‘We Have Done What We Ought to Have Done’
AS TOLD BY GEORGE COUCH
After we had spent the morning in the house-to-house ministry, my companion brought out two sandwiches. When we finished eating, I pulled out a cigarette to smoke. “How long have you been in the truth?” he asked. “Last night was the first meeting I ever attended,” I told him.
I WAS born March 3, 1917, on a farm about 30 miles [50 km] east of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S.A., near the small town of Avonmore. There my parents raised my four brothers, a sister, and me.
We did not have a whole lot of religious training. At one time my parents went to church, but they quit attending when we children were still young. We believed in the Creator, though, and our family life followed basic principles that are found in the Bible.
The finest training I received from my parents was regarding responsibility—how to take it on and fulfill it. That was what farm life was all about. But our life was not all work. We enjoyed wholesome recreation, such as playing basketball and baseball, riding horses, and swimming. Money was scarce in those days, yet life on the farm was pleasant. We attended school in a one-room schoolhouse while in grade school and went to school in town during our high school years.
One night I was walking in town with a friend of mine. A nice-looking girl came out of her house to say hello to my friend. He introduced me to Fern Prugh. Conveniently, she lived on the block where the high school was located. Often when I passed by her house, Fern was outside taking care of chores. Obviously, she was a hard worker, which impressed me. We developed a close friendship and love for one another and got married in April of 1936.
Contact With Bible Truth
Before I was born, there was an elderly woman whom people in town mistreated because of her religion. My mother visited her on Saturdays when going to town to shop. Mother cleaned her house and helped her with errands, doing so until the woman died. I believe Jehovah blessed Mother because she was so kind to this woman, who was a Bible Student, as Jehovah’s Witnesses were then called.
Sometime afterward, my aunt’s young daughter died suddenly. The church didn’t give my aunt much comfort, but a neighbor who was a Bible Student did. The Bible Student explained to her what happens when a person dies. (Job 14:13-15; Ecclesiastes 9:5, 10) This was a source of great comfort. My aunt, in turn, talked to Mother about the resurrection hope. This sparked Mother’s interest, since her parents died when she was young and she was anxious to know what happens to a person at death. That experience impressed upon me the importance of always taking advantage of opportunities to witness informally.
In the 1930’s, Mother began listening to the Sunday morning radio broadcasts of Joseph F. Rutherford, then president of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society. During those years, the Witnesses also began house-to-house work where we lived. They would set up a portable phonograph in the yard under a shady tree and play Brother Rutherford’s recorded sermons. Those recordings and the Watchtower and Golden Age (now Awake!) magazines kept Mother’s interest alive.
A few years later, in 1938, a postcard was sent to Watchtower subscribers inviting them to a special meeting in a private home about 15 miles [about 25 km] away. Mother wanted to attend, so Fern and I and two of my brothers accompanied her. John Booth and Charles Hessler, traveling overseers of Jehovah’s Witnesses, gave talks to about a dozen of us. Afterward, they began organizing a group to share in the ministry the next morning. No one volunteered to go with them, so Brother Hessler picked me out and asked, “Why don’t you go with us?” I did not know exactly what they were going to do, but I could think of no reason why I should not help them.
We went from house to house until about noon, and then Brother Hessler brought out two sandwiches. We sat down on the church steps and started eating. It was after I pulled out that cigarette that Brother Hessler learned that I had attended only one meeting. He invited himself for supper that very evening and asked us to invite our neighbors for a Bible discussion. Following supper, he held a Bible study with us and gave a talk to the group of about ten that had come. He told us that we should have a Bible study every week. Though our neighbors did not agree to this, Fern and I arranged to have a weekly home Bible study.
Progress in the Truth
Soon afterward, Fern and I went out in the field ministry. We were in the back seat of the car, and we had just lit up cigarettes when my brother turned to us and said: “I just found out that the Witnesses do not smoke.” Immediately, Fern threw her cigarette out the window—I finished mine. Even though we had enjoyed smoking, we never picked up a cigarette again.
