I Have Found Many Good Things
As told by Arthur Bonno
IT WAS 1951. My wife, Edith, and I were at a district convention when we heard the announcement that a meeting would be held for those interested in missionary service.
“Let’s go and listen!” I exclaimed.
“Art, that’s not for us!” Edith responded.
“Come on, Edie, we will just listen.”
After the meeting, application forms for Gilead School were offered.
“Let’s fill them out,” I urged.
“But Art, what about our families?”
About a year and a half after that convention, we attended Gilead School and were assigned to serve in Ecuador, South America.
As you might gather from the conversation that my wife and I had at that convention, I had a rather forceful personality and a can-do attitude. Edith, however, was mild and modest. While growing up in the small town of Elizabeth, Pennsylvania, U.S.A., she had never ventured very far from home or met a foreigner. It was hard for her to leave her family. Even so, she wholeheartedly accepted the assignment to serve abroad. In 1954 we arrived in Ecuador and have been serving as missionaries in this country ever since. During our years here, we have found many good things. Would you like to hear about some of them?
Our first assignment was to the capital city, Quito, some 9,000 feet (2,850 m) high in the Andes Mountains. It took us two days by train and truck to travel there from the coastal city of Guayaquil—a trip now accomplished in 30 minutes by airplane! We served in Quito for four memorable years. Then, in 1958 another good thing occurred: We were invited to serve in the circuit work.
At that time, there were only two small circuits in the entire country. So in addition to visiting congregations, we spent many weeks during the year preaching in small Indian towns where no Witnesses were living. Accommodations in those pueblos usually consisted of a tiny, windowless room with a bed and nothing else. We carried with us a wooden case that contained a kerosene burner, a pan, plates, a wash basin, sheets, a mosquito net, clothing, old newspapers, and some other items. We used the newspapers to plug the holes in the walls so that the rats would find it a bit harder to enter.
Although those rooms were dark and dingy, we have bright memories of the nightly conversations we had while sitting on the bed, eating a simple meal cooked on our kerosene burner. Since my impetuous nature often led me to speak before thinking, my wife at times would use those calm moments to mention tactful ways that I could better express myself to the brothers we visited. I listened to her, and my visits became more encouraging. Also, when I thoughtlessly spoke ill of another, she would refuse to participate in the conversation. I thus learned to maintain a positive view of my brothers. Mostly, though, our conversations at night revolved around points we learned from articles in The Watchtower and our field service experiences of that day. And what exciting experiences we had!
How We Found Carlos
In the town of Jipijapa, in western Ecuador, we were given the name of an interested person—just the name, Carlos Mejía, but no address. Leaving our rented room that morning, we did not know where to begin looking for him, so we simply struck out in a random direction. We had to dodge many a mud hole on the dirt streets because of the heavy rains the night before. I was walking ahead of my wife when, suddenly, I heard a cry of distress from behind, “Art!” I turned and saw that Edie was standing in black mud up to her knees. The scene was so humorous that I would have laughed had it not been for her tearful face.
I was able to pull her out of that mess, but her shoes remained stuck in the mud. A boy and a girl were watching, so I told them, “I will give you some money if you get those shoes out of the mud.” In a flash, the shoes were retrieved, but Edie needed a place to clean up. The children’s mother was observing the scene and invited us into her house, where she helped my wife wash her legs while the children cleaned the dirty shoes. Before we left, a good thing happened. I asked the woman if she knew where we could find a man named Carlos Mejía. With a surprised look on her face, she said, “He is my husband.” In time a Bible study was started, and all the members of that family were eventually baptized. Years later, Carlos, his wife, and two of their children became special pioneers.
Challenging Travels—Heartwarming Hospitality
Traveling in the circuit work posed challenges. We used buses, trains, trucks, dugout canoes, and small airplanes. One time John McLenachan, who served as the district overseer, and his wife, Dorothy, accompanied us on a preaching trip to fishing villages near the Colombian border. We traveled in a dugout canoe equipped with an outboard motor. Sharks as large as the canoe were swimming right alongside us! Even the experienced navigator with us became alarmed at the size of the sharks and quickly steered the canoe closer to shore.
The challenges that we encountered in the circuit work, though, were more than worthwhile. We got to know wonderful, hospitable brothers. Many times the families with whom we stayed insisted that we eat three meals a day, while they ate only one. Or they made us sleep in the only bed in the house, while they slept on the floor. My wife often said, “These dear brothers and sisters help me to see how few things we really need to get by.”
