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 Life Story

Seventy Years of Holding On to the Skirt of a Jew

Seventy Years of Holding On to the Skirt of a Jew

As told by Leonard Smith

When I was in my early teens, two Bible passages struck me. Today, over 70 years later, I can still remember the time when I grasped the meaning of Zechariah 8:23, which speaks of “ten men” taking hold of “the skirt of a man who is a Jew.” They tell the Jew: “We will go with you people, for we have heard that God is with you people.”

THE Jewish man symbolizes anointed Christians, and the “ten men” represent the “other sheep,” or “Jonadabs,” as they were known back then. * (John 10:16) When I understood that truth, I realized how much the fulfillment of my hope to live forever on earth depends upon my loyal support of the anointed class.

Jesus’ illustration of “the sheep” and “the goats,” found at Matthew 25:31-46, also deeply impressed me. “The sheep” picture those who receive a favorable judgment during the time of the end because they do good to Christ’s anointed brothers still on earth. As a young Jonadab, I said to myself, ‘Len, if you want to be viewed by Christ as a sheep, you’ve got to support his anointed brothers, accepting their leadership because God is with them.’ That understanding has guided me during more than seven decades.

‘WHERE IS MY PLACE?’

My mother was baptized in 1925 in the meeting hall at Bethel. That hall was called London Tabernacle and was used by the brothers in the area. I was born on October 15, 1926. In March 1940, I took the step of baptism during an assembly in Dover on the coast of England. I grew to love Bible truth. Since Mother was an anointed Christian, the first ‘skirt of a Jew’ I held on to, as it were, was that of my mother. At that time, my father and my older sister did not serve Jehovah. We were part of the Gillingham Congregation in southeast England, which was composed mostly of anointed Christians. Mother set a fine example of zeal for the preaching work.

In September 1941, at a convention in the city of Leicester, a discourse entitled “Integrity” considered the issue of universal domination. That talk helped me to understand for the first time that we are involved in the issue between Jehovah and Satan. Therefore, we need to take our stand for Jehovah and maintain our integrity to him as Universal Sovereign.

At that convention, much emphasis was placed on the pioneer service, and youngsters were encouraged to make it their goal. The talk entitled “Pioneer’s Place in the Organization”  made me wonder, ‘Where is my place?’ That convention convinced me that it was my duty as a Jonadab to help the anointed class to the best of my ability in the preaching work. Right there in Leicester, I filled in my application to join the ranks of the pioneers.

PIONEER SERVICE DURING THE WAR

On December 1, 1941, at the age of 15, I was appointed as a special pioneer. Mother was my first pioneer partner, but after about a year, she had to relinquish her pioneer service for health reasons. The London branch office then teamed me up with Ron Parkin, who presently serves on the Branch Committee in Puerto Rico.

We were sent to the coastal towns of Broadstairs and Ramsgate in the county of Kent, where we rented a room. The special pioneer monthly allowance was 40 shillings (then about $8, U.S.). So by the time we paid our rent, we had little to live on, and we were not always sure where our next meal would come from. But in one way or another, Jehovah always provided for our needs.

We cycled a lot, pushing our heavily loaded bicycles against strong winds coming from the North Sea. We also had to cope with air raids and German V-1 missiles that flew quite low over Kent to bomb London. I once had to jump off my bike and throw myself into a ditch when a bomb glided over my head and exploded in a nearby field. Even so, our years of pioneering in Kent were happy ones.

I BECOME A “BETHEL BOY”

My mother had always spoken of Bethel with admiration. “I can wish nothing better than that you become a Bethel boy,” she would say. So imagine my joy and surprise when, in January 1946, I received an invitation to go to Bethel in London to help with the work there for three weeks. At the end of those weeks, Pryce Hughes, the branch servant, asked me to stay at Bethel. The training I received there molded me for the rest of my life.

There were about 30 members in the London Bethel family at that time, mostly young single brothers but also several anointed brothers, including Pryce Hughes, Edgar Clay, and Jack Barr, who became a member of the Governing Body. What a privilege it was to support Christ’s brothers by working as a youngster under the spiritual oversight of these “pillars”!​—Gal. 2:9.

One day at Bethel, a brother told me that there was a sister at the front door who wanted to see me. To my surprise, it was my mother with a parcel under her arm. She said that she would not come in so as not to interrupt my work, but she gave me the parcel and left. It contained a warm overcoat. Her loving gesture reminded me of Hannah bringing her young son Samuel a coat while he was serving at the tabernacle.​—1 Sam. 2:18, 19.

GILEAD​—AN UNFORGETTABLE EXPERIENCE

In 1947, five of us serving at Bethel were invited to attend Gilead School in the United States, and the following year we attended the 11th class. When we arrived, it was bitterly cold in upstate  New York, where the school was located. How glad I was to have that warm coat my mother had brought me!

