Endurance by Faith in Jehovah
As told by Carey W. Barber
WHEN the speaker arrived at the theater in Plainfield, New Jersey, he found that the police had taken over the entrance to the stage. Then, as he walked onto the platform, he saw that the police had two machine guns placed behind the drapes so that he would have to speak in front of them. The police said they had been told that there was going to be a riot, and they were there to maintain order. Nevertheless, the talk “Religious Intolerance—Why Practiced Now?” was delivered without incident and was enthusiastically received by all in attendance, including me.
The speaker was J. F. Rutherford, then the president of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society. In the early 1930’s Plainfield was a center of opposition against the work of Jehovah’s Witnesses. That is why Rutherford decided to hold that public meeting there on July 30, 1933. I can assure you that the atmosphere during that talk on “intolerance” was very tense!
It was experiences like that early in my life that strengthened my faith and encouraged me to endure in Jehovah’s service for the past sixty years.
An Amazing New Project
I was born in Trowbridge, Wiltshire, England, on July 4, 1905. On April 18, 1921, during a small convention of International Bible Students (as Jehovah’s Witnesses were then known) held in Winnipeg, Canada, I was baptized, at the age of sixteen.
About that time the Watch Tower Society began a bold new venture. Instead of using commercial printers to produce the Society’s bound books, J. F. Rutherford decided that, with Jehovah’s help, this would now be done by dedicated Christians. So a factory building was obtained at 18 Concord Street, in Brooklyn, New York, and a call went out to brothers living in Canada and in the United States to come and share in the work.
Thus, in April of 1923, my twin brother Norman and I, when we were not yet eighteen years of age, found ourselves reporting at Bethel, the Society’s Brooklyn headquarters, ready to begin working on this new project.
My first assignment was feeding the booklet Our Lord’s Return onto a stitching machine. The overseer explained how to do it and, pointing to a huge pile of booklets, he said: “Hurry up and get the job done because Armageddon is coming!”
‘But many years have passed since then,’ you may say. ‘Surely there was not any reason to hurry.’ True, the day of Jehovah’s anger has not yet come. However, when you consider the challenge that lay before us—printing books for the preaching of the good news in “all the inhabited earth”—you can understand our sense of urgency. (Matthew 24:14) Men experienced in the printing field shook their heads and said, “It just cannot be done.” I can assure you that, at times, it was only at the cost of much frustration that we novices learned the art of printing and binding books! It truly was a test of our faith and endurance. That is why I often reflected on the words at Hebrews 10:36: “You have need of endurance, in order that, after you have done the will of God, you may receive the fulfillment of the promise.”
Endurance Needed to Preach
The work of preaching from door to door was something entirely new to us back then, and there were religious opposers.
Thus, on a Saturday afternoon not long after my coming to Bethel, my brother Norman and I, along with another Bethel brother, were arrested while visiting householders to talk to them about God’s Word. We were informed that it was against the law in that area to distribute Bible literature from house to house, and we were fined. Not knowing how to proceed in such matters, we submitted to paying the fine.
The three of us were somewhat disturbed that such procedure could be carried out in a “free” country. Rather than its dampening our determination to preach the good news, it increased our zeal. Our little incident was just one in a campaign that was being launched and would continue to increase in intensity for years. However, Jehovah’s Witnesses would not give up without a fight! More about that a little later.
Cared for Materially
I did not have any money after paying the fine and getting back to Bethel. But I can honestly say that from that time until now, I have never lacked sufficient food, clothing or shelter. Some I knew did not enter the full-time ministry for fear that their daily needs would not be supplied. Others left because they felt that the allowances were not enough to satisfy their needs. Or they were not sure that they would be taken care of in their old age, so they obtained secular jobs. Yet my faith in Jehovah’s promise to provide the necessities of life has helped me to endure in the full-time ministry. (Matthew 6:25-34) I have full confidence that Jehovah will never forsake me.—Hebrews 13:5, 6.
Although I have been without certain luxuries, I have always been satisfied with what Jehovah has provided. I have learned from experience that if anyone ‘seeks first the kingdom and His righteousness’ (Matthew 6:33), God will supply all that he needs to endure and to be happy. I can personally testify to the truthfulness of Proverbs 10:22: “The blessing of Jehovah—that is what makes rich, and he adds no pain with it.”
In time I learned to operate a job press, and among the many jobs assigned to me was the printing of the law briefs used by Brother Rutherford and others in legal battles against those “framing trouble by decree.” (Psalm 94:20) As the fever of World War II reached its height in the early 1940’s, it really looked as though our opposers would close down our work. But I was greatly encouraged by what happened on May 3, 1943, when Jehovah gave his people resounding victories! The United States Supreme Court handed down twelve out of thirteen decisions in our favor!
A truly outstanding case I recall was that of Murdock v. Pennsylvania, which was a license tax case. (The issue was whether a Witness should have to obtain a license and pay a tax in order to preach.) The Court reversed a previous decision and stated: “It is contended, however, that the fact that the license tax can suppress or control this activity is unimportant if it does not do so. But that is to disregard the nature of this tax. It is a license tax—flat tax imposed on the exercise of a privilege granted by the Bill of Rights. A state may not impose a charge for the enjoyment of a right granted by the federal constitution.” What a victory for God’s people!
These events and the way in which Jehovah maneuvered matters were a source of strength to me, showing that he can make all things turn out for the good of those loving him.
Let us go back to 1922 again. From that year until 1928, the Bible Students held seven momentous conventions. It was my privilege either to be at each of these conventions or to share in the printing and the distributing of the thrilling resolutions that were adopted at each. To be among the conventioners and share in all that was going on built up my faith, and I knew that I could endure with Jehovah’s help.
