‘The Measuring Lines Have Fallen for Me in Pleasant Places’
As told by D. H. MacLean
THERE I sat, hour after hour, with one of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police by my side. I was his prisoner. We were headed for the prison camp at Chalk River, Ontario, Canada, and it seemed the 1,500-mile [2,400 km] train trip would never end.
It was 1944, and World War II was at its height. But what was I doing here headed for prison? Well, it was largely because of what Dad had taught me from childhood on. He would usually end any serious discussion with me by applying to his own life the psalmist’s words: “The measuring lines themselves have fallen for me in pleasant places.” Then he would urge me to strive for the same experience.—Psalm 16:6.
A Spiritual Upbringing
The things Dad had seen while serving for four years as a sergeant during World War I, especially what he had seen of the clergy’s hypocritical conduct, disillusioned him. So, in 1920, when an enthusiastic Bible Student explained God’s solution to world problems, the Bible truths struck a responsive chord in Dad’s heart. Mother also took an interest and became a devoted servant of Jehovah. Hence, my sister Kay and I had the advantage of a spiritual upbringing.
In time, Dad sold his business, and he and Mom began traveling from town to town in the full-time preaching work. Thus, during the 1928 school year, when I was six and Kay was eight, we were enrolled in eight different schools! We continued this itinerant life-style for the next 18 months. But when it became increasingly difficult to give proper attention to our education, my parents bought a filling station and garage to which was attached a small confectionary store. Nevertheless, those 18 months of pioneering left a lasting impression on my sister and me.
Our home near Halifax, Nova Scotia, was always an open house for pioneers and traveling overseers. Dad was generous and helpful to those needing car repairs or spare parts, while Mother cared for the domestic needs of our many visitors. I have vivid memories of the faith-strengthening experiences told by those full-time workers. I can also remember the time when I was 18 years old and one of the traveling brothers invited me to accompany him for three weeks as he visited nearby congregations. That unexpected privilege has remained engraved on my mind.
Excitement During the Ban
In 1940, when I was only 17, the authorities in Canada declared illegal the “Jehovah’s Witness Organization,” and the Witnesses’ evangelizing work was banned. The Watchtower was printed secretly in our house, and from there it was circulated throughout the province of Nova Scotia. I remember the excitement when a courier would arrive in the middle of the night with stencils and supplies of paper and ink.
During the early part of the ban, we shared as a family in the nationwide midnight distribution of a special booklet entitled End of Nazism. But I must confess my heart was pounding as I got out of the car in the black of that frosty night. Dad gave hurried, clear directions. Then we separated and each went a different way.
You can imagine our concern when Kay did not return to the car at the time we had agreed upon. After waiting for more than an hour, there was nothing we could do but go home. To our great relief, she was there, anxiously waiting for us. She had been picked up by the police but not for distributing illegal literature. A policeman had spotted her and wondered why an attractive teenage girl was walking alone on the streets of Halifax in the early hours of a cold winter morning. So when he offered to drive her home, Kay accepted—all her booklets had been distributed anyway. The campaign was a great success and gained publicity throughout Canada.
How I Came to Be a Prisoner
After finishing high school in 1941, I worked secularly for nearly two years. Then I attended a district convention in the United States, where I met Milton Bartlett, a zealous pioneer of my own age. His exuberance for the truth and obvious joy in pioneering were largely instrumental in my decision to leave secular employment and enter the full-time ministry in March 1943.
Since the ban was still in force, Bible preaching from house to house was a virtual game of cat and mouse with the police. At a new assignment in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, I was so anxious to get out in the ministry to see the reaction of the people that I forgot to make note of the address of my accommodations.
I had only visited a few homes when I was apprehended by the police, who searched my bag and arrested me. Since I could not give an address, I ended up in jail, where I was held incommunicado for four days. Fortunately, the daughter of a Witness in the congregation overheard the chief of police speak of a young Witness they were holding, and this led to my being bailed out by the brothers.
My trial was postponed for several months, and so I continued the door-to-door ministry. Then I was given another assignment, to Glace Bay, Nova Scotia. A few months later, I received a summons to appear in court back in Charlottetown. I prepared diligently for my trial, hoping to present strong proof of my ministry.
The judge was satisfied that I met all the qualifications of a minister of religion. He added, however, that it was the custom to send Jehovah’s Witnesses to prison camps in harmony with national service regulations. This is how I came to be on that train to the prison camp at Chalk River, Ontario. During the next two years, I was sent to three different camps.
