Happy to “Go the Extra Mile”
AS TOLD BY CLAIRE VAVY
THE island of Madagascar, located about 250 miles [400 km] from the East African country of Mozambique, is mountainous and has dense rain forests. I was born on the eastern side of the island in the small village of Betoko II. In 1987, when I was 15, I moved to the seacoast town of Mahanoro to attend school.
I lived in Mahanoro with my older brother Celestin, who had begun studying the Bible with Jehovah’s Witnesses. Two years later I became a Witness. I was determined to serve Jehovah God as fully as I could.
Efforts to Reach My Goals
One of my first goals was to help my family back in Betoko II, and I prayed regularly to Jehovah about my desire. However, I was able to return there only during school vacations. It was a difficult 65-mile [100 km] journey. The first 25 miles [40 km] could be traveled by motorized vehicle, but the remaining 40 miles [60 km] was on a narrow mountain trail that could only be traversed by foot.
I had to climb many steep hills, and some sections of the rough path were as narrow as the length of my foot. If I started out early in the day and walked until dusk, I usually managed to cover about 25 miles [40 km]. I would carry more than 35 pounds of supplies—some of it on my head, some on my back, and the rest in my arms. Mainly I carried Bible literature, which I shared with my relatives and other interested ones. I came to be known along the route as “the one with much luggage.”
Initially, despite my enthusiasm, my family refused to listen to me about my newfound beliefs. Soon, though, they changed and asked so many questions that at times we would go to bed at two in the morning.
A Memorable Visit
On December 24, 1990, I arrived home in Betoko II on vacation. My family was happy to see me, believing that I had come to celebrate Christmas with them. Their joy turned to disappointment when I explained why I could not join in their Christmas celebrations. They felt embarrassed about having to explain this to others in the village, as it was a very close-knit community. So I felt the need to take the initiative to do this myself. But how?
I was unsure, especially since I was so young. I wondered if it would be proper to explain my beliefs when the village gathered at church the next day. I offered a long, fervent prayer to Jehovah, begging for his direction. After that I asked my older brother Paul, who was a teacher in the church, “Do you think it would be all right to explain to those at church tomorrow why I don’t celebrate Christmas?” He checked with others, and they agreed to the proposal.
The next day I was sent for when the church service was over. After praying to Jehovah again, I took along a supply of Bible literature. After introductions, I thanked all for their share in helping me to have a deep respect for the Bible. I explained that I had continued to study the Bible after moving to town. I said that I had discovered many Bible truths that we had not been taught previously.
I used the occasion to explain the Bible hope of living forever on a paradise earth (Psalm 37:29; Revelation 21:3, 4), the reason why a few faithful ones from earth would be taken to heaven (John 14:2, 3; Revelation 5:9, 10; 14:1, 3), and the Bible teaching that the dead are unconscious in a sleeplike condition and therefore could not be suffering (Ecclesiastes 9:5, 10; John 11:11-14, 38-44). I also showed that early Christians did not celebrate Christmas and that the celebration was of pagan origin.
At the conclusion of the presentation, many in the group acknowledged the truthfulness of what I had said. Some even asked additional questions. Afterward I showed them the publications I had brought along and explained that they were Bible study aids produced by Jehovah’s Witnesses. I said that I was willing to help any who would like to study the Bible. Many accepted copies of the Bible literature.
A Surprising Discovery
A woman whom I had not met before approached me and said, “My sister, who lives in another village, is one of your fellow religionists.” Surprised, I asked, “Where?”
“In Andranomafana,” she replied. The village is some 20 miles [30 km] from Betoko II.
I told the woman that her sister probably belonged to a different religion, since the Witnesses in the area all know one another. The woman insisted, however, that her sister had taught her the same things that I had explained during my talk at the church. I requested the name and address of the woman’s sister, as I was eager to set out for that village immediately. Mother, however, urged me to wait a day or so, as it was an arduous journey, all on foot. Two days later my brother Charles and I set out for Andranomafana.
As soon as we arrived, we asked some villagers, “Are there Jehovah’s Witnesses here?” I was disappointed when they replied, “There are only Catholic, Pentecostal, and Independent churches in this village.”
Then a woman spoke up and said, “If you are looking for Jehovah’s Witnesses, it would probably be Marceline and her family that you are seeking.” That was the very name I had been given!
Someone went to call Marceline. She soon arrived but seemed a bit fearful. The whole village gathered around, as they imagined that we were some sort of officials who had come to question her. I later learned that she and her family had been persecuted in the village for practicing her ‘unorthodox religion.’
