Keep Sowing Seed—Jehovah Will Make It Grow
AS TOLD BY FRED METCALFE
EARLY in 1948, in the course of my house-to-house ministry,I visited a small farm on the outskirts of Cork in the south of Ireland. When I explained to the farmer who I was, his face reddened. He flew into a rage, screamed that I was a Communist, and ran to get his pitchfork. Without a second thought, I dashed out of the farmyard and made a flying leap onto the bicycle I had left at the roadside. The hill there was very steep, but I pedaled down it as fast as I could, not looking back, as I imagined the farmer hurling his pitchfork after me like a javelin.
I had grown used to such reactions in the two years since I came to the Republic of Ireland from England as a special pioneer in 1946. The small band of Kingdom preachers that I joined, only about 24 in number, had already experienced a barrage of hostility and vilification. But I was confident that Jehovah’s spirit eventually would produce results.—Galatians 6:8, 9.
Before I relate how things developed, however, let me tell you a little about my early life and the training that stood me in good stead under such trying circumstances.
Good Parental Example and Training
My father contacted the truth early in 1914. While traveling home from a soccer match in Sheffield, England, he read a Bible tract that explained the condition of the dead. He had already visited a number of churches in search of answers to his questions but with little success. What he now read in that tract excited him. He sent for the six volumes of Studies in the Scriptures that the tract advertised, and he read them avidly, often into the early hours of the morning. Dad quickly recognized the truth.
Soon he began associating with the local congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses, an association that lasted over 40 years, for most of which he served as presiding overseer. To my father’s delight, two of his brothers and all three of his sisters accepted the truth. One of his brothers witnessed to a young shop assistant, and she and her sister both became dedicated, anointed Christians. My father and his brother married these two young women.
In my family I was one of four boys brought up in “the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” (Ephesians 6:4, King James Version) I am glad that my parents spared no effort in implanting the truth in us. At the time there were no publications specially designed to help parents teach children Bible truths; but we had a regular family Bible study twice a week using the book The Harp of God, as well as a regular discussion of the text for the day.—Deuteronomy 6:6, 7; 2 Timothy 3:14, 15.
My mother and father were also a wonderful example in their appreciation for meetings and in their zeal for the ministry. In addition to his fine spiritual qualities, my father also had a good sense of humor, which he passed on to his children. My parents’ hard work led to good results. All four of their sons, now in their 60’s, are still happily serving Jehovah.
Into the Pioneer Service
In April 1939, at 16 years of age, I finished school and became a regular pioneer. My father joined me in the pioneer service and gave me first-class training. Traveling by bicycle, we thoroughly covered all the territory within a seven-mile [11 km] radius of our home. Each day both of us took 50 booklets, and we did not come home until we had placed them.
Two years later I was privileged to be among the first special pioneers appointed in Britain. It was a joy to receive this blessing, but it was traumatic to leave the happy security of a theocratic home. In time and with Jehovah’s help, I adjusted.
My pioneer service was interrupted during World War II when, with other young Witnesses, I was imprisoned over the issue of neutrality. In Durham Prison, I was classed as a YP (Young Prisoner). This meant I had to wear short trousers—a distinct disadvantage in cold weather. Just imagine Wilf Gooch (now Branch Committee coordinator in Britain), Peter Ellis (a member of Britain’s Branch Committee), Fred Adams, and me—all about six feet [1.8 m] tall—standing together and wearing short trousers like schoolboys!
Following my release from prison, I pioneered in different parts of England for three years. Then I received an assignment that was to prove both testing and immensely satisfying—the Republic of Ireland. All I knew about southern Ireland was that nearly everyone there was Roman Catholic. But I ignored the negative comments made by some and did not hesitate to accept the assignment. This was a time for the expansion of true worship, and I was sure that Jehovah, through his holy spirit, would help me.
Most of the Witnesses in the Republic of Ireland were in the capital, Dublin, with just one or two scattered elsewhere. Hence, most people had never even seen one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Along with three other special pioneers, I started work in Cork city. It was not easy to find a listening ear. At their Mass, the priests constantly warned against us, calling us “Communist devils.” Newspapers too warned against our activities.
