Blessed by Putting God First
As told by Pierre Worou
“Bonjour!” I have used this French greeting all my life. But in November 1975, I was arrested for doing so. Let me tell you what led up to that event and what has happened since.
I WAS born on January 1, 1944, in Malété, a suburb of Savé, in central Benin.* My parents gave me a traditional Yoruba name, Abiola. While still young, I changed it to Pierre, which I thought was more modern and popular.
The townsfolk had nicknames for all the youngsters. They called me Pastor because at birth I resembled the local clergyman. I was more interested, however, in playing soccer than in attending catechism classes.
In 1959, I moved to Sakété, a city in the south of the country, to continue my schooling. I lived with my cousin Simon, a schoolteacher, who had recently begun to study the Bible with two of Jehovah’s Witnesses. At first, I was not interested in sitting in with them. Later I asked another cousin, Michel, if he would join with me in the study. He agreed, and it was then that I first heard God’s name, Jehovah.
One Sunday, Simon, Michel, and I decided not to go to church but to attend the Witnesses’ meeting. What a disappointment to see that there were only five present—the two Witnesses and we three cousins. Yet, we recognized the ring of Bible truth and continued to study. Michel was the first to be baptized in symbol of his dedication to God. Today he serves as a pioneer, as Jehovah’s Witnesses call full-time ministers.
Simon moved north to the city of Kokoro, and I went along. An assembly of the Witnesses was planned at Ouansougon. Simon took a public taxi, but I rode my bicycle 135 miles [220 km] to attend. We were both baptized there on September 15, 1961.
Challenges in the Full-Time Ministry
I supported myself by painting and selling pictures as well as by cultivating a field that produced well. When a traveling overseer, Philippe Zannou, visited our congregation, he asked if I had ever considered the full-time pioneer ministry. After discussing the matter together, my friend Emmanuel Fatunbi and I said we could both begin the work in February 1966. In time, I began serving as a traveling overseer, visiting congregations where the Fon, Gun, Yoruba, and French languages were spoken.
Eventually I met Julienne, a charming young Christian sister who loved a simple life, as I did. She became my wife on August 12, 1971, and joined me in visiting congregations. Our son Bola was born on August 18, 1972. When traveling between congregations, I pedaled the bicycle and Julienne sat behind me with Bola on her back. A local Witness usually transported our baggage on his bicycle. We visited congregations this way for four years.
One day Julienne fell sick and went through a terrible night of suffering. The next morning, I headed down the road looking for help. Suddenly, a public taxi appeared, something rare in that area. Moreover, it was empty—even more unusual! I explained the situation to the driver and asked if he would take us to Porto Novo, the capital, about 15 miles [25 km] away. He agreed. Upon arrival, he smiled and said: “This is on me. It won’t cost you a thing.”
Julienne had to remain in bed at the home of a Witness for two weeks. The doctor kindly came by every day. He also brought along the needed medication. When he examined Julienne the last time, I apprehensively asked for the bill. I was astonished when he replied, “There is no bill.”
In 1975, Dahomey adopted a Marxist form of government. The country’s name was changed to the People’s Republic of Benin. Daily life also changed. A new greeting was enforced: “Pour la révolution?” (Are you ready for the revolution?) People were expected to answer: “Prêt!” (I’m ready!) Our Bible-trained consciences did not allow us to repeat such political slogans. This resulted in much hostility.
One Sunday toward the end of 1975, I was sharing in the house-to-house ministry near St. Michel, when I was arrested. As mentioned earlier, I had responded “Bonjour!” to a man who greeted me with “Pour la révolution?” I was taken to the police station, where I was beaten. But later that day three local Witnesses were able to procure my release.
I was the first Witness of Jehovah to be arrested. Soon many others throughout the country were arrested too. The government seized Kingdom Halls, and missionaries were deported. The branch office was even closed, and many Witnesses had to flee the country, heading west to Togo or east to Nigeria.
Our Family Increases in Nigeria
Our second son, Kola, was born on April 25, 1976. Two days later, a government decree, No. 111, banned the work of Jehovah’s Witnesses. We left for Nigeria, where we went to a Kingdom Hall jammed with refugees. The next day arrangements were made to assign us to neighboring congregations. As soon as the hall was emptied of one group of refugees, another group arrived. Trucks were used to take the new arrivals to outlying congregations.
