Love for Truth
As told by David Wiedenmann
IS IT not a fact that people who have a natural love for truth are more ready to show interest in Biblical truth? The more effort they put forth in this direction, the more they develop a love for it, and one day, with Jehovah’s help, they find that the truth has set them free from the ties of this perishing evil world. (John 8:32) Naturally they have to watch and fight very hard to remain in this happy condition and to deepen their appreciation for the truth. With this aim in view it is vital to tend and cherish this love for the truth. This has been my experience, and when I look back over the past twenty-five years I can see it as if in a moving picture projected before my mind’s eye.
Not far from a little old Swiss town, with its proud castle and four hundred inhabitants, my father, now retired from business, had settled down to spend the evening of his life in a pleasant country home. As the youngest and recently married son, I shared my father’s house and household expenses. Our comfortable home was surrounded by flower beds, a vegetable garden, some meadowland with fruit trees and a clear little rivulet along the eastern border.
THE TRUTH KNOCKS AT MY DOOR
One Saturday afternoon I was deeply absorbed in the flower garden—my favorite occupation. From the road a man approached the hedge of our garden and exchanged a few friendly words with me: “It is very nice and peaceful here, and how wonderful it will be when the whole earth will be like this garden, and when all persons will enjoy the marvels of Jehovah’s creation in peace, unity and never-ending happiness.” “Your fantastic description is not bad,” I answered, “but as nice as it sounds, I prefer a realistic outlook, and I like the truth as it is presented to us.” This key word “truth” was immediately taken up by this man and he opened his briefcase and took out a book—yes, the Bible—and read John 17:17. I naturally accepted the explanation of this text that he gave me, as I was a zealous Protestant churchgoer.
During the conversation he touched on a sore point. “You surely admit it is the truth. Why, even Protestant circles confess that Protestants have almost completely stopped protesting against the unscriptural teaching of Catholicism,” he said. My feelings somewhat ruffled, I tried to defend my “church” and involuntarily raised my voice. The neighbors started looking out their windows and whispered to one another, and finally my wife opened the door and called to us: “Please do come inside if you must talk together. It really isn’t necessary for the whole neighborhood to know what you are discussing.”
To my surprise the man, who turned out to be a “Bible Student” (now known as Jehovah’s witnesses), was ready to enter the sitting room. He went into detail, showing me many Bible texts and commenting on them. The majority were unknown to me, and while they were intriguing, they also rather stiffened my resistance, because we Protestants did possess the Bible, and to the best of our ability we endeavored to live in harmony with it. Concluding, he put the magazine The Golden Age into my hand and encouraged me to read attentively a special article and to let him know my opinion on the subject on his next visit. I agreed because I had already resolved in my mind to study this matter thoroughly so as to be able to tell him the truth about it.
A week later there was a knock at the door and my wife called to me: “The Bible Student is here again.” I was very confident, as with much effort I had been able to gather together several Bible texts as counterarguments. A certain conviction, if not outright triumph, rang in my voice as I started to give my Bible proofs. Quietly the Bible Student listened, and then he started to examine each verse. Is it really possible that I had not understood some of the texts in their context? I began to get more uneasy and even furtively to wipe the perspiration from my brow. Evidently he realized my embarrassing situation, for he led the conversation onto safer ground, commending me in having taken the time to get to the bottom of Bible truths and showing that it is very valuable to understand these and to defend them. He left copies of The Watchtower and The Golden Age with me.
The visits continued, but not as frequently as before, as I was busy with the purchase of a new and modern house that would be nearer to my place of work. On the other hand, I attended church more frequently, but no longer in the same frame of mind. I was ready to examine and observe more accurately and make comparisons with the Bible, because I now wished to know what really is the truth. I began to notice certain discrepancies. If we had a “good minister,” as I had readily declared in our discussions, why did he not give us a clear explanation of the trinity, the immortal soul, why God permits evil, and so forth—all the more so inasmuch as the Bible Student lived next door to him and had often discussed these themes with him?
Although the change into the larger house occupied much of my time, love of the truth began to take root. This was not changed by the arrival of my parents-in-law. I even promised my Bible Student friend to accompany him to their little meeting place. Very modestly he explained that there were only a few gathering in a “nice basement” in the little town. So we went together. It was a really nicely arranged room. Involuntarily I thought of the catacombs in Rome, which were used by the first Christians, although, of course, there was no real comparison. In any case, I immediately felt at home among the eight persons attending, and I was conscious of the spirit of Jehovah prevailing, otherwise I probably would have turned back.
