Pursuing My Purpose in Life
As told by W. J. Simpkins
PEOPLE often say, “If I had my life to live over again, I would live it differently.” However, I can truthfully say that if I had my life to live over again, it would be just as it has been for the past thirty-eight years, or at least the past thirty years. I say the past thirty years because I really started to live when I was eight years old.
It was then that my dad started to attend the meetings of Jehovah’s witnesses. He came home one Sunday and told me that they had meetings for the youngsters too and that I could go if I wanted to. He showed me where it was, about a mile from home. Being curious, I went. In the “Sunday school,” which they had back then, they were studying a book called “Creation.” One of the older ladies from the grownups’ study group was the teacher. About the second or third Sunday that I went she gave us each a slip of paper with some writing on it and said we should be prepared to say something about the subject the following Sunday. Well, I did not know what it was all about, but I asked my dad and he told me it was a Bible scripture and he showed me how to look it up in the Bible. I found it quite interesting. I attended every Sunday for awhile. But as the class became smaller and smaller the Sunday-school arrangement was stopped and the two or three of us left had to meet with the grownups.
ENTERING THE MINISTRY
In 1933 the opportunity was presented to me to go from house to house; I started in March. The more I worked from house to house, and the more I studied the Bible, the more convinced I was as to what would be my purpose in life when I finished school. I wanted to help people learn the truths of the Bible. In September, 1938, at the convention in Detroit, Michigan, tied in with London, England, I got baptized to symbolize my dedication to do Jehovah’s will. I wanted to quit school then to enter the full-time preaching work, but my parents decided that I should finish school first.
I preached more and more, taking advantage of the opportunities, and then in the early part of 1940 I decided to start pioneering, pursuing my purpose in life in the full-time preaching work. I did not receive much encouragement from some. They said: “You’ll starve to death.” “All you’ll have to eat is beans with a little salt.” “How will you live?” It is true that I was just out of school, with no steady income and no regular job, but the pessimistic expressions of some did not change my mind. I remembered what the Bible says, that Jehovah clothes the flowers and feeds the birds of heaven and that his servants who have real faith are worth more than these. So I became a pioneer servant of Jehovah on June 1, 1940.
In that same month of June the contract for the use of the State Fairgrounds at Columbus, Ohio, for our convention was canceled. We shared with our brothers all over the country in circulating a petition, and in just a few days hundreds of thousands of signatures were obtained. I remember how hard a group of us pioneers worked. At the end of the month we were very tired, but when we totaled our time spent preaching during the month we found that we each had devoted more than two hundred hours. That was my first month as a pioneer, my first month of full-time joyful field service.
Soon after that I received a letter from the Watch Tower Society saying that the convention had been changed to Detroit, Michigan, and asking the help of pioneers in the area for preconvention work. Detroit is only a hundred miles from my home town, Saginaw, Michigan; so I decided to go, although I had but two dollars in my pocket. Five other pioneers went with me. We had a good time looking for rooms, typing room assignments and cleaning the assembly place. The convention was wonderful, and I am grateful that I had a small share in helping to prepare for it and was able to attend.
On July 26, 1941, I married a pioneer sister whom I had known for some time, and in November my wife and I received applications for the special pioneer service. We were made special pioneers and sent to St. Johns, Michigan, to start working December 1. Not long before, many of Jehovah’s witnesses had been arrested on the streets of the town for distributing the Watchtower and Consolation (now Awake!) magazines, and the case had not been decided yet. It was a difficult territory to work because the majority of the people were retired farmers who were satisfied with their own religion and the others were fearful of studying with Jehovah’s witnesses because of what their neighbors might say.
After working in that assignment seven months we received another assignment. First we went to Cadillac, Michigan, and then to Belding, Michigan. The assignment we received in December, 1942, to work in Belding will long be remembered. We were not there long when my wife and I received letters dated December 14, 1942, with application blanks for the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead, which was to open on February 1, 1943. How I desired to tell others of the privilege set before me! We filled out the application blanks, and then we waited. No, we did not wait with arms folded; we continued to preach.
Then one cold, cold day in January, 1943, we received our allowance as special pioneers, the 1943 Yearbook, and—what joy!—a letter instructing my wife and me to be at South Lansing, New York, no later than January 31 to attend the first class of the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead. It seems like yesterday that we arrived at the depot at Ithaca, New York, but it was more than seventeen years ago. There I met some of my classmates from different parts of the United States. We were met by Brother Booth, the farm servant of Kingdom Farm. The scenery between Ithaca and Kingdom Farm, where Gilead is located, was breath-taking, and I knew I was going to like my new home. I made up my mind to take in all the knowledge possible in the five months of the course and to equip myself for the missionary work.
