‘Recommending Ourselves as God’s Ministers’
As told by Finda, Felisa and Inés Carvajalino
WE ARE three of nine children born to devout Roman Catholic parents in the town of Ocaña, in northern Colombia. In 1919, when just eleven years old, I, Finda, had the following experience at school:
My teacher, a nun, who used to teach us from a large, illustrated Bible, shocked us one day. She revealed that she was distressed with life in the convent. She even advised us against entering it when we became of age. To our surprise, she expressed her conviction that the Catholic religion was not the true one but said that ‘when the end of the world drew near, people would come teaching the true religion.’ Little did I then realize that I would someday be counted among those people and would thereby have the opportunity to ‘recommend myself’ as one of God’s servants too.—2 Cor. 6:4.
In 1929 our family moved to the village of Aracataca in the neighboring province of Magdalena. While we were living there our waning confidence in the Catholic religion received another setback. One of the parish priests was aware that we had not gone to confession for some time and he wanted to know why. When we told him it was to avoid contact with one of the other priests, he acknowledged that the latter was guilty of bad conduct. So he granted us permission to take Communion in the future without first having to confess. We reasoned: ‘Either the confession is worthless or the Communion has no value.’
While living in Aracataca, our three younger brothers died of malaria within a two-year period. Our father also died at that time. That left Antonio, our oldest brother, in charge of the family. By that time he had been indoctrinated in Communism, and he became a militant member of the Communist party. When his life was threatened by jealous rival members, we begged him to move the family to the large coastal city of Barranquilla. He did so in 1946.
GOD’S TRUTH FINDS US
In 1948 a missionary of Jehovah’s Christian witnesses, James Webster, came to our door. He spoke with our brother and left him the booklet ‘The Meek Inherit the Earth.’ On reading it, we found information about a marvelous future that until then was unknown to us.
Months later, after we had moved, another Watch Tower missionary, Olaf Olson, visited our home. Although Antonio was no longer an active Communist, he still held to Communist doctrine. When this Witness spoke about Theocracy, Antonio thought that what he really meant was Communism. We overheard enough of the conversation to know that the missionary was not talking about Communism.
After this Witness had a number of discussions with our brother, we decided it was time to make ourselves known. So the next time he visited, we came out of the interior room where we did dressmaking and said to him: “Look, Señor. Our brother talks about Communism, but we’re not in agreement with him. Having read the publications you’ve left, we find they speak of God and his kingdom. We understand that it is God who is going to solve the problems and not the political governments.” Then it was that Witness Olson placed a Bible with us and offered to study it free of charge in our home with the aid of the Bible study aid “The Truth Shall Make You Free.”
In August 1948 we began to study God’s Word. Appreciating the need to help others to know God’s truth, we went out in the house-to-house ministry four months later. Early the following year we dedicated ourselves to Jehovah, and were baptized in water with our brother, Antonio, and our older sister, Eusebia. In recommending ourselves as God’s ministers, we cannot but think of the many times since then that we have made that same offer of a free home Bible study to others anxious to learn the truth of God’s Word.
As the first Witness missionaries had just started preaching in Barranquilla in 1946, there were not many of us associated with the congregation of Jehovah’s Christian witnesses there in those days. But how the congregation grew! By the end of 1951 there were two congregations.
As time went by, we were engaging more and more in the preaching work and devoting less and less time to our secular work. It was not long until we had sold some of our household items, including three of our four sewing machines.
FIRST ASSIGNMENT AS FULL-TIME PREACHERS
Early in 1953, James Webster, who at that time was in charge of the Watch Tower Society’s branch in Colombia, planned a trip to the small inland city of Montería, in the province of Córdoba. Our brother, who was then in the full-time preaching work, offered to go along. When the branch servant returned a few days later, Antonio remained behind in Montería, where he later received an appointment to special full-time ministry.
On returning to Barranquilla, Brother Webster spoke with us to see if we would like to return with him as full-time preachers of God’s Word. As it had been our desire to enter the full-time ministry for some time, our answer was a unanimous Yes. So he packed all of us, including our mother, older sister and a nephew, Tomás Dangond, into the Watch Tower Society’s station wagon, and we headed for Montería. Just a month after arriving, our aged mother died, and five months later the three of us were appointed as special full-time preachers of God’s Word.
Although Montería was not a big city, it was a commercial center. So we spent considerable time talking about God’s Word on the streets and in the marketplace. (Compare Acts 17:16, 17.) After we had a lively discussion in the marketplace with a prominent lawyer, the local press published the following: “There have arrived in Montería some young ladies skillfully taught in the use of the Bible and who are, therefore, a danger to the Catholic religion. We call this to the attention of the civil and ecclesiastical authorities in order to put an end to that propaganda.”
