Moving Ahead With God’s Organization
As told by Grant Suiter
IN 1922, when I was 14 years old, my father moved our family from Chicago, Illinois, to California. En route we visited old friends in Idaho. They informed us that in California there were people who were saying that, according to the Bible, millions of persons then living would never die.
Shortly after reaching California we saw in a newspaper the announcement “Millions Now Living Will Never Die.” It was the subject of a public lecture to be given in San Jose. In this way my father located the Bible Students (as Jehovah’s Witnesses were then known), and he began to take us to their public meetings.
Mother wanted me to become involved in some church Sunday school. Although my father was critical of preachers of all denominations, he agreed that this might be good for me. So I became a regular attender of the Methodist Sunday school. I eventually became treasurer of the school and played on its basketball team. At the same time, our family attended public lectures held by the Bible Students in San Jose, just a few miles from our home in Santa Clara.
My father wanted to see conditions improved and to that end campaigned for various political candidates, even painting the name of one of them on the windshield of our Model T Ford. At the meetings Bible Students would kindly tell him that the real hope for mankind was not in political efforts but in God’s Kingdom by Christ Jesus. Father would somewhat agree but would say that, while that was all right for the future, in the meantime he would like to make things as good as possible through political means. In time, however, my entire family—mother, father, sister and I—came to a greater appreciation of Bible truth and the requirements of God’s Word.
Eventually I could not conscientiously continue in the Methodist Sunday school, and so I resigned. By 1923 our family had relocated a few miles away in Oakland, where my father operated a small grocery store and I attended high school. Learning that Bible Students did not smoke, I tried to persuade Dad to quit selling cigarettes in his store. He disagreed with me but did talk the matter over with one of the Bible Students, Robert Craig.
After their discussion my father decided to sell the whole business and leave Oakland. His decision was also prompted by efforts of a group to set him up in the bootlegging business, which he realized was not compatible with what he was learning through the Oakland Ecclesia (Congregation) of Bible Students. About the same time, with my parents’ permission, I quit high school after only a year and a half of attendance because of the immoral influence in the schools.
We moved a few miles away to Mountain View, close enough to San Jose to attend the meetings of the ecclesia there again. My father operated another store, and I worked in it full time, never receiving any wages but just helping him. Dad subscribed to The Watchtower and The Golden Age (now called Awake!), and how I especially enjoyed the The Golden Age! I felt that I was getting more information from it than I would have received had I remained in high school.
The ecclesia meetings were becoming more and more interesting to me. I found particularly impressive the article in the March 1, 1925, issue of The Watchtower entitled “Birth of the Nation.” The information there marked a great step forward in the understanding of the Bible Students respecting Jehovah’s Kingdom by Christ Jesus, namely, that it had been set up or established in heaven in the year 1914. During this time our family was becoming close friends with the Bible Students in Mountain View, spending considerable time with them in their homes.
Eventually we learned that not only was prayer a part of ecclesia meetings but the friends also prayed in their private homes, including expressing thanks at mealtime. To his credit my father wanted to see prayer from the proper viewpoint. He had viewed it in general as hypocritical. I remember being present when prayer was being discussed by him and one of the Bible Students who was paying a visit at his store. The visitor pointed out how we should express thanks to Jehovah God for our blessings. But my father questioned him as to how it could be that we should thank Jehovah for all our blessings because surely we did not blame him for all our difficulties. Eventually, however, as a family, we understood prayer clearly and took full advantage of this loving provision.
A provision of the ecclesia from which I benefited a great deal was the School of the Prophets. This was a meeting of elders and other males for the purpose of receiving training in public speaking. The student would give a talk that he had prepared on an assigned subject, and the others would give him helpful counsel. However, the constructive criticism that I got at the school was nothing compared with that which I received from my father personally after he had attended one of the sessions to hear me try to make a speech.
My family and I were greatly helped by the pilgrims, who were special representatives of the Watch Tower Society. The ecclesias made yearly requests to the Society for their visits. J. A. Bohnet made a particular impression and was of special help to me. He was a man who had characteristics that endeared him to some people but had the reverse effect on others. He loved Jehovah and evidently was modest, but he kept this quality somewhat concealed under a gruff exterior.
Baptism and Christian Ministry
It was a talk by Brother Bohnet in the home of a Bible Student in Mountain View that deeply affected my life. As I listened to him speak of the privileges of serving Jehovah and the responsibility to do so, I realized what I should do and what I wanted to do. Thus I made a personal dedication to Jehovah, and about the same time the other members of my family did also. On October 10, 1926, in San Jose, California, all of us together symbolized our dedication to Jehovah God by undergoing water immersion.
