‘Jehovah Is My God, in Whom I Will Trust’
AS TOLD BY WILLI DIEHL
“Why do you want to go to Bethel?” This was my father’s question in the spring of 1931 when I told him of my wish to start Bethel service. My parents, who lived in Saarland, had been in the truth for ten years or so, and they had set us three boys a good example. The truth was their whole life, and I wanted to make it my whole life too.
BUT how had my parents learned about Jehovah and his sacred will? Dissatisfied with established religion, they had long searched for the truth. They tried a variety of churches and sects, discovering each, in turn, not to be the right one.
One day a handbill was left at our door announcing a talk with pictures and a film about God’s purpose called “Photo-Drama of Creation.” Father had to work when the “Photo-Drama” was to be shown, but he encouraged Mother to go. “Perhaps,” he said “there may be something to it.” After seeing it that evening, Mother was enthusiastic. “I’ve found it at last!” she said. “Come and see for yourself tomorrow evening. It is the truth we have been searching for.” That was in 1921.
As spirit-anointed Christians, my parents remained faithful until they died, Father in 1944, after having been incarcerated by the Nazis a number of times, and Mother in 1970. She too spent a long time in prison under the Nazi regime.
My Parents’ Exemplary Zeal
Before they died, my parents were very active in field service. Mother was especially zealous in distributing the convention resolutions released from 1922 to 1928. Ecclesiastics Indicted, embodying a resolution adopted in 1924 contained sharp criticism of the clergy. Distributing it took courage. The publishers were up at four o’clock in the morning, pushing the tracts under the doors. Although I was only 12, my parents allowed me to take part. We often started at five o’clock in the morning, riding on bicycles from three to four hours to reach remote territory. We hid the bicycles in the bushes, and I guarded them while others worked the village. In the afternoon we pedaled home, and in the evening we walked an hour to the meeting.
Later, someone younger was left to guard the bicycles, and I went along with the publishers. But no one thought of training me. They simply told me which street to work! With pounding heart I crept up to the first house, hoping no one would be home. Alas, a man opened the door. I was speechless. Fumbling, I pointed to the book in my bag. “Is it from Judge Rutherford?” he asked. I stuttered a reply. “Is it new, one that I don’t have?” “Yes, it’s new,” I confirmed. “Then I must have it. How much is it?” This gave me the courage to continue.
In 1924 the grown-ups talked a lot about 1925. We once visited a family of Bible Students, and I heard one brother ask: “If the Lord takes us away, what will become of our children?” Mother, positive as ever, replied: “The Lord will know how to take care of them.” The subject fascinated me. What did it all mean? The year 1925 came and went, and nothing happened. However, my parents did not let up in their zeal.
Father’s Wise Admonition
Finally, in 1931, I told my father what I wanted to do with my life. “Why do you want to go to Bethel?” my father asked in reply. “Because I want to serve Jehovah,” I answered. “Suppose you are accepted for Bethel,” he continued. “Do you realize that the brothers there are not angels? They are imperfect and make mistakes. I am afraid that this might cause you to run away and even give up the faith. Be sure to think carefully about it.”
I was shocked to hear such a thing, but after weighing matters for some days, I repeated my wish to apply for Bethel. “Tell me again why you want to go,” he said. “Because I want to serve Jehovah,” I repeated. “My boy, never forget that. If you are invited, remember why you are going. If you see something wrong, do not be overly concerned. Even if you are treated wrongly, do not run away. Never forget why you are at Bethel—because you want to serve Jehovah! Just attend to your work and trust in him.”
So it was that early on the afternoon of November 17, 1931, I arrived at Bethel in Bern, Switzerland. I shared a room with three others and worked in the printery, learning to operate a small hand-fed printing press. One of the first items I was assigned to print was The Watchtower in Romanian.
A Message From Heaven!
In 1933 the Society published The Crisis, a booklet containing three radio talks that Brother Rutherford had given in the United States. Brother Harbeck, the branch servant, informed the Bethel family at breakfast one morning that the booklet was to be circulated in a special way. Advertising leaflets would be dropped from a small rented airplane flying over Bern, while publishers would stand on the streets offering the booklet to the public. “Which of you young brothers is prepared to go up in the plane?” he asked. “Hand your names in straightaway.” I did, and Brother Harbeck later announced that I had been chosen.
