Taking Jehovah’s Side of the Great Issue
As told by Lilian Ruetimann
I WAS a little girl of six when air planes roared over our heads on a hot August afternoon in 1914. In the pleasant English garden I leaned against my father’s knee and listened to the grown-ups talking about the war that had just started.
My father was an active member of the Liberal Party and manager of a branch of the Co-operative Society in our country town in England. Mother was a schoolteacher, interested in all educational activity. She had bought a book called “The Divine Plan of the Ages.” My parents read it eagerly and then took part in a regular Bible study with two other married couples. In the spring of 1916 my mother and father were baptized in symbol of their decision to do Jehovah’s will.
A home Bible study was started with us children, and all four of us were required to attend meetings with the Christians who are today called Jehovah’s witnesses. We joined forces with the few like believers in the nearby towns and held Bible lectures in the riverside towns for forty miles right out to the mouth of the Thames. As we zealously distributed tracts and invitations, little groups began to spring up, eventually becoming flourishing congregations of Jehovah’s people lining the Thames east of London.
In the fall of 1916 my father took a firm position of neutrality toward the war. This caused no little stir in our small town where he had been politically active before. Not only was there a court case along with publicity, but we children also had to defend our belief at school. Father was finally exempted on health grounds and was assigned to work in the service of the food distribution council.
Our village home was open to our weary city friends, but I found nothing so exciting as to visit London and attend a “big” meeting. There I saw the Bible Students’ “Photo-Drama of Creation,” a beautiful explanation of the Bible by means of slides, recorded speech and appropriate music. During one of these visits to London exciting news came through of that now historical Watch Tower convention in Cedar Point, Ohio, in 1922.
The preaching work was now under way under the slogan “Millions now living will never die!” My elder brother had left for India and my sister was baptized. I took this all very much for granted until, in 1924, a mature Christian friend showed me my individual privileges. I suddenly realized that one does not grow up in the faith automatically, but must make an individual decision. Could I do this?
From my childhood days I had been looking forward to the Millennium when lion and bear would lie down with the ox and a little child would lead them. Of course, I wanted to do Jehovah’s will, but His will as we understood it then was to bring out the last members of the bride of Christ for heavenly life. It meant giving up all earthly hopes and eventually dying. My parents counseled me to count the cost carefully. If faithful, I would see Jehovah and Christ Jesus. This magnificent hope was decisive. Shortly before I was seventeen I was baptized in London, in January, 1925.
The house-to-house preaching was a constant stimulus and education for me. In those days we had just started, but some full-time workers who came to help in our territory gave me a lot of good counsel. Appreciation for the truth went deeper and deeper into my heart.
The convention in Alexandra Palace, London, in 1926 was an outstanding event. I think I will never forget the thrill of excitement when the book Deliverance was released. The public lecture in the Royal Albert Hall, “Why World Powers Are Tottering—The Remedy,” climaxed this convention and we returned home to distribute the booklet The Standard for the People for the remainder of our vacation. I just devoured the book Deliverance with its magnificent theme about the great issue between Jehovah and Satan as well as the coming vindication of Jehovah’s name. Appreciation of this issue was like fire in my bones. From now on, every Saturday afternoon when free from my secretarial work I filled my case, mounted my bicycle and preached in the outlying countryside, joining my parents and the little congregation for Sunday-morning house-to-house service.
My sister entered the full-time preaching work in February, 1927, and I was left with my brother as the only younger members of our little congregation. It was rather flat country leading out to the mouth of the Thames, and sometimes I longed to travel and see beautiful country, but I quickly suppressed this longing, reasoning that with time so short for this system of things I had better lose no time. I would see it all better from heaven anyway. Jehovah took note of my longing and later blessed me beyond my dreams.
NO MIXED MARRIAGE
I was nearing womanhood now, an impetuous, enthusiastic girl with an abundance of vitality, but I had safely navigated the various phases of growing up. Now I found myself deeply in love. Unfortunately the young man did not accept the faith and I realized this was one of the costs I had to count. I knew I could never be wholly for Jehovah’s side of the issue if I nourished this affection and I made a solemn vow to Jehovah that I would never marry out of the faith. This was my great protection. I began to stamp this thing out of my heart. It can be done if one puts Kingdom interests first.
One incident of that time stands out clearly in my mind and it has been like a beacon light in my life. It had been quite an eventful afternoon in the rurals. Several people had been very rude to me and one woman, sick in bed, had asked me to pray with her. I pondered over the great issue raised by Satan and my heart was full as I thought about the effects of Satan’s rebellion. As the sun dipped down to the west I mounted my bicycle for the ride home. There was a long rather steep slope for a mile or more. I free-wheeled and let the wind toss my hair and whistle in my ears. Through clenched teeth I repeated: “I’ll fight the Devil till I die!” In times of crisis that evening scene has come to my mind and acted like a stimulant in my veins. Never sink! Fight on Jehovah’s side of the great issue!
