My Lifelong Joy in Doing God’s Will
As told by Bill Yaremchuk
In March 1947, just a few weeks after my graduation as a missionary from the eighth class of the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead, then located in South Lansing, New York, U.S.A., I was on my way to my foreign assignment—faraway Singapore.
DAVE FARMER, a fellow Canadian who had graduated from Gilead’s seventh class, was to work together with me. We boarded the Marine Adder, a former troopship, sailing from San Francisco, California.
Our first port of call in the Orient was Hong Kong. What we saw there was totally shocking. The ravages of World War II were everywhere—people lying on the sidewalks, starving and appearing to be dying. We were soon back on the ship and headed for Manila, the capital of the Philippines.
There, too, we saw the dreadful aftermath of the war. The harbor was strewn with the masts of ships that had been sunk by Allied bombers, and there was poverty all around us. We met up with a handful of Jehovah’s Witnesses, who took us to their Kingdom Hall. They were happy in spite of the problems they were facing.
Our next port of call was Batavia (now Jakarta) in Indonesia. A civil war was raging, and there was fighting nearby, so we were not allowed off the ship. As we steamed off to Singapore, I began to wonder what awaited us there. Was this all that was left of the exotic Orient that we had read about in travel brochures?
Within a few days, my misgivings were dispelled. A drama was about to unfold that would prove beyond any doubt that Dave and I were on a God-approved mission.
How We Were Permitted to Stay
About a month after we left San Francisco, our ship finally anchored at St. John’s Island, which was the Singapore quarantine area. Immigration officers came aboard to clear formalities for the passengers, and our passports were stamped “Permitted to Land.” The following morning, the ship docked alongside the wharf. After our documents were checked by an officer of the ship, we disembarked.
The next day, we returned to the docks to bid farewell to fellow missionaries with whom we had been traveling. They were continuing on to their destinations in India and Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). When the ship’s captain saw us, he came down to the wharf and confronted us. He was angry and shouted that we were not supposed to be off the ship. Earlier, while we were at sea, the controller of immigration, Mr. Haxworth, ordered him not to allow us to leave the ship when it reached port. We were unaware of the order, as was the officer who permitted us to leave the ship.
We received a fiery reception when we were brought to Mr. Haxworth. He shouted at us, saying that we had been forbidden to enter Singapore. Since we were unaware of any such denial of entry, we showed him our passports with the official stamp “Permitted to Land.” He angrily grabbed the passports from our hands and struck out those words. But, alas, the ship had already departed! Mr. Haxworth held on to our passports for a whole year, finally returning them stamped “Permitted to Land.”
Productive Ministry in Singapore
When we arrived in April 1947, a man named Joshua was the only Witness in Singapore. He served as a full-time minister, or pioneer, until his death in the early 1970’s. Soon, some who had been learning Bible truths began to share these with others. Our prayers for more workers in the spiritual harvest began to be answered.—Matthew 9:37, 38.
In 1949, while Mr. Haxworth was on a long vacation in England, six missionaries who had graduated from the 11th class of Gilead arrived in Singapore. Meanwhile, Dave, who had been my missionary partner for several years, found it necessary to leave Singapore because of ill health. He immigrated to Australia, where he served faithfully until his death in 1973. Among the six new arrivals was Aileen Franks, whom I married in 1956.
Over the years, we studied the Bible with many who became Witnesses along with their children. Even today, some of them are in the full-time ministry in foreign fields. One heartwarming experience involved Lester and Joanie Haynes, an American couple who lived in Singapore. We started a Bible study with them in the 1950’s. The couple made rapid spiritual progress and were baptized after returning to the United States. Later, Lester and Joanie enjoyed a productive ministry. They helped many to become Witnesses, including their three children.
Joanie wrote: “When I think back to that year in Singapore, it really did change the direction of our life. If we hadn’t been ‘adopted’ by you, we would probably still be moving all around the world. I’m glad you were the one to teach Les the truth because from the start, he had a teacher who instilled in him love for Jehovah and for our Christian brothers. He’s never lost that.”
Serving as a Family in Singapore
In 1962 an unexpected event occurred that was to bring new life to our assignment. Our family doctor advised Aileen that she was pregnant. We wanted to stay in the missionary work, but how could we do so and raise a child? Nathan H. Knorr, who then had oversight of the activity of Jehovah’s Witnesses worldwide, wrote us, encouraging me to get secular work so that we could stay in Singapore. This presented a tremendous challenge.
