Jehovah Smoothed Our Way
I WAS born in 1924, near Cham, a town in the Swiss canton of Zug. My parents had 13 children—10 boys and 3 girls. I was the firstborn, a boy. Two boys died when they were very young. The rest of us received a staunch Catholic upbringing on a farm during the Great Depression.
Dad was an honest, good-natured man, but he was subject to spells of rage. On occasion, he even battered Mother when she unjustly reproached him because of her jealousy. She could not tolerate his chatting with the women of our neighborhood, although she had no reason to doubt his fidelity. This would distress me very much.
Mother was very superstitious. She would interpret even minor events as a sign from “the poor souls in purgatory.” I hated such credulity. But the priests would feed her superstitious beliefs with reading material that supported her false religious thinking.
I Had Questions
From my boyhood on, questions regarding God and man’s destiny occupied my mind. I tried to reach logical conclusions, but there were so many contradictions! I read Catholic publications regarding the saints, miracles, and so forth. However, these did not satisfy my sense of reason. I felt as though I were groping in the dark.
The local priest admonished me not to ponder over the questions I had. He said that wanting to understand everything was a sign of pride and that God resists haughty ones. The teaching that was especially repugnant to me was that God would eternally torment in a burning hell any who died without confessing their sins. Since this meant that most humans on earth would be tormented forever, I often wondered, ‘How could this be harmonized with God’s love?’
I also questioned the Catholic practice of confession. I was scared when we were told at Catholic school that unchaste thoughts were a grave sin that required confession to a priest. I would wonder, ‘Did I remember to confess everything? Or had I forgotten something, causing my confession to be invalid and my sins unforgiven?’ Thus doubts were sown in my heart regarding God’s mercy and his willingness to forgive.
For about three or four years, I fought depressing thoughts that wore me down. I considered abandoning all faith in God. But then I would think, ‘If I persevere, I will doubtless find the right way.’ In time, I developed confidence in the existence of God, but I was plagued by uncertainty about my religious beliefs.
As a result of my early indoctrination, I believed that Jesus Christ had the Roman Catholic Church in mind when he said to the apostle Peter: “Upon this rock I will build my church.” (Matthew 16:18, Catholic Douay Version) I came to believe that eventually the good elements in the church would triumph, and with that end in view, I wanted to cooperate with the church.
Marriage and Family
As the oldest son in the family, I worked with my father on the farm until my next younger brother was able to take my place. Then I went to a Catholic agricultural school, where I obtained a master’s degree. Afterward, I began to look for a marriage partner.
Through one of my sisters, I came to know Maria. I learned that she had prayed for a husband with whom she could strive for everlasting life. We wrote on our marriage announcement: “United in love we seek happiness, our eyes on God we fix. Our way is life, and our goal eternal bliss.” We were married on June 26, 1958, in the convent Fahr, near Zurich.
Maria and I had similar backgrounds. She was from a deeply religious family and was the oldest of seven children. All of them were kept busy with farm tasks, schoolwork, and church attendance, so there was little time for play. The first years of our marriage were not easy. Because of my many questions on religious matters, Maria came to doubt whether she had married the right man. She refused to question church teachings or its practice of supporting wars, Crusades, and Inquisitions. Both of us, however, put our trust in God and were convinced that as long as we were seeking to do his will as best we could, he would never leave us.
In 1959 we leased a farm near Homburg in eastern Switzerland. This was our home for 31 years. On March 6, 1960, our first son, Josef, was born. He was followed by six brothers and a sister, Rachel. Maria has proved herself to be a just and impartial mother, faithful to deep-seated principles. She has been a real blessing to the family.
Seeking Bible Truth
Gradually, our religious ignorance became more and more unbearable. In the late 1960’s, we began attending lectures at the Catholic People’s High School, but we would return home more confused than ever. The speakers expounded their own views, devoid of Scriptural proof. During the early part of 1970, I reflected on Jesus’ words: “If you ask the Father anything in my name, he will give it to you. . . . Ask, and you shall receive.”—John 16:23, 24, Dy.
The above assurance from God’s Word caused me to pray repeatedly: “Father, if the Catholic Church is the true religion, please show it to me unmistakably. But if it is false, show it to me just as clearly and I will proclaim it to everyone.” I pleaded again and again in keeping with Jesus’ instruction in the Sermon on the Mount to “keep on asking.”—Matthew 7:7, 8.
My conversations with Maria—especially about changes in Catholic teachings in the 1960’s regarding the worship of “saints,” the eating of meat on Fridays, and so forth—finally caused her to have doubts. Once, when attending Mass in the spring of 1970, she prayed: “O God, do show us the way to eternal life. We do not know anymore which is the right way. I will submit to anything, but do show the right way for our whole family.” I did not know about her prayer, neither did she know about mine, until we recognized that our prayers had been heard.
Finding Bible Truth
After we returned from church one Sunday morning early in 1970, there was a knock on the door. A man accompanied by his ten-year-old son presented himself as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. I agreed to a Bible discussion. I thought I could easily prove him wrong because from the things I had been told about Jehovah’s Witnesses, I did not believe they were very well-informed.
