Grateful for a Long Life in Jehovah’s Service
AS TOLD BY OTTILIE MYDLAND
Late in the 19th century, sailing ships lay side by side in the harbor of Kopervik in western Norway. In those days men and horses pulled carts through the streets. People used paraffin lamps for light, and white-painted wooden houses were heated with wood and coke. I was born there in June 1898, the second of five children.
IN 1905, Father was unemployed, so he went to the United States. He returned three years later with a suitcase filled with exciting presents for the children and silk fabrics and other items for Mother. But his most precious possessions were volumes by Charles Taze Russell entitled Studies in the Scriptures.
Father started to tell friends and relatives things he learned from these books. At local chapel meetings, he used the Bible to show that there is no burning hell. (Ecclesiastes 9:5, 10) In 1909, the year after Father returned from the United States, Brother Russell visited Norway and gave talks in Bergen and Kristiania, now Oslo. Father went to Bergen to listen to him.
Most people accused Father of promoting false teachings. I felt sorry for him and helped him deliver Bible tracts to neighbors. In 1912, I delivered a tract on hell to the daughter of a clergyman. She reviled me and Father. I was dismayed that a clergyman’s daughter could use such foul language!
Other Bible Students, as Jehovah’s Witnesses were then called, occasionally visited us in Kopervik, including Theodor Simonsen, a capable speaker. I would invite people to talks he gave in our home. Before his talk he played the zither and sang, and after his talk he sang a good-night song. We had deep respect for him.
Another visitor to our home was Anna Andersen, a colporteur, or full-time minister. She traveled from town to town all over Norway, mainly by bicycle, placing Bible literature with people. She had once been an officer in the Salvation Army and knew some Salvation Army officers in Kopervik. They permitted her to give a Bible talk in their meeting house, and I invited people to come and listen to her.
Another colporteur who visited us in Kopervik was Karl Gunberg. This modest, quiet, but humorous, man also served periodically as a translator at the branch office in Oslo. Years later we worked together there.
Influenced by Religious Views
At that time most people had not only strong faith in God and the Bible but also entrenched beliefs, such as in hellfire and the Trinity. Therefore it caused quite a stir when the Bible Students taught that these doctrines were not in harmony with the Bible. I was influenced by our neighbors’ strong accusations that Father was a heretic. Once I even said to him: “What you teach is not true. It is heresy!”
“Come here, Ottilie,” he encouraged me, “and see what the Bible says.” Then he read to me from the Scriptures. As a result, my confidence in him and what he taught grew. He encouraged me to read the Studies in the Scriptures, so during the summer of 1914, I often sat reading on a knoll overlooking the town.
In August 1914 people crowded outside the local newspaper building reading about the outbreak of World War I. Father came up and saw what was happening. “Thank God!” he exclaimed. He recognized in the outbreak of war the fulfillment of Bible prophecies about which he had been preaching. (Matthew 24:7) Many Bible Students then believed that they would soon be taken to heaven. When this did not occur, some became disappointed.
My Stand for Bible Truth
In 1915, at the age of 17, I finished middle school and began working secularly in an office. I then began reading The Watch Tower regularly. But it was not until 1918 that regular meetings were held in Kopervik. To begin with, there were five of us who attended. We read Watch Tower Society publications, such as Studies in the Scriptures, and discussed the material by means of questions and answers. Although Mother spoke highly of the Bible Students to others, she never became one of us.
In the office where I worked, beginning in 1918, I became acquainted with Anton Saltnes, whom I was able to help become a Bible Student. At this time I became a regular publisher and was baptized at an assembly in Bergen in 1921.
In May 1925 there was an assembly for all Scandinavia in Örebro, Sweden. Over 500 were in attendance, including Joseph F. Rutherford, the Watch Tower Society’s president. About 30 of us traveled from Oslo by train in a reserved railroad car.
It was announced at this assembly that a Northern European Office would be established in Copenhagen, Denmark, to care for the preaching work throughout Scandinavia and the Baltic countries. William Dey from Scotland was assigned to supervise the preaching work. He was well liked, and he soon became known as the Big Scotsman. In the beginning Brother Dey had no knowledge of any Scandinavian language, so he would sit at the rear during meetings and assemblies and take care of the children so that their parents could concentrate on what was being said from the platform.
The Watch Tower of March 1, 1925, discussed Revelation chapter 12 and explained that this chapter relates to the birth of God’s Kingdom and that this birth occurred in heaven in 1914. I found it difficult to understand, so I read the article over and over again. When I finally understood it, I felt very happy.
When adjustments have been made in our understanding of Bible subjects, some have stumbled and have withdrawn from God’s people. But when such an adjustment has been hard to grasp, I have always read the material over and over again to try to understand the reasoning. If I still have not understood the new explanation, I wait for clarification. Time and again I have been rewarded by such patience.
Service at Bethel
For some years I worked as a bookkeeper, secretary, and county auditor. In 1928 the person who had taken care of the Society’s financial accounts became sick and had to leave Bethel. Since I had experience in such work, I was asked to take over. I began Bethel service in June 1928. Once in a while, Brother Dey visited us and audited my accounts. Our Bethel family also took the lead in the public preaching work in Oslo, where we then had only one congregation.
Some of us helped the shipping servant at Bethel, Brother Sakshammer, with packing and dispatching The Golden Age (now Awake!). Brothers Simonsen and Gunberg were among those who provided a helping hand. We had a good time, often singing songs as we worked.
