An Education That Lasted a Lifetime
AS TOLD BY HAROLD GLUYAS
The memory of a scene from my childhood has remained with me for over 70 years. I was sitting in Mother’s kitchen, looking at a label that bore the title “Ceylon Tea.” It also had a picture of some women picking tea leaves in the lush green fields of Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). This scene, so remote from our arid home in South Australia, fired my imagination. What a beautiful and exciting country Ceylon must be! Little did I then know that I would spend 45 years of my life as a missionary on that exquisite island.
IN April 1922, I was born into a world far different from that of today. My family worked a lonely grain farm near the remote country town of Kimba, situated at the midpoint of the vast Australian continent and on the southern edge of the great desert outback. It was a perilous existence, involving a constant battle with drought, insect plagues, and sweltering heat. My mother worked hard to look after Father and the six of us children in a bush home that was little more than a tin shack.
For me, though, the outback was a place of freedom and excitement. I remember my youthful awe at seeing powerful bullock teams clearing the wild bush scrub or howling dust storms smothering the countryside. So my education in life had really begun long before I started attending the small, one-teacher school a three-mile [5 km] walk from home.
My parents were religious, although they never attended church—mainly because of the distance from our farm to town. Nevertheless, in the early 1930’s, Mother began to listen to Bible lectures given by Judge Rutherford, which were broadcast each week from a radio station in Adelaide. I thought that Judge Rutherford was some preacher in Adelaide, and I had little interest. But each week Mother keenly awaited Rutherford’s broadcasts and listened intently as his voice crackled forth from our antique battery-operated radio set.
One hot, dusty afternoon, an old pickup truck pulled up in front of our home, and two well-dressed men stepped out. They were Jehovah’s Witnesses. Mother listened to their message and contributed for a goodly number of books, which she immediately began to read. So deep an impression did these books make on her that she soon asked Father to drive her to the neighbors so that she could talk to them about what she was learning.
The Benefit of Positive Influences
It was not long after this that the harsh outback environment forced us to move to the city of Adelaide, 300 miles [500 km] away. Our family began to associate with the Adelaide Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses and to make spiritual progress. Our move also brought about the end of my formal education. I finished school when I was only 13 years of age, having completed grade seven. I had an easygoing nature, which could well have led me away from spiritual pursuits were it not for the help of several fine brothers—pioneers, or full-time ministers—who took a personal interest in me.
Over time, the influence of these zealous brothers stirred a latent spirituality within me. I loved being in their company and admired their hardworking spirit. So when an announcement encouraging full-time service was made at a convention held in Adelaide in 1940, I surprised myself by submitting my name. I was not even baptized at the time and had little witnessing experience. Nevertheless, a few days later, I was invited to join a small group of pioneers in Warrnambool, a town several hundred miles from Adelaide, in the neighboring state of Victoria.
Despite this indecisive start, I soon developed a love for the field ministry, a love that I am happy to say has not dimmed over the years. That was, in fact, a turning point for me, and I began to make real spiritual progress. I learned the value of drawing close to those who have a love for spiritual things. I discovered how their fine influence can bring out the best in us regardless of our education and how the lessons learned can benefit us for a lifetime.
Strengthened by Trials
I had been in the pioneer service for only a short time when a ban was placed on the work of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Australia. Unsure of what to do, I sought direction from the brothers, who pointed out that there was no ban against speaking to people about the Bible. So along with the other pioneers, I began going from door to door with a simple message from the Bible. This strengthened me for tests that lay directly ahead.
Four months later I turned 18 and was summoned to report for military service. This gave me the opportunity to defend my faith before several military officers and a magistrate. At the time, some 20 brothers were in the Adelaide jail for their neutral stand, and I soon joined them. We were put to hard labor, quarrying stone and repairing roads. This helped me develop such qualities as endurance and determination. Our good behavior and firm stand eventually won us the respect of many of the prison guards.
Upon my release several months later, I enjoyed a good meal and took up pioneering again. Pioneer partners were scarce, however, so I was asked if I would work a remote farming area in South Australia on my own. I agreed and set off by ship for the Yorke Peninsula, equipped with only my witnessing supplies and a bicycle. When I arrived, an interested family directed me to a small guesthouse where a kindly lady treated me like a son. During the day, I cycled out along dusty roads, preaching in the small towns scattered across the peninsula. To cover distant areas, I occasionally stayed overnight at small hotels or guesthouses. In this way, I cycled hundreds of miles and enjoyed many fine experiences. I never minded too much being alone in the service, and as I experienced Jehovah’s care, I drew closer to him.
Dealing With Feelings of Inadequacy
In 1946, I received a letter inviting me to take up the traveling work as a servant to the brethren (now called a circuit overseer). This involved visiting a number of congregations in a given circuit. I must admit that I found the responsibilities of this assignment a real challenge. One day I overheard a brother say, “Harold is not much on the platform, but he’s a good field man.” This comment greatly encouraged me. I was well aware of my speaking and organizational limitations, but I believed that the preaching work was the primary activity for Christians.
