Always Ready for the End
As told by Herald Toutjian
THE year was 1896. Waves of unrestrained violence engulfed the defenseless Armenian communities of Asia Minor. This imperiled the home and family of my grandfather, Lucius V. Toutjian, in the ancient town of Maraş, high in the Taurus Mountains of south-central Turkey.
The escape route lay southward to the Mediterranean—but escape to where? It would be to America, grandfather decided! Hastily the family gathered their possessions and fled. In Tarsus, birthplace of the apostle Paul, they were captured and imprisoned. This story would have ended there had it not been for the timely intervention of an American official. With his help and under cover of darkness the family boarded a ship at the nearest Mediterranean port and sailed westward.
The journey to America was traumatic, especially for grandmother. She was leaving all that she had known as home—friends, relatives and fond memories of tranquil, flower-scented Maraş, nestled on the mountainside.
After Marseilles and London the saga continued. The brooding Atlantic Ocean was in full fury. Gigantic waves lashed the creaking ship and tragedy continued to stalk the family. Mid-journey the youngest of five children died suddenly and was buried at sea. So hearts were heavy with sorrow and uncertainty as the ship docked in New York. The family disembarked from the ship and merged with the mass of humanity milling about New York’s lower east side, a melting pot of nationalities and races.
Why a Dramatic Vow?
The years following the 1896 arrival in New York were difficult. It was not easy to make the complex transition from a tranquil Turkish town to bustling New York. The family had to adjust to a new language, a strange environment and bewildering social attitudes. They moved often but not just in quest of material necessities; grandfather was keenly aware of the family’s spiritual needs. He had many questions concerning God’s eternal purpose and the ultimate destiny of mankind. Yet for a family who had lived with religious and ethnic persecution, the pervasive question concerned the permission of evil. Why would a loving God permit it? How long would it continue? How and when would it end? Grandfather was determined to find satisfying answers—Scriptural answers.
Abandoning the mainstream of traditional religious thought, he investigated the charismatic religions, but his questions remained unanswered. “It was a dramatic moment,” my father related, “when grandfather gathered all of us together, and as a family we vowed never again to associate with the nominal churches of Christendom who practice Christianity in name only.” Grandfather concluded that the truth must be elsewhere.
The truth found them in a most unexpected manner. Previously, while living in Allegheny, Pennsylvania, grandfather had noticed an advertisement of a public address by Pastor Russell, president of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society. The questions in the advertisement stirred grandfather’s curiosity, and the family set out for the lecture hall. Unfortunately, they were unable to find it and returned home disappointed. But grandfather made a mental note to investigate the Watch Tower Society’s teachings.
His diligent search for logic and truth was rewarded at the turn of the century. By that time the Toutjians were living in Los Angeles, California, and one Sunday in 1901, while passing a church, they were handed a Bible tract by a volunteer worker from the Watch Tower Society. (In those days, a feature of witnessing by Watch Tower workers was the distribution of Bible tracts to churchgoers after services.) Grandfather, glancing at the tract, commented, “This is the work of Pastor Russell.” The remark was overheard by the volunteer worker, and a few moments later he overtook the family and invited them to their first group Bible study. They accepted, attended the study, recognized it as the long-sought-for truth and became associated with the Los Angeles Congregation of 27 members.
What Would 1914 Bring?
Those two generations of the Toutjian family, my parents and my grandparents, held great expectations for the year 1914. As early as 1880, The Watch Tower had publicized the date as marking the end of the “appointed times of the nations,” or Gentile Times. (Luke 21:24; compare Authorized Version.) Would 1914 bring the end of Satan’s rulership and the long-awaited Millennial Reign of Christ Jesus?
As the date drew closer it became apparent that human expectations do not always coincide with Jehovah’s timetable. In the January 1, 1914, issue, The Watch Tower observed: “It is beyond the power of our imagination to picture an accomplishment in one year of all that the Scriptures seem to imply should be expected before the Reign of Peace is ushered in.” Then, after commenting on the greatly enhanced possibilities of future service, The Watch Tower admonished: “Let us be more than ever on the alert, therefore, to be used and useful in the service of our King.”