The baptisms then were conducted somewhat differently from today. The elder doing the baptizing said to me: “Brother Grant, in the name of the Father and the Son and the holy spirit, I now baptize thee into Christ.” Each of us being baptized wore half-sleeved long, black robes that reached from the neck down to the ankles. To ensure that the robe remained down and modestly covered the candidate it was heavily weighted in the bottom hem by means of lead weights.
After the baptism, and after we had dressed, my father said to the elder overseeing the baptism: “You folks go out with the literature, don’t you? We want to do that work, too, now.” So our family started out in the field ministry.
My first time in the field service was when an elder, H. O. Lawrence, arranged to take me. He equipped me with some booklets and drove to the territory in San Jose. I thought he was going to work with me from house to house, but he told me to get out of the car and said, “Now you go down this side of the block.” Then he drove away. So I went down that side of the block and placed three booklets on a contribution of 25 cents and I was very happy. As a result of thus sharing in the Christian ministry, I really felt a part of God’s organization.
About this time we received instructions in our monthly service directive The Bulletin (now called Our Kingdom Ministry) to tell the householder something about the Devil’s organization. So when people dismissed me by saying that they were not interested I would somewhat insistently proceed to tell them of the existence of the Devil’s organization and its coming destruction. This was quite a variation from our usual presentation about the prospect of living forever on a Paradise earth without ever having to die.
The San Jose Ecclesia used to travel long distances to reach people with the Kingdom message. What were called canvassing parties went out regularly into Santa Clara Valley and the surrounding hills. I can remember the land as far as the eye could see being covered with orchards in blossom. We would take a lunch with us and spend the entire day, sometimes traveling 75 miles (121 km) or more to get to the area where we were going to witness.
Radio Station KFWM in Oakland was used for many years to broadcast the Kingdom message, and various ecclesias in the surrounding area took turns in providing programs for the station on weekends. I had the privilege of reading Bible lectures over the KFWM facilities, such as the one on July 24, 1927. The call letters of this radio station lent themselves to being the initials for ‘Kingdom For World of Mankind.’
Expanding My Service
One day while we were driving home from a meeting, Brother Lawrence, who had first taken me in the field service, offered me an application to serve at the Society’s headquarters in Brooklyn, New York. Sometime prior to this, shortly after our baptism, I had overheard my father say to my mother that if he were in my place he would make Jehovah’s service his life’s work. This is what I wanted, too, and I felt that in making application for Bethel the opportunity was presented to me to do this.
The May 15, 1928, issue of The Watchtower announced that from July 30 to August 6 there would be an international convention of the Bible Students in Detroit, Michigan. I wanted very much to attend, and my family and friends made it possible for me to do so. During the convention Donald Haslett, a secretary of J. F. Rutherford, the president of the Society, announced from the platform that brothers were needed for Bethel service. He said that those wishing to apply could be interviewed by Brother Rutherford. I responded, filled out another Bethel application, and Brother Rutherford told me to report at Bethel on August 13, 1928.
There were, all together, 13 of us who reported for Bethel service on August 13, just one week after the Detroit convention. At that time 95 members of the Bethel family worked in the production and shipping of Bible literature at the newly completed 117 Adams Street factory, and a somewhat smaller number worked in the Bethel home and various offices of the Society. My first job at Bethel was taking booklets away from a machine that was used to fold the booklets after the covers had been fastened to them with wire stitches. I worked in the printery for less than two weeks when I was transferred to the office, the Service Department. Sharing in this activity really gave me the sense of moving ahead with God’s organization.
Since I had nowhere to go for my first vacation, in 1929, I spent it at Bethel. So I was at hand when Brother Rutherford gave his talk at the Masonic Temple in Brooklyn on Jehovah’s permission of wickedness and the vindication of His name. Prior to this time we did not understand this matter, and so Brother Rutherford’s talk was a thrilling clarification of a vital, fundamental subject.
Moving Ahead in the 1930’s
A real highlight of 1931 was receiving the name Jehovah’s Witnesses, thus providing a unifying name for all of God’s people. The following year the term for identifying a congregation of God’s people was changed from “ecclesia” to “company,” a change that was based on a consideration of Psalm 68:11 (Authorized Version). So throughout the world we had “companies” of Jehovah’s Witnesses and not “classes,” or “ecclesias.”
