Decisions That Have Contributed to a Happy Life
As told by Margarita Königer
MY FATHER was called to the German army in 1939, at the beginning of World War II. For six long years, I rarely saw him. Meanwhile I had a lot to think about.
Why, I wondered, did the radio present killing as a victory when in former years a fatal accident was a sad event? When we wanted to listen to certain stations, we turned the sound down low because it was illegal to listen to them. Bombed and burning houses became a frequent sight. My own brother was killed in the war.
I attended Catholic church services in our hometown of Munich. There, prayer was said after each Mass for the fighting men and for Führer Adolf Hitler. Once, I remember, mother sent me to school with a letter to the parish priest, requesting that prayers in behalf of the war be stopped. She couldn’t see how God would be pleased with them.
When the war ended in 1945, my father came back from a prison camp. Gradually hardships lessened as more food became available, and Munich began to rebuild. Now, as a teen-ager, I became deeply involved in sports, the theater, opera and other social activities.
On graduation from high school, as part of a student-exchange program, I received a scholarship to attend a college in the United States. Everyone there was friendly to me, and I could see that, basically, people everywhere want peace. Why, then, I wondered, did there seem to be a force pushing people to distrust and hate one another?
Back home again I took up chemistry at the Technical University of Munich. I became involved in student government, but I was disappointed in the methods proposed. How could true peace ever come if people put their personal interests first? I began to wonder if the Bible had answers. Is the Bible really the Word of God? I went to a large library in Munich to do some research.
There was much contradictory criticism of the Bible. I wanted to find out the truth. Then, about this time, two of Jehovah’s Witnesses called at our home. We obtained from them the book What Has Religion Done for Mankind? Mom and I took turns reading this fascinating book, which deals with the history of religion and its effects on mankind. At last, I felt as though I was finding the answers for which I had been groping.
For example, there was that question: What is it that seems to be pushing humans to distrust and hate one another? I was shown from the Bible that wicked spirit forces are involved—Satan the Devil and his demons. The Bible calls them “world rulers,” and, in fact, says that Satan “is misleading the entire inhabited earth.” (Eph. 6:12; Rev. 12:9) Judging by the ungodly, devilish actions of nations and peoples, how reasonable and satisfying this answer was!
It brought me great joy to learn of God’s provision for solving earth’s problems. No, it will not be by means of some human ideology or administration, as proposed by worldly educators. Rather, the Bible shows that a new heavenly government will take charge of earth’s affairs. It will get rid of the present wicked world rulership. Jesus Christ taught his followers to pray: “Let your kingdom come. Let your will take place, as in heaven, also upon earth.” (Matt. 6:10) I began to see that this kingdom is a real government and that only by means of it will genuine, worldwide peace be achieved.
DECISIONS THAT CHANGED MY LIFE
As I learned of these purposes of God, I began telling others about them. In time, I decided that I wanted to copy Jesus and the early Christians and serve God whole-souled. But there was someone with whom I longed to share this newfound life purpose.
This was a fellow student who worked in the same laboratory. We intended to marry soon. But he became very unhappy with my decision to serve God. It caused me much heartache to see the difference in our outlook on this vital point. Finally the tensions led to an ultimatum: It was either he or my newfound faith. Shortly afterward I was baptized to symbolize my dedication to serve Jehovah God. I had made my decision.
Coming up soon was the Divine Will International Assembly of Jehovah’s Witnesses in New York city. I decided to go. I got a job on an ocean liner, arriving in June 1958, about a month before the assembly began. That summer I set my heart on entering the full-time preaching work. This I did on returning to Munich, working mornings in a patent attorney’s office and spending afternoons and evenings visiting people with the good news of the Kingdom.
SPECIAL ASSIGNMENTS AND GILEAD
In 1959 I was invited to serve where there was a special need for Kingdom preachers. My partner, Gerda, and I were sent to the small villages in the Steiger Forest, Franconia. There, up and down the hills of the territory, we started to announce God’s Word on foot, by bicycle and, later, on small motorbikes. In this area, most of the people were devout Catholics. Several times stones were thrown at us, and the church bells were rung as an alarm when we two girls arrived preaching the Bible. Even so, some meek people eventually came to accept the truth of God’s Word.
Gerda and I were very happy and felt like the first-century Christians searching for the Lord’s “sheep.” Often, on our way back home at night, we marveled at the calm starry sky framed in the high trees. Or, on a sunny day, when we rested at lunchtime near a creek or in a meadow, how we appreciated God’s promise of a paradise earth! After three years we were given assignments in different places. Yet Gerda is still like another daughter to my mother, and like a sister to me.
