Offering Myself Willingly
As told by Malinda Z. Keefer
I AM eighty-three years old but very happy. My happiness arises largely from the fact that over fifty years ago I offered myself as a willing volunteer in the full-time service of Jehovah now called the pioneer ministry. From that time till now I have liked to think of the words of the psalmist: “Your people will offer themselves willingly”; and how grateful I am that I offered myself willingly as a pioneer!—Ps. 110:3.
I was born in Eden, Pennsylvania; my parents being of the old-order Amish faith of Lancaster County. These Amish folks are very plain in their way of living and dress, and some of them still travel about with horse and buggy.
Due to my father’s death when I was four years old, our farm was sold; and in time I went to live with my sister on a Lancaster County farm, where one could enjoy the beauties of God’s creation. Often I would stroll through the apple orchard, so beautiful in the spring, with the tree trunks whitewashed and the branches just filled with fragrant pink blossoms. “What a wonderful Creator and Provider!” I would say to myself; but in the Amish Church I was taught that someday all these things God created would be burned up. I was also bothered by the teaching that the wicked would suffer forever in torment. This all seemed so unreasonable, and was this really what the Bible taught?
I was always interested in the Bible and longed for a better understanding of God’s Word, but it was not until the year 1906 that I came in contact with the Bible’s truth. My brother-in-law, knowing my love for the Bible, gave me a copy of one of Charles T. Russell’s printed sermons entitled “Where Are the Dead?” Great was my joy in knowing that the Bible taught that the dead are asleep and not conscious somewhere in torment. This was just the beginning of the light that would shine in my life brighter and brighter. How happy I was to learn that the earth and its beauty would never be destroyed! I was willing and eager to learn more of God’s Word, and how grateful I was to Jehovah for letting me see his truth!
LEAVING THE AMISH CHURCH
Others in the same Amish church began to see God’s truth. But some said we were going crazy on religion. When my brother-in-law handed me The Divine Plan of the Ages, the first volume of the Studies in the Scriptures, he said, “If you don’t want to be called crazy, don’t read it.” Of course, he knew I would read it, as he was eagerly reading it himself. I was reminded of what Festus said to the apostle Paul: “You are going mad, Paul! Great learning is driving you into madness!” Paul said: “I am not going mad . . . but I am uttering sayings of truth and of soundness of mind.” (Acts 26:24, 25) I, too, had to make my mind over to God’s will and way for true Christians, and at that time I discarded the Amish garb I was then wearing.
The Amish minister called different times to get me to come back to church. When I knew the day of his coming, I would get up at three o’clock in the morning to study my Bible so I could defend the truth, as the apostle Peter said Christians should be always ready to make a defense before everyone that demands a reason for their hope. (1 Pet. 3:15) For me the Bible was now a meaningful book.
There was quite a stir in the church when, not just I, but twenty-four other persons also left the Amish Church. The rules of the Amish Church are that if one leaves the church the members must not eat with him. I was shunned by them in many ways, but no intimidation or fear of man could turn me back from offering myself to Jehovah as a willing volunteer for God’s work. Jehovah had now shown me a new way of life. How well I remember the last time I went to church, and Revelation 18:4 (AV) kept going through my mind: “Come out of her, my people,” “Come out of her, my people.” That I did.
I began meeting with a little group of Bible Students, as Jehovah’s witnesses were then called, and there I learned more of Jehovah’s wonderful purposes. The activity we engaged in then was the leaving of tracts, copies of The Bible Students Monthly, at the doors on Sunday morning in the hope that some would read them and seek further knowledge of God’s Word.
OFFERING MYSELF AS A PIONEER
However, this limited activity did not satisfy me, as I wanted to share full time in the service. I was willing, but how could I get started in the colporteur work, as the pioneer work was then called? A way was opened up. On June 1, 1907, a few others and I went to Pittsburgh to hear Brother Russell, the Watch Tower Society’s president. I talked to him of my desire to enter the full-time service but said that I felt in need of more knowledge. His reply was, “If you want to wait until you know it all you will never get started, but you will learn as you go along.” Then he told me of a sister in Ohio who wanted a companion. While waiting to hear from her, arrangements were made for me to stay in Pittsburgh. Here I was—just a little country girl in a big city! Yet I was mindful of the blessings Jesus foretold for those who offered themselves willingly: “Everyone that has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands for the sake of my name will receive many times more and will inherit everlasting life.” (Matt. 19:29) I will never forget the encouragement I received and the kindness shown me by the Watch Tower Society’s headquarters family.
All arrangements were now made, and I was on my way to Zanesville, Ohio, my first assignment in the pioneer ministry. My prayers were answered, and I could say with the apostle Paul that a large door that led to activity had been opened to me, and through this door I willingly entered.—1 Cor. 16:9.
