I Found Justice—Not in Politics but in True Christianity
As told by Xavier Noll
INJUSTICE! This was something I met up with early in life, and I suffered because of it. As a youth, I asked myself: ‘Is injustice something that just has to be put up with? Is there no government on earth that is capable of putting an end to it? Where can justice be found?’ I eventually found it, but not where I expected.
A Search From Childhood
I was brought up in Wittelsheim, a small town in Alsace, a region in northeastern France. My father, like many other men in that area, worked in a potash mine. Back in the 1930’s, workers in the industrial world were astir with revolt. I remember that as a child, I joined in workers’ demonstrations. We would parade in the streets with raised fists, chanting revolutionary songs, such as the socialist “Internationale.” The workers demanded justice and better living conditions.
When the miners went on strike and occupied the mine, I would take my father his meals. I still remember how scared I was when I had to go through the cordon of armed national guards in order to pass my father’s gamelle (meal can) to him through the mine railings. I was impressed by the banners displaying fiery slogans and the red flags flying in the wind, some bearing the hammer and sickle.
Women would assemble in front of the mine gates, shouting slogans to encourage their husbands to keep up the fight against the “exploiters.” Other women lived in constant fear for their husbands’ safety. In spite of their anticapitalist feelings, some men would sneak out to the mine under cover of darkness in order to earn enough to feed their family. At times my father did this also. He would then carry a gun in his bag in case he met up with pickets looking for strikebreakers.
Hitler Invades France
I was 17 when war broke out. A few months later, the Nazis invaded France. Since they claimed that Alsace was not merely occupied territory but a part of the German Reich, all young men like me were to be enrolled in Hitler’s army. Hence, with a suitcase tied on my back, I fled on my bicycle before the oncoming invaders. I sometimes managed to get a tow by holding on to the back of trucks heading south. Streams of refugees were a ready target for German planes, so I would plunge into a ditch when I heard them coming.
I reached south-central France, which was still unoccupied by the Germans. But even there I met up with injustice. I worked hard sweeping the streets, carrying coffins in cemeteries, or humping high 100-pound [45 kg] loads in a cement factory. Sometimes I would work 12 hours a day for a mere pittance. Most of the relief we refugees should have received was stolen by the officials appointed to distribute it.
Toward the end of 1940, I decided to join in the fight to liberate my country. I went to Algeria, in North Africa, and joined what was left of the French army there. Army life did not satisfy my thirst for justice any more than civilian life had done, but I still wanted to share in freeing Europe. The Americans landed in North Africa near the end of 1942. One day in 1943, however, I lost three of my fingers when a grenade detonator I was handling exploded. So I was unable to join the troops that were to reconquer Europe.
Disgusted With Commerce, Politics, and Religion
Once back to civilian life in Algeria, the flagrant exploitation of man by man that was going on in the working world made me feel indignant. One of my companions died after inhaling a deadly gas under dangerous working conditions. Shortly afterward I nearly died under the same circumstances. This commercial firm had absolutely no consideration for the health, or even the lives, of its workers. I had to fight to obtain compensation. I was thoroughly disgusted.
Although only 24, I ended up in an old people’s home, where I stayed until the end of the war. While there, I met some French communist militants who had been exiled to Algeria at the beginning of the war. We got on well, and they had no trouble persuading me to join them in their fight against injustice.
Once the war was over, I returned to my hometown in Alsace, full of my new ideals. But things did not turn out as I had hoped. I was most disturbed to discover that some members of the Communist Party had not been good patriots during the war. One day a party official said to me: “You know, Xavier, we’d never get anywhere if we only accepted hard-liners.” I expressed my disagreement and my disappointment.
I also noticed that those who shouted the loudest about ideals and justice spent most of their salary on drinks down at the mine canteen, reducing their family to poverty. In spite of this, I still voted for the Communist Party because I felt the communists were doing the most to obtain justice for the working class.
