My Foundation for a Purposeful Life
AS TOLD BY ERNEST PANDACHUK
I was born on the prairies of Saskatchewan, Canada. When I was 23 years old, I went to Africa, where for 35 years I led a fascinating life as a missionary. How did my life unfold in this way? Not by chance. Let me explain.
MY FIRST home was made of poles, clay, and grass—barely adequate to protect our family from the harsh prairie winters. In 1928, before most of us nine children were born, Father and Mother accepted Bible literature from a visitor to our homestead. During the long winter that followed, they studied the Bible with the aid of these publications. By the following spring, they were convinced that they had found the truth. They spoke about it to family, friends, and neighbors but especially to their children.
I was born in 1931, and my five younger siblings arrived shortly thereafter. Reading and studying the Bible was part of our family routine. I recall fondly our mornings together. Father would take the lead in discussing a Bible text with us, even when we had visitors. Mother and Father, as well as the older children, took turns reading aloud from Bible-based publications.
Besides teaching us to read and write, Father also taught us to do research by using Bible concordances. Soon we learned how to use the Bible to explain our beliefs to others. These enjoyable discussions helped me to reason on Bible subjects. In time, I could use the Bible to refute false religious teachings. I could prove that the soul dies, that there is no hellfire, and that God and Jesus are not equal or part of a so-called Trinity.—Ecclesiastes 9:5, 10; Ezekiel 18:4; John 14:28.
Father and Mother also taught by example and encouraged us to stand firm for what was right, even if it meant being unpopular. For instance, they never used tobacco, and they warned us of its defiling effects and of the pressure we would encounter at school to use it. I remember Father’s words: “You may be called a sissy if you refuse to smoke. But just ask the person, ‘Who is the manly one? The one controlled by the weed or the one who controls the weed?’”
Another test of whether I would abide by my Bible-based childhood training came when I was 11. By then World War II had begun, and children at school were expected to pledge allegiance to the flag. I realized from my study of the Bible that such a pledge was an act of worship, so I refused to participate. This led to my being expelled from school for six months.
Nevertheless, in time I completed school, and in March 1947, I symbolized my dedication to Jehovah God by water baptism. Six months later I became a pioneer, a full-time proclaimer of the good news. I first served in southern Saskatchewan, witnessing to farmers and ranchers in this vast territory. In summer I traveled by horseback, and in the cold winter, I used a horse-drawn covered sleigh, which we called a caboose. It was heated by a charcoal burner, so I had to be careful not to tip the sleigh over.
The rural people were friendly and hospitable. When I called late in the afternoon, they often invited me to stay overnight. How I cherished the lively Bible discussions that ensued! The Petersons were one family who responded after an all-night discussion. Earl and his mother became zealous Witnesses of Jehovah.
Serving in Quebec
In 1949, I answered the call for pioneers to help with the preaching work in the province of Quebec. Some 200 pioneers from western Canada responded. They arrived in the city of Montreal in September, ready to accept assignments throughout Quebec. This was during the time that the Catholic Premier Maurice Duplessis, who vowed to rid the province of the Witnesses, was in office.
Those were busy and exciting times filled with challenges. These included learning the French language as well as facing arrest and mob action and the disruption of our Christian assemblies by fanatic intruders. Such intolerance, however, did not intimidate me or cause me to waver in my career as a minister of God. My parents had instilled in me a love for what is right and a conviction that the worldwide preaching work that Jesus had foretold would be accomplished, regardless of the opposition.—Matthew 24:9, 14.
During my time in Quebec, I met Emily Hawrysh, a faithful pioneer from Saskatchewan. Since our wedding on January 27, 1951, Emily has been my loyal coworker and encouraging companion. Because our goal was to share more fully in the ministry, we applied for and were accepted as students of the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead, which provides a course several months in length to prepare ministers for missionary service. We graduated from the 20th class of Gilead in February 1953.
While we waited for documents permitting us to enter Africa, we were invited to assist congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Alberta and Ontario, Canada. In those days we traveled from congregation to congregation by public transportation. So we learned to simplify our lives and to carry all our belongings in a suitcase. A few months later, when our travel and entry documents were in order, we were off to Southern Rhodesia, now called Zimbabwe.
