Pursuing My Purpose in Life
As told by A. E. Wicke
“WHAT shall I repay to Jehovah for all his benefits to me?” (Ps. 116:12) Well might I ask myself that question as I sit at my desk in a comfortable missionary home in Penang, Malaya, going over the events of my life. It has been a very busy life, taking me into many different places with many undeserved privileges and blessings. How thankful I can be that when still young I made the full-time service of Jehovah my purpose in life! Let me tell you how I came to this far-reaching decision.
Back in 1930, when I was twenty, I had my first contact with Jehovah’s witnesses. My God-fearing parents had brought me up as a Lutheran and had instilled in me a love and respect for the Bible, but at that time I was not taking any particular interest in religion. However, a friend invited me to a transcription lecture by Judge Rutherford at a city theater in Sydney, Australia. While waiting for it to begin a zealous Bible Student put a copy of The Watch Tower into my hand, which at that time bore the subtitle “Herald of Christ’s Presence.” I must confess that this prejudiced me and consequently I did not particularly appreciate the lecture. How could anyone speak of Christ as being present? I was prevailed upon to keep an open mind and make an unbiased examination of the matter by reading the book Creation. It was not long before I became completely convinced that this was the truth. At once I began to associate with a study group and attended the regular congregational meetings, enlarging my understanding.
My revived interest in religion rather surprised my family. My father, believing me to be in error about what I was now learning, gave me pamphlet after pamphlet to read. But the more I examined these supposed “exposures” of our beliefs the more my faith in the truth was strengthened.
CHOICE OF A CAREER
However, I had another major interest: I was studying music, with ambitions to make a name as a composer and conductor. An opportunity came in 1931 to return to the land of my birth and further my studies in Munich, Germany. There I plunged deeply into musical activities, yet not forsaking the assembling with Jehovah’s witnesses both in meetings and field service, receiving valuable counsel and instruction from the energetic congregation servant, Johann Koelbl. More and more I found myself torn between two loves: love of music and love of the truth. An inspiring talk by a visiting servant finally opened my eyes. Clearly he showed two worlds in conflict, Satan’s old dying world versus Jehovah’s triumphant New World under Christ Jesus the King. Where would my worldly ambitions lead? “What benefit will it be to a man if he gains the whole world but forfeits his soul?” (Matt. 16:26) How really simple the choice. Then and there my dedication to Jehovah took place and determination to make the full-time ministry my purpose in life was born.
Having received an invitation to serve at the Strathfield branch office of the Watch Tower Society, I returned to Australia, thus, by Jehovah’s undeserved kindness, escaping the terrible persecutions our brothers in Germany suffered a few months later. And so, in November, 1932, my career as a full-time servant in Jehovah’s organization began. Four interesting years in various capacities at the office followed. Then, in 1937, I was sent to work at the Society’s depot in Singapore and to witness among the people of this city of many races and religions—a fascinating assignment. In the course of the work I was privileged to visit not only many places in Malaya but also India, Burma and Indonesia.
PIONEER SERVICE IN MALAYA
In 1939 I decided to marry. A brother was sent to take my place at the Society’s office, and so for the first time I entered the pioneer ranks. How would I fare? First I joined a German pioneer, Brother Kurt Gruber, in Penang, some five hundred miles to the north. After the comforts and conveniences of living at the Society’s home this meant roughing it a bit, living in a small Chinese hotel room lacking modern conveniences and amenities, eating Chinese food, putting up with unpleasant odors and noises, while perspiring profusely and continuously in the tropical heat. But none of these things mattered. Getting out into the field daily, finding many people of different races—Chinese, Indians, Malays, Eurasians, Europeans, and so forth—glad to hear the Kingdom message and willingly taking literature explaining it, frequently enjoying their hospitality; these joys far outweighed the discomforts. At the same time I felt a greater sense of freedom as well as responsibility, appreciating that a territory had been entrusted to me and I was responsible to see that the message was offered to all the people in it, rich and poor, high and low, regardless of race or religion. This realization helped me to recognize what a great privilege pioneering is.
