Striving to Serve Jehovah from Childhood On
As told by Ruth Cannon
GENOA, Italy, where I now live, is a long way from Montana. But many years have passed and much has happened since my early childhood. I was born in 1928 and grew up on a small ranch within view of the majestic Rocky Mountains. The widely known Yellowstone Park is only a few hours’ drive from there.
One sunny spring day a young man came to my parents’ ranch and introduced himself as one of Jehovah’s witnesses. He spoke with mother and offered her a book explaining the Bible, but she sent him to see father in the garden. Father could not seem to decide whether to take the book or not and left the decision up to mother. Finally, the book Deliverance was accepted.
My parents were firm believers in God. Though they were members of a Protestant church they gradually left off going to church services, for they found no comfort there. They figured they were not good enough to go to heaven, and that left as an alternative only the fiery hell that had been preached to them so often.
When they were shown a real hope from the Bible, their joy was great. They began to learn the actual condition of the dead, that they are as asleep and not in torment. (Acts 13:36; Eccl. 9:5) And that was but the beginning, for they went on to learn that they had been taught many false, unscriptural ideas. In time they began studying that first book they received, as well as other publications of the Watch Tower Society. They also subscribed for The Watchtower and The Golden Age (now known as Awake!).
In the course of time they heard that a Watchtower study was being held at the home of a family nearby. They began to attend, and, of course, I was taken along. My parents never thought otherwise than that I should be there with them.
It was not long before they began taking part in the work of preaching the good news of God’s kingdom, much to the surprise of relatives, neighbors and friends. Eventually, they dedicated their lives to God and were baptized. That was about the time when I reached school age.
As I look back on those times I can recall something that really impressed me. Special traveling representatives of the Watch Tower Society used to come and visit our little group. They were busy people, and, I feel sure, often quite tired. But nevertheless they always took time to speak to me. It made me feel as if I was a part of what was going on.
During school years I also became active in the preaching activity. This was when we used to use phonographs and records, which we would play for people wherever convenient—on the doorstep, in the living room, out at the barn, in the open field, and so forth. Then, too, we had longer, one-hour lectures that we could play to people on a return visit. It was wonderful how this method of preaching aided many to grasp the Bible truths!
A CAREER WITH A FUTURE
Several Witnesses were engaged in the preaching work full time as “pioneers” at Billings, Montana, quite near our ranch. Association with them from time to time awakened in me a strong desire to serve Jehovah with all my time and energy. In 1941 my parents allowed me to spend my vacation working with this group of pioneers. The following year I finished school and was baptized soon thereafter. It seemed to me that nothing could be more urgent than to serve Jehovah.
My first assignment, upon my appointment as a pioneer, was at Livingston, Montana. Later, I moved to Miles City, Montana, where a family of Witnesses provided me with all the comforts of home. In due course I wrote the Society about obtaining a partner and the possibility of being assigned in territory where there was greater need. That resulted in another move, to Saline County, Nebraska, where my young partner lived. We stayed at her parents’ home, where once again I experienced fulfillment of Jesus’ promise that we would gain many parents and brothers and homes as a result of devoting ourselves to his service.—Mark 10:29, 30.
Since gasoline was rationed, we did a lot of walking, particularly up long lanes to the farm homes. And another difficulty was that of coping with dogs, for every farm seemed to have one or two watchdogs, some of them none too friendly. However, I never did run into any real trouble with them.
In course of time my parents sold the ranch and joined me in Nebraska, where they also took up the pioneer service. When they obtained a trailer home, we were able, all three of us, to move to another town where our activities were needed—Lincoln, Nebraska. Due to illness they were unable to continue, though they did encourage and help me to do so.
PREPARATION FOR EXPANDED SERVICE
It was in 1947, while attending the “All Nations Expansion” Assembly in Los Angeles, California, that I made out an application for service at the Society’s headquarters or “Bethel,” as it is known. I had long hoped I might be privileged to serve there. About a year passed, and then, to my great surprise, instead of a response to my Bethel application, I received an invitation to consider applying for enrollment in the Society’s Bible School of Gilead. That meant training for foreign missionary service.
