I was born in Madrid in 1936. To Spaniards of my generation, that was a year no one could forget. It was the year when a brutal civil war broke out in Spain.
That civil war ravaged Spain for nearly three years, and it left many people physically and emotionally scarred. My father was no exception. He had always professed a sincere belief in God, but he became embittered when he saw that Catholic priests were deeply involved in the war. So he decided that my brother and I would not receive a Catholic baptism.
In 1950, two of Jehovah’s Witnesses knocked on our door. My father listened to them and agreed to a weekly Bible study. I was just 14 years old at the time, and soccer was my passion. Dad tried to get me to read some of the publications the Witnesses left him, but I didn’t want to get involved. Returning home one afternoon after a soccer match, I asked my mother, “Mom, are those Bible teachers here again?” “Yes, they are in the dining room with your Dad,” she replied. I quickly ran back out into the street!
To his credit, my father never allowed my distaste for Bible teachings to discourage him. In fact, he loved the truths he was learning so much that in 1953 he got baptized as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. This event aroused my curiosity, and I began to ask my father many questions. I even requested a personal copy of the Bible. He arranged for Máximo Murcia, a young Witness, to conduct a Bible study with me. Two years later, at the age of 19, I got baptized as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the Jarama River, just east of Madrid.
Preaching During the Franco Dictatorship
During the 1950’s, it was a challenge to preach and meet together. Dictator Francisco Franco was ruling Spain, and he wanted to keep the country exclusively Catholic. As a result, the police often hounded Jehovah’s Witnesses. We gathered in private homes and took special care not to arouse the suspicion of neighbors who might report us to the police. We also shared in the door-to-door preaching work as discreetly as possible, choosing two or three houses at random and quickly moving on to another neighborhood. Many people listened to our message, but not everyone listened favorably.
I remember meeting a Catholic priest at one door. When I explained the purpose of our visit, he asked: “On whose authority are you doing this? Do you know that I can report you to the police?” I explained that we were prepared for such a possibility. “Jesus Christ’s enemies tried to have him arrested,” I added. “Would it not be reasonable that his followers should suffer a similar fate?” Not at all happy with my reply, the priest went inside to phone the police. Needless to say, I left the building as quickly as possible.
Despite such negative experiences, the few hundred publishers in Spain found that the country was ripe for spiritual harvesting. In February 1956, when I was still 19, I was appointed to serve as a special pioneer. a Most of us pioneers were young and inexperienced, but thanks to a handful of missionaries, we received the training and encouragement we needed. Along with another young pioneer, I was assigned to serve in the city of Alicante, where the preaching work had not yet begun. Within a few months, we started many Bible studies and distributed hundreds of pieces of literature.
Naturally, our activity did not go unnoticed. After we had spent just a few months in Alicante, the police arrested us and confiscated our Bibles. They kept us in jail for 33 days, after which we were taken to Madrid, where we were released. That brief imprisonment was just a taste of things to come.
Facing My Darkest Hour
At the age of 21, I received my military conscription orders. I had to present myself at an army barracks in Nador—a city that at the time was part of the Spanish protectorate in northern Morocco. There, in front of the chief lieutenant, I respectfully made my position clear. I would not serve in the military, nor would I wear their uniform. The military police escorted me to the Rostrogordo prison, in Melilla, to await a court-martial.
Before my trial, the Spanish military commander in Morocco decided that the army would try to knock some sense into me. As a result, I was insulted, horsewhipped for 20 minutes, and kicked until I fell to the ground barely conscious. Still not satisfied, the captain in charge trod on my head with his army boot and only stopped when blood began to flow. I was then taken to his office, where he shouted: “Don’t think that I’m finished with you. Be ready for this and more every day!” He ordered the guards to lock me up in an underground cell. The cell was damp and dark, and my prospects seemed even darker.
I still recall that moment when I lay on the floor of my prison cell, with my head still stained with blood. I had nothing but a thin blanket to cover me and the company of a few rats that appeared every now and then. All I could do was pray to Jehovah for strength and endurance. In that dark, cold dungeon, I prayed again and again. b
The following day, I received a second beating—this time at the hands of a corporal. The captain looked on to make sure that it was done to his satisfaction. I must admit that at this point I began to wonder whether I could stand this treatment much longer. On that second night in my cell, I begged Jehovah to help me.
On the third day, I was summoned again to the captain’s office. I feared the worst. As I walked to the office, I prayed to Jehovah. Don Esteban, c the secretary of the military tribunal, was waiting for me. He had come to initiate the court-martial proceedings.
When Don Esteban saw the bandages on my head, he asked me what had happened. I was hesitant to say anything for fear of reprisals, but I told him the truth. On hearing the details, Don Esteban said: “I cannot prevent you from being court-martialed. You can be certain, however, that nobody will ever beat you again.”
Sure enough, during the rest of my prison term, nobody ever laid a finger on me. I never found out why the judge chose that particular day to speak to me. What I do know is that my prayers were answered in an extraordinary way. I saw how Jehovah rescued me in my darkest hour and did not allow me to be persecuted beyond what I could bear. (1 Corinthians 10:13) I faced my court-martial with full trust in Jehovah.
