Jehovah Has Been My Refuge and My Stronghold
As related by Margaret West
IMAGINE living in the castle where Queen Anna Sophie of Denmark was crowned in the year 1721. This summer residence of the Danish royal family, set amid beautiful parks, was my childhood home. The sumptuous rooms, the monumental staircases, the ceilings painted by old French masters, seemed at the time to be the stuff dreams were made of.
Just a short walk from the castle was another building, much more modest, but my 30 years in this building enriched my life much more. It was the Danish Bethel, branch office of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Denmark.
But first let me tell you how I came to live in Frederiksberg Castle in Copenhagen. My father, a colonel in the Danish army, directed the military academy whose headquarters were in the castle. This position entitled him and his family to live in these privileged surroundings. For a young girl, this was a fairy-tale life, shielded from harm within the confines of this beautiful setting. I thought that these happy, exciting days of childhood would never end. But this dream was shattered one unforgettable day in 1921.
We children were summoned to father’s bedroom. I could see him lying there, looking very white, with both hands on top of the sheet. Mother put her arms around us. Our doctor, who was also at the bedside, looked very grave. Mother said in a low voice: “Father is dead.” My first thought was: ‘That’s impossible! He’s hardly been ill.’ It was an overwhelming experience for a child of ten. Little did I then realize that this tragic death was to lead me to the understanding of the purpose of life.
Father’s death meant a tremendous change in our lives. The castle was an official residence, so Mother had to find another place for us to live. It was a difficult time, and to help us get over the tragedy, she did something that startled our family and friends. She took all of us out of school, and we embarked on a tour of Europe for a whole year.
A Search Is Rewarded
Back home in Denmark, however, the death of Father still hung over us, and Mother kept asking herself, time and time again, Why? Why? Why? In order to find an answer, she began to investigate Eastern philosophies, but these did not satisfy her logical mind. Then she decided to turn to the Bible, thinking that it might contain some answers. As she reached for the Bible on the bookshelf, she spotted a red book alongside it, a book she had never seen before. It was called The Divine Plan of the Ages. My brother had just bought it from a Bible Student who called on us.
Mother began reading the book and was soon convinced that she had discovered the answers to her questions. At this time, I was attending school in France, but when I returned home on holiday a few months later, Mother eagerly told me about her newfound treasure. She told me about the Kingdom of God—a Kingdom that would rule over all the earth and put an end to all wars, a Kingdom that would bring untold blessings to mankind, including the resurrection of the dead. It was wonderful. We had at last found a refuge from doubt and uncertainty.
That evening when I went to bed, I prayed for the first time in my life. We had never been a religious family, but in school we had been taught the Lord’s Prayer. So I hesitantly began to recite this prayer. When I came to the words, “Thy Kingdom come . . . ,” my heart almost burst for joy. At last I understood what I was asking for! Sixty years have passed, but I still remember clearly the indescribable joy I felt that night.
After finishing my schooling in France, I went to England for a year to practice my English. Mother had insisted: “A girl should learn languages, a boy mathematics.” Eventually, I learned five languages, all of which have been invaluable, and in later years I have often thanked Mother for giving me this opportunity.
When I arrived in England, I found that Mother had put the book The Harp of God in my suitcase. I studied it carefully and began to witness about what I had learned to the English family with whom I was staying. A relative of this family visited the home on one occasion, so I also witnessed to her. (I was getting quite proficient at ‘playing the ten strings’ of this “harp.”) As this lady wanted a book for herself, I wrote to the London branch office of the Watch Tower Society, and they directed me to the local brothers.
Thus I started associating with this small group in Wickford, Essex, that met in the home of one of the Bible Students. At one meeting, it was announced that the following Sunday there would be an “excursion,” and I was also invited. I looked forward to an interesting outing in the local countryside, but when I arrived, a prayer was said, and I was given some literature and sent off with an elderly sister to preach!
After returning to Denmark, I continued to associate with the Bible Students, and in 1929 I was baptized. An unforgettable experience was the assembly in Copenhagen in 1931. It was at this assembly that we took the name Jehovah’s Witnesses. In order to notify the rulers of this, Brother Rutherford’s talk and the subsequent resolution adopted at the assembly were published in the booklet The Kingdom, the Hope of the World. We were to deliver it personally to all the prominent persons in the community, including judges, members of the government, well-known businessmen, and also all the clergymen.
The Little Lady and the Bishop
The king of Denmark received his copy in an audience that was granted to the branch overseer. I was given a stack of booklets, together with the envelopes that had the names and addresses of the people I was to visit in this campaign. The first name on the list really shocked me. It was a prominent Lutheran bishop who was well known for his opposition to Jehovah’s Witnesses.
The bishop lived in an exclusive part of Copenhagen, and when I rang the bell, I must admit I felt even smaller than my diminutive five feet [1.5 m]. A maid opened the door, looked me up and down suspiciously, and asked: “What do you want, please?” “Thank you, I want to speak with the bishop,” I replied firmly. Mother had lent me an elegant astrakhan coat for the occasion, and perhaps this convinced the maid that my request should be granted, for after a long pause that seemed like an eternity, she said: “Just a minute.” Soon she returned and ushered me through a long corridor, opened the door, and there behind an enormous desk sat the bishop. He was a tall, burly man. He looked up and smiled at me benignly.
