I’ve Seen It Grow in Southern Africa
As told by Robert Albert McLuckie
THE Kingdom preaching activity in South Africa goes grandly on. From the hundred or so preaching in the late 1920’s, there are now about 45,000 declaring the good news in South Africa. And another 150,000 or so are preaching in other countries where our South African branch previously had oversight.
I have had the joy of seeing this marvelous growth in southern Africa during the past 60 years! Let me tell you briefly about it and about the share my family and I have been privileged to have in it.
It Began With Tragedy
On June 22, 1927, my beloved wife, Edna, died, leaving behind our daughter, Lyall, age three and our son, Donovan, age two. I was only 26. Her death left me consumed with grief and quite bewildered. Where was she? Not believing that she was in hell, I gained some comfort at night by dreaming that she was in heaven.
That July little Donovan handed me a pamphlet that was addressed to someone else but somehow had got mixed up with our mail. It contained a discourse by Joseph Rutherford, the Watch Tower Society’s second president. The contents interested me so much that I promptly ordered all the publications listed. Little did I realize that this would change my life.
Among the booklets that arrived, the one entitled Hell—What Is It? Who Are There? Can They Get Out? caught my eye. How absolutely thrilled I was to see that booklet! After only two or three pages, I actually laughed with delight.
Eager to share what I had learned, I either wrote to or spoke with my parents and other family members. As a result, my four brothers, Jack, Percy, William, and Sydney, soon became interested and began preaching to others. Years later, my father, mother, and two sisters, Connie and Grace, also accepted the faith.
I could find no other Bible Student, as Jehovah’s Witnesses were then known, in our part of South Africa. I moved to Southern Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe, and worked for about a year on a cattle ranch with my brother Jack. As a result of reading the Watch Tower Society’s literature, it was not long before I felt an urgent desire to enter the full-time ministry.
As yet I had not met any fellow believers except those to whom I had witnessed. So I made the 1,400-mile [2,300 km] train journey to the Society’s branch office at Cape Town, South Africa. What a warm reception I received from George Phillips, who had charge of the work in southern Africa! On January 10, 1930, I was baptized.
Early Years of Pioneering
Though having talked to hundreds of persons about the Bible during the previous three years, I had not shared in the house-to-house ministry. Nevertheless, I was enrolled in the full-time ministry as a pioneer. There was no training program in those days. In fact, publishers would seldom go together to the same home. Since we had so few publishers, it just did not seem practical to do so.
Naturally, I was concerned about the welfare of my children, Lyall and Donovan, who were being cared for by their grandparents. Since they were receiving good care, at the time I felt it proper to expend myself in spreading the Kingdom message to others. So that is what I did.
During the next three years of pioneering, I had five partners, including my brother Syd. Later he contracted typhoid fever while in the pioneer work and died. Pioneering was not easy in those early days. We used a commercial van with built-in bunks, made to fold up on either side of the van. This enabled us to sleep, sit, cook, and eat inside.
The most outstanding event of my early pioneer days was when we received our new name, Jehovah’s Witnesses, in 1931, along with the booklet The Kingdom—The Hope of the World. I distinctly remember feeling overawed at the thought of using that illustrious name, wondering if I could use it worthily.
Another memorable event in those early years was baptizing my brother Jack and his wife, Dorrell, in the crocodile-infested waters of the Nuanetsi River in Southern Rhodesia. Before the immersion, we threw some rocks into the river to scare off any lurking crocodiles. Later, in the 1950’s, I baptized my mother in a bathtub.
In Other Countries
In 1933 my fifth partner, Robert Nisbet, and I were assigned to fresh, untouched territory—the islands of Mauritius and Madagascar off the southeast coast of Africa. We spent the better part of four months on those two islands, planting seeds of Bible truth. What joy it is now to see that Mauritius has about 800 Kingdom publishers and Madagascar some 3,000! When we returned to South Africa, Robert and I parted company. Later he pioneered with my brother Syd and still later served as branch overseer in Mauritius.
Prior to our return to South Africa, I arranged to meet Lyall and Donovan at my father’s home. After visiting with them, there came the inevitable separation, accompanied by tears. I traveled on to meet the branch overseer, Brother Phillips, to receive my next assignment. It was Nyasaland, now Malawi. A 1929 model Chevrolet was purchased for me to use there.
So, in 1934, off I went on the 1,200-mile [1,900 km] journey, mainly over dirt roads, from Johannesburg, South Africa, to Zomba, the capital of Nyasaland. Eventually I reached my destination, the home of an African brother, Richard Kalinde. He became my close companion and interpreter during my stay in Nyasaland. In time, I obtained two rooms in an old hotel that was no longer in use. One I used as the depot office, and the other for accommodations.
My assignment in Nyasaland was particularly to bring order out of the chaotic conditions resulting from the so-called Watchtower movements. Years before, an African, familiar with the writings of the first president of the Watch Tower Society, Charles Taze Russell, had been responsible for the development of these movements, even though he himself never became one of Jehovah’s Witnesses.—See the 1976 Yearbook of Jehovah’s Witnesses, pages 71-4.
I visited congregations of those who were using the Watch Tower literature and read a resolution concerning our new name, Jehovah’s Witnesses. All in favor of the resolution were requested to signify this by a show of hands. Though the majority did so signify, many did not fully understand what this really involved. Thus, over the years, while some failed to progress spiritually, others withdrew their support entirely from the one they had viewed as leader and truly became Jehovah’s Witnesses.
After about six months in Nyasaland, I went over into Mozambique, where the Kingdom message had not yet been proclaimed. There I met a young Portuguese officer whom Robert Nisbet and I had contacted on the boat en route to Mauritius. He invited me to a meal, and I was able to speak further with him.
On another occasion, while in a village in northern Mozambique, a car stopped next to me. It turned out to be the governor of the area. He inquired if he could be of help and invited me to his home, where he accepted many of the Watch Tower publications. Even though the preaching work is now banned in Mozambique and Nyasaland (Malawi), it is thrilling to me to know that many faithful brothers and sisters are active there.
After I returned to Nyasaland, what a surprise I received! I was invited to join the office staff in the South Africa branch at Cape Town, and my younger brother William was sent to replace me in Nyasaland. So I set off on the 2,200 mile [3,500 km] journey in the Chevrolet. En route I visited Donovan and Lyall. They were 11 and 12 years old now, and it would be another year before I would see them again.
I was assigned to take charge of the branch office whenever Brother Phillips, the branch overseer, was away. Although I had not been associated regularly with any one congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses since learning the truth nine years earlier, in 1936 I was appointed to be the presiding overseer of the Cape Town Congregation, composed of about 20 publishers.
A Change in Status
I did not want to sacrifice my privileges of service, but Lyall and Donovan were about to enter their teens, and I was concerned about their welfare, including their spiritual well-being. Thankfully, a solution to the matter was near.
On June 6, 1936, Brother Phillips introduced me to newcomers from Australia, Sister Seidel and her attractive 18-year-old daughter, Carmen. Within the year Carmen and I were married. So I obtained secular employment and established a home.
For a year I held a job in South Africa, but then Carmen and I and our baby son, Peter, moved to Southern Rhodesia, where my brother Jack had invited me to join him in a gold-mining venture. After we got settled, Lyall and Donovan, who had stayed behind with Carmen’s mother, joined us.
Facing Wartime Persecution
In September 1939, World War II broke out, and the following year our Bible literature was banned. We determined to test the legality of the law by distributing the literature come what may. Arrests and convictions followed, and our books and Bibles were confiscated and burned.
One morning after our preaching work, we were invited by a detective to pick up our children at the police station where they had been taken. We refused, pointing out that since the young ones were apparently under arrest, it was up to the police to look after them. That afternoon, after returning from the field ministry, we found the children home safe but not a policeman in sight!
On another occasion, in 1941, Carmen was sentenced to three months in prison even though she was pregnant. Estrella, however, was born before Carmen began serving her sentence. Rather than leave the baby home with me, Carmen chose to take her to prison. Thus, Estrella came to have as a nursemaid an African woman who had murdered her husband. When Carmen was released, the murderess was so distraught she cried bitterly. Incidentally, Estrella started pioneering in 1956 at age 15. Later, she married Jack Jones and for more than 20 years now has served with her husband in South Africa and presently at the Watch Tower Society’s headquarters in Brooklyn, New York.
Soon afterward I also spent several months in prison for preaching. While I was there, in January 1942, Joseph Rutherford died. I couldn’t help shedding a few tears that night in the privacy of my cell. I had opportunities to witness, and one Sunday morning, while everyone else was in the outer courtyard for exercise, I baptized a fellow prisoner who had responded to the Kingdom message.
A New Branch Office
After my release from prison, I obtained employment on the railways in Bulawayo. Carmen had learned dressmaking in prison and used the skill to help support the family. Lyall returned from South Africa, where she had been pioneering, and also helped with expenses. As a result, we soon had more income than we really needed, so we talked it over, and it was agreed that I could again take up the full-time ministry.
Having a railway pass, in 1947 I traveled by train to Cape Town to see Brother Phillips. To my great surprise, I was assigned to open a depot for handling the Society’s literature in Bulawayo. Then, the following year, Nathan H. Knorr, the Watch Tower Society’s third president, visited and arranged for the depot to become a branch office on September 1, 1948, with Eric Cooke as branch overseer of Southern Rhodesia. For the next 14 years, I was privileged to work at the branch while, of course, living at home with our growing family. I am so grateful for the material support that Carmen and our older children rendered, enabling me to continue working at the branch office.
Another Preaching Assignment
By 1962 Carmen and I desired to go farther afield and work where the need was greater. So we sold our home and took Lindsay and Jeremy, our two youngest children—the other five had grown up and left home—and headed for the Seychelle Islands.
First, we traveled by car, mostly along dirt roads, for about 1,800 miles [2,900 km], arriving in Mombasa, Kenya. We left the car with a brother and embarked by boat for the Seychelles. An interested person introduced us to others, and soon we had meetings going almost in the shadow of the bishop’s house. We held other meetings on a nearby island in a privately owned boathouse surrounded by tall palm trees and with waves lapping the shore.
Our activities soon became known, and the authorities eventually ordered us to stop preaching, something we simply could not agree to do. (Acts 4:19, 20) So we were, in effect, deported, but in the meantime we had baptized five persons. During our five-month stay in the Seychelles, Carmen became pregnant with Andrew, our last child. On our return to Southern Rhodesia, our daughter Pauline invited us to stay with her and her husband pending the birth of Andrew.
Blessings and Satisfactions
I am happy to say that all eight of our children, including Lyall and Donovan, have engaged in pioneering at one time or another. In fact, four of our sons and sons-in-law are now elders, and two are ministerial servants. In addition, how glad we are that many of our grandchildren and great-grandchildren together with their parents are proclaiming glad tidings in no less than four countries and that scores of other members of the McLuckie family are also serving Jehovah. Such results, I am convinced, are due to consistent family attendance at meetings and engaging regularly in the preaching activity.
Now at 89 years of age, I still have the privilege of being an elder in our congregation in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa. It brings me true satisfaction to look back on more than 60 years in Jehovah’s blessed service. Especially is it a blessing to have seen five generations of our family, including my parents, bring praise to Jehovah, the great God of all the universe.