Pursuing My Purpose in Life
As told by Robert N. Tracy
WELL do I remember an oft-heard adage that frequently sounded in my ears as a youth: “Live and learn, die and forget it all.” Just as many other things, such as Santa Claus, proved to be false, so did this familiar worldly saying. My family rapidly accepted the Bible message brought to us by Jehovah’s witnesses, although I had been raised a strict Methodist. We began to see that it was possible to learn to live forever on a beautified earth.
Speaking for myself, I came to appreciate the organization before understanding all the doctrines taught. After several months of accompanying others in the service I was baptized at a zone assembly on September 3, 1939, in a chilly river at Fulton, New York. The following day my blood boiled as an uncouth mob armed with baseball bats broke up our assembly, with the mayor and police as idle bystanders. This incident merely served to strengthen my dedication vow to Jehovah.
The big national convention in Detroit, Michigan, in 1940 proved to be a decisive event in the life of our family. I can still picture the six of us, my mother, two brothers, two sisters and myself, seated around the kitchen table making a resolution never to miss an assembly if at all possible to attend, and to enter the pioneer service as soon as we could, even one by one.
Shortly thereafter my two brothers were able to take this forward step in the ministry. When my turn came, a family automobile accident heaped an unexpected financial burden upon us. My six months of special secular work stretched to eighteen months. By that time I was fed up with the old world. Helping manage my father’s ice-cream parlor meant associating, working and talking with people that had little hope for the future, persons that spent endless hours in small talk and gossip, enjoying dirty stories and immoral lives, laughing at honesty. New Year’s Day in 1943 meant the first day of pioneer work for me. As time passed, bad weather, mean dogs, fanatical people, indifference to the Bible truths all became part of the daily ministry. Nonetheless, we had many happy experiences. Overshadowing everything else, however, was the simple joy of doing what was right.
While gas was rationed we worked rural areas on bicycles, returning home at night tired out. But food and rest made the next day another day full of possibilities. One day when my partner in the service was sick I dutifully went alone into the country. That evening I pedaled home thrilled with the day’s preaching, having placed eight bound books.
The announcement regarding the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead stirred the minds of numberless pioneers, including mine. It looked as if I had a long way to go before being privileged to be called there. Reflecting on my previous two years of pioneer service, I felt that I could have done better. There was so much to do besides witnessing. The house had to be painted, then the roof needed shingles, and storm windows had to be fitted. Then too, secular work took time. A mature brother encouraged me to write the Society, frankly stating my situation, why I was unable to surpass the quota and promising that, if given the opportunity, I would go to any assignment the Society might choose to send me. The Society’s reply included an application to enter special pioneer service.
Shortly thereafter I found myself living in a trailer, three miles from where I had lived for twenty-two years. In short order my family had sold the house and most of the furniture, bought a trailer and came with me pioneering. Our group consisted of my mother, one brother and two sisters. Equipment included two cars and a trailer paid for. Financial standing: no money. Life would be full of question marks!
Five months in special publisher activity, then on to Gilead as a student of the sixth class. In school there was no time to think about past or future, only the present. Our minds were geared to take in the extensive courses. Institution life was rigorous, but we did not want it to be different. How to study and how to follow instructions were important points we took with us as we sallied forth in all directions after graduation.
My assignment took me to the Boston area as servant to the brethren. At that time the trend of opinion among some Witnesses was that Gilead graduates were miracle men that had learned in five months most of what there was to know. Why, they could prepare an hour’s lecture on the spur of the moment, couldn’t they? Some of the first congregations I served had servants that were in the truth when I was born. Although I felt pretty green at first, I soon adjusted myself to my new assignment.
One day I opened an envelope from the President’s office and there it was—a foreign assignment in South America. Following the international assembly in Cleveland in 1946 I went to Bethel to soak up, in a month’s time, all the information I could regarding office procedure. My family came to New York to say good-by, and before I knew it I was on the train headed toward Miami, and two days later I was flying over the Caribbean to Colombia. Twelve hours after departure from Miami we landed at Bogotá, our destination. What was my first impression? Frankly, it was a radical change. In a few hours we had been lifted out of one life and set down in a different world, among a strange race, speaking a tongue we could not understand. A drizzling rain fell on the city and its colorless inhabitants as we rode to the missionary home.