But we continued to teach Bible truths in and around Montería, staying with interested people. At times we slept on the floor and, once in a while, even on the ground. Starting out early each morning, we would call on all the homes along the road as we walked. The people would inquire as to where we were staying. Thus, on one occasion, upon returning from an enjoyable day in the preaching work, we were surprised to find a group of not less than forty persons waiting for us. So Antonio took advantage of the ready-made audience and gave a public Bible talk.
The Kingdom work went ahead rapidly in Montería. At the end of just one year, there was a congregation of twenty Witnesses, including one local full-time minister. The area that was assigned to us there now forms part of three circuits, so God’s truth has continued to have fine acceptance in the province of Córdoba.
‘WE RECOMMEND OURSELVES AS GOD’S MINISTERS . . . BY PRISON’
The experience we had in our second assignment as full-time ministers reminds us of the apostle Paul’s words: “We recommend ourselves as God’s ministers . . . by prisons.” (2 Cor. 6:4, 5) That assignment took us to a major petroleum center, the river port city of Barrancabermeja. There was already a full-time preacher of God’s Word there, but she needed help. Shortly before we went there Barrancabermeja was declared to be “Catholic mission territory.” This meant that it was out of bounds for proselytizing by other religious groups.
On the second day after our arrival, we were accompanying the local Witness in the preaching work when the four of us were picked up by detectives. We later found out that some Evangelicals had gone to the Catholic bishop with The Watchtower and Awake! to inform him that it was the Witnesses who were distributing these magazines. So the bishop had given the order for our arrest. After arresting us, the police then arrested our brother and nephew and confiscated our Bible literature, twenty cartons of it.
When we refused to pay a fine of 200 pesos each, they sentenced us to three months in jail. Soon we found ourselves in a large, bare cement room with about a dozen other women who were in there for terrible crimes, even murder. Nevertheless, even among these sinful women there were those who seemed anxious to know about the Bible. We were delighted to explain God’s truths to them, using a small Bible we had managed to keep with us. When it came time to bed down for the night, some let us use their straw mats for sleeping, while they slept on the bare cement floor. Then, as soon as all was quiet, out of the sewer came huge white rats.
The next day our brother managed to gain an audience with the military mayor and convinced him that it was a terrible disgrace on his administration to have four Christian women locked up under such deplorable conditions. He asked that our sentences be added to his and to our nephew’s. Strangely enough, the request was granted. So after spending some twenty-four hours in that abominable place, we were released but remained under police surveillance. On our leaving, two of the women inmates, who had listened with pleasure to the Kingdom message, embraced us and asked if we would give them our little Bible, which we were glad to do.
Due to the efforts of James Webster and a cousin of ours who was then a lawyer in Bogotá, the national capital, our brother and nephew were released from jail a week later on the condition that we leave town. Although the office of the President of the Republic had ordered their release and also the return of the confiscated Bible literature, a priest showed himself indisposed to comply with the request. It so happened that he had been guarding the twenty cartons of Bibles and Bible literature in the vestry of the cathedral. He demanded 200 pesos in return for the literature. However, upon being informed of the priest’s demands, the mayor’s office, already smarting under the pressure applied by the Government, ordered a group of soldiers to go to the cathedral and take the literature by force, if necessary. The priest was a little more obliging that time. So the next day when the authorities put us and our belongings on a couple of buses headed for Bucaramanga, the literature was with us.
OUR FIVE YEARS IN BUCARAMANGA
Due to political violence that was common in the area and due to the fact that our work was new to them, the people of Bucaramanga exhibited fear when we began to speak to them. But once they realized the nature of our work, that we had a message of hope based on God’s Word, the reception was far more pleasant. Those who listened would tell their relatives and friends that we were ministers of God explaining the Bible. So the word would spread. In that way we were soon conducting many home Bible studies.
We rented a large, second-floor room in an old hotel in the downtown area, and this is where we stayed for the five years we were in Bucaramanga. We began having meetings of the Christian congregation here too. Before long we had to ask for an adjacent room in which to live so that we could use the large one exclusively for the meetings. On special occasions we would fill both rooms and even have some seated on the stairs.
About the year 1955, I, Finda, met a woman in the door-to-door preaching work who told me that, as Evangelicals, they knew all about the Bible. Nevertheless, she invited me in and listened as I read her several texts that show that Paradise will be restored here on the earth. (Rev. 21:3, 4; Luke 23:43) She wondered how it could be possible when the only hope she was acquainted with was life in heaven. However, she was soon convinced and said she wanted me to speak with her husband.
