‘We Live No Longer for Ourselves’
AS TOLD BY JACK JOHANSSON
The African, a Malawian soldier, ordered me to stand by the edge of the river in the light of the Land Rover’s headlights. As the soldier raised his rifle to his shoulder, Lloyd Likhwide dashed to the riverside and thrust himself in front of me. He pleaded: “Shoot me! Shoot me, instead! Not this foreigner who has done nothing wrong!” Why was an African ready to sacrifice his life for me, a European? Let me explain how I came to be a missionary in Africa nearly 40 years ago.
IN 1942, when I was only nine, my mother died, leaving Father with five children. I was the youngest. Four months later Father, who was one of the first Witnesses of Jehovah in Finland, died in a drowning accident. My oldest sister, Maja, looked after the rest of us, and we managed to keep our farm. Maja also took the lead in spiritual matters, and within a year of Father’s death, she and one of my brothers symbolized their dedication to Jehovah God by undergoing water baptism. A year later I was baptized, at the age of 11.
A Crucial Decision
After completing my studies in a commercial college in 1951, I began working for the Ford Motor Company in Finland. Six months later I got a surprise from a wise traveling minister of Jehovah’s Witnesses. He invited me to give a talk at an assembly about the blessings of the pioneer, or full-time, ministry. I felt uneasy, since I was working full-time secularly and felt I would never be able to speak from my heart. I prayed to Jehovah about the matter. I realized that Christians should “live no longer for themselves, but for him who died for them,” and so I decided to change my priorities in order to serve as a pioneer.—2 Corinthians 5:15.
My supervisor promised to double my salary if I stayed with the company. Then, when he could see that I had made up my mind, he said: “You have made the right decision. I have spent my whole life here in this office, and how much have I really helped people?” So in May 1952, I became a pioneer. A few weeks later, I could deliver my talk about the pioneer ministry with full confidence.
After serving as a pioneer for a few months, I was sentenced to six months in prison because of my Christian neutrality. This was followed by eight months of confinement with other young Witnesses on the island of Hästö-Busö, in the Gulf of Finland. We called this island Little Gilead because of the intensive Bible study program that we organized among ourselves. My goal, however, was to attend the real Gilead, the Watchtower School of Gilead, located near South Lansing, New York.
While still in confinement on the island, I received a letter from the Watch Tower Society’s branch office, inviting me to serve as a traveling minister of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Upon my release I was to visit congregations in the Swedish-speaking section of Finland. At the time, I was only 20 years old and felt unqualified, but I placed my confidence in Jehovah. (Philippians 4:13) The Witnesses in the congregations that I served were wonderful, never looking down on me because I was just “a boy.”—Jeremiah 1:7.
While visiting a congregation the following year, I met Linda, who was vacationing in Finland from the United States. After she returned to the United States, she made rapid spiritual progress. Shortly, she was baptized. We were married in June 1957. Later, we were invited to the 32nd class of the Gilead School, in September of 1958. After our graduation the following February, we were assigned to Nyasaland, now called Malawi, in southeast Africa.
Our Ministry in Africa
We loved being out in the public ministry with our African brothers, who then numbered over 14,000 in Nyasaland. At times, we traveled by Land Rover, carrying all our necessities with us. We stayed in villages where no white person had ever been, and we were always well received. Upon our arrival, the whole village would turn out to see us. After a polite greeting, they would sit on the ground in silence, studying us.
Often, villagers kindly built a hut specially for us, which was sometimes made of mud and other times of elephant grass and was just big enough for a bed. Hyenas would streak by the hut during the night, emitting frightful howls right next to our heads. But Witnesses in Nyasaland were about to face more dangerous forces than wild animals.
Nationalism Becomes an Issue
All over Africa, independence movements were stirring. In Nyasaland everyone was expected to join the one political party that existed there. Suddenly, our neutrality became a burning national issue. I was then caring for the office work while our branch overseer, Malcolm Vigo, was away. I requested a meeting with Dr. Hastings Kamuzu Banda, then prime minister of Nyasaland. Two other Christian elders and I explained our neutral position to him, and the meeting ended amicably. In spite of this, about a month later, in February 1964, Elaton Mwachande became the first casualty of the persecution—he was speared to death by an angry mob. The other Witnesses in his village were forced to flee.
