In Our Portuguese Hamlet—God’s Word Exerts Power
As related by Eva Maria Carvalho
MY BROTHER’S name is Adam. My name is Eva. A little background will help you to understand why my father gave us these names.
Father was born in 1879 in a very conservative Catholic community, some 20 miles (32 kilometers) north of Lisbon. He was a farmer and raised a family of nine children. He was a God-fearing man.
After eating, father would often pray to God at the table, thanking him for the day. Because of father’s refusal to cheat and take advantage of others, he came to be called ‘the poor man.’ And yet, in spite of this, there was not a man in the community who was more respected.
Father had heard people say that the true word of God was written in a book, the Holy Bible. I remember him remarking: “It must be a very expensive book; I don’t think I’ll ever be able to own one.” He was told that Adam and Eva were the names of the first man and woman created by God. So when we were born, this was a fine reason, in his mind, to give my brother and me these names.
Father died without ever seeing a Bible. I remember him as a good man. The little he knew about God was important to him. This fact, along with the name he gave me, had a tremendous impact on my life.
OBTAINING A BIBLE
Years passed. I married and raised a family here in these same hills where I grew up. We live in Serra de Alrote, a tiny hamlet of some 35 homes. But for a time my husband was working in Lisbon.
Upon arriving home one weekend, he told me that a fellow worker had talked to him about the Bible. He had said that he could obtain one for 25 escudos. This was my opportunity to learn something about the one book father had wanted so much.
I managed to go to Lisbon shortly afterward and meet this man. It was thrilling to observe how he would answer my questions, one after another, by turning directly to pages of the Bible. The man was one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, and he kindly invited me to a meeting.
Sadly, I was able to make only a few trips to Lisbon, since my husband retired from his job in 1961 and came home to live. Although I had obtained a Bible and the little booklet “This Good News of the Kingdom,” it was difficult for me to understand them. Isolated in these hills, I lost contact with Jehovah’s Witnesses for a number of years. Then my son, who had married and was working in Lisbon, came home with a book published by Jehovah’s Witnesses, From Paradise Lost to Paradise Regained.
When my son explained to his wife and to me some of God’s promises that this Witness had spoken to him about, we became stirred with excitement. We asked for the name and address of the Witness lady who had talked with him. However, the only information he could give us was her first name, María Julia, and the street and number where he thought she lived.
LOOKING FOR THE WITNESSES
With this vague information, we wrote a letter to María Julia. Imagine, she received it, even though the address was not hers, but that of a lady with whom she was conducting a Bible study! So I went to Lisbon, and what a wonderful afternoon I spent with María Julia! Hearing the Bible’s truths explained was so heartwarming.
Lisbon, though, seemed far from our home in Serra de Alrote, especially as public transportation was then quite difficult to find. I was told that the nearest congregation to our home was at Malveira, some 14 miles (23 kilometers) distant. In May 1969, I went to Malveira to meet a Witness and was told that someone would come to see us. However, there was a long delay. Little did I then realize how busy the few Witnesses were in this area caring for the scores of interested people, all anxious, like me, to have a home Bible study.
SEEDS OF BIBLE TRUTH KEPT ALIVE
In the meantime, María Julia, in Lisbon, was regularly maintaining a Bible study with Argentina, my daughter-in-law, by correspondence. Whenever an opportunity arose I would speak about the Kingdom hope with our many relatives. Yes, that Paradise book eventually found its way into all the homes of our relatives who live in these hills. My brother, Adam, along with his family, was also now interested. And María Julia started additional studies, by correspondence, with more and more of our relatives.
We will never forget the excitement when my daughter-in-law, Argentina, came back from Lisbon in October 1969, with the book The Truth That Leads to Eternal Life. She was told that whoever accepted this book was entitled to a six-month free study course in the Bible. Then the person could decide for himself if he wanted to act on the knowledge. That night, several of us talked about how urgent a matter this was. In fact, we stayed up the entire night, huddled around a kerosene lamp reading the Truth book almost from cover to cover.
REGULAR MEETINGS START
It was on January 25, 1970, that a Witness from Malveira came to Serra de Alrote. To be sure, it was not an easy place to find. The only access is a small dirt road twisting up through the hills. No homes can be seen from the main road, and at that time no sign identified any kind of settlement. But up here, tucked away in these hills is our tiny hamlet.
When he arrived, Brother Basilio was amazed to find a small group truly hungering and thirsting for Bible knowledge. Some of us were then up to chapter 16 in our study of the Truth book. Arrangements were made for a regular study every 15 days, since it was a round trip of 27 miles (44 kilometers) to his home, and he was busy with several other Bible studies.
After a few studies, we said: “Two weeks is a long time! Since gasoline is so expensive we will help to cover the costs. Then perhaps we can have our study every week!”
