A Choice I’ve Never Regretted
THE wind had ripped the sails from the mast, and the current was carrying us relentlessly toward dangerous rocks. It seemed only a matter of minutes until we would be wrecked.
It was December 1937, and we were sailing from Indonesia to Australia on the Lightbearer, a 54-foot [16 m], two-masted yacht. For three years the yacht had been used to carry the message of God’s Kingdom to the islands of Indonesia.
Just when all seemed lost, the mate remembered reading that auxiliary engines are usually more powerful in reverse gear. Quickly he put the engine into reverse, and to our surprise and great relief, it worked! We were pulled from the rocks in the nick of time!
That was over 50 years ago. How did I come to be the only woman aboard the Lightbearer?
Forced to Make a Choice
In 1926, when I was 16, I learned from my grandmother about the Bible’s marvelous promises of a new world. In time I began sharing these good things with others by preaching from house to house near our home in Perth, Australia. My father was incensed because he saw this as a social disgrace. In 1929, the year I was baptized, Dad forced me to make the choice either to cease my witness work or to leave home.
I loved my family very much, and though I knew I would miss my parents, two sisters, and six brothers, I left home and began to sample the joys of pioneering, as the full-time ministry is called.
Rugged Experiences of the 1930’s
For a while I served around Perth, the capital of Western Australia. But then the invitation came to join a group of pioneers covering outlying parts of the country.
At times our life was rough, for we often had no place to sleep except in our tents in the bush. The worldwide financial depression hit Australia in the early 1930’s, and many farmers were finding it difficult to survive. So we would place literature in exchange for eggs, meat, or vegetables.
In 1933 our pioneer group went north. As we moved closer to Australia’s central desert, trees grew smaller and more stunted, and undergrowth gave way to sand. But the compensation was that after even a little rain, there was mile upon mile of wildflowers. On occasion we just had to stop the car and gaze with deep appreciation at the God-given beauty all around us.
To reach some farms, we had to take off our shoes and stockings and wade across rivers and creeks. We would track down people who were shearing, plowing, milking, or cooking. Generally, those we met this way gave us opportunity to talk to them at some length. It was hard for them to resist listening to someone who had just waded across a rising creek to get to their farm!
Marriage and Foreign Fields
In 1935 Clem Deschamp, a young pioneer who had helped open up the preaching work in Java, the most populous island of Indonesia, arrived in Perth on his way to a convention in Sydney. He often shared in the witness work with our pioneer group. I was 25, and he was 29. I thought he was tall, dark, and handsome. After getting to know each other, we thought: ‘What better way to serve Jehovah than together?’ So we decided to marry and then attend the Sydney convention as a married couple. I had never been so happy.
After the convention, we were assigned to pioneer in Melbourne. Later that year, Clem was appointed as traveling overseer for the entire state of Victoria, and we were privileged to visit every congregation in the state. Then we were thrilled when Clem was invited to oversee the preaching work in Indonesia. We sailed up the west coast of Australia, finally arriving in June 1936 at Surabaja, one of Java’s large cities.
On one side of the road were Cadillac cars, men in white suits, and ladies in frills. On the other side were covered wagons pulled by water buffalo—often with the driver asleep in the wagon. There were shapely women with colorful sarongs and men carrying baskets of food and brassware hung from a long stick across their shoulders. They hurried along with their peculiar bouncing yet shuffling steps.
We hailed a taxi and went to the home of a person who had showed interest in the Kingdom message when Clem was previously in Surabaja. A huge, white-robed man who fitted my mental image of Moses greeted us with arms outstretched, just like the patriarchs of old. Such warmth and enthusiasm made me feel truly welcome.
Our host had been a millionaire, but because of a slump in sugar prices, he was having financial difficulties. Despite this, his enthusiasm for life was undaunted, and he had warmly embraced Bible truth. We stayed only a short time with him before moving to the capital, Batavia, now called Djakarta. There Clem took over the office from Frank Rice, who then moved to French Indochina.
A Fascinating Assignment
We learned to witness in Dutch and Malay, preaching in well-to-do houses as well as in clusters of small huts called kampongs. As we witnessed in these villages, sometimes up to 50 children in scant, tattered clothing would follow us from door to door. Great numbers of books were distributed from one end of Java to the other.
The yacht Lightbearer was used in preaching on the many islands of Indonesia, including the Celebes and Borneo. As we entered each small port, the crew would turn on the transcription machine and play one of the lectures of J. F. Rutherford, then president of the Watch Tower Society. Imagine the surprise of isolated Malay villagers on seeing a large yacht arriving in their port and then hearing such a loud, powerful voice coming through the air. A flying saucer could hardly have aroused more interest.
In time, stirred up by the clergy, opposition of the authorities to our work resulted in the closing of all Indonesian ports to the visits of the Lightbearer. So it was decided that the boat should return to Australia. As we were anxious to return to Sydney for the visit of Brother Rutherford, we traveled back on the boat. That is when we were nearly shipwrecked.
Rutherford’s Stimulating Visit
Newspaper headlines flashed: “Jehovah’s Witnesses Refused Sydney Town Hall—Judge Rutherford Not Permitted to Land.” Of course, he did land, but despite strenuous efforts, we were denied the use of Sydney’s Town Hall. Yet it was just as well that permission was denied, since the Town Hall’s 4,000-seating capacity would not have been big enough.
All the unjust opposition against us backfired! Tremendous interest was aroused, so that more than 12,000 people attended the meeting eventually held at the large Sydney Sports Ground. Elevated by the experience, we were anxious to return to our missionary assignment.
