Determined to Be ‘Steadfast and Unmovable’
As told by Paul Smit
IN THE 1830’s many white farmers of the Cape Province of South Africa were very restless. Being of Dutch descent, they found British rule irksome. Thousands trekked north into the little-known interior. After overcoming many obstacles, some settled north of the Orange River in what later became the Orange Free State. Others crossed the Vaal River and settled in what is now called the Transvaal. Among them were my Afrikaans-speaking forebears who settled in the Northern Transvaal in the 1860’s. I was born near the small town of Nylstroom in 1898.
The life-style of the few inhabitants of the area was very simple in those days. The plentiful game was the main source of livelihood, supplemented by some farm produce. Then, in 1899, came war—the South African, or Boer, War. The British had decided to extend their authority over the two Afrikaner Republics, the Orange Free State and the Transvaal. So for three years Briton and Boer (“farmer” in Afrikaans) fought bitterly for supremacy. In the course of this period, our family was interned in a concentration camp.
When hostilities ceased, we returned to find our farm badly damaged and ransacked. There had been terrible suffering. Thousands of men had died fighting, and thousands of women and children had expired in concentration camps. The country was poverty stricken. So were we. However, a government grant of wheat helped us to survive, and my parents worked industriously on the farm, growing vegetables and other produce.
The Truth Causes a “Cyclone”
Then came the memorable year 1915. As a schoolboy of 16, I received through the post a booklet entitled What Say the Scriptures About Hell? published by Jehovah’s Witnesses of that time. A school friend, Abraham Stroh, and I read it together and agreed it was the truth. It was thrilling to learn that God does not torment people forever; the dead are unconscious, asleep in death, and awaiting Jesus’ promise of a resurrection. (Ecclesiastes 9:5, 10; Ezekiel 18:4; John 5:28, 29) We were enthused into action. Nylstroom became a centre of commotion, as if struck by a cyclone, as we two schoolboys made it known, positively and fearlessly, that the doctrines of the Dutch Reformed Church were false. The clergy, of course, were upset and denounced this “new religion” from their pulpits.
As a result, Abraham and I were no longer welcome at our friends’ homes. Even my father threatened to put me out of the house. But my mother, a really sheeplike person, never said an unkind word. In time my dear old father, who had deep respect for the Bible, got used to the “new religion,” and Witnesses were hospitably entertained in our home. In those early days, we knew nothing of the Society and relied entirely on Jehovah. Later, colporteurs (now called pioneers) visited us and brought us into contact with the Society and its office 1,000 miles (1,600 km) away in Cape Town. This led to my baptism in 1918.
Two years later I attended an assembly in Pretoria. Some 23 brothers and sisters were present, with Brother Ancketill, the Society’s representative, presiding. How grand it was to be with fellow believers even though there were so few of us! The programme was composed mainly of doctrinal matters and “testimonies,” or experiences, but was sufficiently stimulating for me to remain firm. I needed it.
A Disappointment—Then Blessings
The greatest shock of my life came when my close friend, Abraham, after leaving school and being employed by the local School Board, was later threatened with dismissal unless he gave up his religion. He did leave the truth and joined the Dutch Reformed Church. That left me, young and new in the truth, entirely alone in the Northern Transvaal. I shed many a tear over losing my companion, but I prayed without ceasing to Jehovah and was strengthened to be “steadfast, unmovable, always having plenty to do in the work of the Lord.”—1 Corinthians 15:58.
Then came the early 1920’s. Jehovah blessed my persistent efforts to live the truth to the best of my ability. I began to find “sheep” in my neighbourhood. The young son of a nearby farmer accepted the good news of the Kingdom, thus making up for my loss of a companion. This brother, Hannes Grobler, remained faithful until his recent death. I also started a study with a family of seven, the Vorsters, using the book The Harp of God.*
Every Saturday I happily walked four miles (6.4 km) through the veld, or countryside, to conduct the study. The parents became baptised Witnesses and remained faithful until death.
In 1924, Brother George Phillips, who had recently arrived in South Africa to serve in the branch at Cape Town, made a visit to Nylstroom—a thrilling event for me. It began a close friendship and period of theocratic cooperation lasting until he finished his earthly course in 1982.
The local interest developed, and we soon had a fine group of 13 brothers and sisters—the first Witness group north of Pretoria. In time the message of the Kingdom radiated out into the vast area of the Northern Transvaal.
