As a Widow, I Found True Comfort
As told by Lily Arthur
A young minister of Jehovah’s Witnesses was calling from house to house in a section of Ootacamund, India. By custom the women did not open the door to such a stranger. After a few hours, tired and somewhat discouraged, he turned to go home. But he stopped, feeling somehow impelled to call at the next door. Consider what occurred, as described by the woman who opened the door to him.
WITH my two-month-old baby girl in my arms and my 22-month-old son at my side, I promptly opened the door and saw a stranger standing there. Just the night before I had been extremely distressed. Seeking comfort, I had prayed: “Heavenly Father, please comfort me through your Word.” Now, to my amazement, the stranger explained: “I am bringing you a message of comfort and hope from God’s Word.” I felt that he must be a prophet sent by God. But what situation had prompted my prayer for help?
Learning Bible Truths
I was born in 1922 in the village of Gudalur in the beautiful Nilgiri Hills of south India. My mother died when I was three years old. Later, Father, who was a Protestant clergyman, remarried. As soon as we could speak, Father taught my brothers and sisters and me to pray. At age four, while Father daily sat at his desk reading the Bible, I would be on the floor reading my own Bible.
Upon growing up, I became a teacher. Then, when I reached age 21, my father arranged my marriage. My husband and I were blessed with a son, Sunder, and later a daughter, Rathna. About the time Rathna was born, however, my husband became very sick, and soon afterward he died. At age 24, I was suddenly a widow with the responsibility of two young children.
After that I implored God to comfort me from his Word, and it was the next day that the minister of Jehovah’s Witnesses called. I invited him in and accepted the book “Let God Be True.” That night while reading it, I kept seeing the name Jehovah, which to me was something very strange. Later the minister returned and showed me in the Bible that this is God’s name.
Soon I also learned that such teachings as the Trinity and hellfire are not Bible based. Comfort and hope came to me when I learned that under God’s Kingdom the earth will become a paradise and dead loved ones will return in the resurrection. Most important, I began to know and love the true God, Jehovah, who heard my prayer and came to my aid.
Sharing Newfound Knowledge
I began to wonder how I had missed reading those Bible verses with God’s name. And why had I not seen in my own Bible-reading the clear hope of everlasting life on a paradise earth? I was teaching in a school run by Protestant missionaries, so I showed the Bible verses to the school’s manager. (Exodus 6:3; Psalm 37:29; 83:18; Isaiah 11:6-9; Revelation 21:3, 4) I mentioned that somehow we had overlooked them. But to my surprise she did not seem pleased.
Then I wrote to the principal who was in another town, quoting these Bible verses. I requested an opportunity to talk with her. She replied that her father, a well-known clergyman from England, would discuss the matter with me. The principal’s brother was a prominent bishop.
I prepared all the points and scriptures and took my “Let God Be True” book and my children to the next town. Enthusiastically I explained who Jehovah is, that there is no Trinity, and other things I had learned. They listened for a while but did not say a word. Then the clergyman from England said: “I’ll pray for you.” Then he prayed over me and sent me away.
One day the minister of Jehovah’s Witnesses invited me to do street witnessing with the Watchtower and Awake! magazines. I told him that was something I could never do. You see, in India people would think the worst of a woman who would stand on the street or go from house to house. It would bring reproach on the woman’s reputation and even upon that of her family. Since I deeply loved and respected my father, I did not want to bring reproach on him.
But the minister showed me a Bible verse that says: “My son, be wise, and make my heart glad, that I may answer him that reproacheth me.” (Proverbs 27:11, King James Version) He said: “You make Jehovah’s heart glad by publicly showing that you are for him and his Kingdom.” Desiring more than anything else to make Jehovah’s heart glad, I took the magazine bag and went with him into the street-witnessing work. Even now I cannot imagine how I did it. That was in 1946, about four months after I was contacted.
Encouraged to Overcome Fears
In 1947, I accepted a teaching job in the outskirts of Madras, on the East coast of India, and I moved there with the children. A small group of about eight of Jehovah’s Witnesses met regularly in town. To attend those meetings, we had to travel 16 miles. In India back then, women usually didn’t travel alone. They depended on men to take them. I didn’t know how to get on a bus, how to ask for a ticket, how to get off a bus, and so on. I felt that I ought to be serving Jehovah, but how? So I prayed: “Jehovah God, I cannot live without serving you. But it is utterly impossible for me as an Indian woman to go from house to house.”
I hoped Jehovah would let me die to relieve me of this conflict. However, I decided to read something from the Bible. I happened to open it at the book of Jeremiah, where it states: “Do not say, ‘I am but a boy.’ But to all those to whom I shall send you, you should go; and everything that I shall command you, you should speak. Do not be afraid because of their faces, for ‘I am with you to deliver you.’”—Jeremiah 1:7, 8.
