Serving Jehovah Brings Happy Contentment
As told by Richard H. Barber
ON March 14, 1869, there was born in a rural town of southwest Vermont a boy whose parents named him Richard Harvey Barber. I was that boy. Now at the age of 96 years, I am writing the story of my life, a life of happy contentment in Jehovah’s service.
As a boy my life was a busy one, involving a great variety of work. Since we lived in a house connected with a sawmill owned by my father, I had experiences at the mill. I gathered spruce gum from trees and sold it for $1 a pound. I caught small speckled beauty trout from the mountain streams and sold them to customers of the mill, gathered ginseng and sold the roots, and worked gathering sap from tapped maple trees, helping to boil it down into maple syrup.
In 1883 father moved to a farm in New York state. Early in 1886 we traded the farm for a house in the village of Greenwich, New York. Then, after I graduated from the Greenwich High School in 1888, I took charge of a large general store owned by my father.
My father was a good man, honest and generous. He was a Methodist, attending every church meeting, contributing generously to church activities and buying a high-priced pew in the church. That was all that was necessary to make him a good Methodist. In all my years, I never saw a Bible in our home, never heard a prayer offered, nor a Bible subject discussed.
In 1894 I bought the store stock of my father and set up business in my own name. On January 1 of the following year I got married in the Methodist Church, and we lived in the flat above the store. My wife’s two sisters lived with us. In October of that same year, I came in contact with the truths of God’s Word, as taught by the Watch Tower Society. With this, life began to take on new meaning.
EFFECT OF THE SOCIETY’S LITERATURE
I was superintendent of the Methodist Sunday School, and my wife was a teacher in that school. After I had seen that the ten different Sunday-school classes were functioning properly, I would drop in at the adult men’s class. Here I noticed a radically different method of conducting the study. Many scriptures were cited and given to different students to read, and I had sense enough to see that questions were being properly answered. This pleased me. That night after the evening service, I walked down Main Street with the class leader and asked him where he got all those scriptures and the information.
He told me that a man on a bicycle had come to Greenwich, offering books on the Bible (the first three volumes of the Studies in the Scriptures, by Pastor Russell). This man was a colporteur, now known as a pioneer, and he called at the home of the Methodist preacher to explain the books. The preacher gave him several names, including the name of the leader of the adult men’s class and the name of my wife’s sister May. After telling me this, the class leader and I stood on the street until midnight discussing the Bible truths in this literature.
The next morning at breakfast my wife asked me, “Why were you so late last night?” After my explanation, May, my sister-in-law, spoke up, saying, “Pshaw, I bought a set of those books at that same time, and there they are, right in your library.” I went to the library, but only volume three was there. May said: “Oh! I loaned the other two books to my brother in Salem.” I brought the volume three to the table and, as I ate, turned its pages, examining it. I slipped it into my pocket and took it down to the store. During the day I spent every spare moment reading that book. After two days I had read every word of it, and had learned many things that I had never heard of before. Meditating on it, I asked myself, Who is the author and where is it printed? Examining it, I got this information, and for the first time in my life I heard the name of Pastor Russell. The class leader had never mentioned that name to me.
At once I addressed a card to Pastor Russell, asking him to send me a catalogue of all his publications. A few days later I received a letter from him and on the back of that letter was a list of publications. I ordered everything on the list, including The Watchtower, three volumes of Studies in the Scriptures, various Bible translations, several concordances, booklets and tracts. The order came to over $22 and I wrote out a check for $30. Though I was superintendent of a Sunday school, I had no idea of what a concordance was nor what a Bible with marginal references meant; but my study of volume three led me to have confidence in the fact that all those books, booklets and tracts were necessary for a proper study of the Bible. I ordered 500 each of all three free tracts. Then I wrote this: “Pack all these in one case and send them express collect.”
On receiving the literature, I immediately began to use it. In every package I wrapped up in the store I placed a tract. Later I subscribed to twenty different papers that published Pastor Russell’s sermons; I placed these printed sermons in packages too. A Bible study was started on Tuesday evenings. Eventually there were seventeen persons interested in the truth and studying together. It was known all over the village that we had this study.
WITHDRAWAL FROM THE CHURCH
Our activities in spreading Bible truths drew criticism from prominent Methodists. The Methodist pastor attended the Methodist Conference and refused to accept an appointment to Greenwich for another term. He told the Conference that a number of his best members were studying and believing a lot of things that were contrary to the Methodist and other orthodox religions and that there was bound to be trouble in the Greenwich church soon. So the Conference sent their so-called strongest preacher to the church. After about a month, he announced that he was going to preach a special sermon on a certain Sunday evening and that he desired every Methodist to be present.