Confident in Kingdom Hope
In 1935 we came to understand that the “great crowd” was not a secondary heavenly class. We learned that it instead represents a class that survives the great tribulation and has the opportunity of living forever in Paradise on earth. (Revelation 7:9-14) With this new understanding, some who had partaken of the Memorial emblems realized that theirs was an earthly hope, and they discontinued partaking.
Although I never had doubts as to my heavenly hope, I often thought, ‘Why does God want me?’ I felt unworthy of such a great privilege. As a small, shy woman, I found it strange to think of myself as a king ruling together with Christ in heaven. (2 Timothy 2:11, 12; Revelation 5:10) However, I pondered the apostle Paul’s words that “not many powerful” were called, but “God chose the weak things of the world, that he might put the strong things to shame.”—1 Corinthians 1:26, 27.
Activity During World War II
On April 9, 1940, Norway was invaded by German troops, and soon the country was occupied. As a result of the war, many became responsive to the Kingdom message. From October 1940 to June 1941, we placed more than 272,000 books and booklets. That means that each of the more than 470 Witnesses then in Norway placed, on an average, well over 570 books and booklets during those nine months!
On July 8, 1941, the Gestapo visited all presiding overseers and told them that if the preaching work did not stop, they would be sent to concentration camps. Five German police officers came to Bethel and confiscated much of the Watch Tower Society’s property. The Bethel family was taken away and interrogated, but none of us were imprisoned. Finally, on July 21, 1941, the building of the Society, Inkognitogaten 28 B, was confiscated, and our preaching work was banned. I moved back to Kopervik and obtained secular work to support myself.
At the time, Father was serving as a pioneer. One day the Nazis came and searched Father’s house. They took all his literature, including his Bibles and Bible concordances. We received only a meager supply of spiritual food during this period. To remain strong spiritually, we studied old books over and over again, such as the book Government, and we continued to preach.
Sadly, in many places the brothers were divided. Some were of the opinion that we ought to preach openly and go from house to house while others felt that we should work more secretly, contacting people in other ways. Thus prominent brothers, who had before cooperated very well and whom we loved so much, were not on speaking terms. The division between them caused me greater pain of heart than has any other situation in my life as a Witness.
Renewed Activity After the War
Following the war, in the summer of 1945, Brother Dey visited Norway and held meetings in Oslo, Skien, and Bergen. He appealed to the brothers to bury the hatchet and asked all who desired to do so to stand up. All rose to their feet! The dispute was permanently settled in December 1945, after a visit by Nathan H. Knorr, then president of the Watch Tower Society.
Meanwhile, on July 17, 1945, I received a telegram from the branch servant, Brother Enok Öman, saying: ‘When can you return to Bethel?’ Some said that I should stay at home and take care of my father, who was then over 70. But Father encouraged me to resume Bethel service, which I did. In 1946, Marvin F. Anderson, a brother from the United States, became our branch overseer, and the preaching work was reorganized.
During summer vacations I would return to Kopervik to see my family. My two brothers and two sisters did not become Witnesses, but they were always friendly to Father and me. One of my brothers became harbormaster and pilot master, and the other was a teacher. Although I was of little means materially, Father would say to them: “Ottilie is richer than you are.” And it was true! What they had acquired could not compare to the spiritual riches I was enjoying! Father died at the age of 78 in 1951. Mother had passed away in 1928.
A highlight of my life was attending the international convention of Jehovah’s people in New York City in 1953. That year the world field passed the 500,000 publisher mark, and more than 165,000 attended the convention! Before the 1953 convention, I worked for a week at Brooklyn Bethel, the headquarters of Jehovah’s organization on earth.
Doing What I Can
In recent years my eyesight has deteriorated because of cataracts. With strong eyeglasses and a magnifying glass, I can still read large print a little. And Christian sisters visit me and read to me twice a week, for which I am very grateful.
My preaching activity also is limited. During the summer, Christian sisters have occasionally taken me out in my wheelchair to a place where I can do some preaching. I also regularly mail magazines and brochures to schools in Kopervik, such as the elementary school where I was a pupil nearly 100 years ago. I am glad that it is still possible for me to be a regular publisher.
Fortunately the dining room and the Kingdom Hall are on the same floor as my room at Bethel, which since 1983 has been situated at Ytre Enebakk outside Oslo. So I am able to come to morning worship, the meals, and our meetings by means of a walker. And I am happy that I can still get to conventions and assemblies. I enjoy meeting friends that I have known for many years, as well as new brothers and sisters and many nice children.
Maintaining Faith to the End
It is a blessing to be surrounded by active, pleasant, and spiritual people here at Bethel. When I started my Bethel service, the entire family was made up of those who had the heavenly hope. (Philippians 3:14) Now everyone at Bethel except me looks forward to living forever on earth.
True, we expected that Jehovah would have taken action earlier. Yet, I rejoice at seeing the great crowd getting bigger and bigger. What increases I have seen! When I engaged in the ministry for the first time, there were about 5,000 publishers worldwide. Now there are more than 5,400,000! Indeed, I have seen “the little one . . . become a thousand, and the small one a mighty nation.” (Isaiah 60:22) We need to keep in expectation of Jehovah, as the prophet Habakkuk wrote: “Even if it should delay, keep in expectation of it; for it will without fail come true.”—Habakkuk 2:3.