God Has Been Good and Merciful to Me
As told by George D. Gangas
I WAS born on February 17, 1896, in an insignificant town of Asia Minor named New Ephesus (Turkish: Koushadasi). It was located about eight miles from ancient Ephesus, where some 1,900 years ago the apostle Paul preached and wrote his first letter to the Corinthians.
When I was about five or six years old, my father died. My mother was a devout, God-fearing woman. But she did not have access to the Bible and so did not know how to rear her children “in the discipline and authoritative advice of Jehovah.” (Eph. 6:4) In fact, almost 95 percent of the Orthodox people did not have Bibles, nor did they ever see one. So, not having any guide to show me the right way to go, I pursued a careless life, bringing dishonor to God.
Nevertheless, in my early years I attended church and was a choir boy, singing hymns. From these hymns and from the religious education I received in school, I learned the church’s teaching about the twofold destiny of mankind: good people go straight to heaven at death; bad ones to hellfire. I still remember a hymn sung to Mary begging her to deliver us from eternal torment. That doctrine was embedded into my heart, and I was certain of the existence of such a place for the wicked. After all, the Orthodox Church taught it, and I believed that my church taught right doctrines, the word “orthodox” itself meaning “right opinion (orthos, right or true; doxa, opinion).”
Since I was a bad young man I knew for sure that someday I would land in hell to be burned forever. But here is the strange thing: although I knew I would go there someday, I would not reform. What I could not explain was, What satisfaction does God get by tormenting billions of people forever? I had learned that God is good, but I asked myself, Where was his goodness if he tormented people eternally?
When I was eleven years old I left New Ephesus and went to the island of Chios, where for three years I attended a business school. Then World War I broke out. I left Chios and went to Athens, where I suffered the worst famine in my life, for Greece had been blockaded and nothing could come in. From there I went to Paris, and after the end of the war I came to Marseilles to wait for a ship that was going to the United States.
One evening while in Marseilles I saw members of the Salvation Army singing in the street. Not knowing what kind of people they were, I followed them to their place of meeting and found out they were a religious organization. Once more the thought about hell came to my mind, and I asked the preacher about it. His answer was the same as I had learned in the Orthodox Church.
Finally, I arrived in the United States in 1920. One day as I was working at a lunch counter in Marietta, Ohio, a man came in and began speaking about the Bible. Others listened, and I did too. I immediately perceived that he was talking altogether differently from other religious people. What he said made sense.
He told us that at death one does not go to heaven or to hellfire but to the grave. I took issue with him; so he handed me his Bible and said, “Read there.” He pointed to John 3:13. I read it, then reread it. Each time it read, “No man has ascended into heaven.” I was so surprised that I did not know what to say.
Seeing that he could answer my questions by using the Bible, I said to myself, “Let me ask him about hellfire.” So I said to him: “What do you people believe about hellfire? Does it exist or not?” “Listen,” he said, “suppose you were married and you had a child who was the worst child in the world. Would you, as a father, have the nerve to put that child in the fire and hear him screaming?” I answered: “I can’t even think of such a thing.” He responded: “If you, being bad, cannot do such a thing to your child, why do you attribute such a devilish act to God, who is love?” That clinched it!
This man, who was one of the Bible Students, as Jehovah’s witnesses were called in those days, went on to explain from the Bible what the word “hell” means. My delight and curiosity reached its apex, and I asked him how and where he learned these things. I asked him to bring me a book that had stories about Abraham, Joseph and other Bible characters, not knowing that these true stories were in the Bible itself. In a few days he brought me a Bible and the Bible-study aid The Divine Plan of the Ages. That night I read until past midnight!
The next day as I was making coffee where I worked my mind was revolving around what I had read the previous night. I must have made some mistake, because I heard customers saying, “That young man acts strangely today. Something must have happened to him.” They were right! Something was taking place in me. I was undergoing a change in my life. I was emerging from gross darkness into a marvelous light. I was turning my back on an old system and looking to a new one, which I could not yet completely explain.
CRAVING FOR ASSOCIATION
The study of the book together with the Bible generated in me such joy and such desires that I asked the one who brought me these truths if there were people like him in Marietta. He said no, and that I should go to Wheeling, West Virginia. There I would also find others who spoke my language, Greek, and who would help answer my questions. So a few days later I went to Wheeling and was employed as a dishwasher at a restaurant.
In a short time news reached my older brother that I was crazy. He visited me in the restaurant and found me peeling potatoes. He said: “Come with me and I will pay you more. You will be like a boss. I will make you a partner and we will make a lot of money.” But I did not accept, for the goodness of God and the understanding of what his kingdom is and what it will accomplish made such an impression on me and developed in my heart such joy and love for Jehovah that, although I came to America for the purpose of making money, that desire vanished.
