“Since We Have This Ministry . . . , We Do Not Give Up”
AS TOLD BY RONALD TAYLOR
In the summer of 1963, I found myself fighting for my life. While I was wading along the shore, I stepped into a treacherous hollow and was suddenly thrown into very deep water. A nonswimmer, I was at the point of drowning just a few yards from the shore. I had already gone under three times and had gulped down large quantities of seawater when a friend noticed my plight and dragged me to the shore. Thanks to prompt artificial respiration, I survived.
THIS was not the first time that I came to appreciate the importance of never giving up—even though things look hopeless. From an early age, I had to fight for my spiritual life.
It was during the dark days of the second world war that I first came into contact with Christian truth. I was one of the thousands of children who were evacuated from London to escape the dangers of the bombing raids. Since I was only 12 years old, the war did not really mean much to me; it was almost like an adventure.
An elderly couple in Weston-super-Mare, southwest England, looked after me. Soon after I arrived at the couple’s home, some pioneer ministers began visiting us. It was the Hargreaves family; all four of them—Reg, Mabs, Pamela, and Valeri—were special pioneers. My foster parents accepted the truth, and after studying the book The Harp of God, I also made the decision to serve Jehovah. Just six weeks later, I was invited to share in the preaching work.
I can still remember that first day out in field service. Without further ado, I was given some booklets and told: “You work down that side of the street.” And that was how I passed my first day of preaching. At that time, we often preached by using phonograph records containing powerful sermons. My happiest moments were when I could carry the phonograph from house to house and play recorded lectures. I considered it a real privilege to be used in that way.
I did quite a lot of witnessing at school, and I remember placing a set of books on Bible themes with the headmaster. At the age of 13, I was baptized at a nearby assembly in Bath. Another wartime convention I will never forget was the one held in Leicester in 1941 at the De Montfort Hall. I went up to the platform to receive my copy of the book Children, which contained a personal message from Brother Rutherford, who was then president of the Watch Tower Society. The stirring talk given to all the young ones present reinforced my desire to serve Jehovah forever.
Thus I spent two happy years growing up in the truth with my foster parents. But at the age of 14, I had to return to London and begin working for my living. Although I was reunited with my family, I now had to stand on my own feet spiritually, since no one at home shared my beliefs. Jehovah soon provided the help that I needed. Just three weeks after my arrival in London, a brother called at my home to ask for my father’s permission to take me to the local Kingdom Hall. The brother was John Barr, who is now a member of the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses. He became one of my spiritual “fathers” during those critical teen years.—Matthew 19:29.
I began attending the Paddington Congregation, which met in Craven Terrace alongside the London Bethel Home. Since I was a spiritual orphan, an elderly anointed brother, “Pop” Humphreys, was assigned to take a special interest in me. It was certainly a great blessing to be able to associate with the many anointed brothers and sisters who served in that congregation. Those of us who had the earthly hope—called Jonadabs—were in the minority. In fact, I was the only “Jonadab” in the Congregation Book Study that I attended. Although I did not have much association with ones my own age, that precious fellowship with mature brothers taught me many useful lessons. Perhaps the most important one was that of never abandoning Jehovah’s service.
In those days, we used to dedicate the whole weekend to the preaching activity. I was assigned to take care of the “sound car,” which was really a tricycle fitted out to hold sound equipment and a car battery. Every Saturday, I set out on the tricycle and went to different street corners, where we put on some music and then played one of Brother Rutherford’s talks. Saturdays were also used for doing street work with our magazine bags. Sundays we devoted to house-to-house work, offering booklets and bound books.
My association with zealous older brothers kindled in me the desire to pioneer. This desire was strengthened when I listened to pioneer talks at the district conventions. One convention that had a profound effect on my life was the one held at Earl’s Court, London, in 1947. Two months later, I enrolled in the pioneer service, and I have striven to maintain the pioneer spirit ever since. The joy I derived from conducting progressive Bible studies served to reaffirm that this was the right decision.