Marceline led us a bit away from the crowd, where we could talk. When I asked her if she was one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, she said that she was. At that, she went and got a copy of The Truth That Leads to Eternal Life, a book that Jehovah’s Witnesses used earlier as a Bible study aid, along with older issues of The Watchtower. All were tattered and torn. “Which magazine did you study last Sunday?” I asked.
“These are the only issues we have,” she replied, “and we study them over and over again.” Only then did I tell Marceline that I too was a Witness. She was so happy! When I said I wanted to meet the man who was conducting their meetings, she explained that he lived in yet another area, still farther away.
Another Delightful Discovery
The following day Marceline and I set out together to visit the man. When we arrived, he was very surprised and happy to see us. It turned out that he was, in fact, a Witness who had come from the coastal town of Toamasina, more than 120 miles [200 km] to the northeast. He and his family had been forced to return here years earlier after he unexpectedly lost his employment. Upon his return, he began preaching, conducting Bible studies, and holding meetings.
The Witness and his family were enthralled to see the latest Watchtower magazines that I had with me. I also showed them the book You Can Live Forever in Paradise on Earth, which we were then using as our principal Bible-study aid. It was the first time they had seen it. The following Sunday I returned to Andranomafana to attend the meetings with them. I encouraged them to contact the branch office of the Witnesses in the capital city of Antananarivo, as the office was not aware of the existence of this little group.
Starting in January 1991, I traveled to Andranomafana from Mahanoro almost every month, taking them the latest copies of The Watchtower and other publications. It was a journey of some 80 miles [130 km] each way, more than 55 miles of which I walked—going up and down steep, rugged hills, passing through dense forests and, when it rained, struggling through thick, slippery mud.
My luggage became heavier as the number of those who needed literature and magazines increased. At the end of each trip, however, a sense of deep satisfaction and happiness more than compensated for my fatigue and aching muscles. What a joy for me to see how thrilled the group was to receive each new publication and to witness their response to Bible truths!
Entering the Full-Time Ministry
On September 1, 1992, I was appointed a pioneer, as the Witnesses call their full-time ministers. I pioneered in Mahanoro but kept in contact with my relatives in Betoko II by letter. In time, they began to study with me by correspondence, and they asked if I would return to the village to help them. I was willing to do this, but I first wanted to be sure that they were serious about their decision to study the Bible and make spiritual progress. So for a while, I remained in Mahanoro pioneering.
In the latter part of 1993, I was privileged to attend a two-week school course for pioneers in Antananarivo. Afterward, I was invited to apply to be a special pioneer, which could involve being assigned anywhere in the country. I hesitated to accept the invitation, however, since I wanted to help my relatives in Betoko II, who lived far from the nearest congregation. So I returned to my pioneer assignment in Mahanoro.
Eventually, when the traveling overseer of Jehovah’s Witnesses visited, I asked him about returning to help my relatives. By then a congregation had been formed in Andranomafana, and he suggested that I go there so that I could be with the congregation and preach in the territory of Betoko II. I began the assignment September 1, 1994. That same month my brother Paul, who had been a religious teacher, attended a district convention with me. Soon 30 were sharing in the preaching work in Andranomafana, and on Sunday an average of 65 attended our meetings.
The Walking Did Not Stop
Shortly after I returned to Betoko II, four of my fleshly brothers and sisters qualified to share in the ministry as Jehovah’s Witnesses, and soon afterward they were baptized. After moving back to Betoko II, I traveled regularly to Anosibe An’ala to pick up literature and magazines, a walk of some 30 miles [50 km] each way. While it was an exhausting trip, the joy I realized on seeing the spiritual growth in the area made it all worthwhile.
Today there is a thriving congregation in Betoko II, with an average meeting attendance of about 45 on Sunday. All of my close relatives in the area are now Witnesses, and most are regular pioneers. A younger brother is a special pioneer. On November 1, 2001, I too was appointed a special pioneer, and I was assigned to the village of Antanambao-Manampotsy. But I left Betoko II with a happy heart.
When I began to learn Bible truths in 1987, there were fewer than 3,000 Witnesses in Madagascar. Now there are over 14,000. Like so many of these, I am grateful for the privilege of being able to expend my energies to “go the extra mile” to help others. And I thank Jehovah that he has blessed my efforts in this regard.
[Pictures on page 24, 25]
Often I carried more than 35 pounds [15 kg] of supplies for 40 miles [60 km] to my home village
[Picture on page 25]
My older brother Paul
[Picture on page 26]
My brother Charles
[Picture on page 26]
With some members of my family. All of these are now Jehovah’s Witnesses