Pursuing My Purpose in Life
As told by Thomas R. Yeatts
IN REVIEWING how I have been pursuing my purpose in life I find many shortcomings. On the other hand, due to the undeserved kindness of Jehovah God there is much more to be thankful for than to be sorry about. Even though I was brought up in the truth, I have not taken it for granted but have always been conscious of the fact that the truth is something very special, a gem of great price.
I am the oldest of a large family that was brought up on a farm quite isolated from any congregation of Jehovah’s people. Therefore, when we moved nearer to a city in 1931 I began to be active in the witness work at the age of 17. In those days there was no training program. A brother just gave me some books and said: “Go to that house.” I went, but I was very nervous. It just happened that the people of the house were of good will and they helped me considerably. By the end of the first day I felt like a veteran publisher. From 1931 to 1938 I was a busy congregation publisher. In 1938 I attended my first convention of any consequence at College Park, Maryland, and heard Brother Rutherford speak from London, England, on “Fill the Earth” and “Face the Facts.” At that convention I was immersed and also saw Brother Edward Keller for the first time, but seven years later became very well acquainted with him in the Spanish class at Gilead.
In 1939 I attended the convention in New York city and had a very exciting time riding the subway and seeing the big city for the first time, not to mention the riot at Madison Square Garden during the public talk on Sunday. I arrived in New York with $4 in my pocket and came home with $1 left.
In 1940 I attended the Detroit, Michigan, convention, where the book Religion was released. There I saw Brother Covington for the first time. Also by a friend I was introduced to my wife-to-be, a redheaded girl from Syracuse, New York, who signed up for the pioneer work at that convention and has been pioneering ever since.
In the spring of 1941 I was arrested (for the first time in my life) along with about forty others while doing magazine street work at a circuit assembly at Staunton, Virginia. We were held at police headquarters about an hour while Brother Macmillan went over and read the Supreme Court decision to the city attorney, who said he had no idea we had such a sweet victory. He called up the chief of police and said to let us go. We went back on the street and placed all the magazines we had. In the same year I attended the St. Louis convention. By this time I had become a congregation servant. In October of 1941 I received my questionnaire for the army, which was a whole year after I had registered for the draft. In November, about two weeks before Pearl Harbor, while still a congregation publisher, I received a 4-D classification as a minister exempt from military service, and that I kept throughout the war without once appearing before my draft board.
In the spring of 1942 a young pioneer brother passed through our town and, among other things, said that I should show more appreciation for my minister’s classification and enter the full-time pioneer ministerial service. By this time I had a new car and was making good wages in addition to doing my ministerial service. Some of the local congregation were holding me back (it was not hard) by saying I should let someone making less money go in the pioneer work. However, on July 4, 1942, I declared my independence and started pioneering. There was a booklet campaign on and I placed about 400 that month. I kept close account of my income and expenses and ended the month with $10 more than I had at the beginning. Since that time I have never been especially hard up for money and have certainly never “missed a meal.”
I had a car and no trailer; my fiancée had a trailer and no car; so we decided the best thing to do was to get married. After the Cleveland convention in September, 1942, I drove over to Syracuse against the advice of some of my Southern friends and got my Yankee wife and her trailer and we continued to pioneer in Virginia with success and happiness.
About a year before this I had filled out an application for Bethel service and had almost forgotten it. A week or so after we were married I received a letter from the Society saying that if I still was single I might report to Kingdom Farm at South Lansing, New York. I informed the Society that I was no longer single but if there was an opening for a married couple we should both be glad to come. Shortly we received a letter from Brother Knorr saying that there was no opening then but to continue on in the pioneer work and Jehovah would bless us. We did, and Jehovah has blessed us.
In June, 1944, I became a special pioneer. We were sent to Appalachia, Virginia, a coal-mining town just over Big Black Mountain from Kentucky’s Harlan County. There the people were a bit rough but very kindhearted and generous when they got to know you. We met and made friends that still are among our best. This was the first time I had ever been away from home for more than ten days at a time and it was really tough on me. I have never felt as far from home in my foreign assignment (2,000 miles from home) as I did in those mountains only 200 miles away. That training was just what we needed for Gilead and a foreign assignment. All male pioneers had been mobbed out of Harlan County but there were two faithful old sisters pioneering there and they had me over nearly every month for some duties. The first funeral service I ever conducted was in Harlan County with a mobster looking over my shoulder to see if I was reading from the King James Bible (I was). The first Memorial service I ever conducted and the first public talk I gave were there.
But on that assignment the outstanding experience was in Appalachia, Virginia. One morning, while going from house to house in the better section of town, I left a Kingdom News with a pleasant lady. Later I was coming out of a gate when a man came charging along the street like a mad bull, heaping abuse on me, saying that I should be run out of town, etc. He was a local doctor. A few months later I went up the mountain on a cold snowy night to have a study with a young man of good will and found him very ill. He asked me if I would go downtown and call this same doctor for him. I did. Over the phone the doctor said, “Do you have a car?” “Yes, sir.” “Well, you’ll have to take me up there because I’m not going to drive my car up that mountain tonight; pick me up at the hospital.” It was dark when the doctor came out, so he could not see me well. I kept quiet while he chatted along about progress of the war (that was about the time of the Battle of the Bulge). When we were about a mile up the mountain he said: “By the way, who are you?” He was really nonplused when I told him. I waited and took him back to town. That was a bucket of coals on his head. I never heard any more about being run out of town.
