Sunday, December 20, 2009

1st Graduating Class of Gilead Missionary School

After reading today's text, I did some research about the early days of missionary training and the first classes to graduate from The Watchtower Bible School of Gilead. There's alot of interesting experiences which I wanna post, but I'll start off with the very first class to attend in 1943...

(photo on pg 522 of the JW Proclaimers book)
(the following info is from chapter 23 of the JW Proclaimers book, pgs 521-525)

Zealous activity of missionaries who are willing to serve wherever they are needed has been an important factor in the global proclamation of God’s Kingdom. Long before the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society established a school for the purpose, missionaries were being sent to other lands. The Society’s first president, C. T. Russell, recognized the need for qualified people to initiate and take the lead in preaching the good news in foreign fields . . . However, in 1942 plans took shape for a school with a course specially designed to train both men and women who were willing to undertake such missionary service wherever they were needed in the global field.

Gilead School
In the midst of world war, it may have seemed impractical from a human standpoint to plan for expansion of Kingdom-preaching activities in foreign fields. Yet, in September 1942, with reliance on Jehovah, the directors of two of the principal legal corporations used by Jehovah’s Witnesses approved the proposal by N. H. Knorr for establishment of a school designed to train missionaries and others for specialized service. It was to be called the Watchtower Bible College of Gilead. Later that name was changed to the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead. No tuition was to be charged, and students would be housed and fed at the expense of the Society for the period of their training.

Among those who were invited to help outline the course of study was Albert D. Schroeder, who had already gained much experience in the Service Department at the Society’s headquarters in Brooklyn and as the Society’s branch overseer in Britain. His positive outlook, the way in which he gave of himself, and his warm interest in the students endeared him to those he taught during the 17 years that he served as registrar and as an instructor in the school. In 1974 he became a member of the Governing Body, and the following year he was assigned to serve on its Teaching Committee.

Brother Schroeder and his fellow instructors (Maxwell Friend, Eduardo Keller, and Victor Blackwell) outlined a five-month study course that emphasized study of the Bible itself and theocratic organization, also Bible doctrines, public speaking, field ministry, missionary service, religious history, divine law, how to deal with government officials, international law, keeping records, and a foreign language. Modifications in the curriculum have taken place over the years, but study of the Bible itself and the importance of the evangelizing work have always held first place. The aim of the course is to strengthen the faith of the students, to help them to develop the spiritual qualities needed to meet successfully the challenges of missionary service. Emphasis has been placed on the importance of total reliance on Jehovah and loyalty to him. (Psalm 146:1-6; Proverbs 3:5, 6; Ephesians 4:24) Students are not given pat answers to everything but are trained in research and are helped to appreciate why Jehovah’s Witnesses believe as they do and why they adhere to certain ways of doing things. They learn to discern principles with which they can work. Thus a foundation is laid for further growth.
Invitations to prospective students for the first class were sent out on December 14, 1942. It was mid-winter when the 100 students making up that class enrolled at the school facilities located in upstate New York, at South Lansing. They were willing, eager, and somewhat nervous. Although class studies were the immediate concern, they could not help but wonder where in the world field they would be sent after graduation. In a discourse to that first class on February 1, 1943, the opening day of school, Brother Knorr said:

“You are being given further preparation for work similar to that of the apostle Paul, Mark, Timothy, and others who traveled to all parts of the Roman Empire proclaiming the message of the Kingdom. They had to be fortified with the Word of God. They had to have a clear knowledge of His purposes. In many places they had to stand alone against the high and mighty of this world. Your portion may be the same; and God will be your strength thereunto.

“There are many places where the witness concerning the Kingdom has not been given to a great extent. The people living in these places are in darkness, held there by religion. In some of these countries where there are a few Witnesses it is noted that the people of good-will hear readily and would associate themselves with the Lord’s organization, if instructed properly. There must be hundreds and thousands more that could be reached if there were more laborers in the field. By the Lord’s grace, there will be more.

“It is NOT the purpose of this college to equip you to be ordained ministers. You are ministers already and have been active in the ministry for years . . . The course of study at the college is for the exclusive purpose of preparing you to be more able ministers in the territories to which you go. . . .

“Your principal work is that of preaching the gospel of the Kingdom from house to house as did Jesus and the apostles. When you shall have found a hearing ear, arrange for a back-call, start a home study, and organize a company [congregation] of all suchlike ones in a city or town. Not only will it be your good pleasure to organize a company, but you must help them to understand the Word, strengthen them, address them from time to time, aid them in their service meetings and their organization. When they are strong and can go on their own and take over the territory, you can depart to some other city to proclaim the Kingdom. From time to time it may be necessary for you to return to build them up in the most holy faith and straighten them out in the doctrine; so your work will be that of looking after the Lord’s ‘other sheep’, and not forsaking them. (John 10:16) Your real work is to help the people of good-will. You will have to use initiative, but looking to God’s guidance.”*

Five months later the members of that first class completed their specialized training. Visas were obtained, travel arrangements were made, and they began to move out to nine Latin-American lands. Three months after their graduation, the first Gilead-trained missionaries to leave the United States were on their way to Cuba. By 1992, over 6,500 students from more than 110 countries had been trained and had thereafter served in well over 200 lands and island groups.

Right down to the time of his death 34 years after the inauguration of Gilead School, Brother Knorr demonstrated keen personal interest in the work of the missionaries. Each school term, he would visit the current class a number of times if at all possible, giving lectures and taking along with him other members of the headquarters staff to speak to the students. After the graduates of Gilead began their service abroad, he personally visited the missionary groups, helped them to work out problems, and gave them needed encouragement. As the number of missionary groups multiplied, he arranged for other well-qualified brothers to make such visits too, so that all the missionaries, no matter where they were serving, would receive regular personal attention.

The Watchtower, February 15th, 1943, pp. 60-64