Though I did question very much my ability to complete the course, I filled out and submitted the application anyway. It was accepted, and in August 1948 I became a student in Gilead’s Twelfth Class. I had had six years’ pioneer experience. Now I was to gain a much greater appreciation of the organization of Jehovah’s people. I was to learn many new things from the Bible, things that would strengthen my faith and my determination to go on serving Jehovah with all of my time and faculties.
I was one of a group chosen for an assignment in Italy, so that meant studying Italian along with our other courses. The months sped swiftly by, and then came graduation and preparations for our ocean trip to Italy.
It took ten days by ship from New York to Naples. When we arrived we could see the ravages of war here. Conditions were far from what they are now.
Our group traveled by train to our territory assignment in Sicily. On its way the train was almost derailed when it hit a cow on the track, but nobody seemed to be too concerned. Rather, many were interested in hearing about our work when they heard that the purpose of our mission was to teach the Bible. Many came to our compartment to hear more.
It was a wonderful experience to be at last where we could put our limited Italian to work. Little by little it became easier to speak with people who showed interest in our message. Of course, the territory was quite different from what I had been used to out in the U.S. West. As in cities everywhere, many of the people in Italy live in tall apartment houses, seven, ten or more stories high, with several apartments on each floor.
At first we had little problems with the language and customs. For example, children would often answer our knock at the door, and when we asked if “mamma” was at home we would get no audible answer. This happened time and again. We knew they understood the word “mamma,” but why the absence of a response? On closer observation it came home to us that it was all a matter of gestures. A slight jerk of the head and a sharp click of the tongue, without a word, was saying: “No, she is not at home.” So, as we had learned at Gilead, gestures are important.
The Kingdom work has progressed marvelously in these intervening years. When we arrived in 1949 there were only a few hundred Witnesses, and at assemblies everyone seemed to know one another. But year after year the organization has grown, so that the total attendance at the Memorial celebration in March 1970 was 45,884—more than 10,000 over 1969’s attendance. And in the month of April there was a 28-percent increase in the number of active Witnesses over the previous year.
And we can see the vast difference in the people. There is now definite interest in the Bible, and almost every family has its copy. Some years ago almost no one had even read the Bible or owned a copy. So our calls are now more interesting. We can encourage people to read their Bibles in conjunction with the study aids we have to offer.
THE PAST AND THE FUTURE
During those years I have served in Italy I have enjoyed many blessings, outstandingly the blessing of having had a small share in the vast expansion of the Kingdom interests. Assignments have taken me to city after city in various parts of the land, and my memories of each assignment are precious. Some of those with whom I have studied the Bible have now dedicated their lives to Jehovah also and been baptized. Some are even in the full-time preaching work and others have gone on to greater privileges in the theocratic organization of God’s people.
Then, I enjoyed the marvelous privilege of attending several international assemblies, notably those in New York in 1953 and 1958. And in 1969, by reason of the generosity of fellow Witnesses and the provision of the Society, I crossed the ocean again and had the great joy of visiting my family and attending the “Peace on Earth” International Assembly. At every such assembly we have been built up and strengthened to persevere in the service of our God, having always before us the fine lead given by Jehovah’s “faithful and discreet slave” class of modern times.—Matt. 24:45-47.
As I look back to early childhood I cannot but think of the generous way that Jehovah has dealt with me. By his direction my parents not only accepted the Bible’s message but also took time to train me according to its divine principles. They encouraged me to take hold of the pioneer privileges, and that, in turn, prepared me for the added responsibilities of the missionary field.
I can also be very thankful for the multitudes of true Christians with whom I have associated and who have all aided me to mature in the ministry of Jehovah. I particularly have appreciated the comradeship of my missionary partner, with whom I have spent so many happy hours and years. I do hope that we may continue this precious relationship for many years to come. Certainly as this old system nears its end there appears to be much still to do and the time just does not seem long enough. But we can be sure that Jehovah will crown his work with success.
If it is Jehovah’s will it is my earnest desire to stay in this assignment, which has become like home to me, and to continue on in his service forever. It will be wonderful to be one of his full-time servants in the new order of things now near!