Pursuing a Goal Set at Six Years of Age
AS TOLD BY SANDRA COWAN
Many parents choose a career for their children, such as music or ballet, and begin to train them at a very early age. This is precisely what my mother did for me. From the time I was two weeks old, I was taken to all the Christian meetings and out in the field ministry.
WHEN I was four, Mom thought I was ready to preach on my own. I vividly remember my first attempt. We had driven to a big farmhouse, and while Mom and the others waited in the car, I got out and walked up to the door. A kind lady listened while I offered her ten booklets. To pay for them, she gave me a big bar of soap. It took my two hands to hold it. I was thrilled!
That same year, 1943, the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead opened its doors for training full-time pioneer ministers for missionary work. Mom encouraged me to make missionary service my goal in life. World War II was then raging in Europe, and Mom would tell me about young Witness children in Europe who were taken away from their parents. She wanted me to be strong enough to withstand any kind of test.
In the summer of 1946, I was baptized at the international convention in Cleveland, Ohio. Although I was only six years of age, I was determined to fulfill my dedication to Jehovah. That summer I served as a pioneer for the first time. I remember one morning placing 40 magazines with people seated at The Plaza in San Diego, California. My being tiny and talkative had a lot to do with it, I’m sure.
Often we preached near Beth-Sarim, which was where the ailing president of the Watch Tower Society, Brother Rutherford, had spent the winters before his death in 1942. We visited regularly and had dinner with the full-time servants there. Such happy visits made me decide that this was truly the kind of life I wanted. I then made Gilead School and missionary service my goal in life.
The following year my parents divorced, but the changed family situation didn’t dampen our spirituality. Mom was a pioneer and very concerned about the training my brother and I received. Our small trailer was alive with visits of Christian brothers and sisters. Mom made a point of my meeting Gilead graduates. Two such graduates were Lloyd and Melba Barry, who were visiting in the traveling work while waiting to go to their foreign assignment in Japan. They took time to encourage me—a little girl who yearned to be a missionary—and that really impressed me.
When I was ten years old, Mom married a wonderful Witness who was also a pioneer minister. He adopted my brother and me not only on paper but also in his heart. His love for Jehovah and zeal for the service were very contagious.
Mom and Dad worked as a team to guide both of us children through the difficult teenage years. Our home was a spiritual haven that I look back on fondly. For them to pioneer on a small income while raising two children wasn’t easy; it took self-sacrifice. But Mom and Dad depended on Jehovah and put Kingdom interests first.
How well I remember the international convention in New York City in 1950! Dad obtained a loan from the bank, and we took three passengers to help with expenses. Mom, Dad, my brother, and I sat together in the front seat all the way from San Diego to New York, while the others sat in the back. Because Dad’s employer refused to give him two weeks’ leave from work, attending that convention cost him his job. But as Dad assured us, Jehovah would provide for our needs, and He did. Dad sold the car to pay off the bank loan, and then he obtained a better job. This and similar experiences proved invaluable to me years later when my husband and I faced difficult situations.
On our return trip from New York, we visited Kingdom Farm, where I got to see Gilead School for the first time. I remember standing in one of the classrooms and saying to myself, ‘I’m not quite 11 years old. I’ll never get to come here. Armageddon will come first.’ But that visit made me more determined than ever to make Gilead my goal.
Working Toward My Goal
Every summer vacation throughout school, from first grade on, I pioneered. Then, two weeks after graduating from high school in June 1957, I became a regular pioneer.
The district convention meeting for those interested in Gilead held at the Los Angeles convention in 1957 was a special one for me. As I was walking into the tent for that meeting, I met Bill, a young brother I had known since I was six years old. For the past year, he had been away serving where the need was greater in Louisiana. We were surprised to find out how much both of us were interested in missionary service. Six months later we decided to make it a joint project. We wrote the Society asking for an assignment and one month before our wedding, we received one in Romney, West Virginia.
We moved there on our way to the New York convention in 1958. While at that convention, we attended the meeting for those interested in Gilead. Hundreds were present. Looking at that crowd, we felt our prospects of being called to Gilead were slim indeed. Nevertheless, we turned in a preliminary application, even though we had been married only 11 weeks. The following year at the district convention in Philadelphia, we turned in a second application.
Bill and I learned in Romney to depend on Jehovah to help us through difficult situations. Romney was a town of about 2,000 inhabitants. Work was impossible to find. We lived in a 16-foot [5 m] homemade trailer designed for California weather. We had no running water, no heat, and no refrigerator. It got so cold inside that we had to break the ice in the bucket to get water. The brothers helped us as much as they could, sharing the food they had hunted. We ate deer, raccoon, and squirrel. More than once we thought that we would have nothing to eat for the day, and then when we got home from service, we would find some apples or cheese left in front of our door.
