On Course Toward a New World
As told by Jack Pramberg
Outside of Arboga, a small picturesque town in central Sweden, Jehovah’s Witnesses have a branch office with over 80 volunteers. This is where my wife, Karin, and I live and work. How did we come to be here?
TOWARD the end of the 19th century, a 15-year-old Swedish girl immigrated to the United States. At an immigrant shelter in New York City, she met a Swedish sailor. This led to a romance, a marriage, and the birth of a son—me. That occurred in Bronx, New York, U.S.A., in 1916, during World War I.
Shortly afterward, we moved to Brooklyn, just a few blocks from Brooklyn Heights. My father later told me that he and I sailed a model ship near the Brooklyn Bridge, which was right in view of the world headquarters of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Little did I realize how the activities there would affect my life.
In 1918, World War I ended, and for the time being, the meaningless slaughter in Europe was over. Soldiers returned home to face a new kind of enemy—unemployment and poverty. My father thought it best to return to Sweden, which we did in 1923. We ended up in Erikstad, a little village near a railway station, in the Dalsland region. There my father started an engineering workshop, and there I grew up and went to school.
A Seed Was Sown
My father’s business did not go well. So in the early 1930’s, he again became a sailor. We were left alone—my mother with many worries and I with the managing of the workshop. One day, Mother visited her brother-in-law, my uncle Johan. Filled with apprehension about world conditions, she asked: “Johan, is it always going to be this way?”
“No, Ruth,” he said. He went on to tell her about God’s promise to put an end to wickedness and bring about righteous rule over the earth by means of a Kingdom with Jesus Christ as King. (Isaiah 9:6, 7; Daniel 2:44) He explained that the Kingdom for which Jesus taught us to pray was the righteous rule, or government, that would bring about a paradise earth.—Matthew 6:9, 10; Revelation 21:3, 4.
Those Bible promises went straight to Mother’s heart. She headed for home, thanking God at every step she took. However, neither Father nor I liked it that Mother was becoming religious. About this time, in the mid-1930’s, I moved to Trollhättan in western Sweden, where I got a job at a large workshop. Soon Mother along with Father, who had recently returned from life at sea, moved to the same place. So our family was united again.
To satisfy her spiritual hunger, Mother sought out Jehovah’s Witnesses in the area. At the time, they met in one another’s homes, just as the first Christians did. (Philemon 1, 2) One day, it was Mother’s turn to host the meeting. Anxiously, she asked Father if she could invite her friends. He answered, “Your friends are my friends.”
So the door to our home was opened. As people came in through the door, I left. It was not long, however, before I stayed. The warmth of the Witnesses and their realistic, down-to-earth reasoning broke down all the prejudice in my mind. In my heart a seed started to grow—a hope for the future.
Going to Sea
I must have inherited some saltwater in my blood from Father, for I too went to sea. I also became increasingly aware of my spiritual need. When we were in harbor, I always tried to get in touch with Jehovah’s Witnesses. In Amsterdam, Holland (now Netherlands), I went into a post office to ask where I could find them. After some negotiating, I received an address to which I headed immediately. A ten-year-old girl warmly welcomed me at the door. I was a stranger, yet right away I felt a bond with her and her family—a taste of a wonderful international brotherhood!
Although we did not speak the same language, when the family pulled out a calendar and a railway schedule and started drawing a map, I understood that an assembly was going to be held in the nearby town of Haarlem. I went, and despite not being able to understand a word, I loved it. When I saw the Witnesses passing out invitations for the public talk on Sunday, I felt the urge to participate. So I picked up invitations that people discarded and passed them out once again.
Once, we docked in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and there I found the branch office of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Inside was an office and a storeroom. At a desk, a woman sat knitting, and a little girl, probably her daughter, was playing with a doll. It was late at night, and a man was taking some books from a shelf, including the book Creation in Swedish. Seeing their happy, welcoming faces, I knew that I wanted to be a part of these people.
On the voyage home, our ship picked up the crew from a Canadian military plane that had crashed off the coast of Newfoundland. A few days later, we were near Scotland, where an English naval boat took us into custody. We were taken to Kirkwall on the Orkney Islands for inspection. World War II had begun, and Hitler’s Nazi troops had invaded Poland in September 1939. After a few days, we were freed, and we made it back to Sweden without mishap.
I was home in two senses—physically and spiritually. Now I really wanted to belong to God’s people and did not want to forsake gathering together with them. (Hebrews 10:24, 25) It makes me happy to recall that as a sailor, I always witnessed to other sailors, and I know that one of them also became a Witness.
A Special Form of Service
Early in 1940, I visited the branch office of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Stockholm. I was welcomed by Johan H. Eneroth, who was then taking the lead in overseeing the preaching work in Sweden. When I told him that I wanted to share in the preaching work full-time as a pioneer minister, he looked at me intently and asked, “Do you believe that this is God’s organization?”
“Yes,” I replied. That led to my baptism on June 22, 1940, and I began serving at the branch in that lovely environment with fine fellow workers. Our weekends were spent in the ministry. In the summer, we often cycled out to distant territories and used the entire weekend for preaching, sleeping in haystacks at night.
