ONE sunny morning in 1984, I headed to work from our comfortable home in a residential area of Caracas, Venezuela. On my way, I was musing over a recent article in the Watchtower magazine. It was about how our neighbors view us. Looking at the nearby houses, I wondered: ‘Do my neighbors see me simply as a successful banker? Or do they see me as a minister of God who supports his family by working in a bank?’ Not pleased with what seemed to be the likely answer, I decided to take steps to do something about that.
I was born on May 19, 1940, in the town of Amioûn, Lebanon. A few years later, our family moved to the city of Tripoli, where I was raised in a loving, stable family who knew and loved Jehovah God. I was the youngest of five children, three girls and two boys. For my parents, earning a living was secondary. Our life centered on Bible study, Christian meetings, and helping others come to know God.
There were several anointed Christians in our congregation. One was Michel Aboud, who conducted what we called our book study. He had introduced Christian truth in Lebanon in the early 1920’s, having learned it in New York. I especially recall how respectful and helpful he was to two young graduates of Gilead School—Anne and Gwen Beavor. They became our good friends. Many decades later, I was thrilled to meet Anne in the United States. Some time afterward, I encountered Gwen, who had married Wilfred Gooch and was serving at Bethel at the branch office in London, England.
WITNESSING IN LEBANON
There were few Witnesses in Lebanon when I was a youth. But we enthusiastically shared with others what we knew from the Bible. We did that despite opposition from some of the religious leaders. Certain events stand out in my mind.
One day, my sister Sana and I were sharing the Bible’s message in an apartment building. A priest showed up on the floor where we were speaking with the residents. Somebody must have called him. The priest started to insult my sister. He became violent and pushed Sana down the stairs, injuring her. Someone telephoned the police, who came and kindly saw to it that Sana was attended to. They took the priest to the police station, where they discovered that he was carrying a gun. The police chief asked him: “What are you anyway? A religious leader or a mob leader?”
Another occasion that I remember vividly was when our congregation rented a bus to take us to an isolated town where we could share the good news. We were having a pleasant time until the local priest heard what we were doing and gathered a mob. They harassed us, even throwing stones at us, and my father was hurt. I remember seeing him with his face all bloodied. He returned to the bus with my mother, and the rest of us anxiously followed. However, I will never forget that as my mother was cleaning my father up, she said: “Jehovah, please forgive them. They are not aware of their own actions.”
On yet another occasion, we went to visit relatives in our hometown. There we found a prominent religious leader, a bishop, at my grandfather’s home. The bishop knew that my parents were Jehovah’s Witnesses. He singled me out, though I was only six years old. “You,” he said, “why are you not baptized?” I replied that I was still a child and that to get baptized I needed to know more about the Bible and to have strong faith. Not liking my answer, he told my grandfather that I had been disrespectful.
Such negative experiences were few, however. Generally, the Lebanese people are friendly and hospitable. Thus, we had many enjoyable Bible discussions and conducted a good number of Bible studies.
DECIDING TO MOVE TO ANOTHER LAND
While I was still in school, a young brother from Venezuela visited Lebanon. He attended meetings in our congregation and became acquainted with my sister Wafa. In time, they got married and went to live in Venezuela. In her letters, Wafa urged my father to move the whole family to Venezuela. She did so because she missed us very much. Eventually, she succeeded in getting us to move!
We arrived in Venezuela in 1953 and settled in Caracas, near the presidential palace. Being a youngster, I was excited to see the president pass by at times in his chauffeur-driven car. But it was not easy for my parents to adapt to the new country, language, culture, food, and climate. In fact, they were just beginning to “find their feet” when something terrible happened.
My father started to feel sick. This seemed so strange to us, as he had been a strong, healthy person. We could not remember that he had ever been ill. Then he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and he underwent surgery. Sadly, he died one week later.
It is hard to put into words how shattering that was for us, given our circumstances. I was just 13 years old. We were in shock and felt as if our world had crumbled. For some time, my mother found it difficult to face the fact that her husband was no longer there. However, we came to see that life must go on, and with Jehovah’s help we managed. When, at age 16, I graduated from high school in Caracas, I felt a keen desire to help support my family.
In the meantime, my sister Sana married Rubén Araujo, who had graduated from Gilead School and had returned to Venezuela. They chose to move to New York. When the family decided that I would study at university, I could do so there and have somewhere to live. My sister and brother-in-law were very influential in my spiritual progress while I lived with them. Additionally, there were many mature brothers in our Brooklyn Spanish congregation. Two of them whom I came to know and appreciate were Milton Henschel and Frederick Franz; both of them served at Brooklyn Bethel.
