Determined to Praise Jehovah
As told by Harry Peterson (A. Papargyropoulos)
I WAS born in the small town of Levidion, not far from Tripolis, one of the administration centers of the Peloponnesus, Greece. There my father raised me, and there I was educated in a Greek Orthodox background. When I was only thirteen years old, my father decided to send me to the United States, where it was expected I could earn enough money to send back dowries for my two sisters. That was in 1902.
Chicago, St. Louis, Buffalo and Salt Lake City were but a few of the places, in addition to New York, where I lived and worked for a while, taking jobs in restaurants, bakeries, and shoeshine parlors. I recall attending the Greek Orthodox Church in Salt Lake City, Utah, only to be confused at their teachings and repelled by the superstitious veneration of images. You see, I had been reading the English Authorized Bible, and then later obtained the American Standard Version because I found that it had in it in many places God’s sacred name, Jehovah.
At one time I lived with a Mormon family, and they gave me the Book of Mormon to read and study. Though these people were very kind to me, I could not accept their religion. I had done sufficient Bible reading to realize that they had much that was in contradiction to the Bible. At that time I was specially intrigued by Daniel’s prophecy on world history, and could not help feeling that somehow the nations embroiled in World War I were fulfilling the prophecies of the Bible.
In 1918 I came upon a newspaper article that told of the publication The Finished Mystery, put out by the International Bible Students Association, and how the book was banned in both Canada and the United States, and some of its distributors jailed.
Of course, in those days I used to have my own ideas about the application of things I read in the Bible. For example, I was sure that Germany was the fourth terrible beast of Daniel’s seventh chapter. Also, on one occasion I almost gave up a good job because it involved signing numbered receipts, and I was afraid that I might get mixed up with the dreaded “number of the beast,” mentioned in Revelation, chapter 13.
BIBLE TRUTH SPURS TO ACTION
When the war ended I moved to San Francisco, and there I saw a sign on a newsstand advertising The Finished Mystery in magazine form for only 20 cents. When I got home with it I looked up the part dealing with Revelation, chapter 13, right away and was well pleased with what I found. I began to feel that I was on the right track as to finding true religion in a very confused world. I wrote the publishers of this publication and ordered complete sets of Studies in the Scriptures in Greek and English.
So much did I appreciate the advancement in Bible knowledge that I was making with the aid of these Watch Tower publications, I decided to send for $100 worth of literature in Greek and English. I determined to do my best to share in praising Jehovah by interesting others in such a wonderful, enlightening message. Soon I was passing out such timely publications as Millions Now Living Will Never Die, Can the Living Talk with the Dead?, and Scenario of the Photo-Drama of Creation. I was right at home in restaurants, and so these were the first places I would go to find other Greeks.
I recall that one of the first meetings of the Bible Students (now Jehovah’s witnesses) I attended was a lecture on “The Divine Plan of the Ages,” an intensely interesting subject explained with the aid of a chronological chart. This experience so settled my thinking that I seldom ever missed one meeting after that time. I was baptized in 1920. I had dedicated myself to a life of praise to Jehovah, the God who gives knowledge and understanding.
In my eagerness to distribute the excellent Bible helps I was now studying regularly, I would even go inside the Greek church to contact people and place literature. However, I was rejected by the church authorities, and this made me all the more determined to get out in the work of praising Jehovah from house to house, offering the opportunity of wonderful enlightenment to others. There was immense satisfaction in this work, though at times the field seemed so large that I could not see how it would ever be adequately covered.
In San Francisco back then, there were few Witnesses and plenty of room for volunteer house-to-house ministers. There were many Greek-speaking people, too, and the question was, How were they all to be reached and helped to gain an accurate knowledge of the Bible? How glad I was when I learned there was a Greek Witness in Seattle who might be of assistance to us. I wrote him, and he replied, saying that if Jehovah opened up the way for him to come he would be delighted to do so. I did not quite understand what he meant, but someone suggested that the Witness might not have the funds to make the trip. We sent him the transportation costs, and he came. He was very successful in placing literature with the public, and I certainly learned much through observing him.
When I learned that the special issue No. 27 of The Golden Age magazine (now Awake!) exposing the activities of Christendom’s clergy during World War I was to be widely distributed, I wrote the Watch Tower Society and ordered 10,000 copies in Greek. They informed me that 10,000 was the total number they planned to print for the whole world in the Greek language. So I wrote again and revised my order to 5,000. They told me to expect them the following year, 1921. And, sure enough, I received my huge shipment of magazines. From the telephone directory I was able to build up a list of 1,200 addresses of Greek families, and to each I mailed a wrapped copy of the special magazine. Out of all these, only four were returned because the householders had moved away.
Well, I still had over 3,500 copies of The Golden Age to spread around. It took time and plenty of traveling, even as far as Seattle, Tacoma and Chicago. But finally, in this latter city, I managed to place the last copy. After some time I left Chicago and began to move around more, always seeking to go where there might be a Greek-speaking community. In the early twenties I enjoyed many fine experiences in the service of praise to Jehovah in Springfield, Massachusetts, in Atlanta, Georgia, and in Waterbury, Connecticut, besides attending such never-to-be-forgotten conventions as those at Cedar Point, Ohio, in 1922, and Columbus, Ohio, in 1924.
