Jehovah Taught Us Endurance and Perseverance
AS TOLD BY ARISTOTELIS APOSTOLIDIS
In the northern foothills of the Caucasus Mountains lies Pyatigorsk, a Russian city famous for its mineral springs and gentle climate. Here I was born to Greek refugees in 1929. Ten years later, after the nightmare of Stalinist purges, terror, and ethnic cleansing, we became refugees again, as we were forced to move to Greece.
AFTER we moved to Piraiévs, Greece, the word “refugees” took on a whole new meaning for us. We felt like complete strangers. Although my brother and I bore the names of two famous Greek philosophers, Socrates and Aristotle, we seldom heard those names used. Everyone called us the little Russians.
Shortly after the outbreak of World War II, my beloved mother died. She had been the center of our home, and the loss was devastating. Since she had been sickly for a while, she had taught me to perform many household chores. This training proved very useful later in life.
War and Liberation
The war, the Nazi occupation, and the unrelenting shelling by the Allied forces made every day seem to be the last one. There was so much poverty, hunger, and death. From the age of 11, I had to work very hard along with my father in order to support the three of us. My secular education was hampered by a limited grasp of the Greek language, as well as by the war and its aftermath.
The German occupation of Greece ended in October 1944. Shortly thereafter, I came in contact with Jehovah’s Witnesses. Amid the despair and misery of the times, the Bible hope of a bright future under God’s Kingdom touched my heart. (Psalm 37:29) God’s promise of endless life under peaceful conditions here on earth proved to be a real balm for my wounds. (Isaiah 9:7) In 1946 my father and I were baptized, symbolizing our dedication to Jehovah.
The next year, I had the joy of receiving my first assignment as advertising servant (later called magazine servant) in the second congregation organized in Piraiévs. Our territory stretched from Piraiévs right down to Eleusis, a distance of about 30 miles [50 km]. At that time, many spirit-anointed Christians served in the congregation. I had the privilege of working with them and learning from them. I enjoyed their association because they had endless experiences to relate about the strenuous effort required to carry out the preaching work. From their life course, it was clear that to serve Jehovah faithfully, a lot of patience and perseverance is required. (Acts 14:22) How happy I am that there are more than 50 congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses in this area today!
An Unexpected Challenge
Sometime later, I became acquainted with Eleni, a lovely, zealous young Christian woman in the city of Patras. We were engaged by the end of 1952. After a few months, however, Eleni fell seriously ill. The doctors found that she had a brain tumor, and her condition was critical. She had to undergo surgery immediately. After much effort, we were able to locate a doctor in Athens who—despite the inadequate means available back then—was willing to comply with our religious beliefs and perform surgery without blood. (Leviticus 17:10-14; Acts 15:28, 29) Following the operation, the doctors were cautiously optimistic about my fiancée’s prospects, without ruling out the possibility of a relapse.
What was I supposed to do in this situation? In view of the changed circumstances, should I end the engagement and set myself free? No! With my betrothal, I had made a promise, and I wanted my yes to mean yes. (Matthew 5:37) Not for a moment did I allow myself to think otherwise. Under the care of her older sister, Eleni partially recovered, and we got married in December 1954.
Three years later, Eleni had a relapse, and the same doctor had to perform another operation. This time he worked deeper into the brain in order to remove the tumor completely. As a result, my wife was left partially paralyzed, and her speech center was badly affected. Now a whole new set of complicated challenges arose for both of us. Even the simplest task became a major obstacle for my dear wife. Her deteriorating condition necessitated drastic changes in our everyday routine. Above all, it required a great amount of endurance and perseverance.
It was now that the training that I had received from my mother proved invaluable. Early each morning, I prepared all the ingredients for meals, and Eleni cooked. Very often we invited guests, including full-time ministers, people with whom we studied the Bible, and needy fellow Christians from the congregation. They all agreed that these meals were very tasty indeed! Eleni and I also cooperated on other household chores, so that our home was clean and tidy. This extremely demanding situation was to continue for 30 years.
Zeal Despite Infirmity
It was very moving for me and others to note that nothing could lessen my wife’s love for Jehovah and her zeal for his service. In time, and with persistent effort, Eleni managed to express herself with a very limited vocabulary. She loved to approach people on the street with the good news from the Bible. When I went on business trips, I took her along and parked the car near a busy sidewalk. She opened the car window and invited passersby to take copies of The Watchtower and Awake! On one occasion, she placed 80 copies in two hours. Very often she used up all the older magazines that were available in the congregation. Eleni was also regular in other forms of preaching.
During all the years that my wife was an invalid, she was always with me at the meetings. She never missed a convention or an assembly, even when we had to travel abroad because of the persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Greece. Despite her limitations, she happily attended conventions in Austria, Germany, Cyprus, and other countries. Eleni never complained or became demanding, even when my increased responsibilities in Jehovah’s service occasionally made things inconvenient for her.
As for me, this situation provided a long-term education in endurance and perseverance. I experienced Jehovah’s helping hand many times. Brothers and sisters made real sacrifices in order to help us in any way possible, and the doctors kindly supported us. During all those difficult years, we never lacked life’s necessities, although our demanding circumstances made it impossible for me to hold a full-time job. Jehovah’s interests and service were always given top priority.—Matthew 6:33.
