HOW did a man with a tragic upbringing become a happy, successful husband and father? What moved a woman with many vices to clean up her life? Read what these people have to say.
“I Felt Worthless.”—VÍCTOR HUGO HERRERA
YEAR BORN: 1974
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN: CHILE
HISTORY: ADDICTED TO ALCOHOL
I was born in the city of Angol, in the beautiful south of Chile. I never met my father. When I was three years old, my mother moved with my brother and me to the capital, Santiago. We ended up living in a small room in a makeshift camp for the homeless. We used a public outhouse, and we got our water from a fire hydrant.
After about two years, the government gave us a small house. Unfortunately, our new neighborhood was plagued with drug and alcohol abuse, crime, and prostitution.
One day my mother met a man, whom she eventually married. My stepfather was a heavy drinker. He would beat my mother and me. I often wept in private, wishing I had a father to protect me.
Even though my mother worked hard to provide for us, we were very poor. When we were hungry, sometimes all we had to eat was powdered milk and sugar. For entertainment, my brother and I would sneak over to watch television through a neighbor’s window. But one day the neighbor caught us, and that was the end of that!
When my stepfather was sober—which was not very often—he would buy my brother and me something to eat. On one occasion he bought us a small television. That is one of the few times I remember feeling happy.
At age 12, I learned to read. A year later, I quit school and started working full-time. After work I would go out with adult workmates to parties where we would get drunk and take drugs. Soon I was hooked.
When I was 20, I met Cati, and we eventually got married. At first, all went well, but then I returned to the life I had led before. My conduct went from bad to worse. It finally dawned on me that I was headed either to jail or to the grave. Worse yet, I was making my son Víctor suffer the same things that I did when I was young. I felt sad, I was angry with myself, and I felt worthless.
About 2001, two of Jehovah’s Witnesses visited our home, and Cati began to study the Bible with them. She talked to me about what she was learning. Out of curiosity, I also began to study the Bible. In 2003, Cati was baptized as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
HOW THE BIBLE CHANGED MY LIFE:
One day, I read Ruth 2:12, which says that Jehovah rewards those who act in faith, seeking refuge in him. I realized that if I made changes, I could please God and be rewarded by him. I noticed how often the Bible condemns drunkenness. The words of 2 Corinthians 7:1 had an impact on me. That verse urges us to “cleanse ourselves of every defilement.” So I started to abandon my bad habits. As I did, at first my temper worsened, but Cati never stopped supporting me.
I finally quit my job because the pressure to smoke and drink was very strong. Although being out of work for a while meant getting by on very little, it did give me more time to study the Bible. That was when I really began to make spiritual progress. Cati never demanded more than I could give materially, nor did she reproach me for our simple lifestyle. I’m truly grateful for her loving support.
I gradually began to associate more closely with the Witnesses. They helped me to appreciate that despite my lack of secular education, Jehovah values my sincere desire to serve him. The love and unity we saw in the Christian congregation had a profound effect on our family. We had not found such peace anywhere else. In December 2004, I too was baptized.
HOW I HAVE BENEFITED:
I’ve experienced the truthfulness of Jehovah’s words recorded at Isaiah 48:17, where he says: “I, Jehovah, am your God, the One teaching you to benefit yourself.” My mother and my brother were so impressed by my changes that they are now studying the Bible. Even my neighbors rejoice to see how different I am and what a happy family we have.
I have a wife who loves God and who views me as her trustworthy companion and friend. Even though I never knew my father, the Bible has taught me how to raise my three sons. They respect me. Most important, they see Jehovah as a real Person, and they have grown to love him.
“Even though I never knew my father, the Bible has taught me how to raise my three sons”
I’m truly grateful that despite my unhappy childhood, Jehovah has given me the chance to become a happy man.
“I Became an Angry, Aggressive Young Woman.”—NABIHA LAZAROVA
YEAR BORN: 1974
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN: BULGARIA
HISTORY: DRUG TRAFFICKER
I was born in Sofia, Bulgaria, in a middle-class family. My father left our family when I was six years of age. That came as a big shock, and it caused me tremendous emotional pain. I felt rejected and unworthy of being loved. As I got older, these feelings made me rebel. I became an angry, aggressive young woman.
