Bodily Training or Godly Devotion—Which?
As told by Adrian Thompson
RUGBY football was my father’s big interest in life. So from the time I was old enough to walk, I went along with him to the gymnasium on Monday nights and to the football ground on Saturday afternoons. From as far back as I can remember, I would wake up on my birthday every year and find a new football beside my pillow. During the football season I was usually home late for the evening meal, and home then only because it was too dark to see the ball anymore.
Though my father was more interested in sports than in the Bible, my mother took a deep interest in God’s Word of truth. When I was only four years old, we attended a Bible lecture entitled “Millions Now Living Will Never Die,” given by Watch Tower Society representative A. Howlett when he visited Wellington, New Zealand. My mother recognized the message in the lecture as the truth.
Thus, from time to time when it was too rainy to go outside, I can recall sitting on the sofa reading the Scenario of the Photo-Drama of Creation, a book that told the true-life story of the Bible in pictures as well as in written text. Then on Sundays I went along with the family to the meetings of the Christian congregation, and heard different ones give reports on how they used their time to serve God.
However, while I was taking in a little Bible knowledge, I was developing more than average ability as a football player. With New Zealand having a climate ideally suited for outdoor sports, my time was taken up virtually every Saturday throughout the year with playing football. After my entering college, this meant travel to other cities for intercollegiate games. Then, after graduation, I was selected to play for the local province and to participate in trials to select the national team to tour South Africa. Though I enjoyed learning about the Bible, there was no doubt that sports, and football in particular, was my prime interest in life.
A TIME OF DECISION
The time was certain to come when I would have to make a decision. The Christian apostle Paul had stated it clearly to the young man Timothy: “Bodily training is beneficial for a little; but godly devotion is beneficial for all things.” (1 Tim. 4:8) So, which would I choose? World events brought me face to face with this decision.
World War II broke out. To encourage enrollment in the military forces, sportsmen were offered commissions. I was offered the rank of captain in the Army. Here was a challenge! What would I do?
From what I had learned from the Bible, I knew that participation in war did not harmonize with Christian principles. Even though not baptized as a dedicated follower of Jesus Christ, I shared to some extent in preaching the good news of God’s kingdom. So I could see that the time had come for me to make my decision. I decided for godly devotion, and in January 1940 I was baptized in symbol of my dedication to Jehovah God.
As New Zealand was then under the supervision of the Watch Tower Society’s branch office in Sydney, Australia, I immediately applied to work there. I was accepted, and one of my first assignments in Bethel, as the branch home is called, was peeling potatoes with white-haired Brother Johnson, who had served in South Africa for some years and later as branch overseer in Australia. I can still remember his saying that he considered it a great privilege to do any kind of work in Bethel.
With Australia intensifying its war effort, it was not long till the conscription issue came up again, and I was one of five single men from Bethel who were required to report. I requested deferment on the grounds that I was a “theology student,” and the issue was argued in court for several months. Without warning, though, in January 1941, Jehovah’s witnesses were banned by the government, and, along with my four Christian brothers, I went to jail.
VISITING MY CHRISTIAN BROTHERS UNDER BAN
Upon release from jail, I was assigned to work on one of the Society’s farms in Australia. Then in 1942 came word that the arrangement for a representative of the Society to visit congregations to help and encourage them (now called circuit overseer work) would start again. I was invited to share in this work. Since the Christian preaching was still under ban, there were many challenges to be met.
Take, for example, the work in Adelaide, South Australia. The public ministry had virtually come to a halt, for the Witnesses there were out of contact with the branch office and were not sure of what to do. But after my meeting with those having oversight of the two congregations in the city, plans were made to start the public ministry again. Jehovah richly blessed their efforts.
With the lifting of the ban in June 1943, it was easier to travel and visit the congregations. In time, I visited all the congregations and groups in the country, including those living right in the heart of the continent, where the train was scheduled to operate on a once-a-week basis.
GILEAD SCHOOL AND SERVICE IN THE UNITED STATES
Toward the end of 1947, I was preparing to travel to the United States to attend the Watch Tower Bible School of Gilead. The eleventh class of this missionary school, in the early part of 1948, was the second international one. Soon after the start of the course, the school’s president, N. H. Knorr, announced that it was now possible for missionaries to go to Japan. But as conditions would be totally different from what any of the missionaries had experienced, he called for volunteers to go there. Most of the one hundred students volunteered to go, and about twenty-five were selected to start studying the Japanese language. All too quickly the course ended, and we were advised that we would wait in the United States until living quarters in Japan were arranged.
While waiting, I was assigned as circuit overseer in the state of Arizona, also visiting congregations in Nevada and California. It was a happy year and reminded me of the Kingdom work in Australia; congregations were relatively small and there were long distances to travel.
MISSIONARY WORK IN JAPAN
Since there was not even one active witness of Jehovah in Japan, one from among our group, Don Haslett, went on ahead of the rest of us to arrange for living quarters. He arrived in December 1948, and after he made the necessary arrangements for us, we left for Japan in the fall of 1949.
When we arrived in Japan, we learned that a missionary home in Kobe city had been purchased for our use. As soon as we were settled, we began to preach the good news of God’s kingdom. But it was not easy. Our understanding of the language was inadequate. Also, although we had the Japanese Bible, the only literature we had in Japanese was the second volume of the book Light, published in 1930, and a booklet. And then there was the postwar economic condition of the people; they were working very long hours seven days a week.
Nobody among the foreigners living in Japan envisioned our having much success. This was forcefully brought to my attention one day when I was picking up our supply of rationed bread. A Britisher who had lived for forty years in Japan said to another missionary and me that he could not see where his church or any of the churches had succeeded in making many Christians. Then he suggested that we would be doing something of more practical value if we were to work as dentists or doctors. We thanked him for his opinion and continued to study the Japanese language and to preach, realizing the urgency of the times.
Now, over twenty years later, there are more than 14,500 true Christians associating with the 334 congregations of Jehovah’s witnesses in Japan. Jehovah has richly blessed the work of Kingdom-preaching and disciple-making in Japan.
CIRCUIT AND DISTRICT OVERSEER PRIVILEGES
In 1951 the Watch Tower Society’s president, N. H. Knorr, made his first visit to Japan. There were then small congregations in five of the six largest cities, and it was timely for the circuit overseer work to begin. I was appointed as circuit overseer. But since the number of places to visit was few, the Society arranged for me to spend two weeks where missionaries were located. During my second week with them, I would teach them the Japanese language for an hour each morning and night. Then, on the second Sunday, I gave another public talk.
Reviewing my first time around the circuit in the spring of 1951 helps one to see how much the work has prospered in the past twenty years. After serving the Tokyo congregation, which had about forty persons associating with it, my next visit was at Ichinomaki in Miyagi prefecture, about nine hours by train from Tokyo. Brother and Sister Miura lived there, and it was a privilege to encourage and to be encouraged by them. They had been in the full-time preaching work before World War II, and because of his stand on Christian neutrality, Brother Miura was put in jail—in Hiroshima. He was still there in jail when the atomic bomb was dropped on the city, but he came out of it uninjured, and after the war he was able to resume preaching the good news along with his family.
My next call was at a town just below Wakkanai city, situated on the uppermost tip of the northern island of Hokkaido. Here, there was just one person who had done some preaching. These were the only Kingdom proclaimers north of Tokyo. To the south, there were missionaries and small congregations in Yokohama, Nagoya, Osaka and Kobe.
Apart from these places there were Brother and Sister Ishii in Kure city and Brother Hayashi in Kagoshima city, all of whom were associating with God’s people before World War II. So that meant my visiting about one hundred persons in nine cities, not far from the number that began to preach on the day of Pentecost 33 C.E. There was one big difference, however, and that was the much larger population in Japan, more than 70 million at the time.
Being a foreigner, I found that visiting my Japanese Christian brothers provided its share of interesting moments. Rice and raw fish were the basic meal. This was not too easy to get used to, but was delicious once I got my thinking lined up and my stomach adjusted. And rooming? Most Japanese homes do not have solid walls. Rather, they have sliding-type walls that usually do not have any locks. With young, inquisitive children in the home, one need not be surprised if the door opens suddenly at any time. Out in the country areas there were people who had never seen a foreigner at close range. Many were the opportunities to satisfy their curiosity and to let them know why I came to Japan.
In 1955 I married Norrine Miller, who was doing missionary work in Nagoya city after being airlifted out of Korea at the start of the war there in 1950. Shortly thereafter, I was assigned to do district work, and Norrine accompanied me.
When we visited the city of Iwakuni, not far from Hiroshima, we met a man who was studying the Bible with the Witnesses and who had progressed to the point that he wanted to be baptized. He invited the circuit overseer and us to eat the evening meal with him and his family two days before a circuit assembly was due to begin. After the meal, he asked me to go upstairs with him. As we sat down, he opened his photo album and showed me a picture of a British general surrendering to the Japanese during World War II Then he pointed to a Japanese soldier in the photo and said that it was he himself! Now, with his military record, he wanted to know, Would Jehovah recognize his dedication? It was a privilege to discuss the matter with him and assure him that he was taking the approved course, even as the military officer Cornelius had done in the first century C.E. He was baptized and continues to serve as an overseer in the Christian congregation.
So, by putting godly devotion first in my life I have enjoyed many benefits of “the life now.” I have enjoyed more than thirty years of full-time preaching work. But that is not all! As the apostle Paul goes on to say: “Godly devotion . . . holds promise of the life . . . which is to come.” So, I am happy that I made the right decision to what was the big question in my life: Bodily training or godly devotion—which?—1 Tim. 4:8.