“If you go preaching, don’t come back. If you come back, I will break your legs.” With my father’s threat ringing in my ears, I decided to leave. That was my first experience in leaving things behind to follow the Master. I was just 16 years old.
HOW did that situation come about? Let me explain. I was born on July 29, 1929, and grew up in a village in the province of Bulacan in the Philippines. Life there was simple because it was a time of economic depression. War broke out when I was a youth. The Japanese army invaded the Philippines. However, our village was relatively remote, so we were not directly affected by the armed conflict. We lacked radio, television, and newspapers; thus, we received news about the war only by word of mouth.
I was the second of eight children, and my grandparents had taken me to live with them when I was eight years old. Although we were Catholic, Grandfather was open-minded about religion and collected religious literature that his friends gave him. I remember that he showed me the booklets Protection, Safety, and Uncovered in the Tagalog language, * 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 occupation ended in 1945. About that time, my parents asked me to come back home. My grandfather urged me to go. So I went.
Shortly afterward, in December 1945, a group of 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 Tim. 3:1-5) He invited us to attend a Bible study in a nearby village. My parents did not go, but I did. About 20 people were there, and some asked Bible questions.
Because I did not really understand all that they were talking about, I decided to leave. At that point, however, they started singing a Kingdom song. The song really impressed me, so I stayed. After the song and prayer, all were invited to attend a meeting in Angat the following Sunday.
Several of us walked about five miles (8 km) to get to the meeting in the home of the Cruz family. I was impressed that even the young children who were among the 50 present commented on deep Bible subjects. After several more meetings, Brother Damian Santos, an elderly pioneer who was an ex-mayor, invited me to stay overnight. We spent most of that night discussing the Bible.
In those days, many of us responded quickly upon learning basic Bible truths. After 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.” (Col. 3:24) We went to a nearby river, and two of us got baptized on February 15, 1946.
We realized that as baptized Christians, we needed to preach regularly in imitation of Jesus. My doing so did not please my father, who said, “You are too young to preach. Besides, being dipped in the river does not make you a preacher.” I explained that it is God’s will that we preach the good news of God’s Kingdom. (Matt. 24:14) I added, “I need to fulfill my vow to God.” That is when my father made the threat that I related at the outset. Yes, he was intent on preventing me from preaching. And that is what led to my first experience in leaving things behind to pursue spiritual goals.
The Cruz family invited me to live with them in Angat. They also encouraged me and their youngest daughter, Nora, to enroll as pioneers. Both of us began our pioneer service on November 1, 1947. Nora served in another town, while I continued to support the preaching activity in Angat.
ANOTHER OPPORTUNITY TO LEAVE THINGS BEHIND
In my third year of pioneering, Earl Stewart, a brother from the branch office, delivered a talk to over 500 people in the public plaza of Angat. He spoke in English, and afterward I gave a summary of his talk in Tagalog. I had only seven years of education, but our teachers regularly used English. Another thing that helped me to improve my English was the fact that we had very few Bible publications in Tagalog. So I studied many of them in English. Thus, I had picked up enough English to interpret that talk and others on later occasions.
On the day that I interpreted for Brother Stewart, he mentioned to the local congregation that the branch office wanted to invite one or two pioneer brothers to come to Bethel. They were to help out while the missionaries were attending the 1950 Theocracy’s Increase Assembly in New York, U.S.A. I was one of the brothers invited. Again I left familiar surroundings behind, this time to help with Bethel work.
I arrived at Bethel on June 19, 1950, and started my new assignment. Bethel was in a large, old house surrounded by big trees on a two-and-a-half acre (1 ha) lot. About a dozen single brothers were serving there. In the early morning, I helped in the kitchen. Then, from about nine o’clock, I worked in the laundry, ironing clothes. I followed a similar routine in the afternoon. Even after the missionaries returned from the international assembly, I continued to serve at Bethel. I wrapped magazines for mailing, processed subscriptions, and served as a receptionist; I did whatever I was asked to do.
LEAVING THE PHILIPPINES FOR GILEAD SCHOOL
In 1952, along with six others from the Philippines, I was thrilled to receive an invitation to the 20th class of Gilead School. Many of the things we saw and experienced in the United States were new and strange to us. Truly, it was quite different from what I had known back in our small village.
