A Missionary Assignment Became Our Home
AS TOLD BY DICK WALDRON
It was a Sunday afternoon in September 1953. We were new arrivals in South-West Africa (now Namibia). We had been in the country less than a week and were about to conduct a public meeting in the capital, Windhoek. What had brought us all the way from Australia to this African land? My wife and I, together with three young women, had come as missionaries of the good news of God’s Kingdom.—Matthew 24:14.
MY LIFE started in a distant part of the earth, in Australia, in the fateful year 1914. My teenage years coincided with the Great Depression, and I had to do my share to keep the family alive. There was no work, but I devised a way to hunt wild rabbits, of which there were many in Australia. Thus, one of my main contributions to the family pantry was a steady supply of rabbit meat.
By the time the second world war broke out in 1939, I had managed to get a job working on the trams and buses in the city of Melbourne. There were some 700 men working shifts on the buses, and on every shift I met a different driver or conductor. I often asked them, “What is your religion?” and had them explain their beliefs. The only person who could give me satisfying answers was one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. He explained to me the Bible-based message of a paradise earth, where God-fearing humans would live forever.—Psalm 37:29.
Meanwhile, my mother also came in touch with Jehovah’s Witnesses. Often, when I came off the late shift, my food was waiting for me together with a copy of the Consolation magazine (now called Awake!). What I read sounded good. In time, I concluded that this was the true religion, and I became actively involved and was baptized in May 1940.
In Melbourne there was a pioneer home, where some 25 full-time ministers of Jehovah’s Witnesses lived. I moved in with them. Day after day I listened to their exciting experiences in the preaching work, and a desire developed in my heart to join their ranks. Eventually, I applied for the pioneer service. I was accepted and was called to serve at the Australia branch office of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Thus I became part of the Bethel family.
Imprisonment and Ban
One of my assignments at Bethel was to operate a sawmill. There we cut timber to make charcoal for gas. This was used for the vehicles at the branch because commercial gasoline was in short supply on account of the war. There were 12 of us working at the sawmill, all subject to military conscription. It was not long before we were sentenced to six months in prison for our Bible-based refusal of military service. (Isaiah 2:4) We were sent to a prison farm for forced labor. What did they give us to do? Of all things, we had to cut wood, the very thing we had been trained to do at Bethel!
We did so well at woodcutting that the governor of the prison gave us a Bible and our Bible literature, in spite of strict orders that we should be denied such items. It was during this time that I learned a useful lesson in human relations. While I was working at Bethel, there was one brother with whom I just could not get along. Our personalities were simply too different. Well, who do you think was put in the same prison cell with me? Yes, that very brother. Now we really had time to get to know each other, and the result was that we developed a close and lasting friendship.
In time, the work of Jehovah’s Witnesses was banned in Australia. All the funds were confiscated, and the Bethel brothers had very little financially. On one occasion, one of them came to me and said: “Dick, I want to go and do some witnessing in town, but I have no shoes, just work boots.” I was happy to help him, and he set off to town in my shoes.
Later, word came back that he had been arrested and imprisoned for preaching. I just could not resist sending him a little note: “Sorry for you. Glad I was not in my shoes.” But soon I too was arrested and imprisoned for the second time because of my neutral stand. After my release, I was assigned to look after the farm that supplied food to the Bethel family. By then we had won a court decision, and the ban on the activities of Jehovah’s Witnesses was lifted.
Marriage to a Zealous Evangelizer
While at the farm, I started thinking seriously of marriage and became attracted to a young pioneer sister, Coralie Clogan. Coralie’s grandmother had been the first one in her family to show interest in the Bible’s message. On her deathbed, she had said to Coralie’s mother, Vera: “Bring up your children to love and serve God, and one day we’ll meet in the Paradise earth.” Later, when a pioneer came to Vera’s door with the publication Millions Now Living Will Never Die, those words started to make sense. The booklet convinced Vera that it was God’s purpose for mankind to enjoy life on a paradise earth. (Revelation 21:4) She was baptized in the early 1930’s, and just as her mother had encouraged, she helped her three daughters—Lucy, Jean, and Coralie—to develop a love for God. Coralie’s father, however, was strongly opposed to his family’s religious interests, just as Jesus warned might happen within families.—Matthew 10:34-36.
The Clogans were a musical family; each of the children played an instrument. Coralie played the violin, and in 1939, at the age of 15, she was awarded a diploma in music. The outbreak of World War II made Coralie think seriously about her future. The time had come for her to make a decision about what she was going to do with her life. On the one hand, there was the possibility of a career in music. Already there had been an invitation to play in the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra. On the other hand, there was the possibility of devoting her time to the grand work of preaching the Kingdom message. After some hard thinking, Coralie and her two sisters got baptized in 1940 and made preparations to enter the full-time evangelizing work.
Coralie had no sooner made up her mind about the full-time ministry when she was approached by a responsible brother from the Australia branch, Lloyd Barry, who later served as a member of the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses. He had just given a talk in Melbourne and said to Coralie: “I am going back to Bethel. Why don’t you come back on the train with me and join the Bethel family?” She willingly accepted.
Coralie and the other sisters of the Bethel family filled a vital role in supplying Bible publications to the brothers in Australia during the ban of the war years. They actually did most of the printing, under the oversight of Brother Malcolm Vale. The books The New World and Children were being printed and bound, and not a single issue of the Watchtower magazine was missed during the more than two years that the ban was in place.
