Taught by Jehovah From My Youth
AS TOLD BY RICHARD ABRAHAMSON
“O God, you have taught me from my youth on, and until now I keep telling about your wonderful works.” Let me explain why those words of Psalm 71:17 have special meaning to me.
MY MOTHER, Fannie Abrahamson, was contacted in 1924 by the Bible Students, as Jehovah’s Witnesses were then called. I was only a year old. As Mother was taught Bible truths, she would run to her neighbors and tell them the things she had learned, and she also taught me and my older brother and sister. Before I could read, she had helped me to memorize many scriptures about the blessings of God’s Kingdom.
In the late 1920’s, our Bible Student group in La Grande, in the state of Oregon, U.S.A., where I was born and raised, consisted of a few women and children. Though we were isolated, we were visited once or twice a year by traveling ministers, known as pilgrims. These gave encouraging talks, accompanied us in the house-to-house ministry, and showed a kind interest in children. Among those dear ones were Shield Toutjian, Gene Orrell, and John Booth.
In 1931 no one from our group was able to attend the convention in Columbus, Ohio, where the Bible Students adopted the name Jehovah’s Witnesses. But companies, as congregations were then called, and isolated groups not represented at the convention met locally that August to adopt a resolution to accept the name. Our little group in La Grande did this. Then, in the 1933 campaign to distribute the booklet The Crisis, I memorized a Bible presentation, and for the first time, I witnessed alone from house to house.
During the 1930’s, there was growing opposition to our work. To cope with this, companies were grouped into what were called divisions, which held small assemblies and engaged in preaching missions, known as divisional campaigns, once or twice a year. At these assemblies, we were instructed in methods of preaching and were shown how to deal respectfully with police who interfered. Since Witnesses were frequently taken before a police judge or a regular court, we would rehearse material from an instruction sheet called Order of Trial. This equipped us to deal with opposition.
Early Growth in Bible Truth
I was growing in appreciation of Bible truths and the Bible-based hope of living forever on earth under God’s heavenly Kingdom. At that time, baptism was not much emphasized for those who did not entertain the hope of ruling in heaven with Christ. (Revelation 5:10; 14:1, 3) Nevertheless, I was told that if I had determined in my heart to do Jehovah’s will, it would be appropriate to get baptized. This I did in August 1933.
When I was 12 years old, my teacher thought I was doing well in public speaking, so she urged Mother to arrange additional training for me. Mother thought this might help me to serve Jehovah better. She therefore paid for my lessons by doing the instructor’s laundry for a year. The training proved helpful to my ministry. When I was 14, I was stricken with rheumatic fever, which took me out of action for over a year.
In 1939 a full-time minister named Warren Henschel came to our area.* Spiritually, he was a big brother to me, taking me out for long days in the field ministry. He soon helped me get started in the vacation pioneer service, a temporary form of full-time ministry. That summer, our group was organized as a company. Warren was appointed company servant, and I was appointed Watchtower Study conductor. When Warren left to serve at Bethel, the international headquarters of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Brooklyn, New York, I became company servant.
Starting in the Full-Time Ministry
The increased responsibility of serving as company servant further strengthened my desire to enter the regular full-time ministry, which I did at age 17 after completion of my third year of high school. Father did not share our religious beliefs, but he was a good provider and a man of high principles. He wanted me to go to college. He did say, though, that as long as I did not look to him for my room and board, I could do what I chose. So I started to pioneer September 1, 1940.
When I left home, my mother had me read Proverbs 3:5, 6: “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.” Always leaving my life in Jehovah’s hands has, indeed, been a big help to me.
Soon, I joined Joe and Margaret Hart in the ministry in north-central Washington State. The territory was varied—cattle ranches, sheep ranches, Indian reservations, as well as many small towns and villages. In the spring of 1941, I was assigned as company servant in the congregation in Wenatchee, Washington.
At one of our assemblies in Walla Walla, Washington, I served as the attendant, welcoming those entering the auditorium. I noticed a young brother struggling unsuccessfully to get the loud-speaker system working. So I suggested he take my assignment, and I would take his. When the regional servant, Albert Hoffman, returned and saw that I had left my assignment, he explained to me with a friendly smile the value of sticking to one’s assignment until directed otherwise. I have remembered his counsel ever since.
In August 1941, Jehovah’s Witnesses planned a huge convention in St. Louis, Missouri. The Harts put a covering on the back of their pickup truck and installed benches. Nine of us pioneers made the 1,500-mile [2,400 km] trip to St. Louis in that truck. It took about a week each way. At the convention, a police estimate put the peak attendance at 115,000. Even though the attendance was probably less than that, it was surely more than the some 65,000 Witnesses in the United States at the time. The convention was spiritually uplifting indeed.
