Serving Jehovah in Youth and in Old Age
As told by Carlos Ott
EVEN as a youngster I learned to have a deep respect for the name of the Great Creator, Jehovah. At home I had opportunity to read about that name in the Bible. And when I attended Lutheran religious services with my family I often felt deeply touched by songs that made use of that name. I wanted to praise that name, just as the inspired writer of Psalms invited fellow worshipers to do. (Ps. 66:1, 2) But I did not know how.
In the quiet of our home in Bavaria, Germany, it might seem that we would be far from the stresses and strains of world developments, but in 1914 they began to affect us. War already raged throughout much of Europe. Some were against it, though many favored it; among them particularly the clergy. I can recall the Lutheran priest telling us from the pulpit that “if the government declares war . . . it is because God’s will manifests itself in favor of it.”
Like many other youths I had to go to the nearest city to join the army. On the way I had a conversation with my father. He did not agree with the priest’s view, and I can well recall his saying: “I don’t think it’s right for Lutherans to kill Lutherans, and Catholics to kill Catholics.”
In the trenches there was no time for spiritual thoughts. We seemed to be continually on the move, transferring from one place to another until we got to the port of Reval (now Tallin) on the Baltic Sea. The days passed, and then came 1918 and the Armistice. We sailed back to Germany and home. My cousin, who was a Bible Student, as Jehovah’s witnesses were then known, gave me one of C. T. Russell’s booklets What Say the Scriptures About Hell? He promised to return the following week so we might talk about it some more. So great did my interest become that I wrote the Watch Tower Society’s office in Barmen-Elberfeld requesting one of every available book by Russell. I also subscribed for the Watch Tower magazine. Within a week I received four books, one of them being The Divine Plan of the Ages.
So engrossed was I in this book that I was still reading at four the following morning. My father, when he heard about it, scolded me, saying: “Stop reading so much . . . you are wasting too much electricity.” As I continued my reading I began to see that a life of devotion to Jehovah God was required. I learned, too, that the decision to dedicate one’s life to God could not properly be made merely on the basis of emotion. It would mean a complete change in one’s way of life.
I WANTED TO PREACH
Having learned that others were spreading the good news of God’s kingdom by means of literature of the Watch Tower Society, I wanted to share in that work. But I did not feel sufficiently qualified. I really tried to get in touch with the Bible Students. Finally I located a congregation in Nuremberg and began to study with them. Many of their number visited me and by conversation stirred up my desire to share the good news with others. I began passing on to members of my own family the things I was learning. Two of my sisters later joined me in association with the Bible Students. Very soon I was sharing in the distribution of literature from door to door, and even started visiting other nearby towns where we witnessed to the people and put on public Bible lectures.
Our campaign of Bible education angered the clergy and they incited the authorities against us. The police visited me and asked: “Who pays you to do this work?” I answered that nobody did, that I was doing it for God’s sake. They replied: “Do you think God is going to pay you for what you are doing?” “Yes,” I answered without hesitation, “I am positive about that, and that is why I am praising God openly.” My father, I recall, took my side in that discussion.
ENLARGING MY SERVICE
When I was privileged to attend a showing of the “Photo-Drama of Creation,” a slide-and-movie presentation of the Bible’s true-life story with appropriate commentary, it helped me to decide to dedicate myself to God and be his minister. That dedication I symbolized by water baptism on August 19, 1919. Though I was still helping my father on the farm, I started to think about a life of full-time service in the preaching ministry.
Finally I wrote the Society. Father thought I was being unrealistic and told me I would starve. My answer was that Jehovah had used ravens to feed the prophet Elijah (1 Ki. 17:6), that Jesus fed five thousand people with a few loaves of bread and some fish, and Luke 22:35 relates that when Jesus asked his disciples whether they had experienced any want in his service, their answer was No. I trusted in Jehovah, and now, after some fifty-one years, I can testify that my confidence was not misplaced.
When the Society asked where I wished to serve, I suggested Ingolstadt, because I was interested in learning all about the organizational setup of a congregation of God’s people. Soon I was sent to northern Bavaria, and by 1922 a group of us pioneers or full-time preachers of God’s Word had visited eight cities and established Bible study centers, many of which developed into active congregations of Jehovah’s witnesses later.
In May 1925, during a convention in Magdeburg, where the Society’s branch office was then located, President J. F. Rutherford asked me to go to Argentina, South America. Imagine what a thrill that was! Crossing the Atlantic to serve in territory where very little Kingdom work had yet been done! I was overjoyed.
