“What a wonderful lesson we learn from Noah!” explained my father. “Noah obeyed Jehovah and loved his family, and they all survived the Flood because all the family went into the ark.”
THAT is one of the earliest memories I have of my father, a modest, hardworking man. He had a strong sense of justice, so he was immediately attracted to the Bible’s message when he heard it in 1953. From then on, he did his best to pass on to us children what he was learning. My mother was initially reluctant to leave her Catholic traditions. But in time, she too started to make Bible teachings her own.
It was difficult for my parents to study with us. Mother was almost illiterate, and Father worked long and hard in the fields. Sometimes he was so tired that he could not stay awake during the study. His efforts paid off, though. I was the eldest child, so I helped to teach my sister and two brothers. That included something that Father often mentioned—Noah’s love for his family, shown by his obedience to God. How I loved this Bible account! Before long, we were all attending meetings at the Kingdom Hall in Roseto degli Abruzzi, a city on the Adriatic coast of Italy.
I was just 11 years old in 1955 when my mother and I crossed over the mountains to the west to attend our first convention, in Rome. Since then, I have considered these large gatherings one of the most beautiful parts of Christian life.
The following year, I got baptized and soon thereafter entered the full-time service. When I was 17 years old, I became a special pioneer in Latina, south of Rome and about 190 miles (300 km) from home. It was a fairly new city, so nobody worried too much about what the neighbors might think. My pioneer partner and I were thrilled to distribute a lot of Bible literature, but being rather young, how I missed home! Still, I wanted to obey the direction I had been given.
I was later assigned to Milan to help with preparations for the 1963 “Everlasting Good News” International Assembly. During the convention, I worked as a volunteer along with many others, including Paolo Piccioli, a young brother from Florence. On the second day of the convention, he gave a stirring talk on singleness. I remember thinking, ‘That brother will certainly never get married.’ However, we started writing to each other, and it became clear that we had a lot in common—our goals, our love for Jehovah, and our strong desire to obey him. Paolo and I got married in 1965.
ENCOUNTERS WITH CLERGYMEN
I was a regular pioneer in Florence for ten years. It was exciting to see the growth in the congregations, particularly seeing how the young ones progressed. Paolo and I enjoyed spending time with them in spiritual conversations as well as in recreation, which for Paolo usually meant playing soccer. Understandably, I appreciated having time with my husband, but I could see that those young ones and the families in the congregation needed and benefited from his kind interest and time.
It still brings me joy to think back on the many Bible studies we were able to conduct. One study was with Adriana, who spoke to two other families about what she was learning. They arranged a meeting with a priest to discuss such church doctrines as the Trinity and the immortal soul. Three prelates turned up at the meeting. Their explanations were convoluted and inconsistent, which our Bible students easily recognized when they compared such with the Bible’s clear teachings. Yes, that meeting proved to be a turning point. In time, some 15 members of those families became Witnesses.
Of course, nowadays our preaching methods are quite different. Back then, Paolo became an “expert” at encounters with priests—and he had a number of those encounters. I remember one held before an audience of non-Witnesses. It became clear that opposers had arranged ahead of time for some in the audience to ask what were considered awkward questions. However, the conversation took a turn. Someone asked whether it was right for the church to meddle in politics, as it had done for centuries. At that point, it was clear that the priests were in trouble. Suddenly, the lights went out, and the meeting was called off. Years later we learned that the blackout had been planned in case the conversation did not go exactly as the priests had hoped.
NEW AVENUES OF SERVICE
After Paolo and I had been married for ten years, we were invited to serve in the circuit work. Paolo had a good job, so it was not an easy decision. But after prayerful thought, we made ourselves available for that new avenue of service. We enjoyed spending time with the families who hosted us. In the evening, we often studied as a group, and then Paolo helped the children with their homework, especially if it was mathematics. Furthermore, Paolo was an avid reader and enthusiastically shared interesting and upbuilding things he had read about. On Monday, we often went to preach in towns where there were no Witnesses, inviting people to a talk planned for the evening.
After only two years in the circuit work, we were invited to serve at Bethel in Rome. Paolo was to care for legal matters, and I was assigned to the Magazine Department. Making the change was not easy, but we were determined to be obedient. It was exciting to see the gradual expansion of the branch and the enormous growth of the brotherhood in Italy. During that time, Jehovah’s Witnesses in Italy obtained important legal recognition. We certainly were happy in this type of service.
While we were serving at Bethel, our Bible-based stand on blood came to the fore in Italy. In the early 1980’s, there was a legal case on this issue that caused quite a stir. A couple who were Witnesses were falsely accused of causing their daughter’s death, though she actually died as a result of a serious blood disorder inherited by many in the Mediterranean region. Brothers and sisters in the Bethel family assisted the lawyers who represented the Christian parents. A leaflet and a special edition of Awake! helped people to get the facts and to understand correctly what God’s Word says about blood. During those months, Paolo often worked up to 16 hours a day without stopping. I did my best to support him in his important efforts.
ANOTHER LIFE CHANGE
We had been married for 20 years when we faced an unexpected turn of events. I was 41 years old and Paolo was 49 when I told him that I thought I was pregnant. In his diary, I found these words in the entry for that day: “Prayer: If it is true, help us stay in the full-time service, not relax spiritually, and help us to be good parents by our example. Above all, help me put into practice at least 1 percent of all that I have said from the platform over the past 30 years.” Judging from the result, Jehovah must have answered his prayer—and mine.
The birth of Ilaria brought on huge changes in our lives. Honestly, we had moments of discouragement, even as Proverbs 24:10 mentioned: “Have you shown yourself discouraged in the day of distress? Your power will be scanty.” But we supported each other, remembering the value of mutual encouragement.
Ilaria is quick to say how happy she is to have been born to two Witnesses who were busy in the full-time service. She has never felt neglected; she grew up in a totally normal family. During the day, I was there for her. In the evening when Paolo got home, he often had work to finish; yet, he spent time with her, playing with her and helping her with homework. He did so even though it meant that he might be up until two or three in the morning to finish his own work. Ilaria often said, “Dad is my best friend.”
As you can imagine, it took consistency—and sometimes firmness—to help Ilaria stay on the Christian path. I recall one occasion when she was playing with a friend but behaved badly. We explained from the Bible why she should not behave that way. We also had her apologize to her friend in our presence.
Ilaria readily says that she appreciates the love for the ministry that her parents displayed. Now that she is married, she understands even more fully how important it is to obey Jehovah and follow his guidance.
OBEDIENT EVEN IN MOMENTS OF SADNESS
In 2008, Paolo learned that he had cancer. At first it seemed that Paolo would be able to survive the illness, and he encouraged me greatly. In addition to seeking the best medical advice available, together with Ilaria we turned to Jehovah in long prayers, asking for his help to face the future. Still, I watched a man who once had been so strong and dynamic gradually weaken. His death in 2010 was a tremendous blow. I take considerable comfort, though, in what was accomplished in the 45 years we were together. We gave Jehovah our best. I know that our work will have lasting value. And I eagerly look forward to Paolo’s being resurrected, in line with Jesus’ words at John 5:28, 29.
“Deep down, I’m still that little girl so in love with the story of Noah. My determination has not changed”
Deep down, I’m still that little girl so in love with the story of Noah. My determination has not changed. I want to obey Jehovah, no matter what is asked. I am certain that any obstacles, sacrifices, or losses are relatively small compared to the wonderful blessings that our loving God bestows. I have personally experienced this—and I assure you, it is worth it.