Humbly Giving Back What God Asks
As told by GEORGE A. RANN
IN THE year 1914 I was living on a homestead ranch in southern Saskatchewan, Canada, thirty-five miles from a railroad town. About once or twice a year I made a trip into town by horse and wagon for supplies. On one of these trips a neighbor and I went together.
This neighbor had given me a book to read earlier, a book with which he was well acquainted, and I had finished reading it. It was entitled “The Divine Plan of the Ages” and was filled with material about the Bible, which interested me very much. As the year 1914 was well advanced, many Bible Students, including my neighbor, were looking for something to happen soon in fulfillment of Bible prophecy. These matters dominated our conversation.
Less than three weeks after this trip to town, the very things we talked about happened! All Europe, one nation after another, was ablaze in war, seeking to destroy its neighbor. This was in direct fulfillment of Bible prophecy and verified the truths contained in the book my neighbor had given me. The “last days” mentioned in the Bible had begun, and we were seeing and living in that very time!
After these occurrences I became more interested in taking in knowledge and so joined the little group of about ten Bible Students that had been organized in our vicinity to do this. It was comforting to be gathered to other believers, because there were not many there in those days. Why, if you found one Bible Student in fifty miles, you were doing well.
Since the summer of 1914 I had been reading and studying the Bible with the aid of the literature of the Watch Tower Society. Now I saw that, whereas I had received much from Jehovah concerning his marvelous purposes, he also wanted something back from me, my willing service to him. I accepted the responsibility and made a dedication of my life to God. This was a cause of much rejoicing on the part of our little group.
Soon I found out that this was not all that Jehovah asked. His organization was clean. Our individual habits must be also. But I had been a very heavy user of tobacco for years, since my youth. By this time my system was thoroughly saturated with nicotine. I would have liked to stop quickly, but since the habit was so much a part of me I felt it would take time.
I kept increasing my knowledge of God and his purposes and asked Jehovah for strength to break the smoking habit. Then one day, while I was reading my Bible, I filled my pipe and lighted it; but it did not taste so good anymore. I looked the pipe over and found everything in order, then tried lighting it again; but it tasted even worse, so I laid it aside. No doubt the good conscience I had been cultivating was coming to my aid. Three weeks later I threw out all my smoking equipment, trusting in Jehovah’s help to stay free from the habit.
I needed help to do this, for cleansing my body of nicotine was an indescribably difficult ordeal for me. At times my chest would get very tight, just as if the muscles were tied in a knot. Since I was not renewing the supply of nicotine in my system, my body was apparently reacting to the change. At times, the difficulty was so severe I thought I might die. But I prayed to Jehovah for the strength to overcome this problem, and overcome it I did.
The agony I had gone through caused me to think seriously of the future. True, I had already dedicated myself to do God’s will, but as yet I was not baptized, and I knew that this was something else Jehovah required of those who had accepted his truths. But it was still winter, and there was no open water outside, nor were house facilities available inside. What to do?
We finally solved the problem by constructing a place for my baptism. We made a frame for a tub about six feet long and two feet wide, the height of which was about eighteen inches. Then we tacked table oilcloth onto the top of this and let the cloth hang down into the frame, making a tublike arrangement, the cloth being the sides of the tub. At the beginning of the meeting held for my baptism we put water on the kitchen stove, and at the end of the meeting it was warm enough for baptism. A perfect coverage of water was obtained in our homemade tub and I was baptized.
GIVING BACK MORE
Things went on much as before for a while, but not for long. Jehovah had put something good in my heart and now he asked something more back. Jehovah wanted my mouth to be used to tell others the good things I had learned. This would be an expression of praise to him. This I began to do now in earnest, especially from about 1920 onward.
Because we were farming, we preached as we could set aside time for it. You see, I was a homesteader and had to work hard. The government had given us homesteaders land grants of 160 acres each; and if we stuck it out for five years, the land would become ours.
When we settled on our 160-acre lots, there was nothing there to live on, so we all had to make our own homes, such as they were. We would lay a wooden floor, around which the sides were built up with rough lumber and covered with tar paper. On the outside, we piled sod, twenty to twenty-four inches thick and three to four feet high. This kept the place quite warm in winter. I lived alone, although I had several neighbors close by who were farming their homesteads as I was.
