“Good News of Peace” Bears Fruit in Switzerland
IN HISTORY Switzerland has often been described as an “Isle of Peace.” True enough, ever since Napoleon changed the face of Europe in the early 19th century, the country has not been involved in warfare.
Today, Switzerland’s 6,000,000 inhabitants enjoy one of the world’s highest standards of living. Moreover, this prosperity has been attained without conventional natural resources. In an exceptionally peaceful environment, hard work, coupled with scrupulous precision, was bound to produce results. Scratch the surface of this apparent idyll, however, and the problems inherent to the Western world’s life-style come to the fore. Here, too, one finds shattered marriages and drug-addicted teenagers. Sincere persons are truly alarmed, and “the good news of peace” based on God’s Word the Bible is good news to the Swiss “Isle of Peace” too.—Ephesians 6:15.
“The Good News of Peace” Reaches Switzerland
When Charles Taze Russell, the first president of the Watch Tower Society, initially visited Switzerland in 1891, he got the impression that ‘the harvest was ripe.’ (Matthew 9:37, 38; John 4:35-38) But who would help to bring in this harvest? It turned out that Adolf Weber was to be instrumental in this work. As a young man, Weber had left his mother country for the United States. There he learned about Bible truth, subsequently working as C. T. Russell’s gardener. But then he took to heart the encouragement to return to Switzerland as a “gardener in the vineyard of the Lord.”
In his small hometown of Les Convers, Weber found employment as a gardener and forester. He was now back in the canton of Neuchâtel, up in the Jura range with its secluded, wood-lined valleys where hardly a river forms because rainwater quickly seeps through the porous limestone. Where does the water go? The beautiful lakes of Neuchâtel and Bienne at the southern foot of the Jura mountains are part of the answer.
However, Adolf Weber did not spend his time contemplating the tranquil scenery. During the long winter months, in particular, he made his way around the lowlands either on foot or by pedaling his bicycle, everywhere preaching “the good news of peace.” His activity was by no means restricted to western, French-speaking Switzerland and the bordering territory in France. Weber’s knowledge of German and Italian enabled him to spread the Kingdom message clear across Switzerland to the Gotthard mountain range and over the Alps to Milan in northern Italy. Jehovah did not fail to bless him and other wholehearted workers in the harvest.
The Message Bears Fruit
In the year 1899, 14 persons in the rural town of Thun, 30 kilometers (19 miles) southeast of the country’s capital, Bern, reported celebrating the Memorial of Jesus Christ’s death. Later, other study groups formed both in the German and the French parts of the country, and before long two branch offices of the Watch Tower Society were supervising the Kingdom-preaching work according to languages. Then, in the 1920’s, supervision was entrusted to the enlarged branch office in Bern, to which a sizable printery had been added. Half a century later, a large branch facility was constructed in Thun, where it has been functioning for several years now.
Preaching to the several hundred thousand foreign workers also brought a blessing. As a result, Italian and Spanish are the languages of many witnesses of Jehovah in this country. Individuals of many different nationalities have been attracted by the power of “the good news of peace.” Of Switzerland’s more than 11,000 Kingdom proclaimers, half are of German tongue, one third Italian or Spanish and barely one fifth French. In 1981 a total of 19,785 persons attended the Memorial celebration in 231 congregations here.
A Remarkable Change of Life-Style
The circumstances under which “the good news of peace” has reached the hearts of some often has been quite extraordinary. For instance, a certain young man from Spain arrived in Geneva, together with a close friend. Drug addiction had already become their principal vice and they operated as big-time shoplifters. One day the young man’s friend was caught and imprisoned, but the young man nonetheless continued his shoplifting. Soon solitude induced him to reflect on the true meaning of life. He often browsed through a Bible and the book The Truth That Leads to Eternal Life, a Watch Tower publication he had obtained in Spain. Gradually, he developed a high opinion of the publishers and began looking for Jehovah’s Witnesses. Hence, the day that he saw two well-dressed men with briefcases leaving the house where he lived, he summoned his courage and approached them, asking: “Are you Jehovah’s Witnesses?” Imagine his joy when they answered, Yes! A Bible study was started immediately.
After four months the young man had learned enough to make important changes in his life. He told the Witnesses with whom he was studying the story of his shoplifting career and led them to the stolen goods still hidden in his cellar: coats, suits, ties and even radio receivers and television sets. He sincerely wished to restore the wares to their owners. It seemed preferable to contact a lawyer, who was so astounded that he offered his help free of charge. “I have never seen such an honest thief!” he exclaimed. When returning the stolen items, the lawyer always explained that a Bible study had led to this unexpected turn of events, and thus an excellent witness was given. (Hebrews 13:18) Shortly thereafter, the young man was baptized as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Spreading the “Good News” in Isolated Mountain Valleys
Between the Jura to the west and the Alps to the east, one third of Swiss territory is taken in by softly rolling farmland known as Mittelland, the “middle country,” where the greater part of the population has settled. Drawing closer to the alpine foothills and the Alps, however, traditional forms of life, often linked with the Catholic religion, prevail. Frequently of humble means, people here live in small village communities. Fear of neighbors is a particularly treacherous snare in these parts. (Proverbs 29:25) Although congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses are small and few in these regions, no effort is shunned to reach the mountain population with “the good news of peace.” For instance, a few years ago hundreds of Witnesses from the plains took part in a special early-summer campaign.
