In Search of Paradise
AS TOLD BY PASCAL STISI
The night was already well along, and the streets of the town of Béziers, southern France, were empty. Finding the newly painted wall of a religion bookshop, my friend and I scrawled on it in giant black letters the words of the German philosopher Nietzsche: ‘The gods are dead. Long live the Superman!’ What, though, led me to all of this?
I WAS born in France in 1951 into a Catholic family of Italian extraction. When I was a child, we would go on vacation to the south of Italy. There, each village had its image of the Virgin Mary. Walking with my grandfather, I followed these huge dressed statues in endless processions through the mountains—but entirely without conviction. I finished my basic education at a religious school run by Jesuits. However, I cannot remember hearing anything that really built my faith in God.
It was when I enrolled at a university in Montpellier to study medicine that I began to reflect on the purpose of life. My father had been injured during the war and always had doctors at his bedside. Would it not be better to end war rather than spend so much time and effort healing people from its ravages? Yet, the Vietnam War was in full swing. To me the only logical way to treat lung cancer, for example, was to eliminate its primary cause—tobacco. And what of the illnesses that resulted from malnutrition in developing countries and those that resulted from overeating in rich lands? Would it not be better to remove the causes instead of trying to remedy the grievous consequences? Why was there so much suffering on earth? I felt that there was something terribly wrong with this suicidal society, and I held the governments responsible.
My favorite book was written by an anarchist, and I would copy sentences from it on walls. Little by little, I too became an anarchist, without faith or moral laws, who wanted no God or master. For me, God and religion were the inventions of the rich and powerful so that they could dominate and exploit the rest of us. ‘Work hard for us on earth, and your reward will be great in paradise in heaven,’ they seemed to say. But the time of the gods was over. People needed to be told. Graffiti was one way of telling them.
As a result, my studies were relegated to second place. In the meantime I had enrolled to study geography and ecology in another Montpellier university where a state of insurrection reigned. The more I studied ecology, the more disgusted I was to see the polluting of our beautiful planet.
Every year during summer vacation, I went hitchhiking, covering thousands of miles throughout Europe. While traveling and talking with hundreds of drivers, I saw with my own eyes the evil and decay afflicting human society. Once, while searching for paradise, I came across some magnificent beaches on the beautiful island of Crete and found them covered with oil. I felt sick at heart. Was there a corner of paradise left anywhere on earth?
Back to the Land
In France ecologists were advocating a return to the land as a solution to society’s woes. I wanted to work with my hands. So I bought an old stone house in a tiny village in the foothills of the Cévennes Mountains in southern France. On the door, I wrote “Paradise Now,” the slogan of American hippies. A young German girl who was passing through became my companion. It was out of the question to get married in front of the mayor, a representative of the system. And the church? Forget it!
Most of the time, we walked barefoot, and I had long hair and a shaggy beard. Cultivating fruits and vegetables fascinated me. In summer the sky was blue and the cicadas sang. The scrubland flowers were so fragrant, and the Mediterranean fruits that we grew—grapes and figs—were so succulent! It seemed that we had found our niche in paradise.
Belief in God Awakens
At the university, I had studied cellular biology, embryology, and anatomy, and I had been deeply impressed by the complexity and harmony of all these mechanisms. Now that I could contemplate and observe creation firsthand every day, its beauty and potential filled me with wonder. Day after day the book of creation spoke to me page by page. One day during a long walk in the hills and after having reflected deeply on life, I came to the conclusion that there had to be a Creator. I decided in my heart to believe in God. Previously, I had felt an emptiness in my heart, a troubling loneliness. The day that I started to believe in God, I said to myself, ‘Pascal, you will never be alone again.’ It was an extraordinary sensation.
Soon after, my companion and I had a little girl—Amandine. She was the apple of my eye. Now that I believed in God, I began to respect the few moral laws that I knew. I stopped stealing and lying, and I soon realized that this helped me to avoid many problems with those around me. Yes, we had our problems, and my paradise was not all that I had hoped for. The local wine growers used insecticides and herbicides that also polluted my crops. My question about the cause of wickedness was still unanswered. What is more, although I had read much on family life, this did not prevent heated arguments with my companion. We had few friends, and those we had were false; some even tried to make my companion cheat on me. There had to be a better paradise.
