Jehovah Blessed My Determination
AS TOLD BY RICHARD WUTTKE
“You’re going to die within three months!” “What do you mean?” “That’s what the doctor you consulted in Assis told me,” my brother William replied.
BUT I wanted to live, not to die. For the first time, I prayed to God for help. Happily, 46 years later, I can say that although the doctor did not say what my problem was, his diagnosis was wrong. The scare, however, made me think about my purpose in life and the need to serve our Creator.
Family on the Move
When I was born on November 11, 1921, my parents were living in Grosen, a small town in eastern Germany. They were born in Russia to German immigrants. But, when the Bolshevik revolution in 1917 ushered in Communism, they along with others of German origin were deported and lost all their possessions. After a long trip by freight train, my parents and their small children arrived at the German border. However, they were refused entry and had to make the trip back to Russia. There they were refused reentry, so they had to go back to Germany. After months of hardship, they were finally allowed into the country.
When I was ten years old, my father died. Two years later, in 1933, Hitler came to power, and I was compelled to join the Nazi Youth movement. During Hitler’s regime, there were problems for Germans born in other countries, and there was evidence that Germany was preparing for another war. So we decided to immigrate to Brazil, being encouraged by others who had already moved there. We arrived in Santos, Brazil, in May 1936.
After working a few months on a coffee plantation, we bought a small farm in a fertile region near Maracaí in the state of São Paulo. While we built our house, we were able to stay in the home of the Lutheran minister. He encouraged us to attend his church but when he, and later his successor, began to talk politics in his sermons, we left the church.
First Contact With Bible Truth
It was about this time that my brother told me of the doctor’s dire diagnosis. So I went to São Paulo to get a second opinion. While I was there, the family I was living with had a visit from a friend of theirs, Otto Erbert. He was one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, and he began to witness to us. However, the family did not appreciate what he was saying, and one by one they all left the room, leaving me with their visitor.
Otto talked to me for about two hours on the subjects of hellfire; immortality of the soul; the true God, Jehovah; his Kingdom; and the hope of living forever on a paradise earth. What a brilliant future he painted! How different from what I had learned in the Lutheran Church! Finally, Otto asked: “Do you believe in Christendom’s false teachings or in the Bible?”
“In the Bible,” I answered.
“Then study it!” he urged, adding: “If you want to hear more about it, come see me.” Since I liked what I had heard, especially about living forever on earth, I went to see him the next day. That second discussion convinced me that I had found the ‘truth that sets mankind free.’ (John 8:32) I left with a booklet, Health and Life, and an invitation to a Bible study in German.
Fulfilling My Deepest Desire
In the meantime, I obtained proper medical treatment and was able to return home. I took Otto Erbert with me for a vacation. Mother was very happy that I was studying the Bible, the book that was always on our table but never read. After Otto returned to São Paulo, I had a Bible study with my family almost every night, as best I could. I was overjoyed when my mother, my brother Robert, and my sister Olga all accepted the message of truth. Our home had always been a center of social activity, but after about two months of our witnessing, it was almost empty. One of those who used to come to our home said: “If you keep on with this, you’ll end up in an asylum!”
However, my desire to serve Jehovah continued to grow. I obtained more publications, and I would read well into the night. But all the literature was in German, and I realized that if I was going to teach others, I would have to learn Portuguese. So, in 1945, I moved to São Paulo to study Portuguese. I lived with Otto Erbert, who later married my sister Olga.
Along with about 50 others, I began to attend the meetings in the only Kingdom Hall in São Paulo. That one congregation has now grown to more than 510 congregations in greater São Paulo, with over 50,000 Kingdom publishers. On January 6, 1946, I was baptized in symbol of my dedication to do God’s will. That same year I attended the “Glad Nations” Theocratic Assembly in São Paulo, my first large assembly. What a thrill it was to see 1,700 persons present on Sunday! At this convention I met Otto Estelmann, who encouraged me, saying: “Richard, you are young; you are healthy; so be a pioneer.”
I had considered the full-time ministry before, but now I did so more seriously. Along with two others, I set a time six months in the future to begin. When the time arrived, I asked: “Are you ready to go?” Neither of them was. So I told them I was going to begin anyway. “You’ll have problems,” they warned. But I stuck to my decision. On May 24, 1947, I received my assignment as a regular pioneer.