At that time, zealous Witnesses also were active in the trilingual southeastern canton of Grisons. For a film showing, a hall was rented in a new hotel in world-famous St. Moritz. Near this alpine resort German, Italian and Romansh language areas merge. In the surprisingly large audience attending the Italian program were the hotel manager and his family. After the session he thanked the brothers warmly, and he even refused to accept payment for the meeting hall.
Leaving St. Moritz behind, two different roads lead to Italy. By way of the Maloja Pass the traveler descends into the predominantly Protestant Bregaglia Valley, whereas if he chooses to cross the Bernina Pass—in full view of magnificent 4,049-meter (13,284-foot) Piz Bernina—he will enter the valley of Poschiavo, a Catholic stronghold. Italian is spoken in both valleys. Close to the village of Poschiavo, a tiny lake mirrors the surrounding mountains. Nearby, a family—the father a professed Catholic and the mother one of the rare local Protestants—began studying the Bible. Their contact with Jehovah’s Witnesses did not go unnoticed, and in due time the ministers of both churches called. Although this family was put under considerable pressure, Bible truth finally prevailed. Today the parents are baptized Witnesses, and they and their three children regularly meet with fellow Christians across the border in Italy.
However, from the pulpit of his church the Catholic priest encouraged the parishioners to boycott this brother’s business. Numerous relatives in the village community stopped associating with the family. (Matthew 10:35) Nevertheless, the immediate members of this family are grateful for their relationship with Jehovah. Also, they love their fellowman and, as far as it depends upon them, they are peaceable toward all.—Romans 12:18.
Overcoming Drug Addiction
A young man from Zurich was an enthusiastic athlete and soccer player. He believed that giving his very best on track and football fields would give meaning to his life. But rivalry and even hatred among fellow athletes often depressed him. Also, there was the constant pressure for better performance as well as the glorification of track records and champions, while the efforts of the less successful simply were ignored. These circumstances largely contributed to his accepting drugs offered one day by a former school friend. The drugs did seem to lessen his problems temporarily, but naturally they did not solve them.
Returning from work one evening, the young man found that he had been left a copy of Kingdom News. The things he read about the coming end of this system of things kindled his interest. He ordered the books mentioned in the tract and eagerly studied their contents. Before long, an elderly brother and his wife called on him. The sister had quite recently commenced studying with this same young man’s mother. The son, in turn, agreed to study the Bible and soon made progress, giving up drugs and tobacco. His mother, too, made good spiritual progress and both of them were baptized at the 1977 district assembly in Zurich. For a time, this young man served as a diligent member of the Thun Bethel family.
A Happy Bethel Family
“God is a God, not of disorder, but of peace,” wrote the apostle Paul. (1 Corinthians 14:33) Since numerous incentives for the spreading of “the good news of peace” issue from the Watch Tower Society’s Thun branch office, it is important that the co-workers there maintain order and peace within the Bethel family. Day after day the marvelous natural setting around the branch building contributes to their deeply felt appreciation for the “God of peace” whom they serve. (Philippians 4:9) How superb is the panorama of snowcapped mountains! From the penthouse terrace, the eye catches a glimpse of Lake Thun, only to be captivated by the impressive centerpiece of the Bernese Alps, the trio of Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau.
Not surprisingly, the Bethel family is as multilingual as the field it serves. Family members of German, French, Italian and Spanish tongue belong to eight different nationalities. The youngest worker is barely 20 and the oldest—a brother baptized in 1909—is over 92.
Spiritual assistance of the congregations grouped in 13 circuits (six German, four Italian, two French and one Spanish) is one aspect of branch activities. Another is its printing output. Presently, 18,000,000 magazines are printed and mailed every year. Mainly, this promotes the preaching of “the good news of peace” in Switzerland, Austria, Belgium, Portugal, Spain and the French-speaking states of Africa. During the year 1978, the Thun branch office was expanded, creating additional working space for future use.
Continuing to Bear Peaceable Fruit
Jehovah’s people in Switzerland are hard at work. And upright individuals continue to realize that God’s “good news of peace” is of vital importance to the inhabitants of the alpine “Isle of Peace,” if they are to enjoy everlasting happiness.
On Friday evening, January 26, 1979, a half-hour documentary shown by Switzerland’s Italian-language television station was devoted to Jehovah’s Witnesses in this country. The remarkably fair program reflected favorably on the life and activity of the Witnesses. It was touching to hear a 97-year-old sister answer the interviewer’s question about how her life had been changed since accepting the truth at the age of 80. “I’m happy!” was her spontaneous reply. And such are the feelings of all the thousands of Jehovah’s servants and of their friends. Continuously, new home Bible studies are started. How will these persons, and how will still many more, profit from God’s long-suffering? The future will tell.
In the meantime, Jehovah’s people in Switzerland will persevere in declaring the Kingdom message. They will continue to carry “the good news of peace” to men of all kinds, whether they live in towns and villages of the lowlands or in out-of-the-way places and quiet valleys hidden in the mountains.
[Blurb on page 13]
“I have never seen such an honest thief!” the lawyer exclaimed
[Blurb on page 14]
Not drugs but a copy of Kingdom News helped a young athlete find lasting relief from depression