Friday, August 27, 2010

Life Story: Danielle Hall

This experience (on pgs 26-29 of the 7/07 Awake!) is good example of how children can develop a strong desire to worship Jehovah from infancy, which stays with them throughout life, even if they only received limited exposure to the Bible through friends or relatives.

...Nanna died in 1977, when I was four years old. She was one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, as were all of Dad’s relatives in our hometown of Moe, Australia. My parents were not Witnesses, but Dad was favorably disposed toward them. Our family later moved to Tintenbar, a small town near the New South Wales coast. There my older brother, Jamie, and I occasionally attended Witness meetings with Dad.
When I was eight years old, my parents separated. Dad returned to Moe, while Jamie and I stayed with Mum. She was not interested in the Bible and did not want us to attend Witness meetings. This made me very sad. Nanna’s words stirred deep within my heart. I knew that I did love Jehovah! And I wanted to serve him. So I prayed to Jehovah and told him that I too was one of his Witnesses. Jamie felt the same way.

(Danielle as a baby with "Nanna" before she died)

Trials at School
Soon afterward, a teacher at school asked each child in our class to call out his or her religion so that he could record it in a roll book. When it was Jamie’s turn, he called out in a loud, clear voice, “Jehovah’s Witness.” The teacher stopped and asked him to repeat his answer, which he did. “I don’t think so, but I’ll come back to you later,” said the teacher. When it was my turn, I also called out loudly, “Jehovah’s Witness.” Clearly frustrated, the teacher summoned the school principal. “I have your enrollment papers in front of me, and your parents did not register you as Jehovah’s Witnesses,” the principal stated firmly. “But that is the religion we follow,” we respectfully replied. Neither he nor the teacher ever raised the issue again.

At school I tried to share my limited Bible knowledge with my classmates. By taking along my copy of My Book of Bible Stories, I was occasionally able to read stories to one girl who believed in God. But because I tried to live up to Christian standards, I was never very popular and, at times, felt very lonely.
I prayed to Jehovah so often and intensely that he became my closest friend. Each day after school, I sat on my bed and told Jehovah about the events of that day, right down to the last detail. I cried often. With tears rolling down my cheeks, I begged, “Jehovah, please let me serve you along with your people.” After praying I always felt much better.

A Strengthening Letter
When I was ten, Jamie returned to Moe to live with Dad. Now I was even more spiritually isolated. Then, while visiting a neighbor’s house, I found some magazines published by Jehovah’s Witnesses. I excitedly memorized the address of the local branch office and then hurried home to write it down. I wrote the branch a heartfelt letter explaining my situation and asking for spiritual help. Their touching, two-page reply, written solely for me, filled my eyes with tears. Here was proof that I was precious to Jehovah!
The letter urged me to imitate the faith of the little Israelite girl who became a servant to Naaman, a Syrian army chief in Bible times. Although captive and living far away from her homeland, she stayed close to her God, Jehovah. And by boldly speaking about her faith, she showed herself to be a true witness for him.—2 Kings 5:1-4.

The letter from the branch office added: “As a young girl, you should serve Jehovah by being obedient to your parents and working hard at school. Also, you need to keep close to Jehovah in prayer and study.” In conclusion, the letter said: “Danielle, remember that no matter where we may live, Jehovah is always near to us. We know you believe this.” (Romans 8:35-39) That letter, now old and worn, remains in the front of my Bible. I have read it often over the years but not once without tears.
Shortly thereafter, I received another letter. It said that my father had arranged for me to receive the Watchtower and Awake! magazines through the mail. I was overjoyed! Now I had a regular supply of spiritual food. When each issue arrived, I read it from cover to cover. I still have my very first copies of those beautiful journals. At about this time, a Christian elder from the local congregation began to visit me. His visits, although brief, were very encouraging.

Changes Bring Progress
Despite my improved spiritual situation, I still yearned to worship Jehovah freely. So when I reached 13, I asked Mother if I could live with Dad. I loved Mum dearly, as she did me, but I was determined to serve God. When she agreed, I returned to Moe and started studying the Bible with the local congregation. With Dad’s approval, Jamie and I also attended all of the meetings. The local Witnesses went out of their way to help us. Jamie and I made rapid spiritual progress and were later baptized within a few months of each other. Yes, my childhood prayer was answered. I was serving Jehovah along with his people!

