Serving With a Sense of Urgency
AS TOLD BY HANS VAN VUURE
One morning in 1962, Paul Kushnir, the Watch Tower Society’s branch overseer in the Netherlands, met me in Rotterdam’s harbor district. Looking at me across a table in a dimly lit café, he said: “You realize, Hans, that if you accept this assignment, you and your wife will get only a one-way ticket?”
“YES, and I’m quite sure that Susie also will agree to that.”
“Well, talk it over with Susie. The sooner you let me know your decision the better.”
Next morning he got our answer: “We will go.” So on December 26, 1962, we hugged relatives and friends at Amsterdam’s snow-covered Schiphol Airport, and off we flew to a virgin missionary territory—Netherlands New Guinea (now West Irian, Indonesia)—land of the Papuans.
Did we have doubts about accepting this challenging assignment? Not really. We had wholeheartedly dedicated our lives to doing God’s will, and we trusted that he would back us up. Looking back on our lives, we can see that our confidence in Jehovah has never been misplaced. But before relating what happened in Indonesia, let me tell you about our earlier years.
When my family was first visited in 1940 by that courageous Witness Arthur Winkler, I was only ten. My parents were jolted when they discovered what the Bible had to say about the false teachings of Christendom. Since the Netherlands was then occupied by Nazi Germany and Jehovah’s Witnesses were being hunted down, my parents had to decide whether to become associated with a banned organization. They decided to do so.
Thereafter, my mother’s courage and her willingness to risk liberty and even life impressed me. Once she cycled seven miles [11 km] and waited in the dark with a bag stuffed with Bible tracts. At the appointed time for a special campaign to begin, she cycled as fast as she could, digging regularly into her bag, scattering tracts in the streets. A pursuing cyclist finally overtook her and, out of breath, shouted: “Lady, lady, you’re losing something!” We could not stop laughing when Mother related this story.
I was very young, but I knew what I wanted to do with my life. During one of our meetings in mid-1942, when the conductor asked, “Who wants to be baptized at the next occasion?” I thrust up my hand. My parents exchanged worried glances, doubting whether I understood the significance of such a decision. But even though I was only 12, I understood what dedication to God meant.
Preaching from house to house with the Nazis at our heels called for caution. To avoid calling at the homes of those who might turn us in, on days when Nazi sympathizers glued posters on their windows, I cycled around and jotted down their addresses. Once a man noticed me and yelled: “Well done, my boy. Write them down—all of them!” I was eager but clearly not prudent enough! At the conclusion of the war in 1945, we rejoiced at the prospect of greater freedom to preach.
Beginning of a Career
On November 1, 1948, after finishing my schooling, I received my first full-time preaching assignment as a pioneer. A month later Brother Winkler visited the family I was staying with. He must have come to size me up because soon afterward I was invited to work at the Society’s branch office in Amsterdam.
Later I was asked to visit the congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses as a circuit overseer. Then, in the fall of 1952, I received an invitation to attend the 21st class of the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead in New York to receive missionary training. So, late in 1952, eight of us from the Netherlands boarded the ocean liner Nieuw Amsterdam and sailed for America.
Toward the end of the school course, Maxwell Friend, one of the instructors, said: “You will forget most of the things you have learned here, but we hope three things will remain with you: faith, hope, and love.” Also stored in my mind and heart are precious memories of Jehovah’s organization working with a sense of urgency.
Afterward I was in for a big disappointment. Half of our Dutch group—including me—were assigned to go back to the Netherlands. Though disappointed, I was not upset. I only hoped that I would not have to wait, like Moses of old, for 40 years before receiving a foreign assignment.—Acts 7:23-30.
A Treasured Helpmate
When Fritz Hartstang, my fatherly friend, learned of my marriage plans, he confided: “I can hardly think of a better choice.” Susie’s father, Casey Stoové, had been a leading fighter in the Resistance against the Nazis during World War II. But when contacted by the Witnesses in 1946, he readily accepted Bible truths. Soon he and three of his six children—Susie, Marian, and Kenneth—were baptized. On May 1, 1947, these children all began the full-time ministry as pioneers. In 1948, Casey sold his business, and he too began pioneering. Later he remarked: “Those years were the happiest of my life!”
I became acquainted with Susie in 1949, when she was invited to work at the Amsterdam branch office. The following year, though, she and her sister Marian left to attend Gilead’s 16th class and sailed away to their missionary assignment—Indonesia. In February 1957, after five years of missionary service there, Susie returned to the Netherlands to marry me. At the time, I was serving as a circuit overseer, and throughout the years of our marriage, she has time and again shown willingness to make personal sacrifices for the sake of Kingdom service.
After our wedding, we continued visiting congregations in different parts of the Netherlands. Susie’s years of missionary work in tough assignments had prepared her well for our trips by bicycle from one congregation to the next. It was while we were in the circuit work in 1962 that Brother Kushnir looked me up in Rotterdam and invited us to move to West Irian, Indonesia.
Missionary Service in Indonesia
We arrived in the town of Manokwari—a totally different world! There were the eerie sounds of tropical nights and the heat and the dust. And then there were the Papuans from inland who wore only loincloths, carried machetes, and loved to walk right behind us and try to touch our white skin—all of which took some getting used to.
