My Heart Overflows With Gratitude
AS TOLD BY JOHN WYNN
How often I rebelled at going to the meetings of Jehovah’s Witnesses! I would feign a stomachache or a headache—anything to avoid attending. But the firmness of my mother always caused such ailments to disappear quickly, and I would find myself walking with her the two miles [3 km] to the Kingdom Hall, listening as she discussed God’s Word with an older companion.
THIS taught me a valuable lesson: Parents should never stop being firm, in a loving way, for what is right in God’s eyes. (Proverbs 29:15, 17) They should never forget the divine injunction ‘not to forsake the gathering of ourselves together.’ (Hebrews 10:25) As I look back on my life, how grateful I am that my mother made me do what was best for me!
Grateful for Fine Examples
Although my father was an unbeliever, he was tolerant of Mother’s beliefs when she became a Bible Student, as Jehovah’s Witnesses were then known. In 1913 she went to hear the talk “Beyond the Grave,” given by Charles T. Russell, the first president of the Watch Tower Society. However, she was late arriving, and all seats were taken. So she was invited to sit with other latecomers around the platform, right next to Pastor Russell. That talk deeply impressed her. It was published the following day in the local newspaper, and she kept a copy of it and read it repeatedly.
After the meeting, Mother handed in a piece of paper with her name, and she was soon contacted by a Bible Student. In time, she began to deliver Bible tracts from door to door in our hometown of Gloucester, England. From the time that my two sisters and I were very young, we shared with Mother in the preaching work.
When Harry Francis, a zealous Bible Student, moved to Gloucester, Mother gave him a warm welcome. Soon, he took a personal interest in me, and his encouragement was a major factor in my later becoming a pioneer, as full-time ministers are called. The example of Brother Francis taught me an important lesson: Older ones should always look for ways to encourage younger ones.
When my mother became a Bible Student, others in Gloucester did the same. However, some elders in the congregation began thinking too much of themselves, and members of the class—as the congregation was then called—began to follow individuals. At one meeting, some kept poking Mother in the back, urging her to put her hand up in support of certain elders. But Mother knew they were not setting a proper example, and she refused to be intimidated. At that time, in the late 1920’s, many fell away and no longer walked in the way of the truth. (2 Peter 2:2) Yet, Mother never deviated from loyally supporting the organization, thus setting a fine example for me.
My Stand for the Truth
Eventually, in June 1939, when I was 18 years old, I was baptized in the River Severn. That year I was also appointed sound servant. In those days we used a large transcription machine that blasted out in public places the message “Religion Is a Snare and a Racket.” The emphasis at that time was on exposing the hypocrisy and false teachings of Christendom.
Once I was at the front of a procession carrying a banner that proclaimed on one side “Religion Is a Snare and a Racket” and on the other “Serve God and Christ the King.” Following along was a pony that had large posters on either side of its back that advertised the public lecture. What a sight that procession must have been in the very religious city of Gloucester!
Despite financial difficulties at home, Mother encouraged me to become a pioneer. Thus, in September 1939, at the start of World War II, I arrived at my first pioneer assignment in Leamington, a small town in Warwickshire. The town was the home of a number of retired clergymen.
We used a lightweight phonograph in our house-to-house ministry, playing lectures of Joseph F. Rutherford, then president of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society. On the other hand, our transcription machine (which could be used for larger audiences) was much heavier, and we carried it in a pram, or baby carriage. Sometimes clergymen, irate at the message exposing false religion, marched us off their premises. But we were not downhearted. Jehovah blessed our work, and today a congregation of over a hundred Witnesses can be found in Leamington.
In 1941, as World War II raged, I moved to Wales, where I pioneered in the towns of Haverfordwest, Carmarthen, and Wrexham. As a full-time minister, I was exempted from military service, but people did not appreciate our neutral position. Thus, my partner and I were denounced as spies or fifth columnists. One night, police surrounded our trailer. My partner, who had just returned from his work of shoveling coal, popped his head out to see who was there. His face was covered with coal dust, and to the police he looked as though he were ready for a commando raid. That needed some explaining!
We were richly blessed in our assignments. Once, while we were in Carmarthen, John Barr from the branch office in London (now a member of the Governing Body) paid us an encouraging visit. At the time, there were only a couple of publishers in Carmarthen; at present, there are more than a hundred. Wrexham currently has three congregations, and I recently had the privilege of dedicating a fine Kingdom Hall in Haverfordwest.—1 Corinthians 3:6.
Grateful for My Ministry
While we were in Swansea, South Wales, my partner, Don Rendell, was not granted military exemption. He was put in prison despite explaining that he could not conscientiously go to war against fellow Christians in other lands. (Isaiah 2:2-4; John 13:34, 35) To encourage him, as well as to give a witness to the neighbors, I placed the transcription machine nearby and played Bible lectures.
