Pursuing My Purpose in Life
As told by Esther M. Rydell
ON December 25, 1948, I set foot in my foreign assignment as a missionary in South America’s Venezuela. So quickly has the time flown by that I now remember that happy day as though it were yesterday; and as I look back over the past years I realize how good Jehovah has been to me and how rich have been the blessings received from him while pursuing my purpose in life in the foreign field. Through Jehovah’s visible organization we have been well provided for and everything possible has been done to keep us happy in our assignments.
At present I get so wrapped up in what I am doing that I wholly forget that I have not always been a missionary. As in all other things, I did start but I did not become a missionary overnight. It was a gradual process. That takes me back about a score of years when, on April 15, 1936, I started pioneering. That day I shall never forget, for it was one of the happiest of my life. For a long time I had been thinking of pioneering, and every time the Society sent out one of those letters encouraging publishers to become pioneers I really worried because I was not one. Oh yes, I had dedicated my life to serve Jehovah, many years before; but it seemed I thought pioneering was not for me, as I was not strong physically. But finally, after hearing one of those letters read and realizing how much I was worrying because I was not putting in as much time in field service as I should, I made a definite decision to arrange my affairs and become a pioneer. I gave up my job as a secretary and my private office in a swanky New York skyscraper. It was easy to say good-by to it all, as I always was sitting dreaming about walking down a nice country road every day with a bookbag under my arm and looking for houses where I might offer someone a drink of the water of life. I was walking on air the first day I started pioneering, for I knew Jehovah had helped me gain that goal. I had faith that he would hear my prayer for help to make the proper decision, and he did.
While I was pioneering in various parts of the United States the blessings were without number. The education I gained in meeting various kinds of people, living in different parts of the country, going in and out of jails here and there, all added to making pioneering interesting, to say the least. But the most important thing of all was the privilege of teaching so many people the truth of Jehovah’s purposes for them. I remember so many persons who said: “Teach me to pray; I don’t know how.” “Read to me from the Bible; I cannot see.” “God must have sent you to me.” “Thank you for calling at my door; your message has meant so much to me.” I could go on and on as I sit here recalling those faces. Today these same ones are experiencing the blessings I received back there. Was I ever sorry I made the decision to be a pioneer? No, never; not for one moment.
I was so happy being a pioneer that I could have kept on being one in my home land, but something more wonderful happened. I was invited to go to Gilead in the spring of 1945. This was beyond my fondest dreams. I remember as a child how I sat for hours reading the “convention reports” (as we called them back in the days of the “pilgrims”), and I often wished I could go around to different places and preach. The few reports from foreign lands entranced me. Little did I realize that one day I should have the opportunity to go to some other part of the world as a missionary. I was delighted.
Gilead’s fifth class included me. I hadn’t heard too much about Gilead from anyone, except that it was wonderful. It was more than that: I felt as if I had stepped right out of this old world into the New World. I accepted it all as a marvelous gift from Jehovah and I shall forever be grateful for the training I received there. It helped me to have a far-deeper appreciation of Jehovah’s organization, both invisible and visible. It showed me my obligation to serve Jehovah efficiently with kindness and love, as only love and kindness were shown me there. It showed me how to study the Bible and get the most out of it. It showed me how to express myself clearly, and most of all how to keep my mind and heart centered on serving Jehovah and filled with worthwhile things. Ever since, I have diligently tried to follow that pattern. Gilead shall always be dear to my heart; I loved every minute of it. I should think every pioneer who is able would love to go to Gilead and be trained for foreign missionary work. I am glad I did. Look where I am today: in Venezuela, South America. Was I sorry I made the decision to go to Gilead? No, because I made that decision also with the help of Jehovah, feeling sure he would help me through that training period.
In July, 1945, I graduated and was eager to go into a foreign field and put into practice all the things I had learned. I did not go at once, but kept busy and happy being a missionary in the United States until at last, in December, 1948, I became one of six happy missionaries scheduled to sail on the Grace Line steamer for Maracaibo, Venezuela. We were so excited we could hardly wait until we got out of New York harbor; then we would feel we were really on our way.
After eight days of sailing we began to see land. Our foreign assignment! The hot air that blew in our faces felt as though it was coming from a furnace. Hundreds of tin roofs gleamed in the sun. It looked like a desert town in a sea of sand. I was so glad to get off the boat that it all looked good to me, and I was thankful to Jehovah that we had arrived safely. What the future held for me in this strange land I did not know; nor was I worried, as I had sufficient faith in Jehovah that as I continued pursuing my purpose in life he would take care of me.
