Sowing With Tears, Reaping With Joy
“ENJOY your retirement in sunny Spain!” Millions of Europeans have taken up this tempting offer and have moved there. When I reached 59 years of age, I too decided to sell everything and move from England to Spain, but I was looking for something more than sunshine and leisure.
I chose to go to Santiago de Compostela—one of the wettest cities of Spain—since my goal was to serve as a full-time minister rather than to relax in the sun. Twenty-two years earlier, circumstances had forced me to abandon my evangelizing service in Spain, where I had gone because the need for that service was greater there. It had always been my intention to return, and now I finally succeeded.
But the adjustment wasn’t as easy as I had thought it would be. The first month was a nightmare! I don’t remember ever feeling so tired in my life. I was living in a fifth-floor apartment, with no elevator. Every day I trudged up and down the hilly streets of Santiago, climbing countless flights of stairs in my endeavor to preach the good news to as many people as possible. After that exhausting month, doubts began to assail me. Had I made the right decision? Was I just too old for this sort of activity?
In the second month, however, I found that my strength was returning. It was almost like the second wind of a long-distance runner. In fact, I entered into one of the happiest periods of my life. I began to experience the joy of reaping, after many years of tearful sowing. (Psalm 126:5) Let me explain.
A Time of Joy
My wife Pat and I moved to Spain in 1961. Back then, the ministerial activity of Jehovah’s Witnesses was not officially recognized there. Nevertheless, our preaching assignment was the sunny city of Seville, where only about 25 were sharing in the preaching work.
In our ministry one day, I spoke with a Frenchman who was painting a house. The following day a lady approached my wife and me and asked if we had spoken to a painter the preceding day. She said that he was her husband, Francisco. He had given her such an accurate description of us that she was able to recognize us right away. “He is at home now if you would like to visit him,” she informed us.
We wasted no time in accepting this invitation, and before long the whole family was studying the Bible with us. Some time later, Francisco returned to France for economic reasons. We were worried. Would he lose contact with the Witnesses? Soon after his departure, however, we received a letter from him that put our minds at rest. He said that his new boss had quizzed him about how many religions existed in Spain.
“Well, there are two, the Catholic and the Protestant,” Francisco explained cautiously. Since our work was still not legalized, he thought it unwise to say more.
“Are you sure?” asked his boss.
“Well, really, there are three,” Francisco replied, “and I belong to the third—Jehovah’s Witnesses.”
“That’s just fine,” his boss responded. “I am a servant in your congregation!” That very evening Francisco was at the congregation meeting of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
In 1963 we were transferred from Seville to Valencia, and shortly thereafter, to Barcelona. There I received training to serve as a traveling minister. Then, we were sent back to Valencia to serve in the traveling work in that area. But after a couple of years in this delightful field of activity, Pat began to have difficulty keeping her balance. Soon, she had trouble walking. Thus began a time when we ‘sowed with tears.’—Psalm 126:5.
A Time of Tears
Reluctantly, we left Spain to get medical treatment in England. The cause of Pat’s symptoms? Multiple sclerosis, a degenerative disease that gradually disables a person more and more. In time, because of side effects and related problems, death may result.
We had a very difficult time adjusting our lives and coming to terms with this disease. But through it all, we learned the truth of the psalmist’s words: “Jehovah himself will sustain him [anyone who acts with consideration toward the lowly one] upon a divan of illness.”—Psalm 41:3.
For about ten years, we moved from one house to another. Pat was very sensitive to noise, and we were trying to find an ideal place for her to live—which we eventually realized was impossible. Pat had to get accustomed to using a wheelchair. Although she was able to cook and accomplish many other tasks, she was depressed by her lack of mobility. Having been a very active person, she found that this physical disability was a constant source of emotional stress.
Strength With Tears
I learned how to help Pat get up, sit down, get dressed, wash herself, and get in and out of bed. Attending Christian meetings regularly was a real challenge. It required a major effort to get ourselves ready. But we knew that the only way for us to keep spiritually strong was to associate with our Christian brothers.
For 11 years I cared for Pat at home, while working as a draftsman during the day. Finally, we realized that because of the deterioration of her health, she needed specialized care that I could not provide. So she stayed in a hospital during the week, and I would look after her at home on the weekend.
Each Sunday after lunch, I took Pat to the Public Meeting and the Watchtower Study, which by this time were the only meetings she could manage to attend. Afterward, I would take her back to the hospital. The routine was very exhausting for me, but it was worthwhile, for it kept Pat spiritually strong. Sometimes I wondered how long I could keep it up, but Jehovah gave me the strength to continue. Every Saturday morning I would lead a group out into the preaching work before picking Pat up from the hospital. I found that during this traumatic time, my Christian routine helped me keep going.