We struggled for nine months living on a shoestring that got threadbare from time to time. Finally, we decided it would be wise to move to Baltimore, Maryland, where Bill could find work. When we told the brothers of our decision, they cried and we cried. So we decided to hang on just a bit longer.
Right after that a Witness who was manager of a supermarket in Westernport, Maryland, about 40 miles [60 km] away, offered Bill a part-time job. The same month one of our Bible students offered us a cute little furnished house with a large coal stove. It was then that Malachi 3:10 became my favorite scripture. Jehovah had emptied upon us a blessing beyond our expectations.
Gilead at Last!
One of the most exciting days of our life was the day, in November 1959, when we received our invitation to Gilead. We were invited to the 35th class, the last one held at Kingdom Farm. When I stood in the same classroom I had visited as a child, I had a warm, happy feeling that no words can aptly describe.
Gilead was a spiritual oasis. It was like living in the new world for five months. Rarely in life do we wait years for something and then find it to be better than we had anticipated. But Gilead was just that.
We were assigned to India, but eventually we were denied visas. So, after a year of waiting in New York City, the Watch Tower Society reassigned us to Morocco, North Africa.
Missionaries in Morocco
We spent 24 joyful years in Morocco, falling in love with the people as soon as we arrived. We learned both French and Spanish, languages that helped us communicate with the many nationalities living there. It was mostly those who had come from other countries that responded to the Kingdom message.
One woman with whom I studied the Bible was a Spanish flamenco dancer who was employed in a cabaret in Casablanca. After learning Bible principles, she left the cabaret owner with whom she was living and returned to Spain. There she witnessed to all in her family, and some of them accepted the Bible truths she shared with them. Afterward she returned to Casablanca, where she remained faithful to God until her death in 1990.
Our first few years in Morocco saw increases in the number of Kingdom publishers. However, when it became difficult for foreigners to obtain work and residence permits, there was an exodus of Witnesses to Europe. Some of those with whom we studied are now in New Zealand, Canada, the United States, Bulgaria, Russia, and France, and some of them share in the full-time ministry.
Suddenly, in April 1973 our preaching work in Morocco was banned. What a blow that was! On a Thursday evening, we had been a happy crowd at the Kingdom Hall, talking until the lights were turned off to let us know it was time to go home. Little did we know that we would never again see those lights shine on such open Christian fellowship. Under banned conditions, our meetings and circuit assemblies were confined to small groups in private homes. To attend district conventions, the Witnesses traveled to either France or Spain.
As our numbers decreased, the few Witnesses left in Morocco became quite attached to one another. So when the Watch Tower Society finally decided to close the branch and to assign us elsewhere, all of us shed many tears.
On to Central Africa
Our new assignment was the Central African Republic. What a tremendous change from North Africa! Whereas Morocco had a climate much like southern California, we now found ourselves in the hot, steamy tropics.
There were new problems to face. For example, I now had to control my fear of crawling critters. On three occasions a lizard fell on my head as I walked through a doorway. Sometimes, while conducting a Bible study, a rat would decide to join us! Although I wanted to jump and run, I learned to control myself, never taking my eye off Mr. Rat and keeping my book bag and feet off the floor until he decided to go away. I found that you can get used to anything if you just stick with it.
When we had been there six months, an announcement was made on the radio that our work was banned. So our Kingdom Halls were closed, and the missionaries were asked to leave. Only we and another couple managed to stay on at the branch for another three years. Then one Sunday morning during our Watchtower Study, armed police came and took us to police headquarters. They released the women and children, but they detained 23 brothers, including my husband, Bill. After six days they released him to go home and pack; three days later, by government order, we left the country, in May 1989. It was another tearful departure at the airport, where many of our loving brothers came to bid us farewell.
Finally, to Sierra Leone
Our present assignment is Sierra Leone, West Africa, a lovely country with beautiful, white-sand beaches. People are very friendly, and the field ministry is a pleasure. We are invited to sit down at every house, often in the shade of a mango tree or a coconut palm. People like to talk about God and get their own copy of the Bible to follow along.
Both Bill and I work at the Freetown Bethel Home. I serve as a receptionist and also work with subscriptions and congregation accounts. After 16 years of serving in countries where our preaching work was banned, it is wonderful to be in a land where the work is free and prospering.
I finished 30 years of missionary service in June 1991. Truly, Mom set before me a worthwhile goal! If she were still alive, I’d love to tell her again, “Thank you, Mom!” Happily, I can still say, “Thanks, Dad!”
[Picture on page 28]
New York convention, 1958
[Picture on page 29]
35th class—July, 1960
[Picture on page 30]
Bill and Sandra Cowan, 1991