I Tried to Serve Two Masters

AS TOLD BY KEN PAYNE

I was born in 1938 and was raised on my grandfather’s ranch in New Mexico, U.S.A. It was 24,000 acres [9,700 ha] of streams and prairies with a backdrop of mountains. The sounds I recall were those of sheep, cattle, and horses as well as the jingle of cowboys’ spurs. Sometimes I would listen to the wind in the grass and note the contrasting loud, piercing cry of the killdeers around the water tank.

EARLY influences in one’s life can make a deep and lasting impression. I spent many hours with my grandfather, who could spin many a tale of the West. He even knew people who had ridden with Billy the Kid, a young outlaw who became famous when he went on a killing spree, which ended in his death in 1881 at the age of 21.

My parents were Jehovah’s Witnesses, and they took me out with them in the Christian ministry to lonely ranches and humble adobe homes up and down the Hondo valley. They often used a phonograph with Bible recordings of J. F. Rutherford’s voice, which became etched in my mind. * We played his talks for all kinds of people​—ranchers, Mexican farmers, and Native Americans, such as Apache and Pueblos. I loved the street-witnessing work with magazines​—very few people turned down a little boy, even during the war years.

Yes, I had a good foundation. However, I failed to pay attention to Jesus’ warning: “No one can slave for two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will stick to the one and despise the other. You cannot slave for God and for Riches.” (Matthew 6:24) I wish I could say that I have had a wonderful life in the full-time ministry. But an early influence, another “master,” diverted me from that path, beginning when I was three years old. What happened?

Flying Became My Passion

Back in 1941 a Piper Cub plane landed by the barn. It was being used to hunt coyotes that were plundering our sheep. Right then,  at the age of three, I made up my mind that I wanted to be a pilot. The formative years passed by, and at age 17, I left home and went to work at an airport in Hobbs, New Mexico, sweeping hangars and working on airplanes in exchange for flying lessons. The Christian ministry was taking a back seat in my life.

I got married at 18, and eventually my wife and I had three children. How did I make a living? By flying crop dusters, charter flights, and predator-control planes as well as giving flying instruction. After six years of that, I started flying for Texas International Airlines, out of Dallas, Texas. This gave me more stability in life, and I even served as an elder in the Denton Congregation. I also conducted several Bible studies, including one with an airline captain, his wife, and their family, who all embraced Bible truth.

By 1973, I had been flying propjets for about three years, but I began to lose interest when the DC-3 was withdrawn from service. Actually, my heart was still in New Mexico. But if I quit flying, how would I make a living?

Art Became My Passion

Since 1961, as a hobby, I had been painting pictures of the American West, and they had been selling well. So I resigned from the airline and moved back to New Mexico, the land of enchantment, as it is called. However, I did not stay balanced. I allowed the love of art to consume me. Painting and later sculpture, along with part-time flying, took all my time. I was working between 12 and 18 hours a day. That led to severe neglect of my family and my God. What next?

My marriage collapsed, ending in divorce. I moved north to Montana and took refuge in drink. An unchristian life-style took me down the same foolish trail that the prodigal son of Jesus’ illustration took. (Luke 15:11-32) Then one day I came to realize that I didn’t have a single real friend. When I met people in trouble, I would say to them: “Find Jehovah’s Witnesses. They can really help you.” The answer would be: “Then why aren’t you a Witness?” I had to admit that one can’t be a Witness and live the way I was.

Finally, in 1978, I returned to New Mexico to the congregation where the Witnesses knew me. It was my first time in a Kingdom Hall in several years, and all I could do was weep. How merciful Jehovah was to me. The friends in the congregation were very kind and helped me on the trail back to Jehovah’s ways.

 A New Partner and a New Beginning

In 1980, I married Karen, a beautiful Witness whom I had known for several years. She had two sons, Jason and Jonathan, by her previous marriage. With her deep love for Jehovah, she brought stability into my life and two more wonderful sons, Ben and Phillip. But life was not going to be a bed of roses. Tragedy lay in our future.

I made a study of art and spent many hours learning human and animal anatomy​—especially that of horses—​as well as composition, proportion, and perspective. I moved into sculpting in clay, especially images of the Old West​—horses, Indians on horseback, cowboys, and even an old-time doctor traveling in a horse and buggy. I began to have success. So we decided to open a gallery. Karen came up with the name Mountain Trails Gallery.

