We Did Not Procrastinate
As told by Leon Pettitt
“HE THAT is watching the wind will not sow seed; and he that is looking at the clouds will not reap.” (Eccl. 11:4) Keeping this in mind has helped my wife, Daphne, and myself to enter full-time “pioneer” service to Jehovah, go to Gilead and on to a foreign missionary assignment—and also to stay here while raising a family. In England I gave up an apprenticeship after two years to become a “pioneer” Witness, devoting all my time to telling others about God’s kingdom. My wife, for the same reason, left college when she had two more years to go. We had not yet met each other in those days. In 1951, I graduated from the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead in New York and came to Japan. Daphne came four years later, and we married in the summer of 1957. We did not start having a family until 1968. The elder of our two boys goes to a local Japanese school.
During the period that we were both able to devote most of our time to the missionary service, we made ourselves available so that the Watch Tower Society could assign us as they thought necessary. We accepted these assignments, whatever they were, and have enjoyed many rich blessings as a result.
IN JAPAN’S FRIGID NORTH
After we married, our first assignment, with four other missionaries, was to open up the work in Hokkaido. Cold winters were nothing new to us, but the continuous sub-zero temperatures, howling blizzards and deep snow of that first winter were something different. However, we soon discovered that these long winters, during which the people had relatively little to do, opened the way for many Bible studies in their homes. With the coming of spring a number of our students were ready to join us in our house-to-house service with the Bible.
I started a study with a university student whose main desire was to become a schoolteacher in some out-of-the-way place where teachers were often reluctant to go. Just six months before his graduation I arranged to study with him every day. Within a short period of time he accepted the truth and decided to teach the Bible full time instead of becoming a schoolteacher. Like ourselves, he did not procrastinate. He shoveled snow, pruned trees, did janitorial work and a variety of part-time jobs to support himself until he was finally invited to “special pioneer” privileges. Today, he too has a family and continues to serve faithfully as an elder in one of Japan’s 866 congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Already nineteen years have passed since we came to Hokkaido, to form the first congregation in Sapporo. Now in this northern territory there are seventy-five congregations. Later, we were assigned south again, to visit Japanese congregations in a circuit. After our three years in the north, winters in Tokyo felt like spring.
A VISIT THAT BORE FRUIT
While witnessing with one of the Tokyo congregations my wife called at a small restaurant about two minutes to twelve. To her surprise, the busy proprietor subscribed for The Watchtower after receiving only a very brief explanation. Learning that the restaurant owner had a slack period in the afternoon, she returned the same week with a local Witness and arranged a Bible study with him. It happened that this man had a strong desire to do something for the benefit of other people, and learning the truth has certainly helped him to do that. He came to the meeting that same week in his white overalls, and each four months, as we visited that congregation again, he had made some new progress. At one visit he provided accommodations for us. For many years now he and his wife have served Jehovah God full time. We still see him in his white overalls at large assemblies, as he oversees the food-service organization, supervising the preparation of meals in cafeterias that serve tens of thousands of conventioners. His wife and children are happy that he did not procrastinate when my wife first met him.
Later, we were assigned to “district” work. This meant that I would be organizing and speaking at large assemblies of Jehovah’s Witnesses every other week. Needless to say, we were by now quite fluent in using the Japanese language. Our district took in more than half of Japan and included Okinawa.
SERVICE IN OKINAWA
The pace of life was much slower in Okinawa. In many areas, before we could even begin to explain why we were there, we sat on the mat offered by a hospitable householder while green tea and chunks of brown sugar were served. The warm hospitality of the Okinawans, and the love of our brothers there, will always remain with us as happy memories.
Before Okinawa was again made part of Japan, one of our spiritual sisters there almost lost her job as a schoolteacher over the flag-salute issue. This was because several children at her school who were studying the Bible with her conscientiously refused to salute the Japanese flag. Her husband, a high-school teacher himself and an unbeliever at the time, fought her case successfully before the school authorities, and then became one of Jehovah’s Witnesses as a result of the thorough investigation he had had to make. It was a real inspiration to work with him in the house-to-house activity. Later, he became an elder and spearheaded the building of a fine Kingdom Hall in Koza City.
