Jehovah Is My Stronghold
—as told by Albert Olih
ALTHOUGH the November night was warm, a light breeze kept me comfortable and lulled me to sleep. But I awoke suddenly and heard a gruff voice asking, “What are you doing here?” I had been discovered by a policeman on his midnight beat.
Naturally, I was frightened. I stood up and slowly explained how I came to be sleeping under a mango tree near the school yard. At this he said: “All right, but if there is any disturbance around here, I shall come looking for you.” When he left, I lay down again and contemplated the events that led to my being there.
YOUNG, BUT INTERESTED IN RELIGION
It began in the compound where my brother lived. It was 1946 and I was then 15 years old. I had left my village on the banks of the Niger River and had come to live with my brother in Lagos so as to continue my schooling. Another tenant, named Young Umoh, attracted my interest, for he was often visited by people who addressed one another as “brother” and “sister.” I wondered who they were and went to Mr. Umoh’s room to ask him. Soon I was absorbed in a very interesting conversation.
When he said that they were Jehovah’s Witnesses, my interest sharpened. A young boy and his sister in my school were called Jehovah’s Witnesses. They were so well behaved that I often wondered what kind of religion they followed. So I was even more eager to hear about these people.
Mr. Umoh asked me if I believed the Bible and I told him I had always done well in religious knowledge in school. I thought I knew the Bible. However, when he began to tell me about the kingdom of God and the blessings it would bring to mankind, the Bible came to be like a new book to me.
I listened intently as he explained how the rulership of God’s kingdom would transform the earth into a paradise, how God’s will is to be done in this paradise and how the meek ones will receive everlasting life. (Matt. 6:9, 10; Luke 23:43; Rev. 20:5) These things made me very happy, and I decided to visit Mr. Umoh again so as to learn more from him.
True, at first I did not accept everything he said. I was afraid that he might be one of the false disciples we were warned against in church. Yet, although I would argue with him, I deeply appreciated many things he was teaching me from the Bible.
Then one day he told me he did not believe in the Trinity. I was shocked and wanted to leave his room. But he said to me, “You have not asked me why I do not believe in the Trinity.” So I asked him, and his answer started the process toward a total religious change in my life.
He began by asking: “Are you equal to your father in everything, including the date of your birth?” Then, opening the Bible, he showed me where Jesus said that he had been sent by his Father and that his Father is greater than he is. (John 14:24, 28) Turning to the account of Jesus’ baptism, he showed me how unreasonable it was to believe that Jesus was God, seeing that it was God’s voice from heaven that acknowledged Jesus as His son. (Matt. 3:16, 17) Mr. Umoh also pointed out that the word “trinity” is not in the Bible. I accepted these explanations because the proof from the Bible was sound.
That night I knelt down to pray but found that I could not. From early childhood I had been taught to open my prayer by saying, “In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost.” But since I now was convinced that there is no Trinity, I found that I could not start my prayer.
The next day I felt very unhappy and decided to read the Bible, starting from Matthew. I kept at this for several days and read through to the end of Revelation. The more I read, the more I found that what Mr. Umoh was teaching me was in harmony with the Bible. It was the truth!
I went back to my friend, told him what had happened and asked him to teach me to pray. He was pleased that I had read the Christian Greek Scriptures and loaned me some books and booklets that he said would help me. Indeed, these publications were to have a profound effect on my future religious life.
HELP FROM A MISSIONARY
Early in 1947 I went to live with a half brother. Then 16 years old and out of school, I had no money to pay my way through high school and was having difficulty finding employment.
While we were at the meal one evening, there was a knock at the door and, to our surprise, a white man came into the room. It was unusual for a white person to visit the homes of Africans, especially the poor ones. He introduced himself, saying: “I am Moreton from Canada. I am one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, and I am bringing you good news of a government that will rule this earth.”
My brother overcame his surprise and said, “Come and chop.” (“Come and eat.”) To his utter surprise, Mr. Moreton took a piece of yam from the plate, dipped it in the red sauce and ate it, saying: “This is very fine food that God has provided for man.” Then he explained his message.
