“I’m losing my vision. I can’t see,” said our pilot in a slurred voice. Moments later, his hands slipped from the controls of the small plane we were in, and he slumped in his seat, unconscious. My husband, who had no flying experience, tried desperately to rouse him. Before I tell about our narrow escape, let me explain what led up to our being in that plane over Papua New Guinea, one of the remotest parts of the earth...
I was born in Australia in 1929 and raised in Sydney, the capital of New South Wales. My father, Bill Muscat, was a Communist who, curiously enough, believed in God. In 1938 he even agreed to sign a national petition requesting that Joseph F. Rutherford, from the world headquarters of Jehovah’s Witnesses, be allowed to preach at Sydney Town Hall.
“He must have something good to say,” Dad told us at the time. Eight years later, we learned the substance of that message. Dad invited Norman Bellotti, a full-time pioneer minister of Jehovah’s Witnesses, to our home to discuss the Bible. Our family quickly accepted Bible truth and soon became very active in the Christian ministry.
In the mid-1940’s, I left school to help my mother, who was chronically ill. I also did dressmaking for a living. On Saturday nights, my sister Rose and I accompanied a group of pioneers and did street witnessing outside Sydney Town Hall. In 1952 my older brother, John, graduated from the Gilead missionary school in the United States and was assigned to Pakistan. I too loved the ministry and wanted to follow his example. So the following year, I became a regular pioneer.
Marriage and Missionary Work
Soon afterward, I met John Davison, who worked at the Australia branch office of Jehovah’s Witnesses. His humility, quiet determination, and strength of character impressed me. During World War II, he had been imprisoned three times for maintaining his Christian neutrality. Together we decided to make the Christian ministry our lifework.
John and I were married in June 1955. We bought a bus with the intention of converting it into a mobile home. Our goal was to use it as a base for preaching in remote areas of Australia. The next year, a call went out for Witnesses to move to New Guinea, the northeastern part of a large island north of Australia. (At that time, the eastern part of the island was divided into Papua in the south and New Guinea in the north. Today, the western part of this island is called Papua, a part of Indonesia, and the eastern part, Papua New Guinea.) The Kingdom message had not yet been preached in this part of the world. We immediately volunteered.
At the time, the only way to enter New Guinea was on a full-time work contract, so John set about finding a job. He soon secured a contract with a sawmill in New Britain, a much smaller island that is part of New Guinea. Several weeks later, we set off for our new assignment, arriving in Rabaul, New Britain, in July 1956. There we waited six days for a boat to take us to Waterfall Bay.
(John & Lena Davison at a convention in Lae, New Guinea, 1973)
Our Ministry in Waterfall Bay
After several days of rough sailing, we arrived at Waterfall Bay, a large inlet about 150 miles [240 km] south of Rabaul. Here a huge sawmill was situated in a clearing in the jungle. That evening when all the workers were seated around the dinner table, the manager said, “By the way, Mr. and Mrs. Davison, it is the policy of this company that all employees state their religion.”
We were quite sure that there was no such policy, but since we had declined to smoke, they were evidently suspicious. In any case, John responded, “We are Jehovah’s Witnesses.” An awkward silence followed. The men were World War II veterans and were prejudiced against the Witnesses because of their neutral stand during the war. From then on, the men looked for every opportunity to make things difficult for us.
First the manager refused to give us a refrigerator and a stove, although we were entitled to both. Our perishable food spoiled, and we were forced to cook on a wrecked stove that we salvaged from the jungle. Next the local villagers were forbidden to sell us fresh produce, so we survived on any vegetables that we could find. We were also branded as spies and were carefully watched to see if we taught anyone the Bible. Then I contracted malaria.
Nevertheless, we were determined to accomplish our ministry. So we asked two young native mill workers who spoke English to teach us Melanesian Pidgin, the national language. In turn, we taught them the Bible. On weekends we wandered far and wide on “sightseeing” expeditions. Along the way, we discreetly witnessed to any villagers we could find; our Bible students served as translators. We crossed rivers with strong currents and enormous crocodiles sunning themselves along the banks. Barring one narrow escape, we were rarely troubled by those forbidding predators.
Making Tools for Teaching
As our ministry expanded, we decided to type out simple Bible messages to distribute to interested ones. Our Bible students at the mill helped us to translate the first of these. We spent many nights typing out hundreds of tracts and distributed them to villagers and passing boat crews.
In 1957, John Cutforth, an experienced traveling minister, paid us an encouraging visit. He suggested that the use of pictures might be an effective way to teach Bible truths to people who could not read. He and my husband devised a series of simple drawings, or stick figures, to explain basic Bible teachings. Later, we spent countless hours copying these picture sermons into school exercise books. Each Bible student received a copy, which he used to preach to others. This teaching method was eventually used throughout the country.
After two and a half years at Waterfall Bay, we completed our work contract and were approved to stay in the country. So we accepted an invitation to take up the special pioneer ministry.
