Our Rich Spiritual Heritage
AS TOLD BY PHILLIP F. SMITH
“A torch has been lit that will burn through darkest Africa.” How delighted we were to read the above on page 75 of the 1992 Yearbook of Jehovah’s Witnesses! Those words were penned in 1931 by our grandfather, Frank W. Smith, in a letter to Brother Joseph F. Rutherford, then president of the Watch Tower Society. Grandfather had written to report on a preaching tour made by him and his brother.
THE 1992 Yearbook explained: “Gray Smith and his older brother Frank, two courageous pioneer ministers from Cape Town [South Africa], set off for British East Africa to explore the possibilities of spreading the good news. They took a car, a De Soto that they had converted into a caravan (house car), loaded it on a ship along with 40 cartons of books, and sailed for Mombasa, the seaport of Kenya.”
In his letter to Brother Rutherford, Grandfather described the trip from Mombasa to Nairobi, Kenya’s capital: “We started on the most terrible nightmare of a motor trip I have ever undertaken. It took us four days, going all day, to do 360 miles [580 km] . . . Mile after mile I had to get out with a shovel to level ridges, fill in holes, also cut elephant grass and trees to fill in swamp for the wheels to grip.”
After reaching Nairobi, Frank and Gray worked for 21 days straight to distribute their Bible literature. “Judging by things we hear,” Grandfather wrote, “the work has turned religious Nairobi inside out.” Afterward, Grandfather was eager to return home to his two-year-old son, Donovan, and his wife, Phyllis, who was expecting their second child, our father, Frank. Grandfather took the first available ship from Mombasa, but he died of malaria before reaching home.
As my sister, my brother, and I pondered that Yearbook account, our minds turned to our dear father. In 1991, only a few months before we received the 1992 Yearbook, he had died from the complications of heart surgery. Although he had never met his father, he shared his father’s deep love for Jehovah. How Grandfather would have rejoiced to know that 28 years later, in 1959, his son would follow his footsteps as a Christian minister to East Africa!
Father’s Early Life
Our father was born July 20, 1931, in Cape Town, two months after the death of his own father, after whom he was named. From an early age, Dad showed his love for Jehovah. When only nine, he stood in the main Cape Town train station doing placard work while his schoolmates poked fun at him. At age 11, he symbolized his dedication to Jehovah by water baptism. Sometimes Dad was assigned to work by himself a whole street in the ministry. By the time he was 18, he was conducting the Watchtower Study with a group of elderly Christian sisters in a suburb of Cape Town.
In 1954 the Watch Tower Society announced that international conventions were to be held the following year in Europe. Dad greatly desired to go, but he did not have enough money to travel there from Cape Town. So he contracted to work for three months as a chemist in the copper mines in Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia). The facilities where assaying of mineral ore was done were out in the African bush.
Dad knew that there were large numbers of African Witnesses in Northern Rhodesia, so when he arrived he sought them out and learned where they held their meetings. Although he could not speak the local language, he nevertheless associated with them and regularly attended the meetings of the Mine Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Europeans at the mines were racially prejudiced and showed their prejudice by often abusing the Africans verbally. Dad, however, was always kind.
At the end of the three months, an African worker who was not a Witness came up to Dad and asked: “Do you know what we call you?” The man smiled and said: “We call you Bwana [Mr.] Watchtower.”
In 1955, Dad was able to attend the “Triumphant Kingdom” Assemblies in Europe. There he met Mary Zahariou, who became his wife the following year. After their marriage, they settled in Parma, Ohio, U.S.A.
To East Africa
During a district convention in the United States, an invitation was extended to conventioners to serve where the need for ministers was greater. Our parents decided to go to East Africa. They did exactly what the Watch Tower Society suggested. They saved enough money to buy return tickets in case Dad was unsuccessful in acquiring a job, since only those with work permits were allowed to reside in that territory.
After getting passports, visas, and inoculations, in July 1959, Dad and Mom sailed on a merchant ship from New York City to Mombasa by way of Cape Town. The trip took them four weeks. In Mombasa they received a warm welcome at the dock by Christian brothers who had come before them to serve where the need was greater. When they arrived in Nairobi, Dad found a letter awaiting him. It was a reply to his request for a position as a chemist in the Geological Survey Department in Entebbe, Uganda. Dad and Mom took the train to Kampala, Uganda, where Dad was interviewed and hired. At the time, there was only one other Witness in the Entebbe-Kampala area, George Kadu.
The colonial government paid for Dad to learn the local language, Luganda. He was delighted, since he had planned to learn it anyway so that he could be more effective in the ministry. Later, Dad even helped translate the booklet “This Good News of the Kingdom” into Luganda.
