Jehovah’s Hand Has Been With Us
As told by Simon Kraker
“DAD, what kind of career should I follow?”
“Well, Simon, consider the matter carefully because I can’t make the decision for you.”
“Yes, Dad, but with your experience you’d know better!”
“Perhaps, Simon. There are many fields to consider, and they all seem attractive, but which one will make you the happiest?”
“All right, Dad. I’ve thought of music, ballet, acrobatics, medicine, and the priesthood. I have an interest in each.”
Now, what choice would you have made? What road would you have traveled? Back in the early 1920’s, something happened to my family that had a telling effect on my choice of career. Let me relate it to you.
My parents, Mary and Joseph, were both born in Austria, but they met and were married in the United States. Before emigrating to the United States, Dad had traveled extensively throughout Europe as a professional trumpet player. Therefore, he saw to it that all of his eight children had not only a good academic education but also a musical one. The violin became my contribution to the family orchestra.
As Roman Catholics, Mom and Dad wanted all of us to have a good religious upbringing. I remember the Roman Catholic Bible we had in our house. It was large, had a gold cross embossed on its thick cover, and was written in old German type. I had become familiar enough with it to regard the Bible highly as God’s Word.
In the early 1920’s, free Bible tracts were being given out by another religion in front of our Holy Trinity Church in the city of Cleveland, Ohio. All of us would take them home and compare them with our Bible. They were published by the Bible Students, as Jehovah’s Witnesses were then known. One tract that I particularly remember because it made Mom happy was on the subject of the condition of the dead. She had lost two of her sons in infancy. From the tract, she learned that they were not alive in limbo or suffering in purgatory or hell but were unconscious in the grave, waiting for the resurrection. (Ecclesiastes 9:5, 10; John 11:24, 25) What comfort that brought not only to Mom but to all of us!
Making a Choice
Scriptural truths were becoming clearer as German-speaking Bible Students (Bibelforscher) visited our home. As we absorbed more Bible knowledge, we found ourselves becoming further estranged from our Catholic heritage. This posed a dilemma for me. I had been named Simon at birth, Peter at baptism, and Joseph at confirmation. I had become an altar boy, had learned Latin prayers and Masses, and had performed various religious functions. My parents hoped that I might become a priest, and my own determination was to share more fully in religious life.
I was, however, finding myself less and less attracted to my former career hopes. It was no longer a question of how I could entertain people, become a famous gymnast, or practice medicine. Rather, what could I do to help others spiritually? No more did I see the Roman Catholic priesthood as my answer.
My parents’ interest and activity swung toward the ‘good news of God’s Kingdom’ as declared by the Bible Students, and so did mine. (Matthew 24:14) In 1924 Mom and Dad began to preach the “good news” from house to house, and I accompanied them. Two years later, when I was 12 years old, Dad came to realize that I could preach on my own. So he gave me a pocket Bible to use in my evangelizing work. Before I was graduated from high school in 1929, I made the decision to dedicate myself to God.
As I think back over the more than 60 years since my family began to share in Kingdom preaching, I realize that we have passed many milestones in the forward movement of God’s visible organization. For example, in 1925 The Watch Tower published the article “Birth of the Nation.” I was delighted to learn that Jehovah is gathering sincere individuals from all nations to be his people. That Scriptural point really impressed me! Why? Because in my neighborhood, prejudice against Jews and blacks then ran strong. But God’s nation is free of all divisive forces—racial, political, commercial, military, and sectarian. (Acts 10:34, 35) How thrilling it was to read the explanation of the prophecy of Isaiah chapter 66 and see its fulfillment in my own day!
The 1928, Detroit, Michigan, convention was another theocratic landmark for our family. That was true for two reasons. It was the first convention my parents attended. And upon their return home, we children were deeply affected when their joyful enthusiasm about doing more in Jehovah’s service just bubbled over.—Romans 12:11.
Then in 1931 God’s organization had thrilling news for us. We got a new name—Jehovah’s Witnesses. What a unique privilege, to bear God’s name before men and angels!—Isaiah 43:10-12.
I will never forget the year 1935, when the identity of the “other sheep” and the “great crowd” became clear. (John 10:16; Revelation 7:9) This helped many individuals—myself included—to take the step of getting baptized. Baptism had not been stressed in my earlier days in the truth. Since I had already dedicated my life to Jehovah God, I now saw that it was proper to symbolize that dedication by water baptism.
The year 1938 was one of theocratic reorganization. Before that time, there had been only one central meeting place of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Cleveland—Engineer’s Auditorium, used for German, Polish, English, and other language groups. After 1938 God’s organization arranged for congregations to be established in various sections of the city. Dad and some of my brothers were appointed as servants in the congregation. My assignment was in the magazine department.
The year 1939 brought another historic event that helped solidify my faith in Jehovah and his visible organization. As war clouds hovered, The Watchtower published an article entitled “Neutrality.” From this article, I learned to appreciate that God’s people were to be at peace with everyone, even amid threats of war. Thankfully, this prepared me for the hard times I was about to face.
Also in 1939 I went to New York City for the first time. There I heard the second president of the Watch Tower Society, J. F. Rutherford, speak at Madison Square Garden. Religious enemies, about 500 strong, tried to break up that meeting with their catcalls as Brother Rutherford spoke. But all of this was to no avail. He held his ground to the end, and the audience responded with enthusiastic rounds of applause.
Close to my heart and still fresh in my mind is the 1942 international convention held in my hometown, Cleveland. The widely advertised public talk was “Peace—Can It Last?” Scriptural evidence was presented to show that any future man-made peace could not last.