LOVE FOR TRUTH OVERCOMES OBSTACLES
Some months later—it was a beautiful Sunday afternoon and I was comfortably seated in an easy chair under a sunshade on the balcony. I was reading the book Reconciliation. “Is it possible?” I thought. “Has God really done so much in such an unselfish way for the sinful descendants of Adam, giving up his dearly beloved Son in death on earth, so as to open up the way for reconciliation between Him and repentant persons?” Yes, there it was, explained Scripturally and from many viewpoints. No doubt remained. Jehovah really did reveal and confirm his immeasurable love to us long before we ever thought or did anything about it. I realized it was high time that I love, “because he first loved us.” (1 John 4:19) Either I must devote myself wholeheartedly to Jehovah God or make a complete break and continue living according to the ways of the old world.
Deep in my heart the decision was already made. The former anxious questions, What will happen to my good position? my new home? my numerous relatives? my clubs? had been answered by increased knowledge of the Bible, which brought with it a deeper love of the truth. With the Bible and the book Reconciliation in my hands I hastened to my wife in the sitting room and joyfully explained some main points to her and concluded by saying: “Today I will write my withdrawal from the Protestant church.” Understandably enough, this came as a shock to her. Until that moment she had not taken much interest in church matters, and now suddenly all the questions I had wondered about loomed up in her mind.
I succeeded in consoling her, showing her that I would certainly continue to be a good husband to her, which is my duty according to the Bible. To my great joy she began asking Bible questions during the following weeks, which showed me that she had been reading the Society’s publications, and then one day she asked: “May I go to the meeting with you?” “There is nothing I would like better!” was my reply.
REACTIONS TO OUR DECISION
My withdrawal from the Protestant church was followed by my resignation from the singing club and men’s choir, the bicycle club and by my wife’s leaving the women’s choir. The storm broke! The vice-president of my choir made a visit. Very friendly, yet with the definite object in view of “bringing me to my senses,” he delivered a comradely speech. It was certainly well meant. I witnessed to him about the step I had taken and why I had gone the full length and not only halfway. He was astonished; this he had not expected, and he tried to save the situation by saying: “Oh, but with such ideas you could have a very constructive influence on our other members.” But how could I continue to attribute “salvation” to man-made institutions as is so often done in those songs we sang?
Then my aging father came to me, himself a veteran in both club and choir, and the problems were taken up and viewed from every angle. “Do you know what the conductor asked me? ‘Since when has your son David gone crazy?’” I explained to him that this and similar hostilities could not be avoided. Jesus had to endure still more. Although my father did not understand the full sense of the truth, his final words were: “I rest assured that what you do is right.”
WEATHERING THE STORMS AT BUSINESS
Now it was my boss’ turn. He called me to his office. I had never spoken to him nor seen him in such an agitated frame of mind before. “When the general manager hears you have joined the Bible Students, you’ll be thrown out.” “That may be,” I replied. “I have taken all that into consideration, but I am also convinced that Jehovah will continue providing me with my daily bread.” “Who gives you your bread? The business gives you your salary and bread,” answered my boss. But his efforts at intimidation were without success.
A few weeks later I was in daily contact with the general manager on business. What had happened? This man, accustomed to voice his demands in an overbearing manner, now manifested a kindness that astonished me. Again my boss asked to see me in his office and greeted me with the words: “The general manager knows everything, and he respects your attitude.” I had every reason to be thankful.
INTERNATIONAL CONVENTION, 1936
With growing knowledge of the truth, our joy in the meetings and service increased. The periodic visits by brothers from the Watch Tower Society’s Berne office to give talks multiplied our joys. As the international convention of 1936 in Lucerne drew nearer, we had the privilege of showing hospitality to pioneers from countries to the east. A young, always joyful pioneer couple from Yugoslavia, Brother and Sister Platajs, were with us. Their heartwarming experiences in Kingdom service and their faithful, unselfish dedication to Jehovah, made a deep impression upon us. (Later Brother Platajs was violently put to death because of the truth, by Nazi terrorists.) Some days later we traveled to the memorable convention, where we were privileged to symbolize publicly by water immersion the dedication already made in our hearts. The numerous arrests caused by the intolerance of Catholic priests and difficulties with the local authorities climaxed in a prohibition of the widely advertised public lecture by Brother Rutherford, which could be held only as a closed meeting of Jehovah’s witnesses.
