Fifty Years a Slave to My God
As told by T. J. Sullivan
DURING the winter of 1911, while I was working in the Brooklyn Heights area of Brooklyn, New York, a companion happened to make the statement that Pastor Russell did not believe in hell. This impressed me. I could never reconcile the doctrine of eternal torment with the God of love, compassion and understanding that I conceived him to be. I was impressed with the fact that a preacher of Pastor Russell’s stature did not believe in hell. However, it was not until 1913 that I heard more about these beliefs.
In November 1913, in Winnipeg, Canada, I had my next contact with the matter. I was out there helping to install an auditing system for a chain of hotels that the railways were building. Among the staff there was a young lady decidedly different from the usual hotel employees. She always had a Bible with her, and on display in her office were six volumes of Studies in the Scriptures by Pastor Russell. She was well versed in the use of her Bible. Even the management referred many Bible questions to her.
Sometimes it was necessary for us to work until midnight or later. Since transportation arteries closed down about midnight and she had a long walk home, I volunteered to escort her. These walks provided opportunity to discuss the Bible further, and the setting for this was indeed inspiring. To appreciate this, one must know the great open prairie lands of the Northwest. The temperature was generally between 20 and 40 degrees below zero at that time of night. Snow was piled up on each side of the walk three to five feet high. A cold, clear, blue sky overhead and the northern lights or aurora borealis sweeping across the heavens emphasized the grandeur and majesty of God’s creation. Talking about God’s purposes under those conditions was to me very impressive and sacred. It seemed to call on everything within me to reach out for the love and care of such a wonderful Creator.
Indeed, I acquired a good understanding of the Bible from those discussions, more than I ever conceived was possible. On my way home afterward I would meditate upon and reconstruct the various points of truth we had talked about, and it all made sense, tying together so wonderfully.
In addition to these talks I also did considerable reading of the Bible for the first time, as before, being raised in a Catholic atmosphere, I had never read or studied it. I was then introduced to the regular meetings of the Bible Students and found them the finest, friendliest group of people I had ever known.
DECISION TO DEDICATE
All of this activity carried me on to the autumn of 1915. Conditions in the earth were very tense at that time. I realized that I was faced with a vital decision. Now what was I going to do? The clouds of war involved Canada, and I knew that I would be affected, as I was of military age. After weighing the matter carefully and prayerfully I decided that I belonged on God’s side and so made a dedication to do His will. I was baptized a few weeks later, prior to the celebration of the Lord’s Evening Meal in 1916. From then on, things happened fast. I realized that my hotel work did not give me enough time for meetings and study. So I changed to a more suitable position.
Despite the war and the restrictions it brought, the truths about God’s kingdom were available to us. The Watchtower magazine was coming through regularly, making the truth clear. I knew God was at the helm, directing his people; so nothing else disturbed me, even though the war drums were beating fast now and I was required to register for military service. I applied for exemption, but was turned down. I appealed, but this too was turned down. However, I kept on appealing right up to the end of the war. Other Christians were sent to military barracks for confinement, and still others were sent to the county jail. With Jehovah’s help we were able to locate them and give them whatever assistance we could.
There were interesting and stimulating experiences during those days. The brothers held in the barracks gave a splendid witness, and many of the military personnel manifested interest. One of the brothers would be walking along the street and a soldier would walk by and make a statement like, “Jones in guardhouse. Needs Sword,” and would pass on. But from that message we would know that Brother Jones had been picked up and was in the guardhouse and wanted his Bible. We managed to get it to him. There was danger involved, true, but there was great love and faith displayed for Jehovah, his cause, and for his people. All seemed glad to assist regardless of the danger involved.
“THE FINISHED MYSTERY” DISTRIBUTION
Running concurrently with these experiences was also the release of the Society’s book The Finished Mystery and its distribution. We received our supplies in Canada and were starting distribution when it was banned in 1918 by the government at the instigation of the clergy. The censor’s order banning the Society’s literature is believed to be the direct result of this combined assault of clergy and government upon the publications of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society.
This brought the fight for pure worship home to us in Canada. We prepared our supplies of The Finished Mystery for a quick and widespread distribution, anticipating opposition. When the ban became law, a petition was next circulated by the brothers in the United States and Canada for the government to remove the restrictions placed on the book, so that people might be permitted to obtain this Bible-study aid without interference and molestation. A brother and I were assigned to circulate the petition in Fort William and Port Arthur, Ontario. We went to Port Arthur and registered at a hotel. Then we mapped out the territory and went to work. We first covered the territory with a statement describing the nature of our work and telling them we would like them to read it carefully and that we would be coming back for their name on a petition in a day or two. We were well received by the people in general.