Many have asked what sustained us during those trying times. As I now look back, I realize that personal study of the Bible, heartfelt prayer to God, regular attendance at Christian meetings, and zealous participation in the preaching work strengthened our endurance and perseverance. We were always reminded of the encouraging words of Psalm 37:3-5: “Trust in Jehovah and do good; . . . Take exquisite delight in Jehovah . . . Roll upon Jehovah your way, and rely upon him, and he himself will act.” Another verse that proved valuable to us was Psalm 55:22: “Throw your burden upon Jehovah himself, and he himself will sustain you.” Like a child with complete trust in his father, we not only threw our burdens upon Jehovah but also left them with him.—James 1:6.
On April 12, 1987, while my wife was preaching in front of our house, a heavy iron door swung shut behind her, hurling her onto the sidewalk, seriously injuring her. As a result, she remained in a coma for the next three years. She died in early 1990.
Serving Jehovah to the Best of My Abilities
Back in 1960, I was appointed to serve as a congregation servant in Nikaia, Piraiévs. Since then, I have had the privilege of serving in a number of other congregations in Piraiévs. Although I never had children of my own, I have had the joy of helping many spiritual children become steadfast in the truth. Some of them now serve as congregation elders, ministerial servants, pioneer ministers, and members of the Bethel family.
After democracy was restored in Greece in 1975, Jehovah’s Witnesses were able to hold their conventions freely, not having to hide in the woods anymore. The experience that some of us had acquired while organizing conventions abroad now proved invaluable. Thus, I had the joy and the privilege of serving on various convention committees for many years.
Then, in 1979, plans were made to build the first Assembly Hall in Greece, on the outskirts of Athens. I was assigned to help organize and carry out this huge construction project. This job also required a lot of endurance and perseverance. Working for three years with hundreds of self-sacrificing brothers and sisters forged a strong bond of love and unity among us. The memories from this project are indelibly inscribed on my heart.
Satisfying the Spiritual Needs of Prisoners
A few years later, a new door of opportunity opened. Near the territory of my congregation, in Korydallos, is one of the largest prisons in Greece. Since April 1991, I have been appointed to visit this prison every week as a minister of Jehovah’s Witnesses. There I am allowed to conduct Bible studies and Christian meetings with inmates who are interested. Many of them have made big changes, proving the immense power of God’s Word. (Hebrews 4:12) This has impressed both the prison staff and other inmates. Some of the prisoners with whom I studied the Bible have been released and are now publishers of the good news.
For some time I studied with three notorious drug dealers. As they made spiritual progress, they came to their Bible study shaved, hair neatly combed, and wearing a shirt and tie in the middle of August—one of the hottest months in Greece! The director of the prison, the chief warden, and some employees rushed from their offices to see this phenomenon. They could not believe their eyes!
Another encouraging experience took place in the women’s block of the prison. A Bible study was started with a woman serving a life sentence for murder. She was known for her rebellious ways. However, soon the Bible truth she was learning brought about such notable changes that many remarked that she was like a lion changing into a lamb! (Isaiah 11:6, 7) She quickly gained the respect and trust of the director of the prison. I was happy to see her make fine spiritual progress and reach the point of dedicating herself to Jehovah.
Helping the Infirm and the Aged
Seeing my wife’s long battle with illness has made me more sensitive to the needs of the sick and the elderly among us. Every time our publications featured articles that encouraged us to reach out and give loving assistance to such individuals, my interest was aroused. I treasured and collected such articles. After the passing of some years, I had accumulated a folder of more than a hundred pages—starting with the article “Consideration for Older Persons and Afflicted Ones,” in the July 15, 1962, issue of The Watchtower. Many of these items showed that it is advantageous for each congregation to provide organized assistance to the sick and the aged.—1 John 3:17, 18.
The elders set up a group of brothers and sisters who made themselves available to look after the needs of the sick and the aged in our congregation. We organized the volunteers into various teams—such as those who could help during the day, others who could help through the night, those who could provide transportation, and those who were available on a 24-hour basis. These last ones made up a kind of flying squad.
The results of such efforts have been encouraging. For example, a sick sister who lived alone was found unconscious on the floor during one of the daily visits that were made on her. We notified a sister who lived nearby and who had a car. She took the sick sister to the nearest hospital in record time—only ten minutes! The doctors said that this saved her life.
The gratitude that is shown to the members of the group by the infirm and the elderly is very satisfying. Having the hope of living with these brothers and sisters in God’s new system under different circumstances is heartwarming. And knowing that they were helped to endure because of the support that they received during their sufferings is yet another reward.
Perseverance Has Brought Rewards
I now serve as an elder in one of the Piraiévs congregations. Despite advanced age and health problems, I am happy that I can still have an active share in the activities of the congregation.
Over the years, trying circumstances, difficult challenges, and unforeseen occurrences have called for an inordinate amount of tenacity and perseverance. Yet, Jehovah has always given me the needed strength to overcome these problems. Time and again, I have experienced the truth of the psalmist’s words: “When I said: ‘My foot will certainly move unsteadily,’ your own loving-kindness, O Jehovah, kept sustaining me. When my disquieting thoughts became many inside of me, your own consolations began to fondle my soul.”—Psalm 94:18, 19.
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With my wife, Eleni, after her second operation, in 1957
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At a convention in Nuremberg, Germany, in 1969
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The group of brothers and sisters who helped the sick and the elderly