Pursuing My Purpose in Life
As told by Ragna S. Ingwaldsen
DECEMBER 25, 1959, was a happy day for me, not for the reason that the world celebrated it, but because it marked my eleventh anniversary as a missionary in Venezuela. They have been eleven happy years, full of wonderful experiences in bringing the message of God’s kingdom to the friendly people of this South American country.
My service to Jehovah did not begin eleven years ago, however. It began long before that. In fact, I was blessed with the privilege of being reared in God’s service. Back in 1906, when I was a little tot, my mother took me to the Minneapolis convention, where she was immersed in water in symbol of her dedication to God. From then on she never failed to inculcate in me a strong love for him and for his visible organization. I soon learned the importance of serving Jehovah by participating regularly in the witness work. I was happy to go along with my mother and help distribute from house to house tracts that were called “Bible Students Monthly.”
In 1914 the great work with the Photo-Drama of Creation began. Although I was too young to have a large part in it, I did give out invitations and attended the showings. I delighted in seeing over and over again these movies and slides about Biblical events.
Our home was always open to pioneers, who, at that time, were called colporteurs. To me they always seemed to stand out as the ones who had a deep appreciation of Jehovah’s truth. Since my mother and aunt were also colporteurs, I resolved to be one too some day. I dedicated my life to Jehovah and was baptized in 1918.
While still in school I had the privilege of distributing the famous book The Finished Mystery, which was used as a basis for unjustly sending some of our brothers to prison. When I participated in the work of securing names on a petition for their release, I was amazed to see the unchristian attitude of the teachers in school who refused to sign it. This made me more determined than ever to pursue my purpose in life of becoming a full-time publisher of the good news of Jehovah’s kingdom.
At the Cedar Point convention in 1922 the way was opened for me to realize my ambition. This was the convention when everyone in attendance was invited to take part in group witnessing. This had not been done before. I shall never forget that eventful day. I was thrilled to be among the many friends who made up car groups and left the grounds for field service. From that time onward it has been a joy to advertise the King and his kingdom. Until 1941 poor health prevented me from having an unbroken record of pioneering, but since then I have been able to serve without a break, pursuing my purpose in life.
My home town was the place where I began serving Jehovah as a pioneer. Gradually I extended my activities to outlying towns. Later, opportunities were given me to work in other states. One of these assignments took me to Kentucky, where I worked from 1933 to 1936. Most of the people we found in the rural territory there were living in rather primitive conditions, and a large percentage of them were illiterate. This gave me a foretaste of what I would later find in missionary work in a foreign land.
To reach some of the homes in this Kentucky assignment we drove up the “hollows” as far as we could and then walked. At times we had to remove our shoes and wade across streams barefoot in order to reach a house. While working in this rugged country, I learned that where hardships are the greatest, the joys in God’s service can be the sweetest.
After re-entering the pioneer work in 1941, I worked in and around Chicago for five years. While there I was delighted to receive an invitation to attend the ninth class of Gilead. I had always loved school, and now I felt the thrill of once again sitting in a classroom, but this classroom was different. Here I was being taught Bible truths and how to be a good missionary.
The lessons and counsel I received at Gilead have served to bolster me up over the rough spots I have encountered since then. They have served somewhat like a reservoir of spiritual knowledge that I have been able to draw on from time to time. In his goodness Jehovah provided, through Gilead, the fortifying equipment I have needed during the many years since graduation.
Following my graduation, I pioneered in Brooklyn for a year, at which time I received, along with five other graduates, an assignment to Maracaibo, Venezuela. It was a happy day when we sailed from New York on the beautiful ship Santa Sofia. Eight delightful days later we arrived at our assignment. This was the first time any of us had set foot in a country outside the United States. Many questions passed through our minds. We wondered how we would react to the strange people and the strange customs here. Would we be able to stick to our missionary assignment? I felt that the coming years would answer these questions, and so they have.
It was here in this foreign land that I was to learn for the first time the real meaning of the word “pioneer.” Here I was opening up the way in this strange land for the Lord’s other sheep to come to a knowledge of the truth and to find the way to eternal life. Maracaibo was a city of over 200,000 that had heard very little of the Kingdom message. I will never forget the first night we met with some people of good will there.
One of the reasons I have been able to keep happy in this land that is so different from my birthplace is that I made up my mind at the very start to love the people. Jehovah loved them enough to send us down here to help them to learn about his grand purposes, and we should do the same.
Little by little we began to locate the Lord’s other sheep as we preached from house to house. How happy we were to see new persons each week at our meetings! We were experiencing the great joy of seeing a congregation grow from infancy to a mature gathering of Jehovah’s witnesses.
As might be expected, we have had obstacles to overcome. One of these has been the high rate of illiteracy among the people. By exercising much patience, we have been able to help many persons of good will to learn both the truth and how to read. Whether we worked with people who could not read or with people who could, we found great ignorance about the Bible. We had much satisfaction, therefore, in seeing each person of good will finding Scripture texts after studying for just a short while. To hear one of them say: “Just think, if you hadn’t come to Venezuela we wouldn’t know this precious truth,” made me feel that the sacrifices I had made to come here were well worth it. When we were moved to another city after three and a half years, we were happy to have a large congregation of active publishers to show for our labors of love.
Our new assignment was Barquisimeto, the third-largest city in Venezuela. Since this city has an ideal climate, it was a welcome change from the constant heat of Maracaibo. We found a small congregation of six publishers in addition to the missionaries already there. Once again we had the pleasure of watching a congregation grow as we worked among the people. It developed into a group of sixty publishers by the time we were moved to another city. Our last day with them was when they inaugurated a new, beautiful Kingdom Hall, the fulfillment of a five-year dream. It was very difficult for us to leave the friends we had learned to love so much, but the Lord’s work must expand, and so we moved on to our third assignment. This was a smaller city in the far eastern part of Venezuela—Cumaná.
Here too we have found many persons of good will, as is evident from the increase we already have in our congregation. Two new publishers of the good news in this city attended the grand Divine Will International Assembly of Jehovah’s Witnesses in New York city in 1958 and were immersed there.
How rich the years have been for me! Although they have brought their trials and sorrows, the joys I have found in the full-time service of our heavenly Father more than compensate for them. To lie down at night knowing that the day has been spent in praising Jehovah’s name is a joy and a source of contentment that is hard to express. I often wonder why many who are unencumbered continue to hesitate about entering the pioneer work. As Jehovah kept the widow’s jar filled with oil in the days of Elijah, so he supplies the needs of those who put his interests first. This is what we missionaries have found in our many years of full-time service.
The experiences I have had in my foreign assignment have enriched my life and strengthened my faith always to trust in Jehovah. I am ever so glad that I did not postpone the pioneer service, but plunged into it with full faith that Jehovah would help me pursue my purpose in life.