Eternity Is My Goal in Jehovah’s Service
AS TOLD BY THOMAS E. BANKS
TEN years before I was born in the United States, my father was liberated from slavery. That was just a few months before the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect. During the subsequent years when I was growing up, I had little opportunity for education, because where I was reared in the state of Ohio I was far from a school. Then too, there was no compulsory education at that time. Nevertheless, I hungered for knowledge and did a lot of reading, with the result that by the time I was nineteen I was able to pass a teacher’s examination.
From the time I was small, I can remember my father driving us children to church in his wagon. We went two or three times every Sunday; yet he was never a member of a church. My sisters and brothers joined a church that was highly emotional—the people shouted and clapped their hands. But I reasoned that religion should be intelligent, not emotional, and that was the kind of religion I sought. It was not until I was twenty-nine years old that I discovered such a religion.
I was working in a drugstore when a friend came in and gave me a booklet entitled “What Say the Scriptures About Hell?” I carried that booklet around in my pocket for about a month before I began to read it. Every time I saw the friend he would ask me how I liked the booklet, and I felt guilty because I had not read it. One day, in order to satisfy him, I began reading it. It so gripped my attention that I finished it that very day. Up until then I had thought that I knew all I needed to know about hell, but I soon found that I had a lot to learn. From the very first page of that booklet, I saw that it appealed to reason and intelligence. After finishing it, I sought out my friend so as to ask him if he had any more publications like that booklet. He said he had a book of over 300 pages, and I said, “Let me have it.” He promised to bring it to work with him the next day. Although I promised to pick it up at noon, I could not wait and so went to his place of business at ten o’clock in the morning. He handed me the book The Divine Plan of the Ages. I took it home and read it eagerly.
Evidently my reading of The Divine Plan of the Ages was consuming more of my time than I had realized, because one evening my wife said to me, “Since you have been reading that literature, you have been neglecting me and the children,” and she burst into tears. I told her: “Tomorrow night I will straighten up the dining room and do the dishes while you put the children to bed. Then we will sit down and I will explain to you what I have been learning.” When we sat down the next night, I opened the book and began to explain to her God’s purpose for man and for the earth and where we fitted into it. In just ten minutes she said: “I understand it now.” From then on we studied together.
A CHANGE OF RELIGION
My wife embraced the truths we learned from our studies and remained faithful to them until she died in 1917. She had been a devout Episcopalian, but after our first study she stopped attending that church. I too made a change. I held many offices in the Methodist Church, but, like my wife, I realized that I had to give all that up in order to be in harmony with God’s written Word.
When I handed in my resignation at a meeting of the church, the pastor refused to read my letter aloud. He did not want to lose a member holding so many of the offices of the church. So I read the letter with an emphasis that the minister could not have given it. He answered that he could not say I was wrong, but if at any time I wanted to return, the church door stood wide open for me. I told him that I would never be back. From then on my wife and I were Bible students who recognized the Watch Tower Society as the instrument God is using to make known the good news of his kingdom.
When I dedicated myself to God in 1901, I declared that my desire was to serve him faithfully. This I have always striven to do. For about twenty years my service to him was confined to engaging in the ministry locally in the state of Ohio. But shortly after my wife’s death, the president of the Watch Tower Society, Joseph Rutherford, stopped over in Cincinnati while on a trip. He asked me if I would like to travel for the Society. Although it had always been my heart’s desire to spend all my time in the ministry, I had to decline the invitation because of my responsibility toward my children, the youngest of whom was twelve. I did offer, however, to spend my four-week vacation to travel wherever the Society wanted me to go. So a new privilege of service opened up for me. I traveled to New Orleans in the state of Louisiana, stopping off at many cities along the way and finally ending up in New York.
SERVING MY NEGRO BROTHERS
Two years later when I was chairman of a convention being held by Jehovah’s people in New York City, the Watch Tower Society’s president walked with me to my lodging place one evening and confided in me that the Society had arranged for me to do special work among the Negroes in the United States. By then my two daughters had married and also one of my sons, so I felt that I was able to take on this responsibility.
My job was to visit the Negro servants of Jehovah in various parts of the country and to assist them in giving Bible instruction to others as well as in reporting their activity to the Society. This was called pilgrim work. Pilgrim brothers would travel to organized congregations, giving public Bible lectures and helping the congregations in an organizational way. Thus, at the age of fifty, twenty-one years after my dedication to God, I was going to devote my full time to his service. My heart’s desire was being realized.
Part of my job was at the Brooklyn headquarters of the Watch Tower Society, where I built up a file of correspondence from persons of my own race, on the basis of which my trips were arranged. My months at the headquarters, known as Bethel, were happy ones. I enjoyed the close association there with my brothers in Jehovah’s service.
