In 1947, Catholic priests in Santa Ana, El Salvador, tried to stir up trouble for the Witnesses. While the brothers were having their weekly Watchtower Study, boys threw large stones through the open door of the missionary home. Then came the procession led by priests. Some in the procession carried torches; others carried images. For two hours, they pelted the building with stones and chanted: “Long live the Virgin!” and, “May Jehovah die!” That was supposed to scare the missionaries out of town. I know, because I was one of them, and I attended that meeting 67 years ago.*
TWO years before the above event took place, Evelyn Trabert, who was my missionary companion, and I graduated from the fourth class of the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead, then located near Ithaca, New York. We were assigned to serve in Santa Ana. But before I continue with a brief account of my nearly 29 years of missionary service, let me tell you why I decided to take up that work.
MY SPIRITUAL HERITAGE
My parents, John and Eva Olson, were living in Spokane, Washington, U.S.A., in 1923, the year I was born. They were Lutherans but did not accept the church teaching of hellfire, since they could not reconcile it with their belief in a God of love. (1 John 4:8) Father worked in a bakery, and one night a coworker assured him that the Bible does not teach that hell is a place of torment. Soon my parents began to study with Jehovah’s Witnesses and learned what the Bible really teaches about life after death.
I was only nine years old, but I remember listening to my parents’ enthusiastic expressions about their newfound Bible truths. Their enthusiasm grew even greater when they learned the name of the true God, Jehovah, and were freed from the confusing Trinity doctrine. I began absorbing these wonderful Scriptural teachings like a sponge, learning ‘the truth that sets one free.’ (John 8:32) Hence, I never thought of Bible study as being boring, but I have always enjoyed examining God’s Word. Although I was shy, I accompanied my parents in the preaching work. They were baptized in 1934. In 1939, at the age of 16, I joined them as a baptized servant of Jehovah.
In the summer of 1940, my parents sold their home, and the three of us began the full-time ministry as pioneers in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. We lived in a rented apartment above a car-repair shop. Our home also served as a meeting place. At that time, few congregations had Kingdom Halls, so they met in private homes or rented rooms.
In 1941 my parents and I attended the assembly in St. Louis, Missouri. Sunday was “Children’s Day,” and those between 5 and 18 years of age were seated right in front of the stage. At the climax of his talk, Brother Joseph F. Rutherford spoke to us young ones: “All of you . . . children . . . who have agreed to obey God and his King, please stand up!” We all stood up. Then, Brother Rutherford exclaimed: “Behold, more than 15,000 new witnesses to the Kingdom!” That moment helped cement my decision to make pioneering my life’s career.
OUR FAMILY’S ASSIGNMENTS
A few months after the St. Louis assembly, our family moved to southern California. There, in the city of Oxnard, our assignment was to start a congregation. We lived in a small trailer with only one bed. My “bed” had to be made up each night on top of our dining table—quite a change from when I had my own bedroom!
Just before we arrived in California, Japan attacked Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, on December 7, 1941. The next day, the United States entered World War II. The authorities imposed a blackout, and we had to turn off all lights at night. Japanese submarines were patrolling the California coast, and the total darkness was to help keep them from hitting targets on the mainland.
Some months later, in September 1942, we attended the New World Theocratic Assembly in Cleveland, Ohio. There we listened as Brother Nathan H. Knorr gave the talk “Peace—Can It Last?” He discussed Revelation chapter 17, which describes a “wild beast” that “was, but is not, and yet is about to ascend out of the abyss.” (Rev. 17:8, 11) Brother Knorr explained that “the wild beast” was the League of Nations that ceased its activities in 1939. The Bible foretold that the League would be replaced, leading to a time of relative peace. And so it was that in 1945, World War II ended. After that, the “beast” reappeared as the United Nations. Jehovah’s Witnesses then expanded their global preaching work, and what a great increase there has been ever since!
That prophecy helped me to see what lay ahead. When it was announced that Gilead School would begin the next year, my desire to become a missionary was sparked. In 1943, I was assigned to pioneer in Portland, Oregon. In those days, we used a phonograph to play sermons for householders on their doorsteps, and then we would offer them Bible literature about God’s Kingdom. All that year, I kept thinking about missionary service.
In 1944, I was thrilled to receive an invitation to Gilead with my dear friend Evelyn Trabert. For five months, our instructors showed us how to get joy from our study of the Bible. Their humility impressed us. At times, while we ate a meal, those brothers were the waiters. We graduated on January 22, 1945.