As my first year at university in New York was drawing to a close, I began to have doubts about what I was doing with my life. I had read and thought seriously about articles in the Watchtower magazine on the subject of Christians having meaningful goals. I saw how happy the pioneers and the Bethelites in our congregation were, and I longed to be like them. However, I was not yet a baptized Christian. Before long I realized the importance of dedicating my life to Jehovah. I did so and followed that with the key step of baptism on March 30, 1957.
Having taken that important step, I thought about another step that I wanted to take—that of entering the full-time ministry. This became increasingly attractive to me, but I could see that taking such a step was going to be difficult. How could I coordinate that service with my university schedule? Letters seemed to fly between New York and Venezuela as I explained to my mother and my siblings that my decision was to end my studies, return to Venezuela, and become a pioneer.
I returned to Caracas in June 1957. However, I could see that my family’s circumstances were not good. They needed the support of another wage earner. How could I help? I was offered work in a bank, yet I so wanted to pioneer. After all, that was the reason for my return. I was determined to do both. For several years, I worked full-time in the bank and I served as a pioneer. I had never been so busy nor so happy!
Adding to my joy, I met and married Sylvia, a beautiful German sister who deeply loved Jehovah. She had moved to Venezuela with her parents. Eventually, we had two children, our son, Michel (Mike), and our daughter, Samira. I also assumed the responsibility of caring for my mother. She came to live with us. Though I had to end my pioneer service to care for my family obligations, I maintained the pioneer spirit. Sylvia and I auxiliary pioneered whenever we could during vacations.
ANOTHER MAJOR STEP
The children were still in school when I had the experience mentioned at the start of this article. I have to admit that my life was very comfortable, and I was viewed with respect in banking circles. Still, I mainly wanted to be viewed as a servant of Jehovah. The thoughts I had that day did not leave me. So my wife and I sat down together and discussed our finances. If I ended my work at the bank, I would receive a lump sum payment. Because we had no debts, we figured that if we simplified our life, we would have enough money to keep us going for a good while.
It was not easy to take that step, but my dear wife and my mother fully supported it. So once again I was going to join the ranks of full-time servants. What a thrill! The road ahead seemed clear. Before long, though, we received news that surprised us all.
A WELCOME SURPRISE!
One day our doctor confirmed that Sylvia was pregnant. What a surprise to both of us! That was a great joy; yet, I thought of the step I had taken—that of becoming a pioneer. How would this decision be affected? We very soon adjusted mentally and emotionally and began to look forward to having an additional member of the family. But what about my carefully laid plans?
After discussing our goals, we decided to stick to our original plan. Our son Gabriel was born in April of 1985. Nevertheless, I resigned from the bank and began regular pioneering again in June 1985. In time, I was privileged to work with the Branch Committee. But the branch was not in Caracas, which meant my commuting a distance of about 50 miles (80 km) two or three days a week.
The branch office was located in the town of La Victoria, so we decided as a family to move to La Victoria to be closer to Bethel. That was a big step for us. I cannot overstate my appreciation and admiration for my family. Their attitude was a great help. My sister Baha was willing to provide care for our mother. Mike was married, but Samira and Gabriel still lived at home. Hence, moving to La Victoria meant their leaving friends in Caracas. Also, dear Sylvia had to adapt to a small town instead of the bustling capital city. And all of us had to get used to living in a smaller house. Yes, much was involved in the step of moving from Caracas to La Victoria.
However, things changed again. Gabriel got married, and Samira was able to live independently. Then Sylvia and I were invited to join the Bethel family in 2007, a privilege we enjoy to this day. Mike, our oldest son, serves as an elder and is able to pioneer along with his wife, Monica. Gabriel is an elder too, and he serves in Italy with his wife, Ambra. Samira, in addition to pioneering, assists as a remote volunteer at Bethel.
I WOULD DO THE SAME AGAIN
Yes, I have had a life full of significant steps. I have no regrets, though. I would make the same decisions again. I greatly appreciate the many spiritual assignments and privileges I have had in serving Jehovah. Over the years, I have come to see how vital it is to maintain a strong friendship with Jehovah. Whether the steps we need to take are small or large, he can provide the peace that “surpasses all understanding.” (Phil. 4:6, 7) Sylvia and I enjoy our sacred service at Bethel and feel that the steps we have taken in life have been blessed, steps taken with Jehovah in mind.