Life Story

Right Choices Led to Lifelong Blessings

As told by Paul Kushnir

IN 1897 my grandparents emigrated from Ukraine to Canada and settled near Yorkton, Saskatchewan. They arrived with four children​—three boys and a girl. In 1923 the girl, Marinka, became my mother; I was her seventh child. Life back then was simple but secure. We had good food and warm clothing, and the government provided basic services. Friendly neighbors readily helped one another with large tasks. During the winter of 1925, one of the Bible Students, as Jehovah’s Witnesses were then known, visited us. That visit moved us to make choices for which I am still grateful.

Bible Truth Enters Our Home

Mother accepted some booklets from the Bible Student and soon recognized the ring of truth. She made rapid spiritual progress and was baptized in 1926. When Mother became a Bible Student, it gave our family an entirely new perspective on life. Our home became a haven of hospitality. Traveling overseers, called pilgrims, and other Bible Students often stayed with us. In 1928 a traveling overseer showed us the “Eureka Drama,” a simplified version of the “Photo-Drama of Creation.” He borrowed from us children a toy frog that made a clicking sound. When the frog clicked, it was time to change the slide. We took great pride in our contribution!

A traveling overseer named Emil Zarysky often visited us with his house car. Sometimes he was accompanied by his grown son, who encouraged us children to think about becoming full-time ministers, or pioneers. Many pioneers also stayed in our home. Once, mother lent a pioneer a shirt while she mended his. He unintentionally took it  with him when he left. Much later, he sent it back and apologized for the delay. “I could not afford the needed ten cents for postage,” he wrote. We wished he had kept the shirt! I hoped that one day I would be able to imitate such self-sacrificing pioneers. I am thankful for Mother’s hospitable spirit, which enriched our life and built up our love for the brotherhood.​—1 Peter 4:8, 9.

Dad did not become a Bible Student; yet he did not oppose us. In 1930 he even allowed the brothers to use his large shed for a one-day assembly. Although I was only seven, the joy and dignity of that occasion impressed me. Dad died in 1933. Mother, then a widow with eight children, did not deviate even slightly from her determination to keep us on the path of true worship. She had me attend the meetings with her. At the time, they seemed endless, and I wished that I could join the other children, who were allowed to play outside. Out of respect for Mother, however, I stayed put. While Mother was cooking, she often quoted a scripture and then quizzed me as to where it was found in the Bible. In 1933 we had a bumper crop, and Mother used the extra income to buy a car. Some neighbors criticized her for wasting money, but she hoped that the car would help us in our theocratic activities. She was right.

Others Helped Me to Make Right Choices

There comes a time when a young person has to make choices that will affect his future. When that time came for my older sisters, Helen and Kay, they began pioneering. A pioneer who had enjoyed hospitality at our home was John Jazewsky, a fine young man. Mother asked John to stay for a while to help out with the farm. Later, John married Kay, and they served as pioneers not far from our home. When I was 12 years old, they invited me to accompany them in field service during my school vacation. That afforded me an opportunity to get a taste of pioneer life.

In time, my brother John and I were able to run the farm, more or less. That allowed Mother to use the summer months to serve as what is now called an auxiliary pioneer. She used a two-wheeled cart pulled by an old horse. Father had named the stubborn nag Saul, but to Mother he was a docile creature that she could handle. John and I loved the farm, but each time Mother came home from field service and told her experiences, our love increasingly shifted from the farm to the pioneer ministry. In 1938, I increased my field service activities, and on February 9, 1940, I was baptized.

Some time later, I was appointed as a servant in the congregation. I cared for the congregation records and rejoiced with each sign of increase. I had a personal preaching territory in a town about ten miles from home. During the winter, I walked there every week and slept for one or two nights in the attic of the home of a family who showed interest in the Bible. After a discussion with the Lutheran preacher​—during which I was somewhat lacking in tact—​he threatened to set the police on my trail if I did not leave his flock alone. That only made me more determined to press on.

