On a summer evening in 1951, four young men, all in their early 20’s, stood in adjoining phone booths in Ithaca, New York, U.S.A., and excitedly placed long-distance calls to Michigan, Iowa, and California. There was good news to share!
THE preceding February, 122 pioneers converged on South Lansing, New York, to attend the 17th class of Gilead School. Among the prospective missionaries were Lowell Turner, William (Bill) Kasten, Richard Kelsey, and Ramon Templeton. Lowell and Bill, both from Michigan, Richard from Iowa, and Ramon from California soon became well-acquainted.
Some five months later, excitement was running high when it was announced that Brother Nathan Knorr from world headquarters was coming to speak to the students. The four brothers had indicated their desire to serve together in the same country—if possible. Were they now to learn more about their foreign missionary assignments? Yes, indeed!
Anticipation grew as Brother Knorr, speaking to the entire class, began to announce their foreign assignments. The first ones called to the platform were those four nervous, but relieved, young men who at last knew that they could stay together! But where? Their surprised classmates erupted in sustained applause when it was announced that they were to be sent to Germany.
Jehovah’s Witnesses everywhere had marveled at the record of faithfulness shown by the Witnesses in Germany from 1933 onward under the Hitler regime. Many students recalled having prepared clothing shipments and CARE packages for their European brothers after World War II. God’s people in Germany were examples of outstanding faith, determination, courage, and trust in Jehovah. ‘Now we will actually get to know these dear brothers and sisters personally,’ Lowell remembers thinking. No wonder everyone was so excited and telephone calls needed to be made that evening!
ON THEIR WAY TO GERMANY
On July 27, 1951, the SS Homeland pulled away from its dock on New York’s East River, and the four friends were on an 11-day voyage to Germany. Brother Albert Schroeder, one of their Gilead instructors and later a member of the Governing Body, had taught them their first sentences in German. Now, with several German passengers on board, perhaps they could learn more. But the passengers apparently spoke different dialects of German. How confusing!
On Tuesday morning, August 7, after having endured bouts of seasickness, the brothers finally set foot on German soil in Hamburg. Everywhere they saw the scars left by the war that had ended just six years earlier. Saddened by what they saw, they embarked on an overnight train trip to Wiesbaden, where the branch office was then located.
Early Wednesday morning, they met their very first Witness in Germany—and with a typical German name at that! Hans drove them from the train station to Bethel, where he turned them over to a rather resolute elderly sister who spoke no English. She evidently thought, however, that language barriers could be overcome simply by speaking louder. But despite her steadily increasing volume, both she and the four brothers became ever more frustrated. Finally Brother Erich Frost, the branch servant, appeared and greeted them warmly in English. Things were improving.
Toward the end of August, the four attended their first German convention, the “Clean Worship” Assembly in Frankfurt am Main. The peak attendance of 47,432 and the fact that 2,373 were baptized renewed the brothers’ missionary zeal and desire to preach. But a few days later, Brother Knorr revealed that they were to stay at Bethel and be assigned to work there.
Joys in their assignment fully convinced them that Jehovah always knows best
Because his heart was set on missionary work, Ramon had once turned down a chance to go to Bethel in the United States. Neither Richard nor Bill had given any thought to Bethel service. But their subsequent joys in their assignment fully convinced them that Jehovah always knows best. How wise then to rely on his leading rather than on one’s personal desires! He who has learned this lesson will be happy serving Jehovah anywhere and in whatever assignment he is given.
Many in the Germany Bethel family were happy to have Americans in their midst with whom they could now practice speaking English. But one day in the dining room, these hopes were abruptly shattered. Brother Frost, in his typically enthusiastic manner, began speaking in German about something apparently quite serious. Most in the family kept very quiet, their eyes glued to their plates. The new arrivals, although unable to understand what was being said, slowly began to realize that it had something to do with them. So when Brother Frost thundered out, “VERBOTEN!” (“Forbidden!”) repeating it with extra volume for emphasis, they were uneasy. What had they done to set off such strong emotions?
The meal ended, and all scurried to their rooms. Later, a brother explained: “In order for you to help us, you must be able to speak German. That is why Brother Frost said that until you have learned the language, speaking English with you is VERBOTEN.”
The Bethel family was quick to obey. Not only did this help the newcomers to learn German but it also taught them that counsel given by a loving brother, even if initially hard to apply, is often for our own good. Brother Frost’s counsel reflected his interest in the welfare of Jehovah’s organization and his love for his brothers. * No wonder the four grew to love him!