The church was packed for that meeting. The preacher held the Methodist Discipline in his hand and slowly and emphatically read from it the Methodist teachings, emphasizing the fact that when one joined the Church he pledged himself to believe and teach those doctrines. Arriving at this climax, he roared: “There is a little handful of persons in this church who are teaching doctrines long rejected by the Methodist Church and all other orthodox churches.” He said: “Those persons are mites on the rim of a cheese, with seven-by-nine brains.” Then, holding the Discipline aloft, he thundered, “If you don’t believe the doctrines of the Methodist Church, then in the name of God, get out!” Listening to this were all those “mites” sitting right in front of the preacher. They were the Sunday-school superintendent, the assistant superintendent, the leader of the choir, who was also the church treasurer, and six of the ten Sunday-school teachers and others. This show was put on for the purpose of scaring those “mites” back into the Methodist fold, but it had the very opposite effect. It helped them to see the inconsistency of remaining with the church. Eventually eleven members resigned. These had been regarded as the very best members, and the effect on church finances was that for a couple of years money had to be borrowed to pay the preacher’s salary.
The leader of the adult men’s class resigned the next day; but I did not resign immediately, reasoning that, if I resigned at once, they would claim I did so because the class leader had resigned. After about a year I saw that it was useless to wait any longer, and also displeasing to Jehovah. So I withdrew. I wrote a sixteen-page letter, citing scriptures on the subjects of hell, soul, trinity, God’s kingdom and others. Then I made several copies of that letter and mailed them to the pastor and all the church officials. The pastor completely ignored all my Scripture texts and wrote me a letter, saying: “I must commend your frank and manly position and conduct. No other course would have been consistent to one holding and feeling it their duty to disseminate the views you entertain.”
A few weeks later he preached a sermon that he thought should be broadcast; so he went to the editor of the local weekly newspaper and had it printed. It contained several glaring unscriptural statements; so I took occasion to reply through the same paper, and my reply was also printed. At this the pastor hastened down to the office and took the editor to task for printing my reply. The editor reminded the preacher that they decided themselves what should be printed and that my reply was written in a kindly manner and any time I wished to write an article it would always be acceptable if written in the same kindly manner.
THE TRUTH CHANGES MY LIFE
The truth brought many changes in my life. One of the first things I did was to throw out of my store stock cigars, tobacco and snuff. Almost everybody used tobacco in some form, and many women used snuff. This cost me many customers, but I stuck to it and never sold them again. Then, too, my distributing of Bible tracts to my customers cost me many of them, but I kept on spreading the truth. In 1899 I attended my first convention sponsored by the Watch Tower Society, in Boston. I heard and saw Brother Russell for the first time and was baptized there.
Before I learned the truth, I was much interested in baseball, hunting and fishing and spent much money on shooting clay pigeons and rifle practice. I concluded that such time and money could be better used in the Lord’s service. So I quit them all, gave my shotgun to my brother-in-law who lived on a farm and sold my rifle and barrel of clay pigeons and other equipment. I tried to act in harmony with the view that all our time and money belong to the Lord and even we ourselves belong to Jehovah, if he has accepted our dedication. We are not our own, we have been bought with a price. Our home or farm, all we possess, belongs to Jehovah. It is quite difficult at times to realize that this home, this auto, the cash in my pocket, everything we have belongs to Jehovah, and we hold it in trust to be used as he wishes it to be used, but that is true.
I used my possessions to spread God’s truths. I owned two horses, a surrey and a carriage, and these were used on Sundays to convey some eight persons to different villages to distribute Bible tracts. We used to distribute about 50,000 tracts every year. Our territory was from Waterford, just across the river from Troy, New York, north to Whitehall, from Saratoga on the west to North Adams, Massachusetts, on the east. There were two fairs held every year in that territory and both were served with tracts.
