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Jehovah’s Witnesses

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THE WATCHTOWER (STUDY 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 God-fearing young man, my father, Arthur, hoped to become a Methodist minister. However, his plans changed when he read the literature of the Bible Students and began to associate with them. He was baptized in 1914 at 17 years of age. World War I was then raging, and he received a call for military service. Because he would not bear arms, he was sentenced to a ten-month term in the Kingston Penitentiary in Ontario, Canada. After his release, Father entered the full-time ministry as a colporteur (pioneer).

In 1926, Arthur Guest married Hazel Wilkinson, whose mother had learned the truth in 1908. I was born on April 24, 1931, the second of their four children. Our family life centered on the worship of Jehovah, and Father’s deep respect for the Bible nurtured in us a lifelong appreciation for God’s Word. We regularly engaged in the house-to-house ministry as a family.Acts 20:20.

MAINTAINING NEUTRALITY AND PIONEERING LIKE DAD

World War II broke out in 1939, and the next year the activity of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Canada was banned. Public schools held patriotic ceremonies that included saluting the flag and singing the national anthem. My eldest sister, Dorothy, and I were dismissed from the classroom during these sessions. To my surprise, one day my teacher tried to shame me by saying that I was a coward. After school, several classmates assaulted me and knocked me to the ground. But that attack actually strengthened my resolve to “obey God as ruler rather than men.”Acts 5:29.

 In July 1942, at the age of 11, I was baptized in a water tank on a farm. I enjoyed serving as a vacation pioneer (now called an auxiliary pioneer) during yearly school breaks. One year I joined three other brothers in witnessing to loggers living in unassigned territory in northern Ontario.

On May 1, 1949, I became a regular pioneer. Since the branch was doing construction work, I was invited to help and became a member of the Canada Bethel family on December 1. I was assigned to the printery and learned to operate the flatbed press. I was on the night shift for several weeks, printing a tract related to the persecution that Jehovah’s people were experiencing in Canada.

Later, while working in the Service Department, I interviewed pioneers who were visiting the branch office on their way to serve in Quebec, then a hotbed of opposition. One of the visitors was Mary Zazula from Edmonton, Alberta. Because she and her elder brother, Joe, refused to stop studying the Bible, they were expelled from home by zealous Orthodox parents. In June 1951, both were baptized, and six months later, they began pioneering. During the interview, I was impressed by Mary’s spiritual attitude. I said to myself, ‘Unless something negative turns up, this looks like the girl I will marry.’ We got married nine months later—on January 30, 1954. One week later, we were invited to receive training for circuit work, and for the next two years, we served a circuit in northern Ontario.

As the worldwide preaching work mushroomed, a call went out for missionaries. We thought that if we could take Canada’s ice-cold winters and the annoying mosquitoes in the summer, we should be able to survive adverse circumstances in any assignment. We graduated from the 27th class of Gilead School in July 1956, and by November we were in our assignment—Brazil.

MISSIONARY ACTIVITY IN BRAZIL

When we arrived at the branch in Brazil, we were introduced to the Portuguese language. After learning basic forms of address and memorizing a one-minute magazine presentation, we were invited to begin engaging in the field service. If a householder showed interest, it was suggested that we read scriptures describing life under God’s Kingdom. On our first day in the field ministry, one lady listened attentively, so I read Revelation 21:3, 4—and then I fainted! My body had not adjusted to the hot, humid weather, and this was to be an ongoing challenge.

 Our missionary assignment was the city of Campos, where there are now 15 congregations. 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 home was to help with the laundry and to obtain wood for cooking meals. After our Watchtower Study one Monday night, we had an unexpected visitor. My wife had stretched out on a sofa to rest while we were talking about the day’s activity. When she raised her head from the pillow to get up, out came a snake that caused quite a commotion until I killed it!

After studying Portuguese for a year, I was appointed to be a circuit overseer. We led a simple life in rural areas—doing without electricity, sleeping on mats, and traveling by horse and buggy. During a witnessing campaign in unassigned territory, we traveled by train to a town in the mountains and rented a room in a boardinghouse. 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 and carry them to our accommodations.