The printery had to be moved some 15 times in order to evade the police. In one case, Bible literature was printed in the basement of a building in which printing of a different kind was done as a front. The sister in the reception area could press a button that rang a bell down in the basement when any danger threatened, so that the sisters there could hide the publications before anyone could start an inspection.
During one such inspection, some of the sisters were horrified when they realized that a copy of The Watchtower was lying on top of a table for all to see. The policeman came in, put down his briefcase right on top of The Watchtower, and proceeded with the search. Finding nothing, he picked up his briefcase and walked out!
After the ban was lifted and the branch property restored to the brothers, many of them were given the opportunity to go out in the field as special pioneers. That was when Coralie volunteered to go to Glen Innes. I joined her there when we got married on January 1, 1948. By the time we left that assignment, a flourishing congregation was established there.
Our next assignment was Rockhampton, but we could not find any accommodations there. So we put up a tent on an open piece of ground on the farm of an interested person. That tent was to be our home for the next nine months. It might well have been longer, but when the rainy season came, a tropical storm tore the tent to shreds, and the monsoon showers washed it away.*
Our Move to a Foreign Assignment
While in Rockhampton, we received an invitation to attend the 19th class of the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead for missionary training. And that was how, after graduating in 1952, we were sent to what was then known as South-West Africa.
Without delay, the clergy of Christendom showed how they felt about our missionary work. Each Sunday for six consecutive weeks, they warned their congregations about us from the pulpit. They told the people not to open the door to us and not to allow us to read from the Bible, as it would confuse them. In one area, we placed several publications, but the minister followed us from house to house and collected them. One day we had a discussion in the minister’s study and saw that he had quite a stock of our books.
It was not long before the local authorities also started to show their concern about our activities. No doubt at the instigation of the clergy, they suspected that we might have Communist connections. So we were fingerprinted, and some of the people on whom we called were interrogated. Despite all this opposition, attendance at our meetings steadily grew.
From the beginning of our stay, we developed a burning desire to spread the Bible’s message among the indigenous population of Ovambo, Herero, and Nama. However, this was not easy. Back in those days, South-West Africa fell under the jurisdiction of the apartheid government of South Africa. As whites, we were not allowed to witness in black areas without a government permit. From time to time, we applied, but the authorities simply refused to give us permission.
After two years in our foreign assignment, we had a surprise. Coralie was pregnant. In October 1955, our daughter, Charlotte, was born. Although we could no longer continue as missionaries, I was able to get a part-time job and continue for a while as a pioneer.
An Answer to Our Prayers
In 1960 we faced another challenge. Coralie received a letter stating that her mother was so ill that if Coralie did not come home, she may never see her mother again. So we planned to leave South-West Africa and move back to Australia. Then it happened—the very week that we were due to leave, I received from the local authorities the permit to enter the black township, Katutura. What would we do now? Hand the permit back after struggling for seven years to get it? It was easy to reason that others could pick up where we left off. But was this not a blessing from Jehovah, an answer to our prayers?
My mind was quickly made up. I would stay behind, for fear that our struggle for permanent residence would be put in jeopardy if we all left for Australia. The next day, I canceled my boat booking and sent Coralie and Charlotte off to Australia on an extended vacation.
While they were away, I started to witness to the residents of the black township. The interest shown was tremendous. When Coralie and Charlotte returned, a number of people from the black township were attending our meetings.
By this time, I had an old car with which I was able to bring interested ones to the meetings. I made four or five trips for each meeting, taking seven, eight, or nine people per trip. When the last person got out, Coralie would jokingly ask: “How many more have you got under the seat?”
To be more effective in the preaching work, we needed literature in the language of the indigenous people. So I had the privilege of arranging for the tract Life in a New World to be translated into four local languages: Herero, Nama, Ndonga, and Kwanyama. The translators were educated people with whom we were studying the Bible, but I had to sit with them to make sure that each sentence was translated correctly. Nama is a language with a limited vocabulary. For instance, I was trying to get across the point: “In the beginning Adam was a perfect man.” The translator scratched his head and said that he could not recall the Nama word for “perfect.” “I’ve got it,” he finally said. “In the beginning Adam was like a ripe peach.”
Satisfied With Our Assigned Home
Some 49 years have passed since we first arrived in this country, now called Namibia. It is no longer necessary to obtain a permit to enter black communities. Namibia is ruled by a new government based on a nonracial constitution. Today, in Windhoek we have four large congregations that meet in comfortable Kingdom Halls.
We have often thought of the words we heard at Gilead: “Make your foreign assignment your home.” From the way Jehovah has maneuvered matters, we are convinced that it was his will that this foreign land become our home. We have come to love the brothers, with their interesting variety of cultures. We have laughed with them in their joys and cried with them in their sorrows. Some of those new ones whom we used to cram into our car and take to the meetings now serve as pillars in their congregations. When we arrived in this vast land in 1953, there were fewer than ten local publishers preaching the good news. From those small beginnings, our numbers have grown to over 1,200. True to his promise, Jehovah has given the growth where we and others have ‘planted and watered.’—1 Corinthians 3:6.
As we look back over many years of service, first in Australia and now in Namibia, Coralie and I have a feeling of deep satisfaction. We hope and pray that Jehovah will continue to give us the strength to do his will now and forever.
A thrilling, anonymous account of how the Waldrons endured in this difficult assignment was related in The Watchtower, December 1, 1952, pages 707-8.
[Picture on page 26, 27]
Moving to our assignment in Rockhampton, Australia
[Picture on page 27]
On the dock en route to Gilead School
[Picture on page 28]
Witnessing in Namibia brings us much joy