A Purposeful Way of Life
AS TOLD BY MELVA A. WIELAND
In March 1940, a few months after I was baptized, my sister Phyllis came to me and asked: “Why don’t you go pioneering?” “Pioneering?” I asked. “You mean preaching full-time, nearly every day?”
‘HOW can I be a pioneer,’ I thought, ‘with my limited knowledge of the Bible and even more limited savings in the bank?’ Nevertheless, Phyllis’ question started me thinking. I also prayed about it a lot.
Finally I reasoned, ‘Why can’t I trust God when he promises to look after us if we seek his Kingdom first?’ (Matthew 6:33) So in June 1940, I gave notice to leave my job of dressmaking. Then I wrote to the branch office of the Watch Tower Society in Australia, requesting a pioneer assignment.
My Lifetime Assignment
A couple of weeks later, I received a reply, informing me that I would be given an assignment after I attended the convention that was to be held on the grounds of the headquarters of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Strathfield, a suburb of Australia’s largest city, Sydney. The morning after the convention, I reported to the office to get my assignment.
The person at the desk explained: “We are very busy in the laundry right now. Would you be able to stay and help out for a couple of weeks?” That was in August 1940—and I am still working in the laundry! At that time there were only 35 in the headquarters family; now there are 276.
But you may wonder why I consider working in a laundry to be “a purposeful way of life,” especially since this has been my work for over 50 years now. Before I explain, let me tell about my early pursuits.
Sports Became a Way of Life
I came into the world in Melbourne on January 1, 1914, the firstborn of five children. We had loving parents who lived by high principles and administered discipline when needed. We also had what might be called a casual religious upbringing, for our parents were not churchgoers. Nevertheless, they insisted that we children attend Sunday school classes of the Church of England.
When I left school in 1928 and started work as a seamstress, I decided to spend most of my leisure time playing sports, believing that this might help me overcome my shyness. I joined a tennis club and played all year round. During winter I also played basketball and baseball, and during summer I played on the women’s cricket team. Cricket became my real love, and I tried hard to perfect my skill as a fast bowler in order to qualify for interstate matches.
A Purpose Different From Sports
Early in life I became troubled by the teaching that a God of love had a place called hell where those who did bad things would be tormented endlessly. This just did not make sense to me. So imagine my delight when I unexpectedly learned from the Bible the true meaning of “hell.” It happened this way:
My sister Phyllis, who is five years younger than I am, enjoyed playing sports too, and we were on the same women’s cricket team. In 1936 a teammate introduced Phyllis to a young man named Jim who was known to be very religious. Soon Jim began talking to Phyllis about the teachings of the Bible. She was intrigued. “It is so logical and reasonable,” she would tell me.
At the time Phyllis and I shared a room at home, and she tried to interest me in what Jim was telling her about God’s Kingdom. “It is going to do what man’s governments have failed to do,” she told me excitedly. However, I argued with her, saying that this was just another religion to confuse us and that nobody really knew about the future. But Phyllis was tenacious and left literature around the room, hoping that I might read it.
I was curious as to why Phyllis was so enthusiastic about this new belief, so one day I picked up a booklet. It had the intriguing title Hereafter. I ‘pricked up my ears’ when I flicked through its pages and saw the word “hell.” To my surprise, I learned that the Bible word “hell” actually refers to the common grave of mankind and that both good and bad people go there. I also learned that hell is not a place of torment; the dead are unconscious and can feel nothing.—Ecclesiastes 9:5, 10; Psalm 146:3, 4.
This made sense to me, especially when the booklet explained that a loving and mighty God has promised to bring back the dead by a miracle called the resurrection. (John 5:28, 29) Now I also wanted to find out more of the things Jim had been telling Phyllis. I found the little King James Version that my father had given me when I was a child and looked up the scriptures listed in the booklet. This confirmed what was said about hell and the condition of the dead.
Another fascinating surprise to me was to learn that God has a personal name, Jehovah. (Psalm 83:18) I could also see that God had a purpose, or reason, for everything that he did or allowed to happen. This caused me to ask myself, ‘What really is my purpose in life?’ From then on I began to wonder whether it was in my best interests to take sports so seriously—almost to the exclusion of everything else.
Putting Resolves Into Action
Jim and Phyllis had no idea that my outlook on life had changed, but they found out when our family was invited to a friend’s party. In those days, on such occasions all present would stand, and a toast would be proposed to the King of England, and all would raise their glasses to drink the toast. However, I decided to remain seated with Jim and Phyllis. They could not believe their eyes when they saw me still sitting! We, of course, did not mean any disrespect, but as Christians we felt that we should be neutral and not participate in such nationalistic ceremonies.—John 17:16.
Nevertheless, my parents and the rest of the family were horrified. They said we were disloyal, or crazy—or both! Then, when Phyllis and I attended the yearly presentation for the women’s cricket team, a similar thing happened during a nationalistic ceremony. The upshot was that we both resigned from the team. This was not as difficult as I thought it would be, for I had come to realize that my allegiance and loyalty were to Christ Jesus, King of God’s heavenly Kingdom.
Phyllis now pointed out that I needed to attend the meetings of Jehovah’s Witnesses regularly to build up my faith with more Bible knowledge. At that time there was only one congregation in Melbourne, so I began attending meetings there each Sunday afternoon. Soon I was convinced that this was God’s true earthly organization.
