With my bride, Evelyn, I stepped off the train at Hornepayne in the bush country of northern Ontario, Canada. It was early in the morning and bitterly cold. A local brother picked us up, and after a hearty breakfast with him, his wife, and his son, we walked through the snow and witnessed from house to house. That afternoon, I gave my first public talk as a circuit overseer. Five of us attended; no one else came.
ACTUALLY, that small audience for my talk in 1957 did not bother me. You see, I have always been extremely shy. In fact, when I was young, I used to hide when guests came to our home, even if I knew them.
Understandably, you might be surprised to learn that most of my assignments in Jehovah’s organization have compelled me to interact with many other people—both friends and strangers. Yet, I have continued to struggle with shyness and lack of confidence, so I cannot take credit for any success I have had in those assignments. Instead, I have seen the truth of Jehovah’s promise: “I will fortify you, yes, I will help you, I will really hold on to you with my right hand of righteousness.” (Isa. 41:10) One of the foremost ways that Jehovah has helped me is by means of the support of fellow Christians. Let me tell you about some of them, starting with when I was a child.
SHE USED A BIBLE AND A LITTLE BLACK BOOK
On a sunny Sunday morning in the 1940’s, Elsie Huntingford called at our family farm in southwestern Ontario. My mother answered the door while my father—who was shy like me—sat inside with me and listened. Thinking that Sister Huntingford was a saleswoman and that Mom would buy something we didn’t need, Dad finally went to the door to say that we were not interested. “Are you people not interested in a Bible study?” Sister Huntingford asked. “Of course we’re interested in that,” my dad replied.
Sister Huntingford could not have visited us at a better time. My parents had been very active members of the United Church of Canada but had recently decided to leave it. Why? Because in the church foyer, the minister posted a list of all donors in the order of the amount they had given. My parents, who were of modest means, were usually near the bottom of the list, and the church elders pressured them to give more. Because he wanted to keep his job, another minister admitted that he did not teach the things he really believed. Therefore, we left the church but still sought a way to satisfy our spiritual need.
Since the work of Jehovah’s Witnesses was then under ban in Canada, Sister Huntingford conducted a study with our family, using only the Bible and some notes she had in a little black book. When she later realized that we would not betray her to the authorities, she introduced us to Bible literature. We carefully hid the publications after each study was over.*
Despite opposition and other obstacles, Sister Huntingford zealously preached the good news. Her zeal impressed me and moved me to take my stand for the truth. One year after my parents were baptized as Jehovah’s Witnesses, I symbolized my dedication to God. My baptism took place on February 27, 1949, in a metal trough that farmers used to water livestock. I was 17 years old. After that, I was determined to enter the full-time ministry.
JEHOVAH HELPED ME TO BE COURAGEOUS
I hesitated to pioneer right away. For a while, I worked at a bank and in an office because I had convinced myself that I needed to earn some money to support my pioneering. As an inexperienced youth, however, I spent my money as fast as I made it. So a brother named Ted Sargent urged me to be courageous and put faith in Jehovah. (1 Chron. 28:10) With that gentle nudge, I began pioneering in November 1951. I had only 40 dollars, a used bicycle, and a new briefcase. But Jehovah always made sure that I had what I needed. How grateful I am that Ted encouraged me to take up the pioneer service! That led to further blessings.
One evening in late August 1952, I received a phone call from Toronto. The Canada branch office of Jehovah’s Witnesses invited me to begin Bethel service in September. Although I was shy and had never visited the branch, I was excited because other pioneers had told me wonderful things about Bethel. I felt at home right away.
“SHOW THE BROTHERS THAT YOU CARE ABOUT THEM”
Not long after I arrived at Bethel, I succeeded Bill Yacos as company servant (now known as the coordinator of the body of elders) of the Shaw Unit in Toronto.* At only 23 years of age, I felt like a naive farm boy. But Brother Yacos humbly and lovingly showed me what to do. And Jehovah really helped me.
Brother Yacos—a stocky brother with a ready smile—was interested in people. He loved the brothers, and they loved him. He regularly visited them in their homes but not just when they had problems. Bill Yacos encouraged me to do the same and to work along with the brothers and sisters in the field ministry. “Ken,” he said, “show the brothers that you care about them. That will cover a multitude of shortcomings.”
MY WIFE DISPLAYS LOYAL LOVE
Jehovah has helped me in a special way since January 1957. That month I married Evelyn, a graduate of the 14th class of Gilead School. Before we got married, she had been serving in the French-speaking province of Quebec. In those days Quebec was largely controlled by the Roman Catholic Church. So Evelyn had a very difficult assignment, but she loyally stuck to it and to Jehovah.
