“Love Never Fails”
AS TOLD BY SAMUEL D. LADESUYI
I am amazed when I look back over the years and see all that has been accomplished. Jehovah has been doing wonderful things throughout the earth. In Ilesha, Nigeria, the few of us who began preaching in 1931 have become 36 congregations. The roughly 4,000 who were publishing in Nigeria when the first graduates of the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead arrived in 1947 have grown to over 180,000. In the early days, we did not expect, nor did we even dream of, the expansion that would take place. How thankful I am that I have had a share in this marvelous work! Let me tell you about it.
MY FATHER traded in guns and gunpowder from town to town; he was rarely at home. He had seven wives that I know about, but not all lived with him. My father inherited my mother from his brother who had died. She became his second wife, and I lived with her.
One day Father came home from visiting his first wife, who lived in a neighboring village. While he was there, he learned that my half brother was attending school. My half brother was ten years old, the same age as me. So Father decided that I must attend school too. He gave me nine pence—three pence for a textbook and six pence for a slate. That was in 1924.
A Bible Study Group Is Formed
From my earliest years, I had a love for the Word of God, the Bible. I enjoyed Bible classes in school and was always commended by my Sunday-school teachers. So in 1930, I seized the opportunity to attend a lecture that was given by a visiting Bible Student, one of the first to preach in Ilesha. After the lecture, he placed with me a copy of the book The Harp of God in the Yoruba language.
I had attended Sunday school regularly. Now I started to take The Harp of God with me and use it in refuting some of the doctrines that were being taught there. Arguments resulted, and I was frequently warned by church leaders against following this ‘new teaching.’
The following year, while strolling down the street, I came upon a group of people listening to a man who was lecturing them. The lecturer was J. I. Owenpa, a Bible Student. He had been sent there by William R. Brown (often called Bible Brown), who was overseeing the Kingdom preaching work from Lagos.* I learned that a small Bible study group had been formed in Ilesha to study The Harp of God, so I joined them.
I was the youngest in the group—just a schoolboy, about 16 years old. Normally I should have been embarrassed, even afraid, to associate so closely with men in their 30’s and older. But they were very glad to have me among them, and they encouraged me. They were like fathers to me.
Soon we began to face serious opposition from the clergy. Catholics, Anglicans, and others, who formerly fought one another, now united against us. They conspired with the local chiefs to take action to discourage us. They sent the police to confiscate our books, claiming that they were harmful to the people. However, the district officer warned that they had no right to take the books, and two weeks later the books were returned.
After this we were called to a meeting where we met the oba, or paramount chief, along with other prominent people of the town. We were about 30 in number at the time. The idea was to stop us from reading the “dangerous” books. They asked if we were strangers, but when they scrutinized our faces, they said, “These are our sons, though there are some strangers among them.” They told us that they did not want us to continue studying the books of a religion that was going to harm us.
We went home without saying anything, for we had made up our minds not to pay any attention to those prominent people. Most of us were very happy with what we had been learning and were determined to continue studying. So, although a few became intimidated and withdrew from our group, most of us continued our study in a carpenter’s workshop. We had no conductor. We began with prayer and then just took turns in reading the paragraphs of the book. After about an hour, we prayed again and then went home. But we were being spied on, and the chiefs and religious leaders continued to summon us every two weeks and warn us against studying the Bible Students’ literature.
Meanwhile, we were trying to use the little knowledge that we had to help the people, and many were agreeing with us. One by one, individuals were joining us. We were very happy, but we still did not know much about the religion that we were associating with.
Early in 1932 a brother arrived from Lagos to help organize us, and in April “Bible” Brown also came. Seeing that there was a group numbering about 30, Brother Brown inquired about the progress we were making in our reading. We told him all we knew. He said that we were ready to be baptized.
Since it was the dry season, we had to travel to a river nine miles [14 km] away from Ilesha, and about 30 of us were baptized. From then on we saw ourselves as preachers of the Kingdom and started going from house to house. We had not anticipated doing this, but we were now eager to share with others what we knew. We had to prepare well in order to have Bible support to refute the false doctrines that we encountered. So at our meetings, we used to discuss the doctrines, helping one another with what we knew.
Our Preaching Activity
We covered the township with our preaching. People mocked us and shouted at us, but we did not mind that. Our joy was great because we had the truth, although we still had a lot to learn.
We went from house to house every Sunday. People would ask questions, and we would try to answer them. On Sunday evenings we delivered a public lecture. We had no Kingdom Hall, so we held meetings in the open air. We gathered people together, gave a lecture, and invited them to ask questions. Sometimes we preached in the churches.
We also traveled to areas where people had never heard of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Most of the time, we went on bicycles, but sometimes we would charter a bus. When we got to a village, we would loudly blow a horn. The whole village would hear us! People rushed to find out what was happening. Then we delivered our message. After we were finished, people scrambled to get copies of our literature. We placed huge amounts.
We eagerly anticipated the coming of God’s Kingdom. I recall that when we received the 1935 Yearbook, one of the brothers, at seeing the full schedule of text discussions for the year, asked: “Does this mean we are going to complete another entire year before Armageddon comes?”
In reply the conductor asked: “Do you think, brother, that if Armageddon should come tomorrow, we will stop reading the Yearbook?” When the brother said no, the conductor said: “Then why are you worrying?” We were, and still are, eager for Jehovah’s day.
The War Years
During the second world war, the importation of our books was banned. One brother in Ilesha unwittingly presented the book Riches to a policeman. The policeman asked: “Who owns this book?” The brother said it was his own. The policeman said that it was a prohibited book, took him to the station, and locked him up.
