Pursuing My Purpose in Life
As told by Elmer C. Ihrig
LITTLE did I realize back in 1926, when my mother first got some booklets published by the Watch Tower Society, that I would some day be pursuing my purpose in life as a full-time minister. I had rejected those booklets as ‘just another religion’ in which I had no interest. But here I am, a missionary of Jehovah’s witnesses in British Honduras, after about thirty-four years, of which twenty-six have been spent in full-time pioneer service.
We bought our first radio in 1928, and to this day I feel it was the best investment we ever made. At first it was the local broadcasts that interested us, but later, more or less by accident, we tuned in on one of the big hookups that the Society arranged during an assembly. I began to see that this was a religion that was really different.
Sometime later, when visiting one of my brothers, I found he had some of the publications. I promptly asked to borrow them; and he just as promptly agreed, as he showed little interest in them. Noting the address of the Society and that a catalog could be had, I sent in my name and address; it was not long before I was reading with relish the description of every book and booklet listed. As soon as possible I sent in an order.
Contact with the local congregation was made in a rather unusual way. Generally it is by members of the congregation calling on the people, but in this case it was by my opening a conversation with an elderly man whom I had known for some time. He had taken shelter from a sudden rain in a new house being built by my brother and me. It is difficult to say which one was most surprised. We learned from him of the local congregation that met, at that time, in his home. It was further learned that a traveling representative of the Society was due here in a short time to give a talk. We were invited. If there had been any doubts in our minds as to this being the truth, that talk drove them all out. Here, too, I met the first pioneers I had ever known. A few years later I had the privilege of working in a party of pioneers in which they also were working. I have always been thankful for the experience. It has helped me very much to pursue my purpose in life, especially in the missionary field.
Looking back to my first experience in the field ministry, I can see how far the organization has progressed up to now and how wise it is always to keep up with it in all things. In those days we did not have training partners to help us. I first worked for about one hour with another brother; then I was given a handful of booklets and a couple of sheets of paper. A petition was then being circulated in connection with the broadcasting of the Kingdom message on the radio. This work seemed of particularly great importance to me, because it was by means of radio that I had really become interested in the message. How I got along by myself, however, is indicated by the fact that I worked for three Sunday mornings without placing a booklet or getting a signature on the petition. This was quite discouraging, but I have always been very glad that I did not give up.
BEGINNING THE PIONEER SERVICE
It was not long until I met a young brother who later became my first pioneer partner. After talking to him, in addition to having read so many encouraging field experiences in the Society’s publications, I felt that I was ready to pioneer.
Just before going to our first assignment in Missouri, we were privileged to attend my first big assembly. Brother Rutherford and others of the Society’s representatives were there. This was just the shove-off we needed. This was the first time I had ever spent any time away from home. Being over 500 miles from home with only $9 between the two of us was not a nice feeling at first. But as we worked and found some who showed interest and with whom we could associate, we began to feel much better.
We not only began this assignment by attending a big assembly, but, as a kind of reward for completing it, we also had the grand privilege of attending still another assembly. This time it was the 1935 assembly in Washington, D.C. Our being able to attend that assembly seemed almost like a miracle to us, as right up to the time to leave we did not know how we were going. But with some especially good territory for placing literature, with the good brothers and people of good will aiding us, we were able to pay our way on a school bus, loaded mostly with pioneers, leaving from Little Rock, Arkansas. Not only did we make it to the assembly, but we were able to get to our next assignment in Iowa.
I continued to pioneer in isolated territory for several years. Not until 1940 did I begin to have a little experience with a congregation. This was when we found a considerable number of interested persons in a territory we were working, and we thought a congregation should be formed. When the zone servant came around, it was arranged and he recommended me for congregation servant. I found before very long that more responsibility was due to come. Shortly, another letter was received from the Society, this time asking me to fill a vacancy in the zone servant ranks.