MY MISSIONARY ASSIGNMENT
Evelyn and I, along with Leo and Esther Mahan, arrived in our assignment in El Salvador in June 1946. We found that field “white for harvesting.” (John 4:35) The incident mentioned at the beginning of this story shows how infuriated the clergy were. Just a week earlier, we had held our first circuit assembly in Santa Ana. We widely advertised the public talk and were overjoyed to have nearly 500 in attendance. Rather than being scared out of town, we felt even more determined to stay and help honesthearted ones. Even though the clergy had warned people not to read the Bible and few could afford to own a copy, many were hungry for the truth. They appreciated our efforts to learn Spanish so that we could teach them about the true God, Jehovah, and about his precious promise of the restoration of Paradise on earth.
Rosa Ascencio was one of my early students. After she began studying the Bible, she separated from the man with whom she was living. Then he began to study the Bible. They got married, then baptized, and they became zealous Witnesses for Jehovah. Rosa was the first local pioneer in Santa Ana.*
Rosa owned a small grocery store. When she went out in the ministry, she would close her store and trust in Jehovah to provide for her needs. When she reopened her store after a few hours, customers flocked in to buy. She experienced firsthand the truth of Matthew 6:33 and was faithful until her death.
On one occasion, the local priest visited the man who rented a house to six of us missionaries and warned him that if he continued to rent to us, he and his wife would be excommunicated. The landlord, a prominent businessman, was already disgusted with the conduct of the clergy and did not yield to the pressure. He even told the priest that he would not mind being expelled from the church. He assured us that we were welcome to stay as long as we wanted.
A RESPECTED CITIZEN BECOMES A WITNESS
In the capital city, San Salvador, another missionary was studying the Bible with the wife of an engineer named Baltasar Perla. That good-hearted man had lost faith in God after observing the hypocrisy of the religious leaders. When the time came to build a branch office, Baltasar, although not yet in the truth, offered to design and construct the facility without charging for his services.
After associating with Jehovah’s people on the construction project, Baltasar became convinced that he had found the true religion. He was baptized on July 22, 1955, and his wife, Paulina, soon thereafter. Both their children are serving Jehovah faithfully. His son, Baltasar, Jr., has served for 49 years at Brooklyn Bethel, where he supports the ever-growing worldwide preaching work and now serves on the United States Branch Committee.*
When we began to hold conventions in San Salvador, Brother Perla helped us to get the use of a large gymnasium. At first, we used only a few sections of seats; but with Jehovah’s blessing, our ranks kept increasing year by year until we filled the gymnasium and even outgrew it! At those joyful events, I got to see those with whom I had studied the Bible. Imagine how I felt when my former students introduced me to my “grandchildren”—newly baptized ones with whom they had studied!
At one assembly, a brother came up to me and said that he wanted to make a confession. I did not recognize him and was curious. He said, “I was one of the boys who threw stones at you in Santa Ana.” Now he was serving Jehovah with me! My heart swelled with joy. That conversation confirmed for me that the full-time ministry is the most rewarding career anyone could choose.
For nearly 29 years, I continued in the missionary work in El Salvador, first in the city of Santa Ana, then Sonsonate, next Santa Tecla, and finally San Salvador. In 1975, after much prayerful thought, I decided to leave my missionary assignment and return to Spokane. My faithful, aging parents needed my assistance.
After Father died in 1979, I cared for Mother, who became progressively more frail and helpless. She lived for eight more years, dying at the age of 94. During that difficult time, I became physically and emotionally exhausted. The stress brought on a painful case of shingles. But with prayer and Jehovah’s loving arms around me to buoy me up, I was able to endure that test of endurance. It is as Jehovah said, “until your hair is gray . . . , I will carry you and bear you and rescue you.”—Isa. 46:4.
In 1990, I moved to Omak, Washington. There I again felt useful in the Spanish-language field, and several of my Bible students got baptized. By November 2007, I could no longer care for my home in Omak, so I moved into an apartment in the nearby town of Chelan, Washington. The Spanish congregation here has been taking good care of me ever since, for which I am most grateful. Since I am the only elderly Witness here, the brothers and sisters have kindly “adopted” me as their “grandmother.”
Even though I chose not to marry and have a family so that I could serve more fully in the ministry “without distraction,” I have many spiritual children. (1 Cor. 7:34, 35) I reasoned that in this present life, I cannot have everything. So I have put first things first—my dedication to serve Jehovah wholeheartedly. In the new world, there will be plenty of time to enjoy all manner of other wholesome activities. My favorite scripture is Psalm 145:16, which assures us that Jehovah will “satisfy the desire of every living thing.”
At age 91, I still have fairly good health, so I continue to pioneer. The pioneer service helps keep me young at heart and gives me a purpose in life. When I first arrived in El Salvador, the preaching work was just getting started. Despite Satan’s unrelenting opposition, there are now over 39,000 publishers in that country. This has truly strengthened my faith. Clearly, there is no doubt that Jehovah’s holy spirit is backing the efforts of his people!