Losing a Father—Finding a Father
MY FATHER was born in Graz, Austria, in 1899, so he was a youth during World War I. He was conscripted into the German army soon after World War II broke out in 1939. He was killed in 1943 while fighting in Russia. Sadly, that is how I lost my father when I was only about two years old. I never had an opportunity to get to know him, and I very much missed having a father, especially when I realized that most other boys in school had one. Later, as a teenager, I gained comfort from learning about our heavenly Father, a superior Father who cannot die.—Hab. 1:12.
MY EXPERIENCES WITH THE BOY SCOUTS
When I was seven years old, I became a member of the Boy Scouts youth movement. The Boy Scouts are a worldwide organization founded in 1908 in Great Britain by a lieutenant general of the British army, Robert Stephenson Smyth Baden-Powell. In 1916 he founded the Wolf Cubs (or Cub Scouts) for younger boys in my age group.
I liked our weekend campouts in the country—sleeping in tents, wearing uniforms, and marching to the sound of drums. I particularly enjoyed the time with the other Scouts, including our singing around a campfire in the evening and playing games in the forest. We also learned a lot about nature, which made me appreciate the handiwork of our Creator.
Boy Scouts are encouraged to perform a good deed every day. This is their general motto. We greeted one another with the words “Always Prepared.” This appealed to me. In our troop of over a hundred boys, about half were Catholics, half were Protestants, and one was a Buddhist.
Since 1920, international Scout meetings, or jamborees, have been held every few years. I attended the seventh World Scout Jamboree in Bad Ischl, Austria, in August 1951, and the ninth World Scout Jamboree in Sutton Park, near Birmingham, England, in August 1957. On the latter occasion, some 33,000 Scouts from 85 countries and territories were present. Also, about 750,000 people visited us at the jamboree, including Queen Elizabeth of England. To me, it was like a worldwide brotherhood. Little did I know then that I would soon become acquainted with a far more impressive brotherhood—a spiritual one.
MEETING ONE OF JEHOVAH’S WITNESSES FOR THE FIRST TIME
In the spring of 1958, I was about to finish my apprenticeship as a waiter at the Grand Hotel Wiesler of Graz, Austria. There, Rudolf Tschiggerl, a workmate and pastry chef, witnessed informally to me. I had never before heard anything about the truth. He first brought up the Trinity doctrine and said that it is not a Bible teaching. I argued in favor of the Trinity and wanted to prove him wrong. I liked my workmate and intended to persuade him to return to the Catholic Church.
Rudolf, whom we called Rudi, obtained a Bible for me. I insisted that it had to be a Catholic version. I started reading it and soon found that Rudi had put in the Bible a tract that had been printed by the Watchtower Society. I objected to this because I felt that such literature could be worded in a way that sounded correct yet might not be. I was willing, however, to discuss the Bible with him. Rudi showed insight and did not offer me anything more in print. For about three months, we had occasional Bible discussions that often lasted late into the evening.
After I finished my apprenticeship at the hotel in my hometown of Graz, my mother funded further education for me at a hotel management school. So I moved to Bad Hofgastein, a town in a valley in the Alps, where the school was located. It was connected with the Grand Hotel in Bad Hofgastein, and sometimes I worked there to get experience beyond what I learned in class.
VISITED BY TWO MISSIONARY SISTERS
Rudi had sent my new address to the branch office in Vienna, and the branch, in turn, forwarded it to two missionary sisters, Ilse Unterdörfer and Elfriede Löhr.a One day the receptionist at the hotel called me and said that two ladies were outside in a car and that they wanted to speak to me. I was puzzled because I knew nothing about them. But I went out to see who they were. Later, I learned that they had served as Witness couriers in Nazi Germany when the work was banned prior to World War II. Even before the war started, they had been captured by the German secret police (Gestapo) and sent to the Lichtenburg concentration camp. Then, during the war, they were transferred to the camp in Ravensbrück, near Berlin.
The sisters were about the age of my mother, so I certainly had respect for them. That is why I did not want to waste their time by having discussions with them and then perhaps after some weeks or months have to tell them that I did not want to continue. So I asked if they could just bring me a list of scriptures on the Catholic doctrine of apostolic succession. I told them that I would take it to the local priest and discuss it with him. I thought that I would then see what is the truth.
