“Seeking First the Kingdom”
THE principal theme of the Bible is the sanctification of Jehovah’s name by means of the Kingdom. Jesus Christ taught his followers to seek first the Kingdom, putting it ahead of other interests in life. Why?
The Watchtower has frequently explained that by reason of the fact that he is the Creator, Jehovah is the Universal Sovereign. He deserves to be held in highest esteem by his creatures. (Rev. 4:11) However, very early in human history, a spirit son of God who made himself Satan the Devil defiantly challenged Jehovah’s sovereignty. (Gen. 3:1-5) Furthermore, Satan imputed selfish motives to all who served Jehovah. (Job 1:9-11; 2:4, 5; Rev. 12:10) Thus the peace of the universe was disrupted.
For decades now, Watch Tower publications have pointed out that Jehovah has made provision for settling these issues in a manner that magnifies not only his almighty power but also the greatness of his wisdom, his justice, and his love. A central part of that provision is the Messianic Kingdom of God. By means of that Kingdom, mankind is given ample opportunity to learn the ways of righteousness. By means of it, the wicked will be destroyed, Jehovah’s sovereignty will be vindicated, and his purpose will be accomplished to make the earth a paradise populated with people who truly love God and one another and who are blessed with perfection of life.
Because of its importance, Jesus counseled his followers: “Keep on, then, seeking first the kingdom.” (Matt. 6:10, 33) Jehovah’s Witnesses in modern times have given abundant evidence that they endeavor to heed that counsel.
Forsaking All for the Kingdom
At an early date, the Bible Students gave consideration to what was meant by seeking first the Kingdom. They discussed Jesus’ parable in which he compared the Kingdom to a pearl of such high value that a man “sold all the things he had and bought it.” (Matt. 13:45, 46) They pondered the significance of Jesus’ counsel to a rich young ruler to sell everything, distribute to poor people, and follow him. (Mark 10:17-30)* They realized that if they were going to prove worthy of having a share in God’s Kingdom, they must make the Kingdom their first interest, gladly using their lives, their abilities, their resources, in its service. Everything else in life had to take second place.
Charles Taze Russell personally took that counsel to heart. He sold his prospering haberdashery business, gradually reduced other business interests, and then used all his earthly possessions to help people in a spiritual way. (Compare Matthew 6:19-21.) It was not something that he did for merely a few years. Right down till his death, he used all his resources—his mental ability, his physical health, his material possessions—to teach others the great message of Messiah’s Kingdom. At Russell’s funeral an associate, Joseph F. Rutherford, stated: “Charles Taze Russell was loyal to God, loyal to Christ Jesus, loyal to the cause of Messiah’s Kingdom.”
In April 1881 (when only a few hundred persons were attending meetings of the Bible Students), the Watch Tower published an article entitled “Wanted 1,000 Preachers.” This included an invitation to men and women who did not have dependent families to take up work as colporteur evangelists. Employing the language of Jesus’ parable at Matthew 20:1-16, the Watch Tower asked: “Who has a burning desire to go and labor in the Vineyard, and has been praying that the Lord would open the way”? Those who could give at least half of their time exclusively to the Lord’s work were encouraged to apply. To assist them with expenses of travel, food, clothing, and shelter, Zion’s Watch Tower Tract Society provided the early colporteurs with Bible literature for distribution, stated the modest contribution that could be asked for the literature, and invited the colporteurs to keep a portion of the funds thus received. Who responded to these arrangements and took up the colporteur service?
By 1885 there were around 300 colporteurs associated with the Society. In 1914 the number finally exceeded 1,000. It was not an easy work. After calling at the homes in four small towns and finding only three or four persons who were interested to any extent, one of the colporteurs wrote: “I must say that I felt rather lonely traveling so far, meeting so many, and finding so little concern expressed about God’s plan and Church. Assist me with your prayers, that I may properly and fearlessly present the truth, and not become weary in well doing.”
They Offered Themselves Willingly
Those colporteurs were real trailblazers. They penetrated the most inaccessible corners of the land at a time when transportation was very primitive and the roads were, for the most part, little more than wagon tracks. Sister Early, in New Zealand, was one who did that. Starting out well before World War I, she devoted 34 years to such service full-time before she died in 1943. She covered much of the country on a bicycle. Even when she became crippled with arthritis and could not ride, she used the bicycle to lean on and to carry her books around the business territory of Christchurch. She could climb stairs, but she had to descend them backwards because of her crippling disability. Nevertheless, as long as she had any strength, she used it in Jehovah’s service.
These folks did not take up this work because they felt confident in themselves. Some were by nature very timid, but they loved Jehovah. Before witnessing in business territory, one such sister asked each of the Bible Students in her area to pray for her. In time, as she gained experience, she became very enthusiastic about the activity.
When Malinda Keefer talked to Brother Russell in 1907 about her desire to enter the full-time service, she said that she felt the need to gain more knowledge first. In fact, it was just the preceding year that she had first come in contact with the literature of the Bible Students. Brother Russell’s reply was: “If you want to wait until you know it all you will never get started, but you will learn as you go along.” Without holding back, she quickly began in Ohio, in the United States. She often called to mind Psalm 110:3, which says: “Your people will offer themselves willingly.” For the next 76 years, she kept on doing just that.* She started out single. For 15 years she enjoyed serving in the married state. But after her husband died, she kept right on going, with Jehovah’s help. Looking back over the years, she said: “How thankful I am that I offered myself willingly as a pioneer when a young woman and always put Kingdom interests first!”
