I Saw “the Small One” Become “a Mighty Nation”
AS TOLD BY WILLIAM DINGMAN
The year was 1936; the place, Salem, Oregon, U.S.A. I was attending a meeting of Jehovah’s Witnesses. The question was asked: “Where’s the great multitude?” (Revelation 7:9, King James Version) I was the only new one, so they all pointed at me and said, “There he is!”
IN THE mid-1930’s, there were relatively few among Jehovah’s Witnesses who had the Bible hope of living forever on earth in Paradise. (Psalm 37:29; Luke 23:43) Things have changed dramatically since then. But let me tell about the events that led to my being at that meeting in Salem, Oregon.
My father was a subscriber to The Golden Age, an earlier name for the Awake! magazine. When I was a teenager, I enjoyed reading it, and I became convinced that it contained important Bible truth. So one day I sent in a coupon that appeared on the back of a Golden Age. It offered the reader 20 booklets, a book, and the name of the nearest congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Upon receiving the literature, I went from house to house and placed all the booklets as well as the book.
At the time no one had studied the Bible with me. In fact, I had never talked with one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. But now, with the address of the nearest Kingdom Hall in hand, I drove some 25 miles [40 km] into Salem, Oregon, to attend a meeting. It was there, when I was still only 18 years old, that I was singled out as “the great multitude.”
Although I had practically no preparation for the ministry, I began preaching with the Salem Congregation. I was encouraged to include three basic points in my witnessing. First, that Jehovah is God; second, that Jesus Christ is his appointed King; and third, that the Kingdom is the only hope for the world. I tried to share that message at every door.
After associating with Jehovah’s Witnesses in Salem for two years, I was baptized on April 3, 1938. The friends in Salem were delighted to see several of us of “the great multitude” getting baptized. In February 1939, I became a pioneer, or full-time minister. In December of that year, I accepted an invitation to move to Arizona, where there was a greater need for Kingdom proclaimers.
Pioneering in Arizona
The work of Jehovah’s Witnesses was new in Arizona, and there was a lot of misunderstanding regarding us, so when the United States entered World War II, we experienced much persecution. For example, while I was serving in Stafford, Arizona, in 1942, there was talk of mob action against us by a group of Mormons. My pioneer partners and I happened to live close to the house of a Mormon bishop who respected us and said: “If Mormon missionaries were as active as the Witnesses, then the Mormon Church would get somewhere.” So in church he spoke up and said: “I hear there’s talk of mob action against the Witness boys. Well, I live close to those boys, and if there’s mob action, there’s going to be a shotgun right across the fence. That shotgun will be used—but not against the Witnesses. It’ll be used against the mobsters. So if you want mob action, you know what to expect.” The mob never came.
During my three years in Arizona, we were arrested and put in jail several times. Once I was kept for 30 days. To combat the police harassment in our ministry, we formed what we called a flying squad. The Witness in charge told us: “Just as our name is, so we are. We start at five or six in the morning, leave a tract or booklet at every door, and then we fly.” Our “flying squad” covered quite a bit of the state of Arizona. However, it was finally dissolved because that form of preaching did not allow us to provide help for those who were interested.
Gilead School and Special Service
In December 1942, I was among several pioneers in Arizona who received a letter of invitation to a new missionary school that was being established by Jehovah’s Witnesses. The school was initially called the Watchtower Bible College of Gilead. Later the name was changed to the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead. The campus was located nearly 3,000 miles [4,800 km] away near the city of Ithaca in upstate New York.
After a brief visit to Oregon, in January 1943, several of us pioneers left the heat of the Arizona Desert in a Greyhound bus. Several days later we arrived at our destination and found the snow of an upstate New York winter. The school opened on February 1, 1943, when its president, Nathan H. Knorr, said in his inaugural address to the one hundred students: “It is NOT the purpose of this college to equip you to be ordained ministers. You are ministers already and have been active in the ministry for years. . . . The course of study at the college is for the exclusive purpose of preparing you to be more able ministers in the territories to which you go.”
Since I had limited secular schooling, at first I felt out of place at Gilead. But the instructors were wonderful to me, and I came to enjoy my studies very much. Our class graduated after five months of intensive training. Afterward, a few of us were sent to the world headquarters of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Brooklyn, New York, where we received further training to prepare us to serve in the traveling work as circuit overseers. My first assignment was in North and South Carolina.
In those early days, the circuit overseer was almost constantly on the move. We would stay one day with a small congregation or two days if it was a large one. Most congregations at the time were small. So after spending a full day, and often being kept up to near midnight visiting and answering questions, I was up at about five the next morning to travel to the next congregation. I served in the circuit work for about a year, and afterward I pioneered for a while in Tennessee and New York.
