The Joy That Serving Jehovah Has Brought Me
AS TOLD BY GEORGE BRUMLEY
I had just finished teaching a radio class to Emperor Haile Selassie’s young police cadets when one of these told me privately that he knew I was a missionary of Jehovah’s Witnesses. “Would you study the Bible with me?” he asked eagerly.
SINCE our work was then banned in Ethiopia, I would have been expelled from the country, as other Witnesses had been, if the authorities had learned about me. I wondered if the student was sincere or if he was a government agent sent to entrap me. As a family head with three small children to rear, the thought of losing my job and being forced to leave the country and the friends I had grown to love frightened me.
‘But,’ you may ask, ‘how did an American with a family to support come to prefer living in northeastern Africa, far from home and relatives?’ Allow me to explain.
Growing Up in the United States
In the 1920’s, when I was still in grade school, my dad subscribed to the Watchtower magazine and obtained a set of Studies in the Scriptures. Dad enjoyed reading, and he devoured the books. He had a witty and mischievous personality, as evidenced by the way he would set up visitors that he had invited over on Sundays. He had a beautiful leather-bound book with “Holy Bible” in gold letters on the front and on the spine. He would initiate a conversation by saying, “Well, it’s Sunday. Would you read a few verses for us?”
The visitor always agreed, but when he opened the book, none of the pages had any printing on them! Of course, the person was surprised. Dad would then say that ‘preachers don’t know anything about the Bible,’ and then he would get a copy and read Genesis 2:7. There, describing the creation of the first human, the Bible says: “Man became a living soul.”—Genesis 2:7, King James Version.
Dad would explain that a man does not have a soul but is one, that the wages of sin is death, and that when a man dies, he is truly dead, conscious of nothing at all. (Ecclesiastes 9:5, 10; Ezekiel 18:4; Romans 6:23) Even before I could read well, I had memorized Genesis 2:7. These are the first recollections I have of the real joy it is to know Bible truths and share them with others.
Since we were then receiving The Watchtower in our home, the whole family began to enjoy this spiritual nourishment. My maternal grandmother was living with us, and she became the first publisher of the good news in our family. There was no congregation in Carbondale, Illinois, where we lived, but informal meetings were held. Mom would take us five children to the other side of town where elderly ladies conducted a Watchtower study. We also began to participate in the field ministry.
From Radio Work to Prison
I married in 1937 when I was only 17. I tried to make a living repairing radios and also taught this skill. After the birth of two children, Peggy and Hank, my marriage ended. The divorce was my fault; I was not living a Christian life. The fact that I did not get to rear my two older children has been a lifelong heartache to me.
World War II came along and got me thinking about a lot of things. Military groups offered me the opportunity to become a lieutenant and teach radio to draftees, but my concern about what Jehovah thought of war prompted me to start praying daily. My subscription to The Watchtower had expired, and Lucille Haworth received the expiration notice and visited me. Perry Haworth, who was Lucille’s father, and most of her large family had been Witnesses since the 1930’s. Lucille and I fell in love, and we married in December 1943.
In 1944, I was baptized and joined my wife in the full-time ministry as a pioneer. Soon I was called up in the military draft but refused induction. As a consequence, I received a sentence of three years in the federal reformatory in El Reno, Oklahoma. It was a joy to suffer for Jehovah. Each morning when I awoke and realized where I was and why, I felt great satisfaction and thanked Jehovah. After the war those of us who were over 25 years of age began to be paroled. I was released in February 1946.
The Full-Time Ministry
When I rejoined Lucille, she was pioneering in the little town of Wagoner, Oklahoma. We had no car, so we walked everywhere, covering the entire town. Later we moved to Wewoka, Oklahoma. Soon I obtained a job at a nearby radio station and started work in broadcasting. Working six hours a day and putting in pioneer time was not easy, but we rejoiced at the privilege we were having serving Jehovah. We managed to purchase an old car just in time for the convention in Los Angeles in 1947. There we began to think about applying for the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead for missionary training.
