I Have Seen That Jehovah Is Good
As told by Lennart Johnson
ON SUNDAY, July 26, 1931, the second president of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society, J. F. Rutherford, delivered the talk “The Kingdom, the Hope of the World” at the Columbus, Ohio, coliseum. Our family in Rockford, Illinois, listened to it on the radio. I was only 14 years old, but this program lifted, as it were, a thick curtain from my eyes.
Though my father was interested in the Kingdom message, and later my brother too, my mother was always indifferent. Father died the following year, in 1932. Other Watch Tower broadcasts kept feeding me spiritually, but it was not until April 1933 that I found the place where Jehovah’s Witnesses met, miles away on the other side of the river.
What a surprise it was for the small group there to see a slim teenager bicycle up to their meeting for a study in Vindication Book Two! At each meeting, I kept learning more and was glad two months later to start going from door to door with the Kingdom message. I was baptized at a regional (now circuit) assembly that same year.
After school each day, I would spend an hour or so visiting the neighbors in the area around our home with the Kingdom message. I also had opportunity to witness in school. For example, one course echoed the hellfire and torment theory. This prompted me to provide Scriptural proof that the dead are not suffering but, rather, are not conscious and are in their graves with the prospect of the resurrection. The teacher allowed me to read my extensive composition before the entire class.
The Full-Time Ministry
In May 1935, I attended the Washington, D.C., convention, where pioneering (the full-time ministry) was emphasized. On returning home, I wrote to the Watch Tower Society, and they not only sent back a list of available territories but also, to my surprise, included several plans for building a house trailer. In those days pioneering often meant going to new areas, and a trailer provided one a place in which to live. So I decided to work toward getting a car and a trailer so that I might pursue the full-time ministry.
In the meantime, I became involved in using a sound car that our congregation had acquired to advertise the Kingdom message. When another brother and I were invited up to Monroe, Wisconsin, to use it, I met and soon afterward married Virginia Ellis. Now we could work together to get that car and trailer to use in the pioneer work!
In the fall of 1938 my mother died, and about then Harold Woodworth wrote us from New Mexico: “Come on out here; the need is great.” So we set out for New Mexico, which was an overland trip of about a thousand miles. At one address along the way, a telegram reached us. “Come back home,” it urged. I was offered a well-paying job with excellent chances for advancement. I tore the telegram up. If Jehovah had helped us to prepare for pioneering, I was not going to let anything interfere!
In March 1939 we began our pioneer service around Hobbs, New Mexico. This was cattle country; there were also many new oil-field settlements to visit in this area. The small congregation had meetings on Friday and Sunday, so we would take along literature, water, food, a small stove, and a folding cot and spend Monday through Friday afternoon preaching in the rurals. When night came, we slept in the wilds with the sky as a roof and an oil-field “torch” nearby to scare away the rattlesnakes. We spent the weekends in town working with the congregation.
After several months of this schedule, the Society sent us on to Roswell and then to Albuquerque, New Mexico. Here we again used the sound car, which was particularly effective in witnessing to Indian villages in the area. When the new work of street witnessing with our magazines began early in 1940, we were glad to share in it with the brothers in Albuquerque.
Opposition During War Hysteria
The second world war had begun in Europe the previous September, and a period of vicious opposition followed because of our neutral stand toward participation in the war. Once my shirt was literally torn off my back while I was sharing in the ministry.
In the summer of 1940, brothers were working with the magazines near El Paso, Texas, and a number of them were arrested. The following Monday, Harold Woodworth and I went to help them during their trial. By questioning the brothers before the court, I was able to bring out pertinent points in their defense. After all of them were declared innocent, the newspaper report referred to me as a “promising young lawyer from Albuquerque.” But really, it was Jehovah who gave his servants the victory that day!
Similarly, our brothers were jailed for preaching in another city. After I appeared in court in their defense, Brother David Gray and I took a letter to each city official. The letter noted the legal right of Jehovah’s Witnesses to do their work, and it warned that if the Witnesses continued to be harassed, the officials would be held responsible for any damages that might result.
The mayor received the letter and read it without comment, but the chief of police told us: ‘Out here in the West, people take a trip out of town, and . . . well . . . others look for them later, and they can never be found.’ The threat was not carried out, however; rather, things quieted down, and the court action against the brothers was dropped.
About this time I was appointed by the Watch Tower Society as a zone servant (now called circuit overseer). My assignment covered much of New Mexico and a portion of Texas.
Gilead and a Foreign Assignment
In 1943 Virginia and I received an invitation to attend the second class of the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead. After graduation in January 1944, we were at first assigned to work with the Flatbush Congregation in Brooklyn, New York. We lived behind the Society’s factory in an old building that was later demolished to enlarge the Adams Street factory facility.
In time, however, we received our assignment to the Dominican Republic, where Rafael Leónidas Trujillo Molina was the absolute dictator. When we arrived on Sunday, April 1, 1945, Virginia and I were the only Witnesses in the country. We went to the Victoria Hotel and acquired accommodations—$5 a day for the two of us, including meals. That very afternoon we started our first home Bible study.