Dad was fearless in witnessing to others. He spoke to all the Europeans in his department, and he shared regularly in preaching to the Ugandans. He even witnessed to the African attorney general of Uganda. The man not only listened to the Kingdom message but had Dad and Mom over for dinner.
My sister, Anthe, was born in 1960, and I came along in 1965. Our family grew very close to the brothers and sisters in the small but growing congregation in the capital, Kampala. As the only white Witnesses in nearby Entebbe, we had some amusing experiences. Once a friend of Dad’s made an unexpected stopover at Entebbe and tried to contact Dad. He was unsuccessful until he asked: “Do you know the European couple here who are Jehovah’s Witnesses?” The person immediately drove him straight to Mom and Dad’s house.
We also had difficult experiences, including living through two armed revolts. Government troops at one time were shooting anyone of a certain ethnic group. All through the day and night, there was incessant shooting. Since there was a 6:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. curfew, the meetings were held during the afternoons in my parents’ home in Entebbe.
Later, when the curfew was lifted, Dad drove us to Kampala for the Watchtower Study. A soldier aimed a rifle at us, stopped our car, and demanded to know where we were going. I was then only an infant, and Anthe was five. When Dad quietly explained, showing the soldier our Bibles and literature, he let us go.
In 1967, after nearly eight years in Uganda, our parents decided to return to the United States because of health problems and family responsibilities. We became part of the Canfield, Ohio, Congregation, where Dad served as an elder. There my parents grew to love the brothers as dearly as they loved the little congregation in Kampala.
Loving Christian Upbringing
In 1971 my brother David was born. As we grew up, we were nurtured in a home atmosphere that was full of love and warmth. No doubt this stemmed from the loving relationship that our parents enjoyed with each other.
When we were young, Dad would always read us a Bible story at bedtime, pray, and then, unbeknownst to Mom, give us a chocolate wrapped up in shiny gold paper. We always studied our Watchtower together as a family, no matter where we were. While on family vacations, we once studied it on a mountainside and on another occasion while overlooking the ocean. Dad often remarked that those were some of his happiest memories. He said that he felt sorry for those who missed out on the great joy that a family study can bring.
When it came to showing love for Jehovah, Dad taught by example. Whenever a new copy of the Watchtower or Awake! magazine came or we received another Watchtower publication, Dad would eagerly devour its contents. We learned from him that Bible truth should not be viewed lightly but be esteemed as a precious treasure. One of our most precious possessions is Dad’s Reference Bible. Practically every page is covered with notes gleaned from his studies. Now when we read from his marginal comments, we can almost still hear him teaching and counseling us.
Faithful to the End
On May 16, 1991, while out in the field ministry, Dad had a heart attack. Weeks later, he had open-heart surgery that appeared to be successful. However, during the night following surgery, we received a phone call from the hospital. Dad was bleeding, and the doctors were very concerned. He was taken back into surgery twice that night to try to stop the bleeding but to no avail. Dad’s blood was not clotting.
The next day, as Dad’s condition rapidly deteriorated, the doctors first took aside my mother and then my younger brother to put pressure on them to consent to a blood transfusion for Dad. Yet, Dad had previously told the doctors that he would not accept a blood transfusion under any circumstances. He explained to them his Scriptural reasons for refusing blood but said he would accept nonblood alternatives.—Leviticus 17:13, 14; Acts 15:28, 29.
An underlying hostility on the part of several members of the medical staff created a very tense atmosphere in the ICU (intensive care unit). This, coupled with Dad’s worsening condition, at times seemed more than we could bear. We supplicated Jehovah for help and also tried to apply the practical suggestions we had received. So when visiting the ICU, we were always well dressed and respectful toward the medical staff. We took an active interest in Dad’s condition by asking meaningful questions, and we thanked every staff member involved in Dad’s care.
Our efforts did not go unnoticed by the medical staff. In a few days, the tense atmosphere changed to one of kindness. The nurses who cared for Dad would keep checking on his progress even though they were no longer assigned to take care of him. One doctor who had been very rude to us even softened to the point of asking Mom how she was coping. Our congregation and relatives also lovingly supported us. They sent food and many comforting cards, and they prayed in our behalf.
Sadly, Dad never responded to the treatment. He died ten days after his initial surgery. We grieve deeply for Dad. At times, the feelings of loss are overwhelming. Fortunately, our God promises that he will ‘daily carry the load for us,’ and we have learned to lean on him as never before.—Psalm 68:19.
[Picture on page 21]
Frank Smith with his mother, Phyllis, in Cape Town
[Picture on page 22]
Dad and Mom at the time of their marriage
[Picture on page 23]
For the first baptism in Entebbe, the brothers rented an African chief’s pool
[Picture on page 23]
Greeting in the customary way
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Dad and Mom shortly before Dad’s death