A Full Life in Jehovah’s Service
As told by Joseph Dos Santos
IT WAS a warm, tropical night in February 1945. Everything was utter confusion on the grounds of the Santo Tomas University in Manila, the capital city of the Philippines, where we were prisoners of the Japanese. American troops had unexpectedly arrived to free us, and the Japanese retaliated by shelling the university compound, creating considerable havoc.
In the darkness, women prisoners kissed their crosses and prayed loudly. A shell dropped close by, killing the prisoner in front of me. Shaken but unhurt I dragged my hunger-weakened body to take shelter behind the building that had been my prison for three years. Finally, the shelling subsided, the Americans took complete control and not long afterward we were free. After three years of separation, I was able to rejoin my wife and children and continue with the work I had come halfway round the world to do.
The “Golden Age” Changed My Life
What was that work? How did I come to be in such a dangerous situation so far from my home in Hawaii? Really, it all started years before and 9,000 miles (14,500 km) away in California, U.S.A., while I was studying to become a chiropractor. There, I had borrowed a magazine called The Golden Age (now known as Awake!) from my landlady, Mrs. Bright. What I read in that magazine started to change my whole view of life.
I had been raised in Hawaii in a Roman Catholic home, but neither that religion nor all the others that I investigated seemed to be the truth. They all left an empty feeling inside me. But what I read in that issue of The Golden Age began to fill the emptiness.
The magazine was published by the Bible Students, as Jehovah’s Witnesses were then called. A local Bible Student heard of my interest and supplied me with more literature. Soon I had no doubt that I had found the truth. In time I went back to Hawaii to practice my profession. However, as in the case of Jeremiah, Bible truth was like a fire burning in my bones, and I could not keep quiet. (Jeremiah 20:9) I shared with my neighbors what I had learned, and soon we had a Bible class of 22 persons.
I Was Not Alone
I had assumed that I was the only Bible Student in Hawaii. But in time I found six others, including Brother Solomon, the depot manager. Hence, I was able to enjoy association with fellow worshipers.
I wanted to offer myself voluntarily for more work, so I told Brother Solomon I would like to preach around the islands. He told me that nobody had ever gone farther than Honolulu in preaching the good news, but, convinced of my determination, he fixed me up with a house truck (he had an auto repair shop) and told me I could preach throughout all the islands except in Honolulu. I should leave that for the other six Bible Students. So in 1929 my full-time preaching career began.
I enthusiastically preached throughout the Hawaiian Islands for three and a half years. I was young and strong, often walking for miles on trails impassable to the car and climbing mountains carrying two full suitcases of literature. Sometimes the roads were so difficult I had to crawl. I left literature in the leper settlement of Molokai. Throughout those three and a half years, I averaged 230 hours of service each month and placed a total of 46,000 pieces of literature.
But still I felt I could do more. Therefore I offered to preach around the world. The Watch Tower Society’s president, J. F. Rutherford, learned of my desire and assigned me to go to Brazil. Hence, I prepared an itinerary to take me from Hawaii, through the Orient, and on to Brazil. My first stop was to be the Philippines.
An Eventful Journey
Thus it was that in 1933, with a trunk full of literature from Brother Solomon and another on the way to the Philippines direct from the Watch Tower Society’s Brooklyn headquarters, I boarded the steamboat The Great Northern and started on my world tour.
We were due to stop in Japan, but knowing that Jehovah’s Witnesses were already experiencing problems in prewar Japan, I had not applied for a visa to go ashore. I did not want to risk adding to their problems. However, some clergymen on board found out who I was and sent a telegram ahead to inform the Japanese authorities that I had literature on board. When the ship docked at Yokohama, the Japanese police came aboard and confiscated all my literature right out of the luggage hold of the ship! There was nothing the ship’s officers could do about it, so I had to proceed to the Philippines without it.
On arriving in Manila I was immediately summoned to the director of customs. He had heard that I was a communist so he took one of my books to read. A week later he told me he was amazed to find that the book was all about the Bible, and definitely not communistic.
“Temporary” Delay in the Philippines
I rented an apartment in Manila, intending to spend some time preaching there before moving on to Brazil. However, there were problems in the local organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses, so Brother Rutherford sent me a letter asking me to take over until a replacement arrived. This I agreed to do, but my replacement did not come until 13 years later!
Our work in prewar Manila was interesting. We did not make return visits in those days, but traveled all over the city on foot, by bus, by street car or by calesa (similar to a horse-drawn buggy) distributing Bible literature. Gradually, the work spread around the Philippine Islands as we sent pioneers to develop different areas. In 1935 I married Rosario Lopez and in time we were blessed with two children, a boy and a girl.
