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Jehovah’s Witnesses

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THE WATCHTOWER (SIMPLIFIED EDITION) FEBRUARY 2017

 LIFE STORY

We Experienced God’s Undeserved Kindness in Many Ways

We Experienced God’s Undeserved Kindness in Many Ways

AS A young man who loved God, my father, Arthur, wanted to become a Methodist minister. But he changed his mind when he read some literature from the Bible Students and began to associate with them. In 1914, when my father was 17, he got baptized. During World War I, he was ordered to join the military, but he refused to fight. So he was sentenced to ten months in the Kingston Penitentiary in Ontario, Canada. After he was released from prison, he became a colporteur, as pioneers were then called.

In 1926, my father married Hazel Wilkinson. Her mother had learned the truth in 1908. I was born on April 24, 1931, the second of four children. My father loved and respected the Bible, and he taught us to do the same. The worship of Jehovah was the most important thing in our lives. We regularly preached from house to house as a family.Acts 20:20.

LIKE MY FATHER, I REMAINED NEUTRAL AND PIONEERED

In 1939, World War II began. The next year, the work of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Canada was banned. Schoolchildren had to salute the flag and sing the national anthem in their classrooms. Usually, the teachers allowed my sister Dorothy and me to go out of the room while this was happening. But one day, my teacher tried to embarrass me by saying that I was a coward. After school, several classmates attacked me and knocked me to the ground. This only made me more determined to “obey God as ruler rather than men.”Acts 5:29.

In July 1942, when I was 11 years old, I was baptized in a water tank on a farm. I enjoyed vacation pioneering whenever I had time off from school. Today we call this auxiliary pioneering. One year I was able to go with three other brothers to northern Ontario, where we preached to loggers.

On May 1, 1949, I began regular pioneering. I was then invited to help with construction work at the Canada branch and later became a member of the Canada Bethel family. I was assigned to the printery, where I learned how to operate the flatbed press. I remember working all night for several weeks to help print a tract about the persecution of Jehovah’s people in Canada.

Later, I worked in the Service Department. I was assigned to interview pioneers who were going to serve in Quebec, where there was fierce persecution. One of these pioneers was Mary Zazula from Edmonton, Alberta. Her parents were members of the Orthodox Church. When Mary and her older brother refused to stop studying the Bible, their parents threw them out of the house. Mary and her brother were baptized in June 1951, and six months later they began to pioneer. During the interview, I could see that Mary loved Jehovah very much. I remember thinking that she was the girl I would like to marry. Nine months later, we got married—on January 30, 1954. One week after our wedding, Mary and I were invited to be trained for circuit work. For the next two years, we did circuit work in northern Ontario.

 As the worldwide preaching work grew, more and more missionaries were needed. Mary and I thought that if we could survive Canada’s freezing weather in the winter and annoying mosquitoes in the summer, we could survive anywhere. We attended the 27th class of Gilead School and graduated in July 1956. By November we were in our new home—Brazil.

MISSIONARY WORK IN BRAZIL

When we arrived in Brazil, we began to learn Portuguese. First, we learned simple ways to start a conversation. Next, we memorized a short magazine presentation. Then, we went out in the field ministry and met a lady who showed interest in our message. We had decided that if a householder showed interest, we would read a scripture about life under God’s Kingdom. So I read Revelation 21:3, 4—and then I fainted! I was not used to the hot and humid weather. The heat continued to be a challenge for me.

Our missionary assignment was the city of Campos. Today, there are 15 congregations there! But when we arrived, there was only one isolated group in the city as well as a missionary home with four sisters: Esther Tracy, Ramona Bauer, Luiza Schwarz, and Lorraine Brookes (now Wallen). My assignment in the missionary home was to help with the laundry and get wood for cooking. One Monday night after our Watchtower Study, Mary was resting on the sofa with her head on a cushion. We were talking about our day. When Mary got up, a snake came out from under the cushion! This unexpected visitor caused a lot of excitement until I killed it.

After a year of learning Portuguese, we began to do circuit work. We served in areas where there was no electricity. We slept on mats and traveled by horse and carriage. Once we went by train to a town in the mountains so that we could preach in an isolated area. We rented a room there. The branch office sent us 800 magazines to use in the ministry. We had to make many trips to the post office to pick up the boxes of magazines.

In 1962, the Kingdom Ministry School was held in different places throughout Brazil. For six months, I was assigned to travel by myself to one school after another. I taught classes in Manaus, Belém, Fortaleza, Recife, and Salvador. When I was in Manaus, I organized a district convention in a famous opera house. Because of heavy rains, there was not much clean water to drink, and we did not have a good place for the brothers and sisters to eat their meals during the convention. I spoke to a military officer and explained our problem. He kindly arranged to give us enough drinking water for the whole convention. He also sent soldiers to set up two large tents, which we used as a kitchen and a dining room.