My brother obtained three books from him and gave me the one entitled “Let God Be True.” Though my brother and his wife were not interested in any further Bible study, I welcomed Mr. Moreton to come and teach me.
As time went on, I discovered that our family tailor had the same book but that no one was helping him to study it. So after each study with Mr. Moreton, I would go over to his shop and study the same chapter with him. That helped me to make progress and soon I was able to use the Bible in defending the truth.
One day I told Mr. Moreton that I would like to be a missionary like him. He laughed and said: “You will be. But there are many difficulties that you will have to prepare for.” He showed me in the Bible that I would have to face persecution, even from close relatives. (Matt. 10:34-38) “Yet,” he said, “Jehovah will not forsake you if you remain faithful.” Little did I know that I was soon to learn the truth of what he had said.
AN EARLY TEST OF FAITH
Late one night in October 1947, my brother woke me up and gave me an ultimatum: ‘Stop studying with Jehovah’s Witnesses and return to the Anglican Church, or else move out of the house.’ I stared in astonishment. I had no work and nowhere to go. My village was about 300 miles (500 km) away. Since my brother obviously knew this, I wondered where he expected me to go in the middle of the night. However, I made my decision. I refused to abandon serving Jehovah.
My brother became infuriated and began to hit me with anything he could find. His wife joined in. He chased me from the house and pursued me for some distance. I went to some close relatives in the city, but they refused to take me in for the night. One relative said: “Did you not claim Jehovah as your Father and his organization as your mother? Well, go to Jehovah and let him take you in!”
Having nowhere else to go, I went to a field near the school that I had attended and slept under a big mango tree. This is where the policeman found me, after I had slept there several nights.
In the daytime I would go to the bush and collect some firewood, which I sold to provide food for myself. Some days later, Mr. Moreton found me. When he heard my story, he spoke encouragingly, reminding me of what he had told me about facing difficulties if I desired to serve Jehovah. He invited me to visit him at his lodging place.
This opened up the way for me to associate with the group of missionaries, called the Bethel family, and to help in the work in the missionary home. I also enjoyed having my meals with that family. In fact, I felt like part of the family and soon started calling them “brother” and “sister.”
PREACHING FROM HOUSE TO HOUSE
One day Brother Moreton unexpectedly invited me to join him in preaching from house to house. He briefly discussed a Bible subject at the first house and then offered a book as a Bible study aid.
Brother Moreton then gave me his bag and said: “Do you see that man standing at the corner? Go and preach to him.” My heart skipped a beat. But I said a silent prayer and went toward the man, recalling what had been said to the first man, because it had been stated simply. I recited the same text from the Bible, and he responded well. I had been launched into the preaching work and knew that nothing would stop me.
ON TO BAPTISM AND THE PIONEER WORK
I had learned that, having dedicated my life to Jehovah, I should be baptized in water, just as Jesus had been. My baptism took place in December 1947, at the very first convention of Jehovah’s Witnesses that I attended. Now all the members of this growing band of Witnesses were truly my spiritual brothers and sisters.
A few months later I enrolled as a pioneer (a full-time preacher). This opened up many opportunities for me in the preaching work and increased the pace at which I was gaining experience in witnessing from house to house.
One of my first really difficult discussions came when I met a Seventh-Day Adventist pastor. He quickly seized on the subject of the Sabbath and lectured me, arguing that the Sabbath must be observed each week. The tables were turned on me. I found myself being preached to by this householder, reading the texts he cited and listening to his explanation. I told him that I knew very little about the Sabbath but promised to do some research and return later.
When I returned, I found some of his church members with him. He hoped to use the occasion to impress his congregation. In introducing me to them, he said: “This is a young Jehovah’s Witness who has been misled by some false preachers. I am happy that he listened to my teaching and has come for further explanations.” I asked to be allowed to speak first. Starting with the very text that he had quoted from the law of Moses, I referred to the Christian Greek Scriptures and explained why Christians are not under obligation to observe a weekly Sabbath.—Rom. 10:4; Gal. 4:9-11; Col. 2:16, 17.
