Serving Jehovah Has Been My Delight
As told by Fred Rusk
I experienced early in life the truth of David’s words found at Psalm 27:10: “In case my own father and my own mother did leave me, even Jehovah himself would take me up.” Let me relate how this came true for me.
I GREW UP on my grandfather’s cotton farm in the state of Georgia, U.S.A., during the Great Depression of the 1930’s. My father, who was devastated by the death of my mother and newborn brother, left me with his widowed dad and moved to a distant city for employment. Later, he made attempts to have me join him, but these never worked out.
Grandfather’s older daughters managed the household. Although he was not a religious man, his daughters were strict Southern Baptists. Under threat of a beating, I was forced to attend church every Sunday. So from an early age, I had little regard for religion. I did, however, enjoy school and sports.
The Visit That Changed My Life
One afternoon in 1941, when I was 15, an elderly man and his wife came to our home. He was introduced as “your uncle Talmadge Rusk.” I had never heard of him but learned that he and his wife were Jehovah’s Witnesses. What he explained about God’s purpose for humans to live on the earth forever was much different from what I had heard in church. Most of the family rejected—even despised—what they said. They were never again allowed into the home. However, my aunt Mary, only three years older than me, accepted a Bible along with publications that helped to explain it.
Mary was quickly convinced that she had found Bible truth and was baptized in 1942 as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. She also experienced what Jesus had foretold, namely: “A man’s enemies will be persons of his own household.” (Matt. 10:34-36) Family opposition was intense. An older sister, prominent in county affairs, conspired with the mayor and had Uncle Talmadge arrested. The charge was peddling without a license. He was convicted.
Our hometown newspaper reported that the mayor, who was also the judge, said to those in the city court: “The literature this man is distributing . . . is as dangerous as poison.” My uncle won the case on appeal, but he spent ten days in jail in the meantime.
How Aunt Mary Helped Me
In addition to speaking to me about her newfound beliefs, Mary began witnessing to the neighbors. I went with her on a Bible study that she conducted with a man who had accepted the book The New World. * His wife said that her husband had stayed up all night reading it. Although I did not want to be quickly drawn into anything religious, what I was learning appealed to me. However, it was not primarily Bible teachings that convinced me that the Witnesses were God’s people. It was how they were treated.
For example, on the way home from hoeing tomatoes one day, Mary and I found evidence in the smoldering incinerator that her sisters had burned her literature, including a phonograph and records containing Bible messages. My outrage was met with the condescending response of an aunt, “You will thank us later in life for what we have done.”
Mary was forced to leave home in 1943 because she refused to give up her newfound faith and stop preaching to the neighbors. By then, I was thrilled to have learned that not only does God have a name, Jehovah, but he is a loving, compassionate God, not one who burns people in a fiery hell. I also learned that Jehovah has a loving organization, although I had not yet attended a meeting.
Later, while I was mowing the lawn, a car drove up slowly and one of the two men inside asked me if I was Fred. When I found out that they were Witnesses, I said, “Let me get in, and we will drive to a safe place to talk.” Mary had arranged for them to call on me. One of the men was Shield Toutjian, a traveling minister who provided me with encouragement and spiritual direction at the right time. Family opposition now focused on me as I defended the beliefs of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Mary wrote to me from Virginia, where she had moved, and said that if I was determined to serve Jehovah, I could come and live with her. Right away I decided to go. On a Friday evening in October 1943, I put some necessities in a box and tied it in a tree some distance from home. On Saturday, I retrieved the box, took a back route to a neighbor’s house, and got a ride into town. Traveling to the city of Roanoke, I found Mary in the home of Edna Fowlkes.
Spiritual Growth, Baptism, Bethel
Edna was a compassionate anointed Witness—a modern-day Lydia—who had rented a large home and taken in, besides Aunt Mary, the wife of Edna’s brother, as well as her two daughters. These girls—Gladys and Grace Gregory—later became missionaries. Gladys, now in her 90’s, still serves faithfully at the Japan branch.
While living in Edna’s home, I attended meetings regularly and received training in the ministry. Having the freedom to study God’s Word and attend Christian meetings satisfied my growing spiritual appetite. On June 14, 1944, I was baptized. Mary and the Gregory sisters began pioneering and accepted an assignment in northern Virginia. There they were instrumental in forming a congregation in Leesburg. In early 1946, I began pioneering in an adjacent county. That summer we traveled together to the memorable international convention held in Cleveland, Ohio, August 4-11.
At that convention, Nathan Knorr, who was taking the lead in the organization, outlined plans for expansion at Brooklyn Bethel. These included building a new residence and an addition to the printery. Many young brothers were needed. I decided that that is where I would like to serve Jehovah. So I turned in my application, and within a few months, on December 1, 1946, I went to Bethel.
About a year later, the printery overseer, Max Larson, stopped at my desk in the Mailing Department. He informed me that I was being assigned to the Service Department. In that assignment, I learned much about the application of Bible principles and the functions of God’s organization, especially while working with T. J. (Bud) Sullivan, the department overseer.