Freedom—But More Battles
I was released in 1946 and resumed pioneering at Glace Bay. With the ban on Jehovah’s Witnesses lifted, we were again free to do our work in Canada with legal protection. The one exception was the French-speaking Catholic province of Quebec, where religious persecution was great. Thus began what came to be called the Battle of Quebec.
On Sunday, November 3, 1946, a special meeting was arranged in Montreal, attended by the Watch Tower Society’s president and others from the Brooklyn headquarters. The fiery tract Quebec’s Burning Hate for God and Christ and Freedom Is the Shame of All Canada was released, and a program for nationwide distribution was outlined. Pioneers were invited to apply for the next class of Gilead to receive training to equip them to follow up on this special campaign in Quebec. I applied and within a few months received an invitation to the ninth class of Gilead.
Life in a New Land
Since I felt groomed for Quebec, I was taken completely by surprise when, after graduation, I was assigned as circuit overseer in Ontario, Canada, to visit the English-speaking congregations there. Yet this was nothing compared with the shock that came six months later when I was handed a letter from the Society that contained an assignment to Australia.
There in that new land, my first assignment was to serve a circuit covering the entire state of Western Australia, an enormous area of 975,900 square miles [2,528,000 sq km]! Another early circuit I served in the central part of Australia included a remote outpost called William Creek. The only Witness there operated a lone provision store at the railroad stop. One day I was amazed to see a caravan of camels ridden by Australian Aborigines slowly pull up near the store. They had come to buy supplies. The conversation went like this:
Customer: Want boots.
Storekeeper: Big or little?
With that, the transaction was completed, and the customer trundled out of the store to load his new boots on his camel. Another came in.
Customer: I want dress for lubra (Aboriginal word for wife).
Storekeeper: Big or skinny?
The dress was produced, paid for, and popped into a bag to be loaded on the waiting camel.
With a Marriage Mate
Three years after arriving in Australia, I married a pretty girl from Brisbane, named June Dobson. After our marriage, we pioneered for one year before being invited back into the traveling work, first in the circuit work and later in the district work.
When I was single, I served many outback areas on a motorcycle. However, now my wife and I traveled by car. The road across the rugged Nullarbor Plain, where temperatures commonly rise above 115 degrees Fahrenheit [46° C.], was unpaved for some 750 miles [1,200 km] and consisted of fine dust. It would spray out, so that the car resembled a speedboat plowing through water. We carefully sealed all doors and windows with masking tape to keep out the insidious bulldust. This caused the temperature inside the car to rise dramatically, but at least it saved us from being covered with grime and dust.
During our years in the district work, we crisscrossed the Australian continent time and again, visiting scores of towns and cities and serving circuit assemblies in every possible setting. When we began in the district work in 1953, there was just one district in Australia. Now there are five.
In 1960 an unexpected invitation came for us—to serve at Sydney Bethel in Strathfield. The contrast to the traveling work was great, but eventually I became accustomed to desk work. Soon, however, we were in for yet another surprise. After serving at Bethel for 18 months, June and I received an invitation to attend the new 10-month course of Gilead School.
In contrast with my previous Gilead schooling at South Lansing, New York, this time we were right in Brooklyn at the world headquarters of Jehovah’s Witnesses. On graduating, we were assigned back to Australia, once again to the traveling work. We served in that capacity until 1981, when we were invited back to Sydney Bethel. There we were able to share in the massive task of moving the entire branch office, factory, and Bethel family from Strathfield to the newly constructed facilities at Ingleburn, about 30 miles [48 km] from the center of Sydney.
“In Pleasant Places”
Here my work on the service desk is a daily delight. Knowing personally so many brothers and sisters from all over the continent because of years in the district work, I have the feeling of being there with the circuit overseers as their reports come in each week. District overseers’ reports transport me right into the auditoriums and Assembly Halls with all the atmosphere of a circuit assembly. With a Bethel family of more than 110, located in a semirural area well removed from the noise and pollution of the city, my wife and I feel that life at Bethel is the ultimate of “pleasant places.”
One late autumn day in May 1984, the Branch Committee coordinator, H. V. Mouritz, quietly told me that I had received an appointment from the Governing Body to serve as a member of the Australia Branch Committee. My feeling that afternoon was much the same as in 1947 when I read the letter assigning me to serve in this delightful land down under.
To review my 65 years of life in Jehovah’s organization is to feel a personal fulfillment of Psalm 16:6. Indeed, “the measuring lines” have fallen for me in very “pleasant places.” If I had to replan my life, I would without hesitation choose precisely the course I have taken. There could be no more pleasant outcome—no more rewarding experience.