Pursuing My Purpose in Life
As told by Bennett Berry
IN THE U.S.A. small town of Hebron, Mississippi, I grew up. In this cattle-raising and cotton-farming district I had gone on through high school. Though not a great reader or studious, later I had become a profound lover of books, especially world history. I became a habitual reader of the Bible, the Watch Tower publications and good newspapers.
Next door a Watchtower subscriber evidently had been visited in the autumn of 1939 by a traveling representative of the Society (circuit servant now), there being then no congregation of Jehovah’s witnesses here. The following March, on the occasion of his next visit to our community, I symbolized my dedication to Jehovah. Within six months I was actually trying to decide whether to take employment in some of the booming war industries to catch some fast money or, instead, become a full-time preacher of God’s kingdom. During that zone servant’s next visit he happened to learn that I was toying with the idea of pioneering. Before that week ended I had signed and mailed a pioneer application. Thanks now to him, wherever he is. That was May 1, 1941; I was 23. Now I am nearly 40. On the dusty roads of rural Mississippi I began pursuing my purpose in life, walking day after day, placing many books, enjoying many experiences. Early each morning I would start working all houses on the right side of the road until noon, and then start homeward, working the other side. Within less than a year I saw the little congregation there increase from ten to thirty Kingdom publishers. By the end of another year the Society invited me to became a special pioneer. I was assigned to Clarksville, Tennessee, 700 miles away, with two partners. We were there hardly a year when two others and I were sent to Paris, Kentucky. That was in December of 1942. Paris was completely isolated, and many days there each one of us would place ten to fifteen bound books. In less than a year we had the pleasure of seeing a new congregation take root.
While at Paris news of Gilead school came to us through The Watchtower for February 15, 1943. This I read over and over, but I thought it all too high above my head—that Gilead would be only for those who had much better education and who had been pioneering for many years. However, I was willing to wait, and I reasoned that the only way to get there would be to keep on in the pioneer work. Next came news of the 1943 “Free Nation’s” Theocratic Assembly to be held in Minneapolis, Minnesota, August 20-23.
For years now a pioneer sister and I had been writing each other. Each year we would attend the same assemblies. Our exchange of letters was becoming more frequent. In fact, we were planning to get married during the week of the oncoming assembly at Vicksburg, Mississippi—to be wire-connected with the key assembly at Minneapolis. Of course, we both were expecting to continue pioneering. Gilead was still hoped for by me, but I thought it would be many years before my opportunity. Just a month before that assembly, however, my invitation to the second class of Gilead came. Now I was torn between two strong desires. Day and night I tried to reach a decision, finally resolving to wait and discuss the matter with her. At that time she was more mature in the service. For a week we discussed the matter. She, being interested in my welfare and spiritual progress, was happy for me to accept the invitation to Gilead.
When I reached Gilead, in September, 1943, all of us were interviewed individually by Brother Knorr, shown around the grounds and given time to get acquainted generally. Soon we were getting the feel of Gilead. The instructors were kind, helpful, to the point. For the next eighteen weeks, Bible prophecy, history of the Society, Bible manuscripts, circuit, district and branch organization all flashed before our minds. It was like counting the pickets on a fence through the window of a fast-moving train. Our greatest desire was for ability to retain more. My love for Jehovah, the Society, and for people of good will toward Jehovah was increasing hour by hour. By the term’s end I felt very humble because of a much keener vision of Jehovah’s greatness and of his organization. My convictions were stronger, faith firmer, and my desire to teach others was more intense. Gilead had taken off some of the rough edges, brightened some of the rusty spots, and had done much in molding a new personality in harmony with Jehovah’s will. Training at Gilead laid a foundation in my mind and heart that many a storm has dashed against since. The day I signed a pioneer application and the night I walked out of Gilead, after graduating, are two occasions I shall never forget.
To every young pioneer, also to every one now in school with a hidden hope to be a pioneer someday, let me say: Let Gilead be your goal. It is worth the incidental hardships. Even if one had to pioneer fifty years before going to Gilead, it would be more than worth it.
After Gilead I went to Brooklyn Bethel for a few days. Having received my immediate assignment, along with six others, to Montgomery, Alabama, soon we were on our way. There we had many joyful experiences and saw the congregation increase. Within a year we were sent to Augusta, Georgia; and within another year we saw this congregation move into a new Kingdom Hall, having increased from twenty-five to fifty-five publishers. It was not unusual there for us to place 150 bound books a month.
Eventually the long-expected letter came. Dated July 28, 1945, it was our foreign assignment to the Barbados branch, British West Indies. Arriving in New York for visas, we also were finally instructed by Brother Knorr. Then we boarded a fast train for Miami, Florida. From there, by plane by way of Cuba, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Venezuela and Trinidad, we finally reached the beautiful island of Barbados on October 14. We being the first missionaries to work with this branch, the entire small congregation met us in their Kingdom Hall in Bridgetown that afternoon, a very warm welcome. Here everything was different from life back home. Markets were different; people seemingly did everything differently, even automobiles moving on the left side of the streets. But after all, we did not dedicate ourselves to Jehovah to serve him just in our home country with the highest of living standards and with our native language, did we? Dedication was unconditional.
After about two years in Barbados my two partners, for reasons of health, returned to the United States. I was in the home alone. Now the island’s congregations were well organized. Publishers here, once 40, now number 300. Some of them have since attended Gilead.
In August, 1947, I was appointed as this branch’s first regular circuit servant. Eventually I visited fourteen of the numerous islands, traveling by boat, plane, horseback and afoot, often walking eighteen or twenty miles over rugged mountains, some nearly a mile high. At times I ventured to an island where no work had ever been done, leaving literature. Carriacou, one of those islands, now has thirteen publishers; another, Nevis, twenty-four publishers. Work of this branch has steadily grown—first to 500 publishers, then to a peak of 1,570.
In the Trinidad missionary home there were six girls. Often one of them and I would go swimming together on Mondays and play her guitar. While I was away on other islands we would write each other as time permitted; then we spent a vacation together on the island of Barbados and later became engaged on the island of Grenada. On January 19, 1949, we were married on the romantic island of Trinidad and returned that month to the United States. Arriving in Louisville, Kentucky, we soon realized our mistake in returning with all bridges burned behind. Our marriage was exceptionally happy, but a foreign assignment was in our very bones to stay. Though I regained my physical strength within a few months, like all other missionaries we were not exactly happy out of the foreign missionary service. Soon we were pioneering again, in Kentucky; and there I received from the Society an appointment as servant for one of the congregations at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, followed later in 1951 by circuit servant privileges in New England and, two years later, assignment to Honduras.
Great things, like going through Gilead and then sharing in preaching the Kingdom in the foreign field, are worth years of effort. So stick to the pioneer work.