AMONG the zealous Witnesses serving in lands where there is a greater need for more Kingdom preachers are numerous single sisters. Some of them have been serving abroad for decades. What helped them years ago to make the move to a foreign country? What have they learned from serving abroad? How have their lives turned out? We interviewed several of these experienced sisters. If you are a single sister with a heartfelt desire to share in a ministry that is deeply satisfying, we are sure you will benefit from their comments. Really, all of God’s people can benefit from considering their example.
Do you wonder if you really have what it takes to succeed as a single pioneer in a foreign country? Anita, now in her mid-70’s, had serious doubts about her abilities. She grew up in England, where she began pioneering when she was 18 years old. “I liked teaching people about Jehovah,” she says, “but I never imagined that I could serve abroad. I never studied a foreign language and was convinced that I could not master one. So when I received an invitation to attend Gilead School, I was shocked. I was amazed that someone as insignificant as I am would receive such an invitation. But I thought, ‘If Jehovah thinks I can do it, I will try.’ That was over 50 years ago. Ever since, I have been serving as a missionary in Japan.” Anita adds: “At times, with a twinkle in my eyes, I tell younger sisters, ‘Put on your backpack and join me in the greatest adventure of all time!’ I’m happy to say, many have.”
MUSTERING UP COURAGE
Many sisters who have served abroad were initially hesitant about moving to a foreign land. How did they muster up the needed courage?
“Growing up, I longed for a purposeful life, one that would help others,” relates Maureen, now in her mid-60’s. When she turned 20 years of age, she moved to Quebec, Canada, where there was a great need for more pioneers. “Later, I received an invitation to attend Gilead School, but I feared going into the unknown without my friends.” She adds: “I also worried about leaving my mother who had to care for my ailing father. I spent many nights tearfully entreating Jehovah about these matters. When I spoke with my parents about myconcerns, they urged me to accept the invitation. I also saw the loving support the local congregation gave to my parents. Observing Jehovah’s caring hand helped me to trust that he would also look after me. At that point, I was ready to go!” Starting in 1979, Maureen served for over 30 years as a missionary in West Africa. Today, while caring for her mother in Canada, Maureen still serves as a special pioneer. Looking back on her years of serving abroad, she states: “Jehovah always provided what I needed and when I needed it.”
Wendy, now in her mid-60’s, began pioneering in Australia as a teenager. She recalls: “I was very timid and found it difficult to talk to strangers. But pioneering taught me to converse with all sorts of people, so my confidence grew. Later, I realized that confidence was no longer an issue. Pioneering was teaching me to lean on Jehovah, and I began to feel more comfortable with the idea of serving overseas. Also, I was invited by a single sister who had served as a missionary in Japan for over 30 years to go on a witnessing trip to Japan for three months. Working alongside her fueled my desire to move abroad.” In the mid-1980’s, Wendy moved to Vanuatu, an island nation about 1,100 miles (1,770 km) east of Australia.
Wendy is still in Vanuatu, now serving in a remote translation office. “Seeing how groups and congregations are being formed in remote regions is my greatest joy,” she says. “To have had a small part in Jehovah’s work on these islands is a privilege beyond words.”
Kumiko, now in her mid-60’s, was serving as a regular pioneer in Japan when her pioneer partner suggested that they move to Nepal. “She kept asking me over and over again, but I kept saying no,” says Kumiko. “I worried about having to learn a new language and having to adjust to a new environment. There was also the problem of getting the funds needed to move to a foreign land. While I was wrestling with these concerns, I had a motorcycle accident and ended up in the hospital. There, I thought: ‘Who knows what might happen to me next? I might come down with a serious illness and miss my chance to pioneer overseas. Can I not serve abroad for at least one year?’ I fervently prayed to Jehovah to help me to act.” After being released from the hospital, Kumiko visited Nepal, and later she and her pioneer partner moved there.
