I Found Treasure of Excelling Value
AS TOLD BY FLORENCE WIDDOWSON
As nightfall approached, we decided to make camp near a lagoon. Not the ideal camping spot for two women, but we thought it would be all right for one night. While I was busy pitching the tent, Marjorie prepared our evening meal.
I HAD just finished hammering in the last tent peg when movement near a black tree stump caught my eye. “Did you see that stump move?” I called to Marjorie.
“No,” she called back, a little bewildered.
“Well, it definitely moved,” I shouted. “Give me the kettle!”
Taking it, along with the ax on my shoulder, I headed toward the lagoon. When I was almost abreast of the stump, a man stepped out from behind it!
“Is the water in the lagoon suitable for drinking?” I managed to splutter.
“No, it isn’t,” he answered gruffly, “but if you want drinking water, I will get you some.”
I hastily declined his offer, and to my great relief, he turned on his heel and walked away. Trembling, I hurried back and told Marjorie what had happened. We quickly pulled down the tent, packed up, and left. Later we were told that the man had just been released from jail.
Although prospectors often camped out there in the gold fields of Australia back in 1937, we were prospectors of a different sort. We were searching for people who were precious to God.
My Family Background
A hundred years ago, my father was the blacksmith in the small village of Porepunkah in the state of Victoria. I was born there in 1895, and I grew up with four brothers near the Ovens River, at the foot of Mount Buffalo. My parents were regular attenders at the Union Church, and I went to Sunday school, where my father was superintendent.
In 1909, Mother suffered a heart attack during a violent storm and died in my father’s arms. Then, early in 1914, one of my brothers left home, and a few hours later, he was brought back to us—dead. He had committed suicide. Our grief was deepened by the church’s teaching that hell awaited him, since suicide was said to be an unforgivable sin.
Later that year World War I broke out, and two of my brothers enlisted for overseas service. The dreadful news of bloodshed and suffering prompted six of us young women, along with my father, to begin a study of the Bible book of John.
Finding True Treasure
Ellen Hudson had a copy of the book The Time Is at Hand, by Charles Taze Russell. Her enthusiasm for it influenced the rest of us in the group. When she noted that the book was only one of a series of six volumes entitled Studies in the Scriptures, she sent a letter to the International Bible Students Association in Melbourne and requested the rest of the set. Our group agreed to use the first volume, The Divine Plan of the Ages, in our weekly studies.
Imagine Father’s joy and mine to discover that there is no fiery hell. The fear that my brother was confined in hellfire was removed. We learned the truth that the dead are unconscious, as though asleep, and are not living somewhere suffering torment. (Ecclesiastes 9:5, 10; John 11:11-14) Some in our Bible study group decided to go to our neighbors to preach the truths we were learning. We walked to nearby houses, but we used bicycles and a two-wheeled one-horse buggy to reach those out of town.
I had my first taste of house-to-house witnessing on Armistice Day, November 11, 1918. Three of us from our study group traveled 50 miles [80 km] to the town of Wangaratta to distribute the tract Peoples Pulpit. Years later, while on a preaching assignment in one of the outback areas, I had the experience mentioned at the outset.
In 1919, I attended a Bible Students’ convention in Melbourne. There, on April 22, 1919, I symbolized my dedication to Jehovah by water immersion. The spiritual banquet deepened my appreciation for the spiritual treasure of the Kingdom of the heavens and for Jehovah’s earthly organization.—Matthew 13:44.
I did not return home after the convention but accepted an invitation to join Jane Nicholson, a full-time preacher, for a month of witnessing. Our assignment was the farming and cattle communities along the King River. Just a few years ago, this mountainous area was the setting for the film The Man From Snowy River.
In 1921 we received the fine Bible study aid The Harp of God. When Father began to use it as a textbook for his Sunday-school class, many parents objected and asked him to resign. He promptly did so. Later we received the booklet Hell, with its intriguing cover questions, “What Is It? Who Are There? Can They Get Out?” Father was so thrilled with the clear Bible proof presented on the subject that he immediately began to distribute copies from house to house. He placed hundreds of them in our village and in nearby rurals.
Preaching Expeditions With Father
Eventually, Father invested in an automobile to reach people in other areas with the Kingdom message. As a blacksmith, he was more accustomed to horses, so I became the car driver. To begin with, we stayed overnight at hotels. Soon this proved to be too expensive, and we began to camp out.
Father fixed the car’s front seat so that it lay flat and I could sleep in the car. We set up a small tent for Father to sleep in. After camping out several weeks, we would return to Porepunkah, where Dad would open up his blacksmith’s shop again. We never ceased to marvel that there were always plenty of paying customers to cover the expenses for our next preaching trip.