For nearly 16 years now, my new companion, Gisela, and I have been together. In the fall of 1962, we received an assignment in Paris, France. Then there were fewer than 20,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses in the country, as compared with over 67,000 now. It was thrilling to find interested ones and to teach them God’s Word. I was happy every day for my decision to take up the full-time preaching work.
In 1965, Gisela and I received an invitation to the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead for missionary training. This school is located at the international headquarters of Jehovah’s Witnesses in New York, where then a family of over 1,000 lived and worked. Now the family numbers nearly 2,000. For me, our six-month stay was like a continuous international assembly, with Bible instruction and harmonious cooperation. When our 41st class was graduated, tears were shed at the prospect of leaving our friends there.
Our new assignment was Madagascar, the big island in the Indian Ocean off the coast of Africa. What would people there be like? Would we be able to reach their hearts with Bible truth and make friends with them?
LIFE IN MADAGASCAR
When our plane began to descend over the capital city, Tananarive, we eagerly took in the sight of endless hills and valleys covered with rice terraces. At the airport there were some 20 friends to greet us. We felt at home. That night when we came back from a Christian meeting the bright stars seemed different. And the appearance of the starry heavens was different! This was because we were now in the southern hemisphere. We found, however, that our Christian brothers and sisters here were just as loving and kind as in every other country.
Before heading south to serve in the provincial city of Fianarantsoa, we had a four-week language course in the Malagasy language for 11 hours a day. Its roots are so different from any European language that we wondered if people would ever understand what we said. However, we could not have asked for a more patient and polite audience. A visit to the homes of people to explain the Bible is met with great appreciation and hospitality. Often several family members gather and listen attentively.
Gradually we also picked up their customs. For example, a foreigner is supposed to sit near the entrance, unless he is asked to come farther into the house. In the friendly and peaceful atmosphere, almost unconsciously we began to imitate the custom of bowing and extending the right hand with the left hand placed under the right hand’s wrist. If you didn’t know yet how to act, everyone would see that you were learning, and a friendly smile went a long way.
We found people to be quite cultured. Even old grandmothers out in the villages like to read the Bible and Bible literature. In order to obtain books, they love to trade. Children came running behind us bartering rice for Watchtower and Awake! magazines.
Many people in Fianarantsoa told us they were Norwegians, which at the beginning came as a real surprise. It meant, however, that they adhered to the Norwegian Lutheran Church. Others were Catholics. But all still practiced the main belief of Madagascar, ancestor worship. Quite a few houses have nearby subterranean grave chambers covered by a little house. Before we acquired discernment, we occasionally knocked at a grave while preaching from door to door. One religious custom was to take the bones out of the grave every few years and to wrap them in a special new cloth, this act being accompanied by a big festival.
Religious leaders became angry about our helping people to understand the difference between Jesus Christ’s teachings and their own philosophies and practices. One day, like lightning out of a clear sky, we were summoned to Tananarive and told that we missionaries would have to leave the country immediately. Our hearts were heavy thinking about having to say farewell to our dear brothers and Bible students.
Our eyes filled with tears as, for the last time, we drove through the rocky landscape. Eucalyptus, mimosa and bamboo trees, rice paddies and red clay houses painted an inerasable picture in our minds. After more than four years, this island had become home to us. Waving good-bye to the Malagasy friends and admiring once more the flaming island sunset, we took off in our plane.
SERVING IN OTHER COUNTRIES
We landed in the middle of the night at Nairobi, Kenya, in East Africa. Many friends were there to greet us. Now we were given a four weeks’ language course in Swahili. Then we were driven along the smooth highway to our new assignment, Nakuru. This is a small agricultural town of Western-style houses nestled on the slopes of extinct Menengai crater. It is not far from Lake Nakuru with its clouds of pink flamingos. Here we found a fine congregation of brothers and sisters.
A major undertaking was the building of a beautiful Kingdom Hall for our meetings. The people of the city were amazed to see men, women and children of all tribes and different races working together—carrying stones, mixing cement, cutting wood and nailing and painting. Just a few years earlier, in the time of the Mau-Mau movement, peoples of these tribes had been killing one another. It gave us many opportunities to explain how this peaceful unity came about.
As was to be expected, not everybody was happy with the good news of God’s kingdom that we preached. Some people, evidently religious leaders, misrepresented our activity to the Kenyan government. One day we got word that our work would be banned in Kenya, and we missionaries had to leave the country. Crowds of brothers and sisters came to the Nairobi airport to see us off, assuring us of their love and strong faith in Jehovah. Happily, the government of Kenya has since realized that Jehovah’s Witnesses are truly law abiding and the ban has been lifted.
