I Thank Jehovah for My Five Sons
AS TOLD BY HELEN SAULSBERY
March 2, 1997, was one of the saddest days of my life. Some 600 friends and family members gathered in Wilmington, Delaware, U.S.A., for the funeral of my beloved husband, Dean. He was a Christian elder and the presiding overseer of a congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses. As I think about our 40 happy years of marriage, I have so much for which to be thankful. I know that Dean is protected in the safest place, in the memory of Almighty God, Jehovah, and that we will see Dean in the future.
DEAN enlisted in the air force after he graduated from high school in 1950. He was not a religious man and seemed to take issue with the teachings of my then beloved Catholic Church. But we agreed to raise our children as Catholics. Every night we knelt and prayed silently. I repeated my Catholic prayers, and Dean said whatever was in his heart. In the years that followed, our five sons were born: Bill, Jim, Dean Jr., Joe, and Charlie.
I was a faithful churchgoer and always took the boys with me. But I became disillusioned with the church, particularly with its involvement in the Vietnam War. The late Cardinal Spellman said to people who might question the rightness of the U.S. cause: “My country right or wrong.” I could not approve of my sons going to war, even though my church was involved. Yet, I would pray that at least one of them would become a priest and that my husband would become a Catholic.
A Change of Thinking
One Saturday evening I was socializing with some Catholic friends and a local priest. We were drinking and having a good time when one of the women asked the priest: “Father, is it really a mortal sin if after partying like this, you aren’t able to get up the next morning and go to Mass?”
“No, no,” he replied. “That’s all right. On Tuesday night we hold a Mass at the rectory. That way you can come for the Mass and fulfill your obligation.”
I had been taught from childhood that you must go to Mass on Sunday no matter what. When I disagreed with him, he cursed and angrily said that a woman should not correct a priest.
I thought to myself, ‘Is this what I have been praying for my sons to become?’ Even though I knew that all priests weren’t like that, it made me wonder.
During the mid-1960’s, Jehovah’s Witnesses called on us in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and later in Newark, Delaware. Although I admired their Christian zeal, I would always say: “I’m sorry. I’m not interested because I’m Catholic.”
Then, one cold November morning in 1970, the Witnesses came again. They asked a question about the Bible and read Psalm 119:105: “Your word is a lamp to my foot, and a light to my roadway.” Those words struck me. I remember thinking to myself, ‘The Bible! Maybe that’s the answer, but I don’t even have one.’ I had been taught that Catholics didn’t need a Bible, that it would confuse us, and that the Bible was only for priests to read and explain. I thought that I was being a loyal Catholic by not having one.
That day I accepted from the Witnesses the Bible study aid The Truth That Leads to Eternal Life. I read it that week and just knew that I had found the truth! The Witnesses returned with two Bibles, one a Catholic translation. I was surprised to see that the scriptures quoted in that Bible study aid were right there in the Catholic Bible. At that point a progressive home Bible study was started with me, and I was baptized in August 1972, along with my sister Sally, who had also begun studying the Bible.
My husband, Dean, never opposed me, but he was shocked to see me take an interest in something other than the Catholic religion. He was constantly listening and watching. Before, it seemed that I was always screaming at the boys to get them to listen. But I learned that the Bible warns against “wrath and screaming and abusive speech.” (Ephesians 4:31, 32) Besides, you don’t train children by screaming at them. Once, I heard my husband tell his mother about Jehovah’s Witnesses: “Mom, those people practice what they preach!” Not long after that, he accepted a Bible study. Dean became a baptized Witness in January 1975.
Training Our Five Sons
When I started going to the Kingdom Hall, I thought that the meetings were rather long for my sons. So I would leave them at home with their father. It was nice and relaxing for me to go alone. But, then, when talking about the length of Christian meetings, a speaker at our meeting asked: “Have you ever thought about the length of time your children can sit in front of the television set?” That’s where my boys were at that very moment! So I thought, ‘No more of that! They are coming with me!’ My husband agreed to let the boys come with me, and in time he started attending too.
Regular meeting attendance gave structure and stability to our family life. But there was more. Dean and I always tried to improve our parenting skills, admitting when we were wrong and carefully applying Bible guidelines. We never allowed double standards. What was right for my husband and me was right for our sons. Regularity in the public preaching activity was a must.
When it came to entertainment, no violent, immoral movies were allowed. We always enjoyed wholesome family activity together, including skating, bowling, playing miniature golf, going to amusement parks, having picnics, and enjoying pizza on Friday nights. And Dean was the loving head of our family. During all our married life, we recognized that this is the way it is supposed to be.—Ephesians 5:22, 23.
When I began to study with Jehovah’s Witnesses in 1970, Billy was 12, Jimmy 11, Dean Jr. 9, Joe 7, and Charlie 2. They had already been used to going to church, but now they were learning the Bible. It was exciting for us. I would say to them: “Look! Look at this! Come here!” They would come, and we would excitedly discuss something that was new to us. Through our study of the highest authority on earth, the Bible, the boys were learning to love Jehovah and to feel an accountability to him as their God and Creator—not just to their father and mother.