When general conventions were held in the early days, arrangements were often made for special sessions with the colporteurs. Questions were answered, training was provided for newer ones, and encouragement was given.
From 1919 onward, there were many more of Jehovah’s servants who prized God’s Kingdom so highly that they too truly built their lives around it. Some of them were able to set aside secular pursuits and devote themselves fully to the ministry.
Caring for Material Needs
How did they care for their material needs? Anna Petersen (later Rømer), a full-time evangelizer in Denmark, recalled: “We got help from literature placements for the daily expenses, and our needs were not great. If there were bigger expenses, these were always met in one way or another. Sisters used to give us some clothes, dresses or coats, and we could put these right on and wear them, so we were well dressed. And some winters I took some office work for a couple of months. . . . By buying when there were sales on, I could buy what clothing I needed for a whole year. Things went fine. We were never in need.” Material things were not their principal concern. Their love for Jehovah and his ways was like a fire burning within them, and they simply had to express it.
For lodging they might rent a modest room while they called on people in the area. Some of them used a trailer—nothing elaborate, just a place to sleep and eat. Others slept in tents as they moved from place to place. In some places brothers arranged for “pioneer camps.” Witnesses in the area might furnish a home, and one person would be assigned to supervise it. Pioneers serving in that area could use the accommodations, and they would share the expenses involved.
These full-time workers did not allow lack of money to prevent sheeplike people from obtaining Bible literature. Pioneers often traded for produce such as potatoes, butter, eggs, fresh and canned fruit, chickens, soap, and almost anything else. They were not getting rich; rather, this was a means of helping sincere people to have the Kingdom message, while at the same time obtaining physical necessities of life so the pioneers could continue their ministry. They had confidence in Jesus’ promise that if they would “keep on . . . seeking first the kingdom and [God’s] righteousness,” then necessary food and covering would be provided.—Matt. 6:33.
Willing to Serve Wherever There Was Need
Their earnest desire to do the work that Jesus had assigned to his disciples led the full-time workers to new territories, even to new lands. When Frank Rice was invited to leave Australia to open up the preaching of the good news on Java (now part of Indonesia) in 1931, he had ten years of experience in the full-time ministry behind him. But now there were new customs, as well as new languages to learn. He could use English to witness to some in the shops and offices, but he wanted to witness to others also. He studied hard, and in three months he knew enough Dutch to start going from house to house. Then he studied Malay.
Frank was just 26 years old when he went to Java, and for most of the six years he was there and on Sumatra, he worked alone. (Toward the end of 1931, Clem Deschamp and Bill Hunter came from Australia to help with the work. As a team, they made a preaching tour inland, while Frank worked in and around the capital of Java. Later, Clem and Bill also received assignments that took them to separate areas.) There were no congregation meetings that Frank could attend. Sometimes it was very lonely, and more than once he struggled with thoughts of giving up and going back to Australia. But he kept going. How? The spiritual food contained in The Watch Tower helped to strengthen him. In 1937 he moved on to an assignment in Indochina, where he narrowly escaped with his life during the violent upheavals that followed World War II. That spirit of willingness to serve was still alive in the 1970’s when he wrote to express his joy over the fact that his entire family was serving Jehovah and to say that he and his wife were once again preparing to move to a place in Australia where there was greater need.
‘Trusting in Jehovah With All Their Heart’
Claude Goodman determined to ‘trust in Jehovah with all his heart and not to lean on his own understanding,’ so he chose colporteur service as a Christian evangelizer instead of a secular business opportunity. (Prov. 3:5, 6) Along with Ronald Tippin, who had helped him to learn the truth, he served as a colporteur in England for over a year. Then, in 1929, the two made themselves available to go to India.* What a challenge that presented!
In the years that followed, they traveled not only on foot and by passenger train and bus but also by freight train, oxcart, camel, sampan, ricksha, and even plane and private train. Sometimes they spread their bedrolls in railway waiting rooms, in a cattle shed, on jungle grass, or on cow-dung flooring in a cottage, but there were also times when they slept in lush hotels and in a raja’s palace. Like the apostle Paul, they learned the secret of contentment whether they were low on provisions or had an abundance. (Phil. 4:12, 13) Usually they had very little that was of material value, but they never were without what they really needed. They personally experienced the fulfillment of Jesus’ promise that if they would seek first the Kingdom and God’s righteousness, the material necessities of life would be provided.
There were serious bouts with dengue fever, malaria, and typhoid, but loving care was provided by fellow Witnesses. There was service to be carried out amid the squalor of cities such as Calcutta, and there was witnessing to be done on the tea plantations in the mountains of Ceylon (now known as Sri Lanka). To fill the spiritual needs of the people, literature was offered, recordings were played in the local languages, and talks were given. As the work increased, Claude also learned how to operate a printing press and to care for work in the Society’s branch offices.
In his 87th year, he could look back on a life rich with experiences in Jehovah’s service in England, India, Pakistan, Ceylon, Burma (now Myanmar), Malaya, Thailand, and Australia. Both as a single young man and as a husband and father, he kept the Kingdom first in his life. It was less than two years after his baptism that he entered the full-time service, and he viewed that as his career for the rest of his life.
