Pursuing My Purpose in Life
As told by James O. Webster
JUNE 12, 1934, still looms up as the first Big Day in life for me, because that is the day when I (along with my parents and two brothers) symbolized my dedication to serve Jehovah. My father had been a “Bible Student” since 1918, the year of my birth. At the age of seven I was taken by him to hear a “pilgrim” who talked about the “prophet Jonas.” That started me off, and never again did I return to the Baptist Sunday school. I preferred to stay at home and listen to my father read the Bible and answer my questions.
But my progress was slow, due to our living on a farm thirty-five miles from town. In those days of northern Montana’s bad roads Jehovah’s witnesses visited us only once or twice a year and it was not until after finishing grade school that I finally had enough knowledge and courage to make a public declaration of my faith and preach from door to door. Dedication was to me a serious step, and I knew what it meant. From then on, pursuing my purpose in life, service for God was on my mind.
In late 1933 we left Montana for southern Missouri and there we passed two happy years. My father took up the “sharpshooter” work (equivalent of today’s part-time field ministry) and we boys became very active in the service. On foot or hitchhiking to towns and farms for miles around, we kept on witnessing. Though a serious young fellow, I wasn’t sad; I was getting something out of life and it moved me when I saw now and then some fruits for my labor.
At the age of seventeen, upon returning to “old Montana,” I worked nights at a flour mill for three years. I still preached the Word on the job, but most of the workers scoffed. Of course, I took advantage of weekends and free time for regular preaching, and I was blessed with the privilege of becoming a “sound servant” of the Great Falls (Montana) congregation and that meant, among other things, taking the sound car and a group of publishers to work the many small towns in our vast range territory. Averaging about twenty-five hours a month in the service then, somehow I was not entirely satisfied. Being single and free, it seemed I should be doing more. But what or how? I did not know.
Early in 1938, at Seattle, Washington, I attended my first large assembly. Jos. F. Rutherford’s serious talks on service got me to thinking hard. There I also met many pioneers and mixed much with them. They woke me up, convinced me that I too could make the grade. Returning from Seattle to the flour mill, I informed my atheist boss that I was quitting the mill after the fall rush to go preaching the good news of God’s kingdom as my full-time job. He said I was crazy and tried his best to change my mind; but “nothing doing.” I had decided to pursue my purpose in life and, with Jehovah’s help, I was confident that I could stay with it till Armageddon. Today, after twenty years of unbroken pioneer service, I can say truthfully that never once have I regretted my entering pioneer work. Today, more than ever before, I am convinced that pioneering is the only real life for a true servant of Jehovah who wants to be happy. When a person makes up his mind that he is going to be satisfied and is determined to stay with it, why, Jehovah pours out such rich blessings that those not pioneers never can comprehend. Ask a genuine full-time pioneer; he will tell you it’s true!
Pioneering is great, but it is not always easy, especially not at first. For example, I, as a rather timid farm boy, left home for the first time when I took up pioneering at the age of twenty. It was my big move. For that winter my territory took me some 1,800 miles away from home to southern Missouri. It was a hard moment for me when the train pulled out at midnight December 1, 1938, and I waved good-by to family and friends. Again I thought of Jesus’ words at Matthew 10:37-42. That first month I had trials, plenty of them. I felt a bit fearful, nervous; but I went ahead, preaching and praying. Suddenly it came to me that I should trust more in Jehovah, not in my own strength. Zechariah 4:6 set me straight; it made me confide in Jehovah’s spirit. From then on all became easier for me.
After a few months I finished my original assignment and returned to Montana. There I attended a “zone assembly” and became associated with a new pioneer for a partner. (In the beginning I had no partner.) Our assignment was isolated territory along the Montana-Canadian border. There we were on the wide-open prairie, visiting wheat farmers, cattle and sheep ranches, oil workers and Indian reservations. To me it was all very interesting and joyful. Cartons of literature we placed, and we gradually saw results when we followed through with back-calls and studies. Now and then we got a new publisher out with us. During the second summer we established a new congregation and left there to go on.
Occasionally I had a change of partners or worked without a partner, as some thought the going was too tough. But with my old “Chevy” I plunged along, trading for gas or “eats” and sleeping on the prairie if not close to a good-will home. When frost came I would head for the city.
Then came Pearl Harbor, war, draft. Now in Helena (Montana), again I saw the hand of Jehovah over his active servants. While many of my witness friends associated with congregations spent those years in jail, my name was on the list of full-time ministers whom the United States government exempted; so I was outside and free and privileged on several occasions to accompany the Society’s special representative, A. H. Macmillan, on his visits to a prison camp in Washington State.
Incidentally, meantime my two brothers became pioneers and we three worked together in Montana and Washington from 1940 to 1944. We never had much money but never worried. We co-operated on keeping house, so that did not bother us. In winter now and then we would shovel snow; in summer and fall for a few weeks or days we would pick fruit. For us service was the big thing and opportunities were great. We rejoiced in building up small, isolated groups into firm, established congregations with their own Kingdom Halls. Late in 1944 I felt rewarded on receiving a special pioneer assignment from the Society.
