My Life in Jehovah’s Spirit-Directed Organization
As told by Albert D. Schroeder
THE first Sunday in June 1934, Alex Jones and I were preaching from door to door in Jersey City, New Jersey. Suddenly, police officers rushed into the apartment house where we were, arrested us, shoved us roughly into a car, and took us off to jail!
Three days later, a judge pronounced us guilty of peddling without a license and sentenced us to ten days in jail. We were taken to the Hudson County Prison, required to undress, go through a sterilizing bath, and put on prison clothes. Then we were marched to a cell.
Here I had time to reflect. I was only 23 and was happy with my life as a full-time minister at Brooklyn Bethel. Let me share some of those reflections.
Grateful to Grandmother
Particularly did I have warm memories of my maternal grandmother, Elizabeth Darger. Her parents brought the family to Michigan from Germany sometime before 1870. She taught German and English in the public schools and lived with us in the home of my Lutheran parents in Saginaw, Michigan, the city of my birth. During World War I, she and her schoolteacher sisters became associated with the International Bible Students, now known as Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Although my parents required me to attend the Lutheran Sunday school, Grandmother was permitted to speak to me regarding her thrilling Bible beliefs. She was able to read the Bible in Latin and Greek, and she inculcated in me a desire to study the Bible in its original languages. With fondness, I recalled stirring Bible discussions with my great-aunts that centered on God’s Kingdom government soon to take over the earth in accord with Daniel 2:44.
In 1923 Grandmother began to study with me, using the Watch Tower Society’s book The Harp of God, and I also attended meetings of the Saginaw Congregation with her. Now, while in my cell, I reflected on those meetings, on listening to the Watchtower radio programs broadcast over WBBR all the way from Brooklyn, New York, and on other such experiences that shaped my life.
For example, I recalled hearing over the radio Judge Joseph F. Rutherford, president of the Watch Tower Society, speaking at the Bible Student’s convention in Toronto, Canada, in 1927. In Detroit, Michigan, in 1928, I attended my first convention. There I heard Brother Rutherford speak in person. At that convention, I rejoiced to shout “Aye” to the resolution “Declaration Against Satan and for Jehovah.” The new book Government was released that showed God’s Kingdom to be a theocratic government, not a democratic one.
Reflections on School Days
I also reflected on my school days. On the urgings of my parents, who did not want me to become a full-time minister, I accepted a college scholarship. Thus, in September 1929, I entered the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor to study language, economics, and engineering.
Mrs. Judson, the landlady in whose building I lived, was in touch with the Ann Arbor Congregation of Bible Students. On my return to school in the fall of 1930, she told me that a fine young man from Alabama had just moved into the room across from mine and that she thought he would be responsive to “our Bible message.” Indeed he was! William Addison Elrod and I quickly became fast friends as he embraced Bible truths; and we continue to be friends to this day.
Bill Elrod and I took a surveying course during the summer of 1931, so we were unable to attend in person the 1931 convention in Columbus, Ohio. However, on Sunday, July 26, we did listen to the public talk on the radio and were among the enthusiastic invisible audience that accepted the beautiful new name “Jehovah’s Witnesses.”
In those days Socialist, Fascist, and Communist forms of government were being discussed extensively on campus. In October 1931 Winston Churchill spoke to 3,000 of us students, advocating democracy as still the best form of government. Later, in December 1931, Lord Bertrand Russell, the renowned British mathematician and philosopher, spoke on pacifism. Still later, Dr. Hjalmar Schacht, president of the Reichsbank in Berlin, Germany, discussed the need for nationalistic control of economies; in other words, he advocated national socialism, or Nazism. Two years later he was in Hitler’s government as minister of economic affairs.
Having heard the appeals of these world statesmen, I was more convinced than ever that the Messiah’s kingship alone can be a satisfactory world government. So Bill Elrod and I planned to finish school June 15, 1932, and then begin as partners in the full-time preaching work, now known as pioneering.
