“Why would people priding themselves on their high Christian principles pass on such vicious rumors when they had absolutely nothing but gossip on which to base them?” —Raymond Franz
In his book, Crisis of Conscience, Raymond Franz described a bizarre incident at Bethel—the disfellowshipping of Nestor Kuilan. Franz posed the above-quoted question in response to the gossip that quickly spread throughout Brooklyn Bethel in the immediate aftermath of the surprise decision.
People speculated as to the possible cause, since no one actually knew why Nestor had been forced to leave. Some said he had erroneously translated the Society’s literature, changing its meaning. Others assumed he’d had an affair. The day was Friday, April 25, 1980. The Kuilans left early the next morning with tongues still wagging. Only the Governing Body were aware that they’d been ousted simply because Nestor had refused to divulge the contents of private conversations he’d had with his friend, Raymond Franz.
Of course, there is more background to the story than that, but one obvious question presents itself: What did the Watch Tower Society fear to the point of so ruthlessly ousting a man with over twenty years of full-time service, one whom the Governing Body had personally invited to Bethel three years earlier? This article will attempt to answer that question and others.
An Organization Man
Nestor had already been steadfast as a Witness for over fifteen years when he and his wife were invited to Bethel to work in the translation department. Prior to that, he had accepted every opportunity extended to him, starting immediately in the full-time preaching work in Puerto Rico after his baptism at the age of 20 in 1961.
Nestor met Toni at an assembly and knew immediately she was the one. After their marriage in 1964, Nestor joined her as a special pioneer. They managed to survive on a monthly allowance from the Society of just $32.50 each, initially living in a half-built basement that reeked of fresh lumber and raw cement.
The pair soon moved to a house where they were allowed to sleep, but not cook or eat. “We slept there and ate meals with other congregation members,” Nestor explained. “We never went hungry and didn’t even consider ourselves to be poor. We did our laundry at our parent’s houses. It was a mess, what we were doing, living like Gypsies, always moving. But we accepted our life and were happy, as we thought we were serving Jehovah.”
Three years passed and another door of opportunity opened, the Gilead School. This invitation involved a revolving-door adventure of sorts, as they left behind friends, family, and their home country of Puerto Rico to spend six months in missionary training at Bethel. Nestor also received training while in New York to be a Circuit Overseer who could serve in countries where Witness activity is under ban. Fresh out of Gilead, they were assigned to work undercover as missionaries during the Franco regime in Spain, a country foreign to them that tolerated no religion other than Catholicism.
The couple suffered much adversity in their new hostile territory. “It was a lifestyle that we were not used to; a hard and rigid life due to work demands and disciplinary laws,” Nestor recalled. “We entered as tourists and every six months left the country and back again the next day so they would mark the passport. We used various borders to avoid being recognized. If the police stopped us, at least the passport indicated we had entered legally. We lived ten years in Spain illegally as tourists, although we were working for a religious organization outlawed in the country. We were always fearful of the police, and we covered our tracks constantly so we wouldn’t end up arrested.”
In Barcelona, Nestor was trained and appointed as the Circuit Overseer for Madrid. He later served as the District Overseer for the entire country of Spain. He also conducted the elders’ school for four years. When he was not on the road, he worked in the Service Department at the Barcelona Branch.
A Life of Uniformity
When the Kuilans were transferred to Bethel in 1977, they left what they viewed as their “spiritual paradise” in Spain to enter a foreboding “spiritual jungle” where survival was complicated. It was a difficult change that opened their eyes to conditions and realities vastly different from what they had anticipated.
“We noticed immediately the discipline and rigidity of the place,” Nestor related. “There was much uniformity and stereotyping. Individuality was quickly lost. I was told to dress modestly, as a ‘mature Christian’ to set an example. Brothers could not grow a mustache or beard and had to wear short hair. It was like entering a prison or the army, where they shave your head and hand you a uniform.”
Although not wearing a literal uniform, Bethelites were easily identified in the surrounding area by their clothing and general appearance. Everyone was under constant surveillance by other brothers, known as overseers, and would be reported upon—how they behaved, how they handled work assignments (which were always referred to as “privileges”).
“We saw racism, elitism, alcoholism and immorality. We heard of sex scandals and suicides, one of which I personally knew,” Nestor continued. “In Spain I had clearly been in control of my own life. I had put my personality stamp there for ten years. Bethel was another world to me.
“The main thing I saw in Bethel was that they didn’t act in a reasonable way; it was just politics, people looking for a position, to exchange housekeeping to another place, for example. They constantly pulled all kinds of tricks to get a different job.
“When people alter their natural behavior to achieve a position, it diminishes their humanity. They become less than human, while they sugar-coat their words and act in untruthful ways to move up in Bethel, all the time knowing overseers are watching and reporting on them. I thought that was the way of the world, not the Holy Spirit, but that’s the way things were there.”
