I WAS born in March 1930, in the village of Namkumba, Malawi, into a family who were faithful servants of God. In 1942, I dedicated my life to Jehovah and was baptized in one of our beautiful rivers. For the past 70 years, I have tried to do just as the apostle Paul encouraged Timothy, to “preach the word; be at it urgently in favorable times and difficult times.”—2 Timothy 4:2.
In 1948, Nathan H. Knorr and Milton G. Henschel came to Malawi, and their visit encouraged me to serve Jehovah full-time. Later, I met Lidasi, a lovely sister who, like me, had the goal of serving Jehovah full-time. In 1950 we got married, and by 1953 we had two children. Even though we had many family responsibilities, we decided that I would begin regular pioneering. Two years later, I was invited to serve as a special pioneer.
Soon after that, I had the privilege of visiting congregations as a circuit overseer. Because Lidasi was very supportive, I was able to care for all the needs of our family and remain in the full-time service.a (See footnote.) Still, we both wanted to serve Jehovah full-time. So we planned carefully, and with our children’s cooperation, Lidasi was able to begin the full-time service in 1960.
In 1962 we enjoyed the “Courageous Ministers” District Assembly. And one year later, Brother Henschel visited Malawi for the special convention near the city of Blantyre. More than 10,000 attended that convention. When I think about those special programs, I realize how they prepared and strengthened all of us in Malawi for the difficult times that were soon to come.
DIFFICULT TIMES ARRIVE
In 1964 the Witnesses were persecuted because they refused to participate in political activities. As a result, more than 100 Kingdom Halls and over 1,000 homes of brothers were destroyed. Lidasi and I continued in the circuit work until the government banned the Witnesses in 1967. The government took control of the branch property, forced the missionaries to leave the country, and put many Witnesses in jail, including Lidasi and me. When we were released from prison, we discreetly continued in the circuit work.
One day in October 1972, members of an extreme political group called 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 some banana trees nearby. Then I went and climbed a large mango tree. From there, I watched as they destroyed our house and everything we owned.
As the persecution increased, thousands of Witnesses left Malawi. We stayed in a refugee camp in Mozambique until June 1974. At that time, Lidasi and I were asked to serve as special pioneers in Dómue, Mozambique. We continued to pioneer until 1975 when we were forced to leave Mozambique and return to Malawi, where the Witnesses were still being persecuted.
After returning, I was assigned to visit congregations in the capital city, Lilongwe. Despite the persecution and all the difficulties, the number of congregations increased in the circuits where we served.
JEHOVAH’S LOVING SUPPORT
One day, we came to a village where there was a political meeting going on. Some of the people found out that we were Witnesses and made us sit with a political group called the Malawi Young Pioneers. We begged Jehovah for help and direction. When the meeting was over, they started to beat us. Suddenly, an older woman came running and yelled: “Leave them alone, please! This man is my brother’s son. Let him go on his journey!” The person in charge of the meeting said: “Let them go!” We do not know why the woman said what she did, because she was not our relative. We believe that Jehovah must have heard our prayer.
In 1981 the Malawi Young Pioneers found us again. This time they took our bicycles, luggage, and books, as well as important papers about the brothers in the circuit. We escaped and ran to the home of an elder. However, we were concerned about the information that was in the papers. When the Malawi Young Pioneers looked at the papers, they found letters that brothers had sent to me from all over Malawi. This terrified them because they thought that I was an important government official. So they immediately returned all the papers to the local elders.
Another time, we were crossing the river in a boat. The owner of the boat was a political leader, and he wanted to see the political party cards of everyone on the boat. As he was getting close to us, he discovered a thief whom the police had been looking for. This distracted everyone, and the owner stopped checking for party cards. Again we felt Jehovah’s loving support.
ARRESTED AND PUT IN PRISON
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 tied me with ropes and put me in a room with prisoners who were thieves.
The next day, the police chief took me to another room and wanted me to sign a paper that said: “I, Trophim R. Nsomba, have stopped being a Jehovah’s Witness so that I can be set free.” I refused to sign the paper and told him: “I am ready not only to be bound but also to die. I am still a Witness of Jehovah.” This made the chief angry, and he hit his desk so hard that a policeman in the next room ran over 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 wife did not know where I was. Four days later, some brothers were finally able to tell her what happened.
At the Lilongwe police station, the policemen treated me 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 stayed for five months.
The warden of that prison was happy that I came because 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 each week I taught the Bible at meetings for the prisoners.
Later, things got worse for me. Prison officials questioned me because they wanted to know how many Witnesses there were in Malawi. I did not give them an answer they liked, so they beat me until I passed out. Another time, they wanted to know where our headquarters was. I said, “You have asked a simple question, and I will tell you.” I told them that our headquarters is described in the Bible. They were surprised and asked, “Where in the Bible?”
“At Isaiah 43:12,” I said. They looked it up and read it carefully: “‘You are my witnesses,’ declares Jehovah, ‘and I am God.’” They read that scripture 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.” Because I would not tell them what they wanted to hear, I was sent to Dzaleka Prison, north of Lilongwe.
BLESSINGS EVEN IN DIFFICULT TIMES
When I arrived at Dzaleka Prison in July 1984, 81 Witnesses were already there. The prison was so crowded that 300 prisoners had to sleep on the floor shoulder to shoulder. Eventually, all the Witnesses were able to meet in small groups to discuss a scripture each day, and that encouraged us very much.
In October 1984, all of us went to court and were sentenced to two years in prison. As before, we were put in a prison with non-Witnesses. But the prison warden told everyone: “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.”
There were more benefits because of our good conduct. When it was dark or rainy, the guards did not allow prisoners to go outside. But they allowed us to leave the building because they trusted us and knew that we would not try to escape. For example, one time we were working outside in the fields and a guard got sick. So we carried him back to the prison. Because we continued to have good conduct, we were able to see Jehovah’s name praised by the men who guarded us.—1 Peter 2:12.b (See footnote.)
A FAVORABLE TIME IS HERE AGAIN
On May 11, 1985, I was released from Dzaleka Prison and was happy to be back with my family! We thank Jehovah for helping us to keep our integrity to him during those difficult times. We feel as the apostle Paul did 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 Corinthians 1:8-10.
At times it seemed that we would not survive. But we always asked Jehovah to give us courage, wisdom, and humility so that we could continue to bring glory to his great name.
Jehovah has blessed our service to him during “favorable times and difficult times.” Today, we are thrilled to see a beautiful new branch office in Lilongwe and over 1,000 new Kingdom Halls in Malawi! These blessings from Jehovah are so amazing to Lidasi and me that they almost seem like a dream!c—See footnote.
a Brothers who have young children at home are no longer invited to serve in the circuit work.
b For more information about the persecution in Malawi, see the 1999 Yearbook of Jehovah’s Witnesses, pages 171-223.
c During the preparation of this article, Brother Nsomba died at the age of 83.