Helped to Overcome My Shyness
AS TOLD BY RUTH L. ULRICH
I broke down and cried right on the clergyman’s doorstep. He had just let loose a barrage of false accusations against Charles T. Russell, who served as the first president of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society. Let me explain how I, as just a young girl, was making such calls on people.
I WAS born into a very religious family on a farm in Nebraska, U.S.A., in 1910. Our family read the Bible together every morning and evening after meals. Father was the Sunday-school superintendent of the Methodist church in the small town of Winside, about four miles [6 km] from our farm. We had a horse-drawn carriage with curtains at the windows, so that regardless of the weather, we could attend church Sunday morning.
When I was about eight, my baby brother became ill with infantile paralysis, and Mother took him to a sanatorium in Iowa for treatment. Despite her devoted care, my brother died while they were there. In the meantime, however, there in Iowa, Mother met a Bible Student, as Jehovah’s Witnesses were then called. They had many conversations, and Mother even went with the lady to some meetings of the Bible Students.
When Mother returned home, she brought with her several volumes of Studies in the Scriptures, which were published by the Watch Tower Society. She was soon convinced that the Bible Students were teaching the truth and that the teachings of the immortality of the human soul and of eternal torment of the wicked were not true.—Genesis 2:7; Ecclesiastes 9:5, 10; Ezekiel 18:4.
Father, however, was very upset, and he opposed Mother’s efforts to attend the meetings of the Bible Students. He kept taking me and my older brother, Clarence, to church with him. But when Father was not at home, Mother studied the Bible with us. As a result, we children had a good opportunity to compare the teachings of the Bible Students with those of our church.
Clarence and I regularly attended Sunday school at church, and he asked the teacher questions she could not answer. When we got home, we told our mother, and this led to long discussions on these subjects. Finally, I quit the church and began to attend meetings of the Bible Students with Mother, and not long afterward Clarence did the same.
Coping With Shyness
In September 1922, Mother and I attended the memorable convention of the Bible Students in Cedar Point, Ohio. I can still see that huge banner unfold as Joseph F. Rutherford, then president of the Watch Tower Society, urged the more than 18,000 in attendance, in the words on the banner: “Advertise the King and Kingdom.” I was deeply moved and felt the urgency to tell others about the good news of God’s Kingdom.—Matthew 6:9, 10; 24:14.
At the conventions held from 1922 to 1928, a series of resolutions were adopted, and the messages were incorporated into tracts that Bible Students distributed by the tens of millions to people throughout the world. I was lean and lanky—they called me the greyhound—and I rushed from house to house distributing these printed messages. I really enjoyed this work. Yet, talking at the doors, personally telling others about God’s Kingdom, was another matter.
You see, I was so shy that I even dreaded it when Mother invited hordes of relatives each year. I disappeared into my bedroom and stayed there. One time, Mother wanted to take a photograph of the whole family, and she told me to come out. Not wanting to join them, I screamed as she literally dragged me out of my room.
The day came, however, when I determinedly put some Bible literature in a bag. Over and over I said, “I can’t do it,” but the next moment I told myself, “I must do it.” Finally, I went preaching. Afterward, I was so happy that I had mustered up the courage to go. My greatest joy was in having done the work, not in actually doing it. It was about that time that I met the clergyman mentioned earlier and walked away crying. As time went on, with Jehovah’s help I was able to talk to people at their doors, and my joy increased. Then, in 1925, I symbolized my dedication to Jehovah by water baptism.
Getting Started in the Full-Time Ministry
When I was 18, I purchased a car with money I inherited from an aunt and began pioneering, as the full-time ministry is called. Two years later, in 1930, a partner and I accepted a preaching assignment. By then Clarence had also begun to pioneer. Soon afterward he accepted an invitation to serve at Bethel, the world headquarters of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Brooklyn, New York.
About that time our parents separated, so Mother and I had a house trailer built and began pioneering together. That was when the Great Depression came along in the United States. To continue in the pioneer work became quite a challenge, but we were determined not to quit. We traded Bible literature for chickens, eggs, and garden produce, as well as such items as old batteries and discarded aluminum. The latter we turned into money to buy gasoline for the car and to meet other expenses. I also learned to lubricate the car and change oil to save money. We saw Jehovah, true to his promise, open the way to help us overcome obstacles.—Matthew 6:33.
Off to Missionary Assignments
In 1946, I was invited to attend the seventh class of the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead, which was located near South Lansing, New York. By then Mother and I had pioneered together for over 15 years, yet she did not want to interfere with my opportunity to receive training for missionary work. So she encouraged me to accept the privilege to attend Gilead School. After graduation, Martha Hess of Peoria, Illinois, and I became partners. We, along with two others, were assigned to Cleveland, Ohio, for one year while we waited for an assignment overseas.
That assignment came in 1947. Martha and I were assigned to Hawaii. Since it was easy to enter these islands, Mother came and lived near us in the city of Honolulu. Her health was deteriorating, so along with caring for my missionary activities, I helped Mother. I was able to take care of her until she passed away in Hawaii in 1956, at 77 years of age. When we arrived, there were about 130 Witnesses in Hawaii, but by the time Mother died, there were over a thousand, and missionaries were no longer needed.
