My Father’s Faithful Example
IT WAS July 6, 1947, and our family was attending a district convention of Jehovah’s Witnesses in London, England. My father had tears of joy in his eyes as he held out his hand to help me out of the baptism pool. My father and I had just been baptized in symbol of our dedication to Jehovah, the Creator and Universal Sovereign. My mother and three brothers were also present for this happy occasion.
Sadly, however, the unity of our family in Christian worship would soon be shattered. But before telling about this and how my father’s faithfulness affected me, let me tell a little about his early life.
My father, Lester, was born in Hong Kong in March 1908. His dad was the assistant harbormaster. When Father was a boy, his dad would take him along on trips by boat to check on activities around Hong Kong and nearby islands. Then, when Lester was only eight, his dad died. Afterward his mother remarried, and the family moved to Shanghai. In 1920 his mother took Lester and his ten-year-old sister, Phyl, to England for schooling.
Father spent the following years in the shadow of Canterbury Cathedral, home of the Anglican Church. Attending church there was his introduction to religious matters. Phyl went to a boarding school north of London, but she and Father became very close during those years because they spent their school holidays together. Five years later, in 1925, when Father finished school, his mother returned to England and saw to it that Lester became established in business. Then, the following year, she went back to Shanghai, taking Phyl with her.
Before Lester’s mother left, she gave him a copy of a book written by his great-grandfather. It was a poetic story of the life of Buddha entitled “The Light of Asia.” This started Father thinking about the real reason for life. At Canterbury he had been impressed with the grandeur of the cathedral and the solemnity of the religious proceedings, but the lack of spiritual instruction left him with an empty feeling. So he wondered: ‘Do the Eastern religions have the answers?’ He decided to investigate. During the years that followed, he looked into Buddhism, Shintoism, Hinduism, Confucianism, and Islam. But each failed to answer his questions.
Father lived at a sports club operated by the firm he worked for, and he enjoyed rowing, playing rugby, and other sports. He soon fell in love with Edna, an attractive girl who had the same love of sports. They were married in 1929 and were blessed with four sons over the next ten years.
Traumatic War Years
During the 1930’s, the storm clouds of World War II were gathering, so Father decided to move from London to the country. We made the move only a few months before the war broke out, in September 1939.
Conscription for war services was introduced, and age limits were gradually raised as the war dragged on. Rather than waiting to be conscripted, Father volunteered for service in the Royal Air Force and was called up in May 1941. Although he was occasionally able to get home on leave, it was six years before normal family relationships were resumed. The burden of caring for us children—the two oldest of us were by then entering our teens—fell upon Mother.
About two years before Father was released from the Air Force, two of Jehovah’s Witnesses called on Mother and started a Bible study with her. Mother wrote Father and told him how much she was enjoying what she was learning. Once when he was on leave, she took him to a congregation Bible study in a private home.
Father was released from the military in December 1946 and began sitting in on the Bible discussions Mother was having with the two Witness ladies. They noted his interest and had Ernie Beavor, the presiding overseer, visit Father. In just one evening, Brother Beavor answered from the Bible all Father’s objections. During the next two weeks, while traveling to work in London each day by train, he read the three books Brother Beavor gave him. When Brother Beavor visited again, Father greeted him: “This is the truth I have been searching for! What must I do?”
From then on Father began taking us boys to the meetings. Mother, however, did not always want to come with us. Her interest had begun to wane. Yet, all of us went to the convention in London in July 1947, where Father and I were baptized. Afterward, Mother only occasionally came to meetings.
Shortly after that baptism, my aunt Phyl came to England to visit and, to my father’s great joy, readily accepted Bible truth and was baptized. When she returned to Shanghai, she contacted Stanley Jones and Harold King, two missionaries of Jehovah’s Witnesses who had been sent there shortly before. These missionaries were later imprisoned, for seven years and five years respectively, by the ruling Communist government. They helped Phyl spiritually until her husband retired from work in China. Then she and her husband returned to England and settled near us.
A Tragic Family Breakup
Meanwhile, real communication between Mother and Dad became a problem. Mother saw the zeal with which Lester pursued his newfound faith, and believing that the material security of the family would be threatened, she began to oppose his Christian activity. Finally, in September 1947, she confronted him with the ultimatum that he give up the Christian faith or else she would leave.
Father felt that he had calmed Mother’s fears by reasoning with her from the Scriptures, showing her that there was no reason to fear. However, the climax came without further warning on October 1, 1947. When Father arrived home from work that day, he found an empty house and me sitting on the doorstep with our suitcases. Mother had left, taking everything, including my three brothers. I told father that I had chosen to stay with him. Mother had not even left a note.—Matthew 10:35-39.
Ernie Beavor made arrangements for us to stay with an older couple until Father found accommodations. They were very kind to us and comforted us with the apostle Paul’s words at 1 Corinthians 7:15: “If the unbelieving one proceeds to depart, let him depart; a brother or a sister is not in servitude under such circumstances, but God has called you to peace.”
We eventually made contact with our family and visited them but soon realized that compromising our faith would be the only acceptable solution to Mother. We knew that making concessions would not bring blessings from Jehovah. So Father continued in secular work, providing Mother with the financial means to support my brothers. On leaving school in 1947, I took part-time work, and in January 1948, I was accepted for the full-time ministry.
