Jehovah Has Been My Refuge
AS TOLD BY PENELOPE MAKRIS
My mother fervently pleaded with me: “Leave your husband; your brothers will find you a better one.” Why would my loving mother want me to dissolve my marriage? What had so upset her?
I WAS born in 1897 in the small village of Ambelos, on the island of Samos. Our family were devout members of the Greek Orthodox Church. Father died shortly before my birth, and Mother, my three brothers, and I had to work hard just to survive amid the sheer poverty of those times.
World War I broke out in 1914, and soon afterward my two older brothers were ordered to enlist in the army. But to avoid doing so, they immigrated to America, leaving me and my other brother at home with Mother. A few years later, in 1920, I married Dimitris, a young teacher in our village.
An Important Visit
Soon after I was married, my mother’s brother came from America to visit us. He happened to bring with him one of the volumes of the Studies in the Scriptures, written by Charles Taze Russell. It was a publication of the Bible Students, who are now known as Jehovah’s Witnesses.
When Dimitris opened the book, he noticed a subject about which he had wondered since he was a child, “What happens to man when he dies?” In high school he had questioned a Greek Orthodox theologian about this very subject but had not received a satisfying answer. The clear and logical explanation provided in the publication delighted Dimitris so much that he went straight to the village coffeehouse, where menfolk in Greece customarily gather. There he related the things from the Bible that he had learned.
Our Stand for Bible Truth
About this time—in the early 1920’s—Greece was in the middle of another war. Dimitris was conscripted and sent to the Turkish mainland, in Asia Minor. He was wounded and was sent home. After he recuperated, I accompanied him to Smyrna, Asia Minor (now Izmir, Turkey). When the war ended suddenly in 1922, we had to flee. In fact, we barely escaped on a badly damaged boat to Samos. On arriving home, we knelt and gave thanks to God—a God about whom we still had only scanty knowledge.
Soon Dimitris was assigned to teach at a school in Vathy, the island’s capital. He continued to read the literature of the Bible Students, and one rainy night two of them from the island of Chios visited us. They had returned from America to serve as colporteurs, as full-time evangelizers were called. We put them up for the night, and they spoke to us about many things regarding God’s purposes.
Afterward Dimitris told me: “Penelope, I realize that this is the truth, and I must follow it. This means that I have to stop singing in the Greek Orthodox Church and that I cannot attend church with the schoolchildren.” Although our knowledge of Jehovah was limited, our desire to serve him was strong. So I replied: “I will not be an obstacle for you. Just move ahead.”
He continued rather hesitantly: “Yes, but if our course becomes evident, I will lose my job.”
“Never mind,” I said, “do all people make a living from the teaching profession? We are young and strong, and with God’s help we can find other work.”
About this time we learned that another Bible Student—also a colporteur—had come to Samos. When we heard that he had been denied permission by the police to give a public Bible talk, we went looking for him. We found him in a shop conversing with two Greek Orthodox theologians. Shamed at not being able to defend their beliefs with the Bible, the theologians soon left. My husband, impressed by the colporteur’s knowledge, asked: “How is it that you use the Bible with such ease?”
“We study the Bible systematically,” he replied. Opening his bag, he took out the study book The Harp of God and showed us how to use this book in such a study. We were so eager to learn that my husband and I, the colporteur, and two other men immediately accompanied the shopkeeper to his home. The colporteur handed each of us a copy of The Harp of God, and we began studying right away. We continued our study until well past midnight, and then as dawn approached, we began to learn the songs sung by the Bible Students.
From that time on, I started to study the Bible several hours a day. Bible Students from abroad kept supplying us with Bible study aids. In January 1926, I made my dedication to God in prayer, vowing unreservedly to do his will. Later that summer my husband and I symbolized our dedication by water baptism. We had a strong desire to speak to others about the things we were learning, so we started in the door-to-door ministry with the tract Message of Hope.
Enduring Strong Opposition
One day I was invited by a young lady to attend a liturgy at a small Greek Orthodox chapel. “I have stopped worshiping God in that way,” I explained. “Now I worship him with spirit and truth, as the Bible teaches.” (John 4:23, 24) She was astounded and reported far and wide what had taken place, implicating also my husband.
Practically everyone began to oppose. Nowhere could we find peace—neither in our home nor at the meetings that we held with the few interested persons on the island. At the instigation of the Orthodox priests, crowds gathered outside our meeting place, throwing stones and shouting insults.
When we distributed the tract Message of Hope, children gathered around us shouting “Millennialists” and other derogatory terms. My husband’s colleagues also began causing trouble for him. Late in 1926 he was brought to trial, charged with being unfit to be a public-school teacher, and sentenced to 15 days in prison.
When Mother learned of this, she advised me to leave my husband. “Listen, my dear mother,” I replied, “you know as well as I do how much I love and respect you. But I simply cannot let you stand in the way of our worshiping the true God, Jehovah.” She left for her village bitterly disappointed.
