Visiting a Foreign “Church”
The story of Nikos
During all this time, not only did I not stop preaching for a moment, but I was giving more hours than anyone in my congregation. I also had the most “scriptural studies”, seven to be exact. I was preparing more but I did not get a chance to start them. My “Scriptural Studies” were really scriptural. I now knew much about the dogmatic errors of the organization and I could not use its books any further. With the other people I studied strictly from the Holy Scripture. To my surprise I observed that by doing this they progressed faster than when reading the books of the organization. I remember the reaction of some Moslem when I took him both the “Watchtower” and the Holy Scripture in the Arabic Language. He told me: “Forget the magazine I don’t want it! The magazine confuses me! I understand the book better”. It rubbed me the wrong way back then, but now I understood fully why it was confusing to him. All the publications of the organization had tremendous differences compared to the real meaning of the Holy Scripture and they altered the true Gospel.
During this time I began to realize that the claim held by the “witnesses” that only they would be saved, was very egotistical. There were so many people who loved God, outside of the organization!
During the years when I was a “witness” in Salamina, I had met with many people of other religions. Among them were some people who would play a significant role in my life. One of these acquaintances was an “Evangelical” with whom I as a “witness” had numerous discussions. I couldn’t convince him, nor could he convince me. Now however, since I knew that as a religion they had many true claims, which my faith had wrong, I decided to go to one of their meetings secretly. I needed to see what was happening with the other religions! Thus I could discern without [prejudice, a bias], if my religion rated among the better or among the worse! This would finally determine if I should stay or exit this faith.
The “Evangelical” meeting was carried out in a home, Sunday morning. While everyone thought I went to the “work” (of the street), I went there instead. I requested from these folks not to say anything about my visit, which would betray me to the people of my religion, and I sat down. A “shepherd” (pastor), entered from the congregation of Lipasmata. He had a well groomed beard, something that seemed strange to me, especially since in my religion there was a rule that did not permit the “witnesses” to grow a beard, and if someone disobeyed this rule, he was not given any “privileges”. Of course I understood well how non-sensical this commandment was since Russel, the founder of the “students of the Scriptures” (from whom the “witnesses” branched off), had a beard, and especially since Christ himself also had a full beard. But I was used to some of these non-sensical rulings of the organization, so it didn’t phase me. What seemed strange to me however, was that the beard of this evangelical did not stop him from having the responsible position of the “shepherd”. In reality, this pleased me because this man-made, irrational tradition of the organization was always bothersome to me.
The speaker was speaking with the characteristic smile of the “evangelical” preachers, which seemed strange to me at the time, but later on I realized this to be their identification mark. I would spot them even before they would tell me that they were “evangelicals”. They started with a prayer. They praised with a pleasant hymn and he began to analyze a chapter directly from the Holy Scripture. This was refreshing. At least they did not repeat like parrots whatever was imposed upon them by others! Yet I was annoyed by their preoccupation with the Holy Trinity something that I considered an idolatrous teaching at the time.
With great surprise I saw some “evangelical” women in tears deeply touched by the words of the speaker. This was something that I had rarely seen among “witnesses”.
"Obviously there are faithful people in all religions", I thought! . . . “Now would the Lord who said about his crucifiers” . . .:Father forgive them for they know not what they do!”, kill this faithful woman during “Armageddon”?
For a brief moment an image of “Armageddon” passed through my mind as imagined by us the “witnesses”, being that I was still clueless as to the reality of this war. I imagined this woman standing in the middle of a great earthquake, exposed to falling fire and brimstone and hail stones. Then I imagined her to turn her face towards heaven and cry out:
"- Lord, I have loved you! I was crying out of love for you while hearing your word! And now you the Righteous Judge, are killing me?" NO! This is not possible! This sort of God was not a God of love! This was not the God I believed in and worshipped! Such a God was not worthy of my love and worship even if I also had to die. Such a God would not be different from the devil himself! My God however, was synonymous with Love! He was worth dying for His Name and we saw His love in the person of His Word and Son. His loving care was providing for all His creations including those deluded by a false religion? And yet, I saw His hand very plainly in my life!