I had been a server at Mass in my younger days, so the Catholic priest came around to try to persuade me to become a militant for the church. But I had lost faith in the clergy. I was convinced that they were on the side of the dominant class. Besides, I knew that many Catholic priests had collaborated with the Germans in France during the occupation. I remembered that when I was in the army, the Catholic chaplains preached patriotism. But I also knew that Catholic chaplains in the German army did the same thing. In my opinion, that was the job of politicians and military leaders, not church ministers.
Additionally, bitter experiences had seriously shaken my faith in God. My sister was killed by a shell the day she turned 20. At the time, I said to myself: ‘If God exists, why does he allow all this injustice?’ Nevertheless, when I enjoyed the peaceful calm of our beautiful countryside, I felt deeply moved. I would say to myself: ‘All of this could not have “just happened.”’ At times like that I would pray.
A Message of Hope
One Sunday morning in 1947, a man and a woman in their 30’s came to our door. They talked to my father, who told them: “You’d better see my son. He reads everything he can get his hands on.” It was true. I would read anything, from the communist newspaper L’Humanité to the Catholic daily La Croix. These visitors told me about a war-free world of justice for all, where our earth would become a paradise. Everyone would occupy his own house, and sickness and death would be things of the past. They proved everything they said from the Bible, and I could see they were really convinced.
I was 25, and this was the first time I had ever even touched a Bible. The passages they read aroused my curiosity. It seemed too good to be true, and I wanted to be clear on the matter in my own mind. My visitors promised to bring me a Bible and left a book called Deliverance, together with a booklet entitled “Be Glad, Ye Nations.”
As soon as they left, I started reading the booklet. The testimony of General de Gaulle’s niece concerning the integrity of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the Ravensbrück concentration camp for women was a real eye-opener. ‘If true Christians exist,’ I said to myself, ‘these must be the ones.’ I finished the Deliverance book before going to bed that night. At last I had found the answer to one of the questions that had been haunting me for so long: “Why does a God of justice permit injustice?”
I Take My Stand for True Justice
The following day, true to their promise, the Witnesses came back with a Bible. Because of a bicycle accident, my shoulder was in a cast, and I could not go to work, so I had time on my hands. I read through the whole Bible in just seven days, discovering its fine principles of justice and righteousness. As I read on, I became more and more convinced that this book was from God. I began to understand that the fight to establish true justice had to be spiritual, not political.—Ephesians 6:12.
I was convinced that all my political friends would be overjoyed to hear about the message of hope I had just discovered. What a disappointment when they showed anything but enthusiasm! As for me, I just could not hold back from telling out the good news to one and all. I particularly enjoyed quoting certain texts, such as James 5:1-4, where the rich are condemned for exploiting the workers.
I was a mailman at the time. In order to avoid irritating my father, who stuck to his own opinions, I would leave the house wearing my mailman’s cap and would be sure to have it on when I came home. One day my father said to a friend: “My son is doing a lot of overtime lately.” The truth was that I left my cap at a friend’s place when I went out in the preaching work and put it back on afterward.
Less than three months after my first contact with Jehovah’s Witnesses, I set off alone to attend a convention in Basel, Switzerland. In the middle of the baptism talk, I mentioned to the Witness lady sitting next to me (who had kindly put me up for the assembly) that I would like to get baptized but that I had no bathing gear. She immediately left her seat and was back with trunks and towel long before the end of the talk.
Widening Out in the Ministry
I was already spending about 60 hours a month visiting people in their homes. However, when a letter encouraging pioneer service (full-time preaching work) was read at the Kingdom Hall, I said to myself: ‘That’s for me!’
Toward the end of 1949, I was sent to the famous Mediterranean seaport of Marseilles to pioneer. Life was pleasant in Marseilles in those days after the war. It was the kind of city where tram drivers would stop so as not to interrupt a game of pétanque (bowls) being played in the street. The other pioneer brothers and I found nowhere to stay but a boarding house that was also used by prostitutes. It was not an ideal place for Christian ministers, but I must say that as far as we were concerned, these filles de joie never said or did anything out of place and listened attentively to our message.