God’s Power Made Perfect in Weakness
Ben Brickell was another one of those zealous Witnesses—much like other people, in that he shared their needs and infirmities. He was outstanding in faith. In 1930 he entered the colporteur work in New Zealand, where he witnessed in territories that were not covered again for decades. Two years later, in Australia, he undertook a five-month preaching trip through desert country where no witness had previously been given. His bicycle was heavily laden with blankets, clothing, food, and bound books to place. Though other men had perished when trying to travel through this area, he pressed on, with confidence in Jehovah. Next, he served in Malaysia, where serious cardiac problems developed. He did not quit. After a period of recuperation, he resumed full-time preaching activity in Australia. About a decade later, serious illness put him in the hospital, and when discharged he was told by the doctor that he was “85 percent incapacitated for work.” He could not even walk down the street to do shopping without intermittent rest.
But Ben Brickell was determined to get going again, and he did, stopping to rest as necessary. Soon he was back witnessing in the rugged Australian outback. He did what he could to care for his health, but his service to Jehovah was the main thing in his life until his death 30 years later in his mid-60’s.* He recognized that the lack that existed as a result of his weakness could be filled by Jehovah’s power. At a convention in Melbourne in 1969, he served at a pioneer desk with a large badge on his lapel, reading: “If you want to know about pioneering, ask me.”—Compare 2 Corinthians 12:7-10.
Reaching Jungle Villages and Mountain Mining Camps
Zeal for Jehovah’s service moved not only men but also women to take up work in untouched fields. Freida Johnson was one of the anointed, rather small and in her 50’s when she worked alone through parts of Central America, covering such areas as the north coast of Honduras on horseback. It required faith to work by herself in this area, visiting the scattered banana plantations, the towns of La Ceiba, Tela, and Trujillo, and even the lonely Carib villages beyond. She witnessed there in 1930 and 1931, again in 1934, and in 1940 and 1941, placing thousands of pieces of literature containing Bible truth.
During those years another zealous worker started her career in the full-time ministry. This was Kathe Palm, who was born in Germany. What moved her to action was attending the convention in Columbus, Ohio, in 1931, at which the Bible Students embraced the name Jehovah’s Witnesses. It was then that she determined to seek first the Kingdom, and in 1992, at 89 years of age, she was still doing it.
Her pioneer service began in New York City. Later, in South Dakota, she had a partner for a few months but then carried on alone, traveling on horseback. When invited to serve in Colombia, South America, she readily accepted, arriving there late in 1934. Once again, she had a partner for a while but then was alone. This did not make her feel that she had to quit.
A couple invited her to join them in Chile. Here was another vast territory, one that stretched 2,650 miles [4,265 km] along the west coast of the South American continent. After preaching in the office buildings of the capital, she struck out for the remote north. In every mining camp, every company town, large or small, she witnessed from door to door. Workers high up in the Andes were surprised to have a lone woman call on them, but she was determined to miss no one in the area assigned to her. Later, she moved to the south, where some estancias (sheep ranches) covered as much as a quarter of a million acres [100,000 ha]. The people there were friendly and hospitable and welcomed her to their table at mealtime. In this and other ways, Jehovah cared for her, so that she had the physical necessities of life.
Preaching the good news of God’s Kingdom has filled her life.* Looking back on her years of service, she said: “I feel that I have had a very rich life. Each year when I attend an assembly of Jehovah’s people, I get a warm, satisfied feeling as I see so many persons with whom I have had Bible studies publishing the good news, helping others to come to the water of life.” She has had the joy of seeing the number of praisers of Jehovah in Chile grow from about 50 to over 44,000.
“Here I Am! Send Me”
After hearing a lecture based on Jehovah’s invitation to service as recorded at Isaiah 6:8 and the prophet’s positive response, “Here I am! Send me,” Martin Poetzinger, in Germany, was baptized. Two years later, in 1930, he entered the full-time ministry in Bavaria.* Before long, officials there prohibited preaching by the Witnesses, meeting places were closed, and literature was confiscated. The Gestapo threatened. But those developments in 1933 did not bring Brother Poetzinger’s ministry to an end.
He was invited to serve in Bulgaria. Testimony cards in Bulgarian were used to introduce the Bible literature. But many people were illiterate. So, Brother Poetzinger took lessons to learn their language, which used the Cyrillic alphabet. When literature was left with a family, it was often necessary for young children to read it to their parents.
For most of the first year, Brother Poetzinger was alone, and he wrote: “At the Memorial, I delivered the talk myself, prayed myself, and closed the meeting all by myself.” During 1934, foreigners were deported, so he went to Hungary. Here another new language had to be learned so that he could share the good news. From Hungary he went to the countries then known as Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia.
Many were the happy experiences he had—finding lovers of truth as he walked through the countryside and villages, with literature packed on his back; experiencing Jehovah’s care as hospitable people offered food and even a bed for the night; talking far into the evening to those who came to his lodging to hear more of the comforting message of the Kingdom.
