“The Life Now”—Enjoying It to the Full!
AS TOLD BY TED BUCKINGHAM
I had been a full-time minister for six years and married for six months when I was suddenly stricken with poliomyelitis. It was 1950, and I was just 24 years old. Nine months in the hospital gave me plenty of time to reflect on my life. With my new disabilities, what would the future hold for my wife, Joyce, and me?
IN 1938 my father, never a religious man, obtained a copy of the book Government.* The political turmoil and prospect of war probably prompted him to get the book. To my knowledge, he never read it, but my deeply religious mother did. Her reaction to its message was immediate. She left the Church of England, and despite opposition from my father, she became a faithful Witness of Jehovah and remained such until her death in 1990.
Mother took me to my first Christian meeting at a Kingdom Hall in Epsom, south of London. The congregation met in a former store, and we listened to a recording of a talk by J. F. Rutherford, who was overseeing the work of Jehovah’s Witnesses at that time. It left a deep impression on me.
The heavy bombing during the blitz on London posed increasing dangers. So in 1940 my father decided to move the family to a safer location—Maidenhead, a small town 30 miles [45 km] west of London. This was beneficial, as the 30 members of the congregation there proved to be a fine source of encouragement. Fred Smith, a spiritual stalwart baptized in 1917, took me under his wing and trained me to become a more effective preacher. I remain greatly indebted to him for his example and loving help.
Entering Full-Time Service
In 1941, at age 15, I was baptized in the river Thames on a cold March day. By then, my elder brother, Jim, had enrolled as a full-time evangelizer. Today, he and his wife, Madge, live in Birmingham, after spending a lifetime in Jehovah’s service in circuit and district assignments throughout Britain. My younger sister, Robina, and her husband, Frank, also remain faithful servants of Jehovah.
I was working as an accountant for a dress manufacturer. One day the managing director called me to his office to offer me the prospect of a promising career as a buyer for the firm. For some time, however, I had been thinking of following my brother’s example, so I politely declined my employer’s offer, explaining why. To my surprise, he warmly commended me for wanting to pursue such worthwhile Christian activity. So after a district convention in Northampton in 1944, I became a full-time evangelizer.
My first assignment was to Exeter, in the county of Devon. This city was by then slowly recovering from wartime bombing. I shared an apartment already occupied by two pioneers, Frank and Ruth Middleton, who were very kind to me. I was just 18 with little experience in laundry and cooking, but things improved as I developed my skills.
My preaching companion was 50-year-old Victor Gurd, an Irishman who had been witnessing since the 1920’s. He taught me to schedule my time profitably, to develop a deeper interest in Bible reading, and to appreciate the value of different Bible translations. During those formative years, Victor’s steadfast example was just what I needed.
The Challenge of Neutrality
The war was drawing to a close, but the authorities were still pursuing young men for military service. I had appeared before a tribunal in 1943 at Maidenhead, where I clearly stated my case for exemption as a minister of the Gospel. Although my appeal was refused, I decided to move to Exeter to take up my assignment. So it was at Exeter that I was eventually summoned to appear before the local court. Sentencing me to six months of hard labor in prison, the magistrate told me that he was sorry it could not be for longer. After serving those six months, I was sent back to prison for an additional four months.
As I was the only Witness in the prison, the warders called me Jehovah. It was rather strange responding to that name at roll call, as I had to, but what a privilege to hear God’s name heralded day after day! It let the other prisoners know that it was my conscientious stand as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses that had put me among them. Later, Norman Castro was sent to the same prison, and there was a name change. We then became Moses and Aaron.
I was moved from Exeter to Bristol and finally to Winchester prison. Conditions were not always pleasant, but it helped to have a sense of humor. Norman and I were happy to observe the Memorial together while at Winchester. Francis Cooke, who visited us in prison, gave a fine talk for us.
Changes in the Postwar Years
At the Bristol convention in 1946, where the Bible study aid “Let God Be True” was released, I met a pretty lass, Joyce Moore, who was also pioneering in Devon. Our friendship blossomed, and we were married four years later at Tiverton, where I had been since 1947. We made our home in a rented room for which we paid 15 shillings ($1.10, U.S.) a week. It was a great life!
During our first year of marriage, another move took us south to Brixham, a delightful port town where the technique of trawling for fish was first developed. We had not been there long, however, when I was stricken with polio while traveling to a London convention. I fell into a coma. I was eventually discharged from the hospital—after nine months, as mentioned earlier. My right hand and both legs were badly affected, as they still are, and I had to use a walking stick. My dear wife was my constant cheerful companion and source of encouragement, especially as she managed to continue in the full-time ministry. But what would we do now? I was soon to learn that Jehovah’s hand is never short.
The following year we attended an assembly at Wimbledon, London. By this time I was walking without my stick. There we met Pryce Hughes, who was overseeing the work in Britain. He immediately greeted me: “Hey! We want you in the circuit work!” I could have received no greater encouragement! Was I fit enough? Joyce and I both wondered about that, but with a week’s training and full trust in Jehovah, we were on our way back to the southwest of England, where I had been assigned to serve as a circuit overseer. I was by then just 25 years of age, but I still recall with deep appreciation the kindness and patience of those Witnesses who were so helpful to me.
