Pursuing My Purpose in Life
As told by John Errichetti
DURING the winter of 1938 I first began to study the Watch Tower Bible aids in earnest. Having come down with a sickness, I began to rummage around the house for something to read. Years before we had obtained some literature from Brooklyn but did not pay too much attention to it at the time. Now reading the booklets on hell, soul and other Bible doctrines gave me a thrill that comes only when one begins to see out of darkness the marvelous light Jehovah gives to those that are seeking for the truth. Being brought up a Roman Catholic, I knew nothing about God’s purposes, nor did we have a Bible in our home. That winter I read a lot and, like all others that begin to learn the truth, I began to tell my friends the wonderful things I was learning. Some thought I was going crazy, but a couple of my friends that listened are now in the truth.
That spring I looked up Jehovah’s witnesses and began to attend their meetings. Shortly thereafter a zone assembly was held and I went out in the service for the first time with our congregation servant. After visiting four or five homes with him, I was encouraged to try the next one. I did and the man turned out to be opposed. His remarks set me back a bit, but crossing the street I began to witness by myself and Jehovah proved to be with me, because I carried on till quitting time. In the months that followed I gained much knowledge and experience by working with two pioneer sisters who were of the anointed.
Several years later, to pursue my purpose in life, I decided to pioneer; and on January 8, 1942, the Society sent me my letter of appointment. For about a year and three months I pioneered in several cities in the eastern United States. I got to appreciate the full-time service more and more. Jehovah’s blessings were manifest at all times. Never did we go hungry, nor did we lack for clothing or a place to sleep.
In March of 1943 the Society sent me a letter asking whether I would like to go to the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead. You may be sure that I did not hesitate at that opportunity. At Gilead School we worked, but it was pleasant work and one got a better appreciation of Jehovah’s organization and also of the confidence and trust it put in one. Those five months were pleasant ones, and on graduation day we all were “on pins and needles” waiting to find out where we were going. I was one of eight to go to Alaska. My partner and I were assigned to Ketchikan.
We arrived on October 12, 1944, after a beautiful trip up the famed Inside Passage to Alaska. Both of us spent most of the day hunting Watchtower magazine subscribers and finally located a couple that put us up for the night. The next day we did more hunting and this time we contacted an elderly couple that were very much interested. They asked us to stay with them. We agreed to that and in the meantime we began to witness in the territory and also to look for a place to stay.
One day a woman I was witnessing to asked me whether I knew of two nice young men looking for a small house to rent. I said, “I don’t know; what does it look like?” She showed me. I told her that if I learned of someone I would let her know. I then hunted up my partner as fast as I could and told him about the house. We returned and said to this woman, “Here are the two young men you were asking about.” The house was more than we bargained for—sixteen dollars a month and in a fine section of town.
That winter my partner and I worked hard, placing many books and getting many subscriptions. But it was also very discouraging because it rained continually, and with a wind blowing it was impossible to keep oneself dry and also the literature. Then to make matters a little harder, Ketchikan turned out to be very religious in one way and antireligious in another. The fishermen, made up mostly of Norwegian stock, wanted no part of religion or the Bible, having had too much religion in the old country. One could not blame them for feeling that way—with the preachers in town always begging for money and getting mixed up in the politics of the community. We had quite a job gaining those fishermen’s confidence. Today, however, they have a different view of Jehovah’s witnesses and very much enjoy reading Awake! magazine.
With the coming of summer my partner and I planned on working the outlying towns and villages reached only by boat and plane. Taking as much literature as we could, we left on the mail boat for the first stop. We helped to unload some freight, for which the captain was very thankful. An old Indian chief let us stay with him while we preached about Jehovah’s kingdom in the town, placing much literature. Our next stop was a little place named Craig. We arrived at about two o’clock in the morning. It was pitch dark and raining very heavily. There was no light in town. Pretty soon the man that ran the dock appeared with a lantern; so, having nowhere to go at that hour, we pitched in and helped to unload cargo. The captain was so pleased that when we asked what we owed for fare he said: “Nothing, boys; you don’t owe me a cent and I am very grateful to you.” This was during the war years when help was very scarce. The dock man, too, was thankful. He said to us: “Well, the rooming house is closed at this hour, so you boys can stay in my empty store. There’s a stove and wood; so make yourselves at home and stay as long as you wish.” We did. From here we were able to walk to another small Indian village about five miles away, and again much literature was placed.
A week later we boarded the mail boat and left for Wrangell. Again we helped to unload and again we received free passage. As it was too early to get a room, we threw our blankets down on the dock and went to sleep. Later on in the morning we located an old Greek Watchtower subscriber who welcomed us into his small cabin. We stayed about a week. Since these places that we had visited had not been served with the Kingdom message in many years, our placements of literature naturally were high.
My partner and I now began to ask the fishermen whether any of them were going to Petersburg, about thirty-five miles away. Sure enough, one did welcome us aboard. So off to Petersburg we went. There housing was at a premium. We contacted a person of good will, who suggested that he take us across the bay to see two old Norwegians—they might have a cabin for us. So across the bay we went. The man of good will asked the two brothers whether we could stay in one of their cabins and they said, “Sure.” “By the way, what do you boys do?” We told them. “Oh, a couple of preachers,” they said with a look of disgust on their faces. We told them that if there was anything around the place we could do to help, we would be glad to. “Oh, that’s all right,” they said. They lent us a small boat too, so that we could row across to town and do house-to-house preaching there.
