A Unique Reunion After 30 Years
IN 1967 two young men were thrown together by chance. They were assigned as roommates at Michigan Technical University in the United States. Dennis Sheets, from Lima, Ohio, was then an 18-year-old freshman studying forestry. Twenty-year-old Mark Ruge hailed from Buffalo, New York. He was a junior studying civil engineering.
At the time, their friendship might have seemed a brief, fleeting one. Neither of the youths continued with university education; each went his separate way. More than three decades passed. Then, one day in the Dominican Republic, the two men came face-to-face once more. Chance played a role in this surprising reunion. But something else was at work too. What was that? To find the answer, let us follow the separate threads of their lives.
Dennis Goes to War
Dennis returned home after his first year of college. Then, in December 1967, he was drafted into the U.S. Army, and in June 1968, he was sent to Vietnam. There he saw the horrors of war. When his tour of duty was up in 1969, he returned to the United States, eventually landing a job with a large company in Ohio. However, he wasn’t satisfied.
“My boyhood dream was to move to Alaska and homestead,” Dennis explains. So in 1971 he and a high-school friend set out to fulfill that dream. Rather than homestead, however, he worked at a number of odd jobs. For a while he lived in a tent and worked in fire control. He grew a beard and long hair and began smoking marijuana.
In 1972, Dennis left Anchorage to experience the Mardi Gras in New Orleans, Louisiana. After that, he built a small cabin in the woods of Arkansas. There he worked at framing houses and finishing concrete. In June 1973, Dennis hitchhiked around the country to see if he could find a purpose in life.
Mark in the Antiwar Movement
Mark stayed at the university for a few semesters after Dennis left but then decided that he didn’t want to become part of the system that was supporting the war. So he went back to Buffalo, where he worked for a while as a foreman at a steel plant. Still dissatisfied with the war effort, he quit his job, bought a motorcycle, and traveled across the country to San Francisco, California. Although they didn’t realize it then, Dennis and Mark were in San Francisco for a while at the same time.
Like Dennis, Mark grew a beard and long hair and began using marijuana. But Mark was heavily involved in the antiwar movement, participating in protests and marches. He was wanted by the FBI for draft evasion, so for a few years he used aliases to escape detection. He pursued a hippie life-style in San Francisco. There, in 1970, two of Jehovah’s Witnesses came to his door.
Mark explains: “They must have felt that I showed some interest, so they returned. I wasn’t home, but they left a green Bible and three books.” Mark, however, was too absorbed in political activism and in having a good time to read them. Also, he was closely pursued by the FBI. So under another alias, he moved to Washington, D.C. His girlfriend, Kathi Yaniskivis, whom he had met at the university, joined him there.
Finally, in 1971, the FBI caught up with Mark. Two FBI agents escorted him on a flight from Washington, D.C., to New York and made sure that he continued on to Toronto, Canada. Evidently, the FBI didn’t consider him a threat to civil order; they just wanted him out of the country. The following year Kathi and he were married, and they moved to Gabriola Island, British Columbia, Canada. They wanted to escape from society, yet they felt there had to be more to life.
They Become Witnesses
Dennis, you will recall, was hitchhiking around the country looking for a purpose in life. His tour took him to Montana, where he found a job outside of Chinook helping a farmer during the grain harvest. The man’s wife and daughter were Jehovah’s Witnesses. Dennis was given an Awake! magazine to read. Before long, he became convinced that the Witnesses practice the true religion.
Taking a Bible with him, Dennis left the farm and moved to Kalispell, Montana. There he attended his first meeting of Jehovah’s Witnesses. He asked for a Bible study at that meeting. Shortly thereafter, he cut his hair and shaved his beard. In January 1974 he went out in the preaching work for the first time, and he was baptized in a watering trough in Polson, Montana, on March 3, 1974.
Meanwhile Mark and Kathi, living on Gabriola Island, decided that since they had the time, they would try investigating the Bible. They began reading the King James Version but found the archaic English somewhat difficult to understand. Then Mark remembered that he still had the Bible and books the Witnesses had given him years earlier. They read the Bible along with the books The Truth That Leads to Eternal Life and Is the Bible Really the Word of God? Mark and Kathi were deeply impressed by what they learned.
Mark explains: “I was particularly struck by the fact that the Truth book mentions a group of Christians who would not go to war under any circumstances. I felt that such ones were practicing true Christianity.” Shortly afterward, Mark and Kathi returned to Houghton, Michigan, to visit Kathi’s family—despite the risk of arrest. There, still looking like hippies, they attended a meeting of the Witnesses. They accepted a Bible study and studied during the month they were in Michigan.
After returning to Gabriola Island, they met a Witness on the street in Nanaimo, British Columbia, and explained that they wanted a Bible study. That same day a carload of Witnesses came over on the ferry to contact them, and a Bible study was started. Three months later, Mark and Kathi began in the preaching work. Three months after that, on March 10, 1974, both were baptized. It was one week after Dennis was baptized!
Dennis in the Full-Time Ministry
Dennis became a pioneer, or full-time minister, in September 1974. He observes: “I was happy pioneering, but I wanted to expand my ministry; so in July 1975, I applied to serve at the world headquarters of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Brooklyn, New York. That December I was invited there.”
