Serving Jehovah—An Honor and a Privilege Beyond Compare
As told by Zerah Stigers
My husband, who had been my faithful companion in the full-time ministry, died in 1938. That left me with an infant and a ten-year-old son to care for. Although I still yearned to serve as a full-time minister, how could I do so? Let me tell you a little about my earlier life before I explain how.
SHORTLY after I was born on July 27, 1907, in Alabama, U.S.A., my parents moved with me and my three siblings to Georgia. Soon afterward, we went to Tennessee and then to the vicinity of Tampa, Florida. While there, in 1916, I saw the picture show with sound “Photo-Drama of Creation.” The movie industry was in its infancy, and everyone so enjoyed the “Photo-Drama”!
My parents were avid readers of The Watchtower and other Bible publications. Although Father enjoyed the literature, at the time he did not actively associate with the Bible Students, as Jehovah’s Witnesses were then called. Mother, however, took us children to the meetings. In fact, shortly after we moved to Niles, Michigan, we regularly traveled over ten miles by train to South Bend, Indiana, to attend meetings.
Eventually, on July 22, 1924, I was baptized in symbol of my dedication to Jehovah. Soon thereafter, Mother arranged her affairs to become a colporteur, as full-time ministers of Jehovah’s Witnesses were then called. Her fine example and that of other colporteurs instilled in me a desire to enter that work.
Finding a Partner
While attending a large convention in Indianapolis, Indiana, in 1925, I met James Stigers, who was from Chicago. Right away James impressed me as an enthusiastic servant of Jehovah. I lived about 100 miles [160 km] from Chicago, so it was not easy for us to visit each other. Back then, there was only one congregation in that large city, and meetings were held in a rented upstairs room. James often wrote to encourage me spiritually. We were married in December 1926, and about a year later, I gave birth to our first son, Eddie.
Shortly afterward, James and I began our pioneer ministry together. We served in eight states—Michigan, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Dakota, Iowa, Nebraska, California, and Illinois—enjoying the most delightful years of our life. Only when James became ill were those happy days as a family interrupted.
The financial consequences of James’ illness led us to return to Chicago in 1936 to live with my mother-in-law, who was also a Witness. During the latter part of James’ illness, while I was pregnant with our second child, I worked for $1 a day in a lunchroom. My dear mother-in-law made sure that we had plenty to eat, and she would not take a penny in return. She couldn’t have treated us better.
James was sick for about two years before he died of encephalitis, an inflammation of the brain. That was in July 1938. During his illness, he was unable to drive or to share in the door-to-door ministry, but he never passed up an opportunity to witness to others. In order to contribute to the financial support of our family, I discontinued the full-time ministry. I was able to find various jobs, each lasting for only a short period of time.
Our son Bobby was born on July 30, 1938, just eight days after his father died. However, my mother-in-law refused to let me go to the county hospital. Instead, she arranged for me to go to a better hospital and receive the care of her doctor. Moreover, she paid all the bills, an expression of Christian love I deeply appreciated.
Return to the Full-Time Ministry
We continued to live with my mother-in-law until Bobby was just over 2 years old, by which time Eddie was 12. Though I had to adjust to my new circumstances, I still had a burning desire to serve Jehovah full-time. At the Detroit, Michigan, convention in 1940, I met a pioneer couple who encouraged me to come to South Carolina to pioneer. So I bought a 1935 Pontiac for $150 and prepared to move there. In 1941, the year the United States entered World War II, my two boys and I headed south, and I once again entered the full-time ministry.
When we moved to South Carolina, we first went to Camden, next to Little River, and then to Conway. In Conway, I obtained a small trailer. I received permission from a kindly gas-station owner to park near his station, connect to his gas and electricity, and even use the station’s restroom. During World War II, there was gas rationing, and I couldn’t obtain any fuel. So I bought a used bicycle. Then, in 1943, when it seemed impossible to continue pioneering because all of our money was gone, I was invited to be a special pioneer; thereby I received a monthly reimbursement to help with expenses. Down through the years, Jehovah has helped me so much!
