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“From Boys in the Hood to the Brotherhood”
“My life was going from bad to worse”- w7/1/15 p.10
Experience of Stephen Monroe McDowell
Year born: 1952
Country of origin: United States
History: Street thug, violent temper
w7/1/15 p.10 article for the public is the Tip of the Iceberg, this slightly abridged version gives the depth of it all.
SO MANY FRIENDS HAVE CALLED, COMMENTED, WROTE AND ASKED FOR MORE DETAILS. SO DON’T BE OFFENDED CAUSE I DIDN’T BEND IT. HERE IT IS, THE NAKED TRUTH, HOW I WAS IN MY YOUTH. “THANK YOU AGAIN JEHOVAH (GAL.2:20, 21)”.
In my last year of high school in Los Angeles, California, the neighborhood of Washington High School, where the notorious gang the CRIPS became popular around the 1970s. My significant encounter with the gang happened this way. At the age of 18, I went to a house party right across from the hi gh school. I caught the attention of one young lady who would only dance with me, and after we left the party, just outside I was surrounded by members of the Notorious Crips Gang. One of the larger size gang members confronted me to fight over her, with the others just waiting to jump in and beat me down. I said to myself “I know I’m going to die tonight. I’m surrounded with no way out”. Actually, I was not supposed to live even to become 5 years old. Let me explain what I’m talking about before I continue.
MY DEATH ORIENTED PAST
First I was expected to die at 6 months old back in 1952 but survived to become the poster boy for the “Community Chest Charity Organization. I was diagnosed to die within 6 months with a Polyp Brain Tumor constantly growing inside my head. My parents being a poor family and my Mother very religious gave me over to medical science, to experimental surgery, entering the brain through the nasal cavity. It was a successful operation and put into the Journal of Medical History as a first of it’s kind. Then I became the Poster Boy for the American Community Chest Charity Organization. Yet my family received no additional benefits.
Excerpt: JET Magazine- December 1952
The next two years were crucial as I also contracted meningitis twice.
Throughout my childhood until 13 years old I couldn’t play rough like most children. Just to play-wrestle with my father caused nose bleeding, even marching in the Sun at the May Day Children’s Parade caused nose bleeds again. Finally in the 7th grade it was required that all had to strip into gym clothes but due to my delicate nose cavity, I could not participate in contact sports. But one day the kids were playing soccer and I just had to play. It provoked a profuse nose bleed that would not stop. I was rushed to the hospital, and one of the same Doctors that did my 1952 surgery was on duty.
Medical technology had advanced, so now they stopped, cauterized, and sealed the brain surgery through the nasal cavity. Now I became a regular neighborhood teen romping with my 3 brothers and 2 sisters and the neighborhood children. I was born and raised in intercity Los Angeles, California, in areas infamous for their street gangs and drugs. My parents had six children, of whom I am the second. Like most intercity families, we were low income family, having to rent homes and moved some 8 times by the time I was 11 years old. That was when my parents bought us a middle class 4 bedroom home in a white neighborhood. My Mother arranged for us teenagers to attend the more affluent white schools just out of our neighborhood.
Again my Mother being very religious brought us up as Protestants in the Church of the Living God. We learned basic doctrines in Vacation Bible School. Some of us loved being in the Choir visiting other evangelist churches and competing in singing. Still during the rest of the week, back in the neighborhood we were bad. Socially smoking, experimenting with drugs and we used our church offering money from my Mother to buy candy after church. I thought it was for this reason that when the people at church started jumping up and shouting and receiving the supposed “holy ghost” it didn’t happen to us kids or to my Mother. So now I’m wondering what other churches were like. I went regularly with my friend Buster to the Catholic Church, but it was too short, boring, and odd hearing Latin spoken, they also did weird signs and they hardly ever used the Bible!
BECOMING ONE OF THE BOYS IN OUR HOOD
Well it was now time to go to high school and my Mother had us using a friend’s address so we could attend the White majority school (Morningside) in Inglewood instead of the neighborhood Blacks High Schools of Los Angeles. But even there, I got involved with drugs, immorality and profane language which I hide from my parents (Prov.13:20).
I was a running back on the 2nd football team. Competing with my older brother Jimmy for that position until I was hit by a truck riding my bike and that broke two ribs and caused a knee injury. Well that ended my hopes to be known as a high school sports figure. The next year we were transferred to the almost all Black, Washington High School because they discovered our true address living out of the white school district. Now we were going to high school with the teens of our own neighborhood (boys in the hood) which meant proving yourself. Boxing matches in back yards, street tackle football against various other neighborhoods, which resulting in fights. Now it was Marijuana, Red Devils (amphetamines) and sniffing airplane model glue in a bag. It was still the Hippy Era and we converted our garage into a recreation den. Painted the walls and ceiling black and put up psychedelic black light posters that glowed in the dark with “black florencent lights”. That became the social hangout spot.
