Wednesday, December 30, 2009
Five years ago, I was facilitating a DBSA support group in Princeton, NJ. In walked Kevin, exuding a goofy charm, baseball cap on backward. But there was something about his presence that indicated he was no mere goofball. The others in the room felt it, too.
As we grew closer, he began opening up to me. Kevin was a Jehovah’s Witness. It was a faith he had arrived at rather one he was born into. As he explained to me and others, his faith provided handrails. His life now had purpose, direction. His ultimate goal was to do full-time missionary work.
But he had his setbacks, his dark moments. And his illness, his illness ...
I recall a long conversation with him over coffee, in which he recounted to me a number of difficulties he was dealing with on the missionary path.
Life as a missionary wasn’t meant to be easy, I responded sympathetically, especially if you are God’s chosen. I paraphrased a key passage from Second Corinthians for him as best as I could:
"Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep."
Paul was on a mission, literally a mission from God. His first two Letters - Romans and First Corinthians - reflect the optimism of one with God on his side: confident, bossy, out to change the world.
Second Corinthians, written many years later, reflects a different Paul: weary and disenchanted, struggling to keep his faith. Acts of the Apostles reports Paul being set upon and left for dead by a mob in Antioch and at the mercy of another in Ephesus.
My take, as I related to Kevin went like this: Here’s God telling Paul in effect, “You presume to act in My name, well then ... let's see how sincere you are after a mob has tried to crack open your skull, you find yourself holding on for dear life to a piece of boat in the open sea, your friends have turned on you, your followers have abandoned you, and your love is returned in endless measure with unbridled hate.”
It's not in God's nature to make things easy, I went on to tell Kevin. You want an easy life, then do something easy. You want to accomplish something, well don't expect any breaks. The nature of things is that you will be tested.
Of all things, my bleak little homily had the effect of cheering Kevin up. I think my friend felt that he alone was responsible for his own difficulties. Having his mettle tested by God was an entirely different proposition.
Kevin, in turn, told me something I did not know: In Nazi Germany and elsewhere in Europe, the Witnesses stood up to Hitler. At great risk to their own personal freedom and safety, they befriended Jews, they patronized Jewish businesses. Ultimately, 12,000 were sent to the camps, where 2,000 died. A purple triangle on their prison garb identified them by their religion.
I thought of other faiths that had virtually rolled over and played dead for Hitler. These Witnesses had guts, I could only think.
Kevin is gone. But today, thanks to my friend, you are reading something positive about Jehovah’s Witnesses, perhaps for the first time in your life. I like to think that Kevin succeeded in his mission.