Our Treasure Hunt Yielded Lasting Riches
As told by Dorothea Smith and Dora Ward
For what kind of treasure were we looking? We were two young girls with a fervent desire to share in the fulfillment of Jesus’ command: ‘Go and make disciples of people of all the nations.’ (Matthew 28:19) Let us explain how this search yielded lasting riches.
DOROTHEA: In 1915, shortly after the start of World War I, I was born as the third child in our family. We lived near Howell, Michigan, in the United States. My father was not religious, but my mother was a God-fearing woman. She tried to teach us to follow the Ten Commandments, but she worried that my brother, Willis; my sister, Viola; and I were not members of any church.
When I was 12 years old, Mother decided that I should get baptized as a member of the Presbyterian Church. I vividly remember the day of my baptism. Two babies, each held by its mother, were baptized at the same time that I was. I felt terribly humiliated to be baptized along with babies. The minister sprinkled a few drops of water on my head and murmured some words that I did not understand. Really, those two babies knew as much about baptism as I did!
One day in 1932, a car drove into our driveway, and my mother answered the door. There stood two young men offering religious books. One of them introduced himself as Albert Schroeder. He showed Mother some literature published by Jehovah’s Witnesses. She obtained the books. Those publications helped her to accept the truth from God’s Word.
The Treasure Hunt Begins
Eventually, I moved to Detroit to live with my sister. There I met an elderly lady who visited my sister to teach her the Bible. Those discussions reminded me of a weekly radio program that I had listened to while at home with my mother. That program consisted of a 15-minute talk on a Bible subject delivered by J. F. Rutherford, who took the lead among Jehovah’s Witnesses at the time. In 1937 we began to associate with the first congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Detroit. The following year I was baptized.
In the early 1940’s, it was announced that Jehovah’s Witnesses were opening a school called Gilead in South Lansing, New York, to train missionaries. When I learned that some of the graduates of that school would be invited to serve abroad, I thought to myself, ‘That’s something for me!’ I set attending Gilead as my goal. What a privilege it would be to search in other lands for “treasures”—that is, for people who desire to become disciples of Christ Jesus!—Haggai 2:6, 7.
Gradually Reaching My Goal
In April 1942, I resigned from my job and began serving as a pioneer, or full-time evangelizer, in Findlay, Ohio, together with a group of five spiritual sisters. There was no congregation with a program of regular meetings, but we encouraged one another by reading as a group articles from our Christian publications. During my first month of pioneering, I placed 95 books with interested people! About a year and a half later, I received an assignment to serve as a special pioneer in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. There I joined a group of five other pioneers, including Dora Ward, a Christian sister from Iowa. Dora and I became pioneer partners. We were baptized the same year, and we shared the desire to attend Gilead School and to serve abroad as missionaries.
In early 1944, the big day came! We both received an invitation to attend the fourth class of Gilead. We enrolled in August of that year. But before I go any further, let Dora tell you how she ended up being my longtime treasure-hunting partner.
Eager to Start Full-Time Witnessing
DORA: My mother was prayerfully searching for an understanding of God’s Word. One Sunday, I was with her when we heard on the radio a lecture by J. F. Rutherford. At the end of the talk, Mother exclaimed, “This is the truth!” Soon thereafter, we were studying the publications of Jehovah’s Witnesses. In 1935, when I was 12 years old, I attended a baptism talk given by one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, and I felt a heartfelt desire to dedicate my life to Jehovah. Three years later, I was baptized. My dedication and baptism helped me to remain steadfast in keeping my goals alive during the remaining years I spent attending school. I was eager to finish school so that I could begin to serve as a pioneer.
At that time the group of Witnesses with whom we associated met as a congregation in Fort Dodge, Iowa. Much effort was required to attend Christian meetings. Back then, the Watchtower study articles did not include questions for the congregation discussion. We were asked to submit prepared questions to the brother who conducted the Watchtower Study. On Monday nights, my mother and I prepared a question for each paragraph, and we gave these to the conductor so that he could choose which ones to use.
From time to time, our congregation received a visit from a traveling overseer. One of those brothers, John Booth, introduced me to the door-to-door ministry when I was 12. At 17, I asked him how to fill out a pioneer application, and he assisted me. Little did I realize that we would cross paths later in life and that he would become a lifelong friend!
