SALISBURY, N.C. (BP)–George Kesterson carries a photograph in his wallet as a reminder of his former life. “This was me back when I was so ill,” he says. Barely recognizable, the bloated face staring back bears little resemblance to the trim, energetic man Kesterson has become.
The photo illustrates his testimony of being physically, spiritually and emotionally sick. Doctors misdiagnosed Kesterson as having an incurable form of Crohn’s Disease. He took 52 pills a day, being led to believe he was terminally ill.
When doctors operated on Kesterson and discovered that he had a treatable illness, he got a second opportunity at life. “I’m going to make that count for something,” he says.
“I asked God to give me a year, but God has given me several
At 45, Kesterson uses that opportunity to tell others how he recommitted his life to Christ after being a Jehovah’s Witness for 21 years. As director of Watching the Watchtower ministries, he reaches out to Witnesses and teaches Christians about Witness beliefs.
He works as a mortgage banker and as a Mission Service Corps volunteer in Salisbury, N.C., where a Jehovah’s Witness regional training center opened in 1995. Believing education is the best protection against deception, Watching
the Watchtower sponsors a billboard along Interstate 85 near
Salisbury. The sign advertises a number where callers can
hear recorded messages by former Jehovah’s Witnesses. “We’re
able to minister to people in ways the conventional church
cannot,” Kesterson says of the ministry.
When he was 11 years old, Kesterson made a profession of faith in Christ. A year later, a Witness visited his home. “One Saturday, a kindly old gentleman came knocking on
our door bearing Watchtower publications, and he returned to
take an interest in me,” Kesterson recalls. The man read
from Watchtower publications during weekly reading sessions.
Kesterson attended services at the local kingdom hall. “Thus
began my stint with the Watchtower Society that would consume the next 21 years of my life.”
During those years, he abandoned the activities of other people his age and became a self-described “waking, talking salesman” for the Watchtower. “It led me to forfeit a college education to pursue the Watchtower missionary activity and to build my whole life around the teaching of
He accepted the prohibitions against having blood transfusions and going to war. “It was like I had a shopping
list of things I wouldn’t do.” Although Kesterson discovered
false prophesies in the Watchtower beliefs, he still thought
the teachings were true.
Following the teachings of Jehovah’s Witnesses put a strain on Kesterson’s personality and on his marriage. “I was very much out of character, partly because of the cult influence,” he says. “I was arrogant and domineering.” His
attitude and his poor health contributed to the dissolution
of his marriage.
He lost his family and his material possessions. “I lost everything I had,” he says.
With his family gone, Kesterson re-evaluated his life — including Jehovah’s Witnesses teachings. “You don’t get true teachings from false prophets,” he recounts. “No denomination saves you, nothing but the blood of Jesus.”
What he discovered made him turn from the Watchtower and
recommit himself to the Christian faith he professed as a
“Even after becoming a recommitted Christian, I experienced difficulty,” he says. When his health continued to deteriorate and he couldn’t work, Kesterson’s house was foreclosed upon and his car repossessed.
“But I was still loving and trusting God,” he says. “I came to discover that the storms of life will not last and that your boat will not sink if the Lord Jesus Christ is in the boat with you.”
When he felt called to the ministry, Kesterson knew he wasn’t the typical candidate for a pastorate. “I was a divorced, uneducated, ex-Jehovah’s Witness,” he says with a
laugh. “I could not give myself away.”
A friend convinced Kesterson he needed only God’s permission to do his work. The next day, Kesterson felt God
speaking to him through his pastor’s sermon. In the sermon,
a quote from the late evangelist Dwight L. Moody, “If God is
with you, make no small plans,” seemed directed at him.
Kesterson’s plans include using his background as a former Jehovah’s Witness to answer the questions of people involved in the organization. “They are my church, they are
the people I witness to,” he says.
As he talks, Kesterson reaches into his duffel bag and pulls out letters from former Witnesses he has helped. “I
believe Jehovah’s Witnesses are not to be written off but to
be loved,” he says.