Life Story

Remembering Our Creator From Youth On

AS TOLD BY DAVID Z. HIBSHMAN

“If I have come to the end of my life, I truly hope I have been faithful to Jehovah. I beg him to take care of my David. Thank you for him, Jehovah, and for our marriage. So wonderful, so happy!”

IMAGINE my emotions when after burying my wife in March 1992, I found this last entry in her diary. Just five months earlier, we had celebrated Helen’s 60th anniversary in the full-time ministry.

I remember clearly the day in 1931 when Helen and I sat side by side at the convention in Columbus, Ohio, U.S.A. Helen was not quite 14 years old, but she appreciated the significance of that event even more than I did. Helen’s enthusiasm for the ministry was manifested shortly afterward when she and her widowed mother became pioneers, as full-time evangelizers among Jehovah’s Witnesses are called. They gave up their comfortable home to preach in rural areas of the southern United States.

My Christian Heritage

In 1910 my parents moved with their two small children from eastern Pennsylvania to Grove City, in the western part of the state. There they made a down payment on a modest home and became active members of the Reformed Church. Shortly thereafter they were visited by William Evans, a Bible Student, as Jehovah’s Witnesses were then called. Father, who was by then only in his mid-20’s, and Mother, who was five years younger, listened to this friendly Welshman and invited him for a meal. Soon they embraced the Bible truths they were learning.

To be closer to the congregation, Father moved the family about 25 miles [40 km] to the  town of Sharon. Some months later, in 1911 or 1912, Father and Mother were baptized. Charles Taze Russell, the first president of the Watch Tower Society, gave the baptism discourse. I was born on December 4, 1916, when my parents already had four children. At the time of my birth, it was announced: “Another brother to be loved.” Hence my name, David, meaning “Beloved.”

When I was four weeks old, I was taken to my first convention. In those early days, my father and my older brothers walked several miles to congregation meetings while Mother took my sister and me on the streetcar. Meetings consisted of morning and afternoon sessions. At home, conversation often centered on articles in The Watchtower and The Golden Age, an earlier name for Awake!

Benefiting From Fine Examples

Many pilgrims, as traveling speakers were then called, visited our congregation. They usually spent a day or two with us. One speaker who stands out in my memory was Walter J. Thorn, who had remembered his Grand Creator in ‘the days of his young manhood.’ (Ecclesiastes 12:1) When I was a boy, I accompanied Father to show the “Photo-Drama of Creation,” a four-part visual and recorded presentation on the history of mankind.

Although Brother Evans and his wife, Miriam, had no children, they became spiritual parents and grandparents to our family. William always addressed Father as “Son,” and he and Miriam instilled in our family the evangelizing spirit. In the early part of the 20th century, Brother Evans had made trips back to Wales to introduce Bible truth to the area around Swansea. There he was known as the preacher from America.

In 1928, Brother Evans gave up his employment and began preaching in the hills of West Virginia. My two older brothers, 21-year-old Clarence and 19-year-old Carl, accompanied him. All four of us boys spent many years in the full-time ministry. In fact, all of us served as traveling overseers of Jehovah’s Witnesses in our youth. Not long ago Mother’s youngest sister, Mary, who is now well into her 90’s, wrote me: “How grateful we all are that Brother Evans had zeal for the ministry and visited Grove City!” Aunt Mary is another one who has remembered her Creator since her youth.

Attending Conventions

Only Father and Clarence were able to attend the history-making Cedar Point, Ohio, convention in 1922. By 1924, however, we had an automobile, and our whole family went to the convention in Columbus, Ohio. We children were expected to use our own savings to pay for our meals during the eight-day convention. My parents’ view was that all members of the family must learn to support themselves. So we raised chickens and rabbits and maintained beehives, and we boys all had newspaper routes.

When the time came for the Toronto, Canada, convention in 1927, we had a six-month-old baby brother, Paul. I was assigned to stay at home and care for Paul with a married aunt’s help while my parents went to Toronto with the other children. I was rewarded  with ten dollars, which I used toward buying myself a new suit. We were always trained to dress well for the meetings and to care for our clothing.

By the time of the memorable convention in 1931 in Columbus, Ohio, Clarence and Carl were married and were pioneering with their wives. They each lived in a homemade mobile home. Carl had married Claire Houston of Wheeling, West Virginia, and that is why I was sitting next to Claire’s younger sister, Helen, at the Columbus convention.

