“This Is the Way. Walk in It”
The Story of Emilia Pederson
As told by Ruth E. Pappas
MY MOTHER, Emilia Pederson, was born in 1878. Although she became a schoolteacher, she really wanted to use her life helping people draw close to God. Evidence of Mother’s desire was a large trunk sitting in our home in the small town of Jasper, Minnesota, U.S.A. She had obtained it to transport her belongings to China, where she wanted to serve as a missionary. However, when her mother died, she had to forgo her plans and stay at home to care for her younger siblings. In 1907 she married Theodore Holien. I was born on December 2, 1925—the last of seven children.
Mother had Bible questions to which she earnestly sought answers. One question was regarding the teaching that hell is a place of fiery torment for the wicked. She asked a visiting supervisor of the Lutheran Church where she could find Bible support for this teaching. He, in effect, told her that it does not matter what the Bible says—a hell of fiery torment needs to be taught.
Her Spiritual Hunger Satisfied
Shortly after 1900, Mother’s sister, Emma, went to Northfield, Minnesota, to study music. She stayed at the home of Milius Christianson, her teacher, whose wife was a Bible Student, as Jehovah’s Witnesses were then called. Emma mentioned that she had a sister who was a devout Bible reader. Before long, Mrs. Christianson wrote Mother a letter with answers to her Bible questions.
One day, a Bible Student named Lora Oathout came by train from Sioux Falls, South Dakota, to preach in Jasper. Mom studied the Bible literature she received, and in 1915, she began sharing Bible truths with others, distributing the literature that Lora provided.
In 1916, Mom heard that Charles Taze Russell would be at a convention in Sioux City, Iowa. She wanted to attend. By this time, Mom had five children, and Marvin, the youngest, was only five months old. Nevertheless, children in tow, she made the train journey of some 100 miles [160 km] to Sioux City to attend the convention. She heard Brother Russell’s talks, saw the “Photo-Drama of Creation,” and was baptized. Upon returning home, she wrote an article about the convention, which was published in the Jasper Journal.
In 1922, Mom was among the some 18,000 who attended the convention at Cedar Point, Ohio. After that convention, she never let up in advertising God’s Kingdom. In effect, she would urge us to heed the admonition: “This is the way. Walk in it.”—Isa. 30:21.
Fruitage of the Kingdom Ministry
In the early 1920’s, my parents moved into a house outside Jasper. Dad had a successful business and a big family to support. He did not study the Bible as much as Mom did, but he wholeheartedly supported the preaching work and opened our home to traveling ministers, then known as pilgrims. Often, when one of the traveling brothers gave a talk in our home, a hundred or so attended—packed into our living room, dining room, and bedroom.
When I was about seven years old, my aunt Lettie phoned and said that her neighbors, Ed Larson and his wife, wanted to study the Bible. They readily accepted Bible truths and later invited another neighbor, Martha Van Daalen, a mother of eight children, to join in the study. Martha and her whole family also became Bible Students.*
About that time, Gordon Kammerud, a young man who lived a few miles away from us, began to work with Dad. Gordon had been warned: “Be careful with the boss’s daughters. They have a strange religion.” However, Gordon began studying the Bible and was soon convinced that he had found the truth. Three months later, he was baptized. His parents also became believers, and our families—the Holiens, the Kammeruds, and the Van Daalens—became close friends.
Strengthened by Conventions
Mom had been so encouraged by the Cedar Point convention that she never wanted to miss another convention. So my early memories are of making long trips to attend those gatherings. The one in Columbus, Ohio, in 1931 was momentous because it was then that the name Jehovah’s Witnesses was adopted. (Isa. 43:10-12) I also well remember the convention in Washington, D.C., in 1935, where a historic talk identified the “great multitude,” or the “great crowd,” spoken of in Revelation. (Rev. 7:9; King James Version) My sisters Lilian and Eunice were among the more than 800 who were baptized there.
Our family traveled to conventions in Columbus, Ohio, in 1937; Seattle, Washington, in 1938; and New York City in 1939. The Van Daalen and Kammerud families and others accompanied us, and we camped along the way. Eunice married Leo Van Daalen in 1940, and they became pioneers. That same year, Lilian married Gordon Kammerud, and they too became pioneers.
The convention in 1941 held in St. Louis, Missouri, was special. There, thousands of young people received the book Children. That convention was a turning point for me. Shortly afterward, on September 1, 1941, along with my brother Marvin and his wife, Joyce, I became a pioneer. I was 15.