The depth of our sex lives was unknown to our parents, that we would bring some of the neighborhood girls back room there, and also use it to get high. Some weekends with our parents permission we had 25-50 cent entrance parties with some 50 to over 100 school students partying there. One night it got out of hand so that my Mother came out, shoot off her gun and sent everybody running homeward bound. It was like a club house for us Guys in the Hood, where we talked about life, cars, teenage problems and our adventures with girls, getting high, stealing meat, liquor and food, even how easily we broke into the supermarket at night. Growing up, I had a quick and violent temper. In my neighborhood, street fighting was a way of life. I was quiet and avoided brawls. But when I fought, I did not fight fair. I would use anything as a weapon to win. It was mean but that was how I was seen. I even attacked my older brother with an iron skillet, missed him and broke it on the metal bed frame. My parents stopped me from choking one of my brothers to death during a fit of anger. But one time I was losing a fight and my one year younger sister Connie jumped in on his back, biting him to help me out. From then on, her reputation became well known. What I learned at church did not help me. I used to justify my temper saying: “Vengeance is the Lord’s and I’m his instrument!”
Through it all, I was a good student in high school even through the Black Awareness Days. The Black Panthers, a political violent group that fought for our civil rights and were very influential then in the late 1960s and thus I became more prejudice. I became a member of the Black Student Union that defended the same causes during the Black Pride/Civil Rights Movement which made me racist against White.
My violent nature was even motivated to the extent that I even shared in hate crimes. For example, when we went to the movies and they played southern states movies with acts against blacks and slaves, incensed by these injustices, we would beat up white kids right there in the theater and go roving in nearby white neighborhoods looking for more to beat up. I was becoming just what my mother didn’t want, up to no good growing in my own neighborhood, and she didn’t know it, that my life was going from bad to worse (1Cor.15:33). My older brother Jimmy was always getting caught in wrongdoing. He had gone to jail a number of times, so my father told him “this time I’m going to put you in jail or you go to the Army”. My brother chose the Army and didn’t’ last there very long before being discharged. I was the 2nd oldest child of six and my Mother’s hopes were in me to get a university education. I graduated with As and one B+ yet decided to take a year off schooling before entering college. Still By my late teens my brothers and I had been in trouble with the authorities and lead lives of hoodlums. Two of the times I went to jail was because of an attack on Whites that harassed my younger brother. I put one in the hospital by hitting him in the head with my skateboard and he fell into the steel bumper of a car. I grabbed my skateboard and took off. Another time my attack dog Lady jumped in and ripped up the chest of another enemy I was fighting with. I thought I got away both times, but later the police came to my school and arrested me right there in the classrooms. And my parents had to pay the bills and damages and thus had me take my youngest brother back and forth to Karate School so as to defend himself. Again that violent spirit was promoted as a way of life.
Well in 1970 I graduated from High School, thinking more maturely now, I had a secular job but still smoked socially marijuana and cigarettes and was sexually active .
For that reason I kept going to neighborhood parties, and there I received the romantic interest of one of the gang’s neighborhood girls and now found myself surrounded by the gang of Crips. This takes us back to my perilous situation that was mentioned in the beginning. Well I got into my stance to fight and defend myself, but knew the rest of the gang would help him beat me down. I already knew of their bad reputation. Then all of a sudden, through the crowd a smaller figure, pushed this big black guy in the chest and said “Leave him alone! That’s my brother”! It was my younger brother, 16 year old WAM, that saved me. He was with the Crips Gang and I didn’t even know it, and from then on the word was “That’s Lil WAMs brother” meaning I’m untouchable. Weekend parties were something regular in our lives thus it was in this following way that I came in contact with Jehovah’s Witnesses and “The Truth”. On another night a group of us from Our Hood were getting ready to go to a late night house party. My good friend Richard who lived up the street was raised around the Truth (not baptized), his parents being Witnesses but he wanted to associate and party with us, the neighborhood crew. He wanted to go to the party with us at 9PM that night so I went with him to ask his Father for permission. His Father tried to reason with him about what if Armageddon catches you there? I curiously asked him, “What is this Armageddon stuff”? He briefly explained then said to his son, “Now you decide for yourself.” Well, we went to the party anyway, returning after 4am that morning. Now his Father became more firm with him about attending all their Witness meetings. So I was invited to my 1st meeting of Jehovah’s Witnesses, in nearby Inglewood, CA in the HOLLYPARK Congregation of 8 Nationalities. I wanted to dress to impress so I wore my over the collar open shirt, my deep brown leather coat and a pair of slacks. But I was the one who got impressed. Wow! What harmony. From the very start I could tell how different the Witnesses were. I was so impressed that everybody had and used the Bible. Even young people gave brief talks (1Cor. 14:24, 25). After the meeting, I asked bible questions for a ½ hour or so but when asked, I didn’t want a personal Bible study. I was used to going to church and during the week living life my way. Later I asked our pastor about things I was learning and his answer was “Don’t question it, have faith, just believe.” Now I began comparing our beliefs with that which the Witnesses were showing me, what the Bible really teaches. I was really impressed that God had a name JEHOVAH that we didn’t use in our Church. I argued that point with different Pastors that we should appreciate the name of the one who is our “grand benefactor” (Ps.83:18, 1John 4:10). Then I finally stopped going to Church. Yet at the time, this knowledge didn’t affect my conduct. I was still doing what was wrong and my violent spirit was still strong.
