Walking in the Way of Jehovah’s Reminders
As told by Don Burt
PERU is my present assignment. I have been serving here since the fall of 1954. It has been and is an exciting place to work. I have never tired of the country and there seems to be something new happening all the time. When I reminisce about my past, I often ask myself, How did you ever come to enjoy such a privilege as to be a missionary representative of the Watch Tower Society in this land of missionary opportunity—Peru?
It all began about 1932 when my grandmother sent my Presbyterian parents a book entitled “Life,” a red-covered book published by the Watch Tower Society. I was ten years old at the time, but I can remember how Mom took the book with her to church and showed the minister one of its many Bible texts. It was the one that said of God that he ‘did not make the earth in vain, but to be inhabited.’ (Isa. 45:18) Mom wondered how that harmonized with the church teaching that the earth was going to be destroyed at the end of the world.
Instead of answering her question, the clergyman said: “Where did you get that book? Get rid of it. It will only confuse you.” Evidently that was the wrong thing to say to my mother, for that ended any association we had with the church. Meantime, grandmother kept writing and sharing with us things she was learning about the Bible. Dad and Mom studied that red book with their Bible and always kept us kids up-to-date with what they were learning. We really felt that we had a part in what they were doing.
We lived in Leavittsburg, Ohio, at that time, and we knew of no other readers of Watch Tower literature in the whole area. Mom always wondered when one of them—“Bible Students” as they were then known—would come to our door. She seemed to be sure they would. And, sure enough, one eventually did come. He introduced himself as coming from Niles, Ohio, and began: “I am visiting you as a Bible Student and I . . .” Before he could go any farther Mom had him step right in. That Bible Student had contacted a willing family, all anxious to learn the Bible’s message and attend whatever meetings they could reach.
LEARNING ABOUT JEHOVAH’S REMINDERS
Though we moved, soon after, to Lake Milton, Ohio, much farther from Niles, this minister continued to travel the extra miles and conduct the study in our family circle. Bible study aids that we studied thoroughly at that time included the books Enemies, Prophecy, Reconciliation and Preservation. My parents were always very strict about having us kids come in from play to share in the study. We were also trained to do jobs around the home.
In due time a congregation of Jehovah’s people was formed at Newton Falls, Ohio, and Dad was appointed presiding minister or “company servant,” while I was “sound servant.” That meant that I was responsible to care for the phonographs and recorded lectures that we used in those days to introduce the Kingdom message in our door-to-door ministry.
I was a great reader, so Dad made it a point to furnish me with my own Bible, which I had soon read through several times. Thus, during the time when I was going through junior high and high school, Jehovah’s reminders were always there as a protection to me. (Ps. 119:9-16) I was guarded against evil practices and from the worldly thinking that keeps prodding people to “get ahead of the other guy” and “go out and make a place for yourself in the world.” I knew that Jehovah expected us to practice truth and justice and kindness.
The falseness and unfairness of the “Christmas lie” and its imaginary Santa Claus disgusted me. I can recall seeing the furtive glances of the poorer kids at the nice things other children had received. They had been told that “Santa” brought fine gifts only for good children. I grew to hate the whole hypocritical business, and my schoolmates knew where I stood, for I spoke up at every opportunity.
During my school years I applied myself to studies, for I knew that typing, English grammar and history would always be valuable. Good literature appealed to me too. But with all this I could not seem to reach any conclusion about a vocation. A thought that frequently came to me was: Where does God’s will enter the picture?
MY DECISION MADE
Developing world conditions helped me to make up my mind. In 1938 there were already premonitions of war in Europe. At times we heard over the radio the rantings and ravings of Hitler. Things looked dark. Dad, who had been involved in World War I, asked us boys what we would do in event of another war. He reasoned out the matter with us, but left it to us to supply our own answers. Both my brother Harold and I decided that we would be strictly neutral.
Soon I figured out that there was only one direction for me. Jehovah’s reminders were what I wanted to follow. So, I dedicated my life to Jehovah and at sixteen was baptized in symbol of that dedication. Soon after, Dad took us all to Cleveland to hear the talk “Face the Facts” by J. F. Rutherford, then president of the Watch Tower Society, broadcast from the Royal Albert Hall, in London, England, to forty-nine other convention cities in the English-speaking world. The speaker fearlessly exposed the Catholic-Nazi-Fascist combine, and when he got through I knew exactly what I wanted to do. I have never since then missed any large assembly of Jehovah’s people, nor have I resisted being guided by Jehovah’s wonderful reminders.
