Minister on the Move
As told by Angelo Catanzaro
I HAVE been a minister on the move ever since 1947. In that year the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society assigned me to be a circuit overseer or traveling minister, to visit congregations of Jehovah’s Christian witnesses, to build them up and encourage them. But I am just one of about two thousand traveling overseers in various parts of the world. I would like to tell you about our work.
For one thing, we travel a great deal. My assignments have taken me into forty-two states of the United States, starting first in Georgia. Since we do so much traveling, you may wonder just where we stay.
HOME AMONG MANY FRIENDS
My wife and I stay in homes of our Christian brothers, who gladly share with us whatever facilities they have. In big cities we often have stayed with people who have just three rooms. And they frequently insist that we sleep in their bed while they sleep on the couch.
Once we stayed in the home of one of our Christian sisters whose husband was Jewish and not a Witness. He was impressed by the fact that we were so happy, and yet not paid a salary like the clergy of Christendom. In this town of Portsmouth, Ohio, there was a small Jewish group, and a rabbi would come to conduct services for them. But he insisted on a guaranteed payment of $75 for the one-hour service that he conducted. Additionally, he received the donations obtained that day at the services.
So, in view of all this, the Jewish man in whose home we stayed could hardly believe that, not only would we stay in private homes, but we also did our work without a salary. Each day he would ask me to relate experiences that we had in our house-to-house preaching work. And repeatedly he remarked that he knew that his rabbi was working for money, not for love of God and the congregation.
When it came time for me to give a public talk that week, this Jewish man asked: “Aren’t you going to invite me to hear your sermon?” He attended the talk and has been regular in attending meetings of Jehovah’s Christian witnesses since.
Sometimes we have been invited to stay in homes where the people were not Witnesses, although they showed interest in the Bible’s message. In Ardmore, Oklahoma, we spent a week with such a family. Both husband and wife were chain smokers who read much of the night. Cigarette smoke would waft its way around our bedroom door and awaken us at night. But before we left in the morning and after we returned from our preaching activity, they would ask us many Bible questions.
Well, six months later, at an assembly, this couple were among those getting baptized. No longer did they smoke, and they were feeling much better, as praisers of Jehovah. During our stay with them this man and his wife had been deeply impressed by our reliance upon Jehovah and by our referring them to the Bible for the answers to life’s problems.
SHARING THE GOOD NEWS
When visiting a congregation of Jehovah’s witnesses, my work involves a good deal more than giving Bible talks to the congregation. Much of my time is spent in working with my Christian brothers in the house-to-house preaching work. I am able to share my experience with others, and I too learn by observing the methods that they use in reaching honest-hearted people in the community with the Bible’s message. So we get mutual benefits by working with our Christian brothers.
I have shared in the preaching work with persons of all ages. Recently I went along with a ninety-three-year-old woman who is in the full-time preaching work. I also worked with a four-year-old. In the latter case, I told the householders that the youth with me was practicing to be a preacher, and ‘there is something he wants to tell you.’ He then handed them a handbill, inviting them to a public Bible discourse.
When we talk to the people about God’s kingdom and the coming righteous New Order of things, we often hear comments such as: “Why is it that our clergy have not told us these things?” I have met many persons who admit that their ministers, priests and rabbis have failed to give them a solid hope. Often they complain that all the clergy seem to be interested in are money and personal comforts. It impresses such householders that, without cost, we are bringing them God’s Word and a grand hope.
Since we travel so much, we preach to people of all kinds. Accordingly, we need to discern what is the best way of helping various people. Often we find it desirable to get householders to express themselves by our asking questions. But not all persons can readily be drawn into conversations in that way. For example, we have preached on Indian reservations out West, and though most Indians do not say much, they watch and observe. We have found that we are able to help the Indians most by befriending them and showing them that we are really interested in them. They soon learn that the Witnesses show no partiality with regard to race and nationality, but have proper respect for all.
