The Best Thing to Do With My Life
AS TOLD BY BOB ANDERSON
About ten years ago, some friends asked me: “Why have you kept going so long as a pioneer, Bob?” “Well,” I smiled and said, “can you think of anything better to do than pioneer?”
I WAS 23 years old in 1931 when I entered the pioneer service. Now I am in my 87th year and still pioneering. I know I could have done nothing better with my life. Let me explain why.
In 1914 a tract was left at our home. It was published by the International Bible Students, as Jehovah’s Witnesses were then called. When the Witness returned, my mother questioned him closely about hellfire. She had been brought up as a strict Wesleyan Methodist but could never reconcile this doctrine of eternal torment with a God of love. As soon as she learned the truth of the matter, she said: “I feel happier than I have ever felt in my life!”
My mother immediately stopped teaching at the Methodist Sunday school and joined the small group of Bible Students. She started preaching in our hometown of Birkenhead, which faces the port of Liverpool across the Mersey River, and was soon regularly cycling to many neighboring towns. She witnessed in this extensive territory for the rest of her life and became very well-known, setting a fine example for her children. She died in 1971 at the ripe old age of 97, an active Witness to the end.
My sister, Kathleen, and I were taken from the Methodist Sunday school to accompany Mother to her meetings with the Bible Students. Later, when my father came along too, my parents arranged for a regular family Bible study in the book The Harp of God. Such a study was an innovation in those days, but this early grounding in basic Bible truth paid a rich dividend, since my sister and I both entered the pioneer service in the course of time.
Mother maintained that seeing the “Photo-Drama of Creation” in Liverpool in 1920 was the spiritual turning point for us children, and she was right. Young as I was, that showing left vivid impressions on my mind. Outstanding in my memory is the section portraying the life of Jesus, especially as it showed him walking to his death. The whole experience helped me focus on the most important work in life—preaching!
Early in the 1920’s, I started to distribute tracts with my mother on Sunday afternoons. At first we were instructed to leave them at the homes; later we were told to hand them to the householders and then call back on those who were interested. I have always viewed this as the early foundation for our return visit and Bible study activity, which is so productive today.
Into the Pioneer Service!
Kathleen and I were baptized in 1927. I was working as an analytical chemist in Liverpool when, in 1931, I heard the resolution to embrace the name Jehovah’s Witnesses. I had often seen the Society’s colporteurs (now called pioneers) working the businesses in Liverpool, and their example impressed me very much. How I longed to be free of worldly association, to spend my life in Jehovah’s service!
During the summer of that same year, my friend Gerry Garrard told me that he had accepted an assignment from the Watch Tower Society’s second president, Joseph F. Rutherford, to preach in India. Just before sailing, he came over to see me and talked about the privilege of full-time service. As he said good-bye, he encouraged me further by saying, “I’m sure you will soon be a pioneer, Bob.” And so it was. I enrolled that October. What joy, what freedom, cycling through country lanes, preaching to isolated communities! I knew then that I was embarking on the most important work I could ever do.
My first pioneer assignment was in South Wales where I joined Cyril Stentiford. Cyril later married Kathleen, and they pioneered together for several years. Their daughter, Ruth, also subsequently entered the pioneer service. By 1937, I was in Fleetwood, Lancashire—Eric Cooke’s partner. Up to that time, pioneers worked only the rural areas of Britain, outside congregation territory. But Albert D. Schroeder, who was then responsible for the work of the Society’s London branch office, made the decision to move us to the city of Bradford, Yorkshire. This was the first time pioneers in Britain had been assigned to help a specific congregation.
In 1946, Eric went to the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead and was assigned to Southern Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe, and he and his wife are still faithfully serving as missionaries in Durban, South Africa.
The year 1938 saw me in another assignment, this time as zone servant (now called circuit overseer) for northwest Lancashire and the beautiful Lake District. There I met Olive Duckett, and after we married, she immediately accompanied me in the circuit work.
Ireland During the War Years
Soon after Britain declared war against Germany in September 1939, my assignment was changed to Ireland. Conscription to the army had started in Britain but not in the southern Republic of Ireland, which remained a neutral country for the duration of the war. The Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland were to become one circuit. Restrictions were in force, however, and it was necessary to obtain travel permits in order to leave Britain for any part of Ireland. The authorities told me I could go, but I would have to agree to return to England immediately when my conscription age group was called. I agreed verbally, but to my surprise, when my permit came through, there were no conditions at all attached to it!
At that time, there were just over 100 Witnesses in the whole of Ireland. Upon our arrival in Dublin in November 1939, Jack Corr, a longtime pioneer, met us. He told us that there were two more pioneers in a nearby town and a few interested persons in Dublin, about 20 altogether. Jack hired a room in Dublin for a meeting at which all agreed to meet regularly each Sunday. This arrangement continued until the congregation was established in 1940.
