Pursuing My Purpose in Life
As told by A. C. Attwood
THIS story goes back more than twenty years. It was in 1935 that I began to know the truth. My father, a retired businessman, was nominally a Roman Catholic but in practice a complete agnostic. A sick man, he took no part in the drama to follow. He died in 1939. Mother was an Anglican, a pillar of the local church. My sister was educated in Roman Catholic convents, while my brother and I were brought up in the Church of England. I was the youngest.
My parents liked the idea of mine, to be an architect. But father insisted that I work in an office for a year to get business experience before beginning the necessary training. After that I went to the Bristol School of Architecture. While I was in the office the turning point in my life came.
Returning one day after the midday break, I met a lady at the top of the elevator. She was waiting outside the office door. She opened her bag and showed me a selection of books and booklets on Bible topics. I always had been a Bible lover and took a booklet. It was called “World Recovery.” When I started to read it I became completely absorbed. It was quite different from anything I had ever read before. Reaching home, I began looking up words like “Armageddon” in dictionaries and encyclopedias. I must have read that booklet half a dozen times. My curiosity was so aroused that I wrote to London for the catalog advertised on the back. Then I ordered every booklet published by the Society up to that time, including all the old ones like Crimes and Calamities, etc. I devoured them all, one after another. Then all the bound books, from The Harp of God to Jehovah. I started on Creation, then the Light books, and finally all the rest. I was only seventeen. I was a regular churchgoer along with mother. Even before I got that booklet I was beginning to entertain grave misgivings about the church. Now I could see nothing good in it and realized that I just had to get out. As I read the publications I soon saw the obligation to preach. So I started on mother, passing over the books and urging her to read. I also ordered a hundred booklets from London and spread them all over the village. During all this time no one had called nor had I seen any of Jehovah’s witnesses anywhere. As I lived eight miles out of town in the heart of the country, this was not surprising.
At this point things began to happen. Angered by the exposure of the clergy, mother began opposing. I started protesting about going to church but was forced to go against my will. So I began a sit-down strike, refusing to participate in the church service. I folded booklets inside my hymnbook and sat there reading them despite mother’s angry glares and indignant prods. In the meantime I became a subscriber for the Watchtower and Golden Age magazines. Several of the latter got into mother’s hands and the cartoons just maddened her. After weeks of violent rows and upsets at home I finally won the church-attendance struggle and was allowed to stay home.
Being all alone in the truth, I yearned to have association. So I wrote to London and asked if there was anyone in Bristol I could get in touch with. They sent me Brother Harding’s address. He was the local “service director.” I wrote for the times of the meetings and also explained what was happening at home. As soon as I got his reply I ran away to the meeting the very next Sunday, cycling the eight miles into Bristol. The meeting consisted of a recorded lecture on the “terrible image” of Daniel’s prophecy, with a discussion afterward. I took a full part in the discussion (for the questions seemed very easy), at which everybody in the hall turned round and stared at me. When they learned who I was I got much encouragement and laid the foundation for pursuing my purpose in life and for friendships that have lasted to this day.
On my reaching home the storm burst in all its fury. It lasted for weeks and weeks, but I never once missed a meeting after that first Sunday. October, 1936, there was an assembly in Bristol. I ran away from home to attend and was baptized. Things then eased up a bit and early in 1937 I was able to attend the big Memorial convention in Liverpool. But that was only the lull before an even worse storm. Violent threats, hysterical ravings, floods of emotional tears, and all that kind of thing, became a daily occurrence until it became clear that to live in that house and stay in the truth was impossible.
Resolved to leave home, I resigned from the School of Architecture and began to look for a job. I got one as a draftsman. I packed up and left home, having made arrangements to live with one of the brothers in Bristol.
Then began the happiest moments of my life. In August I got time off to attend the international assembly in Paris, an event I shall never forget as long as I live. It was there that I decided that full-time service was the only course for me. In November, 1937, I enrolled as a pioneer. The Society assigned me to a rural territory in Norfolk (England), where I joined another pioneer. We worked together happily for four months, cycling many miles visiting farms and country villages. Then I got an assignment to go to Lincoln and serve as pioneer-congregation servant. There were about sixty or seventy publishers there. The congregation was in a bad way, torn with dissension and very sick spiritually. I got a wonderful blessing at Lincoln and am happy to say that conditions improved in a short time, thanks to Jehovah’s undeserved kindness.
Although I was only nineteen years of age, one privilege after another was heaped upon me and my life was one perpetual joy. How happy I was that I had entered the full-time service! Being young and somewhat impetuous, I got plenty of knocks, but soon learned, and these experiences have been valuable since. September, 1938, came Brother Rutherford’s visit to London and the great lecture “Face the Facts.” I was sent to Birmingham as convention servant. After that the zone work began and I was among the first zone servants appointed. I was sent to Yorkshire and spent a happy year visiting the congregations. The following year I was convention servant at Leeds for the “Government and Peace” convention. Then I was transferred to the neighboring zone in Lancashire, where I did another year of this work. But just before my transfer World War II burst upon the inhabited earth. With the coming of war young men like myself were faced with military conscription and other forms of war service. I was now twenty-one. Like everybody else I had to register and in due time I was called before a conscientious objector’s tribunal to have my case heard. The judge seemed to be a fair-minded man and his questions were easy. I answered clearly and to the point and he gave me unconditional exemption. What a happy moment! I could now carry on my full-time service uninterrupted.
