Planting and Watering God’s Field
As told by OTTO ESTELMANN
ON A little farm in Bavaria, southern Germany, is where I grew up. It was a real pleasure to cultivate the land with horses, oxen and some machinery, but, at the time, I had no idea that my life’s work would be planting and watering a different kind of field.
My parents were Lutherans. In our home we had a big Holy Bible, which was never read or opened, except to record births, marriages, deaths or other outstanding events. We also had a prayer book that mother would read on special occasions. Although I attended Sunday school and an agricultural school, I did not learn anything about God’s purposes.
I was nineteen when World War I broke out. With thousands of other innocent young men I soon found myself in battle formation on the fighting front. As I marched through burned-out, bombed cities and villages, it grieved me to the heart to see strewn along the highway many unburied corpses. How I sorrowed for the many children, widows, fiancées, war brides, fathers and mothers waiting in vain for news from their beloved who lay dead!
During one battle I received wounds that took me from the fighting front for nearly a year. Suddenly, on November 11, 1918, came the glad news: “The war is over!” Emperor Wilhelm II fled to Holland. Revolution in Germany! Now, too, the Catholic and Protestant clergymen stopped their public praying, “God protect the German Emperor and by your grace protect the German Reich.”
A PRECIOUS SEED IS SOWN
One afternoon in November, 1919, a representative of the International Bible Students, as Jehovah’s witnesses were then called, visited a neighboring family, and I was invited to go and hear him talk. I listened carefully to his experience with the clergyman in a nearby town when he and seven members of his family had left the Lutheran Church. His clergyman’s final advice was: “But, Mr. G———, you and your family can read Russell’s books, but you need not leave our church. Why cause such a big stir?” The Bible Student saw right through this hypocritical advice and resigned.
This first meeting with one of Jehovah’s witnesses convinced me that there are two different sides to the religious question. One is truth and life; the other, lies and death. Here was performed a miracle of “opening the eyes of the blind” by sowing the seed of Kingdom truth. From then on I started a systematic study of the Bible with the Watch Tower Society’s Bible-study aids. Sometimes I studied all night long. There was much to learn.
At the first district convention I attended, thousands of Jehovah’s people were present. I heard young children answer Bible questions that I as yet could not answer. This scene, together with that of the mass baptism the next day, made an unforgettable impression on my mind.
Four hours’ travel time from my home was a publisher of the good news who agreed to take me along in the house-to-house preaching work for the first time. At the time and place agreed upon I waited for his arrival. His train came, but he did not. Now what was I to do? In my briefcase was a Bible and some literature. In front of me there were a number of houses with people in them. The only logical thing to do was go and work them even without my instructor.
I prayed with all my heart to Jehovah, who knows how to give strength to the weak, and soon I was knocking at the first door. My lips trembled so much that I doubt if the householder understood anything I said. He mumbled something unintelligible back at me and shut the door in my face. What now? Never mind! I’ll go to the next door.
At the third house a woman listened attentively and her eyes filled with tears. She told me that her only son was killed in the war and she had no more hope. How glad I was to be able to open my Bible to John 5:28, 29 and read her Jesus’ promise of a resurrection. Then I showed her the explanation in the book The Harp of God. She dried her tears, her face lit up and she gladly contributed for the book.
After my first two hours of public witnessing I looked up and was elated to see my instructor peddling hard on his bicycle. He missed the train, but still kept his word. (To this day he is serving faithfully in the Argentine branch office of the Society.) We spent several more happy hours together that day planting the Kingdom seed and comforting many others who were mourning. Doing Jehovah’s will brought great satisfaction. On December 26, 1920, I was baptized in symbol of my agreement to do Jehovah’s will always.
About the year 1924 there was a little group of some forty of us that congregated in the city next to the village where I lived. That spring I received an unexpected invitation from the branch office of the Society to take up greater activity as a full-time “pilgrim,” visiting other congregations. The next five years were busy ones spent in Germany, training new publishers, strengthening new and weak congregations and caring for God’s field under cultivation.—1 Cor. 3:6-9.
