Jehovah Fills My Every Need
As told by John E. (Ted) Sewell
AS WE took each step through that steamy Thailand jungle, I thought, ‘There must be easier ways to get from Bangkok to Burma!’ Footsore and soaked with perspiration, my main concern was that we would meet up with one of the tigers, black bears, or elephants that were known to roam these jungles—not to mention venomous snakes. Why were Frank Dewar and I making this hazardous journey?
We were both missionaries in Thailand, and we had just learned that a three-day convention was to be held in Rangoon, Burma, November 26-28, 1938. Our meager finances dictated getting from Bangkok to Rangoon by the cheapest means possible, and part of that trip required a 50-mile [80 km] trek through the jungle.
We set out from Bangkok by train on November 16, transferred to a small bus, were rowed across the Ping River in a large dugout canoe, and then began our long walk through the jungle. Frank had pored over maps and finally settled for a route that seemed feasible. We had no roads to follow—just a narrow path, made by travelers, that basically followed a telephone line.
We were thankful that the only animals we sighted were numerous monkeys in the trees. The breathtakingly beautiful hanging orchids were an unexpected delight. As afternoon shadows lengthened, we became concerned as to how safe it would be to sleep in the jungle. It was so different from the Australian bushland where I had often slept out in the open at night. We had also been warned about smugglers that were known to rob and even physically harm travelers.
Our hearts sank when we came face to face with a group of fierce-looking men, each with a large machete hanging from his belt. They stopped us and asked where we were going. When we explained that we were on our way to attend a Christian convention in Rangoon, they looked at us incredulously but moved on without harming us.
Shortly, we met two young men who looked more friendly. With our limited knowledge of the Thai language, we hired them to lead us through to Burma. As darkness fell, we arrived at a large tree with steps up to a wooden platform among the branches. There the four of us slept.
By the evening of the next day, we reached a small village where we were able to stay overnight on the veranda of a primitive house. On the third day, we reached the village of Mae Sot on the Burmese border. Here we said good-bye to our guides and gladly paid them for their good services.
After crossing the river into Burma, we took a small bus over a mountainous road and then boarded a riverboat to Moulmein. The last part of our journey to Rangoon was by train, which seemed so easy after our painful trek on foot. The whole trip had taken a week, but it was worth all the effort to enjoy the spiritual association of our brothers. It was just one more of the many evidences that Jehovah has filled my every need. But let me tell you how I came to be in Thailand.
Realizing Spiritual Needs
Life and customs were changing when I was born in West Australia in 1910. World War I that began in 1914 seemed to speed up the changes. Though only about seven, I clearly remember Mother writing letters to Father who was away at war in Europe. Once Mother said to me: “You know, the Bible says there will be wars and rumors of wars.” She did not explain any further, but I was curious.
Years later, in December 1934, while I was returning on horseback to the farm where I worked, I met an old school friend who told me that some of Jehovah’s Witnesses had recently come up from Perth. His family bought their books but had decided not to read them. Being curious, I obtained the book Life from him.
As I rode along in the clear night air, the moonlight was so bright that I could read the large print of each chapter heading. When I got back to the farm, I continued reading by the light of a kerosene lantern. There, for the first time, I learned that God has a personal name—Jehovah. I was delighted to learn that God has a wonderful purpose for our earth, yes, that the earth will become a paradise for obedient mankind to enjoy. Why, in this book all my questions were being answered!
The first persons I wanted to tell were my parents, who lived on a small farm 86 miles [138 km] away. This meant a horseback ride for a day and a half. When I told Mother what I had been learning, she surprised me by saying that she too was studying and enjoying the same Bible literature! On the long homeward ride a week later, I had much thinking to do, for my studies had shown me that knowledge and faith are not all that God requires. I now knew that a true Christian must follow Jesus Christ and personally serve Jehovah by preaching to others. So I determined to try to do this each weekend from then on.
Exciting Opportunities Open Up
In order to witness in our scattered farming district, I bought a Model-T Ford that had been converted into a utility truck. Carrying bedding and a few other essentials, I visited farmers all Saturday afternoon, slept in the truck, and then continued witnessing from farm to farm Sunday morning. Late in the afternoon I returned home.
In April 1936 I symbolized my dedication by baptism at a small convention in Perth. One of the talks stressed the full-time pioneer ministry. I knew I had no Scriptural obligations preventing me from sharing in this important work, so in December 1936, I began pioneering.
In that same month, two rugged pioneers, Arthur Willis and Bill Newlands, arrived in Perth by truck. They had left Sydney on the east coast nine months earlier and had made a witnessing tour across Australia. You can imagine my excitement when I was assigned by the Society to join them on their return trip. They gave me invaluable training I have never forgotten.
Across the Nullarbor Plain
The name Nullarbor means “no trees.” It is a fitting description of the arid, treeless plain in the middle of Australia. In the mid-1930’s the route that we there traversed was some 1,000 miles [1,600 km] of the roughest road imaginable.
Each night we slept on cots, usually out under the clear sky. There is little rainfall and virtually no dew in that part of the country. As we settled down each night under the canopy of stars, brilliant in the clear, unpolluted air, I was often reminded of the opening words of the 19th Psalm 19:1: “The heavens are declaring the glory of God; and of the work of his hands the expanse is telling.”
