Pioneering—a Way of Life
As told by John T. Hemmaway
MY WIFE and I are now in our seventies, elderly it is true, but possessed of a wealth of memories that we cherish and delight to pass on to those who will follow. (Ps. 78:6, 7) Why are these memories so precious? Because they have to do with things we were privileged to do by the undeserved kindness of Jehovah, “the Master of the harvest,” and his fellow worker, Christ Jesus. Would you like to hear about some of them?
It was back in 1922, in the difficult post-World War I years, that my quest for some explanation of world turmoil led me to the shelves of our home library. I was drawn to a set of books with silver lettering entitled “Studies in the Scriptures.” I had often seen them before, but now I decided to read them. And, do you know, I found in their pages just what I needed, what I wanted most in life.
My next step was to inquire for the meeting place of the Bible Students, as Jehovah’s witnesses were then known. At the conclusion of the first meeting that I attended, there was a call for volunteers, and that very next Saturday I was out assisting in the distribution of booklets dealing with the Scriptural views on the dead and spiritism. That marked the beginning of a satisfying life that has produced untold spiritual rewards.
It was in that sane year that I met my future wife, Daisy Manning. We do thank Jehovah for his kindness in keeping us together and permitting us to enjoy a life of teamwork in his service.
In that decade of the 20’s there did not seem to us to be many who were paying attention to God’s message for that time, but since then we have learned that there must have been many thousands who, in that period, commenced a life of dedication to God. Since entering the full-time preaching activity as “pioneers” in 1924, we have come to know and love many of them. Others we are looking forward to meeting at that grand assembly of “the congregation of the first-born” mentioned at Hebrews 12:23.
In 1928 we left England for America to attend the international convention of Bible Students in Detroit, Michigan. We learned that there was much territory to cover with the Kingdom message, and so decided we would continue our pioneer ministry on this continent. After temporarily serving with the Watch Tower Society’s Canadian branch in Toronto, we applied for entry into the United States as permanent residents. From then on we pioneered or worked full time preaching God’s kingdom in county after county and state after state until we had covered some thirty counties in eight states.
SOLVING PIONEER PROBLEMS
Yes, pioneering has its problems, but at least they do not include a grumpy boss, or unpleasant fellow employees, or bad work conditions, or work that is distasteful. The full-time ministry or pioneer service in those days kept one on the move, for it was mainly covering the territory with Bible literature, and stopping briefly to help people organize their own family Bible study. We had to be ready to make many moves and cover vast distances.
We had heard that some pioneers were cutting down on expenses by building their own home on wheels, so a fellow Witness from Youngstown, Ohio, helped us to build one. It was nothing like the streamlined mobile homes of today. In fact, motorists had other names for it when they wanted to pass us on the road. It was seventeen feet long, seven feet wide, and the roof about seven feet from the ground. The roof was made of an old sail and the sides were of galvanized sheets, the whole mounted on an old Ford chassis. For almost fifteen years it served us as home, and certainly made it possible for us to stick with the full-time ministry.
At Matthew 7:7 the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures uses the forceful verb forms “keep on asking,” “keep on seeking,” “keep on knocking.” Many pioneer ministers can relate that it has been necessary to do just those things when looking for a place to stay in some strange town. After searching and asking all day and on into the evening, it would usually happen that the only appropriate place in the community was finally located. Without persistence and trust that Jehovah through his angels was and is directing the interests of his Kingdom-preaching work on earth we would tend to give out easily.
RELIVING OUR EARLY PIONEER DAYS
Among the most thrilling experiences of our lives is the study of the Watch Tower Society’s publications “Then Is Finished the Mystery of God” and “Babylon the Great has Fallen!” God’s Kingdom Rules! Why? Because as we read in them the historical facts that have been fulfilling the visions of the apostle John in the Bible book of Revelation, we actually relive events that we observed personally and in which we participated as full-time ministers.
In our early years, remember, all the congregations of Bible Students were made up of those who had a heavenly hope, who hoped one day to enter heaven as part of Christ’s Bride class. (Rev. 21:2) But then, true to the Bible prophecies, the “other sheep” specifically mentioned by the Lord Jesus began to make their appearance. (John 10:16) A happy encounter with just this kind of people comes to mind.
It was in Clinton, Indiana, where we had prison experience in 1934. We were warned to get out and never return with our house-to-house preaching of God’s Word. But the Society thought differently, and we were assigned to go back. This time things turned out very differently. An elderly couple, well known to the town officials and the townspeople, having read about our case in the newspaper, came with a property bond to set us free. We had never met them before, but, true to the description at Matthew 25:35, 36, they did visit us in prison and they did extend hospitality to us until our case was settled.
We have observed, too, the foretold great speedup in the Lord’s great ingathering of sheeplike persons. What once took years to accomplish now takes but a few months. For example, a farmer we called on early one summer morning was up in his cherry tree, but not so high that we could not talk to him. The question of “hellfire” came up, as it often did. As he himself later declared: “While I was up in that tree I was a believer in ‘hellfire,’ but when I came down I was no longer a believer.” That night he came in search of us ‘just to see what kind of people we were.’ The following Saturday he was on the street with us holding up The Watchtower to passersby. He never looked back. Both he and his sons entered the pioneer ministry, preaching God’s truths full time.
