Satisfaction in Serving Jehovah
As told by Henri Geiger
I BROUGHT a hunger for justice and truth back with me from the front at the end of World War I. It was not satisfied until April, 1920, when something special came to Strasbourg, France, where I lived with my mother, working at my profession as ferro-concrete builder and engineer. This special event was the arrival of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society’s “Photo-Drama of Creation,” an illustrated explanation of God’s purposes, using slides and motion pictures. From this pictorial explanation of God’s purposes I learned more about the Bible than in all the thirty years of my life in the Evangelical Church. It was spiritually satisfying.
From that time on I missed no meetings of the Bible Students, as Jehovah’s witnesses were then called; and from May to August I thoroughly studied the six volumes of Studies in the Scriptures, by the Society’s first president, Charles T. Russell. I had married in May, and in September my wife and I symbolized our dedication to Almighty God by water immersion.
The showing of the “Photo-Drama of Creation” was the first effective public activity of Jehovah’s people in Alsace. Having a desire to help in this work, I traveled by train every evening to the places where it was being shown. While traveling in Europe in 1920, the Watch Tower Society’s president, J. F. Rutherford, also came to Strasbourg to give his lecture “Millions Now Living Will Never Die.” We advertised this lecture thoroughly, and it was a gigantic success.
Alsace began to awaken spiritually, and new study groups sprang up in various towns. The privilege of serving these groups was entrusted to me. Since the Society had appointed me congregation overseer for Strasbourg, I had the privilege of starting regular house-to-house activity in town and country. Our study aids were the first volume of Studies in the Scriptures and the illustrated book The Photo-Drama of Creation. It was work that brought great satisfaction.
Proclaiming God’s truth became my joy in life. Being a joy that comes from Jehovah, it was very strengthening. In Strasbourg I had the joyful privilege of conducting a group study in the seventh volume, called “The Finished Mystery,” and some 250 to 300 persons participated. The magazine The Golden Age (now Awake!) also served to spread God’s message. One sister placed up to 2,000 copies monthly in the restaurants. The book The Harp of God came as a further impetus in proclaiming God’s purpose to the people. Yes, Jehovah had given us work and this brought us great joy and satisfaction.
Together with my wife, my mother and our little son we formed a theocratic family in which all things were determined according to the interests of God’s service.
FURTHER SERVICE PRIVILEGES
The “Photo-Drama” made four more tours throughout Alsace. When being advertised the last time, it was forbidden by the Directeur des cultes, a government official who was also a Protestant clergyman. As on many former occasions I had an interview with him, during which he admitted that ‘if the clergy had done their duty in 1914 there would have been no world war.’ This clergyman admitted that ‘the destruction of the present world order and the establishment of God’s kingdom was the only real solution,’ but that he could not believe it, as he did not believe the Bible to be God’s inspired Word. However, he said to me, ‘If the apostle Paul were on earth today he would be working in the same way and according to the same methods that you are doing.’ He then authorized the further showing of the “Photo-Drama.”
And so we had two presentations in Strasbourg, using the Aubettesaal (Aubette Hall) in Kleberplatz right in the middle of town, with an attendance of over 3,000 persons. Favorably disposed persons warned us that the Catholic student body under the influence of their professors were planning an attack for the last evening in order to disrupt the Biblical presentation. We organized ourselves. When these peace disturbers began their attack, they found themselves, within a few minutes, ejected from the hall. About fifty students then sought entrance by force, but the police had now come to our aid; they arrested the ringleaders. Though the crowd in the middle of the square began to sing Catholic songs, our show went on peacefully to its conclusion.
As the work increased the Watch Tower Society considered it necessary to establish an office and literature depot for Alsace-Lorraine in the city of Strasbourg, and I was entrusted with this service. I lived with my family in a small two-story building, where we were able to house everything. I continued my secular work and retained my service as congregation servant. In the evenings I attended to the office work and visited the congregations on the weekends to help them get ahead with God’s work. This activity afforded me great joy and satisfaction of heart, and I was grateful to Jehovah for the privileges entrusted to me.
The larger conventions, which were arranged each year in Switzerland and Paris, often with the Society’s president in attendance, were always especially fortifying and stimulating. Our new name “Jehovah’s witnesses” was received with great joy, and our position was greatly strengthened before God and man. But our peaceful activity was interrupted in a brutal manner in 1939, by the beginning of World War II. Within three days Strasbourg and the frontier population along the Rhine were evacuated by the government into the Dordogne territory, where I was fortunate in finding a furnished apartment for my family.
INCREASING JOY DESPITE HINDRANCES
Two weeks later I received instructions from the Berne office to go to Paris to help the branch servant, Brother Knecht, who was seriously ill. I left my family in the Dordogne and traveled to Paris. Shortly afterward, in October, our preaching work was banned by the French government, and the Society’s property confiscated. Fourteen days later Brother Knecht died, and Brother Harbeck, the manager of the Central European office, entrusted me with this service. We tried to have the government ban lifted, but all our petitions were turned down. We organized the work according to our new circumstances and continued right ahead.
With the advance of the German troops the population of Paris and the whole of northern France were seized with panic, many persons fleeing to the south and west. I had resumed my secular work with the same firm in Paris, and now my employer received instructions from the government to move back into the Dordogne with all his workers, but when we reached there everything had to be liquidated owing to the Nazi conquest. Following the truce treaty between France and Germany, the people began to return to their homes; and I returned to Paris, taking my family with me.
France was divided, and with German censorship and control of paper, typewriters and printing machines, many hindrances were in our way. Despite all this we printed books and booklets and we received the necessary spiritual food regularly. By going zealously and fearlessly into God’s service, we had the satisfaction of observing the congregations grow and the work expand. In favorably situated places we organized larger assemblies for the brothers, to the joy and encouragement of all. Many officials in the French police were favorably disposed toward us, and very few of us were arrested by the Gestapo.
The fury of war swept once again over the country, and great destruction was caused by the bombardments. Although the work was still under ban, we could now develop a freer and more effective activity. I gave up my secular work, which I had retained till then, so that I could devote my whole time to the interests of God’s kingdom.
Immediately after the war I took the necessary steps, supported by two other brothers, to have the ban rescinded. And on August 31, 1947, the Watch Tower Society and our Christian activity were again legally recognized by the government. We were also successful in having our confiscated property released by court order. In accordance with instructions from the Society’s president, we then bought a house in Paris to serve as office and Bethel home.
Jehovah has richly blessed our perseverance. At the beginning of the war we were 800 publishers in the whole of France, and at the lifting of the ban we were 2,800. When we could once again assemble freely, we harvested in the next few years much of what we had sown during the war years, the number of Kingdom ministers rising, in 1951, to 7,136.
The work continued to increase in France in the following years, and now we have passed the 16,000 mark in ministers of the good news. We have a fine new five-story building with printing factory and home for the Branch workers. I look back with joy to the privileges I have had in serving the interests of God’s kingdom, ever thankful that the “Photo-Drama” came to Strasbourg in 1920. I have not become younger during the years and an illness I contracted during the war years has sapped some of my strength, yet the joy of Jehovah continues to give me strength and great satisfaction.—Neh. 8:10.
(Brother Henri Geiger finished his earthly course faithfully, dying in his son’s home in France, August 29, 1962.)