Pursuing My Purpose in Life
As told by Leslie R. Franks
NEW ZEALAND was the scene of my early home life. There I first had knowledge of the truth. In 1926, at sixteen, my work caused me to leave home. Interest in the truth lapsed. Fourteen years later (1940) I again began reading the Society’s literature that my parents had sent me. Now, too, my workmate turned out to be one of Jehovah’s witnesses. One day in conversation he mentioned that he knew my parents also were Jehovah’s witnesses, and would I be interested in attending a Watchtower study? That I readily did the next weekend. Then at a service meeting during the visit of the zone servant the study of the Informant brought out the need for pioneers, especially from among such as had no encumbrances. When I realized that this invitation was meant for me, in face of many problems that arose before me, I decided to go ahead to pursue my purpose in life. To my employer I tendered my resignation.
So in September, 1940, I was free to take up full-time Kingdom work. Immediately I was sent by the Society as company servant to a congregation in the South Island. I had little knowledge and experience, and I personally felt quite incapable of carrying out this assignment. However, prayer to Jehovah and leaning on him for guidance helped me in those months to fulfill my obligations. A month later the zone servant wrote asking for help from the congregation to advertise and put on the transcription lecture “Government and Peace” in a town about a hundred miles to the north. There much opposition arose. During the lecture mob action occurred. My companion, a fellow usher, fell back with a bullet wound in the thigh. Later his leg had to be amputated.
By the end of that month false religionists used this incident for forcing a ban on the Society’s work in New Zealand. The second day of the ban I was privileged to take two good-will persons out in the service for the first time, but the following day I was arrested, along with another brother, for having possession of the Society’s literature. In December we were sentenced to two months’ imprisonment. Soon immediate release was offered if we would renounce Jehovah by refusing to carry on our dedicated work. Now there were six of us, and we all refused to compromise. After serving the jail term we all keenly realized we had a work to do, that the main thing was not to look behind but to continue to stretch out for things ahead.
In December, 1941, I was detained as a conscientious objector, for the duration of the war. Early in 1946 I was offered release if I would accept secular work. Having entered as a full-time minister, I believed I should return to the same occupation on release, and informed the authorities accordingly. Then I was told that I would “rot in prison till your Armageddon.” However, in April of the same year the authorities forced me to leave and report for secular work. Two tribunals refused to grant me exemption but, regardless, I returned to the full-time ministry and informed the minister of justice accordingly. The blessing of Jehovah was seen on my course of action when a reply was received from the minister of justice granting me the right “to return to your previous occupation as a minister of religion,” the occupation they had refused to acknowledge four and a half years previously.
During those years of detention I heard of the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead having been opened. I often expressed the hope that someday I might have opportunity to attend and enjoy the privilege of going to other countries to preach the Word. But at that time the realization of such hope seemed a long way off, if not impossible. After twelve months of happy service, how gratified I was to learn (during the visit of Brother Knorr in March, 1947) that because of continuing in full-time ministerial work after release from prison my pioneer time was counted as unbroken! Although it was now seven years since my dedication, I had spent over four and a half years of that time in prison because of my beliefs; yet I had the two years of full-time ministry needed to qualify for Gilead training, so could immediately fill out my application. Later in the same year I was sent to New Plymouth as a special pioneer and it was there, during the visit of the circuit servant, that we both rejoiced to receive notification to proceed to New York in time to be enrolled for Gilead’s eleventh class of February, 1948.
Before my leaving for the United States the opportunity was granted me to visit my parents and some of my family who, ten years previously, had left New Zealand and entered the full-time service in the Australian branch Bethel home. Here I was surprised to find that my two sisters also had been invited to attend the same Gilead class. December, 1947, we embarked on the Marine Phoenix at Sydney for San Francisco, along with sixteen other brothers from Australia and New Zealand. The three-week voyage across the Pacific gave me a glimpse of what my future assignment could be like as we called at ports in Fiji and Samoa. At San Francisco a few days’ rest allowed us to find our land legs and then we were off on the last stage of our journey to New York. There we arrived, right from the tropics, in the coldest spell experienced for many years.
