Jehovah Richly Rewarded My Desire to Be a Missionary
As told by Sheila Winfield da Conceição
A missionary visiting from Africa once told us that in her assignment everyone invited her in and listened attentively to the good news of God’s Kingdom. ‘How I would love to work in territory like that!’ I thought. That conversation sowed in me, then 13 years old, the desire to be a missionary.
HOWEVER, our family began to learn about Jehovah much earlier. One morning in 1939, two neatly dressed young men knocked on our door at Hemel Hempstead, just outside Greater London, England. They were Jehovah’s Witnesses. I was born just the year before, so I do not remember the visit. To turn them away, Mum told them that Dad might be interested but that he would not be back before 9:00 p.m. How surprised she was when they returned that very evening! After making sure of their stand on political and nationalistic issues, my father, Henry Winfield, invited them in and accepted a Bible study. He rapidly progressed to baptism. Some years later my mother, Kathleen, also began to study. She was baptized in 1946.
In 1948, I began to have a regular share in preaching the good news of God’s Kingdom. I thought that I would need a watch for accurately reporting the time I spent in the ministry. If we had behaved ourselves, we children used to get a sixpence (a coin worth six pennies) in pocket money every Saturday. I saved up my sixpence for nearly two years to buy the cheapest watch available at that time. However, Ray, the younger of my two brothers, always asked Dad for two threepence (coins worth three pennies), never one sixpence. One day he insisted so much on having two coins that Dad got angry. Ray began to cry and said that he needed two threepence because of a secret between him and Jehovah. Finally, Ray explained: “One threepence is to be put in the contribution box, and the other threepence is for me.” Mum cried with joy, Dad quickly arranged for the change, and I learned the importance of supporting the Kingdom work financially.
About this time, Dad made arrangements to move to where the need for Kingdom proclaimers was greater. In 1949 he sold his farm and the sand and ballast pit and began to pioneer, serving as a full-time minister of Jehovah’s Witnesses. I was baptized on September 24, 1950, in symbol of my dedication to Jehovah. From then on, during our summer holidays, I enrolled as a vacation (now auxiliary) pioneer, devoting 100 hours a month to the ministry. But that was only the beginning. Soon a strong desire arose in my heart to do still more in promoting pure worship.
My Desire to Be a Missionary
In 1951, Dad was assigned to Bideford, North Devon. Shortly after our arrival there, the missionary who served in Africa visited our congregation, as mentioned at the outset. After that, my desire to become a missionary influenced all my decisions. The teachers at school knew of my goal and did everything they could to dissuade me, hoping that I would pursue a secular career. On my last day at school, however, when I went to the teachers’ room to thank them and to say good-bye, one of them said: “Congratulations! You are the only student who really knows what you want in life. We hope you reach your goal.”
Wasting no time, I found a part-time job, and on December 1, 1955, I became a regular pioneer. Later, Mum and my brothers became pioneers too. So for several years, all in the family were in full-time service.
A year later, I received an invitation to serve in Ireland. This was a step toward reaching my goal of becoming a missionary. In February 1957, together with two other young pioneers, June Napier and Beryl Barker, I arrived in Cork, southern Ireland.
The field service in Ireland was challenging. There was much opposition from the Roman Catholic Church. We learned to make sure that there was a way out of an apartment block or a housing estate, in case we had to beat a hasty retreat. We used to hide our bicycles some distance away, but often someone found them and cut the tires or removed the air from them.
Once, while Beryl and I were visiting the residents of a large housing estate, a group of children began shouting insults and throwing stones at us. So we entered a shop, part of someone’s house, where milk was sold. A mob began to gather outside. As Beryl loved milk, she drank two or three glasses very slowly, hoping that the mob would disperse. It did not. Then, a young priest entered the shop. Taking us for visitors, he said that he would like to show us around. First, however, he took us into another room in the house, and as we sat silently, he administered the last rites to a dying elderly man. Then we left the house with the priest. Seeing us chatting with him, the mob dispersed.
In 1958 the Divine Will International Assembly was to be held in New York. Dad was going, and I wanted to go too, but I had no money. Then, my grandmother unexpectedly died and left me 100 pounds ($280, U.S.). The round-trip fare to the assembly was 96 pounds, so I immediately booked my flight.
Shortly thereafter, a representative from the branch office of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Britain visited us and invited all the special pioneers who were going to the assembly to apply for missionary training at the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead. I could not believe my ears! He gave applications to everyone except me. I was too young. I asked to be included, explaining that I had already left my home country and was virtually in a missionary assignment. On seeing my determination, he gave me a form. How I prayed to be accepted! The answer came quickly, and I was invited to attend Gilead.
To my great joy, I was enrolled in the 33rd class of Gilead, together with 81 other pioneers from 14 lands. The five months of the course flew by. Toward the end, Brother Nathan H. Knorr gave us a motivating four-hour talk. He encouraged those who could remain single to do so. (1 Corinthians 7:37, 38) But for those of us who desired to get married one day, he suggested that we make a list of our personal requirements for a suitable marriage mate. Then, should a likely candidate appear, we could examine the person in the light of those requirements.
My personal list of requirements for a prospective husband included the following: He would have to be a fellow missionary and love Jehovah, to know more about Bible truth than I did, to be willing to forgo having children before Armageddon in order to continue in full-time service, to speak English fluently, and to be older than I was. This list was a great help for me, a 20-year-old about to receive an assignment to a distant land.
On Sunday, August 2, 1959, we graduated and were informed of our assignments. Vehanouch Yazedjian, Sarah Greco, Ray and Inger Hatfield, Sonia Springate, Doreen Hines, and I were assigned to Brazil. We were thrilled. I imagined forests, snakes, rubber trees, and native Indians. However, when I arrived, what a surprise! Instead of the Amazon rain forest, I found Rio de Janeiro, a sunny and modern city, at that time the country’s capital.
