Old and Satisfied With Years
AS TOLD BY MURIEL SMITH
A loud knock shook my front door. I had just returned home for lunch after a busy morning in the preaching work. As was my habit, I was boiling water for a cup of tea and was about to put my feet up for my half-hour break. The knock sounded very insistent, and as I made my way to the door, I wondered just who could be calling at this time. I soon found out. The two men on my doorstep introduced themselves as police officers. They stated that they were there to search my house for literature produced by Jehovah’s Witnesses—a banned organization.
Why were Jehovah’s Witnesses under ban in Australia, and how did I come to be one of them? It all started with a gift from my mother in the year 1910, when I was ten years of age.
MY FAMILY lived in a wooden cottage in the North Sydney suburb of Crows Nest. I came home from school one day to find my mother talking to a man at the front door. I was curious about the identity of this strange man who was dressed in a suit and carried a bag full of books. I shyly excused myself and went into the house. However, just a few minutes later, Mother called me. She said: “This man has some lovely books, and they’re all about the Scriptures. Now, since you’re going to have another birthday soon, you can either have a new dress or these books. Which would you like?”
“Oh, Mummy, I’ll have the books thank you,” I responded.
So at age ten, I came to have the first three volumes of Studies in the Scriptures, by Charles Taze Russell. The man at the door explained to my mother that she would need to help me to understand the books, as they would likely be too difficult for me. Mother said that she would be glad to do so. Sadly, soon after this event, Mother died. Father diligently looked after my brother, my sister, and me, but there were now extra responsibilities for me to carry, and these seemed to overwhelm me. Yet, another tragedy was just around the corner.
The first world war erupted in 1914, and just one year later, our dear father was killed. Now orphaned, my brother and sister were sent to live with relatives, and I was sent to a Catholic boarding college. Sometimes, I was distressed by loneliness. Still, I am grateful for the opportunity I was given to pursue my love of music, in particular the piano. The years passed, and I graduated from the boarding college. In 1919, I married Roy Smith, a musical-instrument salesman. In 1920, we started a family, and again I was engrossed in the day-to-day cares of life. But what about those books?
A Neighbor Shares Spiritual Truth
Through all those years, the “Bible books” traveled with me. Though I had never really read them, deep down I knew that the message they contained was important. Then, one day in the late 1920’s, Lil Bimson, one of our neighbors, came to visit. We went into the lounge, sat down, and had some tea.
“Oh, you’ve got those books!” she suddenly exclaimed.
“What books?” I asked, puzzled.
She pointed to Studies in the Scriptures sitting in the bookcase. Lil borrowed them and took them home that day and eagerly read them. Her excitement over what she read soon became very evident. Lil obtained more literature from the Bible Students, as Jehovah’s Witnesses were then known. Moreover, she could not hold back from telling us all the things that she was learning. One of the books she obtained was The Harp of God, and it soon ended up in our house. My career in Jehovah’s service finally started when I made time to read this Bible-based publication. At last, I found answers to fundamental questions that my church had not been able to give me.
Happily for me, Roy paid particular attention to the message of the Bible, and both of us became avid Bible students. Previously, Roy had been a member of the Freemasons. Now our family was united in true worship, and twice a week one of the brothers conducted a Bible study with the entire family. Further encouragement came when we began attending the meetings held by the Bible Students. The venue in Sydney was a small rented hall in the suburb of Newtown. At that time, there were fewer than 400 Witnesses in the entire country, so for most of the brothers, attending meetings meant traveling a considerable distance.
For our family, attending the meetings meant regularly crossing Sydney Harbour. Before the Sydney Harbour Bridge was built in 1932, every crossing had to be made by vehicle ferry. Despite the time and cost of this journey, we endeavored not to miss any of the spiritual meals Jehovah was providing. The effort to establish ourselves solidly in the truth was worthwhile, since the second world war was brewing, and the issue of neutrality was going to affect our family directly.
A Time of Tests and Rewards
The early 1930’s were exciting times for me and my family. I was baptized in 1930, and in 1931, I was present at that memorable convention when we all stood up and agreed to take on the beautiful name Jehovah’s Witnesses. Roy and I endeavored to live up to that name by sharing in all the preaching methods and campaigns that the organization encouraged. For example, in 1932 we engaged in a special booklet campaign designed to reach the masses of people who came to see the opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. A special highlight for us was the use of sound cars, and we were privileged to have our family car fitted with a sound system. With this technology, we made the streets of Sydney echo with recorded Bible lectures given by Brother Rutherford.
However, times were again changing and becoming increasingly difficult. By 1932 the Great Depression weighed heavily on Australia, so Roy and I decided to simplify our lives. One way we did this was by moving closer to the congregation, and thus we greatly reduced our travel costs. Economic pressures, though, paled into insignificance as the terror of World War II gripped the globe.
By obeying Jesus’ command to be no part of the world, Jehovah’s Witnesses worldwide became a target of persecution, and Australia was no exception. Provoked by wartime hysteria, some labeled us Communists. These opposers erroneously claimed that Jehovah’s Witnesses were using the four radio stations they owned in Australia to send messages to the Japanese army.
Young brothers who were called up for army service faced much pressure to compromise. I am pleased to say that all three of our sons took a stand for their beliefs and maintained their neutrality. Our eldest son, Richard, received an 18-month prison sentence. Our second son, Kevin, was able to register as a conscientious objector. Sadly, though, our youngest son, Stuart, died in a motorcycle accident on his way to complete his court defense regarding the neutrality issue. This tragedy was truly stressful. Yet, maintaining our focus on the Kingdom and Jehovah’s promise of a resurrection helped us to endure.
