From Building Weapons to Saving Lives
AS TOLD BY ISIDOROS ISMAILIDIS
I was on my knees as tears rolled down my cheeks. “Oh, God, my conscience tells me that I cannot continue to work in weapons production,” I said in prayer. “I have tried hard to find another job, but I have not been able to. Tomorrow, I will turn in my resignation. Please, Jehovah, do not let our four children starve for bread.” How did I reach this point?
LIFE was peaceful and simple in Drama, northern Greece, where I was born in 1932. My father used to talk to me about what he wanted me to do. He encouraged me to go to the United States to receive an education. After Greece was pillaged during World War II, a prevalent motto among Greeks was: “You can steal our possessions, but you can never steal what is in our minds.” I was determined to pursue a higher education and acquire something that nobody would ever be able to steal.
From a young age, I had joined various youth groups sponsored by the Greek Orthodox Church. There we were told to avoid dangerous sects. I specifically remember one group—Jehovah’s Witnesses—being mentioned, since they supposedly represented the antichrist.
After graduating from a technical school in Athens in 1953, I traveled to Germany to see if I could find a job and go to school at the same time. But that did not work out, so I traveled to other countries. After a few weeks, I found myself without any money at a port in Belgium. I remember walking into a church, sitting down, and crying so hard that there were tears on the floor in front of me. I prayed that if God helped me get to the United States, I would not pursue material things but I would get an education and strive to be a good Christian and a good citizen. Finally in 1957, I arrived there.
New Life in the United States
Life in the United States was difficult for an immigrant who did not know the language and who had no money. I worked two jobs at night and struggled to go to school during the day. I attended several colleges and earned an associate degree. Then I went to the University of California at Los Angeles and earned a bachelor of science degree in applied physics. The words of my father about getting an education kept me going during these difficult years.
About this time, I met a lovely Greek girl, Ekaterini, and we were married in 1964. Our first son was born three years later, and in less than four years, we had two more sons and a daughter. It was indeed challenging to support a family and at the same time study at the university.
I was working for the U.S. Air Force at a missile and space company in Sunnyvale, California. I was involved with a variety of air and space projects, including the Agena and Apollo programs. I even received medals for my contribution to the Apollo 8 and Apollo 11 missions. After that, I continued my education and became heavily involved in various military space projects. At this point, I thought I had it all—a lovely wife, four wonderful children, a prestigious job, and a nice house.
A Persistent Fellow
In early 1967, at work, I met Jim, a very humble and kind man. Jim always seemed to have a smile on his face, and he never turned down an invitation to take a coffee break with me. He used these opportunities to share information from the Bible with me. Jim told me that he had been studying with Jehovah’s Witnesses.
I was shocked to hear that Jim had become involved with this religious group. How was it possible for such a nice person to fall victim to the sect of the antichrist? However, I could not resist Jim’s personal interest in me and his kindness. It seemed that every day he had something different for me to read. For example, one day he came to my office and said: “Isidoros, this article in The Watchtower talks about strengthening family life. Take it home, and read it with your wife.” I told him I would read the issue, but later I went to the restroom and tore the magazine in small pieces and threw them into the trash bin.
For three years, I destroyed every book and magazine that Jim gave me. Being prejudiced against Jehovah’s Witnesses, yet trying to keep Jim as my friend, I thought it best to listen to what he had to say and then dismiss it immediately.
From those discussions, however, I saw that most of the things I believed and practiced were not based on the Bible. I realized that the teachings of Trinity, hellfire, and immortality of the soul were not Scriptural. (Ecclesiastes 9:10; Ezekiel 18:4; John 20:17) As a proud Greek Orthodox, I did not want to admit openly that Jim was right. But since he always used the Bible and never gave his personal opinion, I finally recognized that this man had a valuable message from the Bible for me.
My wife sensed that something was happening, and she asked if I had spoken with my friend who was associated with the Witnesses. When I answered yes, she said: “Let’s go to any other church but Jehovah’s Witnesses.” Soon, however, my wife and I, along with our children, were regularly attending meetings of the Witnesses.
A Tough Decision
As I studied the Bible, I came across these words of the prophet Isaiah: “They will have to beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning shears. Nation will not lift up sword against nation, neither will they learn war anymore.” (Isaiah 2:4) I asked myself, ‘How can a servant of a peace-loving God be employed in the design and production of destructive weapons?’ (Psalm 46:9) It did not take long for me to conclude that I had to change my employment.
Understandably, this was a major challenge. I had a prestigious job. I had struggled through years of hard work, education, and sacrifices to get to this point. I had climbed the corporate ladder, and here I was faced with giving up my career. However, my deep love for Jehovah and a keen desire to do his will finally prevailed.—Matthew 7:21.
I decided to pursue employment with a company in Seattle, Washington. To my disappointment, however, I soon found that I was even more involved with work that did not harmonize with Isaiah 2:4. My efforts to work only on other projects failed, and again my conscience bothered me. I saw clearly that I could not keep my job and at the same time retain a clean conscience.—1 Peter 3:21.
It became clear that we were going to have to make important changes. In less than six months, we changed our life-style and reduced our family expenses by half. Then we sold our luxurious house and bought a small one in Denver, Colorado. I was now ready for the final leap—quitting my job. I typed out my resignation, explaining my conscientious position. That night, after the children had gone to bed, I knelt down with my wife and we prayed to Jehovah, as described in the beginning of this article.
