A Priceless Treasure to Share
AS TOLD BY GLORIA MALASPINA
When the shoreline of Sicily disappeared, my husband and I began to focus our attention on our destination, the Mediterranean island of Malta. What a thrilling prospect! As the ship crossed the sea, we thought of the apostle Paul’s experience on Malta during the first century.—ACTS 28:1-10.
THE year was 1953, and Malta did not then recognize the preaching activity of Jehovah’s Witnesses. The year before, we had graduated from the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead and were assigned to Italy. After just a short time of studying Italian, we were eager to see what awaited us on Malta.
How did I, a young woman, come to be a foreign missionary? Let me explain.
Mother’s Inspiring Example
In 1926, when our family was living in Fort Frances, Ontario, Canada, my mother accepted the booklet Millions Now Living Will Never Die from a Bible Student (as Jehovah’s Witnesses were then known). She read it with keen interest, and that very week she attended a group Bible study, using the Watch Tower magazine. Mother was an avid Bible reader, and she accepted the message about God’s Kingdom as the treasure she had been seeking. (Matthew 6:33; 13:44) Despite violent opposition from Father, and although she had three small girls to care for, she took her stand for what she was learning.
Mother’s unwavering faith during the next 20 years kept me and my two older sisters, Thelma and Viola, aware of the wonderful hope of life eternal in a new world of righteousness. (2 Peter 3:13) She faced many difficult trials, but we never doubted the rightness of her chosen course.
In 1931, when I was only ten, we moved to a farm in northern Minnesota, U.S.A. There we were cut off from regular association with Jehovah’s Witnesses but not from Biblical instruction from Mother. Her devoted service as a colporteur, or full-time minister, inspired me to want to join her in that work. In 1938 my two sisters and I symbolized our dedication to Jehovah by being baptized at an assembly in Duluth, Minnesota.
After I graduated from high school in 1938, Mother encouraged me to take a business course so that I could support myself as a pioneer (the new name for colporteur). This proved to be good advice, especially since Father decided to go his own way and left us on our own.
Sharing Our Treasure Full-Time
Eventually I moved to California, and in 1947, I began in the pioneer work in San Francisco. While engaged in preconvention work for the “All Nations Expansion” Assembly in Los Angeles, I met Francis Malaspina. Our mutual goal of missionary work led to the start of a loving relationship. We were married in 1949.
In September 1951, Francis and I were invited to the 18th class of Gilead. On graduation day, February 10, 1952, after five months of intensive training, the countries to which we were to be sent were called out in alphabetical order by the president of the school, Nathan H. Knorr. When he said, “Italy, Brother and Sister Malaspina,” we were already traveling in our minds!
A few weeks later, we boarded the ship in New York for the ten-day voyage to Genoa, Italy. Giovanni DeCecca and Max Larson, of the Brooklyn headquarters staff, were there on the dock to see us off. In Genoa we were met by missionaries who were familiar with the intricacies of entry into the country.
Excited by everything around us, we boarded a train to Bologna. Our view on arrival was that of a city still disfigured by the bombings of World War II. But there were also many pleasant things, such as the irresistible aroma of roasting coffee that filled the morning air and the spicy smell of superb sauces being prepared for countless types of pasta.
Fulfilling a Goal
We started out in the ministry with a memorized presentation, and we delivered it until the message was accepted or the door was closed. The desire to express ourselves moved us to study the language diligently. After four months, we were assigned to a new missionary home in Naples.
This huge city is notable for its marvelous views. We enjoyed our service there, but after another four months, my husband was assigned to the circuit, or traveling, work visiting congregations from Rome to Sicily. In time, we also visited Malta and even Libya in Northern Africa.
The train trips from Naples to Sicily during those years were a test of physical endurance. We would board a packed train and stand in crowded passageways, sometimes for six to eight hours. However, it gave us a fine opportunity to study those around us. Many times a large demijohn of homemade wine served as a seat for its owner, who would occasionally use its contents to satisfy his thirst during the long journey. Friendly passengers often offered to share their bread and salami with us, a hospitable, heartwarming gesture that we appreciated.
In Sicily we would be met by friends who carried our suitcases up the mountain on a three-and-a-half-hour steady climb to the congregation at the top. The warm welcome of our Christian brothers made us forget our weariness. Sometimes we rode surefooted mules, but we never looked to the depths below where a single misstep by the mule would have taken us. Our brothers’ firm stand for Bible truth despite their hardships strengthened us, and the love we were shown made us thankful to be with them.
Malta and Libya
Filled to the brim with memories of our brothers in Sicily, we sailed for Malta. The apostle Paul had found kindly people there, and so did we. A storm in St. Paul’s Bay made us realize the danger that small ships faced in the first century. (Acts 27:39–28:10) Yet ahead was Libya. How would we fare in this African land where our work was banned?
