Godly Contentment Has Sustained Me
AS TOLD BY BENJAMIN IKECHUKWU OSUEKE
Soon after I started engaging fully in the Christian ministry, I visited my parents’ home. Upon seeing me, my father grabbed my shirt and began to shout, “Thief!” He took his cutlass and hit me with the flat side. Stirred by the noise, other villagers gathered at our house. What had I stolen? Let me explain.
I WAS born in 1930 in the village of Umuariam in southeastern Nigeria, and I was the first of seven children. The eldest of my sisters died at age 13. My parents were Anglicans. Father was a farmer, and Mother a petty trader. She walked to local markets about 20 miles [30 km] from our village to purchase a tin of palm oil and returned late the same day. Then, early the following morning, she trekked to a railway-station town about 25 miles [40 km] away to sell the oil. If she made a profit, usually not more than about 15 cents (U.S.), she bought foodstuffs for the family and returned the same day. That was her routine for about 15 years until she died in 1950.
I started my education in my village at a school run by the Anglican Church, but to finish elementary school, I had to stay at a boarding house about 22 miles [35 km] away. Since my parents had no money to further my education, I began to search for a job. At first I worked as a house servant for a railway guard in Lagos, western Nigeria, and then for a civil servant in Kaduna, northern Nigeria. In Benin City, midwestern Nigeria, I found work as a clerk for a lawyer, and later I worked as a laborer at a sawmill. From there I traveled to Cameroon in 1953 to stay with a cousin who helped me find a job on a rubber plantation. My monthly wage was about nine dollars (U.S.). I had only menial jobs, yet I was content as long as I had enough to eat.
A Pauper Dispenses Riches
Silvanus Okemiri, a coworker, was one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. He used every opportunity to share with me his Bible knowledge while we cut grass and placed mulch around rubber plants. Though I listened to him, I did nothing more at the time. Still, when my cousin found out that I was in contact with the Witnesses, he did his best to discourage me. He warned me: “Benji, don’t visit Mr. Okemiri. He is a Jehovah man and a pauper. Anyone associating with him will become just like him.”
In early 1954, unable to bear the harsh working conditions in the company any longer, I returned home. In those days the Anglican Church was rather strict about morals. I grew up to detest immorality. Soon, however, I was disgusted by the hypocrisy among fellow churchgoers. While they strongly professed to follow Bible standards, their life-style belied their claims. (Matthew 15:8) I had repeated arguments with my father, which severely strained our relationship. One night I just left home.
I relocated to Omoba, a small railway town. There I again came in contact with Jehovah’s Witnesses. Priscilla Isiocha, whom I knew from my village, gave me the booklets “This Good News of the Kingdom” and After Armageddon—God’s New World. * I devoured them, convinced that I had found the truth. In my church we did not study the Bible; we focused on human traditions. However, the literature of the Witnesses liberally quoted from the Bible.
Less than a month later, I asked Brother and Sister Isiocha when they went to their church. When I attended a meeting of Jehovah’s Witnesses for the first time, I did not understand a thing. The Watchtower article was about the attack by ‘Gog of Magog,’ mentioned in the prophetic book of Ezekiel. (Ezekiel 38:1, 2) Many terms were foreign to me, but I was so impressed by the warm welcome I received that I decided to go back the following Sunday. During the second meeting, I heard about preaching. So I asked Priscilla when they went out preaching. On the third Sunday, I accompanied them, carrying a small Bible. I had no preaching bag nor any Bible literature. Nevertheless, I became a Kingdom publisher and reported field service at the end of that month!
No one studied the Bible with me, but whenever I visited the Isiochas, I gleaned words of faith and encouragement from the Scriptures and got some Bible literature. On December 11, 1954, at a district convention in Aba, I symbolized my dedication to Jehovah by water baptism. My cousin with whom I lived and served as an apprentice stopped providing food and training and did not pay me even a penny for the services I had rendered him. Yet, I held no grudge against him; I was just thankful that I had a personal relationship with God. This provided me with comfort and peace of mind. The local Witnesses came to my assistance. The Isiochas gave me food, and others lent me money to start petty trading. In the middle of 1955, I bought a secondhand bicycle, and in March 1956, I took up the regular pioneer work. Shortly thereafter, I paid my debts. The profit I made from trading was very small, but I could now care for myself. What Jehovah was providing sufficed for me.
