As told by Elva Gjerde
About 70 years ago, a visitor came to our house and said something to my father that completely changed my life. Since that important day, many other people have helped me in my life. And I have a friendship that is more precious to me than any other. Let me tell you my story.
I WAS born in Sydney, Australia, in 1932. My parents believed in God but did not go to church. My mother taught me that God was always watching me so that he could punish me if I did something wrong. This made me afraid of God. But I was still very interested in the Bible. When my aunt visited us on the weekends, she told me many interesting Bible stories. I always loved her visits.
When I was a teenager, my father read a set of books that an elderly lady had given to my mother. The elderly lady was one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. My father liked what he read so much that he agreed to study the Bible with the Witnesses. While he was having his Bible study one evening, my father saw that I was secretly listening to what they were saying. He was going to send me back to bed, but the visitor asked my father if I could sit with them during the study. Because of that, my life started to change and my friendship with the true God, Jehovah, began.
Soon after that, my father and I began to attend Christian meetings. Because of what he learned, he made changes in his life. He even began to control his anger. This caused my mother and my older brother, Frank, to start attending meetings with us.* (See footnote.) All four of us continued to make changes in our lives, and we were baptized as Jehovah’s Witnesses. Since that day, I have become friends with many older ones who have helped me at different times in my life.
WHAT CAREER WOULD I CHOOSE?
As a teenager, I became close to the older ones in our congregation. One of them was Alice Place, the elderly sister who first preached to our family. She became like a grandmother to me. Alice taught me how to preach to others and encouraged me to get baptized. So at the age of 15, I was baptized.
I also had a close friendship with an elderly couple named Percy and Madge Dunham. The help that they gave me had a great effect on my future. I loved mathematics, and I really wanted to be a mathematics teacher. Percy and Madge were missionaries in Latvia before the start of the second world war. But when the war started, they were invited to serve at Bethel in Sydney, Australia. Percy and Madge showed that they were interested in me, and they told me many exciting experiences from their missionary work. I could clearly understand that I would be much happier teaching the Bible than I would be teaching mathematics. So I decided to become a missionary.
The Dunhams encouraged me to pioneer so that I would be prepared for missionary service. Accordingly, in 1948, when I was 16, I became a pioneer and joined ten young pioneers in my congregation who were happily preaching in Hurstville, Sydney.
During the next four years, I pioneered in four other towns in New South Wales and Queensland. One of my first Bible students was Betty Law (now named Betty Remnant). Betty was two years older than I and was a loving person. Later, we pioneered together in the town of Cowra, about 230 kilometers (145 miles) west of Sydney. Although we worked together for only a short time, Betty and I are still friends.
I became a special pioneer and was sent to the town of Narrandera, 220 kilometers (137 miles) southwest of Cowra. My next pioneer partner was Joy Lennox (now named Joy Hunter). She also was two years older than I and was zealous in the ministry. We were the only Witnesses in the town. Joy and I lived in the home of a hospitable couple named Ray and Esther Irons. They had a son and three daughters, and the whole family was interested in the truth. Ray and his son worked on a sheep and wheat farm during the week, while Esther and her daughters managed a local boarding house, where guests would rent rooms and pay for meals. Every Sunday, Joy and I cooked a huge roast meal for the Irons family and about 12 men who stayed at the boarding house. They were railway workers and were really hungry! Cooking these meals paid for part of our rent. After the meal, we would clean up and then study The Watchtower with the Irons family. Ray, Esther, and their four children came into the truth and were the first members of the Narrandera Congregation.
In 1951, I attended the convention in Sydney and went to a special meeting for pioneers who were interested in missionary work. This meeting was held in a large tent, and more than 300 attended. Nathan Knorr from Brooklyn Bethel spoke to us, and we were extremely interested in everything he had to say. He made it very clear that the good news needed to be preached in every part of the earth. Many pioneers who were at that meeting later began the preaching work in the South Pacific and other areas. I was so excited to be 1 of the 17 Australians who were invited to the 19th class of Gilead School in 1952. I was only 20 years old, and my dream of becoming a missionary was coming true!
MORE CHANGES WERE NEEDED
Gilead School increased my Bible knowledge and strengthened my faith. It also had a deep effect on my personality. I was still young and unrealistic. I wanted everything I did to be perfect, and I also expected others to be perfect. Sometimes I was too strict. There were some things that I thought were wrong, but they were not wrong. For example, I was shocked when I saw Brother Knorr playing ball with a group of young Bethelites.
The wise Gilead instructors must have seen that I was having a difficult time. They were kind and helped me to change my thinking. Slowly, I began to understand that Jehovah is a loving God who appreciates what we do. He is not strict and harsh. Some of my classmates also helped me. I remember one of them saying to me that Jehovah is not using a whip to try to control us and that I should not be so strict with myself! Her honest words really affected my heart.
