Jehovah Has Been My Crag
AS TOLD BY EMMANUEL LIONOUDAKIS
My mother scowled and said to me: “If you stick with your decision, then you will have to leave this home.” I had decided to preach God’s Kingdom full-time. My family, however, could not bear the humiliation brought upon them by my repeated arrests.
MY PARENTS were humble and God-fearing. They lived in the village of Douliana, in the western part of the Greek island of Crete, where I was born in the year 1908. From my youth onward, they taught me to fear and respect God. I loved God’s Word, although I had never seen a Bible in the hands of teachers or Greek Orthodox priests.
After a neighbor had read six volumes of Studies in the Scriptures, by C. T. Russell, and the book The Harp of God, he enthusiastically shared with me their eye-opening Scriptural contents. Those books were published by the Bible Students, as Jehovah’s Witnesses were then called. I gladly obtained a Bible and copies of books from the Watch Tower Society’s office in Athens. I can still remember staying up late at night with that neighbor, praying to Jehovah and by candlelight drinking deeply from the Scriptures with the help of those publications.
I was 20 years old and serving as a schoolteacher in a nearby village when I started sharing my newly found Bible knowledge with others. Soon, four of us were holding regular meetings for Bible study in Douliana. We also distributed tracts, booklets, books, and Bibles in order to help other people learn about the only hope for mankind, the Kingdom of God.
In 1931 we were among the thousands worldwide who adopted the Bible-based name Jehovah’s Witnesses. (Isaiah 43:10) During the following year, we participated in an information campaign, explaining to the authorities our new name and its significance. This included distributing a pertinent booklet to every priest, judge, police officer, and businessman in our area.
As expected, the clergy instigated a wave of persecution. The first time that I was arrested, I was sentenced to 20 days in prison. Soon after being released, I was arrested again and sentenced to one month of imprisonment. When a judge demanded that we stop preaching, we replied with the words of Acts 5:29: “We must obey God as ruler rather than men.” Later, in 1932, a Watch Tower representative visited our small group in Douliana, and all four of us got baptized.
Finding a Spiritual Family
Because of my desire to do more in the preaching work, I resigned from my teaching position. That was too much for my mother. She demanded that I leave home. With the approval of the Watch Tower branch office in Athens, a generous Christian brother in the city of Iráklion, Crete, gladly received me into his house. So in August 1933, the brothers from my home village, along with some interested individuals, came down to the bus stop to bid me farewell. This was a very touching moment, and we all cried, since we were unsure when we would see one another again.
In Iráklion, I became part of a loving spiritual family. There were three other Christian brothers and one sister with whom we met regularly for study and worship. I could see firsthand the fulfillment of Jesus’ promise: “No one has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for my sake and for the sake of the good news who will not get a hundredfold now in this period of time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers.” (Mark 10:29, 30) My assignment was to preach in that city and in the nearby villages. After I covered the city, I moved on to work in the departments of Iráklion and Lasithion.
A Lone Pioneer
I spent many hours trudging from village to village. Moreover, I had to carry several pounds of printed matter, since shipments of literature were infrequent. Because I had nowhere to sleep, I would go into a coffeehouse in the village, wait till the last patron left—usually after midnight—sleep on a couch, and get up very early the next morning before the owner started serving beverages. An untold number of fleas shared those couches with me.
Although the response of people was usually icy, I was happy to give Jehovah my youthful vigor. When I found a person who was interested in Bible truth, it renewed my determination to continue with this lifesaving ministry. Association with my spiritual brothers was also refreshing. I used to meet them after being absent for 20 to 50 days, depending on how far from the city of Iráklion I was preaching.
I still vividly remember how lonely I felt one afternoon, especially at the thought that my Christian brothers and sisters in Iráklion would have their regular meeting that evening. My desire to see them was so strong that I decided to walk the more than 15 miles [25 km] that separated me from them. I have never walked so fast. How comforting it was to enjoy the sweet association of my brothers that evening and to refill my spiritual reservoir, as it were!
Before long, my laborious preaching efforts started to yield fruit. As in the days of the apostles, ‘Jehovah continued to join to us those being saved.’ (Acts 2:47) The number of Jehovah’s worshipers started to grow in Crete. As others joined me in the ministry, I did not feel alone anymore. We endured physical hardship and fierce opposition. Our daily food was bread, supplemented with any eggs, olives, or vegetables we could get in exchange for literature that was accepted by those we preached to.
In the town of Ierápetra, in the southeastern part of Crete, I witnessed to Minos Kokkinakis, a cloth merchant. Despite my persistent efforts to start a Bible study with him, he had little time because of his busy life-style. However, when he finally decided to get serious about his study, he made drastic changes in his life. He also became a most zealous and active proclaimer of the good news. Emmanuel Paterakis, an 18-year-old employee of Kokkinakis, was impressed by those changes, and he soon asked for Bible literature. How glad I was to see him make steady spiritual progress and finally become a missionary!*
Meanwhile, the congregation back in my village kept growing and now had 14 publishers. I will never forget the day when I read a letter from my fleshly sister Despina, announcing that she and my parents had embraced the truth and were now baptized worshipers of Jehovah!
