Serving Whole-Souled in Spite of Trials
AS TOLD BY RODOLFO LOZANO
I was born in Mexico, in the city of Gómez Palacio, Durango State, on September 17, 1917. The Mexican Revolution was in full swing. Although the revolution ended in 1920, disturbances in the area where we lived continued for years afterward, making life very difficult.
ONCE, when Mother learned that there was going to be a confrontation between the rebel forces and the army, she kept me and my three brothers and two sisters in the house for several days. We had little to eat, and I remember hiding with my younger sister under the bed. After that, Mother decided to take us children to the United States, where my father was to join us later.
We arrived in California in 1926, shortly before the Great Depression hit the United States. We moved about wherever we could find work, to places like the San Joaquin Valley, Santa Clara, Salinas, and King City. We learned to work in the fields and to harvest all kinds of fruits and vegetables. Although my youth was one of strenuous work, it was a very pleasant time in my life.
Reached by Bible Truth
In March 1928, a Bible Student, as Jehovah’s Witnesses were then called, visited us. He was an elderly, Spanish-speaking man named Esteban Rivera. The title of the booklet he left, “Where Are the Dead?,” impressed me, as did the contents. Even though I was young, I pursued Bible study and association with the Bible Students. In time, my mother and my sister Aurora also became zealous praisers of Jehovah.
In the mid-1930’s, a Kingdom Hall was built in San Jose for the English-speaking congregation. Since many Hispanics worked on farms in the area, we began to preach to them and hold the Watchtower Study. We did this with the help of Hispanic Witnesses from San Francisco, some 50 miles [80 km] away. In time, we had about 60 attending Spanish-language meetings in the San Jose Kingdom Hall.
Eventually, on February 28, 1940, I symbolized my dedication to Jehovah by water baptism at an assembly in San Jose. The following year, I was appointed as a pioneer, a full-time minister of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Then in April 1943, I was invited to move to Stockton, a city about 80 miles [130 km] away, to form a Spanish-language congregation. At the time, I was serving as the presiding overseer of the English congregation in San Jose, and I was also caring for the Spanish-speaking Witnesses there. After arranging for others to care for these responsibilities, I moved to Stockton.
Integrity Put to the Test
Beginning in 1940, I was repeatedly called before the draft board, but each time my position as a conscientious objector was respected. Soon after the United States entered the second world war in December 1941, pressure from the draft board intensified. Finally, in 1944, I was put in jail. While waiting to be sentenced, I was kept in a basement with criminals. Learning that I was one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, many of them asked questions about how the crimes that they had committed would affect their standing before God.
Witnesses in San Jose paid my bail so that I could be released, pending trial. A lawyer in Los Angeles who represented defendants in civil rights cases accepted my case without charge. The judge decided to free me on the condition that I quit pioneering, take a secular job, and report to the federal authorities each month. I did not accept that decision, so I was sentenced to two years in the McNeil Island prison in Washington State. There I used my time for intensive Bible study. I also learned to type. In less than two years, I was released for good conduct. I immediately made arrangements to continue in the pioneer ministry.
In the winter of 1947, I was assigned to work among the Spanish-speaking people of Colorado City, Texas, along with a pioneer companion. But it was so cold that we went to San Antonio to warm up. There, however, it rained so much that our door-to-door ministry was disrupted. Our money soon ran out. For weeks we subsisted on raw cabbage sandwiches and alfalfa tea. My companion returned home, but I stayed. When the English-speaking Witnesses became aware of my physical needs, they began to help me.
The following spring, I returned to my assignment in Colorado City, and eventually a small Spanish-language congregation was formed. Then I moved to Sweetwater, Texas, where I helped form another Spanish-language congregation. While in Sweetwater, I received a letter inviting me to the 15th class of the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead for missionary training that commenced on February 22, 1950. After graduation that summer at the international convention in New York City’s Yankee Stadium, I remained for three months at the world headquarters of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Brooklyn. There I received training for my assignment at the Mexico branch office.
Work in Mexico
I arrived in Mexico City on October 20, 1950. About two weeks later, I was appointed branch overseer, an assignment I handled for four and a half years. The experience I had gained in pioneer service, in prison, at Gilead, and in Brooklyn proved very beneficial. On arriving in Mexico, I quickly saw the need for building up the spirituality of our Mexican brothers and sisters. There was especially a need to help them hold to the high moral standards of God’s Word.
In Latin-American countries, including Mexico, it was the custom for couples to live together without being legally married. The religions of Christendom, particularly the Roman Catholic Church, had allowed this unscriptural custom to prevail. (Hebrews 13:4) Thus, some had become members of the congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses, even though they were not legally married. Now an arrangement was made for such ones to be given six months to straighten things out. Otherwise they would no longer be recognized as Jehovah’s Witnesses.
For many, straightening out their lives was simple. They needed only to legalize the relationship they were in by getting married. Others had more complicated situations. For example, some had been married twice, and even three times, without ever having obtained a legal divorce. When the marital situations of Jehovah’s people were finally in harmony with the teachings of God’s Word, fine spiritual blessings were enjoyed within the congregations.—1 Corinthians 6:9-11.
