Seeking First the Kingdom—A Secure and Happy Life
AS TOLD BY JETHA SUNAL
After breakfast we heard the announcement on the radio: “Jehovah’s Witnesses are illegal, and their work is banned.”
IT WAS 1950, and we four women in our 20’s were serving as missionaries of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the Dominican Republic. We had arrived there the year before.
Missionary service was not always my goal in life. True, I went to church as a child. My father, though, stopped attending church during World War I. On the day of my confirmation into the Episcopal Church in 1933, the bishop read only one verse from the Bible, and then he began to talk politics. Mother was so upset that she never returned to church.
Our Way of Life Changed
Five children were born to my parents, William Karl and Mary Adams. The boys were Don, Joel, and Karl. My sister, Joy, was the youngest child, and I was the oldest. I must have been 13 when after school one day, I found Mom reading a booklet published by Jehovah’s Witnesses. It bore the title The Kingdom, the Hope of the World. “This is the truth,” she said to me.
Mom talked to all of us about the things she was learning from the Bible. By word and example, she impressed upon us the importance of Jesus’ counsel: ‘Seek first the kingdom and his righteousness.’—Matthew 6:33.
I did not always listen appreciatively. Once I said, “Mom, quit preaching to me or I won’t dry the dishes for you anymore.” But she tactfully persisted in talking with us. She regularly took all of us children with her to the Bible studies held in the house of Clara Ryan, who lived within walking distance from our home in Elmhurst, Illinois, U.S.A.
Clara also gave piano lessons. When her students performed at yearly recitals, she used the opportunity to talk about God’s Kingdom and the resurrection hope. Because I was interested in music, having studied violin since I was seven, I listened to what Clara said.
Soon we children began to attend congregation meetings with Mom on the west side of Chicago. It was a long trip by bus and streetcar, but it was part of our early training in what it means to seek first the Kingdom. In 1938, three years after Mom was baptized, I went with her to a convention of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Chicago. This was one of 50 cities that were tied together by radiotelephone for the occasion. What I heard there touched my heart.
Yet, my love for music also tugged at my heartstrings. I graduated from high school in 1938, and Father had arranged for me to study at the American Conservatory of Music in Chicago. So during the next two years, I studied music, played in two orchestras, and thought about a career in that field.
My violin teacher, Herbert Butler, had left Europe to live in the United States. So I gave him the booklet Refugees,* thinking that he might read it. He did, and after my lesson the following week, he said: “Jetha, you play well, and if you continue your studies, you could get a job in a radio orchestra or in teaching music. But,” he added as he fingered the booklet I had given him, “I think your heart is in this. Why don’t you make this your life’s work?”
I thought seriously about that. Instead of continuing at the conservatory, I accepted Mom’s invitation to go to the convention of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Detroit, Michigan, in July 1940. We stayed in tents in the trailer city. Of course, my violin went with me, and I played in the convention orchestra. But in the trailer city, I met many pioneers (full-time evangelizers). They were all so happy. I decided to get baptized and to put in an application for pioneer service. I prayed to Jehovah to help me continue in the full-time ministry all my life.
I started pioneering in my hometown. Later, I served in Chicago. In 1943, I moved to Kentucky. That summer, just before the district convention, I received an invitation to attend the second class of Gilead School, where I would receive training for missionary work. The class was to start in September 1943.
During the convention that summer, I stayed with a Witness who offered me whatever I wanted from her daughter’s wardrobe. Her daughter had joined the military, and she had told her mother to give all her things away. To me, these provisions were a fulfillment of Jesus’ promise: “Keep on, then, seeking first the kingdom and his righteousness, and all these other things will be added to you.” (Matthew 6:33) The five months at Gilead went fast, and upon graduating on January 31, 1944, I eagerly anticipated getting into the missionary service.
They Too Chose Full-Time Service
Mom had enrolled in pioneer service in 1942. At that time, my three brothers and my sister were still attending school. Mom often met them after school and took them along in the field ministry. She also taught them to share in caring for chores at home. She herself frequently stayed up late doing the ironing and other necessary work so that she could be out in the ministry during the day.
In January 1943, while I was pioneering in Kentucky, my brother Don also began to pioneer. This disappointed Dad, who had hoped that all his children would have a college education, as he and Mother had. After pioneering for nearly two years, Don was invited to continue his full-time ministry as part of the world headquarters staff of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Brooklyn, New York.
Joel began pioneering in June 1943 while living at home. During that time he tried but failed to convince Dad to attend a convention. However, after Joel had tried without success to start a home Bible study in the area, Dad agreed to let him conduct a study with him in the book “The Truth Shall Make You Free.” He answered the questions easily, but he pressed Joel for Scriptural proof of what was said in the book. That helped Joel to make Bible truths his own.
Joel hoped that the Selective Service Board that had awarded Don an exemption as a minister would do the same for him. But when the board saw how young Joel looked, they refused to classify him as a minister and sent him a notice to report for military duty. When he refused to submit to induction, an arrest warrant was issued. After the FBI located him, he spent three days in Cook County prison.
Dad used our home as security for bail. Thereafter, he did the same for other young Witnesses who faced a similar situation. The injustice of the matter incensed my father, and he went with Joel to Washington, D.C., to see about an appeal. Finally, Joel received his classification as a minister, and the case was dismissed. My father wrote to me in my missionary assignment, “I guess we have to credit this victory to Jehovah!” By late August 1946, Joel too had been invited to serve as a member of the headquarters staff in Brooklyn.
Karl pioneered during his school vacations several times before he finished high school early in 1947 and began the regular pioneer service. Dad’s health was then failing, so Karl helped him with his business for a while before leaving to take up a pioneer assignment elsewhere. Late in 1947, Karl began serving along with Don and Joel at the Brooklyn headquarters as a member of the Bethel family.
When Joy finished high school, she began to pioneer. Then in 1951, she joined her brothers at Bethel. She worked in housekeeping and also in the Subscription Department. In 1955 she married Roger Morgan, another member of the Bethel family. Some seven years later, choosing to have a family of their own, they left Bethel. In time, they brought up two children, who also serve Jehovah.
When all the children were in full-time service, Mom provided the encouragement that was needed, so that Dad too dedicated his life to Jehovah and was baptized in 1952. For 15 years, up till his death, he proved very resourceful in finding ways to share the Kingdom truth with others, even though illness imposed limitations.
After a brief interval because of Dad’s illness, Mom continued to pioneer until her death. She never had a car; nor did she ride a bicycle. A person of short stature, she walked everywhere, often far into the countryside, to conduct Bible studies.
Into the Missionary Field
After graduating from Gilead School, a group of us pioneered north of New York City for a year until we could get needed travel papers. Finally, in 1945 we left for our assignment, Cuba, where we gradually adjusted to a new way of life. Response to our preaching was good, and all of us were soon conducting plenty of Bible studies. For several years we served there. Then we were reassigned to the Dominican Republic. One day I met a woman who urged me to see a client of hers, a Frenchwoman named Suzanne Enfroy, who wanted help to understand the Bible.
Suzanne was Jewish, and when Hitler invaded France, her husband had moved her and their two children to another land. Suzanne quickly shared with others the things she was learning. She first spoke to the woman who had asked me to visit her, then to Blanche, a friend from France. Both of them progressed to baptism.
“What can I do to help my children?” Suzanne asked me. Her son was studying medicine, and her daughter was studying ballet, hoping to dance at Radio City Music Hall in New York. Suzanne sent Watchtower and Awake! subscriptions to them. As a result, Suzanne’s son, his wife, and his wife’s twin sister all became Witnesses. Suzanne’s husband, Louis, was nervous about his wife’s interest in Jehovah’s Witnesses because the government of the Dominican Republic had by now banned our work. But after the entire family moved to the United States, he too eventually became a Witness.
Under Ban but Still Serving
Although the work of Jehovah’s Witnesses was banned in the Dominican Republic not long after we were assigned there in 1949, our determination was to obey God as Ruler rather than men. (Acts 5:29) We continued to seek first God’s Kingdom by making the good news about it known, as Jesus instructed his followers to do. (Matthew 24:14) We learned, however, to be “cautious as serpents and yet innocent as doves” as we went about our preaching work. (Matthew 10:16) My violin, for example, proved to be a great help. It went with me when I conducted Bible studies. My students did not become violinists, but several families became Jehovah’s servants!
After the ban was imposed, we four girls—Mary Aniol, Sophia Soviak, Edith Morgan, and I—were moved from the missionary home in San Francisco de Macorís to one located in the branch in Santo Domingo, the capital. But each month, I made a trip to our original assignment to give a music lesson. That made it possible for me to take along in my violin case spiritual food to our Christian brothers and to return with the reports of their witnessing activity.
When the brothers from San Francisco de Macorís were imprisoned in Santiago for their Christian stand on neutrality, I was asked to take them money and, if possible, Bibles, as well as to bring back news for their families. At Santiago’s prison, when the guards saw my violin case under my arm, they asked, “What’s that for?” “To entertain them,” I answered.
Among the songs I played was one written by a Witness while he was in a Nazi concentration camp. That song is now number 29 in the songbook of Jehovah’s Witnesses. I played it so that our imprisoned brothers could learn to sing it.