For example, we had to learn to use appliances and utensils that were unfamiliar to us. And, yes, the weather was different for sure! One morning I stepped outside to a beautiful world of white. It was the first time I saw snow. Then I discovered that it was cold—very cold!
However, those adjustments faded into nothing as I enjoyed the wonderful training at Gilead. The instructors used effective teaching methods. We learned to do meaningful research and study. The training at Gilead definitely helped me to improve my spirituality.
After I graduated, I was temporarily assigned as a special pioneer in the Bronx in New York City. Thus in July 1953, I could attend the New World Society Assembly, which was held in the same borough of the city. After the assembly, I returned to an assignment in the Philippines.
LEAVING THE COMFORTS OF THE CITY
The brothers at the branch office said, “Now you will go out in the circuit work.” That would give me a new opportunity to follow in a literal sense the steps of the Master, who traveled to distant towns and cities to help Jehovah’s sheep. (1 Pet. 2:21) I was assigned to a circuit that covered a huge area of central Luzon, the largest island in the Philippines. That included the provinces of Bulacan, Nueva Ecija, Tarlac, and Zambales. To visit some towns, I had to cross the rugged Sierra Madre Mountains. No public transportation reached those places. As a result, I had to ask truck drivers if I could sit on top of the logs they were hauling in their big trucks. Often they let me, but it was not the most comfortable means of transport.
Most of the congregations were relatively small and new. So the brothers appreciated it when I helped them organize meetings and field service more efficiently.
I was later transferred to a circuit that covered the entire Bicol region. It was made up mostly of isolated groups where special pioneers were opening up untouched territories. At one home, the only toilet available was a hole in the ground with two logs across the middle. When I stepped on the logs, they fell into the hole, and I fell with them. It took me quite some time to clean myself up and get ready for breakfast!
It was during that assignment that I began to think about Nora, who had started pioneering back in Bulacan. By this time, she was a special pioneer in Dumaguete City, and I went to visit her. After that, we corresponded 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 do a lot of walking, but what a joy it was to serve the brothers in remote locations as a married couple!
INVITED TO SERVE AT BETHEL AGAIN
After almost four years in the traveling work together, we received an invitation to serve at the branch office. Thus, January 1960 marked the start of a long career at Bethel. Over the course of time, I have learned much from serving alongside brothers who care for heavy responsibilities, and Nora has had a variety of assignments at Bethel.
From my vantage point at Bethel, I have been blessed to witness outstanding spiritual growth in the Philippines. When I first came to Bethel as a young, single brother, there were about 10,000 publishers in the whole country. Now there are well over 200,000 publishers in the Philippines, with hundreds of Bethelites serving to support the vital preaching activities.
As the work grew over the years, the Bethel facilities became too small. Then the Governing Body asked us to look for property on which to build a new, larger facility. The printery overseer and I went from house to house in the neighborhood of the branch, asking whether anyone wanted to sell his property. No one did; one owner even told us: “Chinese do not sell. We buy.”
However, one day a property owner unexpectedly asked whether we would like to buy his land; he was moving to the United States. That set off a chain of events that was hard to believe. Another neighbor decided to sell, 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 size of the branch property had more than tripled. I am convinced that Jehovah God wanted that to happen.
Back in 1950, I was the youngest member of the Bethel family. Now my wife and I are the oldest members. I have no regrets about following the Master wherever he has directed me. True, my parents drove me out of their home, but Jehovah has given me a big family of fellow believers. I do not have the slightest doubt that Jehovah provides everything we need, no matter what assignment we receive. Nora and I are very grateful to Jehovah for all his kind provisions, and we encourage others to test Jehovah out.—Mal. 3:10.
Jesus once invited a tax collector named Matthew Levi, saying: “Be my follower.” How did he respond? “Leaving everything behind, he rose up and began to follow [Jesus].” (Luke 5:27, 28) I too have had similar opportunities, and I heartily urge others to do the same and experience many blessings.
^ par. 6 Published by Jehovah’s Witnesses but now out of print.