While we were on this special assignment we attended the convention in Buffalo, New York, in 1944; and there we filled out preliminary applications for Gilead. We had heard so much about how strenuous the course at Gilead was that my wife was against the idea. I told her that it would do no harm just to go and hear what Brother Knorr had to say to prospective Gileadites. We sat away in back and in the end did turn in our applications.
In December, 1944, we received our applications for Gilead. My wife suggested we send them back blank, but I said: ‘Let’s fill them out and tell them that you are not very well and we won’t be called anyway.’ We did that and in June, 1945, we received the call to report for the sixth class.
A few months before we went to Gilead we had a visit from a zealous circuit servant who walked with a slide rule and measured nearly everything he came to. When we arrived at Gilead the first person we met was our circuit servant. I said: “Don’t tell me you are going through school with us.” He: “No, they brought me here to teach.” I gave him a laugh but was really surprised when I found out he really was our mathematics teacher.
Gilead was a wonderful experience and, while it was a busy time, it was certainly not so hard as we had been led to believe. I led quite a normal life at Gilead, going in the service nearly every Saturday and Sunday, and reading my Watchtower and Awake! from cover to cover as I have always done since I could read. I also kept up a normal correspondence with my family and friends.
From Gilead we were assigned to work with the congregation in Bayonne, New Jersey. It was one of the nicest assignments we ever had and local friends treated us royally. We shall never forget them.
Our foreign assignment was the Netherlands West Indies and we arrived in Willemstad, Curaçao, N.W.I., on May 16, 1946. At a small gathering the first night the brother offering a prayer thanked Jehovah so fervently for our arrival that we could never think of abandoning them. At that time the housing situation was very bad in Willemstad and for six months we had it pretty tough until we finally got a decent house. The water was terrible and we had one spell of dysentery after another, but we did not get discouraged. The local friends very kindly brought several kinds of herbs to help.
It has been said that after one gets through Gilead and to his foreign assignment the excitement is over and the hard work begins. But for me the excitement has never stopped. What makes life interesting, especially for Jehovah’s ministers, is not conditions, not the scenery, not even the language, but people, and you have them in every assignment.
One thing that did make us feel sad was that after we had been here about a year and a half my father died suddenly. We had really expected to see him again, as he appeared to be in such good health when we left the States. He was a faithful witness that brought up a large family in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.
At the 1953 Yankee Stadium convention our whole family was together for the first time in eight years. This convention was not only a landmark in the history of the New World society but in the history of my family too.
In 1950 Brother Knorr visited the Netherlands West Indies for the first time and set up a branch office and I was assigned as branch servant and still hold that post by Jehovah’s undeserved kindness. Being a branch servant in a small place means that at times you also act as district servant and again as circuit servant, which is more excitement. I shall never forget the first time we went to the island of Bonaire. When we arrived for the public lecture there were more than a hundred people standing around. We said: “What a nice crowd!” When only about thirty came inside we thought the others were bashful, but we soon found out—rocks began to rain on the tin roof like hail in Egypt, firecrackers went off, the people beat on buckets and yelled. What a racket! I’m surprised until now that somebody did not get hurt that night. But most of the people have changed. When we showed The New World Society in Action film in the theater in Bonaire recently it was packed out and some present were those earlier troublemakers, and they liked the film.
In a foreign assignment one does not always have to learn another language, but usually you do; and that is something interesting. Even though you never learn to speak it perfectly you will learn to understand it, and that is a thrill. Here we learned Papiamento.
When I first came to Curaçao I was arrested for the second time in my life, for the same thing, street magazine work. I was taken to the police station but when I explained the nature of my work and that it was not commercial the desk sergeant told me to continue, much to the chagrin of the policeman. The very next day I was going from house to house and a Dutchman invited me in to explain my mission to his wife. When leaving I said to him: “You look familiar; where have I seen you before?” He laughed and said: “I’m the desk sergeant that let you go yesterday.” I did not recognize him without his uniform.
Jesus certainly knew what he was saying when he said that whoever gave up home and family for his sake and for the sake of the good news would find a hundred in this time and everlasting life in the world to come.
While letters and packages from home occasionally are not a necessity to a successful missionary career, they can be a source of extra pleasure. Every Watchtower and Awake! is like a letter from home, always full of surprises, always something new. Here are included only a few of the many experiences I have enjoyed. Volumes would be required to tell them all, such as, for instance, showing the film The New World Society in Action for the governor and his family in his back yard.
Many say: “Oh, if I could only live my life over again.” I say, If I could my goal would be the same, to pursue my purpose for a life of praise to Jehovah my Creator.
[Picture on page 457]
THOMAS R. YEATTS