We Put Jehovah to the Test
AS TOLD BY PAUL SCRIBNER
“Good morning, Mrs. Stackhouse. I’m taking orders for Easter cakes this morning, and I’m sure you would enjoy having one for your family.” It was the early spring of 1938, and I was in Atco, New Jersey, U.S.A., talking to one of the best customers on my sales route for the General Baking Company. To my surprise Mrs. Stackhouse turned me down.
“I DON’T think I’d be interested,” she said. “We don’t celebrate Easter.”
Now I did not know what to think. Did not celebrate Easter? Of course, the first rule of sales is that the customer is always right. So now what? “Well,” I ventured, “it’s a very nice cake, and I know you like our products. Don’t you think your family would enjoy it even if you don’t, uh, celebrate Easter?”
“I don’t think so,” she repeated, “but I have been meaning to talk to you about something, Mr. Scribner, and this might be a good time to do it.” That conversation was to change my life totally! Mrs. Stackhouse, a member of the Berlin, New Jersey, Company (or, congregation) of Jehovah’s Witnesses, explained where the Easter celebration originated and gave me three booklets. Their titles were Safety, Uncovered, and Protection. I went home with the booklets, curious but a little apprehensive. There was something familiar about what Mrs. Stackhouse had said, something from my childhood.
Early Contact With the Bible Students
I was born on January 31, 1907, and in 1915, when I was eight years old, my father died of cancer. As a result, Mother and I went to live with her parents in a big house in Malden, Massachusetts. Benjamin Ransom, my maternal uncle, and his wife also lived there, on the third floor. Uncle Ben had been associated with the International Bible Students, as Jehovah’s Witnesses were then known, since before the turn of the century. I was very fond of Uncle Ben, but the rest of Mother’s family, who were Methodists, thought he was strange. Years later, before she divorced him, his wife succeeded in having him committed briefly to a mental institution because of his religious beliefs! Since the doctors in the hospital quickly found out that there was nothing wrong with Uncle Ben’s mind, they released him with apologies.
Uncle Ben took me with him to meetings of the International Bible Students in Boston, especially when there were visiting speakers or special events. One time, the visiting speaker was none other than Charles Taze Russell, who had oversight of the preaching work in those days. Another time, the special occasion was a showing of the “Photo-Drama of Creation.” Although that was back in 1915, to this day I clearly remember the depiction of Abraham taking Isaac up to the mountain to offer him as a sacrifice. (Genesis, chapter 22) I can still see Abraham and Isaac trudging up that hill with a load of wood, as Abraham utterly trusted in Jehovah. Since I was a fatherless boy, that impressed me very much.
Then, Uncle Ben and his wife moved to Maine, and Mother remarried and moved us to New Jersey. So I did not see much of Uncle Ben for a long time. During my teenage years in New Jersey, I met Marion Neff, one of eight children in a Presbyterian family that I enjoyed visiting. I spent so many Sunday evenings with that family and their church youth group that I finally became a Presbyterian myself. Still, some of the things I had learned at the meetings of the Bible Students stayed with me. Marion and I were married in 1928, and our daughters, Doris and Louise, were born in 1935 and 1938. With a toddler and a newborn in the family, we both sensed a need for spiritual direction in raising our family.
Finding the Truth in Those Booklets
Marion and I were looking for a church to join and came up with a plan. Taking turns each Sunday, one of us stayed home with the children while the other visited a prospective church. One Sunday it was Marion’s turn to stay home, but I offered to baby-sit instead so that I could read the booklet Safety, the first of the three that had been given to me by Mrs. Stackhouse. Once I started, I could not put it down! I became more and more convinced that I had found something no church could offer. The next week the same thing happened, and I was a willing baby-sitter while I read the second booklet, Uncovered. What I was reading seemed to be somewhat familiar. Was this what Uncle Ben believed? Our family had felt that his religion was crazy. What would Marion think? I need not have worried. When I came home from work a few days after reading Uncovered, Marion surprised me by saying, “I read those booklets you brought home. They are really interesting.” That was a relief!
On the back of the booklets was information about the recently released book Enemies, a fiery exposé of false religion. We decided to obtain it. Before we could put our request in the mail, however, a Witness knocked on our door and offered us that very book. That did it! We stopped visiting churches and started going to the meetings of the Camden, New Jersey, Company of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Just a few months later, on Sunday, July 31, 1938, a group of about 50 of us met on Sister Stackhouse’s lawn—at the house where I had been trying to sell Easter cakes—and listened to a recorded talk by Judge Rutherford on baptism. Then we changed clothes in the house, and 19 of us got baptized in a nearby creek.
Determined to Be a Pioneer
Soon after my baptism, one of the sisters in the company told me about people called pioneers, who made the public ministry their principal activity. I was immediately curious and soon got to know a whole family of pioneers. An older man, Brother Konig, his wife, and his grown daughter were all pioneers in a neighboring congregation. As the father of a young family, I was impressed by the deep joy that the Konig family had in the ministry. I often stopped by, parked my bakery truck, and spent time with them in the house-to-house ministry. Soon I wanted to be a pioneer myself. But how? Marion and I had two little children, and my work was demanding. In fact, as World War II began in Europe and more and more young men joined the military in the United States, there was an increasing amount of work for those of us left in civilian jobs. I was being urged to take on more routes, and I knew I could never pioneer with that schedule.