The next assignment for Gisela and myself was Dahomey (now called Benin) in West Africa. Waving coconut trees beside long stretches of white sand and blue ocean, along with the colorful traditional dress of the local people, created a pleasant first impression. But our greatest impression was of the happy group of friends greeting us at the airport in the capital city of Cotonou. The beautiful branch building included a missionary home, a Kingdom Hall and a garden. But we were invited to move to Parakou, a small city one day’s ride by train to the north.
The train conductor, one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, looked after us, even letting us ride a short distance with him at the head of the train. As we moved north, the landscape turned drier, though there were many trees such as teak, cashew, karite and baobab. Shortly after night had fallen we reached our destination, the whistle and horn announcing our arrival as the event of the day. How would we recognize our brothers in the crowded station? But sure enough, smiling faces that we had never seen before appeared right away at the carriage window. They had spotted us!
The small congregation at Parakou was composed of members of different tribes and languages. The meetings were held in French. While we were there, a fine Kingdom Hall was built. Many people with whom we studied the Bible helped with the work. Among them was a woman of the nomadic tribe of the Peulh of the inland regions of West Africa. A little later she became a publisher of the “good news,” preaching in the many languages that she knew.
Local tradition was still very strong in Parakou. When the king died, the marketplace, the center of activity, was closed for four months. Big rallies on horseback were held by his followers and those of the new king. The nights were filled with the sounds of the drums that accompanied related ceremonies.
The antireligious ideology of Marx and Lenin finally came to dominate the population. Progressively, the people, especially schoolchildren, were forced to repeat such slogans as ‘Glory to the people, all power to the people.’ After we had served in Parakou for over a year, the authorities insisted that we cease the house-to-house preaching activity. Some arrests of the brothers occurred, and a few months later we were transferred to Cotonou, leaving the local Witnesses to continue the preaching more inconspicuously.
As government restrictions increased, the brothers repeatedly stressed the points in The Watchtower dealing with persecution in order to prepare themselves. In time, some were viciously beaten when they would not shout the revolutionary slogans.
One day Gisela and I came back from town to find the branch building in Cotonou surrounded by armed members of the revolutionary committee. We were permitted to enter the house, where we were held with the others. The next day uniformed men with machine guns searched our house and luggage carefully. Two of them pondered over the names Elijah and Elisha that they found in one of my notebooks. Finally we made them understand that these were prophets of God who lived over 2,500 years ago!
We were taken to the National Security headquarters where we were told that the following day we would be put out of the country. “Since you are Christians, we trust you,” an officer said, “so you can stay in your home tonight.” The next day we watched as most of the missionaries were taken away to Nigeria. That afternoon a policeman accompanied us to the Togo border. After he left, the chauffeur drove us all the way to the branch office of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Lomé.
How comforting it was to be with the brothers in Togo! And how we enjoyed being able again to go from house to house with the Kingdom message! After enjoying several weeks in Togo, it was time to go to our new assignment.
In May 1976, we were driven up to Upper Volta. The two days’ ride took us through some beautiful country, ending successfully at the Ouagadougou missionary home. We soon finished a language course in Moore, and began preaching to the people of the area in French and this local language. I am very glad to be here helping to take care of the numerous people who are interested in Bible truth.
WORLDWIDE FAMILY OF FRIENDS
I have never regretted the decision to use my life in Jehovah’s service. Having a degree in chemistry, I could have pursued a materially rewarding career, but I hold this as nothing to compare with the privilege of helping people in Germany, France, Madagascar, Kenya, Benin, and now here in Upper Volta to learn the truth about God’s grand purposes. I could not imagine a more satisfying, rewarding life filled with so much excitement and new experiences.
Recently I visited my dear mother, now near 80, yet who still carries on with strong faith there in Munich, helping others to learn God’s truth. She is happy to have me in the missionary field. The trip there and back to Upper Volta made Gisela and me think how blessed we are.
We were met at the airport in Paris by friends with whom we served years before. Our enjoyable exchange of memories and news was cut short around midnight only by the need for rest. Then during a short stopover in Niamey, Republic of Niger, several African friends, whom we had known in Benin, came to meet us at the airport. Our animated greetings and conversation caused an airport official to inquire as to what kind of group we were, blacks and whites socializing so freely.
Finally, our airplane came to a standstill near the airport building of Ouagadougou. The smiling faces of our friends waving from the observation deck reflected our own feeling of joy at being together with those here again. Truly, there is a deep, satisfying joy in being part of a worldwide family of genuine brothers and sisters. May you, too, make the decisions in life that will bring you such heartwarming blessings.