A Walk in Spring Leads to Bethel Service
As told by Jules Feller
LITTLE did I realize forty-one years ago, when I first heard the message concerning Jehovah’s purpose for earth, that in 1963 I would find myself in Brooklyn, New York, at the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead!
Yet, here I am in the 38th class, a ten-month course designed to train ministers for additional responsibilities. Could I endure the daily routine of study? Could I overcome the language barrier and keep pace with my fellow students? These and many other questions went through my mind when I came, and I admit my anxiety was great. However, I did not forget the promises God makes in his Word, and I took courage. But how did I come to find myself here? What steps were to make it possible to attend Gilead School?
A BEAUTIFUL DAY IN SPRING
It was spring, 1922. My brother and I had just returned to Berne from a long stay in French Switzerland when an uncle of ours invited us to take a walk with him. We accepted the invitation with pleasure and looked forward to an entertaining afternoon.
It was a beautiful, warm day. Nature seemed to be decked out especially for our outing. This glorious spring weather became the theme of our conversation, and uncle drew our attention to things that appeared quite new to us. At a fitting moment during our walk he drew out of his pocket a book on which the words “The Holy Bible” were attractively embossed in gold. This beautiful day with its atmosphere of peace reminded him of a wonderful parallel, he remarked as he turned its pages. ‘The Bible tells us,’ he continued, ‘that we are approaching a time that will be like paradise for beauty, as lovely as this day or even more beautiful, because it will not be of such short duration. Yes, it will last forever.’
With this introduction, uncle now described for us an earth wherein would be no worry or pain, no wickedness or wars, and where sickness and death would be no more. There would even be a resurrection of the dead, he told us! We were both so glad to hear this, as we remembered our parents, who had died all too soon. This wonderful time was not so far away, he added with emphasis and conviction. We were so enchanted by this narration that we quite forgot where we were and felt we were already living in that glorious time. What amazed us, too, was that he could always read to us a Bible text to substantiate his statements, for instance, Revelation 21:4. The good seed that was sown by our uncle on that day fell on the good soil of our hearts. (Matt. 13:8) In what way? you may ask. So that you will better understand, I must take you back to the years of my childhood.
We were a happy family of six: father and mother, two boys and two girls. However, when I was seven years old my mother died. Our happy family life came to an end. Father suffered keenly at the loss and never really recovered from this grief. A few years later he died too, and our family was now completely torn apart.
Then came the harrowing years of World War I. I was fortunate to be a child living in a neutral land, as Switzerland was. But I remember only too well the trains filled with children evacuated from Belgium and France that made a brief halt in Berne before journeying into the interior of our country where it was safer. Also, many trains filled with war-wounded came into our country. This left an indelible impression on my young mind. I asked myself again and again: Why is this? Why must people go through such affliction? Why do the French and Germans kill each other? All this misery, sorrow, suffering and loss awakened in me a longing for better things.
These experiences aroused in me a readiness to listen to truthful answers to the above questions. These answers my uncle gave me on that beautiful spring day. What I was privileged to hear during that afternoon’s walk laid the foundation for my later decision to take up Bethel service. I began to study the Bible and the literature of the Watch Tower Society diligently from that time on. Naturally I attended the meetings in Berne, where I received a warm welcome.
In the year 1924—I was not yet twenty-three years old—I heard they were looking for young men in the Watch Tower printing factory in Berne. Again it was my uncle who brought me into contact with Bethel. I was invited to take a tour through the factory and Bethel home to get an idea of the activity in this house. How surprised I was to hear that all there were voluntary workers! I was likewise surprised by their friendliness and cordiality. After I had seen everything I was taken to the responsible one of the Bethel home, who asked me if I would like to enter this service. I answered in the affirmative, because all I had seen and heard deeply impressed me. I was very grateful for a knowledge of Bible truth and wished to serve the Almighty God with all my heart.
Do you know what my first work was in Bethel? The first few weeks I spent pressing wastepaper into bales and wiring them. Although this was a very dusty and laborious task, I was happy to be a coworker here and to know I was serving God. Then I was transferred for a few weeks to the bookbindery, where I learned how books are made. Later I was transferred from the bindery to the pressroom.
A rotary press is able to instill great respect in a novice such as I was. I remember how I stood in awe before this giant monster. I watched this paper-eating machine devouring a great roll of paper in about forty minutes, digesting it as quickly, and finally spewing it out in the form of magazines. But I was not put at this machine just to look at it! I was to learn how to set the rollers, to line up the paper web, to check the folder and stitcher, and to keep an eye on a dozen other things.
After nine months I had to leave that department. The reason for the change was a happy one: we received two new linotype machines. Two men were to be taught how to operate them. A fellow worker from Poland and I were chosen. I remember well how we sweated when we received our first lessons in typesetting from a Witness whose profession it was. He had come from Alsace (France) for the purpose of teaching us the art. We applied ourselves diligently and learned quickly.