October, 1940, just after the bombing of London had begun, I was called in from the field to become a member of the Bethel family. I was in Bethel for almost five years. It was not easy carrying on during the air raids, particularly during the first winter. At one time we had raids for ninety consecutive nights without a break. While carrying on the work during the day, we would often have to be up part of the night and several times had to join in fire-fighting, including fires on the Society’s property. Also at that time many changes were taking place in the organization and there was quite a bit of testing for everybody. Those years in Bethel were filled with many privileges as well as hard experiences. I served as congregation servant of five different London units, was sent out to care for various assemblies and enjoyed many other privileges.
With the coming of 1945 the dark years of war drew to a close and with it a change for me. I was sent out from the Bethel as a servant to the brethren, or circuit servant, as we now call them. For over a year I was back visiting congregations. And how I enjoyed it! Not that I did not appreciate Bethel life. I did. But after the long years of war and the many nerve-racking experiences it was a relief to get out into the field for a change. I just put everything I had into that service and I still think that that year was about the happiest I have ever spent pursuing my purpose in life. In the winter of 1945-46 I met Brother Knorr at Sheffield and there filled out my preliminary application for Gilead. In May, 1946, with seven others I set sail for America. We were the first eight to go from England.
After arrival in the States, my first two months were at the Brooklyn Bethel and factory. Then came the Cleveland convention. After that a little while at Kingdom Farm, followed by the opening of the eighth class of Gilead in September, 1946. After graduation, a week’s rest in Canada with friends and then pioneering in New York city, while waiting for a ship for Nigeria, which was to be my assignment. After a month’s pioneering I was called into the factory for training, which lasted for two months. Then we set sail, three of us for Nigeria and two for the Gold Coast, all on the same ship.
We arrived in Nigeria June 21, 1947, and here a new chapter in my life opened. I have now been here almost eight years and I certainly think this is one of the finest assignments anyone could possibly have. Just think: when we got here there were about 3,500 publishers in the country. And how many today? Almost 20,000! Would you not like to have an experience like that? It has not been easy by any means. There have been many hard problems, many difficult experiences. I have learned a great deal since I have been here. It has been a real thrill to see the way the African brothers have progressed. To see them abandon polygamy, clean up their lives by abandoning untheocratic customs and become fully dedicated mature ministers has brought me indescribable joy. During my years in Nigeria I have traveled the length and breadth of the land, served dozens of assemblies and enjoyed many wonderful experiences. During all these years I have been in the Bethel home in Lagos and so have been in a good position to witness the increase.
After a few years in Nigeria another problem presented itself. The work began to open up in the surrounding French territories and some of these were placed under the Nigerian branch. To care for the work required someone with a knowledge of the French language. Various attempts were made to find someone but without success. So I came to the conclusion that the only solution was to learn the language myself so that the work could be cared for. It was a hard problem. I had last studied French at school over seventeen years ago and had forgotten it all. Also Bethel life does not give one much opportunity for studying a language and the tropical climate makes one very tired in the evenings. However, realizing that the work demanded it, I set to work in earnest, providing myself with the necessary textbooks. Inside a year I began dealing with all the French correspondence that was coming into the office. Now I can read and write the language without difficulty. At present we have almost fifty French congregations and nearly 2,500 publishers to care for outside Nigeria. For the past two years I have been in touch with a French Gilead graduate and every time I write a letter in French I send him a copy and he marks on it any improvements or corrections necessary. So I am also getting expert tuition by post.
There is much more that I could say about my experiences in Nigeria, but space does not allow. It makes me happy to think that at the age of thirty-seven I have spent twenty years in the truth, almost eighteen of which have been in the full-time service. And that full-time service has been continuous, without any break whatever. It is true that I have been away from England for almost ten years, but that does not worry me. Since I have been here mother has died and I am sorry to say she remained an embittered hater of the truth to the end. I have not seen my brother for nineteen years and have seen my sister only once in the same period. I do not even know their whereabouts. But Jesus told us that those who followed him would be separated from fleshly parents and relatives, but would gain many more in the New World society. Although I have no home of my own I know that if I ever do get back for a visit there are dozens of doors that will open to me without my even asking.
And now I want to urge upon all young people who have been blessed with the truth to launch out into the service. Grasp every privilege that is placed before you. That is what I did. And just think of the blessings I have had! Would you not like to enjoy the same things? Get into the full-time work. Stick to it. Go to Gilead if you have the chance. Then go off to your foreign assignment and stick to it. Jehovah will never let you down. I know that from experience in pursuing my purpose in life.