Serving Jehovah with Rejoicing
As told by Margaret Dunham
SERVE Jehovah with rejoicing,” sang the psalmist. “Come into his gates with thanksgiving, into his courtyards with praise. Give thanks to him, bless his name. For Jehovah is good; his loving-kindness is to time indefinite.” (Ps. 100:2, 4, 5) Those words describe exactly what the past thirty-seven years, spent in the full-time service of Jehovah, have been like for me. Those years have brought many experiences; they have seen me living in many lands, and always there has been cause for rejoicing because of Jehovah’s goodness.
My first recollection of coming in contact with Jehovah’s people was as a child of ten years while spending a vacation with my grandmother in Edinburgh, Scotland. She took me to the cinema one Sunday to see the Photo-Drama of Creation—motion pictures and slides that depicted God’s purpose for the earth and mankind, from the time of earth’s preparation right into the millennial reign of Christ. It was very impressive. Some years later when we went to live in Edinburgh she arranged for me to see the Photo-Drama again, so I went along with some of my schoolmates. Yet it was not until after my grandmother’s death that the Bible Students came in touch with my mother. Soon both she and I were attending their meetings.
At that time they were distributing resolutions telling Christendom of her failure, and I shared in the distribution. As I regularly attended the meetings I gradually grew in knowledge of Jehovah’s goodness and appreciation of his loving-kindness toward his creatures. The desire within me to serve Jehovah grew strong, and in the spring of 1923 I made my dedication to Jehovah and symbolized it by water baptism. I wanted to use my life to “serve Jehovah with rejoicing.”
What an inestimable privilege it has been to serve in Jehovah’s courts! And how the years have flown! It seems like only a few years ago that I knocked on my first door to offer the Bible-study booklet Millions Now Living Will Never Die. Shy, but praying to Jehovah for strength, I knocked once, twice, but no answer. What a relief! But the initial step had been taken, and soon I was anxious to find the people at home. It became part of my way of life.
REJOICING AS A PIONEER
Two happy summer holidays spent in the north of Scotland with a group from my home congregation in vacation pioneer service, as we now call it, whetted my appetite for full-time service of Jehovah as a colporteur. So it was that in 1925, with one of this group, Janet Thompson, as my companion, we set off for our first assignment, in Midlothian, Scotland. Bicycles were our mode of transport during seven years together as pioneers of the good news. We never had much of this world’s goods, but we had great cause for rejoicing. With our hearts in the ministry, we had no doubt that Jehovah would provide for us what was necessary; and how true this proved to be. As the psalmist said: “A young man I used to be, I have also grown old, and yet I have not seen anyone righteous left entirely, nor his offspring looking for bread.”—Ps. 37:25.
When the March 1, 1925, issue of The Watch Tower was studied in the congregations, we were called back to Edinburgh to benefit from the study of that article “Birth of the Nation” with the others. How clearly it depicted the establishment of the Kingdom in the heavens! It made it evident that there are two opposing organizations, that of Satan and that of Jehovah. What cause for rejoicing and thanksgiving to have these truths impressed upon our minds!
The next year saw us en route to the assembly at Alexandra Palace in London. That convention was another milestone on the way to the new world. It was there that the book Deliverance was released, with its enlightenment on the battle of Armageddon. That was the time when Brother Rutherford delivered the powerful discourse “Why World Powers Are Tottering—The Remedy.” And it was there that we had our first experience at an assembly in distributing booklets to the people right out on the streets.
In the autumn my companion and I were invited to move to a new assignment, in northern Ireland. To us this seemed like the call to Macedonia that the apostle Paul had received, and we gladly responded. (Acts 16:9, 10) To the towns and villages of County Down and County Armagh and the farms sprinkled over the countryside we cycled and walked, talking about the good news of the Kingdom and placing the books The Harp of God, Deliverance, Creation and others as they were published. At times we were put out of our lodgings because of the message we bore, but Jehovah showed his goodness to us and someone always took us in.
One campaign I well remember was that with the booklet The Kingdom, the Hope of the World, which we delivered to the clergy and other prominent citizens. When street distribution of the booklet was carried out in Belfast, the pioneers nearby were asked to join in the work with the Belfast congregation. It turned out to be a very wet Saturday. We all met at the congregation’s hall, and when the time came for us to go out, we went, and it stopped raining for the entire time we were working. We felt that Jehovah had blessed our efforts to make known his name, and we rejoiced with thanksgiving.
It was during this time that I was serving in Ireland that I had the privilege of attending my first international assembly, in Detroit, Michigan, in 1928. At the same time I enjoyed the privilege of visiting the Society’s Brooklyn Bethel home and having dinner with the family, going through the printing plant, and seeing an actual broadcast at the Society’s radio station, WBBR, on Staten Island. A few years later I was abroad to another assembly, this one in Paris. These opportunities did much to enlarge my appreciation of the organization. Wherever I went the brothers showed the same love, and they were all interested in the same thing—the preaching of the good news.
SERVING JEHOVAH IN LATVIA
In 1932 I was on my way to Riga, Latvia, not to attend another assembly, but to marry Percy Dunham, the branch servant. This meant learning a new language so I could have an effective share in the house-to-house ministry. The eight years I spent in Latvia were fraught with many difficulties, but, as is always true of the service of Jehovah, it included much cause for thanksgiving. The love of the brothers and the Kingdom message were the same as in other lands, but the authorities, especially the Department of Religion, made it difficult.
