Wholehearted Service Brings Precious Rewards
As told by Mona Brzoska
TEARS came into my eyes as I contemplated the large stadium near Paris filled with tens of thousands of worshipers of Jehovah. It was August of 1961. Just thirty years previously, when my missionary service began in France and Belgium, there was a handful of Jehovah’s people in these countries. It seemed incredible that this huge crowd had become servants of Jehovah in three short decades. What a privilege to have had a share in this great gathering! How I thanked Jehovah for having helped me to remember him from my childhood.
It was shortly before the Armistice in 1918 that my parents were attracted by a poster advertising the lecture “Where Are the Dead?” It was sponsored by the International Bible Students Association. What mother learned at that talk was like a searchlight beam on the Scriptures. She was convinced that here was the truth. My father also decided to look into it, and soon weekly studies were held in our home.
I was taken out of Sunday school, and mother explained to me that what I had been taught there about the soul, hell and the trinity was untrue. Every Sunday I was taken to the London Tabernacle and gradually I grew in knowledge and faith. It was in 1925 that I began to think seriously about my personal responsibility toward Jehovah. The enthusiasm manifested at the London convention that year made me happy to know the truth and to have my life before me to use to Jehovah’s praise. Though still at school, I decided to dedicate myself to God.
At the time of my dedication, however, the thought of full-time service as a career did not come to my mind, for I was having much success in my studies and had just obtained a scholarship and grant that would permit me to pursue them further. When mother fell ill a problem confronted me: Should I go on with my studies or quit and look after her? I prayed earnestly for guidance and it was not long before I became convinced of Jehovah’s will for me.
The breakaway from school was not easy, but soon I saw all it could mean. Away from my former associates I was in closer contact with young brothers and sisters who were already in full-time service. The brothers chosen by the president of the Watch Tower Society to go to India and Spain made a very deep impression on me, and I realized how great was the need for workers in many countries.
It was about this time that I heard a convention talk that I never forgot. It was based on 2 Chronicles 31:21: “And in every work that [Hezekiah] started in the service of the house of the true God . . . it was with all his heart that he acted, and he proved successful.” If mother regained her health, I determined that my career would be full-time service to Jehovah, and that, like Hezekiah, I would act with all my heart in order to be successful.
The opportunity came first to do what was then called “auxiliary” pioneer work, a preaching activity that brought me much joy. In 1928 I was able to tell the Society that I could go wherever workers were needed. A little band of us were chosen for business-house work in some of England’s large cities. At first I felt that I could never undertake such a task—it was already a big pull to leave home—but examples like those of Moses and Jeremiah came to my mind and I felt that, if this was what Jehovah was asking me to do, he would help me to accomplish the task if I worked at it wholeheartedly. This he did, and the realization of this fact has often spurred me on when new tasks, beyond my own strength, have been assigned to me.
So many were the joyful and strengthening experiences, that when the call went out for volunteers to work on the Continent, I had to respond: “Here I am! Send me!” The Society accepted me, and now I was to realize my childhood ambition to be a missionary.
One cold January morning in 1931, when the snow lay thick on the ground, my companion and I disembarked on French soil. How glad I was that I had studied French at school! This really was “pioneering,” for in those days there were no missionary homes. Everything was so strange, from little things like the food and drink (nobody drank tea, I discovered!) and cycling on the right side of the road, to important things like the religion of the people. The language presented quite a problem, but constant practice would make us more and more proficient.
Going to the police station for an identity card was something new for me. I suppose the officer thought that we needed some protection, for when I asked if he knew of a suitable room, he gave rapid instructions to one of his men and told us to follow him. Imagine our surprise when we found ourselves in the entrance hall of a Roman Catholic convent where young ladies can have board and lodgings! After this and other adventures we finally found a room within our means.
A big problem was heat in the wintertime. We were often obliged to break the ice on the water in the jug before we could wash in the morning. A little oilstove served to do our simple cooking. We often cycled from ten to fifteen miles to and from our territory. Our work consisted of spreading literature and moving on to fresh fields. Even so, both Catholic and Protestant church magazines began publishing warnings against us. Many times these warnings backfired and actually aroused interest.
Meantime, the Lord’s people were becoming known in Europe by their new name, Jehovah’s witnesses. What a privilege to share in those early labors. We rarely saw other Witnesses except at conventions and when we went home on our annual vacation. But we used to exchange encouraging letters with our fellow missionaries in other parts of France and also in Spain. Although we were isolated, we never missed our Watchtower study every Sunday. This partaking regularly of spiritual food was a safeguard to us.
In 1935 a happy band of us were assigned to Belgium, where there were about sixty Witnesses in all. The priests resented our intrusion in their pastures. They used every means at their disposal to get rid of us, such as warning their flocks, threatening us, calling out the state police, sending children to pester us, throwing stones or puncturing our bicycle tires and going around after us to collect the literature we had spread. Nevertheless, villagers would often say to me: “Give me several of your booklets; when the priest comes I can give him one to satisfy him and keep the rest to read!” Since Belgium was smaller than France, we were able to have periodic get-togethers at the Branch home. The happy fellowship of our associate ministers was stimulating and inspiring. However, conditions got increasingly difficult as World War II came ever closer.
