Our Parents Taught Us to Love God
AS TOLD BY ELIZABETH TRACY
Armed men, who earlier that day led a mob against us, forced Mom and Dad from the car. My sister and I, left alone in the back seat, were wondering if we would ever see our parents again. What led to this frightening experience near Selma, Alabama, U.S.A., in 1941? And what did the teachings we received from our parents have to do with it?
MY DAD, Dewey Fountain, was raised by a relative on a farm in Texas after his parents died when he was still an infant. Later he went to work in the oil fields. In 1922, when he was 23, he married Winnie, a pretty young Texan, and began making plans to settle down and raise a family.
He built a house in the timberlands of east Texas near the small town of Garrison. There he cultivated a variety of crops, including cotton and corn. He also raised all kinds of farm animals. In time, we children were born—Dewey junior in May 1924, Edwena in December 1925, and in June 1929, I came along.
Learning Bible Truth
Mom and Dad thought they understood the Bible, since they belonged to the Church of Christ. But in 1932, G. W. Cook left the books Deliverance and Government, published by the Watch Tower Society, with Dad’s brother Monroe Fountain. Eager to share with my parents what he was learning, Monroe often came over at breakfast time, read an article from The Watchtower, and then “accidentally” left the magazine behind. Afterward, Mom and Dad would read it.
One Sunday morning Uncle Monroe invited Dad to a neighbor’s house for a Bible study. He assured him that Mr. Cook could answer all his questions from the Bible. On Dad’s return from the study, he excitedly told the family: “I got all my questions answered and then some! I thought I knew it all, but when Mr. Cook started to explain about hell, the soul, God’s purpose concerning the earth, and how God’s Kingdom will bring it about, I began to feel that I actually knew nothing about the Bible!”
Our house was something of a social center. Relatives and friends came and visited, made fudge and popcorn balls, and sang along as Mom played the piano. Slowly these events gave way to discussions of Bible subjects. Although we children could not understand all the things discussed, our parents’ strong love for God and for the Bible was so evident that each of us children developed a similar love for God and his Word.
Other families too opened their homes for weekly Bible discussions, which usually centered around a subject in the latest Watchtower magazine. When families in the neighboring towns of Appleby and Nacogdoches hosted the meetings, we piled into our Model A Ford and traveled there, come rain or shine.
Acting on What They Learned
It did not take long for our parents to see the need for action. Love of God required that what was learned be shared with others. (Acts 20:35) But this step of going public with one’s faith was a challenge, especially since our parents were naturally shy, humble people. Yet, their love for God motivated them, and this in turn helped them to teach us to put deep trust in Jehovah. Dad expressed it this way: “Jehovah is making preachers out of pea pickers!” In 1933, Mom and Dad symbolized their dedication to Jehovah by water baptism in a fishpond near Henderson, Texas.
Early in 1935, Dad wrote the Watch Tower Society and asked a number of questions regarding the Christian hope of everlasting life. (John 14:2; 2 Timothy 2:11, 12; Revelation 14:1, 3; 20:6) He received a reply directly from Joseph F. Rutherford, then president of the Society. Instead of answering his questions, Brother Rutherford invited Dad to attend the convention of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Washington, D.C., in May.
‘Impossible!’ Dad thought. ‘We are farmers with 65 acres [26 ha] planted with vegetables. It all will have to be harvested and taken to the market at that time.’ Soon afterward, however, a flood came and washed his excuses away—crops, fences, and bridges. So we joined other Witnesses on a chartered school bus that took us 1,000 miles [1,600 km] northeast to the convention.
At the convention Dad and Mom were thrilled to listen to the clear explanation of the identity of the “great multitude” who will survive the “great tribulation.” (Revelation 7:9, 14, King James Version) For the rest of their lives, the hope of eternal life on a paradise earth motivated Mom and Dad, and they encouraged us children to “get a firm hold on the real life,” which for us meant the everlasting life on earth that Jehovah offers. (1 Timothy 6:19; Psalm 37:29; Revelation 21:3, 4) Even though I was only five, I truly enjoyed being with my family at this happy event.
