Bertha Dewall – Testimonies of Averil and Jacqueline Perlmutter

The workers first came to South Africa in the early 1900’s, and to Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe, in 1920.

About 1923 in a tent meeting in Salisbury (now Harare), a Mr. and Mrs. Sim, and Mrs. Sim’s youngest sister, eleven-year-old Bertha de Waal, decided. Bertha’s parents were Dutch Reformed people, and her father was bitterly opposed to the Truth, forbidding Bertha to go to meetings. Yet after each Sunday school class, Bertha would borrow her brother-in-law’s bicycle and rush to the little meeting a few miles away. Bertha’s mother professed two years before she died, when Bertha was 15, but seldom got to meetings because of her husband’s resistance.


Bertha went to work at a hospital, wishing to become a nurse.  She was working at the hospital where the Perlmutter twins were born. Bertha was assigned to care for the infants. There were no incubators, so Bertha kept them in a shoebox feeding them every hour 24 hours a day for the first month of their lives. Their mother was not able to care for the babies, so the father asked if Bertha would live in their home and care for them. Bertha bargained to have time off for every Sunday and Wednesday meeting. Their mother never cared much for the children and, when it came time for meetings, the father asked if Bertha could not take the children with her. Bertha had sole charge of the babies and took them to meetings when she could. They attended their first convention when they were four months old!


Bertha had planned to resume her studies, but when the Perlmutters were to return to Rhodesia, Bertha couldn’t part with the twins so returned as their nurse. Their father went to war for six years, so Bertha had complete charge of the girls, as their mother didn’t care for them. Bertha took them to meetings and conventions and they grew up knowing what children of professing parents understand although they lived in a cold, unwelcome home. When the father returned from war, Bertha had Sunday and Wednesday meetings off, and went to meetings. The twins would ask their father if they could go and play with their friends. One of their friends was Heather Oldknow, where the meeting was held. They got to meetings that way. However, Sunday afternoons they had to go with their parents to a club or hotel, which they detested.


They were about eight years old when they said to Bertha, “Teach us to pray,” and at 9 years-old asked for a Bible. Bertha refused to teach them how to pray. She said, “You have your pocket money, go and buy one!” Their Bible was their treasured possession, more valued than all their toys, which they were not short of. Bertha was responsible for the twins’ learning all that rich, Jewish children went in for. Studying French and Hebrew, dancing, horseback riding, etc., but the girls played hooky, refusing to learn more than the Hebrew alphabet—something they now regret. She took them each Saturday to the synagogue. Later, they saw the great wisdom in all that she had done.


The twins first missed convention when they were nine and their parents took them away to celebrate Passover with relatives. The twins wept most of the time during the Passover, so when Sunday night came their father was glad to give them back to Bertha. On Monday they ran happily around, helping to clear up after the convention.


At age twelve, they attended the convention where they felt their need to serve the Lord. They asked Bertha if they could stand when the meeting was tested and she said, “If you know what you are doing.” They knew little of what it meant, but they knew they were outside of God’s fellowship and wanted to belong to God’s family, so they made their choice.


When at home they pretended to be Jewish, but in their hearts they tried to serve God. In their meeting there were several other young professing girls, which made their fellowship special, and provided an excuse to go and play with their friends.


Their parents divorced when they were 13 years old and their mother returned to England without even saying goodbye to them. The girls only saw their mother twice more before she died in 1998 of exposure to cold in her apartment, during a severe cold snap.