In our farming community, it was difficult for all the brothers to attend the conventions because these were often held during harvesttime. So after the conventions, we had convention reviews in our backyard for the benefit of those who had not been able to attend. These were happy gatherings.
Gilead and Foreign Assignments
In February 1943, Gilead School was established for the training of pioneers for missionary service. The first class included six members of the Van Daalen family—the brothers Emil, Arthur, Homer, and Leo; their cousin Donald; and Leo’s wife, my sister Eunice. We said our farewells with mixed emotions, since we did not know when we would see them again. After graduation, all six were assigned to Puerto Rico, where there were fewer than a dozen Witnesses at the time.
A year later, Lilian and Gordon as well as Marvin and Joyce attended the third class of Gilead. They too were sent to Puerto Rico. Then, in September 1944, at the age of 18, I attended Gilead’s fourth class. After graduating in February 1945, I joined my siblings in Puerto Rico. What an interesting world opened up to me! Although learning Spanish was a challenge, soon some of us were conducting more than 20 Bible studies each. Jehovah blessed the work. Today, there are about 25,000 Witnesses in Puerto Rico!
Tragedies Strike Our Family
Leo and Eunice remained in Puerto Rico after the birth of their son, Mark, in 1950. In 1952 they planned to take a vacation to visit relatives back home. On April 11, they left by airplane. Tragically, shortly after takeoff, the plane crashed into the ocean. Leo and Eunice died. Two-year-old Mark was found floating in the ocean. He was tossed into a life raft by a survivor and was given artificial respiration—and he lived.*
Five years later, on March 7, 1957, Mom and Dad were driving to the Kingdom Hall when they had a flat tire. While changing the tire by the side of the road, Dad was hit by a passing car and died instantly. Some 600 attended the funeral talk, and a fine witness was given to the community, where Father was well-respected.
Just before Dad’s death, I had received an assignment to serve in Argentina. In August 1957, I arrived in the city of Mendoza in the foothills of the Andes Mountains. In 1958, George Pappas, a graduate of the 30th class of Gilead, was assigned to Argentina. George and I became good friends, and we were married in April 1960. In 1961, Mom died at the age of 83. She had walked faithfully in the way of true worship and had helped many, many others to do the same.
For ten years George and I served together with other missionaries in various missionary homes. Then we spent seven years in the circuit work. In 1975 we returned to the United States to assist family members who were ill. In 1980 my husband was invited to do circuit work in the Spanish-language field. There were then about 600 Spanish-speaking congregations in the United States. For 26 years, we visited many of them and saw the number of congregations increase to well over 3,000.
They Have Walked in “the Way”
Mom also had the joy of seeing younger members of her family take up the full-time ministry. For instance, Carol, a daughter of my eldest sister, Ester, began pioneering in 1953. She married Dennis Trumbore, and they have shared in the full-time ministry ever since. Ester’s other daughter, Lois, married Wendell Jensen. They attended the 41st class of Gilead and served for 15 years as missionaries in Nigeria. Mark, whose parents died in the plane crash, was adopted and raised by Leo’s sister, Ruth La Londe, and her husband, Curtiss. Mark and his wife, Lavonne, pioneered for years and reared their four children in “the way.”—Isa. 30:21.
Orlen, my only sibling still alive, is in his mid-90’s. He is still faithfully serving Jehovah. George and I joyfully continue in the full-time ministry.
What Mom Left
I now have one of Mom’s prized possessions—her desk. It was a wedding gift to her from my father. In one of the drawers is her old scrapbook, which contains letters and published newspaper articles that she wrote and that gave a fine Kingdom witness. Some of these date back to the early 1900’s. The desk also holds treasured letters from Mom’s missionary children. How I enjoy reading them over and over again! And her letters to us were always so encouraging, filled with positive thoughts. Mom never fulfilled her desire to be a missionary. However, she had a zeal for missionary service that moved the hearts of others for generations after her. How I look forward to a big family reunion with Mom and Dad in the paradise earth!—Rev. 21:3, 4.
See The Watchtower, June 15, 1983, pages 27-30, for the life story of Emil H. Van Daalen.
See Awake! June 22, 1952, pages 3-4.
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1916: Mom, Dad (holding Marvin); bottom, from left to right: Orlen, Ester, Lilian, Mildred
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Leo and Eunice, shortly before their death
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1950: From left to right, top: Ester, Mildred, Lilian, Eunice, Ruth; bottom: Orlen, Mom, Dad, and Marvin
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George and Ruth Pappas in the circuit work, 2001