The Watch Tower thus set the right attitude before its readers. Be steadfast, stay awake, wait upon Jehovah and do not let overanxious expectations mold your attitude toward God and his service. This was the viewpoint that members of my family and all the faithful adopted. It was soon realized that the date had been vindicated by the fulfillment of prophecy. Nation had risen against nation, and the events of that momentous year did bring “a beginning of pangs of distress” upon this system of things. (Matthew 24:7, 8) Nevertheless, this proved to be a test of motivation and devotion. Some expected too much, too soon. Sadly, they failed to meet the challenge.
“Exactly as a Thief”
Christians had been warned by the apostle Paul that Jehovah’s day of judgment would come unexpectedly. He wrote: “You yourselves know quite well that Jehovah’s day is coming exactly as a thief in the night. . . . So, then, let us not sleep on as the rest do, but let us stay awake and keep our senses.” (1 Thessalonians 5:2-6) Understandably, then, awake, watchful Christians in the 20th century have been sensitive to all events and chronological implications that might indicate the proximity of “Jehovah’s day”—just as a person expecting a thief’s nighttime arrival could possibly interpret any unusual sound as evidence of the thief’s presence.
The year 1925 also held expectations for Jehovah’s servants. It was thought that a cycle of 70 typical Jubilees (70 × 50 years) from the time Israel entered the Promised Land would end in 1925 and mark the beginning of the great antitypical Jubilee, the Millennial Reign of Christ Jesus. It did not turn out that way.
However, our family came to appreciate that unrealized hopes are not unique to our day. The apostles themselves had similar misplaced expectations. They envisioned the resurrected Jesus Christ as restoring the nation of Israel to its former glory as Jehovah’s chosen people under theocratic rule, breaking the viselike domination of the Romans. They asked Jesus: “Lord, are you restoring the kingdom to Israel at this time?” He answered, “It does not belong to you to get knowledge of the times or seasons which the Father has placed in his own jurisdiction.” (Acts 1:6, 7) That same basic point has applied to the ‘faithful slave class’ today. There is an alertness, a searching to know God’s purpose, at times even an overeagerness to see the end of the world’s wicked system—but the exact timing of events is in Jehovah’s jurisdiction.—Matthew 24:34-36, 45-47.
Leadership and Service Required
After a rich and full life, grandfather died during World War II. He thus left behind the second generation of Jehovah’s Witnesses, his sons Shield and Robert (my father), actively proclaiming the need to “stay awake, stand firm in the faith, carry on as men, grow mighty.”—1 Corinthians 16:13.
My uncle, Shield Toutjian, had entered the pilgrim service during World War I and until his death in 1949 served as a full-time traveling representative of the Watchtower Society, comparable to a circuit overseer of today. I still meet many who remember his dynamic, upbuilding personality and the loyal service he rendered the congregations in 47 states of the United States.
Paul counseled the Hebrews: “Remember those who are taking the lead among you.” (Hebrews 13:7) My father always took the lead because he loved Jehovah and his service, especially the door-to-door ministry. From an early date he recognized the need for elders to act as true shepherds. In 1926 he recommended Sunday-morning field service to the Oakland, California, body of elders, in harmony with the fine example set by the Brooklyn Bethel family. When the call for pioneer ministers came, he responded by building a house trailer that would be his home for the next 19 years. In 1930 we set out for isolated territories in the Sierra Nevada mountain wilderness of northern California. He literally abandoned all his earthly possessions and never lost sight of Jehovah’s requirement of “exclusive devotion.” He died in 1961.—Deuteronomy 4:24.
As a member of the third generation in the truth, I well remember the early 1940’s. World War II had brought Europe’s darkest hour. Then, due to the Pearl Harbor attack by Japan in 1941, the United States of America entered the war. The issue of Christian neutrality brought worldwide persecution on Jehovah’s Witnesses. Many nations banned us. Here in the United States we were often attacked by emotional, “patriotic” mobs. It seemed to us then that the war would usher in the climactic battle of the great day of God the Almighty, Armageddon.—Revelation 16:14-16.