When I was 14, I ran away from home for the first time. I often stole money from my mother and grandparents. In school I was always in trouble because of my violent temper, and as a result, I was sent to five different schools within only a few years. Three years before I should have received my diploma, I left school. I led a very immoral life. I became addicted to smoking cigarettes and marijuana. I drank a lot, partied constantly, and became involved in drug trafficking. I couldn’t make sense of living in a hopeless world where people were suffering and dying. So I lived only for each day’s pleasures.
In 1998, when I was 24 years of age, I was arrested at the airport in São Paulo, Brazil, while engaging in illegal drug trafficking. I was sentenced to four years in prison.
HOW THE BIBLE CHANGED MY LIFE:
In 2000, Jehovah’s Witnesses started visiting my prison once a week. One of the Witnesses, Marines, was very kind to me. She awakened in me a desire to learn more about the Bible. Since I had never heard of Jehovah’s Witnesses, I asked my fellow inmates what they could tell me about them. To my surprise, most of the people I asked reacted disapprovingly. One inmate told me to join any religion but Jehovah’s Witnesses. Her statement made me even more curious; I wanted to find out why these people were hated so much. I came to believe that it was because they practice the true religion. After all, the Bible says that everyone who sincerely tries to follow Jesus will be persecuted.—2 Timothy 3:12.
During that time, I was assigned to work in the administration building of the prison. One day I found some boxes with older Watchtower and Awake! magazinesa in a storage room. I took the magazines to my prison cell and started reading them. The more I read, the more I felt like someone in a parched desert who had just found a well of fresh water. Since I had much time on my hands, I studied the Bible every day for many hours.
One day I was called to the prison office. I expected to be released from prison, so I quickly collected my few belongings, said good-bye to my fellow inmates, and ran to the office. However, when I arrived there, I learned that a new case, involving holding false documents, had been filed against me. As a result, I was sentenced to two more years of imprisonment.
At first, I was crushed. But a couple of days later, I began to realize that this development was a blessing in disguise. Although I had learned many things from the Bible, in my heart I still wanted to continue my previous lifestyle after being released from prison. I needed more time to change.
Sometimes I felt that it would be impossible for God to accept me as one of his worshippers. But I meditated on passages such as 1 Corinthians 6:9-11. Those verses reveal that in the first century C.E., some Christians had been thieves, drunkards, and extortioners before serving Jehovah. Yet, with Jehovah’s help, they changed. Their example was a big encouragement to me.
Some of my vices were easy for me to give up. For example, I broke free from drug abuse without much difficulty. But quitting smoking was another story. I put up a hard fight for more than a year before I finally succeeded in breaking the habit. One thing that helped was educating myself about the bad things that smoking does to a person’s health. Above all, it was incessant prayer to Jehovah that enabled me to quit.
“I had found the best Father—one who would never forsake me!”
As I drew closer to Jehovah, I slowly started to overcome the feelings of rejection I had battled with after my father abandoned us. The words of Psalm 27:10 touched me deeply. That verse says: “In case my own father and my own mother did leave me, even Jehovah himself would take me up.” I realized that I had found the best Father—one who would never forsake me! Now my life had a purpose. In April 2004, six months after being released from prison, I was baptized as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
HOW I HAVE BENEFITED:
I am a happy person. Free of destructive habits, I enjoy much better physical and emotional health than when I was younger. I enjoy a happy marriage, and I have a close friendship with my heavenly Father, Jehovah. Among his worshippers, I have found many fathers, mothers, brothers, and sisters. (Mark 10:29, 30) I’m grateful that they saw potential in me—even before I saw it in myself.
At times, I am overwhelmed with feelings of guilt because of my past. But I draw comfort from knowing that in God’s promised new world, bad memories “will not be called to mind.” (Isaiah 65:17) In the meantime, my experiences help me to be empathetic toward people who face similar challenges. In that sense, my past is an advantage. When I’m sharing in the Christian ministry, for example, I find it relatively easy to talk to people who are drug addicts, alcoholics, or criminals—without feeling prejudiced. I’m confident that if I could make changes in order to please Jehovah, anyone can!
a Published by Jehovah’s Witnesses.