WINSTON and Pamela (Pam) Payne serve in the Australasia branch office. Their happy life together has had its challenges, including adjusting to different cultures and enduring the tragedy of a miscarriage. Yet, through all of this, they have maintained their love for Jehovah and his people as well as their joy in the ministry. In this interview, we invited them to share some of their experiences.
Winston, tell us about your search for God.
I was raised in a nonreligious home on a farm in Queensland, Australia. Because of our isolation, I had little contact with anyone other than my immediate family. From about 12 years of age, I began searching for God. I prayed to him, asking to know the truth about him. I eventually left the farm and found work in Adelaide, South Australia. At age 21, I met Pam while I was on vacation in Sydney, and she told me about the British-Israel religious movement, which claims that British peoples descended from the so-called lost tribes of Israel. Those tribes, the movement says, are the ten tribes of the northern kingdom that went into exile in the eighth century B.C.E. So when I went back to Adelaide, I raised that topic with a workmate who had begun studying the Bible with Jehovah’s Witnesses. After speaking with him for just a few hours—mainly about the beliefs of the Witnesses—I realized that my childhood prayer was being answered. I was learning the truth about my Creator and his Kingdom! I had found the “pearl of high value.”—Matt. 13:45, 46.
Pam, you too began searching for that pearl at an early age. How did you find it?
I grew up in a religious home in the town of Coffs Harbour, New South Wales. My parents and grandparents accepted the teachings of the British-Israel movement. My younger brother, older sister, and I, along with many cousins, were raised to believe that God favors people of British ancestry. I remained unconvinced, however, and felt spiritually unsatisfied. When I was 14 years of age, I visited various local churches, including Anglican, Baptist, and Seventh-day Adventist. But my spiritual hunger continued.
My family later moved to Sydney, where I met Winston, who was vacationing there. As he mentioned, our religious discussions eventually led to his studying with the Witnesses. Thereafter, his letters to me were filled with scriptures! I must confess, at first I was worried—even resentful. But gradually I recognized the ring of truth.
In 1962, I moved to Adelaide to be closer to Winston. He had arranged for me to stay with a Witness couple—Thomas and Janice Sloman—who had been missionaries in Papua New Guinea. They showed extraordinary kindness to me; I was just 18 years old, and they were a big help to me spiritually. So I too began to study God’s Word, and soon I became convinced that I had found the truth. After Winston and I got married, we right away embarked on a most rewarding life of dedicated service—one that, despite trials, has only enhanced our appreciation for the fine pearl we had found.
Winston, tell us about your early life in Jehovah’s service.
Not long after Pam and I got married, Jehovah began to open up to us the first of many ‘large doors’ to increased activity. (1 Cor. 16:9) The first door was pointed out to us by Brother Jack Porter, who served our small congregation as circuit overseer. (He is now a fellow Australasia Branch Committee member.) Jack and his wife, Roslyn, encouraged us to regular pioneer—a privilege we enjoyed for five years. When I was 29 years of age, Pam and I were asked to serve in the circuit work in the South Pacific Islands, which then came under the Fiji branch. The islands were American Samoa, Samoa, Kiribati, Nauru, Niue, Tokelau, Tonga, Tuvalu, and Vanuatu.
In those days, people on some of the more isolated islands were suspicious of Jehovah’s Witnesses, so we had to be cautious and discreet. (Matt. 10:16) The congregations were small, and some could not provide us with accommodations. So we looked for a place to stay with local people in the villages, and they were always very kind to us.
You have a keen interest in the translation work, Winston. How was that interest kindled?
At the time, the brothers on the island state of Tonga had only a few tracts and booklets in Tongan—a Polynesian language. In the ministry, they used the English edition of the study aid The Truth That Leads to Eternal Life. So during a four-week elders’ school, three local elders whose English was somewhat limited agreed to translate the Truth book into Tongan. Pam typed up the manuscript, and we sent it to the United States branch for printing. The whole project took about eight weeks. Even though the quality of the translation left much to be desired, the publication helped many Tongan-speaking people learn the truth. Pam and I are not translators, but that experience kindled our interest in this work.
Pam, how did life in the islands compare with life in Australia?
It was very different! Depending on where we were, we had to deal with swarms of mosquitoes, intense heat and humidity, rats, sickness and, at times, little food. On the other hand, at the end of each day, it was a restful experience to look out at the ocean from our fale—the Samoan name for a typical Polynesian house with a thatched roof and no walls. On moonlit nights, coconut palms would stand out in silhouette and the moon would reflect off the ocean. Such precious moments moved us to meditate and pray, taking our thoughts from the negatives to the positives.