In less than a month, we moved to Denver, and two weeks later, in July 1975, my wife and I were baptized. For six months I was unable to find a job, and we were slowly eating up our savings. By the seventh month, our savings account balance was less than the monthly mortgage on the house. I started looking for any odd job I could find, but immediately thereafter I got an engineering job. The salary was only about half of what I had been making; even so, it was much more than what I had asked Jehovah for. How happy I was that I had placed spiritual interests first!—Matthew 6:33.
Bringing Up Our Children to Love Jehovah
In the meantime Ekaterini and I were busy with the challenging job of bringing up our four children in line with godly principles. Happily, we have seen all of them, with Jehovah’s help, become mature Christians, devoting their lives fully to the important work of Kingdom preaching. Our three sons, Christos, Lakes, and Gregory have all graduated from the Ministerial Training School and are now serving in various assignments, visiting and strengthening congregations. Toula, our daughter, works as a volunteer at the headquarters of Jehovah’s Witnesses in New York. Our hearts were touched as we saw all of them sacrifice promising careers and high-paying jobs in order to serve Jehovah.
Many have asked what lies behind such successful child rearing. Of course, there is no fixed formula for bringing up children, but we diligently tried to instill love for Jehovah and neighbor in their hearts. (Deuteronomy 6:6, 7; Matthew 22:37-39) The children learned that we cannot tell Jehovah that we love him unless our deeds show that we do.
One day a week, usually Saturday, we participated in the ministry as a family. We regularly had a family Bible study on Monday evenings after dinner, and we also had a Bible study with each individual child. When the children were younger, we studied with each child for brief periods several times a week, and as they grew older, we had longer studies once a week. During these studies, our children opened up and freely discussed their problems with us.
We also enjoyed upbuilding recreation as a family. We liked to play musical instruments together, and each child loved to play his or her favorite songs. Some weekends, we invited other families for upbuilding association. We also took vacation trips as a family. On one such trip, we spent two weeks exploring the mountains of Colorado and working with the local congregations in the field ministry. Our children fondly remember working at district conventions in various departments and helping with Kingdom Hall construction in different places. When we took the children to Greece to see their relatives, they were also able to meet many faithful Witnesses who had been in prison for their faith. This made a deep impression on them, helping them to resolve to remain steadfast and courageous for the truth.
Of course, at times some of the children misbehaved or made poor choices regarding association. At other times, we created problems for them by being perhaps overly restrictive in some areas. But resorting to the “mental-regulating of Jehovah,” as found in the Bible, helped set matters straight for all of us.—Ephesians 6:4; 2 Timothy 3:16, 17.
The Happiest Time of My Life
After our children took up the full-time ministry, Ekaterini and I started thinking seriously about what we could do to expand our share in this lifesaving work. Thus, in 1994, after I retired early, we both started serving as regular pioneers. Our ministry includes visiting local colleges and universities, where we witness to the students and conduct Bible studies with some of them. Because I can sympathize with their difficulties—since I was in their shoes not so many years ago—I have had much success in helping them to learn about Jehovah. What a joy to have studied with students from Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, China, Egypt, Ethiopia, Mexico, Thailand, and Turkey! I also enjoy telephone witnessing, especially to people who speak my native tongue.
Even though I have many limitations because of my heavy Greek accent and advancing age, I have always tried to make myself available and have the spirit of Isaiah, who proclaimed: “Here I am! Send me.” (Isaiah 6:8) We have had the joy of helping more than half a dozen people to dedicate their lives to Jehovah. This has definitely been the happiest time for us.
Once, my whole life revolved around building monstrous weapons for killing fellow humans. Jehovah, through his undeserved kindness, however, opened the way for me and my family to become his dedicated servants and to devote our lives to bringing to people the good news of everlasting life on a paradise earth. As I reflect on the challenging decisions I had to make, the words of Malachi 3:10 come to mind: “‘Test me out, please, in this respect,’ Jehovah of armies has said, ‘whether I shall not open to you people the floodgates of the heavens and actually empty out upon you a blessing until there is no more want.’” He has indeed done so—to our heart’s content!
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Lakes: My father despised hypocrisy. He tried very hard not to be hypocritical, especially in setting the right example for his family. He often told us: “If you dedicate your life to Jehovah, that means something. You should be willing to make sacrifices for Jehovah. That is what being a Christian is all about.” These words have stuck with me and have enabled me to follow his example in making sacrifices for Jehovah.
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Christos: I have greatly appreciated my parents’ whole-souled loyalty to Jehovah and their strong commitment to their responsibility as parents. As a family, we did everything together—from our service to our vacations. Although they could have become involved in so many other things, my parents kept their life simple and focused on the ministry. Today, I know I am truly happiest when I am fully engrossed in Jehovah’s service.
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Gregory: More than my parents’ words of encouragement to me to expand my ministry, their example and the evidence of their joy in Jehovah’s service moved me to reevaluate my circumstances, push aside any worries and concerns about starting full-time service, and apply myself more fully to Jehovah’s work. I thank my parents for helping me find the joy that comes from exerting myself.
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Toula: My parents always emphasized that our relationship with Jehovah is the most precious thing that we could ever possess and that the only way we can ever be truly happy is by giving Jehovah our best. They made Jehovah very real to us. My father often told us that there is an indescribable feeling about being able to go to bed at night with a clean conscience, knowing that you have tried your best to make Jehovah happy.
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When I was a soldier in Greece, 1951
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With Ekaterini in 1966
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My family in 1996: (left to right, back) Gregory, Christos, Toula; (front) Lakes, Ekaterini, and me