WHILE sailing in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea, I discovered to my shock that my old sailboat was leaking so badly that it was taking on gallons and gallons of water. Then a storm blew in. I became afraid and prayed for the first time in many years. How did I get into this situation? Let me start at the beginning.
I was born in the Netherlands in 1948. The next year, my family moved to São Paulo, Brazil. My parents were very active in the church, and as a family we regularly read the Bible after supper. We emigrated again in 1959 but this time to the United States, where we settled in the state of Massachusetts.
Father worked hard to care for our family of eight. He was variously employed as a traveling salesman, a road construction worker, and a sales representative for an international airline. All in the family were delighted when he got the job with the airline because it allowed us to travel widely.
During high school, I often thought, ‘What am I going to do when I grow up?’ Some of my friends chose university, while others went into military service. But for me, the military was out of the question because I never liked quarreling, let alone fighting. I decided to go to university in order to avoid military service. Deep down, though, I wanted to help others, reasoning that it would give real purpose to my life.
LIFE ON CAMPUS
At the university, anthropology interested me, since I was curious about the origin of life. We were taught evolution and were expected to accept it as factual. But to me some explanations lacked logic and required blind faith, which is contrary to the scientific method.
In the classes that I attended, we were not taught elevated morals. Rather, the emphasis was on how to succeed at all costs. Socializing at parties and experimenting with drugs gave me a happy feeling, but it was fleeting. I wondered, ‘Is this really life with a purpose?’
In the meantime, I moved to the city of Boston and enrolled at a university there. To pay for my schooling, I took a summer job where I had my first contact with Jehovah’s Witnesses. A workmate spoke to me about the prophecy of the “seven times” found in Daniel chapter 4 and explained that we were living in the time of the end. (Dan. 4:13-17) I quickly realized that if I continued to have these discussions and took them seriously, I would have to change my lifestyle. So I avoided that workmate in every way possible.
At the university, I took courses that would prepare me for volunteer work in South America. I thought that helping others in a humanitarian way would give purpose to my life. But my doubts about how to find a purposeful life grew stronger. Disillusioned, I dropped out of university at the end of the semester.
MY SEARCH FOR A LIFE WITH PURPOSE CONTINUES IN DISTANT LANDS
In May 1970, I moved to Amsterdam, in the Netherlands, to work for the same airline as my father did. Because of this job, I was able to travel extensively, visiting countries in Africa, the Americas, Europe, and the Far East. I soon realized that no matter what country I visited, they all faced major problems and no one seemed to have practical solutions. With a renewed desire to accomplish something worthwhile, I decided to go back to the United States and enroll again at the same university in Boston.
Back at school, though, I realized before long that I was still not getting any answers to my questions about life. At a loss for what to do, I asked my anthropology professor for advice. He surprised me when he said: “Why continue? Why not quit now?” He only had to tell me once. So I left university for good.
Life still seemed devoid of purpose, so I decided to become more involved with the so-called flower-power generation. Some friends and I hitchhiked across the United States and down to Acapulco, Mexico. We lived in communes with hippies, who seemed to have a carefree life. But in living with them, I soon discovered that their way of life did not have meaning or bring lasting happiness. Instead, I saw that it was permeated with dishonesty and disloyalty.
MY SEARCH CONTINUES ON A SAILBOAT
In the meantime, a childhood dream started to resurface. I wanted to sail the seas, not as a sailor, but as a captain. The only way I could do that was by having my own sailboat. Since a friend named Tom had similar aspirations, we decided to sail around the world together. I wanted to find a tropical island paradise where I would be away from the Establishment.
Tom and I traveled to Arenys de Mar, near Barcelona, Spain. There we bought a 31-foot (9.4 m) sailboat named Llygra. We began to rebuild the sloop to make her seaworthy. Since we were not in a hurry to reach our destination, we took out the engine and used the space for extra drinking water. In order to maneuver the sailboat in small harbors, we had two 16-foot (5 m) oars fitted. Finally, we set sail for the Seychelles, in the Indian Ocean. Our plan was to sail along the west coast of Africa and around the Cape of Good Hope, South Africa. We navigated with a sextant so that we could plot our course, using stars, star charts, and almanacs. I was amazed at how we could pinpoint our exact position.
Before long, we realized that this old wooden vessel was not seaworthy. It took on water at a rate of about six gallons (22 L) per hour! As mentioned in the introduction, during a storm I became afraid and prayed for the first time in many years, promising God that if we survived, I would try to get to know him. The storm abated and, for once, I kept my promise.
I started to read the Bible while out in nature. Imagine sitting in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea, surrounded by flying fish, dolphins, and endless horizons. At night, I was fascinated by the Milky Way galaxy and became ever more convinced that there is a God who is interested in mankind.