JAPANESE ASSEMBLIES MARK PROGRESS
Attending assemblies helps one to feel the spirit and growth among God’s people. In the early days when just a few hundred attended national assemblies, when we slept on beds too short for foreigners with long legs, and when we ate raw eggs poured over cold rice for breakfast, we never imagined that Jehovah’s work would grow the way it has in Japan. Assemblies themselves have doubtless contributed much to this increase.
A large number of unbelieving husbands attend assemblies. Often they are surprised to see so many workingmen with families—like themselves—in attendance. Japanese men are usually dedicated to their work. Demands of the company must be given precedence over one’s family and personal activities. Many feel that if they study the Bible, go to meetings, quit gambling and smoking and make other adjustments, they will finally be forced to give up their jobs too. At assemblies they meet men who have made these adjustments without changing their employment.
I overheard one unbeliever asking a Japanese Witness, “But what would you do if the company asked you to represent it at a Buddhist funeral?” The brother explained that this had actually happened to him. Instead of going to the funeral and embarrassing the family by not sharing in the worship, he had gone to the home the night before, left his name card and the company’s obituary gift and explained that he was unable to attend the funeral the following day. Through such contacts with the Witnesses, unbelievers come to realize that they can follow Bible principles without necessarily having to change their secular occupation.
PRE-ASSEMBLY WORK BLESSED
During assembly preparation work in one city, a wife asked her unbelieving husband to deliver a noon meal to the workers at convention headquarters. Nearby congregations were taking turns in doing this. The workers invited him to eat with them, and he soon became interested in the conversation. The problem being discussed was how to put legs on scaffolding planks to make benches for 10,000 people. Someone suggested using piping, whereupon the stranger explained that he was a dealer in piping and would be glad to contribute some for this purpose. This chance encounter with the assembly workers solved their problem and was a turning point in his own life. He is now one of Jehovah’s Witnesses himself.
It was at this same international assembly that a “pioneer” sister wrote to the president of Osaka’s leading electrical manufacturing company about the seating problem due to the local school authorities’ refusal to lend chairs to a religious organization. The president was moved to order one of the company’s officials to look into the matter, with the result that several thousand chairs were loaned to the assembly free of charge. The letter had reached this president the day before he retired.
This sort of thing made us wonder whether the angels work much harder for us at our assemblies than we may think.
For example, there was the time when hardworking Witnesses had just finished cleaning up the Expo ’70 grounds, in Osaka, for a national assembly. Then came news that a pop-music festival had been arranged there, for the evening before our assembly. We felt that Satan was already ‘laughing up his sleeve’ at the prospect of the grounds’ being messed up again. Then came a typhoon warning over the radio. The storm was heading straight for Osaka. It would hit the exposition grounds just when the music fans would be ‘doing their thing.’ The festival was abruptly canceled. The typhoon? Suddenly, it veered course and stayed out there in the Pacific.
OUR FAMILY LIFE IN JAPAN
Coming back to our personal problems, it was a big change for us to have to settle down and raise a family. I had no trade and my wife was apprehensive about having her first baby in Japan. A brother in England kindly offered me a job if we went back. What should we do? A Canadian brother with a Japanese wife had done very well here by teaching English. Maybe I could do the same. Also, at the time, Daphne’s younger brother and his family were in Uganda serving where the need was great. We could do this, too, by just staying where we were. We decided to give it a try.
The Watch Tower Society suggested that we could be useful in one of the congregations in Nagoya. The brothers were very kind in helping us to move. With many gifts, including secondhand furniture and a new mattress, we settled in a small two-room house that we rented from a “pioneer” sister. As we did not have so much as a knife and fork to start out with, we were deeply moved by the generosity and warm love of our Japanese brothers.
