The people of our church all have their own story about life and faith. Here are a few of them:
- Bob Milewski
- Sarah King
- Sharon Cantillon
- Lance Orton
- Karan Boom Shah
- Carolyn Carey
- Dr. Ronald Burgio
- Robert Wojcinski
- Bob Milewski
Bob Milewski came to Love Joy Church in 1988 with his wife and three kids. He is retired from the Army National Guard and from the Federal Government.
My parents separated when I was 10. Though my mother had attempted suicide and was addicted to prescription drugs and alcohol, I ended up living with her. We moved many times, and I attended so many different schools I can’t remember them all. I don’t recall my mother ever cooking a meal. It was not unusual for me to find her passed out, and sometimes I couldn’t get into the apartment at all. When, at the age of 13, once again she wouldn’t open the door for me late at night, I walked away. I made my way to where my father lived and refused to go back.
My father and I shared bunk beds in a tiny room in my grandmother’s apartment. The only private space I had was the top of a wardrobe. I skipped more school days than I attended, and at the age of 17, I dropped out of high school and got a job at Sattlers at 998 Broadway. I knew one thing. I didn’t want to live on the East Side of Buffalo for the rest of my life.
In December of 1972, I joined the army. I was shipped off to the small town of Bitburg, Germany. It was so remote it seemed like the end of the world. With nothing much to do, I decided to get my GED through base education. After a while a buddy and I moved off base and rented a nice apartment from a German family.
One day in July of 1975, when I walked towards the house, I saw a beautiful girl sitting on the front stoop. The minute I saw her I knew I was going to marry her. I found out that she had moved in with my landlord’s daughter. On our first date I told her that I was only interested in a serious relationship. I asked her to marry me. She laughed and said “No! I don’t know you, and you don’t know my name.”
Uta’s father was not happy to have an American interested in her. He had lost his right arm in World War II when an American tank fired on him. At first I was only allowed in the kitchen. I got to know Uta’s mother, who was a wonderful, caring woman. It was then that I told Uta about my mother, and she told me about her strained relationship with her father. We discussed every topic we could think of including that we didn’t believe in God. We had both grown up Catholic but thought going to church was old fashioned.
I asked Uta every day if she would marry me. After about three weeks she begged me to stop, but after another three weeks she said I could ask her again. She said “yes!” We talked of having children, and we promised each other not to get drunk anymore. We didn’t want our children to experience having an alcoholic parent. We each also had been drinking every day for a few years, but we stopped that day, September 2, 1975.
Once her father knew that I was serious, he wanted to get to know me. He spoke no English; I spoke no German, so Uta translated. I asked him a lot of questions about his war experience. While he criticized the way I dressed, I ribbed him for his drinking, but Uta softened everything we said to each other.
I extended my enlistment for five months and we got married in Waxweiler, Germany on April 10, 1976. Three weeks later I return to Buffalo. Uta followed ten days later.
While trying to figure out what to do for a job, I collected unemployment for a few months. My father helped us rent a duplex apartment in Cheektowaga and he gave me his ’70 Chevy. Since gas was only 36 cents per gallon, we explored Western New York. Uta insisted on speaking proper English, and I helped her by correcting her pronunciation.
I enrolled in truck-driving school and got a commercial license. I worked at a scrap yard for a while, but when Uta got a job in a travel agency, I quit my job and went to college.
We bought a house near the Cheektowaga/Buffalo city line, and in 1979 Uta became the manager of a new Travel Agency. The owner was cool and a real positive person, but he seemed too religious to us. Uta would tell me that the other employees prayed together. It was embarrassing to her, but she really liked the people and how well they treated her. The owner called me one day and invited us for a business dinner. I thought, “Free food, sure.” We went there and it turned out to be a Christian meeting. The food was good, there was some singing, and a guy told a story. That was it. We went home. The next morning Uta said, “I became a Christian last night.” I couldn’t believe it. I fumed, “That’s going to change everything.”
She started to go to church with her boss’ family at The Tabernacle in Orchard Park. She was so excited. She begged me to come each week, but I wouldn’t budge. She was trying to explain to me that something had happened inside of her. That she was born again. That Jesus had come into her heart and that she could feel God. I didn’t know what to say. Things had been good for us. I didn’t need any complications.