Then more recently in Kentucky we had another joyous experience. We were preparing some land for our home close by the highway. We would be out there between six and eight each morning. A State trooper turned in one morning, faced his car to the road, the engine still running, and then came over. “I’m just curious about what you are doing,” he said.
The conversation soon turned toward the Bible’s message and, with one eye on the highway, he listened. He confessed that his being in a position to have to kill someone in line of duty or for self-protection was a matter on his conscience. He resumed his patrol, but came back later, and a study was arranged for both him and his wife. They made excellent progress. In due course he resigned from the force and is now at some other job in Texas, with a clear conscience. His wife was baptized recently, and he may follow her soon, we hope. They write to us as though we were closer than relatives.
Time would fail me to tell of all the wonderful things that have happened as a result of making the pioneer ministry our way of life. Time and again at assemblies we have people come up and say: “Don’t you remember us? You were the first ones to bring the message of the Kingdom to our door.” And if we had not been pioneers we would not have had the privilege of being appointed to the “zone service” in 1938. That service is now known as “circuit work,” for it involves visiting a circuit of congregations as special representatives of the Watch Tower Society, with a view to aiding those congregations to progress in their service to Jehovah.
It was in this field of activity that we observed at first hand the marvelous expansion of the Kingdom interests and the inception and growth of many new congregations, especially after the appointment of overseers and ministerial servants in the congregations in a theocratic manner. Until then appointments had been made in the democratic manner of each one voting for his choice. Imagine what a long way we have come from those beginnings of theocratic organization to the present time, where we now have the invaluable handbook “Your Word Is a Lamp to My Foot,” and the monthly paper Kingdom Ministry, filled with suggestions for our ministry.
PIONEERING IN FOREIGN FIELDS
With the death of the Society’s second president, J. F. Rutherford, and the election of its third president, N. H. Knorr, an era of expansion and ever greater privileges came for those who had made pioneering their way of life. What next opened up for us was the opportunity to attend the Fifth Class of the Society’s Gilead School for missionaries. Upon completion of the five-month study course, we were assigned to British Guiana. How exciting! Yes, and how satisfying!
To sit down on the dirt floor of a palm hut and talk to the Hindu or Amerindian folk about God’s kingdom, teaching them a really new way of life, gives a satisfaction that is beyond compare. Seeing those humble people respond to Bible teaching and then willingly dedicate their lives to God is an experience that will never fade from our minds.
While in Guiana (now Guyana) we usually spent so-called vacation periods witnessing to all we could meet in the bush of the Northwest District, 200 miles from the coast and bordering Venezuela. The inhabitants were Caribs and other Indian tribes, besides the mixture of six nations that make up the bulk of the country’s population. Ferries, steamer bus, train and truck were used as required to get to our destination. With us went provisions, literature, personal baggage and a bicycle—this last being essential for traveling the dirt roads to reach the Indian trails.
These trails lead in all directions and a person must use his memory or break off some twigs at the junctions of paths if he wants to be sure of a safe return. When any member of the cat family is encountered on the trail, it is customary to stand perfectly still and stare it down. Eventually the creature moves quietly out of one’s way. Monkeys pass high in the treetops, screaming their protest at intruders, while the sloth, hanging upside down, will eye a person lazily as he passes by. One does not stop to pet him, for he has vicious claws, and that appearance of slow motion is just a cover-up. Here and there in the clearings one may get a glimpse of colorful toucan birds feeding on the fruit of the papaya tree.
As we look back, something that stands out in memory is the eagerness with which people came long distances to see our film of an international convention of Jehovah’s witnesses. Picture for yourself a large compound in the forest, where official buildings, including the police station, were located. Here, outdoors, we had a great crowd of eager viewers. Then on the steamer, during the return trip downriver, on one occasion, there was a popular demand to see the film. With the captain’s approval the screen was set up on deck and the projector was operated from a cabin window. Catholic and Anglican priests were on board. Though they had not condescended to see the film on land, they were now, perhaps unwilling, viewers on board. Indeed, it was from their cabin that we ran the film. The passengers later plied them with questions that only one of Jehovah’s witnesses could answer.
Our fifteen years in Guyana passed all too quickly. There, too, we had many evidences of the Lord’s blessing on the pioneer way of life, for we saw multitudes beam their appreciation of God’s grand message of hope for all peoples. Ill health forced us to return to the United States, but we had seen the number of Kingdom preachers in Guyana grow from 50 to 800, and there are now well over one thousand joyous proclaimers of Jehovah’s name in Guyana.
Yes, our way of life as pioneers has been filled to the brim and overflowing with the greatest joys, joys undimmed by the selfishness of secular life. We are grateful for the measure of health and strength we still retain, enabling us to carry on in the joy-producing pioneer ministry. Our way of life has helped us to feel a close personal relationship to Jehovah God and his Son, Christ Jesus.
Surely to the youth, to the unencumbered in all congregations of Jehovah’s people, the call is loud and clear! The call to the pioneer way of life is urgent. Those who will respond and work diligently during the years immediately ahead will have the great satisfaction both of doing Jehovah’s will and of laying up a store of precious memories that can be related to the children of the resurrection. If you do not have such memories, you certainly cannot relate them.
“Jehovah is the portion of my allotted share and of my cup. You are holding fast my lot. The measuring lines themselves have fallen for me in pleasant places. Really, my own possession has proved agreeable to me. I shall bless Jehovah, who has given me advice. . . . I have placed Jehovah in front of me constantly.”—Ps. 16:5-8.