‘I Consulted Neither Flesh nor Blood’
As told by Emile Schrantz
AS I look back over the many years spent in serving Jehovah, one fact is outstanding: “I did not go at once into conference with flesh and blood.” I feel that those words of the Christian apostle Paul at Galatians 1:16 can apply to me too. Why so? Because right at the beginning of my Christian course, as well as so many times in my life, ‘I consulted neither flesh nor blood’ but God and his Word.
As a youth, however, I knew very little about God. I grew up in the northern part of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, called Ösling; we were saturated with superstition. For example, prayers were offered to ‘Saint’ Albin to protect cows from sickness and to ‘Saint’ Celsius to prevent accidents and horse diseases. We even prayed to a ‘saint’ for the protection of pigs.
My father, who was very religious, had cultivated in me the desire to become a priest. I had already served as altar boy during Mass. However, the events following the first world war had shaken his confidence in the priests. As for myself, I had been told that when I took my first Communion at twelve years of age, God would draw nearer to me and it would be the most wonderful day of my life. Yet despite thorough preparation, that day brought me only a sense of emptiness. The same disillusionment took place at my confirmation; I did not detect even the slightest manifestation of the holy spirit, as I had been promised. I no longer had the desire to become a priest.
Years passed, and I took to heavy drinking, led astray by friends. But around 1930, I made it a habit to visit one of my brothers every Sunday. Very often we discussed the days of our youth, and we would talk about the disappointment we felt about being ignorant of God and his purposes. We would speak about the Bible, which we had never seen and which the priest alone seemed to possess. Many times my brother said: “If God has nothing else to tell us than what the priest teaches, then He doesn’t exist.” He would add the words: “If only we could get hold of a real Bible!” Up until then I had been able only to consult flesh and blood. If only I could have the Bible and see directly what came from God!
CONSULTING GOD BY MEANS OF HIS WORD
A few days after we had made such a reflection in 1933, a man came to the door of my brother’s home. He was a Bible student, one of Jehovah’s witnesses. He spoke about Bible prophecies. Immediately my brother asked him where he could obtain a copy of the Bible. “I can bring you one this very evening,” the man replied.
That very evening he came back with two copies of a Catholic translation of the Bible, together with several booklets to aid one in studying the Bible. The following Sunday my brother came to me with his face beaming. “God has answered us,” he said. “We have the Holy Bible!” Having the Bible was like having fire in our hands; it fascinated us.
That day I continued to read the Bible until very late at night. The Bible booklets that the man left, which were entitled “Judgment,” “Freedom for the Peoples,” “Where Are the Dead?” and “Heaven and Purgatory,” also impressed me.
As a result of what I read, I stopped heavy drinking with my friends. These then turned against me, speaking slanderously about me. Indeed flesh and blood were fighting against me, but Jehovah had now entered my life by means of his Word, the Bible, and he was victorious.
My brother died several weeks later, victim of an accident at work, and so I lost the one who could have been my close companion in God’s truth. I needed others in whom I could confide. So I began seeking true friends, those who consulted Jehovah, but they were not so near at hand. They met together at Athus for Bible study, and this meant a trip of about sixteen miles (twenty-five kilometers) from where I lived, at Clemency. I attended meetings as often as my work permitted.
In 1935 there was a one-day assembly in Brussels. On the eve of the assembly, Brother Delaunoy of the Paris office of the Watch Tower Society gave the baptismal talk, and the baptism took place in a bathtub in the cellar of the Society’s branch office. I was among those baptized. The next day I gladly took part in the field service, and in the afternoon about two hundred persons, of many different nationalities, were in attendance.
ALONE, FACING AN IMPORTANT DECISION
World conditions reached fever pitch as World War II approached. The neutral and uncompromising stand of Jehovah’s witnesses caused opposition to increase. I was speaking with ever-increasing boldness about God and his purposes, but this brought me opposition and difficulties. In 1935 I had to make a decision: either to close my mouth and keep my job in a bakery or speak with boldness and lose it. I made my choice without consulting parent or friend or even other Witnesses. In any case, there were none nearby in whom I could have confided. I had Jehovah and his Word. I had decided to devote myself entirely to his Word and to continue as long as I had bread and water.
