Rejoicing in Jehovah Despite Trials
AS TOLD BY GEORGE SCIPIO
In December 1945, I lay in a hospital ward, completely paralyzed except for my hands and feet. I thought my condition was temporary, but others doubted that I would ever walk again. What a trial that was for an active 17-year-old! I refused to accept such a prognosis. I had so many plans, including a trip to England with my employer the following year.
I WAS the victim of a poliomyelitis epidemic that had swept through our island home of St. Helena. It killed 11 people and left scores disabled. While lying in bed, I had plenty of time to reflect on my short life and on my future. As I did so, I began to realize that, in spite of my affliction, I had reason to rejoice.
A Humble Beginning
In 1933 when I was five years old, my father, Tom, a policeman and a deacon in the Baptist Church, obtained some bound books from two of Jehovah’s Witnesses. They were full-time evangelizers, or pioneers, who visited the island for a short time.
One of the books was called The Harp of God. My father used it in studying the Bible with our family and with several interested individuals. It was deep material, and I understood very little of it. But I remember marking every scripture we discussed in my copy of the Bible. My father soon realized that what we were studying was the truth and that it was different from what he was preaching in the Baptist Church. He started to tell others about it and to preach from the pulpit that there is no Trinity, no hellfire, and no immortal soul. This caused quite a stir in the church.
Eventually, in an effort to settle the issue, a church meeting was called. The question was asked, “Who stands up for the Baptists?” The majority did. The next question was, “Who stands up for Jehovah?” About 10 or 12 did. They were asked to leave the church.
This was the humble beginning of a new religion on St. Helena. My father contacted the Watch Tower Society’s headquarters in the United States and requested a transcription machine for playing recorded Bible lectures to the public. He was told that the machine was too big to send to St. Helena. A smaller phonograph player was sent, and the brothers later ordered two more. They went around the island on foot and by donkey, carrying the message to the people.
As the message spread, so did opposition. At my school, children would sing: “Come on the land, come on the land, Tommy Scipio’s gramophone band!” This was a severe trial for me, a schoolboy who wanted the approval of his peers. What helped me to endure?
Our large family—with six children—had a regular family Bible study. We also read the Bible together every morning before breakfast. This has doubtless been instrumental in helping our family to continue faithful in the truth over the years. I personally acquired a love for the Bible at an early age, and through the years, I have maintained the habit of regular Bible reading. (Psalm 1:1-3) By the time I left school at 14 years of age, I was firmly grounded in the truth, and the fear of Jehovah was in my heart. This enabled me to rejoice in Jehovah despite those trials.
Further Trials and Joys
As I lay in that sickbed thinking of those early years and my future prospects, I knew from my study of the Bible that this illness was not some test or punishment from God. (James 1:12, 13) Nevertheless, the polio was a grievous trial, and its effects would remain with me for the rest of my life.
As I recovered, I had to learn to walk again. I also lost the use of some muscles in my arms. I cannot count the times I fell every day. Yet, with earnest prayer and continuous effort, by 1947, I was able to walk with the aid of a stick.
During that time I fell in love with a young woman, Doris, who shared my religious convictions. We were too young to think of marriage, but I was motivated to make further progress in walking. I also left my job because the salary was not enough to get married on, and I set up my own dental laboratory, which operated for the next two years. We got married in 1950. By then I had earned enough money to buy a small car. Now I could take the brothers to meetings and in the field service.
Theocratic Advancements on the Island
In 1951 the Society sent their first representative to us. This was Jacobus van Staden, a young man from South Africa. We had just moved into a nice house, so we could accommodate him for a whole year. Since I was working for myself, we spent a lot of time in the preaching work together, and I received much valuable training from him.
Jacobus, or Koos to us, organized regular congregation meetings, which all of us gladly attended. We had a transport problem because there were only two cars among all the interested ones. The terrain is rough and hilly, and there were few good roads at that time. Thus, it was quite an undertaking to get everyone to the meetings. Some started walking early in the morning. I took three in my small car and dropped them some distance along the road. They got out and kept on walking. I turned back, took three more some distance, dropped them, and returned. Eventually, all got to the meeting this way. After the meeting, we followed the same procedure to get everyone home.
Koos also taught us how to give effective presentations at the doors. We had many good experiences and some not so good. But the joy we had in the field ministry eclipsed all the trials caused by opposers of our preaching activity. One morning I was working with Koos. As we approached a door, we heard a voice inside. A man was reading aloud from the Bible. We could clearly hear the familiar words of Isaiah chapter 2. When he got to verse 4, we knocked. A friendly old man invited us in, and we used Isaiah 2:4 to explain to him the good news of God’s Kingdom. A Bible study was started with him even though he lived in a very inaccessible place. We had to travel down a hill, cross a stream on stepping-stones, go up another hill, and then go down to his house. But it was worth it. This meek old man accepted the truth and was baptized. In order to get to the meetings, he walked with two sticks to a place where I could take him the rest of the way by car. Later he died a faithful Witness.
The commissioner of police was opposed to our work and repeatedly threatened to have Koos deported. Once a month he called Koos in for questioning. The fact that Koos always gave him straight answers from the Bible made him even more bitter. On each occasion he warned Koos that he must stop preaching, but each time he received a witness. He continued to oppose the work even after Koos left St. Helena. Then the commissioner, a big, strong man, suddenly turned ill and became very thin. The doctors could not find out what was wrong with him. As a result, he left the island.
Baptism and Steady Growth
After Koos had been on the island for three months, he felt that it was appropriate to hold a baptismal service. Finding a suitable pool was a problem. We decided to dig a large hole, cement it, and carry water to fill it. The night before the baptism, it rained, and the next morning we were delighted to find that the hole was filled to the brim.