We began our pioneer service before we were baptized because at that time it was not clearly understood whether those with the earthly hope needed to be baptized or not. However, after I was baptized in Vandercook Lake, Michigan, July 24, 1932, it became evident that my hope had changed to that of an anointed one, which was confirmed by the ‘witness of the spirit.’—Romans 8:16.
Brooklyn Bethel Service
On September 9, while we were pioneering in Howell, Michigan, Bill came running out of the post office waving a yellow telegram. Opening it, we read the invitation from Brother Rutherford to report for Bethel service as soon as convenient. It took us only 72 hours to wind up our pioneer affairs and then drive the 700 miles [1,100 km] to Brooklyn in our Model T Ford. We finally crossed the Brooklyn Bridge and arrived at Bethel on September 13, 1932. At the time, there were about 200 members of the Bethel family, most of them of the King’s anointed brothers.
After serving in a factory assignment for a few weeks, I received a job change to the Service Department. An affable Irish brother, Thomas J. Sullivan, was the overseer. He always reminded us younger ones, ‘When problems are presented, be sure to get all the facts before suggesting a solution.’ (Proverbs 18:13) With a twinkle in his eyes, he would add: “What is your hurry? Give Jehovah an opportunity. See what his spirit does about it.”
Reflecting on these past experiences while in prison, I rejoiced at the privilege of suffering for righteousness’ sake, even as did Jesus Christ and the apostles. (John 15:20; 1 Peter 4:16) As I look back, I realize that such experiences were preparing me for future privileges.
Thrilling New Light
Early in 1935, some six months after my release from prison and return to Bethel, I recall a number of discussions at the Bethel table regarding the identity of the “great multitude.” (Revelation 7:9, 13, King James Version) Some expressed support for the view that this was a secondary heavenly class, even as the first president of the Watch Tower Society, Brother Russell, had taught. Others, however, argued that the “great multitude” consisted of those with an earthly hope. During these discussions, Brother Rutherford did not commit himself.
All of us at Bethel were excited as we traveled by special train to Washington, D.C., for the convention to be held from May 30 to June 3, 1935. On the second day of the convention, Brother Rutherford presented the thrilling news that the “great multitude” are indeed an earthly class. At the climactic moment, he asked: “Will all those who have the hope of living forever on the earth please stand?” About half of the 20,000 in attendance stood. Then Brother Rutherford proclaimed: “Behold! The great multitude!” There was a brief hush. Then we all shared in a gladsome cry, and the cheering was loud and long. The next day 840 were baptized, mostly of the earthly class.
This 1935 new light on the “great multitude” led to steps of reorganization in 1936 to prepare for the expected influx of members of this class. For example, until then, there was just one large English congregation in all of New York City, but now new congregations were formed with us younger anointed ones being assigned as overseers. Today, there are 336 congregations in New York City!
A New Assignment
Thursday, November 11, 1937, proved a momentous day for me. I had received notice to come to Brother Rutherford’s office that afternoon at 3:00 p.m. Arriving on time, I was concerned that I might be in for some reprimand. But after a few friendly exchanges, Brother Rutherford asked whether I would be willing to take up another assignment.
“I’m willing to serve wherever needed,” I replied.
Then, taking me completely by surprise, Brother Rutherford inquired: “How would you like to serve at the London Bethel as branch servant?”
“My, that’s a big assignment!” I commented.
“Furthermore, this means a one-way ticket, agreeing to stay there until after Armageddon. So I will give you three days to decide,” he continued.
“Well, Brother Rutherford, I don’t need the three days. If it is Jehovah’s will that I go, my answer is yes!”
“I thought that would be your answer,” he replied. “Brother Knorr already has your ticket on the liner Queen Mary that sails for England next Wednesday.”
My head began to whirl. “You will receive training during the next few days,” Brother Rutherford concluded.
When I returned to the Service Department, located in the factory, Brother Knorr began laughing at my overwhelming surprise. He knew what had just happened. Nathan Knorr was factory overseer and earlier had traveled to England with Brother Rutherford. At once he began giving me training on how to oversee a branch operation. A few days later, I returned to Brother Rutherford for further preparation.
