“It is easy for you to pioneer. Both of your parents are in the truth, and they can support you,” we said to our friend who was serving in the full-time ministry. “Now listen! We all have the same Father,” she replied. Her answer contained an important lesson: Our heavenly Father takes care of his servants and strengthens them. Indeed, our life experience has confirmed the truthfulness of this fact.
WE WERE born into a farm family of ten children in Northern Ostrobothnia, Finland. Our childhood was affected by World War II. Although we lived hundreds of miles from the front lines, the horrors of the war left a deep impression on us. When the nearby cities of Oulu and Kalajoki were bombed, we saw a red glow in the night sky. Our parents urged us children to hide as soon as we saw warplanes flying overhead. So when our eldest brother, Tauno, told us about a paradise earth without injustice, our hearts were touched.
Tauno learned Bible truths at the age of 14 from the literature of the Bible Students. When World War II broke out, he refused military service because of his Bible-trained conscience and was sent to prison. There, he was brutally treated. That only strengthened his resolve to serve Jehovah, and after his release he was even more zealous in the ministry. Our brother’s fine example encouraged us to go to the meetings that the Witnesses were holding in a neighboring village. We also attended conventions, though we had to put forth great effort to save enough money for the trip. We sewed clothes for our neighbors, grew onions, and picked berries. As we had many duties on our farm, we usually could not attend conventions together, so we took turns.
The truths we learned about Jehovah and his purposes deepened our love for him, and we decided to dedicate our lives to him. In 1947, both of us symbolized our dedication by water baptism—Annikki at age 15 and Aili at age 17. Our sister Saimi was baptized that same year. We also studied the Bible with our sister Linnea, who was already married. She and her family became Jehovah’s Witnesses too. After baptism, we set for ourselves the goal of pioneering, serving as vacation (or, auxiliary) pioneers from time to time.
ENTERING THE FULL-TIME MINISTRY
In 1955, we moved to Kemi, a city farther north. Although both of us worked full-time, we still wanted to become pioneers but were afraid that we could not support ourselves. We thought that we first should set aside some savings. It was then that we had the discussion with the pioneer sister mentioned above. That helped us to see that serving Jehovah full-time is not dependent solely on our own resources or the support of our family. The most important thing is that we lean on our heavenly Father.
At that time, we had enough savings to support ourselves for two months. So in May 1957, we timidly applied for two months’ pioneering in Pello, a municipality in Lapland, above the Arctic Circle. After two months, we still had all our savings, so we applied to pioneer for another two months. Two months later, we still had all the money. Now we were sure that Jehovah would take care of us. After 50 years of pioneer service, we still have our savings left! Looking back, we feel as if Jehovah were grasping our hands and saying to us: “Do not be afraid. I myself will help you.”—Isa. 41:13.
After 50 years of pioneer service, we still have our savings left!
In 1958, our circuit overseer recommended that we move to serve as special pioneers in Sodankylä, Lapland. At that time, there was only one Witness, a sister, in that area. She learned the truth in an interesting way. Her son was on a class trip to Helsinki, the capital of Finland. As the group was walking through the city, an elderly sister handed an issue of The Watchtower to the boy, who was last in line, and asked him to give it to his mother. The boy did so, and the mother immediately recognized the ring of truth.
We rented a room located above a sawmill. We held meetings there. At first, the only ones who attended were the two of us and the local sister and her daughter. We read the study material together. Later, a man who had studied the Bible with the Witnesses came to work at the sawmill. He and his family started to associate with our group. In time, both he and his wife were baptized. This brother took the lead in our meetings. In addition, some other men who were working at the mill began to attend the meetings and embraced Bible truth. A couple of years later, our group had grown to such an extent that a congregation was formed.
