Sustained by the God Who Cannot Lie
As TOLD BY MARY WILLIS
The effects of the world depression had reached the outback of Western Australia by 1932. That year, when I was only 19, Ellen Davies and I received a preaching assignment that covered about 40,000 square miles [100,000 sq km]. Our starting point was to be the small town of Wiluna, some 600 miles [950 km] northeast of our home in Perth, the capital of Western Australia.
ON OUR way there, Ellen and I found ourselves sharing the caboose of a train with a friendly railway guard. As the train stopped at each siding along the track, the guard kindly told us how long our stay would be. This gave us opportunity to get off and witness to people living in those isolated railway settlements. We eventually arrived at the mining town of Wiluna in the middle of a dust storm.
However, the railway siding at Wiluna was nearly two miles [3 km] from town. Neither of us was very robust, and we had three heavy cartons of literature as well as two suitcases. What would we do? We suspended a carton on a stick, and each took hold of one end of the stick. In this way we carried the cartons, one by one. It took seven trips to get the three cartons and our suitcases the two miles [3 km] into town. We made frequent rest stops because our hands got very sore.
Despite the dust, sore hands, and weary legs, we enjoyed the challenge and adventure. We both felt that Jehovah was with us, that he was sustaining us to cope with this rugged introduction to preaching in remote places. We soon saw his blessing on our work, too, for our efforts on that journey resulted in young Bob Horn embracing Bible truth. We rejoice that Bob could spend some years in Bethel service and that he continued to serve Jehovah faithfully for almost 50 years until his death in 1982.
From Wiluna we worked settlements on our journey of more than 450 miles [725 km] to Geraldton on the coast. From there we made our way back to Perth. Some nights we slept in bare railroad waiting rooms and once even in a haystack at the side of the railroad track.
We brought along a pillowcase packed with homemade wheatmeal biscuits. These were our main diet for the first half of our journey. At times we earned our meals by washing dishes and scrubbing floors in boardinghouses and messrooms. At other times we would work in the hot sun picking peas or beans. Contributions from interested ones who accepted Bible literature helped with our expenses.
What strengthened me to maintain faith in Jehovah and happily cope with many difficult situations in those days was the example and early training received from my mother.
A Christian Heritage
My mother had strong faith in a Creator, and for as far back as I can remember, she would speak to us children about him. Her faith was sorely tested, however, by the death of our seven-year-old brother in a tragic accident at school. But rather than become bitter toward God, mother took up an earnest study of the Bible. She wanted to learn, if possible, the reason for such tragedies. Her search for Bible truth was rewarded, and she symbolized her dedication to the true God, Jehovah, by water baptism in the early 1920’s.
From then on, her discussions with us often stressed how sure the promises of God are. She would urge us always to keep in mind that no matter what may happen, ‘God cannot lie.’ (Titus 1:2) As a result, my sister and I and two of our brothers, along with our families and grandchildren, are today praisers of Jehovah God. Two of my nephews, Alan and Paul Mason, serve as traveling overseers.
Early Desire to Evangelize
I was a poor student and left school in 1926, when I was 13. Yet, I had developed a strong desire to share what I had learned about the Bible with others. Father thought I was not educated enough to help anyone, but Mother said: “Even if she only tells people of the approaching war of Armageddon and that the meek will inherit the earth, that will advertise God’s Kingdom.” So I began sharing in the door-to-door preaching work in my early teens, though I was not baptized until 1930. Soon afterward, I began the full-time evangelizing work in the area around Perth.
The following year, 1931, we began using our new name Jehovah’s Witnesses. However, many householders objected to our use of this sacred name of God and responded harshly. Yet I continued in the ministry despite the unpleasant encounters. I was confident that God does not lie when he promises that his servants can ‘depend on the strength that he supplies.’—1 Peter 4:11; Philippians 4:13.
Identifying the “Great Crowd”
In 1935, I received an assignment to the other side of the vast Australian continent. Thus, for years thereafter I served as a pioneer minister around the New England district of the state of New South Wales, some 2,500 miles [4,000 km] from my former home in Perth.
Up until then I had partaken of the emblems of unleavened bread and red wine at the annual Memorial of Jesus’ death. Though this was considered the right thing to do, especially for zealous full-time ministers, I never was convinced that I had a heavenly hope. Then, in 1935, it was made clear to us that there was being gathered a great crowd with the hope of living forever on earth. Many of us rejoiced to understand that we were part of that great crowd, and we ceased partaking of the emblems. (John 10:16; Revelation 7:9) Bible truth was shining progressively brighter, even as Jehovah had promised.—Proverbs 4:18.