Meanwhile, Pat was doing what she could to preach the good news. In the hospital she was able to start two Bible studies with nurses who looked after her. One, named Hazel, progressed to the point of dedicating herself to Jehovah. Sadly, Pat was not able to attend Hazel’s baptism because she died shortly before, on July 8, 1987.
Pat’s death was a time of both relief and sorrow. It was a relief to see an end to her suffering, but I felt deep sorrow at losing my companion. Her death left a huge void.
Strange as it may seem, Pat and I had already decided what I should do next. Since we both knew that her life was nearing its end, we spoke about how I could best serve Jehovah after her death. Our joint decision was that I should return to Spain, the assignment that we had been forced to abandon.
Three months after Pat’s death, I traveled to the branch office of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Spain to find out where I could best serve. I received an assignment as a special pioneer minister and was assigned to the ancient, rainy city of Santiago de Compostela.
Not long afterward, I received a note from the branch office, giving me the address of an interested person named Maximino. After trying to find him at home for three weeks, I finally met him. Maximino, who was a porter in a local hospital, had obtained the tract Life in a Peaceful New World and had then requested the book You Can Live Forever in Paradise on Earth.* When I visited him, he had already read the book three times. He apologized for not having read the Bible very much—the ‘old part’ only once and the ‘new part’ twice. He did all of this while he was waiting for someone to visit him.
He also told me that he had gone to the Kingdom Hall with the intention of attending one of our meetings. However, since he was very shy, he had not entered the meeting place. I began a Bible study with him, and he attended the meetings the same week. He drank in the truth, but he had a real problem fighting his addiction to tobacco. With Jehovah’s help, he was finally able to give up the smoking habit, and he is now a baptized Witness.
More Joy, More Tears
Just a year after my return to Spain, I was invited to serve as a traveling overseer again. But before taking up that assignment, my life took an unexpected turn. I met a pioneer named Paquita, who was serving near Santiago. She was a widow who had been in the full-time ministry for many years. We soon discovered that we had a lot in common. In 1990, just six months after I began the traveling work, we were married—joy again.
Like me, Paquita had been ‘sowing with tears.’ Her first assignment as a special pioneer was marred by tragedy. While transporting furniture to Orense, their new home, her husband was killed in a car accident—an oncoming truck crossed over into his lane. Paquita and her ten-year-old daughter were already in Orense when they received the news of his death. Despite the terrible loss, two days after the funeral, Paquita started her assignment as planned.
Over the years, Paquita continued in the full-time ministry. Then, tragedy struck again. Another car accident took the life of her daughter, who was then 23 years old. The pain was great, and the grieving process prolonged. As before, her Christian routine and the support she received from fellow Christians were crucial to her recovery. I became acquainted with Paquita in 1989, just two years after her daughter’s death.
Since our marriage in 1990, we have served in the traveling work in Spain. Although these last few years have been one of the most satisfying periods of our lives, we do not regret having lived through trials. We are convinced that they have molded us in a positive way.—James 1:2-4.
Lessons I Have Learned
I believe that even the most severe trials have positive aspects, for they teach us lessons. Above all, trials have taught me the importance of empathy, a vital quality for a Christian overseer. Not long ago, for example, I spoke with a Christian brother who has a disabled son. I understood perfectly the great effort he was making every week in taking his son to all the meetings. After our conversation, he thanked me and said it was the first time that someone had really understood the difficulties he and his wife were facing.
Another important lesson I learned was to rely on Jehovah. When everything is going well, we may tend to rely on our own strength and ability. But when a severe trial continues year after year and you cannot cope with it in your own strength, you learn to lean on Jehovah. (Psalm 55:22) God’s helping hand enabled me to keep going.
Of course, this does not mean that it was always smooth sailing. I must admit that during my first wife’s illness, sometimes I got angry and frustrated at my situation, especially when I was tired. Afterward, I felt guilty about my feelings. I spoke about them with a compassionate elder who had professional experience in treating patients with long-term illnesses. He assured me that I was doing well in my circumstances and that it is very common for imperfect humans to err in this way when they face prolonged emotional strain.
Although Paquita and I are now enjoying our full-time service immensely, I don’t think we will ever take our blessings for granted. Jehovah has rewarded us in many ways and has given us a satisfying work to do, one that we can do together. Over the years we both sowed with tears, but now, thanks to Jehovah, we are reaping with a joyful cry.—As told by Raymond Kirkup.
Published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc.
[Picture on page 21]
Paquita and I enjoy our ministry together