Pursuing My Purpose in Life
As told by Jack D. Powers
MY FIRST contact with Jehovah’s witnesses was on July 4, 1939, on Market Street in San Francisco watching their information walkers, and my second was months later in a bar in Sacramento where I read the magazine Consolation, now called Awake! Both contacts knocked down my old world. I was angered by what I thought to be Fascist propaganda and, at the same time, hurt by the deep stab wound made by the sword of the spirit that exposed my former church as the principal part of Satan’s system. Only after spending a sleepless night thinking about my childhood altar-boy days in St. Victor’s Catholic church in the Cripple Creek gold mining district of Colorado, my student days at the Abbey School for Catholic Boys in Canon City and the time spent as a member of the Catholic Newman club was I finally convinced that Jehovah’s witnesses published truth. I also reflected on the Good Friday my knees were burned while kneeling before one of the stations of the cross and on how the parish priest refused to answer my questions as to why we worshiped such idols.
Yes, all these memories confirmed that my church was more devilish than godly. I had already seen the worthlessness of the Protestant religion while on a vacation trip with an Episcopalian minister. When we visited an old classmate of his who had become an Episcopalian bishop we were shocked by his talk about real estate and drinking cocktails. What a surprise it was years later to learn that my old friend had turned in his frock and was earning a living as a baker! He now admits that Jehovah’s witnesses speak the truth.
A few months passed after my first two contacts with the Witnesses, and I continued to pursue what I thought to be my purpose in life—an assayer and chemist of gold and silver. While in a northern California Feather River mine in 1940, I came to the point of almost doubting the existence of God as I observed the spiritual vacuum among the miners. I felt as Lot must have felt in the days of corrupt Sodom and Gomorrah. I then decided to change my purpose in life, so I turned in my resignation. I did not know where I was going, but I headed south to leave it all. When I stopped to rest up in Los Angeles, a man of good will who had not as yet become one of Jehovah’s witnesses began to build up my faith and to replace what had been torn down.
From then on things moved fast. That same day I purchased a Bible, and the following Sunday I attended a Watchtower study accompanied by the man of good will and his friends. That study convinced me that for the first time in my life I had found people who really believed in God. Just watching their faces as they spoke the answers, with some reading and others talking directly but all giving public declarations of their faith, made my heart rejoice.
An alert brother had taken down our address, and it was not long before an elderly sister called on us. I was so impressed by the recording of Judge Rutherford that she played, I asked if I could go out and play some of these records for other people. She said that a good time for me to begin witnessing would be at the local assembly the Witnesses were due to have. What an assembly! I listened carefully to all the talks, and between sessions kept the Witnesses with whom I was sitting busy answering my many Bible questions. They answered every one. I will never forget their patience and kindness.
Then came a convention at Long Beach that was tied in by wire with Detroit. How I enjoyed it! I never missed a Watchtower study after that, and I began to attend the service meetings. I reasoned that I had never missed Mass while in the Catholic Church, so why miss a meeting now that I had found the truth.
I was out in the field service practically every day. All I did was study and preach until suddenly my money gave out. Now what would I do? I did not want to return to the old course of life. The mine up north kept after me to come back, offering a better position with an increase in salary. But if I were to accept that it would mean giving up witnessing. My first alternative was to accept a night job that gave me free time during the day for preaching and studying. But this caused me to miss meetings, so I did not hold onto it for long. After trying two or three other jobs that did not work out because they required too much time, I found a job that paid well and gave me plenty of time, but it was only temporary.
Finally I began to think about how pioneering would be as my goal in life. Few in the Hollywood unit seemed to be enthusiastic about the thought, but I noticed that the Informant continually stressed pioneering. It was the zone servant who encouraged me. He said that Jehovah sustained those who work for him. The zone servant counseled me to pay up my debts and start pioneering. He said to rely upon Jehovah.
BLESSED AS A PIONEER
In my heart I determined to do just this. That very night a long-distance telephone call came from Santa Maria asking me to report for work there the next morning. I took this as a leading from Jehovah and drove all that night. It was not the kind of job I would have chosen, but it was a way to get into the pioneer work.
On my first Saturday in town I found the local publishers on the street corner. It was a town where the need was great and pioneers were working there. Every free minute that I had away from the camp where I was working was spent with this diligent group of faithful pioneers. I asked to be put on the night shift at work so I could spend the day in the field service, putting in pioneer hours. But the meetings were a problem. I asked the head of the camp if I could take an hour off during evening lunch hour to attend the Watchtower study on Sunday evening. He said I could and also permitted me to use his automobile to save time going and coming from the meeting. In a short time I had more than enough money to pay my debts.
I set the time of the St. Louis convention as the time to resign. When it came I walked into the head engineer’s office and told him that I was resigning. He could not understand how anybody could give up such a good position. He offered to increase my pay if I would stay on, as they needed men who were able to do the work I was doing. It seemed as though Satan himself was making the offers, but I was determined to pursue the purpose that I had fixed. I quit my job and attended the 1941 convention. What a blessing! I was first in line to sign up as a pioneer at the convention.
Pioneering was different for me, and I made many mistakes. During my first month I made the mistake of spending too much time fixing up an old shed for living quarters. At the end of the second month a letter came from the Society stating that they could not recognize anyone as a pioneer unless he met his quota of hours. From that day to this I have not missed meeting my quota of hours. I still keep that letter as a valuable document.
Next I ran out of money. I began to see what it was to live on faith. However, to this day, after seventeen years of pioneer service, I can say that I never really suffered from hunger, although I did have a meal postponed once in a while. What I missed on one day would be made up the next.
In 1941 I found myself assigned as a special pioneer to San Fernando, then an isolated territory. Here I met Brother and Sister Fred Anderson, who became my companions for the next year. I learned a lot from these veterans in Jehovah’s service. They had just come out of Nevada, where they had narrowly escaped being tarred and feathered. They were signs and wonders to me.