We sent a telegram to Dr. Banda, appealing to him to use his authority to stop such violence. I soon received a call from the prime minister’s office, summoning me to appear. Accompanied by another missionary, named Harold Guy, and a local Witness, Alexander Mafambana, I went to see Dr. Banda. Two government ministers were also present.
As soon as we sat down, Dr. Banda, without saying a word, began waving the telegram back and forth over his head. Finally, he broke the silence, saying: “Mr. Johansson, what do you mean by sending a telegram like this?” Once again we explained our politically neutral position to him, and I added: “Now, with the murder of Elaton Mwachande, you are the only one who can help us.” That seemed to satisfy Dr. Banda, and he relaxed somewhat.
However, one of the government ministers present claimed that Witnesses in a certain distant village were uncooperative with the local authorities. The second minister then mentioned another remote village, charging that Witnesses there had spoken disrespectfully of Dr. Banda. Yet, they were unable to give us the names of any who had conducted themselves in that way. We explained that Jehovah’s Witnesses are taught always to respect the government authorities. Unfortunately, our efforts to correct the false impressions of Dr. Banda and his ministers were not successful.
Our Lives Were in Danger
In 1964, Nyasaland gained independence and later became the Republic of Malawi. Our preaching work continued with a measure of normalcy but under increasing pressure. During this time Witnesses in the southern region of the country called, saying that a political insurrection had broken out there. We saw the need for someone to go immediately to evaluate the Witnesses’ situation and provide moral support. I had made trips into the bush by myself on previous occasions, and Linda had accepted this courageously. This time, however, she pleaded with me, asking me to take along a young local Witness, Lloyd Likhwide. I finally consented, thinking to myself, ‘If it makes her happy, I will.’
We were told that we had to cross a certain river by ferry before a 6:00 p.m. curfew. We tried our best to make it by that time, but we were delayed by the bad roads. Only later did we learn that an order had been given to shoot anyone found on our side of the river after six. As we drove down toward the river, we saw that the ferry had already crossed to the other side. Brother Likhwide called for it to come and fetch us. It came, but a soldier on the ferry shouted back: “I have to shoot the white man!”
At first, I took it to be an empty threat, but as the ferry drew closer, the soldier ordered me to stand before the lights of the vehicle. It was then that my African friend thrust himself between us, begging the soldier to shoot him instead of me. Well, it seems that the soldier was touched by his willingness to die for me, and he lowered his gun. I thought of Jesus’ words: “No one has love greater than this, that someone should surrender his soul in behalf of his friends.” (John 15:13) How glad I was that I had listened to Linda’s advice to take that dear brother along!
The following day the road back to Blantyre was blocked by young men who demanded to see Brother Likhwide’s party membership card. There was only one thing to do—get through the crowd, and fast! I jammed the car into gear, and it lunged forward, startling them enough for us to get away. Had the mob got hold of Brother Likhwide, it would probably have meant the end of him. When we arrived back at the branch office, we were both badly shaken but thankful to Jehovah for His protection.
Imprisoned for Their Faith
Our work was officially banned in Malawi in October 1967. There were then about 18,000 Witnesses in the country. Two weeks later, we learned that 3,000 Witnesses had been imprisoned in Lilongwe, the capital. We decided to drive there that night, a distance of 190 miles [300 km], if only to give them moral support. We loaded the Land Rover with Watchtower publications and, thanks to Jehovah, passed through the many roadblocks without being checked. All along the road, at one congregation after another, we dropped off cartons of timely spiritual food.
In the morning we headed for the prison. What a sight! It had rained all night, and our Christian brothers and sisters had been detained outdoors in a fenced compound. They were soaking wet, and some were trying to dry out their blankets on the fence. We managed to speak with a few of them through the fence.
Their court case was held at noon, and a number of professed Witnesses appeared on the stand. We tried to make eye contact with them, but their faces remained expressionless. To our dismay, all of those on the stand renounced their faith! However, I learned that the local Witnesses did not know any of the ones who had denied being Jehovah’s Witnesses. It was apparently an effort to discourage the genuine Witnesses.