I embarked on July 12 and arrived in Buenos Aires on July 26. Juan Muñiz, the Society’s representative in Argentina, and two other Witnesses were awaiting my arrival. They had just received four tons of Bible tracts, and it was our job to distribute them. We would get up early in the morning and by breakfast time we would have distributed thousands of tracts. These were put under doors and in other places where people would find them.
From our home, which was also a meeting place for Bible study, we organized the work of spreading the Kingdom message by house-to-house visits. Publications we used included the booklet Millions Now Living Will Never Die, the Photo-Drama of Creation in book form, The Divine Plan of the Ages, and The Harp of God. I enjoyed visiting schools, especially German schools, where we used to obtain the addresses of the students—about 300 in two months’ time. The objective was to take to their parents the good news of the Kingdom in their own language. Thrilling, too, it was to see the first two of those German-speaking people step out to symbolize their dedication to Jehovah!
During some years I was sent to various parts of Argentina for the purpose of organizing meetings for Bible discussion. Then, in 1928, I was assigned to Montevideo, Uruguay, where I was kept happily busy in the Kingdom work for ten years. In 1939 I was recalled to Argentina, and this time I was appointed as a pioneer minister and congregation overseer at Bahía Blanca. Following a year of service there, I was invited to serve in the Society’s branch office in Buenos Aires. My first job there was in the shipping department.
GIRDING FOR EXPANDED SERVICE
That we were living in a time when great things were due to happen, we were all quite certain. In 1945 we eagerly anticipated the visit of N. H. Knorr, the Society’s president, to Argentina. He promised to send some missionary graduates from the Society’s School of Gilead to help with the vastly expanding opportunities of the Kingdom-preaching work. Also, he told us that some local Witnesses would in due time be brought in to the Gilead School for training.
During that visit President Knorr arranged for us to start the weekly course in Bible and speech training in all of the congregations in Argentina, an arrangement that has proved to be marvelously helpful in equipping Kingdom publishers in all parts of the country for their ministry. Personally I had the joy of establishing this training provision, known as the Theocratic Ministry School, in several congregations. At the same time the country was divided into districts or regions, with a district servant supervising each, and each district was subdivided into circuits, each comprising a group of congregations visited regularly by a circuit servant.
In 1949 President Knorr again visited Argentina, this time accompanied by his secretary, Milton Henschel. We planned an assembly in a centrally located facility in Buenos Aires, but the authorities, influenced by the clergy, denied us authorization. So we then arranged for the assembly in our own hall on the Society’s property. Again the police interfered, closing down the assembly place and detaining some four hundred witnesses, including President Knorr, for several hours. This was just one of the many occasions when I was taken to the police station to explain our work. If the clergy had had their way, we might have been the victims of hotter persecution. It was always a joy, however, to suffer in behalf of Jehovah’s truth.
Throughout my course as one of Jehovah’s witnesses I have rejoiced to see the growth of the Kingdom work and of the organization that God has brought into existence among men for the very purpose of spreading the Kingdom good news. I can recall when we were just twenty Kingdom publishers here, whereas now there are more than 18,700 Witnesses serving Jehovah unitedly here in Argentina. And I attended three international conventions in New York—one in 1953, one in 1958, and most recently the one in 1963. How thankful I am to Jehovah for those extra blessings!
To me it is also still a great privilege to be able to live in this beautiful and comfortable Bethel Home in Buenos Aires with many fellow Witnesses with whom I can still happily serve. True, I am now in my eighties and have undergone three operations within a short period, so my strength is not what it once was. But through Jehovah’s undeserved kindness I have the joy of continuing to serve to the fullest of my capacity. I am still able to get to the breakfast table each weekday morning to share with the Bethel Family in our daily discussion of a precious text from the Bible.
It is my earnest desire to carry on in Jehovah’s service, with his help, until he is disposed to grant me the heavenly inheritance for which I have hoped. I have been young in his service and now I am old. If, on the basis of long experience, I am considered as one who can offer mature Christian counsel, I would urge all in Jehovah’s organization, young and old, to keep on faithfully in the way they chose when they dedicated their lives to the loving and merciful God. Just as I have been blessed in all of my years of Kingdom activity, so you too can enjoy the peace and satisfaction that derives from his favor.