Adjusting to Life in Africa
Within five months of our arrival, we were assigned to visit groups of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Zimbabwe as well as in Botswana and southern parts of Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia). At Gilead School we had been encouraged not to compare our foreign assignment with our native land and to remember that whatever the circumstance we found ourselves in, we could learn something from our experiences. Such words of wisdom helped to adjust our thinking. To this day, Emily and I agree with the saying, “Make the best of every situation; it may never happen again.”
We traveled from place to place by train, bus, truck, or bicycle—whatever was available to us. Strenuous as this was, there were other circumstances that tested our resolve to “make the best of every situation.” For the first two years, Emily was prevented from traveling into tribal territories with me because of legal restrictions. Thus, my wife of only a few years had to remain in towns close to the railhead, where often there were no other Witnesses. Emily’s faith, courage, and tenacity not only filled me with admiration and love for her but also brought Kingdom fruitage to these communities.
Immediately after finding accommodations with one of the local inhabitants, Emily would witness in the vicinity until my return from the tribal area. At times, she served alone for a month. She found strength and protection in relying on Jehovah’s mighty hand, and her ministry bore fruit. In one instance Rita Hancock responded to Bible truth and was later joined by her husband. He became a faithful brother and served as a Christian elder until his death. Today there are thriving congregations in some of the towns where Emily sowed seeds of Bible truth.
African Hospitality and Ingenuity
Meanwhile, in the tribal territories, the African Witnesses’ deep appreciation for Jehovah’s organization and its traveling representatives was a moving experience for me. I was well cared for by these loving Christian brothers. Every Monday I traveled from one assembly location to the next. My accommodations would be a newly constructed grass hut, which brought back memories of my family homestead in Saskatchewan. My bed was a 12-inch-thick [30 cm] grass bundle spread out on the floor, with a sheet pulled over it.
The assemblies in the tribal areas were generally held in a natural forest setting. Those attending cleared the undergrowth, leaving trees with abundant foliage for shade. Bundles of grass tied neatly and arranged in orderly lines provided the seating. Finally, a grass fence was constructed to enclose the clearing. In these pristine settings, my heart was always touched by the melodious voices of our African brothers and sisters singing praises to Jehovah in unforgettable harmony.
A Memorable Experience
In the course of my ministry, I met Gideon Zenda, a chief inspector of schools for the missions run by the Anglican Church. Gideon had received his education, including university training, through the church. However, he had not received satisfactory answers to many of his Bible questions. So he requested that I meet with him and several of his colleagues to address these questions. Some 50 people were present for this session, including school inspectors, headmasters, and teachers. Gideon chaired the session. In an orderly fashion, we went from subject to subject. I spoke for 15 minutes on each subject and then entertained questions. The session lasted several hours.
The result of this unusual exercise was that Gideon, his family, and a large number of his colleagues all became dedicated, baptized servants of Jehovah. The local bishop terminated their employment in the Anglican educational system. All, however, were undaunted and remained steadfast in Jehovah’s service, some taking up the pioneer ministry.
Response to a Dramatic Film
In 1954, Jehovah’s Witnesses released the motion picture The New World Society in Action. The following year the legal restrictions that had earlier been imposed on a wife accompanying her husband into tribal areas were lifted. This allowed Emily to travel with me into the tribal territories. At that time we were provided with a motor vehicle, an electrical generator, and a projector to show the movie throughout the tribal communities. Many had never before seen a movie, so our showings attracted a lot of attention. The film showed the step-by-step production of Bibles and Bible literature at our large printery in Brooklyn, New York.
The movie also included scenes of the international brotherhood of Jehovah’s Witnesses sharing in worship at Yankee Stadium, New York, in 1953. Never before had these Africans seen such a demonstration of interracial unity and love. This film moved scores of Zimbabwean families to study the Bible and associate with the Witnesses. Requests for showings of this movie literally poured in from headmasters across the country who recognized the educational value of such a visual aid for their pupils.
