IT CAME as a clarion call: “Kingdom Publishers in Britain—Wake Up!!” (Informant, * December 1937, London edition) The sobering subtitle added: “No Outstanding Increase in Ten Years.” A front-page service report spanning ten years from 1928 to 1937 proved the point.
TOO MANY PIONEERS?
What had caused the field ministry to lose its impetus in Britain? The congregations were apparently “in a rut,” continuing at a pace set many years before. In addition, the branch had decided that the territory could support only about 200 pioneers, who worked in isolated territories rather than with congregations. Hence, the branch had told prospective pioneers that the field in Britain had no more room and urged them to serve in other European countries. Commendably, a steady stream of pioneers left Britain for such countries as France, despite having little or no knowledge of the language.
“A CALL TO ACTION”
The 1937 Informant article set a challenging goal for 1938: One million hours! The goal could easily be met if publishers would devote 15 hours a month to the ministry and pioneers, 110 hours. Suggestions included organizing field service groups for five-hour days and focusing on making return visits, particularly during midweek evenings.
This renewed emphasis on the ministry thrilled many. “It was a call to action from headquarters, which most of us had been longing for and which soon brought wonderful results,” recalled Hilda Padgett. * Sister E. F. Wallis reported: “The five-hour day suggestion was grand! What greater joy could there be than putting in whole days at a time in the Lord’s service? . . . We returned tired, maybe, but joyful? I’ll say!” Young Stephen Miller felt the sense of urgency and responded to the call. He wanted to do it while he had the opportunity! He remembered groups on bicycles spending whole days in the ministry and in the summer evenings playing recorded talks. They zealously shared in information marches with placards and did street witnessing with magazines.
The Informant also issued this fresh appeal: “We need a pioneer army of 1,000.” A new territory policy meant that pioneers no longer worked separately from the congregations but along with them, supporting and building them up. “A lot of the brothers were waking up to the fact that they needed to pioneer,” remembers Joyce Ellis (née Barber). “Although I was only 13 at the time,” she says, “that was what I wanted to do; I wanted to pioneer.” She achieved her goal in July 1940, at age 15. Peter, who later became Joyce’s husband, heard the “Wake Up” call, prompting him to “start thinking about pioneering.” In June 1940, at age 17, he cycled 65 miles (105 km) to Scarborough to take up his new pioneer assignment.
Cyril and Kitty Johnson were typical of self-sacrificing new pioneers. They decided to sell their home and goods to fund their full-time ministry. Cyril quit his job, and within a month they were ready to start pioneering. He recalled: “We were quite confident about this. We did it willingly and happily.”
PIONEER HOMES OPENED
As the number of pioneers increased sharply, responsible brothers considered practical ways to support this growing army. Jim Carr, serving as a zone servant (now known as a circuit overseer) in 1938, followed the suggestion to set up pioneer homes in cities. Groups of pioneers were encouraged to live and work together, thus cutting costs. In Sheffield, they rented a large house, to be overseen by a responsible brother. The local congregation contributed funds and furniture. Jim recalled: “Everyone worked to make it a success.” Ten hardworking pioneers lived there, keeping up a good spiritual routine. “The [day’s] text was discussed each morning at the breakfast table,” and “the pioneers went daily to their territory in various parts of the city.”
Publishers and pioneers alike responded to the call, reaching the goal of one million hours in 1938. In fact, reports show increases in all areas of field activity. In a five-year period, Britain’s publisher figures almost tripled. The renewed focus on Kingdom service strengthened Jehovah’s people to face the challenging war years that lay ahead.
Today, Britain’s pioneer ranks are increasing again, as God’s war of Armageddon approaches. Pioneer numbers have reached new peaks over the last ten years, reaching 13,224 in October 2015. These pioneers are fully awake to the fact that the full-time ministry is one of the best ways to spend their lives.