New Methods of Preaching
In the mid-1930’s, we began using the phonograph in our ministry. Thus, our sturdy bicycles had to be fitted with front and rear carriers not only for the heavy phonographs but for the records and our literature bags as well. I had to take great care when my bicycle was fully loaded because if it fell over, it was too heavy for me to lift up again!
About that time we also began what were called information marches. As we walked along the main streets of towns, we wore placards, or sandwich signs, that displayed eye-catching slogans. I found this work a particular test of faith, especially when I was arrested and locked up overnight in a small cell in the town of Lismore. It was humiliating to be brought into court the next day without even being allowed to comb my hair! But once again Jehovah upheld me as he had promised. The case was dismissed because the arresting constable’s only charge was that my placard was offensive to his religion.
Back to the West
In the early 1940’s, my pioneer preaching took me back to the country towns in Western Australia. Here I continued enjoying memorable experiences and spiritual blessings. While in my assignment in Northam, I met a busy housewife, Flo Timmins, about seven miles [11 km] out of town. She accepted the book Reconciliation, and before long she became a dedicated Witness of Jehovah God. She is still active in Kingdom service, and her daughter, then only four, grew up to become a special pioneer minister.
But there were other unforgettable experiences. Once, my partner and I were crossing a bridge in Northam in our horse-drawn sulky, when suddenly the horse bolted, giving us a frightening ride over the swirling waters of the Avon River far below. After nearly a mile [more than 1 km], the horse slowed down.
Marriage and a Family
In 1950, I married Arthur Willis, who had also been a pioneer for many years. We settled down in the West Australian country town of Pingelly, where we were blessed with a son, Bentley, and a daughter, Eunice. When the children were about to finish school, Arthur decided to enroll as a pioneer again. Their father’s good example encouraged both of our children to begin regular pioneering as soon as they qualified.
Arthur often took the children to far-off rural areas to preach. On occasion, he would stay away from home with them for a week or more at a time, camping out each night. During these absences, I stayed at home to care for the family furniture business, making it possible for the three of them to pioneer.
Ministry Among the Aborigines
One morning just after the family had returned from one of their rural trips, we received an unexpected visitor. The caller was an Aborigine, who asked: “What do I gotta do to come back?” At first we were puzzled. Then Arthur recognized him as a man who many years previously was disfellowshipped from the Christian congregation for drunkenness. He had since developed a shocking reputation for heavy drinking and for incurring debts.
Arthur explained what he needed to do to be reinstated into Jehovah’s clean organization. He left quietly without saying much, and we all wondered what he would do. None of us expected what happened over the next few months. The changes that man made were almost unbelievable! Not only was he recovering from his drinking problem but he visited people in the district, reminding them of his debts, and then paid what he owed! Today he is once again a brother in the faith, and he served for a time as a pioneer minister.
There were many Aboriginal people in Pingelly, and we enjoyed a most satisfying ministry, helping these humble folk learn and accept the truth of God’s Word. How faith strengthening it has been for me to have had a part in assisting many of the Australian Aboriginal people in learning the truth!
A congregation was started in Pingelly, and at the outset, most of its members were Aborigines. We had to teach many of them to read and write. There was a lot of prejudice against them in those early years, but the townspeople gradually came to respect Aboriginal Witnesses for their clean living and for being trustworthy citizens.
Jehovah’s Unfailing Help
My dear husband, Arthur, who had served God faithfully for 57 years, died early in 1986. He was well respected by all the businessmen in Pingelly and by people of the district. Once again, Jehovah sustained me, giving me the strength to bear this sudden loss.
My son, Bentley, serves as an elder in the north of Western Australia, where he and his wife, Lorna, have raised their family in the truth. Another source of great joy to me is that my daughter, Eunice, has continued in full-time service to this day. She and her husband, Jeff, serve as pioneers. I live with them now and am blessed to be able to auxiliary pioneer on a continuous basis.
For over 60 years, I have experienced the fulfillment of Jehovah’s loving promise to strengthen his servants and help them cope with whatever circumstances they may have to face. He supplies our every need if we never doubt him or take him for granted. My faith has been strengthened as I have felt God’s hand at work, and I have seen how he gives his blessing even beyond what we can comprehend. (Malachi 3:10) Truly, God cannot lie!
[Picture on page 27]
Mary in 1933
[Pictures on page 29]
Mary and Arthur in later years