‘God’s Power Made Perfect in Weakness’
As told by R. Bennett Brickell
IN 1932 the Watch Tower Society selected me for foreign ministerial service—in Malaysia. So I left Australia and proceeded to my assignment, as the sole representative of Jehovah’s Christian witnesses among a population of nine million. A vigorous program of preaching God’s Word in Singapore and from there north to Kuala Lumpur was interrupted by severe illness. This resulted in cardiac disability and my being medically certified a life invalid. Despite this long-standing weakness, I am now able to look back on over forty years of full-time preaching. I can truly say that Jehovah’s power through Christ has been ‘made perfect in my weakness.’—2 Cor. 12:9.
Receipt of the Watch Tower Society’s book The Way to Paradise in 1925, when I was a lad of sixteen, started me on the pathway to life. Two years later I purchased The Divine Plan of the Ages while passing a secondhand shop in Auckland, New Zealand. I thoroughly perused the book, noting particularly the reference to the “colporteur” work, that is, the full-time preaching work under the direction of the Watch Tower Society. I began to think of dedicating my life to Jehovah and serving as a full-time minister. But I had no association with the Bible Students, as Jehovah’s witnesses were then known. My efforts to find them were unavailing.
But in October 1929 I noticed an advertisement in a Wellington newspaper, stating where the Bible Students met for study. I eagerly made contact with them. Within a fortnight, I began preaching God’s Word from house to house. Arrangements were made for my baptism, and eleven weeks later I made application for the full-time preaching work.
MAKING FULL-TIME PREACHING MY LIFE CAREER
In January 1930, I began my life career as a full-time preacher of God’s Word. Two and a half years of preaching in New Zealand passed quickly. During this time the accent was on getting the message of God’s kingdom in printed form into the hands of the people. To distribute the printed word in 1931 I made a two-hundred-mile walk, visiting farms situated on a coastal strip around picturesque Marlborough sounds. Jehovah blessed my efforts, and during that year I averaged 174 hours monthly in the preaching work and, coincidentally, placed 174 bound books each month.
In 1932 I was transferred to Australia, where I went to the northern part of the state of Queensland to visit remote territory. Some towns had never previously been visited by a Witness. And so a 1,200-mile bicycle ride took me from Rockhampton to Normanton across a mountain range and through waterless desert country. I was heavily laden with blankets, clothing, food and sixty bound books for the field ministry. Additional supplies of literature were sent to me en route.
In five months I completed the assignment. The final two hundred miles were traversed on foot, wheeling my cycle, due to its tires being worn out and their being irreplaceable in that area. As I walked, some stockmen I met begged me not to continue, citing instances where others had perished when attempting the same journey. But I had been entrusted with an assignment, and so with complete confidence in Jehovah’s guidance, I proceeded to its completion.
It was from Queensland that I went to Malaysia. After my severe illness there I returned to Australia in 1934. Was my career as a full-time minister finished? It appeared so. A period of rest was arranged for me by the Watch Tower Society, and after some naturopathic treatment, I found myself much improved. So I resumed my full-time preaching.
In June 1936 my ministerial companions and I set up our sound-car equipment for broadcasting Bible lectures in the town of Meeniyan, in the state of Victoria. A policeman approached, saying: “The businessmen will tip your car over if you don’t stop,” and added: “I advise you to leave town.”
“Is there any ordinance that would make our activity illegal?” I asked.
“No,” was the reply, “but the businessmen are very serious about this and there may be trouble.”
I suggested to the policeman that we were within our rights and entitled to his protection. We drove our vehicle to the middle of the business district, and soon the recorded talk “Warning” was being heralded forth by the Watch Tower Society’s then president, J. F. Rutherford. Clearly came the opening words: “Freedom of speech and worship are dear to the hearts of true men. Today there is an organized movement to deprive the people of such rights, and to suppress the truth.”
Then burly men began to emerge from their shops and offices with coats off and sleeves rolled up. At length a mob of about fifteen began marching down the street toward us. As they marched, one side of the record finished playing, and I switched to the other side. The muscular men marched fiercely forward, while we four ministers stood in front of our car, facing them serenely, fully confident in Jehovah’s power to handle the situation.
About thirty yards from us the men suddenly stopped. There they remained until the recorded talk was completed. As I was making closing remarks over the microphone, the men turned around and marched back to their business establishments. We gave all thanks and praise to Jehovah, being reminded of the encouraging words voiced by his servant Moses: “Be courageous and strong. Do not be afraid or suffer a shock before them, because Jehovah your God is the one marching with you.”—Deut. 31:6.
But our preaching work in this town was by no means completed. With friendly words and courtesy we called on all business places and homes, meeting the very men who had marched to “get us.” All went well and we were able to give a thorough witness about God’s kingdom.
At Ararat, Victoria, in 1940, while making a microphone announcement about the practices of false religionists, I was arrested on a charge of “insulting words.” I was convicted, and this was upheld in the Supreme Court of Victoria. An effort to appeal the case to the Australian High Court was unsuccessful during the furor and prejudiced atmosphere of war.
Early in 1941, however, a review of this case by a well-known Australian law authority appeared in the Australian Law Journal. An able legal analysis of the case showed that there were absolutely no lawful grounds for my conviction. This analysis, in which was incorporated the full statement that I made over the microphone, is on file in city libraries in Australia to this day, providing any reader a witness to the paramount issues of that momentous period. For the litigation involved, a lawyer of Ballarat, Victoria, gave his services entirely free of charge as a gesture of goodwill.
