Pursuing My Purpose in Life
As told by Alice Berner
DECEMBER 13, 1958: Guess what happened today? Do you remember the lovely postcard released at the Divine Will International Assembly showing the new addition to the Wiesbaden Bethel? Well, what about peeping into its new Kingdom Hall being inaugurated today? What a crowd of people streaming into it! It is very much like the beautiful paintings in this hall show, where thousands of happy people stream to the mountain of God’s kingdom. And opposite that wall look at the long row of windows toward the woods; but since it is evening, instead of green fir trees in the woods, see the beautiful blue and yellow curtains drawn. And on the bright front wall read in a decorative script the timely message: “Happy is the one that stays awake and keeps his outer garments.”—Rev. 16:15.
A festive spirit is reigning this evening, awakened by the enthusiasm of a lively orchestra. After some introductory words and a film about the erecting of the building, the Branch servant, Brother Franke, in stimulating words now speaks to the crowd about the first postwar Kingdom Hall in Germany, a stable where they gathered after their concentration camp experiences, and another one, the Zeppelin Wiese at Nuremberg, where they triumphantly met on the very day that those who had been their torturers in the concentration camps received their sentences. Our newly dedicated hall now is destined to be a real Bible educational center.
But how is it that I am here among all these hard fighters for the truth? Let me tell you my story.
Born in Switzerland and brought up by God-fearing parents, as a young girl I learned Psalm 103 by heart, and ever since, the words, “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name,” have been a source of strength to me. What that name really meant I was to learn later on.
In 1919, in a neighboring town at a private home where I used to go for lunch, I got my first glimpse of the truth. What those good people told me about the Bible was simply amazing. Never before had I heard of Christ’s second presence as a fact, about the soul being mortal and about the dead returning to the earth. Full of curiosity, I started reading the first volume of the Studies in the Scriptures, and when I had read the passage about the narrow and the broad way, I then and there decided to leave the way of the many and to turn to the way of the few.
What a busy time followed! There were seven volumes to be read. New questions arose continually and new satisfactory answers were given me. However, the Devil got busy too. First my folks tried to hold me back, then two ministers of the National Church made great efforts to keep me in their fold, but it was of no use. Having once tasted how good the truth is, I stuck to it, and all the opposition only deepened my desire to acquire accurate knowledge by looking up every scripture as I studied the Society’s publications. After six months I was baptized. Right from the beginning I felt an urge to spread the good news. Timidly I began distributing tracts in the train and from house to house.
Early in 1923 an article appeared in The Watch Tower entitled “Are You Using His Pound?” that grasped my attention. Now the idea of full-time service entered my mind But I being the youngest child and the only one left at home with my parents, and they growing older and needing some attention, the question arose: Would it be right to leave them for Jehovah’s work? Of course, I read in Matthew 10:37: “He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me,” but another commandment was: “Honor thy father and mother.” (AV) So I continually prayed that God might show me the right way. Strange as it sounds, it was only when I recognized the great need for laborers in the expanding work and had made up my mind to enter full-time service anyway, sooner or later, that the Lord came to my help, strengthening me to take the necessary steps.
Thus in January, 1924, I plunged into the waters of pioneer service. Thrilled beyond description that Jehovah had taken me into his service, I used to march over the hills bordering the lovely lake of Zürich proclaiming good tidings. I had the joy of placing a lot of books, mainly The Harp of God, and so it was almost a test when I was called away from open-air service to Bethel at Zürich, where the Swiss German Branch was then located. In the spring of 1925 we moved to Berne, since the office was being fused with the office for French Switzerland. For me this meant increased opportunities for theocratic fellowship.
After a year of interesting work in which my office training was very useful to me, I got a call from father saying that mother was ill, and a few months later I stood at her bier beside my desolate father and some of the relatives who tried to persuade me that my first Christian duty was now to come home. Had I then in my love toward my earthly father acted impulsively, I might have failed in my supreme love toward my heavenly Father. Certainly Jehovah saw my intense desire to stay at my post, and he heard my prayer and helped me again. How could I have left the service then when a time of blessedness began in that very year of 1926? (Dan. 12:12) All theocratic activity looked flourishing and prosperous. Years of intense work and greater responsibilities at Bethel followed. During weekends we not only worked in the German-speaking field but expanded our proclaiming work into French Switzerland and from there even into France to find the lost sheep there. And what happy outings these were!
Quite naturally though, I also had some trying experiences. First my father died, and I felt very much alone. Then the Devil tried all sorts of schemes to dampen my joy. Of course, there were many brothers around and, being by nature rather impulsive, I surely had to fight hard to keep myself in proper bounds, as I did not want to get myself bound by personal ties that could interfere with pursuing my purpose in life, and that cost me something. Furthermore, my health seemed to fail, and during the three months of recovery, when I was absent from busy Bethel life, I sometimes felt as if God had forsaken me. But His mercy and goodness soon returned. This time He filled my hands with other interesting work somewhere else—in the Paris office. In those early 1930’s many English pioneers had come over to France, helping to expand the work there, and I came into close contact with them and still remember the companionship we enjoyed. It was not long though until difficulties arose, for I was refused extension of my residence permit as “undesirable” due to my association with the Society.
Can’t you see us now—a dear Swiss pioneer sister beside me—sitting in a compartment of the express train speeding toward Belgium? At Mons, a Catholic town not very far from the French border, we settled down to real pioneering, as no publishers lived there at all. And how amusing some of our experiences were! Then I was called back to Paris again for a few months and traveled back and forth between Belgium and France, until, in 1935, the Society called me home to Berne again.
