Serving Under Jehovah’s Loving Hand
AS TOLD BY LAMBROS Zoumbos
I faced a crucial choice: accept the offer of my rich uncle to become the manager of his extensive real-estate holdings—thereby solving the financial problems of my family—or become a full-time minister of Jehovah God. Let me explain what factors shaped the decision I finally made.
I WAS born in the town of Volos, Greece, in 1919. My father sold menswear, and we enjoyed material prosperity. But as a result of the economic depression of the late 1920’s, Father was forced into bankruptcy and lost his store. I felt sad every time I saw the desperate look on my father’s face.
For a while my family lived in sheer poverty. Every day I took an hour off from school to wait in line for food rations. Still, despite our poverty we enjoyed a calm family life. It was my dream to become a doctor, but in my mid-teens I had to quit school and start working in order to help my family survive.
Then, during World War II, the Germans and the Italians occupied Greece, and there was severe famine. I often saw friends and acquaintances dying of starvation in the streets—a horrible sight that I will never forget! Once, our family went 40 days without bread, a staple food in Greece. To survive, my elder brother and I went to nearby villages and obtained potatoes from friends and relatives.
An Illness Becomes a Blessing
Early in 1944, I became very ill with a form of pleurisy. During my three-month stay in the hospital, a cousin brought me two booklets and said: “Read these; I am sure you will like them.” The booklets, Who Is God? and Protection, were published by the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society. After reading them, I shared their contents with fellow patients.
Upon leaving the hospital, I started associating with the Volos Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses. For a month, though, I was confined to my house as an outpatient, and from six to eight hours a day, I read early issues of The Watchtower, as well as other publications published by the Watch Tower Society. As a result, my spiritual growth was quite rapid.
One day in mid-1944, I was sitting on a park bench in Volos. Suddenly a paramilitary group that supported the German occupation army surrounded the place and arrested everyone present. About two dozen of us were led through the streets to the Gestapo headquarters, located in a tobacco storage house.
After a few minutes, I heard someone calling my name and the name of the person with whom I had been talking in the park. A Greek army officer summoned us and told us that when one of my relatives saw us being escorted away by soldiers, he told him that we were Jehovah’s Witnesses. The Greek officer then said that we were free to go home, and he gave us his official card to use in case we were arrested again.
The following day we learned that the Germans had executed most of those arrested as a reprisal for the killing of two German soldiers by Greek resistance fighters. Besides possibly being delivered from death, I learned on that occasion the value of Christian neutrality.
In the fall of 1944, I symbolized my dedication to Jehovah by water baptism. During the following summer, the Witnesses made arrangements for me to associate with the Sklithro Congregation up in the mountains, where I could fully regain my health. The civil strife that followed the end of the German occupation was then raging in Greece. It happened that the village where I was staying served as a sort of base for guerrilla forces. The local priest and another vicious man accused me of spying for governmental forces and had me interrogated by a self-appointed guerrilla martial court.
Present at the mock court trial was the leader of the guerrilla forces of the area. When I finished explaining the reason why I was staying in the village and showing that as a Christian, I was completely neutral in the civil strife, the leader told the others: “If anybody touches this fellow, he will have to deal with me!”
Later I returned to my hometown of Volos even stronger in my faith than in my physical health.
Soon afterward I was appointed the accounts servant in the local congregation. Despite the hardships created by the civil war—including the numerous arrests because of clergy-inspired charges of proselytism—sharing in the Christian ministry brought me and the rest of our congregation great joy.
Then, early in 1947, we received a visit from a traveling overseer of Jehovah’s Witnesses. This was the first such visit following World War II. At that time our thriving congregation in Volos was divided to make two, and I was appointed presiding overseer of one of the congregations. Paramilitary and nationalistic organizations were then spreading fear among the people. The clergy took advantage of the situation. They turned the authorities against Jehovah’s Witnesses by spreading the false rumor that we were Communists or supporters of leftist groups.
