Life Story

Strengthened by Our Worldwide Brotherhood

AS TOLD BY THOMSON KANGALE

On April 24, 1993, I was invited to attend the dedication program of a new branch office complex, which included 13 buildings, in Lusaka, Zambia. Since I had difficulty walking, the Christian sister giving us a tour of the facilities kindly asked, “Would you like me to carry a chair for you so that you can rest occasionally?” I am black, and she is white, but that made no difference to her. Deeply moved, I thanked her, since her kindness made it possible for me to tour all the branch facilities.

OVER the years, experiences like this have warmed my heart, reaffirming my conviction that within the Christian association of Jehovah’s Witnesses, there exists the love that Christ said would identify his genuine followers. (John 13:35; 1 Peter 2:17) Let me tell you how I became acquainted with these Christians back in 1931, the year when they publicly declared their desire to be known by the Bible-based name Jehovah’s Witnesses.​—Isaiah 43:12.

Early Ministry in Africa

In November 1931, I was 22 years old and living in Kitwe, located in the Copperbelt region of Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia). A friend with whom I played soccer introduced me to the Witnesses. I attended some of their  meetings and wrote to the branch office in Cape Town, South Africa, requesting the Bible study aid The Harp of God. * The book was in English, and I found it difficult to understand, since I did not know that language very well.

The Copperbelt region, located about 150 miles [240 km] southwest of Lake Bangweulu, near which I grew up, employed many from other provinces in the copper mines. Several groups of Witnesses met there regularly for Bible study. After a while, I moved from Kitwe to the nearby town of Ndola and began to associate with a group of Witnesses there. At the time, I was captain of a soccer team called Prince of Wales. I also worked as a house servant for a white manager of the African Lakes Corporation, a company that had a chain of stores in central Africa.

I had limited formal schooling and picked up the little English I knew from Europeans for whom I worked. Still, I was eager to further my secular education and applied to study in a school in Plumtree, Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). In the meantime, however, I wrote to the Cape Town branch office a second time. I let them know that I had received The Harp of God and wanted to serve Jehovah full-time.

I was surprised to receive their reply, which said: “We appreciate your desire to serve Jehovah. We would like to encourage you to make it a matter of prayer, and Jehovah will help you to have a better understanding of the truth, and he will find a place for you to serve him.” After reading the letter several times, I asked a number of Witnesses what I should do. They said: “If it really is your desire to serve Jehovah, go ahead and do it right away.”

For a whole week, I prayed about the matter and finally decided to forgo my secular education and continue to pursue my Bible study with the Witnesses. The following year, in January 1932, I symbolized my dedication to Jehovah God by water baptism. After moving from Ndola to the nearby city of Luanshya, I met Jeanette, a fellow believer, and we were married in September 1934. When we married, Jeanette already had a son and a daughter.

Gradually, I made spiritual progress, and in 1937, I entered the full-time ministry. Shortly afterward I was appointed to serve as a traveling minister, now called a circuit overseer. Traveling overseers visit congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses to strengthen them spiritually.

Preaching in Early Years

In January 1938, I was directed to visit an African chief named Sokontwe,  who had requested that Jehovah’s Witnesses call on him. I rode for three days on a bicycle to reach his area. When I told him that I had been sent in response to his letter to our Cape Town office, he was genuinely appreciative.

I went from hut to hut among his people and invited them to the insaka (public booth). When they had gathered, I spoke to the crowd. As a result, many Bible studies were started. The village chief and his clerk were the first to become overseers of congregations there. Today, there are over 50 congregations in that area, which is now known as Samfya district.

From 1942 to 1947, I served in the region around Lake Bangweulu. I spent ten days with each congregation. Since workers engaged in the spiritual harvest were then few, we felt just as our Lord, Jesus Christ, did when he said: “Yes, the harvest is great, but the workers are few. Therefore, beg the Master of the harvest to send out workers into his harvest.” (Matthew 9:36-38) In those early days, traveling was difficult, so Jeanette usually remained in Luanshya with the children while I visited congregations. By then, Jeanette and I had two more children, but one of them died at ten months of age.

Automobiles were few in those days and so, of course, were roads. One day, I set off riding Jeanette’s bicycle on a journey of over 120 miles [200 km]. Sometimes when I had to cross a small river, I put the bicycle on my shoulders, held it with one hand, and swam using the other. Incidentally, the number of Witnesses grew dramatically in Luanshya, and in 1946, 1,850 attended the Memorial of Christ’s death.

Facing Opposition to Our Work

On one occasion during World War II, the district commissioner in Kawambwa summoned me and said: “I want you to stop using the books of the Watch Tower Society because they are now under ban. But I can give you tools that you can use for writing other books for use in your work.”

“I am satisfied with the literature we have,” I responded. “I need nothing more.”

“You don’t know the Americans,” he said (our literature was then printed in the United States). “They will mislead you.”

“No, the ones I deal with won’t,” I replied.

Then he asked: “Can’t you encourage your congregations to make monetary donations to help out with the war as the other religions are doing?”

“That work is for government messengers,” I answered.

“Why don’t you go home and think about it?” he said.

“At Exodus 20:13 and 2 Timothy 2:24, the Bible commands us not to murder and not to fight,” I responded.

Although I was allowed to leave, I was later summoned by the district commissioner in Fort Rosebery, a town now called Mansa. “I called you here to let you know that the government has banned your books,” he said.

“Yes. I have heard about it,” I said.

“So you should go to all your congregations and tell the people you worship with to bring all the books here. Understand?”

“That is not my work,” I replied. “It is the responsibility of government messengers.”