The railway line crossing the Nullarbor is said to be the longest stretch of straight rail track in the world. It runs for 300 miles [480 km] without the slightest curve or bend. We enjoyed witnessing in the small settlements along the railroad, and to people living on sheep stations, or ranches. Landholdings in that part of Australia were enormous. I recall a station of more than one million acres [4,000 sq km] with the homestead about 50 miles [80 km] from the front gate.
Finally, we arrived in Katoomba in the Blue Mountains just west of Sydney in time for the Memorial on March 26, 1937. Our itinerant assignment had been enjoyable and spiritually rewarding, but it was a pleasant change to stay for a time with a congregation of God’s people.
To Partake or Not?
At the time of that 1937 Memorial, there was still confusion concerning the “other sheep.” (John 10:16) Some felt that the measure of faith and Christian zeal a person displayed would indicate whether he had received the heavenly calling or not. So, like a number of others in similar circumstances, I partook of the emblems. The following year a number of us pioneers were again troubled as to partaking.
Inwardly we were looking forward to life on a paradise earth, yet many felt that our zeal and pioneer ministry gave evidence of our being spirit anointed. Right on time Jehovah gave us the answer through his earthly organization. On the very afternoon of the Memorial, the March 15, 1938, issue of The Watchtower arrived. Its main article, “His Flock,” was a detailed study of John 10:14-16. How delighted we were with the clear explanation that answered our questions!
The article provided examples of how God’s spirit acted mightily upon his servants in ancient times and caused them to do powerful works long before the heavenly calling opened up. Similarly, God puts his spirit upon his dedicated servants on earth today to whom he has given the earthly hope. Thus we were grateful to understand the difference between being begotten by holy spirit and being energized by God’s spirit to do his will.
Invitation to “Reach Out”
Other thrilling events of 1938 were the visit of the Watch Tower Society’s president, Brother Rutherford, and the convention at the Sydney Sports Ground. A call went out at the convention for pioneers willing to serve in Burma, Malaya, Siam (now Thailand), and Java (now Indonesia). Hector Oates, Fred Paton, and I were delighted to receive assignments to Burma.
I had never before left the shores of Australia. However, within two months, other pioneers and I were on a ship on our way to our assignments. We landed at Singapore on June 22, 1938, and were met at the wharf by Bill Hunter, who was already pioneering there. How strange and interesting everything seemed as we saw the dress and customs of the local people and heard languages we could not understand.
Brother Hunter handed me a telegram from Australia that changed my assignment from Burma to Malaya. Fred Paton and Hector Oates were to continue on to Burma without me. I was glad to learn I would be working with two experienced missionaries, Kurt Gruber and Willi Unglaube. They were originally from Germany but had been serving in Malaya for some time.
After three months in Malaya, I was assigned to Thailand. Willi Unglaube was to accompany me, along with Frank Dewar, who had previously done missionary work there. We arrived by train in September 1938, found ourselves a place to stay temporarily, and got started in the witness work. We found the Thai people kind and patient as we grappled with their expressive language.
Stimulating Rangoon Convention
It was from Bangkok, Thailand, that we made the grueling trip to Rangoon, Burma, described earlier. That was the first time a convention had been held in Burma, and the beautiful City Hall was filled to capacity with over a thousand people for the public lecture. Doors had to be closed as there was no room for more. There were only a few Witnesses in Burma and neighboring countries, so most of those who came to hear the lecture were people who had responded to the thousands of handbill invitations distributed before the convention.
For us who had come from isolated missionary assignments, it was truly a spiritual tonic. But with the convention over, we returned home to Thailand—this time, however, by an easier route that did not require walking through the jungle.
War and Japanese Invasion
The storm clouds of war were now moving ominously toward southeast Asia. As the Japanese military forces moved into Thailand, a ban was placed on the work of Jehovah’s Witnesses. All British, American, and Dutch people were interned in a camp for the duration of the war. George Powell, a pioneer who had moved up from Singapore to join us in Bangkok, was imprisoned with me. We spent three years and eight months in the camp together.
During the time we were confined, we were unable to receive any new literature or word from the Society. But we experienced the promise of the psalmist: “Jehovah is giving support to all who are falling, and is raising up all who are bowed down.”—Psalm 145:14.
Back to Australia
When the war ended in 1945, I returned to Australia. With good food and more agreeable living conditions, I recovered my good health and was able to start pioneering again. Then, in 1952, I was assigned to the traveling work as a circuit overseer, and I enjoyed this privilege for the next 22 years. In 1957, I married Isabell, who had been a pioneer for 11 years, and we continued in the circuit work as husband and wife.
Health problems began to make constant traveling difficult, so in 1974 we settled down to pioneer in Melbourne. I still serve as a substitute circuit overseer from time to time, and recently I had the privilege of sharing as an instructor at one of the pioneer service schools. In all this work, my wife has been a constant and joyful support. Now at 78 years of age, I feel deeply grateful to Jehovah as he continues to fill every need.
Looking back over the years, I often reflect on how Jehovah has trained us, helped us over mistakes, and disciplined us to refine us as his servants. I recall the instances when God has provided the means for me to come through trials that were beyond human ability to endure. These memories are a source of strength and a constant reminder that Jehovah has indeed filled every need.
[Picture on page 10]
A recent picture of me with my wife, Isabell
[Picture on page 12]
Witnessing in the Nullarbor