“Jehovah Is My Shepherd. I Shall Lack Nothing”
As told by Konrad Franke
ONE rainy summer day in 1920 my father invited me to accompany him to a meeting being held by the “Earnest Bible Students.” He was especially impressed by the name of the meeting’s sponsors. We lived in a small village at the edge of the Ore Mountains in Saxony, Germany, and it was about a two-hour walk to get to the neighboring town where the meeting was to be held.
Although only ten years old, I had already been introduced to the serious side of life. World War I, fought in the name of God, had left its mark upon our family. Would the “Earnest Bible Students” be able to give a satisfying answer to the often-asked question, Why has humanity suffered so much grief and misery?
What we heard was truly good news. We both made up our minds to share in bringing this good news of God’s kingdom to others who were in a similar state of hopelessness. From that day on, I felt a desire to devote my energy to the service of God, who had proved to be so good to man. Some weeks later an opportunity presented itself. The outstanding public meeting campaign featuring the talk “The World Has Ended, Millions Now Living Will Never Die” had reached into our neighborhood. What a joy it was to invite people to attend this lecture!
At the meetings I was permitted to sit with the grown-ups, and I continued to take in more and more knowledge about Jehovah’s purposes. In 1922 I decided to symbolize my dedication by water immersion, but the others in the congregation told me to wait until I was a little older. Finally, in 1924, I was baptized.
ANSWERING THE CALL
Soon my childhood years were over. I had learned a profession, but it failed to satisfy me. I kept thinking of all the preaching work still to be done. I often spoke to others of my own age, who likewise had no Scriptural responsibilities to hold them back, about the rousing call for full-time pioneer ministers contained in the Bulletin (now known as Kingdom Ministry). No, there was no valid reason for me not to heed the call. So I now made a decision that ranked second only to my dedication to Jehovah in its effects upon my life. I entered the pioneer ministry with the fervent desire that it would not be just for a time, but that it would truly be forever. Would it not have been a sign of ungratefulness and a lack of goodwill toward Jehovah to have ignored and pushed aside his friendly invitation to enter wholeheartedly and completely into his service?
I learned that it is a continual fight to retain this privilege of full-time service. Satan is always thinking up new methods and ways to force pioneers to give up their service privileges. At first my problems were general in nature: putting up with religious intolerance, traveling long distances in hilly country by bicycle and, finally, maintaining complete confidence in Jehovah, who had given assurance of the necessary things in the way of clothing, shelter and food. Suddenly a new problem arose. I wanted to get married. Would this be reason to give up the full-time ministry? It need not be, not if my future partner would have the same attitude toward this service privilege and appreciation for it that I had.
DOORS OF LIONS’ PIT OPEN
Soon after our marriage the political horizon in Germany began to darken. Several years previously The Watchtower had called our attention to the possibility of persecution, in the articles on “Esther and Mordecai.” Fortunately, we had made full use of every opportunity to study, both privately and with our Christian brothers at meetings, so as to anchor this important information in our minds. In times of trouble it would certainly help us keep well in mind the assurance of Jehovah’s protection.
Came 1933 and Hitler’s seizure of power. What effects would this have upon our full-time ministry? Was it not our desire to serve Jehovah with our entire strength, not only in good times, but also in bad times? We put complete trust in him.
In view of the possibility that the government might suddenly ban our work, we made extensive arrangements for putting out the Scriptural booklet Crisis from April 8 to 16, 1933. Everyone had the feeling that it was just a matter of days before the work would be suppressed. This stimulated the Kingdom publishers to even greater activity. Our congregation distributed 6,000 booklets within the first three days. Similar results were reported throughout the country. This proved too much for the new rulers. That same week steps were taken to ban the work, resulting in the arrest of several of us. After a thorough search was made of our homes we were released that same day, but bans followed in one German state after another.
That same year I was privileged to attend the memorable convention held in Berlin, where it was resolved that a declaration unanimously adopted there should be sent to all German government officials. After returning home I sent over fifty copies to the highest officials in our territory. They answered by having me arrested and detained in a concentration camp for three weeks. Many Germans were still unaware of the existence of such camps.
Before long appropriate means were borrowed from the “Dark Ages” to make prisoners “toe the line.” This shocking method worked very well and most were brought into line very rapidly, able to do nothing more than mumble: “What the Führer commands, that we will do.” Jehovah’s witnesses did not join in that expression, however.
After being released, I continued to look for the “other sheep,” calling from house to house using just the Bible. An additional responsibility was given me to supply brothers in one section of the country with spiritual food. What a blessing our conscientiousness in paying attention to the instructions received earlier now proved to be! With communications to headquarters broken, each individual Witness was often required to make difficult decisions calling for strong faith, decisions that could mean loss of freedom or even loss of life itself.
October 7, 1934, was a day to be remembered. I had long realized that my mail was being intercepted by the Gestapo and my home watched. Nevertheless, since no other convenient place was available, arrangements were made to have a meeting in our small home that morning at nine o’clock. Similar gatherings were being held throughout the city and the rest of Germany. The evening before, under rather peculiar circumstances, I received a letter containing information about the following day’s meeting. There was little doubt that the Gestapo knew what we had planned. Would they come?
