Serving in a Time of Marvelous Expansion
As told by Harley Harris
It was September 2, 1950, in Kennett, Missouri, U.S.A. We were at a circuit assembly, surrounded by a mob. The mayor brought in the National Guard to protect us from the unruly crowd. Soldiers with drawn rifles and bayonets lined the street. Amid insults, we walked to our cars and drove to Cape Girardeau, Missouri, for the remaining sessions of the assembly. It was there that I was baptized at the age of 14. But let me tell you how I came to serve Jehovah during this time of turmoil.
IN THE early 1930’s, my grandparents and their eight children heard some recordings of Brother Rutherford’s talks and were convinced that they had found the truth. My parents, Bay and Mildred Harris, were baptized in 1935 at the convention in Washington, D.C. How elated they were to be part of the “great multitude,” or “great crowd,” just identified at that convention!—Rev. 7:9, 14; King James Version.
The next year, I was born. And a year later, my parents moved to an isolated territory in Mississippi. While we lived in that territory, we did not even have a traveling overseer visit us. My family corresponded with Bethel and attended assemblies, and for a time, that was all the association we had with the brotherhood.
Enduring Under Persecution
During World War II, Jehovah’s Witnesses experienced much persecution because of their neutral stand. We had moved to Mountain Home, Arkansas. One day, my father and I were doing street witnessing. A man suddenly grabbed the magazines from my father, lit them on fire, and burned them on the spot. He called us cowards for not going to war. Being only five, I started to cry. My father calmly looked at the man without saying a word until the man walked away.
There were also good people who were favorable to us. On one occasion when a mob surrounded us in our car, the local prosecuting attorney came by. “What’s going on here?” he asked. A man responded, “These Jehovah’s Witnesses won’t fight for their country!” At that the attorney jumped on the running board of our car and shouted: “I fought in World War I, and I’ll fight in this one too! You let these people go. They are not harming anyone!” The crowd quietly dispersed. How much we appreciated those good people who extended human kindness to us!—Acts 27:3.
Conventions Strengthen Us
The 1941 convention in St. Louis, Missouri, had been just what we needed. According to one estimate, over 115,000 attended. An amazing number of 3,903 were baptized! I well remember Brother Rutherford’s talk entitled “Children of the King.” He spoke directly to us young ones, and we all received a copy of the beautiful blue book Children. This convention strengthened me to face what happened the following year, the year when I was to start attending primary school. My cousins and I were expelled from school for not saluting the flag. We returned to school each day to see if the school directors might have had a change of heart. Many mornings we walked through the woods to the school—just to be sent home. However, I felt that it was our way of showing loyalty to God’s Kingdom.
Before long, though, the United States Supreme Court ruled that flag salute was not mandatory. Finally, we were able to attend school. The teacher was very kind and let us catch up with the other students. Our schoolmates too treated us with respect.
I also recall the 1942 Cleveland, Ohio, convention where Brother Nathan H. Knorr delivered the discourse “Peace—Can It Last?” This analysis of Revelation chapter 17 indicated that a period of relative peace would set in after World War II. Thus, further expansion was anticipated. To prepare for such a development, Gilead School was opened in 1943. Little did I realize how that would impact my life in the future. Postwar peace did indeed come and persecution subsided. However, when the Korean War began in 1950, opposition to our preaching flared up again, as described at the outset.
Having a Fuller Share in the Expansion
In 1954, I graduated from high school, and a month later I began pioneering. After serving in Kennett, Missouri, where a mob had surrounded us in 1950, I was invited to Bethel in March 1955. The congregation I was assigned to had Times Square, in the middle of New York City, as part of its territory. What a change from life in the country! I was able to get the attention of busy New Yorkers by having the magazine open to a thought-provoking article and saying, “Have you ever asked yourself this question?” Many accepted the magazines.
One of my favorite times at Bethel was morning worship, conducted by Brother Knorr. How he could make Bible verses live and apply them for us in a practical way! He talked to us young single brothers as a father would to his son, often giving fine counsel on how to treat those of the opposite sex. By 1960, I had decided to get married.
I turned in my 30-day notice to leave Bethel but did not receive a reply. At the end of 30 days, as shy as I was, I mustered up courage to ask about my leave date. Brother Robert Wallen answered the call and came to where I was working. He asked me what I thought about special pioneering or circuit work. “But Bob,” I replied, “I’m only 24 years old, and I don’t have the experience.”
On to the Circuit Work
That night, there was a large envelope waiting for me in my room. It had one application for special pioneering and another for circuit work. Wow! You could have knocked me over with a feather! So I had the undeserved privilege of serving my brothers in the circuit work in southwestern Missouri and eastern Kansas. Before leaving Bethel, however, I attended a meeting for traveling overseers. In his closing remarks, Brother Knorr said: “Your being circuit and district overseers does not mean that you know more than the local brothers. Some have much more experience than you do. But circumstances do not permit them to have your privileges. You can learn a lot from them.”
How true that proved to be! Brother Fred Molohan and his wife along with his brother Charley of Parsons, Kansas, were outstanding examples. They had learned the truth back in the early 1900’s. What a pleasure to hear the experiences they had had before I was even born! Another brother was John Wristen, a kind elderly brother of Joplin, Missouri, who had pioneered for many decades. These dear brothers had deep respect for theocratic order. They made me feel appreciated as their circuit overseer—despite my youth.