Service at Brooklyn Bethel
After returning to Wenatchee, I got a letter asking me to report to Brooklyn Bethel. Upon my arrival on October 27, 1941, I was taken to the office of Nathan H. Knorr, the factory overseer. He kindly explained to me what Bethel was like and stressed that sticking close to Jehovah was essential to making a success of life there. Then I was taken to the Shipping Department and put to work tying literature cartons for shipping.
On January 8, 1942, Joseph Rutherford, who had been taking the lead among Jehovah’s Witnesses worldwide, died. Five days later the directors of the Society elected Brother Knorr to succeed him. When W. E. Van Amburgh, the Society’s longtime secretary-treasurer, announced this to the Bethel family, he said: “I can remember when C. T. Russell died [in 1916] and was replaced by J. F. Rutherford. The Lord continued to direct and prosper His work. Now, I fully expect the work to move ahead with Nathan H. Knorr as president because this is the Lord’s work, not man’s.”
In February 1942, it was announced that the “Advanced Course in Theocratic Ministry” would be started. It was designed to train those at Bethel in order to improve their ability to do research on Bible subjects, properly organize their material, and present it effectively. Helped by my earlier training in public speaking, I was able to make rapid progress in the program.
Before long, I was assigned to the Service Department, which has oversight of the ministry of the Witnesses in the United States. Later that year, it was decided to reinstitute a program for ministers to visit companies of Witnesses. In time, these traveling ministers, called servants to the brethren, came to be called circuit overseers. During the summer of 1942, a course at Bethel was arranged to train brothers for this type of ministry, and I was privileged to be among those receiving training. I especially remember that Brother Knorr, one of the instructors, emphasized this point to us: “Don’t try to please men. You will wind up pleasing no one. Please Jehovah, and you will please all those who love Jehovah.”
The traveling work was implemented in October 1942. Some of us at Bethel shared in it on certain weekends, visiting congregations within 250 miles [400 km] of New York City. We reviewed the congregation’s preaching activity and meeting attendance, held a meeting with those caring for congregation responsibilities, gave a talk or two, and worked in the ministry with local Witnesses.
In 1944, I was among those from the Service Department sent into the traveling work for a six-month period, serving in Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. Later, for a few months, I visited congregations in Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island. Upon returning to Bethel, I worked part-time in the office with Brother Knorr and his secretary Milton Henschel, where I became acquainted with our work worldwide. I also served part-time in the Treasurer’s Office under the oversight of W. E. Van Amburgh and his assistant, Grant Suiter. Then, in 1946, I was made overseer of a number of offices at Bethel.
Big Changes in My Life
While serving congregations in 1945, I became acquainted with Julia Charnauskas in Providence, Rhode Island. By mid-1947 we were considering marriage. I loved Bethel service very much, yet at the time, there was no provision to bring in a marriage mate to serve there. So in January 1948, I left Bethel, and Julia (Julie) and I were married. I obtained part-time work in a supermarket in Providence, and we started our pioneer ministry together.
In September 1949, I was invited to do circuit work in northwest Wisconsin. It was a big change for Julie and me to preach in mostly small towns and rural areas of dairy country. The winters were long and cold, with many weeks of subzero temperatures and lots of snow. We did not have a car. However, someone always provided a ride for us to the next congregation.
Shortly after I began the circuit work, we had a circuit assembly. I remember checking intently to see that all operations were being cared for, which made some a bit nervous. So the district overseer, Nicholas Kovalak, kindly explained that the local brothers were used to caring for things in their own way and that I need not try to manage things to such an extent. That advice has been helpful to me in dealing with many assignments since then.
In 1950, I received a temporary assignment—to oversee the providing of rooming accommodations for delegates to the first of our many large conventions at Yankee Stadium in New York City. The convention was a thrill from beginning to end, with delegates from 67 countries and a peak attendance of 123,707! After the convention, Julie and I resumed our traveling ministry. We were quite happy in the circuit work. However, we felt we should continue to make ourselves available. So each year, we filed applications both for Bethel and for missionary service. In 1952 we were delighted to receive an invitation to attend the 20th class of the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead, where we received training for missionary work.
Upon our graduation in 1953, we were assigned to Britain, where I served in the district work in the south of England. After less than a year in this activity, which Julie and I enjoyed immensely, we were surprised by the assignment we received to move to Denmark. There was a need in Denmark for new oversight of the branch office. Since I was nearby and had received training for such work in Brooklyn, I was sent to help. We took a ferry to the Netherlands, and from there we caught a train to Copenhagen, Denmark. We arrived on August 9, 1954.
One of the problems to be dealt with was that a few in responsible positions failed to accept direction from headquarters in Brooklyn. Also, three of the four who were translating our publications into Danish left Bethel and eventually ceased associating with Jehovah’s Witnesses. But Jehovah answered our prayers. Two pioneers, Jørgen and Anna Larsen, who had done some part-time translation work, made themselves available full-time. The translation of our magazines into Danish thus continued without missing an issue. The Larsens are still at Bethel in Denmark, and Jørgen is coordinator of the Branch Committee.