Well, Basilio gladly consented. As a result, the seven adults present at his first study all dedicated their lives to serve Jehovah, and symbolized this by being baptized on May 16, 1971. In a short time, our home Bible study became a congregation book study. My daughter-in-law, Argentina, was now conducting seven of her own Bible studies weekly, many with relatives all here in the hills.
PERSEVERANCE BRINGS RESULTS
Not all relatives, however, readily accepted what they were learning. My own son, José Pedro, who is married to Argentina, is a typical example. He first wanted to see the world, then settle down. So he joined the merchant marines. One trip he made to the United States turned out to be a real blessing. He visited the world headquarters of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Brooklyn, New York.
There he saw hundreds of young men and women coming from the factory on their way to the Bethel home for a meal. He said to himself: “This is really something! All these young people, my age, busy and happy in Jehovah’s work.”
A Witness who spoke Portuguese showed him around the buildings, and the spirit he observed among Jehovah’s people at Bethel deeply moved him. Soon afterward he changed his job, was baptized and is now a ministerial servant in our congregation.
Evaristo, the brother of my daughter-in-law Argentina, strongly resented our talking to his wife about the Bible. When Argentina started a Bible study with his wife, he warned her: “Be careful what you are doing! I don’t want any problems with my wife. I would be very thankful if you stopped putting strange ideas into her head.”
Evaristo’s wife spoke to him about God’s warning of an impending world destruction, similar to the flood of Noah’s day. (Matt. 24:37-39) This caused Evaristo to think seriously, for as a young boy he had read in the Bible about Noah and the destruction of wicked mankind by the flood. Since he was in the navy and would travel, he decided to take a Truth book with him on one trip. He also obtained a Catholic Bible so he could prove to himself whether such doctrines as hellfire, Trinity and the immortality of the soul were taught in it. He checked every Bible text mentioned in the Truth book and after one month was convinced that Jehovah’s Witnesses were teaching the truth. The results were thrilling.
Evaristo started to attend meetings on furlough. Shortly before being discharged from the navy, he began to share in the preaching activity. In September 1972 he was baptized with the second group from our hills, and is now serving as a zealous ministerial servant in the congregation.
My niece’s husband, Antonio, was very opposed to the Kingdom message. While he was serving in the armed forces in Angola, his wife started to write letters telling him the wonderful things that she was learning from the Bible. When Antonio found out that she was studying with the Witnesses, he requested leave, expressly for the purpose of going home to “save” his wife. What a surprise awaited him!
All his accusations were calmly answered from the Bible and within one month, he, too, was convinced that Jehovah’s Witnesses were teaching the truth. He returned to Angola a different man. His companions thought that he was crazy, for he would stay up at night to read. All their efforts to get him to share in their immoral life were unsuccessful. Antonio was later baptized on July 15, 1973, with the third group from this area. He, too, is now one of our ministerial servants.
All this time the activity of Jehovah’s Witnesses was illegal in Portugal. When we started holding meetings in this hamlet, some neighbors reacted strongly and reported our activity to the G.N.R. (National Republican Guard). A policeman came to visit us, telling us that he knew meetings were being held regularly in my son’s home. He ordered us not to meet there again. When the time for the next meeting arrived, we gathered as usual, but in my home. The police were informed and quickly arrived to find us all together having a Bible study.
The policeman said: “Didn’t I order you before to stop these meetings?”
I answered: “Yes, you said in the home of José Pedro. Now we are not in my son’s home. This is my home, a different home.” The policeman was truly bewildered and left without saying a word.
Our neighbors were relentless in their determination to stop our Christian meetings. We saw the wisdom of avoiding needless confrontations. So we held the meetings each week on different days, at different hours and in different homes. Once after a meeting, Basilio found the two rear tires of his car flat. A closer look showed that they had been punctured in several places.
The neighbors wanted us arrested at all costs, and finally went to the principal police station for this area in Loures. Soon after, on a meeting night, a G.N.R. jeep arrived at our hamlet accompanied by 15 armed soldiers in another vehicle. For some reason we had held our meeting that night an hour earlier than usual. Oh, how the police were disappointed that their plans were thwarted! We saw many a neighbor’s head peeking out from behind nearby buildings apparently anticipating a victory. Much to their chagrin the police left empty-handed.
Times have changed here in the hamlet. The persecution of our neighbors has died out. Among our family and relatives, the Word of God has truly proved to be alive. All told, we are now 28 Witnesses of the Most High God, Jehovah; a total of 41 attend the meetings and there are five ministerial servants. All of this in a little hamlet of some 100 inhabitants! Surely, God’s Word has exerted power here!—Heb. 4:12.
[Picture of Eva Maria Carvalho on page 9]