An Encounter Yields Fruitage

After the war, we kept right on preaching. In 1947, I had just finished serving a congregation in the village of Mwanza when I inquired about where I could buy a cup of tea. I was directed to the house of a Mr. Nkonde, where there was a tearoom. Mr. Nkonde and his wife received me warmly. I asked Mr. Nkonde if, while I drank my tea, he would read the chapter “Hell, a Place of Rest in Hope” in the book “Let God Be True.”

“So how do you understand hell?” I asked after I had finished my tea. Amazed by what  he had read, he began to study the Bible with the Witnesses and later was baptized along with his wife. Although he did not remain a Witness, his wife and a number of his children did. In fact, one of his children, Pilney, is still serving at the branch office of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Zambia. And although Pilney’s mother is now quite elderly, she is still a faithful Witness.

A Taste of East Africa

Our branch office in Northern Rhodesia, which was established early in 1948 in Lusaka, assigned me to Tanganyika (now Tanzania). Another Witness accompanied my wife and me on our journey through mountainous territory on foot. The trip took us three days and was very tiring. While I carried the bundle of books, my wife carried our clothes, and the other Witness carried our bedding.

When we arrived in Mbeya in March 1948, there was much to do to help the brothers make adjustments to conform more fully to Bible teachings. For one thing, we were known in that area as Watchtower people. Although the name Jehovah’s Witnesses had been accepted by the brothers, it had not been featured publicly. In addition, some Witnesses needed to abandon certain customs connected with honoring the dead. But probably the most difficult adjustment for many was to register their marriages legally, making them honorable before all.​—Hebrews 13:4.

Later, I had the privilege of serving other areas in East Africa, including Uganda. I spent some six weeks in Entebbe and Kampala, where many were helped to a knowledge of Bible truth.

Invitation to New York City

After serving in Uganda for some time, I arrived early in 1956 in Dar es Salaam, the capital of Tanganyika. There a letter from the world headquarters of Jehovah’s Witnesses awaited me. It contained instructions to start preparing to come to New York to attend an international convention that would be held from July 27 to August 3, 1958. Needless to say, I was excited at the prospect.

When the time came, another traveling overseer, Luka Mwango, and I flew from Ndola to Salisbury (now Harare), Southern Rhodesia, then on to Nairobi, Kenya. From there we flew to London, England, where we were warmly received. When we went to bed the night of our arrival in England, we were excited and kept talking about how we Africans had been received so hospitably by white people. We were extremely encouraged by the experience.

Finally, we arrived in New York, where the convention was held. One day during the convention, I gave a report about the activity of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Northern Rhodesia. On that day the audience consisted of nearly 200,000 gathered at New York City’s Polo Grounds and Yankee Stadium. I couldn’t sleep that night because of thinking about the wonderful privilege I had enjoyed.

All too soon the convention was over and we returned home. On our homeward journey,  we again experienced the loving hospitality of our brothers and sisters in England. The unity of Jehovah’s people, regardless of race or nationality, was unforgettably demonstrated to us during that trip!

Continued Service and Trials

In 1967, I was appointed to be a district servant​—a minister who travels from circuit to circuit. By then the number of Witnesses in Zambia had increased to over 35,000. Later, because of deteriorating health, I was again assigned as a circuit overseer in the Copperbelt. Eventually, Jeanette developed health problems and in December 1984 died faithful to Jehovah.

After her death, I was deeply hurt when unbelieving in-laws accused me of causing her death by employing witchcraft. But some who knew of Jeanette’s illness and had talked with her doctor explained to these relatives the truth of the matter. Then came a further trial. Some relatives wanted me to comply with the traditional custom called ukupyanika. In the region from which I come, this custom demands that when a spouse dies, the surviving mate have sexual relations with a close relative of the deceased. Of course, I refused.

Eventually, the pressure from relatives ended. I was grateful that Jehovah had helped me to take a firm stand. A month after the burial of my wife, one brother came up to me and said: “Brother Kangale, you were really an encouragement to us at the death of your wife because there wasn’t a single ungodly tradition to which you succumbed. We want to thank you so much.”

A Marvelous Harvest

It has now been 65 years since I began my full-time ministry as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. What a joy it has been during these years to see hundreds of congregations formed and many Kingdom Halls built in areas where I once served as a traveling overseer! From the some 2,800 Witnesses in 1943, we have now increased to over 122,000 Kingdom proclaimers in Zambia. Indeed, last year over 514,000 attended the Memorial in this country, which has a population of fewer than 11 million.

In the meantime, Jehovah takes good care of me. When I need medical attention, a Christian brother takes me to the hospital. Congregations still invite me to give public discourses, and this provides me with many upbuilding moments. The congregation I associate with arranges for Christian sisters to take turns to clean my house, and brothers volunteer to escort me to meetings every week. I know I would never have enjoyed such loving care if I were not serving Jehovah. I thank him for continuing to use me in the full-time ministry and for the many responsibilities I have been able to shoulder up until now.

My eyesight has grown dim, and when I walk to the Kingdom Hall, I have to rest a number of times on the way. My book bag seems heavier these days, so I lighten it by taking out any books I may not need at the meeting. My field ministry consists mostly of conducting Bible studies with those who come to my house. Yet, what a pleasure it is to look back over the years and to be able to reflect on the marvelous growth that has occurred! I have served in a field where Jehovah’s words recorded at Isaiah 60:22 have had an outstanding fulfillment. There it says: “The little one himself will become a thousand, and the small one a mighty nation. I myself, Jehovah, shall speed it up in its own time.” Indeed, I have lived to see that very thing happen not only in Zambia but throughout the world. *

[Footnotes]

^ par. 7 Published by Jehovah’s Witnesses but now out of print.

^ par. 50 Sadly, Brother Kangale’s strength finally gave out, and he died faithful while this article was being prepared for publication.

[Pictures on page 24]

Thomson with the Zambia branch in the background

[Picture on page 26]

The Zambia branch today