Jehovah Is a God of Loving-Kindness to Me
AS TOLD BY JOHN ANDRONIKOS
The year was 1956. Only nine days into my marriage, here I was standing before an appeal court in Komotiní, northern Greece. My hope was that the 12-month sentence I had received for preaching God’s Kingdom would be annulled. The decision of the appeal court—six months in prison—dashed that hope and proved to be just the beginning of a long series of trials. Through it all, however, Jehovah proved to be a God of loving-kindness to me.
WHEN I was born on October 1, 1931, my family was living in the city of Kaválla, the Neapolis of Macedonia visited by the apostle Paul during his second missionary tour. Mom became one of Jehovah’s Witnesses when I was five years old, and though she was almost illiterate, she did her best to inculcate in me a love of God and a fear of him. My father was an extremely conservative man who stubbornly clung to the Greek Orthodox tradition. He had no interest in Bible truth and opposed my mother, often resorting to violence.
Thus, I grew up in a divided household, where Father beat and abused Mother and even abandoned us. From my early childhood, Mom took me and my little sister to Christian meetings. However, when I turned 15, youthful desires and the spirit of independence turned me away from Jehovah’s Witnesses. Nevertheless, my faithful mother tried very hard, and she shed many tears in her efforts to help me.
Because of poverty and the bad life I was leading, I became seriously ill and had to stay in bed for more than three months. It was then that a very humble brother, who had helped my mother learn the truth, discerned in me a sincere love for God. He felt that I could be helped to recover spiritually. Others told him: “You are wasting your time trying to help John; he will never pull himself together.” But the patience of this brother and his perseverance in assisting me bore fruit. On August 15, 1952, at the age of 21, I symbolized my dedication to Jehovah by water baptism.
Newlywed and in Prison
Three years later I became acquainted with Martha, a spiritually-minded sister with outstanding qualities, and soon we got engaged. One day I was really taken aback when Martha told me: “Today I plan to preach from door to door. Do you want to come with me?” Until then I had never participated in this feature of the work, having preached mostly informally. At that time the preaching work in Greece was under ban, and we had to carry on our preaching activity underground. There were numerous arrests, court cases, and severe prison sentences as a result. Still, I could not say no to my fiancée!
Martha became my wife in 1956. It was then, nine days after our wedding, that I received the six-month prison sentence from that appeal court in Komotiní. This brought to my mind a question I had posed some time earlier to a Christian sister, a friend of my mother’s: “How can I possibly show that I am a true Witness of Jehovah? I have never had the opportunity to prove my faith.” When this sister came to see me in prison, she reminded me of that question and said: “Now you can show Jehovah how much you love him. This is your assignment.”
When I learned that my lawyer tried to raise money to bail me out of jail, I told him that I would prefer to see my sentence through. How glad I was at the end of the six-month imprisonment to see two of my fellow inmates accept the truth! During the following years, I was involved in scores of court cases for the sake of the good news.
Choices We Have Never Regretted
In 1959, a couple of years after my release, I was serving as a congregation servant, or presiding overseer, and was invited to attend the Kingdom Ministry School, a training course for congregation elders. At the same time, though, I was offered a permanent position in a public hospital, a job that would give me and my family financial security for life. What should I choose? I had already been working temporarily in the hospital for three months, and the director was very enthusiastic about my work, but when the invitation to the school arrived, he would not allow me to take even an unpaid leave of absence. After giving prayerful thought to the dilemma, I decided to put the interests of the Kingdom first and reject the job offer.—Matthew 6:33.
About that same time, the district and circuit overseers came to serve our congregation. We had to hold our meetings secretly in private houses because of the staunch opposition of the Greek Orthodox clergy and the authorities. After one of the meetings, the district overseer approached me and asked if I had thought of taking up the full-time service. His suggestion touched a chord in my heart because this had been my dream since I was baptized. I answered: “I want to very much.” However, I already had the added responsibility of raising a daughter. The brother told me: “Trust in Jehovah, and he will help you realize your plans.” Thus, without neglecting our family responsibilities, my wife and I were able to adjust our circumstances, so that in December 1960, I started serving in eastern Macedonia as a special pioneer—one of only five special pioneers in the country.
After I had worked as a special pioneer for one year, the branch office in Athens invited me to serve as a traveling overseer. When I returned home from one month of training in this form of service, and while still relating my experiences to Martha, the director of a large manganese mine visited and invited me to become the manager of the refining division, offering me a generous five-year contract, a fine house, and an automobile. He gave me two days to reply. Again, without hesitating at all, I prayed to Jehovah: “Here I am, send me.” (Isaiah 6:8) My wife was in full agreement. Trusting in God, we began the traveling work, and Jehovah in his loving-kindness never let us down.
