Pursuing My Purpose in Life
As told by A. W. Checksfield
ONE day in 1940 at London, England, an elderly woman entered my place of business and presented her testimony card. After perusal I handed it back with the comment, “I’m not interested in religion!”
She, however, being a persistent person, did not accept my polite dismissal, but went right on to explain the vast difference between (true) Christianity and (false) religion. This short sermon really ‘got’ me. I obtained the book Salvation and some copies of the Consolation (now Awake!) magazine. That night I lay on my bed and began reading the book. But after enjoying the brief introduction of “Emergency” I noted some Bible quotations, and with that I flung the book across the room and went to sleep. Strangely enough, what little I did read worried me so much that I kept this book among things of value. So that was my first introduction to the Kingdom message of Jehovah’s witnesses.
The seed was sown. The watering of it came some months later, toward the close of the year, when the witnesses, in their house-to-house ministry, came to the apartments where I was living to call on the people below. I was invited to join them in listening to the phonograph recording of the lecture “Government and Peace” by J. F. Rutherford, and I accepted. A Bible study was arranged, and later started, with the aid of the book Salvation. I made rapid progress, for my keen desire to know more about Jehovah and his Son, Christ Jesus, also the desire to serve them, became very much sharpened. Yes, from that time onward each move made was the laying of the “right foundation for the future” for missionary service.—1 Tim. 6:19.
Three months passed. Then a dedication was made to serve these Higher Powers of the new world. One month later (April, 1941) I symbolized this dedication by water immersion performed in a private pool at the Society’s British branch, London, and I well recall the then branch servant’s admonition, “Keep faithful, brother!” Being filled with the urgency of the times, and also giving heed to my former instructor’s unsound prediction (that ‘Armageddon will be inside of five years at the latest’), I wanted to get right ‘into the Ark’—the new system of things—before 1946; yes, before the “deluge” of Armageddon broke loose! But, behold, instead of Armageddon arriving in April of 1946, there arrived for me an invitation to attend the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead, to be trained for foreign missionary service.
Those five years (1941-1946) of “waiting” were the most exciting and strangest of my life. The experiences therein certainly made the “right foundation for the future,” and, most important of all, such brought me to maturity quickly. Four months after being baptized I determined to pursue my purpose in life, and so application for pioneer service was made. By January, 1942, after winding up my business, etc., I began the most blessed, privileged work on earth, that of a full-time minister of the great Creator, Jehovah God. My first assignment of service in this capacity was in a rural district of the Midlands (England), and also to take oversight of a small congregation there. In August, eight months later, I received a most unusual assignment—that of being confined behind prison walls due to my refusal to serve any other powers or “superior authorities” than those described at Romans 13:1. Gladly I accepted this assignment because it was in harmony with Mark 13:9 and Revelation 2:10. Experiences gained in prison life were (1) overcoming the hardship of lack of sufficient material food by partaking of an abundance of spiritual food, and (2) sticking to a daily schedule of Bible reading and study. (Job 23:12) Indeed the term “colleges” used for such places of confinement is very appropriate. In fact, due to my applying the knowledge gained therein relative to the counsel at 1 Peter 3:15, a warder whom I often told of my hope also became a minister and witness of Jehovah!
Incidentally, after attending the 1953 New York assembly I went on to England and there met this warder again for the first time since my release from “college” in 1943. We were overjoyed to see each other. I can almost still feel that big brotherly hug that he then gave me at a Kingdom Hall in London.
Upon completing the terms in the different “colleges” and “graduating” with merit, I received another assignment; this time direct from the “faithful and discreet slave” (through the Watch Tower Society) to work together with an elderly faithful pioneer of the “anointed” class. It was a grand privilege to work with “Mattie” Neate, who had been in full-time service for over twenty-five years. We had a tough assignment, a strong military and religious town in southern England. This was some months before D-day, the military invasion of Nazi-occupied Europe. However, after working there a few months, and due to the authorities’ cat-and-mouse methods, I had to serve another term in “college” a local one. Much publicity was given in the local newspapers about my case, in the form of letters from readers, some favorable and some unfavorable, as to wartime neutrality of Jehovah’s witnesses. Later, after “graduating” and after helping to build up a strong congregation (of which I had oversight) in this town, I was assigned by the Society to special work in isolated territory in North Wales with a young pioneer brother from the north of England, whom as yet I had not met.
Eighteen months of working in North Wales, with my new partner, at the seaside and in the mountains, were indeed happy months. Yes, there we met up with hardships in the way of food shortage because of wartime food rationing. One outstanding experience in this respect was when we obtained accommodation in a boarding house before the hard wintry months set in. During a period in the winter of 1944 we were having a lean time when quite surprisingly the owner of the place, an old lady, informed us that she was to visit her daughter down south (Wales) for a month or two and that she would leave the seventeen-room house in our charge, together with a cupboard full of food! Two weeks later the servant to the brethren (now circuit servant) paid us a visit, so we gave him a ‘royal’ time, best room in the house, etc.
Then came the year 1945, the ending of World War II and so the ending of the cat-and-mouse system of in and out of “colleges.” A surprise visit was made to England by the Society’s president, Brother Knorr, and a call went out for brothers to enter foreign missionary service. I made application.