There were times when angry mobs tried to break up our peaceful conventions. For example, I was present at Madison Square Garden in New York City on Sunday, June 25, 1939, when Catholic Action groups tried to prevent the public lecture “Government and Peace” by J. F. Rutherford. But we were ready.
A number of us from Bethel were assigned with other brothers as ushers. By 4 p.m. most of the auditorium was filled with Witnesses, except the balcony area right behind the speaker. Shortly after the meeting had started, a mob of about 500 followers of Charles E. Coughlin, well-known Catholic “radio priest” of the 1930’s, came in and filled that section in the balcony. A little later someone flashed the lights in that section as a prearranged signal for the mob to go into action.
“Heil Hitler!” “Viva Franco!” and other screams came from that one section. What would Rutherford do?
‘Note today the Nazis and Fascists would like to break up this meeting, but by God’s grace they cannot do it,’ declared Brother Rutherford from the platform. We burst into applause, giving him our support. Then the ushers expelled the intruders.
What an exciting convention! Experiences like that served to test our devotion and faith as to whether Jehovah would really uphold his people. Such episodes kept my faith in Jehovah alive and encouraged me to endure in his service.
The Issue of Christian Neutrality
At the beginning of World War II the issue of Christian neutrality as to worldly conflicts was pushed to the fore, and once more I found myself in the thick of a fight!
Those of us who were of military age received notice to appear before the local draft board. We went through the physical examinations and applied for exemption, as the law allowed. The draft board diligently tried to deny our exemption. But once more Jehovah was with us—not one of us was taken away from our assignments at Bethel. If all the younger brothers at Bethel had been drafted, the vital Christian preaching work would have been seriously crippled.
Because of the loss of liberties in many lands, and as a precaution for the safety of the Bethel family, a place of refuge had been built in South Lansing, New York. It was never needed for that purpose, however. Instead, under Jehovah’s direction the building was later transformed into a dormitory and school, called the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead. This occurred while World War II was still raging. In 1943 the first class of 100 students began. The school (from which I was to benefit later) was to be used to train missionaries for spreading the good news of God’s kingdom.
Changes of Assignment
I had been at Bethel for twenty years by this time, and although world events may have seemed to be coming to a climax, things were really just beginning to open up as far as the worldwide preaching work was concerned.
Several years later, in 1948, I was given a change of assignment. I was sent out as a traveling representative of the Society, and this was to be my assignment for the next thirty years. Even to attempt to describe all that followed during that time would be impossible!
My first assignment was District No. 6, the western United States. And what a district it was! It started at San Diego, California, and reached north clear to the Canadian border, a distance of some 1,500 miles (2,400 km). It went from the West Coast over the Rocky Mountains into eastern Washington, Idaho and Montana. Then it went south, taking in all of Wyoming, Utah, Nevada, New Mexico, the Texas Panhandle and Arizona, and back into California. In those days the weekly circuit assemblies of Jehovah’s Witnesses were about 1,000 miles (1,600 km) apart. So in my car I really had to cover the miles to be on hand.
It was a wonderful privilege for me, however, to travel all over the United States and join with faithful brothers and sisters in their worship and service to Jehovah God. Working along with them in proclaiming the good news certainly was faith strengthening.
One dear faithful sister I recall was Emma, who lived in New Mexico. For years Emma served as a full-time proclaimer of the good news. She traveled on foot in a vast desert area of the state. She would witness from house to house all day, and if night overtook her, she would either stay with a hospitable family or lie down under any shelter that might be found. At times cowhands on horses would recognize her plodding along and call out, “Want a lift, Granny?” whereupon she would climb up behind them and get a ride for a few miles. Her great love and zeal for Jehovah encouraged me to endure in God’s service.
After eight years I experienced another big change. I was called to the twenty-sixth class of Gilead in 1955. In that same class there was a pioneer sister (a full-time evangelizer) named Sydney Lee Brewer from Canada. Following graduation, instead of setting off by myself, Sydney and I were married on our way from Gilead School to our assignment, which was to visit and encourage congregations in the Chicago area. That was on February 18, 1956. In fact, we spent our honeymoon serving the congregations. Sydney is still working along with me as a faithful companion. Her diligent efforts have been a source of encouragement to many.
After about thirty years in the traveling ministry, in the fall of 1977 I received a letter from headquarters inviting me to serve as a member of the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses. And so I went back to my good old home—Brooklyn Bethel. To have a small share in the activities of the Governing Body of Jehovah’s people is an honor and a privilege beyond comprehension.
In looking back on some sixty years in Jehovah’s service, what shall I say? I have seen Jehovah’s Witnesses grow from a few thousand in 1923 to well over two million in 1982. I have seen efforts made by opposers to stop the preaching work, but they have failed. I have enjoyed the privilege of meeting and associating with thousands of Jehovah’s people across the United States and in many other lands. Although I have had some exciting experiences, my faith in Jehovah and my determination to endure in his service have enabled me to live through them.
I feel like King David of old, who was moved to praise Jehovah for being as a loving shepherd to him. (Psalm 23) Like David, I, too, have ‘lacked nothing.’ Jehovah has indeed watered and refreshed my soul all these years. My hope is to increase in faith and love toward the Faithful Shepherd, Jehovah God. I ask that he give me the strength necessary to continue to endure faithfully ‘in the house of Jehovah to the length of days.’—Psalm 27:4.
[Picture on page 12]
J. F. Rutherford speaking in Madison Square Garden, 1939