Looking back on her nearly ten years of service in Nepal, Kumiko says: “The problems I had worried about parted before me like the Red Sea. I’m so glad I took up serving where the need is greater. Often, when I share the Bible’s message in the home of a family, five or six neighbors come over to listen. Even small children respectfully ask me to give them a tract about the Bible. It is such a joy to preach in this responsive territory.”
COPING WITH CHALLENGES
Not surprisingly, the courageous single sisters we interviewed faced challenges. How did they handle them?
“At first, I found it difficult to be so far away from my family,” says Diane, from Canada. Now in her early 60’s, she served as a missionary in Ivory Coast (now Côte d’Ivoire) for 20 years. “I asked Jehovah to help me love the people in my assignment. One of my instructors at Gilead, Brother Jack Redford, explained to us that at first we might be disturbed, even shocked, by the conditions in our assignment, especially when coming face-to-face with severe poverty. But he said: ‘Don’t look at the poverty. Look at the people, at their faces and their eyes. Watch their reaction when they hear Bible truths.’ That’s what I did, and what a blessing it was! When sharing the comforting Kingdom message, I would see the people’s eyes light up!” What further helped Diane to adjust to serving abroad? “I drew close to my Bible students and felt the deep joy of seeing them become faithful servants of Jehovah. My assignment became my home. I gained spiritual mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, just as Jesus promised.”
Anne, now in her mid-40’s, serves in Asia in a land where our work is restricted. She relates: “Over the years while serving in different locations abroad, I lived with sisters who had backgrounds and personalities that were very different from mine. At times, that contributed to misunderstandings and hurt feelings. When that happened, I tried to get closer to my housemates, to understand their culture better. I also worked harder on being more loving and reasonable toward them. I am glad those efforts bore fruit and have resulted in many deep and lasting friendships that help me to endure in my assignment.”
In 1993, Ute, from Germany, now in her early 50’s, was assigned to serve as a missionary in Madagascar. She relates: “At first, I struggled to learn the local language, to adjust to the humid climate, and to cope with malaria, amoebas, and parasitic worms. But I received a lot of help. The local sisters, their children, and my Bible students patiently helped me to master the language. My missionary partner lovingly cared for me when I was sick. But most of all, Jehovah helped me. I regularly poured out my anxieties to him in prayer. Then I patiently waited
LIVES RICHLY BLESSED
Like other need-greaters, single sisters living in foreign lands often express that serving abroad enriched their lives. What are some of the blessings they received?
Heidi, from Germany, now in her early 70’s, has been serving as a missionary in Ivory Coast (now Côte d’Ivoire) since 1968. “The greatest joy I have received,” she states, “is to see my spiritual children ‘go on walking in the truth.’ Some of my former Bible students are now pioneers and congregation elders. Many of them call me Mama or Grandma. One of these elders and his wife and children view me as family. So Jehovah has given me a son, a daughter-in-law, and three grandchildren.”
Karen from Canada, now in her early 70’s, served over 20 years in West Africa. She says: “Missionary life taught me to be more self-sacrificing, loving, and patient. Also, having fellow workers of many nationalities broadened my viewpoint. I learned that there are different ways of doing things. And what a blessing it is now to have dear friends all over the world! Though our lives and assignments have changed, our friendships remain.”
Margaret, from England, now in her late 70’s, served as a missionary in Laos. She relates: “Serving abroad allowed me to see firsthand how Jehovah draws people from all races and backgrounds into his organization. That experience greatly strengthened my faith. It gives me complete confidence that Jehovah is directing his organization and that his purposes will be accomplished.”
Indeed, single sisters serving abroad have established an outstanding record of Christian service. They deserve to be warmly commended. (Judg. 11:40) What is more, their numbers are growing. (Ps. 68:11) Are you able to adjust your circumstances and follow in the footsteps of the zealous sisters interviewed for this article? If you are, you will no doubt “taste and see that Jehovah is good.”