Mostly, however, we preached from house to house in and around Stockholm. Once, I saw a man in his basement, working frantically on his boiler. So I rolled up my sleeves and helped him. When the leak was stopped, the man looked at me with gratitude and said: “I think that you probably came for another reason. So let us go up and wash our hands and have a cup of coffee.” We did, and over that cup of coffee, I witnessed to him. In time, he became a fellow Christian.
Despite the country’s official position of neutrality, the Swedish people were affected by the war. An increasing number of men were called to military service, including me. When I refused to perform military drills, I was imprisoned for short periods. Later, I was sentenced to a work camp. Young Witnesses were often summoned before judges, and we were able to bear witness regarding God’s Kingdom. This was true to Jesus’ prophecy: “You will be haled before governors and kings for my sake, for a witness to them and the nations.”—Matthew 10:18.
My Life Changes
In 1945 the guns went silent over Europe. Later that year, Nathan H. Knorr, who was then taking the lead in the worldwide work, visited us from Brooklyn, along with his secretary, Milton Henschel. Their visit turned out to be of great importance for the reorganization of the preaching work in Sweden—and for me personally. When I heard about the possibility of attending the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead, I immediately applied.
The following year, I was sitting in a classroom at the school, then located just outside South Lansing, New York. During the five-month course, I received training that deepened my appreciation for the Bible and for God’s organization. I found that those taking the lead in the worldwide preaching work were approachable and considerate. They worked hard, right alongside the rest of us. (Matthew 24:14) Although this did not surprise me, it made me happy to see it with my own eyes.
The time soon came—February 9, 1947—for the eighth class of Gilead School to graduate. Brother Knorr announced which countries we students would be sent to. When my turn came, he said, “Brother Pramberg is going back to Sweden to serve his brothers there.” I did not feel too enthusiastic about going home, I must confess.
Meeting a Great Challenge
When I returned to Sweden, I learned about a new work commencing in many countries throughout the world—the district work. I was appointed to serve as the first district overseer in Sweden, and my assignment was to cover the entire country. I arranged for and oversaw what came to be called circuit assemblies, which were held in cities and towns throughout Sweden. Since this arrangement was completely new, my instructions were meager. Brother Eneroth and I sat down and put together a program in the best way we could. I trembled in the face of the assignment and approached Jehovah many, many times in prayer. For 15 years, I had the privilege of serving in the district work.
In those days, it was hard to find suitable meeting places. We had to make do with dance halls and the like, which were often poorly heated and sometimes shabby. An assembly in Rökiö, Finland, was typical. The hall was an old community center that had been abandoned for some time. There was a snowstorm, and it was four degrees below zero Fahrenheit [-20°C]. So we started a fire in two giant heating stoves constructed of oil drums. Little did we know, however, that birds had built nests in the chimney. The smoke engulfed us! Yet, wrapped in topcoats and with eyes stinging, everybody remained seated. It just made that assembly especially memorable.
Among the instructions for organizing these three-day circuit assemblies was direction to provide food for the delegates. At first, we had no equipment and no experience in handling such an undertaking. But we had wonderful brothers and sisters who happily took up the challenge. On the day before the assembly, you could see them bent over a tub, peeling potatoes while relating experiences and having a wonderful time. Many lasting friendships began on those occasions while the brothers and sisters worked hard together.
Marching with placards advertising these circuit assemblies was another feature of our work then. We walked in procession through a town or a village, inviting the residents to the public talk. People in general were most often kind and respectful. Once in the town of Finspång, the street was lined with workers who were pouring out of a factory. Suddenly, one of them shouted: “Here boys, you see the gang that Hitler couldn’t beat!”
A Great Event in My Life
My life as a traveling minister was soon to change after I met Karin, a wonderful young woman. Both of us were invited to attend the international convention at Yankee Stadium, New York City, in July 1953. There, between sessions on Monday the 20th, Milton Henschel performed our wedding. It was an unusual event in this stronghold of the baseball world. After serving together in the traveling work until 1962, Karin and I were invited to join the Sweden Bethel family. At first, I worked in the Magazine Department. Then, because of my training as a mechanic, I was assigned to look after the printing presses and other machines at the branch. Karin worked for several years in the laundry. For many years now, she has been serving in the Proofreading Department.
What an eventful, meaningful, happy life we have enjoyed in our more than 54 years of service to Jehovah as a married couple! Jehovah has truly blessed his organization of loving, hardworking servants. Back in 1940 when I started serving at the branch, there were only 1,500 Witnesses in Sweden. But now there are over 22,000. The growth has been even greater in other parts of the world, so that earth wide we now number over six and a half million.
Jehovah’s spirit is behind our work, constantly filling our sails, as it were. With eyes of faith, we gaze out over the restless sea of mankind, but we are not disturbed. Straight ahead on our course, we clearly see God’s new world. Karin and I thank God for all his goodness and pray every day for the strength to keep our integrity and finally reach our goal—God’s approval and eternal life!—Matthew 24:13.
[Picture on page 12]
On my mother’s knee
[Picture on page 13]
Where Father and I sailed a model ship in the early 1920’s
[Picture on page 15]
With Herman Henschel (Milton’s father) at Gilead, 1946
[Pictures on page 16]
We were married at Yankee Stadium on July 20, 1953