Alone but Never Abandoned
AS TOLD BY ADA LEWIS
I have always been inclined to be a loner. I am also strongly determined—others sometimes call it stubborn—in everything I do. I know, too, how easy it is to be outspoken, and this trait has caused me problems down through the years.
YET, I am grateful that Jehovah God has not rejected me because of my personality flaws. By a study of his Word, I have been able to modify my personality and have thus served his Kingdom interests for some 60 years. Since childhood, I have been a lover of horses, and God’s help in controlling my somewhat obstinate streak has often reminded me of how a bridle can be used to control a horse.
I was born near a beautiful blue lake at Mount Gambier in South Australia in 1908. My parents had a dairy farm, and I was the eldest daughter of eight children. Our father died when we were all quite young. That left me much of the responsibility of managing the farm, since my two older brothers needed to work away from home to bring in an income for the family. Life on the farm was demanding, hard work.
First Contact With Bible Truth
Our family attended the Presbyterian Church, and we were regular, practicing members. I became a Sunday-school teacher and took seriously the responsibility to teach the children what I believed to be spiritually and morally right.
In 1931 my grandfather died, and among his possessions were several books written by then president of the Watch Tower Society, J. F. Rutherford. I began to read The Harp of God and Creation, and the more I read, the more astonished I was to learn that many things that I believed and had been teaching the children were not supported by the Bible.
It was a shock to learn that the human soul is not immortal, that most people will not go to heaven when they die, and that there is no eternal suffering in hellfire for the wicked. I was also disturbed to find out that observing the weekly Sunday sabbath is not a Christian requirement. So I was faced with a serious decision: to stick with the conventional teachings of Christendom or to begin teaching Bible truth. It did not take me long to decide to quit all my association with the Presbyterian Church.
Now Really Alone
My family, friends, and former church acquaintances were far from pleased when I announced my intention to leave the church and no longer teach Sunday school. And when they found out that I was getting involved with the so-called Judge Rutherford people, that only added fuel to the fiery gossip. I was not actually ostracized, but most of my family and former friends were cool toward me, to say the least.
The more I studied and checked the scriptures listed in the books I was reading, the more I began to see the need to preach publicly. I learned that Jehovah’s Witnesses went from house to house as part of their public ministry. But at that time there were no Witnesses in our district. Therefore, no one encouraged me or showed me how to preach the good news of God’s Kingdom. (Matthew 24:14) I felt very much alone.
Nevertheless, the Bible command to preach to others kept ringing in my ears, and I decided I must begin to preach somehow. After a lot of prayer, I decided to start calling at the homes of neighbors simply to tell them what I had learned from my studies and to try to show them these things from their own Bibles. My first house was that of my previous Sunday-school superintendent. His icy response and negative comments about my deserting the church were certainly not an encouraging start. But I felt a warm glow and a strange inner strength as I left his home and continued to call at other homes.
There was really no outright opposition, but I was amazed at the general indifference of previous church associates when I called on them. To my surprise and disappointment, I experienced the stiffest opposition from my eldest brother, reminding me of Jesus’ words: “You will be delivered up even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends, . . . and you will be objects of hatred by all people because of my name.”—Luke 21:16, 17.
I had become an experienced rider at an early age, so I decided that the quickest way to reach peoples’ homes would be on horseback. This enabled me to go farther afield into nearby rural territory. However, one afternoon my horse stumbled and fell on a slippery road, and I suffered a badly fractured skull. For a time, there were fears that I might not survive. After that fall, if the roads were wet or slippery, I traveled by horse and sulky rather than on horseback.*
Contact With the Organization
Some time after my accident, a group of full-time preachers, now called pioneers, visited the Mount Gambier district. Thus, for the first time, I was able to talk face-to-face with fellow believers. Before leaving, they encouraged me to write to the Watch Tower Society’s branch office and inquire about how I could share in the public preaching work in a more organized way.
After writing to the Society, I received books, booklets, and a printed testimony card for use in introducing myself at the doors. I felt a little closer to my spiritual brothers and sisters because of mail contact with the branch office. But when the pioneer group left and moved on to the next town, I felt more alone than ever.
As a result of my regular witnessing rounds each day—mainly by horse and sulky—I became well-known in the district. At the same time, I was able to care for my farm chores. By then my family had become resigned to this routine and made no effort to interfere. For four years I served in this way as an isolated, unbaptized proclaimer of the good news.
