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By God’s Strength We Do Not Shrink Back

By God’s Strength We Do Not Shrink Back

“He won’t last a month!” That’s what some brothers in my congregation said when I applied for vacation pioneering back in 1956. I was 16 years old. I had been baptized four years earlier because a brother whom I liked suggested it. In those days there was no review by the elders to make sure a person was qualified to be baptized.

 The brothers had good reason to doubt that I would stick with pioneering. I was not a spiritual person. I didn’t like field service and would pray for rain on Sundays so that I would not have to engage in the ministry. When I did go, I just offered the magazines; I had never given a presentation with the Bible. My dear mother bribed me to do Bible readings in the congregation. I was not a good student, and I had no spiritual goals.

 That summer there was a district assembly (now called a regional convention) in Cardiff, Wales. That is where my life changed completely. One of the speakers asked some rhetorical questions. They went something like this: “Are you dedicated and baptized?” ‘Yes,’ I thought. “Did you promise to serve Jehovah with your whole heart, soul, mind, and strength?” ‘Yes.’ “Do you have any health problems or family responsibilities that would prevent you from pioneering?” ‘No.’ “Is there any reason why you cannot pioneer?” ‘No.’ “If your answer to the last question is no, then why are you not pioneering?”

 It was as if someone had switched on the lights. I thought: ‘I am wasting my life. I am not keeping my dedication promise. I am not serving Jehovah whole-souled.’ I reasoned that if I expected Jehovah to keep his promises to me, I should keep my promise to him. So in October 1956, I started vacation pioneering. Today we call this auxiliary pioneering.

In 1959, I was assigned to Aberdeen as a special pioneer

 The following year, I became a regular pioneer and moved to a congregation of 19 publishers. From the time I arrived, I was assigned talks every week. With the help of patient brothers, I made improvements in the content and delivery of my talks. Two years later, in 1959, I was appointed as a special pioneer and assigned to Aberdeen, in the far north of Scotland. After a few months, I was invited to serve at London Bethel. I was privileged to work in the printery for the seven years I was there.

 I loved Bethel life but now felt the desire for special service in the field. I was young, healthy, and willing to be used by Jehovah anywhere. So in April 1965, I applied to go to Gilead School for missionary training.

 That year my roommate and I decided to go to Berlin, Germany, to attend a convention and to see the Berlin Wall that had been built a few years earlier.

 One day during the convention, we had the opportunity to share in the ministry, and I was assigned to work with Susanne Bandrock. We were married in 1966, and two years later we were invited to attend the 47th class of Gilead. What a blessing that was! All too soon, the five months of schooling was over. Our assignment was to Zaire, now called the Democratic Republic of the Congo. What a shock! We knew little about this country. We were apprehensive, but we accepted the assignment and put ourselves in Jehovah’s hands.

In 1969, Susanne and I graduated from Gilead School

 After many hours in airports and on airplanes, we arrived at the small mining town of Kolwezi. We wondered why there was no friendly face to meet us. We later learned that the telegram informing the brothers to expect us arrived two days after we did. An airport official approached us and said something to us in French, a language that we did not yet understand. The woman in front of us turned and translated, “You are being arrested.”

 The officer who arrested us commandeered an aging, rear-engine, two-seater sports car. Both the officer and the car’s owner somehow squeezed into the car with Susanne and me. It must have looked like a scene from a comedy as we rocked and bumped our way along a potholed road, the open hood gaping like a fish’s mouth chewing at our luggage.

 We drove to the missionary home. Although we did not know where it was located, the officer did. No one was home, and the gates were locked. The missionaries had all left for international conventions and vacation. Standing in the hot sun, we wondered what would happen next. Eventually, a local brother arrived. When he saw us, a bright smile lit up his face, and we felt better. He knew the officer, who evidently hoped to receive money from us. After the brother reasoned with him for a while, the officer left, and soon we got settled in.

Outside a missionary home in Zaire with Nathan H. Knorr during his visit in 1971

Not a Time to Shrink Back

 We soon came to see that we were among a cheerful and loving people who had endured much. Sadly, though, unrest and rebellion had plagued the country with violence for the previous ten years. Then, in 1971, Jehovah’s Witnesses lost the official recognition they had previously enjoyed. We wondered how we would manage.

 It was no time to shrink back in fear, and very few of the brothers and sisters did so, despite enormous pressure to compromise their Christian neutrality by carrying a political party card and wearing a party pin. Not wearing the pin meant no access to local government services as well as harassment from the military and the police. Brothers lost their jobs, and children were expelled from school. Hundreds of brothers were imprisoned. It was a difficult time. Nevertheless, the Witnesses continued to share the good news courageously.

