Love and Loyalty
As told by Maude Johnston
THE report on Northern Ireland and Eire in the Yearbook of Jehovah’s Witnesses is always of special interest to me, because I was born in the “land of the shillelagh.” And I was born rich! Yes, to have godly parents gives one a rich inheritance indeed.
One of my father’s brothers, Uncle Eddie, accepted the truth about 1905, when I was ten years old. There were very few Bible Students (as they were then called) in Northern Ireland, but my uncle passed the message on to my father and he became very much interested. At first mother frowned on “Uncle Eddie’s religion.” However, father’s kindness, tact and patience gradually helped her. I can still hear him say, “Sarah, sit down for a minute while I read you this,” and “Sarah” would sit down and listen. Later on Papa would turn up at the church where he had been an officer and distribute Bible tracts to the folks as they left on Sunday mornings. This so embarrassed mother that she stopped attending church, and soon she accepted the truth.
In 1911 Brother Russell visited Belfast, and I recall that he invited the whole “ecclesia”—a mere handful—to have tea with him at his hotel. But regardless of the smallness of the group, when the public talk was held Ulster Hall was packed out, most of the crowd having come in response to paid advertising in the press.
LAYING A FOUNDATION
The next year my uncle and my father brought their families to New Zealand, the “land of the long white cloud” as it was called by its early discoverers. Although he had a family of four to provide for, uncle was a colporteur, or pioneer as we now call them, and he continued in his full-time ministry for many, many years. He did much to strengthen the hands of the few brothers in the truth at that time. One point continually emphasized by him, and which has ever been valuable to me, was the importance of loyalty to Jehovah’s organization. So at a very early age love for the truth and loyalty to Jehovah’s organization became, as it were, the mainsprings of my life.
In those days we used as textbooks the Studies in the Scriptures, and it was the chronology set out in the second volume that really gripped me. I devoured it all, made my dedication, symbolized it by water immersion and engaged in all the features of the preaching work that were being carried out at that time.
When the fall of 1914 arrived, with the outbreak of World War I and the end of the Gentile Times, we were busy showing the Photo-Drama of Creation in Wellington. Then I shared in the “pastoral work,” which was an effort to locate among those who had obtained literature persons who could be helped to study the Bible. But there were many things that we did not clearly understand. And as we look back on it now, we can appreciate how lovingly patient Jehovah was to use us at all.
When Brother Russell died in October, 1916, it proved to be a test to us. I felt as if something on which I had been leaning was taken away. Then we saw the branch servant “down under” waver in his loyalty to God’s organization and fall, taking many of the brothers with him. Even when we gathered together to study, detectives were often present at our meetings. Fear of men and lack of love for and appreciation of the truth proved to be the downfall of many in those days; but, on the other hand, how grateful we were for our strong, faithful brothers who proved to be “like the shadow of a heavy crag in an exhausted land”! (Isa. 32:2) As a result of these experiences our viewpoints were often corrected, and we became stronger in our love for Jehovah and our loyalty to his organization.
SHARING IN AUSTRALIAN EXPANSION
When I married in 1923 I moved to Australia with my husband to enjoy the wonderful privilege of working in the Society’s branch office in Melbourne. In 1925, when our daughter Ruth was born, Brother Rutherford kindly arranged for us to stay with the Bethel family and for her to be brought up among them. What a privilege! Early her feet were set on the way that leads to life, and by Jehovah’s undeserved kindness they are still walking loyally in that direction.
Australia is a vast island continent not too much smaller than the United States, but with only some ten million inhabitants. At one time I attended a national convention here at which the attendance was only about three hundred. Today the number of Jehovah’s witnesses in Australia is over fifteen thousand. And what a joy it is to see the large numbers of lovely young people—truly “desirable things of all the nations” to honor Jehovah! (Hag. 2:7) To have had the joy of serving our brothers and watching the work grow all these years is something that words fail to describe.