In 1987 we bought a gallery in Sedona, Arizona, and gave it that name. While Karen ran the gallery, I stayed at home working in the studio and looking after the boys. However, the boys took sick, and sales were poor. We decided to switch so that Karen could take care of the children at home. I took my clay to the store and started to sculpt right there in front of the clients. What a change that brought about!

People began to ask me about the bronzes I was making. As I explained my work to them and told them of the artifacts I use as a basis for my designs, I gave them a history lesson of the Old West with names, places, and events that I had learned from my extensive reading. People showed genuine interest in the models I was working on, and some wanted to make a deposit on the item they saw being formed, with a view to paying the balance when it was cast in bronze. Thus the expression “precast sale” was born. The success was immediate. My business grew to the point that we had three galleries and a large foundry with 32 employees. But it was taking so much of my energy! Karen and I wondered how we could get off that treadmill. We prayed about it. I was now an elder in the congregation and knew I could be doing more for Jehovah.

Back to Serving One Master

In 1996 our visiting circuit overseer came to the congregation and asked us to have lunch with him. Before we even started the meal, he dropped the bombshell​—would we consider moving to the Navajo Indian reservation to help start a new congregation at Chinle? What a challenge! We had visited the reservation on several occasions and had helped to do the preaching work in some of that remote territory, and now this gave us a new focus. Here was our chance to get off the relentless treadmill of materialism and devote more time to Jehovah and his people. We were getting back to serving one master!

Another elder and his family, the Carusettas, good friends of ours, were invited to join us in this venture. We both sold our comfortable homes and ordered mobile homes that we could set up on the reservation. I sold the galleries and finally the foundry. We had simplified our lives, and we were free to expand our Christian ministry.

In October 1996, our new Chinle Congregation had its first meeting. Since then, the preaching work has expanded among the Navajo people, and our congregation has excellent Navajo pioneers who speak the language. We have started slowly to learn this difficult tongue so that we might be accepted even though we are not Navajo. We acquired land with the permission of the Indian authorities and built a Kingdom Hall in Chinle, which was dedicated in June of this year.

Tragedy Strikes!

In December 1996, Karen took the boys to Ruidoso, New Mexico, for a short visit. I had to stay behind in Chinle. Imagine our shock and grief when our 14-year-old son, Ben, crashed into a boulder while skiing and died! This was a horrible test for all of us.  The Bible’s hope of the resurrection has sustained us through this tragedy. The support of our Christian brothers was also a tremendous help. When we held the memorial service at the Kingdom Hall in Sedona, where we had lived for several years, the neighbors saw more Navajo than they had ever seen. The brothers and sisters from the reservation had come all the way down to support us, a distance of well over 200 miles [300 km].

It is a blessing to see the spiritual progress Ben’s younger brother, Phillip, has made. He has good spiritual goals and brings us much joy. He has conducted several Bible studies, including one with a teacher. But we all yearn to see Ben again in the new world that Jehovah has promised.​—Job 14:14, 15; John 5:28, 29; Revelation 21:1-4.

We have been blessed with a loving, supportive family. My adopted son Jonathan serves Jehovah with his wife, Kenna, as does my youngest son by my first marriage, Chris, with his wife, Lorie. Our grandchildren Woodrow and Jonah are giving student talks in the Theocratic Ministry School. My father died in 1987, but at age 84 my mother is still active in Jehovah’s service, as are my brother, John, and his wife, Cherry.

I have learned from experience that Jesus’ words are true: “No one can slave for two masters . . . You cannot slave for God and for Riches.” Even now art can be a very jealous master. That is why I have learned the importance of balance and caution, so that my art will not take me over again. Far better to do as the apostle Paul counsels: “My beloved brothers, become steadfast, unmovable, always having plenty to do in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in connection with the Lord.”​—1 Corinthians 15:58.

[Footnote]

^ par. 5 J. F. Rutherford took the lead among Jehovah’s Witnesses until his death in 1942.

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My plane in 1996 in Chinle

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A bronze sculpture called “No Time to Dally”

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Meeting for Bible study where our Kingdom Hall has since been built

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With my wife, Karen

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Preaching at a typical Navajo hogan