My Decision to Advance to Maturity
AS TOLD BY CARL DOCHOW
“Advance to Maturity or Relapse Into Sin, Which?” was the title of an article in the June 15, 1948, issue of The Watchtower. That article catapulted me from spiritual danger in the farmlands of the United States to a missionary career in South America that has spanned more than 43 years.
I WAS born on March 31, 1914, the third of four boys, in a log cabin in Vergas, Minnesota. My early years were a delight. I remember fishing with Father. Mother, however, was frequently ill, and I had to leave school in the fifth grade to help her around the house. By the time I was 13, her illness was diagnosed as lung cancer.
Mother knew she didn’t have long to live, so she began preparing me to take her place. She would sit in the kitchen and give me directions on how to cook and bake. Additionally, she taught me to wash the clothes, tend the garden, and take care of a hundred chickens. She also encouraged me to read a chapter of the Bible every day, which I did despite my limited reading ability. After training me for ten months, Mother died on January 27, 1928.
The War Changes Our Lives
After World War II began in September 1939, prayers were said in behalf of the troops every Sunday in our Lutheran church. My older brother Frank was determined not to kill, so when he refused to fight as part of the military, he was arrested. At his trial he stated: “Before I kill innocent people, you can shoot me!” He was sentenced to serve a year in the prison on McNeil Island off the coast of Washington State.
There Frank found more than 300 of Jehovah’s Witnesses who had been imprisoned because they were strictly neutral during the war. (Isaiah 2:4; John 17:16) Soon he began associating with them and was baptized right there in prison. For good behavior, his sentence was reduced to nine months. In November 1942 we received word that Frank was free, and soon afterward he told us about the good news of God’s Kingdom. After carefully examining the message with our Bibles, all of us could see that what Frank was teaching us was the truth.
Obstacles to Spiritual Advancement
In 1944, I moved to the area of Malta, Montana, to live with my uncle. We had something in common—wives who had left us after six months of marriage. He was glad to have me help him with farming and cooking, and we shared our profits fifty-fifty. My uncle said I would be heir to his 640 acre [260 ha] farm if I would stay with him. Those were the boom years for farming, and how I loved it! We had a bumper crop every year, and wheat sold for as much as $3.16 per bushel.
However, my uncle didn’t like the idea that I attended the meetings of a small congregation of Witnesses in Malta. On June 7, 1947, without my uncle’s knowledge, I was baptized at the circuit assembly of Jehovah’s Witnesses at Wolf Point. There a Christian brother invited me to become a pioneer, or full-time minister. Although to use my life in such a way was my heart’s desire, I explained that my uncle would never permit me to devote that much time to the ministry.
Shortly afterward, my uncle opened and read a letter addressed to me from a friend who urged me to become a full-time minister. Madder than a hornet, my uncle gave me an ultimatum—quit preaching or get out. That ultimatum was a good thing because I loved farming so much I don’t know if I would have left on my own. So I returned to my family in Minnesota, all of whom were now baptized and associated with the Detroit Lakes Congregation.
Initially my family encouraged me to pioneer, but in 1948 they began to cool off spiritually. It was then that the article “Advance to Maturity or Relapse Into Sin, Which?” provided the spiritual boost that I needed. It warned that “very sad consequences are certain to follow if we willfully refuse to keep up with advancing knowledge.” The article said: “We cannot afford to stand still and become backward, but must make progress in righteousness. Progress, not stopping, is the greatest counterforce against relapse.”
Although my family gave other excuses, I believe the real problem was their desire to become rich. They could see the economic benefits of investing more time in farming and less in preaching. Rather than become ensnared by the desire for wealth, I made plans to pioneer. I knew that it would not be easy, and I even thought I couldn’t make it. So in 1948, I put myself to the test by intentionally applying to begin pioneering in the worst part of the year—December.
Taking Up Pioneer Service
Jehovah blessed my efforts. For example, one day it was 17 degrees below zero [-27° C.] Fahrenheit, not counting windchill. I was doing my usual street witnessing, shifting my hands frequently—putting the cold one in my pocket while holding the magazines with the other until that one would freeze and merit its turn in the pocket. A man approached. Commenting that he had noted my activity for some time, he asked: “What is in those magazines that is that important? Give me those two so I can read them.”
Meanwhile, I could see that association with my family was putting my own spirituality in danger, so upon request to the Watch Tower Society, I was given a new assignment, in Miles City, Montana. There I served as the company servant, now known as the presiding overseer. Living in a seven-by-ten-foot [2 by 3 m] trailer, I supported myself by working part-time in a dry-cleaning business. Occasionally I was hired for what I loved best—harvesting.
During this time, I kept hearing about the worsening spiritual condition of my family. Finally they, as well as others in the Detroit Lakes Congregation, turned against Jehovah’s organization. Of the 17 Kingdom publishers in the congregation, only 7 remained faithful. My family was determined to get me out of Jehovah’s organization too, so I realized there was only one solution, to progress further. But how?
Pursuing Missionary Service
During the international convention in New York City in 1950, I witnessed the graduation of missionary students from the 15th class of the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead. ‘Oh, if only I could be among those going to serve Jehovah in a foreign assignment,’ I thought.
I sent in an application and was accepted as a member of the 17th class of Gilead, which commenced in February 1951. The school’s location on a farm in upstate New York was beautiful. How I wanted to work on the farm after class hours, perhaps in the barn with the cows or out with the crops! But John Booth, the overseer of Kingdom Farm at the time, explained that I was the only one who had any experience in dry cleaning. So I was assigned to do that work.