That Sunday morning Koos gave the baptism talk. When he asked the baptismal candidates to stand, 26 of us rose to answer the customary questions. We were privileged to be the first Witnesses baptized on the island. That was the happiest day of my life because I had always worried that Armageddon would come before I was baptized.
Two congregations were eventually formed, one in Levelwood and one in Jamestown. Each week three or four of us traveled eight miles [13 km] to one congregation to conduct the Theocratic Ministry School and Service Meeting on Saturday evening. After field service on Sunday morning, we returned and had the same meetings, as well as the Watchtower Study, in our own congregation in the afternoon and evening. So our weekends were filled with joyful theocratic activities. I longed to do the preaching work full-time, but I had a family to support. So in 1952, I returned to government service as a resident dentist.
In 1955 traveling representatives of the Society, circuit overseers, started visiting the island each year, and they stayed in my home for part of their visit. They were a positive influence on our family. At about the same time, I also had the privilege of sharing in the showing of the Society’s three films around the island.
The Thrilling Divine Will Assembly
In 1958, in order to attend the Divine Will International Assembly in New York, I again resigned from government service. That assembly was a milestone in my life—an opportunity that gave me much reason for rejoicing in Jehovah. Because of the lack of regular transport to the island, we were away for five and a half months. The assembly lasted for eight days, and sessions were from nine in the morning until nine at night. But I never got tired, and I looked forward to each day. I had the privilege of representing St. Helena for two minutes on the program. Addressing the large crowds at Yankee Stadium and Polo Grounds was a nerve-racking experience.
The assembly strengthened my resolve to pioneer. The public talk, “God’s Kingdom Rules—Is the World’s End Near?,” was particularly encouraging. After the assembly, we visited the Society’s headquarters in Brooklyn and toured the factory. I spoke to Brother Knorr, then president of the Watch Tower Society, about the progress of the work in St. Helena. He said that he would love to visit the island some day. We brought back tape recordings of all the talks as well as many motion pictures of the assembly to share with family and friends.
Goal of Full-Time Service Attained
On my return, I was offered my old job again, as there was no dentist on the island. However, I explained that I intended to enter the full-time ministry. After much negotiation it was agreed that I could work three days a week, but with a higher salary than when I was working six days a week. Jesus’ words proved true: “Keep on, then, seeking first the kingdom and his righteousness, and all these other things will be added to you.” (Matthew 6:33) Traveling over the hilly terrain of the island on my weakened legs was not always easy for me. Even so, I pioneered for 14 years and was able to help many fellow islanders to learn the truth—certainly a cause for much rejoicing.
In 1961 the government wanted to send me to the Fiji Islands for a free two-year training course so that I could become a fully qualified dentist. They even offered to send my family with me. This was a tempting offer, but after serious consideration I turned it down. I did not want to leave the brothers for such an extended period of time and give up the privilege I had of serving with them. The senior medical officer who had organized the trip was most upset. He said: “If you think the end is so near, you can still use the money you will earn in the meantime.” But I stood firm.
The following year I was invited to South Africa to attend the Kingdom Ministry School, a one-month training course for congregation overseers. We were given valuable instruction that helped us to care more effectively for our congregation assignments. After the school, I received further training by working with a traveling overseer. I then served the two congregations on St. Helena for over ten years as a substitute circuit overseer. In time, other qualified brothers became available, and a rotation system was used.
In the meantime, we had moved from Jamestown to Levelwood, where there was a greater need, and we stayed there for ten years. During this time, I was burning the candle at both ends—pioneering, working three days a week for the government, and running a small grocery shop. In addition, I was attending to congregation matters, and my wife and I were taking care of a family of four growing children. To cope, I gave up my three-day job, sold the shop, and took the whole family to Cape Town, South Africa, for a three-month vacation. We then moved to Ascension Island and stayed there for a year. During that time, we were able to assist many to gain an accurate knowledge of Bible truth.
On our return to St. Helena, we moved back to Jamestown. We refurbished a house connected to the Kingdom Hall. To provide materially, my son John and I built an ice-cream van out of a Ford truck, and we sold ice cream for the following five years. Shortly after starting the business, I had an accident with the van. It tipped over and trapped my legs. As a result, nerves were deadened below my knees, and it took three months for me to recuperate.
Rich Blessings Past and Future
Over the years, we have had many blessings—further reasons for rejoicing. One of these was our trip to South Africa to attend a national convention in 1985 and to visit the new Bethel home, which was still under construction. Another was that of having a small share, along with my son John, in erecting a beautiful Assembly Hall near Jamestown. We are also happy that three of our sons are serving as elders, and one grandson is serving at the South Africa Bethel. And we have certainly reaped much joy and satisfaction from assisting many to acquire an accurate knowledge of the Bible.
The field for our ministry is limited, with only about 5,000 people. Nevertheless, working the same territory over and over again has produced fine results. Very few people are rude to us. St. Helena is known for its friendliness, and you will be greeted wherever you go—walking on the road or driving in your car. My experience has been that the better you get to know people, the easier it is to witness to them. We now have 150 publishers, even though many have moved overseas.
With all our children having grown up and moved away, my wife and I are on our own again, after 48 years of marriage. Her loyal love and support over the years have helped me to continue serving Jehovah joyfully despite trials. Our physical strength is waning, but our spiritual strength is being renewed each day. (2 Corinthians 4:16) I, along with my family and friends, look forward to a wonderful future when I will be restored physically to even better than what I was at 17 years of age. My fondest wish is to enjoy perfection in every sense and, above all, to serve our loving and caring God, Jehovah, and his reigning King, Jesus Christ, forever.—Nehemiah 8:10.
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George Scipio and three of his sons, who are serving as elders
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George Scipio with his wife, Doris