Police forces took good care that the public was not permitted to enter the hall. The square in front of the Kongresshaus was filled with a great throng of persons of good will. No loudspeakers were allowed, and yet most of these people, who were indignant about the measures taken by the police, waited quietly and orderly for one and one half hours until we left the hall and gave them some information about the points discussed in the talk, together with literature. All this did not diminish our love for the truth. On the contrary, spurred on by the encouragement received at the convention and from the pioneers, I asked my wife: “Assuming that we would eventually be freed of our obligations toward our parents-in-law, do you think we could give up this assured position and our home and devote ourselves entirely to the service?” “Yes, why not?” replied my wife. “The home and garden take up so much time that I could certainly put to better profit in the preaching work.” This knowledge alone filled my heart with great joy.
GATEWAY TO PIONEER SERVICE
A year and a half went by. My wife and I were alone in our big home. My father-in-law, who had been in poor health for some time, had died, and my mother-in-law wished to live her remaining years with her widowed brother. We had no children yet, which was a grief to us to some extent, as we love children. What could hinder us then from putting into practice, with Jehovah’s help, what appeared to us most precious—the pioneer service? Immediately, yet carefully and prayerfully, we weighed the pros and cons of our theocratic project. How could it be otherwise? Our choice was made!
During a business trip I informed my boss about my plans. He quietly listened and then he dropped a number of arguments onto the scales that, from a human point of view, might have changed my mind. But our decision was based on God’s Word, and with the help of his spirit and love for truth we were able to hold firm. I found a buyer for my house, and on the morning of our departure for Paris via Berne the formal deed was signed.
PIONEER SERVICE IN FRANCE
The brothers in Paris gave us a warm welcome. The office assigned us the Département Hautes-Pyrénées, and a few days later we left Paris with Brother Hausner, a Czech pioneer who joined us, and together we traveled toward our destination. We were to meet another pioneer, Brother Riet, in Tarbes, the main town of the département. On our arrival we found ourselves a small furnished room. What a difference from our clean well-managed home! But we had taken this into consideration as well as the change in food. Without losing any further time we started preaching the good news, which brought us many more joys than in our previous more limited service.
“What’s the matter, my dear? Why are you so restless?” I asked my wife a little anxiously. “Oh, nothing special; I only itch a bit,” she answered. I put on the light and, oh! little red creatures that we had never met before hastily took to flight. No, in our ignorance, we had not reckoned with these. We cleaned the sheets and placed the four legs of our bed into containers filled with petroleum. That’s the way to keep them away, we thought. But how mistaken we were! During the night they climbed up the walls and, probably guided by our warm breath, let themselves drop safely onto our bed. But Brother Riet, who had more experience with these little visitors, gave us some good advice. They just do not like bracken fern placed under the mattress. This we found true, and soon these unwelcome creatures turned their backs on us.
Hardly had we got over this little trouble, when I received a summons to go to the préfecture. The official received me rather harshly and said: “Didn’t you say you were a tourist, and gave a world-famous firm as a reference? And now we find out that you are trying to place religious books with the inhabitants of this place.” I replied: “I do not do this work for commercial gain, but I am using my free time usefully so as to aid sincere persons to gain a knowledge of comforting Biblical truths.” He asked me to give him two books, and I was temporarily released with the strict injunction not to carry on with my work. They would summon me again. This too I had not calculated—at least not so soon. Could it be that we would have to stop our so recently started work and run the risk of being deported from the country? Great sadness came over our team of four, while we made out our unpleasant report for the office in Paris. Fervently we prayed to Jehovah to guide the authorities in such a way that they might decide in our favor. Nothing happened. Days went by. Our tension increased. Then, finally, a policeman came with a new summons. With mixed feelings I went to the préfecture, after asking Jehovah’s guidance. The same official received me and his changed facial expression filled me with courage. He handed me back the two books and smilingly said: “You may continue working in your ‘free time’ on one condition—that you return to Tarbes every evening.” With my heart overflowing with joy, my feet seemed scarcely to touch the ground as I covered the distance home. How happy and grateful we all were to our heavenly Father, whose guidance had been so evident!
Following this we had much joy and many blessings by sowing the truth and making back-calls. Yes, my marriage partner and I agreed that this was truly the happiest time of our lives. Our love for our heavenly Father and his beloved Son was greatly strengthened by these experiences.
GREATER DIFFICULTIES OVERCOME
One day, after working in a neighboring village, we met on an open meadow to enjoy our midday meal together. It was a mild autumn day. Here and there we could see farmers driving their horse carts across the fields, most of them carrying a shotgun so they could shoot wild ducks and other animals if the opportunity presented itself. We watched one of these young farmers as he drove toward us. He drew in the reins; his cart stopped. He slipped the gun off his shoulder and jumped from the cart. A shot, and the man sank to the ground. A woman screamed hysterically, and, startled, we joined the other farmers running to the place of the accident.
