‘I Mounted Up With Wings Like Eagles’
As told by Ingeborg Berg
I WAS born over a hundred years ago, on June 5, 1889, near Fredensborg Castle, just north of Copenhagen. When the Danish royal family had guests, including kings and emperors from European countries, ladies from the well-to-do homes in Fredensborg were invited to help with the food and the serving. As a little girl, I was often taken along and allowed to play and run about in the castle.
Most vivid is my recollection of Czar Nicholas II of Russia and his family. Outside his bedroom stood his bodyguard, a cossack with drawn sword. The cossacks were fond of children, and once one of them tried to give me a hug. Frightened, especially by his enormous beard, I fled through the long corridors of the castle.
On one occasion Czar Nicholas II, Emperor Wilhelm II of Germany, and the son of Queen Victoria, who later became King Edward VII of England, visited the Danish king Christian IX. While they strolled the streets of Fredensborg, talking kindly with people, Czar Nicholas patted me on my head as I made a curtsy to him. It was a peaceful time then, and heads of nations did not fear for their safety as they do today.
Peace Taken Away
In 1912 I began to work as a nurse in South Jutland, serving the pro-Danish people on the German side of the border. South Jutland had been under German rule since the war in 1864 between Denmark and Prussia. I helped mothers with newborn babies and became well-acquainted with many of these young families.
In 1914 I married a Danish border guard and came to live on the Danish side of the border. Shortly afterward war broke out. Later it was called the Great War and, eventually, World War I. One morning, barbed wire was rolled out along the border, hindering free movement across it. The peace and security we had experienced until then was gone.
The horror and senselessness of the war came very close to us when we learned that the young fathers in all the families I had visited as a nurse were being called up for military service. And all except one fell on the Western Front at the Marne! It was terrible to think of the young widows, suffering the loss of their husbands and the little children their fathers. How could these young women care for their farms? “Where is God?” I asked.
During the war, the situation at the border was often very tense as refugees tried to cross. I was assigned to frisk the women who were suspected of smuggling. Usually, it was food that they carried, and I often overlooked it and let them go. The war ended in 1918, and in 1920 South Jutland was reunited with Denmark.
Finding Faith in God
Although my faith in God had weakened because of all the injustices I saw, I was searching for some meaning to life. Alfred, my husband, and I regularly attended church, but our questions were not answered.
In 1923 we moved to a small fishing village at the Flensburg Fjord, and Alfred began to work as a fisherman. Soon we became acquainted with a family who were Baptists. Although we were Lutherans, one day we accepted their invitation to a Bible talk at the Ferry Inn in Egernsund. Before we went, I fell on my knees and prayed: “If there is a God, please listen to my prayer!”
The talk was about the woman at the well of Sychar, and it gave me a desire to read the Bible. As a result, I became, as it were, a new person! I wrote to my mother: “You always said that I should be converted to God. I think that this has happened now; I have been afraid to tell you for fear that the joy I have experienced should disappear. But it remains!”
Sometime later, in 1927, I found in our attic a booklet entitled Freedom for the Peoples. It caught my attention, and I became so engrossed in the contents that I forgot time and place. Not until the children came home from school and wanted to eat did I tear myself away from reading it.
When Alfred came home that evening, I told him with great enthusiasm what I had read. I told him that if what the booklet said was true, then the church was not the house of God, and we ought to resign and leave it right away. Alfred thought that this would be somewhat rash, and he said so. But we agreed to write a letter to the branch office of the Watch Tower Society in Copenhagen and ask for more literature.
In answer to our request, a traveling overseer, Christian Rømer, was sent to visit us. We gave him the children’s room and put their beds in the attic. In the morning and in the afternoon, Brother Rømer went out preaching from door to door, and each evening he studied with us. He stayed for four days, and we really had a wonderful time. When he left, I again asked Alfred about resigning from the church. This time he enthusiastically agreed.
So Alfred went to the minister with our resignation. The minister thought that Alfred had come because there was another baby to be baptized. However, when he understood why Alfred had come, he could not believe it. “What is wrong with the church?” he wanted to know. Alfred mentioned the doctrines of the Trinity, immortality of the soul, and eternal torment. “The Bible does not teach these things,” Alfred said. When the minister lamely answered that he would never speak of these matters to people who could think for themselves, Alfred firmly said: “We want to get out of the church!”
A Surprise Catch and Baptism
A convention was to be held in Copenhagen, but we were short of money and could not afford the trip. I prayed to God that he show us a way to get there, since we wanted to get baptized. Shortly before the convention, Alfred sailed out on the fjord to fish. He caught so many that the boat was filled, and we could pay for our trip. The local fishermen were amazed, since few fish were caught that year in the fjord. In fact, more than 50 years later, the local fishermen still talked about “the miracle.” We called it Peter’s catch of fish. So on August 28, 1928, we were baptized.
