Happy Is the One Whose God Is Jehovah
AS TOLD BY TOM DIDUR
The community hall was already rented. About 300 were expected for the assembly in Porcupine Plain, Saskatchewan, Canada. On Wednesday it started to snow, and by Friday there was a prairie blizzard with zero visibility. The temperature dropped to minus 40 degrees Fahrenheit [-40°C]. Twenty-eight were in attendance, including a few children. This was my first assembly as a new circuit overseer, and I was an anxious 25-year-old. Before I tell you what happened, let me relate how I came to enjoy this special privilege of service.
I AM the seventh of eight siblings, all boys. The eldest was Bill, followed by Metro, John, Fred, Mike, and Alex. I was born in 1925, and Wally is the youngest. We lived near the town of Ukraina, Manitoba, where my parents, Michael and Anna Didur, had a small farm. Dad worked on the railway as a section man. Since a bunkhouse along some isolated railway was a poor place to raise a large family, we stayed on the farm. Dad was away from home much of the time, so Mother had the job of raising us. Periodically, she left to be with Dad for a week or more, but she made sure that we learned to cook, bake, and do household chores. And since we were members of the Greek Catholic Church, part of our early training from Mother included memorizing prayers and sharing in other rituals.
Contact With Bible Truth
My yearning to understand the Bible was kindled in my youth. A neighbor, one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, regularly visited our family to read portions of the Bible pertaining to God’s Kingdom, Armageddon, and the blessings of the new world. Mother was not at all interested in what he had to say, but the message appealed to Mike and Alex. In fact, what they learned moved them to refuse military service as conscientious objectors during the second world war. Mike was subsequently sentenced to a short term in jail, while Alex was sent to a labor camp in Ontario. In time, Fred and Wally also accepted the truth. However, my three eldest brothers did not. For a number of years, Mother even opposed the truth but later surprised us all by taking her stand for Jehovah. She was baptized at the age of 83. Mother was 96 when she died. Dad was also favorable toward the truth before he died.
At the age of 17, I traveled to Winnipeg to search for work and to associate with those who could help me study the Bible. Jehovah’s Witnesses were under ban at the time, but meetings were held regularly. The first meeting I attended was in a private home. Since I was brought up according to the Greek Catholic faith, what I initially heard sounded strange. Little by little, though, I understood why the clergy-laity arrangement was unscriptural and why God did not approve when the clergy blessed the war effort. (Isaiah 2:4; Matthew 23:8-10; Romans 12:17, 18) Living in Paradise on earth seemed much more practical and reasonable than going to a faraway place for eternity.
Convinced that this was the truth, I made my dedication to Jehovah and was baptized in 1942 in Winnipeg. By 1943 the ban on Jehovah’s Witnesses in Canada was lifted, and the preaching work gained momentum. Bible truth was also making a deeper impression on my heart. I was privileged to serve as a servant in the congregation as well as to participate in public meeting campaigns and to work unassigned territory. Attending large conventions in the United States contributed immeasurably to my spiritual advancement.
Expanding My Service to Jehovah
In 1950, I enrolled as a pioneer minister, and in December of that year, I was invited to serve as a circuit overseer. I was privileged to receive my formal training near Toronto from Charlie Hepworth, an experienced and loyal brother. I also had the joy of spending the final week of my training with my brother Alex, who was already in the circuit work in Winnipeg.
My first circuit assembly, as described at the outset, is etched on my memory. I was naturally anxious about the outcome. Well, our district overseer, Brother Jack Nathan, kept us all busy and happy. We summarized the assembly program with the participants on hand. We took turns relating experiences, practicing house-to-house presentations, making return visits, and demonstrating how to conduct home Bible studies. We sang Kingdom songs. There was plenty of food. We had coffee and pie almost every two hours. Some slept on benches and on the platform, while others slept on the floor. By Sunday the storm eased a bit so that we had 96 present for the public talk. The experience taught me to cope with difficult situations.
My next circuit assignment took me to northern Alberta, British Columbia, and the Yukon Territory, the land of the midnight sun. Traveling the rugged Alaska Highway from Dawson Creek, British Columbia, to Whitehorse, Yukon (a distance of 918 miles [1,477 km]), and witnessing along the way required endurance and caution. The snowslides, slippery mountain slopes, and poor visibility resulting from the blowing snow were a real challenge.
I was amazed to see how the truth penetrated into the Far North. On one occasion, Walter Lewkowicz and I called at a humble little cabin close to Lower Post, British Columbia, along the Alaska Highway near the border of Yukon Territory. We knew that someone lived in the cabin because we could detect a little flicker of light through a small window. It was about nine in the evening, and we knocked on the door. A man’s voice shouted for us to come in, so we entered. What a surprise to see an old man stretched out on his bunk bed reading the Watchtower magazine! In fact, he had an issue more current than the one we were offering. He explained that he received his mail by air. Since we had been away from the congregation for over eight days by this time, we did not yet have the latest magazines. The man introduced himself as Fred Berg, and even though he had been a subscriber for several years, this was his first visit from Jehovah’s Witnesses. Fred made us stay the night. We were able to share many Scriptural truths with him and to arrange for other Witnesses who regularly passed through the area to visit him.
For several years I served three small circuits. They extended from Grande Prairie, Alberta, in the east to Kodiak, Alaska, in the west, a distance of over 2,200 miles [3,500 km].
