Pursuing My Purpose in Life
By C. E. Frost
BROOKLYN Bethel is my home, and I am happy to say that it has been for the past forty-seven years. This is the beehive of activity known as the international headquarters of Jehovah’s witnesses. What a contrast with life on our family farm near Brazil, Indiana. That is where I was born in December, 1874, when Ulysses S. Grant was in his second term as president of the United States.
Mother and father attended the country Methodist church and taught us children that religion. When I was about twenty years old, a woman Holiness preacher held a revival nearby and I went to listen. She discussed sanctification and getting holy spirit so we could live free from sin and be sure of salvation. One statement in particular caught my attention: One could be a Christian without belonging to any religious sect. I felt the same way. Later I asked the Methodist minister to remove my name from his roll of probationary members. He replied that so long as I led a Christian life I could stay on as a probationary member indefinitely. Sometime afterward a new minister served our church and I had a talk with him. He was losing interest in Methodism himself and agreed to remove my name from the roll. The minister joined the Holiness group.
DISCOVERING GOD’S WILL
My father decided that we would buy an additional farm about twenty-five miles from the homestead. His plan was to have us boys share ownership and help pay for it. I had no objection to farming, and they finally talked me into going in with them.
Still not a baptized church member, I told the Lord that if he would show me his will for me I would do it. A preacher of the United Brethren church happened to have some Bible literature from the Watch Tower Society, then called International Bible Students Association. He did not particularly agree with it, but it was my first contact with the Society’s publications, and I remember speaking to his mother about it. Shortly after this my grandfather visited us. He brought with him a wonderful book written by the president of the Society. It was called “The Divine Plan of the Ages.” What I saw in that book made me determined to read it from cover to cover. Although grandfather did not want to part with it, he did tell me where to write for one, and before long I had a copy. To my great delight, question after question was thoroughly answered. Understanding God’s will for earth and mankind brought joy and satisfaction. My family also became very interested.
This good news from God’s Word was too good to keep to myself. I ordered extra copies of the Society’s books and began to place them with friends and neighbors, keeping up my work on the farm as well. Some preachers encouraged their flocks to read the Society’s books. Others warned them not to buy or read them, asserting that they were “full of error.” This made placements harder. Then a timely article appeared in The Watch Tower in the summer of 1904, instructing readers on various methods of approaching people with the Bible literature. When interest was manifest we were to call back and arrange “Dawn Circles,” or group Bible studies. Putting these methods to work brought the Lord’s blessing.
That same issue of The Watch Tower told us there would be a convention of Bible Students in St. Louis, Missouri, October 1-3, 1904. I arranged to attend. Mixing with over a thousand men and women well versed in the Scriptures was a great pleasure. I especially enjoyed listening to Pastor Russell speak. After hearing his lecture on baptism, one hundred and forty-eight of us were baptized. From then on I was interested in taking up the colporteur work as my Christian vocation. The family agreed and gave me a generous parting gift for my work on the farm. A friend joined me and we began the colporteur work together in Indiana and Illinois. Many were the interesting experiences we had for eight years in that service, often swapping a book for our dinner. The literature was not hard to place, and we found great happiness in spreading the message of truth.
BETHEL AND THE PHOTO-DRAMA
Pastor Russell had said that if the friends ever came to New York they should consider Bethel their home while there. With the slow winter months coming on in 1913 I wrote to ask if there was any work I could do at Bethel for about three months. Indeed there was! December 27, 1913, found me a member of the Bethel family. However, just at that time the Society was preparing the unique Photo-Drama of Creation. Moving pictures were brand new and, of course, they had no sound track. The Society was preparing to synchronize recorded talks and music with picture slides and moving pictures—you might say it was a “talkie.” There were four parts, each two hours long. It vividly portrayed God’s purpose for mankind, from earth’s preparation for Adam down to the end of Christ’s millennium. About twenty complete sets would enable the Drama to be shown in eighty cities each day. I was assigned to a group showing it in America. It was also seen in such faraway places as Australia, New Zealand and in many parts of Europe. I enjoyed showing the Drama in America from January, 1914, to July, 1915, then I returned to Bethel.
To be happy at Bethel one does not have to be prominent. Helping keep the iron pots and pans clean was a necessary work, and I counted it a privilege of service to assist in this work in the kitchen. Being at Bethel in any capacity, hearing the morning Bible discussions shared by the president and the Christian governing body, as well as the comments from other members of the headquarters family—all this is part of the joy of Bethel life. I have always cherished it. Not that there are no tribulations and testings. All Christians are examined by Jehovah. Pastor Russell’s death in October, 1916, made us wonder if the work was finished. Then after Brother Joseph Rutherford was elected the new president of the Society, a few self-seeking men sought to gain control of the Society for personal glory. Jehovah did not let them succeed in this and they soon left.