After our baptism in 1940, Fern and I were at a meeting where we studied an article that encouraged pioneering, as the full-time preaching work is called. On our way home, a brother asked: “Why don’t you and Fern go pioneering? You have nothing to hold you back.” We could not disagree with him, so we made ourselves available. I turned in a 30-day notice at my place of employment, and we made arrangements to pioneer.
We conferred with the Watch Tower Society about where we should serve, and then we moved to Baltimore, Maryland. There a home for pioneers was maintained, and the cost for room and board was $10 a month. We had some savings that we thought would easily last us to Armageddon. (Revelation 16:14, 16) After all, we always thought that Armageddon was just around the corner. So when we started to pioneer, we gave up our home and dropped everything else.
We pioneered in Baltimore from 1942 to 1947. Opposition to the work of Jehovah’s Witnesses was at a high point during those years. Instead of driving our car to our Bible students’ homes, we at times had someone drop us off. That way our car tires would not get slashed. No one likes such opposition, but I can say that we always enjoyed the field ministry. In fact, we looked forward to a little bit of excitement in doing the Lord’s work.
We had soon spent all the money we had saved. Our car tires wore out, and so did our clothes and shoes. We got sick two or three times for long periods. It was not easy to keep going, but we never gave a thought to quitting. We never even talked about it. We cut back on other things in life so that we could stay in the pioneer work.
Changes of Assignment
In 1947 we went to the convention in Los Angeles, California. While there, my brother William and I were each given a letter that assigned us to the traveling work to visit and help congregations. We did not get any special training for that work back then. We just went. During the next seven years, Fern and I served in Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, and New York. In 1954 we were invited to attend the 24th class of Gilead, a school for training missionaries. While there, Fern contracted polio. Happily, she recovered well, and we were assigned to the traveling work in New York and Connecticut.
While we were serving in Stamford, Connecticut, Nathan H. Knorr, then president of the Watch Tower Society, asked us to spend the weekend with him and his wife, Audrey. They fed us a nice steak supper with all the trimmings. We had become acquainted with them earlier, and I knew Brother Knorr well enough to realize that he had something on his mind besides our association and supper. Later that evening he asked me, “How would you like to come to Bethel?”
“I’m not really sure; I don’t know a whole lot about Bethel life,” I replied.
After thinking about this for several weeks, we told Brother Knorr that we would come if he wanted us to. The next week, we received a letter to report to Bethel on April 27, 1957, our 21st wedding anniversary.
That first day at Bethel, Brother Knorr gave me clear direction on what was expected. He told me: “You’re not a circuit servant anymore; you are here to work at Bethel. This is the most important work that you have to do, and we want you to put your time and energy into applying the training you receive here at Bethel. We want you to stay.”
Life at Bethel Meaningful
The first assignment I had was in the Magazine and Mailing Departments. Later, after about three years, Brother Knorr sent word for me to report to his office. He informed me then that the real reason I was brought to Bethel was to work in the home. His instructions were very direct, “You are here to run the Bethel Home.”
Managing the Bethel Home reminded me of lessons my parents had taught me while I was growing up on the farm. A Bethel Home is much like a regular family household. There are clothes to be cleaned, meals to be prepared, dishes to be washed, beds to be made, and so forth. The home organization tries to make Bethel a comfortable place to live, one that a person can call his home.
I believe that there are a lot of lessons that families can learn from how Bethel operates. We wake up early in the morning and start off our day on a spiritual note by considering a daily Bible text. We are expected to work hard and live a balanced but busy life. Bethel is not like a monastery, as some may think. We accomplish much because of our scheduled way of life. Many have said that the training they received here later helped them to accept responsibilities in their families and in the Christian congregation.
Young men and women who come to Bethel may be assigned to do cleaning, laundry, or work in the factory. The world may have us believe that such physical work is demeaning and beneath us. Yet, young ones at Bethel come to appreciate that such work assignments are necessary for our family to function properly and happily.
The world may also promote the thought that you need position and prestige to be truly happy. That is wrong. When we do what we are assigned to do, we are ‘doing what we ought to be doing,’ and we receive Jehovah’s blessing. (Luke 17:10) We can have real contentment and happiness only if we remember the purpose of our work—to do Jehovah’s will and advance Kingdom interests. If we keep that in mind, any assignment can be enjoyable and satisfying.