When the correspondence file was completed, I began to travel in the northern and southern parts of the United States to help my Negro brothers in their service of Jehovah. Coming from the North, I was not fully prepared for the many indignities that came my way in the South because of my race, such as segregation on buses, trains, restaurants, and so forth. The first few unpleasant encounters were a real test on me, but they strengthened me for the later ones. Some of the Negro brothers became offended and would not comply with segregation laws in the South. They are no longer in Jehovah’s service, having fallen away from it a long time ago. I realized that mankind must look to God’s new order of righteousness to see injustices permanently corrected. As long as we are in the old system of things, we, as Christians, must abide by Caesar’s laws, doing as the Bible instructs: “Be in subjection to the superior authorities.” (Rom. 13:1) Although a color line exists in the world, there is none among Jehovah’s servants. This was demonstrated to me on many occasions.
MINISTRY IN FOREIGN FIELDS
During the years from 1922 to 1937 my travels for the Lord’s organization took me to many places, including Panama, Costa Rica and Jamaica. When I returned to New York from Jamaica in 1937, the Watch Tower Society’s president asked me what objection I had to staying in Jamaica. I had none whatsoever. Wherever Jehovah’s organization wanted to send me I was willing to go. So he said, “The next time I send you to Jamaica, you will stay awhile.” He then revealed that he wanted me to be the overseer of the Society’s work there by being in charge of its Jamaican branch.
It was in 1938 that I was assigned to the island of Jamaica. At that time there were about 390 persons who were publishing the good news of God’s kingdom there, and they were organized into 53 congregations. From that time until the present, the congregations have grown to 151, with 4,866 persons now actively associated with them. In those early years there was not as much office work in the Society’s branch as there is today. So my work consisted principally of traveling all over the island with a sound car that broadcast recorded Bible lectures and also giving Bible lectures in the evenings.
Not long after I arrived in Jamaica a ban was put on the importation of the Watch Tower Society’s publications as a result of pressure put on political leaders by clergymen who opposed us. We engaged the services of the Minister of Lands in an effort to get the ban lifted. He told me, “When I read your correspondence addressed to the governor, I became very much interested in your case.” He went on to say that he would do his best to put the case before the House in an effort to have the ban rescinded. He did this, but some time passed before we heard from him. In the meantime we had to carry on our ministry with what Bible literature we still had.
Despite the effort of our enemies to stop us from receiving Bible literature, Jehovah saw to it that we received one copy of every issue of the Watchtower magazine. Sometimes it was copied in longhand and sent to us as a personal letter. We had a mimeograph machine that we used to make copies of that single issue. In this manner we were able to supply the congregations of Jehovah’s people in Jamaica with copies of that official publication of the Watch Tower Society. They never missed an issue.
The government seized only certain publications that we had, permitting us to keep the others. These we used in our ministerial work, making the supply last as long as possible. Just when it was nearly depleted, the government lifted the ban that had been unjustly put on our literature, and they returned to us the publications they had seized. Much of what was returned could not be used because of being water-soaked or damaged by termites. But thereafter we had no further difficulty in receiving supplies of Bible literature from the Society’s headquarters for distribution to the Bible-loving people of Jamaica.
Because of my failing health and strength, it was necessary in 1946 for someone younger and stronger to take over the responsibility as branch servant in Jamaica. I was given the choice of returning to the United States to live with my children or of continuing to live at the Society’s headquarters in Jamaica, where I could do whatever work my health would permit. Since Jamaica was my assignment, I chose to remain there. At that time I was seventy-five years of age. Now I am ninety-three.
My activity in Jehovah’s service has been hindered by ill health and age, but I am, nevertheless, still enjoying life at the Society’s headquarters here in Jamaica. My room is just a few steps from the Kingdom Hall in the building where the branch is, making it possible for me to attend all the meetings of the congregation that meets here. My sight is still good, allowing me to read all the Society’s publications and to rejoice in the truths they contain, which appeal to the intelligence of man as well as to the heart. I use every opportunity to talk about Jehovah’s purposes and the truths of his Word with my visitors and by means of correspondence. I am very happy that I can complete my days on earth in my foreign assignment and still in Jehovah’s full-time service.
I am practically a young man now, because if my hopes are realized I will have an eternity of life in the future. For this reason I count these ninety-three years as only the beginning of my life. Spending my full time in Jehovah’s service has been the joy of my life, and I look forward to continuing it eternally in association with Jesus Christ and his “holy ones in the light.”—Col. 1:12.