Reflecting on 65 years in the full-time ministry, I can truly say that my life has been filled with pleasurable days. That does not mean that there have not been any sad days as well as days of discouragement. (Ps. 34:12; 94:19) But overall, it has been a most rewarding and purposeful life!
ON September 7, 1950, I became a member of the Brooklyn Bethel family. At the time, 355 brothers and sisters of numerous nationalities and ranging in age from 19 to 80 made up the Bethel family. Many of them were anointed Christians.
HOW I CAME TO SERVE JEHOVAH
I learned to serve our “happy God” from my mother. (1 Tim. 1:11) She began serving Jehovah when I was a young boy. On July 1, 1939, at ten years of age, I was baptized at a zone assembly (now called a circuit assembly) in Columbus, Nebraska, U.S.A. About a hundred of us met at a rented facility to listen to a recording of the lecture “Fascism or Freedom,” delivered by Joseph Rutherford. Halfway through the talk, a mob formed outside the small hall in which we were meeting. They forced their way inside, broke up our meeting, and drove us out of town. We gathered at a brother’s farm not far from town and heard the rest of the program. As you can imagine, I have never forgotten the date of my baptism!
My mother tried diligently to raise me in the truth. Although my father was a good man and a good father, he took little interest in religion or in my spiritual welfare. Mother, along with other Witnesses in the Omaha Congregation, gave me much-needed encouragement.
A CHANGE IN DIRECTION
When I was about to graduate from high school, I had to make a decision about what I would do with my life. During each summer vacation from school, I served as a vacation pioneer (now called an auxiliary pioneer), along with others of my age.
Two young single brothers who had just graduated from the seventh class of Gilead School
HOW I CAME TO BETHEL
In July 1950, my parents and I traveled to the international convention at Yankee Stadium in New York City. While at the convention, I attended the meeting for those who were interested in serving at Bethel. I submitted a letter, saying that I would be pleased to serve there.
Although my father was not opposed to my pioneering and living at home, he felt that I should pay a reasonable amount toward my room and board. So one day in early August, while I was on my way to look for a job, I first stopped at our mailbox. There I found a letter for me from Brooklyn. It was signed by Nathan H. Knorr, who wrote: “Your application for Bethel service is at hand. I understand that you agree to remain in Bethel until the Lord takes you away. I would therefore like you to report to Bethel at 124 Columbia Heights, Brooklyn, New York, on September 7, 1950.”
When my father came home from work that day, I told him that I had found a job. He said, “Good, where will you work?” I answered, “Brooklyn Bethel, at $10.00 a month.” That was a bit of a shock to him, but he said that if that was what I had chosen to do, I should strive to make a success of it. Not long afterward, at the convention at Yankee Stadium in 1953, he was baptized!
Happily, my pioneer partner, Alfred Nussrallah, was invited to Bethel at the same time, and we traveled there together. He later married, and he and his wife, Joan, went to Gilead, into the missionary service in Lebanon, and then into the traveling work back in the United States.
My first assignment at Bethel was in the Bindery, sewing books together. The first publication I worked on was the book What Has Religion Done for Mankind? After about eight months in the Bindery, I was assigned to the Service Department to work under the direction of Brother Thomas J. Sullivan. It was a pleasure to work with him and to benefit from the spiritual wisdom and insight he had gained over the years in the organization.
After I had spent almost three years in the Service Department, Max Larson, the factory overseer, told me that Brother Knorr would like to see me. I wondered if I had done something wrong. It was a relief when Brother Knorr said that he wanted to know whether I was planning to leave Bethel in the foreseeable future. He needed someone to work in his office temporarily and wanted to see if I could handle the assignment. I said that I had no plans to leave Bethel. As it turned out, I was privileged to work in his office for the next 20 years.
I have often said that I could never have paid for the education I received working with Brothers Sullivan and Knorr, as well as with others in Bethel, such as Milton Henschel, Klaus Jensen, Max Larson, Hugo Riemer, and Grant Suiter. *
The brothers with whom I have served were very well-organized for the work they performed in behalf of the organization. Brother Knorr was a tireless worker who wanted to see the Kingdom activity progress to the greatest extent possible. Those serving in his office found him to be easy to talk to. Even if we had a different point of view on a matter, we could express ourselves freely and still have his confidence.