Having found my feet, so to speak, as a pioneer, I arranged for my wife-to-be to join me. As she too had been in the full-time service for many years, I was confident she would enjoy pioneering in Malaya. She arrived in Singapore just a few days after the outbreak of World War II. Together we systematically combed our territory. We learned sufficient Malay to give a brief witness to those unable to speak English and thus distributed many thousands of pieces of literature.
WORK UNDER BAN
Time went by. Came January, 1941, and news that the work had been banned in Australia. Simultaneously most of our publications were banned in the colony of Singapore, and shortly thereafter in the Federated Malay States. We were located in a small country town. Arriving home late one evening, we found a police officer awaiting us to confiscate our Bible literature. For a short time we continued to work farther south, until the ban was extended over the entire country. Then there was nothing left to do but to return to Singapore.
We carried on for a while using only the Bible. But the government wanted us out of the country. Endeavors to transfer to India, Burma, Siam, Hong Kong, Java or the Philippines all failed, and so in July, 1941, we reluctantly sailed for Australia, little knowing that thus we would escape the Japanese drive south, which began less than five months later.
In 1943 a number of brothers in key positions were banished to various country towns where they were to remain incommunicado. I was restricted to Taree, N.S.W. Before long my wife joined me and we pioneered in this town, finding some fine interest and establishing a number of home Bible studies. To our joy several of these have become publishers, one family of three later joining the pioneer ranks. Then came the High Court victory and the lifting of the ban.
SERVICE IN AUSTRALIA
After a few months at the Society’s office to help with the reorganization we were assigned as special pioneers to Dubbo, N.S.W. Here we had to contend with scorching heat, dust storms and flies, alternating with cold and rain. We worked the town and a wide radius of farms and sheep stations on bicycles loaded with phonographs, records and books. It was strenuous, but Jehovah blessed us with many encouraging experiences and we had the privilege of establishing a small Kingdom Hall there, which, I believe, continues in use to this day. Our next assignment was Wagga, N.S.W., where we spent about eighteen months building up and strengthening the local congregation.
Then came a memorable assembly in Sydney in 1947 on the occasion of Brother Knorr’s first visit to Australia, during which we had the opportunity of making preliminary application for Gilead. Shortly after this we were appointed to circuit work in Victoria. How we appreciated our enlarged service privileges, though often conscious of our inadequacies! Nine months later came that thrilling day when we received our invitations to Gilead’s eleventh class.
BACK TO SINGAPORE
Would we be able to manage the course? Fittingly we received a communication from a relative encouraging us with Philippians 4:13: “For all things I have the strength by virtue of him who imparts power to me.” Not in our own strength would we succeed but by Jehovah’s help and undeserved kindness. Gilead proved an unforgettable experience. We loved every minute of it, keenly appreciating all the good training, counsel and instruction. How quickly graduation day came around! Where would we be assigned? Back to Singapore! We were delighted. After four months of circuit work in beautiful Colorado, we joined four fellow graduates from the eleventh class and embarked for Singapore, arriving there in March, 1949, after a long but very interesting journey. We were warmly welcomed by the two Canadian missionaries already stationed there.
Accommodation was quite a problem, but eventually a fine home was obtained by the Society and we settled down to life as a missionary family. Soon we had our hands full with home Bible studies, which were easy to arrange, especially with the younger educated Chinese and Indians, and the congregation began to grow as some came along to meetings and started field service. How different from the work of ten years before! Now it was a steady planting and watering. At first it seemed that growth would be rapid; but then we found that many “plants” required prolonged tender care before they could mature and bear fruit. Some seemed to progress fine for a time, even starting out in the service, but then fell back to the attractions of the old world, much to our disappointment. So we learned to be patient and persevering, and our combined efforts were rewarded with steady progress. What a joy it was to see one of the first ones with whom I studied, a young Chinese professing Buddhism, who knew nothing about the Bible, become a very diligent Bible student, making progress, taking part in meetings and field service and developing into a mature brother! Today he is the overseer of the Singapore congregation.
