Gilead—Forty Years Old and Going Strong!
FIVE YEARS. In the beginning, that is how long it seemed Gilead School would last. Funds were limited, and the school’s president wondered if they could even find enough willing students to fill its roster. Today 6,000 students have the unique distinction of being Gilead graduates. But what kind of school is it? And to what does it owe its success?
Gilead School was born amidst the turmoil of a second world war. Jehovah’s Witnesses were the object of bitter persecution worldwide. Branch offices of the Watch Tower Society were closed down in a number of countries. The then president of the Watch Tower Society, J. F. Rutherford, therefore feared the Society’s Brooklyn headquarters would be closed down. So in 1941 he arranged for a large brick building to be constructed on a farm in upstate New York to house the headquarters staff in such an emergency. Rutherford named the building Gilead (meaning “heap of witness”), which is derived from the name of a Biblical site mentioned at Genesis 31:48, 49. The name, which was carved over the building’s entranceway, turned out to be prophetic.
John Booth lived in Gilead and recalls: “There were just three of us assigned to live there in September of 1941. And I was given a room in which I lived for the next 28 years . . . But after Nathan Knorr became president [in 1942] other members of the farm staff moved in too.” Knorr, however, envisioned a loftier use for the building.
For many years the Society’s president had served as the primary spokesman for Jehovah’s Witnesses. But Knorr wanted all Witnesses to be able to speak the truth to others on a one-to-one basis. So as part of a vast educational program, he arranged for a school that would train and send out evangelizers to all parts of the world. The semioccupied Gilead building was just perfect to house such a school! Appropriately, Knorr decided to retain the name Gilead for the school itself. For a great worldwide witness would be heaped up as a result.
December 1942 saw confidential questionnaires being sent to full-time ministers meeting the basic enrollment requirements. One hundred were selected for the first class—and given just a few days to arrive! So from all corners of the United States they trekked, by car, train and bus, every one of them arriving before classes convened on February 1, 1943.
The school was a resounding success! Gilead-trained missionaries helped to establish Christianity solidly in parts of the world previously untouched by the Bible’s message. Generous contributions made it possible not only to extend the school past five years but also to invite students from all over the world. To date, students from more than 50 countries have attended Gilead and have been assigned to serve in over a hundred foreign lands.
The School Today
In order to have closer contact with the Society’s headquarters staff, the school was moved to Brooklyn in 1961. The school’s basic textbook is the Bible. By means of classroom reports and discussions, students enjoy a chapter-by-chapter analysis of the Bible. Other courses teach basic Bible doctrines and Bible history. The students are also given opportunity to sharpen their teaching techniques by engaging in the preaching work.
Those completing this five-month course put what they have learned to a very special use. At the graduation of the first class, Nathan Knorr explained: “Your principal work is that of preaching the gospel of the Kingdom from house to house as did Jesus and the apostles.” The 38 students of the recently graduated 74th class plan to do this in 16 lands! Just as Jesus foretold, the good news is being spread “to the most distant part of the earth.”—Acts 1:8.
What has motivated these missionaries to take up this way of life? One student from Asia recalls a missionary of the eighth class. He “was willing to face the swarms of mosquitoes and the oppressive humidity. . . . More impressive still was his ability to make presentations in both the Chinese and Malay languages though he was from England. . . . His calmness and confidence inspired me to want to become a missionary when I grew up.”
Felix Okpalefe similarly tells how he was helped by Peter Obarah, a graduate of the 38th Gilead class. At the time Felix was assigned as a full-time minister in a part of Nigeria where living conditions were wretched. He therefore told Peter, “If I stay in this place I will die!” The missionary, however, strongly urged Felix to remain there, which he did. Not only did Felix not die but he was emboldened to reach out for an even more difficult service—as a missionary!
But will this present class of Gilead be successful as missionaries? One indication that they will be is their positive response to the schooling they have received. Said one student: “It has been a tremendous privilege to be able to receive this training at Gilead. . . . It has drawn us closer to Jehovah.” Said another, “It has been the happiest time in our lives.” And said yet another, “We’ve been here soaking up Jehovah’s spirit and getting built up and strong. And although at first we’ll only be teaching people the basic truths, we now see the value of deep personal study that will sustain us in our assignments.”
Though 40 years old, Gilead School, in spite of its humble beginnings, continues to succeed in ways far beyond human expectations. And this can only be attributed to the blessing of Jehovah. Students of the 74th class can be sure of his backing wherever they have been assigned. Of course, they will do everything they can to make their assignment a success. After all, they have a marvelous 40-year record of former graduates to follow.
[Picture on page 20]
Watchtower Bible School of Gilead 74th Class March 1983
In the list below, rows are numbered from front to back and names are listed from left to right in each row.
(1) Bailey, P.; Guerreiro, F.; Blankenship, R.; Mumma, C.; Larson, J.; Agnew, C. (2) Briggs, A.; Okpalefe, F.; Anderson, C.; Woolston, M.; Jorge, B.; Ascenção, L. (3) Underwood, S.; Ward, B.; Blankenship, L.; Frisbee, G.; Jorge, F.; Petruzzi, G.; Petit, M. (4) Ward, B.; Ascenção, R.; Mumma, Jr., J.; Woolston, Jr., R.; Blythe, P.; Ashoff, M.; Guerreiro, R.; Nwogwugwu, G. (5) Frisbee, B.; Ashoff, D.; Anderson, G.; Donna, K.; Blythe, A.; Underwood, D.; Weller, A.; Petit, C.; Crespo, J.