AS TOLD BY MARCEL FILTEAU
“If you marry him, you are bound to go to jail.” That is what people said to the woman I was planning to marry. Let me explain why they would say such a thing.
WHEN I was born in 1927, the Canadian province of Quebec was a stronghold of Catholicism. About four years later, Cécile Dufour, a full-time minister of Jehovah’s Witnesses, began calling at our home in the city of Montreal. For this, she was often threatened by our neighbors. In fact, she was arrested and ill-treated many times for preaching the Bible’s message. So we soon learned the truth of Jesus’ words: “You will be objects of hatred by all the nations on account of my name.”—Matthew 24:9.
At the time, many considered it unthinkable for a French-Canadian family to leave their Catholic religion. Though my parents never became baptized Witnesses, they soon concluded that the teachings of the Catholic Church were not in harmony with the Bible. So they encouraged their eight children to read literature published by the Witnesses, and they supported those of us who took a stand for Bible truth.
Taking a Stand in Difficult Times
In 1942, while I was still in school, I began to take a real interest in Bible study. The activities of Jehovah’s Witnesses were then banned in Canada because they followed the example of early Christians and did not become involved in the wars of the nations. (Isaiah 2:4; Matthew 26:52) My oldest brother, Roland, was put in a labor camp because of his refusal to take up arms during the world war then raging.
About this time, Father gave me a book in French that described the sufferings of the German Witnesses for their refusal to support the military campaigns of Adolph Hitler.* I was motivated to identify myself with such courageous examples of integrity, and I started attending the meetings of Jehovah’s Witnesses held in a private home. Soon I was invited to share in the preaching work. I accepted the invitation with full realization that I might be arrested and imprisoned.
After praying for strength, I knocked on my first door. A kind lady answered, and after introducing myself, I read to her the words of 2 Timothy 3:16: “All Scripture is inspired of God and beneficial.”
“Would you be interested in learning more about the Bible?” I asked.
So I told her that I would bring a friend who knew the Bible better than I did, which I did the following week. After that first experience, I felt more confident, and I learned that we do not carry on the ministry in our own strength. As the apostle Paul said, we do so with Jehovah’s help. Indeed, it is vital that we recognize that “the power beyond what is normal [is] God’s and not that out of ourselves.”—2 Corinthians 4:7.
Thereafter, the preaching work became a regular part of my life and so did arrests and imprisonment. No wonder that my prospective bride was told, “If you marry him, you are bound to go to jail”! Yet, such experiences were not really that hard. After spending a night in jail, a fellow Witness usually bailed us out.
In April 1943, I dedicated myself to Jehovah and symbolized it by water baptism. Then, in August 1944, I attended my first big convention, in Buffalo, New York, U.S.A., just across the Canadian border. There were 25,000 in attendance, and the program stimulated my desire to be a pioneer, as full-time ministers of Jehovah’s Witnesses are called. The ban on the work of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Canada was removed in May 1945, and I started pioneering the following month.
As my share in the ministry increased, however, so did my visits to prison. Once I was put in a cell with Mike Miller, a faithful, longtime servant of Jehovah. We sat on the cement floor and talked. Our upbuilding spiritual conversation strengthened me immensely. Afterward, though, the question crossed my mind, ‘What if a misunderstanding had existed between us and we were not on speaking terms?’ The time spent with this dear brother in jail taught me one of the most beautiful lessons of my life—we need our brothers and should therefore be forgiving and kind to one another. Otherwise, as the apostle Paul wrote: “If . . . you keep on biting and devouring one another, look out that you do not get annihilated by one another.”—Galatians 5:15.
In September 1945, I was invited to serve at the branch office of the Watch Tower Society in Toronto, Canada, which we call Bethel. The spiritual program there was indeed upbuilding and faith strengthening. The following year, I was assigned to work on the Bethel farm, some 25 miles [40 km] north of the branch office. As I picked strawberries with young Anne Wolynec, I noticed not only her physical beauty but also her love and zeal for Jehovah. A relationship developed, and we were married in January 1947.
For the next two and a half years, we pioneered in London, Ontario, and after that on Cape Breton Island, where we helped to form a congregation. Then, in 1949, we were invited to the 14th class of the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead, where we were trained to become missionaries.
Missionary Work in Quebec
Canadian graduates of previous classes of Gilead had been assigned to open up the preaching work in Quebec. In 1950, we along with 25 others from our 14th class joined them. The increased missionary activity brought on intensified persecution and mob violence, instigated by leaders of the Roman Catholic Church.
Two days after arriving in our first missionary assignment in the city of Rouyn, Anne was arrested and put in the back of a police car. This was a new experience for her, since she came from a small village in the province of Manitoba, Canada, where she seldom saw a policeman. Naturally, she felt frightened and recalled the words, “If you marry him, you are bound to go to jail.” However, before driving off, the police also found me and put me into the car with Anne. “Am I glad to see you!” she exclaimed. Yet, she was amazingly calm, noting, “Well, the same thing happened to the apostles for preaching about Jesus.” (Acts 4:1-3; 5:17, 18) Later that day we were released on bail.
About a year after that incident, while in the house-to-house ministry in our new assignment in Montreal, I heard a commotion down the street and saw an angry mob throwing stones. As I went to help Anne and her companion, the police arrived on the scene. Instead of arresting members of the mob, the police arrested Anne and her companion! While in prison, Anne reminded the new Witness that they were experiencing the reality of Jesus’ words: “You will be objects of hatred by all people on account of my name.”—Matthew 10:22.