As a pioneer, I often worked with Sister Dorothy Aronson, a full-time evangelizer who was 15 years older than I was. We were pioneer partners until she was invited to attend the first class of Gilead in 1943. After that, I continued serving as a pioneer by myself.
Opposition Fails to Stop Us
The 1940’s were challenging years for us because of the nationalistic fervor incited by World War II. When we preached from house to house, we were often bombarded with rotten eggs, ripe tomatoes, and sometimes even stones! A more serious test came when we presented the Watchtower and Consolation (now Awake!) magazines on the street corner. The police, instigated by religious opposers, approached us and threatened to arrest us if we were seen preaching publicly again.
Of course, we refused to stop witnessing, and we were taken to the police station for questioning. After being released, we returned to the same street corner and offered the same magazines. On the advice of the responsible brothers, we used Isaiah 61:1, 2 to defend our stand. Once when I was approached by a young policeman, I tensely recited the scriptures to him. Surprisingly, he turned on his heel and walked away! It seemed to me that the angels were protecting us.
An Unforgettable Day
In 1941, I had the joy of attending a five-day convention of Jehovah’s Witnesses in St. Louis, Missouri. During that convention, Brother Rutherford asked all children between the ages of 5 and 18 to gather in the main section of the stadium. Thousands of children assembled. Brother Rutherford greeted us by waving his handkerchief. We all waved back. After giving a one-hour talk, he said: “Children who have agreed to do the will of God and have taken your stand on the side of his theocratic government by Christ Jesus and hence have agreed to obey God and his King, please stand up.” The 15,000 children rose as one body—I was one of them! The speaker added: “All of you who will do what you can to tell others about God’s Kingdom and its attending blessings, will you please say Aye.” We did, and thunderous applause followed.
Then the book Children * was released, and a long line of young ones filed by the platform, where Brother Rutherford gave each one of us a copy of the new book. It was exciting! Today, a goodly number of those who received a book on that occasion are still zealously serving Jehovah throughout the world, speaking about the Kingdom of God and his righteousness.—Psalm 148:12, 13.
After pioneering alone for three years, how happy I was to receive an assignment as a special pioneer in Chambersburg! There I met Dorothea, and soon we became inseparable. We were full of youthful enthusiasm and had a lot of stamina. We were eager to expand our share in the preaching work. Together we set out on a treasure hunt that has lasted a lifetime.—Psalm 110:3.
A few months after we began serving as special pioneers, we met a graduate of the first class of Gilead, Albert Mann. He was about to leave for his foreign assignment. He encouraged us to accept any foreign assignment we might receive.
At School Together
DORA AND DOROTHEA: Imagine our joy when we started our missionary training! The first day of school, Albert Schroeder, the brother who had placed Studies in the Scriptures with Dorothea’s mother 12 years earlier, registered us. John Booth was there too. He was now the farm servant at Kingdom Farm, where the school was located. Later, both men served as members of the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
At Gilead School, we studied the deeper truths of the Bible. It was excellent training. There were 104 students in our class, including the first foreign student from Mexico. He was trying to improve his English while we were trying to learn Spanish. How thrilled we were on the day that Brother Nathan H. Knorr distributed the foreign assignments to us students! Most were assigned to Central and South America; our assignment was Chile.
Treasure Hunting in Chile
In order for us to enter Chile, it was necessary to obtain a visa, which took considerable time. Thus, after graduating in January 1945, we served as pioneers in Washington, D.C., for a year and a half. When we received our visas, we became part of a group of nine missionaries who made the trip to Chile. Seven were from earlier classes of Gilead.
Several Christian brothers met us on our arrival in Santiago, the capital. One of them was Albert Mann, the Gilead graduate who had encouraged us a few years earlier. He had come to Chile the year before, together with Joseph Ferrari from the second class of Gilead. There were fewer than 100 publishers in all of Chile when we arrived. We were eager to seek and find more treasures—honesthearted people—in our new assignment.
