I got baptized in 1941, when I was 12 years old. But it wasn’t until 1946 that I really understood Bible truth. Why is that? Let me tell you my story.
ABOUT the year 1910, my parents moved from Tbilisi, Georgia, to Canada. They lived in a small farmhouse near Pelly, Saskatchewan, in western Canada. I was born in 1928, and I was the youngest of six children. My father died six months before I was born, and my mother died while I was still an infant. Shortly after that, my oldest sister, Lucy, died at the age of 17. So my uncle Nick took care of me and my siblings.
One day when I was a toddler, my family saw me pulling the tail of one of our horses. They were terrified that the horse might kick me, so they screamed at me to stop. However, my back was turned toward them, and I did not hear their screams. Happily, I did not get hurt. But that was the day my family discovered that I was deaf.
A family friend said that it might be better for me to go to school with other deaf children. So Uncle Nick sent me to a school for the deaf in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. This school was far away from my family, and because I was only five years old, I was terrified. I could visit my family only on holidays and during the summer. Eventually, I learned sign language and had fun playing with the other children.
LEARNING BIBLE TRUTH
In 1939, my older sister Marion married Bill Danylchuck, and they began to care for me and my sister Frances. They were the first in my family to start studying with Jehovah’s Witnesses. During my summer vacations, they tried as best they could to share with me what they were learning from the Bible. It was not easy for us to communicate because they did not know sign language. But they could still see that I really loved what I was learning about Jehovah. I understood that what they were doing must be connected to what the Bible says, so I went along with them as they preached. Soon after that I wanted to get baptized, and on September 5, 1941, Bill baptized me in a steel container filled with water from a well. The water was very, very cold!
In 1946, when I returned home for the summer, we attended a convention in Cleveland, Ohio, U.S.A. On the first day, my sisters wrote notes for me so that I could follow the program. But on the second day, I was thrilled to learn that there was a deaf group with a sign-language interpreter at the convention. Finally, I could enjoy the program, and it was wonderful at last to understand clearly what the Bible teaches!
TEACHING THE TRUTH
At that time, World War II had just ended, and people wanted to show that they were loyal to their country. But as I returned from the convention and went back to school, I was determined to remain faithful to Jehovah. So I stopped participating in the flag salute, in the national anthem, and in holiday celebrations. I also stopped going to church with the rest of my schoolmates. The school staff were not happy, and they tried to bully me and told me lies to make me change my mind. My schoolmates noticed what was happening, and because of this, I had many opportunities to witness to them. Some of my schoolmates, including Larry Androsoff, Norman Dittrick, and Emil Schneider, eventually accepted the truth, and they are still serving Jehovah.
When I visited other cities, I always made a special effort to witness to the deaf. For example, in Montreal, I went to a place where deaf people in the community gathered. There, I witnessed to Eddie Tager, a young man who was a gang member. Until his death last year, he was in the sign-language congregation in Laval, Quebec. I also met young Juan Ardanez. Like the ancient Beroeans, he did research to make sure that what he was learning was based on the Bible. (Acts 17:10, 11) He too came in the truth, and he served as an elder in Ottawa, Ontario, until he died.
In 1950, I moved to Vancouver. Although I love to preach to the deaf, I will never forget an experience I had with a hearing woman named Chris Spicer, whom I witnessed to on the street. She accepted a magazine subscription and wanted me to meet her husband, Gary. I visited their home, and we had a long conversation by writing notes back and forth. We did not see one another after that until a few years later when, to my surprise, they came to greet me at a convention in Toronto, Ontario. Gary was getting baptized that very day. That experience reminded me of how important it is to keep preaching, because we never know if someone we witness to will eventually come into the truth.
Later, I moved back to Saskatoon. There I met a woman who asked me to study the Bible with her deaf twin daughters, Jean and Joan Rothenberger. They were students at the same school for the deaf that I had attended. Soon, the two girls were telling their classmates about what they were learning. Eventually, five from their class became Jehovah’s Witnesses. One was Eunice Colin. I had first met Eunice in my last year at the school for the deaf. At that time, she gave me a piece of candy and asked if we could be friends. Later, she became a very important part of my life. She became my wife!
When Eunice’s mother found out that she was studying the Bible, she asked the school principal to convince Eunice to stop. Although he tried and even took away her study materials, Eunice was determined to remain faithful to Jehovah. When she wanted to get baptized, her parents told her, “Become one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, and you will have to leave our home!” So when she was 17 years old, Eunice left home and moved in with a Witness family. She continued her study and later got baptized. When we got married in 1960, her parents did not come to our wedding. However, as the years passed, their respect for us grew because of our beliefs and the way we raised our children.
JEHOVAH HAS CARED FOR ME
As deaf parents, it was challenging to raise seven hearing boys. But we made sure that they knew sign language so that we could communicate well and teach them the truth. Brothers and sisters in the congregation helped us a lot. For example, a parent wrote us a note to tell us that one of our boys was saying bad words in the Kingdom Hall. We were able to take care of the matter right away. Four of my sons—James, Jerry, Nicholas, and Steven—are elders and serve Jehovah faithfully with their wives and families. Also, Nicholas and his wife, Deborah, help with sign-language translation in the Britain branch, and Steven and his wife, Shannan, are part of the sign-language translation team in the United States branch.
My sons James, Jerry, and Steven and their wives support the preaching work in sign language in various ways
Sadly, a month before our 40th wedding anniversary, Eunice died from cancer. Throughout that difficult time, her faith in the resurrection kept her strong. I look forward to the day when I will see her again.
In February of 2012, I fell and broke my hip. I realized that I would need help, so I moved in with one of my sons and his wife. We are now part of the Calgary Sign-Language Congregation, where I continue to serve as an elder. Actually, this is the very first time that I have been part of a sign-language congregation! So how did I keep my relationship with Jehovah strong all those years that I was in an English congregation? Jehovah helped me. He kept his promise to care for fatherless children. (Psalm 10:14) I am thankful to all those who were willing to write notes, learn sign language, and help interpret for me as best they could.
There were times when I could not understand what was being said or when I felt that no one understood how to help the deaf. At times like those, when I felt frustrated and wanted to give up, I would think of Peter’s words to Jesus: “Lord, whom shall we go away to? You have sayings of everlasting life.” (John 6:66-68) Like many other deaf brothers and sisters who have been in the truth for a long time, I have learned to be patient. I have learned to trust in Jehovah and his organization, and this has resulted in many benefits. Now there are plenty of our publications in my own language, and I am happy that I can attend meetings and conventions in American Sign Language. Truly, I have had a happy and rewarding life serving Jehovah, our great God.