HOW THE BIBLE CHANGED MY LIFE
Now I was attending all weekly meetings for 3 months without a formal Bible study. I was still immoral and smoking marijuana. Then something happened to make me serious about the Truth. On the Monday night of the Congregation Book Study there was also a Soul Music Concert at the Hollywood Palladium. For some reason that day, I was not in contact with my friend Richard and rather than going to the Congregation Book Study that night he went to the Hollywood Concert, whereas I attended the Congregation Book Study with his family. The next day my friend informed me that at the Concert he threw the first blow and then the rest of the gang members joined in and beat the young man to death. Why did they do it? Simple because he didn’t give them his leather coat when they asked for it. That following night the police came and took my friend to jail for murder along with other members of the Crips. At the trial they laughed at their accomplishment of taking a life. The majority were given life sentences, they showed no remorse (Prov.24:1, 2). Richard, the Witness son, being only 17 years old, only served a one year sentence, because he was the son of an internationally famous jazz saxophonist Big “J” McNeely who was also a Jehovah Witness. His father arranged for him to study while in Prison. After he left prison he never decided to pursue the Truth (Prov.10:9). That murder made me seriously reflect on myself. At the time I didn’t have real spirituality. Now, what’s the point? If I had known they were going to The Concert that day I would have gone also. I was 18 years old and would have received the life sentence along with the rest. I thought, “Oh how Jehovah had protected me. Being at the Witness Meeting saved my life”. Now I accepted the Bible Study Program and studied twice a week with Bro. Cecil McNeely, my friend’s father. I guess to him, it was like being a son with me readily accepting the Truth.
I always had some of my younger brothers and sisters or cousins who lived with us attending the meetings with me and there were 10 -14 of us young ones living in our home.
1968 MCDOWELL/BROWN DOZEN AT DISNEYLAND.
Well I stopped smoking, ended my immoral life and stopped decorating houses for false religion’s Christmas which paid me hundreds of dollars. Sadly though I wanted to keep smoking “Weed” (marijuana). I actually prayed to God to forgive me, even doing so out loud. After reading the account of Moses at the Burning Bush, I asked God for a sign to forgive me for smoking weed which I thought was my only sin left (Ex.3:3, 4). One night while my fleshly brothers and others were in our converted den garage getting high and then I wanted to join them. I first stood outside in the driveway praying for forgiveness and then before I went in, a crack appeared in the ground, what I imagined to be the bright colorful image of Jesus appeared, then I dropped to my knees and it told me I was forgiven, then it put a sparkling, shimmering necklace over my neck, then smiled and then he and the necklace broke up and disappeared. I ran into where my brothers were and told them. “Hey, I spoke to God”. They informed me that they too had heard our voices. When I told the Witnesses of my experience, they explained and helped me to see the connection between drugs and spiritism and the Demons trying to fool me (Rev. 20:8). After a couple of more experiences with the demons holding me down in my bed, by applying Bible counsel I broke free, recognizing that you can’t partake of Jehovah’s table and the table of the demons.
MY FIGHT TO BE IN THE BROTHERHOOD
Now I’m more serious about changing my life. Now I no longer wanted to get a superior education as my mother hoped and expected and especially not go because I was waiting for the “End” to come soon. It was now 1972 and my Mother had threatened to go to the Kingdom Hall to curse out the brothers for changing me. It all came to a head within three months of my studying. After I returned home from a meeting one night, my mother grabbed me by the collar with a one foot Butcher’s knife in her hand, put it in in my face and began to curse me and tell me how no good I was, failing in her expectations for me. That night she kicked me out of the house. Her and my father were already having problems, he was an occasional wife beater so my Father said nothing. He just thought I was interested in some girl in the religion at that Kingdom Hall. I temporarily moved far away from the congregation and thus studied out there irregularly. Finally I rented my apartment near the original Kingdom Hall and started studying regularly with a young teenage brother Benny Harris and started getting what I needed, good association with young ones in the congregation.
As I grew closer to the congregation I saw situations among Jehovah’s Witnesses that astounded me. For example, one white brother had to travel abroad for a time and left his children in the care of other races even blacks. Also, a white Sister’s Family took into their home a black youth that needed a place to live, although she had 4 children at home, one a teenage daughter who was the sister of the young Witness Benny that gave me bible classes.