We had very little money and leaned heavily on Jehovah to provide our material needs. In the evenings, when we got back home, we would share our experiences. One day, to my great surprise, a Yugoslav lady I met while going from door to door took a huge crucifix from her bedside table and kissed it with fervor to prove how much she loved God. She accepted a Bible study, and soon her eyes were opened to the vanity of worshiping idols.
In November 1952 Sister Sara Rodriguez, a pioneer from Paris, arrived in Marseilles to help in the preaching work. All of us pioneer brothers were glad to have her accompany us when visiting women who showed interest in Bible truth. Finally I “kidnapped” her, so to speak, for she became my wife.
In 1954, three months after our marriage, the Society invited us to go to Martinique in the French West Indies. We would be the first overseas Witnesses to preach on this island since the expulsion of missionaries in the early 1950’s. After 17 days on the ocean, we finally arrived with many questions on our minds. How would we be accepted? Where would we live? What kind of food would we eat? How long would it take to find a suitable Kingdom Hall for our meetings?
A New Territory and a New Life
The inhabitants of Martinique proved to be very hospitable. As we went from door to door, the people would often give us refreshments. In fact, it was not uncommon to be invited in for a meal. We placed much Bible literature, and although most of the islanders did not own a Bible, they held it in high esteem.
Our first home was a hut with a tin roof. During the rainy season, the sudden downpours at night would wake us up with a start as the rain pounded on the roof. Tap water was available only two or three times a day. We had no bathroom. We would take a shower by standing in an empty oil barrel in our small backyard, taking turns pouring water over each other. Rather primitive but very welcome after a long day out in the sun!
Sara had to adapt to local cooking and learn to prepare breadfruit. As a child, I had always imagined the breadfruit tree with loaves hanging from its branches. Actually, the fruit of this tree is more like a vegetable. It can be prepared like potatoes. Back in those days, we would eat it with turtle eggs. This was delicious, but today such eggs are a luxury. Breadfruit is also good with meat or fish.
Material problems were overcome, and abundant spiritual blessings amply compensated for any difficulties. Upon coming home one day, I announced to Sara that I had found a Kingdom Hall to seat a hundred. “How much?” she asked. “The owner told me to fix my price,” I replied. At that time all we could offer was the derisory sum of 10 francs a month. Providentially, the man accepted.
We were in high hopes of having excellent meeting attendance, for people were always saying: “If you had a hall, we would come to your meetings.” However, for many long months we had an average attendance of only ten. But perseverance bore fruit, and today there are 24 congregations on the Flowered Island, as Martinique is called, totaling some 2,000 Witnesses.
Toward the end of 1958, I went to French Guiana to answer a call from a young student. After a ten-day sea trip on a small vessel called the Nina, I started preaching at Saint Laurent, a port on the Maroni River. There I met several ex-convicts who stayed on after the penal colony system was abolished by France in 1945. Then I went to Cayenne, where I visited the young man I had come to see. He and several other persons who subscribed for our magazines during my stay in French Guiana are now active servants of Jehovah.
My wife and I were invited several times to the world headquarters of Jehovah’s Witnesses, in Brooklyn, for different training courses, totaling over a year. There I have really seen how the Bible principles of justice and equality are put into practice among God’s people. Those holding responsible positions eat at the same tables as youths who work in the factory, and they receive the same small reimbursement. Yes, justice and equality—my childhood dream—are a living reality there.
I am now 65, with 40 years in full-time service behind me. My wife and I spent many of those years combing Martinique on motorcycles, preaching the good news of Jehovah’s new system of things founded upon justice. We now work at the branch in an office building overlooking the magnificent bay of Fort-de-France. All these years in God’s organization have taught us an important lesson. It is only among God’s people that true justice may be found, with no racial, tribal, or religious barriers. Together with those we have seen come along into the truth over the years, we cherish the hope of living soon in a new earth in which righteousness is to dwell.—2 Peter 3:13.