Northern Ireland, as part of the United Kingdom, was at war with Germany, so as we moved north to Belfast, we had food ration books and the blackout at night to contend with. Although Nazi aircraft had to fly well over 1,000 miles [1,600 km] to get to Belfast and back to their bases in Europe, they managed to bomb the city effectively. During the first raid, our Kingdom Hall was damaged and our apartment destroyed while we were visiting brothers in another part of the city, so we had a remarkable escape. That same night, a Witness family ran to a communal shelter. When they got there, they found it full and had to return to their home. The shelter received a direct hit, and all in it were killed, but our brothers survived with a few cuts and bruises. During these difficult war years, not one of our brothers was seriously hurt, for which we thanked Jehovah.
Spiritual Food Supplies
As the war progressed, restrictions grew tighter, and eventually mail censorship was imposed. This meant that The Watchtower was intercepted and not allowed into the country. Although we wondered what we could do, Jehovah’s hand was not short. One morning I received a letter from a “cousin” in Canada who was writing to me about family matters. I had no idea who he was, but in a postscript he said he was enclosing “an interesting Bible article” for me to read. It was a copy of The Watchtower, but because it was in a plain cover, it had not been removed by the censor.
Immediately my wife and I, with the help of local Witnesses, including Maggie Cooper who had been in the “Photo-Drama” work, started to duplicate the articles. We soon organized ourselves to dispatch 120 copies across the country, as plain-cover Watchtower magazines arrived regularly from many new friends in Canada, Australia, and the United States. Thanks to their diligence and kindness, we never missed an issue during the entire war period.
We were able to have assemblies too. Outstanding was the 1941 convention when the new publication Children was released. It seemed that the censor did not object to a book that he thought to be about children, so we managed to get our supply into the country without any trouble! On another occasion, we had the booklet Peace—Can It Last? printed locally because it was impossible to import copies from London. Despite all the restrictions imposed upon us, we were well cared for spiritually.
A clergyman staying in a Belfast nursing home run by one of Jehovah’s Witnesses sent a copy of the book Riches to his wife in England. She was opposed to the truth, and in her reply she made that point clear. She also asserted that we were “an unpatriotic organization.” The mail censor picked this up and reported the matter to the Criminal Investigation Department. As a result, I was called to the police barracks to give an explanation and was asked to bring a copy of Riches. Interestingly, when the book was eventually returned, I noticed that the parts underlined were all about the Roman Catholic Church. I felt that this was significant, since I knew the police were on guard against IRA (Irish Republican Army) activity.
I was questioned closely about our neutrality in times of war, for the police found it difficult to understand our position. But the authorities never took any action against us. Later, when I sought permission to hold an assembly, the police insisted on sending two police reporters. I said, “We will welcome them!” So they came and sat through the afternoon meeting, taking shorthand notes. At the end of the session, they asked, “Why were we sent here? We are enjoying it all!” They came again the next day and gladly accepted a free copy of our booklet Peace—Can It Last? The rest of the assembly passed without incident.
As soon as the war ended and travel restrictions were eased, Pryce Hughes from the London Bethel came to Belfast. He was accompanied by Harold King, who was later assigned to China as a missionary. After six years of isolation from the London branch office, all of us were greatly encouraged by the talks these brothers gave. Shortly afterward, Harold Duerden, another faithful pioneer, was sent across from England to strengthen the Kingdom work in Belfast.
Return to England
We had grown to love the Irish brothers, and it was difficult to return to England. But my wife and I were assigned back to Manchester and later moved to Newton-le-Willows, another Lancashire town where the need was greater. Lois, our daughter, was born in 1953, and it was heartwarming to see her enter the pioneer ministry at the age of 16. After her marriage to pioneer David Parkinson, they continued their full-time service in Northern Ireland, in many ways retracing the steps Olive and I had taken. Now, with their children, they are back in England, and all of us are serving in the same congregation.
Despite the changes in our circumstances, I never stopped pioneering—Olive never wanted that, nor did I. I have always felt that my pioneer record is properly shared with my wife because without her constant, loving support, I could never have continued in full-time service. We both get tired more quickly now, of course, but witnessing is still a joy, especially when we are together, conducting Bible studies with our neighbors. Over the years, we have been privileged to help some one hundred individuals become dedicated, baptized servants of Jehovah. What a joy that has been! And I guess this number must by now be multiplied many times over as families extending to the third and fourth generations have become Witnesses too.
Olive and I often talk about our many privileges and experiences over the years. What happy years they have been, and how quickly they have flown by! I know I could have found nothing better to do with my life than to serve my God, Jehovah, as a pioneer all these years. Now, whether looking back with gratitude or looking forward in anticipation, I find that Jeremiah’s words have much meaning: “It is the acts of loving-kindness of Jehovah that we have not come to our finish, because his mercies will certainly not come to an end. They are new each morning. . . . ‘That is why I shall show a waiting attitude for him.’”—Lamentations 3:22-24.
[Picture on page 26]
Bob and Olive Anderson