Late one evening I was awakened by Witnesses requesting that I show the movie. To my amazement about 500 people had walked several hours to see it. They had heard that I was in the area and had been showing it. By the time that crowd dispersed, another group of 300 had arrived. So I showed the movie again. It was not until three in the morning that the final viewers left! Over a 17-year period, in Zambia alone, more than a million people saw that powerful movie!
New Assignments in Africa
After serving over five and a half years in Zimbabwe, we were transferred to South Africa. This meant that we had to learn the Afrikaans language. Later we also learned to speak Sesotho and Zulu. Being able to teach God’s Word in additional languages increased our effectiveness in the ministry and gave us a sense of accomplishment.
Early in 1960 we were assigned to the traveling work in southern Africa. For the following 27 years, we traveled extensively throughout Lesotho, Namibia, South Africa, and Swaziland as well as the islands of Ascension and St. Helena in the South Atlantic Ocean. Altogether, we traveled hundreds of thousands of miles serving our Christian brothers and sisters. Their acts of faith and loyalty under unfavorable circumstances have served to encourage us never to give up.
For example, I became personally acquainted with Witnesses in Swaziland who did not compromise their faith when King Sobhuza II died. Since they refused to participate in unscriptural rituals held at the death of such a dignitary, they were dismissed from their places of employment and denied their rights as citizens. Despite years of deprivation and hardship, they never gave up their faith. To have known these wonderful Christian brothers and sisters and to have talked with them face-to-face is a grand privilege for which I will always thank Jehovah.
Then there is Philemon Mafereka, a pioneer from Mokhotlong, Lesotho, which is located in the mountains at an elevation of over 10,000 feet [3,000 m]. Since there was no transportation available, he and his dear wife, their two children, and four candidates for baptism walked 70 miles [over 100 km] to an assembly held at an elevation of 4,000 feet [1,200 m]. Most of the way, they had to negotiate steep terrain. They scrambled up and down gullies and forded numerous streams and rivers.
Homeward bound after the assembly, they carried along a hundred copies of the book The Truth That Leads to Eternal Life. These were intended for people back home in Mokhotlong. But because of all the interest in Bible literature that they encountered along the way, their supply of books was exhausted before they reached home. Seeing firsthand the zeal and devotion of Christian brothers and sisters like Philemon and his wife has been a privilege for Emily and me, which we cherish to this day.
At times, we encountered dangers from poisonous snakes, such as cobras, as well as from flash floods and other hazards. These experiences, although frightening at the time, pale into insignificance when compared to the rewards and joys of a career in Jehovah’s service. We learned that he never abandons his loyal ones.
When Emily had serious health problems, Jehovah gave us the wisdom to deal with the situation in a balanced way. A change of diet and arranging for better sanitary conditions helped to facilitate her recovery. We built a camper on a light truck to enable Emily to have a controlled environment as we traveled, and in time, she was restored to good health.
Return to Canada
In 1988, after 35 years of missionary work in the fascinating continent of Africa, we were assigned back to Canada. Then, in 1991, I once again began serving as a traveling overseer. Eight years later I suffered a stroke. Although my activity has been greatly limited since then, I still find pleasure in serving as an elder in one of the congregations in London, Ontario.
Today I look back with satisfaction to the time when I started out as a pioneer on horseback in southern Saskatchewan some 56 years ago. How grateful I am that Father persisted in teaching us how to think as spiritual people, never being afraid to stand up for truth and righteousness! He opened up God’s Word for me, which gave me a purposeful life. That heritage has stood by me all my days. I would never trade my life in Jehovah’s service for anything that this old world has to offer.
[Picture on page 19]
Our family of nine children in 1949, with Mom holding the youngest. I’m standing behind her
[Picture on page 20]
I built this “caboose” for use in my ministry
[Picture on page 20]
Women in Quebec who were arrested for preaching
[Picture on page 22, 23]
I shared in teaching these traveling overseers in Zimbabwe
[Picture on page 23]
We built this camper for Emily’s recovery
[Picture on page 23]
A recent photo with Emily