It turned out that her husband was an Evangelical preacher. At the outset he told me that he would talk with me if only the Bible were used. I accepted. He asked me questions on many subjects that I answered with Bible texts. As I was leaving he said to me: “Señorita, I would like to know what you know.” So I offered him a Bible study for the entire family, which he accepted. Just two weeks later he resigned as Evangelical minister. The family began to associate with God’s true ministers and soon they were sharing these Bible truths with others. He would tell these truths to the Evangelicals and then say: “I would like you to do what I did: abandon a religion that does not teach the truth.”
While preaching Bible truths in Bucaramanga, Antonio met an elderly widow who was dejected. She later confessed that she had been ready to take poison when our brother called. Antonio turned the call over to two of us so that we could study with her. One day she showed us a room that was full of idols. Having so many, she thought she was well protected from thieves. We studied a chapter in the book “Let God Be True” entitled “Use of Images in Worship.” By the time we returned for the next study, she had got rid of her images with the exception of one large one, which she shattered soon thereafter. It was not long until she was baptized and was recommending herself as one of God’s full-time proclaimers of his Word and kingdom. Now, still in the full-time preaching work, and although over seventy years of age, she is, instead of being dejected, noted for her bright hope and smile.
In 1958 our brother, Antonio, died of cancer and our nephew, Tomás Dangond, became the presiding minister. The following year local Witnesses were entrusted with the oversight of the congregation, and we received a new assignment. Today we rejoice in the knowledge that five congregations flourish in Bucaramanga.
CONTRIBUTING TOWARD EXPANSION IN BOGOTÁ
Our new assignment brought us to Bogotá. Many times, while preaching God’s Word here from house to house, we were obliged to flee in the face of mobs instigated by Catholic priests. But by leaving the scene of trouble and resuming our activity in another neighborhood, we continued to be filled with joy. (Compare Acts 13:50-52.) From one congregation in 1959, the work has progressed so that at the present time there are twenty-three congregations here.
While working in Bogotá in 1961, I, Inéz, met a young married woman who responded favorably. A study was started. While in the midst of the study, her mother unexpectedly came in. She wanted to know why her daughter had not told her that she was studying the Bible. Knowing her mother to be such a devout Catholic, the daughter replied that she had been afraid to tell her. The mother asked me various questions, with the result that she requested a study too.
After a few studies, the mother expressed her desire to invite her neighbor to study with us. She called her neighbor on the telephone. “I want to share something with you,” the conversation went. “I’m enjoying an exquisite dish, but I don’t want to eat it alone. I would like you to come over so that you might eat from the same dish.”
The neighbor, who was then almost seventy years old, came. After a few studies, she invited an older sister of hers and her son to join us. Before long three more were invited to sit in. All seven are now baptized and serving Jehovah.
“AS POOR BUT MAKING MANY RICH”
There are many similar experiences that we could relate. They have been a source of joy to us and have spurred us on to continue recommending ourselves as God’s ministers. We believe that, like the apostle Paul, we can say: “In every way we recommend ourselves as God’s ministers . . . as poor but making many rich, as having nothing and yet possessing all things.”—2 Cor. 6:4, 10.
Materially speaking, we are poor. We have trusted in Jehovah to provide us with the necessary material things. (Matt. 6:33) Through his organization he has cared well for us. With our older sister, Eusebia, who has been a full-time preacher of God’s Word since 1958, we now live behind the South Unit Kingdom Hall here in Bogotá.
However poor we may be in a material way, we are indeed rich in a spiritual sense. And by means of our sharing the truth of God’s Word with others, we can truthfully say that we have made others rich. Since moving to Bucaramanga in 1954, it has been our unspeakable joy to be used by Jehovah in helping 210 persons to dedicate their lives to him and symbolize their dedication by water baptism. How many more we have helped in an indirect way, we do not know. We boast, not in ourselves, but rather in Jehovah.—1 Cor. 1:31.
We count it a joy to study the Bible with persons who show themselves anxious to become servants of Jehovah. We have love and warm affection for them. They become as dearly beloved children to us. So, although we have seen fit to apply the advice of the apostle Paul to remain in the single state in order to devote ourselves to the service of the Lord “without distraction,” we have certainly not been without family. (1 Cor. 7:34, 35) On the contrary, we have had spiritual fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters, and children added to us, namely, those “who hear the word of God and do it,” all as a result of our recommending ourselves as God’s ministers.—Luke 8:21; Mark 10:29, 30.