Jehovah, My Confidence From Youth On
AS TOLD BY BASIL TSATOS
The year was 1920; the place, the hills of Arcadia in beautiful Peloponnisos, Greece. I was in bed, seriously ill with the dreaded Spanish influenza that was sweeping the world.
EACH time the church bell rang, I realized that it announced the death of another victim. Would I be next? Fortunately, I recovered, but millions did not. Although I was then only eight years old, this frightening experience still lives vividly in my memory.
Early Spiritual Concerns
A short time later, Grandfather died. After the funeral, I remember Mother joining my sister and me on the balcony of our home. No doubt trying to soften our grief, she said quietly: “Well, children, all of us must get old and die.”
Even though she phrased it so gently, her words troubled me. ‘How sad! How unfair!’ I thought. But both of us brightened when Mother added: “When the Lord comes again, though, he will resurrect the dead, and we won’t die anymore!” Ah, that was comforting!
From then on I became keenly interested in finding out just when that happy time might come. I asked many people, but no one was able to tell me, nor, for that matter, did anyone even seem interested in discussing the matter.
One day when I was about 12, my father received a book from his brother who lived in the United States. It was entitled The Harp of God, published by the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society. I looked down the table of contents, and my eyes lit up when I saw the chapter “Our Lord’s Return.” I read it with great interest, but I was disappointed that no year was given for the return. The book, however, indicated that it was not far off.
Soon I began to attend high school and became engrossed in my studies. From time to time, though, my uncle in America sent copies of The Watchtower, which I enjoyed reading. Also, each Sunday, I attended Sunday school, where the bishop would often come and talk to us.
On one particular Sunday, the bishop was very agitated and said: “Visitors are filling our city with heretical publications.” He then held up a copy of The Watchtower and shouted: “If any of you find publications like this at home, bring them to church, and I will burn them.”
His tone of voice disturbed me, but his vindictive spirit even more so. Hence, I did not comply with his request. However, I wrote my uncle and asked that he not send any more Watch Tower publications. Yet, I continued to ponder the matter of Christ’s return.
Spiritual Appetite Grows
When summer vacation came, I got out my suitcase to pack my clothes. There at the bottom were three booklets printed by the Watch Tower Society. Somehow I hadn’t noticed them before. One was called Where Are the Dead?
‘That looks interesting,’ I thought. Although remembering the bishop’s warning, I decided to read the booklets carefully to find the errors I thought they contained. I took a pencil and cautiously began my search. To my surprise, everything in the booklets seemed reasonable, and each statement had scriptures cited so that the reader could check the Bible.
Since we did not have a Bible, I wondered whether the scriptures cited had been misapplied to suit the purpose of the writers. So I wrote to my uncle and asked him to send me a copy of a complete Bible. He promptly did so. I read it straight through twice, and although there was much in it that I could not understand, I was intrigued with the books of Daniel and Revelation. I wanted to understand the things they predicted, but there was no one around who could help me.
I left school in 1929, and soon afterward my uncle in America again sent me copies of The Watchtower. I began to enjoy them more and more and asked him to send them to me regularly. I also started talking to others about the hope for the future that I was learning from the magazines. But then my life changed dramatically.
Spiritual Progress in Burma
My mother’s brothers had immigrated to Burma (now Myanmar), and the family decided that if I joined them, it would widen my horizons and perhaps open up business opportunities for me. The Orient had always fascinated me, so I was excited at the prospect of going there. In Burma, I continued to receive The Watchtower from my uncle, but I never personally met one of the Bible Students, as Jehovah’s Witnesses were then called.
One day I was thrilled to find an announcement in The Watchtower for the Light books, two volumes that explained the Bible book of Revelation. In addition, I learned that the activity of the Bible Students in Burma was cared for by the India branch of the Watch Tower Society, located in Bombay. I immediately wrote to request the Light books, and also to ask that Bible Students in India be sent to preach in Burma.
The books arrived promptly by mail, and a week or so later, local Burmese Bible Students visited me. I was happy to learn that there was a small group of them where I was living in Rangoon (now Yangon), Burma’s capital. They invited me to attend their regular Bible study class and also to share with them in preaching from house to house. I was a little reluctant at first but soon began to enjoy sharing Bible knowledge with Buddhists, Hindus, and Muslims, as well as with nominal Christians.
The India branch then sent to Rangoon two full-time ministers (called pioneers), Ewart Francis and Randall Hopley. Both were originally from England but had been serving in India for several years. They encouraged me greatly, and in 1934, I was baptized in symbol of my dedication to Jehovah.
A Courageous Witness
In time the India branch sent more pioneers to Burma. Two of them, Claude Goodman and Ron Tippin, called at a railway station and spoke to Sydney Coote, the stationmaster. He accepted the books, read them through, and began writing his married sister, Daisy D’Souza, in Mandalay. She too found the books interesting and asked for more.
Daisy, who had been a practicing Catholic, was a person with unusual courage. She began visiting her neighbors and telling them of the things she was learning. And when she was visited by the parish priest, who inquired why she had stopped attending church, she showed him that the Bible did not support things he was teaching, such as a burning hell.
Finally, he asked her: “After all these years of telling them about a burning hell, how can I now tell them there is no such place? Nobody will want to come to church.”
“If you are an honest Christian,” Daisy responded, “you will teach them the truth, regardless of the consequences.” Then she added: “If you don’t, then I will!” And she did.
Dick and Daisy and their two older daughters were baptized in Rangoon at the same time as I was. Three years later, in 1937, I married their second daughter, Phyllis.