There were also severe tests of faith. When serving outside his native land, and without funds, he experienced a serious illness. No doctor was willing to see him. But Jehovah provided. How? Finally, the senior consultant of the local hospital was contacted. This man, a firm believer in the Bible, cared for Brother Poetzinger as he would have for a son, doing so free of charge. The doctor was impressed with the self-sacrificing spirit of this young man, which was evident in the work he was doing, and he accepted a set of the Society’s books as a gift.
Another severe test came four months after marriage. Brother Poetzinger was arrested in December 1936 and was confined first in one concentration camp and then in another, while his wife was held in yet another such camp. They did not see each other for nine years. Jehovah did not prevent such cruel persecution, but he did strengthen Martin, his wife Gertrud, and thousands of others to endure it.
After he and his wife were released, Brother Poetzinger enjoyed many years of service as a traveling overseer in Germany. He was present for thrilling conventions held in the postwar era on Hitler’s former parade grounds in Nuremberg. But now those grounds were filled with a vast crowd of loyal supporters of God’s Kingdom. He attended unforgettable conventions in New York’s Yankee Stadium. He enjoyed to the full his training at the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead. And in 1977 he became a member of the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses. His outlook, right down till he finished his earthly course in 1988, can best be expressed with the words: ‘This one thing I do—seek first the Kingdom.’
Learning What It Really Means
The spirit of self-sacrifice clearly is not something new among Jehovah’s Witnesses. When the very first volume of Millennial Dawn was published back in 1886, the matter of consecration (or, as we would say today, dedication) was frankly discussed. It was pointed out on the basis of the Scriptures that true Christians “consecrate” everything to God; that includes their abilities, their material possessions, their very lives. Christians thus become stewards of what has been “consecrated” to God, and as stewards, they must render an account—not to men but to God.
A growing number of the Bible Students truly gave of themselves in the service of God. They used to the full their abilities, their possessions, their vital energy, in doing his will. On the other hand, there were those who felt that what was most important was to cultivate what they called Christian character so that they might qualify to share in the Kingdom with Christ.
Although the responsibility of each true Christian to witness to others about God’s Kingdom had often been stated by Brother Russell, this received even greater emphasis after World War I. The article “Character or Covenant—Which?” in The Watch Tower of May 1, 1926, is a striking example. It frankly considered the harmful effects from what was called character development and then stressed the importance of fulfilling one’s obligations to God by actions.
Earlier, The Watch Tower of July 1, 1920, had examined Jesus’ great prophecy about ‘the sign of his presence and the end of the world.’ (Matt. 24:3, KJ) It focused attention on the preaching work that must be done in fulfillment of Matthew 24:14 and identified the message to be proclaimed, saying: “The good news here is concerning the end of the old order of things and the establishment of Messiah’s kingdom.” The Watch Tower explained that on the basis of where Jesus stated this in relation to other features of the sign, this work would have to be accomplished “between the time of the great world war [World War I] and the time of the ‘great tribulation’ mentioned by the Master in Matthew 24:21, 22.” That work was urgent. Who would do it?
This responsibility clearly rested on the members of “the church,” the true Christian congregation. However, in 1932, by means of the August 1 issue of The Watchtower, these were counseled to encourage the “Jehonadab class” to share with them in the work, in harmony with the spirit of Revelation 22:17. The Jehonadab class—whose hope is everlasting life in the Paradise earth—responded, and many of them zealously so.
The vital importance of this work has been strongly emphasized: “It is just as essential to participate in the service of the Lord as it is to attend a meeting,” said The Watch Tower in 1921. “Each one must be a preacher of the gospel,” it pointed out in 1922. “Jehovah has made preaching the most important work any of us could do in this world,” it stated in 1949. The apostle Paul’s declaration at 1 Corinthians 9:16 has been quoted frequently: “Necessity is laid upon me. Really, woe is me if I did not declare the good news!” This scripture has been applied to each one of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
How Many Do the Preaching? To What Extent? Why?
Were any being compelled to engage in this work contrary to their will? “No,” The Watch Tower answered, in its issue of August 1, 1919, “no one is compelled to do anything. It is all purely voluntary service, performed by love for the Lord and his cause of righteousness. Jehovah never drafts anyone.” Regarding the motivation behind such service, The Watch Tower of September 1, 1922, further stated: “One who really has gratitude in his heart and appreciates what God has done for him will want to do something in return; and the more his appreciation of God’s kindness to him increases, the greater will be his love; and the greater his love, the greater will be the desire to serve him.” Love for God, it was explained, is shown by keeping his commandments, and one of those commandments is to preach the glad tidings of the Kingdom of God.—Isa. 61:1, 2; 1 John 5:3.
Those who have undertaken this activity have not been enticed by any idea of worldly ambition. They have been frankly told that when they go from house to house or offer literature on a street corner, they will be viewed as “foolish, weak, lowly,” that they will be “despised, persecuted,” and that they will be classed as “not of much account from a worldly standpoint.” But they know that Jesus and his early disciples were treated in the same way.—John 15:18-20; 1 Cor. 1:18-31.
