Sticking Close to God’s Organization
AS TOLD BY ROY A. RYAN
Sandhill, Missouri, was appropriately named, since it was little more than a large sand hill in the open rolling countryside. This crossroads village was situated three miles [5 km] west of Rutledge and had only eight or nine houses, a Methodist church, and a small blacksmith shop. There I was born on October 25, 1900.
MY FATHER was the village blacksmith. Although my parents rarely attended church, Mother began sending me to Sunday school at the Methodist Church. I didn’t like the name Methodist, believing a person should be called a Christian; yet I did develop a thirst for Bible truth and an interest in eternal life.
When I was 16 years old, I went to work for the Santa Fe railroad. One of the International Bible Students (as Jehovah’s Witnesses were then called) by the name of Jim came to work on our railroad gang, and he and I frequently worked together. Jim talked, and I listened to what he had to say about the Bible. It sounded good to me, so I asked if I could borrow one of his books.
Jim lent me the first volume of Studies in the Scriptures, published by C. T. Russell of the International Bible Students Association. When I returned it, I had him get me more volumes. Shortly after that, Jim left the railroad, and the next time I saw him was on the street in Rutledge, taking orders for the illustrated book Scenario of the Photo-Drama of Creation. Later he invited me to the group meetings being held in his home. Every Sunday, I walked the three miles [5 km] into Rutledge for the meeting.
When the Golden Age magazine (now Awake!) was introduced in 1919, I wanted to start in the field ministry. Another new Bible Student and I were determined to distribute this new magazine from door to door. We felt somewhat intimidated about calling on people in our hometown, so we boarded a train and went to a nearby town. When we arrived in the morning, we each went our own way and knocked on doors until the afternoon, even though we had no training in this work. I took orders for two subscriptions, one from a man I worked with on the railroad.
On October 10, 1920, I was baptized in a pond near Rutledge. My parents were opposed to my becoming involved with the International Bible Students. This was because of the clergy-inspired opposition that the Bible Students experienced during the war years of 1914-18. Later, however, my father began attending some meetings of the Bible Students, and he also read The Golden Age. Before she died, my mother became more favorable to our understanding of the Bible’s truth. Yet none of my family ever made this truth their own.
A Time of Testing
In those early days, there were just three besides me who regularly attended the Bible study meetings in Rutledge. These three eventually left the organization. One was an excellent speaker, who would give public Bible talks in the area. However, he became proud of his abilities and felt it beneath his dignity to share in the house-to-house preaching as the early Christians had done.—Acts 5:42; 20:20.
When these three stopped associating with the International Bible Students, I remember feeling like the apostle Peter at the time Jesus spoke to the people about ‘eating Jesus’ flesh and drinking his blood.’ Stumbled by his teaching, many on that occasion left him. At that, Jesus asked the apostles: “You do not want to go also, do you?” Peter answered: “Lord, whom shall we go away to? You have sayings of everlasting life.”—John 6:67, 68.
Although Peter did not fully understand what Jesus meant by ‘eating Jesus’ flesh and drinking his blood,’ he recognized that Jesus had the sayings of life. That is the way I felt about the organization. It had the truth even though I did not always fully understand everything I read in the publications. Yet, whenever something was said that I did not understand, I never argued against it. Later, the matter was clarified, or viewpoints were at times adjusted. I was always happy that I had patiently waited for the clarification.—Proverbs 4:18.
Adjustments to Pioneer
In July 1924, I attended an international convention in Columbus, Ohio. The Golden Age described it as “the greatest convention of Bible Students held during the ages.” There the stirring resolution “Indictment” was adopted. The information received and the spirit manifested at that convention encouraged me to become a full-time minister, or pioneer.
Upon returning from the convention, I quit my job with the railroad, and a fellow Bible Student and I began serving as pioneers together. However, after about a year, the health of my parents deteriorated to the extent that they needed my help. I stopped pioneering and got a job working for a pipeline company, but since the people working there were not a good influence, I left that job and went into the business of raising bees and selling the honey.
By the fall of 1933, my parents had both died, leaving me free of obligations. So in the spring of 1934, I turned my bees over to the care of another person, built a small trailer to live in, and started in the full-time ministry again as a pioneer. At first I worked with an elderly Witness in the vicinity of Quincy, Illinois. Later I moved back to Missouri, where I joined a group of pioneers.
In 1935 there was a severe drought in the Midwest, and since we were working in a strictly agricultural area, it was tough going. No one had any money, so grateful people often gave us foodstuffs or other articles when we left them literature.
Pioneering in the South
That winter we moved down to Arkansas to escape the cold weather. We were able to distribute more literature in that area and received all the canned goods we could use. We often accepted other things that we could turn into cash, including old aluminumware, old brass or copper, old car radiators and batteries. This gave us gas money for my Model A Ford, which we used in the ministry.