In the spring of 1930 we attended a small convention, or I think we called them “combined service efforts” in those days, at a seaside resort near my home on the Thames. Many had come down from London too since it was just an hour’s run. This was a happy event for me, as I could also meet others of the younger generation. It was while we were enjoying the seaside after engaging in the ministry that I met a serious young Swiss. I heard his foreign accent and mentioned that I was learning German. Alfred was gentle, quiet and absorbed in studying, but he seemed a little lonely. In our jolly teasing family he seemed out of place.
Alfred’s background had been so different from mine. He grew up in a kindly Swiss home, and after finishing secondary and commercial schools and his apprenticeship he had left for Belgium to concentrate on languages and accounting. Before leaving he had seen the Photo-Drama of Creation and obtained some of the Watch Tower Society’s literature. While he was in Belgium helping in the social work of the Swiss church, questions were raised in his mind and his minister could not answer them. He remembered the book The Divine Plan of the Ages and upon returning to Switzerland for a vacation he spent much of his leisure time studying it and other publications on the subject. After visiting the local office of the Society he went back to Belgium, joining a brother from Holland in the very early beginnings of the Society’s work in Belgium. When the famous financier Loewenstein, his employer, fell from his plane over the English Channel, Alfred was invited to go to London to work for a Swiss financier. And that is how our pathways met.
We spent a very happy and busy year, and then, in May, 1931, we were married at the London Tabernacle and went to Switzerland. Here I was to see for myself this beautiful country that has become my home. Later we went to the Paris convention, where Alfred interpreted some of the talks. In Paris the Society’s president, Brother Rutherford, invited us to work at the Society’s Paris office. I recognized Jehovah’s will in this, and when my husband wanted to know how I felt about it, it did not take me a second to decide. So we returned to England to dispose of the home we had so recently furnished and prepare for a new life together.
LIFE IN A BETHEL HOME
At the Paris office I was faced with two language barriers, German in the home and French outside. It was not easy for me and often I was the lonely one. Then I found I was going to have a baby. Alfred was overjoyed that we could continue our life at Bethel. There was much translation work to do in order to provide literature for a bevy of enthusiastic English and Swiss full-time pioneer ministers working in France.
Then the blow fell for the Paris Bethel. Our work had disturbed the bishop living nearby, and we foreigners were ordered to leave the country within a few days. This meant that five of us from Bethel and about a dozen pioneers had to find new places in which to serve Jehovah. Alfred and I left with an American pioneer sister for Switzerland very early one morning.
And so it came about that our little daughter was born ten days later in Switzerland. When she was a few months old we moved into the Bethel home in Berne and focused our minds on serving Jehovah’s side of the great issue. But do not think that life from then on was a bed of roses. My husband was wholly absorbed in his work, steadily burning the candle at both ends, and I had a little girl to bring up in addition to my Bethel duties. I often chafed at the discipline of Bethel with its rigid schedule in contrast to my carefree girlhood. At times I felt frustrated, like a bird caught in a cage. Sometimes I was discouraged and the waves threatened to swamp me. Then I would think of the great issue.
Gradually I began to learn all the household chores, to wash and iron, to cook and mend. Our Bethel family in Berne numbered around sixty in those days. The hum and buzz, the coming and going broke the monotony of those stacks of plates and dishes to dry each day and the never-ending baskets of stockings to mend—like the bottomless pit! The seasons came and went with spring-cleaning, the canning and bottling of fruit and vegetables, to the storing of the last crate of apples in the cellar. Yes, I learned to esteem deeply the privilege of serving the Bethel family here and to nurse them when they were sick. And I learned to appreciate the fine women with whom I worked. So the first ten years passed.
One event of that time I have never forgotten. Alfred had been sent to Czechoslovakia to care for the interests of our brothers there. The Germans were about to enter Sudetenland. As the German troops entered and the people hurried away, my husband traveled toward them. Our little daughter was with her grandparents in England before going to school and I was to fetch her later. War was imminent and our little family was in three different countries. Then came Chamberlain with his umbrella; Hitler was appeased for a little while and war was averted. Our family was safely united again.
But war was inevitable. I was in the hospital undergoing an operation when France fell to Germany in 1940. Hardly had I returned home when Bethel was occupied by military authorities and searched. Later a big court case was brought against the Society, and my husband was sentenced to three months in a penitentiary because of his neutrality. Our Bethel family dwindled to about twenty-five to thirty, and I cooked for them for some time. Alfred came out of prison in time to attend a convention in Zurich, where our daughter was baptized in symbol of her dedication and stand on Jehovah’s side of the great issue.
