Pursued by Goodness and Loving-kindness
As told by Janet MacDonald
ON A spring day in 1911 my mother and I were working in the kitchen of our home in Belleville, Ontario, Canada. A knock came at the door. Mother answered. There stood an elderly gentleman who posed to her a strange question: “Madam, do you believe in schisms?”
A little astonished, mother asked: “You mean in the churches?”
He answered: “Yes. I am speaking of divisions in the Christian churches. Do you believe Christ can exist divided?”
“Please come in. This is something that concerns me,” mother responded. I can still see him by our kitchen table, Bible and books before him, earnestly discussing the Scriptures with her. When the visitor left, mother had accepted from him the Bible study aid The Divine Plan of the Ages in magazine form.
ACCEPTING JEHOVAH’S GOODNESS
At that time I was eleven years old. I had listened carefully to the discussion. Little did I realize that this was the first link in a chain of events that was to shape the course of my life over the next sixty years. That was a most momentous day: the day Jehovah’s goodness entered our home.
My parents were Anglicans. Mother was an ardent Bible reader. We were taught to reverence God. My father too endeavored to be governed by right principles. Mother was not satisfied with the Anglican church. She was disturbed about some of the doctrines and practices, such as hellfire and partiality being shown wealthy members of the church. In searching for God’s truth, she attended virtually every church in Belleville, only to be disappointed.
After she got the publication The Divine Plan of the Ages, mother read it eagerly, proving each point carefully with her Bible. In a few days she said to us: “This is the truth. This is what I have looked for and prayed for. God has answered my prayers.”
Within a few weeks the International Bible Students, as Jehovah’s Christian witnesses were then called, held their first meetings in Belleville. Mother took three of us children to all three talks. I was deeply impressed as the speaker made plain the blessings of the thousand-year reign of Christ. Though young, I treasured these truths in my heart.
Thereafter, regular meetings began to be held twice a week. Joseph Frappy, a schoolteacher who lived in Stirling, sixteen miles away, conducted them. In summertime his handsome black trotting horse would bring him and his wife in a high-top buggy; in winter, bundled up in warm buffalo robes, they would skim across the crisp snow in a cutter or light sleigh. Sleigh bells ringing clear in the frosty air would announce his arrival. He was so glad to come; nothing deterred him!
ENDURANCE IN THE FACE OF A CLERGYMAN’S FALSEHOOD
At first my father opposed these Bible truths quite vehemently. He was ordinarily a kind man, but his Anglican clergyman influenced him to believe wrongly that C. T. Russell, the Watch Tower Society’s president, was using religion to make money. Father would burn my mother’s books. Mother continued unwavering. If something happened to her literature, she got more.
Father’s bitterness was so intense that by 1917 he became very ill. There was nothing organically wrong, but his anger, especially at mealtimes, had poisoned his body. His weight dropped drastically.
Just at this time, shortly after the death of C. T. Russell, the local newspaper reported that his personal estate had been only $200. Father at last realized that the virtual ruin of his family life and of his health had come from accepting the falsehood told him by the Anglican clergyman.
At the doctor’s suggestion mother and father went away to a cottage to regain his health. While there she read to him aloud from the Watch Tower Society’s publications. He recognized that the Bible Students were teaching God’s truth. There was no more opposition; he recovered his health; happiness returned. What a change to have meetings in our home: Jehovah’s goodness manifest again!
BAPTISM AND EXPANDED PRIVILEGES
In August 1916, I had attended the Watch Tower Society’s convention in Niagara Falls, New York. It was there I symbolized my dedication to God by water baptism. C. T. Russell gave the baptism talk. He spoke to each of those being baptized, individually, and was very encouraging.
A few months later a grand privilege opened up to me, the “Auxiliary Pioneer Work,” which required putting in a minimum of sixty hours a month preaching God’s Word to others. I enrolled, and for 1916 and early 1917 my work was done chiefly in Belleville.
In 1917 the book The Finished Mystery was released. After covering the town of Belleville with this publication, I traveled by train to surrounding towns to distribute The Finished Mystery.
While making this offer in Picton, I met a man who said: “I am a clergyman. I have preached against you people before and I will do so again.” Although only seventeen years old at the time, I feared Jehovah and with deep concern replied: “I would be afraid to do that, sir, lest God would strike me dead.” Not long afterward I met one of the parishioners of this clergyman. She told me she left the church during the sermon he preached against the Bible Students as “I did not like what he was saying.” Thus she missed a sobering incident. While attacking Jehovah’s people from his pulpit, the clergyman died. The newspapers announced his death was from a heart attack.
We were giving the book The Finished Mystery a fast circulation. Then the blow fell: On February 12, 1918, Canada banned the book The Finished Mystery. The press announced: “The possession of any prohibited books leaves the possessor open to a fine not exceeding $5,000 and five years in prison.”
