MY WIFE, Danièle, and I had just checked in at the hotel when the receptionist said to me, “Sir, can you please call the border police?” A few hours earlier, we had arrived in Gabon, a West African country, where our work was under ban in the 1970’s.
With her usual quickness of mind, Danièle whispered in my ear, “Do not bother to call the police, they are already here!” Just behind us, a vehicle pulled up in front of the hotel. A few minutes later, we were both arrested by soldiers. But thanks to Danièle’s warning, I had time to entrust some documents to another brother.
As we were escorted to the police station, I reflected on how fortunate I was to have such a bold and spiritual wife. This was just one of the many occasions when Danièle and I worked as a team. Let me explain what led us to visit countries where our preaching activity was under restrictions.
JEHOVAH KINDLY OPENED MY EYES
I was born into a very Catholic family in 1930, in Croix, a small town in northern France. Our family attended Mass every week, and my father was quite involved in the parish. However, when I was nearly 14 years old, an event opened my eyes to the hypocrisy of the church.
France was occupied by the German army during the second world war. In his sermons, our priest regularly encouraged us to support the pro-Nazi government of Vichy. We were horrified by his speeches. Like many in France, we secretly listened to the BBC radio, which broadcast news from the Allied forces. Then the priest did an about-face and arranged for a thanksgiving service to celebrate the advance of the Allies in September 1944. I was shocked by this. It undermined my trust in the clergy.
Shortly after the war, my father passed away. My older sister was already married and living in Belgium, so I felt responsible for my mother. I got a job in the textile industry. My boss and his sons were devout Catholics. Though I had a bright future in their company, I would soon face a test.
My sister Simone, who had become a Witness, came to visit us in 1953. Using her Bible, she skillfully exposed the false teachings of the Catholic Church on hellfire, the Trinity, and the immortality of the soul. At first, I argued that she was not using the Catholic Bible, but I was soon convinced that she was telling me the truth. She later brought me old issues of The Watchtower, which I devoured in my bedroom at night. I quickly recognized the clear ring of truth; yet, I was afraid that taking a stand for Jehovah would cost me my job.
For a few months, I kept studying the Bible and the Watchtower articles on my own. I eventually decided to go to a Kingdom Hall. The loving atmosphere in the congregation really touched me. After studying the Bible with an experienced brother for six months, I got baptized in September 1954. Soon I had the joy of seeing my mother and younger sister become Witnesses.
RELYING ON JEHOVAH IN THE FULL-TIME SERVICE
Sadly, my mother died a few weeks before the 1958 international convention in New York, which I had the privilege of attending. On my return, I was without family responsibilities, so I quit my secular job and started to pioneer. In the meantime, I got engaged to a zealous pioneer sister, Danièle Delie, who became my dear wife in May 1959.
Danièle had begun her full-time service in rural Brittany, far away from her home. She needed courage to preach in that Catholic region and to travel by bicycle to rural territories. Like me, she was moved by a deep sense of urgency; we did not know how close the end might be. (Matt. 25:13) Her self-sacrificing spirit helped us to persevere in the full-time ministry.
We were assigned to the circuit work a few days after we got married. We adapted to rather simple living conditions. The first congregation we visited was made up of 14 publishers, and the brothers had little means to host us. So we slept on mattresses on the platform of the Kingdom Hall. It was not really comfortable or ideal, but it was excellent for the spine!
Despite our busy schedule, Danièle adjusted well to the traveling work. She often had to wait for me in our small car after an unscheduled elders’ meeting, but she never complained. We spent only two years in the circuit work, during which we learned how important it is for a married couple to communicate honestly and to work as a team.—Eccl. 4:9.
ENJOYING NEW SERVICE ASSIGNMENTS
In 1962 we were invited to the ten-month course of the 37th class of Gilead School, in Brooklyn, New York. Out of 100 students, there were 13 couples, so we felt privileged to be able to attend together. I still have fond memories of our association with such pillars of faith as Frederick Franz, Ulysses Glass, and Alexander H. Macmillan.
During our training, we were urged to develop our powers of observation. On some Saturday afternoons when class was over, our training included some sightseeing in New York City. We knew that on Monday we would have a written review about what we had seen. We often came back worn out on Saturday evening, but our tour guide, a Bethel volunteer, would ask us review questions to help us remember key points for the written test. One Saturday we walked around all afternoon in the city. We visited an observatory where we learned about meteors and meteorites. At the American Museum of Natural History, we learned the difference between an alligator and a crocodile. Back at Bethel, our tour guide asked us, “So, what is the difference between a meteor and a meteorite?” Danièle was tired and answered, “Well, meteorites have longer teeth!”