Things like these proved to me that Jehovah’s Witnesses fit the description that Jesus gave at John 13:35: “By this all will know that you are my disciples if you have love among yourselves”. Unlike in my neighborhood, I knew I had found a true brotherhood. And I saw that the Witnesses were united, they all preached God’s Kingdom from house to house, working together to obey Jesus’ command to, “Go, therefore, and make disciples.”—Matthew 24:14; 28:19. I soon became a bold publisher too, getting in 40-70 hours a month in the ministry. But when I joined the Theocratic Ministry School, I was so nervous that in my first talk I turned pale and was dripping sweat before I left the platform. During my second bible reading, everything went black, a long pause in the reading, I went pale and again my clothes were soaked in sweat, dazed but I finished the reading. The congregation servant (elder) at the time, Bro. Wiesenberger a German Brother, stern but caring, tried to help me. Using the “Qualified to be Ministers” Book shared that 1. “The friends in the rows are not your foes.” 2. Concentrate on the information, 3. pray first and always on your side is 4. good preparation. I had a tendency to rhyme so I never forgot what he said. Over the years I still have had problems with my nerves during congregation public speaking. On occasions I have fainted, spoke confused, fell out and once took the podium down with me to the floor, even hospitalized twice. To date I have to rely heavily on Jehovah’s help (like the Apostle Paul said, “…when I am weak I am strong”.) 2Cor. 12:9. Another area, in which the Brothers had to help me some, is that I was popular with the girls growing up around the Truth, so I was warned about the weaker ones (2Tim. 2:22). Only after accepting the needed counsel and discipline did I feel good in my relationship with Jehovah.
Now here I was now doing great in the Truth, living on my own, but still I wasn’t baptized after studying three books in two years.That goal was put before me and on October 31, 1973: “I dedicated my life to Jehovah and was baptized January 5th, 1974 at the Los Angeles Leimert Assembly Hall” and my entire unbelieving Family attended even my opposing violent Mother.
In those days many of us thought the end of the world was right on us. I decided to become a Pioneer Minister from then until the end. I worked a rotating shift job that caused me to miss some meetings and it bothered my conscience. I had $5,000.00 saved up to buy with cash, my new car (costume Black Pontiac Firebird) after my $500.00 down payment to special order it. I decided to lose, forfeit the down payment, not buy the car, and to use that money to be a Regular Pioneer Minister until Armageddon (Mark 13:10; Ps. 89:1). I could budget well and my furnished apartment was just $125.00 monthly and I didn’t eat much. I figured my $$$ could last until 1975, the calculated end of man’s 6000 years of existence. So I quit a great job at B.F. Goodrich Chemical Co, started 75 hour Auxiliary Pioneering, and by the Fall I was a 100 hour Regular Pioneer Minister. Anyway during my ministry one day, I was taken on a return visit and I received a shock. There was a Brother, Ken Ward who wanted to give me his return visit that he couldn’t study with. When we went into the student’s apartment I got my shock. It was one of the prison thug dropouts from my High School, one of my enemies in School. His family used to fight with my friend’s family that lived next door to them and we watched wanting to help fight against them. On the return visit I just kept silent during the visit but still in the end, I accepted to study the Bible with him. Wow! How Jehovah was refining me. Without hesitation, I taught him to read better, learn Bible Truth, and then get an apartment living with another Bible student of mine. They Michael Lewis and Henry Tally were both baptized shortly thereafter.
After my Grandfather Charlie McDowell was shot and killed in 1975, I went to live with and take care of my Grandmother RENA in Richland Farms, Compton, CA.
There I saw that I needed to keep working on my temper. My changing took a lot of effort and sincere prayer. I had to ‘make my mind over’ to not only act peaceably, but to really see it as the best way of life. (Romans 12:2) I would later have many tests to show those needed changes. For example, while in the Ministry on one occasion I chased after a thief who had just stole the stereo from my car. As I got closer to him he dropped the radio and kept running. When I related to the others how I got my radio back, one of the congregation elders Jaime asked me, “Stephen, what would you have done if you had caught up with the thief?” That question motivated me to continue working at being peaceable. Sadly years later, I caught someone else stealing my new stereo from the car. I chased him down, tackled him football style and commenced beating him with a tennis racket I had grabbed from my house, until my conscience kicked in and condemned me. “What if someone saw me and knows I’m a Witness? What if he had had a knife or worse a gun?” Oh how I meditated on my fight between the mind and the flesh as described by Paul at Ro.7:21-25.
My Father now divorced from Moms started studying and after a couple of months admitted he wasn’t ready to live up to Bible standards. After giving up my Job and my Firebird muscle car to preach the Fireword, I thus continued as a Full Time Minister there in Compton.
