WHEN I came into the world in March 1930, I was surrounded by relatives and friends who were faithfully serving Jehovah. That was in the village of Namkumba, near the city of Lilongwe, in the country that is now Malawi. In 1942, I dedicated my life to God and was baptized in one of our scenic rivers. Over the next 70 years, I endeavored to do just as the apostle Paul urged Timothy, to “preach the word; be at it urgently in favorable times and difficult times.”—2 Tim. 4:2.
The first visit of Nathan H. Knorr and Milton G. Henschel to Malawi in early 1948 kindled my desire to serve Jehovah full-time. I remember with fondness the encouraging comments of those representatives from the world headquarters of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Brooklyn, New York. Standing in a muddy field, some 6,000 of us listened attentively to Brother Knorr’s encouraging talk, “Permanent Governor of All Nations.”
When I met Lidasi, a lovely sister who, like me, had been raised in a family of Jehovah’s Witnesses, I learned that she too had the goal of the full-time ministry. In 1950 we got married, and by 1953 we had two children. Even with the added responsibility of rearing them, we decided that I would be able to begin regular pioneering. Two years later, I was invited to serve as a special pioneer.
Soon thereafter, I was given the privilege of visiting congregations as a circuit overseer. Because of Lidasi’s fine support, I was able to care for our family materially and spiritually while doing this work.* But it was our earnest desire that both of us could be in the full-time ministry. By careful planning and with cooperation from our children, Lidasi was able to begin her full-time service in 1960.
We enjoyed those favorable times, serving our brothers and sisters in various congregations. Our assignments took us from the beautiful slopes of the Mulanje Mountains in the south to the peaceful shores of Lake Malawi, which runs nearly the full length of the eastern part of the country. We saw steady increases in publishers and congregations in the circuits we served.
In 1962 we enjoyed the “Courageous Ministers” District Assembly. In retrospect, such spiritual occasions were just what all of us in Malawi needed to prepare us for the difficult times that lay ahead. The following year, Brother Henschel visited Malawi again and a special convention outside the city of Blantyre was attended by some 10,000. That encouraging convention served as a strengthening aid for us to face the coming trials.
DIFFICULT TIMES ARRIVE
In 1964 the Witnesses experienced severe testing because of their refusal to take part in political activities. Over 100 Kingdom Halls and more than 1,000 homes of Witnesses were destroyed in a wave of persecution. We, though, were able to continue in the traveling work until the Malawi government banned the Witnesses in 1967. The branch property in Blantyre was confiscated, the missionaries were deported, and many local Witnesses, including Lidasi and me, were put in jail. After our release, we discreetly continued in the traveling work.
One day in October 1972, some one hundred members of a militant political movement known as the Malawi Youth League headed for our house. But one of their members ran ahead and told me to hide because they were planning to kill me. I told my wife and children to hide among the nearby banana trees. Then I ran and climbed a large mango tree. From there, I watched as our house and all our personal belongings were destroyed.
As the persecution intensified in Malawi, thousands of us fled the country. Our family stayed in a refugee camp in western Mozambique until June 1974. At that time, Lidasi and I were asked to serve as special pioneers in Dómue, Mozambique, near the Malawi border. We continued in that service until 1975, when Mozambique gained its independence from Portugal. Then, along with other Witnesses, we were forced to return to Malawi and to the persecutors we had left behind.
After returning to Malawi, I was assigned to visit congregations in the capital city, Lilongwe. In spite of the persecution and all the difficulties, the number of congregations increased in the circuits we were privileged to serve.
EXPERIENCING JEHOVAH’S SUPPORT
On one occasion, we came to a village where a political meeting was in progress. Some of the party supporters found out that we were Jehovah’s Witnesses, and they made us sit among members of a political youth movement known as Malawi Young Pioneers. We fervently prayed to Jehovah for his help and guidance in this volatile situation. When the meeting ended, they started to beat us. An older woman came running and cried out: “Leave them alone, please! This man is my brother’s son. Let him go on his journey!” The one in charge of the meeting said: “Let them go!” We are not sure what that woman had in mind, since she was not a relative of ours. We feel that Jehovah must have heard our prayer.
In 1981 we again met some of the Malawi Young Pioneers. They took away our bicycles, luggage, cartons of books, and circuit files. We escaped and ran to the home of an elder. Again we prayed about the situation. We were concerned about all the information in the files they had taken from us. When the Young Pioneers looked in the files, they saw letters addressed to me from locations all over Malawi. This terrified them, as they thought I was a government official. So they immediately returned everything to the local elders just as they had found it.
Another time, we were crossing a river in a boat. The owner of the boat was the political chairman of the area, so he decided to check all the passengers for political party cards. As he was approaching us, he discovered a thief whom the authorities were looking for. This caused quite a commotion, and that ended the search for party cards. Again we felt Jehovah’s loving support.
ARRESTED AND IMPRISONED
In February 1984, I was on my way to Lilongwe to deliver reports for the branch office in Zambia. A policeman stopped me and searched my bag. He found some Bible literature, so he took me to the police station and started to beat me. Then he bound me with ropes and put me in a room with prisoners who had been caught with stolen goods in their possession.