Back to Rabaul
Sailing north to Rabaul, our boat stopped overnight at a copra and cocoa plantation at Wide Bay. The owners, an elderly couple who wanted to retire to Australia, offered John the job of managing the plantation. The offer was very tempting, but when we talked the matter over that night, we agreed that we had not come to New Guinea to pursue material riches. We were determined to accomplish our ministry as pioneers. So the next day, we informed the couple of our decision and reboarded the boat.
After arriving at Rabaul, we joined a small group of Witnesses from other countries who had moved into the area. The local people showed much interest in the Kingdom message, and we started many Bible studies. Meanwhile, we held Christian meetings in a local rented hall, and up to 150 people attended. Many of these accepted the truth and helped spread the good news of God’s Kingdom to other parts of the country.—Matthew 24:14.
We also visited Vunabal, a village some 30 miles [50 km] from Rabaul, where a group of people showed keen interest in Bible truth. They soon attracted the attention of an influential local Catholic. With a group of his church cronies, he broke up our weekly Bible study and drove us out of the village. When we learned that there would be more trouble the following week, we asked the police to accompany us.
That day the road was lined for miles with jeering Catholics. Many were ready to stone us. Meanwhile, a priest had assembled hundreds of tribesmen at the village. The police assured us that we had the right to hold our meeting, so they opened a path through the crowd. However, as soon as we started our meeting, the priest whipped the mob into a frenzy. The police were unable to restrain the horde; hence, the police chief urged us to leave and quickly led us to our car.
The mob swarmed around us, swearing, spitting, and shaking their fists, while the priest stood with folded arms and smiled. After our escape, the police chief admitted that it was the worst situation he had ever seen. Although most of the people in Vunabal were intimidated by the mob violence, one Bible student courageously took his stand for Kingdom truth. Since then, hundreds of others throughout New Britain have taken their stand.
New Guinea Opens Up
In November 1960, we were reassigned to Madang, a large town on the northern coast of New Guinea, the main island. Here John and I were inundated with offers of full-time employment. One company urged me to manage their clothing store. Another wanted me to do clothing alterations. Some expatriate women even offered to set me up in my own dressmaking shop. Keeping in mind our objectives, we politely turned down these and other offers.—2 Timothy 2:4.
The territory in Madang was fruitful, and a thriving congregation soon developed. We hiked and traveled by motorbike to outlying villages on preaching expeditions that lasted several days. In abandoned huts along the way, we slept on layers of grass cut from the bush. Canned food, biscuits, and a mosquito net completed our simple provisions.
On one expedition, we visited a group of interested ones in Talidig, a village about 30 miles [50 km] north of Madang. As the group made spiritual progress, the headmaster of the local school prohibited them from studying the Bible on public land. Later, he incited the police to destroy their houses and drive them into the bush. A neighboring chief, however, allowed the group to live on his land. In time, this kindly chief accepted Bible truth, and a modern Kingdom Hall was built in the area.
(At the branch in Papau New Guinea, 2002)
Translation and Traveling Work
Just two years after our arrival in New Britain in 1956, John and I were invited to translate various Bible publications into Melanesian Pidgin. This work continued over the years. Then in 1970, we were invited to the branch office in Port Moresby, the capital of Papua New Guinea, to serve as full-time translators. We also taught language classes there.
In 1975 we returned to New Britain to serve in the traveling ministry. For the next 13 years, we flew, paddled, drove, or walked to nearly every part of the country. We had many narrow escapes along the way, including the incident described at the beginning of this article. On that occasion, our pilot collapsed from severe gastritis while we were approaching Kandrian airstrip in New Britain. With the plane on autopilot, we circled helplessly above the jungle while John desperately tried to rouse the unconscious pilot. Finally, he regained consciousness, and his vision cleared enough for him to make a rough landing. He then collapsed again.
Another Door of Activity Opens
In 1988 we were reassigned to Port Moresby to care for the growing translation needs at the branch. About 50 of us lived and worked as a family at the branch, where we also trained new translators. All of us were accommodated in modest one-room apartments. John and I decided to leave our door ajar to encourage family members and visitors to stop by and get acquainted. We thus drew very close to our family and were able to give one another much love and support.
Then, in 1993, John died of a heart attack. I felt as though a part of me died too. We had been married for 38 years and had spent all that time together in the ministry. Still, I was determined to continue, in Jehovah’s strength. (2 Corinthians 4:7) My apartment door remained open, and young ones continued to visit. Such wholesome association helped me to maintain a positive outlook.
In 2003 my declining health led to my being reassigned to the branch office in Sydney, Australia. Today, at age 77, I still serve full-time in the Translation Department, and I also keep busy in the preaching work. My friends and spiritual children and grandchildren bring me constant joy. The door to my room at Bethel still remains open, and I have visitors most days. In fact, when my door is shut, people often knock to see what is wrong. As long as I draw breath, I will remain determined to accomplish my ministry and to serve my God, Jehovah.—2 Timothy 4:5.