In 1932 my father disposed of his business in California, and he, my mother and my sister entered the pioneer service. They built themselves a house car, and for the next 20 years it served as the pioneer home for my parents. My sister, Grace, served with them until 1939 when she was invited to become a member of the Brooklyn Bethel family. She continues to serve here, and since 1959 as the wife of Simon Kraker.
The factory manager, Robert J. Martin, died on September 23, 1932, and Nathan H. Knorr was appointed by Brother Rutherford in his place. Brother Knorr had previously been on the dispatch desk.
The following year real troubles began for God’s people. On January 30, 1933, Adolf Hitler became chancellor of Germany, and on June 28, 1933, the German branch of the Watch Tower Society in Magdeburg was seized and closed down. Pope Pius XI declared 1933 a “Holy Year,” and Brother Rutherford soon afterward spoke over 55 radio stations on the subject “Effect of Holy Year on Peace and Prosperity.” It was my privilege to be his announcer for that program.
In the early 1930’s considerable opposition to our work developed and there was widespread persecution. Jehovah’s Witnesses were organized into “divisions” for the purpose of giving a concentrated witness in trouble areas. In Germany the persecution increased to such an extent that on October 7, 1934, companies of God’s people in many countries sent telegrams to Hitler warning him to put a stop to it.
About this time there were many discussions among God’s people regarding the identity of the “great multitude” of Revelation 7:9, Authorized Version. It was generally believed at the time that they were a secondary, less faithful heavenly class. At one Bethel study, conducted by Brother T. J. Sullivan, I asked: “Since the great multitude gain everlasting life, do those who make up that group maintain integrity?” There were many comments but no definitive answer. When I was called on for my own comment I said that I was only trying to get a yes or no answer.
Well, on May 31, 1935, at the Washington, D.C., convention, Brother Rutherford spoke on this very subject. I was sitting in the balcony looking down over the crowd, and what a thrill it was as his talk unfolded! The great multitude was clearly identified Scripturally to be those who survive Armageddon with the prospect of living forever on earth. Yes, here was further information on ‘the millions now living who will never die.’
On July 12, 1937, I was appointed by Brother Rutherford as Bethel servant. For the last four and a half years of Brother Rutherford’s life I had the privilege of working closely with him. Late in 1937 the name of The Golden Age was changed to Consolation, prompting a humorous remark by Brother Rutherford to me while I was driving him through Scranton, Pennsylvania, near the hometown of C. J. Woodworth, editor of the magazine. It was difficult to get through Scranton by car in those days, and referring to Brother Woodworth as “Woody,” Rutherford said: “It is no wonder Woody wants consolation, living in a place like this.”
World War II a Trialsome Period
In September 1939 World War II erupted. In October our Paris branch office was closed and our work was banned in France. The following year Canada banned our work. That summer of 1940 Brother Rutherford was sick, and we did not know whether he would be able to attend the convention arranged in Detroit, Michigan. He attended, but during his public talk he had a message delivered to me saying that he would be returning immediately to Bethel and for me to make arrangements for this.
The following summer was the great convention in St. Louis, Missouri, the largest held by Jehovah’s Witnesses up to that time. I was assigned to receiving supplies for the cafeteria and only got into the main auditorium for the session on the final day when the book Children was released. During this convention the booklet Jehovah’s Servants Defended also was released, providing information to help us combat religiously inspired police action against our house-to-house ministry.
The publication was most timely. Later that year my father was arrested and imprisoned for sharing in the ministry. Mother, who was thereby left alone in the house car, was mobbed. Although she was not harmed physically, the mobsters stripped the house car, and so my mother was forced to take shelter with Witnesses in the area.
On October 1, 1941, it was my privilege, in the absence of Brother Rutherford, to preside at the annual meeting of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania. It was at that meeting that I was elected as a director of the Society’s Pennsylvania corporation.
Two months later, on Sunday, December 7, 1941, N. H. Knorr, G. E. Hannan and I were returning by automobile from the field service in a nearby section of Long Island. We were listening to the car radio and heard the shocking announcement that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor. The implications were very great for Jehovah’s people—the United States was at war, the Society’s president was seriously ill and there were enemies pressing in on every side to stop our preaching activity.
Although Brother Rutherford died just one month and one day later, the Kingdom work progressed unabated. Brother Knorr was elected president, and a year later on February 1, 1943, he announced the opening of the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead, for the training of missionaries.
On May 8, 1945, U.S. President Harry S. Truman announced the surrender of Germany. In August the United States dropped the atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the postwar period was upon us.
