From an early age, I was troubled by racial prejudice and fear of failure as well as my own timid nature. Hoping to find comfort from the Bible, I went to our local Catholic Church to get help to understand it. Receiving none, I began focusing on sports.
Soon I got involved in gymnastics and bodybuilding. Eventually I opened a physical therapy studio in San Leandro, California, U.S.A., and worked with bodybuilders, including one who won the title Mr. America. Developing what was considered to be a sculpted body, however, did not fill the void inside me.
MY SEARCH REWARDED
A friend at my studio, knowing my desire to understand the Bible, suggested that I meet someone he knew. The next morning, one of Jehovah’s Witnesses came to my home. For four hours he answered my questions right from the Bible. I asked him to return the same evening, and we discussed the Bible until midnight. I was delighted with what I learned and asked if I could go with him the next day to see how he conducted the ministry. I was amazed at the way he could open the Bible and show people answers to their questions. That, I decided, was what I wanted to do!
So I gave up my business and spent my days in the ministry with this pioneer, as full-time ministers of Jehovah’s Witnesses are called. In May 1948, I was baptized at a convention at the Cow Palace Arena in San Francisco, California. Later that year I became a pioneer myself.
In the meantime, I asked the Witnesses to visit my mother. She was receptive and soon became one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Despite opposition from her family, she was faithful to God until her death many years later. No other members of our family became Witnesses.
MEETING MY FUTURE WIFE
In 1950, I moved to Grand Junction, Colorado, where I met Billie. She was born in 1928 and grew up during the Great Depression. Her mother, Minnie, read the Bible to her every night by the flickering light of a kerosene lamp. By age four, Billie could read, and she knew many Bible stories by heart. In the late 1940’s, her mother learned from studying the Bible with the Witnesses that hell is, not a place of torment, but mankind’s common grave. (Ecclesiastes 9:5, 10) Both Minnie and her husband became Witnesses.
In 1949, Billie returned from college in Boston and started to study the Bible seriously. Instead of becoming a schoolteacher, she decided to dedicate her life to God. She was baptized at the 1950 international convention of Jehovah’s Witnesses at Yankee Stadium in New York. Not long afterward, we met, got married, and began the full-time ministry together.
We started off in Eugene, Oregon, and made many lifelong friends. In 1953 we moved to Grants Pass, Oregon, to help the small congregation there. Later that year we were invited to the 23rd class of Gilead, the Witnesses’ school for training missionaries, located near South Lansing, New York, some 250 miles (400 km) northwest of New York City.
MISSIONARY WORK IN BRAZIL
In December 1954, five months after our graduation from Gilead, Billie and I took off in a two-propeller plane for Brazil. An hour into the flight, one engine failed, but we landed safely in Bermuda. After another emergency landing in Cuba and 36 hours of exhausting transit, we arrived at the branch office of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
After a brief stay, Billie and I, along with two other missionaries, were off to Bauru, São Paulo, to open up a new missionary home. The city had a population of over 50,000, and we were the first Witnesses there.
We started calling on people at their homes, but at once the local Catholic priest began to oppose our activity. He followed us and warned householders not to listen. Within a few weeks, though, a large family we studied with accepted Bible truth and later got baptized. Soon others also began to study.
The baptized family had a relative who was the president of a prominent club. I made arrangements to use the club facilities to hold an assembly. When the local priest insisted that the contract be canceled, the president met with club members and told them: “If you cancel, I resign!” The assembly was approved.
The following year, in 1956, we were invited to the district convention in Santos, São Paulo. Nearly 40 Witnesses from our congregation traveled there by train. Upon our return to Bauru, I found a letter in the mail assigning me to serve as a traveling overseer to visit congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Thus began a career of nearly 25 years in Brazil, traversing most parts of that vast country.
WHAT THE MINISTRY WAS LIKE
In those days travel was primitive. We eventually covered practically the whole country by bus, train, wagon, and bicycle, as well as on foot. One of the first cities we visited was Jaú, São Paulo. There the priest challenged us.
“You cannot preach to ‘my sheep!’” he demanded.
“They are not yours,” we replied. “They belong to God.”
We arranged to show a film about our worldwide preaching work, entitled The New World Society in Action, but the priest formed a mob to attack us. We immediately informed the police. When the priest and his mob of parishioners arrived at the theater, they were met by a solid wall of policemen with guns pointed at them. The large audience enjoyed the film immensely.
The same climate of religious hatred and opposition was at work practically everywhere we served back then. For example, in Brusque, near Blumenau, Santa Catarina, we met two pioneers serving under intense opposition. But their endurance and perseverance were richly rewarded. Now, over 50 years later, there are more than 60 thriving congregations in that region as well as a beautiful Assembly Hall in the nearby city of Itajaí!
A highlight of our traveling work was the delightful time we spent working with fellow Witnesses to make preparations for large conventions. In the 1970’s, I was privileged to serve as convention overseer in the large Morumbi Stadium. An appeal was sent out to about a hundred congregations in nearby areas to provide ten people each to clean the stadium the night before the convention.
As the soccer players left the stadium that night, some were heard to mock, “Look at all the little women with their brooms and mops.” Yet, by midnight the whole stadium was clean! The stadium manager exclaimed, “It would have taken my crew a whole week to do what you Witnesses did in only a few hours!”
RETURN TO THE UNITED STATES
In 1980 my father died, and soon afterward we returned to the United States to care for my mother, in Fremont, California. We found work cleaning buildings at night and continued to pioneer and help the Portuguese people in the area. Later we moved to nearby San Joaquin Valley, where we sought out Portuguese-speaking people in the vast area from Sacramento to Bakersfield. Now there are about ten Portuguese-language congregations in California.
After my mother’s death in 1995, we moved to Florida and cared for Billie’s father until his death. Her mother had died in 1975. In 2000 we moved to the high desert country in southwest Colorado and served here preaching full-time to the Native Americans on the Navajo and Ute reservations in the area. Sadly, Billie died in February 2014.
How happy I am that over 65 years ago, I met one of Jehovah’s Witnesses who answered my many questions right from the Bible! I am especially glad that I checked to make sure that what he said was what the Bible really teaches. This led me to a rewarding life of service to God.