“Stick to the Work Till It Is Finished”
As told by Lois Dyer
This was my resolve when starting in the full-time service 49 years ago. Assignments have taken me from Perth to Tokyo, with many rewarding experiences along the way.
I was born in 1910 in the country town of Northam, Western Australia. Among my earliest memories are some large books on the lowest shelf of our bookcase. They were bound volumes of the Watch Tower magazine, dating from the year 1904.
There was no congregation of Jehovah’s people in the town at that time, but occasionally colporteurs called on us. My father believed what he read in the Watch Tower publications, and, even after becoming ill, he spoke to others about Bible truths. Brother Robert Lazenby came from Perth to give my father’s funeral talk in 1929. Upon hearing this discourse, I immediately recognized the truth, and from then on read all the available publications of the Society.
Having an urgent desire to serve Jehovah, in July 1931 I wrote to the Watch Tower Society, expressing my wish to take part in the door-to-door witnessing. By way of reply, they sent several cartons of books and an application for auxiliary pioneer service. Yes, the name of this special service was the same as it is now, and so was the requirement of devoting 60 hours each month to declaring the “good news.” I accepted this privilege, even though not yet baptized.
My first letter from the Society after this contained a copy of the 1931 Columbus, Ohio, convention resolution adopting the name “Jehovah’s Witnesses.” (Isa. 43:10-12) My mother and I gladly signed this. We were still isolated, but I set out to witness in my hometown. Having taught as a student teacher for two years in the local primary school, I was well known in the community. It was not easy to start out alone in the door-to-door witnessing work, especially when lacking direct contact with a congregation. Many were the arguments with religious opposers. One Anglican minister scornfully said: “Surely you don’t believe the Adam and Eve story!” Other individuals listened and took literature, but I did not know how to follow up the interest. My sister and her husband were reading The Watch Tower, although we had no organized study, and I keenly felt the need to associate with a congregation.
On January 1, 1932, my mother and I moved to Perth. What a joy it was to associate with a Christian congregation for the first time! A few days later, on January 4, 1932, we were both baptized in the Subiaco Kingdom Hall. The very next day, I started out as a regular pioneer, working with a group of zealous pioneers, certainly being very happy to have the help of experienced Kingdom proclaimers. They all encouraged me to “stick to the work till it is finished.”
A few weeks later, four of us set out by car to cover some rural territory in the southwestern part of Western Australia. This region had been opened up for English settlers, who had cleared the forest and had set up dairy farming in groups. Each group was numbered, and the settlers were called “groupies.” Since they had little money, we often traded books for milk, eggs and vegetables. Once we traded a few books for a case of tomatoes that lasted us a whole week. We moved from group to group, and slept in tents wherever we finished the day’s work.
That year, 1932, we celebrated the Memorial of Christ’s death in the small town of Donnybrook, at the home of Arthur Williams, Sr., one of the first persons in Western Australia to have embraced Bible truth. His sister, Vi Williams, was a faithful pioneer for many years and helped me a great deal with good advice. Now the Williams family are well known as Jehovah’s Witnesses all through that area.
WITNESSING UNDER BAN
Long ago, I learned to apply these words of Psalm 55:22: “Throw your burden upon Jehovah himself, and he himself will sustain you. Never will he allow the righteous one to totter.” This especially proved true when the government banned Jehovah’s Witnesses from January 1941 to June 1943.
During that time, we continued to preach underground, and it was necessary to conserve the Bible publications that we had. My literature was stored in a metal trunk buried in the garden at the home of my sister and her husband. We witnessed with the Bible, and when we met a truly interested person, there would be stealthy digging in the garden at night! The witnessing work prospered and the number of Kingdom publishers in Australia doubled during that time. Jehovah truly upheld his servants who stuck to the work.
SPECIAL PIONEER SERVICE
In 1942, I returned to my hometown of Northam as a special pioneer. By then my brother Dan had taken his stand for the truth, together with his wife and children. This was a great joy to me. Another pioneer, Mary Ham (now Willis), and I sometimes used a horse and sulky instead of our bicycles. The horse was very old and we had great trouble getting him to start off in the morning. My brother’s children helped out by walking ahead with a bunch of grass or a piece of apple to encourage him to get moving.
My next assignment was quite different. It was the business territory in the city of Perth. At first the thought of witnessing in banks and offices frightened me, but I thought: “People are the same whether in a house or in an office building. So why should I be fearful of such surroundings?” Relying on Jehovah, I went ahead. Though it was hard to get personal Bible studies started, a good magazine route was developed, and before leaving this territory, I had obtained 50 subscriptions for our magazines.
In 1947, I was assigned to work alone in the small town of Katanning, then having a population of about 3,000. This town is a center of sheep raising and wheat farming. Using a bicycle, I would ride about 20 or 30 miles (30 or 50 km) daily to reach the surrounding farms. The people were very hospitable and often invited me in to share a meal. During the spring, when the wild flowers made a rich carpet of color on both sides of the country roads, I often got off my bicycle and paused a while to take in the beautiful scene.