Evelyn has also loyally stuck to me. (Eph. 5:31) In fact, her loyalty was tested right after we got married! We had planned to take a trip to Florida, U.S.A., but the day after our wedding, the branch asked me to attend a week-long meeting at Canada Bethel. Of course, this meeting interfered with our plans, but Evelyn and I wanted to do whatever Jehovah asked us to do. Hence, we canceled our honeymoon. During that week, she worked in field service near the branch. Although the territory was far different from Quebec, she persevered.
At the end of that week, I received a surprise—I was assigned as a circuit overseer in northern Ontario. I was a new husband, only 25 years old and very inexperienced, but off we went with confidence in Jehovah. In the heart of a Canadian winter, we boarded an overnight train with a number of experienced traveling overseers who were returning to their assignments. They encouraged us so much! One brother even insisted that we take the sleeping car accommodations he had reserved for himself, so that we would not have to sit up all night in a coach. The next morning, just 15 days after our wedding, we found ourselves visiting the small group in Hornepayne, as I related earlier.
More changes were in store for Evelyn and me. While we were serving in district work in late 1960, I received an invitation to attend the 36th class of Gilead School, a ten-month course to commence early in February 1961 in Brooklyn, New York. Of course, I was thrilled, but my delight was tempered by the fact that Evelyn was not included in the invitation. Instead, like other wives in a similar position, Evelyn was asked to write a letter stating that she was willing for us to be separated for at least ten months. Evelyn shed tears, but we agreed that I should attend the school, and she was happy that I would enjoy valuable training at Gilead.
In the interim, Evelyn served at the Canada branch. She had the special privilege of sharing a room with a dear anointed sister, Margaret Lovell. Of course, Evelyn and I missed each other very much. With Jehovah’s help, though, we settled into our temporary assignments. Her willingness to sacrifice our time together so that we could be more useful to Jehovah and his organization touched me deeply.
After I had been at Gilead for about three months, Brother Nathan Knorr, who was then taking the lead in the worldwide work, presented me with an extraordinary invitation. He asked me if I would leave Gilead School at that point and return to Canada to serve temporarily as Kingdom Ministry School instructor at the branch. Brother Knorr told me that I did not have to accept the invitation. I could complete the Gilead School course if I wished and then perhaps be assigned to missionary work. He also stated that if I did decide to return to Canada, I might never be invited to Gilead again and that in time, I would probably be assigned back to the field in Canada. He left it up to me to decide after I talked to my wife about it.
Since Evelyn had already told me how she viewed theocratic assignments, I immediately told Brother Knorr, “Whatever Jehovah’s organization wants us to do, we are happy to do.” We have always felt that regardless of our preferences, we should go wherever Jehovah’s organization assigned us to go.
Thus, in April 1961, I left Brooklyn and returned to Canada to teach Kingdom Ministry School. Later, we began serving as members of the Bethel family. Then, to my surprise, I received an invitation to attend the 40th class of Gilead, which would start in 1965. Once again, Evelyn had to write a letter agreeing to our separation. But a few weeks later, to our mutual delight, she received her own invitation to attend the school with me.
After we arrived at Gilead School, Brother Knorr told us that students enrolled in French-language classes, as we were, would be sent to Africa. At our graduation program, however, we were reassigned to Canada! I was appointed as the new branch overseer (now Branch Committee coordinator). Only 34 years of age, I reminded Brother Knorr, “I’m pretty young.” But he reassured me. And right from the beginning, I tried to consult older, more experienced brothers at Bethel before making weighty decisions.
BETHEL—A PLACE TO LEARN AND TO TEACH
Bethel service has given me marvelous opportunities to learn from others. I respect and greatly admire the other members of the Branch Committee. I have also been influenced in good ways by the hundreds of fine Christian men and women—young and old—who have passed through our lives here at the branch and in the various congregations where we have served.
Bethel service has also allowed me to teach others and strengthen their faith. The apostle Paul told Timothy: “Continue in the things that you learned.” He also stated: “The things you heard from me that were supported by many witnesses, these things entrust to faithful men, who, in turn, will be adequately qualified to teach others.” (2 Tim. 2:2; 3:14) Sometimes fellow Christians ask me what lessons I have learned during my 57 years of Bethel service. My simple response is, “Willingly and promptly do what Jehovah’s organization wants you to do, relying on Jehovah to help you.”
It seems like only yesterday that I first arrived at Bethel as a shy, inexperienced young man. All these years, though, Jehovah has been ‘grasping my right hand.’ Especially through the kindness and timely assistance of fellow believers, he continues to assure me: “Do not be afraid. I will help you.”—Isa. 41:13.
On May 22, 1945, the Canadian government lifted the ban on our work.
At that time, if more than one congregation functioned in a city, the individual congregations were called units.