Do Jehovah’s Witnesses think that somehow they are earning salvation by their preaching activity? Not at all! The book United in Worship of the Only True God, which has been used since 1983 to help students to advance to Christian maturity, discusses this matter. It states: “Jesus’ sacrifice has also opened to us the opportunity for eternal life . . . This is not a reward that we earn. No matter how much we do in Jehovah’s service, we can never build up such merit that God will owe us life. Eternal life is ‘the gift God gives . . . by Christ Jesus our Lord.’ (Rom. 6:23; Eph. 2:8-10) Nevertheless, if we have faith in that gift and appreciation for the manner in which it was made possible, we will make this manifest. Discerning how marvelously Jehovah has used Jesus in accomplishing His will and how vital it is that all of us follow Jesus’ steps closely, we will make the Christian ministry one of the most important things in our life.”
Can it be said that all of Jehovah’s Witnesses are proclaimers of God’s Kingdom? Yes! That is what being one of Jehovah’s Witnesses means. Over half a century ago, there were some who felt that it was not necessary for them to have a part in the field service, going out in public and from house to house. But today none of Jehovah’s Witnesses claim exemption from such service because of position in the local congregation or in the worldwide organization. Male and female as well as young and old participate. They view it as a precious privilege, a sacred service. Not a few do it in spite of serious infirmities. And as for any who simply are physically unable to go from house to house, they find other ways to reach people and give them a personal witness.
In the past, there was at times a tendency to allow newer ones to participate in the field service too soon. But in recent decades, greater emphasis has been placed on their qualifying before being invited. What does that mean? It does not mean that they have to be able to explain everything in the Bible. But, as the book Organized to Accomplish Our Ministry explains, they must know and believe the Bible’s basic teachings. They must also be living clean lives, in harmony with Bible standards. Each one must truly want to be one of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
It is not expected that all of Jehovah’s Witnesses will do the same amount of preaching. The circumstances of individuals vary. Age, health, family responsibilities, and depth of appreciation are all factors. This has always been recognized. It was emphasized by The Watchtower in its issue of December 1, 1950, when discussing “the good soil” in Jesus’ parable of the sower, at Luke 8:4-15. The Kingdom Ministry School Course, prepared for elders in 1972, analyzed the requirement of ‘loving Jehovah with one’s whole soul’ and explained that “what is vital is not the quantity one does in relation to what someone else does, but doing what one can.” (Mark 14:6-8) Encouraging sober self-analysis, however, it also showed that such love means “that every fiber of one’s existence is involved in lovingly serving God; no function, capacity or desire in life is excepted.” All our faculties, our whole soul, must be mobilized to do God’s will. That textbook emphasized that “God requires, not merely participation, but whole-souled service.”—Mark 12:30.
Unfortunately, the tendency of imperfect humans is to go to an extreme, emphasizing one thing while neglecting another. So, back in 1906, Brother Russell found it necessary to caution that self-sacrifice does not mean sacrificing others. It does not mean failing to make reasonable provision for one’s wife, dependent children, or elderly parents so that one can be free to preach to others. From time to time since then, similar reminders have appeared in the Watch Tower publications.
Gradually, with the help of God’s Word, the entire organization has sought to achieve Christian balance—manifesting zeal for the service of God, while giving proper attention to all aspects of being a real Christian. Although “character development” was built on a wrong understanding, The Watchtower has shown that the fruits of the spirit and Christian conduct are not to be minimized. In 1942, The Watchtower said quite pointedly: “Some have unwisely concluded that if they were engaged in the house-to-house witness work they could pursue with freedom from punishment any course their appetites might call for. One should remember that merely engaging in the witness work is not all that is required.”—1 Cor. 9:27.
Getting Priorities Straight
Jehovah’s Witnesses have come to appreciate that ‘seeking first the Kingdom and God’s righteousness’ is a matter of getting their priorities straight. It includes giving a proper place in one’s life to personal study of God’s Word and regular attendance at congregation meetings and not allowing other pursuits to take priority. It involves making decisions that reflect a genuine desire to conform to the requirements of God’s Kingdom, as set out in the Bible. That includes using Bible principles as the basis for decisions involving family life, recreation, secular education, employment, business practices, and relations with one’s fellowmen.
Seeking first the Kingdom is more than just having some share each month in talking to others about God’s purpose. It means giving Kingdom interests first place in one’s entire life, while caring properly for other Scriptural obligations.
There are many ways in which devoted Witnesses of Jehovah promote Kingdom interests.
The Privilege of Bethel Service
Some serve as members of the global Bethel family. This is a staff of full-time ministers who have volunteered to do whatever they may be assigned in preparing and publishing Bible literature, in caring for necessary office work, and in providing support services for such operations. This is not work in which they gain personal prominence or material possessions. Their desire is to honor Jehovah, and they are satisfied with the provisions made for them in the way of food, lodging, and a modest reimbursement for personal expenses. Because of the way of life of the Bethel family, secular authorities in the United States, for example, view them as members of a religious order who have taken a vow of poverty. Those who are at Bethel find joy in being able to use their lives to the full in Jehovah’s service and in doing work that benefits large numbers of their Christian brothers and newly interested persons, sometimes internationally. Like others of Jehovah’s Witnesses, they also share regularly in the field ministry.
The first Bethel family (or, Bible House family, as they were then known) was located in Allegheny, Pennsylvania. As of 1896, the staff numbered 12. In 1992, there were upwards of 12,900 Bethel family members, serving in 99 lands. In addition, when there has not been enough housing on the Society’s premises, hundreds of other volunteers have commuted to Bethel homes and factories every day in order to share in the work. They have counted it a privilege to have a part in the work being done. As there is need, thousands of other Witnesses offer to leave behind secular work and other activity for varying periods of time to assist with construction of facilities needed by the Society for use in connection with the global preaching of the good news of God’s Kingdom.
