I REMEMBER one cold morning many years ago in Brookings, South Dakota, U.S.A. I could feel that freezing weather would soon come. I was in an unheated barn with a small group of people, and we were all shivering. We were standing near a large container filled with water, and the water was cold! Let me tell you a little about my life so that you will understand why we were there.
I was born on March 7, 1936. My parents had four children, and I was the youngest. We lived on a small farm in eastern South Dakota. Farming was an important part of our family’s life, but it was not the most important part. My parents got baptized as Jehovah’s Witnesses in 1934. They had dedicated their lives to Jehovah, so doing his will was most important to them. My dad, Clarence, and later my uncle Alfred, served as company servant (now called coordinator of the body of elders) in our small congregation in Conde, South Dakota.
Our family regularly went to our meetings and from house to house to tell others about the Bible’s wonderful hope for the future. My parents’ example and the training they gave us helped us to love Jehovah. My sister, Dorothy, and I became Kingdom publishers when we were six. In 1943, I joined the Theocratic Ministry School, which had just started.
Conventions and assemblies were an important part of our lives. I remember a convention in 1949 in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Brother Grant Suiter gave the talk “It Is Later Than You Think!” He emphasized that all dedicated Christians need to use their lives to preach the good news of God’s Kingdom. After that, I dedicated my life to Jehovah. I got baptized at the next circuit assembly, in Brookings, on November 12, 1949. That is why I was in that very cold barn, as I mentioned earlier. Four of us were waiting to be baptized in a large container made of steel.
I then decided that I wanted to pioneer. I started on January 1, 1952, when I was 15. The Bible says: “The one walking with the wise will become wise,” and there were many wise ones in my family who supported my decision to pioneer. (Proverbs 13:20) I often went preaching with my uncle Julius, who was 60 years old. Although he was much older than me, we enjoyed being together in the ministry. I learned so much from him and his experience in life. Dorothy soon became a pioneer too.
CIRCUIT OVERSEERS HELPED ME
When I was young, my parents invited many circuit overseers and their wives to stay with us. One couple, Jesse and Lynn Cantwell, helped me very much. They cared about me and encouraged me. When they were serving congregations nearby, they sometimes invited me to go with them in the ministry. I really enjoyed my time with them! I wanted to be busy in Jehovah’s work as they were and pioneer.
Our next circuit overseer was Bud Miller. When he and his wife, Joan, visited our congregation, I was 18 years old. At that time I had to appear before the draft board, a committee that decides who must join the military. They wanted me to do some work that I felt was against Jesus’ command to be neutral in politics. But I wanted to preach the good news of the Kingdom. (John 15:19) So I requested that they consider me a minister.
I was so pleased when Brother Miller told me that he would come with me to the meeting with the committee. He was not a shy person, and people did not scare him. He also knew the Scriptures well. Having him with me gave me so much courage! In the late summer of 1954, as a result of that meeting, the committee accepted my request to be considered a minister. I was now free to do more for Jehovah.
Soon after that, I was invited to serve at Bethel, at what was then called Watchtower Farm, on Staten Island, New York. I served there for about three years. I had many wonderful experiences because I met many wise brothers and sisters and worked with them.
The farm on Staten Island included the radio station WBBR. It was operated by Jehovah’s Witnesses from 1924 to 1957. Only 15 to 20 members of the Bethel family were assigned to the farm. Most of us were young and quite inexperienced. But an older anointed brother, Eldon Woodworth, worked with us. He was like a father to us and taught us many things. Sometimes when we had difficulties with one another, Brother Woodworth would say, “It sure is marvelous what the Lord has done with what he has to work with.”
Brother Frederick W. Franz was also with us and helped us all. He was wise and knew the Bible very well. And he was interested in each one of us. Our cook was Harry Peterson. It was easier for us to use that last name than his real one, Papargyropoulos. He too was one of the anointed, and he loved the ministry. Brother Peterson did his work at Bethel well but never neglected the field ministry. He would place hundreds of magazines each month. He also knew the Bible well and answered many of our questions.
I LEARNED FROM WISE SISTERS
At the farm, we prepared fruits and vegetables and put them in cans. About 42,600 liters (45,000 quarts) of fruits and vegetables a year were canned for the Bethel family. I worked with Etta Huth, a very wise sister. She made the recipes that we used to prepare the fruit and vegetables. Local sisters came to work with us, and Etta would help organize their work. Although Etta knew much about the canning process, she always respected the brothers who were overseers on the farm. She set a fine example for all of us.
Angela Romano was one of the young sisters who came to help on the farm. Etta had helped her when she came in the truth. Angie and I got married in April 1958, and we have enjoyed serving Jehovah together for 58 years. Through the years, Angie’s loyalty to Jehovah has made our marriage strong. She is wise, and I can absolutely rely on her, no matter what difficulties we have.
A MISSIONARY ASSIGNMENT AND THE TRAVELING WORK
When the brothers sold the WBBR facilities on Staten Island in 1957, I served at Brooklyn Bethel for a short time. Then Angie and I married, so I left Bethel. For three years, we pioneered on Staten Island. For a time, I even worked for the new owners of the radio station, which was called WPOW.
Angie and I kept our life simple so that we would be free to go and serve wherever we were needed. As a result, in 1961 we accepted an invitation to serve as special pioneers in Falls City, Nebraska. But soon after we got there, we were invited to go to South Lansing, New York, for one month to attend Kingdom Ministry School. We enjoyed the training we received, and we thought that after the school we would go back to Nebraska. So we were very surprised when we got a new assignment. We were going to serve as missionaries in Cambodia! In that beautiful country in Southeast Asia, we saw, heard, and tasted things that were new to us. We really wanted to tell people there the good news about the Kingdom.
But then the political situation changed in Cambodia, and we had to go to South Vietnam. After two years I became very sick, and sadly, we had to return to the United States. I needed some time to get better. When I did, we started pioneering again.
In March 1965 we started serving congregations in the traveling work. For 33 years, Angie and I enjoyed circuit and district work and helping at conventions. I enjoyed this work, since conventions have always been an exciting time for me. For some years we visited congregations in and around New York City, and many of the conventions were at Yankee Stadium.
WE RETURNED TO BETHEL AND THEOCRATIC SCHOOLS
Angie and I received many new and difficult assignments over the years. In 1995, I was asked to teach the Ministerial Training School. Three years later, we were invited to Bethel. After 40 years, I was happy to be back in Bethel, where I had started my special full-time service. For a time, I worked in the Service Department and as an instructor in many of the schools. In 2007, the Governing Body formed the Theocratic Schools Department to care for all the schools taught at Bethel, and for some years I was the overseer.
In recent years, many changes have been made to the schools at Bethel. The School for Congregation Elders began in 2008. And over the next two years, more than 12,000 elders were taught at Patterson and at Brooklyn Bethel. That school is now continuing in many other places. In 2010 the name of the Ministerial Training School was changed to the Bible School for Single Brothers, and a new school was formed, called the Bible School for Christian Couples.
In September 2014, those two schools were combined and became the School for Kingdom Evangelizers. The students could be married couples, single brothers, or single sisters. Many around the world were thrilled to hear that they would have this school in their country too. It is exciting to see that more will have the opportunity to attend these schools. And I am so grateful to have met many who made changes in their lives to be able to receive this training.
When I think about my life from before I got baptized in that cold barn until now, I thank Jehovah for the wise people I have met. They have helped me to get to know and serve him better. Some were younger than me, and others were older. And many were from cultures that were different from mine. But I have seen from their actions and attitudes that they loved Jehovah deeply. I am so grateful to have many wise friends among Jehovah’s people whom I can learn from.