After we finished Gilead School, five of us were assigned to Namibia, Africa. Soon we had 80 Bible studies. I loved Namibia and missionary life, but I had fallen in love with a Gilead classmate who was assigned to Switzerland. After a year in Namibia, I moved to Switzerland. We got married, and I traveled with my husband in his work as a circuit overseer.
A TERRIBLE DISAPPOINTMENT
We enjoyed five years in the circuit work and were then invited to serve at Switzerland Bethel. I was excited to be part of the Bethel family and to be with many older brothers and sisters who had so much experience in the truth.
Soon after I went to Bethel, something terrible happened to me. I learned that my husband had been unfaithful to me and to Jehovah. When he left me, I was shocked and upset. I do not know what I would have done without the love and support of my dear older friends in the Bethel family. They listened to me when I needed to talk and let me rest when I needed to rest. Their words comforted me, and their kindness helped me to endure the great pain. My relationship with Jehovah grew stronger.
I also remembered what friends had said many years earlier. These wise older ones allowed the trials they had experienced to train them. Madge Dunham once told me that I would experience many trials in my service to Jehovah but that the most difficult tests might come from people I had a close relationship with. During those trials, I should trust in Jehovah and remember that I was serving him and not imperfect humans. What Madge said helped me to endure many difficult tests. I was determined never to allow my husband’s mistakes to separate me from Jehovah.
Later, I decided to return to Australia to pioneer closer to where my family lived. During the long journey home, I had interesting Bible discussions with a group of passengers on the ship. In the group was a quiet Norwegian man named Arne Gjerde, who liked what he heard. Arne later visited my family and me in Sydney. He quickly accepted the things he learned and was baptized. In 1963, Arne and I were married, and two years later I gave birth to our son, Gary.
ANOTHER TRIAL TO ENDURE
Arne, Gary, and I enjoyed a very happy family life. Soon, Arne added rooms to our home so that my elderly parents could live with us. But after we had been married for six years, Arne was told he had brain cancer. We were shocked at this news and felt like we had been hit with a heavy blow. Arne was in the hospital for a long time while he had radiation treatment. I visited him every day. It seemed as if he was getting better, but then his condition got worse and he had a stroke. I was told that he would live only a few more weeks. But Arne lived longer and was able to return home. I cared for his needs, and his health improved. After some time, he was able to walk again, and soon he was well enough to do the work of a congregation elder. He was a happy person and had a good sense of humor. This also helped him to get better and made it easier for me to care for him.
Many years later, in 1986, Arne got very sick again. My parents had died by then, and we moved away from Sydney to the beautiful Blue Mountains, where we lived closer to our friends. Gary later married a lovely sister named Karin, and they suggested that the four of us share a house. So we all moved into a house only a few streets away from where Arne and I had been living.
During the last 18 months of his life, Arne was not able to get out of bed and needed to be cared for constantly. Since I needed to be in the house for most of that time, I used two hours each day to study the Bible and our publications. I learned many things that helped me to endure my situation. I enjoyed the loving visits of older ones from the congregation. Some of them had endured similar trials, and their visits really encouraged me! Arne died in April 2003, and he never doubted that there would be a resurrection.
MY GREATEST HELP
When I was young, I was unrealistic and wanted everything to be perfect. However, I learned that life is almost never what we expect it to be. I have had many blessings but have also endured two very painful trials. I lost my first husband because he was unfaithful to me and to Jehovah. And I lost my second husband because he became sick and died. Through all my trials, I have been guided and comforted in different ways. But my greatest help still comes from Jehovah God, “the Ancient of Days.” (Daniel 7:9) His counsel has changed my personality, and because of this I had many joyful experiences in the missionary work. When I had problems, Jehovah’s love and kindness helped me to endure and comforted me. (Psalms 94:18, 19) My family and friends have loved and supported me. They have been very good to me during these times of distress. (Proverbs 17:17) Many of them were wise older ones.
The faithful man Job asked: “Is there not wisdom among the aged and understanding in length of days?” (Job 12:12) When I think about my life, I can say that the answer is yes. The advice of wise older ones has helped me, their comfort has supported me, and their friendships have made my life better. I am grateful that I could be their friend.
I am 80 years old now. Because of my experiences, the needs of other elderly ones are very important to me. I still love to visit them and to help them. But I also enjoy being with young people. I love their energy, and their enthusiasm encourages me. When young ones ask me for guidance or support, I really enjoy helping them.
Elva’s brother, Frank Lambert, became a zealous pioneer in the Australian outback. The 1983 Yearbook of Jehovah’s Witnesses, pages 110-112, tells us about trips he made to preach in those areas away from the cities.
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Elva with members of the Switzerland Bethel family in 1960
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Caring for Arne when he was sick