My father visited me several times at Bethel. In later life, he had become religious. On his last visit, in 1965, he said, “You may come to visit me, but I will never come to see you here again.” I did visit him a few times before he died. He was sure he was going to heaven. My hope is that he is in Jehovah’s memory, and if so, at resurrection time he will be, not where he thought he would be, but here on the earth with the hope of living forever in the restored Paradise.
Other Memorable Conventions and Construction
Conventions were always milestones of spiritual growth. The international ones at New York’s Yankee Stadium in the 1950’s were especially so. During one session in 1958, Yankee Stadium and the Polo Grounds were packed with 253,922 from 123 lands. One incident at that convention, I will never forget. While I was assisting in the convention office, Brother Knorr approached me at a fast pace. “Fred,” he said, “somehow I overlooked assigning a brother to speak to all the pioneers now assembled in a rented banquet hall nearby. Would you rush over and give them a good talk based on what you think about on the way?” I prayed a lot before I arrived there, out of breath.
As the number of congregations increased dramatically in New York City in the 1950’s and 1960’s, rented facilities for Kingdom Halls became inadequate. So from 1970 to 1990, three buildings were purchased and remodeled in Manhattan to provide suitable meeting places. I was chairman of the building committees for these projects and have many pleasant memories of how Jehovah richly blessed the congregations involved in working together to finance and complete these buildings that continue to serve so well as centers of true worship.
Changes in Life
One day in 1957, while I was walking to work through the park between the Bethel Home and the printery, it started to rain. I saw a lovely blonde new Bethelite girl ahead of me. She did not have an umbrella, so I offered to share mine. That’s how I met Marjorie, and since our wedding in 1960, we have been walking happily together in Jehovah’s service, rain or shine. We celebrated our 50th year of marriage in September 2010.
We had hardly unpacked from our honeymoon when Brother Knorr told me that I had been assigned to be an instructor at Gilead School. What a special privilege that was! From 1961 to 1965, five longer classes were made up mainly of branch personnel who were given special training in branch management. In the fall of 1965, classes returned to being five months in length, and once again the focus was on training missionaries.
In 1972, I was transferred from Gilead School to the Writing Correspondence Department, where I served as the overseer. Doing research to handle a variety of questions and problems has helped me to understand better the teachings of God’s Word and the application of the lofty principles of our God in assisting others.
Then, in 1987, I was assigned to a new department called Hospital Information Services. Seminars were arranged to teach elders on Hospital Liaison Committees how to approach doctors, judges, and social workers to discuss our Scriptural stand on blood. A big problem was that doctors were arbitrarily giving blood transfusions to our children, often getting court orders to do so.
When alternatives to blood transfusions were suggested to doctors, the usual reply was that such were not available or were too expensive. My response to a surgeon who said that would often be, “Hold out your hand, please.” When he did, I would say, “You know, you possess there one of the best alternatives to blood.” This compliment reminded him of what he was well-aware of—that careful use of the scalpel keeps blood loss to a minimum.
During the past two decades, Jehovah has richly blessed these efforts to educate doctors and judges. Their attitudes changed significantly when they came to understand our position better. They learned that medical research proves that alternatives to blood are effective and that there are many cooperative doctors as well as hospitals to which a patient might be transferred.
Since 1996, Marjorie and I have been serving at the Watchtower Educational Center in Patterson, New York, located about 70 miles (110 km) north of Brooklyn. Here I worked briefly in the Service Department and then for a time shared in teaching branch personnel and traveling overseers. For the past 12 years, I have again served as the overseer of Writing Correspondence, which had been transferred from Brooklyn to Patterson.
Challenges of Old Age
Caring for my privileges of service at Bethel has become more difficult as I have reached my mid-80’s. I have battled cancer for more than ten years. I feel like Hezekiah, to whom Jehovah granted an extension of his life. (Isa. 38:5) My wife too has failing health, and we work together to cope with her Alzheimer’s disease. Marjorie has been a capable minister of Jehovah, a mentor to young ones, and a faithful helper and loyal companion to me. She was always a good student of the Bible and a fine teacher of it, and many spiritual children keep in touch with us.
My aunt Mary died in March 2010 at 87. She excelled as a teacher of God’s Word and helped others to take their stand for true worship. She spent many years in the full-time ministry. I am very grateful to her for the part she played in helping me to learn the truth of God’s Word and to become like her, a servant of our loving God, Jehovah. Mary is buried beside her husband, who earlier served as a missionary in Israel. I am confident that they are in Jehovah’s memory awaiting the resurrection.
As I look back over 67 years of serving Jehovah, I am thankful for the rich blessings I have received. It has been my delight to do Jehovah’s will! Having trusted in his undeserved kindness, I fervently hope to share in the promise of his Son: “Everyone that has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands for the sake of my name will receive many times more and will inherit everlasting life.”—Matt. 19:29.
^ par. 11 Published in 1942 but now out of print.
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On my grandfather’s cotton farm in Georgia, U.S.A., 1928
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Aunt Mary and Uncle Talmadge
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Mary, Gladys, and Grace
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My baptism, June 14, 1944
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In the Service Department at Bethel
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With Mary at the 1958 international convention at Yankee Stadium
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With Marjorie on our wedding day
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Together in 2008