On the big day, we drove with cartons of leaflets to the airport. I seated myself behind the pilot and piled the leaflets onto the seat alongside me. My precise instructions were: Roll the handbills into hundreds, and throw each bundle out the window off to one side with as much force as possible. Carelessness could cause the bills to become entangled in the tail of the aircraft, creating problems. But all went well. Brothers later said what a thrill it was to see this ‘message from heaven.’ It had the desired effect, and many booklets were placed, even if some people did phone to complain that their flower beds were covered with leaflets.
Thankful for Every Privilege of Service
Daily I thanked Jehovah for the joy and satisfaction of Bethel service. In the congregation, I was assigned to open the Kingdom Hall, to arrange the chairs in an orderly way, and to place a glass of fresh water on the speaker’s stand. I considered this a great honor.
At Bethel, I eventually worked on the large flatbed printing press used to print The Golden Age (now Awake!) in Polish. In 1934 we began using phonographs, and I assisted in constructing them. I found great joy in going from house to house with recorded Bible talks. Many householders were curious about this small contraption, and often the whole family would gather to listen, only to disappear one by one. When the whole family had left, I simply moved on.
Staying Active During Wartime
After World War I, my native Saarland was separated from Germany and governed under the auspices of the League of Nations. Thus, the Saarland issued its own identity documents. In 1935 a plebiscite was held to decide whether its citizens desired to be reunited with Germany. I took the opportunity to visit my family, knowing that I would be unable to do so should the Saarland come under Nazi control. And indeed, for many years thereafter, I heard nothing from my parents or my brothers.
Although spared direct involvement in World War II, Switzerland became completely isolated as Germany occupied neighboring countries one by one. We had been printing literature for all of Europe apart from Germany, but now no orders could be filled. Brother Zürcher, then branch servant, told us that we had practically no money left, and he invited us to find work outside Bethel until things normalized. I was allowed to stay, however, as there were a few things to print for the thousand or so local publishers.
The Bethel family will never forget July 5, 1940. Right after lunch a military truck drove up. Soldiers jumped out and burst into Bethel. We were ordered to stand still, and each of us was individually guarded by an armed soldier. We were herded into the dining hall while the rest of the building was searched. The authorities suspected us of telling others to refuse military service, but they failed to find any evidence.
During the war years, I was congregation servant in both Thun and Frutigen. That meant that my weekend schedule was very full. Each Saturday, immediately after lunch, I rode my bicycle 30 miles [50 km] to Frutigen, where I conducted the Watchtower Study in the evening. Sunday morning I accompanied the publishers in field service. Then, early in the afternoon, I was off to Interlaken to conduct a Congregation Book Study and later in the afternoon to conduct a Bible study with a family in Spiez. To finish off the day, I conducted the Watchtower Study in Thun.
Late at night, with all my activity completed, I sang and whistled my way back to Bern, deeply satisfied. Cars were few and far between. The hilly landscape, draped in the blackout of war, was tranquil and undisturbed, shimmering occasionally in the moonlight. How those weekends enriched my life and renewed my strength!
A Visit With Unexpected Results
In the autumn of 1945, Brother Knorr visited us. One day he entered the factory as I was standing on the rotary press. “Come on down!” he called. “How would you like to attend Gilead School?” I was flabbergasted. “If you think I am up to it, I should be happy to,” I replied. Invitations for Brother Fred Borys, Sister Alice Berner, and me arrived in the spring of 1946. But because of having been born in the Saarland, I was stateless and therefore had to apply to Washington, D.C., U.S.A., for a special visa.
Whereas the others left on time, I had to wait for a reply to my application. When school began on September 4, I was still in Switzerland, slowly losing hope. Then the U.S. Consulate called, informing me that my visa had arrived. I immediately tried to make travel arrangements and finally got a berth on a troopship sailing from Marseilles to New York. What an experience! The Athos II was overcrowded. I was allocated a couch in an open room. On the second day out, an explosion in the engine room brought the ship to a standstill. Passengers and crew alike were uneasy, fearing we might sink. This gave me a marvelous opportunity to witness about the resurrection hope.