Brother Rutherford’s advice, based on Micah 6:8, was ‘to do justly, stand firm for organizational policies, uphold Bible standards, render prompt obedience, and not to procrastinate. Be kind in dealing with the brothers, share regularly in the field service, and be humble in walking with God.’ He said the British field had leveled off because the previous branch overseers did not fully support the field ministry. So he concluded emphatically: “Encourage increased field service. Britain right now needs 1,000 pioneers, not just 200 as they have at present.”
Reception in England
When the Queen Mary landed at Southampton, I took the train to London and then went by taxi to the Society’s branch office, which for 26 years had been located at 34 Craven Terrace, Lancaster Gate. The International Bible Students Association vice president received me cordially. I delivered to him Brother Rutherford’s letter that authorized him to dismiss the branch servant and to notify the Bethel family that I would be replacing him. This was done at the noon meal, and the 30 Bethel members received me warmly.
In time I became acquainted with many of the branch servants and representatives in Europe. These were anointed ones that took the lead uncompromisingly in the preaching work in spite of the Hitler-time obstacles, men such as Martin Harbeck of Switzerland, Charles Knecht of France, Fritz Hartstang of the Netherlands, Johan Eneroth of Sweden, William Dey of Denmark, and courageous Robert Winkler of the Society’s German underground organization. By every Scriptural means, these fearless men of faith withstood the harsh Nazi persecutions.
Brother Rutherford Visits
In 1938, the year before the outbreak of World War II, the British had developed transoceanic radio-telephone transmission. Their engineers agreed to tie in four continents for a special convention centered in London, September 9 to 11. The Royal Albert Hall, the largest suitable place in London, was engaged for the convention. Brother Rutherford’s group, including Nathan Knorr, arrived three weeks early to aid with preparations.
To advertise the public talk, sandwich-sign parades were organized. Before the first information march was due to take place, Brother Rutherford asked to see me. While we were discussing convention matters, he was doodling with his pen, which at times he did when talking with someone. He peeled from a pad what he had written and handed it to me. “What do you think of that?” he asked.
“RELIGION IS A SNARE AND A RACKET,” it read.
“It looks blazing hot,” I replied.
“I meant it to be strong,” he said. He then instructed that placards with this wording be made in time for our first convention information march Wednesday evening. The next night Nathan Knorr and I led the march of about a thousand brothers for six miles [10 km] through the center of London.
Brother Rutherford called me to his office the next morning and asked for a report. “Many called us communists and atheists and made other hostile remarks,” I said. So he thought for a few minutes and finally peeled off a sheet with the suggested slogan “SERVE GOD AND CHRIST THE KING.” He thought that interspersing signs with these words might neutralize the catcall reaction, which it did. This 1938 convention went off well. The principal sessions on Saturday and Sunday, with the feature lecture “Face the Facts,” were transmitted successfully to 49 simultaneously held conventions throughout the English-speaking world.
After the convention, a training session was held with the branch servants of European countries. During the session, Brother Rutherford severely reprimanded me for the lack of training of the attendants. The discipline brought tears to my eyes. Later, William Dey of Denmark comforted me privately, saying that Brother Rutherford was using me to teach all of them indirectly. And so it was! The next day Brother Rutherford, who liked to put on an apron and cook, invited all of us to a special dinner that he had prepared. All enjoyed delightful fellowship.
The World War II Years
On September 1, 1939, Hitler invaded Poland. On Sunday, September 3, Britain declared war on Germany. Thousands of us in Britain were out in the field service that morning, appropriately placing the new book Salvation. At each door people were shaken; some women were crying. All of us ran out of Bible literature as we gave Scriptural comfort to the people.
The following month, we received an advance copy of the November 1, 1939, Watchtower article entitled “Neutrality.” Right on time it outlined the Scriptural position for true Christians during worldly conflicts. (John 17:16) Soon arrests and imprisonment of hundreds of our British brothers and sisters began to take place.
The air warfare over Britain, called the Battle of Britain, grew intense late in 1940 and continued into 1941. We in London endured 57 consecutive nights of 14-hour-long bombings. The air was alive with screeching noises. Fires burned furiously everywhere. Twenty-nine bombs fell within 500 yards [460 m] of Bethel. Our large Kingdom Hall adjacent to Bethel was set afire by incendiary bombs, but it was quickly brought under control by our trained Bethel brothers.