In time the war was coming to an end. As the Germans were pressed back, reports began to come in from countries formerly under the jurisdiction of the Society’s Central European Branch, and all these reports had to be translated. I was gradually drawn into this new sphere of activity and threw myself into it with great joy. The war ended and we entered the most thrilling phase of theocratic activity. Hardly were the borders opened when the Society’s new president, Brother Knorr, and his secretary, Brother Henschel, arrived with firsthand reports of what was going on in other parts of the world.
For my husband the most interesting and exciting period of his life began. As translator he joined Brother Knorr in visiting several other countries, meeting very dear friends again and learning how they had fared during those terrible war years. Meanwhile our Bethel factory was busy again catching up on the latest publications. In 1946 the first of our growing Bethel family traveled to the Cleveland, Ohio, convention and attended the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead. I had hardly dared to hope that I might one day go to Gilead and was overjoyed when Brother Knorr invited us and our daughter to attend. In January, 1950, we traveled to New York to attend the fifteenth class of Gilead. It was a marvelous experience. We graduated as a little family in Yankee Stadium at the 1950 convention. Alfred and I returned to Berne Bethel; our daughter went down to Italy to join the little group of Kingdom publishers there.
The short span of freedom that had been enjoyed in the Eastern countries when released from Nazi oppression came to an end as communism took over and clamped down on our work. My husband’s journeys became less frequent and more hazardous. This decade was one of ever-increasing work in the service of our brothers, interspersed with one grand international assembly after another in different countries. Alfred was completely absorbed in his translating work. At the big New York convention in 1958 he gave a report on the work behind the Iron Curtain, including the playing of a tape recording of a Kingdom song by brothers in that part of the world.
A great change came in my life in 1956 when the German translation department was moved to Wiesbaden to streamline production. Overnight my colleagues and my precious work were gone. But one’s hands are always filled at Bethel. Quickly I was initiated into the Magazine Department, where I found deep satisfaction serving my brothers in the field and feeling the pulse of the preaching work beating all around the globe, to my continual wonder and enthusiasm.
Alfred’s resistance seemed to be breaking under the constant emotional as well as physical strain of his work. To aggravate his condition he developed influenza just before he was to make an important journey in the spring of 1959 and did not recover as well as he might have done. When he returned from his trip he seemed very weary and quiet but content. We were happy to attend a circuit assembly together at the end of April. It was not late when we returned home and we had the rare pleasure of a quiet hour together in “our castle,” as Alfred liked to call our home.
As we enjoyed the little supper I had prepared, Alfred took out his notebook and began to jot down various events coming up, among them Brother Knorr’s expected visit. We laughed in happy anticipation. Looking over these dates, I burst out: “Whatever happens in the future, Alfred, we have spent good, rich years of service together, haven’t we, dear?” With deep gratitude I cherish this last quiet moment of reflection, because the next night he was taken ill and died a few hours later of heart failure—worn right out in faithful service. Stunned with shock and grief, I slipped to my knees at the bedside and voiced my deep conviction: “My darling! I know you will have an early resurrection.” Mother died a few months later. I experienced just how great an enemy death is.
During the weeks and months that followed, occupied with my many duties, I worked as an automaton, strangely detached and apart, looking to Jehovah as my pillar of strength. I lived in the heart of this beloved family and shared their kindness and consideration. Serving others is the greatest healer. Gradually I healed and adjusted. The gap remains, but I am learning to become reconciled to it. To “sing and make joyful noise” to Jehovah is our great protection when the waves of sorrow threaten to overwhelm us at such a time.
STILL ON JEHOVAH’S SIDE
I am a grandma now and my hair is growing white. When I see my grandson, how comforting it is to hear him call: “Grandma, come and tell me a story out of the Bible!”
Many have come and gone again over the thirty years I have been a member of this Bethel home, and I loved them all. In this hive of busy workers where life is ordered by the ringing of a bell you learn to respect the individual characteristics of each one, to be a friend to all but not to become too intimate with any one person, to be impartial and adaptable and to respect the little privacy that each one likes to enjoy. Yes, Bethel life is a good life, a rich life.
As I come to the close of my story a letter has arrived with an invitation to accompany a dear friend from California on the world convention tour soon to begin. I humbly bow my head in deep gratitude for this undeserved kindness from Jehovah, who blesses us “more than superabundantly beyond all the things we ask or conceive.” Glowing in my heart is the same live hope that was decisive for me many years ago, to see Jehovah and Christ Jesus and share in the vindication of Jehovah’s name. Gratefully I join my voice with the great crowd of praisers, confident of the triumphant outcome of the great issue.