WHEN I was young, I struggled with the ministry. As I got older, assignments that I did not feel qualified to care for came my way. So let me tell you about some of the good examples that helped me to get past my fears and enjoy wonderful blessings during my 58 years of full-time service.
I was born in Quebec City, in the French-speaking Canadian province of Quebec. My parents, Louis and Zélia, raised me in a loving home. My father was reserved by nature and loved to read. I enjoyed writing and hoped to become a journalist someday.
When I was about 12 years old, Rodolphe Soucy, who was one of my father’s coworkers, visited our home with his friend. They were Jehovah’s Witnesses. I didn’t know much about the Witnesses and wasn’t particularly interested in their religion. Yet, I admired their reasonable way of answering questions using the Bible. My parents were also impressed, so we accepted a Bible study.
At that time, I was attending a Catholic school. Once in a while, I had conversations with my classmates about what I was learning from my Bible study. Eventually, the teachers, who were priests, found out. Instead of using the Scriptures to disprove what I was saying, one of them accused me in front of the whole class of being a revolutionary! Although stressful, that confrontation turned out to be a blessing because it helped me to see that the school’s religious teachings did not agree with what the Bible says. I realized that I did not belong there. With my parents’ permission, I switched to another school.
LEARNING TO LOVE THE MINISTRY
I continued to study the Bible, but my spiritual progress was slow because I was afraid of the door-to-door ministry. The Catholic Church was very influential and fiercely opposed to our preaching work. Maurice Duplessis, the premier of Quebec, was a close political ally of the church. With his support, mobs harassed and even attacked the Witnesses. It took real courage to preach back then.
A brother who helped me overcome my fear was John Rae, a graduate of the ninth class of Gilead School. John, who was very experienced, was mild, unassuming, and approachable. He rarely counseled me directly, but his good example spoke volumes. John struggled to speak French, so I often accompanied him in the ministry and helped him with the language. Spending time with John helped me finally take a bold stand for the truth. Ten years after my first contact with the Witnesses, I got baptized, on May 26, 1951.
Our small congregation in Quebec City consisted mostly of pioneers. Their good influence motivated me to pioneer. Back then, we preached from door to door using only the Bible. Without literature, we had to use the Scriptures more effectively. Therefore, I worked at becoming familiar with Bible verses to defend the truth. However, many refused to read even the Bible if it did not bear the imprimatur, or official approval, of the Catholic Church.
In 1952, I married Simone Patry, a faithful local sister. We moved to Montreal, and within a year, we were blessed with our daughter, Lise. Although I had stopped pioneering shortly before we got married, Simone and I tried to keep our life simple so that we could have a full share in congregation activities as a family.
Ten years passed before I again thought seriously about expanding my ministry. In 1962, while attending the month-long Kingdom Ministry School for elders at Canada Bethel, I was assigned to room with a brother named Camille Ouellette. Camille’s zeal for the ministry really impressed me—especially since he was a family man. Back then, it was practically unheard of in Quebec for a parent to pioneer while raising a child; yet, that was Camille’s goal. During our time together, he encouraged me to think about my situation. After just a few months, I realized that I could serve as a regular pioneer once again. Some questioned the wisdom of my decision, but I moved ahead, confident that Jehovah would bless my efforts to have a greater share in the ministry.
BACK TO QUEBEC CITY AS SPECIAL PIONEERS
In 1964, Simone and I were appointed to serve as special pioneers in Quebec City, our hometown, where we served for the next several years. By this time, preaching conditions had improved, but we still faced opposition.
One Saturday afternoon, I was arrested in Sainte-Marie, a small town not far from Quebec City. An officer took me to the police station and put me in jail because I was preaching from house to house without a permit. Later, I was brought before a judge named Baillargeon, an imposing man. He asked me who would represent me in court. When I mentioned the name Glen How, * a well-known Witness lawyer, he nervously exclaimed: “Oh, no! Not him!” Glen How had quite a reputation for legally defending the Witnesses back then. The court soon informed me that the charges had been dropped.
The opposition to our work in Quebec also made it difficult to rent suitable meeting places. Our small congregation could find only an old unheated garage. To provide some warmth during the frigid winters, the brothers used an oil heater. We often gathered around it for a few hours before the meetings to share encouraging experiences.
