God Is a “Doer of Great Things”—How I Came to Know It
As told by Maurice Raj
My family, along with thousands of other immigrants, ran to escape one of the most ferocious assaults in World War II. For days we traveled through the dense Burmese jungle, sleeping under the trees at night. I was nine years old. A little bundle tied to my back held all my possessions. But this was just the beginning.
THE year was 1942. The world was at war, and we were fleeing from the advancing Japanese army. It had just invaded Burma, now called Myanmar, and had seized the oil fields of Yenangyaung. Before we could reach India’s border, Japanese soldiers overtook us and forced us to return home.
When I was a child, we lived in Yenangyaung, where my father worked for the Burmah Oil Company. After the Japanese occupation, the rich oil fields of Yenangyaung became the target of intense bombing by British warplanes. Once, our family was sheltered in a trench for three days as bombs exploded all around us. Finally we fled by boat to Sale, a small town on the Ayeyarwady, or Irrawaddy, River. Grateful to be alive, we spent the remainder of the war there.
Tragedy Leads to Truth
My younger brother was born in 1945, the year World War II ended. My father was delighted to have a child in his old age. But his happiness was short-lived. Three months later my brother died. Father died from grief shortly afterward.
Friends, intending to comfort me, said that God had taken my father and brother to be with Him in heaven. How I yearned to be with them! My family attended the Catholic church, where I received my early parochial education. I was taught that priests and nuns go straight to heaven, while others have to spend time in purgatory, a place of temporary torment where they are cleansed of their sins. Determined to be reunited with my father and brother, I set my mind on attending the Catholic seminary in Maymyo, now called Pyin Oo Lwin, some 130 miles (210 km) from where we lived.
A good formal education was needed in order to gain entry to the seminary. As an immigrant, I had attended school for only two years. Then all schools were closed during the war. Though the schools reopened, our family was in dire economic straits. My mother was caring not only for my two brothers and me but also for the three young children of her deceased sister. She could no longer afford to keep us boys in school.
My older brother went to work, but I was only 13 years old and there was little I could do. My father’s brother, Manuel Nathan, lived in Chauk, a town near Sale. I reasoned, ‘If I leave home, there will be one less mouth to feed.’ So I went to Chauk to live with my uncle.
I did not know that my uncle had recently come in contact with Jehovah’s Witnesses and was eager to share his newfound Bible knowledge. He shared it with me little by little, starting by explaining the meaning of the Our Father prayer, as Catholics call it. It begins: “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.”—Matthew 6:9, 10, Douay-Rheims Version.
“So God has a name,” my uncle explained. “And that name is Jehovah.” He then showed me the name of God in the Bible. I wanted to learn more. But I was a poor reader, even in my native Tamil, and the Bible and Bible literature my uncle had were in English, which I did not know well. Despite my limited schooling, I gradually came to understand Bible teachings. (Matthew 11:25, 26) My eyes were opened to see that many of the doctrines I had been taught were not based on the Bible. “Uncle,” I finally said, “this is the truth!”
At the age of 16, I began sharing what I had learned with others. There were only 77 Witnesses of Jehovah in Myanmar at the time. Not long after, Robert Kirk, a Witness missionary from the capital city, Rangoon, now called Yangon, visited my uncle in Chauk. I told Robert that I had dedicated my life to Jehovah. So on December 24, 1949, I was baptized in the Ayeyarwady River, in symbol of my dedication to God.
Soon afterward I moved to Mandalay to find suitable employment. My goal was to become a pioneer, as full-time ministers of Jehovah’s Witnesses are called. One day while watching a soccer match, I collapsed with convulsions. I had developed epilepsy and had to move back to my family so that they could care for me.
The seizures continued on and off for eight years. When my health improved, I was able to take on some secular work. Although Mother discouraged me from pursuing the full-time ministry because of my condition, one day I told her: “I can’t wait any longer. I want to become a pioneer. Jehovah will take care of me!”
In 1957, I moved to Yangon and began to pioneer. Amazingly, my seizures did not return until 50 years later, in 2007. Now they are controlled by medication. In 1958, I was appointed as a special pioneer, devoting 150 hours each month to the preaching work.
My first assignment was Kyonsha, a village some 70 miles (110 km) northwest of Yangon. A small group there had read our Bible literature and wanted to know more. When Robert and I arrived, a large crowd gathered. We answered their many Bible questions and showed them how to conduct Bible meetings. Some of them soon joined us in the preaching work. I was asked to stay in that village. Within a few months, the small group became a thriving congregation. Today, there are more than 150 Witnesses in the area.