However, the police obtained a search warrant, searched our room, and found our personal copies of The Finished Mystery. We found ourselves in jail that night but were released the next day. In all likelihood the arrest and publicity did more to set the facts before the people than the circulation of the petition would have done. The newspaper blazened our arrest on the front page, playing up many of the strong statements in the letter we distributed. They picked out the ones that were most objectionable to the clergy and the government. The police confiscated the five or six hundred copies of The Finished Mystery sent to the territory for distribution. But that night, while the publicity in the newspaper was at its height, the police of Port Arthur carried home copies of The Finished Mystery for themselves and their friends, so that the entire stock was distributed for us!
As soon as the news of our arrest reached Winnipeg, the military sent a truckload of soldiers, who raided the homes where we were now staying in search for banned literature. The military could arrest us and could raid our property and confiscate our goods, but they could not try us. We were still civilians and the civilian court insisted that they were the ones to try us. The civilian authorities, in Winnipeg at any rate, were disgusted with the high-handed manner in which the military were raiding the homes and destroying the property of Christians. When the military raided a home they really upset the house. They would take coal, flour, sugar and other things, mix them all up and leave them practically unusable. This disturbed the civil authorities greatly, and some showed their concern by being as kind as they could in dealing with our cases.
Our next opportunity for pushing the battle to the gate was in March 1918, when the publication Kingdom News, No. 1, was released by the Society for distribution in the United States, Canada and England. It contained a message exposing religious intolerance and championing Christian liberty. A month later, in April, Kingdom News, No. 2, came along, dealing with religious and political conspiracy. In May Kingdom News, No. 3, was released, entitled “Fall of Autocracy Certain—Satanic Strategy Doomed to Failure.” These publications provided a great deal of activity. We utilized the day and a good portion of the night for their distribution. We felt we had to work fast. The message being distributed was dynamic, and we wanted to get all the copies out before we were stopped. And our conclusions in that respect were correct, for a few days after the release of Kingdom News, No. 3, the brothers in charge of the work at headquarters in Brooklyn were railroaded to the penitentiary in Atlanta, Georgia.
PREACHING WORK EXPANDS
It was my privilege to visit Brooklyn Bethel in the late summer of 1918 during the brothers’ incarceration. Those left in charge of the work at headquarters were confident that Jehovah would give his people the victory ultimately.
The next spring, in March of 1919, the brothers were released from jail. Then on May 14, 1919, the United States Supreme Court decided that they had been imprisoned illegally. We in Canada rejoiced greatly with our brothers in the United States.
Soon information was forthcoming telling us that in September a convention was going to be held at Cedar Point, Ohio. Everyone who possibly could make it was heading for that convention. At this first postwar assembly the brothers displayed joy, gratitude and an unflinching determination to see the work through. A new publication, the Golden Age magazine, was to be released, and the announcement thrilled everyone. It gave us another instrument with which to work. I was privileged to oversee the work of distributing it at Winnipeg, and our efforts were blessed from the beginning. Also, great quantities of the booklet Millions Now Living Will Never Die were distributed, and public lectures on the subject were given everywhere. All of this created quite a stir among the public. A companion booklet, Talking with the Dead, was also distributed widely. This was necessary because people were induced to believe that it was possible for them to communicate with their dead, particularly the soldiers. The idea swept like wildfire. Writers like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle went overboard on the subject of the living communicating with the dead. However, Jehovah had a very ready instrument to counteract its effect where truth seekers were concerned, in the booklet Talking with the Dead.
The truth expanded very greatly in those days. Our meetings jumped in attendance from a few hundred to 1,800, 1,900 and even 2,000 people. Good-sized theaters were easily filled. Many who had ceased to associate with us when we were being persecuted began to appreciate the organization once more. The very fact that it had survived and was still active caused many to start thinking.
I might add that previous to this time Sister Evelyn Finch and I were married, in September of 1918. She was the first one of Jehovah’s witnesses I had met on my arrival in Canada and the one who did so much to assist me in those early days in coming to a knowledge of Jehovah’s purposes.