In 1947 there was great excitement about a visit by Brothers Nathan Knorr and Milton Henschel from the headquarters of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Brooklyn. This was the first such visit since Brother Rutherford came in 1938. A large convention was held in Sydney in conjunction with this visit. Like many other young pioneers, I was interested in the missionary training being offered at the recently opened Watchtower Bible School of Gilead in South Lansing, New York, U.S.A. A number of us in attendance wondered if the school would require a great deal of education as a condition for enrollment. However, Brother Knorr explained that if we could read an article in the Watchtower magazine and remember the key points, we would probably do well at Gilead.
I felt that my limited education might disqualify me. To my surprise, several months later I was invited to apply for Gilead training. Subsequently, I was accepted as a student, and I attended the 16th class, held in 1950. This proved to be a wonderful experience that greatly built up my confidence. It proved to me that academic achievement was not the primary factor for success. Instead, diligence and obedience were the main requirements. Our instructors encouraged us to do our best. As I heeded their advice, I made steady progress and was able to follow the course of instruction quite well.
From Arid Continent to Island Jewel
Following graduation, two other brothers from Australia and I were assigned to Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). We arrived in the capital city, Colombo, in September 1951. It was hot and humid, and a jumble of new sights, sounds, and aromas assaulted our senses. As we came off the ship, one of the missionaries already serving in the country welcomed me with a handbill advertising a public talk to be delivered the following Sunday on the city common. To my surprise, my name was on the handbill—as the speaker! You can imagine my apprehension. But my years of pioneering in Australia had taught me to accept any assignment I was given. So with Jehovah’s help, I delivered the public talk successfully. Along with the four single brothers already in the Colombo missionary home at that time, we three began to tackle the difficult Sinhala language and to share in the field ministry. Much of the time we worked alone, and we were glad to find the local people both respectful and hospitable. It was not long before the number attending the meetings began to grow.
As time passed, I started to think seriously about an attractive pioneer sister, Sybil, whom I had met when traveling by ship to attend Gilead School. She was traveling to attend the New York international convention. Later, she attended Gilead’s 21st class and was assigned to Hong Kong in 1953. I decided to write to her, and we continued corresponding until 1955 when Sybil joined me in Ceylon, where we were married.
Our first assignment together as a missionary couple was to Jaffna, a city in the far north of Sri Lanka. In the mid-1950’s, political differences were beginning to polarize the Sinhala and Tamil communities, providing the basis for armed conflict in later decades. How heartwarming it was to see Sinhala and Tamil Witnesses sheltering one another for months at a time during those difficult years! Those trials refined and strengthened the faith of the brothers.
Preaching and Teaching in Sri Lanka
Getting adjusted to the Hindu and Muslim communities required patience and perseverance. Even so, we came to appreciate both cultures and their endearing qualities. Since it was unusual to see foreigners traveling on the local buses, our presence often brought curious stares. Sybil decided she would respond with a broad smile. What a joy to see those curious faces break into beautiful smiles in return!
On one occasion, we were stopped at a roadblock. After the guard on duty asked us where we were from and where we were heading, his questions became more personal.
“Who is this woman?”
“My wife,” I answered.
“How long have you been married?”
“Do you have any children?”
“Goodness me! Have you seen a doctor?”
This natural curiosity initially surprised us, but in time we saw it as an expression of the genuine personal interest that the local people had in others. In fact, it was one of their most endearing traits. A person only needed to stand in a public place for a few moments before someone would approach and kindly ask if he could help in any way.
Changes and Reflections
Over the years, we have enjoyed various assignments in addition to our missionary work in Sri Lanka. I was assigned to serve in the circuit and district work and as a member of the Branch Committee. By 1996, I was in my mid-70’s. I had the joy of looking back over 45 years of missionary service in Sri Lanka. At the first meeting I attended in Colombo, there were about 20 people present. That number had now swelled to over 3,500! Sybil and I viewed many of these dear ones as our spiritual children and grandchildren. Nevertheless, there was still so much more work to be done throughout the country—work requiring the energies and abilities of those younger than us. With this in mind, we accepted an invitation from the Governing Body to return to Australia. This has allowed qualified younger couples to enter Sri Lanka as missionaries to take our place.
I am now in my 83rd year of life, and both Sybil and I rejoice that we are still healthy enough to continue our special pioneer service in my old stomping ground of Adelaide. Our ministry keeps us mentally alert and flexible. It has also helped us readjust to the very different way of life in this country.
Jehovah has continued to care for all our material needs, and the brothers and sisters in our local congregation give us much love and support. I recently received a new assignment. I am to serve as the secretary in our congregation. Thus, I have found that as I endeavor to serve Jehovah faithfully, my training is ongoing. Looking back over the years, I am constantly amazed that a simple, easygoing boy from the bush could receive such a wonderful education—one that has lasted a lifetime.
[Picture on page 26]
On our wedding day, 1955
[Picture on page 27]
In field service with Rajan Kadirgamar, a local brother, 1957
[Picture on page 28]
With Sybil today