As soon as we heard this we carried our supply of the book to the chicken coop. We placed newspapers in between the walls to keep the books clean, and packed them in and nailed up the boards. The next day the town constable came and asked my father if there were any copies of this book in the house, to which he replied “No.” The supply in the chicken coop remained intact until the ban was lifted in 1920, after which they were all retrieved and distributed.
PREACHING IN QUEBEC
In 1924 I was invited to enter the preaching work in the Province of Quebec. I worked first in Montreal, where at the time there was only one small congregation. In Quebec the joys increased, and so did the persecution. One of our early assignments was to distribute a resolution released at the Columbus, Ohio, convention in 1924. The resolution in tract form was entitled “Ecclesiastics Indicted,” and it exposed the death-dealing quality of false religion.
Following the routing set out by the Society, we went to many towns such as Granby, Magog, Asbestos and others in the Eastern Townships. To avoid opposition, we started distributing the tract from door to door at 3 a.m., and by seven or eight o’clock, when the town was active, our work would be finished. Several times we were arrested by the police, who tried to frighten us out of town. An example was at Magog, where the police took us to court. No charge was made, but we would have to pay $15 to get out. We said we did not have $15, so they reduced it to $10. We said we did not have $10, so it was reduced to $5. We said we did not have $5, so they let us go.
At Coaticook, we ran into more serious trouble in May 1925. A mob led by the head knight of the Knights of Columbus surrounded us and tried to force us into a truck. We ran to the railway station and took refuge in the waiting room. The stationmaster saw the mob approaching and locked both doors. They milled around, waving their fists and pounding on the window. Soon the leader of the mob came back with the police.
We were arrested and taken to the town hall, where a court was immediately convened. We were charged with “publishing a blasphemous libel” because of the criticism of the clergy. The only witness called was the local Catholic priest. We were taken to Sherbrooke and locked up overnight in a filthy, vermin-infested jail, where I was so badly bitten that I required treatment for several weeks.
The trial came up on September 10 before Magistrate Lemay, who decided to follow the law. He said: “There is here no blasphemous libel and I dismiss the complaint brought against the accused.”
TO THE NORTH
In 1926 I began to serve in the mining district of northern Ontario and Quebec. The roads were bad, and there was limited development, but what an exciting place to preach God’s Word! We visited mining camps, bunkhouses, anywhere people could be found. Jehovah’s loving-kindness was such that we would sing as we traveled between calls!
Much of the time we traveled by train. When we left one town, the priest would often get our destination from the ticket agent. Then he would wire the priest at our destination to warn his parishioners. If we arrived before the warning, we would likely find much interest; if after, there might be open hostility.
After several days with every town forewarned, my companion and I got to a hotel in Larder Lake, out of money. But after offering the literature to a man at the hotel, he took it and made a contribution of $10. Our hearts overflowed with gratitude at the way Jehovah’s goodness pursued us. We went to the next town, Rouyn, Quebec, where in two weeks we placed over 1,500 pieces of literature. Truly a time of rejoicing!
We next came to the town of Amos. Here the people had been warned by the priest to have nothing to do with us, but this time the warning backfired. It stirred up more interest, and in about an hour all my books were gone, and I had to hurry back to our room for supplies. I remember one storekeeper who wanted to appear antagonistic, yet at the same time he was anxious to get the Bible study aids. There were customers in the store, so loudly he said: “NO, I WOULDN’T BE INTERESTED.” Then under his breath, he said: “They look very interesting. Just put them on the counter.” Loudly he said: “TAKE THEM AWAY, I DON’T WANT THEM HERE.” In a low voice: “I’ll leave the dollar on the counter. Just take it and walk out.” Such experiences and many unexpected kindnesses made one want to help these naturally humble and hospitable French-Canadian people.
MARRIAGE AND CONTINUED FULL-TIME SERVICE
In 1928 at Timmins, Ontario, I met Howard MacDonald, an enthusiastic young man serving with the congregation there. We were married that year and continued on in the full-time preaching work together. Our first assignment was to cover a two-hundred-mile area between Sudbury and Sault Sainte Marie, Ontario, including both cities. Life in the Canadian northland was hard but interesting. Our days were happy. We would usually camp wherever night found us. Our needs were few, but our blessings abundant! We generally camped out till the middle of November, when the cold days necessitated our finding warmer accommodations. Four happy years were spent in this area.
After working five years in Montreal, we returned to Sudbury in 1937. Here we met two Irish Catholic priests who seemed to feel they were the law. While Howard was playing a phonograph record with a Bible message entitled “Rebellion” to an Italian lady in Coniston, the local priest entered the home uninvited and ripped the record from the machine. He slammed it on the table, and when it did not break, he took it and two other records and walked out.
