A New Home for the Gilead Missionary School
ON FEBRUARY 1, 1943, Nathan H. Knorr, former president of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, delivered the opening address to the first class of a new school. He explained to those one hundred students that “it is not the purpose of this [school] to equip you to be ordained ministers. You are ministers already and have been active in the ministry for years. . . . The course of study . . . is for the exclusive purpose of preparing you to be more able ministers.” To this day the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead continues to train ministers for the foreign missionary work.
Back in 1943, Gilead School was located in the Finger Lakes region of New York State. Gilead remained there for 17 years. Then, in 1961, it was relocated in Brooklyn. For what purpose? The Gilead curriculum has always been designed to meet the needs of the organization. The need for developing and better organizing branch facilities throughout the earth called for more extensive instruction of the students by members of the headquarters staff of Jehovah’s Witnesses, located in Brooklyn. So for a number of years, the emphasis was on training branch personnel. After that, the focus was again on the missionary work.
For the next 27 years, 1961 through 1988, the students of Gilead School enjoyed the privilege of living and learning right among the headquarters staff in Brooklyn. There the students benefited from close association with members of the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses and with other experienced ministers. What better way to learn how a branch of the Watch Tower Society operates? The students benefited not only from training in class but also from observing the headquarters staff at work each day.
What effect has Gilead School had on the international preaching work? Of the 93 branch committee coordinators serving to keep the work organized worldwide, 74 are graduates of Gilead School. This speaks well for the excellent training these men received for handling the heavy responsibility of shepherding God’s people today. Countless traveling overseers now serving the needs of the organization are also Gilead School graduates. Yes, the training program at Gilead School has kept pace with the needs of the organization.
Gilead Moves out of Brooklyn
Once again, however, the decision was made to move Gilead School. So in the autumn of 1988, four truckloads of furniture and office equipment arrived at Gilead’s third home—Watchtower Farms, located in Wallkill, New York. Within just two months, the maintenance staff at Watchtower Farms prepared fine classrooms, a library, and offices for the school. Some worked day and night to prepare the facilities of the school in time for the next class to begin their training.
On October 17, 1988, the 86th class of Gilead commenced. Without missing a beat, the school continued its purpose of ‘training men and women to be more able ministers.’ In its beautiful new surroundings at Watchtower Farms, some of the flavor of the original school in the Finger Lakes region was restored.
The 86th Class Graduates
On March 5, 1989, the entire Watchtower headquarters staff in Brooklyn and Watchtower Farms met together at the Jersey City Assembly Hall to share in the graduation of the 86th class. Daniel Sydlik, a member of the Governing Body, opened the program with prayer. Karl Klein of the Governing Body served as chairman. In his introduction, he drew a contrast between the foreign missionaries of Christendom and those of Jehovah’s Witnesses. How successful Gilead-trained missionaries have been in teaching the truth of God’s Word in countries such as Japan, where there are now over 131,000 Witnesses actively sharing in the field ministry!
With the theme “Let Good Works Be Your Hallmark,” Donald Krebs described the pivotal role Gilead missionaries have played in the worldwide increase of Jehovah’s organization. “Your good works in the missionary field as teachers of God’s Word will be your . . . distinguishing trait. We encourage you to work hard. Jehovah will richly bless your efforts.”
George Gangas, a member of the Governing Body, gave a spirited talk on the theme “The Bible Is the Best Book Under the Sun.” He counseled the graduates: “Do not forget to study the Bible. The Bible is full of spiritual gems . . . that shine and sparkle. One who appreciates them wants to look at them over and over and enjoy their sparkling qualities.”
Richard Eldred’s theme was “You Can Make a Difference.” As the new missionaries touch the lives of other people, they can make a positive difference. Men and women of ancient times such as David, Nehemiah, Deborah, and Abigail had a positive influence on others by caring deeply for them, maintaining courageous faith, and displaying a mild, spiritual attitude.
“Count Your Blessings” were the words of Lyman Swingle, a Governing Body member, to the graduating class. After recounting a few of the blessings the class has had, such as being able to spend five months in concentrated study of the Bible, he encouraged them: “As the end draws near, you may find the pace may quicken, the road may get rougher, the path steeper. But make sure you never tire out, that you never quit, that you never become a dropout.”
One of the instructors, Jack Redford, developed the theme “Do Not Let Your Strength Become a Weakness.” Based on Solomon’s counsel, “Do not become righteous overmuch,” he warned of depending too much on personal assets rather than leaning on Jehovah. (Ecclesiastes 7:16, 17) “Good traits that are carried to an excess can become a pitfall.” For example, one whose strength is law and order might take such a trait to the extreme by being too rigid. Thus, he gave this counsel to the class: “All of us should be aware of our weaknesses, but we should also be aware of our strengths. Be righteous but not self-righteous. Lean on Jehovah. Make Jehovah your strength.”
Ulysses Glass, instructor and school registrar, explained Jesus’ words, “Take my yoke upon you.” (Matthew 11:29, 30) Here Jesus is inviting his disciples to ‘get under his yoke’ with him. He did not want to burden them. He had the needs of others foremost in his mind. He showed humility. He did not chastise his disciples. Jesus said, “Learn from me.” A missionary must have the mind of Christ. This speaker commended the class for their giving spirit and encouraged them to continue showing that same spirit in their foreign assignments.
As the morning session drew to a close, Governing Body member Carey Barber gave a spirited talk on the subject “The Harvest Is the Conclusion of the System of Things.” He drew attention to the modern-day fulfillment of Jesus’ illustration of the wheat and the weeds. (Matthew, chapter 13) First, Christ’s anointed ones are gathered in. Then, especially since the year 1935, the other sheep have joined in being ‘harvested.’ Gilead School has accomplished a marvelous work in helping to harvest disciples of Christ.
After the graduates had been given their diplomas, one of their number read a warm letter expressing their sentiments about the training and attention they received from the instructors and the Bethel family. In part, the letter said: “Your interest in us not only as a class of Gilead but as individuals has impressed us and is a course worthy of imitating. It is with mixed feelings that we part company—sad to leave because we will miss your presence but happy and excited about our new assignment.”
For the afternoon program, the graduates participated in a Watchtower Study conducted by Ralph Walls. Then the class acted out some highlights of the experiences they had in the field ministry during their stay at Watchtower Farms. The Teaching Committee of the Governing Body presented a program of skits entitled “Respect for Authority Promotes Unity” and a slide presentation depicting the joy missionaries in many lands have shared in over the years. The program ended with a heartfelt prayer by Frederick Franz, 95-year-old president of the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead.
By their enthusiastic response to the program, those in attendance indicated their support for the prospective missionaries and appreciation for the program. There is no doubt that the 24 graduates of the 86th class of Gilead are determined to make Jehovah their strength as they go to their privileged assignments in the missionary field.
[Box on page 21]
Number of married couples: 12
Number of students: 24
Number of countries students are from: 6
Number of countries assigned to: 12
Average age: 32.3
Average years in truth: 14.1
Average years in full-time ministry: 9.1
[Picture on page 23]
86th Graduating Class of the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead
In the list below, rows are numbered from front to back, and names are listed from left to right in each row.
(1) Parrott, R.; Imig, E.; Benig, G.; Bengtsson, E.; Baart, W.; Ihander, K. (2) Lewis, J.; Hilario, L.; Lindmark, A.; Antoncich, C.; Agurs, C. (3) Bengtsson, R.; Parrott, J.; Benig, J.; Imig, J.; Baart, A.; Rissell, S. (4) Rissell, M.; Lewis, L.; Antoncich, M.; Hilario, R.; Agurs, H.; Lindmark, L.; Ihander, J.