After returning from the convention, the family replanted the crops, and we later had the finest harvest ever. This surely helped to convince Mom and Dad that putting full trust in Jehovah would never go unrewarded. They took up a special form of the preaching work in which they each agreed to spend 52 hours a month in the ministry. And then, when the following planting season came, they sold out—lock, stock, and barrel! Dad had a 20 x 8-foot [6 x 2.4 m] trailer built for the five of us to live in, and he bought a brand-new two-door Ford sedan to pull it. Uncle Monroe did the same, and he too moved into a trailer with his family.
Teaching Us the Truth
Dad and Mom began pioneering, as the full-time ministry is called, in October 1936. As a family, we began preaching in counties in east Texas that had rarely been covered with the Kingdom message. For almost a year, we moved from place to place, but overall, we really enjoyed this life. Mom and Dad taught us by their word and example to be like the early Christians who gave of themselves to pass along Bible truth to others.
We children especially admired our mother for the sacrifices she made by giving up her home. There was one thing she would not part with, though, and that was her sewing machine. It was a good thing too. With her ability as a seamstress, she always kept us well dressed. At each convention, we had attractive new clothes to wear.
I well remember when Herman G. Henschel came with his family to our area in a Watch Tower Society sound truck. They would park the truck in a thickly populated area, play a short recorded lecture, and then make personal visits on the people to provide further information. Dewey junior enjoyed the companionship of Herman’s son Milton, who was then in his mid-teens. Now Milton is the president of the Watch Tower Society.
During the convention in 1937 in Columbus, Ohio, Edwena was baptized, and Mom and Dad were offered the privilege of serving as special pioneers. At the time, that work involved spending at least 200 hours a month in the preaching work. As I look back, I realize how much Mom’s fine example has helped me in supporting my husband in his Christian assignments.
When Dad established a Bible study with a family, he took us children along to provide a positive example for their children. He had us look up and read the Bible texts and answer some of the basic questions. As a result, many of those young ones we studied with are serving Jehovah faithfully to this day. Indeed, a firm foundation was also laid for us to continue to love God.
As Dewey junior grew older, he found it difficult to live in such cramped quarters with two younger sisters. So in 1940 he chose to leave and take up the pioneer ministry with another Witness. Eventually, he married Audrey Barron. Thus Audrey was also taught many things by our parents, and she came to love Mom and Dad dearly. After Dewey junior went to prison in 1944 for his Christian neutrality, she came to live with us for a time in our cramped trailer.
At the huge convention in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1941, Brother Rutherford spoke directly to the children ages 5 to 18, who were seated in a special section in front. Edwena and I listened to his calm, clear voice; he was like a loving father instructing his own children at home. He encouraged parents: “Today Christ Jesus has gathered his covenant people before him, and in the most forceful way he tells them to instruct their children in the way of righteousness.” He added: “Keep them at home and teach them the truth!” Happily, our parents did!
At that convention, we received the new booklet Jehovah’s Servants Defended, which reviewed court cases that Jehovah’s Witnesses had won, including those in the Supreme Court of the United States. Dad studied it with us as a family. Little did we know that we were being prepared for what happened a few weeks later in Selma, Alabama.
Mob Action in Selma
The morning of that frightening experience, Dad had delivered copies of a letter to the sheriff, the mayor, and the chief of police in Selma that described our constitutional right to carry on our ministry under the protection of the law. Nevertheless, they decided to run us out of town.
In late afternoon, five armed men arrived at our trailer and took Mother, my sister, and me hostage. They proceeded to ransack everything inside, looking for something subversive. Dad was outside, and they ordered him to hitch the trailer to the car, pointing their pistols at him all along. At this moment, I was not scared. It seemed so ridiculous that these men thought we were dangerous that my sister and I got the giggles. We soon sobered up, however, with a glance from Dad.