In view of the seriousness of the situation, we began the meeting with a discussion of Deuteronomy 20:8: “Who is the man that is fearful and fainthearted? Let him go and return to his house, that he may not cause the hearts of his brothers to melt as his own heart.” It was touching to see how everyone present, including women with opposing husbands and children to care for, declared their willingness to stay. A resolution was then enthusiastically adopted. It declared, in part, that we would obey God’s commandments at any cost, that we would meet together for the study of his Word, and that we would worship and serve him as he has commanded. If Hitler’s government or officers should do violence to us because we were obeying God, then our blood would be upon them and they would have to answer to Almighty God. While this resolution was being adopted, our brothers from other countries were sending thousands of protest telegrams to Hitler warning him to refrain from persecuting Jehovah’s witnesses, or God would destroy him and his national party.
Two hours after the meeting was over, the Gestapo came. Two weeks later I was thrown into a concentration camp once more, this time for two months. Upon being set free, I immediately began pioneering again. Meanwhile, my field of activity had become larger. I now served as a district overseer with a large territory to look after. Although having to report to the police every other day, I was able to fulfill all my ministerial duties, often doing so at night.
In 1935 I spent another three weeks in prison. However, the worst wave of persecution that we had known up until then came in 1936. A few days before the Lucerne (Switzerland) convention, I was arrested for the fifth time, not to return for nine long years.
Those nine years proved to be a real test of my integrity. At times when, from a human standpoint, the situation seemed unbearable, the well-known “declaration” was laid before me as it was before all the other brothers. If we would sign this declaration renouncing Jehovah’s organization forever we were promised immediate release. Since I did not want to buy my freedom and lose eternal life for a “mess of pottage,” I placed complete confidence in Jehovah, convinced that if it was his will he would release me at his appointed time, even as he had delivered Daniel from the lions’ pit.
When that deliverance came, how impressive it proved to be! As you can imagine, my health was none too good. My wife had been in prison for many years, and for over a year I had heard nothing at all from her. In spite of this, I was determined to return to my old territory as fast as possible and continue in the pioneer service.
On the way I tried to locate some of my relatives. Were they still alive? One day, walking down a main street of the large bombed-out industrial city where my wife’s parents lived, I suddenly stood face to face with my wife! Can you imagine how I felt?
A few days later I found my father. He, too, had just returned from nine years of imprisonment in a concentration camp. I will never forget my joy over the realization that they too had maintained their integrity to Jehovah.—Psalm 124.
After spending a month there, my wife and I left for our old territory over three hundred miles to the west. When we were about halfway, after two weeks of difficult travel, we met a sister who told us that bombs had destroyed our home just a few weeks before the war’s end. I thought once again about Job’s experiences, as I had often done between 1933 and 1945. As always, this proved a great source of strength. The next day we set out on our difficult journey anew.
It was September, 1945. We had no place to live, my health was certainly not what it should have been and, due to lack of anything else, I was still wearing my striped prison clothing. But I saw no reason to delay in taking up the pioneer ministry again. While the brothers in charge of the work were fighting to regain possession of the Society’s property in Magdeburg, I was given the job of reorganizing the congregations in Western Germany. The wants and privations that now arose were as nothing compared to what we had already been through. We could put full trust in Jehovah, comforted by the realization of his guidance.
After arriving back in our territory, we moved into a small room that belonged to an absent tenant. Located in the same building was a small store that I had rented shortly before. Our little room became our first Bethel home and the little store our first branch office here in Wiesbaden. A little over a year later, due to my being a victim of Nazi persecution, I was permitted to move into a small two-room apartment. We were able to rent a third larger room in the same building, and this we used as an office. It was our second Bethel home. Here Brothers Knorr, Henschel and Covington visited us in 1947. Legal arrangements were then made with Wiesbaden officials for leasing a ruined building that we ourselves were prepared to rebuild.
From year to year it became necessary to increase the size of our home. Finally, all available space in the building had been rebuilt and incorporated into the Bethel home. A factory was set up and this necessitated an addition to the building in 1952. Even this soon proved inadequate and in 1958 a much larger building was put up. At present we have room for over 100 Bethel workers, plus 28 brothers who attend the Kingdom Ministry School for overseers.
How gratifying it is to have experienced all this! How often I have felt Jehovah’s help and protection! Time and again I have stared death in the face, but I can join the psalmist in saying: “Jehovah is my shepherd. I shall lack nothing.” He has cared for me and fed me during all the thirty-eight years and more that I have been in his service. In harmony with his promise, clothing, food and shelter have always been provided. Even when I was “in the valley of deep shadow,” he proved to be my rod and my staff, comforting me. Along with all his people, he has led me to grassy pastures and to well-watered resting-places and has bestowed upon me many rich privileges of service as an expression of his undeserved kindness.
Truly, Jehovah blesses us beyond what we can ever ask or comprehend when we answer his call and wholeheartedly take up the ministry as his witnesses.