The Full-Time Ministry

I graduated from high school in 1932 when I was 15, and the following year delivered a used car to my brother Clarence, who was pioneering in South Carolina. I applied for the pioneer service and began working along with Clarence and his wife. Helen was then pioneering in Hopkinsville, Kentucky, and I wrote her for the first time. In her reply, she inquired: “Are you a pioneer?”

In my letter​—Helen kept it until her death nearly 60 years later—​I answered: “I am, and I hope I always may be.” In that letter, I told Helen about distributing the booklet The Kingdom, the Hope of the World to clergymen and to judicial officials in my preaching assignment.

In 1933, Father made me a tent on wheels​—an eight-foot-long [2.4 m], six-and-a-half-foot-wide [2 m] trailer with walls made of canvas stretched around slender uprights and a window both in front and in back. That was my humble abode for the next four years of pioneering.

In March 1934, Clarence and Carl, their wives, Helen and her mother, Clarence’s sister-in-law and I​—eight of us—​headed west to attend the convention in Los Angeles, California. Some rode and slept in my trailer. I slept in the car, while the rest rented lodging. Since we had car problems, we arrived in Los Angeles on the second day of the six-day convention. There, on March 26, Helen and I were finally able to symbolize our dedication to Jehovah by water baptism.

At the convention Joseph F. Rutherford, then president of the Watch Tower Society, met personally with all the pioneers. He encouraged us, saying that we were valiant fighters for Bible truth. On that occasion, provision was made to give pioneers monetary help so that they could continue in their ministry.

An Education for Life

When we returned from the convention in Los Angeles, we all shared the Kingdom message with people in entire counties of South Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, and Kentucky. Years later Helen wrote of that time: “There was no congregation to lean on, nor friends to help, because we were indeed strangers in a strange land. But I know now that I was getting an education. I was becoming rich.”

She asked: “What does a young girl do with her time when away from friends and her roots? Well it wasn’t so bad. I can’t remember ever being bored. I read a lot. Never did we fail to keep up with reading our Bible literature and studying. I stayed close to my mother, learning to manage the money we had, do the shopping, change flat tires, cook, sew, and preach. I have no regrets and would gladly do it all over again.”

 Helen and her mother were content to live in a small trailer in those years, although her mother owned a nice home. After the Columbus, Ohio, convention in 1937, the health of Helen’s mother worsened, and she was hospitalized. She died in her assignment at Philippi, West Virginia, in November 1937.

Marriage and Continued Service

On June 10, 1938, Helen and I were married in a simple ceremony in the home in which she had been born in Elm Grove, near Wheeling, West Virginia. Our dear Brother Evans, who had introduced my family to the truth several years before I was born, gave the wedding talk. After the wedding, Helen and I planned to return to the pioneer work in eastern Kentucky, but to our great surprise, we were invited to do zone work. This work involved visiting groups of Jehovah’s Witnesses in western Kentucky and parts of Tennessee to help them in their ministry. There were then only about 75 of such Kingdom proclaimers in all the places we visited.

At the time, nationalism warped the thinking of many, and I expected to be imprisoned soon because of my Christian neutrality. (Isaiah 2:4) However, thanks to my record of preaching activity, I received a classification from the draft board that permitted me to continue in the full-time ministry.

When we began the traveling ministry, almost everyone remarked about our youthfulness. In Hopkinsville, Kentucky, a Christian sister greeted Helen with a big hug and asked: “Do you remember me?” In 1933, Helen had witnessed to her at the country store run by her husband. She was a Sunday-school teacher, but after reading the book Helen left with her, she stood up before her class and apologized for having taught them unbiblical teachings. After resigning from the church, she began proclaiming Bible truths in her community. Helen and I served in western Kentucky for three years, and that sister and her husband made their home our home.

In those days we had small local assemblies, and A. H. Macmillan served one of these. He had stayed in the home of Helen’s parents when Helen was a child, so during the convention, he chose to stay with us in our 16-foot [5 m]-long mobile home, where we had an extra bed. He too had remembered his Grand Creator in the days of his young manhood, having dedicated his life to Jehovah in 1900, when he was 23 years of age.

In November 1941 the work of the traveling brothers was temporarily suspended, and I was assigned as a pioneer in Hazard, Kentucky. Once again we worked with my brother Carl and his wife, Claire. Here Joseph Houston, Helen’s nephew, joined us and began pioneering. He continued in the full-time ministry for nearly 50 years, dying suddenly of a heart attack in 1992 while faithfully serving at the world headquarters of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Brooklyn, New York.