After some weeks at sea, we rowed into the harbor at Alicante, Spain, where we put our boat up for sale in order to get a better one. Not surprisingly, it was not easy to find a buyer for an old, engineless, leaky sailboat! On the other hand, it was an excellent time to read my Bible.
The more I read the Bible, the more I began to see it as a handbook that can help us succeed in life. I was impressed with the Bible’s clear language about living a clean, moral life and wondered why so many people—including myself—consider themselves to be Christians and yet ignore what it says.
I was determined to take major steps to clean up my life, so I stopped using drugs. I thought that there must be people who live by the Bible’s high moral standards, and I wanted to meet them. For the second time, I prayed, asking God to help me find them.
MY SEARCH FOR THE TRUE RELIGION
To me, it seemed logical to apply the process of elimination in my search for the true religion. As I walked through the streets of Alicante, I came across many religious buildings. But because most of them had images, it was easy to scratch them off my list.
One Sunday afternoon, I was on a hillside overlooking the harbor, reading James 2:1-5, which warns against showing favoritism to the rich. On the way back to our boat, I passed what looked like a religious meeting place with a sign above the entrance: “Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses.”
I thought, ‘I should put these people to the test. Let’s see how they receive me.’ So I entered the Kingdom Hall barefoot, bearded, and wearing torn jeans. The attendant escorted me to a seat next to an elderly lady who kindly helped me find the scriptures mentioned by the speaker. After the meeting, I was overwhelmed by the kindness of all who came to greet me. One man invited me to his home for a discussion, but because I had not finished reading the Bible, I told him, “I will let you know when I am ready.” In the meantime, I began attending all the meetings.
Several weeks later, I visited the man in his home and he answered my Bible questions. A week later, he gave me a bag full of very nice clothes. He told me that the owner of the clothes was in prison because of obeying the Bible’s command to love one another and not learn war anymore. (Isa. 2:4; John 13:34, 35) Now I was sure that I had found what I was looking for—people who apply the straightforward language of the Bible about morality! My goal was no longer to find a paradise island but to study the Bible in depth. So I returned to the Netherlands.
IN SEARCH OF A JOB
It took me four days of hitchhiking to reach the city of Groningen, in the Netherlands. There I needed to get a job to support myself. At one carpenter shop where I applied for work, the form asked for my religion. I wrote, “Jehovah’s Witnesses.” When the owner read that, I noticed that the expression on his face changed. He said, “I will call you.” But he never did.
At another carpenter shop, I asked the owner if he needed help. He asked for diplomas and letters of reference. I explained that I had done repair work on a wooden sailboat. To my surprise, he said, “You can start this afternoon but under one condition. I don’t want you to cause any problems in my shop because I’m one of Jehovah’s Witnesses and I live by Bible principles.” I looked at him in amazement and replied, “So am I!” No doubt, because of my long hair and beard, he said, “Then, I will study the Bible with you!” I gladly accepted his offer. Now it was clear to me why the other owner never called back. Jehovah was giving me the requests of my heart. (Ps. 37:4) I worked at that brother’s shop for one year. During that time, he studied the Bible with me, after which I got baptized in January 1974.
AT LAST, I FOUND A LIFE RICH IN PURPOSE!
A month later, I embarked on a new career—pioneer service—which has given me immense satisfaction. The following month, I moved to Amsterdam to support a newly established Spanish-language group. What a joy to conduct Bible studies in the Spanish and Portuguese languages! In May 1975, I received the privilege of serving as a special pioneer.
One day, a special pioneer sister named Ineke came to our Spanish meeting to introduce her Bolivian Bible student to us. Ineke and I decided to get to know each other by letter writing, which soon revealed that we shared the same goals. We were married in 1976 and continued to serve as special pioneers until 1982 when we were invited to attend the 73rd class of Gilead. How surprised and delighted we were to be assigned to East Africa, where we served for five years in Mombasa, Kenya! In 1987, we were reassigned to Tanzania, where the ban on the preaching work had been lifted. We stayed there for 26 years before returning to Kenya.
Helping appreciative people learn Bible truth has given our life real meaning. For example, my first Bible student in Mombasa was a man I met while doing public witnessing. After I offered him two magazines, he said, “If I finish these, what do I do then?” The next week we started studying the Bible with the book You Can Live Forever in Paradise on Earth, which had just been released in Swahili. He got baptized a year later and became a regular pioneer. Since then, he and his wife have assisted nearly 100 people to dedication and baptism.
When I first came to understand the purpose of life, I felt like the traveling merchant who discovered a special pearl and did not want to let it go. (Matt. 13:45, 46) I wanted to spend my life helping others to find the real meaning of life. Along with my dear wife, I have experienced firsthand how Jehovah blesses his people with a life rich in purpose.