Keeping Eyes and Heart Fixed on the Prize
AS TOLD BY EDITH MICHAEL
In the early 1930’s, we were living outside St. Louis, Missouri, U.S.A., when one of Jehovah’s Witnesses called. Just then the clothesline broke, sending Mom’s sparkling white clothes into the mud. She accepted the books offered, just so the woman would leave, and put them on a shelf, forgetting about them.
THOSE were depression years, and Dad was laid off from work. One day he asked if there was anything in the house to read. Mom told him about the books. He began reading them, and after a while he exclaimed: “Mother, this is the truth!”
“Oh, it’s just some religion that wants money like all the rest of them,” she replied. However, Dad urged her to sit down and look up the scriptures with him. When she did, she too was convinced. Afterward they began looking for the Witnesses and discovered that they met in a rented hall near the center of St. Louis, a hall that was also used for dances and other functions.
Dad and Mom took me along—I was about three—and found the hall, but there was a dance going on. Dad learned when meetings were held, and we returned. We also began attending a weekly Bible study near where we lived. It was held at the home of the woman who had first called on us. “Why don’t you bring your boys too?” she asked. Mother was ashamed to say that they had no shoes. When she finally did, shoes were provided, and my brothers started attending the meetings with us.
Mother was given a preaching territory near our home, and she began in the house-to-house ministry. I went along, hiding behind her. Before she learned to drive, we would walk about a mile to catch a bus that took us to the meetings in St. Louis. Even when there was ice and snow, we never missed meetings.
In 1934, Mom and Dad were baptized. I too wanted to get baptized, and I kept insisting until Mother asked an older Witness to talk with me about it. He asked many questions in a manner that I could understand. Then he told my parents that I should not be prevented from being baptized; it might harm my spiritual growth. So I was baptized the following summer, when I was still six.
I loved the booklet Home and Happiness, which I kept with me at all times, even keeping it under my pillow while I slept. Over and over, I begged Mother to read it to me, until I knew it by heart. Its back had a picture of a little girl in Paradise with a lion. I said that I was the little girl. That picture has helped me to keep my eyes on the prize of life in God’s new world.
I was very shy, but even though I might be trembling, I always answered questions at the congregation Watchtower Study.
Sad to say, Dad feared that he would lose his job, so he quit associating with the Witnesses. My brothers did also.
Mother had pioneers, or full-time ministers, park their trailer in our backyard, and after school I joined them in the ministry. Soon I wanted to pioneer, but Dad opposed this, believing that I should have more secular education. Mother finally convinced him to permit me to pioneer. So in June 1943, when I was 14, I began the full-time ministry. To contribute to household expenses, I did part-time secular work, and at times I worked full-time. Yet I reached the monthly goal of 150 hours in the preaching work.
In time I found a pioneer partner, Dorothy Craden, who had started pioneering in January 1943, when she was 17. She had been a devout Catholic, but after six months of Bible study, she was baptized. For many years she was a source of encouragement and strength to me, and I was to her. We became closer than sisters.
Beginning in 1945, we pioneered together in small towns in Missouri where there were no congregations. In Bowling Green we fixed up a meeting hall; Mother came and helped us. Then we called at all the homes in town each week and invited the people to a public talk that we arranged for brothers from St. Louis to come and give. We had a weekly attendance of between 40 and 50. Later we did the same in Louisiana, where we rented a Masonic temple. To cover the cost of renting the halls, we put out contribution boxes, and each week all expenses were met.
Next we went to Mexico, Missouri, where we rented a storefront. We fixed it up for the small congregation there to use. The building had adjoining rooms in which we lived. We also helped arrange for public talks in Mexico. Then we went to the state capital, Jefferson City, where each weekday morning we contacted public officials in their offices. We lived in a room above the Kingdom Hall with Stella Willie, who was like a mother to us.