In 1943 we were assigned to Rockville, Connecticut. This was, as it were, a different world to Helen and me because we were used to preaching in the south. In Rockville, Helen regularly conducted more than 20 home Bible studies a week. Eventually, we rented a modest room for a Kingdom Hall, and the nucleus of a small congregation was organized.

While serving in Rockville, we were invited to attend the fifth class of the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead in South Lansing, New York. Happily, we discovered that Aubrey and Bertha Bivens, friends from our pioneer days in Kentucky, would be our classmates.

School and Our New Assignment

Although we were still quite young, most of our classmates were even younger. Yes, they were remembering their Grand Creator in their youth. Our graduation was in July 1945, just as World War II was drawing to a close. While waiting for our missionary assignments, we worked with the Flatbush Congregation in Brooklyn, New York. Finally, on  October 21, 1946, along with six other classmates including the Bivenses, we flew to our new home in Guatemala City, Guatemala. At the time, there were fewer than 50 Witnesses of Jehovah in that entire Central American country.

In April 1949 a few of us missionaries were moved to Quetzaltenango, the second city of size and importance in the country. This city is located over 7,500 feet [2,300 m] above sea level, and the mountain air is crisp and clear. Helen summarized our activity here, writing: “It was our privilege to preach in dozens of towns and villages. We would rise at about four in the morning and take a bus (which often had roll-down canvas in place of windows) to a distant town. There we would preach for about eight hours before returning in the evening.” Today there are congregations in many of these places, including six in Quetzaltenango.

Soon there was a call for missionaries to serve in Puerto Barrios on the Caribbean Coast, the third largest city in Guatemala. Our beloved companions the Bivenses, with whom we had served for five years in Guatemala, were among those moved to this new assignment. The parting was painful and caused a hole in our lives. With just Helen and me left in the missionary home, we moved to a small apartment. In 1955, Helen and I accepted a new assignment to the more tropical city of Mazatenango. My youngest brother, Paul, and his wife, Dolores, who graduated from Gilead in 1953, had served there shortly before we arrived.

By 1958 we had over 700 Witnesses, 20 congregations, and three circuits in Guatemala. Helen and I again shared in the traveling work, visiting small groups of Witnesses and several of the congregations, including the one in Quetzaltenango. Then, in August of 1959, we were invited to return to Guatemala City, where we lived at the branch office. I was assigned to work at the branch, while Helen continued in missionary service for another 16 years. Then she also began working in the branch office.

Further Blessings

Years ago it seemed I was always the youngest of those serving Jehovah. Now I am often the oldest, as was the case when I attended the branch school at Patterson, New York, in 1996. Just as I received so much help in my youth from older ones, it has been my privilege in recent decades to help many young ones who desire to remember their Creator in their youth.

Jehovah continues to shower blessings upon his people here in Guatemala. In 1999 there were over 60 congregations in Guatemala City. And to the north, south, east, and west, there are many more congregations and thousands of proclaimers of the good news of God’s Kingdom. The fewer than 50 Kingdom proclaimers when we arrived about 53 years ago have increased to well over 19,000!

Much for Which to Be Grateful

No one goes through life without problems, but we can always throw our “burden upon Jehovah himself.” (Psalm 55:22) He often sustains us through the support of loving companions. For example, a few years before her death, Helen presented me with a small framed plaque inscribed with the Bible text at Hebrews 6:10: “God is not unjust so as to be unmindful of your labour and of the love which you have manifested towards Himself  in having rendered services to His people and in still rendering them.”​—Weymouth.

Her attached note read in part: “My precious one, there is so little I can give you, except ALL MY LOVE . . . This text is so appropriate for you, and I ask you to put it on your desk, not because I gave it to you, but because it applies to you in your long years of service.” Till this day, the plaque sits on my office desk in the Guatemala branch.

I have served Jehovah from my youth, and now in my advanced years, I thank Jehovah for my good health that permits me to handle my assigned duties. As I do regular Bible reading, I often come across scriptures that I think my beloved Helen would have underlined in her Bible. This occurred to me when I reread Psalm 48:14: “This God is our God to time indefinite, even forever. He himself will guide us until we die.”

It is my pleasure to share with others the vision of the resurrection day when people of all former nations will be welcoming their loved ones back from the dead into a new world. What a prospect! What tears of joy will be shed then as we recall that Jehovah is indeed the God “who comforts those laid low”!​—2 Corinthians 7:6.

[Picture on page 25]

Clockwise from top left: Mom, Dad, Aunt Eva, and brothers Carl and Clarence, 1910

[Pictures on page 26]

With Helen in 1947 and in 1992