LEARNING ABOUT THE TRUE HOLY FATHER IN HEAVEN
The Roman Catholic teaching of apostolic succession claims that there is an unbroken succession of popes in a line extending all the way back to the apostle Peter. (The church misinterprets Jesus’ words that are quoted at Matthew 16:18, 19.) Catholicism also claims that the pope is infallible in matters of doctrine when he speaks ex cathedra, or in an official capacity. I believed this and thought that if the pope, whom Catholics call Holy Father, is infallible in doctrinal matters and has proclaimed the Trinity to be true, then it must be true. But if he is not infallible, then the doctrine may be false. No wonder that for many Catholics the teaching of apostolic succession is the most important teaching, since the correctness or incorrectness of other Catholic teachings hinges on it!
When I visited the priest, he could not answer my questions, but he pulled from his shelf a book on Catholic doctrine that dealt with apostolic succession. I took it home, as he suggested, read it, and returned with more questions. Finally the priest, not being able to answer my questions, said: “I cannot convince you, and you cannot convince me. . . . I wish you the best!” He did not want to have any more discussions with me.
At that point, I was ready to study the Bible with Ilse and Elfriede. They taught me much about the true Holy Father in heaven, Jehovah God. (John 17:11) There was as yet no congregation in the area, so the two sisters conducted meetings in the private home of an interested family. Only a few attended. The sisters discussed most of the meeting material between the two of them, since there was no baptized brother present to take the lead. Occasionally, a brother from elsewhere would come and give a public talk in a rented place.
GETTING STARTED IN THE MINISTRY
Ilse and Elfriede began studying the Bible with me in October 1958, and I was baptized three months later in January 1959. Prior to my baptism, I asked them if I might accompany them from house to house to see just how the preaching work was done. (Acts 20:20) After accompanying them for the first time, I asked if I might have my own territory to work. They assigned a village to me, and I would go there by myself and preach on my own from house to house and also make return visits on interested ones. The first brother I accompanied in the house-to-house ministry was the circuit overseer who later visited us.
In 1960, after concluding my hotel schooling, I returned to my hometown to try to help my relatives learn Bible truths. Even until now, not one of them has come into the truth, but some are showing a measure of interest.
A LIFE OF FULL-TIME SERVICE
In 1961 letters from the branch office encouraging pioneering were read in the congregations. I was single and healthy, so I thought that I had no excuse not to pioneer. I talked to the circuit overseer, Kurt Kuhn, about what he thought of my working secularly for a few more months in order to be able to buy a car, which would be useful for pioneering. His comment? “Did Jesus and the apostles need a car to do full-time service?” That did it for me! I planned to start pioneering as soon as possible. But since I worked 72 hours each week in a hotel restaurant, I first had to make some changes.
I asked my boss whether he would allow me to work 60 hours instead. He granted my request and paid me the same wage. A little later, I asked him whether I could work just 48 hours per week. He approved that request too and paid me the same. I next asked to be allowed to work only 36 hours per week, or 6 hours on 6 days, and that request was also granted. Surprisingly, I still got the same pay! It seemed that my boss did not want me to leave. With that schedule, I started regular pioneering. At the time, the pioneer requirement was 100 hours a month.
Four months later, I was appointed as a special pioneer and as the congregation servant in a small congregation in the province of Carinthia, in the town of Spittal an der Drau. Back then, the special pioneer requirement was 150 hours a month. I had no pioneer partner, but I treasured the support I received in the ministry from a sister named Gertrude Lobner, who served as the assistant congregation servant.b
RAPID CHANGES OF ASSIGNMENTS
In 1963, I was invited to do circuit work. Sometimes I traveled by train from congregation to congregation, carrying heavy suitcases. Most brothers did not own a car, so no one was able to pick me up at the train station. In order not to “show off,” I did not want to take a taxi to the home where I was to stay, so I would walk to my accommodations.
In 1965, still single, I was invited to attend the 41st class of Gilead School. Many of my classmates were also single. To my great surprise, at graduation I was assigned back to my home country of Austria to continue in the circuit work. However, before leaving the United States, I was asked to accompany a circuit overseer for four weeks. I very much appreciated serving with Anthony Conte, a loving brother who also loved the field service and was very effective in it. We served together in upstate New York in the Cornwall area.
When I arrived back in Austria, I was assigned to a circuit where I met Tove Merete, an attractive single sister. She was raised in the truth from the time she was five years old. When brothers ask us how we met, we jokingly say, “The branch office arranged for that.” We got married a year later, in April 1967, and we were allowed to continue in the traveling work together.
