One day in 1947, the missionary home in Santa Ana, El Salvador, was attacked. During the Watchtower Study, some boys started throwing large stones into the house through the open door. Catholic priests had instigated the attack. Soon they came to the missionary home, leading an angry mob. Some had burning torches in their hands, while others were carrying idols. For two hours, they pelted the missionary home with stones and shouted: “Long live the Virgin!” and, “May Jehovah die!” They wanted to scare the missionaries so that they would leave. I know, because I was one of the missionaries at that meeting 67 years ago. *
TWO years before that mob attack, Evelyn Trabert and I finished our training in the fourth class of the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead. At that time, Gilead School was held near Ithaca, New York. We were assigned to serve as missionaries in El Salvador, and I served there for almost 29 years. Before I tell you about my life as a missionary, let me explain why I decided to volunteer for that work.
HOW OUR FAMILY LEARNED THE TRUTH
I was born in 1923 in Spokane, Washington, U.S.A. My parents, John and Eva Olson, were Lutherans, but they did not accept the church teaching of hellfire. They could not believe that a loving God would torture people. (1 John 4:8) My father worked in a bakery. One night, one of the workers explained to him from the Bible that God does not torture people in hell. Soon after that, my parents began to study with Jehovah’s Witnesses. They learned what the Bible really teaches about life after death.
I was only nine years old at the time, but I still remember how excited my parents were about the things they were learning. They were thrilled to learn that God’s name is Jehovah and that there is no Trinity. (John 8:32) My parents also taught me what they were learning, and I absorbed these truths like a sponge. I never thought that reading the Bible was boring. I enjoyed studying God’s Word. Although I was shy, I joined my parents in the preaching work. In 1934, they were baptized, and in 1939, I was baptized at the age of 16.
In the summer of 1940, my parents sold their house and we moved to Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. There we began pioneering together. We lived in a rented apartment that was above a car-repair shop. Our home was also used for congregation meetings. At that time, only a few congregations had Kingdom Halls. Most met in rented rooms or in the homes of brothers and sisters.
In 1941, my parents and I attended an assembly in St. Louis, Missouri. The last day of that assembly was called “Children’s Day.” On that day, young ones between the ages of 5 and 18 were asked to sit close to the stage. Toward the end of one of the talks, Brother Joseph F. Rutherford spoke directly to us young ones. He asked all of us children to stand up if we agreed to “obey God and his King.” We all stood up. Then, Brother Rutherford announced, “Behold, more than 15,000 new witnesses to the Kingdom!” At that moment, I decided that I wanted to pioneer for the rest of my life.
OUR FAMILY’S ASSIGNMENTS
A few months after that assembly, our family was asked to move to the city of Oxnard in southern California. We were assigned to start a congregation there. We lived in a small mobile home with only one bed. Every night we had to set up my bed on top of our dining table. That was a big change from when I had my own bedroom!
On December 7, 1941, Japan bombed Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, and the next day the United States entered the second world war. Right after that was when we arrived in California. At that time, Japanese submarines were in the waters nearby, so the authorities ordered all those near the coast to turn off their lights at night. The total darkness made it difficult for submarines to attack targets on land.
A few months later, in September 1942, we attended the New World Theocratic Assembly in Cleveland, Ohio. I especially remember the talk “Peace
That prophecy helped me to understand that there was much work to be done. So when it was announced that Gilead School would begin the following year, I wanted to go to that school and become a missionary. In the meantime, in 1943, I was assigned to pioneer in Portland, Oregon. In those days, we used phonographs to play sermons for householders on their doorsteps, and then we offered them Bible literature about God’s Kingdom. All that year, I kept thinking about missionary service.
In 1944, my dear friend Evelyn Trabert and I received an invitation to attend Gilead School. I was so happy that we had been accepted! For five months, our teachers showed us how to study the Bible in a way that we truly enjoyed. We were very impressed by the humility of our teachers. For example, sometimes our teachers would work as waiters and serve our meals. We finished Gilead School on January 22, 1945.
MY MISSIONARY ASSIGNMENT
In June 1946, Evelyn and I, along with Leo and Esther Mahan, arrived in Santa Ana, El Salvador. The field there was “white for harvesting.” (John 4:35) Some months after we arrived, we had our first circuit assembly in Santa Ana. We invited people to attend, and we were so happy when nearly 500 came. Our preaching made the clergy furious, and one week later they arranged the mob attack mentioned at the beginning of this story. They tried to scare us and wanted us to leave. But that made us even more determined to stay and help the people. The clergy warned them not to read the Bible, and only a few had enough money to buy one. But many wanted to learn the truth. They were grateful that we were learning Spanish so that we could teach them about Jehovah and his promise to make the earth a paradise.
