The Family That Truly Loved Me
TO A child, any child, a family is so important. A warm, loving family helps meet a child’s physical and emotional needs. It plays a vital role in training, education, and development. It makes a child feel secure. What a blow it is to be cast off by your family, as I was!
I was born into a big family in eastern Nigeria. My father was a chief with seven wives. He fathered 30 children, and I was the 29th.
One day in 1965, when I was ten, I came home from school and met my dad sitting on the veranda. Two men came into the compound carrying briefcases, and after a cheerful greeting, they identified themselves as Jehovah’s Witnesses. My father listened attentively to them. When they offered him two magazines, my dad looked at me and asked if I wanted them. I nodded, so he got them for me.
The Witnesses promised to call back, and they did. For the next two years, they came to discuss the Bible with me. However, their visits were not regular, since it was a six-mile walk from my village to the place where they lived.
My Family Rejects Me
I was 12 years old when my father became ill and died. Eight days after the burial, my oldest brother summoned the family for a meeting. About 20 people were there. We all thought he was going to talk about the funeral expenses. To my astonishment, however, he said that he had called the meeting to discuss his younger brother—me! He told them that I was interested in going about “begging” for four pence as though the family had no money to feed me. He added that to go around peddling magazines for four pence was to rub the family’s name in the mud. He said that I must choose whom I wanted to belong to—the Witnesses or my family.
My mother had died, but one of my stepmothers wept and pleaded for me. She begged that they not use this as an excuse to deprive me of my share in the inheritance. But to them a woman’s opinion meant little. The family sided with my brother and demanded a decision from me.
I asked for time to think over the matter. They agreed to give me until the following evening. Alone in my room, I began to cry. I felt weak, rejected, and afraid. I wondered what would happen to me.
Up to that time, I had never attended a Kingdom Hall and had never shared in preaching with the Witnesses. I had only a shallow knowledge of Bible teachings, and there were no Witnesses in my village for me to talk to.
I prayed to Jehovah, calling on him by name for the first time in my life. I told him that I had been learning that he was the true God. I begged that he stand by me and help me to make the right decision, one that would not displease him.
The next evening the family reconvened and demanded my decision. I explained that my father, who had given me life, was the one who initiated my study with the Witnesses. He had paid for my magazines and Bible. Since he was not offended that I was studying with the Witnesses, I could not understand why my older brother should use this against me. Then I said that I didn’t care what they did to me, I had to serve Jehovah.
They were not happy with this speech. One of them said: “Who is this little rat that he should speak to us like this?” Immediately my brother stamped into my room, grabbed my clothes, my books, and my small cardboard suitcase and threw them on the ground outside.
I found shelter with a schoolmate who lived in the village, and I stayed with his family for about five months. Meanwhile, I wrote to my uncle in Lagos, who invited me to come stay with him.
For several months I saved money by collecting and selling palm kernels. My stepmother who had spoken up for me gave me some money too. When I had enough, I set out for Lagos. Part of the way, I rode in the back of a sand truck.
Thrown Out a Second Time
When I arrived in Lagos, I rejoiced to learn that my uncle was studying with the Witnesses. Immediately I began attending congregation meetings at the Kingdom Hall. However, my uncle’s interest in serving Jehovah quickly vanished when my senior brother came to visit. He told my uncle that it was the decision of the family that I should be neither supported nor allowed to go to school, since I continued to associate with Jehovah’s Witnesses. He threatened my uncle and then went back home.
A week after my brother’s departure, my uncle awakened me at midnight and thrust a paper at me with writing on it. He put a pen in my hand and demanded that I sign my name. When I looked at the scowl on his face, I knew this was something serious. I said: “Uncle, why don’t you allow me to sign it in the morning?”
He said that I should not “uncle” him but that I should sign the paper immediately. I replied that even a murderer had a right to know the charges against him. Surely I had the right to read the paper before signing it.
He then agreed, with annoyance, to let me read it. It began something like this: “I, U. U. Udoh, have vowed not to be one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. I have agreed to burn my bags and books and promise never to have anything to do with Jehovah’s Witnesses. . . .” After reading the first few lines, I began to laugh. I quickly explained that I did not mean to be disrespectful to him but that there was no way that I could sign such a document.
My uncle was very angry and ordered me to get out. I quietly packed my clothes and books in my case, went into the hallway outside his apartment, and lay down on the floor to sleep. When my uncle saw me there, he said that since the rent he paid extended to the hallway too, I had to leave the building.
A Tempting Offer
I had been in Lagos for only two weeks and did not know where to go. I did not know where the brother lived who used to come to take me to the Kingdom Hall. So when dawn came, I started walking and wandering, praying to Jehovah to help me.