Surprised at my increased knowledge, the pastor said: “You have handled the Scriptures very well. This is what the members of my church should be able to do. They should be able to go from door to door and defend their faith, just as you have done.” That evening he and his church members accepted 29 Bible study books.
JEHOVAH IS MY STRONGHOLD
In order to care for certain financial obligations, I took up employment with the Nigerian Railways, staying with another half brother. Here I was faced with another test of my reliance on Jehovah.
I had accepted an assignment on the program of a district convention of Jehovah’s Witnesses to be held in eastern Nigeria early in 1950. This would be my first participation in an assembly program, and I certainly did not want to miss it. So on my job I applied to the chief clerk of the department, requesting four days’ leave of absence without pay. But he turned me down. I was so disappointed that I lost my appetite. For a whole day I ate no food, spending the time praying to Jehovah to open the way for me.
On the following morning, I went straight to the foreman of our department, although junior employees were forbidden to do so. When I told him I was one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, he said: “I should have known it. I have seen how conscientiously you work, and you remind me of my brother in England who is the only member of Jehovah’s Witnesses in my family. We view him as a fanatic because he refused to join the army and fight in the war. But he is the only one in the family we can trust. It is good to have one of Jehovah’s Witnesses working with us.”
I then told him of my desire to attend the convention and of my request for a four-day leave without pay. He said: “Certainly you shall go to the assembly. But you need more than four days because of the traveling involved. I will give you a whole week. Come with me.” He took me to the chief clerk and said: “You will be happy to know that we have one of Jehovah’s Witnesses with us. They are very sincere, honest and hardworking people. So grant Mr. Olih seven days to go to his convention, with pay.”
Some time later came an invitation to serve at the branch office of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society in Lagos. This Society is the incorporated body that serves Jehovah’s Witnesses. Thus, in April 1951, I became a member of the Lagos Bethel family.
Expressing his disapproval of this, my brother said: “Now that you have decided to leave your work and go to serve your Jehovah, if anything should happen to you in the future, do not come back to me, because I will certainly not assist you.” I assured him I trusted that Jehovah would take care of me. This He certainly has continued to do during the 30 years that I have been serving at Bethel. These have been years of great joy, filled with opportunities and privileges.
It is faith-strengthening to look back over the years and see how Jehovah has been my stronghold and how he has progressively supplied my needs. It was at one of our conventions in 1953 that I met Francisca, a young Togolese sister. After corresponding for three years we got married. She has continued serving by my side and, in spite of health problems, has been of much encouragement to me. My service has taken us throughout the length and breadth of Nigeria. I have been privileged to speak to large audiences at our conventions and to teach traveling ministers (circuit and district overseers) in schools designed for their training.
I remember the very first time that Francisca and I traveled overseas. It was to attend an international convention in London in 1969. I regarded that as a scholarship to me from Jehovah’s organization. How could I have traveled to London, if Jehovah’s organization had not opened the way for me? Since then we have been to conventions in many countries of Europe, America and Africa. In 1976 and 1978, what a joy it was for us to live temporarily with the Brooklyn Bethel family at the world headquarters of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society in New York! Along with other branch committee members from around the world, I had been invited to specialized meetings and training programs that were held under the direction of the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses. What more could I ask for, but that I should be able to remain faithful to our loving God, Jehovah?
My course of service has not always been easy. I have had difficulties, trials, sicknesses, and have been in accidents that frightened me. My faith has been tested. But I have also received a wealth of Christian knowledge and spiritual strength, along with untold joys in serving Jehovah and my brothers.
This promise of Jesus is true in my case: “No one has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for my sake and for the sake of the good news who will not get a hundredfold now in this period of time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and fields, with persecutions, and in the coming system of things everlasting life.” My sentiments are like those of the psalmist, who said: “I will say to Jehovah: ‘You are my refuge and my stronghold, my God, in whom I will trust.’”—Ps. 91:2; Mark 10:29, 30.