“DADDY,” “PAPA,” “UNCLE.” That is how many young ones at Bethel have often addressed me. And as an 89-year-old, I like it. I view these expressions of affection as part of the reward from Jehovah for my having served him for 72 years in full-time service. And based on my experiences in God’s service, I am able to assure these young ones from my heart, ‘Your activity will be rewarded—if you do not let your hands drop.’—2 Chron. 15:7, ftn.
MY PARENTS AND SIBLINGS
My parents immigrated to Canada from Ukraine. They settled in the town of Rossburn in the province of Manitoba. My loving mother bore 8 boys and 8 girls, no twins—I was number 14. Father loved the Bible and read it to us on Sunday mornings, but he viewed religion as a money-making scheme and often jokingly asked, “I wonder who paid Jesus for his preaching and teaching?”
Eight of my siblings—four brothers and four sisters—eventually accepted the truth. My sister Rose pioneered until her death. She spent her final days encouraging everyone to pay attention to God’s Word, saying, “I want to see you in the new world.” My older brother Ted was at first a hellfire preacher. Every Sunday morning he preached on the radio, hammering away at his listeners, telling them that sinners would burn forever in the unquenchable fire of hell. Later, however, he became a faithful and zealous servant of Jehovah.
HOW MY FULL-TIME SERVICE STARTED
One day in June 1944 when I came home from school, I found a booklet entitled The Coming World Regeneration * on our dining-room table. I read the first page, then the second, and then I could not stop reading. After I had finished reading the whole booklet, my mind was made up—I wanted to serve Jehovah just as Jesus did.
How did the booklet end up on our table? My older brother Steve said that two men “selling” books and booklets had been at our home. “I bought that one,” he said, “because it only cost five cents.” The men returned the following Sunday. They told us that they were Jehovah’s Witnesses and that they used the Bible to answer questions that people might have. We appreciated that because our parents had brought us up to respect God’s Word. The two men also told us that the Witnesses would soon have a convention in Winnipeg, the city where my sister Elsie lived. I decided to attend the convention.
I pedaled my bicycle for the roughly 200 miles (320 km) to Winnipeg but stopped along the way in the town of Kelwood, where the two Witnesses who had visited our home were living. While I stayed there, I attended a meeting and learned what a congregation was. I also came to realize that every man, woman, and youth should be a house-to-house teacher, as Jesus was.
In Winnipeg, I met my older brother Jack, who had traveled to the convention from northern Ontario. On the first day of the convention, a brother announced that there would be a baptism. Jack and I decided to get baptized at that convention. We were both determined to begin to serve as pioneers as soon as possible after our baptism. Jack entered the full-time service right after the convention. I was 16 years old and had to return to school, but the following year I too became a regular pioneer.
Together with Stan Nicolson, I began pioneer service in Souris, a town in the province of Manitoba. I soon learned that pioneering was not always smooth sailing. We saw our funds diminishing, but we plodded on. One time after preaching all day, we headed home with not a single penny left and very hungry. What a surprise it was to find a big sack of food at our door! To this day, we do not know who put it there. That evening, we ate like kings. What a reward for not having let our hands drop! In fact, at the end of that month, I weighed more than I had ever weighed in my life.
A few months later, we were assigned to the town of Gilbert Plains, located about 150 miles (240 km) north of Souris. In those days, each congregation had a large chart on the platform that showed the field service activity of the congregation month by month. When the activity dropped one month, I gave a talk to the congregation to stress that the brothers and sisters needed to do better. After the meeting, an elderly pioneer sister, whose husband was not in the truth, said to me with tears in her eyes, “I tried, but I just couldn’t do more than what I did.” Then it was my turn to cry, and I apologized to her.
As was the case with me, energetic young brothers can easily make slips like that and then feel disappointed with themselves. But I have experienced that instead of letting the hands drop, it is best to learn a lesson from a mistake and remember that lesson as you move on. Further faithful activity will be rewarded.
THE BATTLE OF QUEBEC
What a privilege it was for me as a 21-year-old to attend the 14th class of Gilead School, which graduated in February 1950! About a quarter of my classmates were sent to the French-speaking province of Quebec, Canada, where religious persecution against the Witnesses ran rampant. I was assigned to Val-d’Or, a town in the gold-mining country. One day, a group of us went preaching in the nearby village of Val-Senneville. The local priest threatened us with violence if we did not leave the village at once. His threat led to a court case in which I was a plaintiff. The priest was fined. *
That incident and many similar ones became part of the “Battle of Quebec.” The province of Quebec had been controlled by the Roman Catholic Church for more than 300 years. The clergy and their political allies persecuted Jehovah’s Witnesses. It was not an easy time, and we were few in number; but we did not let our hands drop. Honesthearted Quebecers responded. I had the privilege of studying with several individuals who accepted the truth. One of my Bible studies was with a family of ten. The entire family began to serve Jehovah. Their courageous example incited others to leave the Catholic Church. We kept preaching, and eventually the battle was won!
TRAINING BROTHERS IN THEIR OWN LANGUAGE
In 1956, I was reassigned to serve in Haiti. Most new missionaries there struggled to learn French, but people listened. Missionary Stanley Boggus stated, “We were amazed that people did all they could to help us express ourselves.” At first, I had an advantage because of having learned French in Quebec. But soon we realized that most local brothers spoke only Haitian Creole. So if we missionaries were to be effective, we had to learn the local language. We did, and we were rewarded for our efforts.
