Jehovah Rewards Those Earnestly Seeking Him
As told by V. C. Karkanes
IS IT God’s responsibility to seek man, or is it man’s duty to seek God? Jesus said: “Keep on asking, and it will be given you; keep on seeking, and you will find.” (Matt. 7:7) The passing of time has not weakened the reality of those words. My personal experiences in the past forty-four years convince me that what the apostle Paul wrote at Hebrews 11:6 is absolutely the truth: “He that approaches God must believe that he is and that he becomes the rewarder of those earnestly seeking him.”
SEEKING THE TRUTH
I was born in Greece of Greek Orthodox parents. My father was a churchwarden for many years. In 1909 my mother died and shortly afterward I went to America. There, away from my family circle and busy working, I stopped going to church. But every morning and evening I did not cease praying the small prayer of our Lord, “Our Father . . . ” One Sunday the Methodist family with whom I lived invited me to go along to church. I was pleased to accept. At church there were fine seats, which I appreciated, because in my Orthodox church we had no seats. I went to the Methodist church a few times, but there was a gap in my heart.
Then, in the spring of 1918, for the first time I heard a sermon by one of the Bible Students, as Jehovah’s witnesses were called at that time. I was highly impressed. In my place of business I found the first volume of their Studies in the Scriptures and read it with much interest. Still I was hungry to know more about God and his kingdom. It was up to me to seek; so I wrote to the Society’s offices in Brooklyn, New York, and asked for a Holy Bible and all the literature available. Impatiently I waited for the parcel to arrive. In a few days it came, and I started reading with joy and much interest. The world war was continuing and my interest in learning more from the Holy Bible was growing. However, since the Bible was an unknown book to me, I was unable to understand many things and wanted to ask questions of someone.
Again I wrote to Brooklyn and inquired if there were any Bible Students in the town where I was. The letter in reply furnished the address of one who was living near my home. When I went there an aged man opened the door. After I showed him the letter, he greeted me with eagerness and shed tears of emotion, because he had been alone for many years. We arranged to go together every Sunday morning fourteen miles to the country to attend the Watchtower study in a private home. By seeking I had found the truth, and on June 21, 1918, at Cleveland, Ohio, I had occasion to manifest in deed my love for the Most High by water baptism, before many witnesses. But how would Jehovah reward one earnestly seeking to do his will?
The satisfying answer can well be expressed in Paul’s words at 1 Corinthians 16:9: “A large door that leads to activity has been opened to me.” At that time the Society’s officers were still unjustly confined at Atlanta, Georgia, and petitions were being circulated for their release. I had a share in this and gathered quite a number of signatures in my hometown. When the war ended our brothers were freed and exonerated. I desired to become a full-time minister and prayed for this. Following the Cedar Point, Ohio, international convention and its rich blessings, another brother and I decided to go out in field service and work with the few publications available at that time. We started from Akron, Ohio, and little by little we reached New York city. Quite a number of books, mostly the Photo-Drama of Creation, were placed with the Greek element. We also worked in New York city with most satisfying results. I stayed for a few days in the Brooklyn Bethel, assisting in the Greek Department.
The brother in charge of that department suggested that we go to Pittsburgh, where many thousands of Greeks were to be found, and work there. We were acquainted with the brothers at Pittsburgh and immediately started Sunday public lectures among the Greek population. We were even allowed the use of a motion-picture house free of charge. Jehovah blessed our efforts, and in less than three years a congregation of over thirty Greek brothers was established.
Shortly after the second international convention in Cedar Point, in 1922, we started meetings in three other small towns around Pittsburgh. Meanwhile, in Brooklyn, consideration was being given to the matter of sending a brother to Greece to assist the brothers there for a while. I had to arrange some family affairs there, so it was decided that I should go.
RETURN TO GREECE
In January, 1925, I sailed for Greece on the ocean-going vessel “Adriatic.” First thing on arriving in Athens I went to the Bethel home, which had been operating since 1922. There I met the branch servant, to whom I was known only by correspondence. Great was my joy. After staying for some days I visited my father, who was now very old and no longer a churchwarden. The ground having been prepared through correspondence, he was ready to heed the comforting message of God’s kingdom. The seed of truth did not take long to shoot forth in him, my four sisters and one niece, who formed the family. In time all of them made progress in understanding and appreciation of the truth. This brought me great joy and was a contributing factor in my caring for renewal of my permit of residence in this country.
In the meantime, the brother from the Greek Department in Brooklyn came to Greece for a short stay, and a convention was held in Athens in May, 1925. Attending were 175 brothers and friends of the truth, some of whom were baptized. Right after this convention I was assigned to make a tour in the biggest cities of the country, such as Thessalonica, Kavala, Volo and others. I met very few brothers in these cities, but there were quite a number of persons of goodwill. The second tour was made with the brother from Brooklyn, after which he returned to America.
STAYING WHERE THE NEED WAS GREAT
Now the moment also came when I must decide whether to remain in Greece or go back to America. I went to the Consulate with an application for extension of my permit of residence. With a scissors the Consul cut off the photo on the application and wrote “cancelled” on it. “You had quite a long time at your disposal to arrange your family affairs,” he said. “If America is the country of your interest and you wish to reside there, you must leave within ten days.” I left his office. The need was great here in Greece. After praying to Jehovah I clearly saw that I should remain. The branch servant encouraged me to stay. I have no doubt at all that God’s will for me was to remain in Greece and continue here in the full-time ministry.