Arrests and Imprisonments
During 1947, I was arrested about ten times and had three court trials. Each time I was acquitted. In the spring of 1948, I was sentenced to four months’ imprisonment for proselytism. I served the time in the Volos prison. In the meantime the number of Kingdom proclaimers in our congregation doubled, and joy and happiness filled the hearts of the brothers.
In October 1948, while I was having a meeting with six others who were taking the lead in our congregation, five policemen burst into the house and arrested us at gunpoint. They took us to the police station without explaining the reason for the arrest, and there we were beaten. I was pummeled in the face by a policeman who had been a boxer. Then we were thrown into a cell.
Afterward the officer in charge called me into his office. When I opened the door, he threw at me an ink bottle, which missed its mark and broke on the wall. He did this to try to intimidate me. He then presented me with a piece of paper and a pen and ordered: “Write down the names of all of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Volos, and bring me the list in the morning. If you don’t, you know what is in store for you!”
I didn’t answer, but upon my return to the cell, the rest of the brothers and I prayed to Jehovah. I wrote only my own name on the paper and waited to be called. But I heard nothing further from the officer. During the night, opposing military forces had come, and he had led his men against them. In the skirmish that followed, he was seriously injured, and one of his legs had to be amputated. Eventually, our case came to trial, and we were charged with holding an illegal meeting. All seven of us were sentenced to five years in prison.
Since I refused to attend Sunday Mass in prison, I was sent to solitary confinement. On the third day, I asked to speak with the prison director. “With all due respect,” I said to him, “it seems senseless to punish someone who is willing to spend five years in prison for his faith.” He thought seriously about that, and finally he said: “As of tomorrow, you will be working here next to me in my office.”
Eventually, I received work as a doctor’s assistant in prison. As a result, I learned a lot about health care, something that has proved very useful in later years. While in prison, I had many opportunities to preach, and three persons responded and became Jehovah’s Witnesses.
After serving almost four years in prison, I was finally released on probation in 1952. Later, I had to appear in court in Corinth on the neutrality issue. (Isaiah 2:4) There I was held for a short time in a military prison, and another round of abuse began. Certain officers were quite innovative with their threats, saying: “I will extract your heart in pieces with a dagger,” or, “Do not count on a quick death with only six bullets.”
A Different Sort of Test
Soon, however, I was back home, serving again with the Volos Congregation and working part-time secularly. One day, I received a letter from the Watch Tower Society’s branch office in Athens, inviting me to receive training for two weeks and then begin visiting congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses as a circuit overseer. At the same time, a paternal uncle, who was childless and had extensive real-estate holdings, asked me to manage his assets. My family was still living in poverty, and this employment would have solved their economic problems.
I visited my uncle to express my gratitude for his offer, but I informed him that I had decided to accept a special assignment in the Christian ministry. At that he rose, gave me a sober glance, and abruptly left the room. He returned with a generous gift of money that could support my family for some months. He said: “Take this, and do as you like with it.” Until this day, I cannot describe the feelings I had at that moment. It was as if I heard the voice of Jehovah telling me, ‘You made the right choice. I am with you.’
With my family’s blessing, I left for Athens in December 1953. Although only my mother became a Witness, the other members of my family did not oppose my Christian activity. When I went to the branch office in Athens, another surprise awaited me. There was a telegram from my sister, announcing that Father’s two-year struggle to secure a welfare pension had on that day reached a successful outcome. What more could I ask for? I felt as if I had wings, ready to fly high in Jehovah’s service!
In my early years in the circuit work, I had to be very careful because Jehovah’s Witnesses were being severely persecuted by the religious and political authorities. To visit our Christian brothers, particularly those who lived in small towns and villages, I walked many hours under the cover of darkness. The brothers, who had risked arrest, gathered and waited patiently at a house for my arrival. What a fine interchange of encouragement those visits provided for all of us!—Romans 1:11, 12.
