NESTOR & TONI KUILAN’S MEMORIES
by Nestor and Toni Kuilian, 2014
I was baptized in 1961 in Puerto Rico and Toni in 1958 in Brooklyn, New York. Both of us took the new learned religion to heart and allowed ourselves to be well indoctrinated in the idea to help us to learn the so called “truth”. Toni moved to Puerto Rico and we were married in 1964. We started special pioneering together in 1964 in the town of Humacao, Puerto Rico. That was our first assignment together, and a rough one.
Now we realize that we were so gullible with the indoctrination. We forsook our family when they most needed us in order to do pioneering work. I was studying at the University and quit when all I needed for a BA degree were 15 credits. We left behind a good future because we were young and starting out on our marriage. I still remember my father asking me why I was marrying Toni if I was quitting the university and didn’t follow a career. How was I going to support my family?
When we started our first assignment we didn’t have a place to live and on the allowance the Society gave us of $32.50 a month for each one we ended up living in an apartment in a government project with bad reputation, for low income people. We were 23 and recently married with no place to live and we had to do 150 hours a month plus take care of a problematic congregation. Certainly it was obvious that the Watchtower Society did not take care of their people serving where the need was great. After three years in Humacao we applied for Gilead School of Missionaries and we were accepted. We were the first couple from Puerto Rico to be accepted to Gilead. We had to overcome lots of obstacles in order to get to Gilead. But due to our profound belief in the Watchtower teachings we abandoned our family, friends and a good future.
We were very excited to go to Gilead where we thought we were going to learn so much about the Bible. The idea was that we would study the Bible from cover to cover and we had to read it completely prior to attending Gilead. But to our disappointment the teachings were mainly about the history and geography of the Old Testament. We had to memorize data that would not be used again, so it wasn’t practical. It was mainly a rehash of old Watchtower material. This was truly an indoctrination process. I still remember the day that Nathan H. Knorr gave us a talk and told us that we were the “cream” of the human society because of our determination to serve as missionaries of God’s organization on earth. Toni and I were shocked at that remark and realized that they were working on our ego. But at that time we did not give that much importance. We were lucky they gave a special course called “Ministerial Problems”. Twenty students were chosen for that course and we were among them. This course was very practical and geared toward the overseers in the congregations, including circuit, district and branch overseers. It was about how to apply the Watchtower policies and discipline in the congregations.
When we were special pioneers in Humacao, P.R., due to my studies in psychology and my own sensibility I was able to realize how much suffering the members of the congregation had to endure due to their religious affiliation. Most of the overseers didn’t understand how the mind works nor how to offer help. They were trained to apply rules and regulations, to keep the good image of the organization. At the beginning of the “Ministerial Problems Course” I had the illusion that I was going to learn a lot about how to apply Bible principles in our lives and help others to do the same. But in reality the whole course was about how to apply the Watchtower Society’s rules. Again, it was just indoctrination because there was no place to apply our own wisdom, reasoning and spontaneity. The students that had no experience in judicial committees were very happy to receive that information because they didn’t have to think, just find the information in the Society’s private publications and apply it. The Society has private publications about how to deal with problems in the congregation.
We were assigned to do missionary work in Spain. After finishing Gilead we received training in the circuit work in New Jersey and New York. To avoid expenses the Society send us from New York to Iceland. There we changed planes to Luxemburg and arrived late at night. We were escorted by someone from the branch and they took us to the train station and we headed to Paris, France. We stayed at the French Branch for two days, did a little sightseeing and then headed for Barcelona, Spain on the train which took well over twelve hours. We finally arrived at our destination on Oct. 1967 at about 11PM and found our way to a small hotel where the Society had made arrangements for us to stay.
The Society assigned us to a missionary home and we stayed in Barcelona for several months. There we learned how they did the preaching work underground. The dictator, Francisco Franco was still in power and under his rule Jehovah’s Witnesses were outlawed. So we used to do the work in a very special manner. We would go to a building and start preaching from the top down in case someone would get angry with us and called the police. In that case it was easier to leave the building rapidly. Sometimes a householder would get mad with us and we would simply leave to another area in case the police came. We lived with constant uncertainty because if we got caught we would be deported or sent to jail and our partner would not know it till much later. It was especially hard for the Spaniards because they were exposed to jail at any time. Little by little we got used to this menace. We were trained in the circuit work in Palma de Mallorca and Barcelona and then assigned to Madrid.
Our circuit consisted of half of Madrid, the southwestern region of Extremadura and most of Castilla la Vieja. We did all that traveling on trains and buses. It was a hard job but we tried to make the best of it and enjoyed it.
After several years in the circuit we were assigned to the District work. At that time Spain consisted of one district so that included the whole Peninsula of Spain, the Balearic Islands and the Canary Islands. That means that we got to know the country very well. During my district visits I went to see the witnesses who were jailed due to their Christian neutrality. I had the opportunity to be with these brothers in jail on several occasions. It was always a very hard emotional experience. In Spain, the witnesses that refused to do military service were sent to jail and following the Society’s policy this is what many did. Some of them spent over 11 years in jail. This procedure was different from other countries like Mexico where the Watchtower allowed the witnesses there to pay money and sign some papers and thus avoid military service and having to go to jail at that time. Unlike Malawi where they were not allowed to sign anything and paid with their lives and much suffering. This was very inconsistent.
