Bible Reading—My Lifelong Source of Strength
As told by Marceau Leroy
“IN THE beginning God created the heavens and the earth,” I began reading in the privacy of my room. Why did I read in secret? Surely my father, a confirmed atheist, would not approve of the book I had in my hands—the Bible.
I had never read the Bible before, and those opening words of Genesis struck me like a bolt of lightning. I thought, ‘Here is the explanation for the harmony of the physical laws that has always amazed me!’ Enthralled, I read from eight at night until four in the morning. Thus began my lifelong habit of reading God’s Word. Let me explain how Bible reading has been a source of strength to me throughout my life.
“You Will Have to Read It Every Day”
I was born in 1926, in Vermelles, a coal-mining village in northern France. During the second world war, coal was a commodity of national importance. So as a miner, I was exempt from military service. Still, to improve my lot, I began studying radio and electricity, which impressed on me the harmony of physical laws. When I was 21, a classmate handed me my first Bible, saying, “It is a book worth reading.” By the time I finished reading it, I was convinced that the Bible is God’s Word, a revelation to mankind.
Thinking that my neighbors too would be excited to read the Bible, I obtained eight copies. To my surprise, I met with mockery and opposition. Superstitious relatives warned, “Once you start reading this book, you will have to read it every day!” Read it I did, and I have never regretted doing so. It became my lifelong custom.
Recognizing my interest in the Bible, some neighbors passed on to me publications of Jehovah’s Witnesses that they had received. Booklets such as One World, One Government* (shown in French) explained why the Bible points to God’s Kingdom as the only hope for mankind. (Matt. 6:10) I was more determined than ever to share this hope with others.
One of the first to accept a Bible from me was Noël, a childhood friend. Being a practicing Catholic, he arranged for us to meet with a man who was studying to become a priest. I felt intimidated, yet I knew from reading Psalm 115:4-8 and Matthew 23:9, 10 that God disapproves of using idols in worship and addressing clergymen with religious titles. This gave me the courage to defend my newfound belief. As a result, Noël accepted the truth, and to this day he remains a faithful Witness.
I also visited my sister. Her husband had books on spiritism and was being harassed by demons. Although I felt rather powerless at first, such Bible verses as Hebrews 1:14 convinced me that I had the support of Jehovah’s angels. When my brother-in-law applied Bible principles and rid himself of everything connected with the occult, he was able to free himself from demon influence. Both he and my sister became zealous Witnesses.
In 1947 an American Witness, Arthur Emiot, called at my home. Excited, I asked him where the Witnesses met. He told me that there was a group in Liévin, some six miles (10 km) away. Even bicycles were hard to come by in those days, so for several months I walked to and from the meetings. The work of Jehovah’s Witnesses in France had been under ban for eight years. There were only 2,380 Witnesses in the whole country—many being Polish immigrants. But on September 1, 1947, our work in France was legally recognized again. A branch office was reestablished in Paris at Villa Guibert. Because there was not even one pioneer in France, the December 1947 issue of Informant (now Our Kingdom Ministry) launched an appeal for general pioneers, who would preach 150 hours a month. (In 1949 that was reduced to 100 hours.) In full agreement with Jesus’ words at John 17:17, “[God’s] word is truth,” I was baptized in 1948, and in December 1949, I became a pioneer.
From Prison Back to Dunkerque
My first assignment, Agen, in southern France, was short-lived. Because I had left the mines, I was eligible for military service. I refused to join the army, so I was sent to prison. Though I was not allowed to have a Bible, I was able to obtain a few pages of the book of Psalms. Reading them encouraged me. When I was released, I had a decision to make: Should I stop the full-time service in order to get settled? Here again, what I read in the Bible helped me. I meditated on Paul’s words at Philippians 4:11-13: “For all things I have the strength by virtue of him who imparts power to me.” I made up my mind to continue pioneering. In 1950, I received a new assignment—Dunkerque, a town where I had preached before.
When I arrived there, I had nothing. The town had been severely damaged during World War II, and accommodations were hard to find. I decided to visit a family I used to call on, and the lady of the house was overjoyed: “Oh, Mr. Leroy, you’ve been released! My husband says that if there were more men like you, there never would have been a war.” They had a guesthouse, so they offered me lodging until the tourist season started. The same day, Arthur Emiot’s brother, Evans, offered me work.* He was an interpreter in the port and was looking for a night watchman to guard a ship. He introduced me to one of the ship’s first officers. After my time in prison, I was as thin as a rake. When Evans explained why, the officer told me to help myself to the food in the refrigerator. On that one day, I obtained lodging, work, and food! My confidence in Jesus’ words recorded at Matthew 6:25-33 had indeed been strengthened.
