Rejoicing in “the Fine Fight” of the Faith
As told by Väinö Pallari
I GREW up in Finland, a land that is 92 percent Lutheran. When I became one of Jehovah’s Christian witnesses in 1930, my employment as a schoolteacher was threatened.
This was because the Bible Students, as the Witnesses were then known, were viewed as being Communists and were told that they would be sent to Russia. The school board threatened me with this if I did not leave the school district voluntarily.
But I refused to leave my job. The school board then tried to get me to promise not to go from house to house, preaching a “new doctrine” that the community could not tolerate. I could not, of course, give such a promise; in fact, it was my goal someday to preach the good news of God’s kingdom full time.
Next, the school board evidently worked on the parents of my pupils. They tried to get the pupils to go on strike. But not one stayed away from school.
Finally, frustrated in their attempts to get me removed, the school board simply abolished the position I held. However, the outcome of such a procedure was that I would be entitled to a considerable income. I did not raise any objection, as the financial assistance would simply help me to get started in the full-time preaching work—my ultimate goal. The opportunity that I had waited for presented itself, and I seized it, rejoicing that at last I could devote all my energies to “the fine fight” of the faith, as the apostle Paul did.—2 Tim. 4:7.
Also, about that time I received a letter from the Watch Tower Society, asking me to help to organize the house-to-house preaching work. This was a very happy time. I was in the preaching work with my Christian brothers every day and held meetings in the evening—yet it did not seem too tiring.
THE WAR YEARS
In 1939 the threatening clouds of war gathered on the horizon. The people in Finland were in a very anxious frame of mind. As Jehovah’s Christian witnesses were neutral in political affairs, they were looked on with disfavor and were no longer able to work freely. The first court case against the Witnesses began before the war actually broke out. On one occasion, while I was distributing the Bible booklet Government and Peace in Turku, I was surrounded by the police and charged with “unlawful peddling,” which resulted in legal proceedings.
During the war we had continual court cases and our preaching work was officially banned. We were viewed as Communists, which, at that time, was considered to be the worst thing imaginable. Since the Watch Tower Society had been banned, it could not arrange meetings, but they were held, nonetheless, in the name of a private Christian. This was possible because the law on freedom of religion was still in force, in spite of the war.
I have always had poor health and because of this I was exempted from military service. So I was able to continue my full-time preaching work, for which I was profoundly grateful to Jehovah.
Working as a circuit overseer during the war was not without its anxious moments. Since The Watchtower and Consolation (now Awake!) were banned, we had to take all the mimeographed spiritual food along in a suitcase. This was dangerous, since the military police often examined bags of travelers to see if they had butter (all food was rationed) or other “forbidden luggage.”
On one occasion I had many mimeographed Watchtower magazines in my bag, and a military policeman asked what they were. I replied that it was Bible literature that is given to people to read. Fortunately he was in a hurry, so he did not take the time to look further into the matter. If he had examined the literature I was carrying, he would surely have arrested me.
The bombing raids on the cities were an experience. Often we had to interrupt a meeting to go to a bomb shelter. When we emerged from these bomb shelters, we would see fires blazing all around us, but the homes of the Witnesses were rarely damaged.
The most frightening event of my life occurred during the height of the war. I was returning home very late at night on the tram. Two slightly drunk soldiers happened to get on the same tram, and, seeing me in civilian clothes, they became very bitter. They talked about me between themselves and said that I should be in uniform. We got off at the same place, and the men ordered me to stop.
One of them asked me why I had stirred up a fuss on the tram, which, of course, I had not done. All of a sudden the other one took out a knife and said: “What would you say if we let the wind out of you?” I tried to explain the disagreeable consequences to them if they did it, but they replied that they had suffered so much at the front that they did not care anymore what happened to them. All of a sudden the soldier raised his knife, intending to strike me. Then, with my heart fluttering, I grabbed his hand, although I could not actually stand up against them.
I felt helpless in this situation, and I breathed a prayer to Jehovah, as I had been doing during this whole episode. As though by a miracle, the soldier loosened his grip and let me go. I continued on my way, weeping for joy and thanking Jehovah for saving my life. The Bible’s assurance came into my mind: “A hiding place is the God of ancient time, and underneath are the indefinitely lasting arms.”—Deut. 33:27.
REJOICING IN “THE FINE FIGHT” AT BETHEL
In 1942 I received an invitation to serve at Bethel, the Watch Tower Society’s branch office, where I have since had many privileges of service. During the war I had the task of procuring food for the Bethel family, which was really quite difficult as there was a serious shortage of everything. On many occasions we got what we needed in almost miraculous ways. It was as though manna fell from heaven to help us through the trying time of war.
I also had the privilege of handling legal affairs. For example, many Witnesses who had no close heirs wanted all their financial assets used to advance Jehovah’s work after their death. But in Finland there is a law requiring that after the death of the testator the beneficiary of the will has to contact all the deceased’s relatives. This necessitated my contacting all relatives of deceased Christian brothers who had made such wills, and this is no easy task.
We have also had a continual battle with the Finnish Broadcasting Corporation. Just about all the religious denominations have been allowed to broadcast over the radio, but we have not been allowed to do so. And not only that, but from time to time attacks have been made on our preaching work.
One commentator made up an unfavorable program about the Witnesses, and in it very coarse Finnish words were bandied back and forth. The program was taped in advance and we were permitted to hear it before the actual presentation. Another Witness and I wrestled with this problem for about a week, and we were successful in getting the producer to remove the worst insults, but it was still very bad. Right after this, as a result of the nervous tension, I had a stroke. I partially lost my eyesight and power of speech and completely lost the ability to read and count.
After a few weeks in the hospital, I recovered fairly well, but I have felt cold ever since. The doctor ordered me to “retire” and forbade me to put forth too much effort in anything. I had to get into a lower gear in order to continue my service, but I can assure you that I have not lost what the Finns call sisu or fortitude.
Thus at times I have worked perhaps harder than I should, but I have enjoyed it. Recently, I had another stroke, which was worse than the previous one. My speech, which returned quite soon, now seems to be at a standstill. Again I have had to slow down, but I still want to do my best to fight “the fine fight” of the faith.
Looking back on the forty-four years that I have spent my full time in the service of God, I can say that I could not have used my life in a better way. Such full-time service, which one learns to love more and more as the years go by, is so rich in blessings that no other work can compare with it. Although the work in Bethel, as well as in the field service, requires strength, it is a source of great joy.
[Picture on page 335]
The Watch Tower Society’s branch office in Finland