The Nigeria branch office of Jehovah’s Witnesses asked me to visit all of the Witnesses from Benin. Then I was appointed as a traveling overseer for a group of Yoruba-speaking congregations in Nigeria, and later for Gun-speaking congregations. We traveled by motorbike. Bola sat in front of me and Kola was sandwiched between Julienne and me.
In 1979 we realized that our daughter, Jemima, was on the way, making it necessary for us to leave the traveling work. Julienne’s younger sister, whom we called Pépé, came from Benin to live with us. Our family continued to grow. Two boys were born: Caleb in 1983 and Silas in 1987. So we had become a family of eight. Julienne and I wanted to be good parents, but we wanted to remain in the full-time ministry if at all possible. How could we do it? We leased a field and raised manioc, maize, and cocoyam. Then we built a modest house in the village of Ilogbo-Eremi.
After sending the children off to school, Julienne and I did our preaching in the morning. We were always home in time for the family to eat together. Then, after siesta, we worked in the field. Julienne and Pépé also sold produce at the market. We all worked very hard. Thankfully, we were seldom sick during those years.
Blessings Without Higher Education
We never encouraged the children to pursue higher secular education. We knew that putting Kingdom interests first, developing Christian qualities, and working hard were the keys to a successful life. We tried to inculcate these ideals in the hearts of our children. I studied with them, and what a joy it was to see them come to love Jehovah, dedicate their lives to serve him, and get baptized in symbol of their dedication!
Pépé was older than our children and the first to leave our home. Earlier, when she came to live with us, I taught her to read. Although she had little formal education, she focused on Bible study and other spiritual matters. After serving as a pioneer for some time, she married Monday Akinra, a traveling overseer, and accompanied him in his work. They now have a son, Timothy. Pépé and Monday have continued in the full-time ministry, and Monday enjoys many responsibilities at assemblies.
Bola became an apprentice to a cook in a large company. Soon one of the directors noted his good work habits, reliability, and other fine Christian qualities. In time, he was promoted to a position of responsibility in the company. More important, he is a good husband for his lovely wife, Jane, and a fine father for his three children, as well as a responsible elder in a congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Lagos, Nigeria.
Kola became an apprentice to a tailor and also took up the pioneer ministry. Since he had learned English while in Nigeria, in 1995 he was invited to serve in the Translation Department at the branch office of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Benin. He has served there for the past 13 years.
Our Ministry Back in Benin
We were excited to hear that a Benin government decree of January 23, 1990, proclaimed that the earlier decree banning our work was null and void. Many refugees returned. Also, new missionaries arrived in Benin, and the branch office was reopened. In 1994 our family moved back to Benin, but Pépé, Bola, and their families stayed in Nigeria.
I was able to find part-time work. With the modest rent from our house in Nigeria and Bola’s generous assistance, we were able to construct a house for the five of us not far from the branch office. Jemima served as a pioneer for over six years, supporting herself by working as a seamstress. Then she married Kokou Ahoumenou, and they now work at the nearby branch. Caleb and Silas are finishing their schooling. With God’s help and the cooperation of our family, Julienne and I have remained in the full-time service for over 40 years.
God has richly blessed the preaching work in Benin. When I was baptized in 1961, there were 871 of Jehovah’s Witnesses preaching the Kingdom message in the country. The year I was arrested, the number had climbed to 2,381. By the time we returned to Benin in 1994, the number had risen to 3,858, despite the 14-year ban. Today there are more than twice that many—over 9,000—and attendance at the Memorial of Christ’s death in 2008 was 35,752.
Sometimes I go to the spot where I was arrested over 30 years ago and reflect on all that has happened. I especially thank God that he has blessed my family. We have lacked nothing. And I still greet everyone with “Bonjour!”
At that time Benin was known as Dahomey and was part of French West Africa.
[Blurb on page 13]
He smiled and said: “This is on me. It won’t cost you a thing”
[Blurb on page 14]
We never encouraged the children to pursue higher secular education
[Picture on page 15]
Serving as a traveling overseer, 1970
[Picture on page 15]
With our first two sons, Bola and Kola, in 1976
[Picture on page 15]
Today, surrounded by my family—my wife, five children, daughter-in-law, and three grandchildren, as well as Pépé’s family