I felt that Jehovah was indeed speaking to me. So I took courage and at once went to my sewing machine and stitched a bag to use for carrying magazines. After earnest prayer, I went alone from house to house, placed all my literature, and even started a Bible study that day. I became determined to give Jehovah the first place in my life, and I put my complete trust and confidence in him. The public preaching work became a regular part of my life in spite of verbal reproach. Despite the opposition, my activity made a strong impression on some.
This was illustrated when my daughter and I went from house to house in Madras many years later. A Hindu gentleman, a judge of the High Court, mistaking my age, said: “I have known these magazines since even before you were born! Thirty years ago a lady used to stand regularly at Mount Road and offer them.” He wanted a subscription.
At another house a Hindu Brahman, a retired official, invited us inside and said: “Many, many years ago a lady used to offer The Watchtower on Mount Road. I’ll take what you’re offering me out of regard for her.” I had to smile because I knew that I was the lady both of them referred to.
Strengthened and Blessed
It was in October 1947 that I symbolized my dedication to Jehovah by water baptism. At the time I was the only Tamil-speaking female Witness in the whole state, but now hundreds of Tamil women are faithful, active Witnesses of Jehovah.
After I was baptized, opposition came from all sides. My brother wrote: “You have stepped beyond all propriety and decency.” I also received opposition in the school where I worked and from the community. But I clung even closer to Jehovah by continuous, earnest prayer. If I woke up in the middle of the night, I would at once light the kerosene lantern and study.
As I was strengthened, I was in a better position to comfort and help others. One elderly Hindu lady with whom I studied took a firm stand for Jehovah’s worship. When she died, another woman in the household said: “What made us very happy was her loyalty to the God whom she chose to worship right to the end.”
Another lady I studied with never smiled. Her face always reflected anxiety and sadness. But after teaching her about Jehovah, I encouraged her to pray to him, since he knows our troubles and cares for us. The next week her face was radiant. It was the first time I had ever seen her smile. “I have been praying to Jehovah,” she explained, “and I have peace of mind and heart.” She dedicated her life to Jehovah and remains faithful despite many difficulties.
With two small children to care for, I felt that the realization of my desire to serve Jehovah full-time as a pioneer was unlikely. But then a new avenue of service opened up when someone was needed to translate Bible literature into the Tamil language. With Jehovah’s help I was able to care for that assignment and, at the same time, work secularly as a teacher, care for the children, do my housework, attend all the meetings, and engage in field service. Finally, when the children grew older, I became a special pioneer, a privilege I have enjoyed for the past 33 years.
Even when Sunder and Rathna were of tender age, I tried to instill in them love for Jehovah and the desire always to put his interests first in every aspect of their lives. They knew that the first person they should talk to when awakening was Jehovah and that he was the last one they should speak to before going to sleep. And they knew that preparation for Christian meetings and field service should not be overlooked because of school homework. While I encouraged them to do their best in their schoolwork, I never insisted that they get a high grade, fearing they would make that the most important thing in their lives.
After they were baptized, they used school vacations to pioneer. I encouraged Rathna to be courageous, not timid and shy as I had been. After finishing her high school and commercial training, she began pioneering, and later she became a special pioneer. In time, she married a traveling overseer, Richard Gabriel, who now serves as the Branch Committee coordinator for the Watch Tower Society in India. They and their daughter, Abigail, work full-time at the India branch, and their little son, Andrew, is a publisher of the good news.
At 18 years of age, Sunder, however, broke my heart when he stopped associating with Jehovah’s Witnesses. The following years were ones of agony for me. I continually pleaded with Jehovah to forgive whatever shortcomings I may have had in rearing him and to bring Sunder to his senses so he might return. But, in time, I lost all hope. Then one day 13 years later he came and told me: “Mummy, don’t worry, I’ll be all right.”
Soon after that, Sunder made special efforts to become spiritually mature. He progressed to the point of being entrusted with the oversight of a congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Later he gave up his well-paying job to become a pioneer. Now he and his wife, Esther, serve together in this work in Bangalore in the southern part of India.
Often I thank Jehovah for having allowed me to undergo suffering and difficulties over the years. Without such experiences I would not have had the precious privilege of tasting to such an extent Jehovah’s goodness, his mercy, and his expressions of tender care and affection. (James 5:11) It is heartwarming to read in the Bible about Jehovah’s care and concern “for the fatherless boy and for the widow.” (Deuteronomy 24:19-21) But it is nothing compared to the comfort and delight of actually experiencing his care and concern.
I have learned to put implicit trust and confidence in Jehovah, not leaning upon my own understanding, but in all my ways taking notice of him. (Psalm 43:5; Proverbs 3:5, 6) As a young widow, I prayed to God for comfort from his Word. Now, at age 68, I can truly say that in understanding the Bible and applying its counsel, I have found comfort beyond measure.
[Picture on page 26]
Lily Arthur with members of her family