How I Conquered My Driving Ambition
As told by Waikato Gray
MY BIRTH on December 2, 1928, was not without its own significant feature. It was a breech delivery that nearly took my life as well as that of my mother. As a result, I was born with twisted feet. Fortunately, a great-aunt came to my assistance and eventually straightened them. For the life I would lead as a Maori in New Zealand, her help turned out to be vital.
My father, Clark Gray, was of the Ngati-Tuwharetoa Maori tribe and my mother, Hore Teree, came from the Ngati-Kahungunu tribe. According to ancient Maori genealogy, I had a good heritage, having descended from two very ambitious tribal chiefs. Ambition also became the driving force in my life.
Rising Above Poverty
I was the third of what in time came to be a family of eight children. It was the period of the Great Depression, and my parents were very poor. All ten of us lived in a two-room house in Bay View, near Napier, North Island, New Zealand. Gathering wood from the beach and carrying water in a four-gallon (15 L) kerosene tin from a neighbor’s well were daily chores I clearly remember. We walked barefoot five miles (8 km) to school, summer and winter.
This poverty fed my ambition to carve out a better future—to get a decent education and be someone. School was the place to start. While I kept up with my academic studies, I also excelled in athletics and rugby football. I became the top sprinter at my secondary school and was soon made a member of the rugby team. At school level, my rugby fame as a top-notch wing-three-quarter spread around the North Island.
From school I went on to a teachers’ training college at Wellington and also spent a year at Victoria University before taking up a teaching post at the Manutahi District High School. While there, I was selected as a trial player for the Maori All Blacks rugby team. To play for the New Zealand national rugby team is the dream of many Maoris. It was a real honor for me to take part in these trials.
My ambitions were being fulfilled. I was a Maori teacher and as such had achieved recognition both in the academic and in the sports field. Poverty had receded—what a far cry from the poor Maori boy of the 1930’s!
Do You Know God’s Name?
While I was in college, I had reason to take a hard look at religion. I was raised an Anglican. In fact, church services were at one time conducted in our home. A real test came when my father died. I kept asking myself why God had taken away my father when he was so badly needed by my mother and her eight children. It didn’t seem fair.
About this time my mother started to attend Bible studies that Jehovah’s Witnesses were conducting with some neighbors. I was indignant. We had our own faith, so why did she need to bother with those Witnesses?
Then one day Rudolph Rawiri, a local Witness, came to visit me. I decided I was going to put him in his place. But his smile and pleasant manner disarmed me. He asked a simple question, “Do you know God’s name?” I answered, “Jesus.” He invited me to open my King James Bible to Psalm 83:18. What a surprise! There was God’s name in my own Bible: “That men may know that thou, whose name alone is JEHOVAH, art the Most High over all the earth.”
I was impressed. Why had my church not emphasized that holy name? Later, another Maori Witness, Charles Tareha, came to our home and conducted a regular Bible study with us. We recognized the ring of Bible truth and cut off all affiliations with the Church of England. I became a baptized Witness in 1955.
Why the Truth Appealed to Me
Since I was raised an Anglican, why did the teachings of Jehovah’s Witnesses appeal to me? As they explained God’s Word, I was impressed by the simplicity and logic. Of course, for many people that simplicity is itself an obstacle. But I came to see that the Bible has basic principles, laws, and directives for any problem that might arise in life.—Compare Psalm 119.
This was especially true in married life. In the Bible, I found guidelines for a successful marriage. It helped me to see where I could improve as a husband and father by accepting my responsibilities. Of course, I was very fortunate to find such a good wife as Hinewaka, of the Ngati-Porou East Coast Tribe. We were married in 1954. She readily accepted the Bible truth, and we have cooperated with each other in applying the principles of God’s Word.—See Proverbs 31:10-31.
I was also greatly impressed by the high moral standards that the Witnesses follow. In order to have a favorable standing with Jehovah, all immoral conduct has to cease—fornication, adultery, lying, stealing, violence, murder, hatred, and racism are all condemned by God’s Word. I could see the benefits of good conduct to me and to others. There was no bad fruitage to regret.—1 Corinthians 6:9, 10.
Freed From Superstition
Maori superstitions go hand in hand with Maori heritage. We were very afraid of the souls of the dead, and the Anglican teachings about the immortal soul only served to heighten my Maori fears. Yet, when I started to study the Bible with the Witnesses, I learned that Jesus had said: “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32) Yes, accurate knowledge of God’s Word freed me from bondage to Maori superstitions.
I remember a case in point. My grandfather died, and within 48 hours my grandmother also died—of a broken heart. She was laid out on the floor of the sitting room, next to my grandfather who was in a coffin. Many older Maoris were standing around the body, but when the undertaker asked for help to place her in the coffin, all of them disappeared from the room! But for my knowledge of the truth, I would have fled also. Knowing that the dead are just sleeping in death, I didn’t hesitate to help lift up my dear grandmother’s body into her coffin.