Our immediate challenge was to learn Portuguese. During the first month, we studied 11 hours every day. After preaching in Rio and living for a while at the branch office of Jehovah’s Witnesses there, I was sent to a missionary home in Piracicaba, in São Paulo State, and later to a missionary home in Porto Alegre, in Rio Grande do Sul State.
Then, early in 1963, I received an invitation to work in the Translation Department at the branch. Floriano Ignez da Conceição, who had taught us Portuguese when we first arrived, was in charge of the department. He learned the truth in 1944, when there were only about 300 Witnesses in Brazil, and he attended the 22nd class of Gilead. One day, some months later, Brother Conceição asked me to remain behind at midday, as he wanted to speak to me. At first, I was worried. Had I done something wrong? When the dinner bell finally rang, I asked him what he wanted to say to me. In reply, he asked, “Will you marry me?” I was dumbfounded. I asked for time to think matters over and rushed down to the midday meal.
Floriano was not the first brother to express an interest in me. Up until that moment, however, nobody had met my personal requirements for a suitable marriage mate. I believe that my list helped me to avoid making a wrong decision. This time, it was different. Floriano satisfied all my requirements! So we were married on May 15, 1965.
Facing the Challenge of Illness
Marriage has been a happy experience for Floriano and me, in spite of the challenges we have faced. One of these has been Floriano’s health problems, which began shortly before our marriage. Years previously, his left lung had collapsed, and the aftereffects now began to cause him much suffering. As a result, we left Bethel and were assigned as special pioneers to the city of Teresópolis, in the mountainous region of Rio de Janeiro State. We hoped that the climate there would help him recover.
In addition, in December 1965, I received news that my mother was seriously ill with cancer. We regularly wrote to each other, but I had not seen Mum for seven years. So she paid our fare to England to see her. Mum was operated on, but the doctors were unable to remove the cancer. Although she was bedridden and very ill, she kept her desire to share in the preaching work. She had a typewriter in her bedroom so that she could dictate letters to be typed. She would also witness briefly to visitors. She died on November 27, 1966. That same month, she reported ten hours of field service! Dad continued faithful in the pioneer service until his death in 1979.
After Mum’s death, Floriano and I returned to Brazil, where we have served ever since in Rio de Janeiro State. We were initially assigned to the circuit work in the state capital, but this joy was short-lived, as once again Floriano became very ill. Then we returned to Teresópolis as special pioneers.
In 1974, after years of painful treatments, the doctors finally removed Floriano’s left lung. At that time, he was unable to serve as presiding overseer or as a special pioneer, but he was able to conduct Bible studies during hospital visiting hours—one of them in English with Bob, a retired American. Bob accepted the truth and was later baptized. Floriano gradually recovered and has served as a regular pioneer ever since.
Jehovah Has Blessed My Ministry
Over the years, I have continued to serve as a special pioneer, and Jehovah has blessed my ministry. In Teresópolis, I had the wonderful privilege of helping more than 60 people to dedicate their lives to Jehovah. Among these was a woman named Jupira, whom I also taught to read. In time, I studied with eight of her adult children. As a result, Jupira and more than 20 family members and relatives are actively serving Jehovah today. One is an elder, three are ministerial servants, and two are pioneers.
I have learned to maintain a positive attitude about the possibility of people learning the truth. On one occasion, I was conducting a Bible study with a young woman named Alzemira when her husband, Antônio, threatened to set two huge dogs on me if I did not leave their house immediately. After that, I had only casual contact with Alzemira until about seven years later, when I managed to get Antônio’s permission to study with her again. Still, he forbade me to talk to him about the Bible. One rainy day, however, I invited Antônio to take part in the study. I then found out that his problem was that he was illiterate. From that time on, Floriano and others studied with him and taught him to read. Today Alzemira and Antônio are both baptized. He is a great help in the congregation, accompanying many young ones in the ministry.
These are just a few of the experiences we had during the more than 20 years we served in Teresópolis. Early in 1988, we received a new assignment—the city of Niterói, where we served for the next five years before moving to Santo Aleixo. Then we were moved to the Japuíba Congregation in the heart of the state and had the privilege of starting the Ribeira Congregation.
A Simple but Rewarding Life
Over the years, Floriano and I have had the privilege of helping more than 300 people to dedicate their lives to Jehovah. Currently, some of them serve at the branch, and some are pioneers, elders, and ministerial servants. How thankful I am that God by means of his holy spirit has used us to help so many people!—Mark 10:29, 30.
It is true that Floriano has had to deal with serious health problems. In spite of his condition, he remains steadfast, joyful, and confident in Jehovah. He often says: “Happiness today does not come from leading a problem-free life. It comes from having Jehovah’s help to deal with our problems.”—Psalm 34:19.
In 2003, cancer was found in my left eye. I underwent surgery, and my eye was replaced with an artificial one, which has to be cleaned many times a day. Despite this, Jehovah has blessed me with the energy to continue serving him as a special pioneer.
With regard to material things, I have led a simple life. Yet, Jehovah has blessed me in my assignment and has made me spiritually rich. That missionary sister’s comment about the preaching work in Africa has proved to be a fitting description of our assignment in Brazil. Indeed, Jehovah has richly rewarded my desire to be a missionary!
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With my family, 1953
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Witnessing in Ireland, 1957
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Brazil, 1959, with fellow missionaries. From left to right: Me, Inger Hatfield, Doreen Hines, and Sonia Springate
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With my husband