‘I Am Grateful to God and Christ’
As told by John Charuk
THE syncopated rhythm of African drums interrupt the stillness and quiet of the night, only to fade away into the background as I complete the circuit overseer’s report on the Zorzor congregation of Jehovah’s witnesses. Zorzor is located in the hinterlands of the Republic of Liberia on the West Coast of Africa. This is thousands of miles from my home in Alberta, Canada. How did I get here to serve my Christian brothers?
It began about thirty-six years ago. In 1937 an issue of The Golden Age (now Awake!) found its way into our home. The article “The Hope of the Nations” opened up a vision of a new order and filled me with a new hope. This article began to dispel my youthful dreams of attending a university and becoming a scientist. Now my mind was absorbed with thoughts of God’s kingdom and with the hope of living on the earth forever. My heart throbbed with joy because of these new truths, leaving me with a longing, a consuming desire to follow the example of Jesus Christ and his apostles in preaching the good news of the Kingdom.
A few days later I attended a house party. Unbelievably, here I came upon another copy of The Golden Age! Eagerly I grasped it! For the remainder of the evening I was oblivious to the merrymaking of the other guests and was absorbed in reading and rereading the article on the subject “Armageddon.” The importance of proclaiming the good news in the short remaining time was emphasized. How was I to get started in this all-important work? There was no one to instruct me. I was greatly disturbed. Many times I prayed with tears that Jehovah would open up the way for me to get into his service before Armageddon.
A year and a half later we moved to where a small congregation of Jehovah’s witnesses was established. The first meeting I attended required walking a distance of four miles each way. During the meeting an announcement was made about advertising the public Bible talk. Who would like to share? Instantly my hand went up! Later, arriving at the appointed place, I found that the group was gone. They had met earlier, as no one else was expected. Fearing the end would come at any time, I took some handbills and got started on my own. That was in 1939, and I have been in the ministry ever since, grateful to God for this privilege. I feel much like the apostle Paul, who said: “I am grateful to Christ Jesus our Lord, who imparted power to me, because he considered me faithful by assigning me to a ministry.”—1 Tim. 1:12; Matt. 24:14.
BAPTISM AND TESTS OF FAITH
In 1940 I symbolized my dedication to Jehovah by water baptism. Fulfilling my desire to get into the ministry full time, I left home with $10 in my pocket and a few things in a small handbag and entered the full-time preaching work. Ever since then Jehovah has provided amply for my material needs. Materially I have more now than when I started full-time service.
Serving Jehovah in those years was a real test of faith. World War II had increased the spirit of nationalism to the boiling point. One tall, broad-shouldered householder literally kicked me off his porch down a flight of seven steps and then cursed me for being a mere boy and not a man, so he could beat me to a pulp because of my Christian, neutral stand on the war issue. (John 17:16; 18:36) I knew from Jesus’ words that persecution would come upon a true Christian and I was willing to endure. (John 15:19-21) Then came a ban on Jehovah’s witnesses in Canada, and being a true Christian became even more difficult.
While in prison in 1943 due to the military issue, I learned of the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead, for training missionaries. It imbued me with a missionary desire, and this hope was a sustaining factor during confinements. Then things began to happen. I was released from prison. The ban was lifted, the war ended, and finally came an invitation to Gilead School’s twelfth class in 1948.
Soon after graduation I was sailing across the ocean to Africa. Permission to stay in the Gold Coast, now the Republic of Ghana, was not granted, so I went on to Nigeria, where I spent three busy and happy years. For the past twenty years I have served here in Liberia.
The missionary work, of course, has entailed some hardships, inconveniences and problems, all of which test one’s faith. The second day after arriving at the Gold Coast I was struck down by dysentery. In a weakened and shaky state I began missionary service. Here I was, unaccustomed to the heat, and trying to adjust to a strange land, the language and customs of which I did not understand. Yes, I thought of home; however, there was no thought of returning home. I was grateful for this assignment from Jehovah, and I was determined to stay as long as Jehovah wanted me here.
At first, I had difficulty distinguishing one person from another. Every face looked alike. Calling back on interested people, I did not know whether I was talking to the person who had initially shown the interest or to a different individual. Gradually the problem was overcome. Today, by the features of an individual, I am able to distinguish of which of the major tribes of Liberia he is a descendant. I feel I am just as much at home on the African continent as the African himself.
