Pleasing Jehovah Is My Primary Concern
AS TOLD BY THEODOROS NEROS
My cell door swung open, and an officer called out: “Who is Neros?” When I identified myself, he ordered: “Get up. We are going to execute you.” That happened in a military camp in Corinth, Greece, in 1952. Why was my life hanging so precariously in the balance? Before explaining that, let me tell you a little about my background.
ABOUT 1925, my father was contacted by the Bible Students (as Jehovah’s Witnesses were then known). He soon became one of them and imparted his beliefs to his eight brothers and sisters, all of whom embraced Bible truth. So did his parents. Afterward, he got married, and I was born in 1929 in Agrinio, Greece.
What terrible years those were for Greece! First there was the cruel dictatorship of General Metaxas. Then, in 1939, World War II broke out, and soon afterward the country was occupied by the Nazis. Disease and hunger were rampant. The swollen bodies of the dead were carried away on small wheelbarrows. The evil in the world was all too obvious, as was the need for God’s Kingdom.
A Life of Dedicated Service
On August 20, 1942, as a group of us gathered for a meeting outside Thessalonica, our presiding overseer pointed to the British warplanes dropping bombs on the city and emphasized how we were protected by obeying the exhortation ‘not to forsake the gathering of ourselves together.’ (Hebrews 10:25) On that occasion, we met by the seashore, and I was among those who presented themselves for baptism. When we came out of the water, we stood in a line, and our Christian brothers and sisters sang a song in which they commended us for the decision we had made. What an unforgettable day that was!
Shortly afterward, while another boy and I were calling on people during our house-to-house ministry, policemen apprehended us and took us to the police station. To emphasize that we were viewed as Communists and that our preaching work was prohibited, we were beaten and told: “Jehovah is the same as Stalin, you idiots!”
Civil war was by then raging in Greece, and anti-Communist fever ran high. The following day we were paraded past our homes handcuffed, as if we were criminals. But those were not the only tests I had.
Tests of Faith in School
Early in 1944, I was still a schoolboy, and the Nazis continued to occupy Thessalonica. One day at school, a Greek Orthodox priest, our professor of religion, told me that I was to be tested on the day’s lesson. “He is not an Orthodox Christian,” the other children said.
“What is he?” the professor asked.
“I am one of Jehovah’s Witnesses,” I replied.
“A wolf among the sheep,” he shouted, as he grabbed me and slapped me across the face.
‘How is it possible,’ I thought to myself, ‘for a wolf to be bitten by a sheep?’
A few days later, about 350 of us were seated at our tables set for lunch. The supervisor said: “Neros will say grace.” I repeated the so-called ‘Our Father,’ the prayer Jesus taught his followers, as recorded at Matthew 6:9-13. This was not to the supervisor’s liking, so he angrily asked me from his position at the table: “Why did you say the prayer like that?”
“Because I am one of Jehovah’s Witnesses,” I said. At that he too grabbed me and struck me on the cheek. Later that day another teacher called me into his office and told me: “Well done, Neros, hold fast to what you believe, and don’t give in.” That night, my father encouraged me with these words of the apostle Paul: “All those desiring to live with godly devotion in association with Christ Jesus will also be persecuted.”—2 Timothy 3:12.
When I finished high school, I had to choose what career to follow. Because of the civil strife in Greece, I also had to face the question of Christian neutrality. (Isaiah 2:4; Matthew 26:52) Eventually, early in 1952, I was sentenced to 20 years’ imprisonment for refusing to take up arms during that difficult period in Greek history.
My Christian Neutrality Tested
While I was confined in military camps at Mesolóngion and Corinth, I had the opportunity to explain to the military commanders that my Bible-trained conscience would not allow me to become a soldier in support of political causes. “I am already a soldier of Jesus,” I explained, pointing to 2 Timothy 2:3. When I was urged to reconsider, I said that my decision had not been made on the spur of the moment but after serious consideration and in view of my dedication to God to do his will.
As a result, I had to do compulsory labor, go without food every other day for 20 days, and sleep on the cement floor of a cell that measured three feet by six feet. And I shared this cell with two other Witnesses! It was during this time, while in the Corinth camp, that I was called from my cell to be executed.
As we proceeded to the place for execution, the officer asked, “Are you not going to say anything?”
“No,” I answered.
“Are you not going to write to your family?”
“No,” I replied again. “They are already aware that I may be executed here.”
We reached the courtyard, and I was ordered to stand against the wall. Then, instead of commanding the soldiers to fire, the officer ordered, “Take him inside.” It was all a mock execution, designed to test my resolve.
Later, I was sent to the isle of Makrónisos, where I was not allowed to have any literature except a Bible. Thirteen Witnesses were kept in a small house separated from the nearly 500 criminal prisoners. Yet, literature was somehow smuggled in to us. For example, one day a box of loukoúmia (a popular candy) was sent to me. The inspectors were so eager to sample the loukoúmia that they overlooked the Watchtower magazine hidden beneath. “The soldiers ate the loukoúmia, but we ‘ate’ The Watchtower!” one Witness noted.