From there the three of us went to the towns of Festus and Crystal City, which were close to each other. We lived in a converted chicken coop behind the house of an interested family. Since there were no baptized men, we conducted all the meetings. For part-time work, we sold cosmetics. We had little materially. In fact, we could not afford to have the holes in our shoes fixed, so each morning we put fresh cardboard in them, and at night we each washed out our only dress.
Early in 1948, when I was 19, Dorothy and I received invitations to the 12th class of the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead for missionaries. After the five-month course, the one hundred students graduated on February 6, 1949. It was a very happy time. My parents had moved to California, and Mother came all the way from there to be present.
On to Our Assignment
Twenty-eight graduates were assigned to Italy—six, including Dorothy and me, to the city of Milan. On March 4, 1949, we left New York on the Italian ship Vulcania. The trip took 11 days, and the rough seas made most of us seasick. Brother Benanti came to the seaport of Genoa to meet us and take us back to Milan by train.
When we arrived at the missionary home in Milan, we found flowers that a young Italian girl had put in each of our rooms. Years later this girl, Maria Merafina, went to Gilead, returned to Italy, and she and I served in a missionary home together!
The morning after we got to Milan, we looked out the bathroom window. On the street in back was a large bombed-out apartment building. An American bomber had accidentally dropped a bomb that killed all 80 families living there. Another time a factory was missed and the bombs hit a school and killed 500 children. So the people were not too happy with Americans.
People were tired of war. Many said that if another war started, they would not go to bomb shelters but would stay at home and turn on the gas and die there. We assured them that we were there to represent, not the United States or any other man-made government, but the Kingdom of God, which would end all wars and the suffering they bring.
In the big city of Milan, the lone congregation of about 20 or so met in the missionary home. There were no preaching territories made up as yet, so we started witnessing in a large apartment building. At the first door, we met Mr. Giandinotti, who wanted his wife to leave the church, so he accepted one of our publications. Mrs. Giandinotti was a sincere woman, full of questions. “I’ll be glad when you learn Italian,” she said, “so you can teach me the Bible.”
The ceilings in their apartment were high and the light was dim, so she would put her chair on the table at night to be near the light to read the Bible. “If I study the Bible with you,” she asked, “can I still go to church?” We told her that it was up to her. She went to church Sunday mornings and came to our meetings in the afternoons. Then one day she said, “I’m not going to church anymore.”
“Why?” we asked.
“Because they are not teaching the Bible, and I have found the truth by studying the Bible with you.” She was baptized and studied with many women who went to church every day. Later she told us that if we had told her not to go to church, she would have stopped studying and would probably never have learned the truth.
In time Dorothy and I, along with four other missionaries, were assigned to the Italian city of Trieste, which was then occupied by British and American troops. There were only about ten Witnesses, but this number grew. We preached in Trieste for three years, and when we left, there were 40 Kingdom publishers, 10 of whom were pioneers.
Our next assignment was the city of Verona, where there was no congregation. But when the church put pressure on the secular authorities, we were forced to leave. Dorothy and I were assigned to Rome. There we rented a furnished room, and we worked territory close to the Vatican. It was while we were there that Dorothy went to Lebanon to marry John Chimiklis. We had been together almost 12 years, and I really missed her.
In 1955 a new missionary home in another part of Rome was opened on a street called New Appian Way. One of the four in the home was Maria Merafina, the girl who had put flowers in our rooms the night we arrived in Milan. A new congregation was formed in this area of the city. After the international convention in Rome that summer, I was privileged to attend the convention in Nuremberg, Germany. What a thrill to meet those who had endured so much under Hitler’s regime!
Back to the States
In 1956, because of health problems, I returned to the United States on sick leave. But I never took my eyes off the prize of serving Jehovah now and endlessly in his new world. I planned on returning to Italy. However, I met Orville Michael, who served at the world headquarters of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Brooklyn, New York. We were married after the 1958 international convention in New York City.
Shortly afterward we moved to Front Royal, Virginia, where we enjoyed serving with a small congregation. We lived in a tiny apartment behind the Kingdom Hall. Finally, in March 1960 it became necessary to return to Brooklyn to find secular work in order to pay our bills. We worked nights in different banks so that we could stay in full-time service.