We realized this would be a big step, and we did not want to be hasty in making the decision to leave the United States. I was still anguishing over losing my children, so we tried once again to get custody of them. Because of my former life-style and prison record, it was to no avail. Therefore we decided to try to become missionaries. We were invited to the 12th class of Gilead.
We graduated from school in 1949, but at first we were assigned to visit congregations in Tennessee. After three years in the traveling work in the United States, we received a letter from the office of the Watch Tower Society’s president asking if we would be willing to teach school in Ethiopia in addition to doing the preaching work. One of the requirements of that government was that missionaries teach. We agreed, and in the summer of 1952, we left for Ethiopia.
When we got to Ethiopia, we taught grade-school classes in the mornings and conducted free Bible classes in the afternoons. Soon so many began coming for the Bible studies that we were often teaching the Bible three or four hours each day. Some of the students were policemen; others were teachers or deacons in missionary schools and Ethiopian Orthodox schools. At times there were 20 or more in each Bible study class! Many of the students left false religion and started serving Jehovah. We were ecstatic. Again, when I awoke each morning, I gave thanks to Jehovah.
Parenthood and Preaching Under Ban
In 1954 we learned that we were to become parents, so we had to decide whether to go back to the United States or remain in Ethiopia. Remaining would, of course, depend on my getting secular work. I obtained a job as a broadcast engineer, operating a radio station for Emperor Haile Selassie. So we stayed.
On September 8, 1954, our daughter Judith was born. I thought I had job security because of working for the emperor, but after two years I lost that job. However, in less than a month, I was hired by the Police Department—and at a higher salary—to teach a class of young men to repair two-way radios. Within the next three years, our sons Philip and Leslie were born.
In the meantime our freedom to engage in the preaching work was changing. The Ethiopian Orthodox Church had persuaded the government to expel all missionaries of Jehovah’s Witnesses. On the Society’s advice, I changed my visa from missionary work to secular work. Our missionary work was banned, and we had to be circumspect and discreet. All congregation meetings continued, but we met in small study groups.
The police searched various homes of suspected Witnesses. However, unknown to them, a police lieutenant who was a worshiper of Jehovah always advised us when raids were scheduled. As a result, no literature was confiscated in those years. We held our Watchtower Studies on Sundays by going to restaurants at the edge of town where picnic tables were available for outdoor eating.
It was during this time, while I was teaching radio to the police cadets, that the student I mentioned at the outset asked me for a Bible study. I assumed he was sincere, so we began. After only two studies, a second student came with him, then a third. I cautioned them never to tell anyone that they were studying with me, and they never did.
In 1958 the Divine Will International Assembly was held in New York’s Yankee Stadium and Polo Grounds. In the meantime Peggy and Hank, as well as many other members of my large family, had become active Witnesses. How delighted I was to be able to attend! Not only did I enjoy a reunion with my two older children and other family members but I was also thrilled to see that vast throng of over a quarter of a million people assembled on the last day of the convention!
The following year the Society’s president, Nathan H. Knorr, came to visit us in Ethiopia. He had fine suggestions for carrying on the work under ban and was also interested in our family and how we were doing spiritually. I explained that we were teaching the children to pray. I asked if he would like to hear Judith pray. He said yes, and afterward he told her: “That was very good, Judith.” Then at mealtime I asked Brother Knorr if he would say our prayer, and when he finished, Judith said: “That was very good, Brother Knorr!”
Rearing Our Children in the United States
My contract with the Police Department ended in 1959. We wanted to stay, but the government would not approve any new contracts for me. So where could we go? I tried to get into other countries where there was a great need for brothers but was unable to do so. Somewhat saddened, we returned to the United States. Upon arriving, we had a joyous family reunion; all five of my children got acquainted and loved one another on sight. They have been close ever since.
We settled in Wichita, Kansas, where I found work as a radio engineer and a disc jockey. Lucille adjusted to domestic duties, and the children attended school close to home. I conducted a family Watchtower study each Monday night, always trying to make it lively and interesting. We checked daily to see if there were problems at school.
As the children each joined the Theocratic Ministry School, this training helped them with their schooling. We trained them from infancy in the field service. They learned to offer Bible literature at the doors, and they went with us on home Bible studies.