THREE YEARS IN NIGERIA
During the three years I was in Nigeria, I had the privilege of visiting scores of places and seeing the interesting ways of the different tribes, such as the Yoruba, Ibo, Urhobo, Efik, Kwale and Benin. While serving as a district overseer, I sometimes had the privilege in connection with the circuit assembly to give three or four public talks. The assembly program was arranged for early afternoon to avoid the problems of lighting and the hordes of insects that are attracted by bright lights. At the end of the program for each day many Witnesses on cycles would visit a nearby town to witness, and a public talk would be delivered in conjunction with their witnessing.
Generally, long after the talk, people could be heard discussing what was said, some for, others against. After nearly every talk people would hand in their names with remarks such as, “We want to become Jehovah’s witnesses; help us to learn the truth,” or, “From now on we are resigning from the church to associate with you people.”
There were many heartwarming experiences. During the Aja Gbodudu circuit assembly, the Witnesses called on certain juju worshipers. Some of these saw the folly of their false religious practices. The next day the Witnesses returned to visit these people. “What are we to do with our jujus?” they asked. “Destroy them!” came the reply. “Will you help us?” “Gladly!”
In true Gideon fashion they began removing the jujus from their places. This caused great commotion. The villagers gathered quickly. Some came to protest. The Witnesses were determined to do a thorough job. One Witness answered the protesters in the manner of Gideon’s father: ‘If the jujus are gods, let them fight and save themselves.’ (Judg. 6:28-31) How helpless the jujus were! The Witnesses junked them into the nearby river, and six persons who had served them rejoiced in the hope of serving Jehovah forever.
The coming of hundreds of witnesses to a particular village for an assembly had extraordinarily great impact. At Ewu over a thousand joyful Witnesses filled the town with their happiness for three days. At the conclusion of the assembly, the townspeople were sorry to see the Witnesses depart. Some even cried. With tears they remarked: “You have filled the whole town with joy and your cheerful spirit, and your presence here has been even better than a feast, and now you are leaving us so soon.”
ASSIGNED TO LIBERIA
In 1953 I was assigned to Liberia, where I have been for the past twenty years. I have seen the Kingdom work here grow from 60 to about 800 publishers of the good news. I have had the privilege of helping persons to dedication, see some grow to maturity and become overseers and others go off to Gilead School and return to assist with the work here. It has been my happy privilege to help in establishing the circuit work in this country.
Traveling during the past sixteen years in the circuit and district work has often been with many inconveniences. To travel in the interior one had to fight heat, perspiration and the red dust. Transportation was unscheduled. Sometimes one had to wait hours or even days for a vehicle to move. If I asked a driver, “When are you going?” he would shake his head and say, “God knows.” But despite the rigors and inconveniences of travel, I thank Jehovah for all these experiences. It has been valuable training for the tests of faith that eventually face all of God’s people.
A SEARCHING TEST COMES UPON US
The test that came upon God’s people in Liberia in 1963 was a real challenge, and I am happy for the privilege of sharing in it. The persecution burst forth suddenly, prompted by a resolution signed by three prominent clergymen. It called upon the government to ban Jehovah’s Christian witnesses on the false grounds that they are not a religious organization, but, rather, a political one, operating behind a religious front, seeking to undermine the authority of the state by teaching people not to salute national emblems. These three clergymen thought of damaging Jehovah’s organization and stopping his worship in Liberia. However, since then the last of these clergymen has recently died, and some of their former hardworking members are today among our finest publishers of the good news, and Jehovah’s organization is stronger than ever before.
The persecution itself began when soldiers came to our Christian assembly at Gbarnga, broke it up and marched all of us (about 400 men, women and children) to the army compound, where we sat on the field. Soldiers armed with rifles and bayonets surrounded us and continuously threatened us with being broken like a chicken egg. I wondered if I would ever see my mother and father again this side of Armageddon. However, there was no thought of escape. My mind was made up. I was determined to remain faithful to Jehovah and, if need be, to end my ministry right there in death. I prayed to Jehovah to grant me strength to remain faithful and endure whatever torture the enemy might bring against me.
Jehovah did strengthen me. It seems that I felt impervious to what they said or did. One soldier hit me several times across the arms and shoulders. I felt a dull thud but no real pain. It was not until three days later, after I had returned home, that I saw the bruises and felt the pain. Undergoing this type of oppression provided me with this invaluable lesson—that during severe persecution Jehovah can dull the body, making it insensitive to pain and that the thought of being physically beaten is more fearful and painful than the actual experience.
