Serving Jehovah as a United Family
AS TOLD BY ANTONIO SANTOLERI
My father was 17 when he left Italy in 1919. He moved to Brazil in search of a better life. In time, he came to have a barbershop in a small town in the interior of the state of São Paulo.
ONE DAY in 1938, when I was seven, Father obtained the Brasileira version of the Bible from a man who passed by his shop. Two years later Mother became seriously ill and remained an invalid until her death. Father also became sick, so all of us—Mother, Father, my sister Ana, and I—went to live with relatives in the city of São Paulo.
During my schooling in São Paulo, I became an avid reader, especially of historical writings. I was impressed that the Bible was occasionally mentioned in them. A book of fiction, which I had borrowed from the São Paulo public library, mentioned the Sermon on the Mount several times. That is when I decided to obtain a Bible to read that sermon for myself. I searched for the Bible that Father had acquired years before and finally found it in the bottom of a trunk, where it had lain for seven years.
Our family was Catholic, so I had never been encouraged to read the Bible. Now, on my own, I learned to look up the chapters and verses. I read with great pleasure not just the Sermon on the Mount but the whole book of Matthew as well as other Bible books. What impressed me the most was the tone of truth with which Jesus’ teachings and miracles were presented.
Realizing how different the Catholic religion was from what I read in the Bible, I began to attend the Presbyterian Church, and Ana joined me. Yet, I still felt a vacuum in my heart. For years I had been avidly searching for God. (Acts 17:27) One starry night, when I was in a pensive mood, I wondered, ‘Why am I here? What is the purpose of life?’ I sought an isolated spot in the backyard, knelt down, and prayed, ‘Lord God! Who are you? How can I get to know you?’ An answer came shortly thereafter.
Learning Bible Truth
One day in 1949, a young woman approached Father as he got off a streetcar. She offered him the Watchtower and Awake! magazines. He subscribed to the Watchtower and asked her to visit our home, explaining that he had two children who attended the Presbyterian Church. During the woman’s visit, she left the book Children with Ana and began a Bible study with her. Later I joined the study.
In November 1950 we attended our first convention of Jehovah’s Witnesses. There the book “Let God Be True” was released, and we continued our Bible study using that book as our guide. Soon afterward we discerned that we had found the truth, and in April 1951 we were baptized in symbol of our dedication to Jehovah. Father made his dedication some years later and died faithful to God in 1982.
Happy in Full-Time Service
In January 1954, when I was still only 22, I was accepted for service at the branch office of Jehovah’s Witnesses, which is called Bethel. On arriving there, I was surprised to find that a man only two years older than me, Richard Mucha, was the branch overseer. In 1955, when a need arose for circuit servants, as traveling overseers were then called, I was among five men who were invited to share in this service.
My assignment was the state of Rio Grande do Sul. There were only 8 congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses when I began, but within 18 months 2 new congregations and 20 isolated groups were established. In this area today, there are 15 circuits of Jehovah’s Witnesses, each with about 20 congregations! At the end of 1956, I was advised that my circuit had been divided into four smaller ones that would be served by four circuit servants. At that time I was directed to return to Bethel for a new assignment.
To my surprise and delight, I was assigned to northern Brazil as a district servant, a traveling minister who serves a number of circuits. Brazil then had 12,000 ministers of Jehovah’s Witnesses, and the country had two districts. Richard Wuttke served in the south, and I had the district in the north. At Bethel we were trained to operate a projector for showing the films produced by Jehovah’s Witnesses, The New World Society in Action and The Happiness of the New World Society.
In those days travel was quite different. None of the Witnesses had an automobile, so I traveled by canoe, rowboat, oxcart, horseback, wagon, truck, and once by airplane. It was thrilling to fly over the Amazon forest to land in Santarém, a city halfway between Belém at the mouth of the Amazon and Manaus, the capital of Amazonas State. District servants then had few circuit assemblies to serve, hence I spent much of my time showing the Society’s films. In larger cities, hundreds attended.
What most impressed me in northern Brazil was the Amazon region. While I was serving there in April 1957, the Amazon River and its tributaries overflowed their banks. I had the privilege of showing one of the films in the forest, extending an improvised screen between two trees. The power for the projector came from a motorboat anchored in the nearby river. It was the first film that most of the audience had ever seen.
Soon afterward I returned to Bethel service, and the following year, in 1958, I had the privilege of attending the historic “Divine Will” International Assembly of Jehovah’s Witnesses, in New York City. Delegates from 123 lands were among the 253,922 who filled Yankee Stadium and the nearby Polo Grounds on the concluding day of that eight-day convention.
Enjoying Changes in My Life
Shortly after returning to Bethel, I became acquainted with Clara Berndt, and in March 1959 we were married. We were assigned to the circuit work in the state of Bahia, where we served for about a year. Clara and I still recall with joy the humility, hospitality, zeal, and love of the brothers there; they were poor materially but rich in Kingdom fruitage. Then we were transferred to São Paulo State. It was there, in 1960, that my wife became pregnant, and we had to leave the full-time ministry.
