Bringing Up Eight Children in Jehovah’s Ways Was a Challenge and a Joy
AS TOLD BY JOYCELYN VALENTINE
In 1989 my husband went abroad to work. He promised to send money home so that I could take care of my eight children. Weeks went by, but I did not hear from him. Months passed and still no word from my husband. I kept reassuring myself, ‘As soon as things work out for him, he is going to come home.’
WITHOUT funds to care for my family, I grew desperate. During many sleepless nights, I asked myself in disbelief, ‘How can he do this to his family?’ Eventually, I accepted the harsh reality that my husband had abandoned us. Today, some 16 years after he left us, he still has not returned. As a result, I reared my children without the help of a mate. This has been challenging, but seeing my children embrace Jehovah’s ways has given me much joy. However, before I relate how we fared as a family, let me tell you about my upbringing.
Looking for Biblical Guidance
I was born in 1938 on the Caribbean island of Jamaica. Although Father never claimed membership in a church, he considered himself to be God-fearing. At night he often asked me to read to him from the Bible book of Psalms. Soon, I was able to repeat many psalms from memory. Mother was a member of a local church, and she would occasionally take me to religious meetings.
At those meetings, we were told that God takes good people to heaven and burns bad people forever in hellfire. We were also told that Jesus is God and that he loves children. I became quite confused and afraid of God. I wondered, ‘How can a God who loves us torture people in fire?’
The thought of hellfire gave me nightmares. In time, I took a Bible correspondence course sponsored by the Seventh-Day Adventist Church. They taught that wicked people would not be tormented forever but, rather, would be burned to ashes in the flames. This sounded more reasonable, and I started attending their religious meetings. But I found their teachings confusing, and what I learned did not correct my mistaken views on morality.
Back then, people generally accepted that fornication was wrong. Yet, I and many others believed that only those who had sexual relations with multiple partners were fornicators. Thus, two unmarried persons who limited their sexual activity to each other did not sin. (1 Corinthians 6:9, 10; Hebrews 13:4) That belief contributed to my becoming an unwed mother of six children.
Making Spiritual Progress
In 1965, Vaslyn Goodison and Ethel Chambers came to live in the nearby community of Bath. They were pioneers, or full-time ministers of Jehovah’s Witnesses, and one day they spoke with my father. He accepted their offer of a home Bible study. If I was at home when they visited, they also spoke with me. Although I viewed Jehovah’s Witnesses with great suspicion, I decided to study the Bible with them to prove them wrong.
I asked a lot of questions during the study, and the Witnesses answered all of them using the Bible. With their help, I discovered that the dead are unconscious and do not suffer in hell. (Ecclesiastes 9:5, 10) I also learned about the hope of everlasting life in Paradise on earth. (Psalm 37:11, 29; Revelation 21:3, 4) Although my father discontinued his Bible studies, I began attending meetings of the local congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses. The peaceful and orderly way in which those meetings were conducted allowed me to learn more about Jehovah. I also attended circuit assemblies and district conventions, larger gatherings that the Witnesses organized. This exposure to the Bible developed in me a strong desire to worship Jehovah acceptably. I had an obstacle, however.
At that time, I was living out of wedlock with the father of three of my six children. From the Bible, I learned that God condemns sexual relations outside of marriage, and my conscience began to bother me. (Proverbs 5:15-20; Galatians 5:19) As my love of the truth deepened, I longed to bring my life into harmony with God’s law. Finally, I made a decision. I told my common-law companion that either we would get married or our relationship would end. Although my companion did not share my beliefs, we were officially married on August 15, 1970, five years after the Witnesses first spoke to me. In December of 1970, I symbolized my dedication to Jehovah by water baptism.
As regards the ministry, I will never forget the first day I shared in the preaching work. I was nervous and did not know how to start a Bible conversation. Actually, I was relieved when the first householder brought a quick end to our conversation. Soon, though, I was no longer tense. At the end of the day, I was very happy, since I had briefly talked to several people about the Bible and had left some of our Bible-based publications with them.
Keeping the Family Spiritually Strong
By 1977 our family had grown to eight children. I was determined to do my utmost to help my household serve Jehovah. (Joshua 24:15) So I worked hard to conduct a regular family Bible study. At times, because of exhaustion, I dozed off while one of the children was reading a paragraph out loud, and the children had to wake me up. But physical fatigue never kept us from studying the Bible as a family.
I also prayed very often with my children. As soon as they were old enough, I taught them to pray to Jehovah on their own. I made sure that each of them offered a personal prayer at bedtime. I prayed individually with each child who was too young to offer a prayer.
My husband at first opposed my taking the children to congregation meetings. However, the prospect of looking after the children himself while I was at the meetings lessened his opposition. At night, he loved to go out and visit with his friends, but the thought of doing so accompanied by eight children did not appeal to him! Later, he even began to help me get the children ready to go to the Kingdom Hall.
The children soon became accustomed to attending all congregation meetings and sharing in the public ministry. During their summer holidays, they often went out in the preaching work with the pioneers, or full-time ministers, in the congregation. This helped my young ones to develop a heartfelt love for the congregation and for the preaching work.—Matthew 24:14.