Meanwhile, I developed a special relationship with my uncle and aunt, Philip and Lorraine Taylor, who were also in the Moe Congregation. They treated me like a daughter. When they moved to the island of Bougainville, Papua New Guinea, to serve where the need for Kingdom preachers was greater, I jumped at their invitation to accompany them. I was only 15 years old, but Dad and Mum allowed me to go.
In Bougainville I continued my schooling by correspondence. Otherwise, I spent most of my time witnessing. What a joy it was to work along with missionaries and pioneer ministers! The local people were by far the most humble I had ever met, and many were keen to study the Bible.
Later that year political strife erupted, and it became too dangerous for me to stay. Leaving that little island with its beautiful people was heartbreaking. As my small plane took off, I saw Uncle Philip standing on the tarmac waving good-bye. Crying my heart out, I silently begged Jehovah to allow me someday to serve as a missionary in a foreign land.

(Danielle and Will)

More Prayers Answered
Back in Australia, after finishing high school, I took up an office traineeship with a legal firm. Meanwhile, Dad had remarried and was caring for a large stepfamily. Jamie lived with Mum. For a time, I moved back and forth between both parents. Life seemed complicated. I needed to simplify my life and focus on spiritual goals. So in 1994, I entered the full-time ministry in Moe as a pioneer.

I was happy again. My friends were spiritually inclined youths in the congregation, and they became my strong support. In fact, in 1996, I married one of them—Will—a soft-spoken, kind, and humble man, who was a true blessing from Jehovah.
We settled into married life, and our happiness seemed complete. One day, Will arrived home after working with the traveling overseer who visited congregations in our area. Sitting me down, he asked, “Would you be willing to move to assist another congregation?” In my heart I immediately said yes. However, I playfully asked: “Where? Vanuatu? Fiji?” When Will replied “Morwell,” I blurted out, “But that’s next door!” We both laughed and instantly agreed that we would be delighted to move to our neighboring congregation to serve as pioneers.

The next three years, in Morwell, were happy and productive. Then came another surprise. We received an invitation from the Australia branch office of Jehovah’s Witnesses to serve as special pioneers. Our assignment? East Timor, a small country at the eastern end of the Indonesian archipelago (called East Timor by English speakers, it is also known as Timor-Leste). My eyes filled with tears. I thanked Jehovah for answering all my prayers. Not only had he welcomed me as his servant but now my husband and I could serve in a foreign country.

Serving Overseas
We arrived in Dili, the capital, in July 2003. Dili Congregation—the only one in the country—consisted of 13 special pioneers from Australia and a handful of local Witnesses. The Timorese brothers and sisters were very poor; most had lost possessions and family members in the 24-year-long civil war that ended in 1999. Many had also endured strong family opposition to their newfound faith. Despite their tribulation and poverty, however, they were spiritually rich and happy.—Revelation 2:8, 9.

We found that most Timorese were God-fearing and respected the Bible. Soon, in fact, we had more Bible studies than we could handle! In time, some of our early students served alongside us as our baptized brothers and sisters. Seeing their spiritual progress brought us great joy.

Then, in 2006, Dili again descended into chaos. Tensions between different ethnic groups exploded into full-scale conflict. Many homes were looted or burned to the ground, and local Witnesses sought refuge in the homes of the special pioneers. Our house and yard were transformed into a temporary refugee camp, and at one time nearly a hundred people lived with us! Our large carport became a kitchen, dining room, and temporary Kingdom Hall.
Although gunfire and grenades exploded nearby, our pioneer home was a refuge of peace. We all felt Jehovah’s protective hand over us. Each day began with a group discussion of a Bible text. Meetings were held as normal. We also conducted Bible studies with interested ones.
As the weeks passed, it became clear that it would be dangerous for brothers born in the east of the country to remain in Dili. So responsible Witnesses decided to establish a new group in Baucau, the second-largest city, located three hours east of Dili. And that is why Will and I received a new assignment.

We arrived in Baucau in July 2006, almost three years to the day after our arrival in East Timor. Our new group consisted of four special pioneers and six Timorese Witnesses. The local brothers and sisters had abandoned all their possessions in Dili, yet they had not lost their big smiles. We truly admired their loyal, self-sacrificing spirit!
Will and I still serve in Baucau. We love our assignment and view it as yet another blessing from Jehovah. Looking back, I can see that Nanna was right. Jehovah has unfailingly cared for me over the years. I constantly thank him for allowing me the privilege of serving him along with his people. I also eagerly look forward to seeing Nanna again in the resurrection. Then I can thank her for giving me the key that opened the door to a truly happy and rewarding life.