INTEGRITY UNDER BAN AND EXPANSION
The years when the work of Jehovah’s witnesses was under ban in Australia (January 1941 to June 1943) afforded opportunity for us to display faith in Jehovah. We continued the house-to-house preaching work unabated, with the use of only our Bibles. During part of this time I served as presiding minister of the Central Congregation in Melbourne. I would also take mimeographed copies of The Watchtower to some country congregations, since it was unsafe to send these through the post or mail. The number of Witnesses increased from 2,532 at the outset of the ban to 3,817 when it was lifted in 1943.
In 1945 I was assigned to central west Queensland, my means of locomotion being a cycle. After some five months preaching in this area, visiting three towns with intervening stations (as ranches are called in Australia), I became very ill and was hospitalized. The collapse of a lung segment after pneumonic illnesses had aggravated the previous cardiac condition, and the doctor advised me to rest continually. On discharge from the hospital, the doctor stated he had found me to be “85 percent incapacitated for work.” I had no alternative but to rest, being unable to walk down the street to do shopping without intermittent rest.
After two months I realized that I must either relinquish my full-time ministerial assignment or get going somehow. So on a hot day in November 1947 I loaded my cycle and set off visiting from station to station, or from ranch to ranch, riding along until I was exhausted. Then I would walk alongside my cycle or rest stretched out on the ground. Somehow, by Jehovah’s undeserved kindness, I continued, Jehovah’s power being manifested in my time of need.
After a sixty-mile cycle journey, I preached the good news in a small town. There I borrowed a horse for use in preaching to remote stations to avoid the strain of cycle riding. The young animal promptly threw me, resulting in a fractured hip. So it was back in the hospital for several weeks. Upon discharge, I was determined, with Jehovah’s help, to continue in my ministerial assignment.
I was able to purchase a horse, and a local citizen kindly loaned me a small horse cart. With the horse-drawn cart I made station visitations for some three months. After preaching the good news throughout this assignment, I was assigned to a large area farther east.
FURTHER EXPANSION IN OUTBACK AUSTRALIA
In 1949, after two months of rest, I was assigned to cover the Northern Territory, an area of 523,620 square miles. Hitchhiking truck rides for myself and my cycle wherever possible, I proceeded seven hundred miles southwest to Alice Springs, thence a thousand miles north to Darwin, sharing the Kingdom message at towns and stations en route. I spent parts of each intervening year in Darwin, and response to preaching efforts there resulted in the formation of a congregation in 1952.
Thereafter I was assigned to the city of Mt. Isa, Queensland. Early in 1954 my efforts had, with all credit to Jehovah, resulted in the formation of a congregation there.
I was also privileged to visit station territory south from Mt. Isa to the famed Birdsville track, a desolate area of desert sand hills where many travelers have perished due to extreme heat and dehydration. Since the dehydrated bodies of a family of five were found in this area a few years ago, signs have been put up on the north and south approaches thereto, warning travelers of the hazards of entering this desert area.
To reach the few isolated station homes here I used a light motorcycle. At one of such stations the owner said that he would not traverse the territory unless “equipped with a truck loaded with a week’s supply of food and water.” However, I had been assigned to this hitherto unwitnessed-to territory and could rely on Jehovah’s help in covering it. As it turned out, my covering the area on a light motorcycle attracted the attention of a representative of the Australian Broadcasting Commission, who requested an interview. This interview was broadcast by the A.B.C. over its national radio network, and it was a privilege to give a witness about God’s kingdom to the Australian nation.
BRINGING THE GOOD NEWS TO ABORIGINES
After serving six years as presiding minister of the Mt. Isa congregation, I was assigned to bring the good news to aborigines who had never before heard the Kingdom message. Fellow Witnesses supplied me with projection equipment and Watch Tower Society films. Some 17,000 aborigines were grouped in thirteen government settlements, at religious mission establishments and at large cattle stations where they were employed.
I was finally given a permit to enter the Northern Territory aborigine settlements after years of negotiation. Though I could not get a permit for entering religious mission settlements, some aborigines from these places would be employed at cattle stations. I was able to talk to many of them about God’s kingdom.
The population of the aborigines has now grown to 22,000, and I have been privileged to talk to many of them about God’s kingdom. Since illiteracy is prevalent among a majority of these humble folks, I have helped many of them to understand the Bible’s message by means of visual aids. I brought along twenty-eight oil paintings on Bible subjects, also slides depicting meetings and preaching of the Witnesses in New Guinea and Africa.
Many fine experiences have been enjoyed in ministering to the aborigines. After my giving an hour talk to one gathering, the whole body of persons present came forward to thank me warmly for the truths I had told them from the Bible. On another occasion, fifty aborigines were present to hear a talk within a few minutes of my arrival, although the camp was in complete darkness. From the literate aborigines, fine letters have been received in acknowledgment of my letters to them explaining Scriptural truths in simple language.
Truly Jehovah’s mercy and loving-kindness have been abundant in permitting me to serve him during forty-two years of full-time service. It is now thirty-eight years since I was medically certified an invalid for life and twenty-five years since I was viewed as 85 percent incapacitated. But by use of self-applied treatment and exercises, I am still able to pursue a vigorous program of full-time preaching of God’s Word, giving public talks of about an hour’s duration, motoring thousands of miles ministering in my assignment and maintaining a robust appearance. So I can truly testify that Jehovah’s power has indeed been made perfect in my weakness.