The progress in understanding of the truths of the Bible has also been strengthening. There was the never-to-be-forgotten Watch Tower on “Birth of the Nation” in 1925, study of the vindication theme, the start of regular Sunday-morning witnessing and many, many other markers of progress that have built up our loyal love.
Following the Detroit, Michigan, convention in 1928 the Society changed the location of the branch office from Melbourne to Sydney, since steamers carrying our literature from New York made Sydney their port of call. Then, too, Queensland, with its boundary one thousand miles north of Melbourne, was a vast area and it was virtually untapped as far as the witness work was concerned. The radio work, in which my husband and I were privileged to share beginning in 1932, also helped to spread the Kingdom message into these areas.
This expansion was not met without opposition, but even that served to give wider publicity to the work. So it was with Brother Rutherford’s visit to Australia in 1938. The Roman Catholic Church saw to it that there was stiff opposition, but the Sydney Town Hall, which was refused us then, has since been used often for our assemblies.
During the years of World War II there was further difficulty, but perhaps not as much as in some other lands. Nevertheless, the government banned our ministry, stating that our existence was prejudicial to the efficient prosecution of the war, and in their zeal they seized various properties of the Society throughout the country, searched the homes of Witnesses and seized vast quantities of Bible literature. All over the land our brothers were in gaols for refusal to violate their neutrality. Finally, after two years the Society got a hearing on the matter in court, and on June 14, 1943, the High Court ruled against the Commonwealth Government and for Jehovah’s witnesses. Our loyalty to Jehovah’s organization during that time had not been misplaced.
The month following the lifting of the ban, on my return home after having had a share in witnessing one Sunday morning, I found that Brother Johnston had gone to his reward. Yes, a coronary occlusion had cut off his life, over forty years of which had been spent in the full-time ministry in South Africa and Australia. His last assignment had been writing for Consolation (now the Awake! magazine) the result of the High Court case. It was only natural to miss him, but how could I mourn when I knew that he had indeed experienced his change, because his was the hope of heavenly life? (1 Cor. 15:51, 52) It was a blessed privilege to have had his companionship for over twenty years, and it was a stimulation to loyal love on my part to Jehovah and his visible organization.
REJOICING IN FINE WORKS
With the ban gone the work was reorganized. In 1946 our first graduates from the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead arrived, and what excitement! One would think they were creatures from some other planet so great was our interest. They have been a great help in the work, and I am grateful for their example of faithfulness. About the same time our own brothers were leaving Australia for Gilead, and today they are giving a good account of themselves in many lands and islands throughout the world. Some are in Japan, Hong Kong, Malaya, India, Cyprus, and other places, and it is a joy to follow their progress and to hear of their continued works of love.
When Brother Knorr visited us in 1947 we received more good counsel and help. We got our thinking straightened out on the proper relationship of Christians to the world, which strengthened all of us and brought the organization into a condition where it would be more acceptable to Jehovah. Visits such as this from special representatives from the Society’s headquarters have always been bright spots in our theocratic advancement.
Then in 1953 it was my turn to do some traveling—to the international convention in New York. What love was shown by the brothers we met along the way! How happy we were to be able to visit the Bethel home and factory in Brooklyn and Gilead School at Ithaca, to get to know so many brothers from far-flung places, to hear our faithful brothers speak about the truths from God’s Word! It was wonderful!
As the Kingdom work has continued to expand, new branch offices have been opened in Singapore, New Zealand, Fiji and Papua, all of which were previously under the care of the Australian branch. To see this growth manifest in so many ways is to see, as it were, the stately steppings of our God as he conducts his work to the final and grand vindication of his holy name.
It is my earnest prayer that my love and my loyalty will continue to grow and that, despite advancing years that make it difficult to do as much as one could wish, I may continue to be rich in fine works, active in service of Jehovah my God. “O God, you have taught me from my youth on, and until now I keep telling about your wonderful works. And even until old age and gray-headedness, O God, do not leave me, until I may tell about your arm to the generation, to all those who are to come, about your mightiness.”—Ps. 71:17, 18.