A Large Door Leading to Activity Opens
As told by George Fredianelli
MY LIFE since becoming a servant of God is well summed up by the words of the apostle Paul: “A large door that leads to activity has been opened to me, but there are many opposers.” (1 Cor. 16:9) In fact, shortly after I entered through the door of activity to preach God’s Word, I met opposers. It was in San Rafael, California, July 1940, while I was offering the Watch Tower Society’s magazines on the street. An air force officer interrupted and attempted to have a mob run me out of town on a rail.
The man was very incensed about the neutral stand with regard to war taken by Jehovah’s Christian witnesses, so he began to shout obscenities and insults at me. As he continued, a crowd gathered. Incited by the man, the crowd grew uglier by the second. It was then that I silently prayed to Jehovah to help me to be faithful whatever the crowd decided to do.
No sooner had I finished the prayer than two men pushed their way into the crowd and placed themselves between the crowd and me. They began reasoning with the people, asking, ‘What good is it to fight a war against foreign destroyers of freedom if here at home we destroy it ourselves?’ The crowd calmed down, and one by one moved off up the street, until only the air force officer remained. Greatly frustrated, he shook his fist in my face, muttering angrily to himself and went on his way.
Though my entering the ‘large door of preaching activity’ brought opposers, as it did for the apostle Paul, it has also brought unbounded blessings. But how did God’s truth enter my life and the ‘large door leading to activity’ open?
LEARNING GOD’S TRUTH
One evening my brother Bruno arrived home from work bringing with him a number of brightly colored books. My brother Charles and I were curious. But Bruno locked them up, saying they were “Protestant” books and not for us to read.
You see, we were Italian Catholics, my father and mother having immigrated to America in the early years of the twentieth century. Sunday in our house meant attending Mass. Probably I would have continued on in this routine of living had not my brother Bruno brought those books home in the early nineteen thirties.
Not many weeks after Bruno brought the Watch Tower Society books into our home, he began telling us what they contained, urging us to read them. My brother Charles and I read some of the literature. The Bible’s message sounded logical to us, and it held out a wonderful hope for the future.
Right away at school I began telling all my Catholic schoolmates about the Bible’s truth, expecting them to find it just as logical and wonderful as I had. But how wrong I was! They strongly opposed my preaching and abused me orally. I had not expected so many opposers to such wonderful truths, and under pressure I finally stopped reading and talking about the Bible’s truth. It was not until about five years later, in 1938, that my interest in God’s truth was rekindled.
After a long illness, my father died that year. Before his death the members of our family took turns sitting up all night to care for him. During those nights, I began reading various publications of the Watch Tower Society. What I read about Jehovah’s love and name stirred up in me a deep sense of gratitude toward the true God for the abundant provisions he had made for our blessing and salvation. But most of all, I was profoundly struck by the truth that Jehovah’s vindication was even more important than man’s salvation. Then and there an intense desire was born in me to share in the vindication of Jehovah’s name.
This desire I revealed to Bruno on the day of my father’s funeral. At this time, too, my younger brother Charles expressed his desire to serve Jehovah. And so it happened that on the same day that I was sad at the loss of my father, nonetheless, my heart was filled with the hope and joy that comes to a person when he learns God’s truth.
‘THE LARGE DOOR OPENS’
A month later, on March 17, I joyfully crossed the threshold of the ‘large door’ that was to lead me to a marvelous field of activity in the land of my fathers, Italy. On that day I began preaching the good news of God’s kingdom from house to house. Each week thereafter my happiness continued to grow as I regularly shared God’s truths with others. Engaging in the preaching work refreshed me after a week of association with worldly workmates.
Bruno, Charles and I would spend evenings together talking about the Bible’s truth and the happiness that it had brought us. It was while reflecting on Jehovah’s blessings that we reached an important decision. Our reasoning was that if just three or four hours of preaching a week made us so happy, what greater happiness would be ours by becoming pioneer or full-time ministers! So we left our jobs, obtained territory assignments from the Watch Tower Society and made arrangements to leave our home in Pittsburgh for our first pioneer assignment, in Clay County, North Carolina.
MOVING ON TO GREATER HAPPINESS
In April 1939, we headed south. We were very excited and wondered what our first assignment would be like. There was only one family walking in the truth in Clay County, the Coffey family. I will never forget their warm welcome, kindness and hospitality. The territory was rural; the people were poor but hospitable, with great respect for the Bible. They listened gladly to the Bible’s message. That is, they did until the local clergymen turned them against us by saying we were the “no hell people.” I will never forget the lady with a broom raised who asked me: “Do you believe in hell?” It was a relief when, on answering that I did believe in the Bible hell, the broom came down to the ground and she allowed me to tell her about God’s kingdom.