The years before World War II were times of tension for the Swiss brothers too, because they sympathized very much with their brothers in Germany, their neighbors who, because of their faith, had to suffer so much. Then, at the beginning of July, 1940, the big attack came against the Society in Switzerland, on the same day as in Canada and in other places. I still see that truckload of soldiers surrounding the Berne Bethel and overrunning it as if hunting for criminals. A hard fight for the truth ensued during the war years, but Jehovah graciously held his hand over the place so that the enemies could not close it down as they had intended, and thus we could continue sending out food for the “sheep.”
How to get this food in a time when the English Watchtower stopped reaching us was now a problem. But Jehovah’s hand is not shortened. He provided a new means of obtaining this fresh water. It meant work, but imagine our joy when, after some hard digging to get the news from the temple through a foreign language, we saw bubbling forth some clear water of truth. For almost two years the stream from headquarters that had stopped was replaced by this new river.
At that time news leaked through that a theocratic school, Gilead, had been established, and that sisters as well as brothers could attend. My, how my heart leaped! It is impossible to describe my excitement when finally, in the spring of 1946, a cablegram advised me to get ready for the big voyage to the Cleveland convention and when, soon afterward, a letter from the president’s office of the Society invited me to attend Gilead!
With pleasure I remember the trip through the blue waters of the Mediterranean on to Gibraltar and across the ocean to America, where on a lovely morning we found ourselves on the sparkling waters of New York harbor. And here in truth and fact was Brooklyn before me, the place on which my thoughts had dwelt so many times before. When seeing the big factory and Bethel, I indeed realized that the half had not been told me.
Then to my first mammoth assembly in Cleveland, and from there on to Gilead. I often have experienced in Jehovah’s service that undescribable blessings follow a time of extremely hard work. This is what happened also at Gilead. By a fuller measure of God’s spirit we got a deeper insight into the Bible truths, a keener vision of the world-wide organization and felt warmer love toward all the brothers—all of which tended to make life richer. The accurate knowledge of the deep things of God’s Word learned there accompanies one and is a constant help in the ministry later as the spirit brings back the many principles impressed on one’s mind.
And my assignment? Once more, dear old Switzerland. Years filled with incessant office work and experiences requiring watchfulness and endurance followed, but in between, look! like jewels in a chain of hard work, the two international conventions of 1950 and 1953 in New York, and—as if money did not count—I was privileged to attend both. Later on, in 1955, I saw the stream of brothers from other lands visiting us in Europe in order to attend the different conventions here, passing also through Berne on their trip to Nuremberg. Yes, I, too, was at Nuremberg and it was certainly a happy foretaste of what was in store for me. For around that time I was asked if I was willing to leave my country and go and help in the work at the Wiesbaden Bethel. Isaiah’s words, “Here am I; send me,” quickly came to mind, but strangely there was still a lump in my throat. Yes, it meant leaving all the dear ones I had known and worked with for decades. One nice aspect, however, was that I was not being sent alone but with three other Gilead graduates with whom I could exchange happy memories.
Almost three years have passed now. At first we had to get accustomed to new things. Everything was bigger, and one needed more time and strength to get around for the ministry. Furthermore, I missed the sheep I had found at home that would so lovingly sit with me at the meetings, but I never missed the love of Jehovah. He never changes, and he poured out his tender love on me by giving me enough strength to carry on and in letting me have the love of new brothers and the affection of some dear good-will people sitting with me at the circuit assembly and also granting me, with the same generosity as before, the privilege of attending the Divine Will International Assembly in New York.
What a treat on that memorable Sunday afternoon, July 27, to find so many of my Gilead classmates from all corners of the earth in Yankee Stadium sitting around the new graduating class! And hearing on Friday the firm resolve that we want to be just one people living together in peace and never lifting up our hand against our brothers! And waiting with the crowd of 253,922 for the ringing news that the Kingdom rules and afterward hearing Brother Knorr’s loving words announcing the new educational program! And finally, as a climax in my Christian life, seeing the immense crowd from all the nations like one man standing shoulder to shoulder for the last song and feeling the oneness as never before!
Now home again in a chartered plane. Home, I say? Yes, indeed, for when I arrived in Germany, when the Rhine greeted me from below, when a happy bunch of Bethel brothers and sisters were waiting to meet us at the airport at Frankfurt, was I not home among more friends than I ever had dreamed of? Then back to Bethel. Can’t you see me here—either together with some vigorous young brothers or with some of the dear older ones, true martyrs who can tell true stories about Nazi prisons and concentration camps but who do not only tell bad things but strengthen others in their faith when they relate how their faithfulness and diligence even for their prison keepers sometimes saved their life, and how at times Jehovah himself interfered and removed obstacles or enemies that might have caused their death.
Can you understand how I feel when on holidays one big bus after another filled with joyful brothers from all parts of Germany arrive at Bethel to visit us? Or when groups of brothers from abroad, sometimes missionaries, pass through bringing us the love of our brothers and taking ours along? or when, at our district assemblies, sitting among thousands and thousands in a big tent either at Frankfurt or in the beautiful city park of Hamburg, we heard the same program as in New York or could even hear once more, as it happened unexpectedly this fall at Stuttgart, Brother Knorr, who gave us just a foretaste of the yeartext for 1959? Indeed: “Happy is the one that stays awake and keeps his outer garments.” I surely want to stay awake and remain happy at my post, keeping my ministerial garments and blessing the name of Jehovah forever. What better place could there be on earth?