Jehovah Helped Me to Find Him
AS TOLD BY FLORENCE CLARK
I held the hand of my gravely ill husband. As an Anglican, I prayed to God that my husband would recover, and I promised that if he did not die, I would search for God until I found him. Then I would belong to him.
I WAS born Florence Chulung on September 18, 1937, in the Aboriginal Oombulgurri Community in the remote Kimberley Plateau region of Western Australia.
I have very fond memories of my childhood in those carefree, happy days. From the church mission, I learned a few basic things about God and the Bible, but it was my mother who taught me Christian principles. She read the Bible to me regularly, and from an early age, I developed a love for spiritual things. I also admired one of my aunts, who was a missionary for her church. In my heart I knew that I wanted to follow in her footsteps.
Our community, formerly known as the Forrest River Mission, had provisions for schooling from grade one through grade five. I attended school for just two hours every morning. This meant that my formal education was quite limited, a point that was of concern to my father. He wanted his children to have a better education, so he decided to leave Oombulgurri and move the family into the town of Wyndham. The day we left was a sad day for me, but in Wyndham, I was able to attend school full-time for the next four years, from 1949 to 1952. I am very grateful that my father enabled me to have that education.
Mother worked for the local doctor, and when I left school at the age of 15, this doctor offered me a job as a nurse at the Wyndham hospital. I gladly accepted, for at that time employment was difficult to find.
Some years later I met Alec, a white stockman. We were married in 1964 in the town of Derby, where I regularly attended the Anglican Church. One day Jehovah’s Witnesses called at my door. I told them that I was definitely not interested and asked them not to call again. Nevertheless, something they said intrigued me—God had a personal name, Jehovah.
“Can’t You Say Your Own Prayers?”
In 1965 life started to become very difficult. My husband had three quite serious accidents—two with his horse and one with his car. Fortunately, he recovered from these injuries and returned to work. Shortly afterward, however, he had yet another accident with his horse. This time, he suffered severe head injuries. When I arrived at the hospital, the doctor told me that my husband was going to die. I was devastated. A nurse asked the local priest to see me, but he said: “Not now. I will come tomorrow!”
I wanted to have the priest by my side to pray with me and mentioned this to the nun. She said: “What is wrong with you? Can’t you say your own prayers?” So I began praying to the church’s statues for help—but to no avail. My husband seemed to be losing his grip on life. I thought, ‘How am I going to cope if my husband dies?’ I was also concerned for my three children—Christine, Nanette, and Geoffrey. What kind of life would they have without a father? Happily, three days later my husband regained consciousness, and he was discharged on December 6, 1966.
Although he otherwise recovered remarkably well, my husband had sustained brain damage. He suffered some memory loss and was now prone to violence and mood swings. He had trouble coping with the children and became very aggressive if they did not respond as adults would. Caring for him was difficult. I had to do practically everything for him. I even taught him to read and write again. The strain of attending to him while caring for my other domestic duties took its toll, and I had a nervous breakdown. Seven years after my husband’s accident, we agreed to separate for a while to let me regain my health.
I took the children and moved south to the city of Perth. Prior to this move, my sister had started to study the Bible with Jehovah’s Witnesses in Kununurra, a small town in Western Australia. She showed me a picture in the book The Truth That Leads to Eternal Life, * depicting the Bible’s promise of a paradise earth. From this book, she also showed me that God has a name, Jehovah, and this appealed to me. Since I had never been told these things in my church, I decided to telephone Jehovah’s Witnesses once I got settled in Perth.
However, I was a little hesitant to contact them. Then one evening, the doorbell rang. My son went to the door and came hurrying back to me, saying, “Mum, those people you said you would telephone are here.” I was a bit surprised and said, “Tell them that I am not here!” But he replied, “You know that I should not tell a lie, Mum.” Chastened, I answered the door. As I greeted the callers, I noticed a puzzled look on their faces. They had come to see another tenant, who had moved. I invited them in and bombarded them with questions and received satisfying answers from the Bible.
The following week, I started to study the Bible regularly with the Witnesses, using the book The Truth That Leads to Eternal Life. The study reawakened my love for spiritual things. Two weeks later I attended the Memorial of Christ Jesus’ death. I began to attend meetings every Sunday, and before long I was attending the midweek meetings as well. I also began to share with others what I was learning. I discovered that helping others learn Bible truths improved my mental and emotional health. Six months later I was baptized at a district convention in Perth.
As I progressed spiritually, I came to appreciate Jehovah’s view of the sacredness of marriage, including the Bible principle found at 1 Corinthians 7:13, which says: “A woman who has an unbelieving husband, and yet he is agreeable to dwelling with her, let her not leave her husband.” This scripture prompted me to go back to Alec.
