I told the officer that I had already been in prison because I would not fight. I asked him: “Are you going to make me go through that again?” That exchange took place the second time I received a call to enter the United States Army.
I WAS born in 1926 in Crooksville, Ohio, in the United States. Father and Mother were not religious, but they told us eight children to go to church. I went to the Methodist Church. When I was 14, the minister gave me a prize because I had not missed Sunday services for a year.
About that time, a neighbor named Margaret Walker, one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, began visiting my mother and talking to her about the Bible. One day, I decided to sit in. Mother thought that I would disrupt her study, so she told me to get out of the house. But I kept trying to listen to their discussions. After a couple more visits, Margaret asked me, “Do you know what God’s name is?” I said, “Everyone knows that—it’s God.” She said, “Get your Bible and look up Psalm 83:18.” I did, and I discovered that God’s name is Jehovah. I ran out to my friends and told them, “When you get home tonight, look up Psalm 83:18 in the Bible and see what God’s name is.” You might say I started witnessing right away.
I studied the Bible and got baptized in 1941. Soon afterward, I was assigned to conduct a congregation book study. I encouraged my mother and siblings to come, and they all began attending the book study that I conducted. Dad, though, was not interested.
OPPOSITION AT HOME
I was given more responsibility in the congregation, and I built up a theocratic library. One day, Dad pointed to my books and said: “You see all that stuff? I want it out of this house, and you can go with it.” I moved out and got a room in nearby Zanesville, Ohio, but I traveled back and forth to encourage the family.
Dad tried to keep Mother from attending the meetings. Sometimes when she was on her way, he chased after her and pulled her back into the house. But she would just run out the other door and go to the meeting. I told Mother: “Don’t worry. He’ll get tired of running after you.” In time, Dad gave up trying to stop her, and she attended the meetings without a battle.
In 1943 our congregation began holding the Theocratic Ministry School, and I started giving student talks. The counsel I received after my parts on the school helped me to improve my speaking ability.
NEUTRALITY DURING WAR
By then, the nations were fighting World War II. In 1944, I was called up for military service. I reported to Fort Hayes in Columbus, Ohio, underwent a physical examination, and filled out paperwork. I also told the officials that I would not become a soldier. They let me go. Days later, an officer came to my door and told me: “Corwin Robison, I have a warrant for your arrest.”
In court two weeks later, the judge said: “If it were up to me, I’d give you a life sentence. Do you have anything to say?” I replied: “Your Honor, I should have been classified as a minister. Everyone’s doorstep is my pulpit, and I have preached the good news of the Kingdom to many people.” The judge told the jury: “You are not here to decide whether this young man is a minister or not. You are here to decide whether he reported for induction into the army or not.” In less than half an hour, the jury came back with a verdict—guilty. The judge sentenced me to five years in the federal penitentiary in Ashland, Kentucky.
JEHOVAH PROTECTS ME IN PRISON
I spent the first two weeks in a prison in Columbus, Ohio, and stayed in my cell the first day. I prayed to Jehovah: “I cannot stay in a cell for five years. I don’t know what to do.”
The next day, the guards let me out. I walked over to a tall, broad-shouldered prisoner, and we stood there looking out a window. He asked me, “What are you in for, Shorty?” I said, “I am one of Jehovah’s Witnesses.” He said, “You are? So why are you here?” I said, “Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t go to war and kill people.” He said, “They put you in prison because you won’t kill people. They put other guys in prison because they kill people. Does that make sense?” I said, “No, it doesn’t.”
Then he said, “For 15 years I was in another prison, where I read some of your literature.” I prayed, “Jehovah, help me get this man on my side.” At that moment, Paul—that was his name—said: “If any of these guys touch you, just yell. I’ll take care of them.” As things turned out, I had no problems with the 50 inmates in that section.
When the prison officials moved me to Ashland, I found that a number of mature brothers were already there. Their association helped me and others to remain spiritually strong. They assigned us a weekly Bible reading, and we prepared questions and answers for meetings called Bible Bees. There was also an appointed territory servant. We were in a large dormitory that had beds along the walls. The territory servant would tell me: “Robison, you are responsible for bed such and such. Anyone assigned to that bed is your territory. Make sure you witness to him before he leaves.” That is how we preached in an organized way.
