The Disciple-Making Work Has Shaped My Life
As told by Lynette Peters
They had come to evacuate us. A sharpshooter was in place on top of the building. Marines lay prone in the grass, guns at the ready. As we scurried toward the waiting helicopter that Sunday morning, my fellow missionaries and I forced ourselves to remain calm. In an instant, we were airborne. Ten minutes later, we were safely aboard a military ship, which was anchored off the coast.
THE next morning, we learned that rebels bombed the hotel where we had sought refuge the night before. The years of civil unrest in Sierra Leone had finally escalated into full-scale war. All foreigners, including us, had been forced almost at a moment’s notice to flee the country. To explain why I found myself in that situation, let me start from the beginning.
I grew up in British Guiana, known as Guyana since 1966. My early life there in the 1950’s was carefree and enjoyable. Most parents valued education highly, and young people were expected to do well in school. I recall that a bank clerk once asked my father, “Why do you pay so much tuition for your children’s education?” Father replied, “Only the best education possible will guarantee their success.” At the time, he thought that the best education was to be obtained at prestigious schools. He would soon come to think differently.
When I was 11 years old, my mother began to study the Bible with Jehovah’s Witnesses. She had visited a Kingdom Hall with a neighbor. What they heard that night convinced them both that they had found the truth. Later, my mother mentioned to another neighbor what had been discussed. Soon all three were studying with missionaries Daphne Harry (later Baird) and Rose Cuffie. In less than a year, Mother and her two friends were baptized. Five years after that, my father withdrew from the Seventh-Day Adventist Church and was baptized as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
As youngsters, two of my sisters and I—the three eldest of ten children—spent many happy hours at the missionary home where Daphne and Rose lived. On such occasions we listened to the field service experiences they related. These missionaries radiated joy in tirelessly caring for the spiritual welfare of others. It was their example that instilled in me the desire to be a missionary.
What, though, helped me to keep focused on the full-time ministry amid relatives and schoolmates who were all very career-minded? There were so many tempting opportunities—I could apply myself to the study of law, music, medicine, or anything else. My parents’ fine example gave me the needed direction. They lived the truth, studied the Bible diligently, and devoted themselves to helping others learn about Jehovah.* What is more, they regularly invited full-time ministers to our home. The joy and satisfaction that these brothers and sisters displayed strengthened my desire to let the disciple-making work shape my life.
At 15 years of age, I was baptized. Then as soon as I finished high school, I entered the full-time pioneer ministry. Philomena, a hospital worker, was the first person I helped to progress to dedication and baptism. The joy of seeing her come to love Jehovah reinforced my desire to continue in the full-time ministry. Shortly thereafter, I was offered a better job in the government service where I was working as a secretary. I declined, choosing instead to continue pioneering.
I was still living at home, and missionaries continued to visit us. How I enjoyed listening to their experiences! All of this reinforced my desire to be a missionary, even though it seemed a remote possibility. Missionaries were then being sent to Guyana and still are. One day in 1969, I was surprised but happy to receive an invitation to attend the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead in Brooklyn, New York.
An Assignment I Did Not Expect
There were 54 students from 21 countries in the 48th class of Gilead. Seventeen of us were single sisters. Although that was 37 years ago, I still have vivid memories of those five months. There was so much to learn—not only Scriptural truths but also practical suggestions and counsel for life as future missionaries. For example, I learned to follow direction, to be balanced with regard to fashion trends, and to persevere despite unfavorable circumstances.
My parents had always stressed regular meeting attendance. Anyone who was too sick to attend the meeting on Sunday did not suddenly get well enough to attend a piano recital or a concert the next night. However, for a while during Gilead School, my meeting attendance slipped. One Friday evening, I tried to justify my absence to Don and Dolores Adams, a Bethel couple who provided my transportation to the meetings. Oh, the volume of homework, the reports! How could I make it to the Theocratic Ministry School and Service Meeting? After reasoning with me for a while, Brother Adams said: “Let your conscience be your guide.” I took his advice and did not miss the meeting that night or any nights thereafter. Over the years, except in extreme circumstances, I have allowed nothing to interfere with my attendance at Christian meetings.
About midway through the term, there was talk about receiving our assignments. In my mind, I had always thought that I would be assigned to Guyana, where help in the preaching work was very much needed. Imagine my surprise to learn that I would not be returning. Instead, I was assigned to Sierra Leone, West Africa. How grateful I was to Jehovah that my desire to be a missionary far away from home was finally fulfilled!