The six months I spent at Gilead were unforgettable. Mingling with fellow students from 16 different countries broadened my view. In addition to spiritual enrichment from the school, I benefited from fellowship with mature Christians. One of my fellow students, Lloyd Barry; one of the instructors, Albert Schroeder; and John Booth, overseer of Kingdom Farm (where Gilead School was located) later became members of the Governing Body. I treasure the loving counsel that these brothers gave me and their fine example of loyalty to Jehovah and his organization.

CIRCUIT WORK AND BACK TO BETHEL

Upon leaving Gilead, I was assigned to do circuit work in the state of Ohio, U.S.A. I was only 21 years of age, but the brothers accepted with warmth my youthful enthusiasm. In that circuit, I learned much from experienced older men.

After a few months, I was invited to return to Brooklyn Bethel for further training. During that time, I got to know such pillars as Milton Henschel, Karl Klein, Nathan Knorr, T. J. (Bud) Sullivan, and Lyman Swingle, all of whom once served on the Governing Body. It was an enriching experience to see them at work and observe their Christian ways. My confidence in Jehovah’s organization increased a hundredfold. Then I was sent back to Europe to continue my ministry there.

My mother died in February 1950. After the funeral, I had a frank discussion with my father and my sister, Dora. I asked them what they intended to do about the truth now that Mother was gone and I had left home. They knew and respected an elderly anointed brother, Harry Browning, and agreed to discuss the truth with him. Within a year, Dad and Dora were baptized. Dad was later appointed as a servant in the Gillingham Congregation. After Father’s death, Dora married a faithful elder, Roy Moreton, and served Jehovah loyally until her death in 2010.

HELPING OUT IN FRANCE

At public school, I had studied French, German, and Latin, and of the three, French was the language I had the most trouble with. So I had mixed feelings when I was asked to go to help out at the Paris Bethel in France. There, I had the privilege of working with branch servant Henri Geiger, an elderly anointed brother. The assignment was not always easy, and I doubtless made many mistakes, but I learned a lot about human relations.

In addition, the first postwar international convention in Paris was planned for 1951, and I was involved in organizing it. A young traveling overseer, Léopold Jontès, came to Bethel to help me. Later, Léopold was appointed branch overseer. The convention was held in the Palais des sports, near the Eiffel Tower. Delegates came from 28 lands. On the last day, the 6,000 French Witnesses were overjoyed to see 10,456 in attendance!

When I first arrived in France, my French was far from adequate. To make matters worse, I  made the big mistake of opening my mouth to speak only when I was sure of my French. But if you do not make mistakes, you are never corrected and you do not progress.

I decided to remedy the situation by enrolling in a school that taught French to foreigners. I attended classes on evenings when there were no meetings. I began to love the French language, and that love has grown over the years. This has proved useful because I have been able to help the France branch with translation work. In time, I became a translator myself, translating from English into French. It was a privilege to help in transmitting to the French-speaking brothers throughout the world the rich spiritual food provided by the slave class.​—Matt. 24:45-47.

MARRIAGE AND FURTHER PRIVILEGES

In 1956, I married Esther, a Swiss pioneer whom I had met a few years earlier. We were married in the Kingdom Hall next to London Bethel (the old London Tabernacle, where my mother was baptized). Brother Hughes gave our marriage talk. Esther’s mother was present, and she too had the heavenly hope. Not only did my marriage provide me with a lovely and loyal companion but it gave me many hours of precious fellowship with my fine, spiritually-minded mother-in-law until she finished her earthly course in 2000.

After our wedding, Esther and I lived outside Bethel. While I continued to translate for Bethel, Esther served as a special pioneer in the suburbs of Paris. She was able to help several people to become servants of Jehovah. In 1964 we were invited to live at Bethel. Then in 1976, when Branch Committees were first formed, I was appointed as a member. Over the years, Esther has always given me her loving support.

“YOU WILL NOT ALWAYS HAVE ME”

I have had the privilege of periodically returning to world headquarters in New York. During those visits, I received good advice from different members of the Governing Body. For example, one time when I expressed my concern about meeting a certain deadline for work, Brother Knorr smiled and said: “Don’t worry. Work!” Many times since then, when assignments pile up, instead of panicking, I set to work on one job after another and the work gets done, generally on time.

Just before his death, Jesus told his disciples: “You will not always have me” with you. (Matt. 26:11) We other sheep are also aware that we will not always have Christ’s anointed brothers among us on earth. I count it, therefore, an inestimable privilege to have been closely associated for over 70 years with many of the anointed​—gratefully holding on to the skirt of a Jew.

[Footnote]

^ par. 5 For the term “Jonadab,” see Jehovah’s Witnesses​—Proclaimers of God’s Kingdom, pages 83, 165, 166.

[Blurb on page 21]

Brother Knorr smiled and said: “Don’t worry. Work!”

[Pictures on page 19]

(Left) My mother and father

(Right) On the Gilead campus in 1948, wearing the warm coat Mother gave me

[Picture on page 20]

Interpreting for Brother Lloyd Barry at the dedication of the France branch, 1997

[Pictures on page 21]

(Left) With Esther on our wedding day

(Right) In the witnessing work together