Honored to Serve with Jehovah’s Progressive Organization
AS TOLD BY JOHN BOGARD
JULY 1893, about three or four miles from Amsterdam, Holland, was the time and place of my birth. My parents had a hard life trying to make ends meet for a family of five children. Both contracted consumption, and by the time I had reached the age of thirteen we children were orphans. I can well remember seeing my mother waste away in bed throughout two full years, from 160 pounds down to little more than 75 pounds. The doctor could do nothing beyond easing her condition from time to time.
A memory I cherish is the reverence with which my mother viewed the name of the Creator, Jehovah. It was a name by no means strange in our home. Outside the home circle, however, all I can recall is troubles, injustices, and not a little narrow-mindedness. When we children were left parentless we were scattered: the two girls to live with the people for whom they worked, one brother to help on the farm of an uncle, the youngest to live with grandmother, myself to hire out with a farmer for room and board and a weekly pittance of ten cents.
While mother lived she always insisted that we go to church every Sunday morning. With wooden shoes all freshly whitewashed we had to sit there for three or four hours in the clammy cold while the sermon droned on and on. Meantime the collection plate would be passed around at least three times. That preacher did not do so well, for I recall that he took his own life by jumping headfirst into a deep well. We certainly gained nothing from his sermons.
Now I was a farmer’s boy, thirteen years of age. I had to get up at four o’clock each morning and start milking and feeding the cattle, with lots of other labor until six or seven at night. On Sunday morning the farmer took me with his family to church, and then I was free the rest of the day until milking and feeding time in the evening. By the time I was sixteen I had already worked for three different farmers.
Then came a great change. One of my sisters accepted an invitation to come to America and work for someone in California. Soon afterward she met a man who asked her to marry him, and they moved to Alberta, Canada, settling on a tract of 160 acres, under the Canadian Government’s provision for homesteads. They wrote me and offered to pay my fare to Canada if I would come and help on their farm. Gladly I accepted, and in 1910 I was on my way across the ocean.
World War I broke out and normal conditions were no longer possible. One preacher, I can recall, declared that if there were nine young men in his congregation who would enlist, he himself would be the tenth. So, early in 1916 I signed up with the Canadian Engineers and was shortly after moved to England. There I stayed for three years, for they found that my eyes were defective. I was made a sergeant of police, escorting bad boys and deserters between prison and the Engineers unit, as well as sharing in sports events for the entertainment of the troops.
We had to attend regularly the religious meetings and listen to an army chaplain, all decked out in officer’s uniform, telling us that if we would carry on as good soldiers we would become part of the vicarious atonement for the sins of the people. To me it was positively nauseating, bringing back memories of childhood when we had seen so much hypocrisy and little of real loving concern for widows and orphans.
Of course, as soon as I was demobilized I hastened back to Canada. As a returned soldier, I was able to get preference over civilian applicants for government jobs. One of my first jobs was a government contract to run a mail and passenger route between Peace River and Dunvegan in Alberta’s Peace River region. Since the distance was 166 miles and was made with horses, we could make it only once a week. It gave plenty of opportunity to talk to passengers. Well do I remember one passenger, a spiritualist, telling me all the things of a strange order that he had seen and heard. I made up my mind to investigate his beliefs sometime when there was opportunity.
Then there was the man who told me about reading seven volumes by Charles T. Russell of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He told how, when the books were banned, he used to go out into the woods and read for hours. What specially interested him was one entitled “The Battle of Armageddon.” He wondered what side he should take when it came.
Finally, I gave up the mail route and decided to go to Edmonton, where my brother now lived with his young family. I figured that I would have a better chance to investigate spiritism and also look further into Russell’s books, which were published by the International Bible Students Association. When I arrived at my brother’s home, things seemed to have changed. His wife and two boys were quiet and reverential. My brother was on night shift, but before leaving for the job he asked if I would like to join them in a word of prayer. ‘What is wrong with him?’ I wondered. Still I did not connect the change in his home with my objective—to find out more about the Bible Students.
Next day was Sunday and the family got ready to go to a meeting. I got ready also, and traveled the same streetcar they were on but continued for a couple of extra stops before getting off and asking direction to the Bible Students’ meeting. It was a most enlightening lecture, and when I got back to my brother’s place I was all ready to talk about it when I found that he was already discussing the same lecture with his wife. You can imagine the great joy we had when we realized that we had heard and thoroughly enjoyed the same lecture. My brother, it seems, had already been studying the Bible for about a year.
I quit my job on the railroad for a few months and took up going to meetings and studying regularly. By the winter of 1923 I reached a goal I had set before myself—I was dedicated to God and to doing his will. In April the railroad wanted me to go back to building bridges, but now I wanted to use my time in the service of God’s kingdom. I wrote to the overseer in charge of the Edmonton congregation of Bible Students—by this time I was located some 65 miles northwest of the city—and requested some literature to distribute. To my disappointment he sent only a few little booklets, which I soon passed out. I wrote back immediately, enclosing a check for $30 and asking that he send me that much worth of literature right away.