The baptism was different from baptisms today. Behind a curtain was the baptism pool. When the curtain was opened, there was Brother Christian Jensen ready to do the immersing. He was dressed in a tailcoat, standing in the middle of the pool with the water up to his waist. We baptismal candidates were dressed in long white robes. First the men were baptized and then the women.
During the convention in Copenhagen, we stayed with my parents. When I came home that evening, my father asked where we had been.
“We have been to a meeting,” I said.
“What happened there?”
“We were baptized,” I answered.
“You were baptized?” he roared. “Was the baptism you were given as a child not good enough?”
“No, Father,” I replied. Then he gave me a stinging box on the ear, yelling: “I will baptize you!”
I was 39 years old and the mother of five children when I thus got the last box on the ear from my father, who was otherwise very nice and kind. He never again mentioned the episode. Fortunately, Alfred had not yet come home, and it wasn’t until years later that I told him what had happened.
A Time of Sifting
When we got home, I visited someone I had viewed as a sister and enthusiastically told her about the convention and our baptism. She sat very quiet and then said: “Poor, poor Sister Berg. You must not believe this anymore. One of these days a brother from Flensburg will come, and he will explain the truth to us.”
I was dumbfounded. I was hardly able to bicycle home. A church bell nearby was pealing, and for every stroke it was as if I heard “death, death” in my ears. Inwardly I cried to Jehovah for help, and the words of Psalm 32:8, 9 came to my mind: “I will instruct thee and teach thee in the way which thou shalt go: I will guide thee with mine eye. Be ye not as the horse, or as the mule, which have no understanding: whose mouth must be held in with bit and bridle, lest they come near unto thee.”—King James Version.
When I arrived home, I took my Bible and read the Lord’s Prayer. I was reassured. The parable of the pearl of high value came to my mind. (Matthew 13:45, 46) The Kingdom was like that pearl. I wanted to give all that I had in order to gain the Kingdom. These thoughts were a comfort to me. And there were other blessings.
In 1930 the magazine The Golden Age (now Awake!) began to be published in Danish under the name The New World. And the following year, we Bible Students were delighted to receive the name Jehovah’s Witnesses. There were only a few of us in our area at the time, and now and then meetings were held in our home. Since the street on which we lived was named The Staircase, we were called The Staircase Congregation.
Enduring Further Tests
In 1934 I underwent major surgery and as a result, I became paralyzed. I was in bed for two and a half years, and the physicians predicted that I would be confined to a wheelchair for the rest of my life. It was a very difficult time for me, but my family was a wonderful help.
Alfred bought me a Bible with large print, and our youngest son made a stand for it so that I could lie in bed and read it. But I also wanted to preach, so Alfred placed by the road a placard that advertised the new magazines. Those who were interested came in to see me, and I talked to them. The effect of this placard was that people in the region called our family The New World.
Traveling overseers were alert to visit me. Thus I became well-acquainted with these mature and experienced brothers, and I was greatly encouraged by them. Also, I used the time to study the Bible, and the knowledge sustained me. I felt as though ‘I mounted up with wings like an eagle.’—Isaiah 40:31.
When, in 1935, the identity of the “great crowd” became clear, most brothers and sisters in our area, including our oldest son and daughter, discontinued partaking of the bread and the wine at the Memorial. However, a few of us never doubted our heavenly calling. Yet, we were also happy about our new understanding of Jehovah’s grand purpose regarding the great crowd and their reward of everlasting life on the earth.—Revelation 7:9; Psalm 37:29.
Little by little my health improved, contrary to what the doctors had anticipated, and I was again able to have a full share in the vital work of preaching and teaching.
World War II and Afterward
Across the fjord we could see Germany, and we began to sense the influence of Nazism. Some of our neighbors became Nazis, and they threatened us: “Wait until Hitler comes. Then you will end up in a concentration camp or on a desolate island!”
We felt it best to move. Some friendly people helped us get an apartment in Sønderborg, a larger town not too far away. World War II began in September 1939; we moved in March 1940; and on April 9, German troops occupied Denmark. Strangely, however, Jehovah’s Witnesses in Denmark did not become the object of German attention.
When Hitler’s dream of conquest finally collapsed, I had Bible studies with many disillusioned Germans living in Sønderborg. What a joy not only to see many of these Bible students dedicate their lives to Jehovah but also to have most of my children and grandchildren active in Christian service!
I lost my husband in 1962, a grandchild in 1981, and my oldest daughter in 1984. Keeping active in Jehovah’s service is what has helped me through these times of sorrow.
It has been wonderful to see the progress of the Kingdom work in Denmark from the time I began in 1928. Then we had only about 300 publishers, but now there are over 16,000! I am grateful that I can still, at a hundred years of age, be active in the service. I have truly experienced the fulfillment of the words at Isaiah 40:31: “But those who are hoping in Jehovah will regain power. They will mount up with wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary; they will walk and not tire out.”