On one occasion, Brother Knorr spoke to me about the need for caring for what might be called small matters. To illustrate, he told me that when he was the factory overseer, Brother Rutherford would call him on the phone and say: “Brother Knorr, when you come over from the factory for dinner, bring me some pencil erasers. I need them at my desk.” Brother Knorr said that the first thing he did was go to the supply room, get the erasers, and put them in his pocket. Then at noon he would take them to Brother Rutherford’s office. It was such a little thing, but it was useful to Brother Rutherford. Then Brother Knorr told me: “I like to have sharpened pencils on my desk. So please have them there each morning.” For many years, I made sure his pencils were sharpened.
Brother Knorr often spoke about the need to listen carefully when we were asked to perform a particular task. Once, he gave me explicit instruction on how to handle a certain matter, but I failed to listen carefully. As a result, I caused him much embarrassment. I felt terrible, so I wrote a brief letter saying that I deeply regretted what I had done and felt that it would be best for me to be transferred out of his office. Later that morning, Brother Knorr came to my desk. “Robert,” he said, “I have your note. You made a mistake. I spoke to you about it, and I am sure you will be more careful in the future. Now let’s both get back to work.” I deeply appreciated his kind consideration.
A DESIRE TO GET MARRIED
After having served at Bethel for eight years, I had no plans other than to continue in Bethel service. That changed, however. About the time of the international convention at Yankee Stadium and the Polo Grounds in 1958, I saw Lorraine Brookes, whom I had met in 1955 when she was pioneering in Montreal, Canada. I was impressed with her attitude about full-time service and her willingness to go wherever Jehovah’s organization might send her. Lorraine’s goal had been to go to Gilead School. At age 22, she was accepted to attend the 27th class, in 1956. After graduation she was assigned to Brazil as a missionary. Lorraine and I renewed our acquaintance in 1958, and she accepted my proposal of marriage. We planned to get married the following year and hopefully enter missionary service together.
When I told Brother Knorr about my intentions, he suggested we wait for three years, then get married, and serve at Brooklyn Bethel. At that time, for a couple to remain at Bethel after they got married, one of them had to have served at Bethel for ten years or more and the other for at least three years. So Lorraine agreed to serve two years in Brazil Bethel and then one year in Brooklyn Bethel before we got married.
Our only contact during the first two years of our engagement was by mail. It was too costly to telephone, and there was no e-mail in those days! When we got married on September 16, 1961, we had the honor of having Brother Knorr give our wedding talk. True, those few years of waiting seemed a long time. But now, as we look back with much satisfaction and joy on well over 50 years of marriage, we agree that the wait was well worth it!
PRIVILEGES OF SERVICE
In 1964, I was given the privilege to visit other countries as a zone overseer. At the time, wives were not assigned to accompany their husbands on those trips. In 1977 that was adjusted, and wives began to travel with their husbands. That year Lorraine and I accompanied Grant and Edith Suiter on visits to branch offices in Germany, Austria, Greece, Cyprus, Turkey, and Israel. Altogether, I have visited some 70 countries around the world.
On one such trip to Brazil in 1980, our itinerary took us to Belém, a city on the equator where Lorraine had served in the missionary work. We also stopped to visit the brothers in Manaus. At a talk that was given in a stadium, we saw a group sitting together that did not follow the usual custom among Brazilians of women kissing on the cheeks and brothers shaking hands with one another. Why not?
They were our dear fellow Witnesses from a leper colony located in the interior of the Amazon rain forest. For safety reasons, they avoided direct contact with others in attendance. However, they certainly touched our hearts, and we will never forget the joy reflected in their faces! How true the words of Isaiah: “My servants will shout joyfully because of the good condition of the heart.”
A REWARDING AND PURPOSEFUL LIFE
Lorraine and I frequently reflect on our more than six decades in dedicated service to Jehovah. We are very happy with the ways we have been blessed by allowing Jehovah to direct us through his organization. Although I am not able to travel around the world as in former years, I am able to keep up my daily work as a helper to the Governing Body, working with the Coordinators’ Committee and the Service Committee. I greatly appreciate the privilege of having a small share in supporting the worldwide brotherhood in this way. It continues to amaze us to see the large number of young men and women who have taken up the full-time service with the attitude of Isaiah, who said: “Here I am! Send me!” (Isa. 6:8) This multitude of individuals echo the truthfulness of the words of the circuit overseer who long ago said to me: “Get right into the full-time ministry. You never know where it may lead you.”
^ par. 20 For the life stories of some of these brothers, see the following issues of The Watchtower: Thomas J. Sullivan (August 15, 1965); Klaus Jensen (October 15, 1969); Max Larson (September 1, 1989); Hugo Riemer (September 15, 1964); and Grant Suiter (September 1, 1983).