Since then, as a minister of Jehovah’s Witnesses, I have performed many funeral services and been able to comfort many with the Bible’s simple teachings about the dead. I think the simplicity of the account at John 11:11-44 really clarifies the issue. Jesus compared death to sleep. There is no suffering, just a waiting for the resurrection, as though in sleep.
A Test of Loyalty
Deeper knowledge of the Bible and of Christ’s example began to put me to the test. Ambition was still a driving force in my life. A teaching career and sports had been giving all that one could want. But now a choice must be made between living the humble, simple life of a Christian witness of Jehovah or trying to fit my ambitions in with my newfound faith.
In 1957 I faced a difficult decision, a real test of my loyalty to God. I was given an assignment to present a Bible talk at a district convention of Jehovah’s Witnesses to be held in Lower Hutt. But as a teacher, I had to request special leave to attend the convention. The Hawke’s Bay Education Board turned me down.
I was at a crossroads—would I stay on at the school and turn down the convention assignment? Or would I risk losing my job and attend the convention without permission? It was not easy to decide. I loved teaching, and the children and the parents depended on me. The headmaster pleaded with me to remain at the school. But I remembered Jesus words: “Whoever does not accept his torture stake and follow after me is not worthy of me.” (Matthew 10:38) Was I willing to make a material sacrifice in order to obtain a spiritual blessing? Or would my overriding ambition get in the way?
I forfeited my life’s ambition and a work I had grown to love, that of teaching children. I went to the Christian convention and lost my teaching post. Yet, looking back I know it was the right decision. I gave up teaching children, but eventually it led me to teaching adults over a much wider area. To support my family, I took up cleaning and gardening work. Eventually I did part-time office and shop work, which enabled me to spend more time in the ministry.
Severe Health Test
At one stage, I was really brought low. As an athlete, I had always cared for my body. Then, out of the blue, I was struck down with the white plague—tuberculosis. I was placed in the Waipukurau sanatorium in an effort to cure my sickness. My lung failed to respond to the treatment. The doctor’s verdict was that I would have to have an operation to remove the top lobe of the left lung. The surgeon would not perform the operation without a blood transfusion. Bible principles would not allow me to accept someone else’s blood into my system. (Acts 15:28, 29) I suggested to the doctor that he transfuse blood substitutes that I was willing to accept. He turned that down. I took the matter to Jehovah in prayer.
The doctors decided to cease all medical treatment. Instead, I was given physical therapy in the form of walking exercises for two weeks. After that I was X-rayed and called into the superintendent’s office for the verdict. What suspense! “Your lung has cleared. You can go home,” he said. My prayer was answered, and I returned home to my wife and my child.
Satisfaction in Service, not Ambition
As I progressed as a Witness, I came to be satisfied with the necessary things of life rather than being ambitious for the outward signs of worldly success. For 28 years I served as an elder in the Wairoa Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Wairoa is a town of only 5,000 inhabitants, with a rural population of some 7,000 more. They are predominantly Maori, and like all Polynesian peoples, they are friendly, easygoing, and generous. This spirit was reflected in our congregation, which grew to over 90 active publishers of the good news.
A special part of my ministry was that of aiding unbelieving husbands. One such was John McAndrew, a heavy smoker and drinker, known as the roughest and toughest in the town. Yet Bible truth transformed him, and he now serves as the presiding overseer in the Wairoa Congregation.
Another unbelieving husband was John Salmon, a businessman, who moved to Wairoa to get his wife away from the Witnesses. When I met him, he was willing to talk only if I used the King James Bible. That really was no problem. After all, it was the principal translation that Jehovah’s Witnesses used prior to 1950, before the New World Translation was first published. Thus, with his own Bible, he was helped to recognize and accept the truth.
Tutura Waihape was an outstanding character, a young married Maori with a bright rugby career ahead of him. When I began to study the Bible with him, he had the longest hair I had ever seen on a man. As he advanced in knowledge of Jehovah and Christ Jesus, his attitude changed. His love of the truth was more important than standing out because of his long hair, and he had it cut off. Today, he serves in the congregation as a ministerial servant.
Full-Time Teaching Career
For the past ten years, I have served as a regular pioneer minister, devoting an average of 90 hours per month to the ministry. My wife has been a pioneer for 15 years, and my three children also tasted pioneering when they left school.
As the climax of our service to Jehovah, my wife and I are now serving where the need is greater in Niue Island. This is away to the north of New Zealand, out in the Pacific. We have found that the small population of some 2,800 inhabitants are religiously inclined, and many love to discuss the Bible. While here, we have also helped a small congregation to be better organized.
My driving ambition for personal advancement and glory has vanished. I have come to realize that the glory that humans should attribute to Jehovah God is much more important. As King David expressed it: “Attribute to Jehovah, O families of peoples, attribute to Jehovah glory and strength. Attribute to Jehovah the glory of his name.” Here on our little island of Niue, that is what we are trying to do.—1 Chronicles 16:28, 29.
[Picture on page 12]
In traditional Maori dress