Exciting Witnessing in Sumatra
Soon after our return to Indonesia, Clem decided that the island of Sumatra should be witnessed to again. So Clem and I, along with Henry Cockman, another Australian, worked as a team, preaching throughout the mountains and rice fields of the island. We stayed in travelers’ hotels. While some of our lodgings were comfortable, others left much to be desired.
Witnessing in one village that consisted mainly of small Chinese shops, we placed a whole carton of Chinese books in about an hour. The shopkeepers had seen very few white women, and none had ever called at their humble businesses. Whether this was the reason I placed a book at every shop, I don’t know, but I placed so many books that Clem and Henry spent most of their time bringing fresh supplies for me from the car.
In another village I was returning to the car for more literature when I saw that it was surrounded by shouting, gesticulating people. This seemed like trouble. I hurried over, quite concerned, and was surprised to see Clem, standing half in and half out of the car, handing out magazines as fast as he could. Contributions would be handed over the head of one person to another, and then Clem would send back a magazine over heads to the one who had given the coin. It was an amazing scene, people practically scrambling to obtain literature.
One evening we arrived at the little town of Banko. Since the raft crossing the river had shut down for the day, we obtained accommodations at the local guesthouse. The proprietor advised us to shower immediately, which seemed a strange request from such usually polite people. Clem asked if we had time for something to drink first, but the proprietor urged us to shower as soon as we could, since the shower room was outside.
We were beginning to think he had some question about our personal freshness when he explained: “This is tiger country, and most evenings after dark, tigers prowl outside.” We were standing in the reception area where six large tiger skins were on display. The skins were intact, still sporting the huge toothed heads of these magnificent creatures. Needless to say, we showered immediately, and it was probably the shortest shower I have ever taken!
By the time we returned to Djakarta, Hitler had invaded Poland to start World War II. The political tension in Indonesia was great.
Opposition to Our Work Grows
Much of our literature was banned, and if the authorities could find any banned book, they confiscated it. Once a police officer insisted on checking through the cartons of books stacked in our car where the back seat usually was. Our hearts sank, for we had just received a new consignment of the banned book Enemies. He laboriously checked through all the cartons on the top layer but found none of the forbidden books.
Just as he was to begin on the bottom layer of cartons where the Enemies books were, there was a sudden torrential downpour. The officer and Clem raced for a nearby shelter, both getting drenched even in that short distance. But tropical downpours cease as abruptly as they start, so the officer soon hurried back and continued checking the cartons. Imagine his disappointment and Clem’s incredulity when again no banned literature was discovered!
I didn’t dare discuss this “miracle” until we were well away from there—I had shifted the two layers of cartons, putting the cartons of Enemies books on the top row where the officer had already checked. So he unwittingly checked the same cartons twice!
At first the reason given for banning our publications was that they were anti-Hitler. After Germany invaded Holland, Hitler lost favor with the Dutch officials. So we asked whether our earlier publications could be released, and they were. But freedom to carry on our preaching work unobstructed didn’t last long.
I was sitting typing in the office one morning when the doors were flung open and in marched three Dutch officials dressed in full military regalia—feathers in their hats, dress swords, and medals. Earlier the work had been banned in Australia, and now it was banned in Indonesia. In November 1941 the Society suggested that all missionaries return to Australia, and we did.
How strange it felt sitting at meetings listening to more English than I had heard in years! Another big change took place when we were blessed with a beautiful baby boy. Shortly afterward Clem was invited to Perth to care for the Society’s depot, from which literature was sent out all over the state of Western Australia, and we continued in the pioneer service.
A Return Visit to Indonesia
In 1971 Clem and I returned to Java for a convention. Oh, what a difference there was! For one thing, I was no longer 31; I was 61. We were thrilled to meet so many whom we had known. One person reminded us that Clem had baptized him in a paddy field when he was 16 years old. Now at 46 he was able to introduce us to his grandchildren. After the convention we stayed overnight with old friends. Everything was the same—we stayed in the same house, in the same room, and in the same bed. Even the goldfish in the pond looked the same. It was as though we had gone to sleep and awakened 30 years later.
Bandung, 60 miles [96 km] into the mountains, was the home of other dear friends. The wife of the family told me how delighted she was to see that I had grown up to be healthy! She said she had been worried years ago about such a thin woman’s working in the tropics. I had to smile at the cultural differences underlying our opinion about how fat a person should be.
As we continued our nostalgic tour, one friend explained that many of the books distributed to Dutch people in the early days ended up in secondhand shops after the Dutch left and were purchased by people in search of reading material. Some who obtained literature in this way developed quite a deep understanding of the Bible and were delighted to enter the preaching work as soon as they were contacted.
In one place a Witness went to show his father the Bible truths he had learned. His father, however, maintained that he had already found the true religion. He had gathered about a hundred people to worship according to the way he had discovered. Imagine the surprise of the Witness to find that this group was studying the Watch Tower Society’s literature! They were quite unaware that there was a worldwide organization already worshiping Jehovah according to this pattern!
Happy With the Choice I Made
It is now 60 years since I was baptized, and I have had the joy of pioneering for 58 of those years. My life companion, Clem, tragically developed Parkinson’s disease and became progressively weaker and detached until he needed a lot of help even to exist in a wheelchair. He died peacefully in his sleep in 1987. I am glad for his release, but the gap is huge. I miss him dreadfully.
Pioneering is still a great joy and brings me deep happiness and satisfaction. Life is very busy, and if ever I have a spare moment, I can look back with love on the vitally rich life my dear husband, Clem, and I shared. I am so glad I made the choice that I did 60 years ago.—As told by Jean Deschamp.
[Picture on page 11]
The Lightbearer, January 1935
[Picture on page 13]
With Clem when we were young
[Picture on page 15]