Many already have written about the beautiful surroundings and joys of Gilead, and of knowledge received there to deepen and strengthen faith for future years of service. Gilead training was to be a source, as I have proved, to draw upon in years ahead for overcoming in hardships and trials. Time spent at that wonderful school was all too short. Soon my sisters and I, along with three others, received our assignments for Singapore. Until passages could be arranged I was assigned to do preconvention work for a Chicago district assembly. My previous biggest assembly had been one of six hundred in New Zealand. So I remember the great thrill it gave me to be one of sixteen thousand brothers present at Chicago. After that I went on to Oregon as circuit servant.
By January I was reunited with my companions at Galveston, Texas, to embark for Singapore. This two-month journey took us to places that to us previously had been only names on maps: Japan, Philippines, Macassar and Indonesia. Only in the Philippines had Gilead graduates then begun to work. We found conditions very primitive, battle-scarred from war years; but it gave us opportunity to get the feel of the Orient. Strange to say, we were to view our assignment a week before actually landing, for our ship steamed by Singapore, a few hundred yards from the shore, proceeding first to another port five hundred miles to the north before finally docking at Singapore in March, 1949.
Singapore, I found, was in comparison one of the most modern cities in the East but experienced an almost continuous and unvaried heat with high humidity, which affects one considerably over the years. How bizarre were those scenes we witnessed in those days, on religious feast occasions of Malay, Chinese and Indian peoples! What a kaleidoscope of races, color and religion! I had to change many of my ideas about the people. Previously I believed that the Chinese were an unsmiling and stolid race, but I found them ready to laugh at the slightest thing—sometimes at a most inappropriate moment, as when a person had been killed in a car accident: They would cry “Sudah mati” (“He is dead”), and lapse into roars of laughter.
My early wrestlings with the Malay language must have brought others much amusement too, as I often used kelapa (coconut) instead of kepala (head) and rumput (grass) instead of rambut (hair)! Now our living conditions compare equally with anything we had in our home country.
Two Gilead graduates had preceded us to Singapore and a small congregation had been formed; so we were able to start right in on organized work. I found witnessing quite pleasant, as in most places we would be invited inside the house and could sit down to give our testimony. The people, for the most part, are pleasant and courteous; but for the first few years the difficulty of many languages was a very wearying experience, together with the people’s illiteracy coupled with extreme superstition. The language one had learned was still not enough to serve for teaching all the people of different dialects and languages. However, willingness of those genuinely interested in the truth to learn the English language generally settled the problem, and I have happy memories of those who progressed to maturity in this way.
Over the years I have held as many as twenty-two home Bible studies a month, but for a great number of reasons most students did not mature. Along with other missionaries I often thought of what could be done to stimulate these and wondered why they would not progress. But as we continued to sow and water and await Jehovah’s giving the increase we did see the eventual increase in the congregation. What a comfort to look back over the years and realize that here in Singapore we have a healthy congregation of many nationalities, faithfully doing their share of the preaching work!
My work has carried me farther afield than Singapore, which is the branch headquarters for Borneo as well as Malaya—a region extending five hundred miles to the north and six hundred miles to the east. At the end of 1953 I became part-time circuit servant for the three congregations and isolated publishers scattered over this vast area. Some of these had had no visible contact with others of the New World society. While sitting in some Chinese hotel at night I have often thought on the faithful work these isolated brothers are doing and what a privilege it has been to be able to give fellowship and spiritual comfort to them as we keep on doing this missionary work.
Six short years having passed, when I returned to my assignment spiritually uplifted and refreshed by the joys of the 1955 London, Paris and Nuremberg assemblies, I prayed to be further enriched by right works, pursuing my purpose in life to stay and complete the preaching of the Kingdom good news at this end of the earth while Armageddon draws on apace.
A few months ago I was given a new assignment as missionary in Kuala Lumpur, Malaya. There is much work to be done in this field and it is a real joy to be able to help those of good will to grow in Christian understanding and maturity. I also have the pleasure of visiting the other congregations and isolated publishers from time to time as circuit servant. This is a field where the need is great, and it is grand to be sharing in the spread of the truth. As I write this I too am looking forward to being at the international convention in New York this summer of 1958, and then to return to my assignment here in Malaya.