Before long I was invited to share in the congregation’s house-to-house preaching activity. At first I was hesitant, but one Sunday morning I decided to go along just to see how it was done. I was pleased when I was assigned to accompany an experienced Witness who talked confidently at the first door and received a pleasant response from the householder. I thought to myself, ‘Well, that was not too difficult, but I’ll need a lot of practice before I can do as well as that.’ So imagine my astonishment when, after that first door, the Witness said to me, “You’ll be able now to go on your own.”
“On my own?” I asked, stunned! “You can’t be serious! What will I say if someone asks a question and I don’t know the answer?” But my companion was insistent. So, literally trembling, I went on my own while she continued witnessing to people on the other side of the street. Somehow I survived that first morning.
From then on I began sharing in the preaching work each Sunday morning. When someone at the doors asked me a question that I couldn’t answer, I would say, “I’ll look it up and come back to see you.” Happily, Jehovah kept giving me strength and courage to carry on my new purposeful way of life. I made a dedication of my life to him, and in October 1939, I was baptized at the Melbourne city baths. Soon thereafter Phyllis, who had by then married Jim, asked why I didn’t start pioneering.
Service at the Branch
In January 1941, soon after I began working at Bethel, as we called the branch office, a ban was put on the work of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Australia. Afterward the military took over our Bethel Home in Strathfield, and I was sent to the Society’s farm at Ingleburn, about 30 miles [48 km] outside the city. In June 1943 the courts exonerated the Watch Tower Society and lifted the ban. By the end of that year, 25 of us were invited back to Strathfield Bethel. There I continued working in the laundry, as well as sharing other duties around the home.
The next decade seemed to pass quickly. Then in 1956, I married a fellow Bethel worker, Ted Wieland. Ted was a very calm, patient man, and we were delighted when we received approval to continue to live in Bethel as husband and wife. We both treasured our purposeful way of life, happy for the privilege of serving at the Australia branch. Of course, in addition to our Bethel work, we had the joy of working together to help others to become disciples of Christ. As one example, you can read about the Weekes family in the October 22, 1993, issue of Awake!
The steady growth of the Kingdom preaching required the addition of only 10 or 12 persons to our staff during my first 30 years at Bethel. But the scene changed rapidly in the 1970’s when we began printing the Watchtower and Awake! magazines here. Construction started in January 1972 on a new printery. Soon a 40-ton printing press arrived from Japan, and by 1973 we were printing nearly 700,000 magazines a month. Our Bethel family now really started to grow.
The 1970’s also brought personal sorrow for me. First, my dear husband, Ted, died in 1975 at the age of 80. Then, less than a year later, my elderly father also fell asleep in death. I drew much comfort from Jehovah and his Word, the Bible, and from my spiritual brothers and sisters. It also helped greatly that I kept busy at Bethel with my purposeful activity during this very sad time in my life.
Nevertheless, life goes on, and I again began to experience satisfaction and blessings, now as a widow. In 1978, I attended the convention in London, England, and afterward visited the Watch Tower Society’s world headquarters in Brooklyn, New York. Seeing hundreds of my brothers and sisters happily working there at Brooklyn Bethel has remained an inspiration to me down to this day.
As the 1970’s came to an end, we learned that further expansion was being planned for the Australia Bethel complex. However, the expansion was not to take place in Strathfield, where we were running out of land space. Instead, a new, much larger complex was to be built on our property at Ingleburn, where I had worked during the ban in the early 1940’s.
Continued Purposeful Way of Life
What excitement there was in January 1982 when we moved to our new facilities! True, at first there was a little sadness at leaving familiar surroundings, but soon we were thrilled with our new home of 73 lovely bedrooms. Now instead of looking out at brick walls and suburban streets, we see green fields and trees, grazing cattle, and glorious sunrises and sunsets—a most enjoyable setting.
On March 19, 1983, we had a delightful dedication of the new complex in beautiful autumn sunshine. Lloyd Barry of the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses gave a moving dedication talk. I personally appreciated having him and his wife present for the dedication program, since I had worked with them at Strathfield Bethel when all of us were much younger.
Continued growth of the Kingdom preaching activity made necessary further expansion of our facilities here in Ingleburn. In 1987 the office was enlarged. Then, on November 25, 1989, a new five-story residence building and a three-story new factory addition were dedicated. How we have grown—from fewer than 4,000 ministers in Australia when I began my ministry to some 59,000!
More recently the Australia branch has been made one of the Society’s three Regional Engineering Offices, along with Japan and Germany. This has made necessary even further expansion of the Bethel complex. Another three-story office building is now complete, and work is well along on a five-story residence, which will have 80 more rooms to house our constantly growing family.
In the laundry, we have a good-size crew to handle the workload, but I often recall that August day in 1940 when I was invited to help in this department for two weeks. I am so grateful that those two weeks have stretched to more than 50 years and that Jehovah God guided my steps to such a purposeful way of life.
[Picture on page 21]
When I was 25 years old
[Picture on page 23]
Our wedding day in 1956
[Pictures on page 24]
In 1938 my sister and I were quite involved in sports, but my life now is so much more productive