How Three Conventions Shaped the Course of My Life
As told by George Warienchuck
HAVE you ever been so touched by something you heard at one of our conventions that it moved you to make big changes in your life? That happened to me. Looking back, I realize that three conventions especially shaped the course of my life. The first helped me to be less timid; the second, to be more content; the third, to be more giving. However, before I tell you about those changes, let me fill you in on some events that took place years before these conventions were held—events related to my childhood.
I was born in 1928, the youngest of three children. My sisters, Margie and Olga, and I were raised in South Bound Brook, New Jersey, U.S.A., then a town with about 2,000 inhabitants. Though we were poor, Mother was generous. Whenever she found the means to prepare a special meal, she shared it with neighbors. When I was nine years old, Mother was visited by a Witness who spoke Hungarian, my mother’s native tongue, which moved her to listen to the Bible’s message. Later, Bertha, a sister in her early 20’s, continued the Bible study and helped Mother to become a servant of Jehovah.
Unlike Mother, I was timid by nature, lacking confidence. To make things worse, Mother tended to belittle me. When I tearfully asked her, “Why do you always criticize me?” she told me that she loved me but that she did not want to spoil me. Mother had good intentions, but the lack of commendation left me feeling inferior.
One day, a neighbor who often spoke kindly to me asked me to accompany her sons to their church’s Sunday school. I knew that I would displease Jehovah by going, but I was afraid to offend that kind neighbor. So for several months, I went to church even though I felt ashamed of myself. At school, fear of man likewise led me to act against my conscience. The school principal, a domineering man, made sure that the teachers made all children salute the flag. I too saluted. This went on for about a year, and then a change took place.
A Lesson in Courage
In 1939 a book study group began meeting in our home. Ben Mieszkalski, a young pioneer brother, conducted. We called him Big Ben—and for good reason. To me, he looked as tall and as wide as our front door. Yet, in spite of his imposing build, he had a soft heart, and his warm smile quickly put me at ease. So when Ben asked me to join him in field service, I gladly accepted. We became friends. When I was down, he talked to me in the way a caring older brother would speak to his younger sibling. That meant a lot to me, and I came to love him dearly.
In 1941, Ben asked our family to come along in his car to a convention in St. Louis, Missouri. Imagine how excited I was! I had never traveled farther than 50 miles [80 km] from home, and now I was going to a place more than 900 miles [1,500 km] away! However, there were problems in St. Louis. The clergy had ordered their parishioners to cancel any arrangements they had made for having Witnesses stay in their homes. Many canceled. The family to whom we had been assigned had also been threatened. Still, they welcomed us. Our hosts said that they were not going to break their promise of providing a room. Their courage impressed me.
My sisters were baptized at that convention. The same day, Brother Rutherford, from Brooklyn Bethel, gave a stirring discourse in which he asked all children who wanted to do the will of God to stand up. Some 15,000 stood up. I did too. Then he asked those of us who wanted to do our utmost in the preaching work to say, “Aye.” Along with the other children, I shouted, “Aye!” Thunderous applause followed. I was fired up.
After the convention, we visited a brother in West Virginia. He related that once while he was in the preaching work, an angry mob had beaten him and had covered him with tar and feathers. I listened breathlessly. “But I will go on preaching,” the brother said. When we left that brother, I felt like David. I was ready to take on Goliath—my school principal.
Back in school, I approached the principal. He glared at me. I prayed silently to Jehovah for help. Then I blurted out: “I have been to a convention of Jehovah’s Witnesses. I will not salute the flag anymore!” There was a long silence. The principal slowly rose from his desk and walked toward me. His face was red with anger. He yelled: “Salute the flag or you are expelled!” This time I did not compromise, and deep inside I felt a joy I had never felt before.
I could hardly wait to tell Ben what had happened. When I saw him in the Kingdom Hall, I shouted: “I am expelled from school! I did not salute the flag!” Ben put his arm around me, smiled, and said: “For sure, Jehovah loves you.” (Deut. 31:6) How those words motivated me! On June 15, 1942, I was baptized.
Learning the Secret of Contentment
After World War II, the nation’s economy exploded, and a wave of materialism swept the country. I had a well-paying job and could buy things I previously could only dream of. Some of my friends got motorcycles; others renovated their homes. I bought a brand-new car. Soon my desire for more material comforts began to push aside my concern for Kingdom interests. I knew I was heading in the wrong direction. Fortunately, in 1950 a convention in New York City helped me to readjust my course.
At that convention, one speaker after another encouraged the audience to forge ahead with the preaching work. “Strip down to the bare necessities, and run the race,” one speaker urged us. He seemed to be talking just to me. I also saw the graduation of a Gilead class, which made me think, ‘If these Witnesses of my age group can forgo material comforts to serve abroad, I should be willing to do the same here at home.’ By the end of the convention, I had made up my mind to become a pioneer.