When I spoke to Brother Konig about my desire to pioneer, he said: “Just keep working hard in Jehovah’s service, and keep your goal before him in prayer. He will help you reach it.” For over a year, I kept doing just that. I often reflected on such scriptures as Matthew 6:8, which assures us that Jehovah knows our needs before we even ask him. And I kept trying to follow the counsel of Matthew 6:33, to keep on seeking first God’s Kingdom and his righteousness. I was also encouraged by Brother Melvin Winchester, a zone servant (now called circuit overseer).
I spoke to Marion about my goals. We talked about the words of Malachi 3:10, which encourage us to put Jehovah to the test and see if he will not pour out a blessing on us. I was encouraged by her response: “If you want to pioneer, don’t hold back on my account. I can take care of the girls while you pioneer. We don’t need a lot materially anyway.” After 12 years of marriage, I already knew that Marion was a frugal and meticulous housewife. Over the years, she has been a wonderful pioneer partner, and one of the secrets of our success in some 60 years of full-time service has been her ability to be satisfied with a little and make it seem like a lot.
By the summer of 1941, after many months of prayerful planning, Marion and I had saved some money, and we purchased an 18-foot [5.5 m] travel trailer that our family could live in. I quit my job and became a regular pioneer in July 1941, and I have been in the full-time service ever since. My first assignment was ten stops on Route 50 between New Jersey and St. Louis, Missouri, where our convention was to be held in early August. I was sent the names and addresses of brothers along the way, and I wrote ahead, telling them when to expect me. When we got to the convention, I was to find the pioneer desk and get another assignment.
“I’m Going to Put Jehovah to the Test”
We loaded up our little travel trailer with literature and went to our last meeting in Camden to say good-bye to the brothers. With two very small girls to take care of and no destination in sight beyond the convention, our plans must have seemed unrealistic to some of the brothers, and several of them said: “You’ll be back before long.” I remember saying: “Well, I’m not saying that I won’t. Jehovah said that he would take care of me, and I’m going to put Jehovah to the test.”
After six decades of pioneering in 20 towns from Massachusetts to Mississippi, we can say that Jehovah has more than kept his promise. The blessings that he has poured out on Marion, me, and our two daughters are beyond anything I could have hoped for back in 1941. They include having our daughters serve as faithful pioneers in nearby congregations, and (at last count) having some one hundred spiritual sons and daughters scattered all over the East Coast of the United States. I have studied with 52 persons who have dedicated their lives to Jehovah God and Marion with 48.
In August 1941, we got to St. Louis, and there I met Brother T. J. Sullivan from Bethel. He had my ordination letter, which I needed because of the war looming and the draft. I told Brother Sullivan that my wife was spending as much time as I was in the ministry and that she would like to pioneer with me. Even though the pioneer desk at the convention was not set up yet, Brother Sullivan on the spot signed Marion up as a pioneer and asked us: “Where are you going to pioneer after the convention?” We did not know. “Well, don’t worry,” he said: “You’ll meet someone at the convention from an area that needs pioneers, and things will work out. Just write to us and tell us where you are, and we’ll assign you.” That is what happened. It turned out that Brother Jack DeWitt, a former zone servant, knew some people in New Market, Virginia, who had a pioneer home that needed a few more pioneers. So after the convention, we headed for New Market.
In New Market we had a special treat. Who should come down from Philadelphia to join us in the pioneer work but Benjamin Ransom! Yes, Uncle Ben. What a joy it was to work with him in the house-to-house ministry more than 25 years after he had planted those seeds of truth in my heart back in Boston! Despite having faced years of indifference, ridicule, and even persecution from the family, Uncle Ben had never lost his love for Jehovah and the ministry.
We enjoyed an eight-month stint at the pioneer home in New Market. During that time, we learned, among other things, how to exchange chickens and eggs for literature. Then Uncle Ben, Marion, and I, along with three others, were assigned to serve as special pioneers in Hanover, Pennsylvania—the first of six assignments we would have in Pennsylvania from 1942 to 1945.
Special Pioneers During World War II
There were times during World War II when we had to deal with hostility because of our neutral position, but Jehovah never failed to support us. One time in Provincetown, Massachusetts, our old Buick broke down, and I had to walk a couple of miles through a very hostile Catholic neighborhood to make a return visit. I passed by a group of young hooligans who recognized me and began shouting. I hurried along with rocks whizzing by my ears, hoping the youths were not chasing me. I made it to the house of the interested person without being hurt. But the householder, a respected member of the American Legion, apologized, saying: “I can’t entertain you tonight because I forgot that we’re going downtown to a movie.” My heart sank as I remembered that pack of rock throwers on the corner, waiting for me to return. However, I cheered up when the gentleman added: “Why don’t you just walk along with us? We can talk on the way.” So I got to give him a witness, and I safely passed the trouble spot.