Later, while serving as a full-time minister in San Francisco, California, and the surrounding area, a very important event in my life came about. Coming home from the field ministry one day, my brothers and I found a letter for each of us, a letter from the Watch Tower Society. What wonderful news it contained! The Society was arranging to open up a school for training missionaries to send to foreign lands. We were invited to come in February 1943 to attend the first class!
What memorable five months those at Gilead proved to be! What happy times we students had preparing our lessons together each evening for class the next day! Weekends offered us satisfying opportunities to apply in a practical manner in the field what we were studying in class. Often Saturday evening would be spent recounting our many experiences in the full-time preaching work. Those days passed so quickly that before we realized it graduation day had arrived, June 23, 1943.
After his discourse to the graduating class, the Society’s president, N. H. Knorr, read off the future assignments of each one of us. Many of us would not be going to foreign countries yet, since the war was still going on. How thrilled I was, nevertheless, to hear that my assignment was as a circuit overseer to visit and encourage congregations of Jehovah’s witnesses in the New England States! Charles and Bruno would also be traveling overseers, Charles in Texas and Bruno in Minnesota. So for the first time in our lives we would be separating.
The visits of the circuit overseer to the congregations in those days were quite different from what they are today. My schedule was the following: I would spend one day visiting congregations with from one to twenty publishers; when the congregations had from twenty-one to forty publishers, I visited them for two days, and if they had over forty, the visit lasted three days. I remember that one month I served thirty congregations. Usually I spent the nights traveling from one appointment to another, leaving after the meeting with one congregation and arriving early next morning at my next appointment.
ON TO ITALY
In March 1946 I received a letter from the Society inviting me to go to Italy as a missionary. On September 30, 1946, I set sail from New York city, heading for Italy on a ship that had been used as a troop transport. On October 19, 1946, I landed in Naples. Naples, with its teeming population of over a million inhabitants and with not even one preacher of the Kingdom good news, made me realize what an immense field of preaching activity Italy was. There were less than one hundred proclaimers of the good news in this vast field of forty-five million people. I had indeed entered through “a large door that leads to activity.”
From Naples I traveled to Milan, where the Society’s branch office was then located. I will never forget the first meeting that I attended in Italy. It was the Watchtower study held on Sunday, the day after my arrival in Milan. We were seven at that meeting, conducted by Brother Giuseppe Tubini, now serving in the Society’s Rome branch office.
My assignment in Italy was to serve as circuit overseer. How wide an area did my circuit embrace? All Italy, including the islands of Sicily and Sardinia! The immediate task on what might be called my first missionary journey was to visit the few congregations already established, to organize new ones and make calls on persons known to be interested in God’s truth.
It was a faith-strengthening privilege during this first tour of Italy to meet my Christian brothers who had steadfastly upheld true worship during the harsh years of Fascism.
My years of service in Italy have not passed without encountering many obstacles. First of all, the Italian language was, for me, a problem. Though my parents were Italians, the language learned from them was a hybrid Italian consisting of Italianized English words. I still remember the puzzled expressions that met me when I would try using some of these words. To solve my problem, I thought it would be a good idea to prepare a manuscript talk. But this did not turn out too well. The brothers were usually very tired after working hard from sunrise to sunset, and so while I read my manuscript, many slept. So I threw away the manuscript and began speaking extemporaneously, asking those listening to me to help me out whenever I got stuck. This worked out fine for them and me, as it kept them awake and it helped me to progress in the language so that now it is more difficult for me to speak English than Italian.
My heart was touched by the great poverty existing in the land. There were times when, on certain calls, I found people who had not eaten that day. So I would buy some food and share it with them, while at the same time nourishing them spiritually. The zeal and generosity of my Christian brothers were quite moving. They would share the little food they had with me and often insisted on my sleeping in their bed while they slept on the floor without covering. Territory was reached on foot and often we would walk many miles to get to it.
Due to the war, sanitary conditions were very bad. Many were the sleepless nights I had due to bedbugs and cockroaches, which were sometimes so numerous that the floor and walls seemed to be on the move. On one occasion I sat up three nights on a table, as it was impossible to get near the bed. Of course, conditions have changed greatly since then.
When I left for the city of Caltanissetta, in central Sicily, I traveled by a train with a steam locomotive. It took me from six in the morning till about ten that night to travel the fifty to sixty miles. How glad I was to arrive in Caltanissetta, as I could now go to a hotel, take a much needed bath and go to bed! But it was not to be so. There was a festa going on in town for the patron “Saint” Michele. As a result, every hotel in town was packed out, mainly with nuns and priests. Back to the station I went, planning to stretch out on a bench I had noted in the waiting room. But this was not to be so either. The station was locked up. So there was nothing else to do but sit down on the steps of the station and try to get some rest.
