IN 1991, Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia were overjoyed when a long-standing ban on their activities was lifted and they gained official recognition. At that time, few could have imagined that the number of Witnesses there would increase tenfold to some 170,000 today! Among these hardworking Kingdom preachers are Witnesses from abroad who moved to Russia to help in the spiritual harvest. (Matt. 9:37, 38) Let us meet some of them.
WILLING BROTHERS HELP TO STRENGTHEN THE CONGREGATIONS
The year that the ban was lifted in Russia, Matthew from Great Britain was 28 years old. During a convention that year, a talk highlighted that help was needed in the congregations in Eastern Europe. As an example, the speaker mentioned a congregation in St. Petersburg, Russia, that had only one ministerial servant and no elders. Still, the publishers were conducting several hundred Bible studies! “After that talk,” says Matthew, “I couldn’t stop thinking about Russia, so I prayed to Jehovah specifically about my desire to move there.” He saved some money, sold most of his possessions, and moved to Russia in 1992. How did things turn out for him?
“The language was a challenge,” relates Matthew. “I was unable to have good spiritual discussions.” Another challenge was that of finding lodging. “I lost count of the number of times I had to move from one apartment to another on short notice.” Despite those initial obstacles, Matthew says: “Moving to Russia was the best decision I ever made.” He explains: “By serving here I learned to rely much more on Jehovah and experienced his direction in many ways.” Matthew was later appointed an elder and a special pioneer and now serves at the branch office near St. Petersburg.
In 1999, Hiroo graduated at age 25 from the Ministerial Training School in Japan, and one of the instructors encouraged him to serve in a foreign field. Hiroo had heard of the great need in Russia and began learning Russian. He also took another practical step. “I went to Russia for six months,” he relates. “Since winters there are severe, I went in November to find out if I could handle the cold.” After getting through that winter, he returned to Japan where he lived a very simple life in order to save enough money to return to Russia
Hiroo has now lived in Russia for 12 years and has served in several congregations. At times, he was the only elder caring for over 100 publishers. In one congregation, each week he handled most of the Service Meeting parts, he conducted the Theocratic Ministry School, the Watchtower Study, and five different Congregation Book Studies. He also made many shepherding visits. Looking back on those years, Hiroo says: “It was a great joy to be able to help the brothers and sisters become stronger spiritually.” How did serving where the need is greater affect him? He says: “Before I went to Russia, I served as an elder and a pioneer, but I feel as if I have developed a completely new relationship with Jehovah after I came here. I have learned to trust in Jehovah more in all aspects of my life.” In 2005, Hiroo married Svetlana, and together they continue to serve as pioneers.
Matthew, aged 34, and his brother Michael, aged 28, are from Canada. Both visited Russia and were amazed to see how many interested ones attended the meetings but how few brothers were available to conduct them. Says Matthew: “The congregation that I visited had 200 in attendance, but the meetings were all conducted by one elder of advanced age and one young ministerial servant. Seeing that situation made me want to move there to assist those brothers.” He moved to Russia in 2002.
Four years later, Michael moved to Russia and quickly found out that the need for brothers was still great. As a ministerial servant, he was assigned to care for the accounts, literature, and territory. He was also asked to do the work normally performed by the congregation secretary, to give public talks, and to help organize assemblies and construct Kingdom Halls. In fact, even today, much help is still needed in the congregations. Though taking care of numerous assignments is hard work, Michael, now serving as an elder, says: “Assisting the brothers gives me much satisfaction. It’s the best way to spend my life!”
Meanwhile, Matthew married Marina, and Michael married Olga. The two couples, along with many other willing workers, continue to assist the growing congregations.
ZEALOUS SISTERS HELP IN THE HARVEST
In 1994, when Tatyana was 16 years of age, six special pioneers from the Czech Republic, Poland, and Slovakia began serving in her congregation in Ukraine. She remembers them fondly, saying: “These were zealous pioneers who were accessible and kind, and they knew the Bible well.” She saw how Jehovah blessed their self-sacrificing spirit, and she thought, ‘I want to be like them.’
Encouraged by the pioneers’ example, Tatyana used her school vacations to travel with others to remote territories in Ukraine and Belarus where no Witnesses had preached before. She enjoyed those preaching trips so much that she made plans to expand her ministry by moving to Russia. First, she went there for a short stay to visit a sister who had moved there from abroad and to search for work that would support her pioneering. Later, in 2000, she moved to Russia. Was the change difficult?
