“In the Sovereign Lord Jehovah I Have Placed My Refuge”
As told by Isobel Foster
OUR home was situated in the lush green hills and pleasant valleys of Ireland, and there I was born on January 15, 1880. While still very young I lost both father and mother. Our guardian uncles decided to give us girls lots of religious training, and so enrolled us in an Episcopal parish school.
Though each schoolday opened with Bible reading and some explanations by the teacher, I was seldom quite satisfied with what she said, though my love for the Bible continued to grow. And we did learn many passages of the Bible by heart. Often, when some little problem arose, I would go quietly to the Lord in prayer, recalling his promise to give help and protection.—Ps. 27:10.
As soon as I was old enough, I followed my now married sisters overseas, and took up the nursing career in Canada. When I graduated I moved to New York to take up practice there, caring for private cases, either in their homes or in hospitals.
A THIRST-QUENCHING DRINK
During all the years I was in New York I did not contact any of Jehovah’s witnesses, though there was a congregation in Brooklyn, as I learned later. I returned to Winnipeg, Canada, while World War I was still raging, there to take up a business course and obtain employment with the provincial government. It turned out that my landlady was one of the Bible Students, as Jehovah’s witnesses were then known. I was not at first aware of this and she was timid about telling me.
Finally, one day she got up courage to inquire what I thought about where people go at death. I told her I did not know, that I knew they would not get to heaven until after the judgment, that I did not believe in hellfire, and that I would surely like to know the whereabouts of the souls of the dead. She quoted me scriptures to prove that we are souls, that sinful souls die, and that at death the body returns to dust and the spirit or breath of life returns to God who originally imparted it. (Gen. 2:7; Ezek. 18:4; Eccl. 12:7) That settled the question for me. My churchgoing ended right there. It was like finding a freshwater spring amid the desert.
In early spring of 1918 I was baptized in symbol of my dedication to serve Jehovah. Now truly I had ‘placed my refuge in the Sovereign Lord Jehovah.’ (Ps. 73:28) This stand was soon to be put to the test, for under the pressures of World War I the Christian work of Jehovah’s witnesses and their literature were placed under ban. We had to meet in secret, and carry only our Bibles. This, however, proved to be beneficial, for we had to be prepared to answer all study questions from memory.
During the ban we used to go out at dawn and put Bible tracts under doors. Also, we watched for opportunities to do incidental witnessing. Later, when the ban was lifted, we had the joy of a new instrument for spreading the good news, namely, the Golden Age magazine (now known as Awake!). I went all through the building there my office was located, obtaining subscriptions from most of the department heads.
EXPANSION WORK BEGINS
Cedar Point, Ohio, in 1922, was my first big assembly. What a joy it was to learn that ‘spirit of life from God had enabled his witnesses to stand upon their feet and prophesy’! (Rev. 11:11) When, during the main discourse, President J. F. Rutherford of the Watch Tower Society read the scripture: “I began to hear the voice of Jehovah saying: ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?”’ the whole assembly answered as one man: “Here I am! Send me.”—Isa. 6:8.
From then on the expansion work really got under way. Every weekend we organized car groups and traveled to towns and villages far out around Winnipeg, there to witness to the people. There was opposition, but often this just resulted in arousing curiosity, and people read our literature and learned the truthful message of the Bible.
I began to think about giving my whole time to the preaching ministry, for I could see that the field was ripe. Fellow workers in the government office described such a move as going into a work with no future in it. Not a bit dissuaded, I finally enrolled in the full-time service as a pioneer minister and bade good-bye to my “secure” government job. That was over forty-one years ago, and I have never once regretted the step. Jehovah has surely proved to be a refuge for me.
A CHALLENGING CAREER
My full-time preaching ministry as a pioneer began in Iowa in 1926. Later that year I was joined by my present partner, and together we preached the good news in isolated areas in seventeen different states and in so many counties that I have lost count. We had an old car, but even so we rarely saw any other Witnesses from one year to the next. A special treat was to attend the annual celebration of the Lord’s Evening Meal with some congregation and join in singing the praises of our God.
Among the memories I shall always cherish are the kind, encouraging letters we received from the Society. They always knew where we were, and this thought alone was a great comfort to us. And how we needed this backing! In one Mississippi county, for example, the mayor sent word to us by the marshal that we could not continue our work without a license. The mayor was superintendent of the Methodist Sunday School. We explained that our work was not commercial, and despite threat of arrest we went on as usual. We recalled that the first-century Christian ‘obeyed God as ruler rather than men.’ (Acts 5:29) We were arrested and placed in a hastily cleaned cell by a shamefaced jailer.
The trial date was continually postponed until we insisted on a hearing, for we had no intention of desisting from our God-given service. Accused of peddling without a license, I testified on the witness stand that I was no peddler, but an ambassador for the Lord. We were declared guilty and sentenced to a fine or five months in prison. The case was appealed to the District Court, but when it came up the following winter the judge refused to try it and “remanded it to the file.” Anyway, a swarm of Witnesses from Memphis descended upon that county and thoroughly witnessed to its inhabitants without further interference.
Often the territory was so isolated that many roads were not even on the map. One day in the Blue Ridge Mountains we inquired if a certain side road led to a little town we wanted to reach. The answer was Yes, without further elucidation. So, off we went, but soon noticed that the road became steadily worse until it was no more than a narrow shelf against the steep side of the mountain. The sheer drop to the valley looked to be about half a mile. When we got down to the valley beyond, the man at the filling station asked how we got there. We pointed to the road, and he exclaimed: “You didn’t! It is dangerous even to walk that road!”
During depression years we had to barter Bibles and other literature for food items such as vegetables, fruit, eggs and even chickens. When it was chickens, we even had to catch them ourselves at times. I will not go into detail as to how we did it; but one thing we can say, the leghorns were the worst! Also, we had to travel long distances over washboard roads, sometimes as much as sixty miles round trip. We would start at dawn and not get back until after dark. Yet with all these experiences we did maintain our sense of humor and never once thought of quitting.
Then came special pioneer work in 1937. This meant our going into unassigned towns or towns where the congregations of Jehovah’s people needed help. We shall never forget the kindness of our Christian brothers in a New Jersey city to which we were first sent. They extended generous hospitality and helped us to find an apartment. And then how delighted we were to be getting regularly to meetings again and enjoying the fellowship of our brothers and sisters in the faith!
In 1939 we were privileged to be present in Madison Square Garden, New York city, when the Watch Tower Society’s president, J. F. Rutherford, delivered his powerful lecture on “Government and Peace” in spite of the determined efforts of mobsters to break up the gathering. Their yells and jeers failed to drown out the lecture, which proceeded to its grand climax.
In 1943 my partner and I were assigned to work in cooperation with the Boston, Massachusetts, congregation, and we have had the satisfying experience of seeing it grow and divide and subdivide, until now there are ten congregations in the area. Meantime we often wondered about the effects of our service in the many isolated areas we covered. Well, imagine our joy to receive a letter, forwarded by the Society, from a Witness in the deep south who wanted to let us know what our calls meant to her and her family! The year after our last visit, when other Witnesses arrived, they were ready for baptism—father, mother, and grown son and daughter. They soon sold their property and became pioneer ministers.
I am now infirm, but as I still do what I am able, I am continually reminded of the many blessed privileges that Jehovah has granted me through the years. How happy I am that I followed the wise course of the psalmist and could say as he did: “In the sovereign Lord Jehovah I have placed my refuge”!—Ps. 73:28.