God Has Been Merciful to Me
As told by Bolfenk Moc̆nik
“Now keep strong.” Those were the firm, urgent words of Mother as she gave me a hug. Militiamen separated us, and the trial took its course. Finally, the sentence was pronounced: five years in prison. Perhaps most people would have been devastated. In truth, though, I at last felt a deep inner peace. Let me explain.
THE events described above unfolded in 1952 in Slovenia.* But my story really starts over two decades earlier, in 1930. That is when the Bible Students, as Jehovah’s Witnesses were then called, arranged the first group baptism in my country. My parents, Berta and Franz Moc̆nik, were among those baptized. I was six then, and my sister, Majda, was four. Our home in the city of Maribor was a center of Christian activity.
Adolf Hitler took power in Germany in 1933 and began to persecute the Witnesses. Many German Witnesses moved to Yugoslavia to help with the preaching work. My parents were fond of having such faithful people as guests. One guest whom I remember well was Martin Poetzinger, who later spent nine years in Nazi concentration camps. Much later, from 1977 until his death in 1988, he served as a member of the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
When visiting us, Martin always slept in my bed, while my sister and I slept in the bedroom with our parents. He had a small, colorful pocket encyclopedia that fired my childhood imagination. I loved to leaf through that book.
A Time of Severe Trials
In 1936, as Hitler’s power grew, my parents attended the momentous international convention in Lucerne, Switzerland. Since Father had a pleasant baritone voice, on that occasion he was selected to make recordings of Bible sermons that were later played to householders throughout Slovenia. Not long after that memorable convention, Witnesses in Europe began to be persecuted terribly. Many suffered and died in Nazi concentration camps.
In September of 1939, World War II began, and by April of 1941, German troops occupied parts of Yugoslavia. Slovenian schools were closed. We were forbidden to use our language in public. Because Jehovah’s Witnesses remain neutral in all political conflicts, they refused to join the war effort.* As a result, many were arrested and some were executed—including a young man named Franc Drozg, whom I knew well. The Nazi firing squads did their work about a hundred yards from our house. I can still see Mother wrapping her ears with cloth, trying to block out the sound of the shots. The last words of Franc’s farewell letter to a close friend were, “See you in God’s Kingdom.”
A Course I Deeply Regret
I was then 19. Although I admired Franc for his firm stand, I was frightened. Would I die too? My faith was weak, and my relationship with Jehovah God shallow. Then I received a military call-up. My fear was stronger than my faith, so I answered the call.
I was sent to the Russian front. Soon I saw comrades dying all around me. The war was horrifying and cruel. My conscience troubled me more and more. I begged Jehovah for forgiveness and for the strength to walk in the right way. When a heavy assault caused confusion in our company, I saw a chance to flee.
I knew that if I was caught, I would be executed. During the next seven months, I found various hiding places. I even managed to send a postcard to Majda with the words: “I have left my employer and now work for another one.” I meant that I intended to work for God now, but it took some time before I really did so.
In August 1945, three months after Germany surrendered to the Allies, I was able to return to Maribor. Remarkably, all of us—my father, mother, and sister—had survived that terrible war. By then, though, the Communists were in control, and they were persecuting Jehovah’s Witnesses. The preaching work was officially banned, but the Witnesses went underground and kept right on preaching.
In February 1947, three faithful Witnesses—Rudolf Kalle, Dus̆an Mikić, and Edmund Stropnik—were sentenced to death. Later, though, the sentences were changed to 20-year prison terms. The news media covered all of this extensively, and many people thus learned about the unjust treatment of the Witnesses. Upon reading those news articles, I felt cut to the heart. I knew what I had to do.
I Gain Spiritual Strength
I was painfully aware that I had to take my stand for Bible truth, so I intensified my efforts to be used in our underground preaching work. As a result of serious Bible reading, I gained the spiritual strength to quit unclean habits, such as the use of tobacco.
In 1951, I was baptized in symbol of my dedication to God, and I resumed a life course I had left nearly a decade earlier. Finally, I began to experience Jehovah as a true Father—faithful, loyal, and unfading in his love. Although I had made unwise decisions as a young man, I was touched by the Bible’s assurance of divine forgiveness. As a loving Father, God kept drawing me “with the cords of love.”—Hosea 11:4.
During that difficult time, we held Christian meetings secretly in the homes of various Witnesses, and we carried on our preaching work in an informal way. Less than a year after my baptism, I was arrested. Mother saw me briefly before the trial. As mentioned at the outset, she hugged me tightly and urged me: “Now keep strong.” When the sentence of five years in prison was handed down, I remained calm and resolute.
I was put in a tiny cell with three other prisoners, so I was able to share Bible truth with men who could not otherwise have been reached. Although I had no Bible or Bible literature, I was amazed that I was able to recall scriptures and their explanations from my hours of personal Bible study. I kept telling fellow inmates that if I had to serve in prison for five years, Jehovah would give me the strength to do so. However, he might open a door for me earlier. If he did, I reasoned, who could shut it?