The Answer to My Prayers
In my own way, I prayed very often for God to guide me in life. One Sunday morning a friendly woman named Irène Lopez and her little boy came to our door. She was one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. I listened to what she had to say and accepted the offer of another visit. Two men came to see me. From our conversation, I retained two things—Paradise and God’s Kingdom. I carefully kept those thoughts in my heart, and with the passing months, I understood that one day I would have to put things right with God if I wanted to have a clean conscience and find real happiness.
To bring our life into harmony with the Word of God, my companion was at first disposed to marry me. Then she got into bad company with people who mocked God and his laws. Coming home one spring evening, I had a terrible shock. Our house was empty. My companion had left, taking our three-year-old girl with her. For days I kept waiting for their return—but in vain. Rather than blaming God, I prayed for him to help me.
Shortly thereafter, I took the Bible, sat down under my fig tree, and began to read. In fact, I drank in its words. Though I had read all kinds of books by psychoanalysts and psychologists, never had I come across such wisdom. This book must have been divinely inspired. Jesus’ teaching and his understanding of human nature astounded me. I was comforted by the Psalms and amazed by the practical wisdom of the Proverbs. I quickly realized that while the study of creation is excellent for drawing someone to God, it can reveal only “the fringes of his ways.”—Job 26:14.
The Witnesses had also left me the books The Truth That Leads to Eternal Life and Making Your Family Life Happy.* Reading them opened my eyes. The Truth book helped me to understand why man was facing pandemic pollution, wars, increasing violence, and the threat of nuclear annihilation. And just as the red sky that I saw from my garden heralded fine weather the following day, these events proved that God’s Kingdom is at hand. As for the Family Life book, I wished that I could show it to my companion and tell her that we could be happy by putting the Bible’s advice into practice. But it was no longer possible.
Making Spiritual Progress
I wanted to know more, so I asked Robert, a Witness, to visit me. Much to his surprise, I told him that I wanted to get baptized, so a Bible study was started. I immediately began speaking to others about what I was learning, and I started to distribute the publications that I obtained at the Kingdom Hall.
In order to earn a living, I enrolled in a masonry course. Aware of the good that God’s Word can do for a person, I seized every opportunity to preach informally to fellow students and to teachers. One evening, I met Serge in a corridor. He had some magazines in his hands. “I see that you like reading,” I said to him. “Yes, but I’m bored with this.” “Do you want something really good to read?” I asked him. We had an excellent discussion about God’s Kingdom, after which he accepted some Bible literature. The following week, he came to the Kingdom Hall with me, and a Bible study was started.
One day I asked Robert if I could preach from house to house. He went to his closet and found a suit for me. The next Sunday, I took my first steps in the ministry with him. Finally, on March 7, 1981, I publicly symbolized my dedication to Jehovah God by baptism.
Help While in Distress
In the meantime I had found out where Amandine and her mother were living abroad. Alas, her mother—in all legality, according to the laws of the country where she was living—forbade me to see my daughter. I was devastated. Amandine’s mother married, and my despair reached a new low when I received an official notification that her husband had adopted my daughter—entirely without my consent. I no longer had any rights over my child. In spite of legal action, I was unable to obtain visitation rights. I felt as if I were carrying a hundred pounds [50 kg] on my back, such was my pain.
But Jehovah’s Word sustained me in several ways. One day when I was extremely distressed, I repeated over and over the words of Proverbs 24:10: “Have you shown yourself discouraged in the day of distress? Your power will be scanty.” This verse helped me not to break down. On another occasion, after a setback in trying to see my daughter, I went out in the ministry and grasped the handle of my book bag as hard as I could. Through such difficult moments, I was able to experience the truth of Psalm 126:6, which says: “The one that without fail goes forth, even weeping, carrying along a bagful of seed, will without fail come in with a joyful cry, carrying along his sheaves.” An important lesson I learned is that when you have serious trials, once you have done all you can to sort them out, you have to put them behind you and press on with determination in Jehovah’s service. This is the only way to keep your joy.