We served in Newton, Searcy, and Carroll counties in the mountainous Ozark Plateau. The experiences we had preaching among the mountain people of Arkansas would fill a book. Since roads were primitive or nonexistent in those days, we did much of our work on foot. Some pioneers in our group used to go on horseback to contact people in the upper reaches of the mountains.
Once we heard about an interested man named Sam, whom we finally found living on the top of a mountain. He welcomed us with open arms and was happy to have us stay overnight. Although Sam’s wife was not interested in our message, his 16-year-old son, Rex, was. When we left, Sam invited us back. So two weeks later, we stayed with them again.
Upon leaving the second time, it was Sam’s wife who invited us back. She said we were a good influence on Rex. “He’s an awful bad boy to cuss,” she explained, “and I don’t think he’s cussed near so much since you boys was here.” Years later I met Rex again when he attended the Gilead missionary school in South Lansing, New York. Experiences such as this have brought me great satisfaction through the years.
When I applied to be a pioneer, I also applied to serve at the headquarters of Jehovah’s Witnesses in New York, called Bethel. In the spring of 1935, I was notified that my application had been accepted and that I was to report to the Watchtower Society’s Kingdom Farm in South Lansing, New York, to begin my Bethel service. I immediately made arrangements for a fellow Witness to take over my pioneer trailer.
I drove to New York in my Model A Ford, and at about half past ten on the morning of May 3, 1935, I arrived. Around one o’clock that afternoon, I was put to work splitting wood. The next day I was told to report to the dairy barn to help milk cows. I worked with the dairy for several years, sometimes milking in the morning and evening and working with the garden and field-crop crews during the day. I also took care of the bees and harvested honey for the Bethel family. In 1953, I was transferred to the cheese-making department.
One of those who touched my life because of his sterling example of humility, loyalty, and obedience to Jehovah was Walter John “Pappy” Thorn. He was one of 21 Bible Students appointed in 1894 to be the first pilgrims—men who did work similar to that of today’s circuit overseers—visiting a number of congregations to encourage them. After many years in the traveling work, Brother Thorn came to Kingdom Farm and worked in the henhouse. On many occasions I heard him say: “Whenever I get to thinking a great deal of myself, I take myself into the corner, so to speak, and say: ‘You little speck of dust. What have you got to be proud of?’”
Another modest man who became a role model for me was John Booth, now a member of the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses. He has been quoted over the years as saying: “It’s not so much where you serve but whom you serve that is truly important.” A simple statement but how true! Serving Jehovah is the greatest of all privileges!
One of the highlights in my Bethel service was the opening of the missionary school of Gilead at Kingdom Farm in 1943. Associating with pioneers from many parts of the world was indeed exciting. In those days there were about a hundred students in each class, so every six months a hundred new ones came to Kingdom Farm. Graduations would attract thousands of people to this educational facility in the rural farmlands of upstate New York.
A Job Change
When Gilead school was moved to Brooklyn and the main dormitory and classroom building at South Lansing was sold, the dairy was moved to Watchtower Farms at Wallkill, New York. So in the fall of 1969, I was transferred to the farm at Wallkill and continued making cheese until 1983. Then I was given a job change, and I began working in landscaping.
While being interviewed some time ago, I was asked what I thought about being given a job change after 30 years of making cheese. “It didn’t bother me,” I noted frankly, “because I didn’t like making cheese anyway.” The point was that we can be happy serving Jehovah in any assignment if we keep the right perspective and humbly submit to theocratic direction. So although I didn’t really like making cheese, I enjoyed my assignment because it assisted the Bethel family. If we serve our grand God, Jehovah, faithfully and uncomplainingly, we can be happy no matter what our assignment is.
In my declining years, I do not think I could be in a better situation than serving at Bethel. I am well cared for and have been able to continue performing my work assignments even though I am 90 years of age. For many years now, I have had the privilege of taking my turn in chairing the morning worship program of the Bethel family here at Watchtower Farms. As I have opportunity, I encourage new ones at Bethel to take advantage of all privileges of service they are given and to learn to be content and happy with them.
Over the years, I have several times been able to visit foreign places—India, Nepal, the Far East, and Europe. The following advice may be of assistance to those in their respective congregations of Jehovah’s people around the world: Be happy and content in your present circumstances and blossom in a spiritual way in the soil where you are planted.
I have chosen to remain single, since it has enabled me to continue undistracted in my service to God. As a reward for faithfulness, our great God has given the prospect of eternal life. For many, that will mean endless life in a paradise home here on earth. Others of us look forward to endless life in the heavens, caring for whatever assignment we are given.
Some would think my 90 years have been a long, rich life. My life has been rich but not long enough. By staying close to God’s organization and his words of truth, we can extend our lives eternally.*
During the time Roy Ryan was recording his life experiences, his health took a sudden turn for the worse. He finished his earthly course on July 5, 1991, not long after taking his regular turn as chairman of morning worship at Watchtower Farms.
[Picture on page 26]
Brother Ryan in his earlier years beside a Model T Ford