Not long afterward I symbolized my dedication by water baptism. During all this time I did not fail to attend meetings to study the Bible, even though I did not understand English. However, those who were dedicated to do God’s will and who spoke the Greek language helped me.
From Wheeling a few of us moved to Beech Bottom, a very small town. There we formed a small congregation that steadily increased. We made a thorough study of the Bible and came to love and relish the things we were learning so much that after the regular study we would have another informal study on various subjects. We would not waste time. It seemed we were not learning fast enough. We talked and talked about the goodness of our God.
Jehovah’s mercy and goodness to me made such an impression on me and stirred in me such love for the brothers that I prayed to God and asked him to permit me other disappointments, but not to permit me to miss any meetings with the brothers. Jehovah faithfully granted me this request, because over these forty-five years that I have enjoyed his mercy and goodness, I have been regular in attending meetings.
To me, meeting with the brothers is one of life’s greatest pleasures and a source of encouragement. I love to be at the Kingdom Hall among the first, and leave among the last, if possible. I feel an inward joy when talking with God’s people. When I am among them I feel at home with my family, in a spiritual paradise. Also, at meetings I feel Jehovah’s spirit in a greater measure. And as soon as the meeting is over I like to talk with the newly interested people. As the compass always points to the north, just so my innermost thought and desire is to attend the meetings. I fully appreciate the inspired statement of the psalmist: ‘What I look for is to dwell in the house of Jehovah all the days of my life.’—Ps. 27:4.
SERVING AT BETHEL
God’s goodwill was further manifested to me when, one day in 1928, I received a letter from the Watch Tower Society asking me to come to the Bethel headquarters at Brooklyn, New York, and serve as a translator. I could hardly believe it. I, a translator? I was then in the restaurant business! But I recalled that Noah had not been a boatbuilder. And did Moses know how to erect tabernacles? Both of them learned. I would do the same.
In Bethel I tasted to a greater degree Jehovah’s mercy and goodness. What a joy to find myself in the midst of some 200 (now over 800) brothers and sisters in the faith! What gladness and delight I felt, and still enjoy, to sit down with them at meals three times a day, and each morning to discuss a portion of the Bible!
In Bethel I was helped to mature and develop the fruits of God’s spirit. I recall the time I gave my first six-minute talk. I was not confident in myself so I wrote it down. But when I got up to give it, audience fear gripped me and I stuttered and muttered, losing my thoughts. Then I resorted to reading from the manuscript. But my hands were trembling so much that the lines were jumping up and down! The Devil tried to discourage me by putting into my mind the thought that I was no good, that I had better quit. He tried hard for several days. I struggled, and Jehovah, being merciful, helped me thwart Satan’s attacks. From then on I learned the lesson—never, never quit.
Anything I say about Bethel falls short of what I feel for it in my heart. Year by year my appreciation for it increases, and day after day I thank Jehovah for tolerating me all these years. Bethel to me is the center of Jehovah’s visible organization in operation. The thought that I am employed at the headquarters of this visible organization fills my heart with joy and gratitude. In Bethel I associate with brothers and sisters who have been and still are an example to me in their devotion and dedication to Jehovah. Over these long years I have seen young brothers who did not know much when they first came, but after seven or eight years of faithful service they were made overseers and later were used as circuit and district servants. If it were in my power, I would cry out in a loud voice to all young brothers, Come to Bethel and taste Jehovah’s loving-kindness and goodness! With all the experience I have gained over the thirty-eight years of my service in Bethel, I can truthfully say that it is the best place on earth for enhancing the capabilities of ministers to Jehovah’s praise.
Here at Bethel I also learned to speak Spanish. When I saw that the territory in which I was assigned to preach was mostly Spanish, I got a grammar book, and with the help of our literature and by listening to the way the Spanish people pronounced words, I learned Spanish! Many are the studies I have held in the homes of these humble people.
From boyhood I had an inferiority complex. I could not face people and talk with them. But what a difference now! By Jehovah’s help I can stand before large audiences and talk an hour. This change was effected by a study of the Scriptures and with the help of God’s spirit.
God’s goodness, which helped me to change my former bad personality, impels me now wherever I am to divulge the knowledge He gave me, that others, too, might see that Jehovah is good. God’s Word contains sayings of everlasting life. (John 6:68) I love life and I want my brothers also to gain life. I consider, along with the apostle Paul, that all other things are “loss on account of the excelling value of the knowledge of Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 3:8) Yes, all other things will soon be shaken to their destruction, with the exception of the kingdom of God and its interests.—Heb. 12:27, 28.
When I look back over these forty-five years that I have served Jehovah by his undeserved kindness, I fully agree with Moses’ words to Israel: “Jehovah your God is a merciful God.” (Deut. 4:31) And also with the words of the inspired psalmist: “You, O Jehovah, are good and ready to forgive.” (Ps. 86:5) Yes, Jehovah has been good and merciful to me.