I remembered a certain event from the time of my childhood. This was immediately after my father’s death and the social security checks of my mother and grandmother were not enough to live on. So we all worked taking various jobs at home. I remember my mother up sewing dresses when I being very tired was going to bed. In the morning she was still up sewing all night so we could make ends meet. And after all this the money was very tight I remember one morning we did not even have plain bread in the home. We borrowed from every possible source, but now we had nothing left. Not even for a loaf of bread!
My mother came inside the house and in a state of hesitation, she announced to us that we have nothing to eat. What was she going to do? I saw her face full of despair.
"- Let’s pray and God will provide", she said!
So all three of us prayed together and we returned to our tasks. Then, not even an hour later the mailman rang the bell. He was holding a letter from one of my uncles in America. We opened the letter and to our amazement, he had enclosed a few dollars equivalent to 1000 drahmas. At that time this amount could feed us for an entire week! We turned to God with great thanksgiving TO MY GOD! This was my God! Who provided even for the little birds, who loved all his creations! He was not the unrighteous murderer as presented by the organization. He was willing, and He would save every man who loved Him, no matter what religion he belonged to.
The speaker was continuing and my mind was racing! And why not: I didn’t go there to be taught about the interpretation of the Holy Scripture! I was there to search and precisely think, to see if there are other people who love God outside of the “Jehovah witnesses”.
I also remembered another thing. There was an aged woman disfellowshipped by the organization of “watchtower”. Her husband was still a “witness”, but she had become Orthodox. I found out that when much younger, she was sexually assaulted by some “witness”. She was scandalized and departed from the organization. After this not a single “witness” was permitted to speak to her. One time her husband fell ill, so we felt the duty to go see him. But how? She was disfellowshipped and we couldn’t enter her home! The “elders” gave their consent and we visited them with my mother. She was a very polite woman and I felt sorry that I couldn’t talk to her more often.
I never saw her again, after this, yet I was informed about her death a short time later. I don’t remember in my entire life being so devastated by any other death! According to the teaching of the organization, all the dead would resurrect except the disfellowshipped and the impious! Up to now, my sadness for anyone dying, was the sadness of a temporary separation, regardless how long it would be. At some point however, we would stand together again side by side on this very earth! But this was not the case with this woman. Her life had expired forever! She would never see the light of the sun again for centuries to come! Everything, every aspect of her life was forever lost, without hope or meaning. Darkness! Inexistence! Terror! These emotions flooded my soul when I learned about her death. Death never appeared in front of me so terrible!
I remember crying like never before, more so than during the death of by father. And to think that I couldn’t even pray for her! The organization forbade us praying even for the live disfellowshipped, how much more for those dead. This was strange, but at the time I did not think of this. If I cried and grieved for a woman disfellowshipped by my religion, whom I only saw once, how would the One who created her react? He who followed her all through her life and had her as His child? He who is Love? (1 John 4:8)
As the speaker continued, all these thoughts overtook my mind with a new intensity, with a new meaning. The purpose of my visit to the “evangelicals” was very successful! I knew this now!
“God shows no partiality, but in every nation whoever fears him and works righteousness is accepted by Him” (Acts 10:34-35), and not only in every nation, but in every religion. Now I was no longer afraid of disfellowship. I knew that God would accept me wherever I was as long as I tried according to the level of my abilities given to me by His Grace. He would accept me, the same way he would accept that woman for whom I cried so much back then, like he would accept this “evangelical” woman who was crying in front of me! For me He was no longer the punishing God who looks for an opportunity to destroy His creations. He was a loving father full of the most guileless, most forgiving, most good love. He was love in Himself!
I don’t know exactly what the “shepherd” of the Evangelicals was saying on that given day, but I do know what my heavenly shepherd was thinking for all His creations, and especially for me as I awaited my disfellowship.