One such reminder came around December 1939 in the monthly paper called “Informant.” Its article “Can You Be a Pioneer by Springtime?” seemed to be directed especially to one in my circumstances. When I mentioned the matter to my parents, they were all for it. So I left school and started out as a “pioneer” or full-time preacher of the Kingdom on January 13, 1940.
ADJUSTING TO A NEW LIFE
That first year was admittedly difficult. I was anxious to acquit myself as a good representative of God’s kingdom at the doors. From the start I prepared my Bible so that I had a chain of scriptures for just about every vital topic. This helped me over many of the rough spots. I varied my introductions to fit the persons met at the doorsteps. At the end of each day I was all talked out, but supremely happy at being able to answer questions and explain God’s Word to inquirers.
During World War II it was difficult to obtain part-time secular employment in order to maintain myself in the pioneer ministry. However, at times fellow Witnesses offered me free accommodations. My parents and others took it upon themselves from time to time to supply me items of clothing. False pride might have taken me out of the pioneer ministry, but I kept in mind the apostle Paul’s words: “The workman is worthy of his wages.” (1 Tim. 5:18) As a result, though I have never had to ask for anything, I have certainly never lacked anything necessary.
‘COME OVER AND HELP US’
In harmony with the apostle Paul’s vision and invitation to enter new fields in Macedonia, I often wondered about parts of the field where there were no workers. (Acts 16:9, 10) Several of us pioneers got together and obtained assignment of entire counties where little had ever been done to preach the good news. Lawrence County, Tennessee, and Potter County, Pennsylvania, were covered in turn. I recall that while in Tennessee I got to thinking about volunteering for service at the Watch Tower Society’s headquarters or “Bethel.” I took the matter to Jehovah in prayer and put it in such a way that I would follow whatever path opened up for me. I would do the walking, but I wanted Jehovah to do the directing.—Prov. 4:25, 26.
What next happened? I received an invitation to be a special pioneer, spending 150 hours per month in the ministry and receiving modest monetary assistance from the Society. That was in 1943. Two other Witnesses and I were assigned to Canandaigua, New York. There in due time we organized a small congregation. We operated out of a three-room apartment. Each took his turn on cooking duty. We did our wash in the bathtub, using a “plumber’s friend” to stomp out our clothes. How fine it was on a cold winter day to come in from our field ministry to our warm room and catch up on personal Bible study while the cook for the day busied himself over our three-burner kerosine stove!
Then came another memorable experience. I was seated in the bathtub when my partners burst into the room waving a fat letter from the Society addressed to me. Anything from Bethel was big news to us, and this was particularly good news—an invitation for me to fill out an application for enrollment in the Society’s missionary school of Gilead. That following March 1944 I attended the Third Class of Gilead, and since then my life has been one grand experience after another.
My first assignment after graduation was not exactly a foreign one, but it excited me as much as though it were. I was assigned to visit and assist congregations in California and Nevada as a “servant to the brethren” (now known as circuit servant). I was a bit nervous about giving talks to congregations in the Bay area of San Francisco. Indeed, my first talk was supposed to be one hour and a half long, and it took only forty-five minutes to give it. Of course, improvement came with practice.
That Jehovah’s reminders are a shield and protection was often impressed on me. For example, I rode a bus to catch a train at Elko, Nevada, heading for California. During the bus trip I had been reading the book “The Kingdom Is at Hand.” When I reached the train it turned out to be mainly a troop train and it was more than full. Being on the small side, I crawled into the space between the back seat and the back of the car and lay down on some duffel bags. But sleep was impossible. The seat in front was occupied by two soldiers and a girl. The talk I had to listen to much of that night was surely in contrast with the fine information I had been reading.
A SPANISH ASSIGNMENT
Time was slipping by. A year and a half had passed since I left Gilead School and I kept wondering about my foreign assignment. When would it come? Well, shortly after attending a special meeting of traveling representatives of the Society in Salt Lake City, Utah, a meeting conducted by the Society’s president, N. H. Knorr, and one of the directors, T. J. Sullivan, I received my assignment for San José, Costa Rica. There I was to continue serving from congregation to congregation.