New Doors of Service Open
My territory was enormous, including residential and business sections of São Paulo. I placed hundreds of books and booklets each month. One morning I entered a large room where several men were working. I went up to the first man and offered him the book “The Truth Shall Make You Free.”
“How many books do you have in your case?” he asked.
“About 20,” I replied. He took them all and gave one to each man there. It turned out to be city hall!
However, my greatest joy was in conducting home Bible studies. Within four years, thanks to Jehovah, 38 of those I studied with were baptized. Several took up the full-time ministry. Among them was Afonso Grigalhunas, who served for more than ten years as an auxiliary pioneer, until his death in 1988—and that with an artificial leg. Then there was the Ciuffa family. Francisco, a son, served for years as a traveling overseer, and his sister, Ângela, is still a pioneer.
In 1951 I was invited to be a traveling overseer. My assignment included large areas of the states of Rio Grande do Sul and Santa Catarina. Thousands of persons of European descent lived there in the south of Brazil. Most of the visits were on isolated persons and groups, since there were few congregations at that time. There were plenty of rivers but few bridges, which meant fording the smaller ones with my suitcase on my back and my typewriter and briefcase in my hands. Roads were unpaved and filled with holes. To protect my clothes from the dust, I wore a light smock. This led some to think I was their new priest, and they tried to kiss my hand.
Defending Kingdom Interests
As I tried to keep problems in perspective, I followed this principle: If others can live so far from the cities, walk on these trails and cross these rivers, why can I not do the same, especially since I have such an important message to bring?
Problems of a different nature often arose in the smaller towns. For example, one time we made arrangements to hold a meeting in a local school next to a park. On the other side of the park was a small bar and a Catholic church. When the teacher did not show up to open the school, I decided to give the talk in the park. Soon after the talk began, a half dozen men came out of the bar and began to shout and gesticulate. We learned later that they had been paid to do this by the priest.
I began to talk louder, speaking directly at them. They stopped, and one said: “He’s talking about God. How could the priest say that he is of the Devil?” When the priest saw that the men were not going to break up the meeting, he got into his jeep and drove around the park, shouting: “Anyone who is a Catholic should not attend this meeting!” No one moved, and the meeting continued peacefully.
In Mirante do Paranapanema, São Paulo, I visited the chief of police to explain the nature of our work and to request the use of a hall for a public talk. He arranged for us to use a club hall. We told him we would also be preparing handbills to advertise the talk. “In what part of town will you be distributing them?” he asked. After we told him, he requested some to distribute in another part of town. On Sunday he came to the talk, bringing along two policemen, as he said, “to maintain order.”
“Do you want me to introduce your talk?” he asked.
“I would like that,” I answered, “but let me explain how we introduce our speakers.” After introducing me, he sat down on the platform to listen. Believe me, it was a well-behaved audience. We had no trouble there, what with two policemen by the door and the chief sitting on the platform!
In March 1956 I was appointed as a district overseer and served assemblies all over Brazil. Travel distances were great. Once it took three days to get from one assembly to the next. In the northern part of the country, travel was at times by station wagon. These were windowless, hence well ventilated, which was a good idea, for the passengers included chickens and pigs!
Gilead Strengthens My Determination
What a thrill it was in 1958 to attend the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead! Our class graduated that summer during the convention at Yankee Stadium and the Polo Grounds, where 253,922 from 123 different countries attended the public talk. What a sight! Then I returned to Brazil, more determined than ever to keep on announcing Jehovah’s Kingdom.
In 1962 I married Ruth Honemann, who had already served for more than six years as a missionary in Brazil. Since our marriage I have continued to enjoy additional privileges of service, conducting courses in the Kingdom Ministry School and the Pioneer Service School, as well as taking the lead in arranging for national and international conventions and in building São Paulo’s first Assembly Hall.
Presently we are enjoying the greatest privilege of our theocratic careers as members of the Brazil Bethel family. Looking back on more than 40 years of full-time service, 35 of them as a traveling overseer, I can say that they have been full of happy, rewarding activities. (Proverbs 10:22) I have learned much from Jehovah’s organization, including the need to show empathy, to be a friend not a boss, and not to be too busy to attend to the needs of others. In conclusion, I would like to say, especially to the younger ones, what Brother Estelmann said to me years ago: “You are young; you are healthy; so be a pioneer!”
[Picture on page 29]
Our present home, the Brazil Bethel