Many of the members of the global Bethel family have made it their life’s work. Frederick W. Franz, who in 1977 became the Watch Tower Society’s fourth president, had by that time already been a member of the Bethel family in New York for 57 years, and he continued in Bethel service for another 15 years, until he died in 1992. Heinrich Dwenger began his Bethel service in Germany in 1911, thereafter modestly serving wherever he was assigned; and in 1983, the year of his death, he was still enjoying his service as a member of the Bethel family in Thun, Switzerland. George Phillips, from Scotland, accepted an assignment to the branch office in South Africa in 1924 (when it supervised preaching activity from Cape Town to Kenya) and continued to serve in South Africa until his death in 1982 (at which time seven branch offices of the Society and some 160,000 Witnesses were active in that area). Christian sisters, such as Kathryn Bogard, Grace DeCecca, Irma Friend, Alice Berner, and Mary Hannan, also devoted their adult lives to Bethel service, doing so right to the finish. Many other Bethel family members have likewise been serving for 10, 30, 50, 70, and more years.*
Self-Sacrificing Traveling Overseers
Worldwide, there are some 3,900 circuit and district overseers who, along with their wives, also care for assignments wherever they are needed, usually in their home country. Many of these have left behind homes and now move every week or every few weeks to serve the congregations assigned. They receive no salary but are grateful for food and lodging where they serve, along with modest provision for personal expenses. In the United States, where 499 circuit and district overseers were serving in 1992, these traveling elders average 54 years in age, and some of them have been serving in this capacity for 30, 40, or more years. In a number of lands, these overseers travel by automobile. Territory in the Pacific area often requires the use of commercial planes and boats. In many places circuit overseers reach remote congregations by horseback or on foot.
Pioneers Fill an Important Need
In order to get the preaching of the good news started in places where there are no Witnesses, or to provide help that may be especially needed in an area, the Governing Body may arrange to send in special pioneers. These are full-time evangelizers who devote at least 140 hours each month to the field ministry. They make themselves available to serve anywhere they are needed in their own country or, in some cases, in nearby lands. Since their service requirements leave them little or no time for secular work to provide for material needs, they are given a modest expense reimbursement for housing and other necessities. In 1992, there were over 14,500 special pioneers in various parts of the earth.
When the first special pioneers were sent out in 1937, they spearheaded the work of playing recorded Bible talks for householders right at their doorsteps and using recordings as the basis for Bible discussions on return visits. This was done in large cities where there already were congregations. After a few years, the special pioneers began to be directed particularly into areas where no congregations existed or where congregations were in great need of help. As a result of their effective work, hundreds of new congregations were formed.
Instead of covering a territory and moving on, they would work a given area repeatedly, following up on all interest and conducting Bible studies. Meetings were arranged for interested ones. Thus, in Lesotho, southern Africa, on his first week in a new assignment, a special pioneer invited everyone he met to come and see how Jehovah’s Witnesses conduct the Theocratic Ministry School. He and his family put on the full program. Then he invited all to the Watchtower Study. After initial curiosity was satisfied, 30 continued to attend the Watchtower Study, and average attendance at the school was 20. In lands where Gilead-trained missionaries did much to get the preaching of the good news under way, faster growth sometimes took place when native-born Witnesses began to qualify for special pioneer service, for these could often work even more effectively among the local people.
In addition to these zealous workers, there are hundreds of thousands more of Jehovah’s Witnesses who also energetically promote Kingdom interests. These include young and old, male and female, married and single persons. Regular pioneers devote a minimum of 90 hours each month to the field ministry; auxiliary pioneers, at least 60 hours. They decide where they would like to preach. Most of them work with established congregations; some move to isolated areas. They care for their own physical needs by doing some secular work, or their family members may help to make provision for them. During 1992, over 914,500 shared in such service as regular or auxiliary pioneers for at least part of the year.
Schools With Special Objectives
To equip volunteers for certain types of service, special schooling is provided. Since 1943, for example, Gilead School has trained thousands of experienced ministers for missionary work, and graduates have been sent to all parts of the earth. In 1987 the Ministerial Training School went into operation to help fill special needs, including care for congregations as well as other responsibilities. The arrangement for this school to convene in various places minimizes travel of students to a central location as well as the need to learn another language in order to benefit from the schooling. All who are invited to attend this school are elders or ministerial servants who have given evidence that they truly seek first the Kingdom. Many have made themselves available to serve in other lands. Their spirit is like that of the prophet Isaiah, who said: “Here I am! Send me.”—Isa. 6:8.
In order to improve the effectiveness of those already serving as regular and special pioneers, the Pioneer Service School was put into operation starting in 1977. Where possible, the school was arranged in each circuit around the world. All pioneers were invited to benefit from this two-week course. Progressively since then, pioneers who have completed their first year of service have been given the same training. Down till 1992, over 100,000 pioneers had been trained in this school in the United States alone; upwards of 10,000 were being trained each year. Another 55,000 had been trained in Japan, 38,000 in Mexico, 25,000 in Brazil, and 25,000 in Italy. In addition to this course, pioneers regularly enjoy a special meeting with the circuit overseer during his semiannual visits with each congregation and a special training session with both the circuit overseer and the district overseer at the time of the annual circuit assembly. Thus, those making up the large army of Kingdom proclaimers who serve as pioneers are not only willing workers but also well-trained ministers.