It took two days to repair the ship, after which we continued at reduced speed. We got to New York 18 days later, only to be stranded on board by a dock strike. After negotiations, we were finally able to leave the ship. I had telegraphed the Society about the situation, and as I left customs and immigration, a man asked: “Are you Mr. Diehl?” He was one of Brother Knorr’s assistants, and he put me on the night train to Ithaca, near Gilead School, where I arrived shortly after eight the next morning. How thrilled I was to be there at last, able to attend Gilead’s first international class!
Enduring Despite Difficulties
Graduation of the eighth class of Gilead was February 9, 1947, and suspense ran high. Where would we be sent? For me, “the measuring lines” fell on the Society’s newly opened printery at Wiesbaden, Germany. (Psalm 16:6) I returned to Bern to apply for necessary papers, but the U.S. occupation forces in Germany were permitting entry only to persons who had lived there before the war. Since I had not, I needed a new assignment from Brooklyn headquarters. It turned out to be circuit work in Switzerland, which I accepted with full trust in Jehovah. But while awaiting this assignment, I was asked one day to show the Bethel premises to three visiting sisters. One of them was a pioneer named Marthe Mehl.
In May 1949, I informed headquarters in Bern that I planned to marry Marthe and that we desired to remain in full-time service. The reaction? No privileges other than regular pioneering. This we started in Biel, following our wedding in June 1949. I was not permitted to give talks, nor could we look for accommodations for delegates to a forthcoming assembly, even though we had been recommended by our circuit overseer for this privilege. Many no longer greeted us, treating us like disfellowshipped persons, even though we were pioneers.
We knew, however, that getting married was not unscriptural, so we took refuge in prayer and put our trust in Jehovah. Actually, this treatment did not reflect the Society’s view. It was simply a result of the misapplication of organizational guidelines.
Brother Knorr Returns
In 1951, Brother Knorr once again visited Switzerland. After he had delivered a talk, I was informed that he wished to speak with me. Although somewhat apprehensive, I was happy that he was pleased to see me. He asked if we would be willing to accept an assignment at a proposed missionary home in Geneva. Naturally we were delighted, although leaving Biel would not be without regrets. The next day a further request from Brother Knorr reached us. Would we be willing to resume circuit work, since this needed additional attention in Switzerland? We agreed immediately. My attitude has always been to accept any assignment offered.
Our activity in circuit work in eastern Switzerland was greatly blessed. We traveled between congregations by train, carrying all our possessions in two suitcases. Brothers often met us at the station with bicycles, for few of them had cars in those days. Years later a brother put a car at our disposal, which made our service somewhat easier.
Some New Surprises
What a thrill when in 1964 my wife and I were invited to the 40th class of Gilead, the last class of the comprehensive, ten-month course, which was now shortened to eight months. Marthe had to learn English quickly, but she managed this admirably. Speculation was rife as to where we would be sent. My attitude was: ‘I don’t mind where I’m assigned, just as long as it’s not behind a desk!’
But that is exactly what happened! On graduation day, September 13, 1965, I was appointed branch servant of Switzerland. Bethel was to be a new experience for Marthe. For me, it meant going back to the “House of God,” not to the printery, where I had served from 1931 to 1946, but into the office. I had many new things to learn, but with Jehovah’s help I was able to do so.
Throughout 60 years of full-time service, I have trusted in Jehovah completely, just as my father told me I should. And Jehovah has poured out manifold blessings. Marthe has been a source of tremendous encouragement in times of disappointment or when assignments threatened to overwhelm me, truly a loyal companion with absolute confidence in Jehovah.
Jehovah be praised for the many service privileges I have enjoyed! I still serve as the Branch Committee coordinator in Thun, and several times I have traveled as zone overseer. No matter what I have been asked to do, I have always looked to Jehovah for guidance. Despite my many mistakes and shortcomings, I fervently believe that Jehovah has forgiven me through Christ. May I continue to be well pleasing to him. And may he continue to guide my footsteps, as I constantly look to him as “my God, in whom I will trust.”—Psalm 91:2.
[Picture on page 27]
Brother Diehl early in his Bethel career