In 1929 I was assigned to Czechoslovakia to show the Society’s “Photo-Drama of Creation,” comprised of several films and hundreds of beautiful colored slides with appropriate explanations. Every showing was divided into four parts of almost three hours each. Between showings we made many calls on interested persons and conducted Bible studies. It was a joy to note how the attendance increased from night to night. Weak groups that were struggling were strengthened and new congregations were organized. Of course, with this growth of the organization came opposition. In 1934, during a visit to a small congregation, the police came and took me to jail. The charge: “Nazi spy”! My accusers were unable to produce a single witness, so after seven weeks I was set free.
Parts of Czechoslovakia were already occupied by the Nazis by the spring of 1938. That was when I received a telegram from the Society’s office in Switzerland instructing me to bring them the various records of the former Czechoslovakian branch without delay. In order to cross the border I had to get permission from the Nazi secret police who were being organized in the country at that time. I succeeded in getting the permit and took advantage of the opportunity to make a short visit to my mother and other relatives en route. Arriving and leaving during the night, I continued my journey to Switzerland. The very next day a squad of secret police descended on my family’s home and searched it from top to bottom looking for me. Certainly Jehovah God had delivered me from the “trap of the birdcatcher.”—Ps. 91:3.
TO A DISTANT FIELD
In 1939 I was assigned to Brazil, far across the Atlantic. Three other brothers from Czechoslovakia traveled with me to the new field of service. At the port of Santos we were happy to see four of the brothers who worked at the branch office in Brazil. One of them spoke our language, and that helped a great deal. Since I did not know Portuguese, how was I going to help plant and water God’s field here? The brothers kindly provided me with a card bearing a short typed sermon. All I had to say at each door was, “Please read this!” Although I had difficulty with Portuguese, I began to arouse interest in God’s kingdom through the Society’s literature. I kept a record of the most interested ones, made return visits and began home Bible studies.
After I had been in Brazil for a month I received an assignment to serve in Pôrto Alegre, in the far south of the country. A couple who had just arrived from Switzerland and another brother who had worked in Czechoslovakia accompanied me. However, problems arose. Due to opposition our supply of literature was cut off. But with only my Bible I was able to go on talking about Jehovah’s kingdom through Christ. As we continued to plant and water, God gave the increase. Two congregations sprouted in that section, one in the Brazilian city of Livramento and the other in Rivera, a city just across the border in Uruguay.
After twenty-five months of restriction, Jehovah opened the door for me to continue in the blessed privilege of full-time service. When Brother Knorr, the Society’s president, visited Brazil in 1945 I was asked to report to the branch office as I was to serve as a special pioneer minister in Rio de Janeiro. Selling some things of value, I raised the needed money for my ticket and soon arrived safe and sound in my new assignment. After six months I succeeded in getting a permanent residence visa, thus having the guarantee of remaining in Brazil. I was then able to carry on my ministry from house to house in a better organized way than back in 1939.
Jehovah continued to enlarge my privileges as I entered the circuit work in 1949. In 1955 I was called to serve in the Brazilian branch office, where, by Jehovah’s undeserved kindness, I enjoy the companionship of more than twenty-five brothers who are unreservedly dedicated to doing the divine will. In addition to my duties here I find great happiness in working closely with the local congregation of Jehovah’s people.
HARVEST IS GREAT
I am very grateful to Jehovah that the sowing work has yielded fine fruit here in Brazil. Back in 1939 there were only 114 Kingdom publishers in the country. Today more than 26,000 are sharing in the planting and watering!
I think back over forty-two years of service to Jehovah and am glad that I have always accepted each assignment gratefully. A physical handicap prevents me from doing all that I would like to right now, but I am convinced that the one thing I want to do is serve Jehovah and his King, Christ Jesus, forever.