MY FATHER was born in Graz, Austria, in 1899, so he was a youth during World War I. When World War II began in 1939, he was conscripted into the German army. While fighting in Russia in 1943, my father was killed. Sadly, that is how I lost my father when I was only two years old, so I never got to know him. When I attended school, I was very sad to see that other boys had a father but I did not. As a teenager, I found comfort when I learned about our Father in heaven, who cannot die.
MY EXPERIENCES WITH THE BOY SCOUTS
When I was seven years old, I joined the Boy Scouts youth movement. This is a worldwide organization started in 1908 in Great Britain by a lieutenant general of the British army, Robert Stephenson Smyth Baden-Powell. In 1916 he started the Wolf Cubs (or Cub Scouts) for younger boys.
I liked our weekend camping trips in the country. We slept in tents, wore uniforms, and marched to the sound of drums. I enjoyed spending time with the other Scouts. We sang songs around a campfire in the evening and played games in the forest. We also learned a lot about nature, which taught me to love the things our Creator has made.
Boy Scouts are taught to do a good deed every day and to greet other Boy Scouts with the words “Always Prepared.” I liked this very much. In our group of over a hundred boys, about half were Catholics, half were Protestants, and one was a Buddhist.
Since 1920, the Boy Scouts have held international meetings every few years. I went to some of these gatherings. One was in Bad Ischl, Austria, in August 1951, and another was near Birmingham, England, in August 1957, where about 33,000 Scouts from 85 lands attended. There were also about 750,000 people who came to this meeting. One of these was Queen Elizabeth of England. To me, being a Boy Scout was like being part of a worldwide brotherhood. I did not know that soon I would find a better brotherhood, one made up of people who love God.
MEETING ONE OF JEHOVAH’S WITNESSES FOR THE FIRST TIME
In the spring of 1958, I was finishing my training as a waiter at the Grand Hotel Wiesler in my hometown of Graz, Austria. My workmate, a pastry chef named Rudolf Tschiggerl, witnessed informally to me. This was the first time I had heard anything about the truth. He told me that the Trinity doctrine was not a Bible teaching. I said that it was from the Bible and that he was wrong. I liked him and wanted to persuade him to return to the Catholic Church.
Rudolf, whom I called Rudi, wanted to give me a Bible. I told him that I only wanted a Catholic Bible. So he gave me one, and when I started reading it, I found inside a tract that was printed by the Watchtower Society. Rudi had put it there. I did not like this because I felt that such literature could sound correct but actually be untrue. But I was willing to discuss the Bible with him. Rudi wisely did not offer me any other books or magazines. For about three months, we had Bible discussions now and then. Sometimes we talked until late at night.
After I finished my training at the hotel, my mother sent me to a hotel management school. It was in Bad Hofgastein, a town in a valley in the Alps. The school was associated with the Grand Hotel in Bad Hofgastein, so sometimes I worked there to get more experience.
VISITED BY TWO MISSIONARY SISTERS
Rudi had sent my new address to the branch office in Vienna, and the branch then asked two missionary sisters, Ilse Unterdörfer and Elfriede Löhr, to visit me. * (See footnote.) One day the receptionist at the hotel called me and said that two women were outside in a car and that they wanted to speak to me. I did not know them, but I went out to see who they were. I learned later that Ilse and Elfriede had been Witness couriers in Nazi Germany when the work was under ban. Before World War II started, they had been captured by the German secret police (Gestapo) and sent to the Lichtenburg concentration camp. Then, during the war, they were moved to the camp in Ravensbrück, near Berlin.
These sisters were about the same age as my mother, so I had respect for them. I did not want to waste their time by having discussions with them and then later saying that I was not interested. So I asked them to bring me a list of scriptures about the Catholic teaching that the first pope was the apostle Peter and that all other popes receive authority from him, which is called apostolic succession. I told them that I would take it to the local priest and discuss it with him. I thought that by doing this, I would find the truth.
FINDING THE TRUTH ABOUT THE REAL HOLY FATHER
The Catholic Church interprets Jesus’ words found at Matthew 16:18, 19 to support this teaching of apostolic succession. The Church also says that the pope, known as the Holy Father, is unable to make a mistake when he speaks on doctrinal matters. Many Catholics believe this and base their faith on it. I also believed this and thought that if the pope says that the Trinity is true, then it must be true. But, I thought, if the pope can make a mistake, then the Trinity may be false.
When I visited the priest, he could not answer my questions. Instead, he gave me a book about apostolic succession. I took it home and read it. Then I came back to the priest with even more questions. He could not answer them and 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.
After this happened, 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) The two sisters conducted meetings in the home of an interested family because there was no congregation in the area. Only a few people attended. There was no baptized brother to take the lead, so Ilse and Elfriede would discuss the information between the two of them at the meeting. Sometimes a brother would come from another town 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. I was baptized three months later in January 1959. Before my baptism, I asked if I could go with them from house to house to see how the preaching work was done. (Acts 20:20) After going with them for the first time, I asked for my own territory. They assigned a village to me, and I would go there alone to preach from house to house and make return visits on interested ones. The first brother I ever went out in the ministry with was the circuit overseer who later visited us.