In 1906 I sold my store building and in 1907 entered the colporteur or pioneer work with an old former pioneer, Vincent C. Rice. My first territory assignment was the city of Glens Falls, New York, with a population of 15,000. Our first day of pioneer work was in South Glens Falls. We were using the first three volumes of Studies in the Scriptures, and the six volumes when there seemed to be interest. That first day I placed 59 bound books and Brother Rice placed 37. We took orders to be delivered the next Monday. But where were our books? They were in the printery at Hammond, Indiana. We figured it out and decided we would need $120 worth, but Brother Rice had no such amount of money; so I sent a check directly to Brother Russell, explaining that we needed the books for delivery the next Monday. Monday came, but where were our books? Finally, we decided to call at the express office and lo! there were our books. Brother Russell had ordered them sent at once, by express prepaid.
We placed 1,259 bound volumes in Glens Falls. For five years I served as a pioneer, during that time obtaining 125 subscriptions for The Watchtower and organizing congregations, then called “classes,” in Glens Falls, Fort Edward, Mechanicsville and Hoosick Falls, New York, and Pownal Center, Vermont.
After five years of pioneering, Brother Russell invited me to serve as a pilgrim, which meant to serve routes made out by the Society, to give talks to the congregations and also advertise public talks. I gladly accepted this appointment and have served in that capacity in every state in the United States except Arizona and New Mexico, and all over Canada from Cape Breton to Vancouver Island, and to a limited extent in England and Scotland.
In 1914 and 1915 I had charge of a group of about fifteen who served much of New England and all of Nova Scotia with the Photo-Drama of Creation, a four-part moving-picture and colored-slide program, accompanied with phonograph Bible lectures. I was used to secure the theaters and to give the two Sunday closing talks after the Photo-Drama. Those talks were on the topics “Pastor Russell’s Teachings Examined” and “Christ’s Second Coming; Why, How and When?” This was a thrilling appointment, and large crowds attended the Photo-Drama and talks.
After about seven years in the pilgrim service, I was unexpectedly called to Bethel, the Society’s headquarters in Brooklyn, New York. It was 1918. Religious persecutors, taking advantage of the war, whipped up hatred for the Society. As a result, the Society’s president, J. F. Rutherford, and other officials were unjustly arrested and tried in court. I was present at that trial, at which the Society’s officials were railroaded to prison. One morning thereafter I received a call from Brother Rutherford requesting me to come over to Pennsylvania Station, where the brothers were waiting for several hours for a through train for Atlanta.
The prisoners were being transferred to Atlanta penitentiary. Brother Frank Horth, Sister Van Amburgh and Sister Fisher and Sister Agnes Hudgings, a stenographer, and myself hastened over to the station. Brother Rutherford there gave me some instructions. If we were harassed too much by the police, we were to sell Bethel and the Brooklyn Tabernacle and move to either Philadelphia, Harrisburg or Pittsburgh, as our corporation was in Pennsylvania. A price of $60,000 was suggested for Bethel, and $25,000 for the tabernacle. When the train was ready, Brother Rutherford took Brother Horth and Sister Hudgings on the train with him. They rode for a distance while Brother Rutherford dictated a letter of instructions to Brother Horth, assigning him to sell Bethel and the Tabernacle. Arriving back in Bethel, Sister Hudgings made copies of this letter of instructions for us. The Tabernacle was sold, if my memory serves me aright, for only $16,000. Later Bethel was sold to the government and all arrangements made except the transfer of cash, when the armistice was signed; but providentially the sale of Bethel was never accomplished.
During the time the Society’s officials were in prison, a committee was named by Brother Rutherford to act in his stead. That committee included Brother W. E. Spill and Brother John Stephenson, a member of the Bethel family who had served in the treasurer’s office as assistant to Brother Van Amburgh; and I was the third member of that committee. The work was divided among us as follows: I was to be in the office handling correspondence and preparing The Watchtower for publication; Brother Stephenson was to serve as treasurer and Brother Spill was to handle all outside matters.
There was plenty of mail, much of it harsh and critical, yet much of it sympathetic and encouraging. Many persons who had donated money to the Society with the understanding that, in the event they needed it in the future, they could withdraw it at the rate of $50 per month, wanted their money back. Many refunds were made. Contributions came in regularly, however, but we did not have much need for money, as all pilgrim work had ceased and we were cut off entirely from all foreign branches.
Literature, except for The Watchtower, was banned in the United States, and all literature was banned in Canada. Four individuals were chosen, one each at Boston, Brooklyn, Chicago and Seattle, and each was to wrap a Watchtower in a daily newspaper and mail it to a named person in Canada. These were passed around, leading articles mimeographed and some reprinted, and sent out to all Canadian congregations. Many wrote in and said that their copy of the book The Finished Mystery, known also as the seventh volume of the Studies in the Scriptures, had been confiscated and they asked for another. I found a case of the books in pocket-edition size and mailed a copy to all such persons writing in.
