I was baptized in 1941 at the age of 12. But it wasn’t until 1946 that I really understood Bible truth. How did this come to be? Let me tell you my story.
IN THE 1910’s my parents immigrated to Canada from Tbilisi, Georgia, and settled in a small prairie farmhouse near Pelly, Saskatchewan, in western Canada. I was born in 1928, the youngest of six children. Father died six months before I was born, and Mother died while I was still an infant. Lucy, my oldest sister, died not much later, at the age of 17. Thereafter, my uncle Nick took me and my siblings into his care.
One day when I was a toddler, my family saw me pulling at the tail of one of the farm horses, a stallion. Horrified that the horse might kick me, they screamed at me to stop—but I did not react. My back was turned toward them, and I did not hear their screams. Happily, I was not harmed, but that was the day my family discovered that I was deaf.
A family friend suggested that I be educated with other deaf children, so Uncle Nick enrolled me in the school for the deaf located in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. I was moved to a location several hours away from my family, and since I was only five years old, I was terrified. I could visit my family only on holidays and during summer vacations. Eventually, I learned sign language and had fun playing with the other children.
LEARNING BIBLE TRUTH
In 1939, my oldest surviving sister, Marion, married Bill Danylchuck, and they took my sister Frances and me into their care. They were the first in my family to have contact with Jehovah’s Witnesses. During my summer vacations, they shared with me to the best of their ability what they were learning from the Bible. To be honest, communicating with them was not easy, since they did not know sign language. But they evidently saw in me a sincere love for spiritual things. I understood that there was a connection between what they were doing and what the Bible says, so I went with them as they preached. Before long, I wanted to get baptized, and on September 5, 1941, Bill baptized me in a steel drum filled with water pumped out from a well. The water was very, very cold!
In 1946 when I returned home for the summer, we attended a convention in Cleveland, Ohio, U.S.A. On the first day of the convention, my sisters took turns writing notes in order to help me follow the program. On the second day, however, I was thrilled to find out that a deaf group with a sign-language interpreter was there. Finally, I could enjoy the program, and it was wonderful at last to understand Bible truth clearly!
TEACHING THE TRUTH
At that time, World War II had just ended and nationalism was running high. I returned from the convention determined to take my stand for my faith in school. So I stopped participating in the flag salute and in the national anthem. I also withdrew from taking part in holiday celebrations and from attending mandatory church services. The school staff was not happy and tried using intimidation and lies to make me change my mind. All of this caused quite a stir among my schoolmates, but it created opportunities for me to give a witness. Such fellow students as Larry Androsoff, Norman Dittrick, and Emil Schneider eventually accepted the truth, and they are serving Jehovah loyally to this day.
When visiting other cities, I have always made it a point to witness to the deaf. For example, in Montreal at a deaf club, I witnessed to Eddie Tager, a young man who was part of a gang. Until his death last year, he belonged to the sign-language congregation in Laval, Quebec. I also met young Juan Ardanez who like the Beroeans eagerly did research to confirm the truthfulness of the Bible message. (Acts 17:10, 11) He too came in the truth and served faithfully as an elder in Ottawa, Ontario, up until his death.
In 1950, I moved to Vancouver. Although I love to preach to the deaf, I will never forget an experience I had with a hearing woman named Chris Spicer whom I witnessed to on the street. She accepted a magazine subscription and wanted me to meet her husband, Gary. So I visited their home, and we had a lengthy discussion using written notes. That was the only contact we had until a few years later when, to my surprise, they spotted me in a crowd at a convention in Toronto, Ontario. Gary was to be baptized that very day. That wonderful experience reminded me of the importance to keep preaching because we never know where or when the truth will take root.
Later, I moved back to Saskatoon. There I met a mother who asked me to study the Bible with her deaf twin daughters, Jean and Joan Rothenberger, who were students at the same school for the deaf that I once attended. Before long, the two girls shared with their classmates what they were learning. Eventually, five from their class became Jehovah’s Witnesses. One was Eunice Colin. I had first met Eunice at that school for the deaf when I was in my senior year. At that time, she gave me a piece of candy and asked if we could be friends. She would later become a very important part of my life—she became my wife!
When Eunice’s mother found out that she was studying the Bible, she had the school principal try to dissuade her. He even confiscated her study materials. However, Eunice was determined to keep Jehovah her main focus. When she wanted to get baptized, her parents told her, “Become one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, and you will have to leave our home!” At the age of 17, Eunice did leave home, and a local Witness family kindly took her into their care. She continued her study and later got baptized. When we got married in 1960, her parents did not come to our wedding. However, as the years passed, they came to respect us because of our beliefs and the way we raised our children.
JEHOVAH HAS CARED FOR ME
As deaf parents, we raised seven hearing boys. This was challenging, but we made sure that they knew sign language so that we could communicate well and teach them the truth. Brothers and sisters in the congregation were of great help. For example, a parent wrote us a note informing us that one of our boys was saying bad words in the Kingdom Hall. We were able to take care of the matter then and there. Four of my sons—James, Jerry, Nicholas, and Steven—are serving Jehovah faithfully with their wives and families. All four sons serve as elders. In addition, Nicholas and his wife, Deborah, help with sign-language translation in the Britain branch while Steven and his wife, Shannan, are part of the sign-language translation team in the United States branch.
My sons James, Jerry, and Steven along with their wives support the preaching work in sign language in various ways
A month before our 40th wedding anniversary, Eunice lost her battle with cancer. She was very brave throughout that difficult time. Her faith in the resurrection kept her strong. I long for the day when I will see her again.
In February of 2012, I fell and broke my hip, and it became clear that I would need help. So I moved in with one of my sons and his wife. We are now part of the Calgary Sign-Language Congregation, where I continue to serve as an elder. Actually, this is the very first time that I have been part of a sign-language congregation. Imagine that! Being in an English congregation all those years—since 1946—how did I fare spiritually? Jehovah has lived up to his promise to care for fatherless children. (Ps. 10:14) I am grateful for the collective effort of all who have been willing to write notes, learn sign language, and help interpret for me as best they could.
To be honest, there have been times when I felt frustrated and wanted to give up because I could not understand what was being said or because it seemed as if the needs of the deaf were not understood. However, during those moments, I thought of Peter’s words to Jesus: “Lord, whom shall we go away to? You have sayings of everlasting life.” (John 6:66-68) Like many other deaf brothers and sisters from my generation, I have learned to be patient. I have learned to wait on Jehovah and his organization, and how I have benefited from doing so! Now I have a wealth of spiritual food in my own language, and I can enjoy association at the meetings and conventions in ASL. I have, indeed, had a happy and rewarding life in service to Jehovah, our great God.