By the end of the day, I found myself by a gasoline station. I approached the owner and asked if he would lock my case in the office overnight so that thieves would not steal it from me. This request made him curious enough to ask why I did not go home. I told him my story.
The man was sympathetic and offered to employ me as his houseboy. He even said he would send me to school if I helped him in his house. It was a tempting offer, but I knew that being a houseboy involved working every day from early in the morning till late at night. Also, houseboys were discouraged from mixing with people outside the household, for fear that they might conspire with thieves to rob the house. At best, I would probably have only one Sunday a month off. So I sincerely thanked him for his interest but declined his offer. I said that if I worked as a houseboy for him, it would be difficult for me to attend meetings at the Kingdom Hall.
The man said: “How can you be talking of meetings when you don’t even have a place to stay?” I replied that if I were willing not to attend meetings, I could live at my father’s home. It was because of my religion that I was driven out. All I needed from him was to have a place for my case. With that, he agreed to keep it safe for me.
Finding Another Family
I slept outside the filling station for three days. I had no money to buy food, so I had absolutely nothing to eat during that time. The fourth day, as I was wandering around, I saw a young man offering the Watchtower and Awake! magazines to people along the street. I ran to him with joy and asked him if he knew Brother Godwin Ideh. He wanted to know why I asked, so I explained all that had happened to me.
When I finished, he immediately put his magazines in his bag and asked: “Why should you be suffering so when there are thousands of Jehovah’s Witnesses here in Lagos?” He flagged down a taxi and took me to the filling station to pick up my case. Next he took me to his apartment and fixed a meal for me. Then he sent for Brother Ideh, who lived nearby.
When Brother Ideh came, they argued about which of them I should stay with. Both wanted me! Eventually they agreed to share me—part of the time I would stay with one and part of the time with the other.
Shortly after that I got a job as a messenger boy. When I received my first pay, I spoke with both brothers and asked them how much they wanted me to contribute toward food and rent. They laughed and said that I didn’t have to pay anything.
Soon I registered for evening classes as well as private lessons, and eventually I completed my basic education. Things improved for me financially. I got a better job, as a secretary, and in time secured a place of my own.
I was baptized in April 1972. I was 17 years old. I wanted to enter the pioneer service to show my appreciation to Jehovah for all he had done for me, especially during that difficult period. I enrolled as a temporary pioneer when I could, but it took some years to become established. Finally, in 1983, I enrolled as a regular pioneer.
By then I fully appreciated my spiritual family. These words of Jesus certainly proved true for me: “Truly I say to you, There is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God who will not in any way get many times more in this period of time, and in the coming system of things everlasting life.”—Luke 18:29, 30.
The Witnesses had really shown love to me and cared for me. They had taken me in when I was penniless. With their help and the help of my heavenly Father, I had prospered spiritually. Not only had I received a secular education but I had also learned the ways of Jehovah.
These were the people whom my natural family pressured me to reject. When I refused, my family rejected me. Did my spiritual brothers and sisters now encourage me to reject my natural family? Not at all. The Bible teaches: “Just as you want men to do to you, do the same way to them.”—Luke 6:31.
Helping the Family That Rejected Me
Soon after I left home, the Nigerian civil war broke out. My village was devastated. Many of my friends and relatives lost their lives, including my stepmother who had pleaded in my behalf. The economy was in ruins.
When the war was over, I traveled home and visited one of my brothers who had shared in driving me away when I was a boy. His wife and two daughters were sick and had been hospitalized. So I sympathized with him and asked what I could do to help.
Perhaps because of a guilty conscience, he told me that there was nothing he needed. I explained that he should not think that I might seek revenge for what the family had done to me. I told him that I knew that they had acted in ignorance and that I really wanted to help him.
He then started crying and confessed that he had no money and that his children were suffering. I gave him the equivalent of $300 (U.S.) and asked him if he would like to work in Lagos. When I returned to Lagos, I found him a job and invited him to come and live with me. He stayed with me for two years, earning money to send home to his wife and children. During that time I happily paid for his room and board.
He said that he knew that Jehovah’s Witnesses were practicing the true religion. He also said that if he had not gone so far into the world, he too would become a Witness. But he promised he would arrange for his wife and children to have a Bible study.
In 1987, I was invited to take up circuit work. In April 1991, I married Sarah Ukpong. In 1993, we were invited to leave circuit work and serve at the Nigeria branch. We accepted that invitation and served there until my wife became pregnant.
Though in my youth my family threw me out, I was embraced by a spiritual family—parents, brothers, sisters, and children. What a joy it is to belong to this unique global family, one that I truly love and that truly loves me!—As told by Udom Udoh.
[Picture on page 23]
Udom and Sarah Udoh