At one time, some 1,700 cases against Jehovah’s Witnesses were pending trial in Quebec. Generally, we were charged with distributing seditious literature or with distributing literature without a license. As a result, the Watch Tower Society’s Legal Department took action against the government of Quebec. After many years of legal battle, Jehovah gave us two great victories before the Supreme Court of Canada. In December 1950, we were cleared of the charge that our literature was seditious, and in October 1953, our right to distribute Bible literature without a license was upheld. Thus we saw in a very visible way how Jehovah is indeed a place of “refuge and strength, a help that is readily to be found during distresses.”—Psalm 46:1.
Remarkably, the number of Witnesses in Quebec has increased from 356 in 1945, when I started pioneering, to over 24,000 today! It has indeed turned out just as the Bible prophecy foretold: “Any weapon whatever that will be formed against you will have no success, and any tongue at all that will rise up against you in the judgment you will condemn.”—Isaiah 54:17.
In September 1959, Anne and I were invited to serve at Bethel in Paris, France, where I was assigned to take the lead in printing. Up until the time of our arrival in January 1960, printing had been done by a commercial firm. Since The Watchtower was then banned in France, we printed the magazine each month in the form of a 64-page booklet. The booklet was called The Interior Bulletin of Jehovah’s Witnesses, and it contained the articles to be studied in the congregations for the month. From 1960 to 1967, the number of those sharing in the preaching work in France increased from 15,439 to 26,250.
Eventually, most missionaries were reassigned to other places, some to French-speaking countries in Africa and others back to Quebec. Since Anne was not well and needed an operation, we returned to Quebec. After three years of medical attention, Anne’s health was restored. I was then assigned to the circuit work, visiting a different congregation each week to provide spiritual encouragement.
Missionary Work in Africa
A few years later, in 1981, we were delighted to receive a new assignment as missionaries in Zaire, now Democratic Republic of Congo. The people were poor, and they suffered many hardships. When we arrived, there were 25,753 Witnesses, but today that number has increased to over 113,000, and 446,362 attended the Memorial of Christ’s death in 1999!
In 1984 we obtained from the government some 500 acres [200 ha] of land to build a new branch office. Then, in December 1985, an international convention was held in the capital city, Kinshasa, with 32,000 delegates attending from many parts of the world. After that, clergy-inspired opposition disrupted our work in Zaire. On March 12, 1986, the responsible brothers were handed a letter that declared the association of Jehovah’s Witnesses of Zaire illegal. This ban on all our activities was signed by the then president of the country, the late Mobutu Sese Seko.
Because of those sudden developments, we had to apply the Bible counsel: “Shrewd is the one that has seen the calamity and proceeds to conceal himself.” (Proverbs 22:3) We found ways to get paper, ink, film, printing plates, and chemicals from outside the country to print our publications in Kinshasa. We also developed our own distribution network. Once we were organized, our system worked better than the government postal service!
Thousands of Witnesses were arrested, and many were brutally tortured. Yet, with few exceptions, they stood up to such treatment and maintained their faithfulness. I too was arrested and saw the terrible conditions the brothers were subjected to in the jails. Many times we were pressed in every way by the secret police and the authorities, but Jehovah always made a way out for us.—2 Corinthians 4:8.
We had hidden about 3,000 cartons of literature in the warehouse of a businessman. Eventually, however, one of his workers informed the secret police, and they arrested the businessman. On their way to the prison, they by chance crossed paths with me in my car. The businessman informed them that I was the one who had made the arrangement with him to store the literature. The police stopped and questioned me about it, accusing me of putting illegal literature in this man’s warehouse.
“Do you have one of the books?” I asked.
“Of course, yes,” they answered.
They brought me a copy, and I showed them the inside page, which states: “Printed in the United States of America by the Watch Tower Bible & Tract Society.”
“What you have in your hands is American property and does not belong to Zaire,” I reminded them. “Your government has placed a ban on the legal corporation of the association of Jehovah’s Witnesses of Zaire and not on the Watch Tower Bible & Tract Society of the United States. So you should be very careful what you do with these publications.”
I was allowed to go because they had no court order to arrest me. That night, we took two trucks to the warehouse and emptied it of the literature. When the authorities came the following day, they were very upset to find the place empty. By then they were searching for me, since they now had a court order for my arrest. They found me, and because they had no car, I drove myself to prison! Another Witness accompanied me so that he could take my car away before they could lay claim to it.
After an eight-hour interrogation, they decided to deport me. But I showed them a photocopy of a letter from the government confirming my appointment to liquidate the assets of the now banned association of Jehovah’s Witnesses of Zaire. Thus I was allowed to continue my activity at Bethel.
After four years of serving under the pressures of the ban on the work in Zaire, I developed a bleeding stomach ulcer that was life threatening. It was decided that I should leave to get treatment in South Africa, where the branch took good care of me, and I recovered. After serving eight years in Zaire, which was truly a memorable and happy experience, we moved to the South Africa branch in 1989. In 1998 we returned to our homeland and have since then been serving again in Canada Bethel.
When I look back on my 54 years in the full-time ministry, I am so grateful that I used my youthful vigor in Jehovah’s precious service. Though Anne has had to endure many trying circumstances, she has not complained but has been very supportive in all our activities. Together, we have had the privilege of helping many to come to know Jehovah, a number of whom are now in the full-time ministry. It is such a joy to see some of their children and even their grandchildren serving our great God, Jehovah!
I am convinced that there is nothing this world can offer that can compare with the privileges and blessings that Jehovah has given us. True, we have endured many trials, but they have all served to build our faith and confidence in Jehovah. He has indeed proved to be a tower of strength, a place of refuge, and a help that is readily to be found during distresses.