DEATH OF WITNESS WORK
As the first world war was in its fourth year, in 1918, other clouds gathered. Long vexed by our work, certain religious leaders spread the false story that the Society was disloyal to the government. This was the same type of lie used against Jesus. Like him, we were completely neutral toward worldly conflicts and were interested only in obeying God’s Word and preaching its heart-cheering message. Falsely charged with conspiracy to interfere with the draft, two of the Society’s officers and some associates were given a prejudiced trial, convicted, illegally denied bail while making appeal, and thereby forced into the Federal prison at Atlanta, Georgia.
The rest of us were stunned by all this. Even Bethel was closed because of lack of coal. The office was moved back to Pittsburgh, and we were housed in private homes. We filled some orders for books and booklets, but for all practical purposes the work ground to a halt. Its death and the imprisonment of our faithful brothers made me very sad.
Then, after they had endured nine months of wrongful punishment, the brothers were released by an order of one of the United States Supreme Court justices, who instructed that bail be allowed along with an appeal. In April, 1919, a Federal circuit court reversed the erroneous convictions and completely cleared them. I rejoiced. As though by resurrection the witness work came to life. Once again I returned to my Bethel assignment, where there was much to do in the mailing room, wrapping parcels of literature and preparing cartons for shipment.
Bethel life holds many exciting surprises. One was the birth of the new magazine The Golden Age. That was on October 1, 1919. This journal of fact and hope was well received. Under its present name “Awake!” its circulation in 1961 is 3,200,000 each issue in twenty-three languages. With other members of the headquarters staff it has been a privilege to wrap this journal and its senior companion, The Watchtower, for mailing. Its current circulation, you may have noticed, is 3,800,000 each issue in fifty-eight languages. Wrapping and mailing these Bible magazines has always been important to the members of the Bethel family, who know their great value.
One has need of determination to stay with any assignment and this determination comes by proper appreciation of one’s treasure of service. A source of personal strength and appreciation has been the Society’s conventions. I recall the 1922 convention at Cedar Point, Ohio. At the conclusion of Brother Rutherford’s stirring discourse there was more than the usual applause. I was seated to the rear, behind the platform, and could not see the thirty-six-foot banner, the unfurling of which brought such approval. It was lettered in three colors with a portrait of Christ and the slogan “Advertise the King and Kingdom.”
The organization proceeded to do just that. House-to-house placement of the books was expanded to Sunday. Soon the need was felt for more facilities in Brooklyn. It was a joy to see the new printing plant open at 117 Adams Street in 1927. Of course, this meant more manpower and housing would be needed. Confident that dedicated brothers would volunteer for Bethel service, the Society completed a new Bethel home in 1927. In came new members of the family to join us in the work.
Keeping pace with the expanding facilities was the ever-increasing light on Jehovah’s Word and purpose. Adoption of the name “Jehovah’s witnesses” was the high light of 1931. Four years later we first understood that the “great multitude” of Revelation 7:9 (AV) is an earthly class of men and women who will live forever on earth in God’s new world. For getting the message to these thirsting ones the Society adopted use of portable phonographs beginning in 1937. These were made here at the factory. People still talk about them.
World War II did not stop the witness work, although it was under fire in many lands. While the war was still in progress the Society opened Gilead School upstate in New York. This brought many new faces to Bethel, going and coming from the school. In 1950 another new factory and Bethel addition were dedicated. Thousands of delegates came to visit us that year while attending the first Yankee Stadium convention.
Of course, the months just preceding big conventions are very busy at headquarters and filled with anticipation. Preparation of future convention releases is one of the many Bethel privileges, but confidence is kept among the respective departments so that only the ones directly involved are aware of what is being produced. It is not unusual for convention releases to take members of the Bethel family by complete surprise, so well does each one “study to be quiet and mind his own business.”
In 1956 we welcomed completion of the new thirteen-story building for printing The Watchtower and Awake! From my sunny room on Columbia Heights one could see that new structure until just recently. Now across the street from 124 Columbia Heights stands the Society’s beautiful twelve-story dormitory, school and office building with its lovely green courtyard. Through that yard come members of the family and Gilead students hurrying to and from their assignments and studies. Now that Gilead has moved to Brooklyn and members of the family accompany them on tours of the city further joys and privileges come to us here at headquarters. Right now our household numbers over seven hundred.
Being at Bethel is its own reward in so many ways. None of my assignments have been particularly out of the ordinary. But it certainly has been a thrill to be among dedicated Christians for forty-seven years and have a share in the work. Like David, I would rather be a doorkeeper in Jehovah’s house than to dwell in the tents of the wicked and support this dying system of things. Bethel is a “house of God.” There is no question in my mind about that. Now I am in my eighty-seventh year. Younger hands are taking up the work here, but I thank Jehovah to be united with them in the joyful work of serving the Universal Sovereign and looking ahead to eternal happiness in God’s new world.