I reminded myself that the One behind me was greater than the one in front of me, explained to him the purpose of my visit, and handed him the envelope. He took it and then threw it on the desk as if it were on fire. He jumped up, took hold of my hand, and marched me backward along the endless corridor to the front door. The door slammed shut, but I smiled to myself. The booklet was on his desk; my job was done.
In 1933 I started pioneering, as I felt that it was an ideal way to serve Jehovah more fully. A year later I married Brother Albert West, an English brother who had been assigned to Denmark a couple of years earlier. Together we served in the Danish Bethel for 30 years.
The Nazi Occupation
April 9, 1940, was a day I shall never forget. I was awakened at six o’clock by the steady drone of aircraft that seemed to be flying directly overhead. What was happening? Denmark was a neutral country. Outside, people were gathering on the streets, rumors ran high, the atmosphere was tense. Then the radio announced: “Denmark has been occupied by the German forces.”
An immediate problem was what to do with all the literature that we had stored in the building. The brothers in Copenhagen showed marvelous foresight and prudence. Soon the books were distributed to local brothers, and branch records were safely deposited with an alert elderly sister, who kept them under her bed for the duration of the war.
Another problem was what to do with 350,000 booklets that had just arrived. It was decided to distribute them immediately. I would never have believed that you could climb so many stairs in just two days. All of this was done without arousing the suspicions of the German soldiers who were patrolling the streets. When they passed by, we tried to give the impression that we were window-shopping. All the brothers, both young and old, had a share in this lightning distribution, and after a 48-hour blitz, all the booklets were in the hands of the public.
With the invasion, all contact with headquarters in Brooklyn was cut off, but the supply of spiritual food did not dry up. There were one or two brothers who worked in the diplomatic service, and their luggage was not searched. As they made regular trips to Sweden, they were able to bring us The Watchtower in Swedish. I had some knowledge of Swedish, so I was assigned the task of translating each issue into Danish. A daunting challenge, but I got busy learning as much as I could. In this way, we had a regular supply of The Watchtower throughout the war.
In fact, we were even able to send some Danish copies to the brothers in Norway. Cartons of eggs destined for Nazi officials were regularly sent from Denmark to Norway. We were able to wrap the eggs in pages of the Danish Watchtower magazine, which Norwegian brothers carefully unwrapped before the eggs were handed over to the Germans.
An Unusual Encounter
During the war, Brother Eneroth, who was the branch servant in Sweden, got permission to visit Denmark, and Albert went to the ferry to meet him. When Brother Eneroth climbed down the gangway, two German officers appeared and asked Albert and Brother Eneroth to accompany them.
They were taken to the Hotel Cosmopolite, one of the military headquarters of the German army, and were escorted to an office on the second floor, where they were met by a German in plain clothes. Addressing them in perfect English, he said: “As you are well aware, there is a war going on. I am a businessman from Hamburg, and I have been assigned here as censor. I am censoring all the correspondence of the Watchtower Bible Society [between Denmark and Sweden]. It is something that goes against my grain, but I have no choice. May I compliment you on your correspondence, which is honest and refreshing to read. You cannot imagine the deceit I find in the letters of some companies.”
He put a question to the brothers. “What is a back-call?” Albert proceeded to give a short demonstration of a back-call, or return visit, using Brother Eneroth as his householder. The officer then concluded the interview, saying: “Thank you, gentlemen, that is all I wanted to know.” Perhaps this was his way of warning the brothers to be careful about what they put in their letters.
An Invitation to Gilead
At the end of 1945, we received a very welcome visit from Brothers Knorr and Henschel. During this visit, Albert and I were invited to the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead, and we attended the 11th class of this missionary school in 1948. After our Gilead training, I served with my husband who was assigned circuit work for six months in Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, D.C., before returning to Denmark.
A few years later, Albert got sick, and the illness was eventually diagnosed as cancer. I nursed him for ten years while doing what I could as a translator, until he died in 1963. The following year, I was faced with another responsibility to consider. My mother was now 88 years old and needed somebody to look after her. Thus, regretfully, I had to leave full-time service. Mother lived till she was 101 and continued faithful down to the end.
During the final years of my mother’s life, we spent the winter months in Spain. So when she died, I decided to stay there. I had learned Spanish and also felt that in this way I would be serving in a foreign field. Although I cannot do as much as I would like, because of my age and other responsibilities, I am still able to auxiliary pioneer on a regular basis.
Over 20 years of my life have been spent looking after a sick husband and an elderly mother. However, I never looked upon this as a burden. I always felt that they both deserved such care and consideration, and I viewed it as part of my service to Jehovah, who always helped me to face up to the sadness and trials that have to be endured under such circumstances.
Now I live in a small flat, so different from the impressive castle where I was born. But buildings can never give security, as I found out early in life. On the other hand, I did discover a greater refuge and stronghold, one that has never failed me. I can truly say, as did the psalmist: “You are my refuge and my stronghold, my God, in whom I will trust.”—Psalm 91:2.