Problems and Progress in Pretoria
However, that same year my bank employers transferred me to Pretoria, where there was a small group of eight Bible Students (Jehovah’s Witnesses). But only one had a proper appreciation for theocratic matters, and he died soon after I arrived. The others—some were educated men—failed to appreciate the arrangement of the Society to organize the congregations for service, and two of them left.
Meanwhile, the “elder” of the group, in spite of the Society’s disapproval, was writing a book with his own interpretation of the Scriptures. I personally appealed to him to abandon the idea. The climax came one Sunday morning. His book was already printed, and he brought some copies and asked the group to distribute it. I was shocked. I stood up and opposed his request. As a result, the “elder” and four or five others left the organization. This left only a dear old invalid sister, together with my wife and me. But we were determined to be ‘steadfast and unmovable’ and loyally support the Society. From then on, slowly but surely, Jehovah gave the increase.—1 Corinthians 3:6; 15:58.
In due time Jehovah added many more workers to the Pretoria Congregation. For example, in 1931 two black brothers came to our study centre and introduced themselves. After that, for some years it was my responsibility to serve both Europeans (whites) and Africans (blacks)—a rare privilege in South Africa. To help the African brothers, I conducted a group study in their own township, or separate residential area. I also used Brother Rutherford’s recorded talks in the township. In addition to this, an African brother, Hamilton Kaphwitti Maseko, used to help me every Sunday evening to transmit these lectures by means of a powerful transcription machine on Church Square, the very heart of Pretoria.
With Jehovah giving the increase, an African congregation was formed. For many years, as city overseer, I arranged their special meetings. From small beginnings, the work among the Africans in Pretoria expanded to 16 congregations in the area by 1984.
A Wartime Ban
The outbreak of World War II in September 1939 brought tremendous suffering to many countries. South Africa, however, was an exception. Nevertheless, because of the world-shaking events, many South Africans awoke from their complacency and directed their minds to the fulfillment of Bible prophecy. As a result, there was an outstanding growth in Kingdom activity with a 50-percent increase in publishers for the 1941 service year. This aroused the ire of the churches, notably the Catholic Church, which accused the Society of being dangerous to the State. The Government then banned many of the Society’s publications.
About that time, my wife Anna and I with our two children, Paul and Anelise, paid a visit to Nylstroom, where I had to give a talk. I took the opportunity to show the local brothers the feasibility of presenting our magazines on the street. I chose a position just outside the Magistrate’s Court. Soon a Police Sergeant told me that I was doing an illegal work and must report to the Charge Office immediately. Nevertheless, since we had decided to work for an hour, I just carried on. Then a constable came to inform me that the Chief of Police was waiting for me. But I did not move. Another constable came with a similar message and got the same response. We completed the hour with good results, and then my family and I retired to a café for a cup of tea.
When I finally went to the Charge Office, I was asked what had happened to the literature. I explained that it had been distributed to the public. Later, the police came to my parents’ farm where we were staying and took all the magazines they could find.
After discussing the matter with local brothers, we decided not to take the matter lying down. So the next week 30 of us were out in full force on the streets of Nylstroom, and the following week at Warmbad, 18 miles (29 km) south. Contrary to expectations, no one stopped us. Later, after considerable difficulty, all the publications not under ban were returned.
‘Steadfast and Unmovable’ Despite Old Age
My wife Anna gave me loyal support until she died in 1949. Since 1954, when I remarried, I have had the loyal support of my dear wife Maud. From an early age, the two children, Paul and Anelise, accompanied me in all features of Kingdom service. Both became pioneers on leaving home. Anelise and her husband, Jannie Muller, are still in that service. Paul later drifted away from the truth and pursued a university career, but in recent years he has renewed his association. My five grandchildren are Jehovah’s Witnesses; two of them, together with their marriage mates, are serving full time in the ministry. I can strongly recommend that parents keep close to their children and, by precept and example, train them to love Jehovah and serve him whole-souled.—Deuteronomy 6:6, 7.
During 69 years of theocratic service, I have seen thrilling expansion. Back in 1931 there were five Kingdom proclaimers in the vicinity of Pretoria. Now there are over 1,500 associated with 26 congregations. All praise and honour for this belong to Jehovah! Now, at 86 years of age, health permitting, I still enjoy the challenge of house-to-house witnessing and offering the Watchtower and Awake! magazines on the street. Maud and I are determined to be ‘steadfast and unmovable,’ faithful to Jehovah, blessing his name forever and ever.
Published by the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society.