“The Joy of Jehovah Is Your Stronghold”
As told by Alice Hart
I CAN just see that old box cupboard in the entrance hall of our London home. It had always been there as long as I could remember. I had grown up with it, and how I came to love it! Why? Because of what it contained and what it was used for. Originally it had been sent over from America by the Watch Tower Society full of Bible literature. That was in the late 1880’s, and by the time I was born, in 1892, my father had had it converted into a storage cupboard for some of the literature that the Society sent regularly into the British Isles. It continued to be used for this purpose until the Society established a British Branch headquarters in the east end of London in the year 1900. So until that time our home became a dispatch center, and as the orders came in, father would make them up and then allow his little girl to carry the smaller ones to the nearby post office. I was always thrilled to do this, and it brought a wonderful happiness into my earliest childhood years. So you can see how, from my youngest years, my life began to be centered around a work that was to bring the true joy of Jehovah to the hearts of so many.
EARLY TRAINING LAYS BASIS FOR FUTURE JOYS
The Watch Tower started coming regularly into our house in the year 1883, nine years before I was born. Both my parents were God-fearing, devoted to righteous principles. I was the seventh in our family of ten children and I have never regretted the severe and strict upbringing we were all given. Although we went to Sunday school for a short time, father soon saw the Scriptural need of personally instructing his household, so, with the help of a book called “Bible Stories in Simple Language,” he would get the younger members of the family together on a Sunday morning and explain the Bible to us all. Bible reading played a regular part in our family life, so much so that even in my early teens my love for God began to grow stronger and I felt an inward joy and happiness that in later years I felt was impossible to live without.
Sundays were full and busy days for God’s people then, even as they are now. I can so well remember regularly standing outside some of the churches in our district distributing the various tracts published by the Society. Before engaging in this work we would meet in a brother’s home and seek Jehovah’s blessing on our work—yes, just as we do today in the group service centers. Then there were meetings to attend in the evening. I can hear Father now saying to us children, “Who is coming with me?” and it does make me feel happy now to recall that more often than not, at a very early age, I felt an urge voluntarily to accept his invitation. It makes me so grateful that my father endeavored to train up his children in the way they should go, and so we became, as it were, holy in the eyes of Jehovah, our heavenly Father.—1 Cor. 7:14.
The time came for leaving school, and, after looking after my aged grandparents for some time, I took up a position in domestic service. My father always maintained that a girl should make it her goal to become proficient in household duties and, indeed, it stood me in good stead for later years in Jehovah’s service. But what a change in life I felt! Only after I left home and had to mix with the outside world did I realize all that my Christian home environment had meant to me. These years were unsettled ones for me. The deep joy and peace of mind I once had seemed to be gone. It was often difficult to get to the meetings. My employer suggested to me that I should be confirmed in the local church, but I knew full well that this would never give me the strength of Jehovah for which I longed. I started earnestly to study The Divine Plan of the Ages, and as I studied it and read my Bible I felt a growing strength and conviction as to what the truth of God’s Word really was.
MY HEART’S DESIRE COMES TRUE
The spring of the year 1910 I shall never forget. Can you guess why? Yes, you are right. That was the year I symbolized by water baptism my dedication to do God’s will. My own father immersed me. Can you imagine his joy? And oh—I must tell you about one of our sisters who was there. She came from Scotland, and never was there a more ardent Bible student. We used to call her Aunt Sarah. I can see her now and the genuine warmth of her smile after my immersion as she quoted a Scripture text for me to keep ever in mind. It was Psalm 37:4 (AV): “Delight thyself also in the LORD; and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart.” I have proved it true over and over again.
The great growing desire of my heart was to work forever in God’s service, to regain that feeling of security and joy that I once felt so strongly when living in my father’s house. That desire was granted me in a most unexpected way. My father knew that some domestic help was needed at the Society’s Branch, which was now at Eversholt Street in northwest London. He suggested that I offer my services. I grasped at the opportunity and before the week was out I found myself a member of the six-strong London Bethel family in 1910. So began my now over fifty-one years of full-time service in one of the Society’s many Branch Office homes. I soon found that the secret of retaining the joy of Jehovah was to be willing to fit in with any service asked of me. Finding my place of service has brought into my life a joy and sense of security that has acted like a stronghold through all the trying years of our present generation.
HOLDING MY PLACE WITH JOY
I should like to tell you now about some of the things that I feel have helped me over the years to find strength to hold my place with joy in Jehovah’s service. It is a wonderful privilege to be a member of any Bethel family. The reason is, I think, that one feels so much an intimate part of a family that is being so wholly used by Jehovah. But let me say this: The happiness of my assigned work inside the Bethel home has always been measured by my consciousness of the need for engaging in the service work outside. I have found that true joy comes only if I keep the field ministry work in pace with my duties inside the home. It is because of this that I have always tried to share in every feature of the Kingdom work as it has come along.
