Serving God with All My Heart and Strength
As told by Irma E. Friend
WHEN I was very young I used to listen with rapt attention to my grandfather, who would tell us Bible stories by the hour. I learned to love and respect God and Christ and to appreciate those who gave years of their lives to God’s service. The desire to serve God with all my time and faculties grew within me. My uncle and aunt, serving as missionaries in India, used to come home every four years, and as they told of their experiences I used to hang on every word. At least, I used to think, I could be a missionary nurse.
I was just into my teens when World War I broke out. Our home was in neutral Switzerland, where mother and I shared the very common practice of knitting warm socks and gloves for men on both sides of the conflict. Our hearts ached for the multitudes of men pressured into fighting and killing and devastating a land once peaceful and beautiful.
For some time in my teens I was an invalid, confined to bed. Our minister suggested that I use some of the time to read the Bible. My brother made a special stand so that our big family Bible could be conveniently propped up for me in bed, and this proved to be such a good way of spending the long days.
In the spring of 1917 both my mother and I were in bed, she following a severe heart attack. Our Protestant minister called often, and I used to ask him about the Kingdom about which we had been taught to pray, “Your kingdom come.” He answered that the Kingdom was within us. But I could not accept this, for, after all, the millions involved in the international conflict were people inside of whom the kingdom of God was supposed to be.
In July of that year my beloved mother died. I was heartbroken. Father took me out of the city to a lovely valley. Here at a sanatorium for young girls my sorrow was even worse when father and my sister left. Though the girls were very kind to me, I just could not stop weeping. To get away from everyone, I walked around the grounds and found a small garden house for a retreat.
LIGHT SHINES INTO DARKNESS
I sat by a table sobbing, my head buried in my arms. Then, a hand gently touched my shoulder and a sweet voice comforted me about the loss of my mother. “You will see your mother again in God’s kingdom,” assured this fourteen-year-old girl. My interest was immediately aroused. How did she know that? I wondered. So I began asking questions, and the resurrection and other promises of the Bible sounded so wonderfully comforting as she explained them to me. We became inseparable.
“Just wait until Sunday when my mother visits,” she said to me that first day. “She can really explain all of this to you, for she is an Earnest Bible Student.” She really could, and every other Sunday we would read and study together with her. In the intervening weekends, when my folks came to see me, they would marvel at the continuing improvement I was making. When I explained the main reason for my happiness, they said nothing against it, for they were only too glad that happiness had returned to me.
I can recall my girl friend’s mother telling about Bethel (meaning “house of God”), which was and is the Watch Tower Society’s headquarters in Brooklyn, New York. “How I would love to work there!” I exclaimed vehemently. She smiled and said: “It would be wonderful if you could, but that is too far away, Irma, and they need strong, healthy people there.” Nevertheless, the seed of hope had been planted, and it gradually took root.
When I was finally released from the sanatorium, my friend continued to visit me periodically. My family liked her, and father even allowed me to visit her home in an outlying small town from time to time. These were opportunities for me to attend Bible Student meetings, for at home father always expressed his dislike of “small sects.” In time my father became really opposed; also my stepmother. But by that time I was already well grounded in my convictions, young as I was.
DEDICATION OPENS UP A NEW LIFE
I had already dedicated my life to God and his service in October 1918, but by reason of father’s objections I could not symbolize that new relationship by baptism until 1920. That was the year I was introduced to Max Freschel. He helped me so greatly in my search for greater knowledge of God’s will. Later he asked if I would be interested in serving full time at the Swiss Bethel. I replied that this had been my goal from the first time I heard of Bethel. Still later he asked me to marry him and join him in the full-time ministry. Two wonderful opportunities at one and the same time! Imagine my great happiness!
We were married in October 1921, and soon after received an invitation to serve in the Watch Tower Society’s Central European office in Zurich. Many were the privileges that now came to us. The Society’s president, J. F. Rutherford, and other American brothers would visit from time to time, bringing great blessing and stimulus to us all. In 1925 we moved into our newly built Swiss Bethel at Bern, and Max and I served there for almost a year. We often think of the dear co-workers with whom we labored there. Many of them are still happily busied in the work at the Bern branch; others have gone to their heavenly reward.
In May 1926 Brother Rutherford visited the Swiss branch and at the same time we all attended a wonderful assembly at Basel. There had been some trouble and strife among some of the Swiss brothers; but Jehovah through his “faithful and discreet slave” organization kept us on the right path. Soon my husband received a telegram inviting both of us to serve at headquarters in Brooklyn. Can you picture our joy and the readiness with which we responded? Of course, it was not easy to leave our beloved friends and relatives in Switzerland, but we knew that, in accord with the promise of the Lord, many more brothers, sisters, fathers, mothers and children awaited us beyond the ocean.—Matt. 19:29.
Landing at New York in July 1926, we found our old friend Charlie Eicher there to greet us at the pier. And how kindly we were received by Brother Rutherford and the smaller Bethel family of those days! Though I spoke very little English, I had only to look in the eyes of the brothers and sisters to note the warmth of their welcome. It was not easy at first for a Swiss girl to get used to the grime of New York. And, too, I would often be lonesome and homesick when Max was out on the road as a “pilgrim” representative of the Society. But I kept reminding myself that I was indeed serving here at the very place I had longed to be since childhood.