In a beautiful way, I learned that in remote places, as much as anywhere else, Jehovah’s undeserved kindness is for all people and that God’s spirit motivates the minds and hearts of those rightly disposed for everlasting life. One such individual was Henry Lepine from Dawson City, Yukon, now called Dawson. Henry lived in an isolated area. In fact, he had not been out of the gold-mining area for over 60 years. However, Jehovah’s spirit impelled this 84-year-old man to travel more than 1,000 miles [1,600 km] one way to Anchorage for a circuit assembly, even though he had never attended a congregation meeting. He was thrilled with the program and overjoyed with the association. Upon returning to Dawson City, Henry remained faithful until he died. Many who knew Henry wondered what motivated this elderly man to take such a long journey. This curiosity led to a few more old-timers accepting the truth. So in an indirect way, Henry was able to give a fine witness.
Recipient of Jehovah’s Undeserved Kindness
In 1955, I was delighted to receive an invitation to attend the 26th class of the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead. This training strengthened my faith and helped me draw closer to Jehovah. Upon graduating, I was assigned to continue in the circuit work in Canada.
For about a year, I served in the province of Ontario. Then I was again assigned to the majestic North. I can still visualize scenic highways skirting clear, sparkling lakes and scaling mountain ranges with snowcapped peaks. In the summer, valleys and meadows are a breathtaking carpet of colorful wildflowers. The air is fresh and the water pure. Bears, wolves, moose, caribou, and other wild animals roam undisturbed in their natural habitat.
Alaska, however, does present challenges—not only the changeable weather but also the vast distances. My circuit extended 2,000 miles [3,200 km] from east to west. Back then, there was no provision for the circuit overseer to have a car. The local brothers volunteered to drive me from one congregation to the next. At times, though, I had to hitch a ride with truckers or tourists.
One such episode was along a stretch of the Alaska Highway between Tok Junction, Alaska, and Mile 1202, or the Scotty Creek area. The customs offices at these two points were about 100 miles [160 km] apart. I passed the United States customs office at Tok and got a ride for about 30 miles [50 km]. Thereafter no car came along, and I walked for about ten hours and covered over 25 miles [40 km]. Only later did I learn that shortly after I passed the customs point, all traffic was halted along this stretch of highway because of a snowslide a short distance from the customs crossing point. By midnight the temperature dropped to about minus 10 degrees Fahrenheit [-23°C], and I was still some 50 miles [80 km] from the nearest place of shelter. I desperately needed to find cover where I could rest.
As I limped along, I spotted an abandoned car off the road, partially covered with snow. I thought that if I could get inside and sleep on the cushions, I could survive the cold night. I managed to clear away enough snow to open the door, only to find the interior stripped to the bare metal. Happily, not too far down the road, I found an empty cabin. After some difficulty gaining access and lighting a fire, I was able to rest for a few hours. In the morning, I managed to get a ride to the next lodge, where I got some much needed food and attended to my lacerated fingers.
Jehovah Makes It Grow in the North
My first visit to Fairbanks was most encouraging. We enjoyed good success in the ministry, and about 50 attended the public talk that Sunday. We met in the small missionary home where Vernor and Lorraine Davis lived. People were poking their heads out from the kitchen, bedroom, and hallway to hear the talk. We knew from this positive response that a Kingdom Hall would give the preaching work stability in Fairbanks. So with Jehovah’s help, we purchased a good-sized building, a former dance hall, and moved it to a suitable piece of land. A well was drilled, and bathrooms and a heating unit were installed. Within a year, there was a functional Kingdom Hall in Fairbanks. After a kitchen was added, the hall was used for a district convention in 1958, with 330 in attendance.
In the summer of 1960, I made a long trip by car to the world headquarters of Jehovah’s Witnesses in New York to attend a refresher course for all traveling overseers in the United States and Canada. While I was there, Brother Nathan Knorr and other responsible brothers interviewed me regarding the possibility of opening a branch office in Alaska. A few months later, we were pleased to hear that as of September 1, 1961, Alaska would have its own branch office. Brother Andrew K. Wagner was assigned to look after branch duties. He and his wife, Vera, had served at Brooklyn for 20 years and had experience in the traveling work as well. Establishment of the Alaska branch office was a welcome provision, for it reduced the amount of travel by the circuit overseer and enabled him to focus more on the specific needs of the congregations and isolated territories.
The summer of 1962 was a happy time in the North. The Alaska branch was dedicated, and there was a district convention in Juneau, Alaska. New Kingdom Halls were built in Juneau and Whitehorse, Yukon, and several new isolated groups were also formed.
Back to Canada
For a number of years, I had been corresponding with Margareta Petras from Canada. Reta, as she has always been called, started in the pioneer service in 1947, graduated from Gilead in 1955, and was pioneering in eastern Canada. I proposed to her, and she accepted. We were married in Whitehorse in February 1963. By the autumn of that year, I was assigned to circuit work in western Canada, and we had the joy of serving there for the next 25 years.
For health reasons, in 1988 we were assigned to special pioneer work in Winnipeg, Manitoba. This included looking after an Assembly Hall for about five years. To the extent possible, we still take part in the joyful work of making disciples. In the circuit work, we started many Bible studies for others to conduct. Now, by Jehovah’s undeserved kindness, we start them and have the added happiness of seeing the students progress to dedication and baptism.
I am convinced that serving Jehovah is the best way of life. It is meaningful and satisfying, and it deepens our love for Jehovah each day. This is what brings genuine happiness. Whatever theocratic assignment we have, or wherever we are located geographically, we agree with the psalmist who said: “Happy is the people whose God is Jehovah!”—Psalm 144:15.
[Picture on page 24, 25]
In circuit work
[Picture on page 25]
Visiting Henry Lepine in Dawson City. I am on the left
[Picture on page 26]
First Kingdom Hall in Anchorage
[Picture on page 26]
Reta and me, 1998