New York City gave notice that they were taking the rear of our Columbia Heights Bethel home that extended down to Furman Street for the building of a promenade and highway. The Society, however, was able to purchase properties on Columbia Heights for a Bethel home addition, and government approval was received on October 11, 1946, for the construction. So on January 27, 1947, demolition began on the rear portion of our building on Furman Street, and during 1948 and 1949 the new Bethel addition was constructed, this fine new addition being dedicated in 1950. A large nine-story addition to the 117 Adams Street factory was also completed at about the same time.
The Society’s secretary and treasurer, W. E. Van Amburgh, had become incapacitated due to advanced age and illness and so resigned from his position. I was elected to succeed him on February 6, 1947, and Brother Van Amburgh died the following day.
Shortly afterward, in the spring of 1947, I was sent by the Society to visit several countries of Europe that had been ravaged by World War II. It was indeed a privilege to associate with faithful servants of Jehovah who recently had been released after long years in Nazi concentration camps. It was a joy to me to provide them spiritual encouragement as a principal speaker during the conventions that were then held.
Since coming to Bethel in 1928 I had never been back to California. My parents pioneered mostly in the East, so I was able to see them from time to time, particularly at large conventions. But in the summer of 1947 the opportunity materialized for me to make a return visit to California. A convention was arranged for Los Angeles, August 13 to 17, and the Society provided transportation for those who had been members of the Bethel family for 15 years or more. What a pleasant trip and convention!
Special Privileges of Service
Through the years I have also enjoyed unique privileges in connection with the expansion of God’s visible organization. The most recent of many acquisitions of the Watchtower Society that I helped to negotiate was the purchase early this year of the new properties at 175 Pearl Street and 360 Furman Street in Brooklyn. It is my heartfelt hope that these large new facilities will be used in further tremendous expansion of the Kingdom proclamation in all the earth.
I have traveled hundreds of thousands of miles not only throughout the United States but in many other countries, delivering talks to large audiences of God’s people to encourage them in their Christian ministry. For example, during the around-the-world “Everlasting Good News” convention tour in 1963, I served as one of the Society’s official representatives, just one of the many privileges for which I am grateful to Jehovah. Serving as a speaker during the many historic conventions of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Yankee Stadium, such as in 1958 when over a quarter of a million people were present, also was a special privilege.
A Forward-Moving Organization
In our human experience the years bring changes, sometimes unhappily taking their toll, as in the case of my father’s death December 31, 1954, in Illinois, the state of his last pioneer assignment. The following year my sister, Grace, and I relocated my mother from Illinois to New York, where she lived until her death May 6, 1962. But a very happy change for me was when Edith Rettos, a zealous pioneer, became my wife on May 12, 1956. She has since served faithfully alongside me here at Bethel.
As I advance in years of service here at the headquarters of Jehovah’s visible organization, what especially brings joy to my heart is the continued evidence of God’s blessing upon the work that he has commissioned his people to do, namely, the preaching of this good news of the Kingdom in all the earth before the end comes. (Matthew 24:14) I witnessed the enlargement of the Governing Body in 1971, and again in 1974, and since then have shared in many of the responsible decisions that have been made affecting the branches and the worldwide preaching work. I have also seen the number of Kingdom proclaimers grow from 44,080 worldwide when I came to Bethel in 1928 to about 2,500,000 sharing in that work today. Truly God’s organization has been moving ahead, and I am grateful for the many privileges of service that I have been entrusted to perform in connection with giving the great final witness.
My faith in the Bible’s promises of God’s righteous government and the blessings it will bring to earth is stronger than ever. If I had my life to live over again, there is no other way that I would choose to live it. What a joy and privilege it has been to serve here at Bethel these past 55 years with the largest and most wonderful Christian family on earth!
While the above article was being prepared for publication, Brother Suiter experienced a severe fall in his room at Brooklyn Bethel. This resulted in critical damage to his spine. At the time of this writing, he was receiving all possible loving care in the Watchtower Society’s infirmary at Bethel. His condition is described as critical, though stabilized. We pray to Jehovah that He will care for this loyal brother and comfort him and his family members during this time of his disability.
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J. A. Bohnet greatly influenced my life
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With my sister and my parents
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My parents pioneered for 20 years in this house car
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W. E. Van Amburgh whom I succeeded as secretary-treasurer of the Watch Tower Society in 1947
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I spoke many times at large conventions—such as here at Yankee Stadium in 1958
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Edith has been my faithful companion since 1956