Much to our surprise, we were assigned to the France branch, where we served together for over 53 years. In 1976, I was appointed Branch Committee coordinator and was also assigned to visit countries in Africa and the Middle East where our preaching activity was under ban or restrictions. This led us to travel to Gabon, where we had the experience mentioned at the outset. To be honest, I did not always feel up to handling these unexpected responsibilities. But Danièle was of invaluable help in tackling almost any assignment.
FACING A SEVERE ORDEAL TOGETHER
Right from the beginning, we loved our life at Bethel. Danièle, who had learned English within five months before attending Gilead, became a skilled translator of our publications. We found much satisfaction in our Bethel work, but our involvement in congregation life doubled our joy. I fondly remember taking the Paris metro with Danièle late at night, tired but so happy that we had conducted progressive Bible studies together. Sadly, though, a sudden change in Danièle’s health prevented her from being as active as she wanted to be.
In 1993 she was diagnosed with breast cancer. The treatment proved to be very harsh, involving surgery and aggressive chemotherapy. Fifteen years later, she was once again diagnosed with cancer, a more invasive one. However, she cherished her assignment as a translator so much that she managed to resume her work when her condition stabilized.
Despite Danièle’s cruel illness, leaving Bethel never crossed our minds. Still, being sick at Bethel brings its own challenges, especially if others are unaware of how serious the condition is. (Prov. 14:13) Even when Danièle was in her late 70’s, her sweet face and natural elegance did not reflect her physical condition. She did not feel sorry for herself. Rather, she focused on helping others. She knew that a listening ear can greatly help sufferers. (Prov. 17:17) Danièle never claimed to be a counselor; yet, she used her experience to help many sisters not to fear cancer.
We also had the challenge of facing new limitations. When Danièle was no longer able to work full-time, she made it a point to support me in more ways. She did a lot to make my life easier, which allowed me to keep serving as Branch Committee coordinator for 37 years. For example, she used to prepare everything so that we could have our noon meal in our room and relax a bit together every day.—Prov. 18:22.
COPING DAILY WITH ANXIETY
Danièle was always remarkably optimistic and desirous of living. Then she developed cancer for the third time. We felt powerless. Sessions of chemotherapy and radiotherapy took such a toll on her strength that at times she could barely walk. I felt cut to the heart when my dear wife, who was a skillful translator, struggled to find her words.
Though we felt rather lost, we persevered in prayer, convinced that Jehovah would never allow us to suffer beyond what we could bear. (1 Cor. 10:13) We always tried to remain appreciative of the help Jehovah provided through his Word, the Bethel medical staff, and the loving support of our spiritual family.
We often asked Jehovah for his guidance as to which treatment we should accept. At one point, we were without any treatment. The doctor who had assisted Danièle for 23 years could not explain why she was losing consciousness after each chemotherapy session. He could not suggest any alternative. We felt that we were on our own and wondered how things would turn out. Then a different oncologist agreed to take care of Danièle. It was as if Jehovah had made the way out to help us deal with our anxieties.
We learned to cope with anxiety by taking one day at a time. As Jesus said, “each day has enough of its own troubles.” (Matt. 6:34) A positive outlook and a sense of humor also helped. For example, when Danièle found herself without chemotherapy for two months, she said to me with her mischievous smile, “You know, I’ve never felt better!” (Prov. 17:22) Despite her suffering, she took pleasure in rehearsing the new Kingdom songs aloud with a confident voice.
Her positive disposition helped me to cope with my own limitations. To be honest, in the 57 years we were married, she took care of my various needs. She did not even want to show me how to fry eggs! So when she became seriously limited, I had to learn how to do the dishes and the laundry as well as how to prepare simple meals. I have broken a few drinking glasses along the way, but I found a lot of joy in doing things to please her.*
GRATEFUL FOR JEHOVAH’S LOVING KINDNESS
Looking back, I can see that I have learned useful lessons from the limitations imposed on us by health problems and advancing age. First, we should never be too busy to cherish our beloved mate. We must make the best use of the years when we have full vigor to take care of our loved ones. (Eccl. 9:9) Second, we should not worry too much about minor things; otherwise, we may overlook the many blessings we do enjoy every day.—Prov. 15:15.
When I reflect on our life in the full-time service, I have the undeniable feeling that we were blessed by Jehovah beyond what we could have imagined. I share the feelings expressed by the psalmist who said: “Jehovah has dealt kindly with me.”—Ps. 116:7.
Sister Danièle Bockaert died while this article was being prepared. She was 78.