Soon after the headquarters were moved to Craven Terrace, west London, in 1911, I used to go down into the City on Friday evenings with a party of four or five and put tracts under the doors. They were not just like the tracts published by the Watch Tower Society today, but, rather, when folded into four, they were about the size of this magazine you are now reading. Some of the names I shall never forget, such as “The Fall of Babylon,” “End of the World—1914” and “Hope for Distressed Humanity.”
My sister and I were responsible for regularly covering a large section of territory just east of the Bethel home with these tracts. The only time we could fit in this work was early on Sunday mornings before preparing breakfast for the family. This meant rising about five o’clock in the morning and spending two hours “tracting.” The rest of Sunday was always a busy but a happy day, what with preparing meals and attending the various meetings. Why, it was usually nine o’clock at night before we were free.
Since I usually got up earlier than most members of the family, working as I did for many years in the kitchen, I had a little time off in the afternoons and I often spent this time in our “book-loaning” work in the immediate vicinity of the home. It was in this work, shortly before World War I, that I conducted my first Bible study with an interested person. I watched her grow to spiritual maturity as the years passed. Imagine my joy when I received a letter from her this last summer, shortly before the Twickenham assembly, in which she said, “My life has been very full all these years and the work has given me much pleasure that the world could not give . . . ” After all these years, still faithful! Here is the real joy that strengthens any servant of Jehovah, whether he works in one of the Society’s Bethel homes or elsewhere.
As the years rolled on I can remember saying to another member of our family, about 1928, that I felt I was getting narrow in my outlook. He told me this was nonsense, but I inwardly felt that something was lacking, although I was still as busy as ever as far as my Bethel duties were concerned. Then it was that the Sunday service work was arranged and the Bethel family were also given Saturdays off to engage in the ministry. Well, this was just what was needed. It brought a renewed vigor and joy into my life and into the lives of many others too. This joy has continued to increase as we have been further wonderfully equipped to “teach others also.”
Those of us who have been privileged to live right through the experiences of Jehovah’s people from before World War I well know the number of testings that have occurred. Our little family in London did not escape, and I can remember a time toward the end of World War I when it was split into two divisions. It is under these circumstances that you discover the depth of your love for the truth and whether you are serving Jehovah himself or some individuals in the organization. I have not always been able to appreciate at the time why God allows certain conditions to exist, but through the years I have gradually learned always to accept the theocratic arrangement and appointments until changes are made by Jehovah himself. This is another thing that has helped me to remain happy in Jehovah’s service. If one tries to run ahead of Jehovah it brings unhappiness to oneself and maybe to others also.
Oh, and there is something else that has contributed to my joy in living for the new world: my close association with many of the pioneers. I have always felt at home with the pioneers and have many times spent my vacation in service with them. These have been extremely happy occasions and I have returned home strengthened and refreshed in mind and body. You know, even inside the New World society I have always tried to watch that my associations, in the little time the busy life in Bethel allows, have been with those who are whole-souled in their theocratic outlook, either because they are in the full-time ministry or because they have a pioneer spirit.
These are some of the things that have strengthened me down through the years to continue serving our heavenly Father with joy, but, of course, there have been numerous other blessings as well. Recently, as we have been studying Jehovah’s Witnesses in the Divine Purpose, it has thrilled me to relive so many of the exciting theocratic experiences in which I have been privileged to share so intimately by being associated with the London Bethel family: the Photo-Drama of Creation, with its ushering duties several times a week as it was shown in turn at such places as the Princes Theatre, the Opera House and the Royal Albert Hall; the distribution of Golden Age No. 27; the big assemblies in Britain over the years, when Bethel was so often the central hive of activity; and then, more recently, since the ending of World War II, my privileges of attending some of the huge assemblies in America and Europe. Really, I never imagined that so many happy experiences and unexpected privileges as I have enjoyed could be crowded into a single lifetime!
Our family has grown from six to over sixty; our Bethel home, from a small house to a beautiful home and large factory; yes, large enough to hold thousands and thousands of book cupboards like the one we had in our old home, and requiring many post-office vans every day to collect the mail.
And now my heart is full of thanksgiving to Jehovah. I thank Him for his sustaining power. I thank him for continuing to give me a part in that joy-yielding, upbuilding work that is being conducted throughout the earth today by his organization of faithful people. And I thank him that I can have a small part in this and experience the “joy of Jehovah,” which is my “stronghold.”—Neh. 8:10.