It was at that time that my faith was tested over the issue of neutrality. I was a manager in the parts and accessory division of the General Motors automobile company. They had allowed me to work on a part-time basis, thereby enabling me to keep my activity as a minister of religion in first place. But with the storm of war raging and now involving the United States, would I share in the conflict or would I try to get an exemption due to my secular work? I chose neither. I was an ordained minister and had the legal right to be exempted from military service on that basis. However, the Selective Service Board disagreed.
The Board suggested: “You could go into the armed forces and serve there as a minister.” “No,” I replied. “My conscientious reason is that I am a minister of the gospel, and I have devoted my life to that work.”
“But you can do that in the army too.”
“No,” I said. “I can only serve my fellow humans with ‘good news’ as found in the Bible.”
My case went to a higher court. In Federal Court I pointed out that my father had fled Austria and come to the United States because of his religious convictions against bearing arms and being part of the military.
“But you would not need to fight,” said the judge. “With your background and training, you would make a fine chaplain, young man.”
“Your Honor, how could I do that? If I cannot conscientiously bear arms, how could I encourage another to do so?”
Despite the documented evidence of my being a minister of the gospel, in the fall of 1943 I was sentenced to five years in the federal penitentiary at Lewisburg, Pennsylvania. I was not the only Witness in Lewisburg, though, for there were about 50 other brothers there too. By the time I was released, the number had grown to about 200.
The prison sprawled over about a thousand acres (400 ha) of land. Within its confines were buildings that housed the more dangerous criminals, a farm camp for the trusted inmates, and a village where the warden, guards, and other prison personnel lived. Witnesses were usually assigned to the farm camp. My job was to drive the farm-camp prisoners to and from their work areas.
When I first arrived, our religious meetings and literature were not allowed. Yet we regularly received the Watchtower magazine. How was this possible? Some visitors traveling through the wooded sections of the grounds to the village and prison buildings would discreetly drop the magazines along the road in a paper bag. I or another brother would come along and find the bag and pass its contents on to the rest of the brothers. Another way we got literature was through the kindness of one guard who lived in the village. He would leave old newspapers on the porch of his house. When the time arrived to pick up the newspapers, quite often we would find our magazines in among the old papers. Later, the warden granted our request to hold regular meetings and receive Bible literature.
One day when I dropped off a work crew at the warden’s garden, I got a good scare. In my clothing, I had hidden the Society’s book The Truth Shall Make You Free. While the inmates were doing the trimming and cutting work, I sat in the truck and cautiously pulled out the book. But imagine my shock when the warden’s little daughter suddenly jumped up from behind me and said, “Boo! What are you reading?”
Since she caught me by surprise with literature that really should have been left in my cell, I told her that it was a book that explains the Bible. She became even more curious as I showed her one of the book’s pictures. It was of a man stooping down, unfastening his leg shackles. “Lots of people are like that,” I said. “They are shackled to false religious ideas, and Jesus wants to set them free because he said: ‘The truth shall make you free.’”—John 8:32, King James Version.
The next day the child’s mother said: “Simon, my daughter told me all about the conversation you had with her concerning the Bible and the book you showed her. She was very impressed, and it sounded interesting to me too.” Happily, the surprising incident led to no unfavorable consequences.
I served less than half of my prison sentence. After my release in 1946, I quickly joined the ranks of the full-time pioneer ministers again.
The Glad Nations Theocratic Assembly, held in Cleveland in 1946, was another important point in my life. It was there that I applied to come to Bethel—full-time service at the Watchtower Society’s world headquarters in Brooklyn, New York.
Two representatives of the Society, Brothers Milton Henschel and Robert Morgan, gave a brief explanation of Bethel service and then interviewed those present. I approached them hesitantly. However, once the interview began, I found them to be very kind and down-to-earth.
“Why do you want to serve at Bethel?” one of the brothers asked.
“I’m doing all I can in Jehovah’s service as a pioneer,” I answered. “But if I can go to Bethel, I’m sure I can do more.”
“If you come to Bethel, you certainly will do more,” the other said.
He was right! Since my first day at Bethel, February 18, 1947, I have found service here most interesting and rewarding. I thank Jehovah every day that his hand guided me into this wholesome privilege of service.—2 Thessalonians 3:5.
Evidences We Have Seen of God’s Spirit
After 45 years of singleness for the sake of the Kingdom, I found my “capable wife,” Grace Suiter, right here at Brooklyn Bethel. (Proverbs 31:10) She had come to Bethel from the Midwest in 1939, although she and her family learned the truth in California.* Since our marriage in 1959, we have found that Jehovah’s hand is with those who love and serve him faithfully.
In many ways my dear Grace and I come from similar backgrounds. We were both born in 1914, both of our families were seeking religious truth, and we both began actively sharing with our parents in door-to-door preaching at the same age—12. In addition, as a married couple in Bethel service, what a joy it is to experience together the courageous initiative taken by God’s organization in pushing the work of witnessing “to the most distant part of the earth”!—Acts 1:8.
Do we have any regrets for having come under God’s hand? Not Grace! “We haven’t become rich in worldly goods serving here at Bethel,” she says. “Yet our life has been rich in a more lasting way. Even though we have no natural children, we surely have a lot of spiritual ones.”
I have no regrets either! Our choice to praise Jehovah in full-time service has been a very good one. We have led a full life with a noble purpose, thanks to being “under the mighty hand of God.”—1 Peter 5:6.
The September 1, 1983, issue of The Watchtower contains the life story of her late brother, Grant Suiter, and their family.
[Picture on page 23]
My parents, Joseph and Mary
[Picture on page 25]
Simon and his wife, Grace