About that time, in the Yearbook, I read about the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead, and soon a circuit servant, fresh from Gilead, visited us. He was the first Gilead graduate I had met, and I was curious to find out all about the school. It sounded very interesting, but somehow it did not seem as if that was for me. Nevertheless, in the spring of 1945 I attended a special lecture that President Knorr gave in Seattle, Washington. There he announced that he would like to interview pioneers that were interested in Gilead School, and I went forward. Shortly afterward I received a Gilead application form and that put me “on the spot.” My brothers were content with pioneering in the States, and I was bothered some with sinus trouble. For three days and nights I fought pro and con with the idea, but it was Jehovah and my love for Him that made me decide for Gilead. Soon thereafter I was in the sixth class.
Gilead was really wonderful. It made the truth seem new all over again for me. Jehovah’s works, his Word, his purposes, his organization, his people and his work for his people now on earth—these were the things I began to appreciate fully as the days and months went swiftly by in Gilead’s five-month Bible course. It made me feel like a new man, “raring” to go places and do things. Graduation day came in January of 1946 and with that another surprise for me. I was one of nine of that class selected to be “servants to the brethren.” It was a shock, honestly, for I had not even dreamed of such a thing.
A week after graduation I was on my way with my first service talks in my grip, bound for Pennsylvania to receive a week’s training “on the road.” The following Sunday I was on the train again. This time I was heading for Dayton, Ohio, and my first assignment alone as a servant to the brethren. The months in that branch of the service proved to be filled with pleasure and profit for me. As I was serving the brothers along the way, I felt at the same time that they were serving me and helping me to prepare myself for greater service in the years ahead.
Then came the next Big Day in pursuing my purpose in life, November 28, 1946, and the plane flight to my new assignment as missionary and home servant in the Barranquilla (Colombia, South America) home. A small group of five missionaries, established in a fairly comfortable home, gave me a sincere welcome. I would now be one of them, a new member in the home to share in marketing, cooking, preaching.
What a sudden change! From north to south, English to Spanish, to heat, to mosquitoes, warm water to drink, new customs to master, new people to know! In a word, a brand-new assignment with a new territory to conquer. Well, after the first month with my placing 119 books in 119 hours, I decided I could stay with it as long as anyone else.
It was not so bad after all. People were friendly. Foreigners were generally better treated than their own native neighbors. I was gradually overcoming the fear of trying to talk Spanish, beginning to understand the people a little more every day. At the same time I found myself striving harder to converse with them and to put across the good news I had for them, of hope for a new world.
In 1947 by Memorial time I was able to give a fifteen-minute service talk, and that made me feel good. Then on April 27 we had our first baptism for six new dedicated publishers, which enabled us to start the congregation. Growth was slow. Eventually the original five missionaries that I met upon arrival had all left the home. Then Brother Olson from Bogotá was transferred to Barranquilla to be my partner, and later another couple was sent in by the Society. Later those two left but Brother Olson remained and the two of us carried on.
As the years went by we had an occasional visit by other missionaries and the Society’s traveling brothers. These visits have always been a stimulus to us and all our local brothers. In 1949 we obtained another home with Kingdom Hall in a central location and since then the expansion has been on here. Publishers and persons of good will then began to give steady support to the meetings and gradually, too, more became service-minded. Then we had our first visit by Brother Knorr and the then acting Branch servant. By September, 1951, all was ripe to open congregation number two in Barranquilla. Two years later, interest and expansion gave way to number three. By September, 1955, Barranquilla had four congregations and a total of nearly 400 publishers, including some twenty local pioneers. Now there are 1,142 publishers in Colombia. Blessings like these are not everyday happenings. They do not come around without time, effort, endurance and hard work in the field. But when they do come, then they are appreciated. One knows Jehovah is with him then.
This past summer it was a real thrill to be able to attend the Divine Will International Assembly in New York and enjoy the rich spiritual feast that Jehovah provided for his people. Along with that, another source of happiness was added to my life when I married Phyllis Lowe, who has been in full-time service since 1941, graduated from Gilead in 1948 and has since then served as a missionary in Puerto Rico. Together we are continuing to pursue our purpose in life in full-time service here at the Branch in Colombia.
Along with my privilege of serving now as Branch servant here in Colombia, I greatly enjoy getting out to work with the brothers in the field as circuit servant and with the local congregation. Often it means long walks from one place to another when serving the scattered congregations, as well as hours trudging from one little home to another. But great satisfaction and happiness come from seeing the tremendous response of the people of good will to the message of truth in Colombia.
Now as I finish this for you to enjoy and consider, and as I reflect on my boyhood days on the farm, and now find my wife and myself in our assignment in Colombia, I invite you to meditate with me on Jehovah’s advice not to accept the undeserved kindness of God and miss its purpose. Serve Jehovah with joy!—2 Cor. 6:1, 2.