Escape to India
Japanese forces invaded Burma during World War II, and Rangoon fell on March 8, 1942. Foreign civilians were forced to make a hasty exit to India. Hundreds tried to make it through the jungles, but many died en route. I happened to know personally the officer in charge of evacuation, so I was able to secure tickets on one of the last cargo boats to leave Rangoon for Calcutta. Leaving our house and most of our belongings in such a hurry was a sad moment for all of us. Burma was occupied by the Japanese from 1942 to 1945.
Our finances were low when we reached India, and finding employment was not easy. This resulted in a test of faith. I met a British officer who offered me a lucrative noncombatant job, but it involved serving as part of the military establishment. With Jehovah’s help, I was able to turn down the offer and thus keep a clear Christian conscience. (Isaiah 2:2-4) In other ways too, we felt the loving hand of Jehovah.
We settled in New Delhi, India’s capital, where accommodations were almost impossible to get. Nevertheless, we found a spacious apartment right in the heart of the city. It had a large lounge with an independent entrance, and this room served for the next few years as the Kingdom Hall for the Delhi Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses. However, because of the ban placed in 1941 on all Watch Tower Society publications in India, we were unable to obtain Bible literature.
How the Ban Was Lifted
One Sunday in 1943, those attending services at Delhi’s churches received a leaflet signed by 13 clergymen of different churches. It warned: “CITIZENS OF DELHI BEWARE OF JEHOVAH’S WITNESSES.” The charge was that we had been banned in India for political reasons.
With the approval of the branch office in Bombay, we quickly printed and distributed a leaflet that exposed the clergy. Since I was the presiding overseer, my name and address were printed at the bottom of the strongly worded leaflet. Soon afterward, when the police found Margrit Hoffman and me distributing copies of the leaflet, we were arrested and imprisoned. However, we were soon released on bail.
Later, in the course of her ministry, Margrit called at the home of Sir Srivastava, a well-known minister in the Indian viceroy’s cabinet. Sir Srivastava received her hospitably, and during the conversation, she told him that our literature had been unjustly banned in India. That day Margrit happened also to meet a parliament member from the state of Madras. He was in the city to attend a parliament meeting. She mentioned to him the unfairness of the ban placed on our literature, and he promised to raise the question at an upcoming meeting.
At the time, I was working as a physiotherapist at a local hospital. Well, Sir Srivastava happened to sustain an injury, and the hospital sent me to see if physiotherapy might help him. I found Sir Srivastava to be an amiable person, and as we chatted, I mentioned casually that Miss Hoffman and I had been released from prison on bail. I explained that it was because of clergy pressure that our Bible literature had been banned on political grounds but that we were absolutely nonpolitical. Our branch representative, Edwin Skinner, I continued, had made requests for an interview to explain our position, but he had been turned down.
A couple of days later, Sir Srivastava told me: “Mr. Jenkins [the government official who had been unfavorable toward our work] will be retiring in a few days, and his place will be taken by Sir Francis Mudie. Ask Mr. Skinner to come up, and I will introduce him to Sir Francis.”
Sir Srivastava arranged the meeting as he had promised. During it, Sir Francis Mudie told Brother Skinner: “I cannot promise you anything, but I will look into the matter.” Since parliament was to open in a few days, Brother Skinner stayed to see the outcome. True to his word, the parliament member from Madras stood up and asked: “Is it true that the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society’s publications are banned for political reasons?”
“No, the ban was imposed on precautionary grounds,” Sir Francis Mudie replied, “but the government has now decided to rescind the ban.”
What a thrilling moment it was for us when we heard that news! A week later the branch office in Bombay received a letter confirming the end of the ban.
Back to War-Ravaged Burma
British rule returned to Burma after World War II, and ten of us Witnesses went back to Rangoon a few months later. We were glad to see the few remaining local Witnesses again. The country was in a sad state. Public services, including electricity and public transportation, were unavailable. So we bought a jeep from the military and put it to good use in hauling people to the meetings that we had organized soon after our return.
An interested person offered us land, and with the help of kindly people in the area, we built a good-sized Kingdom Hall. It was constructed of stout bamboo posts, matted bamboo walls, and a thatched roof. Here, in April 1947, Nathan H. Knorr, then president of the Watch Tower Society, and his secretary, Milton G. Henschel, gave talks during their visit to Rangoon. At the time, we had 19 Witnesses in all of Burma. But Brother Knorr’s public talk, held at the New Excelsior Theatre, was attended by 287!
We Settle in Australia
On January 4, 1948, Burma was granted independence from Great Britain, and most Europeans considered it best to leave the country. After prayerful consideration, Phyllis and I decided to take our daughter and immigrate to Australia. We settled in Perth, Western Australia’s capital.
Leaving Burma again, and this time permanently, was a very sad moment for us. From time to time, we heard from the dear ones there, and we were happy to know that the Kingdom work was moving ahead steadily in that country.
Beginning in 1978, for four years we had the pleasure of serving all the Greek-speaking congregations in the major Australian cities. This meant extensive travel, since it is over 2,600 miles [4,200 km] from the west coast to the east coast of this large country. After a while, the climate, which differs considerably from one state to another, contributed to a decline in our health. So we again settled in Perth, where I continue to serve as an elder in one of the city’s 44 congregations.
As the years have gone by, my eyesight has grown poorer, and reading has become difficult. Yet, despite health problems, our hearts are still young. We are both waiting confidently for the happy day when all who fear Jehovah will see the sunshine of his favor “shine forth, with healing in its wings; and [we] will actually go forth and paw the ground like fattened calves.”—Malachi 4:2.*
On December 13, 1992, while this life story was being completed, Brother Tsatos fell asleep in death.
[Picture on page 24]
My family with Brothers Henschel and Knorr in Burma (Myanmar) in 1947
[Picture on page 25]
Basil Tsatos and his wife, Phyllis, in Australia