In 1942 my sister Kay and her husband, John, made plans to attend a convention in Cleveland, Ohio, in the United States. I was delighted to be invited to go along.  That convention was one of the best things that ever happened to me. It solidified my plans for the future. When Brother Nathan Knorr, who at that time took the lead in the worldwide work, issued a moving call for 10,000 pioneers, I made my decision right then and there to be one of them!

In January 1943, Henry, a traveling minister, visited our congregation. He gave a stirring talk that filled us with enthusiasm. The day after his talk, it was minus 40 degrees Fahrenheit [-40°C.], and a fierce northwestern wind made it feel even colder. We would normally stay inside during such a cold wave, but Henry was raring to go out in service. He and others rode a caboose, a horse-drawn covered sleigh equipped with a woodstove, to a village seven miles [11 km] away. I went off on my own to make a visit on a family with five boys. They accepted my offer to study the Bible with them, and in time they embraced the truth.

Preaching Under Ban

During World War II, the Kingdom work was banned in Canada. We had to keep our Bible literature out of sight, and our farm provided a host of hiding places. The police paid us frequent visits but never found anything. While preaching, we used only the Bible. We met in small groups, and my brother John and I were selected to do secret courier work.

During the war, our congregation took part in a nationwide distribution of the booklet End of Nazism. We went out in the middle of the night. I felt very nervous as we approached each home stealthily and left a booklet on the doorstep. It was the scariest thing I had ever done. What a relief it was when we delivered the last copy of that booklet! Then we hurried back to the parked car, counted heads, and vanished into the black of the night.

Pioneering, Prisons, and Assemblies

On May 1, 1943, I bid Mother good-bye. With 20 dollars in my wallet and a small suitcase, I set out for my first pioneer assignment. Brother Tom Troop and his loving family in Quill Lake, Saskatchewan, received me hospitably. The next year, I went to an isolated territory in Weyburn, Saskatchewan. While doing street work on December 24, 1944, I was arrested. After spending some time in a local jail, I was taken to a camp in Jasper, Alberta. There, I was with other Witnesses, surrounded by the grandeur of Jehovah’s creation, the Canadian Rockies. In the early part of 1945, camp officials allowed us to attend a meeting in Edmonton, Alberta. Brother Knorr gave an enthralling report about the progress of the worldwide work. We longed for the day when our detention would be over and we could have a full share in the ministry once again.

When I was released, I resumed pioneering. Shortly thereafter, it was announced that the “All Nations Expansion” Assembly would be held in Los Angeles, California. A brother in my new pioneer assignment fitted out his truck with seating for 20 passengers. On August 1, 1947, we set out on a memorable trip, taking us 4,500 miles [7,200 km] through prairies, deserts, and majestic scenery, including Yellowstone and Yosemite national parks. The entire trip lasted 27 days​—a wonderful experience!

The convention itself was a blessing never to be forgotten. To share in the occasion to the full, I served as an attendant during the day and as a watchman during the night. After attending a meeting for those interested in missionary service, I filled out an application but not with high expectations. In the meantime, in 1948, I answered the call for pioneers to serve in the Canadian province of Quebec.​—Isaiah 6:8.

 Gilead and Beyond

In 1949, I was delighted to receive an invitation to attend the 14th class of the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead. That training strengthened my faith and drew me closer to Jehovah. John and Kay had already graduated from the 11th class and were serving as missionaries in Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia). My brother John graduated from Gilead in 1956. Together with his wife, Frieda, he served in Brazil for 32 years until his death.

On my graduation day in February 1950, I was much encouraged by two telegrams, one from Mother and one from the Troop family in Quill Lake. The latter’s telegram, with the heading “Advice to a Graduate,” read: “This is a day of days for you. A day you’ll always prize; and may success and gladness too be yours to realize.”

I received an assignment to serve in the city of Quebec, but for a while I remained at Kingdom Farm, in New York State, where Gilead School was then located. One day, Brother Knorr asked me if I would be willing to go to Belgium. However, a couple of days later, he asked if I would agree to an assignment in the Netherlands. When I received the assignment letter, it stated that I was to “take up the work of branch servant.” I felt overwhelmed.

