Receiving the ‘Requests of My Heart’
As told by P. J. Wentzel
WHEN our ship docked in New York harbour from South Africa, a black man met us at the dock. He was there to drive me, my wife Lina, and an elderly woman who was travelling with us to our accommodations. We stopped in a black neighbourhood, and the driver got out to check the address for our travelling companion. “But Piet,” she said to me, “this is all black!”
“This is America,” I reminded her. “There is no difference between black and white here; we are all the same.” (But within me I hoped that my wife and I would be taken to a white home!) Then the driver returned for our companion, who was warmly welcomed by a black family.
Then came our turn—still in the black area. As our host and his wife approached the car, I prayed fervently to God to help me get rid of any racial prejudice that might still be remaining—a legacy of my parents.
Our black hosts in New York gave us a warm welcome. They ushered us to our room, where everything was spotlessly clean. When they left us alone, we were silent at first. Then Lina walked to the bed, lifted the corner of the cover and said: “Piet, to think that tonight, for the first time in my life, I must sleep in a black woman’s bed!” But we came to know and love our hosts dearly.
Why was overcoming racial prejudice no small accomplishment for me and my travelling companions?
Bonnievale, where I was born in 1922, is a small town some 160 kilometres (100 mi) east of Cape Town, South Africa. My father was a member of the Dutch Reformed Church. It was a church for whites only. The blacks had their own churches in a separate township where they lived. So we were raised to accept the separation of races.
And how deep-seated racial prejudice can be! We were taught that our race is superior. We looked on blacks as people to be treated as humans but not as social equals. In my early days the custom was to receive them at the back door, and if we offered them some tea, to serve it in a special mug kept for blacks only. We were led to believe that things might be different in heaven, but on earth there is strict segregation.
Soon after I turned 17, I asked my father if I could be confirmed, but he felt I was too young. The following year, however, he told me that it was now time for confirmation. I took this very seriously. To me it meant giving oneself to God and doing his will. And since I lived for the world and its pleasures, including heavy smoking, I realized I had to make drastic changes in my life.
So at every lunch break, I would spend most of my time reading the Bible. To me it was a revelation—I could see that my way of life and that of my family fell far short of what the Scriptures require. Although I was reading the Bible in my own language, Afrikaans, there was much that I did not understand. Hence, I not only read but also prayed to God to help me understand the Bible.
When the time for confirmation classes approached, I had already read much of the Bible. I asked my father where confirmation is explained in the Bible so that I could study it.
“It is not in the Bible,” he replied. “It is a requirement of the church.” I was shocked!
“But if confirmation is not in God’s Word, how can I accept it?” I asked. “And if we are being misled on this vital matter, how can I entrust my life to the church?”
Well, from then on I began to search for the truth.
Searching for the Truth
One day a friend invited me to a service at the Dutch Reformed Church—I had not attended for some time. The minister spoke about hope: “If we hope for what we do not see, we keep on waiting for it with endurance.” (Romans 8:24, 25) Ah, this was what I wanted to know! What is our hope? What am I living for? Would I now get answers? But the preacher failed to describe a future hope. As I sat there, I begged God to help the preacher to help me!
Something else disturbed me. I noticed that a lot of people were dozing. I was yearning to hear the truth, and here people were asleep! I left the church feeling disappointed, and I never went back again.
Later I discussed the Bible with a friend who had some Pentecostal ideas. He said that a person who wants to serve God has to be baptized by total immersion in water. So I attended the next service of this little group and was baptized in the river. This made my father bitterly angry. He even threatened to kill me for daring to join a sect! I could no longer read the Bible at home but did so with the little group I had joined. I could not even eat with my father anymore, and whenever I came in contact with him, he would tell me to turn my face away. He did not want to see it!
The little Pentecostal group simply read the Bible, sang and prayed together, and spoke in tongues. By then I had cleaned up my life, including giving up smoking. I tried hard to receive the spirit like the others, even fasting for a few days, but nothing happened. Then I thought things over. I knew that there were others in town who claimed to speak in tongues, but they lived immoral lives. So how could God grant his holy spirit to people whose lives were out of harmony with his will? And something else puzzled me. I decided to ask the leader of our group.
