Pursuing My Purpose in Life
As told by Allen S. Coville
IT WAS in the East End of London, at the age of eighteen, that I heard of Jehovah’s witnesses for the first time. My married sister was living on the outskirts of London, and I used to pass the weekends there. She was already studying the truth and attending meetings; and when I thought she was in the garden or otherwise occupied I would furtively look into the Society’s books that lined both sides of the radio. Later, at home, the truth made a deep impression on me, as a result of reading three booklets published by the Watch Tower Society: Angels; Home and Happiness and Prosperity Sure.
I had been attending the Methodist Church with my parents, but eventually I began going instead to the Kingdom Hall. In June, 1938, I decided to engage in the preaching work. At that time there was no training program, no three- to eight-minute sermons, no ministry school. I remember we were offering the small Cure booklet for one penny a copy. After going six doors with a brother, he said: “You go there and I’ll be on the other side of the road.” Completely lacking in tact, I started my preaching work; but with the help of the brothers, and with persistence and patience on my part, I improved my presentations.
Then came September, 1938. I symbolized my dedication to Jehovah by water immersion during the Royal Albert Hall assembly in London, September 9-11. One of Brother Rutherford’s talks at that assembly was “Face the Facts.” I continued my studies at every available moment. I had a metro (subway) journey of about forty-five minutes back and forth to my work, and I read quite a number of the Society’s publications in that way.
DECISION TO GO TO BETHEL
December, 1938, arrived; and Brother Schroeder, at that time branch servant in England, paid a visit to the congregation, and I was invited to enter Bethel. I made the right decision. Those nine years in the London Bethel were most enjoyable, though some very tense moments were passed at certain times during the years of World War II. Preaching and working under conditions of continual air raids has to be experienced to be really understood.
I was grateful to be able to serve as congregation servant, in addition to Bethel privileges. Thrown into those nine years was the experience of serving a prison sentence because of maintaining neutrality in the world conflict. Eight of the Bethel brothers went in on the same day, and we were liberated on July 4, 1944. The year 1946 saw my parents begin studying the truth, and it was a joy to my sister and me to see them both baptized at the Wembley assembly in 1951.
Then toward the end of 1947 a letter arrived from the office of the Society’s president, inviting me to go to the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead. “Please report for the term beginning February 25, 1948.” Here was another decision to make; I could still decline the invitation. I realized that I had gone direct from secular work into Bethel. Many thoughts flitted through my mind as I said to myself: ‘You know, you have never been a pioneer. Suppose you are sent into the missionary work somewhere in a foreign land, to go from house to house, speaking each and every day in a foreign tongue, will you be able to do it?’ But December, 1947, saw twenty-four Witnesses from England on the ocean liner Queen Elizabeth embarking for New York, and I was among them.
We disembarked at New York early in January, 1948; and after arriving at Bethel we were sent to different places in and around New York, awaiting the trip to Gilead. I enjoyed the few days passed at the Brooklyn Bethel, being able to work there after having heard so much about it.
School started at Gilead on February 25, and the five and a half months that followed were never to be forgotten. There was the hard but enjoyable work (the compact daily study schedule as well as chores on the farm), the Christian fellowship (with brothers of different nationalities, giving one a foretaste of future New World living), and appreciation (because of what the organization, in its love, does for those who are able to meet the requirements for Gilead training). Yes, everything was directed to that one goal—preparation for the real work to come later, being now better equipped to care for the “other sheep.”
Graduation day came on August 1, 1948, the first graduation to take place on the campus in front of the then newly constructed library building, Shiloah. As we left Gilead, Brother Knorr’s graduation speech was still ringing in my ears: ‘The Society is a human organization, but it has the Lord’s spirit and blessing and I can say for the Society that it will not let you down either. We are with every one of you.’ And how true that has been! Since then many of us have seen each other at least twice, in 1953 at Yankee Stadium and again in 1958, at the special reunion in the New Rockland Palace, during the Divine Will International Assembly.
APPLYING GILEAD TRAINING
After Gilead I served as circuit servant in Pennsylvania circuit number four, thus starting my application of Gilead training. Then, just a year after debarking from the ship, six of the original party of twenty-four were again on the Queen Elizabeth, on our way back to Europe.
My assignment, with another English brother, was in France as a missionary, to go from house to house every day, speaking in a foreign tongue. The possibility that had passed through my mind before going to Gilead was now to become a fact. So one foggy morning in January, 1949, the night ferry from Southampton to Le Havre nosed its way into Le Havre harbor. Thus began our real application of Gilead training.
We were greeted by a few of the local publishers, speaking away in French, which we were unable to follow. We left the dock and made our way out through town, looking at our future territory. Finally we arrived at our lodgings, an attic with a low sloping roof, in the home of an elderly brother and sister. They did what they could for us, and we appreciated it, but it was so different! Here was where patience and perseverance and real faith in Jehovah and his organization began for us. Eventually we got settled down and started to work, including doing our own washing and cooking.
Though armed with a basic knowledge of French received at Gilead, we found it difficult to give a witness. While in England a card was prepared for me written in French, and this I used to introduce myself. At the first home called upon we found someone who had some of the Society’s books; we did not understand that they had them, but we saw that they had, because they showed them to us. So we continued, saying slowly: “Voulez-vous lire cette carte, s’il vous plaít?” Then we heard a flood of words in reply.
Week in, week out, our knowledge of French gradually improving, we attended the Watchtower study and faithfully followed through in French.
LEARNING AND TEACHING AT BIBLE STUDIES
Because of circumstances beyond our control, it was not possible to stay longer than five months, and so we returned to England. I received another assignment, this time to Belgium. I arrived in Belgium on September 1, 1949. Already armed with some knowledge of French, and there now being four missionaries together, I gradually increased my knowledge of French. I can truthfully say that I received the most help in understanding and speaking French by conducting home Bible studies, both in France and in Belgium. I managed to make the people understand that I would appreciate their correcting my glaring errors of pronunciation and grammar. At the same time I was able to show them, with Jehovah’s Word, how they could learn the “new language” of the Bible. Looking back, I can say that I learned much of the language that way—getting out among the people and learning from them, putting the same time to profit for their spiritual well-being.
During my first month in Belgium, which was a booklet campaign month, I placed 514 booklets; and in the seventh month I was privileged to conduct nineteen Bible studies.
While here in Belgium I have had varied privileges of service: as missionary, as circuit servant, working in the Brussels Bethel and also serving as district servant. In July, 1955, after serving Jehovah in a single state for nigh on seventeen years, I married a sister who was in Gilead’s seventeenth class and who has been in the pioneer work since May, 1945. We were married here in Brussels; and up to now we have served together here in Belgium for the past five years.
Missionary work is a happy life. I must say that those few months in France right after Gilead were the hardest up to the present; but I am glad now that I stuck it out then, because by such experiences one becomes steeled for further tests.
I am glad that I made the decision to go to London Bethel back in December, 1938; for it has resulted in bountiful blessings. Many privileges will come our way if we adopt the attitude of Isaiah: “Here am I! Send me.” When decisions have to be made, it is proper to count the cost, but he who decides for the Kingdom and its interests will never be disappointed.