In 1927 another convention was held in Athens and over three hundred attended. As is well known, 99 percent of the population belong to the dominant religion. By Jehovah’s help we continued to witness from house to house, and now the opposition began. The Constitution of Greece, though forbidding proselytism and any other interference with the dominant religion, provides for freedom of religious conscience and performance of the rites of any known religion under protection of the law. However, some interpret this section of the constitution to mean that even the mere ringing of a doorbell is proselytism and an attempt to penetrate into the religious conscience of others. Thus Jehovah’s witnesses, merely because of placing a Christian magazine, are taken to the law courts, fined and sentenced to many months in prison and on police parole. Hundreds of court fights have been held and the struggle is continuing. In spite of this medieval situation, many people of goodwill have become interested in examining our Bible literature after attending a court trial of one of our brothers.
In 1932 the branch office moved to larger quarters and I was assigned to keep the Society’s books. So after each tour I returned to the Athens Bethel home. A small printing plant was set up there and publication of the Greek edition of the Golden Age magazine began. The Watchtower was supplied from America.
SERVING IN ALBANIA
In the meantime, the Greece branch was assigned to care for the Kingdom work in Albania. I was privileged to visit this small country four times before the outbreak of World War II. My first visit was in 1932. There were a few brothers and friends of the truth in the larger centers, but they were not organized. I stayed with them for quite some days and celebrated the Memorial with them. We made a very good start toward organization. On the second visit things were easier. Meetings were now held regularly and attended by everyone, with better understanding and appreciation. On the third and fourth visits the brothers began witnessing with the few publications that they had in their language. They advanced to spiritual maturity, and the responsibility of looking after the work was assigned to one of the brothers who was in a position to help others to continue in the ministry. This was done because the outbreak of World War II made it impossible for us to visit them. They also learned quite a few Kingdom songs, which they sang with great joy.
Back in Athens, while I was attending a Watchtower study with some eighty brothers and sisters, the police broke in and arrested all of us. The authorities seized everything we had in the branch office and storeroom even the pencils. For a moment we thought everything was finished. They even prepared our papers for exile to barren islands of the Aegean Sea. In vain they urged us to sign a declaration that we disavowed our principles on the promise that we would be set free. This confinement lasted about a month, when suddenly Jehovah broke the trap and set us free. Legal action was taken against the State and we won, obliging the authorities to return everything seized. Happily, the work started again.
However, World War II now began. During four years of blockade it was impossible for us to receive even a single copy of The Watchtower. We mimeographed old issues and sent them to all parts of Greece. In the same way we printed the book Salvation and the book Religion, as well as some booklets. Working almost underground, we enjoyed very blessed results. A witness was being given everywhere, in parks and other places, and many people took knowledge of the truth. Right after the end of the occupation we communicated again with Brooklyn headquarters, and the indispensable spiritual food again was provided.
SERVING AFTER THE OCCUPATION
In 1946 two graduates of the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead came to Greece and stayed for a year, until their residence permits expired. We thank Jehovah for this fellowship. These brothers helped us to become organized theocratically. As we saw later, this was indispensable to the increase of the work thereafter. In 1947 we were visited for the first time by our dear Brother Knorr and his secretary, Brother Henschel. This visit was an important milestone in further expansion of true worship in Greece because a basis for theocratic direction of the work was laid. By applying these instructions and counsel we saw the publishers increase with the help of Jehovah.
A few years later we were again visited by Brother Knorr. He arranged for purchase of a lot on which to build a new Bethel home. Denied the permit, we appealed to the Council of State and it was granted. Construction started immediately. On October 10, 1954, all our equipment was moved from three different quarters into the new Bethel home. Great was our joy. The facilities and environment contributed much to the increase of Jehovah’s work in Greece. Dwelling in the new home gave me new strength and determination to continue the ministry and full-time service by Jehovah’s undeserved kindness.
Fully forty-four years have passed since 1918, when Jehovah first rewarded my search for him. I feel great joy when I think that I have spent all this time and all my strength in Jehovah’s service. What helped me to continue in the full-time ministry is prayer, patience and private Bible study along with the Society’s literature. Attending all meetings and assemblies has also played an important part. Through the years the many conventions I was privileged to attend were really refilling stations to enable me to continue with new strength.
I have watched and lived the progress of the Kingdom work in this country step by step. I have shared both the joys and blessings and the sorrows and trials of Jehovah’s faithful servants in this land. Today what makes me so happy is the fact that in spite of my advanced age Jehovah continues to reward me with an open door of activity. I have never thought of retiring. I very well know there is no retirement in God’s organization, for everyone works. It is my desire to keep on working and worshiping Jehovah forever. As the psalmist expressed it, “One thing I have asked from Jehovah—it is what I shall look for, that I may dwell in the house of Jehovah all the days of my life, to behold the pleasantness of Jehovah and to look with appreciation upon his temple.” (Ps. 27:4) Such is the reward Jehovah gives those who earnestly seek him.