Gilead was not easy for someone who had only a fifth-grade education. Although lights were to be out by 10:30 p.m., I frequently studied until midnight. One day one of the instructors called me into his office. “Carl,” he said, “I can see that your grades are not very good.”
‘Oh, no,’ I thought to myself, ‘they’re going to ask me to leave.’
However, the instructor lovingly gave me some counsel on how I could make the best use of my time without studying so late. I fearfully asked: “Am I good enough to stay on here at Gilead?”
“Oh, yes,” he replied. “But I don’t know if you will qualify for a diploma.”
I took comfort from the words of the school’s president, Nathan H. Knorr. Earlier he had told the students that grades didn’t impress him as much as the “stick-to-itiveness” of missionaries who remained in their assignments.
My worst subject was Spanish, but I was counting on an assignment to Alaska, where the cold weather was what I was used to back home. Besides, I’d be able to preach in English. So you can imagine my surprise when midway through the course, I received as my assignment Ecuador, South America. Yes, I would have to speak Spanish, and right on the steamy equator!
One day an FBI agent visited me at Gilead School. He asked about the son of the company servant who had left our organization in Detroit Lakes. The Korean War was under way, and this young man claimed he was a minister of Jehovah’s Witnesses and thus exempt from military service. I explained that he was no longer one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. As the agent bid me farewell, he said: “May your God bless you in your work.”
Later I learned that the youth was killed in one of his first battles in Korea. What a sad consequence for one who could have advanced to maturity in God’s organization!
Finally, our happy graduation day came on July 22, 1951. Of course, none of my family were present, but my joy was complete when I received a diploma because of progress I had made.
Adjusting to a Foreign Field
Once I was in my assignment, I found that Mother’s training really came in handy. Cooking, washing clothes by hand, and a lack of running water were not new to me. But preaching in Spanish was! I used a printed Spanish sermon for quite some time. It took three years before I could give a public talk in Spanish and that with the use of extensive notes.
When I arrived in Ecuador in 1951, there were fewer than 200 Kingdom publishers. Disciple-making seemed slow for the first 25 years or so. Our Bible teachings were quite different from the unscriptural traditions of Catholicism, and our adherence to the Bible’s instructions on faithfulness to one marriage mate was especially unpopular.—Hebrews 13:4.
Nevertheless, we were able to place a lot of Bible literature. Our ministry in Machala, situated in the heart of the banana-producing farmlands, serves to illustrate this. Nicholas Wesley and I were the only Witnesses there when we arrived in 1956. We would leave early in the morning on the dump trucks that were used in work on the highways being built in those days. After we rode a considerable distance, we would get off and witness to the people all the way back to where we were staying.
On one particular day, Nick and I kept track to see who of us would place more magazines. I recall that I was ahead of Nick at midday, but by evening we were tied at 114 magazines. We left hundreds of our journals each month with people on our magazine routes. Six times I placed more than a thousand magazines during a month. Think how many could learn Bible truths from those magazines!
In Machala we also had the privilege of building the first congregation-owned Kingdom Hall in Ecuador. That was 35 years ago, in 1960. In those early days, we had only about 15 in attendance at our meetings. Today Machala has 11 thriving congregations!
A Visit to the States
In the late 1970’s, I returned to the United States on a vacation and spent a few hours with my brother Frank. He took me in his car up on a knoll from which we could see a long way over the Red River Valley. It was beautiful, with the ripening grain waving in the wind, an ocean of heavy-headed wheat. In the distance the tree-lined Sheyenne River was discernible. The enjoyment of that peaceful beauty was interrupted when my brother began his usual line.
“If you weren’t such a jackass running around there in South America, this could be yours too!”
“Frank,” I cut in quickly. “Just stop it right there.”
He didn’t say another word. A few years later, he died suddenly of a stroke, leaving behind three gorgeous ranches in North Dakota with a total of more than a thousand acres [400 ha], as well as my uncle’s 640 acre [260 ha] farm in Montana to which he had become heir.
Now all in my family are deceased. But I am pleased that in Detroit Lakes, where all of us started out as Jehovah’s Witnesses years ago, I have a spiritual family of more than 90 Christian brothers and sisters.
Continuing to Advance Spiritually
The last 15 years have yielded bumper crops in the spiritual harvest here in Ecuador. From some 5,000 Kingdom publishers in 1980, we now have more than 26,000. I have reaped the blessing of helping well over a hundred of these to baptism.
Now, at the age of 80, I work harder to get in 30 hours a month in the ministry than I did to fulfill my 150-hour quota in 1951. Since 1989, when I learned I had prostate cancer, I have taken advantage of my recuperation time to read. Since that year, I’ve read the Bible through 19 times and the book Jehovah’s Witnesses—Proclaimers of God’s Kingdom 6 times. This way I keep advancing spiritually.
Yes, I’ve had my opportunities to reap material benefits on the farmlands of the United States. But the rewards of material riches are nothing compared to the joy I’ve experienced in the spiritual harvest. The branch here in Ecuador informs me that I’ve placed more than 147,000 magazines and 18,000 books in my missionary career. I consider these to be spiritual seeds, many of which have already sprouted; others may yet sprout in the hearts of people as they read about these Kingdom truths.
I can think of nothing better than advancing on into God’s new world with all my spiritual children and millions of others who have chosen to serve our God, Jehovah. Money will not save one through the end of this wicked world. (Proverbs 11:4; Ezekiel 7:19) However, the fruitage of our spiritual work will continue—if each of us continues to advance to maturity.
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Ready to pioneer in Miles City, Montana, in 1949
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Buying water for our missionary home, 1952
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Preaching in Machala, 1957
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Since becoming ill in 1989, I have read the Bible through 19 times