Joys Through Perseverance in Good Work
As told by CHARLES J. FEKEL
I HAD found the thing of greatest importance to my life and happiness. And, what is more, I was still a young man at the time. I did not have to spend decades in trial and error pursuit of this treasure, only to find that the major part of my life was spent in vain. No, but I had youth and energy to be harnessed and used in good and worthwhile work. My valuable find was an accurate understanding of God’s purposes that clearly explained such vital questions as, Why are we here on earth? Are present conditions according to God’s will? Does man have a happy future to anticipate?
My childhood years in Austria-Hungary were none too promising. Mother had always taken me to the Roman Catholic Church. Then, while living with Lutheran relatives, she agreed to my attending the Lutheran Sunday school. Later, when we acquired our own living quarters, it was back to the Catholic Church for me. After father’s death we moved in 1905 to the United States, where we lived for a while with Lutheran relatives. This was surely a far cry from the life we led in Europe.
Again, as a family, we were on our own, and mother urged that we attend mass again. However, I remained in public school, for tuition at the Catholic school was beyond our means. Later I began studying the Catholic catechism once a week in the parsonage, in preparation for confirmation. However, I was never confirmed. A number of reasons combined to veto such a step.
First, it was evident that no Bible proof was offered for the answers I had to memorize from the catechism. Then, too, I could see no value in the interrogations of the priest in the confessional—asking me about all sorts of misdemeanors of which I was innocent. Then, too, what good was served by the monotonous repetition of the “Hail Mary” and other prayers? And more important still, what real life of fine service did the Roman Catholic Church hold out to the laity?
Out of curiosity I would sometimes listen to street-corner preachers. However, they offered no satisfactory answers to my eager questions and only emphasized the dreary future for sinners in hellfire. I was repulsed by the thought that I should serve God out of fear as the only motive. Was he not a God who attracted his creatures by love? And surely there must be some work or service for all to engage in who would please God!
EARLY FLASHES OF LIGHT
Then came the occasion when my brother and I decided to attend a free public lecture in Baltimore’s Academy of Music. The intriguing subject was “To Hell and Back.” The logical, Scriptural view of the Bible hell (Heb., sheól; Greek, hádēs), presented by the speaker, deeply impressed both of us. I noted too the kindness and considerateness of Pastor Russell—for that was the name of the speaker. At last I was getting answers to my questions—answers that made sense, that were borne out by clear statements in the Bible.
In due course I saw the beautiful “Photo-Drama of Creation” with its coordination of pictures and sound. To view this Bible-based drama of human history and hear the commentary of the speaker was so valuable to me! It brought me a grand, comprehensive view of God’s purposes. And it brought home to me that the majority give little heed to Christ and his torture stake. The scientist with his test tube, the financier with his wealth, the military men, clergymen and scholars with their personal careers, and the well-to-do running around from one pleasure to another—all of them too preoccupied to give the Savior a passing glance. But, then, what about myself, a student at the time? Was I not being molded in the same form by worldly education?
About this time, I recall, an interesting tract entitled “The Bible Students Monthly” used to appear under our door frequently. Subscribing for these and reading them aroused in me a thirst for more and more information. I saved some out of my weekly earnings and obtained some of the study helps advertised in the tracts, particularly a series of Studies in the Scriptures. I marveled at the clarity of explanation as volume after volume revealed God’s purpose stretching over ages and generations. And what a joy to find that the Bible is God’s inspired book!
When mother would suggest going to church Sunday mornings I would say: “The priest talks in Latin, and I don’t understand Latin, so I cannot learn anything. You have always urged me to learn all I can. Well, I am learning things from these books.” There was no more argument. Then, one day a clerk at the store urged me to hear Evangelist Smith preach at Ford’s Theater. Instead of being converted, I was so thoroughly disgusted at the speaker’s failure to mention something about the grand hope of God’s kingdom that I decided then and there to do something about spreading to others the Bible’s hope-inspiring message. But first I must have help.
ASSOCIATING AND WITNESSING
I obtained the address of the local meeting place of the Bible Students, as Jehovah’s witnesses were then known, and began to attend. At my very first attendance an alert, elderly gentleman noticed I was new and welcomed me. He sat with me and in conversation was surprised to learn that I had already gained much Bible information from the literature. Thereafter, he was always right there to welcome me at each meeting. Then after the meetings I used to walk home, reflecting on the things I had been hearing. God’s will began to mean much to me.
As my knowledge and conviction increased I soon came to the point where I knew I must make a decision. Surely God’s undeserved kindness in granting me understanding of his purpose should be responded to with all the gratitude I could muster. I am glad that I lost no time in dedicating my life to him and undergoing baptism.
Then one grand privilege led to another: a share in distribution of Bible tracts each Sunday morning; introduction to the door-to-door preaching service; and later, after graduation from high school, enrollment in the full-time preaching activity, then known as the colporteur service, but now called pioneer service. At last I had found the worthwhile work I had been searching for. How satisfying to be able to spend all of one’s time at preaching and teaching God’s life-giving Word!
My first territory assignment was a portion of the city where I served on my own. I would prepare a package containing my midday lunch and extra literature and leave it at some convenient grocery store, with permission of the proprietor. This reduced the load somewhat during the morning hours. Later, it was my privilege to branch out into suburban areas, beyond reach of other Witnesses.