A Memorable Bible Discussion
In field ministry one day, when I was still only 17, I spoke with a man in a farm cottage. While I was visiting there, Winston Churchill, Britain’s leader during World War II, arrived. My conversation was interrupted, but Mr. Churchill took note of The Watchtower and commended me for my work.
Several days later I was out preaching again when I rang the doorbell of a large house. A butler opened the door, and when I requested to speak to the man of the house, he asked if I knew who that was. I had no idea. “This is Chartwell,” he said, “the home of Winston Churchill.” At that moment, Mr. Churchill appeared. He remembered our previous meeting and invited me in. We spoke a little, and he accepted three books and invited me to return.
Later, on a warm afternoon, I returned and was again invited in. Mr. Churchill offered me some lemonade and, after a brief greeting, said: “I will give you half an hour to tell me what you think God’s Kingdom is, but then you must let me tell you what I believe it to be.” That is what we did.
Mr. Churchill felt that God’s Kingdom would be established through God-fearing statesmen and that until men learned to live at peace, it would never come. I was able to explain the Bible’s view of God’s Kingdom and the blessings it would bring. Mr. Churchill was very cordial and indicated he respected our work.
Unfortunately, I was never again able to contact him. But I am grateful that, even though I was still a teenager, with the training and encouragement I had received from my father, I was able to give a good witness to such a prominent world statesman.—Psalm 119:46.
An Expanded Ministry
In May 1950, Mother wrote to tell us that she was immigrating to Canada and would be taking with her John, my youngest brother. By then my brothers Peter and David were caring for themselves. So after 18 years with his firm (including the war years when he was kept on their list of employees), Father handed in his resignation and applied for the regular pioneer service. He began the full-time ministry in August 1950, after he returned from attending the huge international convention of Jehovah’s Witnesses in New York. A little over a year later, in November 1951, Father was appointed a traveling overseer and began visiting congregations to encourage them. Meanwhile, in the fall of 1949, I was invited to serve at the branch office of Jehovah’s Witnesses in London, England.
Then came another rich blessing—Father and I were invited to the 20th class of the Gilead missionary school in New York. The class started in September 1952, and we graduated the following February. Afterward, I served at the world headquarters of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Brooklyn, New York, while father was sent out as a traveling overseer in Indiana.
The whole 20th class was held back from going to our missionary assignments so that we could attend the international convention in New York City in July. I had become very fond of one of my classmates, Kae Whitson, and we decided to get married. We were assigned to the traveling work in Michigan, and then two years later, we were given a missionary assignment in Northern Ireland.
However, just as we were due to sail, Kae discovered she was pregnant. So we began another assignment, that of raising a son and three daughters to become successful full-time ministers, even as my father had trained me to be. In November 1953, Father left for Africa, and on January 4, 1954, he arrived at his missionary assignment in Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe).
Father had much to learn—a new way of life, new customs, and new tests of faith. Back in 1954, Southern Rhodesia had not been affected much by Western ways. After a year in the branch office, Father was sent out in the traveling work as a district overseer. He was recalled to the branch office in 1956 and served there until his death July 5, 1991. He saw the branch staff grow from 5 in 1954 to more than 40, and the number of Kingdom publishers from 9,000 to over 18,000.
Dad and Mom’s Final Years
Father and Mother were never divorced. After leaving England, Mother stayed a while in Canada and then moved to the United States with John. None of my brothers have become Witnesses. However, Mother was contacted by the Witnesses in the mid-1960’s. In 1966, she moved to Mombasa, Kenya, where she resumed studying. But the next year she had a nervous breakdown.
My brothers Peter and David arranged for her to go to England, where she received treatment. She recovered and again began studying with the Witnesses. You can imagine my father’s joy when she wrote to tell him that she was to be baptized at a convention in London in 1972. My wife and I flew over from the United States to be with her at the time of her baptism.
The following year Father was due for a vacation, and when in England, he had the joy of working with Mother from house to house in the ministry. Afterward he came to visit our family in the United States. Father and Mother had discussed reconciliation, but she told him: “We’ve been apart too long. It would be difficult. Let’s wait until the new world, when everything will be all right.” So Father returned to his assignment. Mother’s illness in Kenya left its mark on her, and eventually she had to be confined to a hospital, where she died in 1985.
In 1986, Father became very sick, so my brother Peter and I visited him at his home in Zimbabwe. This encouraged him greatly and seemed to give him a new lease on life. The African brothers could not do enough for me because I was Lester’s son! Truly, Father’s example had a positive influence on the lives of all he touched.
Now I myself am ill. The doctors tell me I have only a short time to live. They say that I have amyloidosis, a rare and fatal disease. However, I am happy that my children are following my example, as I followed the example of my faithful father. All of them are still loyally serving Jehovah with us. What a comfort it is to know that whether we live or die, we have the sure hope of enjoying forever the rich blessings of our loving heavenly Father because we have faithfully done his will! (Hebrews 6:10)—As told by Michael Davey.*
On June 22, 1993, while this account was being completed, Michael Davey fell asleep in death.
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At left: My parents with my older brother and me
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I was able to speak extensively to Winston Churchill about God’s Kingdom
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My father, Lester, shortly before his death
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With my wife, Kae