I was interviewed at the Circuit Assembly about choosing my Meetings over my Job and Pioneering the Fireword over the fast and furious Firebird and was soon afterward appointed as a Ministerial Servant. Then I gave my first 3 part Public Bible Talk Symposium (55min.) and finally this time, thanks to Jehovah, I was able to control my nervousness.
Our then Circuit Overseer Bro. Robert P. Johnson recommended I think about Bethel Service (2Tim. 2:22). Interestingly that same year I was privileged to take a Kavelin Tour to Bethel, New York and WT Farms. I was so impressed with the organization of the Organization.
“My my my I thought, Oh what a privilege it would be to live and work here for Jehovah” (ECC. 12:1)
Well, my application was accepted in 5 weeks. There I lived in a 3 man room and my first roommates were white.
Honestly, with these two roommates of mine, we got along just fine. OK, imagine me months later in a room full of black and white Bethelites together watching “Roots” (The Slave Movie). Now I’m calm, collective, laughing at my racist past, seeing my changes that I hope will last. Wow Stevie! Look how Jehovah is refining you!
It was only then that I began communicating more regularly with my estranged Mother. After divorcing my father she became the girlfriend of the famous Boxer Ken Norton who won the Championship Title from Mohammed Alli. Accompanying him to New York she came to visit me and toured Brooklyn Bethel. She was impressed after visiting our World Headquarters and thus had a more positive attitude toward me and the Truth. Previous to this, her older Sister Fannie had become a Witness and recently her younger brother Eddie. Other good influences on her.
My first year I worked in the Factory Job Press cutting deluxe bibles, magazines, songbooks and paper for the presses. A white brother also from California came to Bethel the same day as myself and 6 others. The two of us were in the same New Bethelite Class (New Boys), worked in Bethel on the same jobs, many times just the two of us always together for the first year. Mark Johnson became another very dear friend, one I always looked up when visiting or doing temporary work at NY Bethel in later years.
The following year my best friend Benny Harris that studied with me also came to Bethel.
Later that same year Michael Lewis and Henry Tally, both my Bible students also became Bethelites. Yes! One of them Michael was the one that was my high school enemy that became a Witness, now my dear friend comes to Bethel and we became roommates. Room 309, 124 Columbia Hts, Brooklyn, New York, USA.
Now in my 2nd year I worked on the freight elevators pulling crates and equipment between all four factory buildings, thus coming to know many brothers all over the Factory who are still serving faithfully at Bethel and around the world.
Being a Bethelite was an incomparable privilege for increased spirituality: New Boy Talks and Training, attending the original 1976 Pioneer School. Also being in the same Watchtower Study group with Nathan H. Knorr, and in close association with the then 18 Governing Body members even going to some their rooms.
Most memorable was on Wednesday nights when Fred Franz, Bro. Karl Klein, George Ganges and other G. B. Members would sit in the hot rock Bethel Sauna surrounded by us young Bethelites rotating in and out of the heat to get counsel, hear stories, experiences, and get our curious questions answered by these spiritual giants, heavy weights. Add to that, entrance to all Annual Meetings and Gilead Missionary Graduations. Those were some of the best years of single life is what I always tell my wife.
What a happy humbling surprise for me too, to be at Bethel when George and Beverly Carr also from Compton, CA went through the 62nd Class of Gilead Missionary School and both Beverly and I were worldly graduating classmates back in Washington High School 1970.
“You have come a long way Sister!” I’m in Bethel but she’s going to Liberia, Africa. I had heard about the previous persecution there. Now I’m seeing their Faith in action by going there.
All I had to do was go uptown on two subways and a bus, about an hour and a half to New York’s infamous South Bronx. Benny my 2nd Bible Teacher and Iwere assigned to Claremont Park Cong. with the then Bethel Elder Natheer Salih, who was the Zone Visit traveling companion of Bro. Fred W. Franz and has been Bethelite since 19 years old.
In the Bronx, we always traveled in twos or more for protection and the loving local friends took good care of us, even taking us HOME to Bethel many late nights after the Meetings. I had bible studies up there and even Auxiliary Pioneered as a Bethelite. I have always loved the ministry.
Near the end of my 2rd year at Bethel I was switched to Job Press Printing on the smaller presses and the famous Heidelberg during the infancy of the MEPPS Computer Translation development.
Can anything good come STRAIGHT OUT OF COMPTON? YES!!!
SOUTHERN CALIF. COMPTON BETHELITES ANNUAL RETURN FOR THE SUMMER DISTRICT CONVENTIONS AT DODGER STADIUM (1977).
IT IS VACATION TIME. QUALITY TIME WITH FAMILY, FRIENDS AND TOURING THE SITES.
Photo below Newspaper Article “SACRED SERVICE” DISTRICT CONVENTION, HOLLYWOOD RACE TRACK, INGLEWOOD, CA. 1978.
Always returned to Calif. with many Bethelites wanting to visit S. Calif. Leaving cold, or muggy New York City to have some fun in the California Sun.