One morning I noticed one of the brothers trying to coal-tar the roof of his house. It was a big one. Being old and shaky, he did not dare to go up to the roof but was trying to reach it from a ladder, with a long stick having a brush tied to the end of it. He was having a difficult time. I watched him for a while and then said, “We will do that for you.” He looked at me with amazement and said, “You will?” He could not believe that a couple of preachers would work. They did not know the difference between clergymen and Christian preachers.
We told him what we needed and off we went to tar his roof. It was a big house with iron sheeting for a roof with all kinds of angles and pitches. My partner and I worked like beavers all day to finish it, and about six that evening they asked us down for a bite to eat. We told the brothers that we would finish painting, as it looked like it might rain. “Finish it tomorrow,” one said. “No, we will finish it tonight,” we replied, and we did. About a half-hour later it began to pour down. Those two brothers were the happiest people in town at having their roof painted. The next day they asked whether we wouldn’t like to do the boat shed. We did. “How about the other boat shed?” We finished that one too. “Wouldn’t you like to do the sawmill too?” “Yes, we will do the sawmill also.”
“Now how would you like to paint the house?” So we painted the house. In the meantime we had finished preaching among all the homes in town and were getting ready to leave. The two brothers called us into the house and asked us what they owed us. We said: “Nothing; you boys were kind enough to let us stay in your cabin, so we wanted to return the favor. They would have none of that. Pressing a roll of bills into our hands, they said: “We are more than satisfied, and whenever you boys come to town you are more than welcome to stay with us.” When we counted up the money it totaled $225.
Several years later when my present partner and I made the same trip we stopped off again at Petersburg. This time the two Norwegian brothers invited us to stay right in their own home. It has been a pleasure to come back to this town where we have made many friends. Although these persons have not taken a deep interest in the Kingdom, they do very much enjoy Awake! magazine.
We can always get secular work in Petersburg, and this has made the people see the difference between the local clergymen and Jehovah’s witnesses. Everyone knows us as the two boys that stay with the Knutson brothers.
The first winter my partner and I spent in Anchorage was one to be remembered. We arrived on the first of January and it was cold. We had quite a job getting a place to stay. My partner knew a subscriber that enjoyed reading Awake! So off we went to see whether he had a place for us. Yes, he had a cabin that was vacant; in fact, people had just moved out that afternoon. It was the filthiest place I ever saw. Whisky and beer bottles all over the place, and the cabin had a stench such as I never want to smell again. But where could we go at such a late hour? So we agreed to rent the place. Although it was a mess, for us there was only one thing to do, clean the whole place, including the stove—choked up with thick soot. And to top it off, we had to get our water from about four blocks away. It was very discouraging, to say the least. That night we slept with the window wide open, the place stank so bad. The temperature dropped to 30 below zero. But we were comfortable in our Arctic sleeping bags. About a month later we moved in with a brother who was renting a cabin, which provided much better quarters.
It is only after the servant of Jehovah proves that he is willing to endure all manner of inconveniences that then Jehovah provides for his servants. That fact has been brought to our attention again and again. In carrying on the missionary work in Alaska we have slept on floors of deserted cabins, in cars and boats; also in nice soft beds. The pioneer work has given us a much better appreciation of Jehovah’s goodness. We have learned to be satisfied in whatever circumstances we have found ourselves.
In such a vast territory as Alaska pioneering is bound to produce many interesting experiences, especially when one has to travel by every means of transportation available—by car, train and plane as well as boats large and small.
Each fall now one of the brothers that fish takes us around the many islands that make up the southeastern part of Alaska. This brother is a good fisherman and seaman. One trip that we made proved to be an exciting one. Leaving one quiet harbor, we proceeded to our next stop, a little community of about half a dozen persons. We had to cross a stretch of water about twenty-five miles wide. The wind was blowing pretty hard with a heavy sea running against us. When about fifteen minutes away from safe anchorage our engine quit. Our batteries had tipped, spilling some acid on the distributor and shorting out the engine. Quickly wiping the distributor dry, we started up the engine again only to have it stop again. We pressed the starter again; the bendix spring in the starter broke and that finished us. Desperately trying to crank the engine proved to be useless. We began to drift broadside with the heavy seas and to take quite a pounding. After a while all three of us became seasick, with the boat drifting wherever the wind and tide took it. However, we gradually began to get over our seasickness and to get on the radiotelephone to call the Coast Guard. After what seemed a long time we contacted one of their ships and they radioed that they would be able to reach us about ten that night. We started to drift about four that afternoon. At about 11:30 their searchlight picked us up and after they shot over three lines we finally were able to make fast a line. We had drifted out to open sea about sixteen miles. You may be sure that our prayers ascended to Jehovah and He heard them. This fishing boat we were on was forty-two feet long and very seaworthy. After we saw what a beating the boat could take we began to feel better. The Coast Guard boat towed us for four hours before we finally reached a safe harbor. It was a night never to be forgotten.
We have made the same trip over again without any mishap. We have covered many thousands of miles both by air and by boat. After experiencing the protection of Jehovah one soon gets over worrying whether any trouble may arise.
Pursuing my purpose in life, now I am still working with the congregation in Ketchikan, Alaska, as a missionary and enjoying the service here very much. We have over 200 publishers in Alaska and I know all of them. There are many people of good will scattered in little settlements who need to be visited by willing ministers. This is a vast territory and many workers are needed. I certainly rejoice in the privilege of full-time service that is mine, and am happy that the Watch Tower Society sent me to Alaska. I can say, What greater privilege could one receive from Jehovah than to go to Gilead School and then receive a foreign assignment and there share in the expansion work with the rest of Jehovah’s people earth-wide!