Obedience—a Source of Rich Blessings
As told by Heinrich Dwenger
I WAS just a seventeen-year-old lad living in Hamburg, Germany, when I became interested in the Bible and began to read it regularly. That was sixty years ago. How happy I am now that at that early age I appreciated the Word of God enough to seek help to understand it! By obediently following its direction I have enjoyed rich blessings, receiving divine guidance through the most troublous times in human history.
To begin with, however, my search for Bible understanding was very unrewarding. An investigation of the orthodox churches revealed that religious traditions, rather than God’s Word, were featured, and that parishioners, for the most part, were indifferent to the teachings of the Bible. Where could I find help to understand God’s Word? I was looking for guidance.
Then one day in 1907 when I opened the Hamburg newspaper General Anzeiger, a tract entitled “The Right of the First Born Sold” slipped out. The Watch Tower Society at Barmen, Germany (since 1929 part of Wuppertal, Germany), had distributed a large quantity of such Bible tracts through this paper. I read this one with keen interest, and gladly accepted the invitation to write for the advertised Studies in the Scriptures. What joy I received by reading these volumes! At last I had found the assistance to understanding the Bible I had been looking for.
Immediately I became a subscriber for the Watchtower magazine, and responded to the invitation to distribute tracts from house to house. I did so in the hope that many other people would come to an understanding of the Bible and be as happy as I was. But I soon found that not many people were seeking for a clear knowledge of the Bible. When I gave the Studies in the Scriptures and Bible tracts to my parents and other relatives, instead of gladly accepting them, they exhibited opposition. However, this did not discourage me, for I was convinced this was the truth, and that others also would be made happy by it.
So I wrote to the Watch Tower Society and they put me in touch with three or four other interested persons in Hamburg. After a short time we met together to study the volumes of Studies in the Scriptures. About this time the branch supervisor for the preaching work in Germany suggested that we arrange public Bible meetings in Hamburg. This we gladly did with the help of qualified brothers from the headquarters in Barmen.
The following year, in 1909, I visited the Watch Tower Society’s Bethel Home in Barmen and had the opportunity of symbolizing my dedication to Jehovah by water baptism. That was a happy day! But then I was faced with a decision. The branch servant suggested I enter the full-time preaching activity. I knew that my parents would be greatly disappointed if I gave up my secular employment. However, after careful and prayerful consideration of the matter I was convinced that it was the Lord’s will for me to enter the pioneer service. So I left my secular work on September 30, 1910, and on the following day began the full-time preaching work in Hamburg.
The Lord’s blessing was upon our efforts, and others began to associate with our small study group. I also worked in other towns in the province of Schleswig-Holstein. But then in the summer of 1911 the Society invited me to become a member of the Bethel family in Barmen, which invitation I gladly accepted.
WORLD WAR I
The years immediately prior to World War I were happy ones for me. I enjoyed working with the brothers at Bethel, and sharing in the field ministry on Sundays distributing tracts from door to door. We warned the people that a time of great trouble would break out in 1914, as “the appointed times of the nations” were due to reach their end in that year. (Luke 21:24) In 1910 the branch servant had given a public discourse in a large hall in Barmen on this subject and had aroused much attention. This led our opponents to mock that they would have to put up with us until 1914. But then World War I broke out suddenly, and their mocking ceased.
This raised the question of military service. How could I as a Christian love my neighbors and yet take up murderous weapons to destroy them? After careful and prayerful consideration I was convinced that I must be obedient to Jehovah’s commands and refuse to participate in Germany’s military effort. So in the spring of 1915 when I was called up for war service I immediately wrote to the authorities and told them I would refuse to take the military oath and bear arms.
Because of my stand I was called before a military surgeon for examination. I endeavored to show him that, contrary to what the authorities might think, my attitude demonstrated a spirit of a sound mind. In time I was brought to trial. I was asked: “What would we do if all acted as you do?” My brief answer was: “Then we would have no war.” I underwent a great deal of questioning, and I was happy for the opportunity to give a good witness to the truth.
THE WORK REVIVED
Following the war Jehovah opened the door for a further great preaching work. The German people were very disappointed at the outcome of the war, and the influence of the clergy had been weakened appreciably. So there was hardly any opposition to our preaching, even in predominantly Catholic sections, and soon small congregations began to spring up all over Germany. I was assigned by the Society to arrange public Bible lectures in many cities in southern Germany and to help organize congregations there. What a joy it was for me to see the revival of the witness work that had temporarily lain as though dead in the streets!—Rev. 11:8.
With the expansion of the preaching, the accommodations in Barmen were quickly outgrown. This necessitated moving to larger quarters in Magdeburg, where a printing plant was equipped. By 1931 the number of ministers in the field had increased to over 10,000, and the printing presses in Magdeburg kept them supplied with millions of pieces of literature for distribution. The following two years saw further increases, with the remarkable peak of over 19,000 sharing in the preaching work in Germany early in 1933.
During this period we were being strengthened for the terrible time of trouble that set in after Adolf Hitler came to power. The adoption of the name “Jehovah’s witnesses” in 1931 was a real stimulus to stand firm on the side of the great God Jehovah. So when the ban upon our work in Germany came in 1933, the brothers appreciated the need for fearless action. The many exhortations in the Bible, “Fear not!” now began to exercise great force in our lives.