Then by the Fall of 1978, back in Los Angeles my Mother told me that she was sick and wanted my help and that she had accepted a Bible Study with Jehovah’s Witnesses. So reluctantly and after consultation with various Bethel Overseers, I left Bethel to continue my Pioneer Minister Service back in Los Angeles, CA. I had planned on getting married to a Sister I had known before I went to Bethel, even left my car with her, but after getting back, things didn’t quite work out. My roommate Michael Lewis had earlier returned to L.A. after his Bethel Service also planning to get married .
A respected brother said to me after my 7 years being baptized and still single, knowing me well, asked …“Steve, when are you going to stop faking Timothy?” = meaning, acting like you have the gift of singleness. In those days we would say “I’m in the Triple A Club = Available After Armageddon” 🙂.
Well on March 15th of 1980, I got my Dear Lady, “RONI”/Aarhonda J. Henry a new Sister in the Truth, but I’ve known her since our youth (Prov.31:29). As many of you know, that’s another story “The DISCO QUEEN, yes that used to be her scene”:-) She was not yet a Pioneer but the evidence is now clear. Time showed unknown to us that Jehovah would bless our potential together in his sacred service.
We were married the day before a Special Event with members of the Governing Body at L. A. Dodger Stadium. Couldn’t miss it. Just had to be there before going on our Honeymoon to Greece.
Bro, Fred Franz gave the stirring
talk: “Watchman, what of the night?”
The power of our God Jehovah and the Truth was reflected in the sharp contrast between what happen with us and both of our older fleshly brothers. My eldest brother, by coincidence, became Michael’s older brother’s best friend and they even lived together at my Family’s old house in the old neighborhood that I was raised in. They got into an argument and my older brother shot and killed Mike’s brother point blank. Michael’s other brothers still lived around the corner in the neighborhood and were determined to get revenge. “Let’s kill one of the McDowell brothers!”
Once again, I felt that the Truth had saved my life. They knew of me and Michael’s friendship being Jehovah’s Witnesses and never sought me out, but they looked forward to killing one my other 3 brothers. My youngest brother Eric, was away in the Army and my brother who saved me from the Crips Gang could not be found, but my oldest brother Jimmy who they really wanted was found first by the police, then sentenced and served only 5 years upstate in the infamous San Quentin Penitentiary for the murder. Still me and Mike’s friendship was unaffected even when my brother murdered his brother. We are dear friends to the present day (Prov.18:24).
TESTS OF CONFIDENCE IN GOD
Six months after marriage in August of 1980 brought me another employment test. I was on the midnight shift stocking groceries in a supermarket. I had received permission from the night shift supervisor to leave one hour early from my secular job for the two weeks of the Pioneer Service School in order to arrive there on time. When they checked my shortages of hours on the time card, I was fired because he denied he gave me permission. I continued with my Pioneer Minister schedule and my new wife was worried about our apartment’s rent and we had recently brought a new car, so we budgeted, paid our regular bills and kept eating. Soon though, the well was running dry, the money was saying “Good Bye”.
In the 3rd month without working and due to an ex-Bethelites friend’s recommendation, in November, 1980, I applied to be a L.A. City Firefighter. We both got on the Fire Department. Sadly 9 years later after marrying a Sister, Bev t hat I introduced him to and having a child, Jerome Smith ironically died of a brain tumor (reminding me of 1952).
No sooner had I started the Fire Department Academy, the Grocery Union proved my being fired was unjust and I received $5000.00 back pay settlement and they offered me my job back. I smiled and said “No thank you”. Now being on the Fire Department helped me to Pioneer easier because I only worked 10-11 days a month and made a lot more money. But the Los Angeles City Fire Department put its tests on me also. The Academy Graduation requires a program where we (1) marched (2) salute the flag and (3) remove our hats in respect to the chaplain and (4) demonstrate firefighting tactics. In the class of 137 graduates from 180, 3 of us who were Jehovah’s Witnesses decided to support one another and the Truth, by not saluting the flag or giving homage to the Catholic priest.
We were told by superiors that it was required
to become a firefighter. Then we were told we could stay in the restroom until after the commencement exercises started and then participate in the following firefighting demonstrations. On the day of the ceremony they sent in Chief Officers to command us that we had to participate. We explained our stand that we would be satisfied with just having the badge and the job. Being one of their best repellers from tall buildings, dropping 6 floors in one leap, I was selected to show off this training prowess during the graduation. Now they tell us at the last minute ‘It’s do it all or participate in nothing.” We felt like Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego during their Babylonian test. And like them, there was no question on our decision (READ Daniel 3:13).