They Missed the Real Prize
In January 1941, Jehovah’s Witnesses in Australia were placed under ban. But, as did the apostles of Jesus, Roy and I obeyed God as ruler rather than men, and for two and a half years, we continued to operate underground. It was during this time that the two plainclothes policemen I mentioned earlier knocked on my door. What happened?
Well, I invited them in. As they entered the house, I asked, “Do you mind if I just finish my cup of tea before you search the house?” Amazingly, they agreed, and I went into the kitchen to pray to Jehovah and gather my thoughts. When I returned, one policeman entered our study area and took everything he could see with the Watchtower logo on it, including the literature in my witnessing bag and my Bible.
“Are you sure that you don’t have any other literature hidden away in cartons?” he then asked. “We have information that you attend a meeting every week in a hall at the end of this road and that you take a lot of literature there.”
“That’s true,” I replied, “but it’s not there now.”
“Yes, we know that, Mrs. Smith,” he said. “We also know that the literature is stored in the homes of people around the district.”
In our son’s bedroom, they found five cartons containing copies of the booklet Freedom or Romanism.
“Are you sure you haven’t got anything else in the garage?” he asked.
“No, there’s nothing there,” I said.
He then opened up a cupboard in the dining room. He found blank forms, which were used to fill out the congregation report. He took these and then insisted on looking in the garage.
“Come this way then,” I said.
They followed me out to the garage and after inspecting it, they finally left.
Well, those policemen thought they had a wonderful prize with those five cartons! However, they left the real prize behind. You see, in those days, I was serving as the congregation secretary, and I had congregation publisher lists and other important information in the house. Thankfully, the brothers had warned us to be prepared for such searches, and I had carefully hidden these documents. I placed them in envelopes and put them at the bottom of my tins of tea, sugar, and flour. I also had some stored in the aviary, which was near the garage. So the police had walked right past the very information they wanted.
Entering the Full-Time Service
By 1947, our older children had started their own families. At this time, Roy and I decided that it was within our reach to take up the full-time ministry. There was a need in the South Australian field, so we sold our home and purchased a caravan, or trailer, which we named Mizpah, meaning “Watchtower.” This style of living allowed us to preach in remote areas. Often, we worked in unassigned rural territory. I have many fond memories of that time. One of the studies I conducted was with a young woman named Beverly. Before progressing to baptism, she left the area. Imagine my joy when years later a sister approached me at a convention and identified herself as Beverly! What happiness it brought me after all those years to see her serving Jehovah along with her husband and children.
In 1979, I was privileged to attend the Pioneer Service School. One of the things emphasized at that school was that to endure in the pioneer ministry, one has to have a good personal study routine. I certainly found that to be true. Study, meetings, and the ministry have been my whole life. I count it a privilege to have served as a regular pioneer for over 50 years.
Coping With Health Problems
The last several decades, though, have presented me with some special challenges. In 1962, I was diagnosed with glaucoma. At that time, the treatment available was somewhat limited, and my eyesight deteriorated quite rapidly. Roy’s health also declined, and in 1983 he experienced a very serious stroke that left him partially paralyzed and unable to speak. He passed away in 1986. He had given me much practical support during my full-time service, and I truly miss him.
In spite of those setbacks, I tried to keep up a good spiritual routine. I bought a sturdy car, one suitable for field service in our semirural area, and continued my pioneer service with the help of my daughter Joyce. My sight progressively worsened until I completely lost the sight in one eye. The doctors replaced it with a glass one. Still, with the use of a magnifying glass and the large-print literature, I was able to spend three to five hours a day studying by using the little sight left in my one eye.
Study time has always been very precious to me. So you can imagine what a terrible shock it was that while studying one afternoon, quite suddenly, I could not see a thing. It was as though someone had switched off the light. My sight was now completely gone. How have I continued to study? Well, even though I am now quite deaf, I rely on the audiocassettes and the loving support of my family to keep me spiritually strong.
Enduring to the End
Now, as a centenarian, a few other things have gone wrong with my health, and I have had to slow down considerably. Sometimes, I feel a little lost. In fact, now that I can’t see at all, sometimes I actually am lost! I would love to have some Bible studies again, but with my health the way it is, I can no longer go out and find them. Initially, this depressed me. I had to learn to accept my limitations and work within them. This has not been easy. Still, what a privilege it is that every month, I am able to report some time spent talking about our great God, Jehovah. When opportunities come my way to talk about the Bible, such as when nurses, tradesmen, and others drop by, I grab them—tactfully, of course.
One of my most satisfying blessings is to see four generations of my family faithfully worshiping Jehovah. Some of these have reached out to serve as pioneer ministers in places where the need is great, as elders or ministerial servants, and at Bethel. Of course, like many of my generation, I anticipated that the end of this system would arrive a lot sooner. But what an increase I have seen during my seven decades of service! It gives me great satisfaction to have been involved in something so grand.
The nurses who visit me comment that it must be my faith that keeps me going. I agree with them. Being active in Jehovah’s service makes for the best life possible. Like King David, I can truly say that I am old and satisfied with years.—1 Chronicles 29:28.
(Sister Muriel Smith died on April 1, 2002, as this article was being finalized. Just one month short of 102 years of age, she was truly exemplary in faithfulness and endurance.)
[Pictures on page 24]
When I was about five years old and at age 19, when I met my husband, Roy
[Picture on page 26]
Our car and the caravan we named Mizpah
[Picture on page 27]
With my husband, Roy, in 1971