Enduring Persecution and Banishment
The Greek Orthodox Church started to view our preaching activity like a scourge of devastating locusts, and they were determined to crush us. In March 1938, I was brought before the public prosecutor, who demanded that I leave the area immediately. I replied that our preaching activity was actually beneficial and that our work was commanded by a higher authority, our King Jesus Christ.—Matthew 28:19, 20; Acts 1:8.
The following day, I was summoned to the local police station. There I was informed that I had been labeled a public danger, and I was sentenced to one year of banishment to the Aegean island of Amorgos. After a few days, I was taken in handcuffs by boat to that island. At Amorgos there were no other Witnesses of Jehovah. Imagine my surprise when, after six months, I learned that another Witness had been banished to the island! Who would he be? Minos Kokkinakis, my Bible student back in Crete. How glad I was to have a spiritual companion! Sometime later, I had the privilege of baptizing him in the waters of Amorgos.*
Soon after I returned to Crete, I was again arrested, and this time I was banished for six months to the small town of Neapolis on that island. After the end of my six-month banishment, I was arrested, imprisoned for ten days, and then sent for four months to an island reserved for banished Communists. I realized how true were the 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.
Increase Despite Opposition
With the German occupation of Greece during the years 1940-44, our preaching activity almost came to a halt. However, Jehovah’s people in Greece were quickly reorganized, and we started our preaching activity anew. Trying to make up for lost time, we actively and zealously pressed on with the Kingdom work.
As expected, religious opposition flared up again. Quite often, Greek Orthodox priests would take the law into their own hands. In one of the villages, a priest instigated a mob against us. The priest himself started beating me while his son was doing the same from behind. I rushed to a nearby house for protection, while my preaching companion was dragged to the public square of the village. There, the mobsters tore his literature, and a woman kept yelling from her balcony, “Kill him!” Finally a doctor and a passing policeman came to our rescue.
Later, in 1952, I was again arrested and was sentenced to four months of banishment, which I served at Kastelli Kissamos, Crete. Immediately afterward, I received training to visit the congregations and strengthen them spiritually. After spending two years in this type of traveling work, I married a faithful Christian sister, named Despina like my fleshly sister, who has proved to be a loyal worshiper of Jehovah ever since. After the wedding, I was assigned as a special pioneer in the town of Hania, Crete, where I still serve.
During almost 70 years of full-time service, I have covered most of Crete—an island of 3,200 square miles [8,300 sq km] stretching to a length of about 150 miles [250 km]. My greatest happiness has come from seeing the handful of Witnesses on this island in the 1930’s grow to more than 1,100 active proclaimers of God’s Kingdom today. I thank Jehovah for giving me the opportunity to have a share in helping many of these acquire accurate knowledge from the Bible and a wonderful hope for the future.
Jehovah, “the Provider of Escape”
Experience has taught me that it takes endurance and patience to help people get to know the true God. Jehovah generously provides these much needed qualities. During my 67 years of full-time service, I have repeatedly reflected on the words of the apostle Paul: “In every way we recommend ourselves as God’s ministers, by the endurance of much, by tribulations, by cases of need, by difficulties, by beatings, by prisons, by disorders, by labors, by sleepless nights, by times without food.” (2 Corinthians 6:4, 5) Particularly during my early years of service, my financial situation was very bad. Jehovah, however, never forsook me and my family. He has proved to be a consistent and powerful Helper. (Hebrews 13:5, 6) We always saw his loving hand in both the gathering of his sheep and the providing for our needs.
When I look back and I see that, in a spiritual sense, the desert has blossomed, I am confident that my work was not in vain. I spent the vigor of my youth in the most beneficial way. My career in the full-time ministry has been more meaningful than any other pursuit. Now advanced in age, I can wholeheartedly encourage younger ones to ‘remember their Grand Creator in the days of their youth.’—Ecclesiastes 12:1.
Despite being 91 years of age, I am still able to devote more than 120 hours in the preaching work each month. Every day, I get up at 7:30 a.m. and witness to people on the street, in shops, or in parks. On an average, I place 150 magazines each month. Hearing and memory problems now make life difficult for me, but my loving spiritual brothers and sisters—my large spiritual family—as well as the families of my two daughters, have proved to be a real support.
Above all, I have learned to put my trust in Jehovah. All along, he has proved to be “my crag and my stronghold and the Provider of escape for me.”—Psalm 18:2.
For the life story of Emmanuel Paterakis, see The Watchtower, November 1, 1996, pages 22-7.
For a legal victory involving Minos Kokkinakis, see The Watchtower, September 1, 1993, pages 27-31. Minos Kokkinakis died in January 1999.
[Pictures on page 26, 27]
Below: With my wife; left: in 1927; opposite page: with Minos Kokkinakis (left) and another Witness at the Acropolis, 1939, soon after return from exile