ACCEPTING ASSIGNMENTS IN DANGEROUS TIMES
With the beginning of difficulties in 1933 I was asked to travel to Hungary to help with the preaching work there. To my surprise, the Magdeburg police granted me a travel permit, and soon I was off for Hungary.
There in Budapest Jehovah opened up the way for The Watchtower and various booklets to be printed in the Hungarian language. The authorities made no attempt to interfere for a time, and the brothers throughout Hungary took an active share in the distribution of the literature. Many persons of goodwill were thereby brought into association with Jehovah’s witnesses. For two years I enjoyed many rich blessings spreading the Kingdom message in Hungary.
Then one day I received news that the German branch servant had been arrested by the Gestapo in Magdeburg, and I was asked to return and continue the work there. However, the brothers in Budapest protested: “If you go back to Germany, you will probably be arrested, whereas you can still help us here.” I told them that it was not a question of whether I would be arrested or not, but that I had received instructions through Jehovah’s organization. “It is always best to obey,” I explained.
Back in Magdeburg I learned that the Gestapo had discovered that the Society had rented a room where the addresses of the many Watchtower readers and other documents were kept. By searching it they hoped to turn up evidence to provide them with grounds for confiscating our property. Therefore, without delay I removed everything from the room, and when the Gestapo arrived they found only empty shelves. Their disappointment was great.
The Gestapo in Berlin now decided to take strict measures against us. They arrived at Bethel in Magdeburg one morning, sealed all the printing machinery and searched the rooms. I had planned to go to Halle to see the lawyer who cared for the Society’s business on this day, but the Gestapo arrived at Bethel before I could leave. I also had an appointment to meet the branch servant of Switzerland in Berlin the following day to settle important questions, as he was then responsible for the work in Germany.
But now it appeared that the Gestapo would interfere with these plans. When they arrived I was in one of the living rooms. Being unable to escape, I locked the door from the inside. Several times the door handle was vigorously turned back and forth, but they did not have the door forced open. How many times I and other brothers have had the enemy pass right by us, or by literature they were looking for! It is as though Jehovah blinded their eyes. So it was on this occasion.
Three hours later I was able to leave undetected by another exit. When they could not find me, the head of the Magdeburg Gestapo was ordered to drive to our lawyer’s place in Halle to arrest me there. In the meantime, guards were left at Bethel to arrest me, should I return. I learned about these maneuvers when I met with our lawyer in Halle two days later. I also discovered that, as a result of these incidents, my German citizenship had been taken away. Therefore, when I finally contacted the Swiss branch servant in Berlin, it was decided that there was not much I could do any longer in Germany, so he sent me to Danzig, Poland.
Later, he himself was arrested by the Gestapo and held for a week. After his release he summoned me to Berne, Switzerland.
In 1936 I was then given an assignment to help in the Bethel in Prague, Czechoslovakia. For nearly three years I served there, and Jehovah richly blessed our work in that country. The congregations shared joyfully in preaching the Kingdom message, and we had little trouble from the authorities. But when the Nazis annexed Sudetenland in 1938, it was evident that soon all of Czechoslovakia would be in their hands. When they suddenly marched into Prague one morning in March of 1939, we immediately began to dismount the printing equipment, and were able to have it shipped to Holland. Then we went underground. I was instructed to travel to Berne after the underground work to preach the good news of God’s kingdom had been organized.
Late one evening I left Prague, and early the next morning a Gestapo officer came to the Prague Bethel to arrest me. I was surprised that they had not come before, as they had already been in Prague for two weeks. After a hazardous journey I arrived safely in Switzerland via Hungary.
MANY JOYFUL YEARS IN BERNE
War was threatening and the Swiss authorities were anxious for all foreigners to leave the country. This even included brothers who had been many years in the Berne Bethel. The Watch Tower Society had made arrangements for these brothers to go to Brazil and take up the pioneer service there. Our final preparations were made, berths reserved, the day and hour of departure fixed. But an hour before we were to leave Berne we were advised that the ship would not leave Genoa, as Italy had entered the war. So we had to stay in Berne.
I have now served here at the Berne Bethel for many years and have enjoyed many rich blessings. What a grand surprise it was when a brother in Switzerland invited me to attend the international convention in New York City in 1950! Other rich blessings were in store when the Society invited me to attend the even larger assemblies in New York City in 1953 and 1958. How deeply I appreciated the undeserved kindness of Jehovah for having made it possible for me to attend those international assemblies!
When I look back over the fifty-three and a half years of full-time service that began with my early pioneer days in Hamburg, I am very happy that I accepted seriously the Scriptural responsibility to preach the good news of God’s kingdom. I have spent many of my years serving in Bethel Homes in various countries, where it has not been my place to choose the work that pleased me, but, rather, to fulfill the tasks assigned. How happy I am that I have always sought to follow the direction of Jehovah through his earthly organization by faithfully carrying out these assignments! For truly it is this obedience that has been a source of rich blessings.
[Picture on page 215]
Bethel Home at Berne, Switzerland