So Much to Learn
“Picturesque” is the word that best expresses my first impression of Sierra Leone, with its many hills and mountains, bays and beaches. Yet, the real beauty of this West African country lies in its inhabitants, whose love and kindness make even foreigners feel at home. This contributes in no small way to helping new missionaries overcome homesickness. Sierra Leoneans love to talk about their customs and culture and particularly to assist newcomers to master Krio, the lingua franca of the country.
The Krio-speaking people have many vivid proverbs. For example, Monkey works, baboon eats, means that the sower is not always the reaper. How aptly that describes the injustice so prevalent in the world!—Isaiah 65:22.
The preaching and disciple-making work was delightful. It was rare to find someone who was not interested in the Bible. Through the years, missionaries and longtime servants of Jehovah have helped people—young and old—from all walks of life and tribal origins to embrace the truth.
Erla St. Hill, my first missionary partner, was a tireless worker. Her diligence in caring for her missionary-home duties came second only to her zeal in the ministry. She helped me understand the importance of many things, such as getting acquainted with the neighbors, visiting sick Witnesses and interested ones, and supporting funeral arrangements where possible. She also impressed upon me the importance of never leaving a territory after field service without stopping by, no matter how briefly, to say hello to the brothers and sisters living in the area. By doing these things, I quickly gained mothers, brothers, sisters, and friends, and my assignment became my home.—Mark 10:29, 30.
I also forged strong bonds of friendship with the fine missionaries who served with me. Among them were my roommate Adna Byrd, who served in Sierra Leone between 1978 and 1981, and Cheryl Ferguson, who has been my roommate for the past 24 years.
Civil War Brings Tests
In 1997, about one month after the dedication of the new branch facilities in Sierra Leone, war forced us to evacuate the country, as mentioned earlier. Six years before that, we were impressed by the faith of the Liberian Witnesses who had fled to Sierra Leone to escape the war in Liberia. Some arrived with nothing. Despite the difficult situation, they participated in the ministry every day. It was so touching to see their love for Jehovah and for people.
Now that we ourselves were refugees in the country of Guinea, we followed the example of the Liberian brothers and continued to trust in Jehovah and to put Kingdom interests first. A year later, we were able to return to Sierra Leone, but within seven months, fighting broke out and we had to evacuate to Guinea yet once more.
Soon we were told that members of one of the warring factions had taken up residence in our missionary home in Kissy and that all our belongings had been pillaged or destroyed. Rather than feeling downhearted, we were just thankful to be alive. We were left with few possessions, but we managed.
After our second evacuation, my roommate Cheryl and I remained in Guinea. This meant learning French. Some of my fellow missionaries were quick to use the French they learned, not being particularly bothered by their mistakes. As for me, I hated the idea of speaking incorrectly, so I spoke French only when absolutely necessary. It was all so painful. I had to remind myself daily why I was in Guinea—to help others to know Jehovah.
Slowly I made progress by studying, by listening to those who spoke the language well, and by enlisting the help of the children in the congregation, who are not restrained by tact. Then, unexpectedly, welcome provisions came from Jehovah’s organization. Since September 2001, Our Kingdom Ministry has provided suggestions for presenting the magazines in addition to ideas for offering books and brochures to people of diverse religious persuasions. I now feel more confident when I engage in the ministry, even if I lack the precision of expression that I have in my mother tongue.
Growing up in a large family certainly helped me to adjust to living with many people, at one time as many as 17. During my 37 years of missionary service, I have lived with over 100 other missionaries. What a privilege it has been to come to know so many people, all having different personalities yet all working with the same objective! And what a joy to be a fellow worker with God and to have a share in seeing people embrace Bible truth!—1 Corinthians 3:9.
Over the years, I have missed many major events in the lives of my own family members, such as the weddings of most of my younger siblings. And I have not seen my nieces and nephews as often as I wished. It has been a sacrifice for me and for my family, who have unselfishly encouraged me to remain in the missionary work.
Yet, what I missed back home, I have enjoyed at one time or another in the missionary service. Even though I chose to remain single, I have many spiritual children, not just those with whom I studied the Bible but others to whom I have grown close. What is more, I have watched their children grow up, marry, and rear their own children in the way of the truth. Some of them, like me, have also allowed the disciple-making work to shape their life.
My mother pioneered for more than 25 years, and when my father retired, he became an auxiliary pioneer.
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I was assigned to Sierra Leone, West Africa
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My two sisters, who along with me spent many happy hours with the missionaries in the 1950’s
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With fellow students of the 48th class of Gilead
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Dedication of the branch facilities in Sierra Leone