I got a lot of encouragement from German-speaking co-workers in those first days, but then soon I began to learn English and to cultivate many deep friendships. At first I worked with Alberta Ford. We made beds and dusted and scrubbed together. She was swift and efficient, and must have needed lots of patience with me in those days. Her zeal, her devotion to Jehovah, and her strong desire to serve her brothers were a real inspiration to me. We were very close right up to her death in 1960.
Meantime, the years just flew by in our busy, joyful life in Bethel. As my husband likes to express it: “There never was a dull and empty moment in our lives.” In 1941 we became American citizens and my husband changed his first name to Maxwell and our name to Friend, indicative of our greatest desire to be forever friends of our heavenly Father and his entire family in heaven and on earth.
HAPPILY SPENDING OURSELVES AT GILEAD
In 1943 Brother Knorr, now president of the Society, asked Maxwell if we would go to the Society’s beautiful Kingdom Farm near Ithaca, New York, he to serve as instructor at the newly opened School of Gilead for missionaries, and I to serve as housekeeper. It was hard to leave Bethel, and I shed quite a few tears over the matter, but what a wonderful blessing was in store for us! After busy weeks of preparation, the first class of students arrived, and the very busy seventeen years of Gilead service started.
What a wonderful privilege we enjoyed, particularly as we became close friends to so many of the dear and faithful full-time ministers who offered themselves for missionary training! What an inspiration to be of some help to so many young men and women willing to leave behind home, friends and comforts, and spend themselves in behalf of peoples of many races and climates! For twenty-five years now I have enjoyed knowing many of them personally and I do love them all dearly. How their zeal and devotion have helped multitudes to believe in and serve Jehovah and his King!
During all those years my privileges have been rich and satisfying. I never did have to miss any of the large assemblies, and what overflowing blessings they have brought to us, and what a throng of friends we have gained through the years! I always thank Jehovah that he made us so wonderfully, so that, no matter how many friends we have, we still have room in our hearts for many more.
ANOTHER CHANGE, MORE JOYS
Kindly taking into account our advanced age, Brother Knorr called us back to Bethel headquarters, where we might have the joy of continuing to work without too much of the weight of responsibility. Again it was hard to leave our friends, but at least we could plan, as we have done, to make an annual “pilgrimage” to that lovely place.
Work at Bethel continues to be a real joy to me. It is so satisfying to expend one’s strength in Jehovah’s work and in behalf of his zealous worshipers, and to do so from the heart. Knowing as I do how hard our brothers and sisters work in the office and factory, I am always moved to put forth even better efforts to make their rooms cozy, so they always have a comfortable resting-place after work. True, I often get tired physically; but each day Jehovah renews our strength, and if we use good sense to husband our energies and make wise use of rest periods it is amazing how we can keep going even as we grow older.
Not without health problems, it has been for me at times quite an uphill struggle; but, then, overseers have proved to be so kind and sympathetic, and they are always lending help when needed. And there was always some kind doctor brother who would help me meet some of the most trying situations. Truly, Jehovah has provided for all our needs. He keeps his loving promises if we faithfully discharge our undertakings relative to our dedication to him. It is so much, much better “to stand at the threshold in the house of [our] God rather than to move around in the tents of wickedness.”—Ps. 84:10.
What has helped make those many years of full-time service happy and satisfying has been my dear husband’s complete devotion to Jehovah and his organization. He has been a constant example to me. No matter how big a personal problem loomed, after I told him and talked it over with him it was no longer big. He just loves serving Jehovah and has always been satisfied with whatever place of service he has been assigned, serving there as a humble lover and friend of God and Christ. How could I not want to serve devotedly by his side all these years? I assured him back in 1920 that I wanted to do this, and I still feel the same way about it.
When I get tired, after doing what I can and wishing it could be more, I often think of Rebekah. She gladly served refreshing water to Abraham’s servant, Eliezer, and when his thirst was quenched she eagerly went on drawing water for his ten camels. She must have been quite weary after all that labor, but she was contented; and what a rich reward she received! There is indeed deep content when we do what we can, even if it is not all we would like to do.
This satisfaction in doing what we can, be it in the field ministry, in missionary service, in the congregation or serving at Bethel, is so highly rewarding! Even though we are still unprofitable servants to Jehovah, it is so encouraging to reflect on the fact that he kindly affords us opportunity to be his fellow workers, even when our part is so infinitesimal when compared with the vast treasures of his kindness continually expended in our behalf.—1 Cor. 3:9.
Ever since that memorable day in 1917 when a young girl’s hand and voice were used by Jehovah to bring me comfort from God’s Word, the Bible, I have always wanted to extend the same blessing to others in need. Revelation 21:1-4 has been a favorite text of mine, and I have used it time and time again to rescue people in sorrow. I am so grateful to Jehovah for granting me the help necessary to be, not a missionary nurse, but one of his Kingdom messengers in this unique era. Jehovah has surely directed matters, and I shall ever be thankful to him and to his dear Son, my Savior, and to my brothers and sisters who have so lovingly aided me to stay on the road toward endless life and happiness.