We Put God’s Service First
MY FATHER was a farmer from west Finland. Around 1911 he obtained some literature from Bible Students, who claimed that 1914 would be a significant year of world change. In 1912 he subscribed for The Watchtower in Finnish and received its issue of December 1, 1912, the very first one published in the Finnish language.
I still have my father’s Watchtower magazines beginning with the first issue of the Finnish edition. From what happened in 1914 and afterward, it was obvious to my father that the prophecies were being fulfilled. Thus he became a zealous Bible Student, as Jehovah’s Witnesses were then called.
I was born September 7, 1914, and my earliest childhood is full of memories of my father’s preaching efforts. He was active in municipal affairs, and he would use all his influence in the community to spread the good news about God’s kingdom among the peoples. Even his gray horse, which took him on Sundays to give public talks, was known over a large area.
EFFECTS OF EARLY ASSOCIATIONS
When I was thirteen years old I left home to attend school in another district. As a result, direct contact with my father’s instruction was broken and worldly teaching began to influence completely my thinking. Although in my heart I greatly appreciated my father’s personality, I would use what I learned in school to try to prove his Bible-based beliefs wrong.
In 1935 I entered Helsinki Technical University to continue my studies. The headquarters of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Finland is located in Helsinki, and at the time there was a vacant room. Since my father was a Witness, I was permitted to live there temporarily while going to the university.
Although my studies and college life took up most of my time, constant contact with the members of the Bethel family (as the family of headquarters workers is called) had a deep effect on me. Here I could see firsthand the marvelous influence that Bible truths can have on people’s lives. The Christian spirit manifested at Bethel gradually began to mold my attitude, and finally, in September 1939, I was baptized to symbolize the fact that I had dedicated my life to serve Jehovah God. From that time on my life has been full of Jehovah’s blessing and undeserved kindness.
ACTIVITY DURING WORLD WAR II
Later that fall, war broke out between Finland and Russia. My faith was put to the test many times as I would explain why, as a Christian, I couldn’t take part in political or war activities. Eventually I wound up working in the State Railway technical department in Helsinki, a position that suited my qualifications as a civil engineer.
The state of war was seized upon as an opportunity to stop the public preaching of Jehovah’s Witnesses almost entirely. Our Christian organization was dissolved by order of the court, our magazines were banned, our literature was confiscated, the branch overseer was put in preventive custody, and many Witnesses were thrown into prison. All of this was done to Jehovah’s Witnesses because they remained neutral, taking no part in the war.
However, Witnesses who were still free continued to do what they could. For example, a small group of us shared in a special work in behalf of those imprisoned. The group was called “Jehovah’s Witnesses’ Trustees,” and by other names at times. What was the special work that this group accomplished?
Well, throughout the war we took petitions to everyone from the President of the Republic to individual members of Congress. These petitions requested that the ban on Jehovah’s Witnesses be lifted or that Witnesses suffering persecution be helped. While the war lasted, results were not often discernible, but we were apparently very successful in giving a witness. Government officials on whom we called still respect and even admire us.
To cite an example: At the end of the war three Witnesses were sentenced to death in Yugoslavia. A committee of Witnesses went to Finland’s Minister of Foreign Affairs about the matter, but he said he could not interfere in the affairs of another country. Then we went to the Minister for Defense, with whom we had become well acquainted as a result of previous interviews with him. Surprisingly, he agreed to help, and he wrote a personal letter to President Tito on behalf of our Christian brothers. The death sentence was repealed.
A few years ago this former Minister for Defense, who is now well known as a writer and lecturer in Finland, invited me to come and see him. He still remembered very well writing President Tito in behalf of our Christian brothers. He explained to me that even if he hasn’t done any other good deed in his life, at least in this case he knows that he saved the lives of three men and he has never ceased to be happy about that.
MEETINGS DURING THE WAR
During the war there was also a ban on all our Christian meetings, yet they were held regularly nevertheless. We even had large conventions. How, you may wonder, did we do this?
The meetings were held as private gatherings. For example, an invitation card with my signature was given to a person who was vouched for by two trustworthy Witnesses. Thus, in a very short time, all the Witnesses in the Helsinki area received such an invitation to a “private gathering.” These meetings were held regularly in the rooms of a certain student organization. Larger conventions were arranged in the same way. We felt that Jehovah’s protection was on the arrangements, since not once was a meeting prevented.
At times we even sent a letter from such a meeting to government officials. A couple of days after one letter was sent by a group of 580 Witnesses, I received an order from the state police to report for questioning. The interrogator had our letter in his hand and he demanded information about the holding of meetings. He said that they were so well informed that they knew almost everything that people in the street said to each other, and demanded: “How is it possible that you can hold a meeting like that in the center of Helsinki without our knowing about it?” And this meeting had been held just a few blocks from police headquarters!
MARRIAGE AND A FAMILY
In 1941, while the war was still in progress, I married Kaisa Alastalo. She had been a Witness for as long as I had, and had served as a “pioneer” preacher (one who spends at least a hundred hours a month in the preaching work). In time our family came to include a daughter and four sons. Now there was the challenge of inculcating in our children a love for Jehovah God and a desire to serve him.
