Life Story

Knowing What Is Right and Doing It

AS TOLD BY HADYN SANDERSON

Jesus once told his apostles: “If you know these things, happy you are if you do them.” (John 13:17) Yes, we may know what is right, but at times, the challenge is to do it! However, after living more than 80 years, 40 of which I have spent in missionary service, I am convinced that Jesus’ words are true. Doing what God says truly leads to happiness. Let me explain.

IN 1925, when I was three years old, my parents attended a Bible talk in our hometown of Newcastle, Australia. The talk, “Millions Now Living Will Never Die,” convinced my mother that she had found the truth, and she began to attend Christian meetings regularly. My father’s interest, though, quickly waned. He objected to Mother’s newfound faith and threatened to leave if she did not give it up. Mother loved my father and wanted to keep the family together. Nevertheless, she knew that obedience to God was paramount, and she was determined to do what was right in his eyes. (Matthew 10:34-39) My father left, and afterward I saw him only occasionally.

Looking back, I admire my mother’s loyalty to God. Her decision led to a life of spiritual blessings for my older sister, Beulah, and me. It also taught us an important lesson​—when we know what is right, we must strive to do it.

Tests of Faith

The Bible Students, as Jehovah’s Witnesses were then called, rallied around our family.  My grandmother moved in with us and also embraced Bible truth. She and Mother became inseparable companions in the preaching work, where their dignified stature and warm manner won people’s respect.

Meanwhile, older Christian brothers took me under their wing and gave me valuable training. I soon learned to use a testimony card to give simple presentations to people in their homes. I also played recorded Bible talks on a portable gramophone and shared in placard marches through the main street of town. This was difficult, since I struggled with fear of man. However, I knew what was right and was determined to do it.

After completing school, I began working for a bank, which involved traveling to numerous bank branches throughout the state of New South Wales. Although there were few Witnesses in that part of the country, my training helped to keep my faith alive. Mother wrote encouraging letters that strengthened me spiritually.

Those letters gave me help at the right time. World War II had begun, and I faced military conscription. The bank manager was an ardent churchgoer and a local military commander. When I explained my neutral stand as a Christian, he presented me with an ultimatum​—leave my religion or leave the bank! Matters came to a head when I reported to the local army recruiting center. The manager was present and watched with keen interest as I approached the registration table. When I refused to sign the recruiting papers, the officials became hostile. It was a tense moment, but I was determined to do what was right. With Jehovah’s help, I remained calm and resolute. When I later learned that some bullies were looking for me, I quickly packed my things and caught the next train out of town!

After returning to Newcastle, I faced a court hearing along with seven other brothers who had refused military service. The judge sentenced us to three months in jail at hard labor. While prison was an unpleasant experience, doing what was right brought blessings. After our release, one of my cell mates, a fellow Witness named Hilton Wilkinson, invited me to work for him in his photo studio. There I met my future wife, Melody, who worked at the studio as a receptionist. Soon after my release, I was baptized in symbol of my dedication to Jehovah.

Reaching Out for Full-Time Service

After we got married, Melody and I opened our own photo studio in Newcastle. Soon we had so much work that our health and spirituality began to suffer. About that time, Ted Jaracz, who was then serving at the Australia branch office of Jehovah’s Witnesses and who is now a member of the Governing Body, talked to us about our spiritual goals. After that discussion, we decided to sell our business and simplify our life. In 1954 we bought a small trailer, moved to the city of Ballarat in the state of Victoria, and started serving as pioneers, or full-time evangelizers.

As we worked along with the small congregation in Ballarat, Jehovah blessed our efforts. Within 18 months, the number of people attending meetings swelled from 17 to 70. Then came an invitation to take up the  traveling ministry, or circuit work, in the state of South Australia. For the next three years, we enjoyed visiting congregations in the city of Adelaide and in the wine and citrus regions along the Murray River. How our lives had changed! We were happy serving in the company of loving brothers and sisters. What a reward for doing what we knew was right!

A Missionary Assignment

In 1958 we advised the Australia branch office of our intention to attend the “Divine Will” International Assembly in New York City later that year. They replied by sending us application forms for the Gilead missionary school in the United States. Since we were in our mid-30’s, we thought that we were too old to attend Gilead. Nevertheless, we sent in our applications and were invited to attend the 32nd class. Halfway through the course, we received our missionary assignment​—India! Despite our initial apprehension, we wanted to do what was right and gladly accepted our assignment.

Traveling by ship, we arrived in Bombay (now Mumbai) early one morning in 1959. Hundreds of sleeping laborers lay sprawled across the wharf. Strange odors filled the air. When the sun rose, it gave us a taste of what lay ahead. Never before had we experienced such heat! A missionary couple, Lynton and Jenny Dower, who had pioneered along with us in Ballarat, welcomed us. They took us to the India branch office and Bethel Home, which consisted of a cramped upstairs apartment located close to the city center. Living in the home were six Bethel volunteer workers. Brother Edwin Skinner, who had served as a missionary in India since 1926, advised us to buy two holdalls, or canvas traveling cases, before we moved on to our assignment. The name holdall was apt, since travelers transported all kinds of items in them. They were a familiar sight on Indian trains and served us well during our later travels.

After a two-day journey by train, we reached our assignment in Tiruchchirappalli, a city in the southern state of Madras (now Tamil Nadu). There, we joined three Indian special pioneers who were witnessing to a population of 250,000 people. Living conditions were primitive. At one time, we had less than $4 (U.S.) left in our pockets. But when that money ran out, Jehovah did not forsake us. One person who was studying the Bible lent us money to rent a home suitable for holding meetings. Once when we were low on food, a neighbor kindly brought us some homemade curry. I loved it, but it was so spicy hot that it gave me hiccups!

