When I was 16 years old, my father said: “If you go preaching, don’t come back. If you come back, I will break your legs.” So I decided to leave home. This was the first time I left things behind to follow Jesus, our Master.
WHY was my father so angry? Let me explain. I was born on July 29, 1929, and grew up in a village in the province of Bulacan in the Philippines. We did not have much money, and our life was simple. When I was young, the Japanese army invaded the Philippines and war began. However, our village was isolated, so the war did not directly affect us. We did not have radio, television, or newspapers, so we only heard about the war from other people.
I had seven brothers and sisters, and when I was eight years old, my grandparents took me to live with them. Although we were Catholic, my grandfather was willing to discuss religion and accepted religious literature that his friends gave him. I remember that he showed me the booklets Protection, Safety, and Uncovered in the Tagalog language, * (see footnote) as well as a Bible. I enjoyed reading the Bible, especially the four Gospels. Doing so made me want to follow Jesus’ example.—John 10:27.
LEARNING TO FOLLOW THE MASTER
The Japanese army left the Philippines in 1945. About that time, my parents asked me to come back home. My grandfather encouraged me to go, and so I went.
In December 1945, Jehovah’s Witnesses from the town of Angat came to preach in our village. One older Witness came to our house and explained what the Bible says about “the last days.” (2 Timothy 3:1-5) He invited us to attend a Bible study in a nearby village. I went, even though my parents did not go. About 20 people were there, and some asked questions about the Bible.
I did not really understand what they were talking about, so I decided to leave. But then they started singing a Kingdom song. I really liked the song, so I stayed. After the song and prayer, we were all invited to attend a meeting in Angat the following Sunday.
That meeting was held in the home of the Cruz family, and some of us walked about eight kilometers (five miles) to get there. About 50 people were gathered, and I was impressed that even the young children answered questions about difficult Bible subjects. After I had been to several more meetings, Damian Santos, an elderly pioneer brother who used to be a mayor, invited me to stay overnight at his house. We spent most of that night discussing the Bible.
Back then, people would get baptized soon after they learned basic Bible teachings. After I had gone to just a few meetings, the brothers asked me and others, “Do you want to get baptized?” I replied, “Yes, I do.” I knew that I wanted to “slave for the Master, Christ.” (Colossians 3:24) We went to a nearby river, and two of us got baptized on February 15, 1946.
I realized that baptized Christians should preach regularly as Jesus did. My father thought that I was too young to preach and that simply being baptized did not make me a preacher. I explained to him that it is God’s will that we preach the good news of God’s Kingdom. (Matthew 24:14) I also said that I needed to keep my promise to God. That is when my father made the threat that I mentioned in the beginning. He was determined to stop me from preaching. That was the first time I had to leave things behind, or make sacrifices, to serve Jehovah.
The Cruz family invited me to live with them in Angat. They also encouraged me and their youngest daughter, Nora, to start pioneering. Both of us began to pioneer on November 1, 1947. Nora pioneered in another town, but I stayed in Angat.
ANOTHER OPPORTUNITY TO LEAVE THINGS BEHIND
After I had pioneered for two years, Earl Stewart, a brother from Bethel, gave a talk to over 500 people in the town square of Angat. He spoke in English, and afterward I gave a summary of his talk in Tagalog. This was the first of many talks that I have interpreted over the years. How was I able to do this? Although I went to school for only seven years, my teachers regularly used English. Also, I studied many of our publications in English because there were very few Bible publications in Tagalog. These things helped me understand English well enough to interpret talks.
Brother Stewart told the local congregation that the missionaries were leaving to attend the 1950 Theocracy’s Increase Assembly in New York, U.S.A. So the branch office wanted one or two pioneers to help at Bethel. I was one of the brothers invited. Once again, I left behind the things I was used to, this time to work at Bethel.
I arrived at Bethel on June 19, 1950. Bethel was in a large, old house surrounded by big trees on a one-hectare (2.5 acre) piece of land. About a dozen single brothers worked there. In the early morning, I helped in the kitchen. Then, from about nine o’clock, I ironed clothes in the laundry. I did the same things in the afternoon. Even after the missionaries returned from the international assembly, I stayed at Bethel. I did whatever the brothers asked me to do. I wrapped magazines for mailing, worked with subscriptions, and served as a receptionist.