In 1962, the Kingdom Ministry School was held throughout Brazil for brothers and missionary sisters. For six months, I was assigned to travel to one school after another—but without Mary. I taught classes in Manaus, Belém, Fortaleza, Recife, and Salvador. I organized a district convention in the famous opera house in Manaus. Heavy rains contaminated much of the drinking water and left us without a decent cafeteria area for the convention. (In those days, meals were served at conventions.) I contacted the military, and a kind officer gladly arranged to supply drinking water for the entire convention and sent soldiers to erect two large tents for our kitchen and cafeteria.

While I was away, Mary witnessed in a Portuguese commercial district, where making money was the only subject of interest. She was unable to start a Bible conversation with anyone, so she said to some Bethelites, “The last place on earth I would want to live is Portugal.” Surprise! Shortly thereafter, we received a letter inviting us to serve in Portugal. At that time, our preaching work was under ban there, but we accepted the assignment despite Mary’s initial shock.

OUR ASSIGNMENT IN PORTUGAL

We arrived in Lisbon, Portugal, in August of 1964. Our brothers were the target of much  persecution by the Portuguese secret police (PIDE). In view of this, it was best that we arrive without any welcome and avoid contact with the local Witnesses. We stayed in a boardinghouse while awaiting residence authorization. After we obtained our visas, we rented an apartment. In January 1965, contact was finally made with the branch office. What a happy day it was when we attended our first meeting in five months!

We learned that the police were making daily raids on the homes of our brothers. Because Kingdom Halls were being closed, congregation meetings were held in private homes. Hundreds of Witnesses ended up at police stations for identification and questioning. Brothers were particularly mistreated in an attempt to get them to reveal the names of those conducting meetings. As a result, the brothers adopted the practice of identifying one another by their given names, such as José or Paulo, rather than by their surnames. So we did the same.

Providing our brothers with spiritual food was of utmost concern. Mary’s assignment was to type Watchtower study articles and other literature on stencils that served to produce mimeographed copies.

DEFENDING THE GOOD NEWS IN COURT

In June 1966, an outstanding court case was held in Lisbon. All 49 members of the Feijó Congregation were brought to trial for attending an illegal meeting in a private home. I prepared them for the trial and cross-examination by pretending to be the prosecuting attorney. We knew that we would lose the case, but we realized that a great witness would result. Our lawyer concluded his defense by courageously quoting Gamaliel of the first century. (Acts 5:33-39) News of the case hit the press, and the 49 brothers and sisters served terms ranging from 45 days to five and a half months. We are happy to say that our courageous lawyer accepted a Bible study and was attending meetings before he died.

In December 1966, I was appointed branch overseer and spent much time on legal matters. A solid record for the right of Jehovah’s Witnesses to enjoy freedom of worship was established. (Phil. 1:7) Legal recognition was finally granted on December 18, 1974. Brothers Nathan Knorr and Frederick Franz, from world headquarters, visited Portugal to share our joy at a historic meeting in Oporto and Lisbon with a combined attendance of 46,870.

 Jehovah had opened the door for expansion in several islands in which Portuguese is spoken, including the Azores, Cape Verde, Madeira, and São Tomé and Príncipe. Our resulting need for larger branch facilities was met in 1988. On April 23 of that year, Brother Milton Henschel presided at the dedication of the new facilities in the presence of an enthusiastic audience of 45,522. It was heartwarming to have 20 brothers and sisters who had served as missionaries in Portugal return for that historic event.

WE BENEFITED FROM FAITHFUL EXAMPLES

Over the years, association with faithful brothers has greatly enriched our lives. I learned a valuable lesson assisting Brother Theodore Jaracz on a zone visit. The branch being visited was facing a serious situation, and the members of the Branch Committee had done all they reasonably could. Putting them at ease, Brother Jaracz said: “Now it is time to leave some space for holy spirit to work.” During a visit to Brooklyn several decades ago, my wife, Mary, and I spent an evening with Brother Franz and a few others. When asked to close the evening by saying something about his many years in Jehovah’s service, Brother Franz commented: “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!”

My wife and I have found real enjoyment doing just that. We treasure the memories of zone visits to branches. These visits gave us the opportunity to show appreciation for the faithful service of young and old alike and to encourage them to continue in their special privilege of serving Jehovah.

The years have rolled by, and both of us are in our 80’s. Mary struggles with numerous health problems. (2 Cor. 12:9) Trials have served to refine our faith and strengthen our determination to maintain integrity. When reflecting on our life course, we readily admit that we have experienced Jehovah’s undeserved kindness in many, many ways. *

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