Finding Joy by Serving God
As told by P. A. Idreos
MY PARENTS are Greeks. I myself was born in Smyrna, Asia Minor, in the early part of the twentieth century. Shortly after World War I the place of my birth became a battleground between the Greeks and the Turks. Many thousands of people were taken captive by the Turks, and I was among them—a prisoner of the Turks while still in my teens.
Those were dramatic days. They awakened many questions in my mind. Could it be that I was destined to spend my life in captivity? My life had hardly begun! How long could I endure such suffering? These thoughts racked my brain day and night. My only comfort was a small “New Testament” that I read constantly, but without understanding many things.
In captivity I found myself praying to God to deliver me. I promised him that if he would free me I would devote the rest of my life exclusively to his service.
As my captivity continued without any apparent hope of deliverance, I directed my studies mainly to the Bible book of Revelation. I became especially interested in what was said to the angel of the congregation in Smyrna. I read Revelation 2:10, which says: “Do not be afraid of the things you are about to suffer. Look! The Devil will keep on throwing some of you into prison that you may be fully put to the test, and that you may have tribulation ten days.” But counting the days, I sadly noted that prison and tribulation continued, though the “ten days” had passed long ago! Actually, I was misapplying this text to the Greek Orthodox Church in modern Smyrna and to my own experiences in connection therewith. However, through intervention of an American organization I was later set free, along with other Greeks under eighteen years of age, being ferried across to the island of Chios.
It was in Chios that the loving God of the universe gave me the opportunity to show whether my promise made under the pressure of captivity was sincere or not. Here is how the opportunity presented itself:
A schoolmate of mine was corresponding with his uncle, an American “Bible Student” named George Gangas, who to this day is an active witness of Jehovah, one who has served in the Watchtower Society’s Brooklyn Bethel for thirty-five years. What “uncle” Gangas wrote to my schoolmate and whatever books and booklets he sent to him were promptly passed on to me. These pieces of literature gradually convinced me that what was written therein pointed to true worship and everlasting life.
After many discussions I accepted what was said in the books and booklets as containing truth. I perceived that Jehovah God had provided me with an opportunity to show the sincerity of my promise to him. How I enjoyed learning! I devoured the volumes of the Studies in the Scriptures by Pastor Russell and the early publications by Judge Rutherford. I particularly enjoyed studying The Harp of God. And, too, at this time, I found great pleasure in learning English.
A small group for Bible study was soon formed on the island of Chios. Then we got in touch with the Athens branch of the Watch Tower Society. It was not long until we were out in the ministry declaring the good news of God’s kingdom, but this mostly by distributing tracts. It was at this time that opposition began to show itself. Nothing, of course, can bind the Word of God. Through its local branch in Athens, the Watch Tower Society provided us with every possible assistance in order that we might advance the good news and fulfill our ministry. We were even blessed with the visits of special representatives of the Society. How refreshing were those associations in my early days, learning and spreading God’s Word of truth!
All of this was just the beginning. Serving God filled me with genuine joy. Early in May, 1925, we held our first national assembly in Athens. This constituted a vital milestone in my life, because I was here privileged to symbolize my dedication to Jehovah by being immersed in water. From that year on I associated with the Athens “class,” where I continued serving God and enjoying his rich blessing.
Six years later, in May, 1931, I was privileged, along with ten other Christian brothers and sisters from Greece, to attend our first “big” international assembly of Jehovah’s people. It was held in the Salle Pleyel, Paris, France. There, for the first time, I came to know J. F. Rutherford, who was the president of the Watch Tower Society. I also met a multitude of other brothers from America, England, Austria, Germany, Poland and other countries. Memories of that “big” assembly are still deeply engraved in my mind, though the total attendance did not exceed 3,500 persons.
This assembly in Paris had an amazing effect on my whole life. It deepened my appreciation. It enlarged my love for God and his visible organization. Young brothers who interpreted Brother Rutherford’s lectures into the German, Polish and French languages especially captured my attention. I admired them greatly. Their fine work impressed me. How I wished that some day I could do the same! This wish has since been realized. I waited over twenty-five years for its fulfillment, but it came. In 1956, when Nathan H. Knorr, who succeeded Rutherford to the presidency of the Watch Tower Society, gave a speech in Athens, it was my privilege to translate his talk into Greek.
During the late 1930’s, the ministry of the good news in Greece was carried on in the face of many difficulties and persecutions. Under the dictatorial regime that prevailed in Greece from August, 1936, intolerant religious circles had illiberal laws framed with the hope of silencing our Christian work.
One evening in 1940 when we were holding our weekly Watchtower study in Athens, police agents came and arrested all present. They locked us up in various jails throughout the city. They threatened us with exile, unless we signed a declaration disavowing our religious convictions. After twenty-four days in jail we were released. This was a most upbuilding experience for me. It helped me immensely. It enlarged my trust in Jehovah. It strengthened my resolve to remain faithful to God under every circumstance.
Our difficulties in the Christian ministry increased as Greece became involved in World War II. There came the violent and cruel occupation by the German Nazi troops. We were cut off from all contact with the Watch Tower Society’s headquarters in Brooklyn, New York. However, with persecutions, there came increase. Under ban we exerted greater effort. At the end of the war we were about seven times as many in number as at the war’s beginning.
ORGANIZATION AND TRAINING
Once again we made contact with the Watch Tower Society’s headquarters in the United States. Great was our joy in 1946 when two Gilead School graduates came to organize us theocratically. We rejoiced in the affection and vital interest thus shown us by Jehovah’s organization. I was given added privileges, first as a “servant to the brethren,” then as the branch servant. Difficulties and problems were many, but so were there many blessings.
Then came 1950 and the Theocracy’s Increase Assembly in New York city, together with special training at the Brooklyn Bethel headquarters. On my arrival in New York I had an unusual experience; at least, it was unusual to me. Immigration officials came aboard ship and put me, along with a few others, under arrest. We were taken to Ellis Island. After considerable questioning we were set free the next day. For a while I wondered if I was really going to see America and attend the Christian convention. This, of course, happened when the Korean war was in progress and American officials were very careful about people coming into the country. So our detention was a precautionary measure well understood.
The assemblies that followed in 1953 and 1958 in New York city, together with the accompanying training, were great occasions in my life. I might add, too, the visits of Brother Knorr in Athens and the receiving of his permission to build a wonderful four-story building to shelter the Bethel family in Greece were thrilling occasions. In this building now we have a printing plant and offices.
There is one feature of my private life that I would like to mention. In 1953, I was privileged to take Sister Phyllis, a lovely girl, as my wife. So now in my Christian life I have a precious mate to keep me company. Together we are enjoying the full-time service to Jehovah.
It was in 1924 that I started in the way of Jehovah. Ever since then I have endeavored to work in close cooperation with his theocratic organization. Throughout these many years of my life I have felt Jehovah’s loving, guiding hand. I have experienced his great mercies, protection and love. It has been a rich life, one full of joy. What more can I say? May this also be your happy lot.