Then Martha and I received a letter from the Watch Tower Society that offered us an assignment in Japan. Our first concern was whether at our age we could learn the Japanese language. I was by then 48 years old, and Martha was only four years younger. But we left the matter in Jehovah’s hands and accepted the assignment.
Right after the 1958 international convention at New York City’s Yankee Stadium and Polo Grounds, we were off to Tokyo by ship. We were buffeted by a typhoon as we approached the port at Yokohama, where we were met by Don and Mabel Haslett, Lloyd and Melba Barry, and other missionaries. At that time, there were only 1,124 Witnesses in Japan.
We immediately began to study the Japanese language and to engage in the door-to-door ministry. Using the English alphabet, we wrote out our Japanese presentations, which we would read. In reply the householders would say, “Yoroshii desu” or, “Kekko desu,” which we learned meant, “It’s fine” or, “It’s good.” But we did not always know whether the householder was interested or not, since those words were also used to express refusal. The meaning depended on the tone of voice used or on the person’s facial expression. It took time for us to learn to interpret these.
Experiences That Warmed My Heart
Still struggling with the language, I called at a Mitsubishi Company dormitory one day and met a 20-year-old woman. She progressed well in Bible knowledge and was baptized in 1966. A year later she started pioneering and was soon thereafter appointed as a special pioneer. She has served as such ever since. It has always been an inspiration to me to see how she has used her time and energy from youth on in the full-time ministry.
Taking a stand for Bible truth is a challenge that is especially great for people who live in a non-Christian society. Yet, many thousands have met this challenge, including a number of those with whom I have studied the Bible. They have disposed of expensive Buddhist altars and Shinto shelves that are traditionally found in Japanese homes. Since relatives sometimes misinterpret such actions as disrespect for dead ancestors, it takes courage for the new ones to do this. Their courageous actions are reminiscent of those of early Christians who divested themselves of items associated with false worship.—Acts 19:18-20.
I remember one Bible student, a housewife, who was planning to move out of Tokyo with her family. She wanted to move into a new home that was free of objects having to do with pagan worship. So she told her husband of her wishes, and he willingly cooperated. She joyfully told me about it but then remembered that she had packed a large, expensive marble vase that she had purchased because it was said to ensure happiness in the home. Since she had a suspicion about its connections with false worship, she broke the vase with a hammer and discarded it.
Seeing this woman and others willingly get rid of expensive objects connected with false worship and courageously start a new life of service to Jehovah has been a most rewarding, satisfying experience for me. I regularly thank Jehovah that I have been able to enjoy more than 40 years of missionary service in Japan.
When I look back on my more than 70 years in the full-time ministry, I marvel at what appears to me to be modern-day miracles. As a youth afflicted with shyness, never would I have thought that I could spend my entire life taking the initiative to talk to people about a Kingdom that most do not want to hear anything about. Yet, not only have I been able to do that but I have seen hundreds, if not thousands, of others do the same. And they have done it with such effectiveness that the little more than one thousand Witnesses who were in Japan when I arrived in 1958 have grown to over 222,000 today!
When Martha and I first arrived in Japan, we were assigned to live at the branch office in Tokyo. In 1963 a new, six-story branch facility was constructed on that site, and we have been living there ever since. In November 1963 we were among the 163 who were present for the dedication talk by our branch overseer, Lloyd Barry. By then we had reached 3,000 Witnesses in Japan.
It has been a delight to see the Kingdom-preaching work grow dramatically, reaching more than 14,000 in 1972 when a new enlarged branch was completed in the city of Numazu. But by 1982 there were over 68,000 Kingdom proclaimers in Japan, and a much larger branch facility was constructed in the city of Ebina, some 50 miles [80 km] from Tokyo.
Meanwhile, the former branch building in the heart of Tokyo was renovated. In time, it came to serve as a missionary home for over 20 missionaries who have served in Japan for 40 or 50 years or longer, including me and my longtime partner, Martha Hess. A doctor and his wife, who is a nurse, also live in our home. They look after us, lovingly tending to our health needs. Recently, another nurse was added to the staff, and Christian sisters come in as nurse’s aides during the day. Two members of the Bethel family in Ebina come on a rotation basis to prepare meals and clean our home. Indeed, Jehovah has been good to us.—Psalm 34:8, 10.
A highlight of my missionary life occurred last November, 36 years after the dedication of the building in which so many of us longtime missionaries now live. On November 13, 1999, I was among the 4,486, including hundreds of longtime Witnesses from 37 countries, who attended the dedication of the expanded facilities at the Japan branch of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society in Ebina. Presently, there are about 650 in that branch family.
During the nearly 80 years since I timidly began going from house to house delivering Bible messages, Jehovah has been a strengthening aid to me. He has helped me to overcome my shyness. I firmly believe that Jehovah can use anyone who puts trust in him, even those who are extremely shy like me. And what a satisfying life I have had in talking to strangers about our God, Jehovah!
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With Mother and Clarence, who was visiting us from Bethel
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Members of our class studying on the lawn at Gilead School near South Lansing, New York
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Left: Me, Martha Hess, and mother, in Hawaii
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Right: Members of our Tokyo missionary home
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Below: With my longtime partner, Martha Hess
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Our enlarged branch facilities in Ebina were dedicated last November