Joyous and Thankful Despite Heartbreaking Loss
AS TOLD BY NANCY E. PORTER
It was June 5, 1947, a warm evening in the Bahamas, islands off the southeast coast of the United States. An immigration officer paid me and my husband, George, an unexpected visit. He handed us a letter that said that our presence in the islands was no longer welcome and that we were “to leave the colony forthwith!”
GEORGE and I were the first missionaries of Jehovah’s Witnesses to come to Nassau, the largest city in the Bahamas. Upon graduating from the eighth class of Gilead, a missionary school in upstate New York, we were assigned here. What had we done to bring about such a strong reaction after only a three-month stay? And how is it that well over 50 years later, I am still here?
Training for the Ministry
My father, Harry Kilner, was a strong influence on the way my life has turned out. He set an excellent example for me, making many sacrifices to become one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Though his health was not the best, he went preaching nearly every weekend, zealously putting Kingdom interests first. (Matthew 6:33) We were very limited financially, but his shoe shop was a center of spiritual activity in Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada, in the 1930’s. My earliest memories are of full-time ministers of Jehovah’s Witnesses, called pioneers, visiting our home and sharing experiences.
In 1943, I began my pioneer service near Fort Macleod and Claresholm, Alberta. By then our preaching work was banned in Canada as a result of misrepresentation by opposers during World War II. Our territory stretched 30 miles [50 km] in opposite directions, but being young and energetic, we thought nothing of riding bicycles or walking to reach the small communities and farms in the area. During this time, I had the opportunity to visit with some graduates of Gilead, and their experiences stirred within me the desire to become a missionary.
In 1945, I married George Porter, who was from Saskatchewan, Canada. His parents had been zealous Witnesses since 1916, and he too had chosen the full-time ministry as his career. Our first assignment was beautiful Lynn Valley in North Vancouver, Canada. Not long afterward we were invited to Gilead.
I have spoken with graduates of various theological seminaries over the years and have seen how their theological training eroded their faith in God and in his Word, the Bible. In contrast, what we learned at Gilead sharpened our ability to think and above all strengthened our faith in Jehovah God and his Word. Our classmates were assigned to China, Singapore, India, countries in Africa, South America, and elsewhere. I can still remember the excitement when we learned that our assignment was the tropical islands of the Bahamas.
How We Were Able to Stay
Compared with trips taken by fellow classmates, our journey to the Bahamas was short. Before long we were enjoying the warm weather, the blue skies, the turquoise water, the pastel buildings, and the countless bicycles. My deepest early impressions, however, are of the small band of five Witnesses who awaited us when our boat arrived. We soon learned that the culture here was vastly different from what we were used to. My husband, for example, was asked to desist from calling me sweetheart in public, since that expression is usually reserved for an extramarital relationship.
Shortly the clergy, apparently feeling threatened by our moving freely among the people, falsely accused us of being Communists. As a result, we received the order to leave the country. But the Witnesses—there were fewer than 20 in the islands in those days—immediately obtained thousands of signatures on a petition that we be permitted to stay. Thus, the expulsion order was overturned.
To a New Territory
Bible truth sprouted rapidly in hearts that loved God, so more Gilead missionaries were sent to the Bahamas. Then, in 1950, a branch office was established. Ten years later, Milton Henschel, a member of the headquarters staff in Brooklyn, New York, visited the Bahamas and asked the missionaries if anyone was willing to go and open up the preaching work on another island of the Bahamas. George and I volunteered, and thus began what turned out to be an 11-year stay on Long Island.
This island, one of the many that make up the Bahamas, is 90 miles [140 km] long and 4 miles [6 km] wide, and back then, it had no real towns. The capital, Clarence Town, had about 50 homes. Life was quite primitive—no electricity, running water, or indoor cooking or plumbing. So we had to adjust to so-called out-island life. Here people’s health was a favorite topic of conversation. We learned not to include in our greeting the question, “How are you doing today?” since the answer would often be a lengthy account of a person’s complete medical history.
Most of our witnessing was done from kitchen to kitchen because people could usually be found in their outdoor kitchen with its thatched roof and wood-burning hearth. The communities were mainly made up of poor but very kind farmers or fishermen. Most of them were not only religious but also very superstitious. Unusual occurrences were commonly interpreted as signs.
The clergy thought nothing of walking into people’s homes uninvited and tearing up the Bible literature that we had left there. They would thus frighten timid ones, but not everyone cowered before them. For example, a spunky 70-year-old woman refused to be bullied. She wanted to understand the Bible for herself, and eventually she became a Witness along with a number of others. As we found more interest among the people, George had to drive 200 miles [300 km] some Sundays, helping such ones to attend our meetings.
During the early months when there were no other Witnesses, George and I maintained our spirituality by holding all the regular Christian meetings. In addition, we followed a diligent program every Monday night of studying the lesson in the Watchtower magazine and doing our Bible reading. We also read all issues of The Watchtower and Awake! as soon as we received them.
