“Do you know how old I am?” I asked. “I know exactly how old you are,” replied Izak Marais. He called me in Colorado from Patterson, New York. Let me explain what led to that conversation.
I WAS born in Wichita, Kansas, U.S.A., on December 10, 1936, the oldest of four children. My parents, William and Jean, were loyal servants of Jehovah. My father was the company servant, now called the coordinator of the body of elders. My mother learned the truth from her mother, Emma Wagner. Emma taught the truth to many people, including Gertrude Steele, who served as a missionary in Puerto Rico. * (See footnote.) So I had many good examples to imitate.
REMEMBERING GOOD EXAMPLES
One Saturday evening when I was five years old, my father and I were offering the Watchtower and Consolation (now Awake!) magazines to people passing by on the street. At the time, the country was deeply involved in World War II. My father, however, remained neutral. A doctor who was drunk came by and accused him of being a coward and of making excuses not to join the war. The doctor put his face very close to my father’s and said, “Why don’t you hit me, you yellow coward!” I was frightened, but I really admired my father. He just kept offering the magazines to the people who were watching. Then a soldier walked by, and the doctor yelled, “Do something about this yellow coward!” The soldier could see that the man was drunk, so he told him, “Go home and sober up!” They both left. I am very grateful for the courage that Jehovah gave my father. He owned two barbershops in Wichita, and the doctor was one of his clients!
When I was eight years old, my parents sold their home and shops and built a small mobile home. Then we moved to Colorado, near Grand Junction, to serve where the need for publishers was greater. My parents pioneered and worked part-time, farming and ranching. With Jehovah’s blessing and their zealous work, a congregation was started. On June 20, 1948, my father baptized me in a mountain stream, along with others who had accepted the truth, including Billie Nichols and his wife. They later went into the circuit work, and so did their son and his wife.
We were good friends with many who were busy in Jehovah’s service, especially the Steele family
When I was 19, Bud Hasty, who was a family friend, asked me to join him in the pioneer work in the southern United States. The circuit overseer asked us to move to Ruston, Louisiana, where several Witnesses had become inactive. He told us to conduct all the meetings each week even if no one else came. We found a meeting place and got it ready. We had every meeting, but for some time, only the two of us attended. We took turns
One day, Bud and I met a minister from the Church of Christ, and he talked about scriptures that I did not know. This bothered me and made me think more deeply about what I believed. For a week, I studied until late each night to get answers to his questions. That really helped me to strengthen my own relationship with Jehovah, and I was eager to meet another preacher.
Soon after that, the circuit overseer asked me to move to El Dorado, Arkansas, to help that congregation. While I was there, I often had to go back to Colorado to appear before the draft board, a committee that decides who must join the military. On one trip, some other pioneers and I were traveling together, and in Texas we had an accident that totally damaged my car. We called a brother, who came and took us to his home and then to the meeting. There they made an announcement about our accident, and the brothers kindly gave us some money. The brother also sold my car for $25.
We were able to get a ride to Wichita. There a close family friend, E. F. McCartney, whom we called Doc, was pioneering. His twin sons, Frank and Francis, are still two of my best friends. They had an old car that they sold to me for $25, exactly the amount I had received for my wrecked one. This was the first time I clearly saw that because I was putting the Kingdom first in my life, Jehovah gave me something I needed. On this visit, the McCartneys introduced me to a lovely sister, Bethel Crane. Her mother, Ruth, a zealous Witness in Wellington, Kansas, continued pioneering until her 90’s. Bethel and I got married less than a year later, in 1958, and we started pioneering together in El Dorado.
We wanted to imitate the good examples we had growing up, so we decided that we would accept any invitation from Jehovah’s organization. We were assigned to special pioneer in Walnut Ridge, Arkansas. Then in 1962, we were thrilled to receive an invitation to the 37th class of Gilead. We were happy to learn that Don Steele was in the same class. After we graduated, Bethel and I were assigned to Nairobi, Kenya. We were sad to leave New York, but we were overjoyed when we arrived at the airport in Nairobi and saw that our brothers were there to meet us!
It did not take long to love being in Kenya and preaching there. Our first Bible students who came into the truth were Chris and Mary Kanaiya. They are still in the full-time service in Kenya. The following year, we were asked to go to Kampala, Uganda. We were the first missionaries in that country. Those were exciting times because so many were eager to learn Bible truths, and they became our brothers and sisters. However, after three and a half years in Africa, we returned to the United States to have a family. We felt more sadness the day we left Africa than the day we left New York. We loved the people in Africa and hoped to return someday.
A NEW ASSIGNMENT
We moved to western Colorado, where my parents lived. Soon after, our first daughter, Kimberly, was born, and 17 months later, we had Stephany. Our new assignment as parents was very important to us. We worked hard to teach the truth to our beautiful girls. We wanted to imitate the good examples that others had set for us. We knew that a good example can influence children very much, but it is not a guarantee that they will grow up to serve Jehovah. Sadly, my younger brother and sister left the truth. Hopefully, they will again imitate the good examples that were also set for them.