However, local women did not like this and passed the hat and collected money to pay soldiers to beat up my companion and me. We took off, running as fast as we could—I was also pushing the pram with the transcription machine—seeking the protection of the Kingdom Hall. But when we got there, it was locked! Only the timely intervention of the police saved us from a severe beating.
The incident evidently became well-known. When I was preaching in the country near Swansea some time later, a man told me approvingly: “Christianity is what you stand up for, like the young man in Swansea who boldly proclaimed what he believed and had to run for protection.” How surprised he was to learn that I was that young man!
Pioneering was not easy in those war years. We did not have much in the way of worldly goods, but what we had, we appreciated and enjoyed. We always received regular supplies of spiritual food, and we never missed a meeting, except when we were sick. I purchased an old bicycle, and we had large baskets put on it to carry a phonograph as well as Bible literature. Sometimes I traveled 50 miles [80 km] a day on the bike! I pioneered for some seven years and fondly remember those days.
In 1946, after World War II had ended, I was invited to work at Bethel, as the principal facilities of Jehovah’s Witnesses are called in their respective countries. Our Bethel was then located at 34 Craven Terrace, next-door to the London Tabernacle. I enjoyed association with older ones there, such as Alice Hart, whose father, Tom Hart, is believed to have been the first Witness in England.
Gaining a Faithful Companion
In 1956, I left Bethel to marry Etty, a pioneer I had become acquainted with when she came from the Netherlands to visit her sister who then lived in London. Toward the end of the war, Etty taught typing and shorthand at a commercial college in Tilburg, southern Netherlands. One day another teacher offered to cycle home with her to make sure she arrived safely. He was a Roman Catholic. When they arrived, a discussion followed with Etty’s Protestant parents. A friendship developed, and the teacher became a frequent visitor to their home.
Soon after the end of the war, this teacher came to Etty’s home, shouting, “I’ve found the truth!”
“I thought you said that you had the truth when you were a Roman Catholic!” Etty’s father responded.
“No!” he replied excitedly. “It’s Jehovah’s Witnesses who have the truth!”
That evening and many following ones were spent in intense Bible discussion. Soon afterward Etty became a pioneer. In her ministry she also encountered bitter opposition, which in the Netherlands came from the Roman Catholic Church. Children, egged on by the priests, would disrupt her conversations when she was going from house to house, and on one occasion they wrecked her bicycle. She took her bike to a repairman who had previously accepted a booklet from her. “Look what the children have done!” she said tearfully.
“Now, don’t you give up,” the man kindly replied. “You’re doing a fine work. I’ll repair your bike for nothing.” And he did.
Etty found that the priests took little interest in their flocks until she started to study the Bible with them. Then the priests and nuns would come around to undermine the people’s faith in both the Bible and Jehovah. Despite this, she enjoyed many fruitful Bible studies.
Grateful for Our Life Together
Following our wedding, Etty and I were assigned to the traveling work in England, and for nearly five years, we visited congregations to strengthen them spiritually. Then I received an invitation to attend the 36th class of Gilead, held at the world headquarters of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Brooklyn, New York. The ten-month course, which was completed in November 1961, was particularly designed to train men to handle work in branch offices of Jehovah’s Witnesses. While I was away, Etty remained in England at London Bethel. Upon my graduation, we were assigned there together.
For the next 16 years, I worked at the service desk, handling matters pertaining to congregation activities. Then, in 1978, when the Bethel Home overseer, Pryce Hughes, died, I was appointed in his place. Being responsible for the well-being of the members of our growing Bethel family—we have over 260 in our family now—has been a rewarding assignment over these many years.
In 1971 my dear mother died at age 85. Etty and I returned to Gloucester for the funeral, where a brother nicely outlined the heavenly hope that Mother entertained. (Philippians 3:14) I am grateful for the loving care that my sisters, Doris and Grace, provided Mother in her old age, thus enabling Etty and me to continue in the full-time ministry.
Etty and I often think of our parents and how they reared us in such a loving, firm way. What an immeasurable debt we owe them! My mother especially set a wonderful example for me and my sisters, building appreciation in us for Jehovah and his organization.
Indeed, our hearts overflow with gratitude as we contemplate each new day of service to our heavenly Father, Jehovah. What a wonderful, loving God he is! The Bible psalmist expressed our sentiments when he wrote: “I will exalt you, O my God the King, and I will bless your name to time indefinite, even forever. All day long I will bless you, and I will praise your name to time indefinite, even forever.”—Psalm 145:1, 2.
[Picture on page 26]
With my wife, Etty