I remember one congregation had nothing for territory but jungle huts on both sides of the narrow-gauge railroad. Brother and Sister Spence and I took the train at early dawn for a few miles up the line, got off, and started our ministry work on foot back along the track. It was truly satisfying to be able to bring the message of the good news to those humble folk. And it was on one such occasion that I got my first taste of monkey meat for dinner. How heartwarming it was in later years to learn that Brother Spence attended Gilead School in 1961 for special advanced training in the ministry!
Next came an assignment to Honduras, a territory unworked by Witnesses as yet. Soon after I arrived in the capital, Tegucigalpa, in May 1946, President Knorr paid us a visit and announced the opening there of a new branch. I was to be branch servant, which meant that I must discharge all the services of an office and field staff on my own. A real challenge it was, but I rejoiced in the opportunity to serve.
Many are my happy memories of those days. For example, on one trip with some other missionaries to Roatán, Coxan Hole and Utila, islands just offshore from the port of La Ceiba, We could stand on park benches and give Bible talks to the island people, a really appreciative audience. Soon four wonderful years had passed, and we had witnessed marvelous expansion of the Kingdom interests.
The next assignment came swiftly, unexpectedly. Dear Edwin Keller, Spanish instructor at Gilead School, had passed away. I was invited to return to Gilead, this time to teach Spanish. This assignment lasted for three and a half years, commencing in December 1950. It was during this period that I suggested to one of those missionary-minded girls that we team up and go to a missionary assignment as husband and wife. Louise Joubert accepted my proposal and we made our plans accordingly. President Knorr invited us to go to Peru, and finally we were married in Lima in November 1954.
FOLLOWING THROUGH WITH JEHOVAH’S REMINDERS
One of our first assignments was Iquitos, near the headwaters of the Amazon River. It was hot and humid jungle country, but by the time several months had passed we had slimmed down to where we could tolerate the climate. Here we learned that one can get used to almost anything provided one gives oneself enough time. We helped to establish a congregation at Iquitos, and at times even ventured into Indian tribal territories with the good news of the Kingdom.
Later I served as circuit representative in the southern part of Peru, where I served congregations located some 14,000 feet above sea level, and where at times we traversed in turn the hot, dry deserts on the coast and the scenes of torrential downpours in the interior. Louise and I have walked up and down mountains; I have ridden burros, horses, or jolted along on homemade bus-trucks. We have forded rivers, come perilously close to the edge of dizzying precipices, and experienced sleepless nights in the rarefied atmosphere of the high Andes. We have fully appreciated the experiences of the apostle Paul as recorded at 2 Corinthians 11:26, 27.
One sleepless night I can well recall. We were visiting Urcos, just outside of Cuzco. We had run out of transportation. Inquiring for accommodations, we were directed to a one-story, thick-walled adobe room, called a “colectivo” hotel. It had four beds in it, one against each wall, each bed with its red clay pot underneath. There was no choice but to rent two cots. About 9 p.m. the other two beds were taken by two Indians. Between the chattering of Louise’s teeth and the snoring of the Indians, sleep was a long time in coming and far too short. In the icy cold of the early morning we lined up at the spigot and waited our turn to brush our teeth and wash up.
The pleasure and satisfaction of serving our Christian brothers and aiding humble persons to a knowledge of God’s grand purposes have always far outweighed every disadvantage. And perhaps one of the most thrilling moments was when the Society began to build its own branch office and missionary home in Lima. Since just before its completion in May 1961, I have been serving in this branch office, and now almost ten years later I can say that things are more exciting than ever. There are 13,000,000 people in this land, and an increasing crowd of them are thrilling to the sound of God’s good news for all peoples. It is our fervent prayer that we can go on serving Jehovah and aiding his sheep until he has accomplished his purpose.
With our loyal fellow Witnesses around the world we hope to be able always to confess to our God: “In the way of your reminders I have exulted, just as over all other valuable things.”—Ps. 119:14.
“They will bow down before you, O Jehovah, and will give glory to your name. For you are great and are doing wondrous things; you are God, you alone. Instruct me, O Jehovah, about your way. I shall walk in your truth. Unify my heart to fear your name. I laud you, O Jehovah my God, with all my heart, and I will glorify your name to time indefinite.”—Ps. 86:9-12.