“The Angel of Jehovah Is Camping All Around”
As told by Christabel Connell
We became so absorbed in answering Christopher’s Bible questions that neither of us noticed the lateness of the hour; nor did we note that Christopher kept looking out of the window. Finally, he turned to us and said, “It’s safe to leave now.” With that he escorted us to our bicycles and bade us good-night. What had he observed that was so dangerous?
I WAS born Christabel Earl in Sheffield, England, in 1927. Our home was bombed during World War II, so I was sent to live with my grandmother while I finished my schooling. In one convent school that I attended, I kept asking the nuns why there was so much badness and violence. Neither they nor other religious people I questioned were able to give me a satisfying answer.
After World War II ended, I trained as a nurse. I moved to London to work in Paddington General Hospital, but in the city, I saw more violence. Just after my older brother left for the Korean War, I saw a violent fight right outside the hospital. No one helped the victim, who lost his eyesight as a direct result of the beating. About this time, my mother accompanied me to spiritualist meetings, but I was still no closer to understanding why there was so much wickedness.
Encouraged to Study the Bible
One day my oldest brother, John, who had become one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, came to visit. “Do you know why all these bad things happen?” he asked. “No,” I replied. He opened his Bible and read Revelation 12:7-12. Now I could see that Satan and the demons are basically responsible for the evil in the world. So, taking John’s advice, I accepted a Bible study soon afterward. At that time, however, I let fear of man hold me back from getting baptized.—Prov. 29:25.
My sister, Dorothy, had also become a Witness. When she returned from the international convention in New York (1953) with her fiancé, Bill Roberts, I told them that I had studied the Bible. Bill asked me: “Did you check all the scriptures? Did you underline the answers in the book?” When I said no, he responded: “Then you never studied! Contact that sister, and start again!” About that time the demons began to torment me. I can remember asking Jehovah to protect me and free me from their influence.
Pioneering in Scotland and Ireland
I was baptized on January 16, 1954, finished my nursing contract in May, and began pioneering in June. Eight months later, I was sent as a special pioneer to Grangemouth, Scotland. There I felt that Jehovah’s angels were “camping all around” while I worked in such an isolated assignment.—Ps. 34:7.
In 1956, I was invited to serve in Ireland. With two others, I was assigned to the city of Galway. On the very first day, I called on a priest. Minutes later, a policeman arrived and took my companion and me to the police station. When he got our names and addresses, he immediately went to the telephone. We heard him say, “Yes, Father, I know exactly where they live.” He was sent by the priest! Our landlord was pressured to evict us, so the branch office recommended that we leave the area. We arrived at the railway station ten minutes late. But the train was still there, and a man was waiting to make sure that we boarded it. That was after only three weeks in Galway!
We were assigned to Limerick, another city where the Catholic Church exerted tremendous power. Mobs constantly jeered us. Many people were afraid to open their doors. A year earlier a brother had been beaten up in the nearby small town of Cloonlara. So we were happy to meet Christopher, mentioned at the outset, who asked us to return to discuss his Bible questions. During our visit, a priest walked in and demanded that Christopher make us leave. Confronting the priest, he said: “These women were invited into my home and knocked before they entered. You were not invited, nor did you knock.” Angrily, the priest left.
Unbeknownst to us, the priest had gathered a large group of men, who were waiting for us outside Christopher’s house. Knowing they were hostile, Christopher acted as described at the start. He had us stay until they dispersed. We found out later that he and his family were soon forced to move out of the area, and they immigrated to England.
Invited to Gilead
I was already planning to attend the 1958 Divine Will International Assembly in New York when I received an invitation to the 33rd class of Gilead. Rather than returning home after the assembly, I served in Collingwood, Ontario, Canada, until Gilead School began in 1959. But during the assembly, I met Eric Connell. He had learned the truth in 1957 and had begun pioneering in 1958. After the assembly, he wrote to me every day during my stay in Canada and throughout the Gilead course. I wondered what would happen to us after I graduated.
Attending Gilead was a highlight of my life. Dorothy and her husband were in the same class. Their missionary assignment was to Portugal. To my surprise, I was assigned to Ireland. How disappointed I was not to be going with my sister! I asked one of the instructors if I had done something wrong. “No,” he replied. “You and your partner, Eileen Mahoney, agreed to go anywhere in the world,” and Ireland was certainly included in that.
Back to Ireland
I arrived back in Ireland in August 1959 and was assigned to the Dun Laoghaire Congregation. Eric, meanwhile, had returned to England and was very pleased that I was so near. He too wanted to be a missionary. He reasoned that since Ireland at the time was a missionary field, he would pioneer there. He moved to Dun Laoghaire, and we were married in 1961.
Six months later, Eric was in a serious motorbike accident. His skull was fractured, and the doctors were not sure that they could save his life. After he spent three weeks in the hospital, I nursed him at home for five months until he recovered. I continued my ministry as best I could.
In 1965 we were assigned to a congregation of eight publishers in Sligo, a port on the northwestern coast. Three years later, we went to another small congregation in Londonderry, farther north. One day we returned from service to find a barbed-wire fence across the road where we lived. The Northern Ireland Troubles had begun. Gangs of youths burned cars. The city was already divided into Protestant and Catholic areas. It was dangerous to cross from one area in the city to another.
Living and Witnessing Through the Troubles
Our ministry, however, took us everywhere. Again, we felt as if the angels were camping around us. When we found ourselves in areas where rioting broke out, we quickly left and returned when things had calmed down. Once when there was rioting close to our apartment, burning debris from a nearby paint store landed on our windowsill. We could not go to sleep in case our apartment block caught fire. After moving to Belfast in 1970, we learned that a petrol bomb had, in fact, set fire to the paint store and that our former apartment block had burned down that time.
Another time, a sister and I were out in service and noticed an odd-looking length of pipe on a windowsill. We walked on. Minutes later, it exploded. Local people who came out thought that we had set off the pipe bomb! Just then a sister who lived in the area invited us into her house. Her neighbors accepted this as proof of our innocence.
In 1971 we returned to Londonderry to visit a sister. When we described our route and the barricade we passed through, she asked, “Was no one at the barricade?” When we said, “Yes, but they just ignored us,” she was amazed. Why? Because during the previous days a doctor and a policeman had had their cars hijacked and burned.
In 1972 we moved to Cork. Later, we served in Naas, then Arklow. Finally, in 1987, we were assigned to Castlebar, where we are today. Here we felt immensely privileged to help build a Kingdom Hall. Eric became seriously ill in 1999. Yet, with Jehovah’s help and the loving support of the congregation, I was again able to cope and nurse him back to health.
Eric and I have attended the Pioneer Service School twice. He still serves as an elder. I suffer from severe arthritis and have had both hips and both knees replaced. Though I have had to face bitter religious opposition and have lived through times of serious political and social troubles, one of my greatest challenges was having to give up driving. That was a test because it took away much of my independence. The congregation has helped greatly, being very supportive. I get around now with the help of a walking stick, and I use a battery-powered tricycle for some longer distances.
Together, Eric and I have served as special pioneers for a total of over 100 years—98 of them here in Ireland. We have no thought of retiring. We are not relying on miracles, but we believe that Jehovah’s powerful angels are “camping all around” those fearing him and serving him faithfully.