Now it was her turn to be persistent with me. It took about three weeks of prodding before I would go with her. And then another three weeks before I knew what she had experienced. I felt an urgency to open up to God. That day it felt like a train was leaving the station and I better hop on because it may be the last train.
We found out from my aunt that my mother was in the hospital. I was shocked when I saw her. She had been a beautiful woman once, but at age 47 she looked more like 77. She was extremely thin and looked wasted. Alcohol and drugs had taken a terrible toll on her. We did not know what we could do for her. A few months later the police found her body in an alley downtown. The official cause of death was malnutrition. Her death stirred up a lot of pain in me.
Uta and I had been married for about five years and still had no children. One Sunday in December of 1981, Pastor Tommy Reid preached about being barren, and Uta started to cry. He made a declaration that the barrenness would stop. After a few weeks Uta began to experience morning sickness.
At that time I heard of a job opportunity at the VA hospital for anyone who had some college but didn’t graduate and had been in the service during the Vietnam War era. I applied and on the day we received confirmation about expecting our first child, I was hired as a pharmacy technician. Eight years later I transferred into engineering where I was assigned to the grounds and transportation shop as the only truck driver with a commercial license.
We had three children within five years. Christopher, our oldest, we called our experimental child, because we had no clue what we were doing. When Stephan came along, we relaxed a little, and by the time Alexandra was born, we almost considered ourselves pros.
When we met Pastor Ron at a party, he invited us to come to Love Joy Church. It took us a year to leave the Tabernacle, but the day we started attending Love Joy in 1988 it felt like home.
I’ve always been a quiet guy in large groups. At the Tabernacle I could hide in the crowd, but at Love Joy, Pastor Ron pulled me into the Pastors Prayer Partners, the men’s ministry and his mentor group. I’ve ushered just about every week since 1990, and now I’m part of the Gatekeeper security team as well.
Uta and I both brought a lot of baggage into our marriage, plus we had different approaches to almost everything. We had so much to learn about marriage, parenting, finances, relating, forgiving, and communicating.
My father had never told me that he loved me until shortly before he died. I learned to say “I love you,” and “I’m proud of you” to my children. I always challenged them to love each other and to be leaders among their peers. My sons both joined the 82nd Airborne division. Christopher deployed to Iraq during the initial invasion in 2003, and Stephan deployed to Afghanistan in 2006 and Iraq in 2007/2008. My daughter is the most beautiful girl in the world with an amazing culinary and artistic gift. She has a lot of wisdom when it comes to relating to people and to living a healthy lifestyle. We value her advice a lot. Our children all now have children of their own and continue the love and care we started.
I also really value my relationship with Pastor Ron. He has made up so much of what I lacked in family and friendships. When Uta started working for him 1993, I knew she had found her calling. I didn’t always appreciate or understand her passion for serving and helping people, especially when, in the beginning, it took her away from the family so often at night or on the weekends. She has worked there now for 22 years, so we’ve had plenty of time to work out how to balance work and family life.
I have always had a great desire to restore stuff. I’ve done that with cars and with houses. When we bought our house in Williamsville in 1990, it was a serious fixer-upper. Since I retired in 2010 I’ve tackled some major remodeling. I love to strip a room down to the studs and start all over and build exceptional quality in places that people can’t even see. When Uta and I started a family we had the same attitude. We made tons of mistakes, but when our children later thanked us and appreciated our effort, it made it all worthwhile.
When life starts out difficult there’s a temptation to have a victim mentality, but that just leads to more helplessness and entitlement. Instead, God has always given us wisdom when we’ve asked, and He has empowered us to take an active part in resolving our issues. Uta and I have found that we can be successful if we are solution oriented, responsible, and if we’re well prepared and show up early.
As we think about the future, God willing, we would like to live in Germany again for a short season and in Israel and England. Eventually we want to live closer to our kids and grand-kids, but that’s not for many years yet. Until then we will continue serving God at Love Joy and enjoying our church family here.