We also tried to teach the children basic things about life, explaining that each of them could not always have what one of the others had. For example, the same gift was not always available for all. “Should your brother or sister receive a toy,” we would reason with them, “and one is not available for you, is it proper for you to complain?” At other times, of course, the other children received something, so no one was neglected. We always loved all of them, never favoring one over the other two.
Other children were sometimes allowed to do things our children were not permitted to do. I frequently heard, “So-and-so can do it, why can’t we?” I tried to explain, but sometimes the answer simply had to be, “You’re not in that family; you’re a Brumley. We have different rules.”
Serving in Peru
Ever since returning from Ethiopia, Lucille and I had longed to share in the missionary work again. Finally, in 1972, the opportunity came to go to Peru, South America. We could not have selected a better place to rear our children during their teenage years. The association they enjoyed with missionaries, special pioneers, and others who had come to Peru to serve helped them to see firsthand how joyful those are who truly seek Kingdom interests first. Philip called his association positive peer pressure.
After a while some old friends from Kansas learned how much success in the Kingdom ministry we were having, and they joined us in Peru. I organized our home like a missionary home. Each one had assigned duties so that all would have time to enjoy the field ministry. We had a discussion of a Bible text at the table each morning. It was such a happy time for all of us. Again, as I awoke each morning and realized where I was and why, I silently gave deep thanks to Jehovah.
In time Judith married and returned to the States, where she continued in the full-time ministry. After three years of special pioneer service, Philip applied and was accepted for Bethel service in Brooklyn, New York. Finally, Leslie also returned to the United States. They left with mixed emotions and have often told us that taking them to Peru was the best thing we ever did for them.
As the economy of Peru worsened, we realized that we too would have to leave. Upon returning to Wichita in 1978, we found a group of Spanish-speaking Witnesses. They asked us to stay and help them, and we gladly did. A congregation was formed, and quickly it became as beloved to us as the ones we had previously served.
Despite a stroke that left me partially paralyzed, I wistfully hoped that Lucille and I could serve again in another country. In 1984 a traveling overseer told us of the growth in Ecuador and the need there for Christian elders. I pointed out that I could do little in the field ministry because of my lameness, but he assured me that even a 65-year-old, partially paralyzed elder could be helpful.
After he left we could not sleep all night, talking about the possibility of going to Ecuador. Lucille had the same burning desire to go that I had. So we advertised our little pest-control business and sold it in two weeks. We sold our house in only ten days. Thus, in our golden years, we again returned to our greatest joy, that of foreign missionary service.
We settled in Quito, and field service was delightful, with each day bringing a new experience or adventure. But then, in 1987, I was diagnosed as having colon cancer; I needed immediate surgery. We returned to Wichita for the operation, which was successful. We were back in Quito only two years when cancer was again found, and we had to return to the States permanently. We settled in North Carolina, where we presently live.
A Rich, Rewarding Life
My physical future is unsure. I had to have a colostomy in 1989. Even so, I’m still able to serve as an elder and conduct several Bible studies with ones who come to my home. Over the years, we have helped literally hundreds by planting, watering, or cultivating seeds of truth. That is a joy that never pales, no matter how many times it is repeated.
Additionally, I have had great joy in seeing all my children serve Jehovah. Peggy has for 30 years accompanied her husband, Paul Moske, in the traveling work in the United States. Philip and his wife, Elizabeth, together with Judith, continue in special full-time service in New York. Hank and Leslie and their mates are active Witnesses, and my four brothers and sisters and their families, including more than 80 blood relatives, are all serving Jehovah. And Lucille has been an exemplary Christian wife for our close to 50 years of marriage. In recent years she has uncomplainingly performed many unpleasant tasks in helping me care for my degenerating body.
Indeed, my life has been joyful. It has been happier than words can tell. Serving Jehovah is so joyful that it is my heartfelt desire to worship him forever on this earth. I always remember Psalm 59:16, which says: “As for me, I shall sing of your strength, and in the morning I shall joyfully tell about your loving-kindness. For you have proved to be a secure height for me and a place to which to flee in the day of my distress.”
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George Brumley with Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie
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George Brumley and his wife, Lucille