“What Shall I Repay to Jehovah?”
AS TOLD BY MARIA KERASINIS
At the age of 18, I was a crushing disappointment to my parents, an outcast among my family, and the laughingstock of my village. Pleadings, coercion, and threats were used to try to break my integrity to God —to no avail. I was confident that loyally sticking to Bible truth would bring spiritual benefits. Looking back on more than 50 years of serving Jehovah, I can only echo the psalmist’s words: “What shall I repay to Jehovah for all his benefits to me?”—Psalm 116:12.
I WAS born in 1930, in Aggelokastro, a village about 12 miles [20 km] from the port of Cenchreae, on the east side of the Isthmus of Corinth, where a congregation of true Christians was established in the first century.—Acts 18:18; Romans 16:1.
My family led a quiet life. Father was the president of the community and was well respected. I was the third of five children. My parents brought us up as devout members of the Greek Orthodox Church. I attended Mass every Sunday. I did penance before icons, lit candles in country chapels, and observed all fasts. I often thought of becoming a nun. In time, I became the first one in the family to disappoint my parents.
Thrilled by Bible Truth
When I was about 18 years old, I learned that Katina, the sister of one of my brothers-in-law, who lived in a neighboring village, was reading publications of Jehovah’s Witnesses, and she was not going to church anymore. This troubled me a lot, so I decided to help her return to what I felt was the right path. Thus, when she came to visit, I arranged for us to go for a walk, with the intention of stopping by the priest’s house. The priest began the conversation with a volley of taunts against Jehovah’s Witnesses, calling them heretics who had misled Katina. The discussion continued for three consecutive nights. Katina refuted all his allegations with well-prepared Biblical arguments. Finally, the priest told her that because she was such a good-looking, intelligent girl, she should enjoy her youth while she could and take an interest in God when she got old.
I said nothing to my parents about that discussion, but the following Sunday, I did not go to church. At midday, the priest came straight to our shop. I made up an excuse that I had had to stay in the shop to help Father.
“Is that really the reason, or did that girl influence you?” the priest asked me.
“These people have better beliefs than we do,” I said straightforwardly.
Turning to my father, the priest said: “Mr. Economos, kick your relative out immediately; she has set your house on fire.”
My Family Turns Against Me
This was in the late 1940’s when Greece was going through the violent spasms of civil war. Fearful that the guerrillas might snatch me, Father made arrangements for me to leave the village and go to my sister’s house in the village where Katina lived. For the two months I stayed there, I was helped to understand what the Bible says on a number of issues. I was disappointed to see that many of the doctrines of the Orthodox Church are unscriptural. I realized that God does not accept worship through icons, that various religious traditions—such as the veneration of the cross—are not of Christian origin, and that one has to worship God “with spirit and truth” in order to please him. (John 4:23; Exodus 20:4, 5) Above all, I learned that the Bible offers the bright hope of eternal life on earth! Such precious Bible truths were among the initial personal benefits that I received from Jehovah.
In the meantime, my sister and her husband noticed that I did not make the sign of the cross at mealtimes, nor did I pray before religious icons. One night they both beat me. The next day I decided to leave their home, and I went to my aunt’s place. My brother-in-law notified my father. Shortly afterward Father came in tears and tried to change my mind. My brother-in-law knelt down in front of me, begging my pardon, which I gave. To end the matter, they asked me to return to church, but I stood firm.
Back in Father’s village, pressures continued. I had no means of communicating with Katina, and I had no literature to read, not even a Bible. I was so happy when one of my cousins tried to help me. When she went to Corinth, she found a Witness and came back with the book “Let God Be True” and a copy of the Christian Greek Scriptures, which I started reading in secret.
Life Takes an Unexpected Turn
Fierce opposition continued for three years. I had no contact with any Witnesses, nor could I receive any literature. However, unbeknownst to me, major developments involving my life were about to take place.
Father told me that I had to go to my uncle in Thessalonica. Before leaving for Thessalonica, I went to a seamstress shop in Corinth to have a coat made. What a surprise when I found that Katina worked there! We were so happy to see each other after such a long time. As the two of us were leaving the shop, we met a very pleasant young man who was going home from work, riding a bicycle. His name was Charalambos. After getting to know each other, we decided that we would get married. It was also about this time, on January 9, 1952, that I symbolized my dedication to Jehovah by getting baptized.
Charalambos had been baptized earlier. He too faced opposition from his family. Charalambos was very zealous. He served as assistant congregation servant and conducted many Bible studies. Soon, his brothers accepted the truth, and today most members of their families also serve Jehovah.
My father really liked Charalambos, so he consented to the marriage, but Mother was not easily persuaded. Despite all of this, Charalambos and I were married on March 29, 1952. Only my oldest brother and one of my cousins came to the wedding. Little did I know then what an incomparable blessing—a real gift from Jehovah—Charalambos would prove to be! As his companion, I was able to build my life around Jehovah’s service.
Strengthening Our Brothers
In 1953, Charalambos and I decided to move to Athens. Wanting to do more in the preaching work, Charalambos resigned from his family business and found part-time work. We spent the afternoons together in the Christian ministry and conducted many Bible studies.