Most foreigners were employed as executives in foreign companies. I had no experience in the business world, since I had entered the full-time ministry after leaving school some 23 years earlier. So I paid an employment agency in London to make out a résumé based on my work as a minister of religion in a foreign land, and they sent it to many multinational companies operating in Singapore.
I kept getting replies, “We regret that we are unable to find a position for anyone with your qualifications.” They considered me overqualified! Months went by, and our baby, Judy, was born. Brother Knorr was then visiting Singapore, and he went to see Judy and her mother in the hospital. He reassured us, “You can stay in the missionary home for as long as you need until Bill gets a job.”
A few months later, I got a job as a sales representative with an international airline. The wages were barely enough to live on. Two years later, an American carrier hired me and doubled my pay. Eventually, I became established in the travel industry, and I was able to devote more time to my family and to the Christian ministry.
We built our life around Jehovah’s service, giving spiritual interests priority. This made it possible for me to enjoy many privileges in the organization. Aileen entered the full-time ministry again. Meanwhile, the Kingdom-preaching work flourished in Singapore. In the mid-1960’s, we purchased a fine two-story building downtown that served as a Kingdom Hall. Four congregations met there.
Our Work Banned!
In time, dark clouds of opposition loomed on the horizon. On January 14, 1972, we went, as was our custom, to the Kingdom Hall to attend our meeting. But on the gate was a chain with a padlock. A posted notice declared that the Singapore Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses had been deregistered. We were banned!*
The closing of the Kingdom Hall did not stop our worship of Jehovah, but the question in my mind was, ‘What is God’s will for my family?’ I reasoned that if we should ever be deported, we would never be able to return and visit our friends in Singapore. So I asked my company manager if I could work in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Then our family might be able to travel back and forth without difficulty. To my surprise, he offered me a job as manager of the Kuala Lumpur office, which would double my salary and provide other benefits.
Then I wondered, ‘Is it God’s will for us to move away from Singapore and our brothers?’ As a family, we took the matter to Jehovah in prayer. We concluded that it was Jehovah who had brought us here. So I made the final decision—we stay. My manager was astounded that I turned down his lucrative offer.
Living and working under ban was very stressful, since we were constantly under threat of arrest and imprisonment. There were occasions that really made us appreciate the words of Psalm 34:7: “The angel of Jehovah is camping all around those fearing him, and he rescues them.”
A New Assignment
Finally, in 1993, after serving for over 46 years in Singapore, we were asked to move to New Zealand, where we could serve with less stress and anxiety. Needless to say, we were saddened to leave our dear friends in Singapore, whom we had come to love very much. Yet, we were heartened to know that their faith had been built on a solid foundation with fire-resistant materials. This enabled them to stand firm in the face of the tests that they have continued to endure.—1 Corinthians 3:12-14.
Now, after more than 14 years in New Zealand, Aileen and I, although advanced in years, are still enjoying our ministry as special pioneers. Two of my siblings—Mike, who is 94, and Peter, 90—are still alive, faithfully serving Jehovah in Canada.
In 1998 our daughter, Judy, moved back to the Orient and served there for several years. In one of her letters to us, she wrote: “How thankful I am every single day to Jehovah for the splendid privilege of working here! Thanks, too, to both of you for all the loving training and the sacrifices you made and continue to make for all of this to be possible.” In 2003 she moved back to New Zealand to provide Aileen and me with the help we needed.*
We are grateful to Jehovah that our circumstances permitted us to respond to the Master’s call for more workers in the harvest. Our doing so has brought us indescribable joy. And when ‘the world passes away,’ as the Bible says it will, we will enjoy the realization of God’s wonderful promise: “He that does the will of God remains forever.”—1 John 2:17.
Dear Aileen passed away on January 24, 2008, as this article was being finalized.
[Picture on page 29]
Joshua was the only Witness in Singapore when we arrived in 1947
[Picture on page 29]
With Dave Farmer in Hong Kong, en route to Singapore, 1947
[Picture on page 29]
With Aileen, 1958
[Picture on page 31]
With our daughter, Judy
[Picture Credit Line on page 28]