One day a barber was trimming my hair using a straight (cutthroat) razor. In the course of conversation, he asked what I was doing in Cork. When I told him, he flew into a rage and swore at me. His hand was shaking with anger, and I had visions of walking out of the shop with my head tucked under my arm! What a relief to get out of his shop in one piece!
Sometimes we had to face mob violence. For example, one day in March 1948, we were busy in the house-to-house ministry when a mob attacked my partner, Fred Chaffin. Pursued by the crowd, Fred ran to a bus terminus and appealed to a bus driver and a conductor for help. Instead, they joined in the attack. Fred ran farther up the road and managed to hide behind a high wall that bounded the priest’s house.
Meanwhile, I had gone for my bicycle. To get back to the city center, I took a side road, but when I emerged onto the main road, the mob was waiting. Two men grabbed my briefcase and threw its contents into the air. Then they began punching and kicking me. Suddenly a man appeared. He was a plainclothes policeman, and he stopped the attack, taking me and the attackers to the police station.
This attack provided a basis for ‘defending and legally establishing the good news.’ (Philippians 1:7) When the case came to court, the policeman who had rescued me, himself a Roman Catholic, gave evidence, and six individuals were convicted of assault. The case showed that we had a right to go from door to door and served as a deterrent to others who might think of resorting to violence.
At first it was considered too dangerous to send sisters as pioneers into places like Cork. However, it often seemed it would be better for sisters to call on interested women. So, just prior to this attack, the Society had assigned two fine pioneer sisters to Cork. One, Evelyn MacFarlane, later became a missionary and did excellent work in Chile. The other, Caroline Francis, who had sold her home in London in order to pioneer in Ireland, became my wife.
Seeds of Truth Germinate
It would have been easy to think we were wasting our time sowing seeds of Kingdom truth under such conditions. Seeing the truth germinate here and there, though, sustained our confidence in Jehovah’s power to make things grow. For example, the Society once sent the name and address of a man who had written requesting a copy of the book Let God Be True. The address was in Fermoy, a small town some 22 miles [35 km] from Cork city. So off I went on my bicycle one Sunday morning to locate this person.
When I reached Fermoy, I asked a man for directions. “Oh,” he said, “that is another nine miles [14 km] along the road.” Off I went again and eventually reached a farm down a little country road. The young man who had sent for the book was standing at the farm gate. When I introduced myself, he said: “That book is worth its weight in gold!” We had a fine discussion, and I hardly noticed the 30-mile [50 km] bicycle ride home. Even now, over 40 years later, I get much pleasure when I meet that “young” man, Charles Rinn, each year at conventions. Today, there are ten congregations in the Cork area.
During the 1950’s, Caroline and I scattered seeds of truth in the midlands of Ireland. Encouragement to persevere came in 1951 when meek people like “Granny” Hamilton and her daughter-in-law responded quickly. “Granny” Hamilton became the first baptized publisher in County Longford.—1 Thessalonians 2:13.
Accommodations were a problem. As soon as pressure was exerted on landlords, they asked us to leave. So, having lost three different lodging places in quick succession, we bought a tent, groundsheet, and sleeping bags and carried them around in a Y-model Ford. We set up the tent wherever we could at the end of each day’s witnessing. Later, we obtained a 13-foot-long [4 m] trailer. It was tiny, with few modern conveniences—we had to walk a quarter of a mile [half a kilometer] for drinking water—and no insulation, but to us it was luxury. My sense of humor was tested one day when I slipped on a wet tree root and fell backward into a long, narrow, but not very deep, well. Still, we accommodated the circuit overseer and his wife in that trailer when they visited us.
At times goodhearted people showed unexpected kindness. For example, we went to Sligo in the west of Ireland in 1958, eight years after another pioneer couple had been thrown out of town. We prayed for Jehovah’s help to find a site for the trailer, and after many hours of searching, we came across a large, unused stone quarry. A man herding cattle down the lane told us his family owned the quarry. “Could we use it?” we asked, telling him we were agents of a Bible society. He said that would be fine.