I had no place to live and little money for renting a place, but a brother that was completely disabled in a hospital because of a beating he had received from a mob lent me his trailer. I parked it in the chicken yard of a man of good will.
The San Fernando sun was hot, but I was determined to reach the goal I had set in my life. Finally we were given an assignment in Reno, Nevada. Once again Jehovah saw to it that his workers received what they needed. Newly interested persons supplied us with some heavy blankets and winter clothes for that cooler climate. In Reno I lived with a very kind old brother who was a chimney sweeper. We spent a pleasant winter together, but under the heat of persecution. The police bothered us continually. Just about every other day I ended up in the police station.
The most violent opposition came one icy night on the main street corner of Reno. Two local newsmen tried to beat me up while their dog bit my leg. To worsen matters the street filled with onlookers who called me a Japanese spy. Even a policeman began kicking me. Just at the crucial moment when I thought all was lost, a police car came up blowing its siren. These policemen broke up the mob and took the newsmen off to jail. They permitted me to resume my preaching. After that many people congratulated me for my stand and accepted my magazines. Meanwhile we three received invitations to attend the first class of Gilead School, which meant foreign missionary work.
GILEAD AND FOREIGN SERVICE
Although I was a college graduate with an engineering degree, the course at Gilead kept me busy. But what a day graduation was! It brought me far more pleasure than any graduation day in worldly schools. Brother Knorr told us that we were just beginning a new kind of life, and we would have to be faithful to the end. Since that day I have seen many of my classmates and rejoice that they are still pursuing their purpose in life.
Not all of us left immediately for our foreign assignments after graduation in 1943. I was assigned as a servant to the brothers in the State of Ohio. After about six months I was called to Bethel to prepare for my foreign assignment in Argentina. Another year passed before I left, but what a blessed year! During that time I was permitted to stay at Bethel and work in the printing plant. I learned a lot.
Many of the brothers were as signs and wonders to me, such as Brother Van Amburgh. Although he had been a public speaker for years, he gave student talks and received counsel. What humbleness! One day I was peeling potatoes in the kitchen and he came to me and asked if I would permit him to pass through. I marveled at that. Who was I to give this brother permission to pass through the kitchen? He was the secretary of the Society. I observed that these older brothers were diligent in getting out into the field service despite their advanced age.
One morning Brother Knorr commented during the discussion of the daily text that the only power capable of keeping anyone from entering a foreign country would be Jehovah’s spirit, since he is the One who commanded that the good news be preached to all nations. Just a few days later the passport division of the government began issuing passports to all of us. This seemed to indicate that Jehovah was opening the way. After receiving my passport I was, at first, disappointed because the Argentine government refused to stamp their visa on it. Later my assignment was changed to Uruguay.
After getting a Uruguayan visa I left New York immediately in company with Albert Mann, a classmate who was heading for Chile. I still remember the day we arrived in South America through Colombia. It was 1945. Women carrying heavy loads on their heads, noisy horn-tooting automobiles and heavily barred and padlocked doors and windows were scenes not to be forgotten. Our stop at Panama with the Harveys is also vivid in my mind. Brothers Knorr and Franz were due to be in Panama City the following week. We had the privilege of helping the Harveys prepare for this visit by making up territories, trying to rent chairs, printing sandwich signs, and so forth, all in a foreign tongue.
Before landing in Uruguay I had the privilege of helping the brothers in Buenos Aires put their branch office in order. Then on May 1, 1945, I landed in my missionary assignment at Montevideo, Uruguay. Instead of finding publishers that were practically isolated, I found that one of my classmates had arrived ahead of me. There were also a number of German pioneers who had been sent here from Germany during the Hitler persecution. They had a nice breakfast, a clean room and territory waiting for me. I arrived at seven in the morning and spent eight hours in the field service the first day.
My first house was not a poor native hut as I had expected from what I had seen in Panama and in Colombia. It was the university library store. I found that my territory was in the center of a bustling modern city. I witnessed to a university professor.
Although it was difficult working all day by myself in a foreign territory, Jehovah sustained me with many blessed experiences. Our first public talk was one. We put it on in our own home, using two rooms. Over twenty persons whom I had contacted in the field came to the first talk. Some became publishers and are still active. So many people wanted to study I could not take care of them all.
After working in Montevideo for a number of months I was assigned as a circuit servant to visit interested persons who were isolated in the interior of the country. Then it was that I appreciated what Paul said to Timothy about not drinking water for his stomach’s sake, because I was attacked with a chronic case of diarrhea. When I had become so weak that I did not think I could continue, I was assigned to work in the branch office. Although I never fully recovered, I regained my strength sufficiently so that I could continue pursuing my purpose in life.
The arrangement that helped missionaries to attend the international assemblies in New York in 1950, 1953 and 1958 helped me in two ways. It helped me to be spiritually refreshed at these assemblies, and it helped me to see that I am not missing anything really worth-while by being at my foreign assignment. The assembly in 1958 renewed my determination to continue pursuing my purpose in life by faithfully serving Jehovah here.
I can say that Jesus’ words are true when he said that if a person forsakes brothers and sisters in this world for his sake, many more will be gained. I have come to know hundreds of spiritual brothers and sisters. To pursue my purpose in life by following the way of the truth I had to leave my father and sisters, none of whom were favorable toward it. I married one of the first missionaries to come to Uruguay, and she has been a very hardworking and faithful companion.
As I look back over the years, I am truly thankful to Jehovah for preserving me in his service. For that reason I have never refused an assignment, left my place in the organization or stopped pushing the field service work. What a privilege it is to devote all one’s time and effort to serving Jehovah!