Pursuing My Purpose in Life
As Told by Gertrude Steele
SO YOU are all ready for bed and want me to tell you a story, Jan. Now that you are a regular publisher and say that you want to be a pioneer some day, how would you like for me to tell you the story of how I became a pioneer and how I began to pursue my purpose in life?
“Oh! I’d like that, grandma.”
Well, it was Tommie and Duggie’s grandmother who first knocked at my door in the summer of 1922 in Chickasha, Oklahoma, with the booklet Millions Now Living Will Never Die. A few weeks later she brought me The Harp of God. The sweetest music ever played on the harp could not have been sweeter to me than the way all those Bible doctrines were made to produce one harmonious tune of praise to God.
The following months were very busy ones. Your daddy was born that October. Uncle Dave wasn’t walking yet and your Uncle Don was only two and a half years old. I had to do all my own work, so the only chance I had to read was to get up early. At five o’clock I’d build a fire in the coal stove and read an hour before breakfast.
It was the understanding I gained in those early morning hours that enabled me to meet one of the hardest tests of my life the following summer. Sister Golden (and how golden are the memories of her tender care in those years) was helping me to get to the meetings and in the service every week and this activity with such an unpopular religious group was not befitting the wife of a successful businessman.
One day your grandfather told me he’d give me just thirty days to burn every book and magazine I had and forget all about it, or he was going to leave. What I would do alone with three babies I did not know, but there was one thing I did know and that was that I had found the truth. So I looked him straight in the eye and firmly said, “You don’t need to give me thirty days. This is the truth; I know it is the truth and I’ll never give it up.” He started to pack to leave, but since his lawyer advised him not to act hastily, things smoothed over for a while.
In 1925 we were moved from Chickasha to Hutchinson, Kansas. He thought that by getting me away to where there was no one to help me get to the meetings I’d soon forget all about the truth. I can see the expression on his face yet as I casually told him that Jehovah s Witnesses had all their meetings in the house that was just across the street.
I have precious memories of that close association I had with those dear friends. I was so impressed by a sister who took her four children in an old Ford to pioneer isolated territory in the hills of Kentucky. Hearing of her joyful experiences and how Jehovah provided for their needs gave me a longing to be a pioneer.
In 1927 we moved back to our home town in Wichita, Kansas. All the boys were now in school; so I had greater opportunities of service and a keener desire to pursue my purpose in life—to be a pioneer. As the months rolled by I thought of it more and more. I just couldn’t get it out of my mind. Then one night I thought of the idea of having my laundry done with the difference in the congregation and pioneer rates. I’d do my ironing at night and thus have two extra days each week for service. I took out a territory near my home and when the boys left for school at 8:30 a.m. I was ready to go to my territory. I returned at 11:30 a.m. and had lunch prepared when they arrived at 12:10. When they left at 1 p.m. I went to my territory till 4 p.m., when school was out. Sometimes I’d have twenty shirts to iron at night. I’d be tired from the day’s service; so I learned to iron sitting on my kitchen stool. How often I felt more refreshed and rested when I finished than when I began!
I was very happy, but soon tests began to come. I fell short of the required hours and had to admit it was poor management of home affairs, for I knew I could overcome a few days of sickness and other obstacles if I’d keep going and not waste minutes over nonessentials.
Then came the depression of 1929. That winter grandpa lost his job, but that proved to be a blessing. He no longer showed opposition and was more humble. Those months were happy ones but very short lasting. A new job with money in his pocket changed everything. I was given just two weeks to change my course and be home morning, noon and night. It was my religion, he said, that drove him to admitted immorality. The admonition, “But if the unbelieving one proceeds to depart, let him depart,” fittingly applied and at the end of his designated two weeks he left.
I continued to pioneer, pursuing my purpose in life; but those following months were very hard ones. There was a wound so deep that only time filled with service to Jehovah could heal. I found myself very inefficient to fill the role of both father and mother. There were times when a firm, stern hand of a father was needed. I read over and over again the chapter on “Parental Obligations” in the sixth volume of Studies in the Scriptures, but I realized how far short I came and I prayed for God’s spirit to make up for my lack. How I do praise him, for in spite of my failures I was blessed to see all three of my children take up full-time service!
Until 1935 I pioneered only the nine months of the school term. Nineteen forty brought many changes. Uncle Don married. Your daddy graduated from high school, so all financial support from their father was withdrawn. The remaining three of us talked it over and agreed it would be best for each of us to be responsible for himself rather than try to keep the home going on their meager incomes.
I got in touch with the zone servant and told him I was now free to go anywhere I was needed. He gave me a list of towns where the business districts had not been worked for many years. I worked in various cities until 1941 when I was selected as one of a group of four to work as a special pioneer in Newton, Kansas.
