Sixty Years as a Proclaimer of the “Good News”
As told by Martin Wenderqvist
IT WAS an unforgettable moment. It took place during a violent snowstorm. About a dozen of us stood around the open grave and sang a song. Then I said a few words about meeting again when the time of trouble has passed over the earth.
The young father fell to his knees, took the little white coffin in his hands and carefully laid it in the earth. There were tears in almost all eyes as we walked back through the forest to the home. During the evening’s association and discussion, all were comforted by the thoughts that I was able to present from God’s Word.—John 5:28, 29; Romans 15:4.
Comforting the bereaved while conducting funeral services is something I have done more than 600 times at different places in Sweden and Finland during my 60 years as a proclaimer of the good news of God’s kingdom. But before I tell you more about the experiences I have had, let me first explain how I became a minister.
One day in 1908, when my father was returning home from work in Stockholm, he found a four-page tract on the train. That tract entitled “Where Are the Dead?” was published by the International Bible Students Association. Both my parents were Bible believers, and their reading of this tract moved them to a deeper study of God’s Word.
My parents soon contacted the Bible Students, as Jehovah’s Witnesses were then known. The two of them began attending meetings that were held every Sunday at a little hall in Stockholm, along with about 50 other persons. In August 1912 Charles Taze Russell, the president of the Watch Tower Society, was the main speaker at a convention in Stockholm that was attended by more than 100 Bible Students from all over Sweden. Although as a 10-year-old I did not understand much of what was said, seeing what took place made a big impression on me.
After finishing secondary school, and while working with a tailoring company in Västerås, I began seriously considering the problems of life and, in the evenings, I would often read the Bible. The following year, 1920, for the first time I shared with the little Bible study group in town in declaring the “good news of the kingdom” to others.—Matthew 24:14.
Later that year A. H. Macmillan of the Society’s headquarters staff in Brooklyn, New York, visited Sweden, delivering the talk “Millions Now Living Will Never Die.” Ten of us worked hard advertising the subject, and the hall holding 350 persons was packed out. Many were unable to get in; so, taking a bundle of booklets on the same subject, I went outside and gave several hundred persons a copy of the talk to read at home!
Determining My Life Course
I spoke to A. H. Macmillan about sharing in the full-time ministry, but he appeared uncertain about an 18-year-old’s intentions. In effect, he said: “You have a lot to learn.” Nevertheless, the next year I was appointed as a full-time preacher. Together with another brother, I left for my assignment on Gotland. At that time there were no Kingdom publishers on that island.
My first witnessing day in Visby began with a visit to a funeral parlor. Dare I go in and offer the booklet Millions Now Living Will Never Die? The owner could be afraid of becoming unemployed! However, he took the publication immediately. In fact, the book was so much in demand that we sometimes had to telegraph for more. We abbreviated the title to “Millions,” and telegraph operators were amazed when they had to transmit the message, “Send 500 Millions immediately”!
When one of the Society’s speakers became ill in January 1922, I was asked to give his talk at a number of places. I protested that I had very little public-speaking ability, but was given the speaking assignments anyway, beginning in Flen. There a sister had managed to get a couple of hundred listeners together for the evening’s talk. Those present—mostly older men and women with much experience in life—looked strained and doubtful during the talk. They had expected a completely different speaker from a 20-year-old! However, after my talk in another town, a number of elderly men came forward and shook hands with me, thanking me for what they had heard. This certainly encouraged me.
For several years I continued as a traveling speaker, my itinerary appearing in The Watch Tower, along with the regular traveling representatives of the Society. Especially were we travelers welcomed by the settlers in Lapland. Many Witnesses of today have their roots in that mountainous area, and at assemblies some of them greet me and say that they heard their first public talk when I visited the home of their parents years ago.
Experiences on the Public Platform
Normally during the 1920’s many persons attended our Bible talks and listened attentively. Once, however, a well-known individual stood up and shouted: “Lies. Faults. Come on. Let’s go!” But he was disappointed when only three or four persons followed him out.
On another occasion a group of young people marched into the hall singing “The Internationale” (a song used by the Communists). They sat down in the front row with the apparent intention of irritating me and disrupting the meeting. After I spoke about problems especially acute in that area, I continued with the talk “Who Will Bring Peace to the World?” Shortly the youths, one by one, removed their caps and began listening intently. Afterward they left peaceably, and some even stopped at the book table to ask about our literature.
When returning from a visit to the island of Seskarö in the Gulf of Bothnia, I once found a policeman waiting for me at the jetty. He took me to the police station, where the commissioner said that I had been accused of giving a political talk with probable Communist connections. He added: “You said that the whole of society is to be overthrown and a new leader by the name of Jehovah will take over.” Of course, matters were cleared up when it was explained that Jehovah is God’s name and that his kingdom had been discussed during the talk.
Changes of Assignment
My “substituting” as a traveling speaker continued until 1925, when I began working in the Society’s branch office. Then, in 1934, I got married. How much I have appreciated the loyal support of my wife, Elna! For some years she too had worked at the Society’s office.
Once in the 1930’s I walked many miles to visit people living in the lonely cottages along Sweden’s most northerly railway, above the Arctic Circle. These railway people did not have many visitors and therefore wanted us to stay for a long time and discuss life’s problems with them.
When the World Again Went to War
Sweden avoided involvement in World War II, but the frenzy of that conflict gave the church leaders an opportunity to try to hinder our work. One Swedish bishop falsely asserted that the Witnesses were prepared “to go out in the coming battle against Satan on a command from Jehovah” and bring down all of God’s enemies with armed force. After the war, our opponents preferred not to be reminded of the agitation for which they had been responsible during those years.
I was one of those called up for military service a number of times. After being sentenced, we were allowed to go free until orders were sent to the police to take us to prison. Once I was about to conduct a funeral service for a relative when two policemen made their way into the hall where about a hundred people had gathered.
The officers came up to me and said that I was under arrest and was to accompany them immediately. But the son of the deceased waved them discreetly aside and whispered: “You must understand that you cannot interrupt this meeting in this way. The officiator must complete his work here before he can leave. Otherwise, what would the relatives and friends think?”
At that, the policemen withdrew, parked the prison truck behind the cowshed and waited for me. They explained, somewhat embarrassed, that they had their orders and had to get me to Linköping prison before evening.
Freedom to Declare the “Good News”
A person who has lost his freedom for a time appreciates the benefits of being able to meet people and talk to them about the “good news,” either from the platform or from door to door.
After more than 60 years as a proclaimer of the “good news,” I am grateful for the many benefits of being in the ranks of Jehovah’s devoted worshipers, even if it is not with the same bodily strength as in my earlier years. Also, together with my wife and in thankfulness to the Almighty, I often remind myself of the valuable fellowship we have with humble and right-minded people who expectantly look forward to the long-awaited world government wherein the Prince of Peace wields the staff.—Isaiah 9:6, 7.
[Blurb on page 11]
The young father fell to his knees, took the little white coffin in hand and carefully laid it in the earth