Serving Where the Need Is Greater
Many thousands of Jehovah’s Witnesses—some of whom are pioneers, and others not—have made themselves available to serve not only in their home community but also in other areas where there is a great need for proclaimers of the good news. Each year thousands spend a period of weeks or months, according to what they personally can arrange, in areas often quite distant from their homes in order to witness to people who are not regularly visited by Jehovah’s Witnesses. Thousands more have pulled up stakes and relocated in order to provide such help over an extended period. Many of these are married couples or families with children. Their moves have often involved going a relatively short distance, but some have made such moves repeatedly over the years. Many of these zealous Witnesses have even taken up service in foreign lands—some for a few years, others on a permanent basis. They do whatever secular work is required in order to care for their needs, and the moves are made at their own expense. Their one desire is to share as fully as their circumstances permit in spreading the Kingdom message.
When the family head is not a Witness, he may move his family because of employment. But family members who are Witnesses may see this as an opportunity to spread the Kingdom message. That was true of two Witnesses from the United States who found themselves at a construction camp in the jungle in Suriname in the late 1970’s. Twice a week they got up at 4:00 a.m., caught a company bus for a rough one-hour trip to a village, and spent the day preaching. Before long they were conducting 30 Bible studies each week with truth-hungry people. Today, there is a congregation in that formerly unreached part of the rain forest.
Seizing Every Appropriate Opportunity to Witness
Of course, not all of Jehovah’s Witnesses move to other countries, or even to other towns, to carry on their ministry. Their circumstances may not permit them to pioneer. Nevertheless, they are well aware of the Bible admonition to put forth “all earnest effort” and to have “plenty to do in the work of the Lord.” (2 Pet. 1:5-8; 1 Cor. 15:58) They show that they seek first the Kingdom when they put its interests ahead of secular work and recreation. Those whose hearts are filled with appreciation for the Kingdom share regularly in the field ministry to the extent that their circumstances permit, and many of them change their circumstances so they can share more fully. They are also constantly on the lookout to seize appropriate opportunities to witness to others about the Kingdom.
As an example, John Furgala, who owned a hardware business in Guayaquil, Ecuador, set up an attractive display of Bible literature in his store. While his helper would fill an order, John would witness to the customer.
In Nigeria a zealous Witness who supported his family by working as an electrical contractor was also determined to use well his contacts so as to give a witness. Since he owned the business, he determined the schedule of activity. Each morning, before the day’s work, he gathered his wife, children, employees, and apprentices for a discussion of the day’s Bible text, along with experiences from the Yearbook of Jehovah’s Witnesses. At the beginning of each year, he would also give his customers a copy of the Watch Tower Society’s calendar, along with two magazines. As a result, some of his employees and some customers have joined him in the worship of Jehovah.
There are many of Jehovah’s Witnesses who share that same spirit. Regardless of what they are doing, they are constantly looking for opportunities to share the good news with others.
A Large Army of Happy Full-Time Evangelizers
With the passing of years, the zeal of Jehovah’s Witnesses for the preaching of the good news has not abated. Even though many householders have told them quite firmly that they are not interested, there are large numbers who are grateful that the Witnesses help them to understand the Bible. The determination of Jehovah’s Witnesses is to continue preaching until Jehovah himself gives clear indication that this work is completed.
Instead of slacking off, the worldwide association of Jehovah’s Witnesses has actually intensified its preaching activity. In 1982 the annual global report showed that 384,856,662 hours had been devoted to the field ministry. Ten years later (in 1992) 1,024,910,434 hours were devoted to this work. What accounted for that great increase in activity?
It is true that the number of Jehovah’s Witnesses had grown. But not to that extent. During that period, while the number of Witnesses increased by 80 percent, the number of pioneers soared 250 percent. On an average each month, 1 out of every 7 of Jehovah’s Witnesses worldwide was in some branch of the full-time preaching work.
Who were the ones sharing in such pioneer service? As an example, in the Republic of Korea, many Witnesses are housewives. Family responsibilities may not permit them all to pioneer on a regular basis, but large numbers have used the long winter school vacations as opportunities for auxiliary pioneer service. As a result, 53 percent of the total Witnesses in the Republic of Korea were in some branch of full-time service in January 1990.
In the early years, it was a zealous pioneer spirit on the part of Filipino Witnesses that enabled them to reach the hundreds of inhabited islands in the Philippines with the Kingdom message. That zeal has been even more evident since then. In 1992, on an average each month, 22,205 publishers were sharing in the field ministry as pioneers in the Philippines. Included among them were many youths who had chosen to ‘remember their Creator’ and use their youthful vigor in his service. (Eccl. 12:1) After a decade of pioneer service, one of such youths said: “I have learned to be patient, to lead a simple life, to rely on Jehovah, and to be humble. It is true that I have also experienced hardships and discouragements, but all of these are nothing compared with the blessings that pioneering has brought.”