“Is the holy spirit that you and others receive the same holy spirit that inspired the Bible?” I asked.
“Yes,” he replied.
“Well, is the earth to be man’s eternal home, or is it to be destroyed?”
“The earth will be destroyed, and Christians will live in heaven.”
“But something is wrong here,” I replied, “since the Bible says that the earth remains forever—a statement inspired by God’s spirit—the same spirit that you claim to have.”—Ecclesiastes 1:4.
I knew then that our little group did not have the truth. My search for it continued.
One day the Pentecostal group leader brought me a book entitled Riches, published by the Watchtower Society. As soon as I started reading it, I could see that it lined up with what I had read in the Bible. At last I had found the truth! I wrote for more publications. These were eagerly accepted by our little group, and we used them to study the Bible and to witness to others. Soon after this, a few of Jehovah’s Witnesses came to Bonnievale for a short visit, and we had a good discussion with them. Moreover, four of our group joined them in house-to-house preaching the following Sunday.
We Form a Small Congregation
To be able to continue spreading the message of hope, we ordered more books from the Watchtower Society’s branch office in Cape Town. They replied that we must first apply for the formation of a congregation. At first we were scared about this, but as the need for books became more pressing, we eventually applied and were formed into a new congregation—just the four of us, although not one of us was baptized as a Witness!
Every month, we reported the amount of preaching work we had done. But being untrained, we were not making return visits on people who showed interest. The branch office pointed this out to us month after month. Finally two of us mustered up courage and went to a home where the people seemed receptive. We gathered the family and sang a hymn together. I then opened with prayer and put on a Bible recording of one of J. F. Rutherford’s lectures. All listened attentively. We then concluded with another hymn and prayer. As we went home I said: “Well, that was our first ‘back call’!”
Meanwhile my father’s opposition continued unabated. My knowledge of the Bible was so limited! Yet what I knew, I believed deep in my heart. One day Rachel, one of my sisters, came to visit us. During my lunch break, she started to argue about the Trinity.
“Why do you people reject the Trinity doctrine?” she asked. “Our church plainly teaches that the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are coequal in existence and power.”
“If the holy spirit is coequal with the Father and the Son,” I replied, “then it can do for me exactly what the Father and the Son can do. So I might as well pray to the holy spirit.”
Rachel made no comment. But my father, in the next room, called out: “Rachel, leave him alone. You will get nowhere with him.” The whole family gathered round to support Rachel. My father then rushed in, terribly agitated. He clenched his fist, brought it to my forehead—but stopped and withdrew. I kept very quiet and still.
“You sit there like a hypocritical angel,” my father shouted. He reminded me of the time when I had volunteered to fight against Hitler and he had refused permission as I was under-age. “I wish now you had gone and got killed!” he roared. I quietly thanked him for preventing me from enlisting in the army.
When it was over, I went outside and reflected. Before I took an interest in the Bible, there had been peace. Now there was a family feud. What should I do? Go back to church and thus restore family peace? If I did that, I would be forsaking the precious truths I had learned. My parents had brought me into the world, but only God could give me everlasting life. With my hand against a beautiful palm tree, upright and firm, I decided right there: “They can kill me, but I will not turn back.”
Entering the Full-Time Service
Being single, young, and strong, I began to feel too restricted at my job in a local cheese factory. I worked there six days a week for small pay but could only spend one day a week in sacred service to Jehovah, from whom I expected everlasting life. Why should I continue making cheese when I had precious truths that could save lives? I wanted to be a full-time minister.
I wrote to the Society and said that I wanted to be a “pioneer,” or full-time worker. “But how?” I asked. I was only 18 and my father would never agree. I received an answer that quoted these beautiful words: “Take exquisite delight in Jehovah, and he will give you the requests of your heart.” (Psalm 37:4) How could my heart’s desire be fulfilled when my father was so opposed? Nevertheless, I pondered those words and kept praying.