Chris Sanchez worked alongside Nestor in the Spanish translation department. Nestor and Toni developed friendships with Rene Vasquez, Chris Sanchez and their wives. Nestor seriously questioned that the Holy Spirit was operating there at Bethel because of the obvious lack of the “fruits of the spirit.”
One day, Nestor confided his doubts to Rene Vasquez. Rene and Chris had considered biblical subjects with Ray Franz, so Rene told Nestor about certain incorrect interpretations of the Bible. They discussed these between the three of them, but Nestor wanted to know what Ray Franz thought. He called Ray and invited him to dinner.
On several occasions Nestor spoke with Franz who, being a member of the Governing Body, had brought these scriptural discrepancies to their attention. Of particular note to the group was the Society’s emphasis on business affairs. Nestor’s eyes had been opened to what was going on with the Watchtower and the Writing Department. On the one hand the Society’s writers used the Bible, albeit manipulating it to support organizational teachings and activities, but on the other hand the Society was running a business on a large scale. The two interests didn’t seem to coalesce.
“Raymond Franz encouraged me to read certain Bible passages without attempting to use them to support a belief in particular,” explained Nestor. “He did not attempt to teach me a new doctrine. While I have no interest in analyzing those scriptures now, because Raymond Franz handled that discussion thoroughly in his book, I will say simply that 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 these beliefs I’d defended and taught were not true according to the very same Bible.”
Once Nestor realized that the Governing Body had long since put into motion an elaborate front aimed at giving the Society the appearance of being the only source of truth, his thoughts turned to the sacrifices he had made in his college days, particularly his Psychology studies in his final year.
Back then Nestor had become so smitten with religion that he quit college early, only fifteen credit hours short of attaining his college degree. Eager to assist others to see a hope for their everlasting future, Nestor closed the door on any secular profession and entered the preaching work.
From that point onward, all the struggles and hardships of public service were excusable because they were for a higher cause. As Nestor put it, “Both Toni and I had considered all these details as trifles compared with the great privilege to devote our lives 100% to work for the benefit of humanity. Now, we realize that we were actually working for a crooked organization that had nothing to do with God, one that altered the Bible to its liking.”
The pair had planned a vacation to Puerto Rico and Nestor brought with him the same Bible he had used in Gilead, which contained his copious notes. They both studied it during the break and were able to see the falsity of Watchtower’s teachings. They decided to start a new life. They would turn in their resignation at Bethel, return to Puerto Rico, and join a congregation with the idea of slowly fading from the religion out of respect for their family members who were devout Witnesses by this time. Their exit would be nice and quiet, or so they thought.
When they returned to Bethel they didn’t feel like the same people. They knew the Witnesses were completely out of alignment with the Bible, that it was a made-up scam. The Governing Body was unrecognizable from the “Faithful and Discreet Slave” it purported to represent.
Most of their belongings were packed in crates and ready to be shipped home. They would visit with Toni’s parents in Atlanta for a few weeks before returning to Puerto Rico. Nestor’s father had moved to Naguabo and they were welcome to stay with him. Nestor would finish his studies for a college degree and they would eventually be on their own.
They tried to remain positive and survive the last few weeks at Bethel with smiles on their faces. They did not mention their doubts to anyone, emphasizing only their desire to have a conventional lifestyle. Many Bethelites admired their courage—to start all over again.
Interrogation and Dismissal
However, Nestor received a summons from the men at the top. Intensive questioning sessions began with the all-powerful Governing Body‘s seemingly itchy finger hovering over the button to the organizational trapdoor upon which Nestor now found himself standing. After an exhaustive five-day period, the button was pushed. Nestor and Toni started their spiraling fall into exile—kicked out of Bethel—leaving them homeless, destitute and without any friends. Along with Chris Sanchez, Rene Vasquez and their wives, Nestor was disfellowshipped.
Nestor describes these disturbing events as follows: “Each of the four Spanish translators had a small office with dividing walls of wood on the bottom half and clear glass on top. Chris Sanchez’ office was right next to mine. Toni worked as a proofreader in a row of cubicles in front of the translators’ offices.
“Suddenly they swarmed, like you see on TV when the police appear; they were all over the place. They took Chris away. I didn’t know what was going on, but I stayed there and tried to translate.
“They brought Chris back; I was next. There were maybe four, five, even six, of them, more than an ordinary committee of three. I knew them all. They took Toni and me to a glass-walled room at the opposite corner of where we worked in the factory so everyone could see us. One was a member of the Governing Body; I knew him well from Gilead. Another wore a business suit and was one of those goal-driven types, moving up the political ladder in Bethel.
“They were all elders, just as I was, and they informed us they had been sent by, and represented, the Governing Body. They achieved their purpose of intimidation by appearing without warning, and we were scared because they’d done the same thing with Chris. Their body language was angry, even hostile. I was really scared to death at first.