The first assignment Dennis was given was to assist in converting the former Towers Hotel into a residence for the headquarters staff. He worked for several years there, overseeing the tile crew. Then, desiring to get married, he moved to California. In 1984, while serving as an elder in the Cathedral City congregation, he married a pioneer named Kathy Enz.
Dennis and Kathy were determined to keep their lives simple in order to pursue the interests of God’s Kingdom. So Dennis often turned down opportunities to make a lot of money in the booming southern California construction trade. In 1988 he and Kathy applied to help in the international construction work of Jehovah’s Witnesses. In December of that year, they received an assignment to work on the branch construction project in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
In 1989, Dennis and Kathy were invited to serve in the construction work of Jehovah’s Witnesses in a more permanent way. In this special form of the full-time ministry, they have twice served in Suriname and Colombia. They have also worked on branch construction in Ecuador and Mexico, as well as on a similar project in the Dominican Republic.
Mark in the Full-Time Ministry
In 1976, Mark, along with thousands of other young American men who had fled to Canada to escape the draft, was granted amnesty by the U.S. government. He and his wife, Kathi, also desired to keep their lives simple in order to devote more time to their ministry. So Mark worked part-time as a surveyor, and he and Kathi gradually paid off the bills they had accumulated before their baptism.
In 1978, when the Witnesses in Canada were planning to build a new branch complex near Toronto, Ontario, Mark and Kathi were in a position to offer their services. Since Mark had experience in surveying, they were invited to participate in the construction. They worked on the project in Georgetown until its completion in June 1981. Afterward, they moved back to British Columbia and for the next four years helped with building an Assembly Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses there. When it was completed, they were invited back to work on the expansion of the Canada branch.
In 1986, after a few months in Georgetown, Mark and Kathi were invited to stay on as regular members of the Canada branch staff. They have served on the staff ever since and have also had extensive opportunities to share in construction work in many other countries. Thanks to Mark’s experience in surveying, he began to be used to do surveying for branch buildings and Assembly Halls of Jehovah’s Witnesses in South and Central America and the islands of the Caribbean.
Over the years, he and Kathi served in Venezuela, Nicaragua, Haiti, Guyana, Barbados, the Bahamas, Dominica, the United States (Florida), and the Dominican Republic. This special form of the full-time ministry caused the thread of Mark’s life to cross that of Dennis’ life once more.
Reunion in Dominican Republic
Unbeknownst to each other, Mark and Dennis were working on similar projects in the Dominican Republic. One day they happened upon each other at the branch facilities of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Santo Domingo. As you can imagine, they were delighted to get reacquainted. After all, they were both 33 years older and had a lot of catching up to do. With growing wonder, they shared much of what you have read above. But most remarkable to them—as well as to all with whom they have shared their experiences—were the many similarities in their lives.
Both lived hippie life-styles and moved to remote areas to get away from the materialistic modern way of life with all its anxieties. Dennis married a girl named Kathy; Mark married a girl named Kathi. Both men accepted a Bible study when attending their first meeting of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Both were baptized in March 1974. Both became members of branch families of Jehovah’s Witnesses—Dennis in the United States and Mark in Canada. Both have made efforts to keep life simple in order to pursue spiritual goals. (Matthew 6:22) Both became involved in international construction and have received assignments in numerous countries. Until their chance meeting in the Dominican Republic, neither had ever met any former friends who had accepted Bible truths.
Do Mark and Dennis attribute these remarkable coincidences to fate? Not at all. They recognize that, as the Bible says, “time and unforeseen occurrence befall [us] all”—sometimes in very interesting ways. (Ecclesiastes 9:11) However, they also recognize that something else played a role in their reunion: their mutual quests for purpose in life and their love for Jehovah God.
The history of Dennis and Mark also highlights some things that are common to all honesthearted ones who learn Bible truth. Dennis comments: “What Mark and I have experienced demonstrates that Jehovah is aware of the life situations of people, and when their heart becomes rightly disposed, he draws them to him.”—2 Chronicles 16:9; John 6:44; Acts 13:48.
Mark adds: “Our experience has also taught us to appreciate that when one adjusts to Jehovah’s standards, dedicates his life to him, and makes himself available, Jehovah can use his talents and abilities to promote true worship for the benefit of his people.”—Ephesians 4:8.
Their experience also shows that Jehovah God blesses the whole-souled service of his people. Dennis and Mark certainly feel blessed. Dennis says: “It is a privilege to serve Kingdom interests in special full-time service. It has allowed us to enjoy an interchange of encouragement while working with Christian brothers and sisters from all over the world.”
Mark adds: “Jehovah definitely blesses those who put his Kingdom first. I consider it a special blessing to be able to serve as a member of the Canada branch family and to participate in international construction.”
A unique reunion? Yes, because as Mark says: “The real reason why meeting up with each other was such a thrill is that both of us have come to know, love, and serve the unique God, Jehovah.”
[Picture on page 21]
[Picture on page 21]
[Picture on page 23]
Dennis in South Dakota, 1974
[Picture on page 23]
Mark in Ontario, 1971
[Picture on page 24]
Dennis and Mark, along with their wives, shortly after their chance reunion, 2001