A real source of encouragement in those early years were regular visits by Brother Knorr. He would take time to sit and talk, relating experiences that gave insight into how to deal with problems. During a visit in 1955, it was decided that we should build a new branch with printing facilities so that we could produce magazines for Denmark. Property was obtained in a northern suburb of Copenhagen, and by the summer of 1957, we moved into a newly constructed building. Harry Johnson, who with his wife, Karin, had recently arrived in Denmark after graduating from the 26th class of Gilead, helped get our printery set up and running.
We improved our organization for holding large conventions in Denmark, and the experience I had acquired while working with conventions in the United States proved helpful. In 1961 our large international convention in Copenhagen hosted delegates from over 30 countries. Peak attendance was 33,513. In 1969, we hosted what proved to be the largest of all the conventions held in Scandinavia, with a peak attendance of 42,073!
In 1963, I was invited to attend the 38th class of Gilead. This was an adjusted ten-month course designed in particular for training branch personnel. It was a pleasure to be with the Brooklyn Bethel family again and to benefit from the experience of those who had been working for many years taking care of headquarters operations.
After this training course, I returned to Denmark to continue caring for responsibilities there. In addition, I had the privilege of serving as a zone overseer, visiting branches in western and northern Europe to give personnel there encouragement and help them to fulfill their responsibilities. More recently I have done this work in West Africa and the Caribbean.
In the late 1970’s, the brothers in Denmark began looking for a location where a larger facility could be built for increasing translation and printing activity. A fine piece of property was located about 40 miles [60 km] west of Copenhagen. Along with others, I worked with the planning and designing of this new facility, and Julie and I looked forward to living with the Bethel family in its fine new home. However, things did not turn out that way.
Back to Brooklyn
In November 1980, Julie and I were invited to serve at Bethel in Brooklyn, where we arrived in early January 1981. We were then in our late 50’s, and after having served nearly half of our lives with our dear brothers and sisters in Denmark, it was not easy for us to return to the United States. Yet, we did not dwell on where we preferred to be but tried to focus on our current assignments and whatever challenges they posed.
We arrived in Brooklyn and settled in. Julie was assigned to the accounting office, doing work similar to what she had done in Denmark. I was assigned to the Writing Department to help with scheduling the processing of our publications. The early 1980’s was a time of change in our operations in Brooklyn, as we moved from the use of typewriters and typesetting in hot lead to computer processing and offset printing. I knew nothing about computers but had some understanding of organizational procedures and working with people.
Shortly thereafter, there was a need to strengthen the organization of the Art Department as we moved into full-color offset printing and the use of color illustrations and photographs. Although I had no experience as an artist, I could help with organizing. So I had the privilege of overseeing that department for nine years.
In 1992, I was assigned to assist the Publishing Committee of the Governing Body and was transferred to the Treasurer’s Office. Here I continue to serve in connection with the financial activities of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Service From My Youth On
From my early youth and during 70 years of dedicated service, Jehovah has patiently taught me by means of his Word, the Bible, and helpful brothers in his marvelous organization. I have enjoyed more than 63 years in the full-time ministry, over 55 of those years with my loyal wife, Julie. Truly, I feel richly blessed by Jehovah.
Back in 1940 when I left home to enter the pioneer service, my father made fun of my decision and said: “Son, when you leave home to do this, don’t think that you can come running back to me for any help.” Through the years, I never had to do that. Jehovah has generously provided for my needs, often by means of helpful fellow Christians. Later, my father came to respect our work, and he even made some progress in learning Bible truth before he died in 1972. Mother, who entertained the hope of heavenly life, continued to serve Jehovah faithfully until her death in 1985, at 102 years of age.
Although problems do arise in the full-time ministry, Julie and I have never considered leaving our assignment. Jehovah has always sustained us in this resolve. Even when my parents were getting old and needed help, my sister, Victoria Marlin, stepped in and kindly cared for them. We are deeply grateful for her loving contribution, which has helped us to continue in the full-time ministry.
Julie has loyally supported me in all our assignments, viewing this as part of her own dedication to Jehovah. And even though I am now 80 years of age and experiencing some health problems, I feel richly blessed by Jehovah. I find much encouragement from the psalmist who after proclaiming that God had taught him from his youth on, pleaded, ‘Even until old age, O God, do not leave me, until I may tell about your mightiness to those to come.’—Psalm 71:17, 18.
Warren was the older brother of Milton Henschel, who served for many years as a member of the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
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With Mother in 1940, when I began pioneering
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With fellow pioneers Joe and Margaret Hart
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On our wedding day in January 1948
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In 1953, with fellow Gilead classmates. From left to right: Don and Virginia Ward, Geertruida Stegenga, Julie, and me
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With Frederick W. Franz and Nathan H. Knorr in Copenhagen, Denmark, 1961
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With Julie today