There were wartime restrictions of many kinds, including food rationing and limits on travel. Yet, we kept up and even increased our house-to-house preaching. In 1937 Britain had 4,375 publishers, but by 1942 the number had increased to 12,436. Pioneers had increased from 201 when I arrived in England in 1937 to 1,488 in 1942! Surely, Jehovah has richly blessed this early sowing by field preachers. Now, more than 50 years later, there are more than 109,000 Kingdom publishers in Britain, including more than 6,000 regular pioneers.
From September 3 to 7, 1941, we accomplished, aided by Jehovah’s spirit, what government officials called “impossible.” We held Britain’s largest convention of Jehovah’s Witnesses to that date. Over 12,000 met at Leicester’s De Montfort Hall and its surrounding grounds right in the midst of war. This was the same hall that was used when the Society’s 1983 annual corporation meeting was held in Leicester. Over three thousand of us then reminisced about the 1941 wartime convention experiences.
The London office became a refugee center during the war. Its phone was always ringing. A relief fund was made available, enabling brothers who were bombed out to get immediate aid. Also, brothers who were refugees from Poland, Germany, Norway, France, Belgium, Holland, and other places came to London where they were given a helping hand. Many of these took up pioneer service in Britain.
Persona Non Grata
As soon as the United States entered the war on December 8, 1941, I lost my exemption as a U.S. citizen from the British military draft. Because of my Christian neutrality, I could not comply with the various orders issued by the British government for war duties. Finally, on May 6, 1942, the British government notified me that I was persona non grata and therefore was ordered to return to the United States. On August 1, London’s Daily Herald carried my picture on its front page along with the article “They’ve Told Him ‘Go Home.’”
On Monday morning, August 24, 1942, two Scotland Yard detectives arrested me for deportation. They took me by train to Glasgow, Scotland, where I was held overnight in the medieval Barlinnie Prison. The next day I was escorted on board the British cruiser S.S. Hilary, where I continued under custody. It took 13 days for our convoy of 52 ships to cross the Atlantic in zigzag fashion to avoid German submarines. Escaping their torpedoes, we made it safely to Halifax, Canada! Now set free, the next day I went on by train to New York, arriving on September 10.
Peace Period Remarkably Forecast
I found great joy in returning to the many warm brothers at Brooklyn Bethel. I had come in time to attend the history-making convention in Cleveland, Ohio, September 18-20, 1942. There, Brother N. H. Knorr, the Society’s new president, gave the talk “Peace—Can It Last?” This brought new light on Revelation 17:8. It was revealed that the Allied powers would prevail and that a new international “peace beast” would arise. This did occur when, after the war ended in 1945, the United Nations was organized!
Watchtower Bible School of Gilead
After the annual corporation meeting of the Watch Tower Society on October 1, 1942, Brother Knorr as president called Maxwell G. Friend, Eduardo F. Keller, and me to his office. He told us that a decision had been made that morning to establish a missionary Bible school at Kingdom Farm, South Lansing, New York. He said that I would be the school registrar and was to serve as the chairman of the committee to get the school organized. We worked with Brother F. W. Franz in designing the fine Bible courses. This began a long period of happy cooperation with him in advancing Bible education.
Monday morning, February 1, 1943, was the official dedication by Brother Knorr of what is now known as the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead, located on Kingdom Farm near South Lansing, New York. After the dedication program, school sessions began in the four classrooms, each containing 25 students. The course of advanced Christian education covered 20 weeks, the Bible being the major textbook.
Happy months, then happy years, of deeper studies in the Bible proved to be my blessed lot. Along with other devoted instructors, I was grateful to Jehovah for this privilege of teaching and moving the hearts of such dedicated students who loved Jehovah and his work! Up to 1960, 3,700 students came from 70 lands to enrich our school classes.