GROWTH IN PENANG
In 1955, not long after returning to Singapore from a visit to Australia, we were pleasantly surprised to receive a new assignment to beautiful Penang Island. A Macedonian call had come from two Chinese schoolgirls, brought up as Buddhists, who had come to an understanding of the truth almost unaided, simply from reading “The Truth Shall Make You Free.” They needed guidance and training, and it was our happy privilege to provide this. A congregation was organized and I was appointed overseer. Regular activities were started and meetings held in a little private school until, about a year later, we were able to move into a missionary home and set up a Kingdom Hall as a center for theocratic expansion.
In Penang we found the people very conservative and steeped in Buddhist and other traditions. Nevertheless, especially among the younger generation we found many willing to study the Bible. The greatest difficulty is to get the truth not just into their heads but into their hearts. Many apparently good prospects have turned out disappointments. However, a number have become active Witnesses and dedicated their lives to Jehovah, among them the two above-mentioned girls who, after completing their schooling, saw their privilege of pursuing their purpose in life as pioneers. To our great joy they were invited to Gilead’s thirty-first class. Not only that, but due to the generosity of the brothers, our joy was made complete when we ourselves were present to see them graduate at Yankee Stadium on July 27, 1958, on the occasion of the unforgettable Divine Will International Assembly in New York city. Incidentally, until then the largest assembly to which we had been had only a few over 7,000 in attendance. Now, here we found ourselves among a vast throng of over a quarter of a million. It is hard to describe our feelings and our deep sense of gratitude to Jehovah for all his goodness.
Our return journey to Malaya took us via Europe. Wherever we went we were welcomed by brothers of the New World society. What a wonderful family of which to be a member! In Munich we were entertained by none other than the still-energetic and active Brother Koelbl and his wife, under whose guidance I had begun to pursue my purpose in life—a delightful reunion after twenty-six years.
Privileges in Jehovah’s full-time service seem to be unending. Hardly had we returned to Penang when I received an appointment as district servant. So during the past eighteen months my regular missionary work has been interspersed with serving the various circuit assemblies in Malaya and Singapore, as well as a month’s visit to Borneo to serve the scattered brothers and persons of good will there, some of whom had had no contact with the organization for several years.
In Penang itself the congregation is growing gradually in maturity as well as in numbers. Especially happifying is the fact that during the four years of our work here seven others have copied our example of making the pioneer service their vocation.
Looking back now I can hardly believe that it is already twenty-eight years since I entered the full-time service. Being so crowded with theocratic activities, they have just sped by. True, it has involved much hard work and shouldering many responsibilities. There have been trials too when things did not run as smoothly as one would wish. But we can testify to the correctness of Philippians 4:13. We have learned to look to Jehovah and rely upon him. Never for an instant have I regretted setting aside all worldly ambitions. The joys and blessings experienced in the service of our New World King have surpassed immeasurably anything this old world could have offered. Having spent some fifteen years in Malaya, it has become home to us. We love the missionary work and we like our assignment. Our sincere desire is to continue to be used by Jehovah in expanding his happy, peaceful and united family in this part of the field.
Are you a young man or young woman dedicated to Jehovah but undecided about your choice of a career? Let me urge you to choose the pioneer service, making it your purpose in life to have a larger share in Jehovah’s vindication. As for me, “What shall I repay to Jehovah for all his benefits to me?” With the psalmist I want to answer: “To you I shall offer the sacrifice of thanksgiving, and on the name of Jehovah I shall call. My vows I shall pay to Jehovah, yes, in front of all his people.”—Ps. 116:12, 17, 18.