We decided to move to a place in the state of Santa Catarina, where my wife was born. Our son, Gerson, was the first of our five children. He was followed by Gilson in 1962, Talita in 1965, Tárcio in 1969, and Janice in 1974. Thanks to Jehovah and the fine counsel he provides, we were able to face the challenge of raising them in “the discipline and mental-regulating of Jehovah.”—Ephesians 6:4.
We consider each of our children precious. The psalmist so well expressed our feelings: “Look! Sons are an inheritance from Jehovah.” (Psalm 127:3) Despite problems, we have cared for our children as we would any “inheritance from Jehovah,” keeping in mind the instructions found in his Word. The rewards have been many. It gave us unspeakable joy when all five in turn, separately, and of their own volition expressed their desire to be baptized in symbol of their dedication to Jehovah.—Ecclesiastes 12:1.
Our Children’s Choices
We were overjoyed when Gerson, soon after completing a course in data processing, said he wanted to serve at Bethel, thus choosing the full-time ministry instead of a professional career. Yet Bethel life at first was not easy for Gerson. After visiting him when he had been in Bethel only four months, I was struck by the sadness reflected in his face as we left. In our car’s rearview mirror, I saw him watching us until we passed the first curve in the road. My eyes were so full of tears that I had to stop on the side of the road before proceeding on our 430-mile [700 km] trip home.
Gerson really came to enjoy Bethel. After being there nearly six years, he married Heidi Besser, and they served together in Bethel for another two years. Heidi then became pregnant, and they had to leave. Their daughter, Cintia, now six years old, accompanies them in their Kingdom activities.
Not long after we first visited Gerson at Bethel, Gilson, who had recently completed his first year in business administration, said that he too wanted to serve there. His plans were to resume his business course after serving a year at Bethel. But his plans changed, and he remained in Bethel service. In 1988 he married Vivian Gonçalves, a pioneer, as full-time ministers are called. Ever since, they have been serving together at Bethel.
Our joys continued when our third child, Talita, chose to enter the pioneer service in 1986 after taking a course in drafting. Three years later she too was invited to Bethel. In 1991 she married José Cozzi, who had been serving at Bethel for ten years. They continue there as a married couple.
My wife and I were again delighted when Tárcio, the next in line, repeated the same phrase that we had heard three times already, “Father, I want to go to Bethel.” His application was accepted, and in 1991 he too began Bethel service, where he stayed until 1995. We are happy that he used his youthful vigor to promote Jehovah’s Kingdom interests in this way for over three years.
Our youngest, Janice, made her decision to serve Jehovah and was baptized at age 13. During her schooling, she served for a year as an auxiliary pioneer. Then, on September 1, 1993, she began as a regular pioneer in our congregation here in the city of Gaspar.
The Way of Success
What is the secret to keeping a family united in the worship of Jehovah? I do not believe there is some magical formula. Jehovah has provided counsel in his Word for Christian parents to follow, so all credit should go to him for the fine results that we have enjoyed. We have simply tried to follow his directions. (Proverbs 22:6) All our children inherited a Latin sentimentality from me and a practical Germanic spirit from their mother. But the most important thing they received from us was a spiritual inheritance.
Our homelife revolved around Kingdom interests. Keeping these interests foremost was not easy. For instance, we had difficulty always maintaining a regular family Bible study, yet we never gave up. From their first days of life, each child was brought to Christian meetings as well as to assemblies and conventions. Only illness or some other emergency kept us from attending. In addition, at a young age, the children accompanied us in the Christian ministry.
When they were about ten, the children began to give talks in the Theocratic Ministry School. We helped them prepare their first talks, encouraging them to use an outline rather than a manuscript. Later on, each one prepared his own talk. Also, when they were between the ages of 10 and 12, they each began to share regularly in the ministry. This was the only way of life they knew.
My wife, Clara, played a vital role in the rearing of our children. Every night, when they were very young—the time a child absorbs like a sponge all that he is taught—Clara read a Bible story to them and prayed with each one. She used to good advantage the books From Paradise Lost to Paradise Regained, Listening to the Great Teacher, and My Book of Bible Stories.* When they became available, we also used the audio and visual aids provided by Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Our experience as Christian parents confirms that children need daily attention. Intense love, personalized interest, and abundant time are among the basic needs of young ones. We not only viewed it as our parental responsibility to satisfy these needs to the best of our ability but reaped great pleasure from doing so.
Truly, it is gratifying for parents to realize the fulfillment of the words at Psalm 127:3-5: “Look! Sons are an inheritance from Jehovah; the fruitage of the belly is a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a mighty man, so are the sons of youth. Happy is the able-bodied man that has filled his quiver with them.” Serving Jehovah as a united family has indeed caused us to rejoice!
All published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc.
[Picture on page 26]
Antonio Santoleri with his immediate family