‘For the Sake of Your Name You Led Me’
As told by Bert Horton
THERE are periods in everyone’s life that stand out. It is not always that they bring joy, for sometimes they bring the opposite. One such period for me was the year 1920. At that time I was a very perplexed and distressed man, seeing no letup in the dismal trend of human affairs. The future certainly did not seem to offer a contented life.
I believed in God as far as I understood. However, religion as I knew it was taboo for me. I looked for an alternative, but found none. Politics had a passing interest for me, but gave no real relief. Then I became secretary to a trade union, which in some ways I thought would absorb my discontent and allow me to help my fellowman. However, two years of this served only to confirm my conclusion that neither legislation nor any ideology could rehabilitate a very sick world.
THE YEAR 1922
By the year 1922 I had left my position as union secretary, and my life had become sort of a vacuum. My age was thirty, and I was now employed as a member of a fire brigade in Western Australia, “down under.”
But now for the better part of my story. In fact, I can say that the year 1922 stands out as a wonderful year in my life. How so? Because my mother had given me a book she had acquired entitled “The Divine Plan of the Ages.” Before I had finished reading that book I knew I had found the truth! No longer was I weary and distressed. Now I could really appreciate Jesus’ words: “Come to me, all you who are toiling and loaded down, and I will refresh you.” (Matt. 11:28) I was so glad to respond and so convinced that what I had found was the truth that I quickly resigned from all my old associations with politics and unionism.
My secular work afforded me much time for study and I enthusiastically absorbed all the good things God’s Word contained, appreciating very much the fine Bible-study aids supplied by the Watch Tower Bible & Tract Society. As I studied, I told my associates at work the wonderful blessings God had in store for mankind, and had the joy of conducting a Bible study right there in the fire station. Apparently my earnest confession of faith had an effect upon the other workers, for, while they had been inclined to ridicule before, now they listened with respect.
Up to this time I had no contact with any of the Bible Students, as Jehovah’s witnesses were called in those days. But then one day I had a visit from one when I was on duty. How glad I was to see him! I was so full of the truth that I did all the talking, having to tell him all I had learned! However, he was very understanding and easily recognized me as one who had newly found the truth.
I inquired if there were any meetings of Bible Students that I could attend. He said there were, and so I went to my first meeting where they were studying the publications entitled “The Time Is at Hand” and “The Finished Mystery.” I was entering into a new life and without any reservation I gladly associated myself with this little band of sincere Christians. What a happy day that was!
As the months passed quickly by, my mother and sister also accepted the truths of God’s Word as I had. Now the crucial time of my life had been reached. My appreciation for my heavenly Father had deepened enough for me to see the great step that I must take next. Consequently, along with my mother and sister, my baptism in symbol of dedicating my life to God followed in April 1922. We were baptized in very primitive surroundings—in a family bath in a miner’s hut!
Now my years were no longer weary. Instead, my heart was a fruitful field and my vocation gave me much time to preach. The experiences I had livened my spiritual outlook and I felt the urging of God’s spirit to do more. I realized that I must be a full-time servant of God. My decision was stimulated by a tract discussing the example Jesus gave of only one leper out of ten who came back and praised God when healed. I did not want to be like the other nine who did not.—Luke 17:11-18.
In all of this I could see Jehovah’s guidance. The Master said, “Go, preach” (Matt. 10:7), and my heavenly Father opened the way. How could I doubt it? My application to preach full time was sent to the Watch Tower Society and I received a reply asking me where I wanted to go. I replied: “Just where you want to send me.” It was such a rare commission and could not better be decided than through Jehovah’s visible organization on earth. I was again conscious of God’s leading.
The territory I was assigned to preach in was all of Western Australia, some thousands of square miles! I contacted another spiritual brother who was already preaching full time, and we decided to set out as did the disciples, without extra money or provisions. All the time we were conscious of God’s direction.
But we would need transportation for that vast territory. Where would it come from? I treasure this part of my story because it shows once again our heavenly Father’s care and guidance. A person who had been interested in the message of truth had left an amount of money to the local congregation to be used in preaching the good news in Western Australia. Our joy was overwhelming when we were informed that this money would be used to supply us with a van for our work! Surely this was God’s hand. So with this wonderful backing, who could dare doubt His leading? To me it was like Gideon’s fleece so well dewed from heaven.—Judg. 6:36-40.
With a good supply of Bible-study aids we sallied forth and copiously planted the seeds of truth. It was the beginning of greater things to come, for later other brothers would reap the fruitage. We covered that vast territory twice. Our zeal in the ministry was having a good effect, because it encouraged other brothers in the scattered congregations to give their lives full time to the ministry.
A NEW ASSIGNMENT
Then I received an invitation from the Watch Tower Society. Would I be prepared to take our van across the Nullarbor Plain to Sydney? That was a distance of about 3,000 miles, and that plain had no roads in those days! I had only one answer: I would do whatever Jehovah’s visible organization requested.