The priest then laid a charge of “blasphemous libel,” and our truck, literature and belongings were seized. At the trial Priest McCann remarked: “It burned me under the collar [running his finger under his collar for emphasis] to see that good Catholic woman listening to a record that advocated rebellion.” The record actually dealt with the rebellious course taken by Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden.
The case was dismissed, but the next day Howard swore out a charge against the priest for theft of property. The priest pleaded guilty and was ordered to pay for the records, and he was put on suspended sentence for a year. His embarrassed church moved him out of the district.
However, opposition did not end. The next Sunday Priest O’Leary in Sudbury spoke in his church about Jehovah’s witnesses and advised his parishioners to “kick them down your steps even if you break their backs.” We were told by many Catholic people that this hate had “split their church in two.” Righteous-hearted people were not in favor of violence. And Priest O’Leary? He was relieved of his duties, an article in the local paper saying that he was being given an ocean voyage for nerve trouble.
In 1940 my husband was a zone servant, traveling to various congregations of Witnesses to encourage them and build up their spirituality. Then on July 4 that year a ban was placed on the work of the Witnesses throughout Canada by the Roman Catholic Minister of Justice at Ottawa. We learned that the police were hunting for our Bible literature to destroy it. A Witness whispered to Howard: “A big shipment of books and Bibles has just arrived at the railway station. The freight agent is friendly. If we can get it out of there by noon today, he won’t have to notify the police. It is hidden in a corner covered with a tarpaulin.”
Without hesitation Howard and I went with him in our panel truck to get the literature. Hurriedly we loaded the truck till it practically groaned, and then drove into the country. Now what? The Witnesses were all well known, so their homes were likely to be searched. But one of the Witnesses had a sister who lived on a farm. Could we trust the literature to one not dedicated to God, especially when she had an alcoholic husband?
We did not have much choice: the lady was friendly and agreed to our leaving some boxes in her basement, so the truck backed up to the house and the boxes were carried in. Neighbors assumed that the alcoholic husband was getting his winter supplies. The Bible publications remained there safely until the ban was lifted and they could be used to spread the good news of God’s kingdom.
BACK TO QUEBEC
After the ban on the unincorporated society of Jehovah’s witnesses ended in October 1943, we went back to Quebec. In this province during the years 1944-1946 there were, almost every day, arrests, mobs, prosecutions and harassment of the Witnesses. After reviewing the mountain of injustices committed against Jehovah’s people, the Watch Tower Society released the leaflet entitled “Quebec’s Burning Hate for God and Christ and Freedom Is the Shame of All Canada.” The leaflet unmasked the Quebec government and its priestly masters. Maurice Duplessis, Premier of Quebec, called for “war without mercy against Jehovah’s witnesses.”
Daytime and nighttime the leaflets were distributed. We flew around the countryside over the cold winter snows, often with the police in hot pursuit. In the middle of the night a carload of Witnesses would dash into a village with a supply of leaflets. Each of us would run to the assigned houses, deliver the leaflets, dash back to the car and away we went! While the police were searching that village, we would be on to another.
The frustrated police then raided the Kingdom Hall in Sherbrooke and took everything they could lay their hands on. Nine of us were charged with seditious libel. When we were bailed out, we obtained new supplies and went right on with the work. There was no stopping.
Then the Society issued the second leaflet, Quebec, You Have Failed Your People! This was a reasoned reply to the government’s overreaction to the Burning Hate leaflet. Out went the second leaflet the same way as the first: Speedy nighttime activity; more cat-and-mouse games with the police. Those were exciting days!
The seditious-libel cases dragged on till 1950. Then the Supreme Court ruled that the Burning Hate leaflet was not seditious. The seditious-libel charges, including those against us, had to be dismissed.
In 1951 Howard and I returned to New Brunswick, where I have served for most of the past twenty years. My faithful companion, Howard, died in 1967, after we had served together in the full-time preaching work for thirty-eight years. He was always steady, cheerful and unfailingly courageous in the face of problems.
The loss was very hard for me. But my Christian brothers were kind and helpful, and I kept busy in Jehovah’s service. It has been a blessing. Jehovah has comforted my heart.
My hair has now turned white and at seventy-one years of age my steps have slowed somewhat. But what a happy, rewarding life it has been! Jehovah has crowned my life with loving-kindness, as he has mercifully permitted me to continue in the work I have loved. Never for a moment have I regretted the wise course taken in my early childhood. Confident in Jehovah, I join in David’s thankful expression: “Surely goodness and loving-kindness themselves will pursue me all the days of my life.”—Ps. 23:6.