Friday, October 23, 2009

From Hippie Surfer -to- Christian Minister

(experience of Karl H. Schwoerer on pgs 22-25 of the 12/07 Awake!)

(photo of Karl used in a Summer Surf Festival poster)

I was born in 1952 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S.A., but I grew up in New Smyrna Beach, Florida. As a teenager, I developed a strong passion for surfing. In fact, it became the most important thing in my life.
In 1970, I entered Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Florida, with the intention of becoming a commercial pilot. However, I became increasingly disappointed with the government, which was then waging what I believed to be an unjust war in Vietnam. Disgusted with the entire system of things, as were other youths of the time, I quit school and pursued a hippie lifestyle. I wore my hair long and used drugs. Soon I met Susan, an adventurous girl who had great talent for painting and photography. I calculated that by keeping our lives simple, I could work in construction six to eight months in Florida and we could spend the rest of the year camping on the beaches of the Pacific Coast of Mexico and Central America.

Conscious of a Spiritual Need
Living a carefree life on beautiful tropical beaches—with Sue painting and taking pictures and me surfing—was definitely very enjoyable. But after a couple of years, we came to realize that our life was unfulfilling. Something seemed to be missing. Thus, in mid-1975, while living on the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica, I began to seek spiritual enlightenment. I read books on Eastern religions and philosophies, which were popular at the time.
Since the books I read often quoted the Bible as proof for the truthfulness of their teachings, I reasoned that the Bible should be the basis for truth. So I traded some hallucinogenic mushrooms for an old King James Version of the Bible. Every afternoon, after having surfed all morning, I sat and read the Bible. Despite my great enthusiasm for the Bible, however, my understanding of it was limited.

“Have You Any Bible Questions?”
On our way from Costa Rica to the United States in August 1975, Sue and I stopped at a pharmacy in El Salvador to buy some medicine. As we were having trouble communicating with the pharmacist, a customer named Jenny offered to help us. She was a 16-year-old American girl who spoke Spanish fluently. She mentioned that she and her parents were Jehovah’s Witnesses and that they had moved to El Salvador to teach people about the Bible.
Jenny asked me, “Have you any Bible questions?”
“Yes, I do!” I answered. In spite of our hippie appearance, Jenny immediately invited us to her home to meet her parents, Joe and Nancy Trembley. We accepted her invitation. We spent all afternoon asking Bible questions and were very impressed with the way Joe and Nancy answered our queries. They always said, “Turn to this scripture in your Bible and read it.”
Soon it was late in the evening, so they invited us to stay overnight at their home. However, they did not allow Sue and me to share the same bedroom, since we were not married. During the night, Sue and Jenny stayed awake for hours considering many Bible subjects—from Adam to Armageddon.

The Green Bible
The next day, before we left town, Joe and Nancy gave us many copies of Watchtower and Awake! magazines, some books, and a Bible. The Bible was the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures, which at the time was produced with a green hard cover. Joe also took us to see the Kingdom Hall. It was a simple, modest building where Jehovah’s Witnesses meet for Bible study. ‘What a contrast,’ I thought, ‘to the ostentatious churches of Christendom, where people learn so little from the Bible!’
Later that day, when we stopped at the checkpoint before crossing the border into Guatemala, the green Bible caused confusion among the officials. They were puzzled because they recognized it as one commonly used by Jehovah’s Witnesses. Yet, we definitely did not look like Witnesses. Despite our appearance, the officials discharged us after a few minutes. This baffled us because they normally searched our car and belongings for drugs or smuggled goods. So we began to view the green Bible as an amulet, or a charm.

As we continued to read the Bible and the Bible study aids, we were convinced we had found the truth about God. While we were driving through Mexico, I was looking forward to two weeks of surfing at Puerto Escondido—my favorite surf spot. After enjoying those “perfect waves,” I was determined to return to Florida and become one of Jehovah’s servants.
I spent the next two weeks surfing in the mornings. In the afternoons on the beach, I read my Bible along with Bible study aids. The green Bible caught the attention of an eight-year-old girl, who insisted on taking us somewhere in the evening. We could not understand where she wanted us to go, but we understood it had to do with the green Bible. We refused, but she kept inviting. Finally, after some days we decided to go with her. She took us to the Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses, a small bamboo structure with a thatched roof. Everyone there greeted us with handshakes and hugs as if we were old friends.
We were impressed with the respectful behavior of all in attendance. Some children stared at us during the meeting, probably because they had never seen people with such long blond hair. Their parents had to remind them constantly to concentrate on the meeting. Yet, Jehovah had used a young person like them to get us to attend our first meeting.