A Vast Work Still to Be Done
I vividly recall our urgent expectations of the long-awaited event. But veiled from our eyes was the prodigious further fulfillment of Jesus’ prophecy at Matthew 24:14: “This good news of the kingdom will be preached in all the inhabited earth for a witness to all the nations; and then the end will come.”
There was still a worldwide work to be accomplished. Beginning in 1943 ministers in all the congregations were trained in the weekly Theocratic Ministry School. And every six months the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead, at that time in upper New York State, sent trained missionaries to distant lands. The words of Jesus—about witnessing “in all the inhabited earth”—took on a wide-angle perspective. Again we adjusted our viewpoint to encompass the panorama of earth-wide activity that was unfolding, keeping close to Jehovah and his organization through ‘every form of prayer and supplication, keeping awake with all constancy.’—Ephesians 6:18.
Decades of expanded activity passed quickly, and the question now was, What will the 1970’s bring? My two sons, Duane and Jonathan, and my daughter, Carmel—a fourth generation—were grown and had families of their own. We were expecting that 6,000 years of man’s existence would be reached in 1975. Would this date bring us to the start of Christ’s Millennial Reign? That possibility intrigued us.
Now we can look back on that year and appreciate that the words of Jesus at Matthew 24:36 do not allow us to fix a date for the end. He stated: “Concerning that day and hour nobody knows, neither the angels of the heavens nor the Son, but only the Father.” Nevertheless, generations three and four have kept awake to the signs of the times, and they have had “plenty to do in the work of the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 15:58) Duane, Jonathan, Matthew Leondis, my son-in-law, and I serve as elders in various congregations in California. Additionally, for a time Jonathan enjoyed the privilege of full-time service as a pioneer and as a member of the Bethel family at the headquarters of the Watchtower Society.
The Proper Attitude in the Time of the End
Even as with the first-century Christians, undoubtedly Jehovah has permitted his present-day servants to entertain certain hopes and expectations. These have served to reveal our true motivation and the depth of our devotion. Our family has faced the questions, Are we serving God on a short-term basis, on our own terms? Are we motivated only by the hope of an immediate reward? Or are we keeping awake and active, trusting in Jehovah’s faithfulness to his promises?—Titus 1:2.
Two generations of our family, my father and grandfather, have died after enjoying rewarding, happy lives. Four generations remain: my great-grandchild, my grandchildren, my children and I. Now my six grandchildren are serving Jehovah, grasping opportunities and accepting responsibilities in the congregation and in the field ministry as they also anticipate the end and the restored earthly Paradise to follow. We all have confidence that the long-awaited hour will arrive in Jehovah’s due time. We can apply the prophet Habakkuk’s admonition, “Keep in expectation of it; for it will without fail come true. It will not be late.”—Habakkuk 2:3.
Now, in my 73rd year, I look back on a lifetime of treasured memories in association with Jehovah’s organization. I have the poignant memory from my childhood of Brother Russell standing in an open touring car, waving a farewell to the San Francisco Congregation as he left to board a train bound for Los Angeles to deliver what would prove to be his last discourse. Other memories also come to mind—pioneer service in isolated territories in the 1930’s; many conventions and assemblies, especially Columbus, Ohio, in 1931, when we received the name Jehovah’s Witnesses.—Isaiah 43:10.
I realize that this is the time to be in step with Jehovah’s ‘faithful slave class.’ Surely, as never before we need to remain awake, alert, never forgetting that Jehovah is worthy of loyal service and praise with or without the ultimate reward. Why? Because he is the source of all good things—our very existence, our hope for the future. What a future it will be—the restored Paradise of peace, health and happiness, the resurrection (when loved ones will be raised and be together again), and eternal life in a glorious relationship with our heavenly Father!—Revelation 4:11; Luke 23:43.
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Herald Toutjian in California’s mountain terrain in the 1930’s. Note case for quick display of Bible study books
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Answering the call for pioneer ministers, our family built, and for years used, this house trailer
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Four generations of Herald Toutjian’s family