So, I wrote to the Watch Tower Society’s branch office, applying to become a pioneer minister, or full-time preacher of God’s Word. A few weeks later I left the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg to preach in the adjacent province of Luxembourg (Belgium). Alone and by bicycle, I covered all the wooded plateau region called the “Ardennes,” having confidence in Jehovah. The region was rough and the people were in spiritual darkness. Not many families were inclined to receive me, but in time three or four opened their homes to offer me temporary lodging from time to time.
In 1937 the Society provided me with a ministerial companion. We were assigned to preach the good news in Antwerp, a large Belgian town. With the help of my companion, André Wozniak, I learned to live economically and to be content with bare necessities, to stay in the full-time ministry. We were able to live at that time on ten Belgian francs (20c) a day, staying healthy and happy. We were joyful in Jehovah’s service.
Preaching God’s truth in Antwerp was not without problems, because the clergy took note of our untiring activity and tried to stop it by means of the police. The scenario was always the same: The police arrested us on the ground that we were peddling without a license. Generally, after explaining the legality of our preaching mission, the case was shelved, but we had opportunity to give a witness about God’s kingdom before various authorities.
The invasion of Belgium by the Nazis in 1940 brought an end to our freedom to preach God’s Word openly. During the first days of the war, I went to the Society’s branch office in Brussels to pick up several cartons of Bible publications to prevent them from being confiscated. These were to prove to be very useful to us later on.
DURING THE GERMAN OCCUPATION
Soon the Gestapo, the Nazi secret police, began to hunt us down. My companion had been appointed as zone overseer to visit the congregations to upbuild them. The Gestapo tried to capture him, and one day, during my absence, they came to my lodging. The proprietress, a recently baptized sister in God’s truth, was warned that she would be imprisoned if she did not tell the police when I returned. When I arrived home, she told me what had happened. I asked her to let me go and warn my Christian brothers and then I would come back. I warned quite a number of families, left a carton of Bible publications in a safe hideaway and then returned, knowing what to expect.
I had no one to give me counsel as to just what to do. But I wanted to keep my word and not create any problems for the new Witness. The Gestapo came and arrested me. They questioned me about the whereabouts of my companion. I told them he had gone to see his “family.” My questioner seemed to find my reply reasonable. Next, they showed me lists containing names of Witnesses and they wanted to know their whereabouts. I chose to talk about the names of those who were either dead or had left the country. As for other names, I said that I knew many by sight but not by name. After a four-day detention in Antwerp, I was transferred to a prison in Brussels.
The Gestapo decided that I would not be released until I gave information leading to the arrest of my companion. However, after forty days I was freed. During all the questioning by the Gestapo, I appreciated so much the knowledge of God and his Word that I had gained, because I had to make many important decisions, without taking counsel with flesh and blood.
Upon my release, I decided it was more prudent to leave that region where I was closely watched. I returned to the Ardennes. From then on and until the end of the war, I was assigned various tasks: Circuit overseer, translator and carrier of underground printing matter (we printed The Watchtower in French, Flemish, German, Polish, Slovenian and sometimes Italian). It was always risky and so we had to be continually on the alert, ready to make quick decisions. At such times, a person senses more than ever his entire dependence upon Jehovah and the need to lean on Him step by step; and this is what I did. I was accustomed to seeking counsel from Him in prayer, and it was never in vain that I asked for help.
Since I had no work permit, required by the German authorities, I ran the risk of being deported to Germany to do forced labor. An indication on my identity card, however, enabled me more than once to escape from a predicament. My profession was listed as “missionary.” Thus, once when I was caught up in a military checkup while carrying forbidden Bible literature, a soldier asked me for my work permit. I replied that I had no need of one as I was a missionary and so was exempt. Another soldier agreed that I had no need of a work permit. Then he asked me what I was carrying. It was the Bible study aid entitled “Children,” printed underground in Brussels. I told him it was a religious book, drawing his attention to the Bible citations, and he was satisfied.