Returning to Derby
I arrived back in Derby on June 21, 1979, after having been away from my husband for more than five years. Of course, I had mixed feelings and wondered how he would react to my return. To my surprise, he was delighted that I came back to him, though he expressed some disappointment that I had become one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. He immediately suggested that I attend his church, the one I had attended before I left for Perth. I explained that I could not do that. I tried hard to respect his headship and did my best as a Christian wife. I attempted to talk to him about Jehovah and His wonderful promises for the future, but he was unresponsive.
In time, though, Alec not only accepted my new way of life but also began helping me financially so that I could attend conventions and assemblies, as well as the weekly meetings. I was very grateful when he purchased a car—a valuable asset in this remote part of Australia—for me to use in the Christian ministry. Brothers and sisters, including the circuit overseer, often stayed for several nights at our place. This enabled Alec to get to know various Witnesses, and he seemed to like their company.
I Felt Like Ezekiel
I enjoyed the visits of the brothers and sisters, but I faced a challenge. I was the only Witness resident in the town of Derby. The nearest congregation was in Broome, 135 miles [220 km] away. So I decided to do my best to spread the good news. With Jehovah’s help, I got organized and began to witness from door to door. I found this task difficult, but I kept reminding myself of the apostle Paul’s words: “For all things I have the strength by virtue of him who imparts power to me.”—Philippians 4:13.
The local clergy were not happy with my activity, especially my witnessing among fellow Aborigines. They tried to intimidate me and stop my preaching activity. Their opposition just made me more determined to keep going, and I regularly prayed to Jehovah to help me. I often recalled the words of encouragement given to Ezekiel: “Look! I have made your face exactly as hard as their faces and your forehead exactly as hard as their foreheads. Like a diamond, harder than flint, I have made your forehead. You must not be afraid of them, and you must not be struck with terror at their faces.”—Ezekiel 3:8, 9.
On several occasions, two men from a church group approached me while I was shopping. They ridiculed me in a loud and boisterous way, trying to attract the attention of other shoppers. I ignored them. Once, while I was making a return visit on an interested person, the minister from the local church came and accused me of not believing in Jesus. He snatched the Bible out of my hand, shook it in my face, and pushed it back into my hand. Looking him straight in the eye, I mildly but firmly quoted John 3:16 and assured him that I did have faith in Jesus. He was dumbfounded at my confident response and walked away without saying another word.
I enjoyed preaching to the Aborigines in the Derby area. A local priest tried to prevent me from reaching the people in one particular community, but he was transferred. Thus, I was able to bring them the Bible’s message. I had always wanted to be a missionary like my aunt, and now I was doing missionary work, helping others to learn about God’s Word. Many of the Aboriginal people responded well to my preaching, and I started several Bible studies.
Conscious of My Spiritual Need
For five years, I was the only Witness of Jehovah in Derby. I found it difficult to stay spiritually strong without the encouragement of regular meetings with fellow worshippers. On one occasion, I was feeling particularly low and went out for a drive. When I returned home late that afternoon, a sister and her seven children were there waiting for me. They had brought a supply of literature for me from the congregation in Broome, miles away. From then on, this sister, Betty Butterfield, arranged to come to Derby once a month and stay with me for a weekend. We went preaching together and then studied The Watchtower together at my home. In turn, I traveled to Broome once a month.
The brothers in Broome were very helpful and occasionally were able to make the long trip to Derby to assist me in the field service. They urged any brothers or sisters from other towns who would be passing through Derby to look me up and share with me in the ministry. These travelers also brought me tapes of public talks. Some joined in studying The Watchtower with me. These brief visits were very encouraging.
More Help on the Way
For some years, I received a further boost when Arthur and Mary Willis, a retired couple from the southern part of Western Australia, came to help me for three months at a time in the cooler season. Brother Willis conducted most of the meetings and took the lead in the field ministry. Together, we traveled to the more remote parts of the Kimberley Plateau, visiting cattle stations (ranches) in these distant areas. Each time Brother and Sister Willis departed, I felt a great void in my life.
Finally, toward the end of 1983, I received the happy news that a family—Danny and Denise Sturgeon and their four sons—were coming to live in Derby. After their arrival, we were able to hold regular weekly meetings and share together in field service. In 2001 a congregation was formed. Today, Derby has a strong congregation of 24 Kingdom publishers, with two elders and one ministerial servant taking good care of us spiritually. At times, we have up to 30 at our meetings.
When I look back over the years, it warms my heart to see how Jehovah helped me to serve him. Even though my husband has not yet joined me in the faith, he continues to support me in other ways. Five members of my immediate family have become baptized Witnesses—my two daughters, two granddaughters, and a niece. In addition, several more of my relatives are studying the Bible with Jehovah’s people.
I am truly grateful that Jehovah helped me to find him. I am determined to belong to him forever.—Psalm 65:2.
^ par. 14 Published by Jehovah’s Witnesses but now out of print.
[Map/Pictures on page 15]
(For fully formatted text, see publication)
Kangaroo and lyrebird: Lydekker; koala: Meyers
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Working as a nurse at Wyndham hospital, 1953
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Derby Congregation, 2005