We Were Given a Goal in Life
As told by Russell Cantwell
I HAVE observed that few young people today really seem to know what they want to do with their lives. They have no particular career in mind, or any other goal toward which they are working. I am thankful to my parents that this was never the case with me.
My parents are still living, even though Dad is ninety-nine and Mother is in her eighties. Between the two of them they have spent over ninety years “pioneering,” as Jehovah’s Witnesses call the full-time Bible preaching activity.
It was back around 1908 that Dad and Mother began to study the Bible in earnest. One of my earliest memories is of seeing the Photo-Drama of Creation, which is a slides and film presentation of the story of the Bible. This was at the little country school where Dad taught in Arkansas. I must have been about three years old at the time.
In 1924, when I was four, Dad moved the family to east Tennessee. There he immediately began talking to the neighbors about his faith in God. The Kamer family was interested, and weekly Bible meetings were organized.
Another early recollection of mine is of visits of the “pilgrims,” as the traveling representatives of Jehovah’s Witnesses were then called. We three boys gave up our beds to our sisters and slept on the floor so that the visitor could have our sisters’ bedroom. The kind attention and encouragement these men gave us children left a wholesome, lasting impression.
IMPORTANCE OF SPIRITUAL MATTERS
By the way they taught us, as well as by the example they set, Dad and Mother left indelibly imprinted on our young minds the importance of Bible study and Christian association. An experience that I remember clearly well illustrates this; I was only about six or seven at the time.
It was a Sunday morning and, as we were walking to Kamer’s house for our regular Bible study, we were met by three carloads of relatives. Although Dad had not seen them for several years, instead of returning to the house he invited them, either to go with us for the study, or to go on down to the house and wait until we returned. I do believe that the entire group could have left in anger and Dad would not have been unduly disturbed, as he felt a strong spiritual obligation to his family and the Kamer family to conduct that Bible study.
Dad also trained us to speak to others about the things we were learning about God’s kingdom. From as far back as I can remember he would take us children with him as he would call on people at their homes. In 1927 Dad decided that I was old enough to go alone to the doors.
OUR FAMILY LIFE
True, there was much hard work on the farm, and we were also busy with Christian activities. But, at the same time, our parents saw to it that we had recreation. Dad taught us to swim. And there were family picnics, and family gatherings with others, which provided wholesome recreation and association.
Something else that contributed to our closeness as a family was the fact that Dad and Mother pulled together, and always had time for us children. I’m sure they had differences at times, but they never argued in front of us or contradicted each other. In this way we learned to respect parental authority.
At school we were often ridiculed by children who belonged to other religions. For example, they would call us “no hellers,” because we didn’t believe that God would torment people in a fiery hell. But Dad and Mother would take time to help us to prepare answers from the Bible to take back to school. This strengthened us, convincing us that we knew the truth of God’s Word, and we came to take pleasure in being different, even as did God’s servants in the past.
Years before, an uncle, who did not appreciate Dad’s religion, told him: “Children have a hard enough time growing up without poking that religion into them.” Years later, when we visited this uncle, he tearfully said to Dad: “Newt, I wish my children were like yours.” However, when Dad reminded him of his earlier remark, and that it was our Bible training that made the difference in us, my uncle didn’t like that at all. He even forbade Dad to mention God or the Bible in his home again!
A GOAL SET BEFORE US
Dad desired to devote more time to the witnessing work, and so in 1929 we moved to West Plains, Missouri. There we were able to provide rooms for two full-time Kingdom proclaimers. The example of these Witnesses started our family thinking about pioneering.
Due to the Great Depression we moved back to the farm in Tennessee, but we didn’t give up the idea of pioneering. In 1931 a pilgrim named Louis Larson helped Dad to figure out how he could financially care for the family in the pioneer work.
There were six of us children still at home, three of us in school. A family conference was held, and after prayerful consideration we agreed to sell the farm and place full trust in Jehovah to provide. It was decided that we three youngest would continue our schooling, while the older ones would pioneer.
The faith and trust of my parents in Jehovah was a strong influence in my life. That night I made a prayerful commitment to Jehovah that I would do his will as my folks were doing and walk in the footsteps of Christ. What a thrill some time later to be baptized by Dad in symbol of my dedication to Jehovah!
The farm was put up for sale but, with the Depression, it was sold at 50 percent less than the original asking price. Then an accident and serious illness in the family took every cent Dad had, leaving us “broke.” But he said there was only one thing to do, and that was to stay in the full-time witnessing work. This determination and firm resolve, along with Dad and Mother’s constant devotion, strengthened my desire to serve Jehovah.
BEGINNING OF A CAREER
In 1934 we moved to an assignment in west Tennessee. There I decided to leave school and enter the full-time witnessing work. Dad approved, that is, if my object wasn’t simply to get out of school but was to make the pioneer service a career. So at fourteen years of age I began my life’s career witnessing among the farms in the vicinity of Waverly, Tennessee.