Soon after he inquired: “What Bible Society do you belong to?” It was an anxious moment. We told him we were Jehovah’s Witnesses. To our immense relief, he remained friendly. A few weeks later, he handed us a receipt for a year’s rent for the site. “We do not want any money,” he said. “But we know the opposition you people face, so if anyone questions your right to be on this site, there is your evidence.”
While in Sligo, we heard of a man, a well-known shopkeeper and soccer player, who had shown some interest while the previous pioneers were still in town. He had had little contact for eight years, however, so we wondered how he was now. The beaming smile on Mattie Burn’s face when I introduced myself gave the answer. The seeds of truth planted years before had not died. He is still a member of the active little congregation in Sligo.
One place that epitomized the antagonistic attitude of many toward us was the town of Athlone. When concentrated witnessing began there in the 1950’s, priests arranged for all who lived in one part of the town to sign a petition saying that they did not want Jehovah’s Witnesses to call at their doors. They sent this to the government, making the work in Athlone very difficult for some years. Once a group of youths recognized me as a Witness and began to throw stones. When I positioned myself in front of a shop window, the proprietor invited me into his shop—more to protect his window than to protect me—and let me leave through a rear exit.
Recently, however, in August 1989, when I conducted a funeral service in Athlone for a faithful brother, I could not help but marvel at how Jehovah made things grow there. Besides members of the congregation, some 50 local people listened respectfully to the funeral service in the fine Kingdom Hall the brothers had built.
Special Training at Gilead School
In 1961, I was invited to a ten-month course at the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead. This special course was for brothers only, so Caroline and I had to give the invitation prayerful consideration. We had not been separated for 12 years. Moreover, since my wife also had a keen desire to attend Gilead School and be a missionary, she was especially disappointed not to be invited. But, being noble-minded, she put Kingdom interests first and agreed that I should go. The course was a marvelous privilege. But it was a joy to return home and to get involved in work in the Society’s branch office, giving encouragement to the 200 or more Witnesses who were planting and watering in Ireland in the early 1960’s.
Some years later, in 1979, Caroline got to go to the world headquarters of Jehovah’s Witnesses in New York when I was invited to a special Gilead course for Branch Committee members. It was the highlight of what turned out to be the final part of her life. Two years later she died. In all the 32 years we served together in full-time service, Caroline never lost her zeal for Jehovah’s service nor her confidence that he would make things grow.
I missed her greatly. One thing that helped me to cope was an article in an Awake! magazine of the time, entitled “Learning to Live Without One You Love.” (February 8, 1981) Tears came to my eyes whenever I thought of my lost companion, but I did what that article suggested and kept busy in Jehovah’s service.
Jehovah’s Blessing Continues
A year before this, in April 1980, I was present when Brother Lyman Swingle of the Governing Body dedicated a new branch building in Dublin. What excitement to see 1,854 publishers in the field, which by then also included Northern Ireland! And now, ten years later, the Yearbook reports a peak of 3,451 for 1990!
In the meantime I have had an added blessing. While serving as a Kingdom Ministry School instructor, I met Evelyn Halford, an attractive and zealous sister who had moved to Ireland to serve where the need was greater. We were married in May 1986, and she has proved to be a real support to me in all my theocratic activity.
Of my 51 years of full-time service since leaving school, 44 have been spent in Ireland. It is heartwarming to see many I helped who are still serving Jehovah, some as elders and ministerial servants. I can say without hesitation that one of the greatest joys anyone can have is to help someone else on the way to life.
It has been faith strengthening to see true worship blossom in one place after another in Ireland, despite fierce opposition. Now, some 3,500 publishers are associated with over 90 congregations throughout the country. Truly, there is no limit to what Jehovah can do. He will make things grow if we diligently plant and water. (1 Corinthians 3:6, 7) I know this to be true. I have seen it happen in Ireland.