Long distances presented a challenge to our preaching work. In the summer, we walked, cycled, and even rowed to reach people in our territory. Our bicycles were especially of great help. We also used them when going to conventions and visiting our parents, who lived hundreds of miles away. During wintertime, we took a bus early in the morning to a village in the region and then walked from house to house. After we had covered one village, we walked to the next one. The snow was deep, and the roads were not always cleared. We often walked along the tracks that horse-drawn sleighs had left in the snow. Sometimes snow covered the tracks of previous travelers, and in the early spring, the snow was so soft and soggy that we had to trudge through it.
The freezing temperatures and snowy conditions taught us to dress warmly. We wore woolen stockings and two or three pairs of socks as well as high-top boots. Still, our boots were often full of snow. As we got to the stairs of a house, we took off our boots and shook the snow out of them. Also, the hems of our long winter coats got wet when we waded through the snow. Then, when it got colder, the hems froze solid and felt like sheet metal. One housewife said, “You must have real faith, since you have voluntarily ventured out in this kind of weather.” We had walked over seven miles (11 km) to that house.
Because of the long distances, we often stayed overnight in the homes of the local people. When it was getting late, we started asking for a place to stay. The homes were humble, but the people were friendly and hospitable, and they offered us not only a place to sleep but also something to eat. Often a skin of a reindeer, a moose, or even a bear served as our bed. On occasion, we enjoyed a little luxury. For example, one lady in a big house took us upstairs to a guest room where a beautiful bed with fresh white lace sheets was waiting for us. Many times we discussed the Bible with the household till late in the evening. At one place, the couple who lived in the house slept on one side of the room, and we on the other. Our Scriptural discussion with them went on in the dark of night until the early hours of the morning. The man and his wife took turns asking still more questions—one after another.
A REWARDING MINISTRY
Lapland is a barren but beautiful country, and its beauty varies according to the season. To us, however, the people who appreciated Jehovah were even more beautiful. Among the sincere people to whom we witnessed were lumberjacks who had come to logging camps in Lapland. Sometimes, there were dozens of men in one cottage as we two small sisters entered. These burly men welcomed the Bible’s message and gladly obtained literature.
We had many exciting experiences. One day, the clock in the bus station was five minutes ahead, so we missed our bus. We decided to take another bus to a different village. We had never worked in that area before. At the first house, we met a young woman who said, “Here you girls are, just as I expected.” We had been conducting a Bible study with her sister. The young woman had asked her sister to arrange for us to visit on that very day. However, we never got this message. A Bible study was started with her and her relatives who lived in a neighboring house. Not long thereafter, we combined these studies into one study with an attendance of some one dozen people. Since then, many in this family have become Jehovah’s Witnesses.
In 1965, we were reassigned to our current congregation in Kuusamo, just below the Arctic Circle. At that time, the congregation consisted of only a few publishers. Initially, our new territory seemed a bit difficult. People were very religious and prejudiced against us. Even so, many respected the Bible, which provided a common ground for conversation. So little by little, we tried to get to know the people, and after about two years, it was easier to start Bible studies.
STILL ACTIVE IN THE MINISTRY
Today, we do not have the energy to spend long days in the field service, but we still share in the ministry almost every day. Spreading the good news to the people in our large territory became easier when Aili, encouraged by our nephew, took driving lessons and got a driver’s license in 1987 at the age of 56. We got further help when a new Kingdom Hall was built and we moved into an apartment attached to it.
The growth we have witnessed brings us great joy. When we began the full-time service in northern Finland, there were only a few publishers scattered throughout that vast area. Now several congregations make up a circuit. It has often happened at the assemblies and conventions that someone introduces himself and asks if we remember him. In some cases, we had been conducting a Bible study in his home when he was a child. The seed that had been sown years or even decades earlier had produced fruit!—1 Cor. 3:6.
In 2008, we completed 50 years of special pioneer service. We thank Jehovah that we have been able to encourage each other to endure in his precious work. Our life has been simple, but we have never lacked anything. (Ps. 23:1) How unnecessary our initial hesitation proved to be! Happily, through all these years, Jehovah has strengthened us in line with his promise at Isaiah 41:10: “I will fortify you. I will really help you. I will really keep fast hold of you with my right hand of righteousness.”