845 what was once part of Mexico became part of the United States, and Mexicans found themselves in hostile territory. Ethnic differences are still remembered.
I WAS born in 1937, not far from San Antonio, Texas, where The Alamo is located. In those days bathrooms, water fountains, and other public facilities were marked “Whites Only” and “Others.” I quickly learned that “Others” included those of us who were of Mexican descent.
When watching a movie at the cinema, Mexicans and blacks were permitted to sit only in the balcony, not in the main auditorium. Many restaurants and businesses would not serve Mexicans. Once when my wife, Velia, and her sister entered a beauty shop, the proprietors didn’t even have the decency to say: “We don’t welcome Mexicans here.” They simply laughed in their faces until Velia and her sister were shamed into leaving.
At times, white men—usually when drunk—would look for Mexican women, whom many considered inherently immoral. I thought, ‘They won’t share a bathroom or a water fountain with us, but they will share a bed with Mexican women.’ These injustices initially made me insecure, and later defiant.
Problems With the Churches
The hypocrisy of religion further embittered me. Whites, blacks, and Mexicans each had separate churches. When I was preparing for my first Communion as a Catholic, the priest handed me some predated envelopes to give to my father. We were to return an envelope each week with a contribution. Shortly thereafter, the priest told me: “You’d better tell your dad that those envelopes are not getting here.” My father’s angry words left an impression on me: “That’s all they are interested in—money!”
Commonly, there were scandals in which preachers ran off with women in their congregations. Experiences such as those led me to declare repeatedly: “Religion has only two aims—either to get your money or to take your woman.” Thus, when Jehovah’s Witnesses would come around, I’d dismiss them, saying: “If I want religion, I’ll look for it myself.”
The Military and Marriage
In 1955, I joined the U.S. Air Force, where I hoped that by excelling in my work, I could gain the respect that I had been denied as a Mexican. By applying myself, I gained recognition, eventually being put in charge of quality control. This involved evaluation of other departments of the armed services.
In 1959, I married Velia. Velia had always been religiously inclined. Yet, she was disappointed by the various churches that she attended. One day in 1960, when feeling very depressed, she prayed: “Please, God, if you exist, let me know. I want to know you.” That same day one of Jehovah’s Witnesses called at our home in Petaluma, California.
Soon afterward, however, Velia lost contact with the Witnesses because of a change in my military assignment. It was not until 1966, while I was in Vietnam, that she renewed her Bible study with them in Seminole, Texas. Upon returning home from Vietnam early the following year, I was not happy to find her studying the Bible with the Witnesses.
My Stubborn Opposition
I felt that Velia would be deceived and disappointed by religion. So I sat in on the study and listened for an opportunity to expose the slightest trace of hypocrisy. When the woman said that the Witnesses are politically neutral, I interrupted: “What does your husband do for work?”
“He grows cotton,” she replied.
“Ha!” I arrogantly retorted. “Military uniforms are made from cotton. So you are supporting the war effort!” I became loud and unreasonable.
Although in June 1967 a new military assignment took us far away, to Minot, North Dakota, the Witnesses there contacted Velia and renewed her Bible study. I began to oppose in childish ways. I’d intentionally arrive at the hour of the study and slam doors, stomp up the stairs, throw my boots noisily on the floor, and flush the toilet several times.
Velia was a soft-spoken and submissive wife who had never done anything without my permission. Although I begrudgingly allowed her to have a Bible study, she knew it would be a bigger problem to attend the meetings of the Witnesses. When urged to do so, she would always reply: “I’d better not. I don’t want to upset Tony.”
However, one day Velia read in the Bible: “Do not be grieving God’s holy spirit.” (Ephesians 4:30) “What does that mean?” she inquired. The Witness conducting the study explained: “Well, God’s holy spirit inspired the writing of the Bible. So if we don’t comply with what the Bible says, then we are grieving God’s holy spirit. For example, some don’t go to meetings, even though they know God’s Word says we should.” (Hebrews 10:24, 25) That’s all Velia’s humble heart needed. From then on she went to every meeting despite my opposition.
I would snap: “How can you leave the house when you don’t have my supper on the table?” Velia quickly learned always to have my supper warm and ready. So I used other excuses: “You don’t love me or our kids. You abandon us for those meetings.” Or when I would attack the Witnesses’ beliefs and Velia mildly tried to defend these, I used my bocona—“big mouth”—theme, calling her a disrespectful, unsubmissive bocona.
Still, Velia attended the meetings, often leaving home in tears because of my verbal abuse. I did abide by some principles though. I never hit my wife or even thought of abandoning her because of her newfound faith. But I did worry that some good-looking guy at those meetings might be interested in her. I still thought that when it comes to religion, ‘It’s either the money or the woman.’ I often complained as Velia dressed for the meetings: “You get all prettied up for somebody else but never for me.” So when I first decided to attend a meeting, I said: “I’m going—but just to keep an eye on you!”