Reaching Out for Something Better
Seeing the changes that I had made, my dear parents offered to help me to continue my studies at the university. I thanked them, but now I had another goal. The truth had freed me from human philosophy, mysticism, and astrology. I now had real friends who would never kill one another in war. And I finally had the answer to my questions about why there was so much suffering on earth. Out of gratitude I wanted to serve God with all my strength. Jesus had devoted himself entirely to his ministry, and I wanted to follow his example.
In 1983, I gave up my masonry business to become a full-time minister. In answer to my prayers, I found part-time work in a park to support myself. What a joy it was to attend the pioneer school along with Serge, the young man to whom I had witnessed in masonry school! After three years as a regular pioneer, I felt the desire to do even more in Jehovah’s service. Thus, in 1986, I was appointed to be a special pioneer in the picturesque town of Provins, not far from Paris. Often, on coming home in the evening, I knelt in prayer to thank Jehovah for the wonderful day that I had spent in talking to others about him. In fact, my two greatest pleasures in life are speaking to God and speaking about God.
Another great joy for me was the baptism of my 68-year-old mother who lived in Cébazan, a little village in the south of France. When my mother began to read the Bible, I sent her subscriptions to The Watchtower and Awake! She was a thinking person, and very soon she came to recognize the ring of truth in what she read.
Bethel—A Remarkable Spiritual Paradise
When the Watch Tower Society decided to reduce the number of special pioneers, I applied for the Ministerial Training School and for Bethel, the branch office of Jehovah’s Witnesses in France. I wanted to leave it up to Jehovah to decide how best I could serve him. A few months later, in December 1989, I was invited to Bethel in Louviers, northwest France. This proved to be an excellent outcome, as the location enabled me to help my brother and sister-in-law to care for my parents when they became very ill. I would not have been able to do this had I been in missionary service thousands of miles away.
My mother came to visit me several times at Bethel. Even if it was a sacrifice for her to live away from me, she often told me: “Stay at Bethel, Son. I’m happy that you are serving Jehovah in this way.” Sadly, both my parents have now passed away. How I look forward to seeing them in an earth transformed into a literal paradise!
I really believe that if any house deserves the description “Paradise Now,” it is Bethel—the “House of God”—for the real paradise is, above all else, spiritual, and spirituality reigns at Bethel. We have the opportunity to cultivate the fruitage of the spirit. (Galatians 5:22, 23) The rich spiritual food that we receive during the daily Bible text discussion and the family study of The Watchtower helps to strengthen me for Bethel service. Furthermore, being able to associate with spiritually-minded brothers and sisters who have been serving Jehovah faithfully for decades makes Bethel a unique place in which to grow spiritually. Although I have been separated from my daughter for 17 years now, I have found numerous zealous youths at Bethel, whom I consider to be my children, and in whose spiritual progress I take delight. Over the past eight years, I have had seven different assignments. While these changes have not always been easy, such training is beneficial in the long run.
I used to grow a type of bean that produces a hundredfold. Similarly, I have experienced that when you sow what is bad, you reap a hundred times worse—and not just one harvest. Experience is a school where the lessons are very costly. I would prefer never to have been enrolled in that school but, rather, to have been brought up in Jehovah’s ways. What a privilege for those youths who are brought up by Christian parents! Without a doubt, it is better to sow what is good in Jehovah’s service and to reap a hundred times more peace and satisfaction.—Galatians 6:7, 8.
When I was a pioneer, I sometimes passed by the religion bookshop on whose wall we wrote the anarchist slogan. I have even been inside and spoken to the owner about the living God and his purpose. Yes, God is alive! What is more, Jehovah, the only true God, is a faithful Father, who never abandons his children. (Revelation 15:4) May further multitudes from all nations find the spiritual paradise now—and the restored Paradise to come—by serving and praising the living God, Jehovah!
Published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc.
[Pictures on page 26]
Moved by the wonders of creation, I decided in my heart to believe in God. (Right) In Bethel service today