Jehovah Blessed My Decisions
As told by Samuel B. Friend
BACK in July 1952 I was singing every Saturday night on a popular country-western show in Little Rock, Arkansas. The three-hour show was a favorite not only with the live audience but with the thousands who listened to it over the 50,000-watt radio station KLRA. This was back before television was introduced to that southern part of the United States.
One night, as I was concluding a performance, a talent scout for the MGM (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer) recording company approached me. “I would like you to sing for us,” he said. And right there he offered a lucrative recording contract. He said that for some weeks he had been watching the show, and he thought I had a future in the recording business.
When I told him I wasn’t interested, he was shocked. I explained that I was only on the show to help support my wife and myself in the full-time ministry and that I didn’t want to become further involved in the music industry.
Later that year, television was introduced into Arkansas—there in Little Rock. The program director asked me to be the master of ceremonies for the first program, a variety musical show. I was delighted and gladly accepted the offer, explaining that I would appreciate having a part-time job with the station. He said that he would let me know after the opening program.
That opening program was a real success. I introduced talented performers and sang a number of songs myself. Afterward I asked whether I could have that part-time job. “No, I don’t want you part time,” he said. “I want you full time.” Since he would not compromise on the matter of working full time, I had to make a decision. To be in on the ground floor of the first TV station in Arkansas was a tempting prospect. But, really, it could not compare with serving our heavenly Father, Jehovah God, in the full-time pioneer ministry! So I declined the offer.
When I spoke with my wife Jean after the show, she was in full agreement. That night when we returned home, do you know what was in the mailbox? It was an invitation to serve as a circuit overseer, visiting congregations of Jehovah’s people to strengthen them spiritually. I really felt that Jehovah had blessed my decision.
Another Time of Decision
That was not the first such decision I had to make. When I finished high school in Mount Ida, Arkansas, my brother Fred and I joined a western musical group called the Texas Rangers. For nearly three years during the late 1930’s, I traveled with the group in many southern states. Our band received lucrative offers from sponsors as far away as Chicago. We won first prize at state contests in Mississippi and Arkansas, and in an Arkansas state contest I won first prize as the best male singer. So I had a promising career.
But I was divided. When I was a youngster in the 1920’s, our family had been contacted by representatives of the Watch Tower Society. In fact, when they were visiting our area a few miles west of Hot Springs, Arkansas, traveling ministers (called pilgrims) used to stay in our home. Our family enjoyed listening to them and generally accepted what they taught.
So as I grew up I had a basic knowledge of Bible truth. And I even spoke to my friends about the things these traveling ministers said and what we read at home in The Watchtower. Floyd Garrett was one of these boyhood friends. We went to school together in the mid-1930’s. Floyd responded to the things I related to him, and, in time, he made a dedication to God and began the full-time ministry in 1940. Today he is serving as a traveling overseer.
Well, during the time I was traveling with the band, my father would write me about talks the traveling brothers were giving back at our country home. Then, late in 1938, when we were in Jackson, Mississippi, I was invited to listen to a recording of the lecture “Fill the Earth” that the president of the Watch Tower Society, J. F. Rutherford, had delivered at a convention in London, England. That really renewed the spark of interest that had lain dormant for years. I knew I had to make a decision. The following year I quit the band and returned home to Arkansas.
Music, as well as fishing and hunting, now took second place in my life. Spiritual things became more meaningful as I began to seek first the Kingdom. (Matthew 6:33) Jehovah became real to me, and I had a burning desire to serve him. I made a dedication to Jehovah and was baptized November 27, 1939, in a cold Arkansas creek. My mother was baptized soon afterward.
I bought an 11-year-old car for $50, and in November 1940, at 23 years of age, I entered the full-time pioneer service in rural Arkansas. What a happy day that was! My course in life was clear, and I felt Jehovah was backing me and that is what counted.
In those days, searching for sheeplike ones in the rurals around Hot Springs was not easy. It required lots of driving on dirt roads, fording creeks, and walking down dusty wagon-trails to reach isolated houses. I traded Bible literature for fruits, vegetables, chickens, eggs, canned goods, and so forth. I still treasure those experiences.
Difficulties During War Years
When the United States entered World War II in 1941, there was widespread opposition to Jehovah’s Witnesses due to their stand of neutrality. (Isaiah 2:4) Mobs were formed against them throughout the country, and thousands of young Witnesses were imprisoned. Although I received a 4-D classification as a minister, I faced severe opposition, including threats to my life.
Aiming his shotgun right at me, a man ordered: “Get off my property before I shoot!” He had recognized me as a Witness as I approached his house. Needless to say, I left without hesitation. Then there was the man with whom I studied the Bible who warned me that he had heard that someone out east of town was planning to kill me when I got to his house.
A few months later while in that area, I was invited in by a housewife and began playing a phonograph record of a Bible lecture by Brother Rutherford. While the recording was playing, the husband came in and stood between me and the door, taking out his knife. He asked what my business was but then wouldn’t let me explain. “Will you salute the flag or fight in the army?” he demanded, as he brandished his knife at me. Immediately I recalled my friend’s warning and wondered how to respond.
“How would you feel,” I asked the knife wielder, “if someone accused you of supporting Nazism?” Indignantly, I continued: “I’m no more for Hitler than you are. All I’m interested in is helping people understand the Bible.” Somehow the response pacified the man, and I was able to get away safely. As I left, I thanked Jehovah for his protection and for putting the right words in my mouth.