Many rightly disposed people responded favorably to our visits and eventually accepted home Bible studies. There are now seven congregations with their own Kingdom Halls in the area that was originally served by our small group from Porepunkah. Indeed, who can despise “the day of small things”?—Zechariah 4:10.
In 1931, Dad and I drove nearly 200 miles [300 km] over atrocious roads to attend a special meeting, where we adopted our new name, “Jehovah’s Witnesses.” Both of us were delighted with this unique, Scriptural name. (Isaiah 43:10-12) It identified us far more clearly than the less distinctive name “International Bible Students,” by which we had been known until then.
One day while witnessing in the town of Bethanga, I met the local minister from the Church of England. He became angry and began to trace our many book placements, demanding that the people hand over their books to him. Afterward he conducted a public book burning in the center of town. But his despicable act backfired.
After I informed the Society’s branch office of what had occurred, an open letter was printed that condemned what the clergyman had done. Also, arrangements were made for carloads of Witnesses to distribute the letter throughout the district. When Father and I later revisited the town, we placed more books than before. The townspeople were curious about what the “forbidden” literature contained!
The first person to embrace Bible truth in northeast Victoria as a result of our preaching was Milton Gibb. Between our visits, he studied thoroughly all the Society’s publications we left with him. On one of our return visits, he surprised us by saying: “I am now one of your disciples.”
Though pleased with his decision, I explained: “No, Milton. You could not be one of my disciples.”
“Well, then, I am one of Rutherford’s [then president of the Watch Tower Society] disciples.”
Again I pointed out: “No, not one of Rutherford’s disciples either, but I hope one of Christ’s disciples.”
Milton Gibb proved to be just one of the many precious treasures for whom I have spent so many years prospecting. He and two of his sons are Christian elders, and other members of his family are active in the congregation.
Meeting Various Trials
Despite the ban placed on the work of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Australia in January 1941, we continued preaching, using only the Bible. Then my pioneering, or full-time ministry, was interrupted when I was called home to care for my seriously ill father. Later, I also became ill and required a serious operation. My return to health took some time, but I experienced the truth of God’s promise: “I will by no means leave you nor by any means forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5) A Christian sister reassured me, saying: “Remember, Flo, you are never alone. And you and Jehovah always make a majority.”
Then came my dear father’s final illness of 13 weeks. On July 26, 1946, he closed his eyes in death. He had enjoyed a full life, and his was a heavenly hope. (Philippians 3:14) So at age 51, I was alone, having been with Dad most of my early years. Then I met my future husband. We were married in 1947 and began pioneering together. But this happy period did not last long, since he suffered a stroke in 1953 and became an invalid.
My husband’s speech was badly affected, and it became almost impossible to converse with him. That was the most difficult part of nursing him. The mental strain of trying to understand what he was struggling to say was very great indeed. Although we were living in an isolated area where there was no nearby congregation, Jehovah did not desert us during those trying years. I kept up-to-date with all the latest organizational information, as well as with the continual supply of spiritual food in the Watchtower and Awake! magazines. On December 29, 1957, my dear husband died.
Ministry in Adelaide
I was alone once more. What was I to do? Would I be accepted again as a full-time minister after a break of nearly five years? I was accepted, so I sold my home and made a fresh start in the pioneer work in Adelaide, capital city of South Australia. Pioneers were needed there at the time, and I was assigned to the Prospect Congregation.
Since I was apprehensive about driving in city traffic, I sold my car and began using a bicycle again. I used it until I was 86 years old, becoming known in the area as “the little lady on the blue bicycle.” In time I became increasingly nervous in the traffic; the front wheel of my bicycle seemed to quiver constantly. The last straw came one afternoon when I fell into a hedge. ‘This is it,’ I said to myself, and so I was back to using my two feet again.
A few years ago, while attending a district convention, my legs started to give out, and subsequently I had two operations on my hip joints. I was doing fine after the operation until a big dog knocked me down. This necessitated further treatment, and since then I have needed a walker to help me get around. My mind is still quite active. It is as one friend put it: “It seems your aging body can’t keep up with your youthful mind.”
Over the years, I have seen the congregations in Adelaide grow, expand, and divide. Then, in 1983, when I was 88, I left Adelaide to live with a family at Kyabram in the state of Victoria, where I have spent ten happy years. I still manage to get out in the field ministry; friends in the congregation drive me around to visit those who regularly obtain magazines from me. These people kindly come out to the car so that I can talk to them.
Reflecting back on my over 98 years of living, I fondly recall the many loyal and faithful ones who have praised Jehovah with me, especially my wonderful dad. I seem to have outlived all the faithful ones who were my partners in the pioneer ministry. But what joy awaits me upon being reunited with those who share the hope of the prize of life in God’s heavenly Kingdom, truly a treasure of excelling value!
[Picture on page 28]
I was baptized April 22, 1919
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Happy still to be serving Jehovah as I approach 100 years