Once again we experienced a totally different culture. The sights and sounds of the city of Tripoli caught my attention as we walked through the pillared streets of the downtown area. Men used woven camel-hair garments to protect themselves from the burning heat of the Sahara Desert by day and from the coolness of the night. We learned to appreciate and respect the way people adapt to climatic conditions where they live.
The cautious zeal of the brothers taught us much about relying heavily on Jehovah and following the instructions of those who are more knowledgeable about preaching under such circumstances. Our Christian brothers were of many nationalities; yet they worked harmoniously in their service to Jehovah.
A New Assignment
Because of opposition to our preaching work, we had to leave Italy, but we happily accepted a new preaching assignment in Brazil in 1957. Francis and I adapted to the life and customs, and after eight months, Francis was invited to do circuit work. We traveled by bus, by plane, and on foot. This immense, beautiful country opened up before us like a lesson in geography.
Our first circuit took in ten congregations in the city of São Paulo, as well as ten small towns in the interior and along the southern coastal area of the state of São Paulo. There were no congregations in those towns at the time. We would locate a place to stay, and after getting settled, we would call from house to house with the Kingdom message. We also left invitations to a showing of one of the Watch Tower Society’s educational films.
Getting on a bus with films, projector, transformer, files, literature, invitations, and equipment to handstamp the location of the film showing on the invitations was no small task. By comparison, our small suitcase of clothing was not a big item. The projector had to be cushioned on our laps so that it would not shake apart from travel over the rough roads.
After locating a place to show the film, we would go from door to door and leave invitations to the film showing. Sometimes we obtained permission to project the film in a restaurant or a hotel. At other times we stretched a sheet between two poles in the open air. The appreciative audience, many of whom had never seen a motion picture, would stand and listen attentively as Francis read the narration. Afterward, we would distribute Bible literature.
To reach villages, we traveled by bus. Some of the rivers were not spanned by a bridge, so the bus would be put on a large raft and floated to the other side. We were advised to get off the bus and, if we saw the bus slipping off into the river, to jump off the other side of the raft to avoid getting sucked down. Thankfully, we never lost a bus to the river—a good thing, especially since the river was noted for having flesh-eating piranha fish!
After attending the international convention in New York in 1958, we returned to Brazil, where we soon afterward were back in the traveling work. Our district took us to the Uruguayan border on the south, Paraguay on the west, the state of Pernambuco in the north, and the Atlantic Ocean on the eastern side of Brazil.
The Leper Colony
In the mid-1960’s, we accepted an invitation to show one of the Society’s films in a leper colony. I have to admit that I was somewhat fearful. We had little knowledge of leprosy, except what we had read about it in the Bible. Upon entering the compound, which was painted white, we were directed to a large auditorium. A section had been roped off in the middle for us and our equipment.
The electrician who was helping us was a 40-year resident of the colony. He had lost his hands at the wrists and some other parts of his body, badly disfiguring him. I was startled at first, but his cheerful demeanor and dexterity in handling his work put me at ease. We were soon conversing about many things as we completed the necessary preparations. Of the one thousand afflicted persons housed in the facility, over two hundred attended. As they limped in, we noted many different stages of the disease they were suffering from. What a moving, emotional experience for us!
We thought of what Jesus said to the leper who begged, “Lord, if you just want to, you can make me clean.” Touching the man, Jesus assured him, “I want to. Be made clean.” (Matthew 8:2, 3) After the program ended, many approached us to thank us for coming, their damaged bodies a vivid testimony to mankind’s great suffering. Later, local Witnesses studied the Bible with those desirous of learning more.
In 1967 we returned to the United States to take care of some severe health problems. As we continued to deal with these, we were again privileged to serve in the circuit work. For the next 20 years, I shared with Francis in the traveling work in the United States. During this time he also taught the Kingdom Ministry School.
What a source of encouragement it was to me to have a loving husband and faithful companion who cared for whatever assignment he was given! Together we were privileged to share the treasure of Bible truth on parts of four continents.
Sustained by the Treasure
Back in 1950, Mother married David Easter, a faithful brother who was baptized in 1924. They served together many years in the full-time ministry. However, during the final portion of Mother’s life, Alzheimer’s disease began to manifest itself. She required much care as the disease took over her power to reason. My supportive sisters and David shouldered the heavy responsibility of caring for her, since they did not want us to leave our special privileges of full-time service. Mother’s faithful example right down to her death in 1987 did much to help us chart our course in life, and the hope she cherished of a heavenly reward consoled us.
By 1989, I could tell that Francis was not as energetic as he used to be. We were unaware that snail fever, a disease well-known in many parts of the world, was taking its toll. In 1990, this unrelenting enemy took over, and I lost my beloved partner with whom I had shared over 40 years in Jehovah’s service.
Adjustments are a part of life. Some are easy, and some are difficult. But Jehovah, the Giver of the priceless treasure of Bible truth, sustained me by means of his organization and the love and encouragement of my family. I am still finding contentment as I look forward to the fulfillment of all of Jehovah’s unfailing promises.
[Picture on page 23]
When my husband and I were missionaries in Italy