A Spanish Bride and a Spanish Assignment
In the year 1957, while still pioneering with the Paddington Congregation, I met a lovely Spanish sister named Rafaela. After a few months, we got married. Our goal was to pioneer together, but first we went to Madrid so that I could meet Rafaela’s parents. It was a visit that changed my life. While we were in Madrid, Brother Ray Dusinberre, the branch overseer of Spain, asked me if we would consider serving in Spain, where there was an enormous need for experienced brothers.
How could we refuse such an invitation? Thus, in 1958 we began our full-time service together in Spain. At that time the country was under Franco’s rule, and our activity was not legally recognized, which made the preaching work very difficult. Furthermore, I had to struggle with the Spanish language for the first couple of years. Once again, it was a case of not giving up, even though I wept on more than one occasion as a result of sheer frustration at not being able to communicate with the brothers in the congregation.
The need for overseers was so great that even though I could hardly speak any Spanish, within a month I was looking after a small group. Because of the clandestine nature of our work, we were organized into small groups comprising from 15 to 20 publishers, which functioned more or less like small congregations. At first, it was nerve-racking to conduct the meetings, since I could not always understand the answers from the audience. However, my wife sat at the back, and if she noticed I was confused, she would give me a discreet nod to confirm that the answer was correct.
I do not have a natural gift for languages, and more than once I felt like returning to England, where I could do everything much more easily. Nevertheless, from the outset, the love and friendship of our dear Spanish brothers and sisters compensated for my frustrations with the language. And Jehovah blessed me with special privileges that made all of it seem worthwhile. In 1958, I was invited to attend the international convention in New York as a delegate from Spain. Then in 1962, I received invaluable training at the Kingdom Ministry School organized for us in Tangier, Morocco.
Another problem I faced, apart from the language, was the constant concern over being picked up by the police. As a foreigner, I knew that being arrested would mean automatic deportation. To minimize the risk, we worked in pairs. While one was witnessing, the other would be listening for any signs of danger. After visiting one or two doors, often at the top of an apartment building, we would go two or three blocks away and call at another two or three homes. We used the Bible extensively, and we carried only a few booklets tucked away in our overcoats to offer to interested persons.
After a year in Madrid, we were assigned to Vigo, a large city in northwest Spain, where there were no Witnesses at all. For the first month or so, the Society recommended that my wife do most of the witnessing—to give the impression we were visiting as tourists. Despite the low-profile approach, our preaching attracted attention. Within a month Catholic priests began denouncing us over the radio. They warned their parishioners that a married couple were going from house to house talking about the Bible—almost an outlawed book at that time. The “wanted couple” consisted of a foreigner and his Spanish wife, who did almost all the talking!
The priests decreed that merely speaking to this dangerous couple was a sin that would be pardoned only if it was immediately confessed to a priest. And sure enough, at the close of an enjoyable conversation we had with one lady, she told us apologetically that she would have to go and confess. When we left her house, we saw her hurrying off toward the church.
Just two months after our arrival in Vigo, the police pounced. The policeman who arrested us was sympathetic and did not handcuff us for the trip to the police station. At the station, we saw a familiar face, a typist to whom we had witnessed recently. She was clearly embarrassed to see us treated like criminals and hastened to assure us that she had not incriminated us. Nevertheless, we were accused of endangering the “spiritual unity of Spain,” and six weeks later we were deported.
It was a setback, but we had no intention of giving up. There was still much work to do on the Iberian Peninsula. After three months in Tangier, we were assigned to Gibraltar—another virgin territory. As the apostle Paul says, if we value our ministry, we will keep going and will be rewarded. (2 Corinthians 4:1, 7, 8) This proved to be true in our case. At the very first home we visited in Gibraltar, we began a Bible study with an entire family. Before long, we were conducting 17 studies each. Many of the individuals we studied with became Witnesses, and in two years there was a congregation of 25 publishers.
But, as in Vigo, the clergy began to campaign against us. The Anglican bishop of Gibraltar warned the chief of police that we were “undesirables,” and his lobbying eventually brought results. In January 1962 we were expelled from Gibraltar. Where would we go next? The need was still great in Spain, so back we went, hoping that our previous police record would by now have been filed away.
The sunny city of Seville was our new home. There we had the joy of working closely with another pioneer couple, Ray and Pat Kirkup. Although Seville was a city of half a million inhabitants, there were only 21 publishers, so there was much work to do. Now there are 15 congregations with 1,500 publishers. A year later we had a pleasant surprise; we were invited to serve in the traveling work in the Barcelona area.