In 1962, I married Cloris Knoche, a lively redheaded pioneer. I continued in the circuit work together with Cloris. When staying with the brothers, we came to know them. We were able to encourage young people to start in the full-time service. Two teenagers in the circuit—Jay Kosinski and JoAnn Kresyman—were just waiting for such encouragement. Working in service with them and sharing the joys of a self-sacrificing life motivated them to set goals. JoAnn became a special pioneer, and Jay served at Bethel. Later, the two married, and they have now been in the circuit work for some 30 years.
In 1966, Brother Knorr asked us if we were interested in foreign service. “We are happy where we are,” we replied, “but if there is a need elsewhere, we are available.” A week later, we were invited to Gilead School. How exciting it was to be back at Bethel while attending school and be with many of those I had come to love and respect! We also formed friendships with fellow students, who are serving faithfully to this day.
Cloris and I were sent to Ecuador in South America, along with Dennis and Edwina Crist, Ana Rodríguez, and Delia Sánchez. The Crists went to the capital city, Quito. Like us, Ana and Delia were assigned to Cuenca, Ecuador’s third-largest city. The territory included two provinces. Cuenca’s first congregation started from our living room. There were the four of us and a couple of others. We wondered how we would ever get the preaching work done.
Cuenca was full of churches, and on so-called holy days, religious processions filled the city. The people of Cuenca had many questions, though. For example, the first time I met Mario Polo, a champion cyclist of Cuenca, he surprised me with the question, “Who is the harlot mentioned in the book of Revelation?”
Another time, Mario came to our home at night quite worried. An evangelical pastor had given him some literature that made serious accusations against Jehovah’s Witnesses. I reasoned that the accused should be allowed to defend himself. So the next day, Mario invited the pastor and me to his home to answer the accusations. At that meeting, I suggested we focus on the Trinity. When the pastor read John 1:1, Mario himself explained the difference between “the God” and “a god” in Greek. And so it went with every Bible verse cited. Understandably, the pastor left without proving the Trinity. This convinced Mario and his wife that we had the truth, and they became excellent defenders of Bible teachings. What a joy to see the congregations in the city of Cuenca increase to 33 and in the vast territory that was our first assignment, to a total of 63—a marvelous expansion indeed!
Seeing the Expansion From the Branch
In 1970, I was asked to go to the branch in Guayaquil along with Al Schullo. The two of us cared for the branch work. Joe Sekerak packed literature part-time for the 46 congregations in the whole country. For some time, Cloris served as a field missionary while I worked at Bethel. She has been able to help 55 persons to baptism, often having from three to five students baptized at an assembly.
For example, Cloris studied with a woman named Lucresia, whose husband was opposed. Still, Lucresia eventually was baptized and began serving as a regular pioneer. She taught her children Jehovah’s ways. Her two sons are now elders, and one is a special pioneer; her daughter serves as a pioneer. Her granddaughter married a fine brother, and they too are serving as special pioneers. This family has helped many to learn the truth.
By 1980 there were some 5,000 publishers in Ecuador. We were outgrowing our small office. A brother offered us 80 acres [32 ha] of property outside of Guayaquil. In 1984 we started to build on this property a new branch office and an Assembly Hall, which were dedicated in 1987.
Willing Hands Contribute to the Expansion
Over the years, it has been heartwarming to see many publishers and pioneers from other countries come to Ecuador to help where the need for Kingdom preachers was great. One example that stands out in my mind is that of Andy Kidd, a retired schoolteacher from Canada. He moved to Ecuador in 1985 at the age of 70 and faithfully served until his death in 2008 at 93. When I first saw him in his assignment, he was the only overseer in a tiny congregation. Struggling with Spanish, he gave the public talk and then conducted the Watchtower Study. He also conducted the Theocratic Ministry School and handled most of the Service Meeting parts! In that area, there are now two thriving congregations, with almost 200 publishers and many local elders.
Another brother, Ernesto Diaz, who moved from the United States with his family, said after eight months in Ecuador: “Our three children have picked up the language and have become excellent teachers. As a father, I have reached a goal that seemed impossible in this system—that of being a regular pioneer, sharing in the full-time ministry along with my family. Altogether, we are conducting 25 Bible studies. All of this has resulted in a more united family and, above all, a closeness to Jehovah that I had never before experienced.” How much we appreciate these dear brothers and sisters!
More branch expansion took place in 1994, doubling the size of the facilities. In 2005 we passed the 50,000 publisher mark, and further branch expansion was necessary. This included an enlarged Assembly Hall and a new residence building, as well as translation offices. These new facilities were dedicated on October 31, 2009.
When I was expelled from school in 1942, there were about 60,000 Witnesses in the United States. Now there are well over a million. When we came to Ecuador in 1966, there were some 1,400 Kingdom proclaimers here. Now there are more than 68,000. And yet more are sure to come from the 120,000 Bible studies and over 232,000 who were present at the Memorial of Christ’s death in 2009. Truly, Jehovah has blessed his people in a way we would have never imagined. How thrilling it is to be living in a time and place of marvelous expansion!*
While this article was being prepared for publication, Harley Harris died faithful to Jehovah.
[Pictures on page 5]
Open-air assembly (1981) and Guayaquil Assembly Hall (2009) on the same property