I went to the police station and, after making inquiries, bailed the brother out. Then I telephoned Brother Brown in Lagos to inform him of what had happened. I also asked if there was any law that prohibited the circulation of our books. Brother Brown told me that only the importation, not the circulation, of our books was banned. Three days later, Brother Brown sent a brother from Lagos to see what was happening. This brother decided that all of us should go out in the preaching work the next day with magazines and books.
We spread out in different directions. After about an hour, the news came to me that most of the brothers had been arrested. So the visiting brother and I went to the police station. The police refused to listen to our explanation that the books were not prohibited.
The 33 brothers who had been arrested were sent to the Chief Magistrate’s Court at Ife, and I accompanied them. The townspeople who saw us being taken away shouted, “It is finished with these people today. They are not coming here again.”
The charge was laid before the chief magistrate, a Nigerian. All the books and magazines were displayed. He asked who had authorized the police chief to arrest these people. The police chief replied that he had acted on instructions from the district officer. The chief magistrate called the police chief and four of our representatives, including me, to his chambers.
He asked who Mr. Brown was. We told him that he was the representative of the Watch Tower Society in Lagos. He then told us that he had received a telegram from Mr. Brown regarding us. He adjourned the case that day and granted bail to the brothers. The following day he acquitted the brothers, setting them free, and he ordered the police to return the books.
We returned to Ilesha, singing. Again the people started shouting, but this time they were saying, “They have come again!”
Jehovah’s Standard of Marriage Made Clear
It was in 1947 that the first three Gilead graduates arrived in Nigeria. One of these brothers, Tony Attwood, is still here, serving at the Nigeria Bethel. From that time on, we saw great changes in Jehovah’s organization in Nigeria. One of the big changes was our view of polygamy.
I married Olabisi Fashugba in February 1941 and knew enough not to take any additional wives. But until 1947 when the missionaries came, polygamy was common in the congregations. Polygamous brothers were told that they had married more than one wife in ignorance. So if they had two or three or four or five wives, they could keep them, but they should not take any more. That was the policy we had.
Many people had been anxious to join us, especially the Cherubim and Seraphim Society in Ilesha. They said that Jehovah’s Witnesses were the only people who taught the truth. They agreed with our teachings and wanted to convert their churches into Kingdom Halls. We were working hard to bring this about. We even had centers to train their elders.
Then came new direction concerning polygamy. One of the missionaries delivered a lecture at a circuit assembly in 1947. He spoke about good conduct and habits. Next he quoted 1 Corinthians 6:9, 10, which says that the unrighteous will not inherit the Kingdom of God. He then added: “And the polygamists will not inherit God’s Kingdom!” People in the audience shouted: “Oh, polygamists will not inherit God’s Kingdom!” Division resulted. It was like a war. Many of the newly associated ones stopped associating, saying: “Thank God, we have not gone very far.”
The majority of the brothers, however, started to mend their ways by setting their wives free. They gave them money and said, ‘If you are young, go and look for another husband. I made a mistake by marrying you. Now I must be a husband of one wife.’
Soon another problem came up. Some, after deciding to keep one wife and release the others, changed their minds and decided they wanted to take back one of the other wives and release the one they previously kept! So trouble started again.
Further direction came from headquarters in Brooklyn, based on Malachi 2:14, which refers to “the wife of your youth.” The direction was that husbands should keep the first wife that they had married. That was how the question was finally resolved.
Privileges of Service
In 1947 the Society began to strengthen the congregations and organize them into circuits. They wanted to appoint mature brothers who were advanced in knowledge as ‘servants to the brethren,’ now called circuit overseers. Brother Brown asked me if I would accept such an appointment. I said that the reason I was baptized was to do Jehovah’s will, adding: “You even baptized me. When there is a chance now to serve Jehovah more fully, do you think I will refuse?”
In October of that year, seven of us were called to Lagos and were given training before we were sent out in the circuit work. In those days circuits were huge. The entire country was divided into just seven circuits. Congregations were few.
Our work as servants to the brethren was hard. We walked many miles each day, often through steaming tropical forests. Every week we had to travel from village to village. At times I felt that my legs were finished. Sometimes I felt that I was dying! But there was a great deal of joy too, especially at seeing the increasing numbers of people who embraced the truth. Why, in just seven years, the number of publishers in the country quadrupled!
I shared in the circuit work until 1955 when ill health forced me to come back to Ilesha, where I was appointed city overseer. Being at home enabled me to devote more attention to helping my family spiritually. Today all six of my children are faithfully serving Jehovah.
True Love Never Fails
When I look back over the years, I have so much to be thankful for. There were disappointments, worries, and illness, but there were also many joys. Although our knowledge and understanding have developed over the years, I’ve learned through experience the meaning of 1 Corinthians 13:8, which says: “Love never fails.” If you love Jehovah and abide steadfastly in his service, he will help you through your difficulties and will richly bless you.
The light of truth is getting brighter and brighter. In the days when we first started, we thought Armageddon would come quickly; that is why we were hurrying to do all we could. But it was all to our benefit. That is why I agree with the words of the psalmist: “I will praise Jehovah during my lifetime. I will make melody to my God as long as I am.”—Psalm 146:2.
Brother Brown was called Bible Brown because of his custom of pointing to the Bible as the final authority.—See “The Harvest of a True Evangelizer” in The Watchtower of September 1, 1992, page 32.
[Picture on page 23]
Samuel with Milton Henschel in 1955
[Picture on page 24]
Samuel with his wife, Olabisi