We were assigned to serve in a missionary home in Santiago. Living with a large missionary family was a new experience for us. In addition to spending a set number of hours in the preaching work, all missionaries were assigned to cook once a week for the family. We had our share of embarrassing moments. Once, we prepared hot biscuits for breakfast for our hungry family, but when we took the biscuits out of the oven, we noticed a very disagreeable odor. We had used baking soda instead of baking powder! Someone had put the soda in an empty baking-powder can.
More embarrassing, though, were the mistakes we made while learning Spanish. A large family with whom we studied the Bible nearly stopped studying because they could not figure out what we were saying. But by looking up the scriptures in their own Bibles, they still managed to learn the truth, and five of them became Witnesses. In those years, there was no language course for new missionaries. We started in the preaching work right away and tried to learn the language from the people to whom we witnessed.
We conducted many Bible studies, and some of our students responded rapidly. Others required much patience. Teresa Tello, a young woman, listened to the message of the truth and said, “Please, come again and tell me more.” We returned 12 times without finding her. Three years passed. Then we attended an assembly that was held in a theater in Santiago. As we left the assembly on Sunday, someone called, “Senorita Dora, Senorita Dora!” We turned, and there was Teresa. She had been visiting her sister across the street and came over to the theater to see what was going on. What a joy it was to meet her again! We made arrangements for a Bible study, and soon thereafter she was baptized. Later she became a special pioneer. Today, some 45 years later, Teresa is still in special full-time service.—Ecclesiastes 11:1.
Discovering Treasures in the “Sands”
In 1959 we were assigned to Punta Arenas—meaning “Sands Point”—at the southernmost tip of Chile’s 2,700-mile-long [4,300 km] coastline. Punta Arenas is an unusual territory. During the summer months, the days are long—daylight lasts until 11:30 p.m. We were able to spend many days in the ministry but not without obstacles, for summer brings violent Antarctic winds. Winter months are cold, and the days are short.
Despite these challenges, Punta Arenas has its charm. During the summer, there is a continuous parade of billowing rain clouds across the western sky. Occasionally, they drop a load of water on your head, but then the wind comes and dries you off. A beautiful rainbow follows as the sun appears through the clouds. These rainbows sometimes last for hours, fading in and out as the sun shines through the rain clouds.—Job 37:14.
Back then, there were few publishers in Punta Arenas. We sisters had to conduct the meetings in the small local congregation. Jehovah blessed our efforts. Thirty-seven years later, we returned to this area for a visit. What did we find? Six thriving congregations and three beautiful Kingdom Halls. What a joy that Jehovah permitted us to discover spiritual treasures in those southern sands!—Zechariah 4:10.
More Treasures at a “Wide Beach”
After serving for three and a half years in Punta Arenas, we were assigned to serve in the port city of Valparaiso. The city is composed of 41 hills surrounding a bay overlooking the Pacific Ocean. We concentrated our preaching activities on one of these hills, Playa Ancha, which means “Wide Beach.” During our 16-year stay there, we saw a group of young Christian brothers grow spiritually to the point that they now serve as traveling overseers and as Christian elders in congregations throughout Chile.
Our next missionary assignment was Viña del Mar. We served there for three and a half years until an earthquake damaged the missionary home. We returned to Santiago, where we had started our missionary service 40 years earlier. Things had changed. New branch facilities had been built, and the former branch building became a home for all missionaries remaining in the country. Later, that home began to be used as a location for the Ministerial Training School. At that time, Jehovah’s loving-kindness was demonstrated to us again. Five of us missionaries who were advanced in years were invited to live at Bethel. During the time that we have served in Chile, we have had 15 different assignments. We have seen the work grow from fewer than 100 publishers to some 70,000! What a joy it has been to search for treasures in Chile for 57 years!
We feel very blessed that Jehovah has allowed us to find so many people—treasures, really—who have gone on to be used by Jehovah in his organization. During our more than 60 years of serving Jehovah together, we wholeheartedly agree with the sentiments expressed by King David, who wrote: “How abundant your goodness is, which you have treasured up for those fearing you!”—Psalm 31:19.
^ par. 24 Published by Jehovah’s Witnesses but now out of print.
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Dorothea in 2002 and in the preaching work in 1943
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Doing street work in Fort Dodge, Iowa, in 1942
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Dorothea and Dora outside their first missionary home in Chile, 1946