Gilead was something new, and I did not know what to expect. There were one hundred of us that found out soon enough about Gilead and its purpose. The instructors, our brothers, were kind and helpful. They showed great patience as they endeavored to instill in us a greater appreciation of the truth of God’s Word and our relationship to the Creator. It was a joy to study and learn more and more of Jehovah and his great purpose. Our appreciation grew with increased knowledge. We learned, or at least tried to learn, a little basic Spanish. I look back now and laugh at the sounds I made or tried to make, but I finished the course and received an assignment in Mamaroneck, New York, until such time as it was possible to go to another country.
Finally, on April 12, 1945, my wife and I boarded a plane in Miami, Florida, and made the short hop of some two hundred miles to Havana, Cuba. Then my missionary life really began. At the beginning it was hard. I did not know Spanish, but I memorized a short testimony; and the next day after arriving I started from house to house using a portable phonograph, as we did at that time. As I presented the literature, the people laughed with me and at me, but I did not mind because every day I was learning a little. I placed some literature, and then I began to make back-calls and started some studies. When I started to preach down here I carried a small Spanish-English dictionary with me. When somebody said something or I wanted to say something and I did not know the words, I would say, “Un momento” (“Just a moment”), and I would take out the dictionary and look up what I wanted to say, or what they were telling me. One time a young woman I met from door to door knew a little English; she told me that I could speak good Spanish, and I said: “Oh, no, I want to teach more of it.” I got my verbs mixed up. What I wanted to say is that I wanted to learn more Spanish. They had a good laugh at that, and I did too, when I realized the error I had made.
At that time the missionaries operated the same as special pioneers in a country. So the six of us who were in the home would each put in a certain amount of money each month for the rent, lights and food. We had two meals a day in the home—breakfast and supper. The money we had left from our special pioneer allowance we used for incidental expenses and lunch. The missionary home arrangement, which the Society started in 1946, has been a wonderful blessing to those pursuing their purpose in life in the missionary field.
My wife and I have no children, but a sister over seventy years old calls us grandpa and grandma. Now, that may appear strange, but it happened this way: In the fall of 1945 I went to make a back-call on a lady who had taken the book “The Truth Shall Make You Free.” We studied with her for some months, and then in 1946, just before Brother Knorr’s visit, she began to go in the service with us. She attended the international convention in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1946, and began to preach more and more until she became a pioneer; and she has helped many others to learn the truth. So you see, from the standpoint that they received the truth through one to whom we had brought the message of life, they look on my wife and me as “grandpa” and “grandma.” It reminds me of the words of the Lord Jesus Christ recorded at Mark 10:29, 30: “Jesus said: ‘Truly I say to you men, No one has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for my sake and for the sake of the good news who will not get a hundredfold now in this period of time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and fields, with persecutions, and in the coming system of things everlasting life.’”
I have been privileged to serve as overseer of various congregations that have grown and been divided to form new congregations. There were only three congregations in the Havana metropolitan area in 1945, but now there are thirty-three. There are more publishers in the Havana area now than there were in all Cuba in 1945.
In the congregation where I now serve as overseer I began a study with a sincere man who stated at the time that he could never learn the truths of the Bible and how to find the scriptures in the various books of the Bible. However, after less than a year he knew how to use the Bible, he began to serve Jehovah, was baptized and now serves as one of the assistant servants in a new congregation that was formed due to the growth of our congregation. Jehovah’s will is that those of humble heart shall hear, and happy is the portion of those who make the serving of Jehovah their purpose in life.
It is true that at first when I came to Cuba the language and customs were strange, and if I had not been thoroughly convinced as to my purpose in coming here, I might have decided I did not want to stay and might have gone back to the States. But I wanted to preach and have a small share in discipling the nations; so I was determined to become as familiar as possible with the different customs and the language. That determination enabled me to stay, and I have been richly blessed. As one of Jehovah’s witnesses, I know that individuals are not important, but if a person can serve he should.
In my third year in a foreign assignment, in April, 1948, my wife and I were assigned to work in the Cuban branch office. Then in 1949 I was assigned to serve some of the circuits as district servant, going out from Bethel on Thursday for this service on the weekend. It has been a wonderful privilege to serve my brothers and the people here in Cuba for the past fifteen years and to see the number of those praising Jehovah increase from 1,400 to over 12,000. Can you think of a greater privilege or a career that brings more joy than that of serving Jehovah God as one of his witnesses?
To me the wisest course is to be a servant of the Lord. True, the wisest course is not always the smoothest course nor the most profitable from a human standpoint, but any other course than that of wholehearted service to Jehovah leads to difficulty and disappointment. Now after twenty-seven years in Jehovah’s service, twenty of those years in full-time preaching service, I can truthfully say I am happy in the course I have taken in pursuing my purpose in life; they have keen blessed years. After fifteen years in my missionary assignment I know no other place that is really home to me except my missionary assignment. Even when I go to the States to visit my parents, when I speak of my assignment in Cuba I speak of it as home, and when I leave them I say and feel that I am going home to my missionary assignment.