INVITATION TO MISSIONARY SERVICE
After spending only six months in Katanning, a wonderful new privilege of service opened up for me. I was accepted for the 11th class of the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead, and became one of a group of 19 from Australia and New Zealand. In this group was Molly Heron, who has been my partner ever since. Molly had also started pioneering in 1932, at Brisbane. As we both had been in full-time work for the same number of years, we had much in common. But whereas I am inclined to make quick decisions, Molly acts with more caution. So we have proved to be a good combination and have enjoyed a very happy partnership for some 31 years.
After five very busy and happy months in Gilead at South Lansing, New York, we received our assignment. Our group of five sisters was to go to New Caledonia. However, Brother N. H. Knorr later said that he had heard there still were headhunters on that island! So our assignment was changed to Fiji. While awaiting our visas to enter Fiji, we spent 16 months in San Francisco, California, where we worked with the Daly City Congregation and made many good friends.
In October 1949, we saw a group of our companions from the 11th class leave San Francisco by ship for their assignment in Japan. They were Lloyd and Melba Barry, Percy and Ilma Iszlaub, and Adrian Thompson. “See you after Armageddon,” we called out as the ship slid away from the wharf. (Rev. 16:14, 16, Authorized Version) But the authorities refused to grant us visas for Fiji. So January 1950 saw us following our friends to Japan, where we joined them in the missionary home at Tarumi, Kobe.
MISSIONARY WORK IN JAPAN
Thus began the most enjoyable part of my 49 years of full-time service. At first, our lack of knowledge of the language and customs of the Japanese people led us into many mistakes. For instance, I once informed the people that I was coughing (instead of calling) from door to door. But I always remembered Brother Knorr’s advice: “Do the best you can, and, even though you make mistakes, DO SOMETHING!” So we went ahead, doing the best we could, and with Jehovah’s help we gradually improved.
One new experience was coping with the fury of Typhoon Jane. We were out in the field service when the wind started, and the publishers urged us to go home. Not realizing the danger, Molly and I kept on witnessing as long as possible. But this was one time we had to quit. As electric wires whipped and snapped in the gale-force winds, we fled to the missionary home just in time to escape possible injury from roof tiles and tree branches flying through the air.
One missionary was missing! However, she arrived home safe and sound at midnight, after spending the whole day marooned in a railway car. When the storm abated, we found that the missionary home had suffered only a few broken windows and some water damage. In other places there was loss of life, and in the harbor 500 boats were sunk.
In those earlier years, we also had our first experience with earthquakes, which are rather common in Japan. One of these toppled the large stone lantern in the garden of the missionary home. Fortunately, no one was near it at the time.
There were many pleasant experiences, too. During our four years in Kobe, we had the privilege of helping with the formation of the Tarumi and Akashi Congregations. Some of those with whom we then studied the Bible are now serving as pioneers and appointed elders in the congregations.
Our next assignment was Kyoto, a city of thousands of shrines and temples. Though most of the people were mainly concerned with their colorful religious festivals, we found that many individuals were willing to study the Bible with us. One of these was Shozo Mima, a sincere Buddhist. In his heart he believed there must be a Creator and said: “I want to know about the true God.” As he had many questions and was always willing to accept Bible answers, I really enjoyed studying with him. He soon became a zealous pioneer Witness and was appointed to care for the congregation after the missionaries left Kyoto. Only 36 Kingdom publishers were there at that time, but now there are 11 congregations and six Kingdom Halls in that city.
Molly and I were transferred to Kumamoto, on the island of Kyushu. We found this to be a strong feudalistic city, and at first it was hard to make headway in declaring the “good news” there. We were joined by Hana Mihara and Margaret Waterer (now Pastor), and we four sisters struggled with the ‘ups and downs’ of a new congregation. It was a real challenge. But after six years of hard work, we were able to leave a congregation of 31 zealous publishers, some of whom have been in the pioneer service now for many years. Today, there are three congregations in Kumamoto.
Our next move was to Tokyo, where we have served with the Tamagawa and Setagaya Congregations for the past 15 years. Most of the people with whom we study are from Buddhist families, although some have had contact with the churches of Christendom. When we were first assigned to Setagaya, I met Toshiko Nakamura, who for 20 years had been searching for an explanation of the prophecies of Revelation and Matthew chapter 24. She had attended 13 different churches and had made inquiry of various ministers. But they told her that no one could explain such prophecies. One of them said, “After you die, you will understand these things.” As she studied the Bible she joyfully told her son: “I have at last found the truth.” After having been taken by his mother to 13 different churches, he was quite skeptical, but agreed to study and progressed quickly. He has been a regular pioneer for eight years and now serves as an elder in the Setagaya Congregation.
JEHOVAH POURS OUT BLESSINGS
It has been a great joy to have a share in the disciple-making work here in Japan. Though the beginning was hard, we are glad that we persevered. We have seen the work progress from 12 publishers to over 52,000, and have had many heartwarming experiences. Like everyone else, we have had health problems and some disappointments. But we have never thought of quitting before the work is finished. Now we feel very much at home with our Japanese brothers and sisters. In fact, when we go to overseas assemblies, we feel that we are the visitors there.
Looking back over the years that have passed so quickly, I can truly say that Jehovah has opened the floodgates of the heavens and poured out a blessing. (Mal. 3:10) Full-time service is a treasure. Indeed, this is true of all heartfelt activity that brings praise to our heavenly Father. And surely, if we endeavour to stick to the work till it is finished, Jehovah will add his rich blessing.