Tatyana relates: “Since I could not afford my own apartment, I had to rent a room in the home of others. That was not an easy living arrangement. There were moments when I wanted to return home. But Jehovah always helped me to see that I would benefit from continuing my service.” Today, Tatyana serves as a missionary in Russia. She concludes: “All the years I spent away from my home country have given me priceless experiences and many friends. Most of all, these years have strengthened my faith.”
Masako from Japan, now in her early 50’s, had a lifelong desire to serve as a missionary, but health problems made it seem impossible for her to do so. Still, when her health improved somewhat, she decided to move to Russia to help with the harvest work. Though it was hard to find suitable accommodations and stable work, she managed to support her pioneering by teaching Japanese and doing cleaning work. What has helped her to continue in her ministry?
Looking back over 14 years of service in Russia, Masako says: “The joy I find in the ministry compensates for any hardships I encounter. Preaching in areas where there is a great need for Kingdom publishers makes for a dynamic and exciting life.” She adds: “To me, it has been a modern-day miracle to experience firsthand how Jehovah through the years provided me with food, clothing, and shelter.” Besides serving where the need is greater in Russia, Masako has also shared in the harvest work in Kyrgyzstan. In addition, she has been able to assist English-, Chinese-, and Uighur-language groups. Currently, she serves as a pioneer in St. Petersburg.
FAMILIES GIVE SUPPORT AND RECEIVE BLESSINGS
Because of economic insecurity, families often move to other countries to improve their material circumstances. But like Abraham and Sarah of old, some families move abroad to pursue spiritual goals. (Gen. 12:1-9) Consider Mikhail and Inga, a married couple from Ukraine who moved to Russia in 2003. They soon found people who were looking for Bible truth.
Relates Mikhail: “One time we preached in an area where no Witnesses had preached before. An elderly man opened the door and asked, ‘Are you preachers?’ When we said yes, he said: ‘I knew you would come someday. It’s not possible that Jesus’ words could go unfulfilled.’ Then the man quoted Matthew 24:14.” Mikhail adds: “In that area, we also found a group of about ten Baptist women, sincere people thirsting for the truth. They had the Live Forever book, and every weekend they used it to study the Bible. For many hours we answered their questions and sang Kingdom songs with them, and we had dinner together. That visit is one of the nicest memories I have.” Mikhail and Inga agree that serving in areas where there is a great need for Kingdom publishers has drawn them closer to Jehovah, deepened their love for people, and blessed them with a richly satisfying life. Today, they serve in the circuit work.
In 2007, Yury and Oksana, a married couple from Ukraine, now in their mid-30’s, and their son Aleksey, now aged 13, visited the branch office in Russia. There they saw a map of Russia with large areas of unassigned territory. “After seeing that map,” says Oksana, “we realized more than ever that there is a great need for Kingdom preachers. It helped us to make up our minds to move to Russia.” What helped them further? Yury says: “Reading such articles in our publications as ‘Can You Serve in a Foreign Field?’ was helpful.* We visited the area in Russia that the branch had suggested as a location for us to move to and looked for housing and employment.” In 2008, they moved to Russia.
Initially, finding work proved hard, and several times they had to move from one apartment to another. Says Yury: “We often prayed that we not get discouraged, and then we continued in the preaching work, trusting in Jehovah for support. We experienced how Jehovah cares for us when we put his Kingdom interests first. This service strengthened our family.” (Matt. 6:22, 33) And how has serving where the need is greater affected young Aleksey? “It has done him much good,” says Oksana. “He dedicated himself to Jehovah and got baptized at age nine. Seeing the great need for Kingdom preachers moves him to serve as an auxiliary pioneer during each school vacation. We feel great joy as we see his love and zeal for the ministry.” Today, Yury and Oksana serve as special pioneers.
“MY ONLY REGRET”
As the expressions of these harvest workers make clear, moving to other locations to expand your ministry requires that you place full trust in Jehovah. Indeed, those serving where the need is greater encounter challenges in their new territory, but they also experience the deep joy that comes from sharing the good news with people who are responsive to the Kingdom message. Would you be able to help gather the harvest in an area where there is still a great need for Kingdom publishers? If you decide to do so, you may soon feel like Yury, who said about his decision to serve where the need is greater: “My only regret is that I did not do it earlier.”
See The Watchtower, October 15, 1999, pages 23-27.