Argentina, stretching some 2,500 miles [4,000 km] down the southeastern side of South America, is a land of remarkable diversity. Within its boundaries lie the rugged Andes Mountains, with peaks soaring more than 20,000 feet [6,000 m]. In the north are tropical forests where jaguars and tapir roam. In the frigid waters off Tierra del Fuego, in the south, penguins and whales play, and waves swell to a height of 100 feet [30 m]. On the plains, gauchos (Argentine cowboys) on horseback patrol sprawling cattle ranches.
Wherever you go in this land, you will find Jehovah’s Witnesses. They are in every major city and town throughout the country. Numbering over 120,000, they preach in the mountains, in the jungles, on the plains, and all along the coast. They are found amid the skyscrapers of the capital and in the remotest country village. The geographic diversity of the country has not thwarted the preaching of the good news—neither have cultural and language barriers nor have economic difficulties. The good news is being preached, just as Jesus said it would be.—Mark 13:10.
This has not come about by mere chance. Dedicated men and women full of zeal and faith have demonstrated their determination to declare the Bible’s message in whatever circumstances they have found themselves. They have taken to heart the apostle Paul’s counsel to Timothy: “Preach the word, be at it urgently in favorable season, in troublesome season.” (2 Tim. 4:2) Yet, they do not take credit to themselves for what has been accomplished. They recognize that only by means of Jehovah’s spirit has it been done.—Zech. 4:6.
A Foundation Is Laid
The foundation for the work done here goes back many years. The record of how the truth has reached into the most remote parts of the country is faith strengthening indeed. In 1923, George Young, from Canada, came to South America. After extensive witnessing in Brazil, he turned his attention to Argentina. Within months, 1,480 books and 300,000 copies of other Bible publications were distributed in 25 principal towns and cities of Argentina. Before continuing his missionary tour in other countries of South America, he remarked: “The smile of God’s approval upon the effort to spread the message of the kingdom has been very manifest.”
In 1924, J. F. Rutherford, then president of the Watch Tower Society, assigned a Spaniard named Juan Muñiz to serve in Argentina. Two years later Brother Muñiz established a branch office of the Watch Tower Society in Buenos Aires to look after the Kingdom-preaching work in Argentina, Chile, Paraguay, and Uruguay.
Brother Muñiz realized that there was a large German-speaking population in Argentina, so he requested help in order that they too might hear the good news. In response, Brother Rutherford sent Carlos Ott, a German full-time minister, to assist that language group.
There were also many Greeks in the country. In 1930, Nicolás Argyrós, of Greek origin, learned the Bible’s message and began preaching to the hundreds of Greek-speaking people in the Buenos Aires area. Later, as his Spanish improved, he spread the seed of God’s Word in 14 of the 22 provinces of Argentina, concentrating his efforts on the northern half of the country.
Around the same time, a Polish man, Juan Rebacz, became one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, and along with another Polish Witness, he entered the full-time ministry. Accompanied by two other full-time ministers, they covered the territory in the southern part of Argentina.
The report for 1930 shows that hundreds of thousands of pieces of literature were distributed not only in German, Greek, and Spanish but also in Arabic, Armenian, Croatian, English, French, Hungarian, Italian, Lettish, Lithuanian, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Ukrainian, and Yiddish.
So it was that in just seven years, the Kingdom-preaching and disciple-making work had taken root among the Spanish-speaking inhabitants and other language groups. The season was indeed favorable for continued growth.
Vast Territory Is No Obstacle
The territory to be covered was huge, roughly equivalent to one third of the area of the United States of America. Yet, for the Witnesses, its vastness was no obstacle to spreading the Kingdom message. Some traveled on foot, others by bicycle, by train, or by horse and wagon.
In the early 1930’s, Armando Menazzi, from the central province of Córdoba, became convinced that he had found the truth. He sold his auto-repair shop to serve as a full-time minister. Later, he bought an old bus and converted it into a camper, making it possible for ten or more publishers to travel together and spread the good news. Their trips took them to at least ten provinces in northern Argentina.
By the 1930’s, Argentina had the most complete railroad system in Latin America, extending almost 25,000 miles [more than 40,000 km]. This proved to be an outstanding asset for the expansion of the preaching work. Some pioneers were assigned to preach in settlements along a segment of the rail line. For example, José Reindl had as his territory the entire Western railroad line, from Buenos Aires Province on the Atlantic Coast to Mendoza Province on the Chile border, an area extending more than 620 miles [1,000 km]!
Jehovah’s Witnesses who were employed by the railroad took advantage of the opportunity to carry the Bible message to distant places in Argentina. Epifanio Aguiar, who learned the truth in the northeastern province of Santa Fe, was transferred by the rail company farther north to Chaco. He began preaching there right away. When his work required him to travel 1,200 miles [2,000 km] south to Chubut and later back north to Santiago del Estero, he spread the Kingdom message in those provinces.
Sister Rina de Midolini, a zealous pioneer, witnessed in Médanos, some 30 miles [50 km] from the city of Bahía Blanca. She carried her bicycle on the train and made good use of it when she arrived at her destination. People called her the Bible lady who rides a bicycle. She was so well-known that one day when the engineer of the train noticed that she had not arrived for the return trip, he delayed the train’s departure for her!