Within weeks of our arrival, clergymen read a letter from church pulpits warning against Jehovah’s Witnesses, and they handed out a copy of it to all in attendance. The local radio station even broadcast the letter. Then three clergymen visited us and demanded that we move inland to work among what they termed “the pagans.” A high-ranking Papuan police officer also urged us to leave, and a member of the secret police told us our murder was being planned.
Yet, not everyone opposed us. A political adviser of the Papuans, a Dutch national who was about to leave for the Netherlands, introduced us to several Papuan chieftains. “Jehovah’s Witnesses will bring a better kind of Christian religion than you have known,” he told them. “Therefore, you should welcome them.”
Later, a government official approached Susie on the street and whispered: “It has been reported to us that you’ve started a new work here, and, therefore, we cannot let you stay. But, uh, . . . if you only had a church.” A hint! Quickly we took down walls in our house, lined up benches, installed a speaker’s stand, and put a sign out front reading “Kingdom Hall.” Then we invited the official for a visit. He nodded, smiled, and tapped the side of his head with his forefinger, as if to say, ‘Clever, clever.’
On June 26, 1964, a year and a half after our arrival, the first 12 Papuans of our Bible students were baptized. Shortly, 10 more followed, and our meeting attendance averaged 40. Two Indonesian pioneers were sent to assist us. When the congregation was well established in Manokwari, the Society’s Indonesian branch provided us with another preaching assignment, in December 1964.
Before we left, the head of the government’s Public Relations Department took us aside and said: “I regret your leaving. Each week the clergy pleaded with me to send you away because they said you were picking their fruits. But I told them: ‘No, rather, they’re fertilizing your trees.’” He added: “Wherever you go, keep on fighting. You will win!”
Amid a Coup d’État
One night in September 1965, while we were serving in the capital, Djakarta, Communist rebels killed many military leaders, set Djakarta afire, and began a nationwide struggle that eventually toppled the nation’s president, Sukarno. Some 400,000 lost their lives!
Once we were preaching while in the next street shooting and burning were going on. The following day we heard that the military was about to destroy a nearby Communist facility. Householders looked frightened as we approached them, but when they heard our Bible message, they relaxed and invited us in. They felt safe to have us with them. That period taught all of us to rely on Jehovah and to keep balanced under adverse conditions.
Further Opposition Defeated
Late in 1966 we moved to the city of Ambon on the scenic south Molucca islands. There, among the friendly, outgoing population, we found much spiritual interest. Our small congregation quickly grew, and meeting attendance approached a hundred. So Christendom’s church officials visited the Office for Religious Affairs to pressure its chief to kick us out of Ambon. But there on the chief’s desk, they saw the Watch Tower Society’s books conspicuously displayed! Failing to budge the chief, they contacted officials of the Ministry of Religion in Djakarta, seeking our expulsion not only from Ambon but from all Indonesia as well.
This time they seemed to succeed, for February 1, 1968, was set as our expulsion date. However, our Christian brothers in Djakarta contacted a high Muslim official in the Ministry of Religion, and he helped to reverse the decision. In addition, a former policy was changed, and entry was granted to yet other missionaries.
Thus, during the next ten years, in a setting of magnificent mountains, forests, and lakes in northern Sumatra, we worked with missionaries from Australia, Austria, Germany, the Philippines, Sweden, and the United States. The preaching work prospered, especially among the region’s main ethnic group, the Batak.
However, religious schemers finally succeeded in having our preaching work banned in December 1976, and the following year most of the missionaries left for assignments in other countries. Finally, in 1979, we also had to go.
To South America
By now we were about 50 years old, and we wondered if we could make the adjustment to yet another country. “Shall we accept a new assignment or instead settle down somewhere?” Susie asked.
“Well, Susie,” I replied, “wherever Jehovah invited us to go, he took care of us. Who knows what further blessings the future holds?” Thus, we arrived in our new assignment, the South American country of Suriname. Within two months we were in the traveling work again and soon felt at home.
Reviewing our more than 45 years in the full-time ministry, Susie and I realize how important the support of our parents was to help us press on in the missionary work. In 1969, when I saw my parents again after six years, my father took me aside and said: “In case Mother happens to die first, you don’t need to come home. Stay in your assignment. I’ll manage. But in case it is the other way around, you’ll have to ask Mother about it.” Mother said the same.
Susie’s parents had the same unselfish attitude. At one point Susie had been away from them for 17 years, yet they never wrote her one disheartening word. Of course, if no other help had been available to our parents, we would have returned home. The point is, our parents had the same appraisal of the missionary work and, up till their death, had served Jehovah with the same sense of urgency that they had implanted in our hearts.—Compare 1 Samuel 1:26-28.
We have also been encouraged by faithful letter writers. There are a few who have never missed a month in writing us in our more than 30 years of missionary service! But above all, we keep in mind our dear heavenly Father, Jehovah, who knows how to sustain his servants on earth. Therefore, as we now approach the climax of events we have been looking forward to, Susie and I wish to keep “close in mind the presence of the day of Jehovah” by continuing to serve Jehovah with a sense of urgency.—2 Peter 3:12.
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Married in 1957
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What a thrill—six young ones as pioneers!