There was then real satisfaction in taking the publications to the people in that little town, seeking to interest them in what the Bible has to say about the urgency of our time. The reactions were varied, sometimes rough but often very good. Then came word that there was to be a big convention in Edmonton and that J. F. Rutherford, then president of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society, would be giving the public lecture. Meantime the Edmonton Bible Students had told the Society’s president about the man who had sent in for $30 worth of literature. He wanted to meet this man. So in July 1923 I was introduced to him and he asked if I would like to come to the Bethel headquarters of the Society in Brooklyn, New York. When he told me that there was plenty of hard work to be done there, I accepted the invitation with eagerness.
A WONDERFUL NEW LIFE
Although having studied with the Bible Students for only about eight months, I soon realized that serving with Jehovah’s progressive organization was the answer to many things. Now I could serve unselfishly so that multitudes of others might receive enlightening Bible literature. An accurate knowledge of God’s purposes as set out in the Bible helped me to understand so many of the puzzling things that I had experienced, the cold and narrow-minded people I had encountered in youth, the army chaplains who advocated killing, the mysteries of spiritism and the passenger with his dilemma about Armageddon. All these things now became understandable in the light of what the Bible teaches.
Later I became well acquainted with Kathryn Harris, who had already served six years at the Bethel headquarters, and it seemed good to us to travel on together as man and wife through whatever the future would have in store for us. With President Rutherford’s permission for us to remain at the headquarters we were duly married, and have since enjoyed many happy privileges together in Jehovah’s progressive organization. It was wonderful to live through those momentous years in the Society’s headquarters. We received a clear vision of the division between Satan’s worldly organization and God’s. We gladly participated in accepting the name Jehovah’s witnesses in 1931. We have seen Jehovah’s “other sheep” separated to the right side of Christ’s favor and coming in their multitudes to serve under God’s arrangement. (John 10:16; Matt. 25:31-33) Surely ‘our cup has been well filled.’—Ps. 23:5.
In 1937 it was our privilege to receive an assignment to serve at the Watch Tower Society’s farm, called Kingdom Farm, near South Lansing, New York, where we continued for six years. After fifteen years of city life it was a real change to get out into the fresh country air and be able to carry on, sharing the privileges with our fellow workers at the headquarters office. Here we had the pleasure of seeing the vital produce shipped in regularly to maintain the health and strength of all serving at the Brooklyn Bethel.
One might expect things to be always peaceful in the country, but in 1939 circumstances arose in the Kingdom Farm area that showed the Devil was fighting hard to disrupt the organization and halt its publication of the Kingdom good news. For weeks there were ugly rumors that gangs of fanatics were forming with the avowed purpose of converging on the farm and vandalizing it. Finally, one day an old man who regularly passed the farm told us we could expect visitors that night who intended having some “fun” with us. We immediately notified the sheriff and the state police, and it is well that we did.
About six o’clock in the evening the gangs started to gather, one car after another, until there were thirty or forty carloads. The sheriff and his men arrived and began stopping the car drivers and examining their licenses and warning them against any move against Kingdom Farm. They kept driving back and forth along the highway fronting our property till late into the night, but the presence of the police kept them on the highway and frustrated their plan to destroy the farm. It was a most exciting night for all of us there on the farm, but we were reminded vividly of Jesus’ assurance to his followers: “You will be objects of hatred by all people because of my name. And yet not a hair of your heads will by any means perish.”—Luke 21:17, 18.
STILL MOVING AHEAD
Jehovah’s progressive organization still marches on. In 1943 the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead for training of missionaries to serve in foreign fields was due to commence February 1. Changes were being made and it turned out that we were among those now reassigned to serve at the Brooklyn headquarters of the Society. What a privilege! And we are still here, having rejoiced to see the organization grow from small beginnings to the point where the regular staff here now numbers over eight hundred, reminding me of what the prophet of God foretold: “The little one himself will become a thousand, and the small one a mighty nation. I myself, Jehovah, shall speed it up in its own time.”—Isa. 60:22.
I am sure the greatest bank account in the world cannot bring the satisfaction that we have enjoyed and still enjoy in the glorious treasure of service that God has granted to us. As we look around at the happy and busy organization that Jehovah has brought together in these “last days,” we are reminded that this is in fulfillment of God’s promise: “The righteous himself will blossom forth as a palm tree does; as a cedar in Lebanon does, he will grow big. Those who are planted in the house of Jehovah, in the courtyards of our God, they will blossom forth. They will still keep on thriving during grayheadedness, fat and fresh they will continue to be to tell that Jehovah is upright. He is my rock, in whom there is no unrighteousness.” (Ps. 92:12-15) Association with His progressive organization has kept us young in mind and spirit. May Jehovah himself be praised.