When I seated myself at that machine the first day, I never dreamed I would work at it for an uninterrupted period of twenty-two years! To this day I am filled with a great satisfaction and joy when I think of the privilege I had of setting type in nineteen languages on that machine! When a foreign-language manuscript was set before me, I would try to get in mind a picture of the land in which this language was spoken. It was like a refresher course in geography. Before my mind’s eye this land would take shape and I would recall the main occupations of the people living there. So a manuscript page was not simply a piece of paper with typewritten words and letters that I did not understand, but it came alive, took on substance and value. The thought that thousands of people in that country would have a book, a booklet or a magazine explaining the Bible placed in their hands and thus become acquainted with life-giving knowledge was a constant stimulus to me.
My next step was the plate-making department. But only a few months later I went to another post; this time in the factory office. Up to this point I had been doing manual work, but now I had to learn general office work and how to operate a typewriter. Then I was entrusted with the factory working schedule and initiated into the art of purchasing paper and other printing materials.
My thirty-eight years of Bethel service did not all pass as bright sunshine without shadow. We were required to weather various storms that involved much distress of heart. I think particularly of the year 1925, which brought a hard testing of faith for many. There were some congregations that shrank in attendance to half or even less. But those who had set their confidence in Jehovah remained steadfast and continued their preaching activity.
Another storm swept over our country in 1940, and it also made itself felt in Bethel. It was the time of World War II when Hitler’s armies forged from victory to victory around the Swiss borders and occupied many countries. Our country was again preserved from actual war, but the totalitarian spirit had penetrated its borders. There were house searchings. In a surprise attack, Swiss soldiers took up strategic positions around Bethel and occupied it for several hours. Other restrictions were placed upon us. For example, everything we published came under censorship. The publication of The Watchtower was prohibited. We were cut off from our brothers in the headquarters at Brooklyn. But despite all these circumstances, we had our spiritual food, which we supplied the Witnesses throughout the country, and even passed on to our Christian brothers in Germany and elsewhere.
These conditions came to an end too. We were overjoyed when the war ended and we were able to come in contact with the Brooklyn headquarters once more. In 1945 the president of the Watch Tower Society, N. H. Knorr, and his secretary, M. G. Henschel, visited us, and we were deeply grateful to Jehovah. Everything sprang into life in our factory. The Watchtower magazine could be published again in German and French, and these now poured without limitation over the frontiers to our brothers hungering for spiritual food.
In 1950 I had the opportunity, together with about seventy other brothers from Switzerland, to attend my first large convention of Jehovah’s witnesses in New York. What an experience! Seeing so many like-minded ones together on one occasion had never been my privilege before. I was also deeply impressed with my visit to the head office, the Bethel home and the factory at Brooklyn.
Then came 1953. It was my privilege to attend a still larger assembly in New York. This time I received even more benefit from the discourses, as I could understand and speak English better now. Then to my delight I was invited to attend the 22d class of Gilead School, which was to begin in September, 1953. My service assignment after leaving Gilead was again Bethel service in Berne, which was cause for great happiness.
In the summer of 1957 I was assigned to serve as branch servant for Switzerland and the little country of Liechtenstein. I am very grateful to Jehovah for this privilege. It has been a pleasure to work with the brothers and to see an increase at the end of each year.
In 1958 I attended one of the greatest of all spiritual feasts, namely, the international assembly of Jehovah’s witnesses in New York city, representing our country there with a good report, to the joy of all present.
Now, in the year 1963, as a student in the expanded Gilead School, it was my pleasure to attend the “Everlasting Good News” Assembly held July 7-14 at Yankee Stadium, New York, and to be one of the delighted throng of 107,483. I also participated in the special tour of the convention grounds given to all students of Gilead School as part of our education and was able to see all the assembly departments in operation.
Now, with the ten-month course of study almost finished, I find I have been able to follow the program to date nicely. I realize that Jehovah has helped me to continue my Gilead training toward its successful conclusion. The anxiety I first had has become smaller and smaller. I thank Jehovah for this marvelous opportunity for instruction.
When, after so many years, one pauses and looks back over the way he has come and sees how Jehovah’s work has expanded throughout the whole earth, it is cause for great joy to have had a share as a full-time minister in Bethel service. Jehovah has so richly blessed the work of his people. He has led us to the very portals of the New World, letting us glimpse inside to see the wondrous things he still has in store for us. Let us therefore be always grateful, ready to sing forth his praise, to honor his name and make it known!
Consequently I entreat you by the compassions of God, brothers, to present your bodies a sacrifice living, holy, acceptable to God, a sacred service with your power of reason.—Rom. 12:1.