Before learning Bible truths, we had incurred a lot of debts. In order to pay off some of the bills, we sold our home and rented a house. We also sold our new car and bought a used one. We tried to keep our lives as simple as possible. This allowed me to stay home with the boys rather than work secularly. We felt that our sons needed a mother at home. This also enabled me to spend more time in the Christian ministry when the boys were at school. Eventually, in September 1983, I was able to become a pioneer (full-time minister). True, our boys did not always have the best things materially, yet they did not feel unnecessarily deprived. They each attended technical high school and learned such trades as horticulture, carpentry, auto mechanics, and graphic arts. So they were equipped for making a living.
Oftentimes I would think about our family life and say to myself, ‘I imagine that we are one of the happiest families on this earth, even though we have little materially.’ Shortly, Dean began to reach out for responsibilities in the congregation, and the boys did also. In 1982, Dean was appointed a Christian elder. Eight years later, in 1990, our oldest son, Bill, was appointed an elder. Then Joe was appointed that same year, Dean Jr. in 1991, Charlie in 1992, and Jim in 1993.
I know that we did some things wrong as parents, and it’s not always easy to remember the things we did right. A friend asked my sons what they remember about their early years as Christians and especially what Bible principles they learned from their early training that helped them to reach out to qualify as Christian elders. Their comments warm my heart.
What My Sons Have to Say
Bill: “What we learned from Romans 12:9-12 stands out in my mind. It reads in part: ‘In brotherly love have tender affection for one another. In showing honor to one another take the lead. . . . Be aglow with the spirit. . . . Rejoice in the hope.’ My parents had the ability to show what it means to love people. You could see that showing love to others made them happy. It was this loving atmosphere in our home that made Bible truths become a part of our thinking. It is what held us to the truth. My parents loved Bible truth inside and out. As a result, it was never difficult for me to love the truth, and it has never been difficult to hold on to it.”
Jim: “One of the foremost principles that comes to my mind is Matthew 5:37: ‘Just let your word Yes mean Yes, your No, No; for what is in excess of these is from the wicked one.’ My brothers and I always knew what my parents expected of us, and we saw in them living examples of what Christians should be. The two of them were always in harmony. They never argued. If they ever disagreed on anything, we boys never knew it. They were united, and that certainly made a deep impression on all of us. We didn’t want to disappoint Mom and Dad and, most of all, Jehovah.”
Dean: “Proverbs 15:1 says: ‘An answer, when mild, turns away rage, but a word causing pain makes anger to come up.’ Dad was mild-tempered. I don’t ever remember having an argument with him—even when I was a teenager. He was always very mild, even when he was upset. Sometimes he sent me to my room or took some privileges away, but we never argued. He was not just our father. He was also our friend, and we didn’t want to let him down.”
Joe: “At 2 Corinthians 10:5, the Bible talks about ‘bringing every thought into captivity to make it obedient to the Christ.’ In our home we were taught to be obedient to Jehovah’s standards and instructions. The truth was our life. Meeting attendance was a way of life. The thought of doing anything else on a meeting night is still a foreign idea to me. The Christian ministry was also a regular part of our lives—never an option. Our friends were at the Kingdom Hall. No need to look any farther. What more can a father do for his sons than put them on the road to life!”
Charlie: “Proverbs 1:7 stands out in my mind. It reads: ‘The fear of Jehovah is the beginning of knowledge. Wisdom and discipline are what mere fools have despised.’ My parents helped us to see that Jehovah is real and to understand the importance of developing fear of and love for him. They would reason with us, saying: ‘Don’t do this because we tell you to. What do you think? How do you think Jehovah feels when he sees this? How do you think Satan feels?’
“That brought us back to the real issue. Dad and Mom couldn’t be with us all the time. They could do only so much to inculcate Bible truths into our hearts and minds. We were on our own at school, at work, and with our friends. That wholesome fear of Jehovah made a big difference in us—and it is still with us today.
“Also, Mom talked continually about her pioneer ministry and the fine experiences she was having. She was always very positive about the ministry, and that had a wonderful effect on us. We developed a love for people like hers, and we came to appreciate that the door-to-door activity can be most enjoyable.”
Cause to Be Grateful
My sons are married now, and I have five lovely daughters-in-law, all serving Jehovah faithfully. I have also been blessed with five more boys—yes, five grandsons! All are being reared to love Jehovah and to keep his Kingdom solidly in first place in their lives. We pray that someday they will be elders, as their fathers are and their grandfather was.
Not long after Dean’s death, one of my sons wrote: “I’m really going to miss my dad, for now he sleeps. No more pain. No more suffering. No more surgeries, needles, and feeding tubes—just peace. I didn’t get to say good-bye before he died. Things don’t always go the way you plan. I can only say that I’m determined to live my life so that I won’t miss saying hello!”
How I thank Jehovah for my loving husband and the sure hope of the resurrection! (John 5:28, 29) And how I thank Him for my five sons!
[Picture on page 23]
Helen Saulsbery and her family today