Their father sent them to a boarding school in Cape Town, 2,000 miles away to get them away from the influence of Bertha and her friends. Bertha had to seek other work after caring for the girls for 13 years, having had only two short holidays when she was sick, and received a meager salary. Amid many tears, they left for the boarding school with advice from Bertha to take only their small Bibles, no hymn books, be careful before others seeing they would be at a strict Jewish school, and to “behave themselves.” Their father tried to break their connection with the few Christians they knew in Cape Town and with Bertha as well, but she still wrote to them regularly and prayed for them. In her first letter to them she mentioned, “God’s way is a battlefield, not a playground.” When they went home on holiday, they carelessly left a letter in their bedroom from a worker signed, “Your brother in Christ,” which was found by their father and stepmother. Mr. Perlmutter stormed up to Mr. Oldknow’s home, as he was the elder of the church, and demanded to see Bertha. Mr. Oldknow kept him outside during the meeting, and tried to answer his questions regarding his faith.


After the meeting, Bertha went to see Mr. Perlmutter at his home, where he railed on her for influencing his daughters away from the Jewish faith. After he cooled down a little, Bertha said, “Who made your girls learn Hebrew, French, dancing, horseback riding, etc.; and who took them to the synagogue every Sabbath?” He admitted Bertha had done this. Bertha also asked,  “Did their mother ever pick them up, caress and love them; or feed, clothe and bathe them?” He had to admit their mother never wanted her daughters and he, himself, had shown very little love toward them. Then he said, “But your life influenced them.” What a wonderful testimony to have!


Mr. Perlmutter forbade Bertha to have any further communication with his daughters. Then he flew to Cape Town to see Averil and Jacqueline at their school and forbade them to have any more communication with their friends in Cape Town. After much pleading, he conceded to let them go to meet the friends once every three months. During the next three years at the boarding school, they had only these few meetings, which meant everything to them. The elder’s wife often came on Sunday afternoon to have a little study with them. She faithfully took a bus, train, and another bus to get to meet with the girls for thirty minutes.  When at home during the holidays, they could not go to the Sunday morning meeting, but sometimes the friends would phone their father, and ask the girls over for “tea,” and then they could enjoy a Bible study. At school, the twins tried to have their own little Sunday morning meeting before the other girls arose at 6 a.m. And the Lord kindly taught them many things out of the scripture.


They continued reading and praying in secret until the last year in school when they began to read and speak freely. Some of the Jewish girls asked questions about the New Testament and began to read it and were astonished when the twins could explain the scripture. As their school days were coming to a close, they knew a stand had to be taken, and their parents must know they chose to be Christians, which may mean their father would disown them. A week passed after arriving home and nothing was said about their decision. Their parents planned an overseas trip, saying they would like the girls to dress like other Jewish girls. This caused them to lose courage. They went to bed feeling ashamed of their cowardice. The next day at work their father had a severe heart attack and died within minutes. They saw God’s hand in preventing them from saying anything about their choice, as in their culture the relatives would have accused them of killing their father from shock.


After the funeral the family met, and the girls were questioned regarding their “faith,” whether they wished to remain Jews or change their religion. They replied, “We have already changed our religion.” The mountain they feared disappeared into the sea. The next Sunday their stepmother offered them her car to go to the meeting, which was the first time in 17 years they went freely and honestly.


During the probation of their father’s Will, they were advised that they would receive the major portion of their father’s estate if they would renounce their Christian beliefs for a few minutes, just long enough for the papers to be signed. The twin’s response was that what they had was too valuable and the risk too great to renounce Christ even for a moment in time.


They found work in Salisbury, but after six months their stepmother began to get nasty and went to the Master of the High Court (they were still under 21) with accusations against the girls. This man questioned Bertha for hours about their childhood and upbringing in the Truth. Next, he called Mr. Oldknow and questioned him about this way. The judge then called the girls and told them about their stepmother’s complaint. But after listening to all, he decided that Bertha would be their legal guardian and advised them to hold on to their faith with all their strength. They went to live with Bertha.


The courts decided that the twins should receive a small portion of their father’s wealth. They used the money to purchase a piece of property and prepare it as a convention grounds.


Bertha moved to “Carmel” the convention grounds, and lived there happily from 1961-1979 when she died of cancer. Averil and Jacqueline cared for her during her illness.


Averil began in the work in 1962 and Jacqueline in 1964.