On another occasion, I was playing a recorded Bible lecture for a man when I noticed that something was wrong. His face set, and he actually turned white. But he kept listening. When the recording finished, I nonchalantly asked how he liked it. He paused and replied: “At first I thought it was Jehovah’s Witnesses, and I was going to kill you.” I commended him for hearing a matter before judging and gave him a printed sermon and left. I wanted him to know who I was but only after I had left.
A new congregation was established in Bonnerdale where I grew up. After serving as the company, or congregation, servant for two years and seeing the group grow to 17 publishers, I was asked by the traveling overseer to move into Hot Springs and serve as congregation overseer. This I did in 1942. Associating with the mature, older brothers there was very beneficial to my spiritual development.
During those days, Jehovah provided for my needs in so many ways. Once I had no money to pay $5 to renew my car license. I prayed to Jehovah about it and went out in the ministry. That morning I received an unsolicited donation of exactly $5!
In 1944 I was assigned as a special pioneer in Joliet, Illinois. While I was there, an article appeared in the Informant (now Our Kingdom Ministry) about Bethel service in Brooklyn, New York. I decided to apply and was accepted.
When I arrived at Bethel in March 1945, there were only about 230 in the world headquarters family in Brooklyn compared to over 2,500 today! For five years I enjoyed working in various places, including the Service Department. Then one day Brother Knorr, president of the Society, called me to his office.
“You have been selected to manage the Society’s radio station WBBR,” he said. I couldn’t believe it.
“I know nothing about managing a radio station,” I said.
“You used to play on one, didn’t you?” he asked.
“But that’s different from managing one,” I protested.
Brother Knorr encouraged me to accept the assignment, and I agreed to give it my best. It was a real challenge but also a joy and a privilege. Over 90 members of the Bethel family were to be on the different programs each week. The new format was to consist of about 65 percent recorded music, including a 15-minute program of my singing each week. The rest of the time was devoted to Bible lectures, Bible studies, answering Bible questions, and other methods of presenting Bible information, as well as newscasts and information on public safety.
Baptizing My Father
When I was on vacation from Bethel in the summer of 1950, I had the unique happiness of baptizing my own father! For 27 years he had read the Society’s publications, but it took him many years to accept fully that Jehovah is using an organization through which He is dispensing His truths. (Matthew 24:45-47) At one time, Dad had actually been an atheist. Why was that?
Well, when my 13-year-old brother Jim died, the clergyman preached him right into a burning hell because the boy did not belong to a church. This stunned Dad. He reasoned: ‘Why should I worship a god who is a fiend, a torturer?’ He thought that what the preacher said was in the Bible. So he became an atheist. But his faith in God was restored when, in his first discussion with a Bible Student (Jehovah’s Witness), she convinced him from the Bible that hell is not a place of torture but mankind’s common grave.
In 1952 I faced another decision. Jean Mylton, a zealous pioneer, and I decided to marry. Someone asked Jean what her future plans were, and she explained that since at that time there was no arrangement to bring wives to Bethel, we were going to pioneer in Little Rock, Arkansas. “How can you go down there when you don’t have anything materially?” the person asked.
True, we didn’t have much money, as I had been in full-time service for 12 years and Jean 7. This person suggested that we both work full-time for six months to “buy a car and save up about $600.” When Jean asked me about it, I said: “How do we know we can’t make it—we haven’t tried it. If we need to, we can quit later and work full-time, but let us try it first.”
To our amazement, we received a car and exactly $600 as wedding gifts. Jehovah knew we needed it, and he provided it because we made the decision to stay in the full-time work. (Malachi 3:10) We pioneered a few months, and then I was invited to enter the circuit work in 1953, and the following year we were invited to the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead. After graduation Jean accompanied me in the district work for two years.
Foreign Service and Back to Bethel
In 1957 we were serving in Pasco, Washington, when the mailman brought a special-delivery letter from The President’s Office. I excused myself from the meeting for service with the brothers, and Jean and I went into another room and opened the letter. We were invited to go to Mexico, and I was asked to serve as branch overseer. I was shocked! We did not know the Spanish language, and I knew little about branch work. But our trust was in Jehovah, and we certainly needed it. The field was big and a lot of organizing was required, but the local brothers were willing, and Jehovah blessed the work.
After serving for some years in Mexico, I was again given the privilege of attending Gilead School in New York. When I graduated, Jean and I were given a new assignment, in the circuit work in Guatemala. Jean had some health problems, so later we returned to the United States where I continued to serve in the traveling work. For several years I also taught the two-week classes of the Kingdom Ministry School for elders. Finally, we returned to take up Bethel service in Brooklyn, and we have been in this most blessed place ever since.
So here I am at 69 years of age, having enjoyed many undeserved privileges in the full-time service over the past 45 years. I can say that Jehovah is good and his blessings are rich. Jean, my faithful wife during the past 34 years, has been an especially rich blessing to me. I know that Jehovah can bless the small ones as well as the great ones, and I have appreciated my blessings as a small one. (Psalm 115:13) It is my decision and desire to keep on serving our great and loving God Jehovah in whatever way he directs, to his honor and praise.
[Blurb on page 25]
“How would you feel,” I asked the knife wielder, “if someone accused you of supporting Nazism?”
[Picture on page 23]
Sam Friend on the right, early in his musical career
[Picture on page 24]
Presenting The Watchtower on the street in Hot Springs, Arkansas, in 1942
[Picture on page 26]
Sam Friend and his wife Jean today