While the program and demonstrations were taking place a news reporter came into the restroom and questioned us as to why we were not participating in the Graduation Ceremonies. We invented an excuse that would not cause us repercussions later on the job. Still it became an issue later in various Fire Stations when word got out about those non-political, non-patriotic Witnesses. Sadly there was a fourth Witness who compromised at the graduation and revealed it months later. As a “Rookie” in your first year you rotate between three Fire Stations to test you and then receive a permanent position. In my second firehouse, I had a captain that told me “I don’t like Jehovah’s Witnesses, and tell them don’t come to my door.” He tried to arrange low evaluations to get me fired but I passed on to my 3rd Fire Station to become a good firefighter and be permanent on the job. Later even receiving certificates of special merit.
Eventually there were some 36 Brothers on Fire Departments which allowed us to organize and do all the inspections and safety patrols during the District Conventions at Dodger Stadium instead of non-believers dealing with our Friends. And yes, as you can see, we all wore our uniforms.
My wife Roni was not a Pioneer until 1982 yet she wanted to be a Missionary, probably because she had lived in Africa a number of years while single. Because of her prodding me, I accepted going to two missionary meetings at District Conventions and she was not even pioneering yet. Then I told her, “Why go again? you are not even pioneering? We don’t qualify!” Even so the seeds were planted in her heart. I guess JAH was laying the groundwork for our future. My interest was the Circuit Work and only in the USA. Bro. U. Glass of the Gilead Missionary School had given our Circuit Pioneers a Special Program and talked about Missionary life and its challenges, so I decided that day, Roni ain’t no way, there’s is nothing you can say, even if you pray! So then what happens? By then my wife joins me in the Pioneer Work in 1982 and that same year I also was appointed as an Elder and now on our way to qualifying.
We also consulted with the Circuit Overseer for other congregations where we could help. My now Ace Keith Frierson also a Firefighter became a Sub C.O. and we both later taught Pioneer Schools. In our Circuit we had some ex-missionaries from India and Africa who always set up visits by Missionaries and Bethelites to visit our congregation “La Cienega” which thus encouraged us to keep the fulltime ministry first.
Then along came another positive, motivating force in our lives, a very zealous Circuit Overseer that I knew before, Earl McGee with Moselle his wife. With his encouragement our congregation reached 47 Regular Pioneers. Another Congo in the Circuit reached 63 including all elders, servants and their wives 🙂 🙂 We affectionately called him “Earl the Pearl of the Pioneer World”. So all this kept our zeal and love for the ministry alive. We with others from our Circuit chose our associations with Special and Full Time Service as our goals.
In the following years with our dear friends Keith and Nanette Frierson, we would take the lead in groups working unassigned territories in the USA during summer months.
SULFUR SPRINGS, TEXAS
We would rotate the following year going back to do temporary work in Bethel, NY. By both of us being on the Fire Department, it allowed us to yearly rotate serving this way.
TEMPORARY SUMMER BETHELITES – Construction Bklyn, NY
An X Bethelite, Coworker now Circuit Overseer Milan Fabsik called me to teach Pioneer School with him by saying “Steve you are on the Sub List”. The result? Never served a congregation but still encouraged others and was an instructor in Pioneer Service Schools on several occasions. This was another advantage of working for the L.A. City Fire Department; it allowed me to adjust my schedule for all these special theocratic activities. In 1989 the Circuit Overseer invited us to go help out in one of the Hollywood Congregations of Los Angeles.
While serving there, we attended the unforgettable International Assemblies in Poland. Just months before the Berlin Wall fell we saw the great sacrifices of many East European Brothers just to be there and to continue serving Jehovah. We decided then to be willing to make the sacrifice, so applied for Gilead to become Missionaries. The same month November 1990 that we were approved for a home loan, we were also accepted for the 91st Gilead Class to start April 1991. So we just applied Matt. 6:33 and let it be.
My last 5 years as a Firefighter was at the L A X International Airport where we protected the Airport, Hotels and Residences in the area. In that time period we only had one plane crash but multiple false potential crashes.
When I informed my Firehouse I was leaving to be an overseas Missionary many of my fellow firefighters-
(1) Scoffed at the idea of leaving a 10 day a month job, which was then a $50-80,000.00 base pay career.
(2) They knew I was a Witness so others respected and commended my decision knowing I was leaving for an honorable purpose.
My most dangerous moment on the job was not firefighting rather when a car with 10 people inside broadsided, crashed into Fire Station 15’s Ladder Truck. With unbuckled seatbelts, I was launched or thrown 40-50 feet into the air away from the impact and when I came down rolling, happily I had only broken a wrist. Then the car burst into flames as I watched in shock from a distance. I was impressed that my fellow firefighters went right into action although some of them were hurt. They were instinctively trained to save lives and put out fires! Sadly 8 people died as a result of the crash. While at this same Fire Station, I was also with the Paramedic Team that rescued and attended the entertainer Michael Jackson when his hair caught fire filming a PEPSI Commercial. He was still in the Truth then and was encouraged by my words and presence there, knowing I was also his spiritual Brother.