Many of the Witnesses, I learned, had been transferred to a farm that belonged to Trujillo, the head of the government. It was just off the bus route, I was told. So about noon, I got off the bus and asked directions. The owner of a small shop pointed beyond a range of mountains and offered me his horse and a boy to guide me if I would leave my violin as security.
Beyond those hills, we had to ford a river, both of us sitting on the horse as it swam. There we saw a flock of parrots, with their green and blue iridescent feathers shining in the sun. It was such a lovely sight! I prayed: “Thank you, Jehovah, for making them so beautiful.” Finally, at four o’clock in the afternoon, we arrived at the farm. The soldier in charge kindly let me talk to the brothers, and he permitted me to give them all the things I had brought for them, even a tiny Bible.
On the return trip, I prayed all the way, for it was now dark. We arrived back at the shop, soaked from the rain. Since the last bus for the day had left, I asked the shop owner to flag down a passing truck for me. Did I dare go with the two men in the truck? One of them asked me: “Do you know Sophie? She studied with my sister.” I decided that this was Jehovah’s answer to my prayer! They took me safely to Santo Domingo.
In 1953, I was among those from the Dominican Republic who attended the international convention of Jehovah’s Witnesses at Yankee Stadium in New York. My whole family, including my father, was there. After a report on how the preaching work was progressing in the Dominican Republic, my missionary companion, Mary Aniol, and I had a small part on the program to demonstrate how we did our preaching under ban.
Special Joys of Traveling Work
That summer I met Rudolph Sunal, who became my husband the following year. His family had become Witnesses in Allegheny, Pennsylvania, shortly after World War I. After serving time in prison as a Christian neutral during World War II, he took up Bethel service in Brooklyn, New York. Shortly after we married, he was invited to visit congregations as a traveling overseer. For the next 18 years, I accompanied him in the circuit work.
Our service took us to Pennsylvania, West Virginia, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts, among other places. We usually stayed with our Christian brothers in their homes. It was a special joy to get to know them well and to serve Jehovah along with them. The love and the hospitality we were shown were always warm and genuine. After Joel married my former missionary companion, Mary Aniol, they spent three years in the traveling work, visiting congregations in Pennsylvania and Michigan. Afterward, in 1958, Joel was invited to become a member of the Bethel family once again, this time with Mary.
Karl had been at Bethel for about seven years when he was assigned to the circuit work for a few months to gain added experience. Afterward he became an instructor at Gilead School. In 1963 he married Bobbie, who served faithfully at Bethel until her death in October 2002.
During his many years at Bethel, Don has from time to time traveled to other lands to serve those working in the branch offices and in the missionary field. His assignments have taken him to the Orient, Africa, Europe, and various parts of the Americas. Don’s loyal wife, Dolores, often travels with him.
Our Circumstances Changed
After a long illness, my father died, but before he did he told me he was so happy that we had chosen to serve Jehovah God. He said that we had received many more blessings than would have been the case had we pursued the college education that he had intended for us. After I helped Mom pack to move to a location near my sister, Joy, my husband and I accepted pioneer assignments in New England so that we would be near his mother, who then needed our help. After his mother died, my mom spent 13 years with us. Then, on January 18, 1987, she finished her earthly assignment at 93 years of age.
Frequently, when friends commended her for having raised all her children to love and serve Jehovah, Mom modestly answered: “I just happened to have fine ‘soil’ to work with.” (Matthew 13:23) What a blessing it was to have God-fearing parents who set a fine example for us in zeal and humility!
The Kingdom Still First
We have continued to put God’s Kingdom first in our lives and have also tried to apply Jesus’ counsel about sharing with others. (Luke 6:38; 14:12-14) Jehovah, in turn, has provided liberally for our needs. Ours has been a secure and happy life.
Rudy and I have not lost our love for music. It is a pleasant time when others who share that love come to our home for an evening and we play our instruments together. But music is not my career. It is an added pleasure in life. Now my husband and I enjoy seeing the fruits of our pioneer ministry, the people we have assisted over the years.
Despite current health problems, I can say that our life has been very happy and secure these more than 60 years in the full-time ministry. Every morning when I wake up, I thank Jehovah for answering my prayer when I entered the full-time ministry so many years ago, and I think, ‘Now, how can I seek the Kingdom first today?’
Published by Jehovah’s Witnesses but no longer in print.
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Our family in 1948 (left to right): Joy, Don, Mom, Joel, Karl, me, and Dad
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Mom set a zealous example in the ministry
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Karl, Don, Joel, Joy, and me today, more than 50 years later
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Left to right: Me, Mary Aniol, Sophia Soviak, and Edith Morgan as missionaries in the Dominican Republic
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With Mary (left) at Yankee Stadium, 1953
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With my husband when he was in the circuit work