I was unable to obtain food ration stamps from the authorities because I could not risk registering at any Town Hall in Belgium. However, I did not starve, because the love of my Christian brothers was remarkable. Although they themselves had only the bare necessities of life, they made sacrifice of some ration stamps, handing them over to the Witnesses responsible for collecting them on behalf of their Christian brothers who were hiding from the Gestapo. A nice carrot with a piece of bread, and I was satisfied as regards my dinner. I had cultivated the attitude expressed by the apostle Paul: “I have learned, in whatever circumstances I am, to be self-sufficient.” (Phil. 4:11) Lodgings were varied; sometimes they were in the hay, on a straw mattress on the ground or on a bench at the railroad station.
My bicycle was always the safest means of transport because I could more easily avoid crowds and search parties. Of course, trips of sixty miles (100 kilometers) or more were not always easy, especially in the Ardennes during bitter winters on snow- or ice-covered roads. But we had much joy in carrying spiritual food to our Christian brothers, and their appreciation greatly rewarded us for the difficulties and risks incurred. Jehovah blessed the efforts of his people, because, from a hundred that we were in Belgium in 1940, we grew to more than 600 by the end of the war.
NO LONGER UNDERGROUND
After the end of the occupation, I was given the task of helping to reorganize the congregations of Jehovah’s people. When this reorganization work was completed, I was invited to choose a region where no preaching work was being done, and to serve there as special pioneer minister. I chose the town of Arlon, a Jesuit stronghold, in the south of the Ardennes. I went there with just my bicycle, two suitcases and a portable phonograph for playing recorded Bible lectures.
I began to call on the people. Just at that time the magazine Consolation (now Awake!) published articles exposing the clergy. Needless to say, my activities put the town in a ferment, but I had been toughened by the war years and was determined to continue preaching. Progress was made, and finally an interested family offered their home for a group Watchtower study.
Quite a number of women in the area showed interest in having a Bible study. So, I asked a Christian sister, who was a widow and a full-time preacher, to help me with these Bible studies. We later were married, and she became my permanent companion in the ministry. At forty-five years of age, she learned to ride a bicycle to take care of her pioneer service. That continued to be our mode of transport until 1958. We were able to help many persons in this area, and today there is a prosperous congregation in that town, also another congregation nearby.
Later the Society assigned me to visit congregations as a circuit overseer. In addition to covering three Belgian provinces, it included the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg. Opposition was particularly severe in the Grand Duchy. The authorities made life hard for us, arresting us often. Each time our bicycles and book bags were confiscated. Our Christian brothers would then arrange other equipment for us and we started right in again. Finally the case was brought before the highest court of Luxembourg, and the decision was in our favor. All our confiscated possessions were returned.
Later we were invited to choose another area in which to preach, one where the need was greater. We chose Marche-en-Famenne, also in the Ardennes. We left for our assignment, confident that we would find lodging before nightfall. But we found nothing. So we returned to the railroad station, when suddenly we saw a lady coming toward us. She asked if we were the ones looking for lodging; she had just what we needed. Again we started from scratch.
As the years passed by, we were able to start Bible studies, but much perseverance was needed because eight years of hard work elapsed before our kitchen became too small to hold meetings. However, the foundation had been laid, and the congregation grew. So, in 1967, we were assigned to another area—Aywaille and its surroundings, not far from Liège.
Once again we had the privilege of helping to build up a congregation from practically nothing. Finally the congregation became prosperous enough to be able to establish itself on suitable premises during 1972.
At the beginning of 1971, my wife’s health suddenly declined. She was unrelentingly stricken with cancer. She had been my faithful companion for twenty-five years, sharing with me the afflictions and sacrifices in order that the light of God’s truth could shine in Luxembourg.
As with the apostle Paul, who had passed through many difficulties but who was conscious of Jehovah’s approval, I am happy to have been in the full-time ministry so many years. I have no regrets about not having gone into conference with flesh and blood before making my decision to serve Jehovah with all my vital force. If I had to begin all over again, I would take my bicycle and set off to preach God’s Word just as I did in 1936. With liberality, Jehovah has cared for all my needs. My wish is to continue faithful to the task he has entrusted to me.