I loved being a firefighter, but just like the bible writer, the apostle Paul, I was willing to give it up, all. For the higher lifesaving Missionary Call (Mark 13:10).
Instructors: Bros. REDFORD & GLASS.
And what we didn’t expect them to do was to have all the students teaching too.
We’re Gilead 91 of 1991. Of the 12 couples, we were assigned as Missionaries to Panama, Central America.
Well “the boy from the Hood is doing good in the Brotherhood”. We thank Jehovah, not just for living now and saving my life, but for giving us the privilege of carrying out his purpose in life to a fuller extent. My dear wife initiated the will and here we are still, in our 24th year of Missionary Service in Panama, Central America and trying to do our part to stay in Jehovah’s heart, to stay in his Love (Jude 21) serving our God above.
Oh, by the way, my Mother who was so violently opposed to me coming into the Truth, was baptized herself 8 years later in 1982,
and became a Regular Pioneer and raised two granddaughters to become baptized servants of Jehovah. She was a faithful, generous and a loving sister until her death from an incurable lung disease in 2000 at 67 years old.
Up until then she came to our Gilead Graduation and has supported us in our Missionary Assignment, even sending a sizable contribution to help build a needed Kingdom Hall here. Even with her sickness, she did not want us to leave our assignment. It stil hurts knowing that the day we were finally going back to visit her she died 😦
Patterson Educational Center being built in the background.
My Mama Emma Lee J.
Then two years later in 2002 I received a letter from my youngest brother Eric Dwayne living in Houston TX. What a surprise! That since my Mother’s death he had been studying and is now a Baptized Witness.
What a surprise. Oh how the tears flowed from my eyes, remembering the little brother that went to the meetings with me some 30 years ago. I thank you Jehovah. As long as this system last there is still hope for others in my family to be changed also. Yes, it’s all through the power of your Word after it has been heard ( Heb. 4:12).
Even years after baptism I have faced a number of potentially explosive situations. At times I have simply walked away from someone who was provoking me, or I kindly avoided the clash in other ways (1 Thessalonians 5:14) Others, including my wife, have commended me on how I handled these situations. Truly, I have even surprised myself, even here in our Missionary assignment. I believe this is testimony to the powerful transforming power of the Bible (Heb. 4:12).
THE BENEFITS OF BIBLE CHANGES
The Bible has given my life purpose, direction, and protection. I have also learned to be truly peaceable. I don’t beat people up any more, I help them heal—heal mentally, morally, and spiritually.
JIM, CONNIE, STEVE, WAM, NISH, EROC*1999 THE MCDOWELL SIBLINGS.
In my family of 6 siblings, 4 have been strung out on crack cocaine. 3 have been imprisoned for murder, drugs or robbery. 2 are now dead due to the urban street life. So growing up in that environment, I feel that I would have been dead due to my quick, violent temper or imprisoned due to gang related association.
Well, I will just finish by saying, “Jehovah you fooled me for my own benefit and to your glory (Jer.20:7a). The end didn’t come when we expected it and through your spirit helping over 80 students getting baptized proves you know what’s best for all”. Many of them are not just faithful in the Truth but Pioneers, Appointed Brothers, Bethelites, Traveling Servants and like us became Missionaries too (Mal. 3:16). Yes Jehovah is good when we are doing like we should. And due to JAH’s loving kindness/loyal love, we have had some incredible privileges & experiences in the incomparable Brotherhood and life saving work.
“ Big J” Brother Cecil McNeely,
my original bible teacher.
On the corner of our O.G. (Original Gang) old neighborhood.
112th & Ruthelen St. LOS ANGELES, CA 90047, U.S.A.
Along with my wife our goal continues to keep enjoying the thrills, being used as long as Jehovah wills (2Tim. 4:5). To remain faithful to be in the New System with no regrets, then welcome back the resurrected ones, especially my Mother Emma Lee B. J. and my wife’s Bible teacher, Sister Rita Johnson and my Aunt Fannie who also died of incurable diseases. They were some of our examples in faithfulness until their end (Hosea 13:4). In my short 40 years around the Truth, I can sincerely say nothing can touch what we have. After 4 decades there have been ups and downs, smiles and frowns but JAH carries us by and by on a spiritual high. It’s the brotherly love and the organization of the Organization that best describes our international congregation (Matt. 25:37-40).
So I’ll just say, “The Brotherhood is Good” and I’m not talking about the one back in the old neighborhood. May our incredible God Jehovah continue to bless and soon send Jesus to end all Satan’s mess (Rev. 22:20)
P.S. DETAIL NEWSLETTERS OF OUR MISSIONARY LIFE CAN BE FOUND IN OUR JUNE 2007 BLOG.
If you studied with Steve or Roni and got BAPTIZED. Please remind us and send us a photo. Thanks. firstname.lastname@example.org
Stephen M. McDowell
- Accumulated 8-14-14
- Abridged 5/1/15
- Revised 7-15-15