My real motive, however, was to find something against the Witnesses. At one of the first meetings I attended, a talk about marrying “only in the Lord” was given. (1 Corinthians 7:39) When we arrived home, I bitterly complained: “You see! They are just the same as everyone else—prejudiced against anyone who isn’t of their faith.” Velia meekly commented: “But it’s not what they say, it’s what the Bible says.” I quickly countered by banging my fist against the wall and shouting: “There goes the bocona again!” Actually, I was frustrated because I knew she was right.
I continued to attend meetings and to read Witness literature, but my motive was to try to find fault with it. I even started to comment at the meetings—but only to show people that I wasn’t a “dumb Mexican.”
My Search for Justice Satisfied
By 1971 my military career had taken us to Arkansas. I continued to attend meetings with Velia, who in December 1969 had been baptized in symbol of her dedication to Jehovah. I no longer opposed her, but neither would I let anyone study the Bible with me. My knowledge as a result of reading Bible literature had increased tremendously. Yet, it was all head knowledge—a product of my desire to be the best in anything I did. However, little by little, association with Jehovah’s Witnesses began to affect my heart.
For example, I noticed that blacks had a share in teaching at congregation meetings. But at first I said to myself, ‘Yeah, they only do that here behind closed doors.’ When we attended a convention in a large baseball stadium, however, I was shocked to see that blacks had parts on the program there also. I had to admit that there is no discrimination among the Witnesses. They practice true justice.
I also came to appreciate that Jehovah’s Witnesses have genuine love for one another. (John 13:34, 35) And when I worked with them on the construction of their Kingdom Hall, I could see that they are just ordinary people. I saw them get tired, make mistakes, and even exchange a few words when things went wrong. Instead of being alienated by these imperfections, I came to feel more secure among them. Perhaps I recognized that there was hope for me in spite of my many shortcomings.
My Heart Was Finally Reached
I first realized that I was developing a relationship with Jehovah when in 1973, The Watchtower explained that smoking is a ‘defilement of the flesh’ and constitutes a disfellowshipping offense. (2 Corinthians 7:1) I was then smoking between one and two packs of cigarettes a day. I had tried to stop many times before but without success. Now, however, every time I felt the urge to smoke, I’d say a silent prayer for Jehovah’s help to quit the filthy habit. To everyone’s surprise, I never smoked again.
My military retirement was due July 1, 1975. I realized that if I wanted to do what the Bible teaches, I would have to dedicate my life to Jehovah. I had never had a personal Bible study, so it was quite a shock to the congregation elders when, in June 1975, I told them that I wanted to be baptized as soon as my military career ended. They explained that first I would have to fulfill Jesus’ command to share in the preaching work. (Matthew 28:19, 20) This I did on the first Saturday in July. That same day I met with an elder and answered the Bible questions required of baptism candidates. Three weeks later I was baptized.
Upon seeing me get baptized, our three children—Vito, Venelda, and Veronica—began to make rapid spiritual progress. Within the next two years, the two oldest ones were baptized, followed by the youngest child four years later. When I talk to men who know Bible truth but don’t do anything about it, I often tell them about the consequences of their failing to act. I tell them that even though their children may not say it, they are thinking, ‘If the truth isn’t important enough for Daddy, then it’s not important enough for me.’
Pursuing the Full-Time Ministry
Our whole family began the full-time ministry as pioneers in Marshall, Arkansas. Velia and I started in 1979, and the children joined us in the work during the following years as each graduated from high school.
In the early 1980’s, we heard reports about the thirst for Bible knowledge among the people of Ecuador, South America, and we made it our goal to move there. By 1989 our children were grown and able to care for themselves. So in that year we made a short visit to Ecuador to “spy out the land.”—Compare Numbers 13:1, 2.
In April 1990 we arrived in Ecuador, our new home. Since we had limited finances—we lived on my military pension—we had to budget our funds carefully. But the joys of the full-time ministry in this spiritually productive territory have far outweighed any financial sacrifices. At first, we worked in the port city of Manta, where each of us conducted anywhere from 10 to 12 weekly Bible studies. Then, in 1992, I began serving as a traveling minister, accompanied by my wife. We visit a different congregation each week.
When Justice Is Fully Realized
In retrospect, Velia and I can see that the injustices we experienced when growing up now help us in our ministry. We are especially conscious never to look down on anyone who might be poorer or less educated than we are or who is of an ethnic background that is different from ours. We see, too, that many of our Christian brothers and sisters experience social injustices worse than we experienced. Yet, they do not complain. They keep their eyes fixed on God’s incoming Kingdom, and that’s what we’ve learned to do. We have long since ceased trying to find justice in this system; but rather, we spend our lives pointing people to the only true solution to injustice, God’s Kingdom.—Matthew 24:14.
We’ve also learned that those of us who have been very sensitive to injustices must be careful not to expect perfect justice among God’s people. This is because all of us are imperfect and prone to do what is bad. (Romans 7:18-20) Yet, we can honestly say that we have found a loving, multinational association of brothers who strive to do what is right to the best of their abilities. It is our hope that together with God’s people everywhere, we will enter into God’s new world in which righteousness is to dwell.—2 Peter 3:13.
[Blurb on page 20]
I quickly countered by banging my fist against the wall
[Picture on page 21]
With Velia, when I joined the air force
[Picture on page 23]
With Velia, in 1996