Later, I was appointed to serve as a traveling minister, visiting congregations and isolated groups throughout Myanmar. I rode countless miles over dusty roads atop loaded trucks, hiked through jungles, sailed rivers, and trekked across mountain ranges. Although I was not strong physically, I felt that Jehovah gave me the power to keep going.—Philippians 4:13.
“Jehovah Will Help You”
Then in 1962, I was transferred to the branch office of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Yangon, where Robert gave me some training. All too soon, government authorities ordered all foreign missionaries to leave Myanmar, and within a few weeks, they were gone. To my surprise, I was to look after the branch office.
‘How can I do this work?’ I wondered. ‘I am uneducated and inexperienced.’ Noting my anxiety, several older ones told me: “Maurice, don’t worry. Jehovah will help you. And we are all with you.” How reassuring their words were to me! A few months later, I had to compile the annual report of our preaching activities in Myanmar for the 1967 Yearbook of Jehovah’s Witnesses. For the next 38 years, I compiled this annual report for the country. Time after time, events made it clear to me that Jehovah truly is directing our activities.
For example, earlier, when I applied for Myanmar citizenship, I lacked the 450 kyats* needed to pay for my citizenship book, so I put the matter off. Then one day, while I was passing the office of the company that had employed me years earlier, my former boss saw me. He cried out: “Hey, Raj, come and get your money. You forgot to collect your provident fund when you left.” It amounted to 450 kyats.
As I left the office, I thought of all the things I could do with 450 kyats. But since it was the exact amount needed to get my citizenship book, I felt that it was Jehovah’s will that I use it for that purpose. And that choice proved to be most beneficial. As a citizen, I could remain in the country, travel freely, import literature, and carry out other duties vital to our preaching work in Myanmar.
A Convention in the North
By 1969, our work was progressing rapidly in the town of Myitkyina in northern Myanmar, so we decided to have a convention in this city. Our biggest challenge, however, was providing transportation for all the Witnesses in the south. We prayed and then requested from Myanmar Railways reservations for six railway coaches. We were greatly surprised when our application was approved.
In time, we had everything ready for our convention. On the day delegates were scheduled to arrive, we went to the railway station about midday, expecting the train to arrive at 2:30 p.m. While we were waiting, the stationmaster handed us a telegram that read: “We have disconnected the six coaches of the Watch Tower Society.” He said that the train could not pull the extra coaches uphill.
What could we do? Our first thought was to reschedule the convention. But that would mean applying for another set of permits, which would require weeks! Just as we were praying fervently to Jehovah, the train pulled into the station. We could not believe our eyes—all six coaches filled with Witnesses! They were smiling and waving. When we asked what had happened, one of them explained, “They did disconnect six coaches, but not our six!”
Between 1967 and 1971, the number of Witnesses in Myanmar doubled to nearly 600. Then in 1978, the branch office was moved to a two-story house. Twenty years later, the number of Witnesses had increased to over 2,500. Further expansion of the branch facilities was made, and on January 22, 2000, John E. Barr, a member of the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses, came from the United States and gave the dedication talk for the three-story office and residence complex that is in use today.
Looking Back on Blessings
Today, 52 volunteers live and work here at the branch in Yangon, and there are about 3,500 Witnesses serving in 74 congregations and groups throughout the country. I am happy to say that in 1969, shortly before her death, my dear mother also became one of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Doris Ba Aye, a local pioneer minister, became a translator at our branch office in the mid-1960’s. Earlier, in 1959, she had attended the 32nd class of the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead, a school for training missionaries of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Her natural beauty, cheerful personality, and deep spirituality captured my heart. We were married in 1970. To this day, we remain devoted to Jehovah and to each other.
For more than six decades now, I have seen God’s hand in the preaching work being accomplished in this land. Truly, he is great and very much to be praised. He is a “Doer of great things,” as I have seen throughout my life.—Psalm 106:21.
Equivalent, at the time, to about $95 (U.S.), a sizable sum.
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In the ministry in Rangoon, Burma, about 1957
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Traveling to attend a convention in Kalemyo, Burma, late 1970’s
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Our lovely new branch facilities, which were expanded in 2000
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With Doris today
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In the door-to-door ministry together