It is wonderful to see how the preaching work has flourished over the years. Back in the 1960’s, there were just a few small congregations in the Quebec City area, the Côte-Nord region, and the Gaspé Peninsula combined. Today, there are more than two circuits in these areas, and the brothers meet in beautiful Kingdom Halls.
INVITATION TO THE TRAVELING WORK
Simone and I were invited to serve in the circuit work in 1970. Then, in 1973, we were assigned to the district work. During those years, I learned a lot from such capable brothers as Laurier Saumur * and David Splane, * both of whom served in the traveling work. After every assembly, David and I would offer each other suggestions on how to improve in our teaching. I remember one time when David told me: “Léonce, I enjoyed your final talk. It was good, but I would have made three talks out of all that material!” I tended to pack too much information into my talks. I needed to learn to be more concise.
District overseers were assigned to encourage the circuit overseers. However, many publishers in Quebec knew me well. They often wanted to work with me in service when I visited the circuits. Although sharing in the ministry with them was enjoyable, I wasn’t spending enough time with the circuit overseer. On one occasion, a loving circuit overseer reminded me: “It’s nice that you give time to the brothers, but don’t forget that this is my week. I need encouragement too!” This kind counsel helped me to be more balanced.
Sadly, 1976 brought an unexpected and tragic event. Simone, my dear wife, became seriously ill and fell asleep in death. Her self-sacrificing spirit and love for Jehovah made her a wonderful companion. Keeping busy in the ministry really helped me to cope with losing her, and I thank Jehovah for his loving support during that difficult time. Later, I married Carolyn Elliott, a zealous English-speaking pioneer sister who had come to Quebec to serve where the need was great. Carolyn is approachable and genuinely interested in others, especially those who are shy or lonely. She proved to be a real blessing when she joined me in the traveling work.
A LANDMARK YEAR
In January 1978, I was asked to teach the first Pioneer Service School in Quebec. I felt very nervous, since the curriculum was as new to me as it was to the students. Thankfully, the first class that I taught included many experienced pioneers. Even though I was the instructor, I learned much from the students!
Later, in 1978, the “Victorious Faith” International Convention was held in Montreal’s Olympic Stadium. It was our largest convention ever in Quebec, with over 80,000 in attendance. I was assigned to work with the convention News Service Department. I spoke to many journalists and was thrilled to see all the positive media coverage. More than 20 hours of television and radio interviews were aired, and hundreds of articles appeared in print. A tremendous witness was given!
MOVING TO A DIFFERENT TERRITORY
A big change for me came in 1996. After having served in French-speaking Quebec since my baptism, I was assigned to serve an English-language district in the Toronto area. I didn’t feel qualified and dreaded the thought of having to give talks in my broken English. I needed to pray more frequently and rely more fully on Jehovah.
In hindsight, I can truly say that I enjoyed two wonderful years serving in the Toronto area. Carolyn patiently helped me to become more comfortable with speaking English, and the brothers were very supportive and encouraging. We quickly made many new friends.
In addition to the extra activities and preparations for a weekend assembly, I often spent about an hour on Friday evenings working in the door-to-door ministry. Some may have thought, ‘Why go out in service just before a busy assembly weekend?’ Yet, I found that having good conversations in the ministry was refreshing. Even now, sharing in field service always lifts my spirits.
In 1998, Carolyn and I were reassigned to Montreal as special pioneers. For a number of years, my assignment included organizing special public witnessing and working with the news media to break down prejudice against Jehovah’s Witnesses. Carolyn and I now enjoy preaching to foreigners who have recently moved to Canada and who are often eager to learn more about the Bible.
As I reflect on my past 68 years as a baptized servant of Jehovah, I feel truly blessed. Learning to enjoy the ministry and helping many come to know the truth has been most rewarding. After my daughter, Lise, and her husband raised a family, they began to serve as regular pioneers. Seeing her continued zeal in the ministry warms my heart. I am especially thankful for fellow Christians whose good example and wise counsel helped me to grow spiritually and care for various theocratic assignments. I’ve found that remaining faithful in an assignment is possible only when we rely on Jehovah’s powerful holy spirit. (Ps. 51:11) I continue to thank Jehovah for allowing me the precious privilege of praising his name!—Ps. 54:6.
^ par. 20 See Laurier Saumur’s life story, “I Found Something Worth Fighting For,” in the November 15, 1976, issue of The Watchtower.
^ par. 20 David Splane serves as a member of the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses.