We Brought Up Eight Children in the Discipline of Jehovah
AS TOLD BY OVERLAC MENEZES
“They arrived on a two-seater bicycle.” This is how the Jornal de Resende began its full-page report on our family in 1988, when we were leaving Resende for Lages in the south of Brazil.
THE report went on: “Doubtless, older persons will remember the couple who caught the attention of Resende by their original and peculiar means of transportation: a bicycle with a huge frame and two seats. Up front, driving, was the ‘chauffeur,’ Overlac Menezes; in the second seat, his wife, Maria José. The year: 1956.”
The author of the article was a man named Arisio Maciel, and he was also the director of the local radio station. He first met us back in 1956 when my wife and I played parts in the Watch Tower Society’s weekly radio program, Things People Are Thinking About. In the article, he quoted me as saying that during our stay “all the houses in Resende were visited, street by street.”
Would you like to know how we got to be so well-known in Resende? And how, while we were there, we managed to raise eight children ‘in the discipline of Jehovah’ while helping to visit all the houses in Resende with the Kingdom good news?—Ephesians 6:4.
Learning Jehovah’s Ways
In January 1950, Maria Minc, one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, began to study the Bible with my sister Adeilde in São Paulo. I was 16 years old at the time and had been baptized as a Catholic, but I had not been to church for some time. Nevertheless, I still believed in God and wanted to serve him. So one night, I went to Adeilde’s home to find out about the new religion she was studying. Maria Minc invited me to join in the study, and for the first time in my life, I saw a Bible. During subsequent studies I was amazed to learn from the Bible that God’s name is Jehovah, that soon the earth will be a paradise, that hellfire and purgatory do not exist, and that man does not have an immortal soul. My relatives told me: “You’ll go crazy reading the Bible so much!”
I made good progress in my Bible study and began to attend meetings at the Kingdom Hall of the Belém Congregation in São Paulo. Expecting to see only adults in attendance, I was pleasantly surprised to find many youths of my own age. On February 5, 1950, I took part in the preaching work for the first time, and on November 4 of that same year, I symbolized my dedication to Jehovah by water baptism.
Shortly thereafter I was appointed as a public speaker. At that time, this meant I gave talks on the streets and in the parks by using a loudspeaker mounted on the bumper of an automobile. Another activity was the magazine work. In those days we used to stand on street corners with our magazine bags, calling out: “Watchtower and Awake! Announcing Jehovah’s Kingdom!” I did not place many magazines, but I did gain the courage to speak in public.
Full-Time Service as a Goal
My attention was soon drawn to the importance of the pioneer service, or full-time preaching activity. The April 1, 1950, issue of The Watchtower (English) had an article entitled “More and More Pioneers of Good News.” This stated: “Seeking the Kingdom first means one would have uppermost in his mind at all times the Kingdom interests. Such one would be looking for opportunities to serve in its behalf, and not be forever seeking first his material needs and laying up worldly goods to safeguard his future.” These words implanted the pioneer spirit in my heart.
Soon, an attractive young lady named Maria José Precerutti changed my life in a significant way. She was making good progress in her study of the Bible with a Witness couple, José and Dília Paschoal. On January 2, 1954, she became my dear wife, companion, friend, and helper. Her goal, too, was to pioneer. So, encouraged by the examples of missionaries like Harry Black, Edmundo Moreira, and Richard Mucha, we applied to enter the pioneer service. Imagine our joy—and anxiety—when we received an answer: “Your recommendation to be a circuit overseer has been approved”!
When I received my first circuit assignment, I was panic-stricken. My new circuit included ten congregations in Brazil’s then capital, Rio de Janeiro, including some near Bethel. A missionary home of the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead was in the first congregation I was assigned to visit. At 22 years of age, I felt very inadequate and said to Brother Mucha, at that time in charge of the work in Brazil: “What can I teach these people?” He answered: “Brother, just apply the counsel from the Bible and the organization.” Good advice indeed!
A year later, Maria José became pregnant, and we had to leave the circuit work. Happily, though, we remained in full-time service. In answer to a request by two Finnish families, the Edviks and the Leiniös, the Society assigned us to Resende as special pioneers, an almost virgin territory of 35,000 inhabitants. It was the Leiniös who gave us the two-seater bicycle mentioned in the article in the Jornal de Resende. Using it, we were able to plant many seeds of truth in that fertile territory, and we continued working there for some months after our daughter Alice was born in 1956. When we left, two sisters, Anita Ribeiro and Marian Weiler, came to water the seed and ‘God kept making it grow.’ Today, Resende has nine congregations and over 700 publishers.—1 Corinthians 3:7.
One of the first persons I met in Resende was Manoel Queiroz. While waiting for a bus, I placed two books with him where he worked. He, and later his wife, Piedade, made good progress and they were both baptized. Manoel became an elder in the congregation and continued faithful until his death. I also studied with Álvaro Soares. At the first meeting he attended, he was surprised to see just six people present, but today he is city overseer in Resende where more than a thousand attend the meetings in the different congregations. In 1978, Álvaro’s son Carlos married our daughter Alice. Today, more than 60 of the Soares family are Witnesses.
Leaving Resende meant that our full-time service was exchanged for another Christian obligation, ‘providing for those who are members of our household.’ (1 Timothy 5:8) However, we strove to maintain the pioneer spirit, keeping full-time service as our goal. I obtained work with a firm in São Paulo, and for one year I traveled each weekend the 190 miles [300 km] to Resende to help the group of 15 publishers there. Then, in 1960, we moved back to Resende.
Raising Children—An Added Privilege
We really did not plan to have quite so many children, but they came anyway, one after the other. After Alice there was Léo, then Márcia, Maércio, Plínio, André, and finally, in 1976, the twins, Sônia and Sofia. Each was happily accepted as “an inheritance from Jehovah.” (Psalm 127:3) And each was raised in the “mental-regulating of Jehovah” with his help.—Ephesians 6:4.
This was not an easy task, however. At times we wept because of the problems. But it was rewarding. How did we go about raising them? By family study, by taking them with us to meetings and in the field ministry from their infancy, by doing things together, by making sure they had good associations, by giving them firm discipline, and by setting a good example ourselves.
A few years ago, on the program at an assembly in Cruzeiro, São Paulo, we were interviewed by the circuit overseer. After talking about our family study, the circuit overseer asked me: “What role did your wife play in this?” I remember that tears came to my eyes, and I had such a large lump in my throat that I could not answer. Why? Because I truly appreciated the decisive role Maria José played in maintaining our theocratic family. Without her faithful support, it would have been very difficult indeed!
Right from our engagement, Maria José and I studied the Bible together. When the children came along, it became a real challenge to keep the study going on a regular basis. To help in this, each week on the refrigerator door I indicated the time of the study for the following week and the material to be considered. I also made special assignments as needed. For example, one day Márcia and Plínio were fighting at the table. So the next day, they found on the refrigerator the assignment “How to get along with your brothers.” At the following study, both of them had their say and resolved their differences.
Another problem was on Sunday mornings when the boys would often say that they felt too sick to go out in field service. Léo and Plínio were experts at inventing stomachaches and other ailments to avoid accompanying us in the preaching work. Whenever I had doubts about whether they were really sick, I said something like this: ‘If you’re too sick to go in the service, then of course you will not be well enough to play football later.’ Usually, they had a remarkably rapid recovery.
On occasion, we needed to handle situations carefully. When Léo was 11, he went on a picnic with fellow Witnesses, and without permission he bought two pounds [a kilogram] of ham to eat. Later, when we received the bill, Maria José asked Léo: “Did you forget you bought the ham?” “No,” he answered innocently. “I didn’t buy it.” “Well,” she said, “let’s go talk to the owner of the store.” On the way there, Léo’s amnesia cleared up. “Now I remember,” he confessed, “I didn’t have enough money, so I bought it on credit and forgot to pay for it.” I paid the bill myself and asked the owner to hire Léo, letting him work until he earned enough money to pay me back. That was his punishment. Every morning at four o’clock, Léo was the first to arrive at work, and in one month he had paid back to me the amount in full.
Our house was always full of pioneers, traveling overseers, missionaries, and Bethelites. Most of the time we did not have a television in the house, and this helped us to form good study habits and Christian attitudes. It was in this atmosphere that we raised our children. Some of the letters they sent us after they grew up confirm that it worked well.—See box on page 30.
When the majority of our children had grown up, I recalled an article in the March 1, 1955, issue of The Watchtower entitled “Is the Full-Time Ministry for You?” This said in part: “Some may be inclined to view the full-time ministry as the exception. But in this they err, for by virtue of his dedication vow every Christian is obligated to serve full time unless circumstances over which he has no control make that impossible.”
One night I prayed to Jehovah to open the door again for me to enter the full-time service. My family cooperated, and friends encouraged me. To my great surprise, the director of the firm where I had worked for 26 years agreed to let me work part-time so that I could serve as a regular pioneer. Therefore I happily took up the work that I had had to leave so many years before. And three of the children followed my example.
We served for two years in Itatiaia, where I had been an elder for 15 years, and then we decided to move to serve where the need was greater. This meant living on a modest pension, equal to about one fourth of a good salary. Nevertheless, trusting in Jesus’ promise in Matthew 6:33, we wrote the Society about our plans. A week later, we almost jumped for joy to receive their reply: “It seems reasonable to us to suggest that you move to the city of Lages. In spite of its population of over 200,000, there are only 100 publishers there in three small congregations. You would be of great help in that territory.”
We moved in February 1988. And here we still are, more than 600 miles [1,000 kms] from our children and friends. We have just come through the worst winter in 20 years. I am the only elder in our congregation, so there is much to do. Yet, we are very, very blessed. Especially delightful is the territory. When we knock at their doors, the people say: “Please come in!” Bible studies are easy to start. We accept different items as donations when money is scarce, and we have come home with soap, deodorant, razor blades, baby’s clothes (for our grandchild), cereals, vegetables, fruit, yogurt, wine, and even ice cream. Once we accepted some wooden stools!
Fruitage That Brings Rich Rewards
Today, at 56 years of age, I am thrilled whenever I consider our family. The children were not “born in the truth.” They were born into a Christian home, and the truth had to be inculcated in their young minds and hearts. Those who married did so “in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 7:39; Deuteronomy 6:6, 7) True, we made mistakes and errors in judgment. Sometimes we committed injustices. On occasion, I failed to set the best example or neglected my responsibility as father and husband. When I realized what I had done, I asked forgiveness of Jehovah and my wife or my children, and I strove to correct the wrong.
Despite our imperfections, the family—now increased by sons-in-law, daughters-in-law, and grandchildren—has six in the full-time ministry, four elders, and one ministerial servant. All except the grandchildren are baptized. The three minor children still with us plan on the full-time service as their vocation. What greater reward could one hope for? I am grateful to Jehovah for having guided us in bringing up our children in his discipline. We are thrilled to see them still following his teachings. And I pray that we, as well as they, will never turn aside from the way of life.
[Box on page 30]
After they grew up, our children sometimes expressed appreciation in letters for the way we brought them up. Here are a few of their comments:
“Dad, be sure that you and Mother did the very best for us, even though you may have made mistakes—something that happens a lot now with Carlos and me in handling our son Fabrício.”
Daughter Alice, 33, mother of two boys.
“We must admit that you made a joint effort to raise us in the mental-regulating of Jehovah. And how much we are benefiting from it now!”
Daughter Márcia, 27, and her husband, who is in circuit work.
“I realize that the privilege I have now would never have been possible without the help both of you gave me to establish a firm spiritual basis and love for Jehovah and his service.”
Son Maércio, 23, special pioneer.
“André, take full advantage of Dad’s company and experience. Never ignore his counsel. You will be able to help each other. I’m happier than ever now.”
Son Plínio, 20, at Bethel.
[Picture Credit Line on page 26]
[Picture Credit Line on page 27]