Determination Helped Me Succeed
As told by Joseph A. Oakley
WHAT a joy it was in 1950 to be among the 123,707 who attended the international convention of Jehovah’s Witnesses at New York City’s Yankee Stadium in the United States! And what a privilege afterward to attend the 16th class of the Gilead missionary school in upstate New York!
Upon graduation I was assigned, along with a group of fellow Australians, to the missionary work in far-off Pakistan. We arrived there in the summer of 1951. The first year especially brought severe tests.
One of these was the dry, dusty heat, so utterly different from the coolness of Australia’s southern Victoria and Tasmania where I had lived. Then there were the typhoid, the jaundice, and other prolonged sicknesses from which most of us new arrivals suffered. One of our young classmates died that first year.
Another test was the poverty and different living conditions. Not long after arriving, I was assigned as a traveling minister, which required long, lonely trips on trains and sometimes involved sleeping on railway-station platforms.
Yet another test was the lack of response to our Kingdom message among the predominately Muslim population. And it was also a real trial trying to express this message in a difficult, new tongue, the Urdu language.
It would have been easy to give up and go home. To stay called for strong determination. I am glad that my earlier experiences helped me to meet the tests successfully.
Experiences That Shaped My Life
I was reared on a farm about 11 miles (18 km) outside of Geelong, a coastal city in the Australian state of Victoria. One April day in 1935, while visiting in town, a Miss Hudson engaged me in conversation and urged me to attend a Bible talk. I worried all week because I had promised this dear, sincere, and obviously dedicated old lady that I would attend. I really didn’t want to go, but I didn’t have the heart to disappoint her.
So when the time came, with some misgivings I kept my promise and went. To my surprise, I enjoyed the meeting so much that I began attending regularly. What I learned convinced me that I had found the truth, and I was baptized at an assembly held in Geelong that same year.
A few months later, two zealous pioneer girls walked more than a mile (1.6 km) over a plowed field to reach our farm. What impressed me about them was their faith and zeal. I remember asking them where they would be accommodated that night, for they mentioned they were en route to a new territory assignment in the small town of Bacchus Marsh, about 35 miles (56 km) away.
“We don’t know yet, but we’ll find some place before nightfall,” they replied. “If not, we will pitch our tent.”
It was already past four, and the days were short and cold. I thought to myself: ‘This is really pioneering!’ It also started me thinking to myself: ‘What am I doing out here on the farm, tucked miles away from people? What prevents me from being a pioneer minister like these young women? I am young and healthy too. If they can do it, why can’t I?’ I determined right then that before long I would also become a pioneer.
Determined to Stick to My Decision
My father was very opposed to my leaving home and taking up the full-time preaching work with Jehovah’s Witnesses. He had been a Sunday school superintendent for about 30 years and was prejudiced against the Witnesses. However, I had turned 21 years of age, and my mother had no real objection when I outlined my plans to her. So, finally, the date of June 30, 1936, was set as the day that I would leave home.
My father asked several prominent businessmen to talk me out of this “awful business” as he called it. These men tried hard to persuade me to stay at home, using all manner of arguments, such as: ‘You will bring disgrace on your family’s religion.’ ‘You are joining an unknown and very unpopular group.’ And, ‘What guarantee will you have of financial support?’
This attempted persuasion—possibly quite well meant—went on for weeks. Strangely, however, the more they tried to dissuade me, the more determined I became to join the pioneer ranks.
June 30 arrived, cold and blustery! I packed all I had on my motorcycle and set off for Melbourne, about 40 miles (64 km) away. I had been invited to work with a group of pioneers there. A whole new purposeful life now opened up to me, but there were many trials.
Determinedly Facing Opposition
In those days a principal way of spreading the Kingdom message was by using sound cars to broadcast the recorded Bible talks of the president of the Watch Tower Society, J. F. Rutherford. For about five years, I operated one of these “cars,” a well-equipped panel van known everywhere as the “Red Terror.”
Brother Rutherford’s rich, deep voice coming over the sound horn was to a few truth seekers “sweet,” but to opposers of truth it was like poison. (Compare 2 Corinthians 2:14-16.) Occasionally, a garden hose would be turned on me, or stones would be pelted at the van.
Brother Rutherford’s lectures exposing religious falsehood, on the other hand, really appealed to some. A well-to-do gentleman, for example, requested a copy of every one of Rutherford’s recorded talks and every book he had written. When we visited his large home, I could hardly carry all those records and books. The man was delighted to get them, writing a check for £15 (then $70) right there on the spot. That was my biggest placement ever!
In 1938 Brother Rutherford was scheduled to visit Australia and give a Bible lecture in the Sydney, New South Wales, Town Hall. I was among the ones to cover Sydney streets with a sound car, making spot announcements of the forthcoming visit. The “Red Terror” was specially outfitted for the six-week program with a large advertisement on both sides of the van. This “blitzkrieg” of activity brought quite a lot of opposition.