“Can I be of any help?” I asked. “Oh, yes, you have a car. Here is the address of the doctor in the nearest town; please fetch him as quickly as you can.” Leaving my three companions behind, I sped toward the town. The doctor hurriedly picked up his bag and followed me in his own car. Unfortunately it was too late.
Two days later at five o’clock in the morning there was a loud knock at our door. “Open up; it’s the police. You must come along immediately.” I jumped into my clothes and opened the door. Two policemen were waiting to take me to the Gendarmerie Nationale. There, after waiting half an hour, I was introduced to the officer. “Where were you the day before yesterday at such and such a time?” was the first question. “What were you doing at that time?” One question after another I had to answer, and the longer the interview, the nicer the officer became. After twenty minutes I was led into another room, where, to my astonishment, I found Brother Riet. Hardly five minutes passed and Brother Hausner appeared after a short hearing. We were dismissed without receiving an explanation as to whether this had been in connection with the unfortunate death of the farmer. We had probably been denounced by someone, but our corresponding statements had thwarted the conspiracy. We could not foresee what advantages this closer contact with the police would bring us.
From this time on we began to call first at the police stations in our large territory and offer them our Bible literature. We wanted to say thereby, “Now you know we are here.” Yes, they got to know us and so did not carry out the wishes of the fanatical Catholics and their priests who made phone calls to complain.
One exception worth mentioning was the case of the policemen who, obeying the orders of the sergeant, searched my car very carefully and found a small case and a heavy briefcase. “Open this case,” ordered the sergeant. “Oh, it’s a gramophone!” To my great pleasure I had to play them a few records. A good witness was given, and the matter was settled there and then.
After Brothers Riet and Hausner left for their new assignment in Algeria, my wife and I were left to work alone in Toulouse. The joy in Jehovah’s work did not diminish, but increased as we found many persons of good will and started studying The Watchtower with some of them. An older couple witnessed at every opportunity among their friends, while two young persons started out in the service with us. There were good prospects of building up a congregation.
When we went to Switzerland at the beginning of August, 1939, to attend the assembly in Zurich, we left most of our personal effects with our friends in Toulouse and bade them farewell, with a happy “Au revoir” (“See you again”). But to this day we have not seen one another again. We had hardly crossed the frontier when it was barricaded with barbed wire, and World War II with all its terrible consequences was under way. We have since learned that strong congregations have been established in Tarbes and especially in Toulouse.
FURTHER SERVICE IN SWITZERLAND
Despite everything, we continued our missionary work in our own country, and a year later we were called to serve at Bethel in Berne. This has been a grand privilege, and for the past twenty-one years here at Bethel we have been able to show and strengthen our love for divine truth in favorable season and in troublesome season.
This proved useful to me at a larger gathering in the very same convention hall in Lucerne where Brother Rutherford had spoken, for apart from my work at Bethel I had the opportunity of being district servant. My talk was widely advertised, but Catholic Action did not remain inactive. The hall was filled to the last seat. During the first fifteen minutes nothing happened. Then as I gave Bible proof that the religious systems of Christendom had not taken up a position against the two world wars nor had they strongly opposed them, a voice from the farthest rows in the balcony shouted, “That’s not true!” Immediately several young men in the middle and on the sides of the hall reacted and started to whistle. Jehovah gave me strength calmly to reprimand the disturbers and exhort them to be quiet. And they listened, with the exception of two or three persons who left the hall. But after twenty minutes things became more serious and a “whistling concert” began, and some young men got up from their seats. The attendants kept them in check for a while, but then I interrupted my talk and asked all present: “Do you agree with the behavior of these men?” A loud “No” was the answer. “Then I would like to suggest to those persons who do not agree with what I say that they listen to my talk to the end, that they take notes and then openly state their objections and questions.” This had the desired effect, and the lecture continued to its conclusion. At the close of the talk it was heartening to see little groups of young men forming around mature brothers, who discussed the truth with them, and to watch them accept literature and leave the hall quietly and even a little ashamed. Several of them attended all the follow-up lectures.
Bethel continues to bring us a varied life, many privileges of service, inexpressible joys, but also trials in various respects. I have had repeated and enticing offers of employment from previous employers and relatives. We have asked ourselves: “Would it not be unreasonable and extremely unwise to leave the way of truth and with it the way of life, on account of such transitory things?” Each time we have decisively rejected these enticements. Who gives us the necessary strength? Jehovah, our kind heavenly Father who has led us in his love. We love his truth, and it is our wholehearted desire that, with his help, we may never let it go.