True, there were trials during the Great Depression of the 1930’s. Sometimes we might eat the same menu for several days and desire something more. But Dad pointed out that we had given up the pursuit of money and we never missed a meal, yet almost daily families would stop at our door and beg for food to feed children crying with hunger, and these families were trying to work for money.
In the areas that we pioneered in throughout the southern United States, there seldom were any other Witnesses nearby. So our close family association was a protection from seeking fellowship with unbelievers. (1 Cor. 15:33; 2 Cor. 6:14) And we would save our pennies for months in order to drive a hundred or more miles (about 160 kilometers) to meet with other Witness youths to have a square dance or other enjoyable fellowship, such as a hike in the Smoky Mountains.
At the convention in Columbus, Ohio, in 1937 we heard Dad’s name called over the public-address system, along with some 200 others who were selected to begin the new special pioneer work. Dad immediately accepted this new service privilege, and our entire family was then invited to share. We were assigned to New Haven, Connecticut.
A Connecticut state law gave the chief of police censorship power over door-to-door religious work in his community, and as a result Jehovah’s Witnesses were being arrested throughout the state. In May 1938 I was arrested along with Dad and my younger brother, Jesse, while calling at homes talking to people about the Bible. Although hundreds of our Christian brothers and sisters had been arrested on various occasions, the Watch Tower Society decided to use our case to test the validity of the state law. The case went finally to the United States Supreme Court, where Jehovah gave us the victory.
We were next transferred as special pioneers to Staten Island, New York city, where we were privileged to work with those serving at the Watch Tower Society’s radio station WBBR. Then in January 1939 we were asked to assist a newly organized congregation in Mount Vernon, New York, where Milton Henschel, Lyman Swingle and other members of the Bethel family were also assigned. Imagine our surprise the following month when my two brothers and I were invited to assist at the Society’s printing plant for a few weeks. This extended into over six years of service there. A development on the evening of September 8, 1943, led to yet another assignment.
It was then that Evie Sullivan introduced me to Gladys in the Bethel lobby and asked if I would take her and her pioneer partner to their rooms a few blocks away. Their car was in urgent need of some repairs, so I spent several hours working on it that night while the girls sat on the curb and related their experiences in the witnessing work. This gave ample opportunity for me to observe their fine spirit of devotion to Jehovah.
In the spring of 1944 Gladys attended the third class of Gilead School while I was still at Bethel, and the following year we were married and I joined Gladys in the pioneer service. In 1950 I was invited to serve in the circuit work as a traveling representative of the Watch Tower Society. Our daughter Darla Lynn was born January 30, 1956, but it was lovingly arranged for us to continue on in the circuit work.
GIVING OTHERS A GOAL IN LIFE
We prayerfully asked Jehovah to help us to rear our daughter as our parents had reared us, always putting Kingdom interests first, and yet keeping balance and not neglecting our family responsibilities. I conducted our family study weekly, and Gladys would daily spend a few minutes instructing our daughter in God’s Word and, as she grew older, longer periods of time were used.
Overnight, it seemed, Darla was of school age. We always kept an open and frank approach to even intimate matters, so as she grew older we always found it easy to converse and thus avoided the so-called “generation gap.” Careful counsel in regard to association prevented her from developing bad associations that could lead to wrongdoing. Also, we were happy that she wanted to tell her classmates about God’s kingdom. Her first Bible study was started with a third-grade classmate at Chino, California. This resulted in the student’s making her dedication to Jehovah when she was sixteen.
In June 1972, in San Francisco, California, we received a letter through the mail. Surprisingly, it was from our daughter who was living with us. She wanted to express her appreciation, but was afraid she couldn’t say all she wanted to face to face.
“I want to thank you,” her letter said, “for bringing me up as you have. Always putting Jehovah first in our lives. Always letting your ‘Yes mean Yes and your No No.’ . . . I want to thank you for all the love and kindness you show to me. Listening when I have something to say. Understanding how I feel. Being patient with my moods and emotions. . . . Thanks so much for the wonderful example you set so that I truly can ‘follow you as you follow Christ.’”
That letter warmed our hearts, and we thank Jehovah that we were able to impart to our daughter the same goal that my parents imparted to me—to put Jehovah’s service first in her life. Our daughter and her partner are now serving as pioneers with the Henderson, North Carolina, Congregation. They were thrilled, and so were we, when seventeen persons with whom they conducted Bible studies attended the Lord’s Evening Meal last spring.
For forty-three years now I’ve been in the full-time service. Presently I am an instructor of a Kingdom Ministry School, a training center for Christian elders. One of my brothers is in the circuit work in the United States and the other is serving as a branch coordinator in the Caribbean country of Dominican Republic. And both of my parents are still in the pioneer work!
Our personal experience moves us strongly to encourage young folks to make the full-time witnessing work their goal, yes, to make serving Jehovah God their life’s career. And to parents we would say: Your children will not automatically serve Jehovah. You need to give them that goal in life. If you do, I can assure you that they will be forever grateful.
[Picture on page 170]
My wife and I studying together