Times of Testing
To improve the family’s finances, my husband began traveling abroad to work. He was away from the family for long periods but returned at regular intervals. In 1989, however, he left and did not return. As I mentioned earlier, the loss of my husband left me devastated. For many nights I cried and fervently prayed to Jehovah for comfort and endurance, and I felt that he answered my prayers. Such scriptures as Isaiah 54:4 and 1 Corinthians 7:15 gave me peace of mind and the strength to go on with life. In the Christian congregation, relatives and friends also supported me emotionally and materially. I am so grateful to Jehovah and his people for their help.
We had other trials. Once one of my daughters was removed from the congregation for unscriptural conduct. I dearly love all my children, yet my loyalty to Jehovah comes first. So during that time, my other children and I strictly observed the Bible’s direction on how to act toward disfellowshipped ones. (1 Corinthians 5:11, 13) We received much criticism from people who did not understand our position. However, after my daughter was reinstated in the congregation, her husband told me that our firm stand for Bible principles had impressed him. He now serves Jehovah with his family.
Facing Financial Problems
When my husband left us, I did not have a steady income, and the family no longer received his financial support. This situation taught us to be content with a simple life and to value spiritual riches more than material pursuits. As the children learned to love and help one another, they grew close. When the older ones started working, they willingly supported their younger siblings. My eldest daughter, Marseree, helped her youngest sister, Nicole, complete her basic secondary school education. In addition, I was able to operate a small grocery shop. The modest income helped me to care for some of our material needs.
Jehovah has never abandoned us. Once, I told a Christian sister that our financial condition did not allow us to attend the district convention. She replied: “Sister Val, when you hear of a convention, start packing! Jehovah will provide.” I followed her advice. Jehovah provided, and he has continued to do so. Our family has never missed an assembly or a convention for lack of money.
In 1988, Hurricane Gilbert devastated Jamaica, and we left our home for shelter in a safer place. During a lull in the storm, my son and I left the refuge area to survey the wreckage that was once our home. While poking around in the debris, I spotted something I wanted to save. Suddenly, winds were howling again, but I still held on to what I had salvaged. “Mom, put down the television. Are you Lot’s wife?” (Luke 17:31, 32) That comment from my son returned me to my senses. I dropped the rain-soaked TV set, and both of us ran for safety.
I tremble now as I recall that I risked my life for a TV set. But it warms my heart when I think of the spiritually alert comment my son made on that occasion. Thanks to the Biblical training he had received from the Christian congregation, he was able to help me avoid serious physical and perhaps spiritual harm.
The hurricane left our home and possessions in ruins, and it also left us disheartened. Then our Christian brothers arrived. They encouraged us to face our loss with trust in Jehovah and to continue active in the ministry, and they helped us to rebuild our home. That loving and self-sacrificing work done by Witness volunteers from Jamaica and abroad touched us deeply.
Putting Jehovah First
After completing her education, my second child, Melaine, served as a pioneer minister. Then she accepted an invitation to serve as a pioneer in another congregation, which meant that she would have to give up her job. Although that job allowed her to give significant financial support to our family, we trusted that Jehovah would take care of us if each one of us put Kingdom interests first. (Matthew 6:33) Later, my son, Ewan, also received an invitation to serve as a pioneer. He was supporting the family financially, but we urged him to accept the invitation and wished him Jehovah’s blessing. I have never discouraged the children from expanding their Kingdom service, and those of us who remained at home have never suffered want. Instead, our joy has increased, and at times, we have been able to help others in need.
Today, it brings me much joy to see my children “walking in the truth.” (3 John 4) One of my daughters, Melaine, is currently accompanying her husband in his traveling ministry as a circuit overseer. My daughter Andrea and her husband serve as special pioneers, and she accompanies her husband when he visits congregations as a substitute circuit overseer. My son, Ewan, and his wife serve as special pioneers, and he is a congregation elder. Another daughter, Ava-Gay, works with her husband at the Jamaica branch office of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Jennifer, Genieve, and Nicole serve along with their husbands and children as active members of their respective congregations. Marseree lives with me, and the two of us now attend the Port Morant Congregation. My blessings are great, for all eight of my children continue to worship Jehovah.
The passing of time has brought me physical problems. I now put up with rheumatoid arthritis, but I still enjoy serving as a pioneer. Some time ago, though, walking in the hilly neighborhood where I lived became very difficult. I had a hard time keeping up with my ministry. I tried riding a bicycle and found it to be easier than walking. So I bought a secondhand bike and began using it. At first, my children found it difficult to watch their arthritic mother riding a bike. Yet, they were very pleased to see me continue preaching as my heart desired.
It gives me great joy to see people with whom I have studied embrace Bible truth. I always pray that Jehovah will help all in my family to remain faithful to him through this time of the end and on into eternity. My praise and thanks go to Jehovah, the Great “Hearer of prayer,” for enabling me to meet the challenge of bringing up my eight children in his ways.—Psalm 65:2.
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With my children, their spouses, and my grandchildren
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I now use a bicycle to carry out my ministry