One of my first Bible students was Rosa Ascencio. She was living with a man, and they were not married. But after she began studying the Bible, she separated from him. Then he too began to study the Bible. They got married, were baptized, and became zealous Witnesses. Rosa was the first regular pioneer from Santa Ana. *
Rosa owned a small grocery shop. Each time she went out in the ministry, she closed her shop and trusted that Jehovah would take care of her needs. Rosa always had enough customers. She saw that Jehovah was caring for her, just as Matthew 6:33 promises. Rosa was faithful to Jehovah until her death.
Six of us missionaries rented a house from a well-known businessman. One day, a priest visited the man and warned him that if he continued to rent the house to us, the man and his wife would be excommunicated. The man was not afraid of the priest and told him that he did not care if he was expelled from the church. He was already disgusted by some of the things that the clergy had done. He assured us that we could stay in the house for as long as we wanted.
A RESPECTED CITIZEN BECOMES A WITNESS
In the capital city, San Salvador, another missionary studied the Bible with the wife of an engineer named Baltasar Perla. He had lost faith in God because he saw that many religious leaders were hypocrites. But he was a very kind man. Even though he was not yet a Witness, he offered to design and help build the branch office in El Salvador, and he did not charge the Witnesses for his work.
During the construction of the branch office, Baltasar worked with many Witnesses and became convinced that he had found the true religion. He was baptized on July 22, 1955, and his wife, Paulina, was baptized soon after. Their two children are both serving Jehovah faithfully. Their son, Baltasar junior, has served in Bethel in New York for the last 49 years. There he supports the worldwide preaching work and serves on the United States Branch Committee. *
When we began to have conventions in San Salvador, Brother Perla helped us to get the use of a large gymnasium where we could meet. The first time we met there, we did not fill many seats. But more and more people came each year, and soon we did not have enough seats in the gymnasium. We could see that Jehovah was blessing our efforts. At these conventions, I was able to see those with whom I had studied the Bible. And I was so happy when the students of my Bible students were baptized! I felt as if these new ones were my grandchildren.
At one assembly, a brother approached me and said he wanted to apologize. I did not know what he meant and did not recognize him. He said, “I was one of the boys who threw stones at you in Santa Ana.” It filled my heart with joy to know that he was now serving Jehovah with me. That conversation reminded me that the full-time ministry is the most satisfying way of life.
I MADE SATISFYING CHOICES
For nearly 29 years, I continued in the missionary work in El Salvador. I served in Santa Ana, Sonsonate, Santa Tecla, and finally San Salvador. During those years, my parents were getting older and eventually needed my assistance. So after many prayers, I decided to leave my missionary assignment and return to Spokane in 1975.
My father died in 1979, and I cared for my mother for another eight years. She could not do much without my help because she was so weak. She died at the age of 94. That was a very difficult time for me. The stress and emotions I felt exhausted me completely. I got shingles, which was very painful. But I felt the support of Jehovah’s loving arms around me. He answered my prayers and helped me to endure that difficult time. Jehovah has kept his promise to carry me even in my old age.
In 1990, I moved to Omak, Washington. There I was able to preach in the Spanish-language territory, and I felt useful again. Several of my Bible students got baptized. After a while, I could no longer take care of my house in Omak. So in November 2007, I moved into an apartment in the nearby town of Chelan, Washington. The Spanish congregation here takes good care of me, and I am grateful for that. Since I am the only elderly Witness here, they love me as their own grandmother.
I chose not to marry and have children so that I could serve Jehovah more fully. (1 Corinthians 7:34, 35) I reasoned that in this life I cannot have everything. So I have decided to focus on what is most important, that is, serving Jehovah with my whole heart. I have helped many to learn the truth, and they have become like my own children. And in the new world, I will have plenty of time to do everything I would like to do. My favorite scripture is Psalm 145:16, where Jehovah promises that he will “satisfy the desire of every living thing.”
Now I am 91 years old and my health is still quite good, so I continue to pioneer. The pioneer service helps me to stay active and gives me a purpose in life. When I first arrived in El Salvador, the preaching work had just begun. But now, El Salvador has over 39,000 publishers. I know that Satan cannot stop our work, even though he keeps on trying. This growth really strengthens my faith. I have no doubt that Jehovah’s holy spirit is supporting his people.