We came to love the children, who were lots of fun and very curious when they saw us white foreigners. While we were visiting Niue, one little boy rubbed one of Winston’s hairy arms and said, “I like your feathers.” Evidently, he had never seen such hairy arms before and did not quite know how to describe them!
It pained our hearts to see the poor conditions under which many of the people lived. They had beautiful surroundings but inadequate health care and little drinking water. Yet, our brothers did not seem worried. That was normal living for them. They were happy with having their family around them, with having a place to meet for worship, and with having the privilege of praising Jehovah. Their example helped us to keep our priorities straight and our life simple.
At times, Pam, you had to get your own water and prepare your food in totally new circumstances. How did you manage?
I have my father to thank. He taught me many useful things, such as how to make an open fire and cook on it and how to make do with little in a material way. On one visit to Kiribati, we stayed in a small house with a thatched roof, a coral floor, and bamboo walls. To cook a simple meal, I dug a hole in the floor to make a fireplace and dropped in coconut husks for fuel. For water, I lined up at a well with the local women. In order to haul the water up, they used a stick about six feet long with a thin rope attached to the end, somewhat like a fishing rod. But instead of tying a hook to the other end of the rope, they attached a can. Taking turns, each woman cast her line and then flicked her wrist at just the right moment. The can flipped on its side and filled up. I thought it was simple—until it was my turn. I cast my line several times, but the can would hit the water and just float! After everyone stopped laughing, one of the women offered to help me. They were always most helpful and kind.
You both came to love your assignment on the islands. Would you share some special memories with us?
Winston: It took us a little while to catch on to certain customs. For example, when the brothers provided a meal, they usually gave us all the food they had on hand. At first, we were unaware that we were supposed to leave something for them. So we ate everything that was put before us! Of course, when we found out what the situation really was, we left food for them. Despite our blunders, the brothers were understanding. And they were thrilled to see us every six months or so when we visited them in the circuit work. Besides the local brothers, we were the only other Witnesses they ever saw back then.
Our visits also gave a good witness in the communities. Many villagers thought that the brothers’ religion was something that they had dreamed up. So when a minister and his wife from overseas visited the brothers, the locals were not only enlightened but also impressed.
Pam: One of my most cherished memories takes me back to Kiribati, where there was a congregation of just a few brothers and sisters. The only elder, Itinikai Matera, did his best to look after us. He showed up one day with a basket that contained a single egg. “For you,” he said. A chicken’s egg was a rare treat for us back then. That small but generous act touched our hearts.
Some years later, Pam, you lost a child through a miscarriage. What helped you to cope?
I became pregnant in 1973 while Winston and I were in the South Pacific. We decided to return to Australia, where four months later we lost our baby. Winston was also deeply affected; it was his baby too. The pain in my heart diminished over time, but it never fully went away until we received the April 15, 2009, issue of The Watchtower. The “Questions From Readers” asked: “Is there any hope of a resurrection for a baby that dies in its mother’s womb?” The article reassured us that the matter rests with Jehovah, who always does what is right. He will provide healing for the many wounds inflicted on us by life in this wicked world as he lovingly directs his Son to ‘break up Satan’s works.’ (1 John 3:8) The article also helped us to appreciate even more what a precious “pearl” we have as Jehovah’s people! Where would we be without the Kingdom hope?
After the loss of our baby, we again took up full-time service. We served for some months at the Australia Bethel and eventually resumed circuit work. In 1981, after serving for four years in rural New South Wales and Sydney, we were invited to the Australia branch, as it was then called, and have been there ever since.
Winston, did your experience in the South Pacific Islands help you in your work as a member of the Australasia Branch Committee?
Yes, in a number of ways. First, Australia was asked to care for American Samoa and Samoa. Then, the New Zealand branch was merged with Australia. Now, the Australasia branch territory includes Australia, American Samoa and Samoa, the Cook Islands, New Zealand, Niue, Timor-Leste, Tokelau, and Tonga—many of which I have been privileged to visit as a branch representative. My experience of working along with those faithful brothers and sisters in the islands has been of great help to me as I now serve them from the branch office.
May I say in conclusion that Pam and I have long been aware that, as in our personal experience, it is not just adults who search for God. Young people too want that “pearl of high value”—even if other family members show no interest. (2 Ki. 5:2, 3; 2 Chron. 34:1-3) To be sure, Jehovah is a loving God who wants all, both young and old, to gain life!
When Pam and I began our search for God more than 50 years ago, little did we know what that quest would lead to. Kingdom truth is without a doubt a pearl of inestimable value! We are determined to hold on to that precious pearl with all our might!