In 1927 an assembly of the Bible Students was held in Athens, and Jehovah opened the way for us to attend. We were thrilled and were strengthened spiritually by assembling with scores of fellow believers. Returning to Samos, we distributed 5,000 copies of the tract entitled A Testimony to the Rulers of the World in the towns and villages of our island.
About that time Dimitris was fired from his teaching position, and because of the prejudice against us, it was almost impossible to find work. But since I could sew and Dimitris was a skilled painter, we were able to earn enough to make ends meet. In 1928 my husband, as well as the four other Christian brothers in Samos, was sentenced to two months’ imprisonment for preaching the good news. Being the only Bible Student free, I was able to supply food for them in prison.
Battling Severe Infirmities
At one point I fell sick with tubercular spondylitis, a then unknown chronic illness. I lost my appetite and ran a continuous high fever. Treatment involved being encased in a plaster body cast from my neck to my thighs. To cope financially, my husband sold a plot of land so that I could continue therapy. Distressed, I prayed to God every day for strength.
When visiting me, relatives continually fanned the flames of opposition. Mother said we were experiencing all these troubles because we had changed our religion. Unable to move, I soaked my pillow with tears as I beseeched our heavenly Father to give me patience and courage in order to endure.
On my bedside table, I kept my Bible and a supply of booklets and tracts for visitors. It was a blessing that the meetings of our small congregation were held in our home; I could regularly receive spiritual encouragement. We had to sell another plot of land to pay for medical treatment from a doctor in Athens.
Soon after, the traveling overseer visited us. He was very sorry to see me in this condition and Dimitris without work. Kindly he helped us make arrangements to live in Mytilene on the island of Lesbos. We moved there in 1934, and Dimitris was able to obtain employment. There we also found wonderful Christian brothers and sisters who took care of me in my illness. Gradually, after five years of treatment, I had fully recovered.
However, in 1946, shortly after World War II, I again fell seriously ill, this time with tubercular peritonitis. I was in bed for five months with a high fever and severe pains. But, as before, I never stopped speaking about Jehovah to my visitors. In time, I regained my health.
Pioneering Despite Opposition
Unrelenting opposition was the lot of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Greece in the postwar years. We were arrested scores of times while engaging in the house-to-house ministry. My husband served a total of almost a year in prison. When we set out for the ministry, we usually planned to spend the night under arrest at the police station. Yet Jehovah never abandoned us. He always provided the needed courage and strength to endure.
In the 1940’s, I read in the Informant (now Our Kingdom Ministry) about the provision to vacation pioneer. I decided to try sharing in this feature of service that required devoting 75 hours a month to the ministry. As a result, my return visits and Bible studies increased—for a time I was conducting 17 weekly studies. I also developed a magazine route in the business area of Mytilene, where I regularly delivered about 300 copies of The Watchtower and Awake! to stores, offices, and banks.
When a traveling overseer served our congregation in 1964, he said: “Sister Penelope, I saw from your Publisher’s Record Card what wonderful results you are having in your ministry. Why don’t you fill out an application to regular pioneer?” I will always be thankful for his encouragement; the full-time ministry has been my joy for over three decades.
A Rewarding Experience
In Mytilene there is a densely populated neighborhood called Langada, where Greek refugees lived. We avoided going from door to door there because of the fanatical opposition that we had met. However, when my husband was in prison, I had to pass through this area to visit him. One rainy day a woman invited me into her home to inquire why my husband was in prison. I explained that it was for preaching the good news of God’s Kingdom and that he was suffering just as Christ had suffered.
In time, another woman arranged for me to stop at her home. When I arrived I found that she had invited a total of 12 women. I anticipated possible opposition, so I prayed to God to give me wisdom and courage to face whatever occurred. The women had many questions, and some raised objections, but I was able to provide Scriptural answers. When I stood up to leave, the lady of the house asked me to come again the next day. Happily, I accepted the invitation. When a companion and I arrived the following day, we found the women already waiting.
Thereafter our Scriptural discussions continued on a regular basis, and many Bible studies were started. A number of the women progressed in accurate knowledge, and so did their families. This group later formed the nucleus of a new congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Mytilene.
Jehovah Has Been Good to Me
Over the years Jehovah has rewarded the efforts of my husband and me to serve Him. The handful of Witnesses on Samos in the 1920’s have grown to two congregations and one group with about 130 publishers. And on the island of Lesbos, there are four congregations and five groups that include some 430 Kingdom proclaimers. My husband actively proclaimed God’s Kingdom until his death in 1977. What a privilege it is to see those whom we helped still remaining zealous in the ministry! Why, with their children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, they make up a great crowd worshiping Jehovah unitedly!
My course of Christian service, which stretches over 70 years now, has not been an easy one. Yet Jehovah has been an incomparable stronghold. Because of advanced age and deteriorating health, I am confined to bed and am very limited in the preaching that I can do. But, as did the psalmist, I can say to Jehovah: “You are my refuge and my stronghold, my God, in whom I will trust.”—Psalm 91:2.
(Sister Makris died while this article was being prepared. She had a heavenly hope.)
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With her husband in 1955
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Sister Makris would have been 100 in January 1997