“Work, Not for the Food That Perishes”
AS TOLD BY DAVID LUNSTRUM
My brother Elwood and I were over 30 feet [9 m] in the air, painting a new sign on the Watchtower factory building. More than 40 years later, it is still there, urging: “READ GOD’S WORD THE HOLY BIBLE DAILY.” Each week, thousands of people see this sign as they cross the famous Brooklyn Bridge.
MY EARLIEST recollections include the family wash day. By 5:00 a.m., Mother would be up, washing clothes for our large family, and Dad would be getting ready for work. They would have another of their heated discussions, Dad arguing that man somehow evolved over millions of years, and Mom quoting from the Bible to prove that humans were direct creations of God.
Even when I was only seven, I realized that Mother had the truth. As much as I loved Dad, I could see that his belief offered no hope for the future. How happy Mother would have been to know that many years later, two of her sons painted a sign that encouraged people to read the Bible, a book she loved so much!
But I am getting ahead of myself. How did I come to have such a privileged job? I need to go back to the year 1906, three years before I was born.
Mother’s Faithful Example
At that time Mom and Dad were newlyweds and living in a tent in Arizona. A Bible Student, as Jehovah’s Witnesses were then called, came by and offered Mom the series of books written by Charles Taze Russell, entitled Studies in the Scriptures. She stayed up all night reading them and soon realized that this was the truth she had been looking for. She could hardly wait for Dad to return from searching for work.
Dad too was dissatisfied with what the churches were teaching, so for a time he accepted these Bible truths. Later, however, he went his own way religiously and even made it difficult for Mother. Yet she never ceased caring for the physical as well as the spiritual needs of her children.
I will never forget Mother’s coming downstairs each night, after working hard all day, to read a portion of the Bible to us or to share with us some spiritual gem. Dad was a hard worker too, and as I grew older, he taught me the painting trade. Yes, Dad taught me to work, but Mom taught me what to work for, as Jesus instructed, ‘the food that does not perish.’—John 6:27.
Our family eventually settled in the small town of Ellensburg in the state of Washington, about 110 miles [180 km] east of Seattle. When we children started attending the meetings of the Bible Students with Mother, we met in private homes. All the men left our study group when the need to share in the house-to-house ministry was stressed. But Mother never wavered. This left the lasting impression on me always to trust in the direction of Jehovah’s organization.
Eventually Father and Mother had nine children. I was born on October 1, 1909, their third child. Altogether, six of us imitated Mom’s fine example and became zealous Witnesses of Jehovah.
Dedication and Baptism
When I was in my late teens, I made a dedication to Jehovah, and I symbolized this by water baptism in 1927. The baptism was held in Seattle in an old building that had formerly been a Baptist church. I am glad they had taken the old steeple off. We were escorted down to the pool in the basement where we were given long black robes to wear. It looked as if we were going to a funeral.
I was in Seattle again a few months later, and this time I received my first taste of door-to-door witnessing. The one who was taking the lead directed me, “You go this way around the block, and I’ll go that way.” Despite my nervousness, I placed two sets of booklets with a very nice woman. I continued the door-to-door ministry when I returned to Ellensburg, and now, nearly 70 years later, such service is still a great joy to me.
Service at World Headquarters
Not long afterward, a person who had served at Brooklyn Bethel, the world headquarters of the Watch Tower Society, encouraged me to volunteer to serve there. Shortly after our conversation, a notice appeared in the Watchtower magazine that made known a need for help at Bethel. So I applied. I shall never forget my joy on receiving notice to report for Bethel service in Brooklyn, New York, on March 10, 1930. Thus began my full-time career of working for ‘the food that does not perish.’
One might think that with my experience as a painter, I would have been assigned to paint something. Instead, my first job was working on the stitching machine in the factory. Although this was a very monotonous job, I enjoyed the work for over six years. The large rotary press that we affectionately called the old battleship churned out booklets that were sent down a conveyer belt to our floor below. We had fun seeing if we could stitch the booklets as fast as we received them from the battleship.
Afterward I worked in a number of departments, including the one where we made phonographs. We used these machines to play recorded Bible messages at the doorsteps of householders. A vertical phonograph was designed and produced by volunteers in our department. This phonograph not only played prerecorded messages but also had special compartments for carrying booklets and perhaps a sandwich. I had the privilege of demonstrating the use of this new equipment at a convention in Detroit, Michigan, in 1940.
However, we were making more than ingenious machines. We were also making important spiritual adjustments. For instance, Jehovah’s Witnesses used to wear a pin with a cross and crown. But then we came to understand that Jesus was executed on an upright stake, not on a cross. (Acts 5:30) So wearing these pins was discontinued. It was my privilege to remove the clasps from the pins. Later the gold was melted down and sold.
Although we had a busy weekly five-and-a-half-day work schedule, we were involved in the Christian ministry on the weekends. One day, 16 of us were arrested and put in jail in Brooklyn. Why? Well, in those days we considered religion synonymous with false religion. So we carried signs that read on one side “Religion Is a Snare and a Racket” and on the other “Serve God and Christ the King.” For carrying these signs, we were put in jail, but Hayden Covington, the Watch Tower Society’s lawyer, bailed us out. At that time many cases involving freedom of worship were being fought before the Supreme Court of the United States, and it was thrilling to be at Bethel and to hear firsthand the reports about our victories.
Eventually I was assigned to jobs that utilized my painting experience. On Staten Island, one of the five boroughs of New York City, we had our radio station WBBR. The station’s radio towers were over 200 feet [60 m] high, and they had three sets of guy wires. I sat on a three-foot-long [.9 m] by eight-inch- [20 cm]wide board while a coworker hoisted me up. Sitting high above the ground on that small seat, I painted the guy wires and the towers. Some have asked me if we did not do a lot of praying while doing that job!