Finally I made a plan. I told my father that there was no future for me in Bonnievale and that I wanted to move to Cape Town. He said: “I know why. You want to go and sell those books of Judge Rutherford!” But he consented.
In Cape Town I worked hard to earn enough to buy the few things I would need to start in the full-time ministry. When I met the branch overseer, George Phillips, I had a problem. Being from an Afrikaans community, my English was so poor that I had to speak to him through an interpreter. And at the meetings I understood so little that once when an assembly was organized for Cape Town I missed it because I had not understood the announcement!
In November Brother Phillips informed me that there was an opportunity for me to pioneer in Kimberley, and I could start the next month. I went home to say good-bye to the family. I had to control my emotions because I thought I might not see them again before Armageddon! But I did not tell them that I was going to be a pioneer.
It was December 1, 1941, at 19 years of age, that I started my pioneer career in Kimberley. From there I wrote to my parents. I bore no malice toward my father for the way he had treated me. Mother replied that she was happy that I could fulfil my heart’s desire. Indeed, I had found “exquisite delight in Jehovah” for he had given me the ‘request of my heart’—the full-time ministry.
Receiving Another ‘Request of My Heart’
In 1942, at the first national assembly that I attended, in Johannesburg, I symbolized my dedication to God by baptism. Two years later I met a young pioneer sister, Lina Muller. We were attracted to each other, but we agreed to wait until after the great tribulation before thinking seriously about marriage.
The public meeting campaign began in 1945. I was then serving at Vereeniging with two other pioneers, one of whom was Frans Muller, Lina’s brother. When we first heard of this new campaign, we agreed it was not for us—we had no experience as public speakers. With the Society’s encouragement, though, we selected talks. To practise delivery we chose a quiet spot near the Vaal River, where we addressed our “audience”—the river! We felt well rewarded when, a month later, instead of the usual 4 or 5 at our group meeting, 37 came to the first talk!
In 1947 I was assigned to the circuit work. The following year Lina and I were married. Ever since, my dear wife has been labouring at my side—a most loyal companion. So another ‘request of my heart’ was given me.
Learning Important Lessons
In 1953 Lina and I had the great privilege of attending the “New World Society” Assembly in New York, U.S.A.—our first trip abroad. That is when one of our Christian brothers picked us up at the dock to take us to the home of the black Witness family with whom we stayed. How we came to love those dear brothers and sisters!
This experience helped us tremendously when I later served as district overseer for the black Witnesses in South Africa, where we were often received into very humble homes, sometimes sitting on the floor and once even sleeping on the floor.
Since 1966 my wife and I have been serving at Bethel here in South Africa. Having spent nearly 20 years as a travelling overseer, at first I found it difficult to adjust to life in Bethel. I dearly loved to be out preaching, teaching, and training others. But as time went by, I learned to appreciate Bethel service deeply. In time I was privileged to work in the Service Department and for a number of years now as a member of the Branch Committee.
Looking back, I recall that in 1942, when still in Kimberley, we heard of the death of the president of the Society, J. F. Rutherford. A news report commented: ‘Now that the leader of Jehovah’s Witnesses is dead, the organization will wither and die, like a pumpkin plant in the hot sun.’ Instead, how beautifully the organization has kept flourishing over the years—even during the scorching heat of persecution! And what marvellous growth has taken place in South Africa since those early years in Bonnievale! Then there were some 1,000 Witnesses in South Africa; now there are over 36,000.
When I reflect on what Jehovah and his organization have done and have meant for me over the years, I heartily encourage all my young fellow Witnesses to make room for full-time service if at all possible. It brings rich rewards. I know that if I keep on finding exquisite delight in doing Jehovah’s will, he will grant me the request of my heart—an eternity of joyful service.
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We came to know and love our black hosts dearly
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“You sit there like a hypocritical angel,” my father shouted. “I wish now you had gone and got killed!”
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How beautifully the organization has kept flourishing over the years—even during the heat of persecution!
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P. J. Wentzel and his wife Lina