To avoid detection, I at times used disguises. Once, I dressed like a shepherd in order to pass a roadblock to reach a gathering of brothers who sorely needed spiritual shepherding. On another occasion, in 1955, a fellow Witness and I pretended to be sellers of garlic to avoid arousing the suspicion of the police. Our assignment was to contact some Christian brothers who had become inactive in the small town of Árgos Orestikón.
We laid our merchandise out in the town’s public market. However, a young policeman patrolling the area became suspicious, and each time he passed, he stared curiously at us. Finally, he said to me: “You don’t look like a seller of garlic.” At that moment, three young women approached and expressed interest in buying some garlic. Pointing to my products, I exclaimed: “This young policeman eats garlic like this, and look at how strong and handsome he is!” The women looked at the policeman and laughed. He too smiled and then disappeared.
When he left I seized the opportunity to go to the store where our spiritual brothers worked as tailors. I asked one of them to sew on a button that I had torn from my jacket. While he did this, I leaned over and whispered: “I have come from the branch office to see you.” At first the brothers were afraid, since they had not had contact with fellow Witnesses for years. I encouraged them as best I could and made arrangements to meet them later in the town’s cemetery to talk further. Happily, the visit was encouraging, and they again became zealous in the Christian ministry.
Gaining a Faithful Partner
In 1956, three years after beginning the traveling work, I met Niki, a young Christian woman who had great love for the preaching work and desired to spend her life in the full-time ministry. We fell in love and were married in June 1957. I was wondering if Niki would be able to meet the demands of the traveling work under the hostile conditions that then prevailed for Jehovah’s Witnesses in Greece. With Jehovah’s help she managed, thus becoming the first woman to accompany her husband in the circuit work in Greece.
We continued together in the traveling work for ten years, serving most of the congregations in Greece. Many a time we wore disguises and, with suitcase in hand, walked under cover of darkness for hours on end to reach a congregation. Despite the great opposition we often faced, we were thrilled to see firsthand the spectacular growth in the number of Witnesses.
In January 1967, Niki and I were invited to serve at Bethel, as the branch office of Jehovah’s Witnesses is called. The invitation took both of us by surprise, but we accepted it, confident that Jehovah was directing matters. As time passed, we came to appreciate what a great privilege it is to serve at this center of theocratic activity.
Three months after we entered Bethel service, a military junta seized power, and Jehovah’s Witnesses had to continue their work in a less visible manner. We began meeting in small groups, held our assemblies in the woods, preached discreetly, and printed and distributed Bible literature secretly. It was not difficult to adapt to these circumstances, since we simply revived the methods of carrying on our activities that we had used in years past. Despite the restrictions, the number of Witnesses increased from fewer than 11,000 in 1967 to more than 17,000 in 1974.
After nearly 30 years in Bethel service, Niki and I continue to enjoy our spiritual blessings, despite health and age limitations. For over ten years, we lived at the branch premises located on Kartali Street in Athens. In 1979 a new branch was dedicated in Marousi, a suburb of Athens. But since 1991 we have enjoyed the spacious new branch facilities in Eleona, 40 miles [60 km] north of Athens. Here I serve in our Bethel infirmary, where the training I received as an assistant to the prison doctor has proved very useful.
During my well over four decades in the full-time ministry, I, like Jeremiah, have come to realize the truth of Jehovah’s promise: “They will be certain to fight against you, but they will not prevail against you, for ‘I am with you,’ is the utterance of Jehovah, ‘to deliver you.’” (Jeremiah 1:19) Yes, Niki and I have enjoyed a cup overflowing with blessings from Jehovah. We constantly rejoice in his abundant loving concern and undeserved kindness.
My encouragement to young ones in Jehovah’s organization is to pursue the full-time ministry. In this way they can accept Jehovah’s invitation to test whether he will be true to his promise ‘to open the floodgates of the heavens and actually empty out a blessing until there is no more want.’ (Malachi 3:10) From my own experience, I can assure you young ones that Jehovah will indeed bless all of you who thus trust fully in him.
[Picture on page 26]
Lambros Zoumbos and his wife, Niki