Every time I visited the jail I had to listen to complaints and problems and send a report to the Watchtower. Due to their industriousness and good behavior they earned the respect of other prisoners and guards and were allowed to be together in one area. These were men of principles, willing to lose their liberty. They thought they were doing it for God.
We used to do the circuit assemblies in small areas and the only ones allowed to attend were the elders of the congregations and the pioneers. Nevertheless they received the same information as witnesses in other countries and the elders had to convey this information to the congregation. For the District assemblies we would travel to Toulouse, France; Belgium, Germany and Rome. We used to work very hard to organize all the work during the time of the dictatorship.
We had to endure many hardships but did so with love in our hearts. At that time the living situation in Spain was quite poor. We had to stay in homes with no heating system and the weather was cold. Many homes did not have the bathroom inside the home.
After several years in the District, I was assigned to conduct the Kingdom Ministry School. That was a two week course for the elders of the congregations. I visited several big cities where the elders of the nearby congregations would come and take the course. Later on when Francisco Franco died and we were given liberty the course was conducted in the Barcelona branch. There I conducted the school and also worked in the service department of the branch. Toni worked in the branch helping in developing systems to do the work in the newly established branch.
Toni and I had the opportunity to work directly with the brothers and sisters in the country and we always tried to encourage them to develop love and compassion between themselves in contrast with the Watchtower legalistic approach. We were able to develop wonderful relationships with the members and elders of the congregations, circuit overseers, pioneers, the members of the branch, so we could say we built a “spiritual” paradise where we were living.
When we arrived in Spain in 1967 there were 4,644 active witnesses and when we left the country in 1977 there were 34,954. We were happy to have made a contribution towards that growth in Spain.
Then came the news that the Society was changing our assignment from Spain to Brooklyn Bethel in New York to work in the Spanish department at the factory. We were not happy to leave Spain.
In 1977 we arrived in Brooklyn, New York and began a new stage of our lives. What a blow! We often compared the environment of our previous assignment in Spain with the ridged environment at Brooklyn Bethel. It was like moving from a “spiritual paradise” in Spain into a “spiritual jungle”. It was a difficult change that opened our eyes to conditions and realities vastly different from what we used to believe. There was much uniformity and stereotyping. It was a place where there was no individuality. Everything is done according to rules.
Although not wearing a literal uniform, bethelites were easily identified in the surrounding area by their clothing, mode of walking and appearance in general. Everyone was constantly watched by others. We saw racism, elitism, alcoholism and immorality. We heard of sex scandals and suicides, one of which I personally knew. We noticed that in Brooklyn Bethel they didn’t act in a reasonable way; it was just politics, people looking for a position, they diminished their humanness because they knew the overseers were watching them. I thought that was the way of the world not the Holy Spirit, but that’s the way things were done.
These were Toni’s feelings: “At the end of three years I had just about had it with the situation at Bethel. Many of the women bethelites would approach me to get a load off their shoulders about the hard work and the empty feeling for women there. They felt lonely, scared, and useless. Some of them turned to alcohol as a way of subsiding their feelings. Some mentioned how they wished they had left earlier to have a family like “normal” people do. I learned that some of these women were being treated by psychiatrists and others were admitted into rehabilitation centers for their alcoholic addiction. This shocked me because the Society recommended that we should not go to a psychiatrist but speak with the elders yet they were doing just the opposite. One young woman invited me to the sunning area up at the roof of the Bethel Building. I couldn’t believe my eyes, many top notch overseers were sunning on a Sunday morning while back at the congregation they would excuse them as having too much work at Bethel. So it was mandatory for the publishers to go house to house and put in as many hours as possible and okay for some Bethel overseers, elite members, to spend their time sunning on the Bethel roof. All this was “hush hush”. Many bethelites did not know this little secret. I spoke to Nestor and asked him to please consider leaving because I was not happy there, to me it was like a prison. Strange I should say that, because when I first learned of the Witnesses, it was my goal to someday be a bethelite. It all looked so nice and neat on the outside.”
After much consideration we decided that we wanted to leave Bethel. We thought of returning to Spain and different possibilities.
I remember speaking with Chris Sanchez and Rene Vazquez about my impression that I did not feel the flow of the Holy Spirit there. Once while speaking with Chris about this subject he told me to talk to Rene about things that Ray Franz, member of the governing body, had mentioned to him. I called Rene and he told me that Ray Franz had mentioned that there were Bible texts that the Society had misinterpreted. I had a good relationship with Ray Franz because he had been a missionary in Puerto Rico, we saw him at Bethel while at Gilead School for Missionaries and he visited Spain as a Zone Overseer. So we had a good relationship. I spoke with Ray and invited him and Cynthia to our room for a meal and we spoke about the Bible. We discussed subjects like the Society manipulating the Bible to support their teachings and activities and what was going on in the writing department. Ray encouraged me to read certain Bible passages without attempting to use them to support a belief in particular. He did not attempt to teach me a new doctrine.