WHAT I FOUND OUTSIDE OF PRISON
World War II ended in 1945, but I stayed in prison for some time thereafter. I worried about my family because Dad had told me, “If I can get rid of you, I can handle the rest.” After my release, I had a pleasant surprise. Despite Dad’s opposition, seven in the family were attending meetings and one of my sisters was baptized.
When the Korean War broke out in 1950, I was called to enter the army a second time and reported to Fort Hayes. After I took an aptitude test, an officer told me, “You had one of the highest scores in your group.” I said, “That’s fine, but I am not going into the army.” I quoted 2 Timothy 2:3 and said, “I am already a soldier of Christ.” After a long silence, he said, “You can leave.”
Soon afterward, I attended the Bethel meeting at a convention in Cincinnati, Ohio. Brother Milton Henschel told us that if a brother wanted to work hard for the Kingdom, the organization could use him at Bethel. I applied for Bethel service, was accepted, and reported to Brooklyn Bethel in August 1954. I have been at Bethel ever since.
I have never lacked for work at Bethel. For several years, I operated the boilers in the printery and the office complex, worked as a machinist, and repaired locks. I also worked at Assembly Halls in New York City.
I have come to love the spiritual routine of Bethel life, which includes attendance at morning worship and the family Watchtower Study as well as participation in the ministry with the congregation. When you think about it, those features can and should be present in any family of Jehovah’s Witnesses. When parents and children consider the daily text together, have regular Family Worship sessions, and are deeply involved in the congregation meetings and the preaching of the good news, all in the family will likely be spiritually healthy.
I have made many friends at Bethel and in the congregation. Some were of the anointed and have gone on to their heavenly reward. Others were not. But all of Jehovah’s servants—including Bethelites—are imperfect. If I have a run-in with a brother, I always try to make peace. I think of Matthew 5:23, 24 and how we are expected to handle our disagreements. Apologizing is not easy, but rarely have I seen problems with a friend continue after I have said I am sorry.
GOOD RESULTS FROM MY SERVICE
Because of my age, I now have a hard time going from door to door, but I have not given up. I have learned a little Mandarin Chinese and enjoy approaching Chinese people on the street. Some mornings I place 30 or 40 magazines with interested ones.
I have even made a return visit in China! One day, a bright young girl smiled at me as she passed out advertisements for a fruit stand. I smiled and offered her The Watchtower and Awake! in Chinese. She took them and told me that her name was Katie. After that, whenever she saw me, Katie came over to talk to me. I taught her the names of fruits and vegetables in English, and she repeated the words after me. I also explained Bible texts to her, and she accepted the Bible Teach book. After some weeks, though, she disappeared.
Months later, another girl who was passing out advertisements accepted the magazines I offered her. The next week, she handed me her cell phone and said, “You talk to China.” I said, “I don’t know anybody in China.” But she insisted, so I took the phone and said, “Hello, this is Robison.” The voice at the other end said, “Robby, this is Katie. I’m back in China.” I said, “China?” Katie answered, “Yes. Robby, you know that girl who handed you the phone? She’s my sister. You taught me many good things. Please teach her the way you taught me.” I said, “Katie, I will do the best I can. Thanks for letting me know where you are.” Soon afterward, I spoke to Katie’s sister for the last time. Wherever those two girls are, I hope that they learn more about Jehovah.
Rendering sacred service to Jehovah has been my work for 73 years. I am happy that he helped me to remain neutral and to be faithful in prison. Also, my brothers and sisters tell me that they took courage when I faced Dad’s opposition without giving up. Mother and six of my siblings eventually got baptized. Even Dad softened, and he attended some meetings before he passed away.
If it is God’s will, my family members and friends who have died will return to life in the new world. Imagine our joy as we worship Jehovah for all time to come with those whom we love!*
While this article was being prepared for publication, Corwin Robison died faithful to Jehovah.