The following year, I realized that by Jehovah’s undeserved kindness, he had adopted me as a spiritual son. Thus began a special relationship with my heavenly Father as well as with all those who, according to Romans 8:15, “cry out: ‘Abba, Father!’”
Merete and I continued to serve together in the circuit and district work until 1976. Sometimes during wintertime, we had to sleep in unheated bedrooms with below-freezing temperatures. Once, we woke up to find that the upper end of our blanket was stiff and white from our frozen breath! We finally decided to carry a small electric heater with us to keep the temperatures bearable at night. At some places, to use the bathroom at night, we would walk through snow to an outhouse that was usually very drafty. We also did not have an apartment to use, so on Mondays we usually stayed in the same home where we had been serving during the week. Then, Tuesday morning we traveled on to the next congregation.
I am happy to say that over the years, my dear wife has always been a great support. She just loves the field service, and I never ever had to encourage her to go out in the ministry. She also loves the friends and is very concerned about others. This has been a big help.
In 1976 we were invited to serve at the Austria branch office in Vienna, and I was appointed as a member of the Branch Committee. At that time, the Austria branch was overseeing the work in several Eastern European countries and was organizing the discreet transport of literature into those countries. Brother Jürgen Rundel took the lead in this, showing a lot of initiative. I was privileged to work with him and was later asked to oversee translation work into ten Eastern European languages. Jürgen and his wife, Gertrude, continue to serve faithfully as special pioneers in Germany. Starting in 1978, the Austria branch phototypeset magazines and printed them in six languages on a small offset press. We also sent subscriptions to different countries that requested them. Otto Kuglitsch, who now serves with his wife, Ingrid, at the branch office in Germany, was the key man for these operations.
The brothers in Eastern Europe also produced literature in their own countries by using mimeograph machines or by reproducing material from film. Still, they needed support from outside their countries. Jehovah protected this activity, and at the branch, we came to love the brothers who had to serve under difficult circumstances and under ban for many years.
A SPECIAL VISIT TO ROMANIA
In 1989, I had the privilege of accompanying Brother Theodore Jaracz, a member of the Governing Body, to Romania. The aim was to help a large group of brothers to be reunited with the organization. Beginning in 1949, they had for various reasons cut ties with the organization and had formed their own congregations. Yet, they continued to preach and to baptize. They also went to prison for their Christian neutrality, just as the brothers did who were part of the organization that was approved by world headquarters. The ban in Romania was still on, so we secretly met in the home of Brother Pamfil Albu, together with four key elders and the representatives of the approved Romania Country Committee. We also took an interpreter with us from Austria, Rolf Kellner.
On the second night of discussion, Brother Albu persuaded his four fellow elders to unite with us when he said, “If we do not do it now, we may never get another chance.” Subsequently, about 5,000 brothers were integrated into the organization. What a victory for Jehovah and what a blow for Satan!
Toward the end of 1989, before the fall of Communism in Eastern Europe, the Governing Body invited my wife and me to transfer to world headquarters in New York. This was a great surprise for us. We took up service at Brooklyn Bethel in July 1990. In 1992, I was appointed as a helper to the Service Committee of the Governing Body, and since July 1994, I have had the privilege of serving on the Governing Body.
REFLECTING ON THE PAST AND LOOKING TO THE FUTURE
The times when I served as a waiter in a hotel are long gone. Now I enjoy the privilege of participating in preparing and dispensing spiritual food to our worldwide brotherhood. (Matt. 24:45-47) Looking back over more than 50 years in special full-time service, I can only express my deep appreciation and joy for Jehovah’s blessing upon our worldwide brotherhood. I love to attend our international conventions, where emphasis is put on learning about our heavenly Father, Jehovah, and Bible truth.
I pray that millions more of mankind will study the Bible, accept the truth, and serve Jehovah unitedly with our worldwide Christian brotherhood. (1 Pet. 2:17; ftn.) I also look forward to observing from heaven the earthly resurrection and, at last, finding my physical father. I hope that he, my mother, and other dear relatives will all want to worship Jehovah in Paradise.
I look forward to observing from heaven the earthly resurrection and, at last, finding my physical father
a See their life story in the November 1, 1979, issue of The Watchtower.
b Now, instead of a congregation servant and an assistant congregation servant, within each body of elders a coordinator and a secretary are appointed.