Of all our different fields of theocratic activity, Joyce and I found that visiting the congregations brought us closest to our Christian brothers and sisters. We had no car, so we traveled either by train or by bus. Although I was still adapting to the restrictions brought about by my illness, we enjoyed our privileges right up to 1957. It was a fulfilling life, but that year a further challenge presented itself.
To Missionary Service
Receiving an invitation to attend the 30th class of Gilead was thrilling for us. I was coping well with my paralysis, so Joyce and I gladly accepted the call. From experience, we knew that Jehovah always provides the strength if we seek to do his will. Five months of intensive training at the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead, located in beautiful South Lansing, New York, U.S.A., quickly passed. The students were mainly married couples in the traveling work. When the class was asked if any would like to volunteer for the foreign missionary field, we were among those who readily did so. Where would we go? To Uganda, East Africa!
Since the work of Jehovah’s Witnesses was banned in Uganda at that time, I was advised to settle in the country and find secular employment. After a long journey by train and boat, we arrived at Kampala, Uganda. The immigration officials were not pleased to see us and allowed us to stay for just a few months. We were then ordered to leave. On instructions from headquarters, we traveled to Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia). There it was a great joy to meet four of our Gilead classmates—Frank and Carrie Lewis and Hayes and Harriet Hoskins. From there, we were reassigned shortly afterward to Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe).
We traveled by train and had our first glimpse of the magnificent Victoria Falls before arriving in Bulawayo. We stayed for a while with the McLuckie family, who had been among the first Witnesses to settle there. It was our privilege to get to know them well during the next 16 years.
Adapting to Changes
After two weeks’ training to become acquainted with the African field, I was appointed to serve as district overseer. Witnessing in the African bush meant carrying water, food, bedding, personal clothing, a film projector and electric generator, a large screen, and other necessities. All of this was packed into a truck sturdy enough to carry us over the rough terrain.
I worked with the African circuit overseers while Joyce happily helped their wives and children who came along too. Walking in the African veld can be tiring, especially during the heat of the day, but I soon found that in this climate, my physical limitations were easier to cope with, and for that I was grateful.
The people were generally poor. Many were steeped in tradition and superstition and practiced polygamy; yet they showed a deep respect for the Bible. In some areas, congregation meetings were held under large, shady trees, and during the evenings, illumination came from suspended oil lamps. We always experienced a sense of awe when studying God’s Word directly under the starry heavens, such a magnificent part of his creation.
Showing the Watch Tower Society’s films on African reserves was another unforgettable experience. A congregation might number 30 Witnesses, but on those occasions, we knew we could often expect an attendance of 1,000 or more people!
In the tropics, ill health can be a problem, of course, but at all times it is essential to keep a positive outlook. Joyce and I learned to manage quite well—I dealt with my occasional bouts of malaria, and Joyce coped with sickness caused by amoebas.
We were later assigned to the branch office in Salisbury (now Harare), where it was a privilege to work alongside other faithful servants of Jehovah, among them Lester Davey and George and Ruby Bradley. The government appointed me to serve as a marriage officer, which enabled me to conduct weddings for the African brothers, thereby strengthening the bond of Christian marriage within the congregations. A few years later, another privilege came my way. I was to visit all the non-Bantu congregations in the country. For more than a decade, Joyce and I enjoyed getting to know our brothers in this way, and we rejoiced at their spiritual progress. During that time we also visited our brothers in Botswana and Mozambique.
Moving On Again
After many happy years in southern Africa, we were reassigned in 1975 to Sierra Leone, West Africa. We soon settled in at the branch office to enjoy our new field of activity, but this was not to last. I became sick and weak because of a severe attack of malaria, and eventually I had to be treated in London, where I was advised not to return to Africa. We were saddened by this, but Joyce and I were warmly welcomed into the London Bethel family. The numerous African brothers in many of the London congregations made us feel right at home too. As my health improved, we adapted to yet another routine, and I was asked to care for the Purchasing Department. With all the expansion we have seen over the ensuing years, this has been absorbing work.
In the early 1990’s, my dear Joyce became ill with motor neuron disease, and she died in 1994. She had proved to be a loving, loyal, and faithful wife, always willing to adjust to the varying circumstances we faced together. To deal with a loss such as this, I have found that it is important to maintain a clear spiritual outlook and keep looking forward. Prayerfully holding to a good theocratic schedule, including preaching, also helps me to keep my mind fully occupied.—Proverbs 3:5, 6.
Serving at Bethel is a privilege and a fine way of life. There are so many young folk to work with and many joys to be shared. One blessing is the number of visitors we receive here in London. Sometimes I see dear friends from my African assignments, and happy memories come flooding back. All of this helps me to continue to enjoy fully “the life now” and to contemplate with confidence and hope the life “which is to come.”—1 Timothy 4:8.
Published in 1928 by Jehovah’s Witnesses, but no longer in print.
[Picture on page 25]
With my mother in 1946
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With Joyce on our wedding day, in 1950
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At a Bristol convention in 1953
[Pictures on page 27]
Serving an isolated group (above) and a congregation (left) in Southern Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe