Faithful to God for Over 70 Years
As told by Josephine Elias
“Do not worry,” my husband whispered through the prison bars. “Whether they kill me or set me free, I will remain faithful to Jehovah.” I too was determined to stay faithful. Today I still feel the same way.
I WAS born in 1916 in Sukabumi, a small city in the highlands of West Java, Indonesia. My parents were wealthy Chinese who lived in a large house with servants. I had five brothers, three older and two younger. I was the only girl, and I became quite a tomboy. I clambered over rooftops and enjoyed sports. Yet, there was a matter that caused me great concern.
I dreaded the prospect of burning in hell. Naughty girls were sent to hell, my schoolteachers said. And because I was naughty, I felt I would end up there. Later, while attending high school in Jakarta (then called Batavia), I became ill. The doctor thought I would die, so the landlady tried to comfort me by saying that I would soon be in heaven. I feared, however, that I was destined for hell.
My mother, Kang Nio, and my older brother Dodo rushed to Jakarta to get me. On our way home, Dodo asked, “Did you know that the Bible does not teach hellfire?”
“How do you know?” I asked. Mother read scriptures from the Bible showing that the dead are unconscious and are awaiting a resurrection. (Ecclesiastes 9:5, 10; John 5:28, 29) “We learned these things from Jehovah’s Witnesses,” they explained. They handed me a small booklet entitled Where Are the Dead? which I started reading immediately.* Before arriving home, I declared, “This is the truth!”
Voicing My Faith
My family had by then moved to Bandung, a large city in West Java. There I slowly recovered from my illness. In March 1937, we were visited by Clem Deschamp, an Australian Witness serving in Jakarta. During his visit my mother, my older brothers—Felix, Dodo, and Peng—and I were baptized in symbol of our dedication to God. Later, my younger brothers, Hartanto and Jusak, and my father, Tan Gim Hok, also became Witnesses.#
When I was 15, the small booklet “Where Are the Dead?” convinced me of Bible truth
After we were baptized, we joined Clem in a special nine-day preaching campaign. He showed us how to preach using a testimony card that contained a simple Bible message in three languages. We also witnessed informally to relatives and friends. Soon our small group in Bandung became a congregation, the second in Indonesia.
Later that year our family moved to Jakarta to preach to its 80,000 Chinese inhabitants. Mother, Felix, and I took up the full-time Christian ministry as pioneers. I also preached in Bandung, Surabaya, and other places. For the most part, I preached alone. I was young, strong, and happy to be serving God. However, war clouds were looming on the horizon, and my faith would soon be tested.
War Brings Trials
In December 1941, Asia plunged into the chaos of World War II. The Imperial Japanese Army seized Indonesia in a viselike grip. Our Bible literature was banned, and we could not preach openly. I carried a chessboard when visiting interested people at their homes so that others would think I was merely playing chess.
In 1943, I married André, a fearless pioneer with a booming voice that commanded attention. Together we smuggled Bible literature to Witnesses throughout Java. Capture would have meant torture and death. We had many narrow escapes.
“I am a soldier for God’s Kingdom, and a soldier cannot serve in two armies at the same time”
Once while boarding a train at Sukabumi, André and I were confronted by the dreaded Kempeitai, the Japanese military police. I carried banned literature deep inside my bag. “What do you have in the bag?” demanded a policeman.
“Clothes,” André replied.
“And what is underneath the clothes?” he asked.
“More clothes,” said André.
“But what is at the bottom of the bag?” the policeman inquired. I held my breath and prayed silently to Jehovah. “You had better check for yourself,” André replied.
The policeman’s assistant thrust his hand deep into the bag. Suddenly, he screamed in pain and yanked his hand from the bag. He had been pricked by a pin. The embarrassed officer quickly ordered us to close the bag and board the train.
On another trip to Sukabumi, the Kempeitai identified me as a Witness and summoned me to their local headquarters. André and my brother Felix followed along with me. There André was interrogated first. Questions rained down on him like hammer blows. “Who are Jehovah’s Witnesses? Do you oppose the Japanese government? Are you a spy?”
“We are servants of Almighty God and have done nothing wrong,” replied André. The commanding officer grabbed a samurai sword from the wall and held it aloft.
“What if I kill you now?” he snarled. André placed his head on the office desk and silently prayed. After a long pause, laughter erupted. “You are brave!” said the officer. He then dismissed André and called Felix and me in. When our testimony agreed with André’s, the officer barked: “You are not spies. Get out of here!”
The three of us walked home, joyfully praising Jehovah. Little did we know that even more difficult trials lay immediately ahead.
More Tests of Faith
Several months later, André was denounced by “false brothers” and imprisoned by the Kempeitai. (2 Corinthians 11:26) I visited him in jail. He was thin and weak. He had survived by eating food scraps scavenged from the cell gutter. The jailers had not broken his integrity. As mentioned at the outset, he whispered through the prison bars: “Do not worry. Whether they kill me or set me free, I will remain faithful to Jehovah. They can carry me out as a corpse but not as a traitor.”
After six months in jail, André appeared before the Jakarta High Court. Our family and friends crowded the courtroom. The atmosphere was tense.
“Why won’t you join the Japanese army?” demanded the judge.
“I am a soldier for God’s Kingdom,” replied André, “and a soldier cannot serve in two armies at the same time.”
“Would you tell others not to join the army?” asked the judge.
“No,” said André, “it is for them to decide.”
André continued his defense, quoting extensively from the Bible. The judge, a devout Muslim, was impressed. “Our beliefs may differ, but I will not force a person to disobey his conscience,” said the judge. “You are free.”
A wave of relief swept through the courtroom, and my heart leaped. André came to me and held my hand. Family and friends gathered around us, excitedly offering their congratulations.
Preaching True Freedom
After World War II ended, a four-year revolution against Dutch colonial rule erupted in Indonesia. Thousands of people were killed, and the residents of entire villages fled from their homes. Patriots tried to force us to shout their war cry “Merdeka,” meaning “Freedom.” But we told them we were neutral in such political affairs.
“You can tear my heart from my body, but you can never make me change my religion”
Despite the violence, we resumed preaching from house to house. We used our old testimony cards and the literature that we had saved from before the war. In May 1948, when the violence eased, André and I began to pioneer again, becoming the only pioneers in Indonesia. Three years later we were thrilled to welcome 14 Witnesses to Jakarta, all of them graduates of the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead in upstate New York, in the United States. The training they gave us equipped us for further responsibilities.
In June 1952, André and I accepted a special pioneer assignment in Semarang, central Java. The next year we ourselves attended the 22nd class of Gilead. After graduation we returned to Indonesia and were assigned to Kupang, Timor. Later assignments took us to South Sulawesi and North Sulawesi. There we faced further tests of faith.
In 1965 a coup attempt led to the death of hundreds of thousands of people. Some of Christendom’s clergy took sides and claimed that Jehovah’s Witnesses were Communists. Fortunately, the authorities were not easily deceived. The clergy, however, refused to give up their slanderous attacks on the Witnesses. Finally, on December 25, 1976, Jehovah’s Witnesses were banned.
Soon after the ban was announced, the district attorney in Manado summoned André to his office. “Do you know that Jehovah’s Witnesses are banned?” he asked.
“Yes,” replied André.
“Are you now prepared to change your religion?” asked the official.
André leaned forward and dramatically beat his chest. “You can tear my heart from my body, but you can never make me change my religion,” he boomed.
Stunned, the attorney asked, “What should I type in my report?”
“Write that I am still one of Jehovah’s Witnesses and have done nothing wrong,” said André.
“I must confiscate your literature,” said the attorney.
With André in the 1970’s
That night young Witnesses removed the literature from our house, leaving empty boxes behind. We continued to preach, using the Bible. As for the district attorney, he never bothered us again.
A Wonderful Life!
André and I later pioneered in Surabaya, on the island of Java, and on Bangka, an island off southeast Sumatra. In 1982, however, poor health forced us to return to Jakarta. Here, in 2000, André died at the age of 85, a zealous pioneer to the end. The year after his death, the ban was lifted.
What a wonderful life I have had! Today I am 93, and I have spent more than 70 years in the pioneer ministry. In 1937, when I was baptized, there were only 25 of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Indonesia. Today, there are nearly 22,000. How I rejoice to have shared in that growth! But my journey has just begun. I want to serve God faithfully forever.
* Published by Jehovah’s Witnesses but now out of print.
# The whole family stayed faithful to Jehovah. Josephine and Jusak, the sole surviving members, still serve Jehovah zealously in Jakarta.