I had never met the sister I was to work with; but when I did, she showed me much kindness and help. Now, through the strength of Jehovah, I was knocking on my first door to explain Bible truth to others. Little did I realize that this would be my privilege for fifty-nine years! What a privilege from Jehovah!
I was now looking forward to my first convention, to be held in Niagara Falls, New York, August 29–September 5, 1907. What a thrill it was to be there with so many others of like faith! It was my first opportunity to symbolize my dedication by water baptism. The Watch Tower of October 1, 1907, described that baptism: “It was decided to use a lagoon or bye-water off the Niagara River for the water immersion, and hold the service on the bank where the hillside formed a natural amphitheatre. An audience of about 1,500 gathered at the appointed hour, and after an address explanatory of the true baptism and its water symbol, 241 were immersed.” What a joyful time that was!
I will always remember that Niagara Falls assembly also for the talk given by Brother J. F. Rutherford, later to become the Watch Tower Society’s president. He gave a convention talk on the importance of prayer, and it was especially helpful to me to know that Jehovah always provides the help we need, if we look to him. It certainly was true, as The Watch Tower described that convention: “As for spiritual profit and manifestation of the Master’s love we cannot imagine how it could have been improved upon—but this was true also of the Indianapolis convention and others. It seems true of our conventions . . . that ‘The last always seems the best.’” And that has been true with the many other assemblies I have attended.
My next pioneer assignment was in the State of Delaware and along the eastern shore of Maryland, where we found the people very friendly and much literature was placed. Later, in 1914, we went back to work the same territory, during World War I. In a small town in Delaware my companion and I were taken to the office of the Justice of the Peace by a secret service man. The office door was locked and the secret service man asked many questions. We showed them the purpose of our work. Eventually the Justice of the Peace pulled out the fourth volume of the Studies in the Scriptures, entitled “The Battle of Armageddon,” and said he had read it and found nothing wrong with it. They decided to let us go. We were thankful to Jehovah to continue in the service during those trying times.
The pioneer work has taken me into fifteen states. While working around Williamsport, Pennsylvania, I met Nathan J. Keefer, who was reared in a Christian home. When I met him he was congregation servant of the Williamsport congregation. He was also a member of the Brooklyn Bethel or headquarters family of the Watch Tower Society for several years. In 1928 Nathan and I were married, and then we enjoyed our willing service together.
In 1929 came the financial collapse and depression; banks were closed. During a depression could we make ends meet? We never doubted, knowing that Jehovah was our Provider. It was a joy to bring the good news of the Kingdom to the depressed people in the southern state where we were working. There was very little money to be had. We could often trade a five-cent booklet for a spool of thread. We also traded our Bible literature for soap coupons, vegetables, eggs, chickens, and so forth. One day a chicken got away from us and it struck out for home across a plowed field, but it had to be captured, and it was, as it was needed for a trade-in on gasoline for our car. We pioneered in isolated territory most of the time.
SPECIAL PIONEER PRIVILEGES
In 1939 the door of activity opened still wider. The Watch Tower Society asked Brother Keefer to serve as a zone servant in Virginia and West Virginia. This involved visiting about twenty small congregations in the area. It was a real privilege to work with these friends and we were like a big family. When the zone work ended, we became special pioneers.
Our first assignment as special pioneers was in Harrisonburg, Virginia. A Watchtower study was started with the interested ones, and we celebrated the Memorial of the Lord’s death with this little group in the spring of 1942.
Our next assignment was Mahanoy City, Pennsylvania, a mining town of many languages. This was the last assignment for Nathan and me together, as he passed away before we finished this assignment. Many times, as we would be leaving friends, he would say, “Keep up the good work!” I felt he would say the same to me, and this I was willing to do with the help of Jehovah.
In 1943 the Society assigned me to Trenton, New Jersey, with ten other special pioneers. There were about twenty publishers in Trenton at that time; now there are four congregations. I was glad to have a little share in this expansion.
After serving there as a special pioneer for twenty years, with blessings too numerous to recount, my eyesight began to fail due to the development of cataracts; so in 1963 the Society gave me an assignment in my home territory, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.
There have been a few problems over the years, but by my sticking close to Jehovah’s organization they soon melted away. My one cataract has been removed and the operation was successful. I am still offering myself willingly as long as this door of activity remains open to me. And, while putting Kingdom interests first, I have never lacked any of the necessities of life.
Jehovah’s provisions have been so wonderful all down through the years, and the encouraging letters I have received from the Society from time to time have been a great blessing too. My years of pioneering have been full of joy and blessings. In recent months I have had to conserve strength and so now devote most of my ministerial time to making back-calls and conducting home Bible studies. I am presently blessed with some good studies and find great joy in teaching these sheeplike ones God’s truth.
Now, at eighty-three years of age, I have enjoyed fifty-nine years of pioneering. How thankful I am that I offered myself willingly as a pioneer when a young woman and always put Kingdom interests first!