I had been there only a few months when one morning, as I opened the door, in rushed police officers with pistols drawn. “Hands up!” they shouted. We were suspected of being Communists. They searched the house, checking everything, even taking my household expense notebook out of my apron pocket. While searching my husband, they found some keys in his pocket and asked what they were for. “The attic,” he replied; so they laid them on a desk among other things they were collecting. They questioned and searched for hours, but at noon when I offered to make them some tea, they let me go to do that. And gradually, as the day wore on, they began to realize we were not Communists at all. They could find no evidence on which to base a charge, so they became more friendly.
When they finally left they took along many things—the Society’s books, Watchtower magazines, correspondence, our typewriter, the Gestetner, money and other things—but the officer in charge handed the attic keys back to Percy, saying, “These are yours, Mr. Dunham.” How thankful we were, for in the attic was the only supply of Bible literature for the brothers to use in their ministry, and it had been brought into the country with much difficulty.
Sometime later a Latvian society was formed to carry on the work, and booklets were printed locally. The preaching moved along well; even the pioneers were able to travel around the country more freely. But a coup d’etat in 1934 brought a new regime into power, and our Society headed the list of those banned. My husband tried all the ways he could to have the ban removed, but without success. Nevertheless, in order to continue our meetings, we gathered quietly in different homes.
When we were gathered in 1939 to commemorate the Memorial of Christ’s death there was a ring at the door. Thinking it was one of the brothers, I opened up, and in walked the police. The family of one of the brothers had given us away and had also given the police a mimeographed copy of The Watchtower in Latvian. The officer in charge particularly wanted to know who had printed The Watchtower. “I did,” said Percy. “I see you did,” the officer responded, looking at an old, hand Gestetner in the room, but not seeing the new rotary one in the well of the desk behind him—for I had offered him a chair with his back to the desk. In the meantime another officer was searching the room. Now he was at the shelves where we had stacks of mimeographed literature in Latvian, and he pulled back the curtain. But he closed it again and said, “There is nothing here.” It made me think of how Jehovah blinded the Syrians in the days of Elisha.—2 Ki. 6:18-23.
During those years that we lived in Latvia we had only visitor’s permits, which meant that we had to cross the border to get an exit stamp in our passports every sixty days; then we could enter again. In this way we visited Lithuania and Estonia, and sometimes we went to Finland to attend assemblies, also to Sweden and Denmark. It was a great joy to visit with the brothers in these countries and to see their love and zeal, but we were always glad to get back to our Latvian brothers again and to take along some spiritual food for them.
Then one morning in June of 1940 we awoke to find the country occupied by Russian soldiers. What would happen now? All foreign visas were canceled and we had to visit the police every few days. Soon we were notified that we must leave the country. The British embassy was arranging to evacuate all its nationals, but, feeling that Latvia was our assignment, we tried every possible means to stay. Hours and hours were spent in the government offices, but with no success. At last a cablegram from the Society’s headquarters encouraged us to leave the country, so we accepted the third and final offer from the British government. With heavy hearts at having to leave our brothers behind in such trialsome times, we boarded the special train on October 27 on an eleven-day trip via Moscow and the Trans-Siberian Railway to Vladivostok, where a ship was waiting to take us to Australia.
SERVICE IN AUSTRALIA
When we arrived in Strathfield on December 12 we were welcomed into the Bethel home, and our service here has been a further cause for us to give thanksgiving to Jehovah. My work has been in the kitchen, and, with just a few breaks, I have been preparing or cooking or serving meals for the Bethel family here for nearly twenty-two years now. It is a great privilege to be able to serve in this way, because the Bethel family work hard and their one aim is to advance the Kingdom interests.
We had been in Australia for only about a month when the Society was banned here too. Security and peace officers invaded the home and searched all our rooms. For over a year we continued to live and work in the home under the eyes of armed peace officers who were on guard at all times. Even when the Memorial was kept, the police were there. Then one day in May, 1942, we were given twenty-four hours’ notice to evacuate the premises, as the military was taking over.
The work was hindered, but it did not stop. Meetings continued to be held in the “bush” and in other secluded locations. House-to-house preaching was done too, but only with the Bible. Finally, on June 14, 1943, the ban was lifted, but it was not until another six months had passed that we were able to return to Bethel. What a happy occasion that was! There was much work to do, because the military had not cared for the home as we do, but it was good to be serving together as a family again.
After more than thirty years of full-time service to Jehovah my husband died in 1951, but his complete devotion to Jehovah and his serving of his brothers were always a source of encouragement and strength to me. Some of the last advice he gave me was: “Stick close to the organization.” Doing that has meant that my service has continued to be a source of joy.
Many things have added to that joy. For example, in 1955, due to the generosity of another sister, I was able to accompany her to the assemblies in Europe. In Edinburgh and at London particularly I had the joy of meeting many of my old companions from my early days in the truth, some of whom are still serving in Bethel, as circuit servants or as pioneers. Another very happy experience has been the association we have enjoyed with congregation overseers who have come to the Kingdom Ministry School from various parts of the country.
Looking back over the years, I can say that it has been possible for me to find the greatest joy in Jehovah’s service because I responded to the counsel of his organization when I was a young woman. I put Kingdom interests first and went into the pioneer work. This led to many more blessings, including thirty satisfying years of Bethel service. For this I thank Jehovah and bless his name. “For Jehovah is good; his loving-kindness is to time indefinite.”
Light itself has flashed up for the righteous one, and rejoicing even for the ones upright in heart. Rejoice in Jehovah, O you righteous ones, and give thanks to his holy memorial.—Ps. 97:11, 12.