DOOR OF SERVICE OPENS WIDE
In all those years I was happy that someone like myself, of humble beginnings, should have the privilege of bringing praise to Jehovah’s name by aiding other people to get a knowledge of his marvelous purposes. But then a grander opportunity opened up! I was invited to come and serve at the Watch Tower Society’s Brooklyn headquarters, commencing late in April 1927. At the close of that month I received an allowance of $5.00 enclosed in an envelope with a beautiful card featuring the Bible text at Proverbs 3:5, 6: “Trust in Jehovah with all thy heart, and lean not upon thine own understanding: in all thy ways acknowledge him, and he will direct thy paths.” (AS) There was every reason to trust Jehovah, for at headquarters I soon came to appreciate that Jehovah had a “faithful and discreet slave” faithfully caring for all the Kingdom interests here on the earth.—Matt. 24:45-47.
In 1931 the Society’s president, J. F. Rutherford, asked me if I would like to transfer to Staten Island, location of the Society’s radio station WBBR, and serve there as cook for the workers. This I gladly agreed to do, for not only would I be working at a job with which I was familiar, but also I would have many opportunities to share in the house-to-house ministry in a part of the field that needed more attention. At first we were just a few, and our meetings were conducted on the Society’s property. But by 1932 our numbers already warranted the renting of a hall for meetings. It is encouraging to know that the group of 25 persons who used to come together at that time has now grown to upward of 500 dedicated, active servants of Jehovah, associating in four strong congregations. Jehovah is surely to be praised!
The twenty-seven years I spent at that Staten Island assignment were memorable ones. Not only did we observe the rapid expansion of the Kingdom witness work, but we also weathered considerable opposition and hatred. Twice I can recall being arrested because of our Bible-preaching activity—once at Bergenfield and once at Perth Amboy, New Jersey. At this latter place I was released after questioning, and so I took the occasion to invite all the police officers present to come and hear a special public lecture on “Intolerance” by the Society’s president, Judge Rutherford. I know of at least one of those officers who came and heard the speech.
In those days I used to travel around in the witnessing work on a bicycle. When the Society for a time encouraged the use of the phonograph and recorded lectures, it was an easy matter to make room on my bicycle carrier for both the machine and my bag of books. And at the very first place where I played Judge Rutherford’s sermons the householder talked me into letting her purchase the phonograph. This worked out fine, for I was then able to procure a smaller portable machine, one that was much lighter. It was surely a wonderful means of spreading accurate information, especially for those of us who felt somewhat limited in our command of English.
I concentrated a lot of my work in witnessing to storekeepers, in taverns and in other business places—places where many persons could be reached. I recall one man coming out of a store after me, quite upset that I had left the clothbound book with him for only 50 cents. He considered it worth much more, and insisted that I accept another dollar to aid in the spread of the message. And there was the businessman with whom I left literature, always at his office, for his wife would not permit it in the home. Most unique, too, was the experience where a bartender asked me for all the magazines I had with me, and then proceeded to approach all his customers and place them at five cents each. Then he handed me the money and wished me well in my work.
I shall never forget the share I had in the publicity for the special public lecture by Judge Rutherford in New York’s Madison Square Garden in 1939. With my bicycle decorated with signs that said “Learn the truth and the truth will make you free,” “You need salvation; ask me about it,” and so forth, I cycled from Staten Island up Broadway to Madison Square Garden and back on each of several days prior to the lecture. There was a variety of reactions on the part of the public. Some glared, some threw stones and garbage; others threatened to run me down. But I kept right on and was thankful for the privilege of sharing in an effort that was crowned with success when the auditorium was packed to capacity.
GLAD TO HAVE PUT GOD’S NAME FIRST
During those years of service close to the antennae of radio station WBBR we passed through an eventful epoch. Fresh light on Bible truth brought joy and happiness to many, but by others it was met with opposition and weakening of the faith. Some got weary in well-doing and fell away. Those who held fast, convinced that Jehovah’s praise was the vital concern, are strong and mature today. Personally, I enjoyed most of all getting out into the field and telling people the things we were learning.
In addition to the rich spiritual benefits that have been mine during the many years of serving Jehovah, there have been other wonderful benefits. I have been able to travel to California three times, once to Hawaii, three times to Puerto Rico and once to Florida and the Virgin Islands. In every instance it has been specially pleasurable to meet fellow Witnesses, men, women and children also devoted to Jehovah’s praise. Regularly attending the annual business meeting of the Watch Tower Society at Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, has been another source of pleasure.
These latter years, back now with the large and growing Bethel family at Brooklyn, have been brimful with pleasures of service and association with loyal servants of God and Christ. I know I have much for which to be thankful. As a youth I was searching for the truth about God, and Jehovah let himself be found by me. I determined to praise his name. On coming to serve at Bethel I was asked if I would stay at my post until the Lord indicated a change. My answer was Yes. By God’s undeserved kindness I have been able to hold to that decision. And, since thus far I have been privileged to give my life to Jehovah’s service, I pray that I may be able to continue doing so until my last breath on earth.
It has been a joy to recount these experiences, and to express, though in a limited way, how Jehovah has kept strong my determination to keep on praising him. I feel like the psalmist must have felt when he declared: “I will exalt you, O my God the King. . . . All day long I will bless you, and I will praise your name to time indefinite, even forever.”—Ps. 145:1, 2.