When we were ready to leave, the men wanted Edwena and me to ride with them in their car. Dad stood his ground. “Over my dead body!” he declared. After some discussion our family was allowed to travel together, with the armed men following us in their car. Some 15 miles [25 km] out of town, they signaled for us to park at the side of the highway and took Mom and Dad away. The men took turns trying to persuade them: “Give up that religion. Return to the farm, and raise your girls right!” Dad tried to reason with them but to no avail.
Finally, one man said: “Go, and if you ever come back to Dallas County, we will kill every one of you!”
Relieved and together again, we traveled on for several hours and then parked for the night. We had taken note of their license-plate number. Dad promptly reported everything to the Watch Tower Society, and some months later the men were identified and arrested.
To Gilead Missionary School
Edwena received an invitation to attend the 7th class of the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead in South Lansing, New York, in 1946. Albert Schroeder, one of the instructors, mentioned her fine qualities to his former pioneer partner Bill Elrod, who was then serving at Bethel, the world headquarters of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Brooklyn, New York.* Edwena and Bill were introduced, and about a year after her graduation from Gilead, they were married. For many years they remained in the full-time ministry, including serving together for five years at Bethel. Then one day in 1959, Brother Schroeder announced to the 34th class of Gilead that his dear friend had become father to twins, a boy and a girl.
While I was serving with my parents in Meridian, Mississippi, late in 1947, the three of us received an invitation to attend the 11th class of Gilead. We were shocked because according to the requirements I was too young, and Mom and Dad were too old. But an exception was made, and we received that undeserved privilege of advanced Bible instruction.
Missionary Service With My Parents
Our missionary assignment was Colombia, South America. It was not until December 1949, more than a year after our graduation, however, that we arrived in Bogotá at a missionary home where three others were already living. At first, Dad almost concluded that it would be easier to teach the people English than for him to learn Spanish! Yes, there were trials, but oh, how great the blessings! There were fewer than a hundred Witnesses in Colombia in 1949, but now there are well over 100,000!
After serving in Bogotá for five years, Mom and Dad were sent to the city of Cali. In the meantime, in 1952, I married Robert Tracy, a fellow missionary in Colombia.* We remained in Colombia until 1982, at which time we were assigned to Mexico, where we have served ever since. Eventually, in 1968, my parents had to return to the United States for medical attention. After regaining their health, they continued as special pioneers near Mobile, Alabama.
Caring for Our Parents
As the years piled up, Mom and Dad began slowing down and were needing more support and attention. Upon their request, they were assigned to serve near Edwena and Bill in Athens, Alabama. Later our brother, Dewey junior, thought it would be wise to have the family live closer together in South Carolina. So Bill relocated his family to Greenwood, along with Mom and Dad. This loving adjustment made it possible for Robert and me to continue our missionary service in Colombia, knowing that my parents were being well cared for.
Then, in 1985, Dad suffered a stroke that left him speechless and bedridden. We got together for a family conference to consider how best to care for our parents. It was decided that Audrey would become Dad’s primary caregiver and that Robert and I could best help by sending a letter every week with encouraging experiences and by visiting as often as possible.
My last visit with Dad is still vivid in my mind. He could not ordinarily articulate speech, but after we told him that we were returning to Mexico, he somehow uttered, with great effort and emotion, one word, “Adios!” By this we knew that, in his heart, he was supporting our decision to carry on in our missionary assignment. He died in July 1987, and Mom died nine months later.
A letter I received from my widowed sister well sums up the appreciation we each feel for our parents. “I treasure my rich Christian heritage and never for one moment feel that I would have been happier if our parents had chosen to raise us differently. Their example of strong faith, self-sacrifice, and complete trust in Jehovah has brought me through some low moments in my life.” Edwena concluded: “I thank Jehovah for parents who by word and example showed us the happiness that we can have if we build our lives around serving our loving God, Jehovah.”
[Pictures on page 22, 23]
Fountain family: (left to right) Dewey, Edwena, Winnie, Elizabeth, Dewey junior; right: Elizabeth and Dewey junior on the fenders of Henschel’s sound truck (1937); below right: Elizabeth doing placard work at age 16