We Made India Our Home
AS GRACEFULLY as possible, my sister Leona and I lowered ourselves to the ground and attempted to sit comfortably. Two shiny banana leaves were placed on the ground in front of us, spread with steaming rice and a variety of curries, chutneys, and sweets. We two girls, in India less than a week, had been invited to a wedding reception.
We watched the local people and began picking up the food with our right hand and eating with our fingers, just as the rest were doing. It was a hot, humid day, and as we sat under the reception pandal (canopy), consuming the spicy hot curries, perspiration literally poured down our faces. The chili powder set our noses running. We surely must have been an interesting sight! But we can never forget this incident, a part of our introduction to India 38 years ago.
Since that time we have become well acquainted with India and many of its people, striving to make this land our home. Why? Not out of a mere adventuresome spirit; rather, we had a specific purpose. First, though, let us explain how we got to India and what helped us adjust.
Early Life in Canada
We were born in the small farming community of Humboldt, Saskatchewan, in Canada. When the Depression came in the 1930’s, our father said we would have to quit school and go to work to help out. We literally cried. Our goal had been to attend high school, but economic needs came first.
During the second world war, my sister Leona joined the Canadian Air Force, while I stayed home and worked. I regularly went to the Catholic Church and sang in the choir. But once when the Pentecostals came by, they gave me a Bible, and I began taking it to choir sessions. I would read it when we were not singing. The parish priest was told of this and came to our home. He said I was a bad influence and should not come to choir sessions anymore. In fact, he said I should be excommunicated. I did not go back to the church after that.
Meanwhile, Jehovah’s Witnesses would visit our home and leave our family various Bible-based publications. Eventually, I began to study with the Witnesses. When Leona came home on leave, I told her what I had been learning. She sat in on my studies and liked what she learned. Back in Ottawa, she continued to study with local Witnesses until her military discharge in 1945. She and I were among the 2,602 who were baptized at the 1946 Glad Nations Theocratic Assembly of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Cleveland, Ohio.
Determining Our Purpose in Life
In 1949, Leona and I moved to Calgary, Alberta, where we met many full-time ministers, called pioneers, who encouraged us to take up the pioneer ministry. At first we hesitated. We felt we needed to build up a little bank account. But the traveling overseer of Jehovah’s Witnesses in that area encouraged us, so we started pioneering without a bank account. We responded to the invitation to pioneer in the province of Quebec, where the activity of Jehovah’s Witnesses was then under ban.
We didn’t have money for railway tickets, so Leona and I, along with two other girls, hitchhiked our way across Canada to Montreal, Quebec. Shortly afterward we had the opportunity to attend a graduation of the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead in the United States. We were excited to see so many young men and women prepared to take on a missionary assignment in a foreign land. Right away we put in our applications to attend that school.
We never dreamed that we would be called, so it was a real surprise to be invited to the 20th class, which began in the fall of 1952. We were soon told that our assignment would be India, and we began receiving some advance instruction in the Malayalam language from an Indian classmate. Our purpose in India would be to assist as many honesthearted people as possible to a knowledge of Bible truth.
Making India Our Home
In 1953 after graduation, 13 of us set off by ship. It took us a month to reach Bombay. The sight of the crowds and beggars really surprised us, but we gradually became accustomed to these different conditions.
From Bombay we left by train for the state of Kerala. Seven of us were assigned to the town of Trichur, which at the time did not have a congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses. We obtained a missionary home, but there was no furniture, so for the time being, we slept on floor mats. Our daily tasks included boiling water from the well for safe drinking and heating more water for baths. All of this, plus our cooking, was done on a one-burner kerosene stove.
Away from the house, in an area known for cobras and other snakes, was the toilet. You can imagine how we girls felt. Also, we were warned about thin green snakes that would occasionally hang from the trees, ready to bite any unwary victim passing by underneath. Needless to say, we seldom ventured out there at night. When we did, we stomped the ground, making a lot of noise, and stayed away from the trees. Yes, things were very different. But we kept our purpose in mind, so in time we adjusted. Never did we think of leaving because conditions were too difficult.
The very first day, we began sharing in the preaching activity. Immediately we found ourselves surrounded by crowds of people. Their curiosity so unnerved us that we fled back to the security of the missionary home. After a while, however, we came to appreciate the genuine interest that the people had in others.
Even before we could give our Bible presentation, we were asked questions such as: Who are your father and mother? Why are you here? How old are you? Who pays you? What food do you eat? Why aren’t you married? Don’t you want any children? After learning such details about us, people would generally listen to our message. As we came to understand the people better, the more comfortable we became in our new environment.
Kerala is a very beautiful place, green and with lots of coconut and other palm trees. There were many wide-open spaces, and it was peaceful to walk along the paddy fields on our way to the homes. At times we would go by boat up the backwaters to reach the villages. The atmosphere was very relaxed. Yes, people were busy, but they took time to listen.
Christendom’s missionaries were also in our area, but the local people soon began to see the difference between us and them. They were involved in various forms of social work, but they really did little if any teaching of the Bible. And unlike them, we did not live in big bungalows and escape to the hill stations in hot weather. Actually, the missionaries of Christendom gave Christendom a bad reputation.
We spent nearly eight years in Kerala, and then we were transferred to Bombay, where we still serve. Of course, the move to a large congested city called for some adjustments too. But this assignment has brought us into contact with a wide variety of India’s people.
Right from the start, we were able to get to know our Indian brothers and sisters well. They were very hospitable, always inviting us to stay with them. Their houses were usually very small, and the privacy we were used to did not exist. We might sleep in the only bedroom—with the grandfather over in one corner and several children around us on the floor. But the love shown us made it possible for us to adjust.
Over the years, we have learned never to use the expression “home” to refer to the place from which we originally came. Rather, our home is where we are assigned to serve. Instead of highlighting differences, we have learned to become more like the people around us in their tastes and ways of doing things.
Recently we traveled from Bombay back to our first assignment in Kerala. Had things changed? Well, when we first arrived in Kerala, there were fewer than 300 Witnesses in the whole state, but now over 4,000 were present at the district convention we attended. What joy to see that some whom we had studied the Bible with 30 years before are still faithfully serving Jehovah!
We left behind many loved ones in Canada when we began our missionary service in 1953. But true to Jesus’ words, we quickly gained many, many fathers and mothers and sisters and brothers. (Mark 10:28-30) And as we assisted sheeplike ones in learning the truth of God’s Word, we were also blessed with spiritual children. Never losing sight of our purpose has indeed brought us many rewards. With no regrets, then, we look back with satisfaction at having made India our home!—As told by Tillie Lachmuth.
[Pictures on page 18]
A canal in Kerala