Serving Through Thick and Thin
Although there were economic problems, we moved ahead and Jehovah provided the necessities. In the beginning, I used to visit the congregations on a small motorcycle, covering distances of up to 300 miles [500 km]. Many times I had difficulties, and there were a few accidents. On the way back from a congregation during one winter, I was crossing a swollen stream when the motor died, and I got soaked to the knees. Then the motorcycle had a flat tire. A passerby who had a pump helped me, and thus I was able to reach the nearest village where I repaired the tire. I finally reached home at three o’clock in the morning, frozen and exhausted.
On another occasion, as I was going from one congregation to another, the motorcycle skidded and fell on my knee. As a result, my trousers were torn and soaked with blood. I did not have another pair of trousers, so that evening I delivered the talk in another brother’s trousers, which were rather too big for me. Still, no difficulty could dampen my desire to serve Jehovah and the beloved brothers.
In another accident, I was badly injured, breaking my arm and my front teeth. It was then that I received a visit from my sister, not a Witness, who lived in the United States. What a relief it was when she helped me to buy an automobile! When the brothers at the Athens branch learned about my accident, they sent me an encouraging letter, and among other things they included the words of Romans 8:28, which say in part: “God makes all his works cooperate together for the good of those who love God.” Again and again, this assurance has proved very true in my life!
A Pleasant Surprise
In 1963, I was working with a special pioneer in a village where the people were unresponsive. We decided to work separately, each taking one side of the street. At one house, no sooner had I knocked on the door than a woman urgently pulled me inside and shut and locked the door behind me. I was bewildered, wondering what was happening. Shortly afterward, she also hurriedly called the special pioneer into the house. Then the lady told us: “Hush! Do not even move!” After a while, we heard hostile voices outside. People were looking for us. When things had quieted down, the lady told us: “I did this for your own protection. I respect you because I believe that you are true Christians.” We sincerely thanked her and departed, leaving her with many pieces of literature.
Fourteen years later, while I was attending a district convention in Greece, a woman approached me and said: “Brother, do you remember me? I am the woman who sheltered you from the opposers when you came to our village to give a witness.” She had immigrated to Germany, studied the Bible, and associated with Jehovah’s people. Now, her whole family was in the truth.
Indeed, during all these years, we have been blessed with many “letters of recommendation.” (2 Corinthians 3:1) A number of those whom we had the privilege to help acquire a knowledge of Bible truth are now serving as elders, ministerial servants, and pioneers. How thrilling it is to see the handful of publishers in the circuits I served back in the early 1960’s increase to more than 10,000 worshipers of Jehovah! All credit goes to our God of loving-kindness, who uses us in his own way.
“Upon a Divan of Illness”
During our years in the traveling work, Martha proved to be an outstanding helpmate, always having a joyful attitude. In October 1976, however, she became seriously ill and underwent a painful operation. She ended up a paraplegic in a wheelchair. How could we cope with the expense and emotional distress? Trusting in Jehovah once again, we experienced his loving and generous hand. When I departed to serve in Macedonia, Martha stayed at a brother’s house in Athens for physical therapy. She would phone me with the encouraging words: “I am fine. You carry on, and when I am mobile again, I will accompany you in my wheelchair.” And that is exactly what she did. Our beloved brothers from Bethel sent us many encouraging letters. Martha was repeatedly reminded of the words at Psalm 41:3: “Jehovah himself will sustain him upon a divan of illness; all his bed you will certainly change during his sickness.”
Because of these serious health problems, in 1986 it was decided that it would be appropriate for me to serve as a special pioneer in Kaválla, where I live near the family of our dear daughter. Last March my dear Martha passed away, faithful to the end. Before she died, when brothers would ask her: “How are you?” she usually replied: “Since I am close to Jehovah, I am very well!” When we prepared for the meetings or received tempting invitations to serve in areas where the harvest is plentiful, Martha used to say: “John, let us go to serve where the need is greater.” She never lost her zealous spirit.
Some years ago, I too had to cope with a severe health problem. In March 1994, I was diagnosed with a life-threatening heart problem, and surgery was imperative. Once again I felt Jehovah’s loving hand supporting me through a critical period. I will never forget the prayer that a circuit overseer offered at my bedside when I got out of intensive care, as well as the celebration of the Memorial that I conducted right there in my hospital room with four patients who had shown some interest in the truth.
Jehovah Has Been Our Helper
Time flies, and our flesh weakens, but our spirit is renewed through study and service. (2 Corinthians 4:16) It has now been 39 years since I said, “Here I am! Send me.” It has been a full, happy, and rewarding life. Yes, sometimes I feel that “I am afflicted and poor,” but then I can say with confidence to Jehovah: “You are my assistance and the Provider of escape for me.” (Psalm 40:17) He has indeed been a God of loving-kindness to me.
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With Martha in 1956
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The harbor in Kaválla
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With Martha in 1997