While we were in Brooklyn, my dad died, and my husband’s mother had a slight stroke. So we decided to move to Oregon to be near our mothers. We both found part-time secular work and continued in the pioneer ministry there. In the fall of 1964, we and our mothers drove across country to attend the annual meeting of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
During our visit to Rhode Island, we were encouraged by a circuit overseer, Arlen Meier, and his wife to move to the state capital, Providence, where the need for Kingdom publishers was greater. Our mothers urged us to accept this new assignment, so upon returning to Oregon, we sold most of our household items and moved.
To Gilead School Again
During the summer of 1965, we attended a convention at Yankee Stadium. There we applied for Gilead School as a married couple. About a month later, we were surprised to receive applications, which had to be returned in 30 days. I was concerned about going to a faraway country since Mother was not in good health. But she encouraged me: “Fill out those applications. You know you should always accept any privilege of service that Jehovah offers!”
That settled it. We completed the applications and sent them in. What a surprise it was to receive invitations to the 42nd class, which began on April 25, 1966! Gilead School was then located in Brooklyn, New York. Less than five months later, 106 of us graduated on September 11, 1966.
Assigned to Argentina
Two days after graduation, we were on our way to Argentina on Peruvian Airlines. When we arrived in Buenos Aires, the branch overseer, Charles Eisenhower, met us at the airport. He helped us through customs and then took us to the branch. We had one day to get unpacked and settled; then our Spanish classes started. We studied Spanish 11 hours a day for the first month. The second month, we studied the language four hours a day and began sharing in the field ministry.
We were in Buenos Aires for five months and then were assigned to Rosario, a large city about four hours north by train. After serving there for 15 months, we were sent farther north to Santiago del Estero, a city in a hot desert province. While we were there, in January 1973, my mother died. I had not seen her in four years. What helped sustain me in my grief was the sure hope of the resurrection as well as the knowledge that I was serving where Mother would want me to be.—John 5:28, 29; Acts 24:15.
The people in Santiago del Estero were friendly, and Bible studies were easy to start. When we arrived in 1968, there were about 20 or 30 attending meetings, but eight years later there were over a hundred in our congregation. In addition, there were two new congregations of between 25 and 50 publishers in nearby towns.
Returning Again to the States
Because of health problems, in 1976 we were assigned back to the United States as special pioneers—to Fayetteville, North Carolina. There were many Spanish-speaking people there from Central and South America, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, and even Spain. We had many Bible studies, and in time a Spanish congregation was started. We spent almost eight years in that assignment.
However, we needed to be closer to my mother-in-law, who was quite elderly and disabled. She lived in Portland, Oregon, so we received a new assignment to the Spanish congregation in Vancouver, Washington, which is not far from Portland. The congregation was small when we arrived in December 1983, but we are seeing many new ones.
In June 1996, I completed 53 years of full-time service, and my husband completed 55 years on January 1, 1996. During these many years, I have had the privilege of helping hundreds come to a knowledge of the truth of God’s Word and dedicate their lives to Jehovah. Many of these now serve as elders and full-time ministers.
At times I am asked if I miss not having had children. The fact is, Jehovah has blessed me with many spiritual children and grandchildren. Yes, my life has been rich and full in Jehovah’s service. I can relate to Jephthah’s daughter, who spent her life in temple service and never had children because of her great privilege of service.—Judges 11:38-40.
I still remember making my dedication to Jehovah when but a little girl. The picture of Paradise is just as vivid in my mind now as it was then. My eyes and heart are still fixed on the prize of endless life in God’s new world. Yes, my desire is to serve Jehovah, not for just some 50 years, but forever—under his Kingdom rule.
[Picture on page 23]
Dorothy Craden, with hands on my shoulders, and fellow pioneers in 1943
[Picture on page 23]
In Rome, Italy, with fellow missionaries in 1953
[Picture on page 25]
With my husband