Sharing in Married Life
While attending the “Triumphant Kingdom” conventions in Europe in 1955, I renewed my acquaintance with dear Charlotte Bowin, who had been one of my students in the first class of Gilead in 1943. She served for 12 years as a faithful missionary in Spanish territory, including Mexico and El Salvador. Now, along with her partner Julia Clogston, she was attending these European conventions. Incidentally, Charlotte’s parents had been members of the Brooklyn Bethel family when they were both single, back in Brother Russell’s time. Then, when they married, Martin Bowin became a traveling overseer until Charlotte was born in 1920.
In January 1956 Charlotte entered Bethel service and was transferred to Kingdom Farm. In August 1956 we were married. When Charlotte became pregnant, we were downhearted, believing that this would end our full-time service. However, Brother Franz encouraged us, saying: “You haven’t sinned in making the womb fruitful. Take courage! It may be that Jehovah will arrange for you somehow to continue in the full-time service.”
So it turned out. I was able to continue on the Gilead School faculty. First we lived in a small rented apartment, and then in 1962 we moved into a newly built house located about a mile [1.6 km] from the school. There in South Lansing, New York, our son, Judah Ben, who was born in February 1958, spent his early years.
We had many joys in Judah Ben’s upbringing, as we always tried to apply Bible principles. (Ephesians 6:1-4) He was encouraged to follow Micah 6:8, even as I sought to apply that text in my life. Later, Judah became a third generation Bethelite and served at Bethel for 12 years. He was married to a lovely pioneer sister, Amber Baker, in June 1986. They now pioneer in Michigan.
The School for Elders
At the 1958 Yankee Stadium convention, Brother Knorr announced the opening of a new school for elders, to be known as the Kingdom Ministry School. On March 9, 1959, the first class of 25 students commenced its four weeks’ course at Kingdom Farm, where the Gilead School was also functioning. When Gilead School was moved to Brooklyn in September 1960, the Kingdom Ministry School remained at Kingdom Farm, where we were able to train a hundred elders monthly. I found that being a father proved to be an asset in teaching the family heads attending the new school.
In 1967 this school was transferred to Bethel in Brooklyn. Later, in 1968, it was relocated to Pittsburgh, where, up until 1974, thousands of fine elders received training. From 1974 on, the school was conducted in various Kingdom Halls throughout the country. My wife and son accompanied me as I traveled to these different locations. They served as pioneers while I taught the school.
Further Royal Service
In November 1974, I was teaching the Kingdom Ministry School in my hometown of Saginaw, Michigan, when I received an unforgettable letter from the Governing Body. It invited me to become a member of that body and also invited my wife and son to serve as members of the Brooklyn Bethel family. So on December 18, 1974, we moved into Bethel, and I took up my new privileges of service.
The Governing Body works well together in directing the worldwide activities of Jehovah’s Witnesses, in publishing the spiritual food for our progressive enlightenment, and in making judicial decisions. The Governing Body meets every Wednesday, opening the meeting with prayer and asking for the direction of Jehovah’s spirit. A real effort is made to see that every matter that is handled and every decision that is made is in harmony with God’s Word the Bible.
As a member of the Governing Body, I have been sent out to visit various branches as a zone overseer. It has been heartwarming for me to experience firsthand the unity of Jehovah’s people in so many countries. It is also a personal joy to meet again the many Gilead missionaries still faithful in their foreign assignments. Indeed, in every country, Jehovah’s people are the best and the happiest!
Jehovah is simultaneously feeding all his people spiritually through The Watchtower and other Biblical publications. All of this is evidence that Christ Jesus has been our ruling King since 1914 and that he will successfully lead us through the “great tribulation” just ahead. Finally, all you who are young in years, wisely build careers of full-time sacred service now! You too will have thrilling privileges waiting for you. (Micah 7:7) I rejoice in Jehovah’s providential care over the past decades. His blessings have truly made me rich. (Proverbs 10:22) I am grateful to Jehovah every day for the privileges I have in serving him in his spirit-directed organization.—Revelation 7:14.
[Picture on page 12]
With my partner, Bill Elrod
[Picture on page 15]
Being taken by train to Barlinnie Prison
[Picture on page 17]
With my wife, Charlotte