Because of official restrictions on our ministry, we had to be resourceful. For example, we decided to place a copy of the Watchtower magazine in the window of a kiosk, or vending stall, in the center of Athens, where my husband worked part-time. A high-ranking police officer told us that the magazine was banned. However, he asked if he could get a copy and inquire about it at the security office. When they assured him that the magazine was legal, he returned to tell us. As soon as other brothers who had kiosks heard this, they too began to put copies of The Watchtower in their kiosk windows. One man obtained The Watchtower from our kiosk, became a Witness, and is now serving as an elder.
We also had the joy of seeing my youngest brother learn the truth. He had come to Athens to study at the merchant marine college, and we took him with us to a convention. Our conventions were held secretly in forests. He liked what he heard, but soon afterward he started traveling. On one of his trips, he ended up in a port in Argentina. There, a missionary boarded the ship to preach, and my brother asked for our magazines. We were overjoyed when we received his letter saying: “I have found the truth. Make me a subscriber.” Today, he and his family are faithfully serving Jehovah.
In 1958 my husband was invited to serve as a traveling overseer. Since our work was under ban and conditions were very difficult, traveling overseers usually served without their wives. In October 1959, we asked the responsible brothers at the branch office if I might accompany him. They agreed. We were to visit and strengthen the congregations in central and northern Greece.
Those trips were not easy. Paved roads were few and far between. Since we did not own a car, we usually traveled by public transportation or in pickup trucks, along with chickens and other merchandise. We wore rubber boots in order to tramp through the muddy roads. Since in every village there was a civil militia, we had to enter the villages under cover of night to avoid interrogation.
The brothers deeply appreciated these visits. Although most of them worked hard in their fields, they made every effort to attend meetings held late at night in various homes. The brothers were also very hospitable and offered us the best they had, although they had very little. Sometimes we slept with the entire family in the same room. The brothers’ faith, endurance, and zeal proved to be another rich benefit to us.
Expanding Our Service
In February 1961, while visiting the branch office in Athens, we were asked if we would be willing to serve at Bethel. We answered with Isaiah’s words: “Here I am! Send me.” (Isaiah 6:8) Two months later, we received a letter instructing us to get to Bethel as soon as possible. Thus, on May 27, 1961, we started serving at Bethel.
We loved our new assignment, and we felt at home immediately. My husband worked in the Service and Subscription departments, and later he served for a time on the Branch Committee. I had various assignments in the home. There were 18 members in the family then, but for almost five years, there were about 40 people because a school for elders was being conducted at Bethel. In the morning, I washed the dishes, helped the cook, made up 12 beds, and set the tables for lunch. In the afternoon, I ironed clothes and cleaned toilets and rooms. Once a week I also worked in the laundry. There was a lot of work, but I was happy to be able to help.
We kept very busy in our Bethel assignments as well as in the field service. Many times we conducted up to seven Bible studies. On weekends, I accompanied Charalambos as he delivered talks to various congregations. We were inseparable.
We conducted a Bible study with a couple who had close ties to the Greek Orthodox Church and who were personal friends of the cleric who led the antiheretic agency of the church. In their house, they had a room filled with icons, where incense burned continuously and Byzantine hymns played all day. For some time, we visited them on Thursdays to study the Bible, and their cleric friend visited them on Fridays. One day, they asked us to come to their home without fail because they had a surprise for us. The first thing they showed us was that room. They had done away with all the icons and had renovated it. This couple made further progress and were baptized. In total, we have had the joy of seeing about 50 of the people with whom we conducted Bible studies dedicate their life to Jehovah and get baptized.
Associating with anointed brothers was a special benefit that I enjoyed. Visits by members of the Governing Body, such as Brothers Knorr, Franz, and Henschel, were immensely encouraging. After more than 40 years, I still feel that serving at Bethel is a great honor and privilege.
Coping With Illness and Loss
In 1982 my husband began to show signs of Alzheimer’s disease. By 1990 his health had deteriorated, and he eventually needed constant care. During the last eight years of his life, we could not leave Bethel at all. Many beloved brothers in the Bethel family, as well as responsible overseers, made arrangements to help us. Despite their kind assistance, however, I had to spend long hours day and night caring for him. Things were extremely difficult sometimes, and I had many sleepless nights.
In July 1998 my beloved husband passed away. Although I miss him very much, I am comforted by the fact that he is in good hands, and I know that Jehovah will remember him along with millions of others in the resurrection.—John 5:28, 29.
Grateful for Jehovah’s Benefits
Although I lost my husband, I am not alone. I still have the privilege of serving at Bethel, and I enjoy the love and care of the whole Bethel family. My extended family also includes spiritual brothers and sisters from all over Greece. Even though I am now over 70 years old, I am still able to work full days in the kitchen and in the dining room.
In 1999 a life’s dream came true when I visited the world headquarters of Jehovah’s Witnesses in New York. I cannot describe how I felt. It was an upbuilding and unforgettable experience.
As I look back, I sincerely believe that I could not have used my life in a better way. The best career anyone can have is that of serving Jehovah full-time. I can confidently say that I have never been left in want. Jehovah lovingly cared for my husband and me both spiritually and physically. From personal experience, I understand why the psalmist asked: “What shall I repay to Jehovah for all his benefits to me?”—Psalm 116:12.
[Picture on page 26]
Charalambos and I were inseparable
[Picture on page 27]
My husband in his office at the branch
[Picture on page 28]
I feel that Bethel service is a great honor