Can You Serve in a Foreign Field?
“I HAD always dreamed of going into missionary work. As a single person, I served in Texas, U.S.A., where there was a great need for preachers. My wife joined me there after our marriage. When our daughter was born, I thought, ‘Well, that leaves me out.’ But Jehovah makes dreams come true, especially if they have to do with his will.”—Jesse, presently serving in Ecuador with his wife and three children.
“I had never imagined that I could do something like that without Gilead missionary school training. When I saw one of my Bible students giving a talk or preaching, it thrilled me, and I thanked Jehovah for having given me this opportunity.”—Karen, a single woman who pioneered for eight years in South America.
“After preaching full-time for 13 years in the United States, my wife and I felt that we needed a new challenge. We’re happier than we’ve ever been before; it’s truly a wonderful way of life.”—Tom, who pioneers with his wife, Linda, in the Amazon region.
These appreciative expressions are from people whose circumstances did not permit them to receive missionary training at the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead. Nonetheless, they have experienced the joys and challenges of foreign service. How did this come about? Is such service for you?
Right Motives Needed
More than a spirit of adventure is needed in order to succeed in a foreign field. Those who have persevered have done so with the right motives. Like the apostle Paul, they consider themselves to be debtors, not only to God but also to men. (Romans 1:14) They could have fulfilled the divine command to preach by engaging in the ministry in their home territory. (Matthew 24:14) But they felt indebted and were impelled to reach out and help those who rarely get the opportunity to hear the good news.
The desire to work in a more fruitful territory is often another motive—and properly so. Who of us upon seeing another fisherman having much success would not move closer to that area of the pond? Likewise, the heartening reports of exceptional increases in other lands have encouraged many to go where there is “a great multitude of fish.”—Luke 5:4-10.
Count the Cost
Many countries do not allow foreign religious volunteers to do secular work. So those who wish to serve in a foreign country must usually be financially independent. How has this economic challenge been met? A number have sold or rented out their homes to obtain the necessary funds. Others have sold their businesses. Some have saved toward their goal. Still others serve in a foreign land for a year or two, return to their home country to work and accumulate some funds, and then go back to serve again.
A decided advantage of being in a developing country is that the cost of living is usually considerably lower than in a more developed land. This has allowed some to live adequately on a modest pension. Of course, one’s expenses will largely depend upon the standard of living one chooses. Even in developing countries, very comfortable accommodations can be found but at a much higher cost.
Obviously, expenses must be calculated before a move is undertaken. Yet, more is involved than simply counting the economic costs. Perhaps the comments of some who have served in South America may be enlightening.
The Biggest Challenge
“Learning Spanish was a real struggle for me,” recalls Markku, from Finland. “I assumed that since I did not know the language, it would be a while before I could serve as a ministerial servant. What a surprise when I was asked to conduct a book study after only two months! Of course, there were many embarrassing moments. I especially had trouble with names. One day I called Brother Sancho ‘Brother Chancho (pig),’ and I’ll never forget calling Sister Salamea ‘Malasea (wicked).’ Fortunately, the brothers and sisters were very patient.” Markku eventually served eight years in that country as a circuit overseer with his wife, Celine.
Chris, the wife of Jesse quoted earlier, relates: “I remember our first circuit overseer’s visit, after we had been here just three months. I could tell that the brother was using illustrations and was saying something beautiful to try to touch our hearts, but I could not understand him. Right there in the hall, I burst into tears. These were not gentle tears; I was sobbing. After the meeting, I tried to explain my conduct to the circuit overseer. He was very kind and told me what everyone else kept telling me, ‘Ten paciencia, hermana’ (‘Have patience, sister’). Two or three years later, we met again and talked for 45 minutes, reveling in the fact that we could communicate.”
“Study is essential,” notes another brother. “The more effort we put forth in studying the language, the more we improve our communication skills.”
All agree that such efforts bring many benefits. Humility, patience, and persistence are cultivated when a person is striving to learn a new tongue. A great door of opportunity is opened to preach the good news to others. For example, learning Spanish enables one to communicate in a language spoken by more than 400 million people around the world. Many who later had to return to their home country have still been able to use their language skill to help people whose mother tongue is Spanish.
What About Homesickness?
“When we first came to Ecuador in 1989,” recalls Deborah, who served with her husband, Gary, in the Amazon region, “I used to get very homesick. I learned to depend more on the brothers and sisters in the congregation. They became like my family.”
Karen, mentioned at the outset, observes: “I fought homesickness by engaging in the ministry every day. This way I wasn’t daydreaming about home. I also kept in mind that my parents back home were proud of my work in a foreign field. Mom always encouraged me with the words: ‘Jehovah can take better care of you than I can.’”
Makiko, from Japan, humorously adds: “After spending a full day in field service, I am quite tired. So when I get home and start feeling homesick, I usually fall asleep. Consequently, the feeling doesn’t last very long.”