My experience has been that life as a missionary is not easy. Results are forthcoming only by hard work, combined with much patience with a people that have not had the opportunity to read the Bible. Neither have they been accustomed to organization. However, an unspeakable joy comes from witnessing to a person that has never heard of Jehovah’s witnesses and then studying with him and seeing him advance, dedicate himself and become a mature publisher. Learning to speak Spanish and learning to understand the people have been important factors in enjoying the missionary work. Also, we have tried always to keep in mind that we are trying to teach people to live the New World way, not the North American way.
One thing that has greatly aided me is my mother’s attitude. Although she became badly crippled with arthritis after my departure from the States, she has never asked me to come home to be with her. She realizes that Gilead graduates should be where they were trained to work—in far-flung parts of the globe.
Thirteen years have passed since my life as a missionary began. Can I sincerely recommend it to others? My answer is best illustrated from the experience I had when I returned to the States in 1950, after an absence of over three years. Would I want to stay there? Before two months had gone by I was anxious to get back to my assignment in Colombia. It has been thrilling to do circuit and district work in this country, to witness the baptism of over a hundred persons at one time and to see the publishers’ ranks swell from thirty to over 1,400 in a few rapidly passing years.
In 1952 I married a Gilead graduate, and after seven years of married life we both are happily pursuing our purpose in life together as missionaries. After five years without returning to the States we were able to attend the Divine Will International Assembly in New York in 1958. How can one describe that glorious event in a few words? It certainly surpassed our expectations. The talks were stirring, the counsel forceful. The gigantic plans for expansion seemed wonderfully logical. I was confident that this good news of God’s established kingdom would be preached all around the world with Jehovah’s spirit upon us.
Visiting relatives and seeing old friends was soon over and it was time to return to our missionary assignment. We were happy to bring along with us a family of three to serve where the need is great. On hand to meet us at the airport were carloads of our Colombian brothers. What a joyful homecoming!
A new privilege is now mine—that of serving as zone servant for the West Indian Zone, visiting branch offices and missionary homes and making a report to the President’s office on just what is happening in this part of the world.
As I think about the many wonderful years that have passed in the full-time ministry as a pioneer and as a missionary, it would seem strange to think about any other way of life. Home is where you make it. By Jehovah’s grace we are glad to continue in this service in a land where there is a tremendous amount of work to be done. We know that our joy comes from doing what is right, not just thinking about it. After all, learning to live forever is a wonderful thing, and since 1943, when I began pioneer service, I surely have learned that “life does not result from the things [one] possesses.”—Luke 12:15.
Questions From Readers
● Is it necessary for a sister to cover her head when praying in the presence of a dedicated brother not her husband? Is it necessary for her to do so when conducting a Bible study under such a circumstance, as in the presence of a servant of the congregation who is training her or when the circuit servant accompanies her?—M. S., U.S.A.
There appears to be no reason why a dedicated woman should ever lead in prayer in the presence of adult dedicated males. (1 Cor. 11:3) At the Brooklyn Bethel home no sisters are ever called on to lead the family in prayer. So long as an adult dedicated male is present, in the congregation or in the home, he should represent the rest in petition to Jehovah God. If an undedicated husband wishes his wife to lead in audible prayer, she may do so, but then out of respect for his headship she should have her head covered. (1 Cor. 11:5, 10) When the husband is absent but dedicated male minors, sons, are present, the mother should also have her head covered if she prays. At such times it would be at her discretion either to offer the prayer herself or ask one of her dedicated sons to offer it. But never should an unbaptized son represent dedicated members of the family in prayer. When only dedicated mother and dedicated daughters are present in the home, the mother may call on one of her dedicated daughters to pray if she so desires. In such cases none need cover her head.
There may be instances, however, when it is advisable for a sister to conduct a home Bible