I Learned to Trust Fully in Jehovah
As told by Aubrey Baxter
One Saturday evening in 1940, two men attacked me, knocking me to the ground. Two policemen stood nearby, but instead of helping me, they hurled abuse at me and praised the bullies. The events in my life that led up to this cruel treatment began about five years earlier when I was employed in a coal mine. Let me explain.
THE third of four boys, I was born in 1913 in Swansea, a coastal town in New South Wales, Australia. When I was five years old, our whole family came down with the dreaded Spanish influenza, which claimed millions of lives worldwide. Happily, we all survived. In 1933, however, tragedy struck when Mum died at the age of 47. A godly woman, she had earlier acquired the two volumes of the book Light, Bible study aids distributed by Jehovah’s Witnesses.
At the time, I worked in a coal mine. Because my job consisted of brief, hectic periods followed by quiet spells, I would take the books to work and read them by the light of the carbide lamp fixed to my helmet. Soon I realized that I had found the truth. I also began to listen to Bible lectures broadcast on the radio by the Witnesses. Adding to my joy, Dad and my brothers all began to take an interest in Bible truth.
In 1935 tragedy struck again when my younger brother, Billy, caught pneumonia and died. He was only 16 years of age. This time, however, our family was comforted by the resurrection hope. (Acts 24:15) In time, Dad and my older brothers, Verner and Harold, as well as their wives dedicated their lives to God. Of my immediate family, I am the only one still alive. However, Verner’s second wife, Marjorie, and Harold’s wife, Elizabeth, are also still active in Jehovah’s service.
Learning to Trust in Jehovah
I had my first direct contact with Jehovah’s Witnesses later in 1935 when a Ukrainian lady riding a bicycle called at our home. On the following Sunday, I attended my first Christian meeting, and a week later, I joined the group for the field ministry. The Witness conducting the meeting for field service gave me some booklets and, to my great surprise, sent me off alone! At my first door, I was so nervous that I wanted the ground to open up and swallow me! But the householder was pleasant and even accepted literature.
Such scriptures as Ecclesiastes 12:1 and Matthew 28:19, 20 deeply impressed me, and I wanted to become a pioneer, or full-time minister. Dad supported my decision. Though not yet baptized, I set July 15, 1936, as my starting date. On that day, I went to the branch office of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Sydney, where I was invited to work with a group of 12 pioneers in the Sydney suburb of Dulwich Hill. They introduced me to the hand-turned wheat grinder that pioneers used at the time to make flour and thus reduce food costs.
Pioneering in the Bush
After my baptism later that year, I was assigned to central Queensland along with two other pioneers—Aubrey Wills and Clive Shade. Our equipment consisted of Aubrey’s van, some bicycles, a portable phonograph for broadcasting Bible lectures, a tent that became our home for the next three years, three beds, a table, and an iron pot for cooking. One evening when it was my turn to cook, I thought I’d prepare a “special” dinner of vegetables and wheatmeal. But none of us could eat it. A horse happened to be nearby, so I offered it to him. He sniffed it, shook his head, and walked away! That ended my culinary experiments.
In time, we decided to speed up the coverage of our territory by dividing it into three sections and working a section each. At day’s end, I was often too far from our base camp to ride home, and I would sometimes spend the night with hospitable rural people. On one occasion I slept in a luxurious bed in the guest room of a cattle station (ranch), and the following night I lay on the dirt floor of a kangaroo hunter’s hut, surrounded by piles of putrid hides. I often slept in the bush. Once, dingoes (wild dogs) circled me at a distance, their eerie howls filling the darkness. After a sleepless night, I discovered that they were interested, not in me, but in offal that had been dumped nearby.
Preaching With a Sound Car
We made good use of a sound car to announce God’s Kingdom. In the north Queensland city of Townsville, the police permitted us to set up in the city center. The recorded lecture, though, angered some members of the Salvation Army, who told us to leave. When we refused, five of them gave our van a good shaking. At the time, I was inside, operating the sound gear! It seemed imprudent to insist on our rights, so when the men backed off, we left the area.
In Bundaberg an interested man lent us a boat so that we could broadcast from the Burnett River, which runs through town. Aubrey and Clive headed off in the boat with the sound equipment while I stayed at the hall we had rented. That night, the powerful recorded voice of Joseph F. Rutherford, from the world headquarters of Jehovah’s Witnesses, boomed through Bundaberg, proclaiming a hard-hitting Bible message. To be sure, those were exciting times that called for boldness and faith on the part of God’s people.
War Brings More Challenges
Just after World War II started in September 1939, The Watchtower of November 1 discussed Christian neutrality toward politics and war. Later, I would be glad that I had studied that timely material. Meanwhile, after three years together, Aubrey, Clive, and I received assignments that took us our separate ways. I was appointed as a traveling overseer in north Queensland, an assignment that would often put my trust in Jehovah to the test.
In August 1940, I served the congregation in Townsville, which had four pioneers—Percy and Ilma Iszlaub* and siblings Norman and Beatrice Bellotti. Six years later, Beatrice would become my wife. One Saturday evening after a group of us had finished street witnessing, the attack mentioned at the outset took place. This injustice, however, only spurred me on in Jehovah’s service.
Two pioneer sisters, Una and Merle Kilpatrick, were doing a fine work in the north. I spent an enjoyable day with them in the ministry, and then they asked me to row them across a river to the home of an interested family. That meant swimming to a rowboat moored on the other side, rowing it back, and then taking the sisters across. When I got to the boat, however, the oars were missing! We later learned that an opposer had hidden them. But his ploy did not stop us. I had been a lifeguard for a number of years and was still a strong swimmer. So I tied the anchor rope around my waist, pulled the boat across to the girls, and towed them back. Jehovah blessed our efforts, for in time the interested family became Witnesses.