Our discussion lasted two hours without positive results, and it was the same the following Sunday. I was looking forward to a third discussion, but the Witness did not show up. Maria said that he must have realized that it was not worthwhile. I was happy when he returned two weeks later. Immediately, I said: “For 35 years I have been wondering about hell. I simply cannot accept that God, who is love, should torture creatures in such a cruel way.”
“You are right,” replied the Witness. “The Bible does not teach that hell is a place of torment.” He showed me that the Hebrew and Greek words for Sheol and Hades, often translated “hell” in the Catholic Bible, refer simply to the common grave. (Genesis 37:35; Job 14:13; Acts 2:31) Also, he read scriptures that proved that the human soul is mortal and that the punishment for sin is death, not torment. (Ezekiel 18:4; Romans 6:23) At that, I began to see clearly that I had been blinded by religious falsehoods my whole life. Now I began to wonder if other dogmas of the church were wrong.
I did not want to be deceived anymore, so I bought a Catholic Bible dictionary and a five-volume history of the popes. These publications had the imprimatur, that is, the Roman Catholic episcopal authority had approved them for printing. Reading the history of the popes made me aware that some of them were among the world’s worst criminals! And by checking the Bible dictionary, I learned that Trinity, hellfire, purgatory, and so many other teachings of the church are not based on the Bible.
Now I was ripe for a Bible study with the Witnesses. Initially, Maria sat in only to be polite, but she soon embraced what she learned. After four months I quit the Catholic Church and notified the priest that our children would no longer attend religious classes. The following Sunday the priest warned his parishioners about Jehovah’s Witnesses. I offered to defend my beliefs using the Bible, but the priest would not agree to such a discussion.
After that we made rapid progress. Finally, my wife and I symbolized our dedication to Jehovah by water baptism on December 13, 1970. One year later, I had to spend two months in prison over the issue of Christian neutrality. (Isaiah 2:4) It was not easy to leave my wife with eight children, even for that short period of time. The children were only from 4 months to 12 years of age. Besides, we had a farm and livestock for which to care. But with Jehovah’s help, they were able to cope without me.
Keeping Kingdom Interests First
Never would anyone in our family miss a congregation meeting unless he was ill. And we organized our work load in such a way that we never missed any of the large conventions. Soon the children’s games in our attic centered on acting out what they observed at our Christian meetings. For example, they would assign student talks to each other and practice presentations. Happily, they all responded to our spiritual instruction. I cherish the memory of my wife and me being interviewed at a circuit assembly, with our eight children sitting in a row—from the oldest to the youngest—attentively listening.
The rearing of our children in “the discipline and mental-regulating of Jehovah” became our main concern. (Ephesians 6:4) We decided to get rid of our television set, and we would often invite zealous fellow Christians to our home so that our children could profit from their experiences and enthusiasm. We were careful to avoid inconsiderate talk and being critical of others. If someone erred, we talked it over and looked for extenuating circumstances. We tried to help our children appraise a situation reasonably and justly. We carefully avoided comparisons with other youths. And we recognized the importance of parents not pampering or shielding children from the consequences of their actions.—Proverbs 29:21.
Yet, rearing our children was not without problems. For example, one time, schoolmates induced them to take candy from a store without paying for it. When we learned what had happened, we made our children return to the store to pay for it and to ask forgiveness. It was embarrassing for them, but they learned a lesson in honesty.
Rather than simply forcing our children to accompany us in the preaching activity, we set the example by giving such activity priority. The children saw that we put meetings and field ministry ahead of work that needed to be done around the farm. Our efforts to bring up our eight children in the way of Jehovah were certainly blessed.
Our oldest son, Josef, is a Christian elder and served for several years at the branch office of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Switzerland along with his wife. Thomas is an elder, and he and his wife are pioneers, as full-time ministers are called. Daniel, who gave up his career as a champion cyclist, is an elder, and he and his wife are pioneers in another congregation. Benno and his wife are active ministers in central Switzerland. Our fifth son, Christian, serves as an elder in the congregation we attend. He is married and has two children. Franz is a pioneer and an elder in a congregation in Bern, and Urs, who at one time served at the Switzerland branch office, is married and is serving as a pioneer. Our only daughter, Rachel, and her husband were also pioneers for several years.
Following the example of my children, I also became a pioneer, upon retiring from secular work in June 1990. Looking back on my life and that of my family, I can certainly say that Jehovah has smoothed our way and bestowed blessings upon us “until there is no more want.”—Malachi 3:10.
My dear wife’s favorite Bible text is: “Throw your burden upon Jehovah himself, and he himself will sustain you. Never will he allow the righteous one to totter.” (Psalm 55:22) And mine is: “Take exquisite delight in Jehovah, and he will give you the requests of your heart.” (Psalm 37:4) We have both experienced the truth of these beautiful expressions. Our goal is to praise our God, Jehovah, eternally, along with our children and their families.—As told by Josef Heggli.