When the tourist season started, my pioneer partner, Simon Apolinarski, and I had to find other lodging, but we were determined to stay in our assignment. We were offered accommodations in an old horse stable, where we slept on straw mattresses. We spent our days in the service. We witnessed to the owner of the stable, and he became one of many who accepted the truth. It was not long before an article appeared in the local press, warning the inhabitants of Dunkerque of the “outbreak of Jehovah’s Witness activity in the region.” Yet, Simon and I and a handful of publishers were the only Witnesses there! In the face of difficulties, we were encouraged by meditating on our Christian hope and considering the way Jehovah had taken care of us. There were some 30 regular publishers in Dunkerque when my assignment was changed in 1952.
Strengthened for New Responsibilities
After a brief stay in the city of Amiens, I was appointed a special pioneer to serve in Boulogne-Billancourt, a suburb of Paris. I had many Bible studies, and some of them later took up full-time service and missionary work. One young man, Guy Mabilat, accepted the truth and went on to serve as a circuit overseer and then as a district overseer. Later, he had oversight of the construction of the printery at the present-day Bethel in Louviers, some distance from Paris. Frequent Bible discussions in the ministry further imprinted God’s Word on my mind, filling me with joy and enabling me to improve my teaching ability.
Then in 1953, out of the blue, I was appointed to be a circuit overseer in Alsace-Lorraine, a region that between 1871 and 1945 was twice annexed by Germany. Hence, I had to learn some German. When I started in the circuit work, there were few cars, televisions, or typewriters in that region and no transistor radios or personal computers. But my life was neither sad nor austere. In fact, it was a most joyful time. Following the Bible’s advice to keep ‘a simple eye’ meant that there were fewer distractions from serving Jehovah than there are today.—Matt. 6:19-22.
The 1955 “Triumphant Kingdom” Assembly in Paris was a memorable occasion for me. There I met my future wife, Irène Kolanski, who had started full-time service the year before I did. Her Polish parents were longtime, zealous Witnesses. In France they were visited by Adolf Weber. He had been Brother Russell’s gardener and had come to Europe to declare the good news. Irène and I were married in 1956, and she joined me in the circuit work. What a fine support she has been throughout the years!
Two years later, another surprise awaited me—I was appointed a district overseer. Still, to make up for the shortage of qualified brothers available, I continued to visit some congregations as a circuit overseer. What a busy time that was! In addition to preaching 100 hours a month, each week I had talks to give, three book studies to visit, records to check, and reports to prepare. How would it be possible to buy out time to read God’s Word? I saw only one solution—I cut pages out of an old Bible and kept some with me. Whenever I had to wait for someone to arrive for an appointment, I took out the pages and read. Those brief moments of spiritual refreshment strengthened my resolve to continue in my assignment.
In 1967, Irène and I were invited to become permanent members of the Bethel family in Boulogne-Billancourt. I began working in the Service Department, and over 40 years later, I still have that privilege. An enjoyable aspect of my work has been answering letters asking Bible questions. How I delight in digging into God’s Word and “defending . . . the good news”! (Phil. 1:7) I also take pleasure in conducting Bible discussions at morning worship before breakfast. In 1976, I was appointed to be a member of the Branch Committee in France.
The Best Way of Life
Although I have experienced trialsome times, the most challenging time in my life is now, when old age and health problems limit what Irène and I can do. Still, reading and studying God’s Word together keeps our hope alive. We enjoy taking the bus to our congregation territory to share this hope with others. Our combined experience of more than 120 years in full-time service moves us to recommend wholeheartedly this course to all who wish to pursue an exciting, joyful, and useful life. When King David wrote the words of Psalm 37:25, he had “grown old,” but like him, I too “have not seen anyone righteous left entirely.”
Throughout my life, Jehovah has strengthened me by means of his Word. My relatives predicted over 60 years ago that Bible reading would be a lifelong habit. They were right. It has been—a daily habit that I have never regretted!
Published in 1944, but now out of print.
For more information about Evans Emiot, see The Watchtower, January 1, 1999, pages 22 and 23.
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Simon and me
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A Bible similar to the first one I received
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When serving as district overseer
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On our wedding day
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Irène and I enjoy reading and studying God’s Word