“So there we sat with mad-men staring at us. They were harsh, insisting that we cooperate. It wasn’t like a regular committee where the elders tell you what you’re accused of. They asked question after question about my conversations with Raymond Franz. I told them my private conversations with my friends were my own business. They asked me what Franz had said about a certain topic, and I answered, once again, that I was not going to discuss my conversations.
“Then, another one would ask me about another subject, trying to trick me, wanting to know what Franz had said. There were no results on that day and they told us the meeting was over. It had not opened or closed with prayer. Each day, this happened in the exact same way; they came right after lunch for Chris and his wife, and then for Toni and me.
“At the end of each meeting they threatened us, ‘If you don’t cooperate you are going to have problems. You think about that and you will come back.’ After those meetings, Toni and I were nervous, like a ‘roach in a Chicken Dance’ like we say in Puerto Rico. I thought everybody was looking at me at the end of the day and when we were walking out in the morning; it was really hard those days. I finally told them that they could continue to talk to me, but to leave Toni out of it.
“They asked about when we had Raymond Franz and his wife to our room for dinner. I said we talked about many things, that it was a casual meal. They said they knew all about it, that we’d had steak and wine. I was indignant because they were asking about Raymond’s beliefs.
“I said, ‘Ask him what he believes. I can’t tell you what Raymond 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 friends’ conversations. While that dinner meeting had the purpose to talk about those Bible subjects, it was also an informal, social meeting to relax and talk.
“The elder in the suit moved around the room and used a terroristic Gestapo tactic, sitting on top of the table with his leg on a chair, while I looked up at him. At the last meeting they told me if my attitude continued, 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 I 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.”
Nestor immediately sent them a note in return. He hadn’t done anything wrong, so he didn’t ask for forgiveness, only a review of his case. They responded by note the next morning insisting that if Nestor was repentant or wanted to confess, he could not do it through a congregation committee. It would have to be done only through the Governing Body.
“They were afraid I could influence people in Spain and in Puerto Rico,” Nestor explained. “They knew if I wrote letters to the Branch Overseer in Spain he would pay attention and others in Spain and Puerto Rico would listen to me because they had respect for me and held me in high position.
“In Puerto Rico many people knew me, so if I returned quietly, they thought I could influence them. But the funny thing is they never asked me what I believed, and I told them repeatedly, each day, ‘Ask me what I believe and I will tell you, but don’t ask me what Ray Franz believes.’ But they never asked me. They had already made up their minds, so why bother with my belief? They knew I was leaving and my crates were ready to be shipped. So they decided they’d better get rid of me and avoid problems. They wanted to scare others and use me as a guinea pig.
“It was a relief to know we wouldn’t have to put on a charade anymore, but we knew it would cause major problems with Toni’s parents. Her father had been in the circuit work and was in high position. I asked her if she was willing to go through this, because she hadn’t been disfellowshipped—only me. She agreed with me; she’d seen enough to know she wanted no part of the Organization.”
A Fresh Start
Upon leaving Bethel, the Kuilans headed for Toni’s sister’s house in Long Island and onwards to her parents’ home. Neither parent asked what had actually happened. They weren’t interested in hearing any details, assuming that if the Governing Body saw fit to disfellowship Nestor, Jehovah would approve of their shunning. Toni’s father, shaking his head in disapproval, went so far as to say to Nestor, “You have lost your first love, this is why you see things this way. We don’t have anything else to talk about.”
Fortunately, Nestor’s father was happy to help them, sickened that they had been treated so shamefully. They accepted his hospitality until they were finally able to start their new life.
The Kuilans are currently in the business of real estate in San Juan. Nestor offers a Life Coaching service and conducts “Clear Thinking” seminars. He volunteers for AAWA (Advocates for Awareness of Watchtower Abuses) as a translator. They have moved on, from one stepping-stone of experience to another, having no interest in revealing the entire story of their Watchtower debacle until now—thirty-three years later.
Before volunteering for the opportunity to write Nestor’s story, I reviewed Crisis of Conscience. The quotation of Raymond Franz at the beginning of this article convinced me it needed to be told. I was captivated by the fact that a private conversation was repeatedly questioned, not to mention how the rumor mills had rumbled into action immediately after Nestor’s exit from the Society. I had a similar experience when the door was opened for me to walk away from what I had previously known as “The Truth.” I thus became emotionally invested in writing Nestor’s whole story—one that many folks have wanted to hear for years.
Nestor has now asked me to work with him on a book about his life with the aim of helping others find a path to their own clear thinking. As for the Watchtower, he washed his hands of its influence back in 1980. As he explains, “That story was over. We weren’t going to relive it with our words. I didn’t want to be a satellite of the Watchtower, revolving around the past. You can’t keep talking about those events, suffering them, hanging on them. We let our family practice their religion—if they shunned us, then it was their choice. We let them go. 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.”
Joanna is the author of, “The Know-It-All Girl” ~ Memoir of a Former Jehovah’s Witness