The first two doctrines I stopped believing were that God had an organization and that only 144,000 would go to heaven. I was greatly disturbed to realize that this belief I had defended and taught were not true according to the very same Bible. I remember the suffering I caused my family because I decided to obey the Watchtower and realized that the authority I allowed them to have over me had no scriptural basis.
At that time we planned a vacation with my family in Puerto Rico and brought with us the version of the Bible we used at Gilead where I had many notes. I studied it during the vacation and was able to see the falsity of the teachings of the Watchtower. Toni also saw it clearly. We decided to start a new life. We would go back to Bethel turn in our resignation and return to Puerto Rico. When we returned to Bethel we did not feel like the same people. We knew the witnesses were completely out of alignment with the Bible, that it was a made up scheme. The governing body was not the “faithful and discreet slave” that it claimed to be. We realized that we were working for a crooked organization that had nothing to do with God, one that altered the Bible to its liking.
Upon returning we sent a note to the Bethel office notifying that we wanted to leave and return to Puerto Rico. Our belongings were put in crates as we would leave within a couple of weeks. We planned to spend some time with Toni’s sister in Long Island and then go to Atlanta, Georgia to visit with Toni’s parents and brother.
However I received notice from the governing body. Intensive questioning sessions took place with the ever-powerful GB’s itchy fingers on an imaginary apostasy movement. Those meetings were really harsh and they treated us in a very hard way. They wanted me to tell them the full content of my conversations with Ray Franz. A member of the governing body was present at those meetings. They were angry and insisted that I had to cooperate with the governing body. I told them repeatedly that my private conversations with my friends were my own business. All of them kept talking trying to trick me wanting to know what Franz had said. At the end of each meeting they threatened us, ‘If you don’t cooperate you are going to have problems.’ After those meetings, Toni and I were nervous like a ‘roach in a chicken dance’ like we say in Puerto Rico. After those meetings everyone was looking at us constantly. Those days were really difficult. I finally told them that they could continue to speak to me, but to leave Toni out of this.
They asked me about when we had Ray and Cynthia in our room for dinner. I said we spoke about many things that it was a casual meal. They said they knew all about it, that we had had steaks and wine. I was indignant because they asked about Ray’s beliefs. I said, “Ask him what he believes. I can’t tell you what Ray thinks. I will tell you what I believe if you want to know.” I didn’t think it was right for me to talk about my friend’s conversation.
At the last meeting they told me if I continued in my position I would end up in the street outside Bethel with posters and signs against the Watchtower; I would become a member of the evil slave. At that moment I became angry and said, “I am an elder here like you, and you should respect me, so don’t talk to me like that.” The meeting ended; they disfellowshipped me that night by sending a note to our room.
We were kicked out of Bethel, leaving us homeless, penniless and friendless. Chris Sanchez, Rene Vazquez, their wives and myself were all disfellowshipped. Toni was not disfellowshipped.
I immediately sent them a note that I haven’t done anything wrong and I was not asking for forgiveness only a review of my case. Next morning they sent me a letter disfellowshipping me for covering over an apostasy movement. If I was repentant or wanted to confess I couldn’t go through a congregation committee. I would have to go through the governing body.
They were afraid I would influence people in Spain and Puerto Rico. So they damaged my reputation and many lies were said about me.
It was a relief to know that we would not have to put on charade any more, but we knew it would cost mayor problems with Toni’s parents. Her father had been in the circuit work and now both he and her mother were pioneers. I asked Toni if she was willing to go through this because she hadn’t been disfellowshipped. She agreed with me, and had seen enough to know she wanted no part of this organization. We have been shunned by our family for over 30 years.
We started a new life in Puerto Rico. We have a Real Estate business and I do Life Coaching and conduct Seminars.
When we returned to Puerto Rico and confronted the reality of the situation we were facing it was not easy. We had no friends and the family that were Jehovah’s Witnesses shunned us. We were both 40 years old, without money, a job nor a place to live. What we did have was a great courage and strong confidence in ourselves. We were very sure that we had done the right thing.
We didn’t want to be satellites of the Watchtower, revolving around the past. You can’t keep talking about those events, suffering them, and hanging on to them. We let our family practice their religion, if they shun us, then it was their choice. We had to accept it and let them go.
We took hold of our lives and remembered the Watchtower as something in our past. We gave that experience the meaning that we wanted; it was just a life lesson and we continued flowing with life.
Now we are both 73 years old and we feel well, happy and flowing with life and above all free of the virus called religion (the Watchtower influence). If you start a new life then you have a new life. Do you want to be a witness? No? Then don’t be a witness, leave it all. You can do it. My book will explain clearly how we found the cure for that.