In the summer of 1939 war broke out and it became necessary to move back from the frontier. We lived under constant strain. Often we were hauled off to the authorities and accused of being spies or fifth columnists. More than ever I felt it was a time for wholehearted service. On May 10, 1940, Belgium was invaded and we had to move back before the rapidly advancing Nazi armies. It caused many heart-searchings as we cycled along the Flanders roads, carrying our few belongings with us and sleeping in barns or any kind of shelter that we could find. Most of the villages were deserted, and here and there the dead lay strewed along the roadside, evidence of the bombings and fighting going on around us. I needed to pray earnestly to keep up my courage. One thing made me very grateful though: I had indeed worked wholeheartedly at each task assigned. How I would have regretted it now had I not done so!
One day our group got split up. My partner managed to cross the Channel, but the group I was with was turned back from each Channel port. I had very little money and the situation was fraught with danger for me, not only because of my British citizenship, but especially because of being a full-time minister of Jehovah’s witnesses, whom Hitler was determined to wipe out. All refugees were told to return to their homes. This meant going back to Belgium, which, meanwhile, had capitulated. The greater part of France was occupied too. Was our work done?
Back in Belgium I found out that my name was on the Gestapo’s “black list.” What should I do? Where could I stay? Anyone found harboring a British citizen would be shot on sight, so if I stayed with Witnesses I would be putting their lives in danger. And yet I was without means of support in what was now enemy territory. I could not even obtain a ration card for food. I wondered what Jehovah’s will was for me and asked him to make it clear. Just then a Witness I had known for some years renewed an offer of marriage. After making it a matter of prayer, I accepted.
Thanks to the cooperation of the Belgian authorities, we were married and found a place to live. The “underground” work was already being organized, and responsible brothers asked me if I would take a part in it. The way, which had seemed so somber, began to brighten. My husband agreed and found work to enable me to continue this new form of full-time service. My job was to deliver spiritual food to the centers, from where it would be distributed to the brothers, after we had translated and mimeographed it secretly.
Our underground activity involved many narrow escapes. One day I arrived at a brother’s home just after the Gestapo had left. They had been directed there by an anonymous letter denouncing me. On another occasion I was prevented at the last minute from going to the home of a Witness where I was to get instructions. That very Sunday morning the Gestapo had arrested him. Armed guards were posted at the house for three days to arrest all Witnesses who might call. A brother who did call was not recognized and he warned me to stay away. Sometimes Nazi soldiers helped me off trains and streetcars or offered to hand down my bag, which, unknown to them, was full of our literature!
How precious was that spiritual food that filtered through to us! We met in very small groups on different days and in different homes, usually around a table set for a meal in case of unwelcome visitors. At Memorial time we always made a special effort in the preaching work. In 1943, during the Memorial week, I found a family of ten and had the joy of seeing them come into Jehovah’s organization. The war years made me appreciate as never before the loyal fellowship of Jehovah’s people in times of danger and the value of the spiritual food for which many risked their lives.
In time the tide of war changed and our part of Europe was liberated. I was able to return to England for a short time and see my parents again. What a joy to be with them and exchange experiences! It was wonderful to meet so many brothers again, attend meetings freely and see the progress of Jehovah’s organization.
As soon as I returned to Belgium my husband and I were invited to work at the small headquarters in Brussels as translators. One of the greatest joys was to discover that during the war years of hardship and danger the little handful of Witnesses in Belgium had grown to hundreds—a wonder possible only by Jehovah’s spirit.
December, 1945, brought the first visit of the Society’s third president, Brother Knorr, to postwar Belgium. When a graduate of the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead came to help us organize the work, it was my privilege to be his interpreter while he learned French. As the work became better organized the Kingdom publishers began to be counted by the thousands instead of hundreds. More than ever it was a time of wholehearted service, helping people of goodwill to find the way to life.
In 1950 I attended the New York convention at Yankee Stadium and visited the new Brooklyn Bethel, the factory and Gilead School. My feelings were like those of the queen of Sheba—“the half was never told.” The death of my husband a short while afterward brought home to me once more how precious a privilege is wholehearted full-time service and all that the love of the brothers and of Jehovah’s visible organization can mean in times of stress.
After completion of the new Bethel home in Paris I was assigned to work there, but it was not without a pull at the heartstrings that I left so many loved ones in Belgium. While not forgetting old friends, I have made many new ones. Here, too, a great joy is to see overseers at the Kingdom Ministry School complete the course and return home better equipped to tend Jehovah’s “sheep.” Had someone told me that first day I disembarked on French soil, or during the dark days of World War II, that such a thing would come about, I surely would have had great difficulty in believing it.
And can you understand just how I felt on looking around that crowded stadium near Paris? Those great crowds came from many of the places where we first spread literature over twenty-five years ago. Certainly wholehearted service brings precious rewards in many ways. I realize that the only way that I can show my gratitude to Jehovah for all his benefits toward me is to continue doing with all my heart the task assigned for each day.
Happy is everyone fearing Jehovah, who is walking in his ways. For you will eat the toil of your own hands. Happy you will be and it will be well with you.—Ps. 128:1, 2.