This homesteading meant that our preaching came in spurts, for while the ministry now became part of our life, our farms still had to be maintained. So we cared for the necessary seasonal work, then spent weeks at a time preaching. But there was, at that time, no regular week-by-week coverage-of-territory preaching, as is done by Jehovah’s witnesses today.
Our territory was mostly rural, and we gradually extended the scope of our activity, covering a radius of about a hundred or more miles from our farms. At times we worked out from Moosejaw, but not in the town itself. The brothers there took care of preaching in town. However, they did not have transportation to go preaching outside the town. We did, and so took care of the rural areas.
Of what did our transportation consist? Well, another brother and I that teamed up in the preaching work used a Ford that I had. We remodeled it, mounting on the back a canvas-covered frame, eight by six feet, for living. In that car we could live for weeks at a time and accomplish our ministry far from home. In it we carried all the literature we needed, as well as food and other supplies.
Our preaching work was very enjoyable. People in these rural areas were always glad to see anyone, as prairie life was a lonely one. Once in a while we would meet a rabidly opposed person, but not very often. Our work consisted mainly of calling on the people in their homes and leaving Bibles and Bible-study aids. Then, as they developed interest, they would associate with the small congregations in the area.
CALLED TO BETHEL
Later I moved to Michigan, in the United States, where I was born. I was in the full-time ministry at the time of the assembly held by the Watch Tower Society in Detroit in 1928. There I met the president of the Society at that time, J. F. Rutherford. At this assembly he issued a call for service at Brooklyn Bethel, the headquarters of the Society. During the interview, he asked me: “Do you think that you could stand the hard work that is done at Bethel?”
Why was that a very appropriate question, in my case especially? Because in 1928 I was already fifty-three years old. I had been born in 1875. So my age was decades above the usual age for Bethel applicants. But to his question, I replied positively, “Yes, sir.” However, he corrected me by gently saying, “By the Lord’s grace”—the gentlest rebuke that I ever received from man.
I am sure he remembered the incident, for one day at Bethel as I was working, I felt a friendly pat on my back. When I looked around it was Brother Rutherford, passing by on one of his inspection tours. He seemed pleased that I was able to keep up with the hard work and that he had not misplaced his confidence in me.
Since coming to Brooklyn Bethel over thirty-seven years ago I have had many privileges. The first three years I worked on just about every floor of the factory. Eventually I was assigned to run a printing press. Then, about 1931, I was put in the office to do bookkeeping and stayed there for nearly twenty years. After that, another job awaited, caring for those whose subscriptions for the Awake! and Watchtower magazines had expired. Along with several others, I handled notices that are sent out to the congregations so that those who do not renew can have a minister make a personal call to encourage them to keep up their study of God’s Word. In spite of my deep-seated arthritis, I am still able, at ninety-one years of age, to care for this task.
Am I able to carry on any preaching work now? Not from house to house as I would like, although I was able to participate in that feature of the ministry until I was eighty-five years old. Then for a few years after that I was able to do the street-preaching activity. But in the past three years I have not had the health to be able to perform that either.
Then how am I able to preach? By letter! I get names and addresses of interested persons from the congregation in the form of those expired subscription notices that I help to work on during the day. To these persons I write letters of a page or two and also send literature. My theme in all these letters is the kingdom of God and his righteousness.
Also, to keep up-to-date spiritually, I attend meetings on Monday night, Tuesday night, Friday night and also on Sunday. In this way, though well advanced in years, I have the spiritual strength to give back, in some small measure, what Jehovah asks of those he has blessed with his truths.
Some inquire how I have been able to endure the hard work of the past nearly five decades. The answer must come in the matter of motive and dedication. It was a matter of pleasing either myself or of pleasing Jehovah, as far as I was concerned. I felt that Jehovah had given me the truth in the first place, so he had the right to ask back certain things of me. If I accepted the truth, then I should be willing to give back what he asks. So my motive in life after dedication was to please Jehovah first, and I have tried to do this.
What has helped very much, too, is that I have reflected continually on Jehovah’s promises and have had complete faith in his Word that he would straighten out all of man’s affairs in his due time. With this full confidence I could endure in the work regardless of what was required, because I knew full well that in the end Jehovah would make everything work out for the best interests of his servants, including me. Yes, with a willing spirit, putting God and his requirements first, anyone can give back humbly what God asks of him.—Mic. 6:8.