Serving Under a Measure of Freedom
In November 1953, the government declared an amnesty; all of Jehovah’s Witnesses in prison were freed. I then learned that the ban on our preaching work had been lifted two months earlier. We immediately started to reorganize the congregations and our preaching activity. We found a meeting place in the basement of a building in the center of Maribor. We put a sign on the wall that read: “Jehovah’s Witnesses—Maribor Congregation.” The joy of serving Jehovah in freedom filled our hearts with deep appreciation.
Early in 1961, I began to serve in the full-time ministry as a pioneer. About six months later, I was invited to work at the branch office of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Yugoslavia. It was located in Zagreb, Croatia. The branch then consisted of one small room and a staff of three men. Fellow Christians who lived nearby came during the day to help with the production of the Watchtower magazine in local languages.
Christian women who lived nearby also helped with the work. Among other things, they stitched the pages of the magazines together. I did various jobs, including proofreading, translation, courier service, and the compiling of records.
Change of Assignment
In 1964, I was assigned to serve as a traveling overseer, which involved making regular visits to a number of congregations of Witnesses to strengthen them spiritually. I particularly cherished this work. Most of the time, I traveled from one congregation to the next by bus or by train. To reach Witnesses living in smaller villages, I often traveled by bicycle or on foot, sometimes in ankle-deep mud.
Life was not without its lighter moments. A Christian brother once took me to the next congregation in a horse-drawn cart. As we bounced along the dirt road, one of the cart’s wheels came loose and fell off. We both ended up on the ground. As we sat in the dirt, looking up at the horse, it stared at us in what seemed like wide-eyed astonishment. Even years later, we still laughed about that. The unhypocritical love of those dear ones in the countryside was a joy that I will always treasure.
In the town of Novi Sad, I became acquainted with Marika, who served as a pioneer. Her love for Bible truth and her zeal in the ministry impressed me so much that I wanted to marry her. Some time after we were married, we began serving the congregations together in the traveling work.
My family had endured their own hardships during the ban. My father was falsely charged with collaborating with the enemy during the war and lost his job. He fought a long, futile battle to get it back and was very discouraged as a result. For a while his faith weakened, but he regained it before the end of his life. He was active in his congregation when he died in 1984. My humble, faithful mother had passed away earlier, in 1965. Majda still serves with the congregation in Maribor.
Our Ministry in Austria
In 1972, Marika and I received an invitation to go to Austria to preach to the many Yugoslavian migrant workers there. When we arrived in Vienna, the capital, we had no idea that this would become our permanent assignment. Gradually, new congregations and groups that speak the languages used in Yugoslavia were established throughout Austria.
In time, I began to serve as a traveling overseer, visiting the growing number of these congregations and groups throughout the country. Later, we were invited to extend our visits to Germany and Switzerland as well, where similar congregations had been formed. I was able to assist in organizing many assemblies and conventions in these countries.
On occasion, such large conventions were visited by members of the Governing Body, and I was able to meet Martin Poetzinger again. We reminisced about events of some 40 years earlier when he was a frequent guest in our home. I asked him, “Do you remember how I loved to leaf through your pocket encyclopedia?”
“Wait a moment,” he replied as he left the room. He returned with the book and handed it to me. “Take it as a present from a friend,” he said. The book is still a treasured part of my library.
Health Challenges—But Still Active
In 1983, I was diagnosed with cancer. Not long afterward, I was told that my condition was terminal. This was a stressful time, especially for Marika, but as a result of her loving care and the practical support of many Christian brothers, I still enjoy a rich and full life.
Marika and I continue in the full-time ministry in Vienna. Most of the time, I commute to our branch facility in the mornings and do translation work, and Marika keeps busy in the preaching work in the city. It fills me with great joy to observe how the small group of Yugoslavian immigrants to Austria who became Witnesses has grown to well over 1,300. Marika and I have been privileged to help many of them to learn Bible truth.
In recent years, I have had the privilege to share in the dedication programs of new branch office facilities in the former republics of Yugoslavia—one in Croatia in 1999 and another in Slovenia in 2006. I was one of the old-timers who were asked to share memories of the beginnings of the preaching work in these countries some 70 years ago.
Jehovah indeed is a loving Father who is ready to forgive in a large way our failures and mistakes. How grateful I am that errors are not what he watches! (Psalm 130:3) He has certainly been kind and merciful to me.*
Six republics, including Slovenia, then made up Yugoslavia.
For the Scriptural reasons why Jehovah’s Witnesses refuse to go to war, see the article “Our Readers Ask” on page 22 of this magazine.
Bolfenk Moc̆nik died on April 11, 2008, as this article was being finalized for publication.
[Picture on page 27]
Left to right: My parents, Berta and Franz Moc̆nik, Majda, and me, in Maribor, Slovenia, 1940’s
[Picture on page 29]
With my wife, Marika