Determined to Serve Jehovah
After two weeks of perfect waves, I sold my boards, and we drove directly to Florida. There we started studying the Bible with Jehovah’s Witnesses and attending all the congregation meetings. Determined to serve Jehovah, we stopped living together and having close association with our former friends. I shaved off my beard and got a haircut, and Sue bought a few dresses. Four months later we were married, and in April 1976, we were baptized in symbol of our dedication to serve God.
Now our lives had a purpose. Grateful to Jehovah for all our blessings, we were eager to return to a Spanish-speaking country to preach the good news about God’s Kingdom. But Christian elders in our congregation advised us: “Do not go yet. First, build up your spirituality in order to have something to offer there.” We accepted their advice, and thereafter our goal was to become pioneers, as Jehovah’s Witnesses call full-time ministers. Sue started to pioneer in January 1978. I also wanted to pioneer, but I was still deeply in debt for university tuition fees. I came up with a simple solution. I would declare bankruptcy and be free to pioneer.
The elders, however, wisely advised against that plan, explaining that it would not be in harmony with Bible principles, which require us to be ‘honest in all things.’ (Hebrews 13:18) So I continued working to pay off my debts. Finally, in September 1979, I reached my goal of joining Sue in the pioneer work. Afterward, by keeping our lives simple, I had to work only a couple of days a week to make ends meet.

Serving at Brooklyn Bethel
In April 1980, after less than a year of pioneering together, we received a big surprise. Earlier, in response to a call for construction workers, we had submitted applications to serve at Bethel, the world headquarters of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Brooklyn, New York. We now received an invitation to come in 30 days! We had mixed feelings, since we were enjoying our pioneering so much. Unsure about what to do, we talked the matter over with two elders, who helped us see the great privilege being offered to us. They advised, “Go, try serving at Bethel for a year.” So we sold everything we had and headed for Brooklyn.
After working in construction for two years, I was invited to work in the Construction Engineering Office, where I was trained in structural design. Sue worked in the Bindery for a year, and then she was invited to the Graphics Department. Annually, on our wedding anniversary, we reflected on the previous year and evaluated our circumstances and desires and decided to continue serving at Bethel.
As the years passed, we made some wonderful close friends. Moreover, since Bethel allowed us to serve Jehovah and our worldwide brotherhood in a very meaningful way, we remained determined to stay. In 1989 we began studying Spanish, which enabled us to be assigned to a Spanish congregation in Brooklyn. As a result, we felt we had the best of two worlds—serving at Bethel and serving in a foreign-language congregation.
On one occasion Jenny, mentioned previously, visited us at Brooklyn Bethel, and it was interesting to hear her side of the story about the day we met in El Salvador. She had been at a Bible study and started to feel sick. On her way home, she decided to stop and get some medicine. For some reason she did not go to the pharmacy she had been to before but to the one where we were.

Serving in Other Countries
One day in 1999, my overseer at Bethel surprised me with the question, “Would you be willing to go to the Australia branch and work on a project in the Regional Engineering Office for three months?”
“Yes,” I responded without hesitation. Soon we were on our way to Australia, where we served for three years. It was a pleasure to assist in the design of branch facilities for several countries in the Orient and in the South Pacific. When we returned to Brooklyn in 2003, an additional surprise awaited us. We were invited to another foreign assignment—to serve in the Regional Kingdom Hall Office located at the branch in Brazil, at some distance from the large city of São Paulo. This is where we are still located. The office supervises the building of Kingdom Halls in the majority of countries in South America. My assignment includes traveling to assist with such construction work and to encourage those working on the many projects—and Sue is able to accompany me.

Maintaining Our Priorities
I must say that I still enjoy surfing, but I have found something better than “perfect waves.” Thus, I have kept surfing in its proper place, as a form of recreation. With the loving support of Sue, I have concentrated on something more important, serving our loving God, Jehovah.
Our main concern now is to use our lives and skills to advance Kingdom interests and promote the pure worship of Jehovah God. We have learned that the most important thing is not where we are serving Jehovah but that we are serving him whole-souled wherever we are.—Colossians 3:23.