There were no other Witnesses living in Conway at the time, and it was difficult for the children and me to go in the ministry by ourselves. So I wrote and asked for a special pioneer partner, and in 1944, I was blessed with a wonderful one—Edith Walker! We served together in several assignments for 16 years. Then, sadly, because of a health problem, she had to return to Ohio.
Of the many happy memories I have of those years, I will never forget 13-year-old Albertha, who lived in Conway and cared for her crippled grandmother and two younger brothers. She loved the Bible truths I shared with her and wanted to tell others about them. She too developed a deep appreciation for the pioneer service and began to pioneer after graduating from high school in 1950. Over 57 years later, she is still pursuing the full-time ministry!
In 1951, Edith and I were assigned to serve briefly in Rock Hill, South Carolina, where very few Witnesses lived. Then it was on to Elberton, Georgia, for three years. Then back to South Carolina, where I remained from 1954 to 1962. In Walhalla, I met an elderly, hearing-impaired woman named Nettie, who lived alone in a rural area. To carry on our Bible study, she read a paragraph in the publication, I pointed to the question for that paragraph at the bottom of the page, and then she pointed to the answer in the paragraph.
When she did not understand something, she wrote her question on a piece of paper, and I wrote the answer after it. In time, Nettie’s appreciation for Bible truth grew so much that she began attending congregation meetings as well as engaging in the door-to-door ministry. She preached by herself, but I was never far away, usually just across the street, being ready in the event that she needed some assistance.
While I was in Walhalla, my old car just stopped running. An opportunity arose to buy a car for $100, but I had no money. I contacted a Witness who owned a business, and he loaned me the $100. Shortly thereafter, I received an unexpected letter from my sister saying that my siblings had just discovered that when our father died, he had left some money in a bank. They discussed what to do with it, and they all agreed to send it to me. The amount was $100!
Pioneering With My Sons
In their early years, Eddie and Bobby were with me all the time in the door-to-door preaching work. In those days, people in general did not have problems with drugs, and immoral influences were not so strong. Keeping our life simple and focusing on the preaching work helped me avoid many of the problems parents today face in rearing their children to serve Jehovah.
Eddie went to school in Camden until he finished the eighth grade, after which he wanted to pioneer with me. We enjoyed our pioneer service together for some years. Then he developed a desire to work at the world headquarters of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Brooklyn, New York, where he served from 1947 to 1957. In 1958 he married Albertha, my former Bible student, and they became pioneer partners. What a joy when in 2004, the three of us attended the Pioneer Service School together!
I recall that one day many years ago, I heard little Bobby ask Jehovah in prayer to help me obtain enough gasoline to use the car to get to my regular Bible study appointments. Throughout his life, Bobby has demonstrated a love for the ministry, and he enjoyed the pioneer ministry for several years. Sadly, Bobby too experienced family tragedy. In 1970 he lost his wife of only 22 months when she died in childbirth along with their twin babies. Bobby and I have always lived near each other, and we have enjoyed a very close relationship.
In 1962, I was assigned to my current congregation in Lumberton, North Carolina, and I am still here after 45 years. I continued to drive my car until I was well into my 80’s. One of the Witness families who live close by now take me to the congregation meetings and out in the preaching work.
I have a walker and a wheelchair, but I don’t need to use either of them, since I can walk without any assistance. I am grateful to Jehovah to have enjoyed excellent health, only lately having had some trouble with my eyes. I never miss a congregation meeting unless I am very sick, and I continue to serve as an infirm regular pioneer.
Having joyfully served in the pioneer ministry for over 70 years, I can sincerely say that Jehovah has helped me all along the way.* I realize that I have never been a very intelligent person or a very fast worker, but Jehovah knows what I can and cannot do. I am so thankful that he knows that I am trying and that he has used me.
I feel that serving Jehovah as fully as possible is important because we owe everything to him. As long as I am able, I would not choose to serve as anything other than a pioneer. What a wonderful privilege this has been! My prayer is that I can be used by Jehovah throughout eternity.
Sister Stigers finished her earthly course on April 20, 2007, just three months short of 100 years of age. We are encouraged by her many years of faithful service and rejoice in her receiving the heavenly reward.
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My husband and I used this vehicle in the colporteur work
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With my sons in 1941
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With Eddie and Bobby recently