After that I was soon working rural areas, using some centrally located town as a base to which the Watch Tower Society would ship orders for Bible literature. Two of us worked together, securing lodging in a boardinghouse. From here we fanned out into the surrounding territory by bicycle, reserving the town for rainy days. We took separate roads and placed literature or took orders to be delivered later. It often occurred that kind householders would furnish us with meals or even overnight accommodation when sunset found us too far from our base. As I recall, never once did we have to sleep out under the stars during the whole summer. During the winter we would return to the city and the warm association of the congregation.
Meantime, the United States had been drawn into World War I. One day while I was in the ministry from house to house a lady, feigning interest, managed to take note of my name and address. Next day two federal agents visited our home. We had nothing to hide, and so I explained all about our ministry. They took away samples of our literature. On Saturday evening both my brother and I were picked up and taken to the police station. On our way we turned to the daily text and comment for encouragement. At this one agent nudged the other. The second quietly replied: “That’s what I would do if I were in their place.”
My brother, a naturalized citizen, was soon released, but I was held as an alien, not even entitled to a trial. I was transferred to the Baltimore city jail, and there I learned that prominent members of the Watch Tower Society had been unjustly sentenced to terms in Atlanta prison. The charge against me was stirring up the people. When asked if I considered it my duty to preach what was contained in the Society’s publication The Finished Mystery, I replied that it was my duty to declare the good news of which the book was an explanation. At the time, I recall, the apostle Paul’s words flashed through my mind: “Woe is me if I did not declare the good news!” (1 Cor. 9:16) Standing at the door of my cell each night, I could see a little corner of the sky and perhaps an odd star. I would comfort myself with the thought that Jehovah’s loving oversight is always present.
Reading matter was not allowed the prisoners, but if one was willing to pay the upgraded price to an outside storekeeper, he could find this and other items under his pillow in his cell. However, Jehovah had seen to it that, at the time of arrest, I had Bible literature with me, and now I had plenty of time to study it and share the information with nearby inmates. After a month’s confinement I was released on parole, a situation that continued until the following spring after the end of the war.
I took up secular work for a brief season, in order to get built up physically, and then resumed the full-time work in the spring of 1919. The first postwar assembly of Jehovah’s witnesses at Cedar Point, Ohio, was announced, but we pioneers saw very little chance of being there. In spirit we would be there, though. However, Jehovah knew better. He knew our urgent need for spiritual upbuilding, so we might continue on in his good work. A monetary gift by a thoughtful fellow Witness made it possible for us to enjoy those grand days of fellowship around the Lord’s bountiful table. And we had visible evidence of the fact that Jehovah was already beginning to assemble his people into an organization of peace and unity.
BETHEL PRIVILEGES OPEN UP
At our next assignment, in the small town of Vineland, New Jersey, I began to learn a little about the Brooklyn Bethel, the Society’s world headquarters, from a loving family who had visited there. Thus, when a notice appeared in The Watchtower calling for volunteers to come and work there, I immediately responded. I was eager to use all my time and energies in the best work of all, the promotion of the Kingdom interests. My application was accepted, and February 14, 1921, marked the beginning of a new and satisfying feature of service.
True, I would miss the constant speaking of the truth that is the privilege of the pioneer minister, but what wonderful advantages to offset this! There is no concern about material necessities, for food, shelter and medical care are provided. Then, too, there is the association with so many mature Witnesses and the upbuilding Bible text discussions at every breakfast time. Study sessions both inside and outside of Bethel become part of one’s life. And then there is the conviction that all of the activity at Bethel headquarters, no matter how commonplace it may appear on the surface, somehow assists our brother Witnesses throughout the world, for they depend upon the Bible literature and the flow of the waters of truth that Jehovah so generously provides through his visible organization.
I worked at various jobs related to the binding of books. Then, after supper one day, I offered to assist with some extra work in the typesetting and composing department. Soon after, I was transferred to this department, and I can remember that one of my first jobs was to insert corrections in the Index of the reprints of The Watchtower. Next I was locking up the type for the book The harp of God in order to make a large matrix (“mat” for short) to be used in casting the rotary printing plates. In 1921 the composing department had an average of six workers and two linotype machines. Today there are 76 workers and 33 linotype machines. So there has been marvelous increase—increase required as a result of the zealous activity of multitudes of Witnesses throughout the world.
Here I have rejoiced in many privileges during the past forty-eight years. In addition to seeing all the new material processed in this department and readied for the large rotary printing presses, there have been other blessings. To witness the joy of God’s people at the release of new publications at conventions has been ample reward for any extra effort that we may have had to put forth. And that Cedar Point convention of 1919 was but the first of a long line of assemblies I have been able to attend: Cedar Point, 1922; Columbus, 1931; St. Louis, 1941; and others at Toronto, Detroit, Cleveland, London, Paris, Rome, Nuremberg, Stockholm, besides those never-to-be-forgotten multitudes in New York city.
Many other joys there have been, too. It has been a privilege to live through the turbulent era of persecution in the forties; to have seen the heyday of radio broadcasting of the Kingdom message; to be here when divine education received a great impetus, resulting in the opening of Gilead School for missionary training and the Kingdom Ministry School for the advancement of congregation organization.
Now at the age of seventy-one, as I look back on the past years of serving the Kingdom interests, it is to marvel at what Jehovah God’s spirit accomplishes. May we all continue to share in his undeserved kindnesses and the peace that he extends to those who manifest determination to get his good work accomplished to His praise. Especially dear to me is the promise: “Take exquisite delight in Jehovah, and he will give you the requests of your heart.”—Ps. 37:4.