In about one year after that the zone work came to an end. Then special pioneer work opened up for us. This was just what I had been wishing for. Now I could do lots of door-to-door work and have many studies, as this was the time when home Bible studies were just getting under way in earnest. Not so long after that, another assembly was arranged for. Here we first heard of a school to prepare missionaries for the foreign field. But, of course, that was for others, I thought, and never for me. I was wrong. A short time after that, part of our group was sent to a small town in southern Illinois. I was one to go. Not long afterward here came the letter that really made me think and pray. What do you think it was? A letter from the president’s office, together with a form to fill out for the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead. So I had the privilege of attending the very first class of Gilead.
I hesitated to leave my partner in that somewhat difficult territory, but he encouraged me to go. The people there, on occasions, had mobbed and beaten Jehovah’s witnesses before our going there. It was a further encouragement to me when, after Gilead, I had the privilege of attending an assembly in Chicago, meeting among others, an elderly couple from this same town I had left to go to Gilead and with whom I had studied. I rejoiced greatly to see at least two people come out from such territory and take their stand for Jehovah.
BLESSINGS OF MISSIONARY WORK
Although the first class ended in mid-1943, we were not able to come to British Honduras until late in 1945, making it fifteen years that I have been here. Looking back to that time when there were only some six or eight holding up the light of truth for all to see and now seeing the increase, I really rejoice to have had a small part in it. There was only the one small congregation then, there being no congregations in the outer districts. I used to go to these places and spend a couple of weeks at a time, sowing seed by placing books, taking subscriptions and giving talks. Now when we go to such places we see either a congregation or at least an isolated group of our brothers, there helping others to see the light of truth.
It makes life seem worth while when one sees in this increase some of those upon whom one has called and helped to see the Kingdom truth. As an example: In the west part of the colony there is an isolated group, and a few miles farther on, a small congregation of our brothers. Here are two young native special pioneers, working and taking oversight of these two groups. One is a young man upon whom I called several years ago, when he was a mere boy. Then in 1954, when opening up another missionary home in another part of the colony, this same young fellow was met again. This time he was ready to go. The seed had sprouted and with just a little watering and cultivating it was ready to produce fruit.
Another small congregation in the rurals has as its congregation servant a man with whom I placed some literature and with whom a study was started some years ago. This territory being a considerable distance from Belize, I was unable to continue the study but arranged for another brother who lived not so far from him to continue it. When it was shown, in the course of the study, that the righteous requirements concerning marriage were to be met, he was ready to do so. Now he is enjoying the privilege of serving his brothers and other people of good will in his neighborhood. It makes me rejoice that I have had a small part in helping him.
A short time after the second missionary home was opened, a congregation was established. The nucleus of this was a few persons on whom I had called in previous years, when working the area as isolated territory. Now since a missionary home had been opened, we could be there to water the seed sown; and before long it began to grow and produce fruit. Even as late as 1952, when we held our first assembly there, there was no sign of a congregation. This now is one of the strongest congregations in the colony. It has advanced to where they were able to care for many of the local arrangements for holding an assembly. A native special pioneer who graduated from Gilead School at the Divine Will International Assembly in New York, in 1958, is now the overseer there.
After returning from the assembly in 1958, I had a further privilege given me. That was being called to Belize to help oversee the building of a new branch home and Kingdom Hall.
If there are any who are still in doubt as to whether to enter the full-time service, just remember: “God your Father knows what things you are needing before ever you ask him.” (Matt. 6:8) From personal experience of twenty-six years of full-time service, I can say that that is true, that he has provided all things needed, material and spiritual. Sometimes things would look very difficult, but by trusting in Jehovah and working hard in doing his work, there has always been a way out. Let Jehovah prove to you that he is good. Put him to the test by starting now to pursue your purpose in life as a full-time publisher of the good news. As time goes on, undoubtedly new fields of full-time service will open up to you. Maybe special pioneer work, where you can go either to a place where no brothers are working or to a weak congregation that needs mature help. One never really knows what Jehovah has in store for those who will take him at his word. But we know that whatever it is it will be good.