“We Do Not Want to Hold Back”
In 1960 another good thing happened to us—we were invited to serve at the branch office in Guayaquil. While I did administrative work, Edith served in the ministry in a congregation near the branch. I never considered myself an office man and felt somewhat inept, but as Hebrews 13:21 indicates, God equips us “with every good thing to do his will.” Two years later, I was invited to attend a ten-month Gilead course to be held at Bethel in Brooklyn, New York. At that time, wives were expected to remain in their assignment. A letter came from Brooklyn, addressed to my wife. She was asked to consider carefully whether she would be willing to accept the ten-month absence of her husband.
In response, Edith wrote: “I am sure that this will not be the easiest thing in the world to do, but we know that Jehovah will certainly help us through whatever difficulties may arise. . . . We do not want to hold back from any privileges that may be set before us or from any opportunity to be better qualified to carry out our responsibilities.” During the time that I was in Brooklyn, I received a letter from my wife every week.
Serving Alongside Faithful Fellow Believers
In 1966, because of health problems, Edith and I returned to Quito, where we resumed our missionary service alongside the local brothers and sisters. What fine integrity keepers they were!
A faithful sister had an unbelieving husband, who often beat her. One day, at six o’clock in the morning, someone called us to say that she had been beaten again. I dashed to the sister’s house. When I saw her, I could hardly believe my eyes. She was lying in bed, swollen and covered with bruises. Her husband had beaten her with a broom handle until it broke in two. Later that day, I found him at home and told him that he had done a cowardly thing. He apologized profusely.
In the early 1970’s, my health had improved and we resumed the circuit work. The city of Ibarra was part of our circuit. When we visited that city in the late 1950’s, only two Witnesses were there, a missionary and a local brother. So we were eager to meet the many new ones who had been added to the congregation.
At our first meeting there, Brother Rodrigo Vaca stood on the platform and conducted a part that included audience participation. Whenever he asked a question, those in attendance called out “Yo, yo!” (“Me, me!”) instead of raising their hands. Edith and I looked at each other in amazement. ‘What is going on here?’ I thought. Later we learned that Brother Vaca is blind but he recognizes the voices of the members of the congregation as they call out. He is a shepherd who really knows his sheep! This called to mind Jesus’ comments at John 10:3, 4, 14 about the Fine Shepherd and the sheep knowing one another very well. Today, Ibarra has six Spanish-speaking congregations, one Quichua-speaking congregation, and one sign-language congregation. Brother Vaca continues to serve faithfully as an elder and a special pioneer.*
Grateful for Jehovah’s Goodness
In 1974 we received another expression of Jehovah’s goodness when we were invited to return to Bethel, where I was again assigned to do administrative work and later was appointed to the Branch Committee. Edith at first worked in the kitchen, and later she began working in the office, where she serves to this day as a mail clerk.
Through the years, we have had the joy of welcoming hundreds of Gilead-trained missionaries, who bring maturity and zeal to the congregations they serve. We are also encouraged by the thousands of brothers and sisters who have come from over 30 countries to serve in this land. How their self-sacrificing spirit impresses us! Some sold homes and businesses in order to come here to serve in areas where there is a great need for Kingdom preachers. They bought vehicles to preach in outlying regions, established new congregations, and helped build Kingdom Halls. Numerous single sisters have come from abroad to pioneer here—and what zealous and capable workers they are!
Indeed, I have found many good things in my years of serving God. Foremost among these is my relationship with Jehovah. Also, I am grateful that Jehovah provided “a helper” for me. (Gen. 2:18) When I look back over our 69 years together as husband and wife, I think of Proverbs 18:22, which states: “Has one found a good wife? One has found a good thing.” It has been a pleasure to be in Edith’s company. She has helped me in so many ways. She also proved to be a loving daughter to her mother. From the time we arrived in Ecuador, my wife sent her mother a letter every week until 1990, when her mom passed away at age 97.
I am now 90 years of age and Edith is 89. We treasure the joy we have had in helping some 70 people come to know Jehovah. We surely are glad that we filled out those applications for Gilead School 60 years ago. That decision led to a life filled with many good things.
The life story of Brother Vaca appeared in the September 8, 1985, issue of Awake!
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In New York’s Yankee Stadium with fellow missionaries from our Gilead class, 1958
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Visiting a Witness family while in the circuit work, 1959
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At the branch in Ecuador, 2002