The court-martial resulted in a 19-year prison sentence, to which three years were later added for “disobedience.” After about 15 months in Morocco, I was transferred to the Ocaña Penitentiary, not far from Madrid, to serve out the rest of my prison term. My transfer to Ocaña was a blessing from Jehovah. It seemed like a paradise compared to Rostrogordo. My cell had a bed, a mattress, and some sheets. And after a time, I was assigned to be the prison bookkeeper. But a long prison confinement brings times of loneliness. One of my biggest tests was not being able to enjoy the companionship of my spiritual brothers.
My parents visited me occasionally, but I really needed more encouragement. My parents told me that other brothers had also taken their stand for Christian neutrality. So I prayed to Jehovah, asking him to assign at least one brother to my prison. And once more, Jehovah answered my fervent prayers—more generously than I expected. Soon, three outstanding brothers—Alberto Contijoch, Francisco Díaz, and Antonio Sánchez—joined me in the Ocaña prison. After four years of isolation, I finally had spiritual companionship. The four of us could study together and preach to our fellow prisoners.
Free and Back to Work
Finally, in 1964, I was released on parole. My 22-year sentence had been reduced to just 6 1/2 years. The very day I was released from prison, I enjoyed my first meeting. Although it meant spending my meager savings on taxi fare to get back to Madrid, I arrived at the meeting just in time. What a blessing to be with the brothers again! But I wasn’t only interested in associating with the brothers. I wanted to get back to pioneering right away. Despite some police harassment, people were responding to the good news, and there was much work to be done.
During this period, I met Mercedes—a zealous young sister who was serving as a special pioneer. Mercedes was a humble sister who was eager to preach to everyone she could. She was also very kind and generous, qualities that endeared her to me. We fell in love, and one year later we were married. Having Mercedes by my side proved to be a real blessing.
Some months after our wedding, we were invited to serve in the traveling work. Visiting a different congregation each week, we joined our brothers in their meetings and the preaching work. Congregations were springing up all over Spain, and the brothers needed help and encouragement. For a short while, I also had the privilege of commuting to the clandestine office of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Barcelona to help with the work there.
Our undercover activity came to an end in 1967 when the government passed a law granting religious freedom to all Spanish citizens. Finally, in 1970, Jehovah’s Witnesses were granted legal recognition. At last, we could meet freely, have our own Kingdom Halls, and even officially open a branch office.
New Theocratic Assignments
In 1971, Mercedes and I were invited to serve as permanent members at the new branch office in Barcelona. But a year later, Mercedes became pregnant and gave birth to Abigail, our beautiful daughter. This meant discontinuing our Bethel service and taking on another assignment, that of bringing up our daughter.
When Abigail was in her teens, the branch office asked us if we could return to the traveling work. Naturally, we prayed about the matter and consulted mature brothers. One elder said: “Jesús, if they need you back in the field, you have to say yes.” So we began another rewarding period in our lives. At first, we visited congregations in the area near our home so that we could continue caring for Abigail. Of course, in time she grew up and began a life on her own, affording us the opportunity to expand our work in the special full-time service.
Mercedes and I served for 23 years in the traveling work. I thoroughly enjoyed this privilege, which gave me the opportunity to use my own experiences to encourage younger ones. Some of the time when I served as an instructor for elders and full-time ministers, we were housed at the Madrid Bethel. Interestingly, some three kilometers (2 mi) away from Bethel flows the Jarama River—the very river where I was baptized back in 1955. Never could I have imagined back then that I would return decades later to this same area to help prepare young men and women for greater responsibilities in Jehovah’s service.
Since the year 2013, we have again been serving as special pioneers. I must admit that it was not easy to make the adjustment from the traveling work to pioneering, but this proved to be a wise course. Recently, I have faced health problems, including complicated heart surgery. At these moments, I have also had to rely on Jehovah’s support, and as always, he has never forsaken me. And for 56 years, I have also had the loyal support of my wife, Mercedes, who has been a true partner to me in all my theocratic assignments.
I often recall the time I enjoyed as an instructor. I can still picture the young, eager faces of the students. Their eagerness would bring back memories of my own youth and the enthusiasm I felt when starting out in a lifetime of sacred service. True, I had to persevere through some dark times, but I have also had many wonderful experiences. Even the difficult trials taught me important lessons—above all, that I should never trust in my own strength. My trials gave me the opportunity to see Jehovah’s powerful hand—a hand that has always strengthened me—even during my darkest hour.—Philippians 4:13.
a A special pioneer is a full-time minister who volunteers to be sent to a location where the branch office of Jehovah’s Witnesses determines that there is a need for Bible teachers.
b That bare cell, which measured only four square meters (43 sq ft) and had no toilet, was my home for seven months. I slept on the dirt floor with my one blanket.
c “Don” is a courtesy title of respect in Spanish-speaking countries, used before a person’s first name.