Life is unpredictable at times, uncertain, and even hard to deal with. But Jehovah blesses those who lean on him, not on their own understanding. This is what my wife and I have experienced over our long and rewarding life. Here is a little of our history.
MY FATHER and mother met in 1919 at the convention of the International Bible Students in Cedar Point, Ohio, U.S.A. They got married later that same year. I was born in 1922, and my brother, Paul, was born two years later. My wife, Grace, was born in 1930. Her parents, Roy and Ruth Howell, were raised as Bible Students, and her grandparents were also Bible Students and friends of Brother Charles Taze Russell.
I met Grace in 1947, and we got married on July 16, 1949. Before we got married, we had frank discussions about our future. We made it our decision to share in the full-time ministry and not take on the responsibility of raising children. On October 1, 1950, we began our pioneer service together. Then in 1952, we were invited to do circuit work.
TRAVELING WORK AND GILEAD TRAINING
Both of us felt that we needed much help to carry out this new assignment. While I learned from experienced brothers, I also sought help for Grace. I approached Marvin Holien, a longtime family friend who had experience in serving as a traveling overseer, and I asked him: “Grace is young and lacks experience. Can you recommend someone she can work with for a while to get some training?” “Yes,” he answered. “Edna Winkle is a seasoned pioneer who can help her a lot.” Later, Grace said about Edna: “She made me feel at ease at the doors, knew how to handle objections well, and taught me to listen to the householder so that I could zero in on what was appropriate to say. She was just what I needed!”
Grace and I served in two circuits in the state of Iowa, including portions of the states of Minnesota and South Dakota. Then we were transferred to New York Circuit 1, which included the boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens. We will never forget how inexperienced we felt in that assignment. The circuit included the Brooklyn Heights Congregation, which met at the Kingdom Hall at Bethel and had many experienced Bethel family members. After I gave my first service talk to that congregation, Brother Nathan Knorr came up to me and said words to this effect: “Malcolm, you gave us some counsel to work on, and it was appropriate. Don’t forget, if you don’t help us by giving us kindly counsel, you are of little value to the organization. Keep up the good work.” After the meeting, I told this to Grace. Later, we went upstairs to our Bethel room. Worn out from anxiety, we wept.
“If you don’t help us by giving us kindly counsel, you are of little value to the organization. Keep up the good work”
After a few months, we received a letter inviting us to attend the 24th class of Gilead School, which would graduate in February 1955. We were informed before going to school that our training was not necessarily to prepare us to become missionaries. Rather, it would serve to equip us to become more effective in the traveling work. Attending the school was a marvelous yet humbling experience.
When we finished the course, we were assigned to serve in the district work. Our district included the states of Indiana, Michigan, and Ohio. Then, to our surprise, in December 1955 we received a letter from Brother Knorr that stated: “Be perfectly frank in expressing yourself, and be honest with me now. If you say you are willing to come to Bethel and remain here . . . or if you are willing to take a foreign assignment after you are at Bethel for a while, let me know. If you prefer the district and the circuit work, I would like to know that.” We replied that we would be pleased to do whatever we were assigned to do. Almost immediately, we were directed to report to Bethel!
THRILLING YEARS AT BETHEL
My thrilling years of Bethel service included caring for speaking and teaching assignments all over the United States. I shared in training and helping many young men who later took on greater responsibilities in Jehovah’s organization. Eventually, I worked as a secretary for Brother Knorr in the office that organized the worldwide preaching work.
I found the years that I spent in the Service Department especially enjoyable. There I was able to work with T. J. (Bud) Sullivan. He had for many years been overseer of that department. But there were others whom I learned much from. Fred Rusk, who was assigned to train me, was one of them. With fondness, I recall asking him, “Fred, why do you make a number of adjustments in some of my letters?” He laughed, but added this sobering thought, “Malcolm, when you say something verbally, it can be explained with further words, but when you write something, especially when it comes from here, it has to be as sound and as accurate as possible.” Then he said kindly, “Be of good courage—you are doing well, and in time, you will be fine.”
Over the years at Bethel, Grace received a variety of work assignments, including serving as a housekeeper, caring for the upkeep of residential rooms. She enjoyed the work. Up to this day, when we at times meet some of the brothers who were young men at Bethel during those years, they tell Grace with a smile, “You really taught me how to make a bed, and I can tell you my mother liked what you did.” Grace also enjoyed working in the Magazine, Correspondence, and Tape Duplicating departments. Caring for those different assignments helped her to appreciate that whatever we do or wherever we serve in Jehovah’s organization is a privilege and a blessing. To this day, she feels that way.
ADJUSTMENTS WE HAVE MADE
In the mid-1970’s, we began to realize that our aging parents needed more attention. Eventually, we had to make a difficult decision. We did not want to leave Bethel and our fellow servants of Jehovah whom we had come to love dearly. Still, I felt that it was my responsibility to care for our parents. Therefore, in time we left Bethel, but with the hope that when our situation changed, we might return.
To support ourselves financially, I began selling insurance. I will always remember what one manager told me while I was in training: “This business is built on making evening calls. That’s when you can see the people. Nothing is more important than to be there every evening, making calls.” I replied, “I’m sure you speak from experience, and I respect that. But I also have responsibilities of a spiritual nature that I have never neglected, and I don’t intend to begin now. I’ll make some evening calls, but on Tuesday and Thursday evenings, I need to attend very important meetings.” Jehovah truly blessed me for not missing meetings to do secular work.
We were at my mother’s bedside when she died in a nursing home in July 1987. The head nurse came to Grace and said: “Mrs. Allen, go home and get some rest. Everyone knows you were here all the time for your mother-in-law. Have peace of mind and self-respect.”
In December 1987, we filled out applications to serve again at Bethel, the place we loved. But only days later, Grace was diagnosed with colon cancer. After surgery and a successful recovery, she was pronounced cancer free. In the meantime, though, we received a letter from Bethel that recommended we continue our ministry with the local congregation. We were determined to press on in our Kingdom activity.
In time, a job opportunity opened up for me in Texas. We decided that the warmer climate there would be good for us, and it has been. Here in Texas, we have for some 25 years been surrounded by caring brothers and sisters to whom we have become closely attached.
LESSONS WE HAVE LEARNED
Grace has had bouts with cancer of the colon and the thyroid, and recently breast cancer. But she has never complained about her lot in life or challenged the principles of headship and cooperation. She has often been asked, “What is the secret to your success as a couple and the happiness you both radiate?” She gives four reasons: “We are best friends. We communicate regularly every day. We love to visit with each other every day. And we never go to sleep at the end of the day while we are angry with each other.” Of course, once in a while we rub each other the wrong way, but we forgive and forget—and that approach truly works.
“Always lean on Jehovah and accept what he permits”
Through all the trials that have come our way, there are several good lessons that we have learned:
Depend on Jehovah’s Word for direction, no matter what the issue is. Obedience to Jehovah and his laws is vital. There is no middle ground—either you are obedient or you are not.—Rom. 6:16; Heb. 4:12.
Know that there is no other organization that has Jehovah’s blessing and favor.—John 6:68.
Grace and I have each served Jehovah for more than 75 years, and as a married couple, we have served him for nearly 65 years. We truly have had a wonderful time serving Jehovah together for all these decades. We hope and pray that all our brothers and sisters may likewise experience how rewarding life is when you lean on Jehovah.