Putting My ‘Hand to the Plow and Not Looking Back’
AS I boarded the plane bound for my new home in Bolivia, the words my mother had written me in her last letter kept going through my mind. “No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:62, King James Version) I was determined to apply these words.
Although missionary work would be a new experience, I had already enjoyed full-time service for some five years. I learned the truth from my parents, who began studying back in 1923 with the Bible Students, as Jehovah’s Witnesses were then called. Although only four years old at the time, I wanted to understand the Watch Tower Society’s publications. However, for many years my family did little about the truth. Occasionally some of our neighbors who were Bible Students would come to visit us. I remember, too, how Father would visit neighbors in order to listen to Judge Rutherford’s radio lectures.
It was not until 1938, though, that the seeds of truth began to bear fruit. My mother—now divorced and remarried—began accepting and avidly reading publications from Jehovah’s Witnesses. I was especially thrilled to learn that “a great crowd” would survive the destruction of this present system of things and live forever on earth. (Revelation 7:9-14) This information had to be shared with others!
So after getting baptized in June 1939, I began thinking of becoming a full-time minister, or pioneer. After I moved to Colorado, I got acquainted with Helen Nichols and her mother—two anointed sisters who were regular pioneers. The wonderful experiences they related further encouraged me to serve as a pioneer. Thus, in May 1940 I received my first pioneer assignment to Salida, Colorado.
Gilead Training and Foreign Assignment
After a few years of pioneering in various parts of Colorado and Indiana, I was invited to attend the third class of Gilead. This was a school organized by the Watchtower Society for training missionaries. For five wonderful months I enjoyed the blessings of Gilead School, but after graduating I did not immediately receive a foreign assignment. World War II was being fought! So I was temporarily sent to work with seven other sisters in West Haven, Connecticut. In 1945 I was assigned to work in Washington, D.C. Nevertheless, the way was soon clear to head to my foreign assignment: La Paz, Bolivia.
Previous to receiving my assignment, I had never even heard of Bolivia! No wonder disquieting thoughts ran through my mind as we boarded the plane: How would I do as a missionary? Would I be able to stick it out? Remembering my mother’s advice to ‘put my hand to the plow and not look back’ strengthened my resolve to make a success of my missionary work. Also, I would not be alone in this new land. Accompanying me were my sister and brother-in-law who had graduated from the fourth class of Gilead. On June 9, 1946, our plane landed in La Paz.
In the Midst of Revolution
The very day I arrived, someone tried to start a revolution by dropping a bomb on the Government Palace. The bomb fizzled out, as did the revolution. But less than two months later, another revolution broke out, and many were left dead and wounded. The president of the country, along with some of his ministers, was hung from a lamppost in the principal plaza. Such was my introduction to Bolivia.
Nevertheless, after that dreadful bloodletting, we were able to ‘comfort those that mourned,’ and many of the humble Bolivians were willing to study the Bible with us. (Isaiah 61:1, 2) In those days, we often used recorded sermons as a means of witnessing to the people. This meant carrying both a phonograph and a book bag up and down the steep hills of La Paz at the breathtaking altitude of 12,000 feet (3,660 m). Because of my limited Spanish, some people thought I was selling the phonograph and records!
Many were the experiences I enjoyed as a new missionary. One day, while going from house to house in one of the better sections of La Paz, a maid answered the door and invited me in. The lady of the house listened to my presentation and subscribed for The Watchtower. Why such a ready response? She had recently been operated on, and while in the clinic, she had read the Bible. She discovered that the Bible’s doctrines are quite different from what her church taught, so she was quite eager to read the literature I left her. Before I could get back to visit her, however, she came looking for me, finally finding me on a street corner offering the Watchtower and Awake! magazines to passersby. ‘Please come to see me!’ she insisted. She progressed rapidly with her study of the Bible and was soon baptized. Now, 30 years later, she is still a faithful servant of Jehovah.
A Dirty Doll
After working 11 years in La Paz, we were given an assignment in the southern part of Bolivia. Hence, my sister and her husband, my partner Esther Erickson, and I headed for a small town named Tupiza. This was in February 1957. Tupiza is located near the railroad line between Bolivia and Argentina. The people there were friendly, and it was easy to start Bible studies. In fact, we soon organized regular meetings, which were attended by several from Tupiza.
One day, we found a dirty doll in our front yard. What did this mean? Evidently the priest had begun to warn the people against Jehovah’s Witnesses, so someone was trying to cast an hechizo, or spell, upon us! However, their hechizo proved powerless.
Because Tupiza was such a small town, Esther and I were soon reassigned to Villazón, another small town on the border of Bolivia and Argentina. This region was barren, windy, and cold! But we were not discouraged, as we were confident of receiving Jehovah’s blessing.
When Esther and I began working the town, we noticed that the people had cards in their windows that stated: “Jehovah’s Witnesses and Evangelists Not Accepted.” Yet the people in Villazón had no idea who Jehovah’s Witnesses were! As in Tupiza, a priest had interfered, giving out the cards in church for the people to put in their windows. In spite of the window cards, the people responded favorably, and we placed much literature and started many Bible studies. Little by little the cards disappeared from the windows.
Where, though, could we hold meetings? We converted one room of our tiny apartment into a Kingdom Hall. For seats we placed boards across cartons of books. There were no baptized brothers there, so Esther and I donned head coverings and conducted the meetings ourselves. To our delight, at the first Memorial of Christ’s death that we held there, we had over a hundred in attendance! True, some came out of curiosity to see how the gringas (foreign girls) conducted their meetings. But some of those who first came out of curiosity are Witnesses now.
We also worked the small town of La Quiaca, Argentina, where we were able to start several Bible studies with interested people. Because of our having to cross the border so much, we attracted the attention of the border policeman. One day, when we were returning from La Quiaca, the patrolman asked us not to do our work so openly, since the work of Jehovah’s Witnesses had come under ban in Argentina. I said to him, “I understand your government guarantees freedom of worship.” His answer was that the priests had put pressure on the ministers in the government, resulting in the ban. At any rate, after that, he would turn his back every time we crossed the border to Argentina!
For four years we worked in Villazón. My partner studied with a man whose wife operated a chichería, a tavern where drinks made from fermented corn are sold. This man learned the truth and was later baptized, eventually serving as an elder until his death. The chichería? Now it is a Kingdom Hall! When we left Villazón, there was a congregation of 20 publishers. Now there are some 60 Witnesses, with about 110 attending the weekend meetings.
Never ‘Looking Back’
After Villazón came an assignment in Santa Cruz, a city in the eastern part of Bolivia. What a joy it was to see the work grow from a small congregation of 20 publishers to nine thriving congregations. Then, in 1965, I returned to live in La Paz in one of the missionary homes, where I have been ever since.
In February 1978 an adobe wall collapsed and fell on me as I was getting off a city bus. My right leg was so severely broken that I had to learn to walk again. But now I am able to get back into the service and conduct Bible studies.
No, full-time service has not always been easy. There have been ups and downs, heartaches and disappointments. But the joy of finding sheeplike persons and helping them to serve Jehovah has more than made up for any disappointments. Now, after nearly 44 years of full-time service, I am as determined as ever to keep my ‘hand to the plow’ and have a share in the work that is yet to be done.—As told by Betty Jackson.
[Picture on page 28]
Betty Jackson preaching the good news in Bolivia