‘Living With Jehovah’s Day Close in Mind’
AS TOLD BY LYLE REUSCH
FROM my earliest memory, our family life centered around a strong belief in the coming new world of righteousness. My mother and father would read to us children from the Bible about ‘the new heavens and the new earth’ and about ‘the cow and the bear feeding together, the lion eating straw just like the bull, and a mere little boy being leader over them.’ They made it so real, I imagined myself to be that mere little boy.—2 Peter 3:11-13; Isaiah 11:6-9.
In the 1890’s my grandfather, August Reusch, learned basic Bible truths through correspondence with Charles T. Russell. He preached extensively in and around his home in the Northwest Territory of Canada, now Yorkton, Saskatchewan. Repeatedly he counseled his sons: “Boys, watch out for 1914!” The conviction that Jehovah’s day was close at hand imbued my father with a sense of urgency that continued through his lifetime and that has been a way of life for me.
Mother and Dad were the epitome of hospitality. A Bible study group of the Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Ecclesia of Bible Students regularly met in our home. Traveling ministers (called pilgrims) frequently stayed in our home. My brother, Verne, and my sister, Vera, and I benefited spiritually. There was always a sense of reality about the Kingdom message and an urgent need to tell others about it. (Matthew 24:14) Little did I realize that in future years I would spend the major portion of my life continuing the work of these pilgrims by serving as a traveling overseer of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
In 1927, Dad moved the family to Berkeley, California. Then, during the depth of the financial depression in 1933, I graduated from high school. My brother, Verne, and I considered ourselves fortunate to get a job at the Ford Motor Company plant in Richmond, California. However, one day in the spring of 1935, I reflected: ‘If I must work hard, I may as well work hard for what is worth while.’ That day I put in my resignation, and the next day I wrote for an application to serve at Bethel, the world headquarters of Jehovah’s Witnesses, in Brooklyn, New York. After attending the thrilling convention in Washington, D.C., in June 1935, I was accepted for Bethel service.
Nathan Knorr, the factory manager, put me to work in building maintenance. I was the whole crew. As a 20-year-old lad, I felt very important. I had the run of the factory, and no one questioned what I was doing. Brother Knorr appreciated the way I did my work, but he discerned an attitude problem. He kept working on me so that I could develop some humility.
It was some time, however, before I realized that Brother Knorr was really trying to help me. So I apologized for my attitude and expressed determination to do better. That was the beginning of a long, warm relationship with Brother Knorr, who in January 1942 became the Watch Tower Society’s third president.
Besides doing maintenance work, I learned to operate most of the machines in the bookbindery or to assist on them. In time I did office work, writing and dispatching work orders through the factory. The spring and summer of 1943 were especially busy and exciting times. The world was in the midst of World War II, and Jehovah’s Witnesses endured harassment, arrests, and prison sentences on all kinds of unjust charges. In 1940 the U.S. Supreme Court had ruled that schools could require students to salute the flag. This triggered a wave of violence in 44 of the then 48 states. Witness children were expelled from schools, parents were arrested, and mobs ran Witnesses out of town. Individuals were shot, others were tarred and feathered.
As Jehovah’s Witnesses fought back in the courts, the volume of paperwork in the form of writs, briefs, and documents produced by the Society’s legal staff came across my desk to be printed. All of us worked many hours extra time to meet deadlines. The resulting Supreme Court rulings in May and June of 1943—when 12 out of 13 cases were decided in favor of Jehovah’s Witnesses—have become part of the annals of legal history. I am grateful to have observed firsthand how Jehovah opened the way in defending and legally establishing the good news.—Philippians 1:7.
The Theocratic Ministry School
In some ways we were poorly equipped in those days to accomplish the tremendous work foretold at Matthew 24:14, namely, ‘to preach the good news of the Kingdom in all the earth before the end comes.’ Brother Knorr, as the Society’s president, saw the need for an educational program. Along with other male members of the Bethel family, I received an invitation to enroll in the “Advanced Course in Theocratic Ministry.” This eventually developed into the Theocratic Ministry School, which has been operative in the congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses since 1943.
We met in the Bethel family meeting room on Monday evening, February 16, 1942, and Brother Knorr gave the first instruction talk. His subject was “Manuscripts of the Bible.” Brother T. J. Sullivan was the school overseer and gave us counsel to help us improve. In time I was given this assignment of Bethel school overseer, which I viewed as a great privilege. But it was again time for discipline.
I had been overly critical and flippant in counseling an older brother, so Brother Knorr frankly told me: “Nobody appreciates your throwing your weight around.” When he had made his point and my ears had become red enough, Brother Knorr’s large brown eyes softened. In a kindly voice, he read Psalm 141:5: “Let the righteous smite me; it shall be a kindness: and let him reprove me; it shall be an excellent oil, which shall not break my head.” (King James Version) I have used that text many times when it has been my responsibility to give corrective counsel to others.
Prior to the beginning of the Theocratic Ministry School, few of us had the opportunity to do much public speaking. When Brother Rutherford died, Brother Knorr worked hard to develop his speaking ability. My Bethel room was directly below his quarters, and I could hear him practicing his delivery. Literally dozens of times, he read aloud the public talk “Peace—Can It Last?” before he gave it at the Cleveland convention in 1942.