It happened this way: Two Dominican women with whom we had studied the Bible in Brooklyn had given us the names of relatives and acquaintances, one of whom was a Dr. Green. When we visited him, we also met his neighbor Moses Rollins. After telling them how we got their names and addresses, they listened intently to the Kingdom message and agreed to a Bible study. Soon Moses became the first local Kingdom publisher.
That very evening Dr. Green took us house hunting from the upper deck of a two-story bus. We finally rented a small concrete home there in the capital, Ciudad Trujillo (now Santo Domingo). In June four more missionaries joined us. A second missionary home was opened, and then more missionaries arrived. By August 1946 we had a peak of 28 publishers. Soon many more missionaries arrived, and homes were opened for them too. The increase was on!
Serving Under Ban
By 1950 we had grown to well over 200 publishers. However, because Jehovah’s Witnesses maintain a position of strict neutrality, Trujillo’s government began putting our young brothers in prison. Then, to top it all off, a total ban was placed on the work of Jehovah’s Witnesses on June 21, 1950.
Unable to meet in Kingdom Halls, the brothers began meeting quietly in small groups in private homes. There we studied Watchtower articles that were produced by mimeograph. All the loyal ones greatly cherished the spiritual strength that Jehovah kept giving them in these small study groups.
Sunday was our day to visit the many Dominican brothers in Trujillo’s prisons. We would be frisked on entry, with our full identification being duly noted. Sometimes soldiers would surround us when we were with these brothers, watching us carefully. On one occasion we were joined by Stanley Aniol from Chicago, who was visiting his missionary daughter Mary (now Mary Adams, serving at Brooklyn Bethel). Moved by the integrity of the young Dominican brothers, Brother Aniol tenderly kissed all of them before the eyes of the onlooking soldiers.
At the end of the visit, as we were walking down the main business street, a car full of Trujillo’s men followed us at a snail’s pace. This was one of Trujillo’s well-known methods of trying to instill fear in people. When we told Brother Aniol what they were up to, it did not shake him in the least. Indeed, it was necessary to ignore Trujillo’s efforts to intimidate and to put full confidence in Jehovah.
At times impostors, Trujillo’s spies, would call at our door, claiming to be brothers. So we had to be “cautious as serpents and yet innocent as doves.” (Matthew 10:16) We would test such persons with searching questions to determine whether they were really our brothers or not.
During the ban several speakers would each give Memorial talks at three different study groups, traveling as unobtrusively as possible from one location to the other. Often we had torrential rains on Memorial night, and since Trujillo’s army of spies were as afraid of a heavy rain as people in other places are of a severe blizzard, it was a blessing to us.
Since reentry into the country would have been refused by Trujillo’s government, most of the missionaries did not attend the international conventions in New York City in 1950 and 1953. We had to be content with the convention coverage in The New York Times, which provided beautiful convention pictures and detailed day-by-day descriptions of the program. Also, a local theater gave a lengthy showing of the large baptism at the 1953 convention.
In 1956 Roy Brandt and I were called in for official questioning. Officials of the Trujillo government had earlier invited Brother Manuel Hierrezuelo to come and see them. But later Manuel was returned to his family as a corpse. So now, how would things work out for us?
Upon arriving, we were questioned separately, our answers evidently being recorded. Nothing more took place then, but two months later the newspapers announced that the Trujillo government was removing the ban on Jehovah’s Witnesses and that we could resume our activities publicly. Kingdom Halls were again located, and Jehovah’s work kept on progressing.
However, in June 1957 a violent new wave of persecution began, and all the missionaries were expelled from the country. Our departure was indeed a sad day for us. Virginia and I had served 12 years in the Dominican Republic and had seen the number of Witnesses grow from just the two of us to well over 600. In 1960 the second ban was removed, and the number of publishers continued to grow until now it is about 10,000!
Serving in Puerto Rico
When we arrived in Puerto Rico in August 1957, our Christian brothers as well as newspaper reporters were on hand to receive us. The resulting press accounts gave a wide witness. At the time, there were fewer than 1,200 Kingdom publishers in Puerto Rico; now there are nearly 22,000!
In 1958 the Society invited me to become a traveling overseer. Thus, over the years we came to know and work with many faithful brothers from all parts of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. In due course, my wife and I became members of the local Bethel family. And since the formation of the Branch Committee here, Jehovah has favored me with being a member of it.
It fills me with happiness to have received personally from Jehovah the foretold “hundredfold now . . . brothers and sisters and mothers and children.” (Mark 10:30) I never have wanted to spend my life in any other way than in his service. And so, as I look back on the some 48 years since I began to pioneer, I rejoice to say that, indeed, I have seen that Jehovah is good!—Psalm 34:8.
While the above life story of Lennart Johnson was in final preparation, Virginia Johnson died peacefully in her sleep on January 31, 1987
[Blurb on page 27]
It was Jehovah who gave his servants the victory!
[Blurb on page 28]
All the loyal ones greatly cherished the spiritual strength that Jehovah kept giving them
[Picture on page 29]
Virginia and I worked with many faithful brothers from all parts of Puerto Rico