On August 24, 1950, I set sail on an 11-day journey to the Netherlands​—enough time to read through the newly released New World Translation of the Christian Greek Scriptures. I arrived in Rotterdam on September 5, 1950, where I was given a warm welcome by the Bethel family. In spite of the ravages of World War II, the brothers had done well in getting Christian activities moving again. While listening to their accounts of maintaining integrity under severe persecution, I thought that the prospect of serving under the direction of an inexperienced young branch servant could be difficult for those brothers. However, it soon became evident that I had no grounds for apprehension.

Of course, some matters needed attention. I had arrived just before a convention and was impressed to see thousands of delegates housed at the convention site. For the next convention, I suggested that we find accommodations in private homes. The brothers thought that it was a fine idea​—but not for their country. After reasoning on the matter, we reached a compromise​—half the delegates would be housed on the convention grounds and the other half in the homes of non-Witnesses in the convention city. With some pride I pointed out the results to Brother Knorr when he attended the convention. However, any feelings of accomplishment disappeared quickly when I later read a report about our convention in The Watchtower, which stated: “We feel sure that next  time the effort will first be made in faith to procure lodging for the conventioners in the most effective place for witnessing, the people’s homes.” That is exactly what we did the “next time”!

In July 1961, two representatives of our branch office were invited to attend a meeting with other branch representatives in London. Brother Knorr announced that the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures would be made available in more languages, including Dutch. How exciting that news was! Fortunately, we had no idea of the magnitude of the project. Two years later, in 1963, it was my pleasure to take part in a program at a convention in New York during which the New World Translation of the Christian Greek Scriptures in Dutch was released.

Decisions and New Assignments

In August 1961, I married Leida Wamelink. Her entire family had accepted the truth in 1942 during the time of Nazi persecution. Leida started pioneering in 1950 and came to Bethel in 1953. The way she worked at Bethel and in the congregation indicated to me that she would be a loyal companion in my ministry.

A little more than a year after we got married, I was invited to Brooklyn for a ten-month course of additional training. There were no provisions for wives to accompany their husbands. Although her health was not good, Leida lovingly agreed that I should accept the invitation. Later, Leida’s health problems worsened. We tried to make a go of it at Bethel but eventually decided that it would be more practical to continue our full-time service in the field. So we began to serve in the traveling ministry. Shortly thereafter, my wife had to undergo a serious operation. With the loving support of friends, we were able to handle the situation, and a year later we could even accept an assignment to serve in the district work.

We enjoyed seven years of invigorating service in the traveling work. Then, the need to make a weighty decision presented itself again when I was invited to teach the Kingdom Ministry School at Bethel. We agreed, although it was a difficult transition, since we loved the traveling ministry. The 47 classes of the school, each lasting two weeks, provided a fine opportunity to share spiritual blessings with congregation elders.

During that time, I was making preparations to visit my mother in 1978. But suddenly, on April 29, 1977, we received a telegram informing us that Mother had passed away. I was numbed by the realization that I would no longer be able to hear her warm voice nor tell her once again how grateful I was for all that she had done for me.

At the conclusion of the Kingdom Ministry School course, we were asked to become members of the Bethel family. During the years that followed, I served for ten years as the coordinator of the Branch Committee. In time, the Governing Body appointed a new coordinator, who was better able to handle the responsibility. I am very thankful for that.

Serving as Age Permits

Both Leida and I are now 83 years old. I have enjoyed more than 60 years in full-time service, the last 45 with my loyal wife. She has viewed her support of me in all our assignments as part of her dedicated service to Jehovah. Presently, we do what we can at Bethel and in the congregation.​—Isaiah 46:4.

From time to time, we enjoy recalling some of the high points of our life. We have no regrets about what we have done in Jehovah’s service, and we are convinced that the choices we made early in life were the very best. We are determined to continue serving and honoring Jehovah with all our strength.

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With Bill, my older brother, and Saul, our horse

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On our wedding day, August 1961

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With Leida today