 While I was away, Mary witnessed in a business area where no one was interested in talking about the Bible. The people there had come from Portugal to Brazil to make money. Mary felt discouraged and said to some of her friends, “The last place on earth I would want to live is Portugal.” Soon after that, we received a letter. It was an invitation to serve in Portugal, where our preaching work was under ban. Mary was shocked! But we accepted the assignment and moved to Portugal.

OUR ASSIGNMENT IN PORTUGAL

We arrived in Lisbon, Portugal, in August of 1964. The secret police were making life very difficult for our brothers there. So it seemed wise for us not to contact the local Witnesses in the beginning. At first, we stayed in a rented room. Then, when we got our visas, we rented an apartment. After five months, it was safe for us to get in contact with the brothers at the branch. We were so happy when we were finally able to go to a meeting!

Because our work was banned, Kingdom Halls were closed up and congregation meetings were held in the homes of the brothers. Their homes were regularly searched by policemen. Hundreds of our brothers and sisters were taken to police stations to be questioned. The police mistreated them and tried to force them to reveal the names of the responsible brothers. So to protect one another, the brothers stopped using surnames and called one another by first names only.

We treasure our memories of over 60 years in Jehovah’s service

Our main goal was to make sure that our brothers could still get the literature that would help them endure. Mary would type Watchtower study articles and other literature on a special kind of paper. The paper was then used as a stencil to make many copies for the brothers.

DEFENDING THE GOOD NEWS IN COURT

In June 1966, an important court case was held in Lisbon. All 49 members of the Feijó Congregation were accused of attending an illegal meeting in someone’s home. To prepare them for the trial, I pretended to be the lawyer who would try to prove the brothers were guilty. But just as we expected, we lost the case. The 49 brothers and sisters all spent time in prison, from 45 days to five and a half months. But the trial was a great witness. In fact, during the trial, our lawyer even quoted the words of Gamaliel from the Bible. (Acts 5:33-39) Afterward, the news media reported on the trial. We were very happy when our lawyer began to study the Bible with us and attended meetings.

In December 1966, I was assigned to be the branch overseer and spent much time working on legal matters. We did everything we could to establish legal reasons why Jehovah’s Witnesses should be able to worship freely in Portugal.  (Philippians 1:7) Finally, on December 18, 1974, we were legally recognized. Brothers Nathan Knorr and Frederick Franz came from world headquarters to share our joy. We had a memorable meeting in Oporto and Lisbon with 46,870 in attendance.

Jehovah also caused the preaching work to expand in islands where people speak Portuguese, such as the Azores, Cape Verde, Madeira, and São Tomé and Príncipe. As the number of Witnesses in these places grew, we needed a bigger branch. After it was built, Brother Milton Henschel gave the dedication talk on April 23, 1988. There were 45,522 brothers and sisters in attendance, including 20 who had been missionaries in Portugal and who had returned for the dedication.

WE LEARNED FROM FAITHFUL EXAMPLES

Over the years, Mary and I have really enjoyed learning from faithful brothers. For example, when I worked along with Brother Theodore Jaracz on a zone visit, I learned a valuable lesson. The branch we were visiting had a big problem, and the Branch Committee had done all they could to help. They felt bad that they could not do more. So Brother Jaracz comforted them by saying: “Now it is time to leave some space for holy spirit to work.” I will also never forget something that Brother Franz said many years ago when Mary and I were visiting Brooklyn. A group of us asked him for advice, and he told us: “My recommendation is: Stay with Jehovah’s visible organization through thick and thin. It is the only one doing the work Jesus commanded his disciples to do—preach the good news of God’s Kingdom!”

Doing this has made Mary and me very happy. We also have precious memories of making zone visits to branches all over the world. We loved meeting Jehovah’s servants of all ages and reassuring them that their service to Jehovah is appreciated. We always encouraged them to continue serving him.

Many years have gone by, and both of us are now in our 80’s. Mary has various health problems. (2 Corinthians 12:9) And we have had other trials. But these trials have strengthened our faith and made us more determined to keep our integrity to Jehovah. When we look back over our years of serving Jehovah, we know that he has blessed us with his undeserved kindness in many, many ways. *—See footnote.

^ par. 29 While this article was being prepared for publication, Douglas Guest died faithful to Jehovah on October 25, 2015.