We really enjoyed raising our daughters and always tried to do things as a family. Since we lived near Aspen, Colorado, we learned to ski so that at times we could ski together. This gave us an opportunity to have conversations with the girls as we rode up the ski lifts together. We would also go camping with them and would have very enjoyable conversations around the campfire. Even though they were young, they asked questions such as, “What will I do when I grow up?” and “What kind of person do I want to marry?” We did all we could to teach our daughters to love Jehovah. We always encouraged them to set the full-time ministry as a goal and to marry only someone with a similar goal. We also tried to help them understand that it is best not to marry too young. We would often say, “Stay free until you are at least 23.”
We imitated our parents’ example and worked hard to attend the meetings and regularly go out in field service as a family. We arranged to have some who were in the full-time ministry stay in our home. Also, we often talked about how much we loved the missionary work. We hoped that someday all four of us might take a trip to Africa together. Our daughters really wanted to do that.
We always had a regular family study. We would act out situations that could happen at school, and the girls would play the part of a Witness answering questions. They had fun learning in this way, and it made them confident. As they got older, though, they sometimes complained about having the family study. One time, I was so discouraged that I told them to go to their rooms and that we would not have the study. They were shocked and started to cry and said that they wanted to study. Then we began to realize that we really were helping them to enjoy learning about Jehovah. As time went by, they loved to study, and they felt comfortable telling us their thoughts and feelings. It was hard at times to hear them say that they did not agree with a Bible teaching. But we learned how they really felt. After we reasoned with them, they would agree with Jehovah’s standards.
ADJUSTING TO MORE CHANGES
The years we spent raising our daughters went by very fast. With the help and direction of God’s organization, we did our best to raise them to love Jehovah. We were so grateful when both daughters started pioneering after finishing high school, and they learned skills to support themselves financially. They moved to Cleveland, Tennessee, with two other sisters to serve where the need for publishers was greater. We missed them very much, but we were happy that they were using their lives in the full-time service. Bethel and I then began to pioneer again, and because of that we later had the opportunity to do substitute circuit work and convention work.
Before our daughters moved to Tennessee, they traveled to London, England, and visited the branch office. Stephany, then 19 years old, met a young Bethelite there named Paul Norton. On a later trip, Kimberly met one of his workmates, Brian Llewellyn. When Stephany turned 23, she married Paul. And the next year, when Kimberly was 25, she married Brian. So they did stay free until they were at least 23. We were very happy with the husbands they chose.
Our daughters have told us that the examples we and their grandparents set helped them to ‘keep seeking first God’s Kingdom,’ even when they had money problems. (Matthew 6:33) In April 1998, Paul and Stephany were invited to the 105th class of Gilead, and they were assigned to serve in Malawi, Africa. At the same time, Brian and Kimberly were invited to work at London Bethel and later were transferred to Malawi Bethel. We were extremely happy because our children were using their lives in the best way.
ANOTHER THRILLING INVITATION
In January 2001, I received the phone call I mentioned at the beginning. Brother Marais, the overseer of Translation Services, explained that the brothers were preparing a course that would help translators around the world to understand the English text better. Even though I was 64, they wanted to train me to be one of the instructors. Bethel and I prayed about it and talked with our mothers to get their advice. Although they were elderly and would be without our help, they both wanted us to go. I called back and said we would be very happy to accept this wonderful assignment.
Then my mother found out that she had cancer. I told her that we would stay and help my sister Linda to care for her. Mother refused and said, “I would feel worse if you didn’t go.” Linda felt the same way. We were very grateful that they were willing to make such a sacrifice, and we were also grateful for the help of the brothers and sisters in the area. The day after we left for the Watchtower Educational Center in Patterson, Linda called to tell us that Mother had died. As she would have encouraged us to do, we stayed busy with our new work.
We were excited to learn that our first assignment was to the Malawi branch, where our daughters and their husbands were serving. It was wonderful to be together again. Next, we taught the course in Zimbabwe and then in Zambia. After teaching the course for three and a half years, we returned to Malawi to write down the experiences of the Witnesses who had been persecuted there because of their Christian neutrality. *
In 2005, we were once again very sad to leave Africa. We returned home to Basalt, Colorado, where Bethel and I continue pioneering. In 2006, Brian and Kimberly moved next door to us to raise their two daughters, Mackenzie and Elizabeth. Paul and Stephany are still in Malawi, where Paul serves on the Branch Committee. Now I am almost 80 years old, and it makes me very happy to see younger men whom I have worked with take care of the responsibilities that I used to have. For the benefit of our children and grandchildren, we have tried to imitate the good examples that others set for us. This has truly brought us great joy and happiness.
^ par. 5 See the Watchtower magazines of May 1, 1956, pages 269-272, and March 15, 1971, pages 186-190, to learn more about the missionary work of members of the Steele family.
^ par. 30 For example, see the life story of Trophim Nsomba in the April 15, 2015, issue of The Watchtower, pages 14-18.