LEAVING THE PHILIPPINES FOR GILEAD SCHOOL
In 1952, six other brothers from the Philippines and I were invited to attend the 20th class of Gilead School. I was thrilled! While we were in the United States, we saw and experienced many things that were new. Life was very different from what I was used to in the small village where I came from.
For example, we had to learn how to use appliances and utensils that we had never seen before. Even the weather was different! One morning when I woke up, everything was white outside. That was the first time I saw snow. It was beautiful, but I quickly discovered that it was very, very cold!
I enjoyed the wonderful training at Gilead so much that those adjustments did not bother me. The instructors were very good teachers and showed us how to study and do research. The training at Gilead definitely helped me to strengthen my relationship with Jehovah.
After I graduated, I was temporarily assigned as a special pioneer in the Bronx in New York City. So in July 1953, I was able to attend the New World Society Assembly, which was held there in the Bronx. After the assembly, I was assigned back to the Philippines.
LEAVING THE COMFORTS OF THE CITY
The brothers at Bethel assigned me to do circuit work. This gave me more opportunities to imitate Jesus, who traveled to faraway towns and cities to help Jehovah’s people. (1 Peter 2:21) My circuit covered a huge area of central Luzon, which is the largest island in the Philippines. It included the provinces of Bulacan, Nueva Ecija, Tarlac, and Zambales. To visit some towns, I had to cross the rocky Sierra Madre Mountains. No buses or trains came to those places, so I had to ask truck drivers if I could sit on top of the logs they were transporting. Many times they allowed me to do so, but this was a very uncomfortable way to travel.
Most of the congregations were small and new. So the brothers were grateful when I helped them to organize meetings and field service better.
Later, I was assigned to a circuit that covered the entire Bicol region. In that area, there were many isolated groups where special pioneers were preaching in places the Witnesses had never been before. At one home, the toilet was only a hole in the ground with two logs across the middle. When I stood on the logs, they fell into the hole, and I fell with them. It took me a long time to clean myself up and get ready for breakfast!
When I was serving in that circuit, I began to think about Nora, who had started pioneering when I did. By that time, she was a special pioneer in Dumaguete City, and I went to visit her. After that, we wrote letters to each other for a while, and in 1956, we got married. We spent the first week after our wedding visiting a congregation on Rapu Rapu Island. There we had to climb mountains and walk long distances, but we were happy to be together and help the brothers in faraway places.
INVITED TO SERVE AT BETHEL AGAIN
After we had done circuit work for about four years, the brothers invited us to come to the branch office. We started working there in January 1960. During the many years we have been at Bethel, I have learned a lot from working with brothers who have heavy responsibilities in Jehovah’s organization. And Nora has enjoyed many different assignments at Bethel.
It has been a blessing to see more and more people serving Jehovah in the Philippines. When I came to Bethel as a young, single brother, there were about 10,000 publishers in the whole country. Now there are more than 200,000 publishers in the Philippines, and hundreds of brothers and sisters are working at Bethel to support the preaching work.
As time passed, we needed more space to do the work at Bethel. Then the Governing Body asked us to look for property where we could build a larger branch office. The printery overseer and I went from house to house in the neighborhood of the branch and asked people whether they wanted to sell their property. No one did. One person even told us: “Chinese do not sell. We buy.”
However, one day some unexpected things started to happen. One of our neighbors was moving to the United States, so he asked whether we would like to buy his property. Then another neighbor decided to sell his property, and he encouraged the others around him to do the same. We were even able to buy the property from the man who had said that “Chinese do not sell.” In a short time, the branch property was three times larger. I am sure that Jehovah wanted that to happen.
In 1950, I was the youngest person working at Bethel. Now my wife and I are the oldest. I have no regrets about following Jesus no matter where he directed me. Although my parents threw me out of their home, Jehovah has given me a big family of people who love him. I really believe that Jehovah gives us everything we need, no matter what our assignment is. Nora and I are very grateful to Jehovah for all his kind provisions, and we encourage others also to test Jehovah out.—Malachi 3:10.
Jesus once invited a tax collector named Matthew Levi to be his follower. What did Matthew do? “Leaving everything behind, he rose up and began to follow him.” (Luke 5:27, 28) I too have had the opportunity to leave things behind to follow Jesus, and I encourage others to do the same and experience many blessings.
^ par. 6 Published by Jehovah’s Witnesses but now out of print.