In the meantime, I had begun dating Evelyn Mondak, a zealous sister in the congregation that I went to. Evelyn’s mother, who raised six children, was a fearless woman. She loved to do street work in front of a huge Roman Catholic Church. No matter how often the angry priest told her to leave, she did not budge. Like her mother, Evelyn had no fear of man.—Prov. 29:25.
In 1951, Evelyn and I were married, quit our jobs, and began pioneering. A circuit overseer encouraged us to move to Amagansett, a village on the Atlantic shore some one hundred miles [160 km] from New York City. When the congregation informed us that they had no accommodations for us, we looked for a trailer but failed to find one we could afford. Then we spotted a run-down trailer. The owner asked 900 dollars for it—exactly the sum we had received as wedding gifts. We bought it, fixed it up, and pulled it to our new territory. However, we arrived there completely penniless and wondered how we would survive as pioneers.
Evelyn cleaned houses, and I found a late-night cleaning job in an Italian restaurant. “Any leftover food,” the owner said, “take home to your wife.” So when I got home at two in the morning, our trailer filled with the aroma of pizzas and pasta. Those warmed-over meals were a treat, especially in winter when we were shivering inside the icy trailer. Moreover, the brothers in the congregation at times left a big fish on the steps of the trailer. During the years we served alongside those dear brothers in Amagansett, we learned that being content with the basics results in a satisfying life. Those were happy years.
Motivated to Give More of Ourselves
In July 1953, we greeted hundreds of missionaries who had come from foreign assignments to attend an international convention in New York City. They related fascinating experiences. Their excitement was contagious. Moreover, when a convention speaker stressed that many lands had not yet been reached with the Kingdom message, we knew what we had to do—give more of ourselves by expanding our ministry. Right at the convention, we applied for missionary training. That same year, we were invited to attend the 23rd class of Gilead School, which started in February 1954. What a privilege that was!
We were thrilled when we learned that we were assigned to serve in Brazil. Before we left on our 14-day voyage by steamer, a responsible brother at Bethel told me: “Nine single missionary sisters will travel with you and your wife to Brazil. Look after them!” Can you imagine the amused look on the sailors’ faces when they watched me coming aboard with ten young women in tow? However, the sisters had no problem at all in handling the situation. Still, I was relieved when we safely stepped onto Brazilian soil.
After learning Portuguese, I was assigned to do circuit work in Rio Grande do Sul, a state in southern Brazil. The circuit overseer I was to replace, a single brother, told my wife and me: “I’m surprised a married couple was sent here. This place is rugged.” Congregations were scattered over a vast rural area, and some could be reached only by truck. If you bought a meal for the driver, he allowed you to clamber onto his truck. Like riders on horseback, we sat with spread legs on top of the cargo, clutching with both hands the straps tied around the load. Whenever the truck took sharp turns, we held on for dear life as the towering cargo leaned over and we gazed into gaping valleys. However, seeing the happy faces of the brothers who eagerly waited for our arrival made such daylong journeys worth all the effort.
We lived in the homes of the brothers. They were very poor, but that did not stop them from giving. In one isolated region, all the brothers worked in a meatpacking plant. Their low wages allowed them to eat only once a day. If they did not work for a day, they did not get paid. Still, during our visits, they took two days off from work to support congregation activities. They put their trust in Jehovah. Those humble brothers taught us lessons about making sacrifices in behalf of God’s Kingdom that we will never forget. Living among them, we received an education that no school can offer. As I think back, remembering those brothers, tears of joy still well up in my eyes.
In 1976, we returned to the United States in order to care for my ailing mother. Leaving Brazil was hard, but we are grateful to have witnessed outstanding growth of Kingdom interests in that country. Whenever we receive letters from Brazil, many sweet memories from that wonderful time in our life come back.
While caring for Mother, we pioneered and took on cleaning jobs. In 1980, Mother died, faithful to Jehovah. After that, I was invited to serve in the circuit work in the United States. In 1990, my wife and I visited a congregation in Connecticut, and there we met someone very special. One of the congregation elders was Ben—yes, the same Ben who helped me some 50 years earlier to take my stand for Jehovah. Can you imagine our joy as we embraced?
Since 1996, Evelyn and I have served as infirm special pioneers in the Portuguese-language congregation in Elizabeth, New Jersey. I have health problems, but with the help of my dear wife, I share in the ministry as much as possible. Evelyn also assists a frail, elderly neighbor. Her name? Bertha—yes, the same Bertha who helped my mother to become a servant of Jehovah over 70 years ago! We are glad to have the opportunity to express to her our gratitude for all she did in helping my family to learn the truth.
I am thankful that those early conventions motivated me to take my stand for true worship, to simplify my life, and to expand my ministry. Yes, those conventions shaped the course of my life.
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Evelyn’s mother (left) and my mother
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My friend Ben
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On Brazilian soil
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With Evelyn today