A summer job I will never forget was washing the windows and painting the window sills of the factory building. We called it our summer vacation. We rigged up our wooden scaffolding and with a block and tackle, pulled ourselves up and down the eight-story building.
A Supportive Family
In 1932 my father died, and I wondered if I should go home and help care for Mom. So before lunch one day, I put a note at the head table where Brother Rutherford, the Society’s president sat. In it I requested to speak with him. Upon learning of my concern and finding out that I had brothers and sisters still living at home, he asked, “Do you want to stay at Bethel and do the Lord’s work?”
“Of course I do,” I responded.
So he suggested that I write Mother to see if she agreed with my decision to stay. That is what I did, and she wrote back expressing total agreement with my decision. I really appreciated Brother Rutherford’s kindness and advice.
During my many years at Bethel, I regularly wrote to my family and encouraged them to serve Jehovah, just as Mother had encouraged me. Mother died in July 1937. What an inspiration she had been to our family! Only my older brother and sister, Paul and Esther, and my younger sister Lois did not become Witnesses. Paul, however, was favorable to our work and provided lots on which we built our first Kingdom Hall.
In 1936 my sister Eva became a pioneer, or full-time preacher. That same year she married Ralph Thomas, and in 1939 they were assigned to the traveling work to serve congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Later they moved to Mexico, where they spent 25 years helping with the Kingdom work.
In 1939 my sisters Alice and Frances also took up the pioneer service. What a joy it was to see Alice behind a counter at the St. Louis convention in 1941 demonstrating the use of the phonograph equipment that I had helped to produce! Although Alice had to interrupt her pioneering at times because of family responsibilities, altogether she has spent over 40 years in the full-time ministry. Frances went on to attend the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead in 1944 and served for a time as a missionary in Puerto Rico.
Joel and Elwood, the two youngest in the family, became pioneers in Montana in the early 1940’s. Joel has remained a faithful Witness and now serves as a ministerial servant. Elwood joined me at Bethel in 1944, bringing great joy to my heart. He was less than five years old when I left home. As noted earlier, we worked together painting that sign on the factory building, “Read God’s Word the Holy Bible Daily.” I have often wondered how many people who have seen that sign over the years have been encouraged to read their Bible.
Elwood served at Bethel until 1956 when he married Emma Flyte. For many years Elwood and Emma worked together in the full-time ministry, serving for a while in Kenya, Africa, as well as in Spain. Elwood was stricken with cancer and died in Spain in 1978. Emma has remained in Spain in the pioneer work to this day.
Marriage and a Family
In September 1953, I left Bethel to marry Alice Rivera, a pioneer in the Brooklyn Center Congregation that I was attending. I let Alice know that I had the heavenly hope, but she was still interested in marrying me.—Philippians 3:14.
After 23 years of living at Bethel, it was quite an adjustment to begin secular work as a painter to maintain Alice and myself in the pioneer work. Alice was always supportive, even when for health reasons she had to stop pioneering. In 1954 we were expecting our first child. The delivery did not go well, though our son, John, did fine. Alice lost so much blood during the cesarean section that the doctors did not think she would live. At one point they could not even detect a pulse. Yet she survived the night and in time recovered fully.
A few years later, when Alice’s father died, we moved further out on Long Island to be with her mother. Since we did not have a car, I walked or used the bus and subway for transportation. I was thereby able to continue in the pioneer work and to support my family. The joys of the full-time ministry have far outweighed any sacrifices. Helping people—such as Joe Natale, who gave up a promising baseball career to become a Witness—has been just one of my many blessings.
In 1967, as conditions worsened in the New York area, I decided to take Alice and John back to my hometown of Ellensburg to live. Now I find it rewarding to see so many grandchildren and great-grandchildren of my mother sharing in the full-time ministry. Some even serve at Bethel. John along with his wife and children are also faithfully serving Jehovah.
Sadly, I lost my dear wife, Alice, in death in 1989. Keeping busy in the full-time ministry has helped me endure the loss. My sister Alice and I now enjoy pioneering together. How fine it is to live again under the same roof and to find ourselves busy in this most important work!
In the spring of 1994, I visited Bethel for the first time in about 25 years. What a joy it was to see dozens of those with whom I worked more than 40 years ago! When I went to Bethel in 1930, only 250 were in the family, but today the Bethel family in Brooklyn numbers over 3,500!
Sustained by Spiritual Food
Early most mornings I take a walk along the Yakima River near our home. From there I can see majestic snow-covered Mount Rainier that towers over 14,000 feet [4,300 m] in the air. Wildlife is abundant. Sometimes I see deer, and once I even saw an elk.
These quiet, solitary times allow me to meditate on Jehovah’s marvelous provisions. I pray for strength to continue faithfully serving our God, Jehovah. I also like to sing as I walk along, especially the song “Making Jehovah’s Heart Glad,” the words of which say: “Great God, we’ve vowed to do your will; in wisdom your work we’ll fulfill. For then we know we’ll have a part in making glad your loving heart.”
I am glad that I chose to do a work that makes Jehovah’s heart glad. I pray that I may continue to do this work until I receive the heavenly reward that has been promised. My wish is that this account may move others also to use their lives in ‘working for the food that does not perish.’—John 6:27.
[Pictures on page 23]
Elwood painting the sign “READ GOD’S WORD THE HOLY BIBLE DAILY”
[Picture on page 24]
With Grant Suiter and John Kurzen, demonstrating the new phonograph at the convention in 1940
[Picture on page 25]
In 1944 those of us who were in the truth were in the full-time ministry: David, Alice, Joel, Eva, Elwood, and Frances
[Picture on page 25]
Surviving siblings from left: Alice, Eva, Joel, David, and Frances