PILGRIM DESK, RADIO AND ZONE SERVANT WORK
After the Society’s officials were released from prison in 1919 and exonerated, I was sent out as a pilgrim again. But after a number of years, Brother Rutherford called me back to Bethel and asked me to take charge of the pilgrim department. After the pilgrim department was ended, my desk was used in connection with the radio department. My duty was to write short radio talks of 10, 15, 20 and 30 minutes, to be used over hundreds of radio stations. These talks were submitted to Brother Rutherford. After they were edited, Brother De Cecca mimeographed them and they were sent out to hundreds of radio stations. I had the privilege of giving radio talks myself, at times over hookups. I was asked to give an hour talk over a hookup on the subject of Christmas. It was given December 12, 1928, and published in The Golden Age #241 and again a year later in #268. That talk pointed out the pagan origin of Christmas. After that, the brothers at Bethel never celebrated Christmas again.
In 1935, I was assigned to serve as zone servant in territory from Utica on the east to Westfield, New York, on the west, and from Scranton on the south to the St. Lawrence River on the north. I was moved with my wife to the Society’s farm near Ithaca and was to serve the territory from that point. While serving Williamsport, Pennsylvania, that year, I received a letter from Brother Rutherford saying that the Syracuse congregation had purchased a large building and had asked the Society to send someone there to take charge of that building. He asked me to move to Syracuse and to serve as zone servant from this headquarters point.
Now, at age 96, I am no longer able to do house-to-house preaching of the good news, but I love Jehovah’s service as much as ever or more so. For some years I have been able to send out by mail regularly forty magazines per month, and when special issues come out I try to double that number if possible. My method is to use the telephone book and to select persons living in our territory, send them a typed letter, giving the best witness possible, telling them the benefits of the Watchtower and Awake! magazines and advising that a sample of each is being sent.
When the booklet Blood, Medicine and the Law of God came out, I mailed a copy to all my relatives, the area’s hospitals, the city’s officials and principal lawyers and doctors. I am still able to give talks, but need an arm to assist me to the platform. Though vision is rapidly failing, I managed to read every word of the books “Babylon the Great Has Fallen!” God’s Kingdom Rules! and “All Scripture is inspired of God and Beneficial” and all the Yearbook reports; I am also up to the minute with both The Watchtower and Awake!
Last year Jehovah gave me a sweet and happy surprise. For several years I had desired to visit Bethel again, where I had spent nearly twenty years of happy service, and to see with my eyes the marvelous expansion that has taken place there since 1935, when I was sent out as zone servant. But my physical condition was such that I knew I could never traverse the Bethel and factory, even with the help of a cane. So I had given up all hope of ever seeing Bethel again. Can you imagine my surprise when the mailman brought me a personal invitation from the Society’s president, Brother Knorr, to visit Bethel? Knowing my physical disability, his invitation said: “We have a wheelchair here that you could use to move around in on a tour through the home and factory.”
So in May 1964 my eyes feasted on the visible expansion of Jehovah’s work at Bethel. And did I enjoy the visit? Well, I can’t express my joy in words that would convey my real pleasure. Besides thanking Brother Knorr for the invitation, I want to thank the brother who explained each room and machine and operation and the brother who pushed that wheelchair and did so many other kindnesses. I marvel at the expansion of the organization at headquarters. Surely, Jehovah has a most wonderful working organization.
Have I enjoyed my nearly seventy years in the service of Jehovah? The following scriptures well express my joy and satisfaction: “The peace of God that excels all thought will guard your hearts and your mental powers.” “I give you my peace. I do not give it to you the way that the world gives it.” “You are content with the present things.” (Phil. 4:7; John 14:27; Heb. 13:5) Real joy includes a quiet dignified feeling of contentment, peace of mind, freedom from fear, worry, murmuring or faultfinding. It is not manifested by hilarity, wisecracking or funny jokes; it does not include sanctimoniousness. It includes strong faith and a steadfast hope.
That answers my question. Most emphatically, I have enjoyed the knowledge of the truth and my many privileges of service. Here I am at 96 years of age, tottering along, because of poor vision and faltering limbs, but still serving Jehovah as my physical condition permits, happy and contented.