Pioneer Service Inspired My Life
As told by Arthur Gustavsson
AWAY UP in the snow-clad Himalayas, the truth found in God’s Word the Bible reached my parents, Fred and Amanda Gustavsson. It was 1903, and at the time I was in my mother’s womb. What were my parents doing up there, so far from their homeland of Sweden?
In the year 1880 they had emigrated from Sweden to the United States. Both of them had a strong belief in God. They joined the Scandinavian Mission Alliance in Chicago. After a period of training, they were sent out as missionaries to Baltistan, now located in the very north of Pakistan. However, they soon found that it was very difficult to convert the Muslims to Christendom’s teachings. They themselves began to doubt that God could really be so cruel as to condemn those warmhearted, hospitable people to an everlasting punishment of hellfire if they did not get converted. Little did they realize that their minds were being prepared for something better.
In due course they received a book from a friend in the United States that completely changed their thinking. It was The Divine Plan of the Ages, by Charles T. Russell, then president of the Watch Tower Society. They read it, and it was as if scales had dropped from their eyes. They clearly saw that the wages of sin is death, not eternal torment. (Romans 6:23) They now had a positive message of hope for the people—that God’s Kingdom will transform the earth into a paradise.
A Change of Mission
It was about this time that I was born in Shigar in Baltistan. A little later my sister Mirjam came into the world. My parents had decided that they wanted to work under the direction of the Watch Tower Society to proclaim the new truth they had found. However, circumstances forced them to move back to Sweden in 1908. There in Göteborg they began preaching the ‘good news of the Kingdom’ as colporteurs, as full-time ministers were then known. (Matthew 24:14) During the first ten years, they covered the whole city three times in their house-to-house ministry. Many people accepted the truth.
I remember a Mrs. Hanna Gunnarsson who became so indignant when my father said that the Bible did not teach that man has an immortal soul. She exclaimed: “If we don’t have an immortal soul, then you might just as well go and drown yourself in the creek!” My father just smiled kindly and gave her the booklet What Say the Scriptures About Hell? She later became a Witness, along with her daughters. That incident taught me never to get perturbed—no matter what people might say.
When I was ten years old, Brother Rutherford came to Göteborg to present the public talk “Where Are the Dead?” During his presentation, he offered $1,000 to anyone in the audience who could prove that man has an immortal soul. Nobody took up the challenge.
Pioneer Spirit in the Family
Because of the fine example of my parents, I was soon imbued with the pioneer spirit. I started sharing in the ministry at an early age. My father had me give out handbills advertising the public talks. I enjoyed this and had some unusual experiences. One day I called on my teacher to invite her to a talk. She harshly refused the leaflet. I was so surprised that I stumbled and fell down the stairs. It was a lesson for me—it taught me to be realistic. People are not always what we would like them to be.
Our home became like a pioneer home, with each one pulling his own weight. My sister Mirjam and I were aware of the importance of the preaching work that Father and Mother were doing. Therefore, on our own we would often clean the whole house after coming home from school.
At 16 years of age I dedicated myself to do Jehovah’s will and got baptized in 1919 at a convention in Örebro. The following year I was invited to work with the small group of eight brothers who were busy at the Watch Tower Society’s branch office in Sweden. Those years of branch service laid a foundation for a disciplined and well-ordered life in Jehovah’s service.
1914—An Unforgettable Year
For many years prior to 1914, the Bible Students, as we were then called, had been looking forward to that year as being something special. Since it was marked in Bible prophecy, we expected unusual events. I can clearly recall Sunday, August 2, 1914. My father was conducting the meeting in Göteborg when outside we heard a newsboy cry out: “World conflagration has begun!” The brothers in the hall began looking at one another. Some of the things we had been proclaiming about 1914 were beginning to come true.
The year 1914 also meant something for Johan Severin Petersson. His sister Ida had previously left him three books written by Brother Russell. He thought they were dangerous, so he burned them. Ida heard of it and, persisting, lent him three more. This time he locked them away in a drawer.
Then came the Great War of 1914. Johan had heard that the books spoke about that date. Out of curiosity, he unlocked the drawer, took them out, and read them. His eyes were opened to Bible truth, and he also became a Bible Student. He got baptized in 1917, and his daughter Rosa followed his example in 1918. In 1928 she became my dear wife and partner for life in Jehovah’s service.
On the Road With the Good News
When I married, I left the branch office, and Rosa and I spent our honeymoon pioneering! During our first month of married life, we placed 4,000 copies of the booklet Freedom for the Peoples.
After just a few months, I was asked if I would consider traveling as a regional service director, known today as a circuit overseer. It would mean visiting congregations throughout Sweden and later Norway. There were no arrangements in those days to take your wife along on these trips. I had to be away from home six or seven weeks at a time, with a break of a few days between each route. We were willing to make the sacrifice and did so for 14 years.
What did Rosa do during this period? She pioneered with my sister in Hälsingborg, Sweden. They had to do a lot of bicycling in those days to cover the extensive territory. But let her tell that story.
“Pioneering in the 1930’s was very different from serving today. Mirjam and I used to rent a little room for a week or two as we moved from parish to parish. Then we moved on with all our baggage loaded on our bikes—clothes, saucepans, and boxes of books. It was quite a sight!
“It was not always easy to find lodging. One day, after working separately, Mirjam and I met at about eight o’clock in the evening.
“We continued bicycling to the next farm where we saw lights. Then we recognized the house. Our hearts fell. The people there had been very opposed when we visited them before. Hesitantly, Mirjam went to the door and asked for lodging. To our surprise and relief, the lady asked us to come in and sit down. After a while we were invited to the best room, where a table was set with a big meal. We could hardly believe our eyes! After we had eaten, we were shown to a bedroom where the beds were made up with the best linen. We were baffled by this change of attitude.
“The next morning we were given breakfast. When we wanted to pay, they refused our money. We asked if we could give them the book called Deliverance as a gift. ‘Oh, yes, we want that book,’ they said. ‘Our neighbor told us you had given her one when you stayed with her. She told us how much she enjoyed it.’
“That experience taught us that you never know what fruitage will result from a single placement of Bible literature.”
Sticking to Pioneer Service
In 1942 the traveling work was discontinued for a while, so Rosa and I were able to get back to pioneering together again. Later her father got sick, and we left our full-time ministry to care for him. However, as soon as circumstances permitted it, we returned to our favorite activity—the full-time service. We felt we were back in our right element. On coming home after a strenuous day’s preaching, we have often said: “The pioneer service is worth all the sacrifices and effort entailed.”
For many years now we have been pioneering in the western part of Sweden, working with the Svenljunga Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Because we are now up in years, we do not have the vigor of our younger days, but we are happy to be able to continue in the pioneer ranks. I have now completed 55 years in full-time service and my wife 48. However, we do not live on memories alone, even though they make us feel good. No matter how old you are, you must always look ahead. It is our sincere desire that we may walk faithfully and modestly with our God, Jehovah, and eventually realize the blessings of his Kingdom that we have preached about in full-time service for so many years.—Micah 6:8.
[Picture on page 26]
My wife and I have worked together in Jehovah’s service for 58 years