“Stealing” My Siblings
As soon as I was on my own, my first concern was to assist my siblings spiritually. Father, because of his prejudice and deep suspicion, opposed my becoming a Witness. How, then, could I help my siblings to learn Bible truth? I offered to support my younger brother Ernest, so Father allowed him to stay with me. Ernest quickly embraced the truth and was baptized in 1956. His change stiffened my father’s opposition. Nevertheless, my sister who was already married also came into the truth with her husband. When I arranged for my second sister, Felicia, to spend her school holidays with me, Father reluctantly agreed. Soon, Felicia too got baptized as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
In 1959, I went home to take Bernice, my third sister, to stay with Ernest. That is when Father attacked me, accusing me of stealing his children. He failed to grasp that they had made their personal decision to serve Jehovah. Father swore that he would never allow Bernice to come with me. But Jehovah’s hand was not short, for the very next year, Bernice came to spend her school holidays with Ernest. Just like her sisters, she embraced the truth and got baptized.
‘Learning the Secret’
In September 1957, I started serving as a special pioneer, devoting about 150 hours to the preaching work every month. My partner, Sunday Irogbelachi, and I served in the vast territory in Akpu-na-abuo, Etche. At the first circuit assembly we attended while there, 13 persons from our group were baptized. How thrilled we are now to see 20 congregations in that area!
In 1958, I got to know Christiana Azuike, a regular pioneer associating with the Aba East Congregation. I admired her zeal, and in December of that year, we were married. In early 1959, I was appointed as a traveling overseer, visiting and strengthening congregations of our spiritual brothers. From then until 1972, my wife and I visited nearly all the congregations of Jehovah’s people in eastern and midwestern Nigeria.
Congregations were far apart, and our primary means of transportation was the bicycle. When we served congregations in the big towns, our brothers hired a taxi to take us to the next congregation. In some cases the rooms where we stayed had mud floors and no ceilings. We slept on beds made of raffia poles. Some of the beds had a grass mattress covered with a mat; others had no mattress at all. The quantity and quality of food was not a problem for us. Having learned in the past to be content with meager provisions, we enjoyed whatever food was provided, and our hosts appreciated that. Some cities had no electricity in those days, so we always carried along our kerosene lantern. Despite difficult conditions, however, we had many enjoyable times with the congregations.
During those years, we came to appreciate the value of the apostle Paul’s admonition: “Having sustenance and covering, we shall be content with these things.” (1 Timothy 6:8) Through adversity, Paul learned a secret that helped him to stay content. What was that? He explained: “I know indeed how to be low on provisions, I know indeed how to have an abundance. In everything and in all circumstances I have learned the secret of both how to be full and how to hunger, both how to have an abundance and how to suffer want.” We learned the same secret. Paul also said: “For all things I have the strength by virtue of him [God] who imparts power to me.” (Philippians 4:12, 13) How true that proved to be in our case! We were blessed with contentment, a full measure of upbuilding Christian activities, and peace of mind.
Serving Congregations as a Family
In late 1959, our first son, Joel, was born, and in 1962, a second boy, Samuel, followed. Christiana and I continued in the traveling work, visiting congregations together with the boys. In 1967, the Nigerian civil war broke out. Schools were closed because of incessant air raids. My wife was a schoolteacher before she joined me in the traveling work, so during the war, she taught the children at home. By the age of six, Samuel could read and write. When he entered school after the war, he was two classes ahead of his peers.
At the time, we did not fully realize the difficulties of rearing children while we stayed in the traveling work. However, being assigned to serve as special pioneers in 1972 proved beneficial for us. This allowed us to stay in one location so that we could give adequate attention to the spirituality of our family. Early on, we taught our sons the value of godly contentment. In 1973, Samuel was baptized, and Joel took up regular pioneering the same year. Both of our sons married fine Christian women and are now raising their own families in the truth.
The Misery of Civil Strife
When the civil war broke out, I was serving a congregation in Onitsha as a circuit overseer, accompanied by my family. That war further impressed on us the vanity of accumulating material things or trusting in them. I saw people running for their lives—abandoning their valued possessions in the streets.
As the war escalated, all able-bodied males were conscripted. Many brothers who refused enlistment were tortured. We could not move about freely. Food shortages wreaked havoc in the land. The price of a pound [0.5 kg] of cassava rose from 7 cents to 14 dollars (U.S.) and that of a cup of salt from 8 dollars to 42 dollars (U.S.). Milk, butter, and sugar disappeared. To survive, we ground unripe papaya and mixed it with a little cassava flour. We also ate grasshoppers, cassava peelings, hibiscus leaves, elephant grass—any leaves we could find. Meat was a luxury, so I caught lizards for the children to eat. Nevertheless, no matter how bad things got, Jehovah always provided for us.
However, even more dangerous was the spiritual privation caused by the war. Most of the brothers fled the war zone into the jungle or to other villages, and in the process, they lost most if not all of their Bible publications. In addition, the blockade by the government troops prevented new Bible literature from coming into the Biafran area. Although most of the congregations tried to hold meetings, the spirituality of the brothers suffered because direction from the branch office could not reach them.