On the other hand, there are persons who readily wish to express their viewpoints. If we were to ask them questions and not listen to their views, they would resent it. For example, I called at a home and a doctor came to the door and we discussed today’s decline in morality. When I asked him whether he thought there was a solution, he expressed his views, talking for quite some time without any outstanding remarks from me. When he concluded, I found areas of agreement. Toward the end of our discussion, he said that he especially appreciated that my companion and I had allowed him an opportunity to speak. He took four Bible study aids, and arrangements were made to call back on him.
In big cities, such as New York, we find that many people are fearful and seldom open their door for strangers. Nevertheless, we endeavor to express a few thoughts from the Bible, speaking to them, if possible, right through the peephole. They see us, but we do not see them—except possibly an eyeball.
On one occasion, when I talked to a lady through the peephole, she said that she appreciated what I read to her from the Bible but that she was not going to open the door. Yet she wanted the Bible study aid that I offered her. So she instructed me to put it into the mailbox. We returned a little later and the book was gone and a contribution was found in its place.
People often ask me how the work of Jehovah’s witnesses is financed and how I myself manage. The work of Jehovah’s witnesses, like that of the early Christians, is financed by voluntary contributions. Most of Jehovah’s witnesses support themselves by secular work. As a full-time circuit overseer, I receive $7 a month (formerly $5) from the Watchtower Society for personal expenses, if this is requested, also a modest sum once a year for clothing. But we are cared for, since our Christian brothers are very hospitable and kind. Like the apostle Paul, we are content with food, shelter and clothing.—1 Tim. 6:8.
Once in Indianapolis, Indiana, all of our clothes were stolen from our parked and locked car. But we were not left destitute. Our loving Christian brothers promptly saw to it that we were properly clothed.
At one time I appeared on a radio show in which the interrogator often tries to make people look somewhat foolish. After I remarked that I received $5 a month, he looked at my suit and said: “I could not afford a suit like that if I got $5 a month.”
“Well,” I explained, “the suit, the shoes, socks, shirt, tie—all of these were given to me by dear Christian brothers and sisters who know what work we are doing. We don’t ask for this. But as the Bible says, ‘the workman is worthy of his wages.’” (1 Tim. 5:18) After my explaining that we do our work out of love for others, the Jewish interviewer remarked that clergymen, including Jewish rabbis, could not get along the way we do.
Often, when answering questions, I have opportunity to explain that our purpose as Jehovah’s witnesses is not to make money. We are all working to help people to know Jehovah and gain His approval.
JOY THAT MONEY CANNOT BUY
While we appreciate all that our Christian brothers have done and are doing for us, yet the most important reason why we are doing this preaching work is that Jehovah has commanded it. It is an expression of our love for him. And in compensation we receive something better than money—the grand joy and satisfaction of knowing that we are doing what God wants us to do.
Sometimes I am asked what I have especially enjoyed in the circuit and district work. Well, I think that one of the most outstanding joys is seeing Jehovah’s blessing on the work we do. If we seek God’s guidance and blessing, instead of our fretting because something is not done in a way that appeals to us, God will bless our efforts with growth. (1 Cor. 3:6, 7) Seeing this growth brings us deep and satisfying joy.
Of course, the warmhearted hospitality we receive from our Christian brothers is a source of great joy too. In what other work could you travel virtually anywhere in the United States and receive the warmness, kindness and hospitality that we do? In almost any direction that we travel, in forty-two states, there is not a city where the Witnesses live that we would not be warmly welcomed to stop overnight and have a home in which to stay.
Then there is the joy of getting to know so many of our Christian brothers and sisters who have been loyal to Jehovah over the years. Many have stuck to Jehovah and his organization through thick and thin, and they are an inspiration to us. There is also the pleasure of seeing many thousands of newer ones, sheeplike persons, come into Jehovah’s organization in the areas where we serve, and our having some part in helping them to grow spiritually—this in itself is a grand reward.
It is true that our life is one that does not permit us to settle down anywhere for very long, but my being a minister on the move has brought me unbounded joys that money cannot buy.