Under the Shadow of Jehovah’s Hand
For security reasons, the military set up a roadblock just below the town of Innisfail. Having resident status, I could obtain entry permits, which proved invaluable when representatives from the branch office of Jehovah’s Witnesses visited. To get them through the roadblock, I would conceal them in a hidden compartment under the backseat of my car.
Gasoline was rationed at the time, and many vehicles were fitted with a gas producer. To fuel the engine, this device extracted combustible gas from hot charcoal. I would travel at night with bags of charcoal stacked on the compartment where the brother was hiding. When pulling up at a roadblock, I distracted the guards by keeping the engine running fast and making sure that the charcoal hopper was white hot. “If I stop the motor,” I shouted to the guards on one such night, “I’ll upset the gas-air mixture, and restarting will be hard.” Put off by the heat, noise, and soot, the guards gave the car a cursory inspection and sent me off.
During those days, I was assigned to organize a convention in Townsville for the local Witnesses. Food was being rationed, and to get what we needed required approval from the local magistrate. At the time, our Christian brothers were being imprisoned because of their neutrality. So when I made an appointment to see the magistrate, I thought, ‘Am I being wise, or am I poking a tiger?’ Nevertheless, I went ahead as instructed.
Sitting behind an imposing desk, the magistrate asked me to be seated. When I told him the purpose of my visit, he stiffened and gave me a long, hard look. Then he relaxed and said, “How much food do you want?” I handed him a list of the very least of what was necessary. He examined it and said: “That seems inadequate. We had better double it.” I left his office, deeply grateful to Jehovah, who had taught me yet another lesson in trust.
In January 1941 the work of Jehovah’s Witnesses was banned in Australia. Many people became suspicious of us and even accused us of spying for the Japanese! On one occasion, two carloads of police and soldiers stormed Kingdom Farm, a parcel of land on the Atherton Plateau that we had purchased for growing food. They were looking for a searchlight that we were allegedly using to signal the enemy. We were also accused of planting corn in code that could be read from the air! Of course, all these allegations were shown to be false.
Because of the ban, we had to be careful—and creative—when delivering literature. For example, when the book Children was released, I obtained a carton in Brisbane, traveled north by train, and left books at stops where there was a congregation. To discourage police and army inspectors from opening the carton, I brought along a circular saw blade and would strap it onto the box before disembarking. Though simple, the ploy never failed. Much to the relief of Jehovah’s people, the ban—described by a court justice as “arbitrary, capricious and oppressive”—was lifted in June 1943.
Called Up for Military Service
During the preceding year, Aubrey Wills, Norman Bellotti, and I were called up for military service. Aubrey and Norman were summoned a week before I was and received six-month prison sentences. At the time, the post office was confiscating Watchtower magazines addressed to known Witnesses but not those sent to other subscribers. Our assignment was to find one of these people, duplicate the magazines, and distribute copies to fellow Witnesses. In this way, we received regular spiritual food.
When my expected six-month sentence was handed down, I immediately appealed it, as instructed by the branch office in Sydney. Our objective was to stall for time until someone else could be appointed to care for the work. I took advantage of my freedom to visit some of the 21 Witnesses incarcerated in north Queensland. Most were in one prison, and the warden there hated us. When I reminded him that the ministers of other religions could visit their people, he became enraged. “If I had my way,” he shouted, “all of Jehovah’s Witnesses would be lined up and shot!” The guards hastily escorted me out.
When my appeal hearing came up, I received legal aid as required by law. In reality, though, I conducted my own case, which meant relying heavily on Jehovah. He, in turn, did not let me down. (Luke 12:11, 12; Philippians 4:6, 7) Amazingly, the appeal was successful because clerical errors were found on the charge sheet!
In 1944, I was assigned to a large circuit covering all of South Australia, northern Victoria, and the New South Wales city of Sydney. The following year, a worldwide public speaking campaign was inaugurated, and each speaker had to prepare his own discourse, basing it on a one-page outline that was provided. Giving one-hour talks presented a new challenge, but we went ahead with full trust in Jehovah, and he blessed our efforts.
Marriage and New Responsibilities
In July 1946, Beatrice Bellotti and I were married, and we served together as pioneers. Our home was a plywood caravan, or trailer. Our daughter and only child, Jannyce (Jann), was born in December 1950. We pioneered in a number of places, including the town of Kempsey, New South Wales, where we were the only Witnesses. Each Sunday we went to a local community hall, and I would be prepared to give a public talk that we had advertised with leaflets. For a few months, Beatrice and baby Jann were my only audience. Before long, though, others began to trickle in. Today Kempsey has two thriving congregations.
When Jann was two years old, we settled in Brisbane. Then when she completed her schooling, we pioneered as a family for four years in the New South Wales town of Cessnock before returning to Brisbane to help Beatrice’s ailing mother. At present, I have the privilege of serving as an elder in the Chermside Congregation.
Beatrice and I thank Jehovah for his countless blessings, including the privilege of helping 32 people come to know him. Personally, I thank Jehovah for my dear wife who, although gentle and mild, has been a fearless fighter for Bible truth. Her love for God, her trust in him, and her ‘simple eye’ have made her a truly capable wife and mother. (Matthew 6:22, 23; Proverbs 12:4) Along with her, I can say with all my heart: “Blessed is the able-bodied man who puts his trust in Jehovah.”—Jeremiah 17:7.
Percy Iszlaub’s life story appeared in the May 15, 1981, issue of this magazine.
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We used this sound car in north Queensland
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Assisting the Kilpatrick sisters to move their vehicle during the wet season in north Queensland
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On our wedding day