Our concentrated efforts soon aroused opposition and we were threatened with arrest if we appeared on the streets again. The next Saturday we were picked up and locked behind bars for two days till bond was arranged. And who do you think my little jail partner was? A young girl who had come to live with me, so she could pioneer after she graduated from high school. She was called to the second class of Gilead, then worked as a missionary two years in Cuba till she became a cripple with arthritis and had to come back. Later she became your mother. “Mother!” Yes, Jan. She was arrested four times and I three. We were fined $75 or thirty days in jail. We appealed the case but in the meantime we continued house-to-house work and back-calls. We were arrested once more and locked behind bars again. That time I got dreadfully sick. I had to take three months off to recuperate but I rejoice in my privilege of suffering, for all the court proceedings were well attended and the way was opened for a greater witness.
Our next assignment to Ottawa, Kansas, was also colored with police interference. This time we were better prepared and profited by the mistakes made in the Newton case. Jehovah gave a sweeping victory from start to finish.
From Ottawa I was sent to Grand Island, Nebraska. I had many blessings there but my greatest thrill came one day when I received a long letter from the president’s office. How my heart thumped! Could it be what I so much longed for? Yes, an invitation to Gilead. I made my last visit to Leavenworth federal prison where all three of the boys were serving three- and four-year sentences for their integrity to Jehovah. I wish you could have seen their faces beam with joy as I told them. They were as excited as I was about my going to Gilead and not a thought of no more visits.
“You loved it at Gilead, didn’t you, grandma?”
Yes, Jan, that was one of the happiest experiences of my life, and I do treasure those memories.
But the momentous thrill came when I received my foreign assignment to Puerto Rico. In just three weeks our group was eating our last meal in the United States at Brooklyn Bethel and then we were taken to board ship, the Marine Tiger. Four days later we arrived in Puerto Rico. It was a different world. Their customs, though strange, were very interesting. The beautiful mountains, the flowering trees and shrubs have been our constant delight. We were too busy to be disturbed by the various noises, poverty, etc. We were happy to have a real hope to offer such a friendly people who were so responsive to the Kingdom message. It was our God-given assignment and we loved it.
At nearly every house we were invited inside so we could sit down and be at ease in every way, except that we could not find words to say fully what was in our hearts. The patience and kindness of the people were overwhelming and we were determined to learn the language at any cost. We had lots of fun at that, too. My partner still reminds me of how I said eggs (huevos) for Thursday (jueves) for many a month.
Expectation was high as we advertised our first public meeting and our cup of joy was full as we saw our Kingdom Hall packed out. After six months the Ponce congregation was organized and some of those form a part of the thriving congregation of 123 publishers today.
In May, 1948, my partner Gladys and I were called to replace vacancies in the Santurce home. That month the congregation averaged 43 in attendance at the Watchtower study. In seven years I have seen that congregation grow and divide five times and our Santurce unit last month had an average attendance of 110 at the Watchtower study. As I look back over those years and see that, for five years, from almost every territory assigned to me, some publishers came out, and one a pioneer, I rejoice in the part Jehovah has given me, as he gave the increase.
After spending three and a half years in a foreign assignment it is quite thrilling to take a leave of absence and vacation and recuperate in the United States, but not to remain. Gladys was forced to remain because of illness and I have keenly felt the loss of her congenial, loving companionship these last five years. In a recent letter she said: “Those years in Puerto Rico were the happiest of my life and I’d not trade them for anything in the world. I was never homesick for the U.S.A., but I surely have been for Puerto Rico.” And that is just how I feel about it, too.
“But don’t you get homesick for Uncle Don, Dave and us sometimes, grandma?”
Although your uncles and aunts, Don and Earlene and Dave and Julia, are missionaries in Korea and the Philippines, yet we seem so near, for distance is a small factor when minds and hearts are fixed on Jehovah and his kingdom. It is just as Jesus said, “Everyone that has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands for the sake of my name will receive many times more” in this period of time. (Matt. 19:29, NW) How I wish you could know some of those parents and brothers and children I have in Puerto Rico!
Jan, I hope you never lose your desire to be a pioneer and if Armageddon should be still ten or fifteen years in the future, wouldn’t you like to be a missionary?
“Of course, grandma.”
True, you’ll have many trials and you’ll miss your parents when at times it may seem you have no arm of flesh to lean upon, or you may be misunderstood or deeply hurt, but that is when you’ll draw nearer to Jehovah. You’ll turn to his Word, and as he talks to you and you listen you’ll lose those burdens. My love for you cannot spare you from either the discipline or the joy that comes from learning to pursue a right purpose in life, that most excellent way. Yes, pioneer missionary service affords a most excellent opportunity to learn that most excellent way, the way of love, that leads up, up, yes, all the way up that highway to eternal life in Jehovah’s new world.