In 1960, after I finished my hotel training, I returned to my hometown to try to teach Bible truths to my relatives. Although no one has come into the truth yet, some are showing interest.
A LIFE OF FULL-TIME SERVICE
In 1961 the branch office sent letters encouraging brothers and sisters to think about pioneering. I was single and healthy, so I felt I should start pioneering. I thought I needed a car to pioneer, and I asked the circuit overseer, Kurt Kuhn, what he would think if I worked for a few more months in order to be able to buy a car. He answered, “Did Jesus and the apostles need a car to do full-time service?” His question helped me decide what I would do. I planned to start pioneering as soon as possible. But since I worked 72 hours every week in a hotel restaurant, there were some changes I needed to make.
I asked my boss whether he would allow me to work 60 hours instead of 72. He agreed, and he even paid me the same wage. A little later, I asked him if I could work just 48 hours a week. Again he said yes, and again he paid me the same. Next I asked to work only 36 hours a week, and once again he agreed. I could not believe that I still got the same pay! It seemed that my boss did not want me to leave. This schedule helped me to start regular pioneering. At that time, pioneers were required to spend 100 hours a month preaching.
Four months later, I was appointed as a special pioneer and as the congregation servant in a small congregation in the town of Spittal an der Drau. Then, special pioneers were required to spend 150 hours a month in service. I did not have a pioneer partner, but I had good support in the ministry from Sister Gertrude Lobner, who served as the assistant congregation servant. *
In 1963, I was invited to be a circuit overseer. I often traveled by train from congregation to congregation, carrying heavy suitcases. Most brothers did not own a car, so no one could pick me up at the train station. I did not want to make the brothers feel bad by taking a taxi, so I would walk to their homes.
In 1965, I was invited to attend the 41st class of Gilead School. Many in the class were single, including me. To my great surprise, I was assigned back to circuit work in my home country of Austria. But before I left the United States, I was asked to work with a circuit overseer for four weeks. I really appreciated serving with Anthony Conte. He was a loving brother who 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 the next year, in April 1967, and we continued in the traveling work.
Romans 8:15 explains how some humans can have a special relationship with Jehovah and become his spiritual sons. They tenderly call him “Abba, Father!” I felt that way in 1968 when I realized that by his undeserved kindness, Jehovah had adopted me to be his spiritual son. I also became part of a spiritual brotherhood of anointed ones.
Merete and I served together in the circuit and district work until 1976. Sometimes in the winter, we slept in unheated bedrooms with below-freezing temperatures. Once, we woke up and found that the part of the blanket near our faces had frozen! We finally decided to carry a small electric heater to help us endure the night. At some places, if we needed to use the bathroom at night, we had to walk through snow to a drafty outhouse. We did not have our own apartment, so on Mondays we usually stayed in the home where we had been the week before. 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 loves the field service, and I never have to encourage her to go out in the ministry. She also loves the friends and cares very much for 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. The Austria branch was then caring for the work in several Eastern European countries and was making sure that the brothers in those countries secretly received literature. Brother Jürgen Rundel took the lead in this, and I had the privilege to work with him. Later I was asked to oversee the work of translating literature into ten Eastern European languages. Jürgen and his wife, Gertrude, are still faithful special pioneers in Germany. Starting in 1978, the Austria branch phototypeset and printed our magazines in six languages on a small press. We also sent the magazines to readers in other countries. Otto Kuglitsch, who now serves with his wife, Ingrid, at the branch office in Germany, was the one caring for these operations.
The brothers in Eastern Europe also printed literature in their own countries, using copy machines or printing from film. But they needed support from brothers in other countries. Jehovah protected their activity. At the branch, we came to love these brothers who served faithfully under ban for many years.
A SPECIAL VISIT TO ROMANIA
In 1989, I had the privilege to go to Romania with Brother Theodore Jaracz, a member of the Governing Body. The goal was to help a large group of brothers to come back to the organization. Starting in 1949, these brothers had separated themselves from the organization and had formed their own congregations. Still, they continued to preach and to baptize new ones. They even went to prison for refusing to join the army, just as the brothers did who were still part of the organization. The work in Romania was still under ban, so we had to meet secretly. We met in the home of Brother Pamfil Albu, along with four key elders and with representatives of the appointed Romania Country Committee. We also had with us Rolf Kellner, an interpreter from Austria.
On the second night of discussion, Brother Albu persuaded his four fellow elders to unite with us. He said, “If we do not do it now, we may never get another chance.” After this, about 5,000 brothers came back to the organization. What a victory for Jehovah and what a defeat 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 began serving 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
My days of serving food in a hotel are in the past. Now I enjoy having a share with others in preparing and serving spiritual food to our worldwide brotherhood. (Matthew 24:45-47) When I think about the more than 50 years I have spent in special full-time service, I feel deep appreciation. I am full of joy when I see Jehovah’s blessing on our worldwide brotherhood. I love to attend the international conventions of Jehovah’s Witnesses, where we learn about our heavenly Father, Jehovah, and about Bible truth.
I pray that millions more will study the Bible, accept the truth, and serve Jehovah unitedly with our worldwide Christian brotherhood. (1 Peter 2:17; footnote) I look forward to seeing from heaven the earthly resurrection and finally 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 seeing from heaven the earthly resurrection and finally finding my physical father