To Cuba and On to Puerto Rico
In May 1945, along with several others, I was sent to my first foreign missionary assignment, Cuba! The night that we arrived in Havana, Cuba’s capital, we went out in the magazine work. We stayed in Havana until we were able to locate a home in Santa Clara. Our monthly allowance was just $25 each for all necessities, including food and rent. We constructed beds and furniture out of materials that were available and used apple boxes for our chest of drawers.
The following year I was assigned to the circuit work. At the time all of Cuba was one circuit. Because the circuit overseer who preceded me had long legs and delighted in walking, the brothers and sisters literally had to run to keep up with him. Evidently they figured that I would be the same, so they had things all planned for my visit. They didn’t all go out in the ministry the same day but divided into groups and took turns working with me. The first day one group took me to a distant territory; the next day another group took me to another such territory, and so on. I was exhausted at the end of the visit, but I had enjoyed it. I have fond memories of that congregation.
By 1950 we had over 7,000 Kingdom publishers in Cuba, about the same number as Mexico had. In July of that year, I attended the Theocracy’s Increase international convention at Yankee Stadium in New York City. Afterward, I received a new missionary assignment, to Puerto Rico. Among the new missionaries from the 12th class of Gilead were Estelle and Thelma Weakley, who accompanied me on the flight to Puerto Rico.
Eight years later Estelle and I were married in a simple ceremony in Bayamón, Puerto Rico, held on the platform during our circuit assembly’s intermission. Both before and after our marriage, I served in the circuit work. During our more than ten years in Puerto Rico, Estelle and I saw great increases—from fewer than 500 publishers to more than 2,000. We were able to help many to the point of dedication and baptism, and we participated in establishing several new congregations.
In December 1960, Milton Henschel from the world headquarters of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Brooklyn, New York, visited Puerto Rico and spoke to the missionaries. He asked if some would make themselves available for a different assignment. Among those who volunteered were Estelle and I.
Our Home in Dominican Republic
Our new assignment was the Dominican Republic, and we set June 1, 1961, as our transfer date. On May 30 the Dominican dictator, Rafael Trujillo, was assassinated, and flights to the country were canceled. Flights, though, were soon resumed, and we were able to fly to the Dominican Republic on June 1 as planned.
The country was in a state of upheaval when we arrived, and there was quite a bit of military activity. A revolution was feared, and soldiers were searching everyone on the highway. We were stopped at several checkpoints, and at each one our luggage was searched. Everything was taken out of our suitcases, even the smallest items. That was our introduction to the Dominican Republic.
We stayed in the capital, Santo Domingo, for several weeks before going to our first assignment in La Romana. During Trujillo’s dictatorship, the public had been told that Jehovah’s Witnesses were Communists and were the worst kind of people. As a result, the Witnesses had been badly persecuted. Little by little, though, we were able to break down prejudice.
After working in La Romana for a short time, we once again began to serve in the circuit work. Then, in 1964, we were assigned as missionaries to the city of Santiago. The following year the Dominican Republic experienced a revolution, and once again the country was in a state of turmoil. During that conflict we were transferred to San Francisco de Macorís, a town known for its political activism. Nonetheless, we preached freely without interference. Despite the political unrest, we even formed a new congregation. Through the years that followed, we experienced further changes of assignment before being reassigned to our current home in Santiago.
We have certainly seen Jehovah’s blessing on the work here in the Dominican Republic. When we arrived in 1961, there were about 600 Witnesses and 20 congregations. Now there are almost 20,000 publishers preaching the good news of God’s Kingdom in more than 300 congregations. The prospects for further growth are tremendous, as evidenced by the attendance of 69,908 at the Memorial of Christ’s death in 1996. That’s about three and one half times the number of publishers!
Now a Mighty Nation
Even though the scene of the world continues to change, the Bible message that Jehovah’s Witnesses preach remains the same. (1 Corinthians 7:31) Jehovah is still God, Christ is still King, and the Kingdom is more obviously than ever the only hope for the world.
At the same time, a marvelous transformation has occurred among Jehovah’s people since I attended that meeting in Salem, Oregon, some 60 years ago. The great multitude, or great crowd, truly has become great, numbering over five million. It is just as Jehovah foretold of his people: “The little one himself will become a thousand, and the small one a mighty nation. I myself, Jehovah, shall speed it up in its own time.”—Isaiah 60:22.
After almost 60 years in the full-time ministry, I’m happy to have the joy of continuing to preach and teach in my missionary assignment. What a grand privilege to have a share in that work and to have seen “the small one” become “a mighty nation”!
[Picture on page 21]
With my wife, in the Dominican Republic