By raising a family of our own we began to understand the problems faced by the local brothers and their children. Education is a main preoccupation with most Japanese families. Our neighbors seemed concerned about our child’s not going to a kindergarten, considered to be the first rung on the climb to a university. We began to feel the subtle pressure to conform. This interest of our neighbors in our private affairs gave my wife many opportunities to witness.
She would explain about the meetings, how children learn to be with a group and to sit quietly for two hours, how they put their hands up and answer questions (in our congregation they have to answer clearly into a microphone), how they learn to sing with a group from a songbook written in the Japanese phonetic syllabary, which is not usually taught until the first year of school. Children who receive this advance education at the Kingdom Hall, absolutely free of charge, are also protected from learning bad things from some of the children who go to kindergartens. A young mother of three small children has just begun attending meetings as a result of such informal witnessing in the children’s playground facing our house. Another neighbor housewife is already our spiritual sister and is conducting studies of her own.
PROBLEMS IN JAPANESE SCHOOLING
Later, we decided to put our boy, Ivan, into the local Japanese primary school, where he can get a good education, especially in Japanese. The other boys seem to have accepted him now, although at first his blue eyes and fair hair were a novelty to them. His teacher, too, seems to have resigned herself to the fact that there are some things that his Bible-trained conscience will not allow him to do.
The first problem he faced was the whale meat, usually not Scripturally bled, that is served in the school lunches, and which he refused. (Acts 15:28, 29) Then came the boys’ festival on the fifth day of the fifth month. On this day it is customary for homes with boys to fly large cloth or plastic representations of carp fish from a high pole. The children at school were asked to make paper carps, which they would tie to a stick and take home. Ivan said that he did not want to make them, and his mother was summarily called to the school for an explanation.
The school agreed that the origin of this festival was in Shinto purification rites but insisted that nowadays it had no religious significance. It was claimed that the carp, famous for its ability to swim up a waterfall, was merely a symbol of the parents’ desire that their boys grow up to be strong. They balked at classifying this as a superstition, but finally agreed that Ivan could use the time to draw and cut out something else.
When Christmas time arrived, the teacher was in for another surprise. Christmas has become firmly entrenched among Japanese Buddhists, along with birthday parties, Valentine’s Day, Easter bunnies and other Western customs that lend themselves to exploitation by big business. When the children in his class were asked to draw a picture for Christmas, Ivan, the only Christian boy there, asked to be allowed to draw something else. He could have explained why Christmas has nothing to do with Jesus Christ, but his teacher did not bother to ask him for an explanation.
She had noticed that Ivan did not join with the other children in singing the Japanese national anthem and thought that this must be because he was a foreigner. She learned later that he did not sing even the British national anthem. It gave my wife an opportunity to explain about the worldwide neutrality and unity of Jehovah’s Christian witnesses. As Ivan gets older he will have other problems to face such as learning martial arts—judo and swordsmanship—taught under the guise of sports. We are confident that he will make right decisions on these matters, as he has done on others.
In this, we feel that the book Listening to the Great Teacher has been a big help to him. The method employed in this book of learning a principle and then applying it to problems that children actually face is extremely practical. We are very grateful to Jehovah’s organization for this timely provision.
A REWARDING LIFE
Homesickness has been one of Daphne’s problems. She knows that we can do a lot of good by staying out here, but it has been a constant fight, nonetheless. After many years of searching for a solution, at last we seem to have found one. Added to the already enjoyable work of helping others to learn Bible truth, Daphne decided to spend one morning a week learning Japanese painting. This regular change in tempo, and getting absorbed in something very enjoyable for just a short time, has minimized the problem tremendously.
Meanwhile, as an elder in one of Nagoya’s fourteen congregations, as circuit assembly overseer and as a breadwinner, I have plenty of satisfying work to do. I enjoy the Bible studies that I have with unbelieving husbands, whose problems I understand much better now that I have to rub shoulders with men of all kinds in the same business world. How happy we are that we have seized and made the most of each new opportunity of rendering sacred service to Jehovah! To others, also, we say, Do not procrastinate. For who knows what blessings tomorrow will bring?
[Picture of Daphne and Leon Pettitt on page 53]