A copy of the then recently released book What Has Religion Done for Mankind? reached us, and a Witness prisoner who knew English translated it. We also studied The Watchtower together, holding our meetings secretly. We viewed prison as a school, as an opportunity to strengthen our spirituality. Above all, we were happy because we knew that our course of integrity was pleasing to Jehovah.
The last prison in which I was confined was in Týrintha in eastern Pelopónnisos. There I noticed a guard who carefully observed as I conducted a Bible study with a fellow prisoner. What a surprise it was for me to meet that guard years later in Thessalonica! He was by then a Witness. Later, one of his children was sent to prison, not to serve as a guard but as a prisoner. He was imprisoned for the same reason that I had been.
Renewed Activity After Release
I served only three years of what was originally a 20-year sentence. After my release I decided to live in Athens. However, I soon fell sick with a form of pleurisy and was forced to return to Thessalonica. I was in bed for two months. Later I met a lovely girl named Koula, and we were married in December 1959. In 1962 she began serving as a pioneer, as full-time ministers of Jehovah’s Witnesses are called. Three years later I was able to join her in the pioneer work.
In January of 1965, we were assigned to the circuit work, visiting congregations to strengthen them spiritually. That summer we also had the privilege of attending our first large district convention, in Vienna, Austria. It was unlike those we held in Greece where we had to meet secretly in the woods because our work was banned. Toward the end of 1965, we were invited to work at the branch office of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Athens. However, because of the health problems of some of my relatives, we had to return to Thessalonica in 1967.
While caring for family responsibilities, we continued to be very busy in the evangelizing work. Once, when speaking to my cousin Kostas, I described to him the beauty of God’s organization and the love, unity, and obedience to God that exists in it. He said, “These things would be very nice if only God existed.” He accepted my invitation to examine whether God exists or not. I mentioned that we would be attending an international convention of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Nuremberg, Germany, in August 1969. He asked if he could come along, and his friend Alekos, who was also studying the Bible with us, wanted to come too.
The Nuremberg convention was an extraordinary spectacle! The convention was held in the huge stadium where Hitler had celebrated his military victories. Our attendance reached a peak of over 150,000, and Jehovah’s spirit was manifested in all the proceedings. Soon afterward both Kostas and Alekos were baptized. Both now serve as Christian elders, and their families are also Witnesses.
I started to study with an interested lady. Her husband announced that he wanted to investigate our beliefs, and shortly afterward he informed me that he had invited a certain Mr. Sakkos, a Greek Orthodox theologian, for a debate. The husband wanted to pose some questions to both of us. Mr. Sakkos came, along with a priest. The man we had been visiting began by saying, “First, I would like Mr. Sakkos to answer three questions.”
Holding up the translation of the Bible that we had been using in our discussions, the man asked, “Question number one: Is this a genuine Bible, or is it the Witnesses’ Bible?” Mr. Sakkos answered that it was an authoritative translation, and he also described Jehovah’s Witnesses as “lovers of the Bible.”
Continuing, the man asked, “Question number two: Are Jehovah’s Witnesses moral people?” Actually, he wanted to know what kind of people his wife had started keeping company with. The theologian answered that they are definitely moral people.
“The third question,” the man continued, “Are Jehovah’s Witnesses being paid?” “No,” the theologian answered.
“I have received the answers to my questions, and I have made my decision,” the man concluded. Thereafter he continued his Bible study and soon became baptized as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
A Rich, Rewarding Life
I again began serving as a circuit overseer in January 1976. Some six years later, I had the privilege of sharing in spearheading a new form of preaching in Greece—street witnessing. Then, in October 1991, my wife and I began serving as special pioneers. A few months later, I had to undergo a quadruple bypass heart operation, which thankfully was a success. Now my health is quite good, and I have been able to resume the full-time preaching work. I also serve as an elder in one of the congregations in Thessalonica, as well as work with the local Hospital Liaison Committee to assist those with medical needs.
As I look back on my life, I realize how satisfying it has been to do what pleases our heavenly Father. I am delighted that I long ago accepted his appealing invitation: “Be wise, my son, and make my heart rejoice, that I may make a reply to him that is taunting me.” (Proverbs 27:11) It indeed brings joy to my heart to see the worldwide increase in the number of sincere people who are coming into Jehovah’s organization. To share in emancipating people by means of Bible truth and thus open to them the prospect of eternal life in a righteous new world is truly a privilege!—John 8:32; 2 Peter 3:13.
We always try to encourage young servants of Jehovah to set as their goal the full-time ministry, to give of their time and strength to him. Truly, trusting in Jehovah and finding exquisite delight in making his heart rejoice is the most fulfilling life one can experience!—Proverbs 3:5; Ecclesiastes 12:1.
[Pictures on page 21]
(Left to right)
Serving in the Bethel kitchen in 1965
Giving a talk in 1970 when our preaching was under ban
With my wife in 1959
[Picture on page 23]
With my wife, Koula