Pursuing My Purpose in Life
As told by Donald E. Baxter
HERE in Venezuela, every evening on the radio we have an English program with music and world news. The other night I heard a song called “Count Your Blessings Instead of Sheep.” Later I began to think about that. You know, in the missionary work you can count both—your blessings and the sheep. As you go into new fields to find the Lord’s “other sheep” you have many blessings and experiences in this great educational campaign.
As I look back on how I have pursued my purpose in life I can see that I have received many blessings and have enjoyed many privileges of service. My father and mother began studying the truth when I was about ten. When sixteen, at a zone assembly, I was immersed in symbol of my dedication to Jehovah. At the time I knew what I was doing, but I must admit I did not then fully realize all that was required of a good minister. That I found out later when I joined the pioneer ranks in May, 1942. When I graduated from high school the world situation did not look so good. The United States was preparing for World War II. What should I do? Should I go to college, or should I look for employment, or what? My older brother and sister were pioneering in Chicago and they kept writing letters encouraging me to become a pioneer and join them in Chicago.
So in the spring of 1942 when I started to pioneer I was a rather weak publisher. Chicago and suburbs were much different from the farmhouses of South Dakota and its rurals that we had worked. I shall never forget the first week at Chicago. Every morning on the way to the territory I would get a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. But after a few weeks and a little more experience that feeling left.
Returning from service one cold winter day, I found a large envelope from the Society. Surprised and very happy I was to find in it an application for Gilead. As I read the letter and application a thousand questions went through my mind. Can I do it? Will it be too hard? Others had done it; so I reasoned that I too could do it. I filled out the application and sent it back to the Society.
In February, 1945, I went to Gilead, the fifth class. Time passed swiftly there—never enough of it to get everything properly studied or prepared. It was an enjoyable event and every day was packed full with something new to be learned and remembered.
After Gilead I was appointed as a circuit servant. At that time the servant stayed with some congregations two or three days and with others a week, depending on the number of publishers. Also, he had to be prepared to give all of the eight public talks. While on the road I was always thinking about where I would be assigned. By this time I had forgotten most of the Spanish that I had tried to learn at Gilead. In February of 1946 I received a letter from the Society saying that I would be assigned to Venezuela and that at the end of February I should come to Bethel and stay until I received a visa to enter Venezuela. On June 2, 1946, I was landing at Maiquetía, the airport for Caracas, the capital city, no one being there to greet us or to help us with the Spanish language. But soon we found four publishers meeting together in a home, studying The Watchtower and also having a book study. A family of good will nearby was also attending these meetings, so twelve persons were at this first meeting I attended in Caracas.
In April, 1946, Brother Knorr and Brother Franz had visited Venezuela and they had started the meetings and the field service now being done. The four publishers were eager for literature and help in the field. From these brothers we learned that there were others in the interior of the country who were doing some work in the service. The first thing was to get them organized and to get them to send in their reports so they could be sent to Brooklyn. This was difficult, because we did not know Spanish. But two young boys who had just started pioneering knew some English, so we told them what we wanted done and they, in turn, told the congregation. Little by little the congregation in Caracas began to grow. A branch office was started in September, 1946, and the first report we sent in was nineteen publishers.
Caracas was certainly a strange place to us. Prices were shocking, houses practically impossible to find. We walked for miles, not knowing what bus to use, being unable to understand what people told us when we asked. Finally we found a little house on the edge of the city, on a dirt street, with no running water. There we started the first missionary home in Venezuela. Later the Society sent more missionaries to help us, and things began to become easier. For three years we looked for a better missionary home, with no success, due to high rents. Several of our group returned to the United States, some were sick and others chose to get married; so for several months I was alone until the Society sent more. In July, 1949, we found a better home in Caracas and the family was increased to ten, a joy indeed to me for having kept on pursuing my purpose in life. Also, another group of missionaries were assigned to Maracaibo and they started a home there in December, 1948.
One experience stands out: Three Venezuelan pioneers and I were working in a suburb of Caracas. I had been here only a few months, so my Spanish was very meager. The next business place was an English-speaking tailor. The boys said for me to take it and I could talk in English. That tailor I found to be a very meek individual. He told me he had a Bible and was very much interested in it; that he was Catholic but another tailor who was an Adventist was trying to convert him. He took the book “The Kingdom Is at Hand” in English and I told him I would call back later. Then I started a study with him and he accepted the truth. Later he asked to have the study in Spanish because he realized he was to have a part in the preaching work and would have to improve his Spanish and learn how to read Spanish. Soon he was with us in field service and was baptized. On Sunday he and I would work together, he taking me to some of his backcalls, and we started three studies. One day on our way to one of these he said: “I pray to God that I will find a sheep out here in this territory.”
One Italian with whom we had just started a study took hold of the truth very rapidly and soon was in the service with us. This Italian then started to pioneer in spite of the fact that he has a wife and three children to support. He continues doing very well.
After a series of lectures we started a service center in one of the homes and later that study was turned over to a mature brother living nearby. Now we have a congregation of seventy publishers in this suburb. Last month when the circuit servant gave a public talk in that congregation eighty-one attended.
Last June I had been in Venezuela for eleven years. It seems as if I have been here most of my life, at least the most important part of it. During those years things have changed much in this country. Its capital, Caracas, now with a million people, has been changed into a modern city with new buildings and new streets.
In Venezuela the number of Kingdom publishers also has increased year by year. With an average of thirteen in 1946, it now exceeds 1,233. For last year the peak number of publishers was 1,364. We have eight missionary homes and twenty-two congregations in the country. The message and the work have spread to the far corners of this land. Here in Caracas we started with four publishers and now we have five units with over 550. Throughout the country the publishers work hard and we always have an average of twelve hours or more per publisher. Still we need more pioneers and missionaries, having much territory to cover.
So while pursuing my purpose in life I have learned that it is a great privilege and blessing to be a missionary in a foreign field. Looking back, I am very thankful to Jehovah that I started to pioneer when I did and that I accepted the invitation to Gilead. Pioneer work, followed by Gilead training and missionary service, is not to be compared with anything in this old world. The joy and the privileges of serving entirely outweigh hardships and inconveniences you encounter along the way. I have fifteen years in full-time service, with most of that time in the foreign field. I would not trade my experience with anybody. Were I again a youth of seventeen I would have my heart and mind set on Gilead and missionary service.