Convention and, At Last, Baptism
In April 1938, Brother Rutherford visited Australia. The clergy’s strong opposition resulted in cancellation of the contract for the Sydney Town Hall. However, at the last minute, permission to use the Sports Grounds was obtained. The forced change of plans actually proved beneficial, since many thousands more could be accommodated at the larger Sports Grounds. Some 12,000 came, the interest of many apparently having been aroused by the clergy-inspired opposition to our meeting.
In connection with Brother Rutherford’s visit, a convention of several days was also held in a nearby Sydney suburb. It was there that at last I symbolized my dedication to Jehovah God by water baptism. Can you imagine the joy I experienced finally to assemble with hundreds of brothers and sisters from all over the vast Australian continent?
Back to Mount Gambier
On returning home, I felt terribly alone, yet I was more determined than ever to do what I could in the Kingdom work. Shortly I became acquainted with the Agnew family—Hugh, his wife, and their four children. They lived in the town of Millicent, just 30 miles [50 km] from Mount Gambier, and I would travel 30 miles [50 km] each way by horse and sulky to conduct a regular Bible study with them. When they embraced the truth, my loneliness was relieved.
In a short time, we were formed into a group for organized witnessing. Then, happily, my mother began to take an interest and joined me on the 60-mile [100 km] round-trip to the study with the newly formed group. From then on, Mother was always encouraging and helpful, although it was a few years before she was baptized. No more loneliness now!
Our small group produced four pioneers, the three Agnew girls—Crystal, Estelle, and Betty—and me. Later, in the early 1950’s, all three girls attended the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead. They were assigned as missionaries to India and Sri Lanka, where they still serve faithfully.
In January 1941 the activity of Jehovah’s Witnesses was banned in Australia, so we quickly went into action. We put everything that we used in the ministry—literature, portable phonographs, recorded Bible lectures, and so forth—into a large tin trunk. Then we placed the trunk in a shed and brought in cartloads of hay to bury it.
Despite the ban, we continued with our house-to-house preaching, but cautiously, using only the Bible when talking to householders. I would hide magazines and booklets under the saddle of my horse and bring them out only when genuine interest in the Kingdom message was located. Finally, in June 1943, the ban was lifted, and we were once again able to offer literature openly.
In 1943, I made myself available as a pioneer, and the following year I left Mount Gambier for another assignment. First, I was invited to serve for a short time at the Society’s branch office in Strathfield. Following this I received, in turn, assignments in small towns in southern New South Wales and western Victoria. However, one of my most spiritually rewarding assignments was with a large congregation in the city of Melbourne. Having come from a small country town, I learned a great deal serving there.
In my assignment in the lower Gippsland district of Victoria, my pioneer companion, Helen Crawford, and I conducted many Bible studies and, in a short time, saw the formation of a congregation. That district had a large rural territory, and for transportation we had an old, unreliable motor vehicle. Sometimes we rode, but many times we pushed. How I longed for a horse! At times, I could truthfully say: “I would give anything (except the Kingdom) for a horse!” In most towns of that district today, there are strong congregations and fine Kingdom Halls.
In 1969, I received an assignment to Canberra, the capital of Australia. This was a challenging and colorful place in which to witness, since we often contacted personnel at the many foreign embassies. I still serve here, but in recent years I have concentrated my witnessing on the industrial area of the city.
In 1973, I had the privilege of attending large conventions in the United States. Another highlight of my life was being a convention delegate in 1979 and touring Israel and Jordan. Visiting the actual sites mentioned in the Bible and reflecting on the events that happened there was indeed a moving experience. I was able to sample what it feels like to float in the Dead Sea, with its dense salty waters, and during our visit to Petra in Jordan, I had opportunity once again to ride a horse. This brought back to mind those earlier days when horses had enabled me to reach scattered and rural areas with the Kingdom message.
Continued Full-Time Service
My desire to keep on in the full-time service despite advancing years has been kept alive by such special provisions as the Pioneer Service School and the pioneer meetings held in conjunction with circuit assemblies, as well as the continual encouragement I receive from traveling overseers. I truly can say that Jehovah has kindly seen to it that my days of being alone are a thing of the past.
I am now 87 years of age, and after some 60 years of serving Jehovah, I have a word of encouragement for others who may also be outspoken and strongly independent: Always submit to Jehovah’s leading. May Jehovah help us control our outspokenness, and may he constantly remind us that though we might often feel alone, he will never abandon us.
A sulky is a light, two-wheeled vehicle.