Because of strong religious pressure, the Sydney Town Hall booking was canceled. My assignment now was to use the sound car in getting petitions of protest signed. We visited large groups of workers during their meal breaks and, in spite of opposition in many places, succeeded in obtaining hundreds of signatures in favor of freedom of speech. Altogether tens of thousands of signatures were obtained throughout the country. But despite presenting this large petition to the Sydney councillors, use of the Town Hall was still denied.
Yet, as so often happens, this worked to the advantage of Jehovah’s people. The Sydney Sports Grounds were then hired, and because of the great publicity afforded by the opposition, the attendance at Brother Rutherford’s talk swelled to some 12,000, according to police estimates. Since the Town Hall could seat only about 5,000, the opposition resulted in more than twice as many people hearing the talk!
Determination During Ban
With the outbreak of World War II in 1939, opposition grew. Then, in January 1941, the work of Jehovah’s Witnesses was banned throughout Australia. I was pioneering in Melbourne at the time and living at the Society’s literature depot.
One day six hefty Commonwealth policemen arrived there and confronted depot servant Jack Jones and me. I was given just five minutes to get out of my upstairs room. Have you ever tried to pack all your belongings in five minutes? I had nowhere near finished when the policemen stalked into the room and roughly threw all my remaining clothes and equipment out the window.
However, the ban did not stop our activity. Using the Bible only, we continued to preach from house to house and to hold regular meetings in Melbourne. During 1942, the second year of the ban, I was called to Sydney again, this time to help in organizing the work in the seven congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses there.
The Bethel home in Sydney was at the time occupied by Commonwealth government officers. From a large two-story home just a few blocks away, we planned all organizational activity. My assignment was to visit each of the Sydney congregations and, using a motorcycle with sidecar, deliver the outlines for meetings and other things necessary for keeping the congregations organized and moving ahead.
Serving in Tasmania
When the ban was lifted in June 1943, I was assigned to assist in getting the Melbourne literature depot set up again. Then, in 1946, I was appointed to serve as a traveling servant to the brethren (now, circuit overseer) in Australia’s island state of Tasmania. Geographically, Tasmania is a beautiful, hilly island with many peaks, snowcapped most of the year.
When I served as traveling overseer, there were only seven congregations and several isolated groups on the entire island. Between visits to congregations, I pioneered at a small town named Mole Creek. Violent opposition toward the Witnesses had erupted there during the war. But by this time it had died down, and a number of persons that I placed literature with eventually became dedicated Witnesses.
It was while in Tasmania, in 1950, that I received an invitation to attend the 16th class of Gilead. After graduation, as related earlier, I was assigned to Pakistan.
Marriage and Family
When I had been in Pakistan six years, I married Edna Marsh, who had been serving as a missionary in Japan. Edna joined me, and we opened up a new missionary home in Quetta, situated in the highlands region of Pakistan. We spent two years in Quetta, but then, with our first child on the way, we decided to return to Australia. What lay ahead of us now?
Where to settle and raise our family was never in doubt. I had promised that if ever I had to return from foreign service, I would come back to Tasmania. However, we were virtually penniless, and jobs for a 45-year-old were scarce. Yet we resolved not to let secular work keep us from congregation meetings and field service.
With the kindly help of spiritual brothers, I was able to set up my own window-cleaning business. For over 20 years, I did not miss a meeting or field service because of engaging in secular work, although at times it took determination to resist work offers and the extra money. Thus we were able to rear our two children in the way of the truth and to have a regular share in all Kingdom activities.
Our children are now grown and are no longer dependent on us. Both of them are firm in the truth, our daughter having enjoyed several years of pioneering before her marriage. Our son and his wife are now about to serve where the need is greater in the pioneer service.
A Rewarding Life
Recently we received a visit from an old friend who was the first person to take a stand for the truth in the town of Quetta in Pakistan. After a meeting at our Launceston Congregation here in Tasmania, she told the congregation that she had twice instructed her servant to tell me she was not at home when I called. Later, however, when I met her in the garden and she had no escape, she began to ask questions, finally accepting a Bible study. She related how grateful she is that I had demonstrated determination by persevering in that difficult foreign assignment of Pakistan.
A few years earlier, at a convention in Sydney, a young woman ran up to me and embraced me quite fervently. Surprised, I suggested that she had made a mistake. “No,” she responded, “aren’t you Joe Oakley? You and Alex Miller studied with our family in Lahore, Pakistan, and now my mother and sister and I are in the truth and are living in Sydney.”
Experiences like these have indeed contributed to the satisfaction of having had a full share in the Kingdom proclamation. How fine it is to see God’s blessing on the work! When I first served here in Tasmania in 1946, there were nine Kingdom publishers in the entire city of Launceston. Now there are three congregations, each with more than 90 publishers!
Truly, from the satisfying experiences of my more than 50 years of Christian service, I can say without any hesitation that determination has helped me make a success of it.
[Picture on page 24]
Sound car used to advertise the Kingdom message in Sydney
[Picture on page 25]
Joe Oakley with the small congregation in Quetta, Pakistan, when a new Kingdom Hall was opened December 15, 1955