The first thing that I sought to impress on their minds was a deep appreciation for Jehovah and his congregation of people. We began each day with a discussion of a Bible text and with prayer. And we never missed one of the weekly congregational meetings, except in cases of sickness. “Sentiments lead to loss of life,” was the slogan of my wife whenever maternal sympathy for our children was inclined to overrule what was truly in their best interests. And how we were blessed!
When our eldest child, the girl, was thirteen years old, she asked our permission to become a pioneer. We agreed, on the condition that neither her school grades nor her health suffered. And neither did during the two years she pioneered while going to school. In 1957 she left school and became a special pioneer far from home in central Finland. Later she married, and is now serving with her husband as a member of the Finnish Bethel family.
MOVE TO NEW TERRITORY
During the 1950’s invitations were extended to Jehovah’s Witnesses to move to places where the need for Kingdom preachers was greater. We would discuss the matter now and again as a family. However, I had a good job, and we had a beautiful house in a lovely suburb of Helsinki, a location ideal for rearing children. But one day a newspaper advertisement for engineers to work for the State Railways caught my eye. I had experience in the Railways, and the job openings were in cities where there were only a few Witnesses. If we were really serious about moving to serve where the need was greater, this was the time to do it.
One winter day in 1960 a large truck pulled up to what had been our home for ten years and loaded up our belongings. We moved to Seinäjoki, about 250 miles (400 kilometers) northwest of Helsinki, where there was a small railway junction. At the time there was a congregation of twelve Witnesses in this city of 20,000 inhabitants. My monthly salary in my new job was only a little more than a third of what it was before, but this did not decrease the happiness of the family. The following year we built a house, and on the same block we helped the congregation to erect a small Kingdom Hall.
The transferring of the boys to a new school was successful, and the rural environment proved to be more healthful than Helsinki. We continually kept pioneering before our boys as a worthwhile goal for which to strive. And tears of joy came into my eyes when our eldest son, on leaving school in 1961, got into the small used car we had bought for him and went off to his pioneer assignment in north Finland. In time, his younger brother followed him. When it was our third son’s turn, there was apparently a little collaboration between the others. “We won’t walk on the same side of the street as you if you don’t go pioneering,” they told him.
The youngest of our children had a very severe attack of illness when he was a year old, and his illness grew worse over the years. Now at twenty years of age he is confined to bed. He is also mentally retarded and unable to speak. We cared for him at home until he was nine, but at that age the work proved to be too much and we were able to get him into a modern hospital nearby where we can regularly visit him. Thus, when our other boys all left home to pioneer, the opportunity opened up in 1970 for my wife to begin pioneering. This had been her goal for a long time, and the whole family appreciates her zeal for Jehovah’s service.
REALIZING JEHOVAH’S RICH BLESSING
My desire has always been to help my family to enjoy the full-time preaching work, and I have made adjustments in my secular work with that end in view. In 1967 the Director General of the Railways invited me to come to Helsinki to manage a department and join the Board of Directors of the Railways. I agreed on two conditions.
First, that I could leave early enough at the end of the week to travel home in time for the weekend congregation meetings. And secondly, that when I had carried out the organizational reforms that I considered necessary I could return to my former job in Seinäjoki. Six months later, however, I received an invitation to be the Deputy Director General. I agreed to this promotion on the same conditions as before.
This new position gave me many opportunities to witness to people that might not otherwise be reached with the Kingdom message. Also, the apartment that I rented in Helsinki became a base for my pioneer children who would come from different parts of the country to Helsinki to visit or to attend conventions. At the same time, I still could care for my congregational responsibilities in Seinäjoki (although a lot of commuting was involved) and my wife had plenty of time to pioneer.
After a few years, however, I saw that it was time to return to live permanently in Seinäjoki again. So I reminded the Director General of the agreement that we had made, and he remembered it very well. But he never believed that I would give up such a prominent position and return to my former job. When I did in 1973 it aroused a lot of attention and gave rise to articles in leading Finnish magazines that were favorable to Jehovah’s Witnesses.
The congregation here in Seinäjoki has enjoyed such fine growth that the Kingdom Hall we built on our block in 1961 became too small. So last spring our congregation of sixty Kingdom publishers started building a new Kingdom Hall on a spacious block of land leased from the city. To the surprise of all, this large, beautiful hall was completed by the beginning of September, in less than six months!
The dedication of the hall was an especially heartwarming occasion to me. For I looked around the filled Kingdom Hall and could see eight members of my family present, including me and my wife, and three of our children and their mates. In our family, six are serving as pioneers and two are at Bethel!
As I look back now, I can say that my wife and I have really had a happy, purposeful life in the service of God, as did my father also, and as my children are now having. And we look forward to many future blessings in God’s service. If we accept Jehovah’s invitation to serve him, he surely fulfills his promise, as recorded by his ancient prophet: “Test me out, please, in this respect . . . whether I shall not open to you people the floodgates of the heavens and actually empty out upon you a blessing until there is no more want.” (Mal. 3:10)—Contributed.