To help the brothers further, we received approval from the Governing Body to translate The Watchtower and other publications into Haitian Creole. Meeting attendance throughout the country soared. There were 99 publishers in Haiti in 1950, but that number rose to over 800 publishers by 1960! At that time, I was assigned to serve at Bethel. In 1961, I had the joy of sharing in conducting the Kingdom Ministry School. We were able to give training to 40 congregation overseers and special pioneers. At the convention in January 1962, we encouraged qualified local brothers to expand their ministry, and some were appointed as special pioneers. This proved to be timely because opposition loomed.
On January 23, 1962, just after the convention, missionary Andrew D’Amico and I were arrested at the branch office, and the stock of Awake! of January 8, 1962 (in French), was confiscated. Awake! had quoted French newspapers that reported that voodoo was practiced in Haiti. Some did not like that statement and claimed that we had written the article at the branch. A few weeks later, the missionaries were deported. * But the trained local brothers carried on magnificently. Today, I rejoice with them over the endurance they showed and the spiritual progress they made. They now even have the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures in Haitian Creole—something we could only have dreamed of back then.
BUILDING IN THE CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC
After serving in Haiti, I was assigned to serve as a missionary in the Central African Republic. Later, I had the privilege of serving there as a traveling overseer and then as branch overseer.
In those days, many Kingdom Halls were extremely simple. I learned how to collect straw in the bush and how to thatch a roof. Seeing me struggle with this new trade was quite a spectacle for passersby. It also encouraged the brothers to become more involved in constructing and maintaining their own Kingdom Halls. Religious leaders mocked us because their churches had tin roofs and ours did not. Undeterred, we continued with our simple straw-roofed Kingdom Halls. The mockery stopped when a severe storm hit Bangui, the capital. It lifted the tin roof off a church and crashed it down onto the main street. The thatched roofs on our Kingdom Halls stayed put. To provide better supervision for the Kingdom work, we constructed a new branch office and missionary home in only five months to the day. *
MARRIED LIFE—WITH A ZEALOUS COMPANION
In 1976 the Kingdom work was banned in the Central African Republic, and I was assigned to N’Djamena, the capital of neighboring Chad. On the positive side, I met Happy, a zealous special pioneer, originally from Cameroon. We married on April 1, 1978. That same month, civil war broke out, and like many, we fled to the south of the country. When the fighting was over, we returned to find that our home had become the headquarters of an armed group. Gone was not only the literature but also Happy’s wedding dress and our wedding gifts. But we did not let our hands drop. We still had each other and looked forward to further activity.
About two years later, the ban in the Central African Republic was lifted. We returned there and served in the traveling work. Our home was a van with a folding bed, a barrel that could hold 53 gallons (200 L) of water, a propane-gas refrigerator, and a gas burner. Travel was difficult. On one trip, we were stopped at no less than 117 police checkpoints.
Temperatures often rose to 122 degrees Fahrenheit (50°C). At assemblies, it was sometimes difficult to find enough water for the baptism. So the brothers dug into dry river beds and little by little collected sufficient water for the baptism, which was often performed in a barrel.
FURTHER ACTIVITY IN OTHER AFRICAN COUNTRIES
In 1980 we were transferred to Nigeria. There, for two-and-a-half years, we helped with the preparations for the construction of the new branch. The brothers had purchased a two-story warehouse that was to be dismantled and then set up on our site. One morning, I climbed up pretty high on the building to help with dismantling. Toward noon, I started climbing back down the same way I had come up. But the dismantling had changed things, and I stepped into air—and down I went. My condition looked quite serious, but after X-rays and an examination, the doctor told Happy: “Don’t worry. He has just torn some ligaments and will be OK in a week or so.”
In 1986 we were off to Côte d’Ivoire, where we served in the traveling work. That work took us up to neighboring Burkina Faso. Never could I have imagined that years later, Burkina would become our home for a time.
I left Canada in 1956, but in 2003, after an absence of 47 years, I was back at Bethel in Canada and this time with Happy. On paper we were Canadians, but we felt that we belonged in Africa.
Then in 2007, when I was 79 years old, it was off to Africa again! We were assigned to Burkina Faso, where I helped as a member of the Country Committee. The office was later converted into a remote translation office under the Benin branch, and in August 2013, we were assigned to Bethel in Benin.
In spite of my physical limitations, the ministry is still dear to my heart. During the past three years, with the kind help of the elders and the loving support of my wife, I have had the joy of seeing two of my Bible students, Gédéon and Frégis, get baptized. They now zealously serve Jehovah.
In the meantime, my wife and I were transferred to the branch in South Africa, where the Bethel family kindly provides for my health needs. South Africa is the seventh country in Africa where I have been privileged to serve. Then in October 2017, we received an outstanding blessing. We were able to attend the dedication of the world headquarters in Warwick, New York. What an unforgettable event that was!
The 1994 Yearbook states on page 255: “To all who have endured in the work for many years, we exhort: ‘Be courageous and do not let your hands drop down, because there exists a reward for your activity.’—2 Chron. 15:7.” Happy and I are determined to follow this exhortation and to encourage others to do the same.
^ par. 9 Published by Jehovah’s Witnesses in 1944. Now out of print.
^ par. 18 See the article “Quebec Priest Convicted for Attack on Jehovah’s Witnesses” in Awake! of November 8, 1953, pp. 3-5.
^ par. 23 Details are described in the 1994 Yearbook of Jehovah’s Witnesses, pp. 148-150.
^ par. 26 See “Building on a Solid Foundation” in Awake!, May 8, 1966, p. 27.