Fighting Spiritual Starvation
Traveling overseers did their best to continue the arrangement of visiting each congregation. Since many brothers had fled the towns, I searched for them wherever they could be found. On one occasion, I left my wife and children in a safe place and traveled by myself for six weeks, visiting different villages and parts of the jungle looking for the brothers.
While serving a congregation at Ogbunka, I heard that there was a concentration of Witnesses in the Isuochi area of the Okigwe district. So I asked for word to be passed along to the brothers in that area to gather at a cashew plantation located at Umuaku village. An elderly brother and I rode our bicycles about 10 miles [15 km] to the plantation, where about 200 Witnesses, including women and children, had gathered. With the help of a pioneer sister, I was able to locate another group of about a hundred Witnesses, who had taken refuge in the Lomara bush.
Lawrence Ugwuegbu was one of a group of courageous brothers living in the war-ravaged town of Owerri. He informed me that there were numerous Witnesses in the Ohaji area. They could not move about freely, as soldiers occupied the area. The two of us rode there under the cover of night and met about 120 Witnesses in a brother’s compound. We also used that opportunity to visit some other Witnesses in their hideouts.
Brother Isaac Nwagwu risked his life to help me locate other displaced brothers. He ferried me across the Otamiri River in a canoe to meet with over 150 Witnesses gathered in Egbu-Etche. One brother there exclaimed: “This is the best day of my life! I never thought I would live to see a circuit overseer again. If I die now in the heat of this war, I am satisfied.”
I was in danger of conscription, but I repeatedly felt Jehovah’s protection. One afternoon, as I was returning to my base after meeting with about 250 brothers, a unit of military commandos stopped me at a roadblock. “Why have you not joined the army?” they asked. I explained that I was a missionary preaching God’s Kingdom. I realized that they were determined to arrest me. After a quick silent prayer, I said to their captain, “Please release me.” Surprisingly, he replied, “Do you say that we should let you go?” “Yes,” I answered, “release me.” He said, “You are free to go.” None of the soldiers said another word.—Psalm 65:1, 2.
Contentment Brings Further Blessings
After the war ended in 1970, I continued serving in the circuit work. It was a privilege to help reorganize the congregations. Then, Christiana and I served as special pioneers until 1976, when I was once again appointed as a circuit overseer. Toward the middle of that year, I was assigned to the district work. Seven years later, my wife and I were invited to serve at the Nigeria branch office of Jehovah’s Witnesses, our present home. Here at the branch, it is always a source of great joy for us to see again brothers and sisters whom we met during the civil war and at other times and who are still serving Jehovah faithfully.
Over the years, Christiana has been a wonderful support and loyal companion to me. Her positive and determined spirit, despite persistent health problems that she has endured since 1978, has helped keep me going. We have experienced the truthfulness of the psalmist’s words: “Jehovah himself will sustain him upon a divan of illness.”—Psalm 41:3.
Looking back over these years of theocratic activity, I cannot help but thank Jehovah for his wonderful blessings. Being content with what he provides, I can truly say that I have found great happiness. The joy of seeing my siblings, my children, and their families all serving Jehovah along with me and my wife is a blessing beyond compare. Jehovah has satisfied me with a rich and meaningful life. None of my desires have been left unfulfilled.
^ par. 10 Published by Jehovah’s Witnesses. Now out of print.
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A Timely Arrangement Helps to Sustain the Brotherhood
In the mid-1960’s, animosity between ethnic groups in northern and eastern Nigeria led to disturbances, revolts, lawlessness, and ethnic violence. These developments put great strain on Jehovah’s Witnesses, who were determined to remain strictly neutral in the conflict. About 20 of them were murdered. Most lost all their possessions.
On May 30, 1967, the eastern states of Nigeria seceded from the federation, forming the Republic of Biafra. The federal army was mobilized, and a total blockade was imposed against the East. A bloody and violent civil war ensued.
The neutrality of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the Biafran area made them targets of attack. Newspapers published fiery comments, whipping up public opinion against them. However, Jehovah made sure that his servants received spiritual food. How?
Early in 1968, a civil servant was assigned to a post in Europe and another was assigned to the Biafran airstrip. Both were Witnesses. Their assignment placed them at opposite ends of the only link between Biafra and the outside world. These two Witnesses volunteered for the risky task of channeling spiritual food into Biafra. They also helped to supply our distressed brothers with relief materials. The two brothers were able to keep this vital arrangement going throughout the war, which ended in 1970. One of them later said, “This arrangement was beyond anything that humans could have planned.”
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In 1965, with our sons, Joel and Samuel
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What a blessing it is to serve Jehovah as a family!
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Today, Christiana and I serve at the Nigeria branch