Grateful Despite Tragedies—How the Bible Helped Me to Cope
As told by Enrique Caravaca Acosta
It was April 15, 1971. I was on my way to visit my family at our family farm. Having been away from home for some time, I was very much looking forward to seeing everyone. I wondered if they would all be at home and whom I would see first. Upon my arrival, I was horrified to find four people—including my mother—murdered!
I WAS shocked beyond words. What had happened? What would I do? There was no one around, and I felt confused and helpless. Before I continue with the story, let me tell you a little about my background. Then you will better understand how I felt about this and other tragedies in my life.
We Found the Truth
I was born in Quirimán, near Nicoya, Costa Rica. In 1953, when I was 37 years of age, I was living with my parents on our family farm. Though we were brought up as Catholics, we were not happy with certain doctrines and had many unanswered questions.
One morning, a man named Anatolio Alfaro came to our home and encouraged us to study the Bible. He shared many scriptures and Bible teachings with us. Father, Mother, one of my brothers, my sister, her friend who was staying with us, and I all sat and listened. The discussion lasted through the day and long into the night. We had many questions.
Anatolio stayed overnight and spent the next day with us. We were thrilled with what we heard and were even more excited when our questions were answered directly from the Bible. That discussion had a profound effect on us. We thought about what we had learned, and we knew that we had found the truth. Anatolio left some Bible magazines and books with us. In the evenings, we read and studied these publications together as a family. This was quite a challenge, since we had no electricity. Before sitting down to study, each of us took a large potato sack and covered our feet and legs to protect them from the mosquitoes.
Six months later, five members of my family, including my parents and me, got baptized. Excitedly, we started to go from house to house to share with others what we had learned. We traveled about two hours on foot and sometimes on horseback to a town called Carrillo to meet with a group of Jehovah’s Witnesses there. Anatolio continued to come to our home to study the Bible with us. Then a meeting was arranged at our home, with about eight people attending. All of them eventually got baptized. That group soon grew to be a small congregation of about 20.
Doing God’s Work Full-Time
In time, the Costa Rica branch office of Jehovah’s Witnesses invited those who could to take up the evangelizing work full-time. In 1957, I accepted this invitation and entered the full-time ministry. The work was exciting, to say the least. I often walked alone for hours to reach people in rural areas. Sometimes people did not welcome me. I recall at least three times being threatened by men with machetes, demanding to know who I was and what I was doing.
Back in the 1950’s, most roads were just trails through the wilderness, and we had a difficult time reaching people. To get to certain areas, we had to go on horseback. We waded through rivers and occasionally spent nights sleeping under the stars. Clouds of mosquitoes made life miserable. We also had to be on the lookout for snakes and crocodiles. Through it all, I thoroughly enjoyed helping people to learn about Jehovah God. When I got home, I felt happy and content because of being able to share Bible truth with others. As I did my work and studied the Bible each day, my love for Jehovah God continued to grow, and I felt much closer to him.
In time, additional privileges were extended to me. For more than ten years, I served as a traveling overseer, visiting and strengthening congregations, a different one each week, in a certain area. Though health problems made it necessary for me to relinquish this privilege of service, I continued to enjoy the ministry, serving God full-time.
Then, while I was in Nicoya in 1971, I returned to visit my family. As I entered our home, I found my 80-year-old mother lying on the floor. She had been shot and stabbed. When I bent down to hold her, she was still breathing. Moments later, she died in my arms. I looked around, and there on the kitchen floor lay the cook, who was eight months pregnant. She too was dead. As if that was not enough, I also found a member of the local congregation lying dead in the corridor, and the young son of the cook lay dead in the bathroom. All had been brutally stabbed and shot. Who could have done such a horrible thing, and why?
When I went outside, I found my father. He had been shot in the head but was still alive! I hurried to my brother’s house, which was about 15 minutes away, only to learn that another woman and her son had also been killed. How shocked I was to learn that the killer was my 17-year-old nephew, who was not one of Jehovah’s Witnesses and was mentally ill! He had fled the area. The largest manhunt in the history of Costa Rica was on.
The story made national news. After seven days, the police found the killer, who was armed with a large knife and a .22 caliber pistol that someone had sold to him despite knowing that he was mentally and emotionally disturbed. My nephew was shot and killed as he was being apprehended.
During the manhunt, many advised me to flee from the area for fear that my nephew might return to harm me. I prayed about it because I felt that I needed to be with the surviving members of my family and with those in the congregation. So I stayed.
Beset by One Tragedy After Another
Sadly, Father lived for only one year. The next year, my sister, a faithful servant of Jehovah God, was murdered in a separate, unrelated incident. Again, all my relatives were shocked to lose another family member. Words cannot describe the feelings of loss and sadness that we and our friends experienced. Throughout the ordeal, I relied heavily on Jehovah and continually begged him for strength.
In 1985, I attended a three-day training class for Christian elders in the capital city, San José. At the end of the class, I felt spiritually uplifted. Early Monday morning, I left to take the bus home. As I was walking to the bus terminal, I was attacked by thugs, who choked and robbed me. It all happened so fast that I was not able to see their faces. This has left me unable to communicate in the customary Costa Rican manner. Here in the province of Guanacaste, men yell or shout as they meet and greet one another or just to make their presence known. I had been good at shouting, but after the attack, I could no longer do so.
In 1979, I married Celia, a fellow Witness from a neighboring congregation. Celia loved the Bible. We read and studied the Bible together every day. Sadly, I lost her to cancer in July 2001. At times, I feel lonely, but the hope of the resurrection strengthens me.—John 5:28, 29.
Joyful Despite Trials
Though I may have experienced more tragic events in my life than many people have, I view these trials as opportunities to prove my faith and loyalty before Jehovah. (James 1:13) To help me maintain a balanced view of my experiences, I keep reminding myself that “time and unforeseen occurrence” befall us all. (Ecclesiastes 9:11) I also remember that these are “critical times hard to deal with,” for people are fierce, violent, and without self-control. (2 Timothy 3:1-5) I bear in mind, too, the example of Job. In spite of all his suffering—losing his family, health, and livelihood—Job steadfastly said: “Let the name of Jehovah continue to be blessed.” And Jehovah richly rewarded Job for his integrity. (Job 1:13-22; 42:12-15) All these thoughts from the Bible help me to remain joyful despite my many trials.
Jehovah has always helped me to continue putting him first in my life. Reading the Bible daily is a source of great comfort and has given me the strength to endure. By turning to Jehovah in prayer, I am able to enjoy “the peace of God that excels all thought.” (Philippians 4:6, 7) This brings me peace of mind. Attending and participating in Christian meetings likewise is faith-strengthening for me.—Hebrews 10:24, 25.
Though advanced in years, I am grateful to Jehovah that I still have the strength to work with my fellow Christians, to study the Bible with others, and to share in the ministry. Serving others in these ways gives me the power to cope with despair. From the bottom of my heart, I am truly grateful to Jehovah despite the many tragedies in my life.*
Two years after submitting the above account, Enrique Caravaca Acosta passed away at the age of 90.
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Reading the Bible daily is a source of great comfort and has given me the strength to endure
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My early effort to give a Bible talk
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In the field ministry in my younger years