In those days the level of secular education in Mexico was generally low. Even before I arrived in 1950, the branch office had begun to organize reading and writing classes in the congregations. Now these classes were reorganized, and arrangements were made to register them with the government. Since 1946, when records began to be kept, over 143,000 persons in Mexico have been taught to read and write in classes conducted by the Witnesses!
The laws in Mexico were very restrictive with regard to religion. In recent years, however, there have been important changes in this respect. In 1992 a new law was passed on religious affairs, so in 1993, Jehovah’s Witnesses in Mexico were registered as a religious organization.
For me these changes have been a source of great joy, something I would have thought impossible in earlier times. Over many years, I repeatedly visited government offices and faced a rather distrustful attitude. However, it is fine to see how these matters have been handled through the Legal Department at our branch office, so that we now meet with relatively little interference in the preaching work.
Serving With a Missionary Mate
When I arrived in Mexico, there were already many graduates of earlier classes of Gilead in the country. One of these was Esther Vartanian, an Armenian Witness who had begun pioneering in Vallejo, California, in 1942. We were married on July 30, 1955, and thereafter continued in our assignment in Mexico. Esther remained in the missionary work in Mexico City, and we lived at the branch, where I continued to serve.
In 1947, Esther had arrived in her first missionary assignment in Monterrey, Nuevo León, Mexico. There was only one congregation of 40 Witnesses in Monterrey, but by the time she was transferred to Mexico City in 1950, there were four congregations. At our branch near Mexico City, there are presently two young descendants of families with whom Esther studied the Bible when she was serving in Monterrey.
Back in 1950 the preaching territory of the missionaries in Mexico City included most of the city. They traversed their assignment on foot or in very old buses jammed with people. When I arrived on the scene late in 1950, there were seven congregations. Now these have increased to about 1,600, with well over 90,000 Kingdom publishers in Mexico City, and last year, more than 250,000 persons attended the Memorial of Christ’s death there! Over the years, Esther and I have had the privilege of serving in many of these congregations.
When Esther and I start a Bible study, we always try to get the father of the family interested so that the entire family becomes involved. Thus, we have seen many large families come to serve Jehovah. I believe that one of the reasons for the rapid growth of true worship in Mexico is that whole families often unitedly join in true worship.
Jehovah Has Blessed the Work
Since 1950 the progress of the work in Mexico has been noteworthy, both as regards increase in numbers and changes in organization. It is a real pleasure to have contributed in a small way to the increase, working with such a hospitable and happy people.
Karl Klein, who serves as a member of the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses, and his wife, Margaret, visited us while they were on vacation some years ago. Brother Klein wanted to feel the pulse of the work in our Mexican territory, so he and Margaret came to the San Juan Tezontla Congregation, near Mexico City, where we attended at the time. Our hall was small, about 15 feet [4.5 m] wide and 18 feet [5.5 m] long. When we arrived, about 70 were already present, and there was hardly standing room left. Older ones were sitting on chairs, younger ones on benches, and small children on bricks or on the floor.
Brother Klein was very impressed because all the children had their Bibles ready, looking up the Bible texts along with the speaker. After the public talk, Brother Klein spoke on Matthew 13:19-23 and said that in Mexico there was much of the “fine soil” that Jesus mentioned. At present, seven of the children who were in attendance that day are working on the huge project of enlarging our branch facilities near Mexico City. Another one serves at Bethel, and several others are pioneers!
When I came to Mexico City, there were only 11 members in our branch. Now we have some 1,350 working on site, about 250 of whom are doing construction of new branch buildings. When all this work is completed, possibly in 2002, we will be able to accommodate some 1,300 people in our expanded facilities. To think that in 1950 we had fewer than 7,000 Kingdom publishers in the whole country, but now we have well over 500,000! My heart overflows with joy at seeing the way Jehovah has blessed the efforts of our humble Mexican brothers, who work so hard to praise him.
Facing a Big Challenge
One of my biggest challenges lately has been illness. In general, I have been a healthy person. But in November 1988, I had a stroke that greatly affected my physical faculties. Thanks to Jehovah, through exercise and other therapies, I have recuperated to a certain point, but parts of my body do not respond as I would like. I continue to receive treatment and medical attention to avoid intense headaches and other consequences that still remain.
Although I can no longer do as much as I would like, I find contentment knowing that I have been able to help many to learn about Jehovah’s purposes and to become his dedicated servants. I also enjoy talking with as many Christian brothers and sisters as possible when they visit our branch; I feel that we are mutually encouraged.
Knowing that Jehovah appreciates our service to him and that what we have done is not in vain has greatly strengthened me. (1 Corinthians 15:58) In spite of my limitations and illness, I have taken to heart the words of Colossians 3:23, 24: “Whatever you are doing, work at it whole-souled as to Jehovah, and not to men, for you know that it is from Jehovah you will receive the due reward of the inheritance.” In keeping with this admonition, I have learned to serve Jehovah whole-souled in spite of trials.
[Picture on page 24]
In 1942 when I was a pioneer
[Picture on page 24]
My wife began her missionary assignment in Mexico in 1947
[Picture on page 24]
With Esther today
[Pictures on page 26]
Top left: Our Mexico Bethel family in 1952 with me in front
Above: Over 109,000 met in this Mexico City stadium for a district convention in 1999
Bottom left: Our new branch facilities now nearing completion