It Is Not Too Late to Become God’s Friend
As told by Olavi J. Mattila
“Have you ever considered the fact that you can obtain accurate knowledge about the Creator?” One of Jehovah’s Witnesses asked me that question, and it made me ponder. At the time, I was over 80 years of age and had come to know many prominent people, even political leaders. However, at that point in my life, could I really get to know God and become his friend?
I WAS born in October 1918 in Hyvinkää, Finland. At an early age, I started to do various farm chores. My family raised cattle, horses, chickens, and geese. I learned to work hard and to take pride in my work.
As I grew up, my parents encouraged me to pursue education. So when I was old enough, I left home to attend college. I also got involved in athletic activities and became acquainted with the chairman of the Finnish Athletic Association, Urho Kekkonen. Little did I know that Mr. Kekkonen would become Finland’s prime minister and later the nation’s president, positions that he held for some 30 years. What is more, I could not have imagined the influence that he would have on my life.
A Life of Prominence and Power
In 1939, hostilities erupted between Finland and the Soviet Union. In November of that year, I was drafted into the armed forces. At first I served as a trainer in the army reserve and later as a commander of a machine-gun platoon. The battlefront was Karelia, a region on the border between Finland and the Soviet Union. In the summer of 1941, while fighting near the town of Vyborg, I was seriously wounded by shrapnel and taken to a military hospital. My wounds prevented me from fighting again.
In September 1944, I was discharged from the army, and I went back to college. I continued pursuing my athletic activities as well. Three times I became the national champion, twice as a relay runner and once as a hurdle runner. I also obtained university degrees in technology and economics.
In the meantime, Urho Kekkonen had become a powerful figure in politics. In 1952, during his tenure as prime minister, he asked me to work as a diplomat in China. While there, I met several government officials, including Mao Tse-tung, then leader of China. Yet, the most important person I met in China was a lovely young woman, Annikki, who worked at the Finnish Ministry of Foreign Affairs. She became my wife in November 1956.
The following year, I was transferred to the Finnish embassy in Argentina. While living in that country, we had our first children, two sons. In January 1960, we returned to Finland. Soon thereafter, we had our third child, a girl.
At the Highest Levels of Government
Though I had never been a member of a political party, in November 1963, President Kekkonen invited me to be his minister of foreign trade. During the following 12 years, I held six cabinet posts, serving twice as a minister of foreign affairs. In those days I firmly believed that the world’s problems could be solved by human ingenuity. But soon I became fully aware of man’s thirst for power. I witnessed firsthand the harmful effects of distrust and envy.—Ecclesiastes 8:9.
Of course, I also came to see that there are many people who sincerely try to improve things. In the end, however, even the best-intentioned leaders fall short of reaching their goals.
In the summer of 1975, heads of 35 states came to Helsinki to attend the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe. At that time, I was the minister of foreign affairs and a close adviser to President Kekkonen. I was given the responsibility of organizing the event, and I met all the national leaders attending the conference.
During those few days, my diplomatic skills were tested to the limit. Just getting members to agree on a seating order was a challenge! Nevertheless, I felt that the conference, along with a series of follow-up meetings, contributed to improvements in human rights and a more tolerant relationship between the superpowers.
Conscious of My Spiritual Need
In 1983, I retired and moved to France, where my daughter lived. Then tragedy struck. In November 1994, Annikki was diagnosed with breast cancer. That same year, I got caught up in an investment plan that proved to be fraudulent. All my life I had worked very hard to maintain a good name. But this one error in judgment stained my reputation.
I had come across Jehovah’s Witnesses throughout my life. While I appreciated their visits and accepted their magazines, I was very busy and had no time for spiritual matters. By the year 2000, however, I was taking care of Annikki, who was still fighting cancer. On a September day in 2002, I received a visit from one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. He asked the question mentioned at the beginning of this article. I wondered: ‘Is it really possible to learn the truth about God? Is it possible to become his friend?’ I dug out my Bible, which had collected quite a layer of dust, and started to have regular Scriptural discussions with the Witnesses.
In June 2004, my dear wife died, and I was left alone. My children, of course, were a source of emotional support. But I still had questions about what happens to us when we die. I asked two Lutheran priests about it. Their answer was simply, “Well, these are difficult questions.” I was not satisfied with their reply. I became all the more aware of my spiritual needs.
As I continued studying the Bible with the Witnesses, I grew in the accurate knowledge that I was yearning for. For instance, the Bible explains that death is a state of unconsciousness, like sleep, and that the dead have the prospect of living again as humans on earth. (John 11:25) This gave me hope and consoled me greatly.
Soon I read the entire Bible for myself. One scripture that impressed me was Micah 6:8, which says: “What is Jehovah asking back from you but to exercise justice and to love kindness and to be modest in walking with your God?” The wisdom and simplicity of that maxim attracted me. It also revealed what a loving and just person Jehovah God is.
A Hope for the Future
As I learned the truth about God, my faith and confidence in him grew. A true friendship with my Creator was developing! I was impressed by his words recorded at Isaiah 55:11: “So my word that goes forth from my mouth will prove to be. It will not return to me without results, but it will certainly do that in which I have delighted, and it will have certain success in that for which I have sent it.” Indeed, God has lived up to his promises so far, and he will do so in the future. He will bring to reality the goal that human governments and their many political conferences have failed to achieve. For example, Psalm 46:9 states: “He is making wars to cease to the extremity of the earth.”
I have benefited greatly by attending the meetings of Jehovah’s Witnesses. There I have seen firsthand the genuine Christian love that is the identifying mark of Jesus’ true followers. (John 13:35) This love surpasses nationalism and is unheard of in the world of politics and commerce.
The Most Precious Privilege
I am now over 90 years of age, and I deem it the greatest privilege I have ever had to be one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. My spiritual void has been filled. I have had the privilege of learning the purpose of life and the truth about God.
I am also glad that even at this age, I can have quite an active share in Christian activities. Although I have met many powerful men and carried heavy responsibilities during my life, nothing compares with the privilege of knowing the Creator, Jehovah God, and being his friend. I am very grateful to him, and I want to praise him for this opportunity to become one of his “fellow workers.” (1 Corinthians 3:9) It is not too late to become a friend of the Creator, Jehovah God!
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With President Kekkonen and U.S. President Ford during the 1975 Helsinki conference
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With President Kekkonen and Soviet leader Brezhnev
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I have an active share in Christian activities
[Picture Credit Lines on page 25]
Lower left: Ensio Ilmonen/Lehtikuva; lower right: Esa Pyysalo/Lehtikuva