Circuit work in a country where our work was not legally recognized was somewhat different. Each week we visited small groups, the majority of which had very few capable brothers. These hardworking brothers needed all the training and support that we could give them. We loved this assignment! After having spent several years in areas where there were few if any Witnesses, we were delighted to be visiting so many different brothers and sisters. Furthermore, the preaching work in Barcelona was easier, and many people wanted to study the Bible.
Just six months later, however, my life changed dramatically. Our first holiday at the seaside nearly became a tragedy when I had the accident described earlier. Physically I recovered quite quickly from the shock of nearly drowning, yet the incident left an indelible mark on my nervous system.
For a few months, I struggled to continue in the circuit work, but I finally had to return to England to get medical treatment. After two years I recovered sufficiently to enable us to return to Spain, where we took up the circuit work once more. Nevertheless, it was only for a short time. My wife’s parents became seriously ill, and we left full-time service in order to care for them.
Life became more difficult when, in 1968, I suffered a complete nervous breakdown. There were times when Rafaela and I both thought I would never recover. It was as if I were drowning again, but in a different way! Apart from causing me to be overwhelmed by negative feelings, the depression robbed me of all my strength. I suffered from bouts of extreme exhaustion, which forced me to rest almost constantly. At the time not all the brothers understood this sort of problem; of course I knew that Jehovah did. It has been a great satisfaction to me to read the wonderful articles in the Watchtower and Awake! magazines that have been very understanding and helpful for those who are depressed.
Throughout this difficult time, my wife was a constant source of encouragement. Coping with problems together really does strengthen the marriage bond. Rafaela’s parents died, and after 12 years, my health improved to the extent that we felt we could return to full-time service. In 1981, to our surprise and delight, we were again invited to serve in the circuit work.
Enormous theocratic changes had taken place in Spain since our previous experience in the traveling ministry. The preaching was now free, so I had to bring myself up-to-date. Nevertheless, serving as a circuit overseer once more was a great privilege. Our having pioneered despite difficult circumstances enabled us to encourage pioneers who were having problems. And frequently we were able to help others join the pioneer ranks.
After 11 years of traveling work in Madrid and Barcelona, once again our failing health made it necessary to change assignments. We were assigned as special pioneers to the city of Salamanca, where I could be useful as an elder. The brothers in Salamanca made us feel at home right away. A year later another crisis would put our endurance to the test.
Rafaela became inexplicably very anemic, and tests revealed that she had cancer of the colon. Now I had to be the strong one and give my wife all the support I could. Our first reaction was disbelief, followed by fear. Would Rafaela come through this? At moments like these, complete trust in Jehovah is what helps us continue. I am happy to say that Rafaela had a successful operation, and we hope that the cancer will not recur.
Although we have had our ups and downs during the 36 years we have spent in Spain, it has been heartwarming to live through this time of spiritual growth. We have seen the small band of some 800 publishers in 1958 grow to an army of over 100,000 publishers today. Our difficulties have been eclipsed by our many joys—helping others accept the truth and mature spiritually, working together as husband and wife, and feeling that we have used our lives in the best possible way.
Paul says in his second letter to the Corinthians: “Since we have this ministry according to the mercy that was shown us, we do not give up.” (2 Corinthians 4:1) Looking back, I believe there were several factors in my life that prevented me from giving up. The example of faithful anointed brothers who took an interest in me during my formative years provided a fine foundation. Having a mate who shares the same spiritual goals is a wonderful help; when I was feeling down, Rafaela would lift me up, and I have done the same for her. A sense of humor is also a great asset. Being able to laugh with the brothers—and laugh at ourselves—somehow makes problems seem less overwhelming.
But above all, endurance in the face of trials requires Jehovah’s strength. I always remember Paul’s words: “For all things I have the strength by virtue of him who imparts power to me.” With Jehovah on our side, there is no need for us ever to give up.—Philippians 4:13.
[Pictures on page 23]
Ronald and Rafaela Taylor in 1958
[Pictures on page 24, 25]
Meeting under ban in Spain (1969)