LEARNING FROM OUR FRIENDS
From God-fearing friends we can learn valuable lessons, which in turn help us to become better friends of Jehovah. From faithful German brothers and sisters—too numerous to mention by name—the four learned much, but they also learned from one another. Richard explains: “Lowell had some knowledge of German and did well with it, but the rest of us were floundering. Since he was also the oldest in our group, he automatically became the one we turned to in matters of language and in taking the lead.” Ramon recalls: “How thrilled I was when a Swiss brother offered us the use of his chalet in Switzerland for our first vacation after a year in Germany! Two weeks to ourselves with no struggling with German! But I had not taken Lowell into consideration. He insisted that we read and discuss the daily text every morning—in German! Much to my chagrin, he did not waver. But we learned a valuable lesson. Follow the lead of those who have your best interests at heart, even when you sometimes disagree. This attitude has stood us in good stead over the years and has made it easier for us to submit to theocratic direction.”
The four friends also learned to appreciate one another’s strong points, even as Philippians 2:3 says: “With lowliness of mind [consider] that the others are superior to you.” So the others often dignified Bill by delegating to him tasks that the three all agreed he could handle better than they could. “When critical or unpleasant steps needed to be taken to clear up challenging matters,” Lowell recalls, “we turned to Bill. He had the knack of dealing with unpleasant situations the way we all agreed we should but somehow lacked the courage or ability to do.”
One by one, each of the four decided to marry. Their friendship was based on mutual love for Jehovah and the full-time ministry, so they were set on finding mates willing to give Jehovah top priority. Full-time service had taught them that giving is more rewarding than receiving and that personal desires must rightfully be given lower priority than Kingdom interests. They thus chose sisters who of their own initiative had already taken up full-time service. Four strong and happy marriages resulted.
For a friendship or a marriage to be truly lasting, Jehovah must be in the relationship. (Eccl. 4:12) Even though Bill and Ramon later suffered the loss of their mates in death, both had experienced the joy and support that a faithful wife can give. Lowell and Richard continue to enjoy this support, and Bill, who remarried, made a wise choice in a mate so that he could remain in full-time service.
In later years, their assignments led them to different places—chiefly in Germany, Austria, Luxembourg, Canada, and the United States. As a result, the four friends were unable to spend as much time together as they would have liked. But even though separated by distance, they always kept in touch, rejoicing with one another in their blessings and weeping together in their sorrows. (Rom. 12:15) Friends like that are to be treasured and should never be taken for granted. They are precious gifts from Jehovah. (Prov. 17:17) How rare true friends are in today’s world! But every true Christian can have them in abundance. As Jehovah’s Witnesses, we enjoy friendship with fellow believers the world over and, above all, with Jehovah God and Jesus Christ.
As is true of us all, the paths of these four friends have at times been rocky—whether because of experiencing the pain of losing a mate, the stress of contending with serious illness, the concerns of caring for aged parents, the difficulties of raising a child while in full-time service, the apprehension felt when accepting new theocratic assignments, and now increasingly the problems of old age. But they also know from experience that friends—both near and far—help lovers of Jehovah to cope successfully with each and every challenge.
A FRIENDSHIP WITH ETERNITY IN VIEW
How fine it was that Lowell, Ramon, Bill, and Richard at the respective ages of 18, 12, 11, and 10 dedicated themselves to Jehovah and that between 17 and 21 years of age, they all took up the full-time service. They did as Ecclesiastes 12:1 encouraged them to do: “Remember, now, your Grand Creator in the days of your young manhood.”
If you are a young Christian male, accept if possible Jehovah’s invitation to enter full-time service. Then thanks to his undeserved kindness, you might experience the joys—as have these four friends—of serving in circuit, district, or zone work; of serving at Bethel, including on Branch Committees; of instructing at Kingdom Ministry and Pioneer Service schools; and of speaking at conventions, both large and small. How these four rejoiced in knowing that tens of thousands benefited from their activity! All was made possible simply because as young men, they acted on Jehovah’s loving invitation to serve him whole-souled.—Col. 3:23.
Today, Lowell, Richard, and Ramon are once again serving together at the branch office, now in Selters, Germany. Sad to say, Bill died in 2010 while serving as a special pioneer in the United States. Almost 60 years of a very special four-way friendship shattered by death! But our God, Jehovah, never forgets his friends. We can be sure that under his Kingdom rule, every Christian friendship temporarily broken by death will be restored.
“In all the 60 years of our friendship, I cannot remember any unpleasant moment”
Shortly before he died, Bill wrote: “In all the 60 years of our friendship, I cannot remember any unpleasant moment. Our relationship has always been something very special to me.” To which his three friends, with a continuation of their friendship in the new world clearly in view, quickly add, “And we only got started.”
^ par. 17 Brother Frost’s exciting life story was published in The Watchtower of April 15, 1961, pages 244-249.