During April and May of 1989, The Watchtower featured an exposé of Babylon the Great, which is false religion in its many forms worldwide. The articles were published simultaneously in 39 languages and given intensive distribution. In Japan, where the number of Witnesses who are pioneering has often been over 40 percent, a new peak of 41,055 auxiliary pioneers enrolled to help in the work that April. In the Osaka Prefecture, Takatsuki City, Otsuka Congregation, 73 of the 77 baptized publishers were in some form of pioneer service that month. On April 8, when all the publishers in Japan were urged to have some part in distributing this vital message, hundreds of congregations, such as the Ushioda Congregation, in Yokohama City, arranged for day-long street and house-to-house service, from 7:00 a.m. till 8:00 p.m., in order to reach everyone possible in the area.
As is true everywhere, Jehovah’s Witnesses in Mexico work to care for their material needs. Nevertheless, each month during 1992, on an average 50,095 of Jehovah’s Witnesses there also made room in their lives for the pioneer service in order to help truth-hungry people learn about God’s Kingdom. In some families all in the household cooperated in order to enable the entire group, or at least some of them, to pioneer. They enjoy a fruitful ministry. During 1992, Jehovah’s Witnesses in Mexico were regularly conducting 502,017 home Bible studies with individuals and family groups.
The elders who serve the needs of the congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses have heavy responsibilities. Most of the elders in Nigeria are men with families, and that is true of elders in many other places too. Yet, in addition to preparing to conduct or to share in congregation meetings, as well as to do needed shepherding of the flock of God, some of these men also pioneer. How is it possible? Careful scheduling of time and good family cooperation are often important factors.
It is obvious that, worldwide, Jehovah’s Witnesses have taken to heart Jesus’ admonition to ‘keep on seeking first the kingdom.’ (Matt. 6:33) What they are doing is a heartfelt expression of their love for Jehovah and their appreciation for his sovereignty. Like the psalmist David, they say: “I will exalt you, O my God the King, and I will bless your name to time indefinite, even forever.”—Ps. 145:1.
Watch Tower, August 15, 1906, pp. 267-71.
See The Watchtower, May 1, 1987, pages 22-30; April 1, 1964, pages 212-15; December 1, 1956, pages 712-19; August 15, 1970, pages 507-10; October 1, 1960, pages 601-5; June 15, 1968, pages 378-81; April 1, 1968, pages 217-21; April 1, 1959, pages 220-3.
[Blurb on page 292]
Increased emphasis on the responsibility to witness
[Blurb on page 293]
They view house-to-house witnessing as a precious privilege
[Blurb on page 294]
Understanding what whole-souled service is
[Blurb on page 295]
What “seeking first the kingdom” really means
[Blurb on page 301]
Zealous Witnesses put Kingdom interests ahead of secular work and recreation
[Box/Picture on page 288]
“Where Are the Nine?”
At the Memorial of Christ’s death, in 1928, a tract given to all in attendance was entitled “Where Are the Nine?” Its discussion of Luke 17:11-19 touched Claude Goodman’s heart and moved him to get into the colporteur, or pioneer, work and to persevere in that service.
[Box/Pictures on page 296, 297]
As of 1992, there were 12,974 sharing in Bethel service in 99 lands
Personal study is important to Bethel family members
At each Bethel Home, the day begins with discussion of a Bible text
As is true of Jehovah’s Witnesses everywhere, Bethel family members share in the field service
Each Monday evening the Bethel family studies “The Watchtower” together
The work is varied, but all of it is done in support of the proclaiming of God’s Kingdom
Papua New Guinea
[Box/Pictures on page 298]
A Few With Long Records of Bethel Service
F. W. Franz—United States (1920-92)
Heinrich Dwenger—Germany (about 15 years of 1911-33), Hungary (1933-35), Czechoslovakia (1936-39), then Switzerland (1939-83)
George Phillips—South Africa (1924-66, 1976-82)
Fleshly sisters (Kathryn Bogard and Grace DeCecca) who devoted a combined total of 136 years to Bethel service—United States
[Graph on page 303]
(For fully formatted text, see publication)
Pioneers on the Increase!
Percent Increase Since 1982
1982 1984 1986 1988 1990 1992
[Picture on page 284]
Sister Early traveled throughout much of New Zealand on a bicycle to share the Kingdom message
[Picture on page 285]
For 76 years—single, married, and then as a widow—Malinda Keefer devoted herself to the full-time ministry
[Pictures on page 286]
Simple house-cars provided lodging for some early pioneers as they moved from place to place
[Picture on page 287]
Frank Rice (standing at the right), Clem Deschamp (seated in front of Frank, with Clem’s wife, Jean, next to them), and a group on Java including fellow Witnesses and newly interested ones
[Pictures on page 288]
Claude Goodman’s life of full-time ministry led him to service in India and seven other lands
[Picture on page 289]
When Ben Brickell had good health, he enjoyed using it in Jehovah’s service; serious health problems in later years did not make him quit
[Picture on page 290]
Kathe Palm witnessed in all sorts of territory, from big-city office buildings to the most remote mining camp and sheep ranch in Chile
[Picture on page 291]
The determination of both Martin and Gertrud Poetzinger is expressed in the words: ‘This one thing I do—seek first the Kingdom’
[Picture on page 300]
Pioneer Service School (as shown here in Japan) has provided special training for tens of thousands of zealous workers