In the meantime, an order came through for us to be deported. Our branch office in Blantyre had been confiscated, and the missionaries had been given 24 hours to leave the country. How strange it was to find a police officer opening the gate for us when we returned home! The next afternoon a police official came and, with some regret, arrested us and drove us to the airport.
We left Malawi on November 8, 1967, knowing that our Christian brothers there were in for a fiery test. Our hearts ached for them. Dozens lost their lives; hundreds suffered cruel tortures; and thousands lost jobs, homes, and possessions. Nevertheless, nearly all kept their integrity.
On to New Assignments
Despite the hardships, it never occurred to us to quit the missionary work. Rather, we accepted a new assignment—to Kenya, a land of contrasts in scenery and peoples. Linda was fascinated by the Masai. At that time, there were no Masai who were Jehovah’s Witnesses. But then Linda met Dorcas, a Masai woman, and began to study the Bible with her.
Dorcas knew that to be pleasing to God, she had to legalize her marriage. The father of her two children refused, so Dorcas tried to support her children on her own. The man was furious with the Witnesses, but he was unhappy being separated from his family. Finally, at Dorcas’ urging, he also began to study the Bible with Jehovah’s Witnesses. He straightened out his life, became a Witness, and married Dorcas. She became a pioneer, and her husband and their oldest son are now congregation elders.
Suddenly, in 1973, the work of Jehovah’s Witnesses was banned in Kenya, and we had to leave. Only a few months later, the ban was lifted. But by then we had received our third assignment—to Congo (Brazzaville). We arrived in April 1974. Nearly three years later, we missionaries were falsely accused of being spies, and our work was banned. On top of that, fighting broke out in Brazzaville after the president of the country was assassinated. All the other missionaries were assigned to different countries, but we were asked to remain for as long as possible. For weeks we went to bed not knowing if we would see the morning. But we slept well, trusting in Jehovah’s care. Those few months, alone at the branch office, were probably the most faith-testing and faith-strengthening time we have ever experienced in our missionary service.
In April 1977 we had to leave Brazzaville. Then we had a real surprise—we were assigned to Iran to establish a new branch office. Our first challenge was to endeavor to learn Farsi, the Persian language. Learning a new language reduced us to giving only the simplest of comments at congregation meetings, the same as the small children gave! In 1978 a revolution began in Iran. We remained through the worst of the fighting, but in July 1980, all of us missionaries were deported.
Our fifth assignment took us back to the middle of Africa, to Zaire, now Democratic Republic of Congo. We served in Zaire for 15 years, for a time also under ban. When we arrived, about 22,000 Witnesses were active in that land—now there are over 100,000!
On August 12, 1993, the ban on Jehovah’s Witnesses in Malawi was lifted. Two years later Linda and I were assigned back to where we started—Malawi, the beautiful, friendly country known as The Warm Heart of Africa. Since January 1996, we have had the joy of working among Malawi’s happy and peaceable people. We treasure serving once again with our faithful Malawian brothers, many of whom endured three decades of persecution. Our African brothers have been a source of inspiration, and we love them. They have certainly lived up to Paul’s words: “We must enter into the kingdom of God through many tribulations.” (Acts 14:22) The nearly 41,000 Witnesses in Malawi are now free to preach openly and to hold large conventions.
We have enjoyed all of our assignments very much. Linda and I have learned that any experience, no matter how trying, can mold us into better persons, provided we hold on to “the joy of Jehovah.” (Nehemiah 8:10) I have had some difficulty adjusting when we have had to leave assignments. But Linda’s adaptability—and especially her strong faith in Jehovah—have helped me, causing me to appreciate the blessing of having “a good wife.”—Proverbs 18:22.
What a happy and exciting life we have led! Again and again we have thanked Jehovah for his protective hand. (Romans 8:31) It has been over four decades since I gave that talk about the blessings of the full-time ministry. We are glad that we have ‘put Jehovah to the test and tasted his goodness.’ (Psalm 34:8; Malachi 3:10) We are convinced that ‘living no longer for ourselves’ is the best way of life possible.
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Countries in which we served
Republic of Congo
Democratic Republic of Congo
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On our way to Malawi, by way of Cape Town, South Africa
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When we were arrested and deported from Malawi
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Dorcas, a Masai, with her husband