Came 1946, also an invitation to attend Gilead School; and so to start out on the journey, not yet through Armageddon into a cleansed earth, no, but to missionary fields. We left England on the last day of that year’s May, the voyage to the U.S.A., on a 14,000-ton ship that rocked about on the Atlantic rollers like a matchbox, taking fourteen days. Then followed attending the first postwar international assembly at Cleveland, Ohio, and from there to attend the first international class of students at Gilead to receive five months’ strenuous training for foreign service. Those are days long to be remembered.
Having spent the early part of my boyhood among London’s slums at the time when tramcars were drawn along by horses and education was not so advanced as it is today, I became anxious about graduating from Gilead successfully. But with trust in Jehovah and by hard work, plus the president’s counsel (”don’t worry but work”) at the opening of the eighth class, together with the great assistance of the instructors and brothers at Gilead, I successfully graduated with merit, equipped to meet my ambition for missionary service. During the course the question arose: “Since we have only a one-way ticket, where are we going from here?” By graduation day that question was fully answered. My foreign assignment, together with an Australian brother, was to be the Fiji islands. Before departure to Fiji we were privileged to spend a few days at the Brooklyn headquarters and factory to learn office procedure, etc.
Finally we left the U.S.A. shores for our new homeland, taking with us many happy memories of our association and grand days spent with our zealous and generous American brothers. After a fourteen-day sea voyage we arrived on Fiji in April, 1947, eight weeks after graduation day, and six years almost to the day after symbolizing my dedication to Jehovah’s service.
Geographically the Fiji islands are situated in the tropics, so the climate can get very hot at times, especially in wet or hurricane season from November to April. We arrived during the wet and hot spell—incidentally, a day before the Memorial celebration. Arrangements were made and the meeting was held in the Kingdom Hall in Suva, the capital. This meeting afforded us the opportunity of seeing our new brothers and sisters with whom we were to work and serve. Four days later we started out in full sway in the house-to-house work. Each month cartons of books and booklets would be placed, together with many magazines and the obtaining of subscriptions.
Then came my first test, the hot climate, for I have always had a liking for dry cold weather. This is best illustrated by recounting an experience after graduation day, six weeks before our arrival at Fiji, when I dived into the icy water of the pond at Gilead while brothers were cutting ice for storage. The reason for doing this was to show and prove to a few of the American brothers that I could stand up to their wintry weather, in reply to their friendly teasing. However, the first year’s service in Fiji was most thrilling and interesting, working and living among such a mixed population, including Fijians, Indians, Chinese, Europeans, Eurasians, and people from Samoa and other Pacific islands. But the second year came as a kind of challenge; for now the new surroundings, customs of the people, and so on, began to become commonplace. Also, a little “homesickness” set in, the wanting of cooler climate. Then at that time the government became unfriendly by putting restrictions on the importation of the Society’s literature and other irksome actions. This trial of endurance was made harder when my partner left Fiji to return to his former homeland, Australia, because of ill health and to marry. Further, I contracted a disease known as “self-pity.”
Happily I can report that by the close of the third year (1950) this seemingly big trial or combination of difficulties had been overcome. How? By leaning heavily upon Jehovah and his mighty theocratic organization, by keeping busy in His service and by being determined to stick by my post as “the right kind of soldier.” Coupled with this was the encouragement received from headquarters and from the Australian branch, as well as from other brothers overseas. Truly, I have ‘tasted Jehovah’s goodness’ all these past eight years of missionary service.
Yes, what great joy I have received by sticking to my God-given assignment! Happiness in seeing my work’s fruitage that Jehovah has given—that of people whom I contacted during those “trying” years dedicating their lives to Jehovah, then symbolizing such by water immersion and, further, to train them in such happy service! Some hold servant positions in the Suva congregation, and a few have taken up regular and vacation pioneer service. I had to continue alone as a missionary, due to the government not allowing entry of other Watch Tower missionaries to assist us, but the local brothers responded well to the call for pioneer assistance. Three young congregation publishers, Eurasians, a brother and two sisters, joined the happy ranks as Jehovah’s full-time servants. So year after year increase in numbers of the New World society has been manifest. By 1955 we had a congregation of over fifty strong, an increase of 500 percent over 1947, the year of my arrival on Fiji.
Soon afterward I began working in isolated territory on the main island, Viti Levu (Fiji Big), among the Indian sugarcane planters and the Fijians, conducting, on an average, twenty-three home Bible studies a week. These folk become happy when given my reply to their propounded question about my returning to England—that I have no desire to leave Fiji, for there is no better place on earth for me. Also, I become happy when learning of such remarks as that of a dark-skinned Fijian to those who were taunting him because of his interest in Jehovah’s witnesses: “He may have white skin, but, boy, he’s got a ‘black’ heart!” This goes for all the “white” witnesses.
As I write this my partner is at Gilead School and I am looking forward to being present at the 1958 Yankee Stadium assembly to see him graduate. He will be the first Fijian graduate in the history of Gilead. In the meantime I am continuing as missionary and congregation servant for our group at Lautoka. Certainly the years spent here in missionary work have been happy ones and richly blessed. The work is growing rapidly now and we hope some of the brothers who are willing to serve where the need is great will be able to join us here.
I firmly believe that by accepting the Scriptural counsel at 1 Timothy 4:16, of staying with or sticking to one’s assignment, I am laying a “right foundation for the future,” yes, for post-Armageddon assignments of service in Jehovah’s new world.