In 1922 Sister Sullivan and I attended another convention at Cedar Point, Ohio. When we returned from that assembly we were fired up to forge ahead. We could see ourselves in the divine purpose. Jehovah was in his temple and the time was at hand for his slaves to advertise the King and the Kingdom. We returned home determined to burn our bridges behind us. There was only one way to go and that was straight ahead as Jehovah directed. That summer we applied for service in the Canadian Bethel, but it was fully staffed. Then we applied for Brooklyn Bethel. While our applications were pending we tried to put our house in order and managed to spend a month of our annual vacation time in full-time service, while doing as much as we could at other times.
On November 1, 1924, Sister Sullivan and I were invited to become members of the Brooklyn Bethel family. Needless to say, we were very happy. This was the beginning of a new life for us. Shortly after we arrived I was assigned to the Service Desk, in which department I have remained up until the present. I was later assigned as one of the Bethel speaker staff, which privilege I also received with deep gratitude to Jehovah. Then came Sunday house-to-house witnessing in 1927, and as each new forward step of the organization unfolded our joy increased.
During the 1930’s a number of important historical events took place from our organization’s viewpoint. Much opposition was engineered by Catholic Action in Plainfield, Bergenfield and Asbury Park in New Jersey, and it was intended to destroy Jehovah’s people. The clear exposition of the fallacy of the pope’s declaration of a holy year in 1933 by Brother Rutherford, the Society’s president, did much to infuriate the Roman Catholic Church. Their demon-inspired fury was particularly manifested in the attack upon Jehovah’s witnesses at Madison Square Garden in June 1939. The weird evidence of demonic mob control was very pronounced even over the radio. However, despite the opposition Brother Rutherford forcefully presented the entire message, which went out over the air. The people heard and were able to come to their own conclusions regarding the spirit manifested.
After the attack inside Madison Square Garden a number of our brothers were falsely arrested and taken to the police station as well as some of the attackers. Brother Rutherford insisted on going to the police station immediately to see what he could do and to provide our brothers with legal counsel. I was privileged to drive along with him on that occasion. Driving through from the Madison Square Garden to the police station, we saw demonstrated the mad fury of the mob and the restraining power of our God to preserve his people. At the police station we had to struggle through the mob to get in. Assistance of the police was necessary in order for us to make it. Brother Rutherford went over the details of the charges made against our brothers and arranged for their defense, encouraging them. On our leaving, the same demonic mob was still outside. They tried to force their way into the car and bar its progress. It was necessary for some of us to ride on the running boards to keep the crowds from tearing the doors open.
I was scheduled to give the opening talk at the evening session at Madison Square Garden and I wondered what it was going to be like when we returned. It was marvelous to note the change. All the enemies had cleared out and peace and quiet prevailed. During the concluding session of the evening it seemed as though Jehovah stood up and said, ‘Peace, be still,’ and drove the riffraff on their way.
After Brother Rutherford’s death early in 1942, the full membership of the two boards of directors of the Society’s New York and Pennsylvania corporations convened in Brooklyn Bethel and, after prayerful meditation, unanimously elected Brother Nathan H. Knorr as the new president.
Jehovah’s work continued to make rapid progress. On February 1, 1943, the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead for missionaries was inaugurated. On April 17 of the same year the Course in Theocratic Ministry was released to all congregations for training and equipping all of God’s people for the work of the ministry. These initial steps were the very foundation of the great expansion experienced since that time. It is breathtaking to note the rapidity with which Jehovah’s spirit moves to accomplish his will. It is Jehovah’s doing and marvelous in our eyes.
To be in Bethel and see, feel and participate in these grand events is one of the greatest blessings that can come to anyone, and I so appreciate it. I have found after forty years at Bethel that if we come here with that attitude and accept all assignments on that basis, we will be very happy and greatly blessed of Jehovah.
For the many privileges I have had here at Bethel I thank Jehovah daily. One such unique privilege during World War II was when I was assigned to serve our brothers in federal prisons in the eastern part of the United States four out of every five weekends. I still continue serving our brothers now in Danbury Federal Prison once a month and have been doing so for almost twenty years.
All of such privileges represented hard work for me, but oh! what joy in being a slave to Jehovah and comforting my brothers. I can truly say Jehovah has not withheld any good thing from me during the fifty years I have been his slave. (Ps. 84:11) Every need, great or small, has always been supplied through his organization. As a slave in his house I want to dwell forevermore.—Ps. 27:4.