“THERE ARE MANY OPPOSERS”
Of course, the ‘great door of activity’ opened to preachers of God’s Word is not without opposers. And this has been true also in the large field of activity here in Italy. The clergy have resorted to several means in their attempts to keep the humble people from hearing God’s truth. They incited the people and the authorities to interfere with our house-to-house preaching work. When we preached in small towns, the people would pour out of their homes and surround us, shouting for us to go. This either frightened the householder to whom we were speaking at the moment so that he would close the door on us, or he would join up with the crowd to harass us.
To do some preaching in the small town of Monte Pagano overlooking the Adriatic Sea, another Witness and I had to leave town four times. Whenever they would force us to leave from one end of town, we would circle it and enter it from the other side. Then we were able to call at a few homes until the crowd discovered us again and forced us to leave. How wonderful it is to see that despite such opposition, in almost all towns where these tactics were adopted, there are now flourishing congregations of Jehovah’s people!
In the city of Taranto I had the experience of giving a public talk while, behind me, a mob outside was shouting all kinds of profanity, even trying to batter down the door. But Jehovah gave me the strength to continue till the end of the talk, and the mob’s efforts to interrupt it failed.
But such difficulties were nothing compared to the joyous experiences that I had through the years. How many times I have had experiences similar to those of the apostle Peter in his visit to the Gentile army officer, Cornelius! Often on arriving at the home of an interested person, I would find his house full of his “relatives and intimate friends.”—Acts 10:24.
This happened, for example, in the city of Bisceglie. At the station on my arrival, I found Pasquale De Liddo waiting for me, together with almost forty of his neighbors and relatives who wanted to hear the good news. All day long they asked questions on the Bible and were overjoyed at the truth. In northern Italy, at the home of Battista Dialley, there were about sixty people waiting when I arrived. We then began a question-and-answer session that ended in the wee hours of the next day.
What a marvelous privilege Jehovah has given me in being an eyewitness to the great growth of the Kingdom work in this land! Recently I was thrilled at the news that Italy had a peak of 30,822 Kingdom preachers in June 1973. When I remember back to the time of my arrival in Naples when there was not a single proclaimer of the good news, and I look at Naples today with its eleven congregations of Jehovah’s praisers, my heart swells with thanksgiving to Jehovah. And what about the city of Milan, where, on my arrival in Italy, I met with six others for a Watchtower study? There thirteen congregations now exist.
With the growth in congregations, the need to have a full-time district overseer arose. This was another field of activity to which Jehovah’s organization assigned me in 1954. So again, my territory, as at the beginning of my service assignment, took in all Italy, from the Alps to the island of Sicily. It was while holding a circuit assembly in Alessandria in 1954 that I met Eva Celli, a full-time preacher of God’s truth. In July of the following year we married, so that after almost twenty-five years of traveling alone, I now had a wife to accompany me. The 1950’s were very busy years, visiting congregations, serving at circuit assemblies and, in between, preparing for district or national assemblies.
In 1959 Jehovah showered another blessing and privilege upon me. I was invited to attend the Kingdom Ministry School, then being held at South Lansing in New York State. This was to prepare me for serving as school instructor for the Kingdom Ministry School in Italy.
In January 1961 I began teaching the congregation overseers in Italy the course that I had taken at South Lansing. In January 1963 the school was suspended to permit me to serve as assembly overseer for the 1963 “Everlasting Good News” Assembly in Milan. Never had I expected on my arrival in Italy, about seventeen years before this, that I would not only attend an assembly of such large size in Italy but also have the privilege of organizing it. What a joy it was to see 20,000 people gathering in the Vigorelli Volodrome for the public talk! And in 1973 it was an even greater thrill to be present when over 57,000 gathered for the “Divine Victory” International Assembly in Flaminio Stadium in Rome.
During the late 1960’s my feet began to give me much trouble, and the problem became more serious with the passing of the years. Realizing that I could no longer do justice to my service in the district, I made a request to the Society’s president to serve at the branch office in Rome. Thanks to Jehovah and his organization, my request was granted, and my wife and I became members of the Bethel family in April 1970.
I am very grateful to Jehovah for this assignment to Italy, permitting me to have a part in contributing to the expansion of true worship in this land. It is another great kindness from Jehovah to live in the new beautiful Bethel home in Rome, built just last year. There is no lack of work for me to do as the expansion in Italy goes on. How profoundly thankful to Jehovah I am for having supplied me with endurance for these past years in Italy! Since Jehovah opened the ‘large door that leads to activity’ to me, I will continue relying on him to supply me with the endurance needed to carry out any future activity that he chooses to assign me.