A Privileged Share in Expansion
At the Cleveland, Ohio, convention in 1942, more than a decade before we came to Bethel, Brother Knorr gave the talk “Peace—Can It Last?” He made it clear that World War II, then in progress, would end and that there would be a time of peace that would provide an opportunity for an expanded preaching campaign. The Gilead School to train missionaries and the Theocratic Ministry School to improve the public speaking abilities of the brothers were established in 1943. Large conventions were also organized. Especially prominent during the 1950’s were those at Yankee Stadium, New York. In connection with the conventions there in 1950 and 1953, I had the opportunity to help arrange for the huge Trailer City that accommodated tens of thousands for the eight days of each of those conventions.
After those conventions, including the largest one of all in 1958, there were big increases in Kingdom publishers. This directly affected our work at Bethel. In the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, we found ourselves quite desperate for space and rooms to house workers. To accommodate our growing family, we had to have more bedrooms, kitchens, and dining rooms.
Brother Knorr asked Brother Max Larson, the factory overseer, and me to locate suitable property for expansion. In 1957, when I came to Bethel, our family of about 500 was accommodated in one large residence building. But over the years, the Society purchased and renovated three large nearby hotels—the Towers, the Standish, and the Bossert—as well as many smaller apartment buildings. In 1986 the Society bought the property where the Hotel Margaret had stood and turned the beautiful new building put up there into a home for about 250 persons. Then in the early 1990’s, a 30-story residence was built to house an additional 1,000 workers. Brooklyn Bethel can now accommodate and feed the more than 3,300 members of our family.
Property was also purchased in Wallkill, New York, nearly a hundred miles [160 km] from Brooklyn Bethel. Over the years, beginning in the late 1960’s, residences and a large printery were built there. Now, about 1,200 members of our Bethel family live and work there. In 1980 a search began for about 600 acres [about 250 ha] of land nearer to New York City and with good highway access. The real estate agent laughed and said: “Where are you going to find that kind of property? It is just not possible.” But the next morning he called back and said: “I’ve found your property.” Today, it is known as the Watchtower Educational Center at Patterson, New York. There schools are operated and there is a family of more than 1,300 ministers.
Lessons I Have Learned
I have learned that a good overseer is one who can draw valuable information from others. Most of the ideas that I have been privileged to put into operation as the Bethel overseer have come from others.
When I came to Bethel, many were older, as I am today. Most are now gone. Who replaces those who grow old and die? It is not always the ones with the most ability. It is those who are here, working faithfully at the job, making themselves available.
Another important matter to remember is the value of a good wife. The support of my dear wife, Fern, has been a great help to me in fulfilling my theocratic assignments. Husbands have the responsibility of making sure their wives enjoy their assignments. I try to have something planned that Fern and I like to do. It does not have to be expensive, just a change of scenery. It is up to a husband to do things to make his wife happy. His time with her is precious and goes by quickly, so he needs to make the most of it.
I am glad to be living in the last days that Jesus talked about. This is the most amazing time in all human history. We are able to watch and see with our eyes of faith how the Lord develops his organization in preparation for the advent of the promised new world. As I look back over my lifetime in Jehovah’s service, I can see that Jehovah is the one who is running this organization—not men. We are just his servants. As such, we must always look to him for direction. Once he lays out what we are to do, we should just jump in and do it together.
Give of yourself to the organization, and you are guaranteed to have a full, happy life. Whatever you are doing—whether it is pioneering, circuit work, serving with a congregation as a publisher, Bethel service, or missionary work—follow the direction outlined, and value your assignment. Try your best to enjoy every assignment and each day of work in Jehovah’s service. You will get tired, and you may get overworked or feel down at times. That is when you have to remember the purpose of dedicating your life to Jehovah. It is to do his will, not your own.
There has not been a day that I have come to work and not enjoyed what I did. Why? Because when we give of ourselves whole-souled to Jehovah, we have the satisfaction of knowing that ‘we have done what we ought to have done.’
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The Magazine Department
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Trailer City, 1950
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Pioneering in Baltimore, 1946
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At Trailer City with Fern in 1950
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With Audrey and Nathan Knorr
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Watchtower Educational Center at Patterson, New York
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With Fern today