So through the sand tracks of the Nullarbor, with two other brothers, we went. The only mechanical casualties were broken springs and a few chassis bolts. It was more than a journey because we visited congregations along the way and gathered and recruited more full-time preachers as we went. Finally, we arrived at the branch office in Sydney. What now? First of all, I was given the privilege of representing the Society at the Melbourne convention. Then I was assigned as a traveling representative of the Society, visiting congregations and isolated brothers in Australia and New Zealand. It required much traveling.
In the years to follow I participated in street witnessing, church-door witnessing, preaching from door to door with the aid of phonographs, and the work with sound cars. At times of special preaching campaigns large numbers of full-time preachers and their partners, loyal congregation publishers, banded together to witness to specially assigned localities. Sometimes we met with opposition, but also with much joy, as up and down the land we went.
In the year 1936 I met my future wife. This has been another blessing to me, because I have had a faithful companion fighting side by side with me through the years since then. There have been times when, through ill health and toil, we had to put up a grim fight to keep an unbroken line of full-time service, but our heavenly Father has blessed our efforts right up to this moment. Surely he leads.
THE WAR YEARS
And now a change. World War II began and the conflict spread to our part of the world. As a result, persecution came. The preaching work in Australia was banned by the government. Properties were seized and the homes of brothers invaded. Literature was confiscated. So the work went “underground.”
Spiritual food in the way of printed information was hard to get, but the brothers had to be fed and God saw that they were. They were given their spiritual meat in due season, and not always by orthodox means. Jehovah filled the need and the truth filtered down through human links as a result of Christian love and service.
Toward the end of the year 1942 the war danger became serious, particularly in the northern part of Australia, as it was open to invasion. So the Society saw the need of getting the brothers away from the coastal areas. My activities now involved arranging for those living inland to open their homes to the brothers from the coast. And the brothers responded to a man! Yes, all could be accommodated. Although the invasion did not come, that activity provided a fine testimony to show that in difficult times brotherly love among true Christians abounds.
Under difficult circumstances assemblies were arranged in 1942. One was in the danger spot of Townsville in North Queensland. What about a meeting place? Halls were impossible to hire, so the brothers came with trucks and axes and foraged the bush for miles seeking building timbers. An interested person gave us a building site and we erected a hall that could seat everyone.
However, because of the critical war situation, the Society wisely decided that the assemblies throughout Australia were to be held in the homes of brothers. While we did not then use the hall, we still had our convention, the full program. Not one part was omitted. Our spiritual food, and our physical food, were relayed by the brothers from home to home!
After that, my wife and I had other assignments out west, constantly meeting up with military and police interference, being dogged with threats and interrogation. Accommodations were very hard to find, and often we were turned out of places. Yet, before the end of each day our heavenly Father always found some place for us to lay our heads, increasing our consciousness of His leading as we worked to magnify his name and purposes.
AND THEN BETHEL
Up to this time I had many changes. But then came one we did not even imagine. We were called into Bethel, the branch office of the Watch Tower Society in Australia! After sixteen years of full-time preaching and traveling, being called to the “house of God” proved to be a providential change our bodies needed. We could stay put for a while in one place. We also felt the need of the spiritual fellowship that Bethel provides. We had been giving out much spiritual food, and now we would be receiving even more spiritually.
While we were at Bethel, the government lifted the ban on our work. It was a glad day, just like returning from captivity. There was no more apprehension. However, the experiences the brothers had strengthened them and they could confidently anticipate future activities.
I have been at Bethel well over twenty years now. They have been years crowded and busy as I attended to my duties in the shipping department. I am happy to be here at Bethel, where I have experienced overflowing Christian love. I am also so grateful for its kindly discipline through the years. Also, I have been able, by God’s undeserved kindness, to attend to the duties as a school servant and as an overseer in a local congregation.
Although I travel no longer, I still have God leading me and pray for that guidance forever. My continued happiness will mean completing my ministry of praising Jehovah to the end and following wherever God decides to lead me.
There are letters of recommendation too; that is, individuals that have been the fruitage of my ministry in this harvesttime. They, too, are worshiping God at his “temple.” This has been an untold blessing to me and adds to my thanks to our Great Shepherd. I thrill when I see how copiously Jehovah is using these living letters of recommendation to share the burden of older shoulders by carrying on what we shortly will relinquish on this earth. They are reaping the seed previously sown in God’s field of cultivation, and even if I were only an onlooker I would rejoice. But thanks to Jehovah, I have had a share too.
The years from 1922 until now have seemed to me much less than “a watch during the night,” as Psalm 90:4 states. During that time I have received great blessings as I sought the leading of our heavenly Father in taking care of the Kingdom interests he gave to me. Now I want to continue to be a faithful steward to all eternity, knowing that the faithful God will lead me forever.—Ps. 31:3.