Remaining on that hard field for three days and nights in an upright sitting position without the privilege of sleep or even resting oneself on the elbow caused the back and body to ache with pain. At this painful moment, the soldiers issued what seemed an ultimatum—salute or go to a notorious army prison in which very few survive. The thought of this struck terror into one Witness. He compromised. Immediately the announcement was made that the rest were being released and could go home. On hearing this, the compromiser broke down and cried like a baby. His happiness was gone. He felt remorse and abandoned, with no hope. This affected his physical condition, bringing on an illness from which he never recovered, and he died shortly thereafter. How forcefully this illustrates the truthfulness of Proverbs 10:9: “He that is walking in integrity will walk in security”!
Maintaining integrity under test brings a happiness that one can experience only if one has been faithful under severe trial. The Witnesses who maintained integrity have some of their finest moments now when they come together and relive the scenes of persecution. They are able to enjoy themselves for hours, most happy that they were able to remain faithful. It has helped me to appreciate the full meaning of Jesus’ words at Matthew 5:10-12, to rejoice when being persecuted for righteousness’ sake.
Psalm 119:46 indicates that before kings God’s people will declare Jehovah’s righteousness. I am grateful to Jehovah for being favored with this privilege. After the government asked the missionaries of Jehovah’s witnesses to leave the country, an interview was arranged so that we could present the case for true worship before the ruler of the land. On the morning of December 4, 1963, we were ushered into the presidential office at the Executive Mansion. During the one hour we were favorably heard, and a trend was reversed and the missionaries were invited to return.
GOOD THINGS IN ABUNDANCE
How truthful the words of the psalmist, that “Jehovah himself will not hold back anything good from those walking in faultlessness”! (Ps. 84:11) This has been proved to me time and again during the past twenty-three years of missionary service. Leaving Canada in 1948 for Gilead and then for a foreign assignment, I never thought of seeing home before Armageddon. Ten years passed, and in 1958 Jehovah, through his organization, lovingly arranged for me to attend the “Divine Will” International Assembly at New York’s Yankee Stadium and the Polo Grounds. After the assembly, I visited my parents and friends. It was a happy time!
Jehovah, true to his promise, had many more good things in store for me. In 1969 the Society arranged for round-trip air fare from Liberia to Vancouver, Canada, and the “Peace on Earth” Assembly. Here I was reunited with my two sisters whom I had last seen in 1958. Two happy months were spent with my mother and father in Edmonton. During 1947-1948, I served as a full-time minister there prior to attending Gilead School. At that time there was only one congregation. Now there are seventeen congregations. What a joy it was to speak in each of them about the progress of the work in Liberia and the upbuilding experiences of our Liberian brothers!
There have been additional privileges for which I thank Jehovah immensely. In 1959 I was in the circuit work in the remotest corner of Liberia when word was received to come to Monrovia immediately and care for the office work at the Branch. I knew nothing of office work, and the first few days I seemed completely lost. Gradually I became acquainted with the routine of office work, and during the eight months that the branch overseer was away recovering from a polio attack, I learned a great deal more about organization. This experience has helped me to appreciate that with Jehovah’s help we can handle any assignment. In 1961 I received an invitation to attend a ten-month course at Gilead for additional training.
Life in the African villages has been simple over these years, with not too many distractions of modern civilization. Without these distractions, I have had ample opportunity to study and meditate on God’s Word. This has kept me strong. Yes, missionary life has been a real blessing and protection against materialism. During the pleasant tropical evenings there has been ample time to meditate and reflect on Jehovah’s creation and draw near to him. My greatest happiness comes each evening when my mind is still awake, and while alone I can spend some time under the starry heavens walking and talking with Jehovah. This has drawn me closer to Jehovah. Also, I find it more refreshing to communicate with Jehovah in this manner, rather than to pray for only a minute or two before going to bed when the body is tired and the mind is not so alert.
After spending twenty-three years in missionary service in tropical West Africa, do I feel that it is time to quit and let the younger ones take over? No, seeing the blessings and the growth of Jehovah’s organization makes me feel as did Caleb, after being preserved for more than forty-five years, through the wilderness sojourn and into the Promised Land. He said: “Yet I am today as strong as on the day of Moses’ sending me out. As my power was then, so my power is now.” (Josh. 14:11) Despite the inconveniences and hardships, these past years have been excellent training and preparation for the future. Yes, I am extremely grateful to Jehovah and to Christ Jesus our Lord, who have imparted power to me, and considered me faithful by assigning me to the Kingdom ministry.