My father died while we were on Long Island. The following summer, 1963, we arranged for Mother to come and live adjacent to us. Though she was advanced in years, she adjusted reasonably well and lived on Long Island until her death in 1971. Today, Long Island has a congregation with a brand-new Kingdom Hall.
A Heartbreaking Challenge
In 1980, George discerned that his health was beginning to deteriorate. Thus began one of the most painful experiences of my life—watching my beloved husband, coworker, and companion succumb to Alzheimer’s disease. His whole personality changed. The final and most devastating part lasted for about four years prior to his death in 1987. He accompanied me in the ministry and to the meetings as long as he could, although many days the effort left me in tears. The outpouring of love from our Christian brothers has been genuinely comforting, but I still miss him very much.
One of the most precious aspects of my marriage to George was our frequent and pleasant communication. Now that George is gone, I am more grateful than ever that Jehovah invites his servants to “pray incessantly,” to “persevere in prayer,” and to make use of “every form of prayer.” (1 Thessalonians 5:17; Romans 12:12; Ephesians 6:18) It is so comforting to know that Jehovah is concerned about our welfare. I truly feel like the psalmist who sang: “Blessed be Jehovah, who daily carries the load for us.” (Psalm 68:19) Taking one day at a time, accepting my limitations, and being thankful for the blessings each day brings, just as Jesus advised, is indeed the best way to live.—Matthew 6:34.
Joyous Rewards of the Ministry
Keeping busy in the Christian ministry has helped me not to dwell excessively on the past. Thus I am able to overcome the kind of emotions that can lead to depression. Teaching others Bible truth has been a special source of joy. It provides an orderly spiritual routine that has given structure and stability to my life.—Philippians 3:16.
Once, I received a call from a lady with whom I shared the Kingdom message some 47 years earlier. She was the daughter of one of the first Bible students we had when we arrived in the Bahamas in 1947. Her mother, father, and all of her brothers and sisters became Jehovah’s Witnesses as did most of their children and grandchildren. In fact, more than 60 members of this woman’s family are Witnesses. But she never accepted Bible truth herself. Now, though, she was finally ready to become a servant of Jehovah God. What a joy it has been to observe the handful of Witnesses who were in the Bahamas when George and I arrived increasing to over 1,400!
Sometimes people ask me if I miss not having had children of my own. Of course, having children can be a blessing. Yet, the love that is constantly shown to me by my spiritual children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren is something probably not experienced by all biological parents. Truly, those who “work at good” and are “rich in fine works” are the happiest people. (1 Timothy 6:18) That is why I keep as busy in the ministry as my health permits.
One day at the dentist’s office, a young woman approached me and said, “You don’t know me, but I know you, and I just want to let you know that I love you.” She then went on to relate how she had come to know the truth from the Bible and how grateful she was that we missionaries had come to the Bahamas.
On another occasion when I returned from vacation, I found a single rose in the door where I now live at the branch office of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Nassau. It had a note, “It’s good to have you home.” My heart overflows with thankfulness, and it makes me love Jehovah so much when I see the kind of people his Word, organization, and spirit have produced! Truly, Jehovah’s sustaining hand is often expressed through those around us.
Overflowing With Thankfulness
My life has not always been easy, nor are aspects of it easy now. But I have so much for which to be thankful—the joys of the ministry, the love and affection of so many Christian brothers and sisters, the loving care of Jehovah’s organization, the beautiful truths from the Bible, the hope of being with loved ones when they are resurrected, and the memories of 42 years of marriage to a faithful servant of Jehovah. Before we were married, I had prayed that I might always be a help to my husband to remain in the full-time ministry, which he loved so much. Jehovah graciously answered that prayer. So I want to express my thankfulness to Jehovah by always being faithful to him.
The Bahamas are a popular destination for tourists, who spend thousands of dollars to come and enjoy the tropical delights. Having made the choice to serve Jehovah wherever his organization directs, I have had the joyful experience of traveling from one end of these islands to the other, proclaiming the good news of God’s Kingdom. But more important, I have come to know and to treasure the love of the finest of the friendly Bahamians.
I am so thankful to those who brought the truth to my parents, who in turn implanted in my young mind and heart a keen desire to seek first God’s Kingdom. Young servants of Jehovah today can likewise receive many blessings if they enter the “large door” that leads to grand opportunities of an expanded ministry. (1 Corinthians 16:9) You too will overflow with thankfulness if you use your life to honor “the God of gods,” Jehovah.—Deuteronomy 10:17; Daniel 2:47.
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In street work in Victoria, B.C., in 1944
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George and I attended Gilead School in 1946
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With George in front of the missionary home in Nassau, Bahamas, in 1955
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The missionary home in Deadman’s Cay, where we served from 1961 to 1972