We Needed Endurance

 During those years, Susanne and I spent a large portion of our time traveling in rural areas in the circuit and district work. Life in the villages presented unique and sometimes daunting challenges. Small thatched homes provided barely enough space to lie down. I lost count of how many times I hit my head passing through small doorways. We bathed in water drawn from streams and rivers. At night, we read by candlelight. We cooked on charcoal. But as far as we were concerned, this was real missionary life. This was what we had come to do—we felt that we were on the front lines of theocratic activity.

 Living with local Witness families taught us to value things that might easily be taken for granted: food, water, clothing, and shelter. (1 Timothy 6:8) Everything else is a bonus. That simple truth still lives within us.

 Though we never faced the sort of trials that the apostle Paul did, at times our journeys made us feel that our faith and motives were being tested. We had to travel on roads that were in terrible condition or almost nonexistent. While traveling on rocky roads, we were horribly shaken. At times, our vehicle would sink into deep sand. During the rainy season, we would get bogged down deep in mud, which stuck like glue. During one full day of traveling, we were able to drive only 70 kilometers (43 mi) and we had to dig out our vehicle 12 times.

While serving in our assignment, we often had road difficulties

 But we never felt closer to Jehovah than when we were serving under difficult circumstances in the bush. We learned that with Jehovah’s help, we can endure with joy, even when we are powerless to change a difficult situation. By nature, Susanne is not the outdoorsy, adventurous type, but during all our trials and difficulties, she never complained. We remember those times as being happy, rewarding, and certainly educational.

 During our years in Zaire, I was arrested several times. Once I was falsely accused of dealing illegally in diamonds. Naturally, we experienced anxiety, but we told ourselves that if Jehovah wanted us to accomplish our assigned ministry, he would help us. And he did!

Pressing Forward

 In 1981, we were invited to serve at the branch office in Kinshasa. A year earlier, legal recognition for our work had again been granted. The brothers obtained a plot of land for the construction of an enlarged branch facility. Then, unexpectedly, in March 1986, the president of the country signed a decree to ban the work of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Construction came to a halt, and before long, most of the missionaries had left the country.

For a few years, we served at the Zaire branch office

 We were able to stay for a while. We did what we could to continue preaching, though we knew we were under constant observation. Despite our caution, I was arrested while conducting a Bible study. I was put into a large dungeonlike room that was crowded with other detainees. It was hot, smelly, dark, and stuffy; the only light and ventilation came from a small opening high on one wall. Some prisoners grabbed me and brought me to their self-appointed boss. “Sing our national anthem!” he demanded. “I don’t know it,” I replied. “Sing your own country’s national anthem!” they said. “I don’t know that one either,” I said. He then made me stand against a wall for about 45 minutes. Eventually, local brothers negotiated my release.

In 1987, shortly after arriving at the Zambia branch

 We could see that things were not going to improve in the country, and it was not long afterward that we were reassigned to Zambia. As we crossed the border, we felt a mixture of sadness and relief. We thought about the 18 years we had spent in our assignment along with faithful missionaries and local brothers and sisters. Though life was stressful at times, we felt blessed. We knew that Jehovah had been with us all the way. We had learned Swahili and French, and Susanne, some Lingala. We had enjoyed success in the ministry, helping more than 130 people progress to baptism. We also had the deep satisfaction of knowing that we had shared in laying a foundation for future growth. And what growth would follow! In 1993, the Supreme Court annulled the 1986 ban. There are now more than 240,000 Kingdom publishers in Congo.

 Our time in Zambia has seen the construction of a new branch and then the further expansion of the facilities. There are now more than three times as many active publishers here as there were when we arrived in 1987.

An aerial view of the Zambia branch

 So, what of the young brother who appeared unlikely to last a month in full-time service? With Jehovah’s blessing and the support of my dear wife, Susanne, I have now clocked 65 years of wonderful full-time service, having tasted and seen that Jehovah is good!—Psalm 34:8.

 We know that we are not special; we have simply tried our best to be faithful in keeping our dedication promise. We trust that Jehovah will continue to help us never to “shrink back” but to grow in faith “for the preserving of our lives.”—Hebrews 10:39.

Susanne and I continue to serve at the Zambia branch

 Watch the video Dayrell and Susanne Sharp: We Promised to Serve Jehovah Whole-Souled.