What About Children?
When children are involved, consideration must be given to their needs, such as education. In this regard some have opted for home schooling while others have enrolled their children in local schools.
Al moved to South America with his wife, two children, and mother. He states: “We found that putting the children in school helped them learn the language very quickly. Within three months they were quite fluent.” On the other hand, Mike and Carrie’s two teenage boys study via an accredited correspondence school. The parents observe: “We found that such studies could not be left solely to our children. We had to take part in the course and make sure that the boys stayed up-to-date with the assigned curriculum.”
David and Janita, from Australia, express their feelings about their two boys. “We wanted our boys to see firsthand how others live. It’s easy to assume that the life-style we’ve grown up with is the norm, but actually we’re in the minority. They have also seen how theocratic principles work all over the world, no matter what the country or culture.”
“I was only four years old when our family moved from England in 1969,” Ken reminisces. “Although I was disappointed that we didn’t live in a mud hut with a grass roof, as I had envisioned, I felt that I had the most exciting upbringing a youngster could have. I always felt sorry for other children who didn’t have the same opportunity! Because of good association with missionaries and special pioneers, I began auxiliary pioneering at the age of nine.” Ken is now a traveling overseer.
“Ecuador is really our home now,” agrees Gabriella, Jesse’s daughter. “I’m so glad that my parents made the decision to come here.”
On the other hand, there have been children who were not able to adapt for various reasons, and their families have had to return to their home countries. That is why a visit to the foreign country prior to moving there is advisable. In this way decisions can be made on the basis of firsthand information.
Blessings of Making the Move
Indeed, moving to a foreign field involves many challenges and sacrifices. Has it proved to be worthwhile for those who have made the move? Let them tell us.
Jesse: “In the ten years that we’ve been in the city of Ambato, we’ve seen the number of congregations grow from 2 to 11. We’ve had the privilege of helping to start five of those congregations, and we’ve worked on the construction of two Kingdom Halls. We’ve also had the joy of helping an average of two Bible students per year to qualify for baptism. I have only one regret—not coming here ten years earlier.”
Linda: “The people’s appreciation for the good news and for our efforts greatly encourages us. For example, in a small jungle town, a Bible student named Alfonso realized how beneficial it would be to hold public talks in his area. He had just moved into his newly constructed wooden house, one of just a few in the village. Deciding that his house was the only building in town worthy of Jehovah, he moved back into his grass hut and gave his house to the brothers to use as a Kingdom Hall.”
Jim: “The time we spend actually talking with people in the ministry is ten times that in the United States. In addition, the pace of life here is much more relaxed. There is without doubt more time for study and field service.”
Sandra: “Seeing how Bible truth can change people for the better brings me great satisfaction. I once studied the Bible with Amada, the 69-year-old owner of a little grocery store. She had regularly been adding two parts of water to every ten parts of milk. She further cheated her customers by selling them this diluted milk at less than full measure. But after studying the material under the subheading ‘Honesty Results in Happiness’ in chapter 13 of the book Knowledge That Leads to Everlasting Life, Amada stopped these wrong practices. What a joy it was to see her get baptized some time after that!”
Karen: “I’ve never had to depend on Jehovah so much or been used by him as much as I have here. My friendship with Jehovah has grown deeper and stronger.”
What About You?
Throughout the years thousands of Witnesses have moved to serve abroad. Some stay for a year or two, others indefinitely. They bring with them their experience, spiritual maturity, and financial resources, with the goal of furthering the Kingdom interests in a foreign field. They have been able to serve in areas where the local Kingdom publishers could not serve on account of the scarcity of secular work. Many have purchased four-wheel-drive vehicles for covering territory that is otherwise inaccessible. Others, preferring life in a city, have become a stabilizing factor in large congregations where few elders are available. Yet, without exception, all insist that they have received much more in terms of spiritual blessings than they have given.
Can you share in the privilege of serving in a foreign field? If your circumstances permit, why not investigate the possibility of making such a move? A first and essential step would be to write to the Society’s branch office in the country where you are thinking of serving. The specific information that you receive will help you to determine your chances of making it a success. In addition, many practical suggestions can be found in the article “Go Out From Your Land and From Your Relatives,” in the August 15, 1988, issue of The Watchtower. With proper planning and Jehovah’s blessing, perhaps you too can experience the joy of serving in a foreign field.
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TOM AND LINDA ON A REMOTE TRAIL, HEADING TO A SHUAR INDIAN COMMUNITY
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MANY SERVE IN QUITO, THE CAPITAL CITY OF ECUADOR
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MAKIKO PREACHING IN THE ANDES MOUNTAINS
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THE HILBIG FAMILY HAS BEEN SERVING IN ECUADOR FOR THE LAST FIVE YEARS