Into the Field

Although some people in Tiruchchirappalli spoke English, the majority spoke Tamil. Therefore, we worked hard to learn a simple presentation for field service in that language. That won the respect of many local people.

We thoroughly enjoyed the house-to-house ministry. Indians are hospitable by nature, and most invited us in for refreshments. Since the temperature often hovered at 100 degrees Fahrenheit [40°C], we appreciated their hospitality very much. It was polite to discuss personal matters before we presented our message. Householders often asked my wife and me: “Where are you from? Do you have children? Why not?” At this point, they usually offered to refer us to a good doctor! All the same, those conversations allowed us to introduce ourselves and explain the importance of our Bible-based work.

Most people we witnessed to belonged to the Hindu religion​—a system of beliefs very different from Christianity. Rather than debate the complexities of Hindu philosophy, we simply preached the good news of God’s Kingdom​—and with good results. Within six  months, nearly 20 persons began to attend the meetings at our missionary home. One of these individuals was a civil engineer named Nallathambi. He and his son, Vijayalayan, later helped about 50 persons to become servants of Jehovah. Vijayalayan also served for a time at the India branch.

On the Move

We had been in India less than six months when I was invited to serve as the country’s first permanent district overseer. This involved traveling throughout India, organizing assemblies and working along with nine different language groups. It was arduous work. We packed clothes and equipment for six months into three tin trunks and our trusty holdalls and set off from the city of Madras (now Chennai) by train. Since the territory covered by the district was about 4,000 miles [6,500 km] in circumference, we were constantly on the move. On one occasion, we finished an assembly in the southern city of Bangalore on Sunday. Then we traveled north to Darjeeling in the Himalayan foothills to serve another assembly the following week. The journey to Darjeeling involved traveling some 1,700 miles [2,700 km] and making five train changes along the way.

During our early travels, we enjoyed showing the motion picture The New World Society in Action. This film acquainted people with the scope and activity of Jehovah’s earthly organization. Often, hundreds of people attended these showings. On one occasion, we presented the film to a group assembled alongside a road. While the film was running, storm clouds gathered and rapidly bore down upon us. Since a crowd had once rioted when the film was interrupted, I decided to continue the show but to speed it up. Thankfully, the film ended without incident as the first drops of rain began to fall.

In the years that followed, Melody and I traveled to most parts of India. Since each region had its unique food, dress, language, and scenery, it was like traveling from one country to another. What wonderful diversity is found in Jehovah’s creation! This is also true of India’s wildlife. Once, while camping in the Nepalese jungle, we had a good view of a huge tiger. It was a magnificent animal. Seeing it strengthened our desire to be in Paradise, where there will finally be peace between humans and animals.

Organizational Improvements

During those early days, the brothers in India needed to come into closer alignment with Jehovah’s organizational arrangements. In some congregations, men sat on one side of the meeting room while women sat on the  other. Meetings rarely started on time. In one location, a loud bell summoned Kingdom publishers to meetings. In other areas, publishers wandered in when the sun reached a certain position in the sky. Assemblies and visits of traveling overseers were irregular. The brothers were willing to do what was right, but they needed training.

In 1959, Jehovah’s organization instituted the Kingdom Ministry School. This worldwide training program helped circuit overseers, special pioneers, missionaries, and congregation elders to carry out their Scriptural responsibilities more effectively. When the school began in India in December 1961, I served as class instructor. Gradually, the results of that training filtered down to congregations around the country, and they moved ahead rapidly. Once the brothers knew what was right, God’s spirit motivated them to do it.

Large conventions also encouraged and unified the brothers. Outstanding among these conventions was the “Everlasting Good News” International Assembly held in New Delhi in 1963. Witnesses from across India traveled thousands of miles to attend that assembly, many spending their entire savings to do so. Since 583 delegates from 27 other lands were also present, it was the first time that local Witnesses could meet and associate with large numbers of visiting brothers.

In 1961, Melody and I were invited to become part of the Bethel family in Bombay, where I later served as a member of the Branch Committee. Other privileges followed. For many years, I served as a zone overseer throughout parts of Asia and the Middle East. Since the preaching work was restricted in many of these countries, the local publishers needed to be “cautious as serpents and yet innocent as doves.”​—Matthew 10:16.

Expansion and Changes

In 1959 when we first arrived in India, 1,514 publishers were active in the country. Today, that number has grown to over 24,000. To accommodate this growth, we twice moved into new Bethel premises in or near Bombay. Then, in March 2002, the Bethel family moved again​—this time to a new complex constructed near Bangalore, in southern India. This modern facility currently houses 240 Bethel members, some of whom translate Bible literature into 20 languages.

Although Melody and I eagerly anticipated moving to Bangalore, poor health forced us to return to Australia in 1999. We now serve as members of the Bethel family in Sydney. Even though we have left India, the love we have for our dear friends and spiritual children in that land remains strong. How enjoyable it is to receive letters from them!

Looking back over more than 50 years of full-time service, Melody and I feel richly blessed. Once, we worked to preserve people’s images on photographic paper, but working to preserve people alive in God’s memory was a far better choice. What precious experiences have resulted from our decision to put God’s will first in life! Yes, doing what God says is right truly leads to happiness!

[Maps on page 15]

(For fully formatted text, see publication)

INDIA

New Delhi

Darjeeling

Bombay (Mumbai)

Bangalore

Madras (Chennai)

Tiruchchirappalli

[Pictures on page 13]

Hadyn and Melody in 1942

[Picture on page 16]

The Bethel family in India, 1975