As I write I am smiling while thinking about the six of us getting off that boat, each one loaded down with suitcases, boxes of candy and cake, heavy winter overcoats, hats, gloves, stockings—and the temperature 100 degrees. The perspiration started pouring off and we all started giggling and laughing so much we could hardly stop. There was not a speck of shade anywhere. A native brother met us, along with a brother from another town who spoke English. Here we were with a vocabulary of a few Spanish words, no place to stay and not understanding one tenth of what the native brother was saying, and nearly cooking in the tropical sun. The brother who spoke English told us of a family who might take us in. They had a little house but he thought it would accommodate all of us. The husband had just become interested and the wife was not opposed. They had two children; so we six would make ten. We went to look for this little house and found it on a sand pile. We were more than welcome to share the house with them, but by the time we put our 15 or more trunks, 40 cartons of literature, and all our heavy clothes and bundles inside there was hardly room to turn around. They didn’t mind. But where were we going to sleep? That was easy. They strung up four more hammocks here and there and my sister and I made a nice bed out of book cartons. Was this a hardship? No, it was a real experience. We had never had living quarters like these, and never shared a home with kinder people than they. Though they were very poor, and the husband out of work, their faces beamed with happiness to have us with them. Our conversation was very limited, but a month later when we moved to our own missionary home, they cried, and so did we. They could not understand why we could not continue to live with them. We knew Jehovah would bless this family for their kindness to us. In 1953 the father and mother attended the New World Society Assembly at Yankee Stadium in New York, and the following year the mother and her two children were summer pioneers. These dear friends will never know how much their kindness meant to us. We gladly accepted this humble provision as coming from Jehovah and that is why we liked our assignment from the very first day we set foot in it.
Soon we had our missionary home furnished comfortably. We organized a congregation made up of the one brother, a few people of good will and the six of us. The congregation grew rapidly and by 1954 there were two units in this city.
Two days after we had landed in Maracaibo we started out in the territory, placing much literature. At each door we gave a brief witness, but we did not understand a word the people said. I think they thought it was easier to take the literature than to try to make us understand they did not want it. Two weeks after our arrival the Catholic priests announced that we had come. They described each one of us over the radio, telling the people not to take anything from us. That was fine! Now everyone in town knew who we were and many were the times when people came up to us to ask for books and Bibles. Often we had placed our first book by 7 a.m. Because of the heat the people rose early and so did we.
We worked hard and found many people of good will with whom we conducted studies with our meager knowledge of Spanish. I shall always remember with a great deal of pleasure one of the first studies I had. The lady could not read, so I had to read to her. I could not read very well, but between us we figured out what the paragraphs said. She soon became a publisher and her husband wanted the book read to him. By this time I could read a little better and explain a little more; but as time went on I realized I had to make a real effort to learn the language fast, as here were sheep who wanted information right away and could not wait until I took my own good time learning the language. Learning a foreign language was for me not easy but was interesting, and more satisfying as I came to understand what people were talking about. Daily we bought a newspaper and tried to read it. I studied books on the country and found Venezuela a very interesting land to be in. To this day I keep up with its events and happenings, all of which makes me feel that I belong here.
After working three and a half years in Maracaibo’s heat, we were transferred to Barquisimeto, an interior city, much cooler. An entirely different type of city, its people are very fanatical, poor, and much more than half of them cannot read. That meant we had to work a little harder to find the sheep, and now we have in this place a strong, growing, clean organization. Our hearts go out to these people; they are so blinded by the Catholic priests who continually warn them against us and the Bible. One day while I was witnessing in a store a Catholic priest stepped up and grabbed a booklet from my hand, tore it in four pieces and tried to hand it back to me. I told him it was my property and he would have to pay for it. He fished around in his skirts and came up with the price of the booklet. He didn’t utter a word.
When the “saints” are carried from one church to another thousands of people walk in the streets, carrying lighted candles. Most of them have never seen a Bible, nor do they know who Jehovah is. One woman told me she had her own god and ran into the house and came out with an image of Mary. She said: “This is my god.”
What better career could I have chosen for pursuing my purpose in life than to be a foreign missionary and have the privilege of introducing the Bible, God’s holy word of truth, to these people? Where could I have received more blessings than have been mine in this missionary assignment? Often I think of the rich blessings I would have missed had it become necessary for me to return to my home land during the first few months or first year in my assignment. I would not have learned a new language, nor learned to live in the tropics, where I can enjoy the beautiful flowers that bloom all year round, eat new foods, see congregations spring up where the truth had never been heard of, and associate with the “other sheep” of a different race.
I could just go on and write a book on the joys of being a missionary, but I think the time can be better spent by me in preaching and I’ll let the pages be the “other sheep,” and bind them in love and gild the edges in happiness. Thanks be to Jehovah for giving me the privilege of being a missionary.
Jesus said to him: “If you want to be complete, go sell your belongings and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven, and come be my follower.”—Matt. 19:21, NW.