The charge that we were communists never did go away completely. One day, a man came and told me he was one of the secret police and had been watching me for several months because I was a suspected communist. Now he was going to report that I was not. Another time an attorney agreed to study the Bible with me. Later I found that the only reason he wanted to study was to see if I was a communist or not. Finding that I was not, he became a good friend and handled a lot of legal work for me.
Meantime, the preaching work was expanding. Since the space I had rented was now too small, I purchased another piece of property, and we moved our office there. Our small headquarters staff increased as my wife and I were joined by Narciso Delavin and later by the young lady who was to become his wife.
False Accusations and War
But events were closing in around us. In 1941 war was declared. Within a week two policemen came to the office, and three other brothers and I were taken to the huge prison in Muntinlupa, several miles from Manila. I was separated from the others and locked in a small isolated cell. It was completely empty, and I had to sleep on the concrete floor until a trusty (a prisoner given special privileges), out of the kindness of his heart, secretly gave me two blankets and a pillow each night.
The superintendent would not let me out of solitary confinement, and the other prisoners, believing that I was a fifth columnist and the head of the Communist Party, shouted insults through the walls at me. Finally, our protestations that we were not communists were believed, and after two weeks all four of us were released. I had to be escorted by police officers to the prison gate; otherwise I would have been mobbed by the other prisoners.
The night of our release, there was a riot in the prison, and I am sure we would have been in danger had we been there. I was thankful to Jehovah for our safety and had a joyful reunion with my family in Manila.
Imprisoned by the Japanese
However, our problems were only beginning. In a short time Manila was occupied by Japanese invasion forces and being an American I was imprisoned with other aliens in the Santo Tomas University, near the center of Manila. There I spent the next three years, from January of 1942 to March of 1945. I told the good news to as many as I could in the camp and I know that at least one of my coprisoners became a witness for Jehovah later.
As the war went on life became hard in the prison camp. Our rations diminished until we had just a cup of rice each day. We tried everything to satisfy the gnawing pains of hunger, even eating the weeds that grew on the large campus. Dogs, cats, even rats, were eaten by some. When I was imprisoned I weighed 135 pounds (61 kg). Upon release I weighed 80 pounds (36 kg).
Some prominent internees were beheaded. Eventually, not even doctors were allowed in the camp, and the fence around the university grounds was reinforced in such a way that no one outside could see in. Each day 30 or more died from starvation. Finally came that frightening night when the American troops broke in and liberated us in spite of Japanese shelling. How happy we were to rejoin the outside world!
Back to Work
The Americans gave us the first real food we had had for some time. I remember we ate canned meat, but were so hungry we did not know when we had enough. I felt uncomfortable for days after that first meal! Nevertheless, 18 days after the Americans took over we were released. The Americans offered to repatriate me to the United States, but I was still waiting for that replacement to take over the direction of the preaching work in the Philippines. Until he came, I was going to stay!
Once again I was happily reunited with my wife and family, and we got active again in the preaching work. I contacted the Watch Tower headquarters in Brooklyn, New York, for the first time since December 1941, and received all back issues of The Watchtower, as well as other information that we in the Philippines had missed during the war. We reopened the branch office and visited a number of congregations, as well as met with some presiding overseers to help bring them up to date.
In November of 1945, with official permission from the authorities, we used a high school auditorium in Pangasinan, some 125 miles (200 km) north of Manila, for our first postwar convention. I have never heard songs of praise sung to Jehovah with such feeling as at that assembly. Most of the friends there had stories to tell of Jehovah’s guiding them through the dangers of the war. I myself had felt his protecting hand many, many times. We were all very grateful.
We were grateful, too, as we saw how Jehovah had blessed his people with increase during the war years. The last prewar report of activity of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the Philippines (in 1941) showed a total of 373 preachers actively proclaiming the good news of the Kingdom. While I was in prison that number jumped to 2,000, and 4,000 people came to the public talk at this first postwar convention.
In 1947 my long-awaited replacement, Earl Stewart, arrived, together with three other missionaries. I stayed in the branch office until 1949 when I and my family finally left the Philippines.
Still Offering Myself Willingly
Well, I never made it to Brazil. Circumstances made it wise for us to move back to Hawaii. But we did not lose our desire to serve Jehovah and tell others about him. From then until now my wife and I have been busy preaching full time to others in these beautiful islands where I first started pioneering back in 1929.
I am now 87 years old and can look back over 54 years of full-time service to Jehovah. While it is true that we have undergone many trialsome experiences, including years of isolation from Christian brothers, as well as separation from one another, yet the joys that Jehovah has given far outweigh the tribulations. If I were given the opportunity to live my life over again, I would still willingly live the rewarding life that I have, spending all my time praising the Great God, Jehovah.—Psalm 110:3.