Balancing Family and Ministry
After the war, we had several assignments in Virginia, including an eight-year stay as special and regular pioneers in Charlottesville. By 1956 the girls were grown up and had married, and Marion and I were on the move again, serving as pioneers in Harrisonburg, Virginia, and as special pioneers in Lincolnton, North Carolina.
In 1966, I was assigned to the circuit work, traveling from congregation to congregation and encouraging the brothers, much as Brother Winchester had encouraged me back in New Jersey in the ’30’s. For two years I served a circuit of congregations in Tennessee. Then Marion and I were asked to return to our greatest love, which is special pioneering. From 1968 to 1977, we served as special pioneers in the Deep South, across Georgia and Mississippi.
In Eastman, Georgia, I was assigned as congregation overseer (now called presiding overseer) to replace Powell Kirkland, a dear, older brother who served many years as a circuit overseer but who was in failing health. He was wonderfully appreciative and supportive. His support was vital because there was some dissension in the congregation and a few prominent ones were involved. The issue became heated, and I spent a lot of time in prayer to Jehovah. Scriptures like Proverbs 3:5, 6 came to mind: “Trust in Jehovah with all your heart and do not lean upon your own understanding. In all your ways take notice of him, and he himself will make your paths straight.” By working hard to keep the lines of communication open, we were able to unify the congregation with good results for all.
By 1977 we had begun to feel our age a little, and we were reassigned to the Charlottesville area, where both our daughters were living with their families. For the last 23 years, it has been our joy to work in this area, helping to start the Ruckersville, Virginia, congregation and seeing the children and grandchildren of our early Bible students grow up to become congregation elders, pioneers, and Bethelites. Marion and I are still able to keep up a good field service schedule, and I am privileged to serve actively as an elder in the East Congregation of Charlottesville, conducting a book study and giving public talks.
Over the years, we have experienced problems, as everyone does. For example, despite our efforts, Doris became spiritually weak for a time in her late teens and married a man who was not a Witness. But she never completely lost her love for Jehovah, and her son Bill has been serving for 15 years at Bethel in Wallkill, New York. Doris and Louise are both widowed now, but they serve joyfully nearby as regular pioneers.
Lessons Learned Over the Years
I have learned to apply a few simple rules for success in serving Jehovah: Keep your life simple. Be an example in all your dealings, including in your private life. Apply the direction of “the faithful and discreet slave” in all things.—Matthew 24:45.
Marion has developed a short but effective list of suggestions for successful pioneering while raising children: Make and keep a workable schedule. Make your pioneer ministry a real career. Keep a healthful diet. Get proper rest. Do not overdo recreation. Make the truth, including all features of the ministry, a pleasurable experience in your children’s lives. Make the ministry an interesting experience for them at all times.
Now we are in our 90’s. Sixty-two years have passed since we heard our baptism talk on the lawn of the Stackhouse residence, and we have spent 60 years in the full-time service. Marion and I can honestly say that we are fully and deeply satisfied with our lot in life. I am profoundly grateful for the encouragement I received as a young father to put spiritual goals first and to keep working toward them, and I am grateful to my dear wife, Marion, and to the girls for their support over the years. While we do not have material riches, I often apply Ecclesiastes 2:25 to myself: “Who eats and who drinks better than I do?”
Truly, in our case Jehovah has superabundantly fulfilled his promise found at Malachi 3:10. He has, indeed, ‘emptied out upon us a blessing until there is no more want’!
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MEMORIES FROM THE WAR YEARS
Nearly 60 years after the war, the whole family has vivid memories of those years.
“Pennsylvania could be cold,” recalls Doris. “One night it was 30 below.” Louise adds, “Doris and I would sit on each other’s feet in the back seat of our old Buick to keep our feet from getting cold.”
“But we never felt poor or deprived,” says Doris. “We knew that we moved around more than most people, but we always ate well, and we had wonderful clothes that were passed on to us almost new from some friends in Ohio, who had girls just a little older than we were.”
“Mom and Dad always made us feel loved and appreciated,” Louise points out, “and we got to spend a lot of time with them in the ministry. It made us feel special and very close to them.”
“I had a 1936 Buick Special,” recalls Paul, “and those cars were famous for snapping axles. I think the engine was just too powerful for the rest of the car. It seemed that it always happened on the coldest night of the month, and then I’d be off to the junkyard for another axle. I got to be an expert at replacing them.”
“Don’t forget the ration cards,” says Marion. “Everything was rationed—meat, gasoline, tires for the car, everything. Every time we got to a new assignment, we’d have to go before the local board and apply for a ration card. It could take months to get one, and it seemed that every time we finally received our card, we would be sent to the next assignment, and we’d have to start over again. But Jehovah always took care of us.”
Marion and me with Doris (left) and Louise, 2000
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With my mother in 1918, when I was 11
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With Louise, Marion, and Doris in 1948 when the girls were baptized
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Our wedding photo, October 1928
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My daughters (far left and far right) and me at Yankee Stadium, 1955