On the Road
After I had served 13 years at Bethel, Brother Knorr assigned me to serve in the field as a district overseer. In briefing me on my new assignment, he said: “Lyle, you now have the opportunity to observe firsthand just how Jehovah deals with his people.” With this in mind and two suitcases in hand, I began my career as a traveling overseer on May 15, 1948. Before beginning the district work, I served as a circuit overseer for a few months.
The first company, or congregation, that I served was a small rural one in Waseca, Minnesota. I had written ahead to Dick Cain, the company servant (as the presiding overseer was then called) to meet me at the train. He was a special pioneer, and to cut down on expenses, he had just moved from his rented room, where he had wintered, into his summer quarters, a tent. However, Minnesota in May is not exactly summertime! That night, shivering in the tent, I wondered if I was cut out for this way of life. I caught a severe cold that lasted for weeks, but I survived.
During those early years when visiting different congregations and circuits, I stayed in brothers’ homes and lived out of a suitcase. I experienced all types of accommodations, including sleeping on the kitchen floor, on living-room couches, in hot unventilated attics. At times I stayed in homes where a member of the family opposed our beliefs. In Wisconsin an unbelieving husband glared at me all week long as I came and went. When he came home drunk one night, and I overheard him threaten to “shoot that so-and-so,” I concluded that it was time to leave. But disagreeable experiences were comparatively rare and only added spice to my assignment. They were something to be amused about afterward.
I Find a Companion
I recall it well. At a circuit assembly in Tiffin, Ohio, I met a pretty, brown-eyed young lady, Leona Ehrman, from Fort Wayne, Indiana. She too was reared in the Christian faith and had been a faithful pioneer for several years. Traveling constantly did not lend itself to courting, but we kept in touch by correspondence. Then, in 1952, I asked, “Will you?” and she said, “Yes, I will!” and so we did. We got married. We have often been asked why we never settled down with a home and family, but we say that we do have a family—brothers, sisters, fathers, and mothers in some 44 states where we have served.—Mark 10:29, 30.
Some have asked, ‘Haven’t you ever got tired and felt like quitting?’ Yes, more than once. But between the two of us, when one feels down, the other holds up. One time I even wrote to my brother, Verne, asking him about the possibility of working with him in his painting business. He replied that he had often looked forward to that because we were so close when growing up. However, he counseled me to weigh my decision carefully. Then I called to mind Brother Knorr’s oft-repeated words to members of the Bethel family: “It doesn’t take much effort to quit; it takes courage and integrity to stick to your assignment.” That was still good advice.
No married traveling overseer could long stick to his assignment without a wife who is loyal and supportive, as Leona has proved to be to me. Her warm, loving personality and constantly cheerful attitude in the congregations have endeared her to thousands. I never tire of telling her how much I love her. That, I am sure, helps her to stick to the work also.
Witness to Jehovah’s Blessing
The primary work of the district overseer centers around the circuit assembly, where he serves each week as chairman, public speaker, and school overseer. Jehovah’s blessing on this arrangement is evident from the fact that of the hundreds of circuit assemblies of which I have had oversight, not a single one failed to be held. True, some were interfered with, but not one was canceled.
In Wooster, Ohio, in the spring of 1950, as I called for the closing song of the Saturday night session, a mob of more than a thousand opposers formed outside the theater where the assembly was being held. The mob had brought along cases of rotten eggs to pelt us with as we left. So we evaluated the situation and kept the program going with songs, experiences, and impromptu Bible talks. The 800 Witnesses remained calm and patient.
At 2:00 a.m., the weather was extremely cold. As though in preparation for exiting, the attendants brought out the fire hoses and began washing off the eggs that had landed on the front sidewalk. The mob formed again, leaving the warmth of the nearby bus depot. But the attendants’ action was a diversion, and we dismissed the audience quietly through the rear exit. All made it safely to their cars. Mob interference occurred at other Ohio assemblies, in Canton, Defiance, and Chillicothe. But mob violence was tapering off, as decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court in our favor began to have an effect on lawless ones.
In time health problems made a change necessary. So in the mid-1970’s, the Society kindly assigned me to serve as a circuit overseer in a southern California area where congregations are close together and health-care facilities are readily available. While the district overseer’s duties involve more travel and the care and oversight of many circuits, the circuit overseer’s duties involve arranging circuit assemblies and assigning and rehearsing program parts. In addition, Pioneer Service Schools need to be arranged and served. So the work of traveling overseers, either district or circuit, is a full-time, rewarding way of life.
Still Anticipating Jehovah’s Day
From my earliest recollections more than 70 years ago, I have always felt a keen sense of urgency. Armageddon has always been, in my thinking, the day after tomorrow. (Revelation 16:14, 16) Like my father, and his father before him, I have lived my life as the apostle urged, “keeping close in mind the presence of the day of Jehovah.” I have always viewed the promised new world as a ‘reality though not beheld.’—2 Peter 3:11, 12; Hebrews 11:1.
This expectation inculcated in me from infancy will soon be realized. “The cow and the bear themselves will feed,” “the lion will eat straw just like the bull,” and “a mere little boy will be leader over them.” (Isaiah 11:6-9) Such heartwarming promises are guaranteed by Jesus’ words to John at Revelation 21:5: “The One seated on the throne said: ‘Look! I am making all things new.’ Also, he says: ‘Write, because these words are faithful and true.’”