The next day, the chief of police took me to another room, where he wrote out a statement that said: “I, Trophim R. Nsomba, have stopped being a Jehovah’s Witness so that I can be set free.” I responded: “I am ready not only to be bound but also to die. I am still a Witness of Jehovah.” I refused to sign it. That angered the police chief, and he slammed his fist on the desk so hard that it caused a policeman in the next room to come running to see what had happened. The chief told him: “This man is refusing to sign that he has stopped witnessing. So let him sign that he is one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, and we shall send him to Lilongwe to be bound.” All this time, my dear wife was wondering what was happening to me. Four days later, some brothers were able to tell her where I was.
At the Lilongwe police station, I was treated kindly. The chief of police said: “Here is a plate of rice because you have been bound on account of God’s Word. The other people here are thieves.” Then he sent me to Kachere Prison, where I was kept for five months.
The warden of that prison was happy that I came; he wanted me to be the “pastor” for the prison. He removed the current pastor, telling him: “I don’t want you to teach God’s Word here again, for you were put in prison because you stole from your church!” So I was given the responsibility of teaching the Bible each week at the meetings that were arranged for the prisoners.
Later, things changed for the worse. Prison officials interrogated me to find out how many Witnesses there were in Malawi. When I didn’t answer them to their satisfaction, they beat me until I passed out. Another time, they wanted to know where our headquarters was located. I said, “You have asked a simple question, and I will tell you.” The policemen were happy and turned on their tape recorder. I explained that the headquarters of Jehovah’s Witnesses is described in the Bible. They were surprised, and asked, “Where in the Bible?”
“At Isaiah 43:12,” I replied. They looked it up and read it carefully: “‘You are my witnesses,’ declares Jehovah, ‘and I am God.’” They read that passage three times. Then they asked: “How can the headquarters of Jehovah’s Witnesses be here in the Bible and not in America?” I told them: “Jehovah’s Witnesses in America also see this scripture as describing their headquarters.” Since I would not tell them what they wanted to hear, I was transferred to Dzaleka Prison, just north of Lilongwe.
BLESSINGS EVEN IN DIFFICULT TIMES
In July 1984, I joined the 81 Witnesses at Dzaleka Prison. There, 300 prisoners were crowded together, sleeping on the floor shoulder to shoulder. Gradually, we Witnesses were able to divide ourselves into small groups to consider a scripture each day, which different ones would suggest. That gave us much encouragement.
Then the prison warden separated us from the other prisoners. A guard secretly told us: “The government doesn’t hate you. We keep you in prison for two reasons: The government fears that you will be killed by the Young Pioneers, and because you preach about a coming war, the government fears that their soldiers will disappear during that war.”
In October 1984, all of us had to appear in court. We each received a two-year prison sentence. As before, we were put in with non-Witnesses. But the prison warden announced to all: “Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t smoke cigarettes. So guards, don’t trouble them by asking them for a cigarette and don’t send them to collect a burning piece of charcoal to light your cigarette. They are God’s people! All of Jehovah’s Witnesses should be given food twice a day, since they are not here for crimes but because of their beliefs in the Bible.”
We benefited from our fine reputation in other ways as well. When it was dark or rainy, prisoners were not allowed to move about. But we were permitted to leave the building whenever we wanted to. They knew we would not try to escape. In fact, once when a guard fell ill while watching us as we worked in the fields, we carried him back to the prison compound for treatment. The prison officials knew that we could be trusted. So by maintaining our fine conduct, we were blessed to see Jehovah’s name glorified through the mouth of our captors.—1 Pet. 2:12.*
A FAVORABLE TIME IS HERE AGAIN
On May 11, 1985, I was released from Dzaleka Prison. What a joy it was to be reunited with my family! We thank Jehovah for helping us to maintain our integrity in those very difficult times. Regarding that period, we feel like the apostle Paul when he wrote: “We do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the tribulation we experienced . . . We were very uncertain even of our lives. In fact, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. This was so that we would trust, not in ourselves, but in the God who raises up the dead. From such a great risk of death he did rescue us.”—2 Cor. 1:8-10.
Indeed, at times it seemed that we would not survive. But we always asked Jehovah to give us the courage and wisdom to help us keep a humble spirit so that we could continue to bring glory to his great name.
Jehovah has blessed us in his service, during favorable times as well as difficult ones. Now, what a thrill it is for us to see the branch office that was completed in Lilongwe in the year 2000, as well as the construction of over 1,000 new Kingdom Halls all throughout Malawi! These blessings from Jehovah are so enriching spiritually that to Lidasi and me, it almost seems like a dream!*
Brothers who have minor children at home are no longer invited to serve in the circuit work.
For the details of the persecution in Malawi, see the 1999 Yearbook of Jehovah’s Witnesses, pages 171-223.
While this article was being prepared for publication, Brother Nsomba fell asleep in death at the age of 83.