Gilead-Trained Missionaries Arrive
The early Witnesses traveled widely and distributed much literature, pointing people to the hope of God’s Kingdom. In time, though, it became evident there was a need for systematic Bible education and improved organization. In 1945, Nathan H. Knorr, then president of the Watch Tower Society, visited Argentina and instructed the congregations to begin the Course in Theocratic Ministry (the Theocratic Ministry School) in Spanish. He also encouraged brothers from Argentina to take up the pioneer work and to set for themselves the goal of attending the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead.
Soon, two Argentines attended Gilead School, returning to Argentina in 1946. They were followed in 1948 by missionaries assigned from other lands. Among them were Charles and Lorene Eisenhower, Viola Eisenhower, Helen Nichols, and Helen Wilson from the first class of Gilead, as well as Roberta Miller from the fourth class. Later came Sophie Soviak, Edith Morgan, Ethel Tischhauser, Mary Helmbrecht, and many others. Over the years, 78 missionaries have been sent to Argentina. Their evangelizing spirit has encouraged local Witnesses to imitate them. While there were 20 pioneers in the entire country in 1940, by 1960 this number had increased to 382. Today, there are over 15,000 pioneers in Argentina.
Coping With Troublesome Seasons
For many years the season for preaching in Argentina had proved favorable. However, as Jesus foretold, not all would approve of the activity of his followers. (John 15:20) Thus, when Brother Knorr visited Argentina in 1949, the police suddenly canceled the permit to assemble at a very fine hall in Buenos Aires. Instead, the assembly was held in a Kingdom Hall, but not without interference. At 4:40 p.m. on Sunday, the police interrupted Brother Knorr’s talk and arrested him together with those who were present. The police gave no reason for the arrests. The authorities made the brothers stand for hours in a large courtyard until early the following morning. Then they were released.
Clearly, a wind of opposition had begun to blow against the worshipers of Jehovah in Argentina. That same year, because of the influence of the Roman Catholic Church, a bill was passed requiring that all religious groups register with the Department of Cults of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The following year the government under Juan Domingo Perón officially banned the work of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Argentina. The decree prohibited public meetings of Jehovah’s Witnesses as well as their preaching activity. However, the Watch Tower Society’s branch office was not closed.
Generally speaking, the authorities allowed the Witnesses to continue their activity without any great difficulty. Nevertheless, government officials often enforced the ban by canceling an assembly or by closing a Kingdom Hall. At times, the Witnesses also faced arrests and harassment when they had meetings in private homes or when they shared in their public ministry.
Consequently, the Witnesses endeavored to ‘prove themselves cautious as serpents.’ (Matt. 10:16) When witnessing to others, they used only the Bible. The congregations were organized into small groups of 8 to 12 publishers. For the first few years of the ban, meeting places were changed regularly. The brothers found inconspicuous places to meet—be it a milking shed, a structure with a thatched roof, a farm kitchen, even under a tree. The important thing was to meet together.—Heb. 10:24, 25.
To encourage the brothers, Brother Knorr revisited Argentina, along with Milton Henschel, in 1953. Because of the ban, they could not hold a big assembly, since that would draw public attention. Still, they arranged for what was called a nationwide assembly. Brother Knorr flew to Mendoza from Chile, and Brother Henschel came into the country from Paraguay. Traveling separately, they spoke at local “assemblies” held at 56 locations. Some of these gatherings were held in picnic settings on farms owned by local Witnesses. In Buenos Aires both brothers visited the assembled Witnesses, conducting a two-hour meeting for each group. On one day, nine such meetings were held. All together, 2,505 attended this very different kind of assembly.
The Ban Eases
When the military government of Juan Perón was overthrown in 1955, larger groups were formed. Where congregations had a Kingdom Hall, the brothers were encouraged to meet there, though posting no sign identifying it as such. With Jehovah’s blessing, the number and size of the congregations steadily increased despite occasional harassment by the authorities.
In 1956 the branch decided to hold small assemblies in various parts of the country. The first one was in the city of La Plata, about 40 miles [60 km] from Buenos Aires. The 300 in attendance had difficulty singing the first song—“Be Glad, You Nations, With His People!” They were choked with emotion. It was the first time in six years that they had been able to meet with so many fellow believers and sing together.
Still, the ban was on. When an attempt was made to hold a national convention at Les Ambassadeurs hall in Buenos Aires in December 1957, the police closed the hall as the delegates were arriving. Four brothers were detained by the police and charged with holding a meeting without police permission.
Since the Constitution of Argentina guarantees freedom of religion and assembly, the brothers took the matter to court. On March 14, 1958, a decision was rendered in favor of the Witnesses! This was the first legal victory for Jehovah’s Witnesses in Argentina.
Another change of government took place in 1958. Now it seemed that legal recognition of the work of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Argentina might be obtained. A special letter explaining the activities of Jehovah’s Witnesses and their situation in Argentina was sent to all legislators, editors, deputies, and judges. Though a fine witness was given, no legal recognition was granted.
The Witnesses did not give up. The following year a petition for religious freedom was prepared and sent to the government. It bore 322,636 signatures. Charles Eisenhower, as the representative of the branch, visited government authorities. From overseas more than 7,000 letters appealed for legal recognition. Still, no legal status was granted. However, the attitude of the government toward the Witnesses relaxed considerably. Consequently, the brothers took advantage of the increasingly favorable season to strengthen the congregations spiritually.
In 1961 the Kingdom Ministry School was organized to train traveling overseers as well as congregation overseers. At first, the month-long course was conducted in one of the Kingdom Halls in the center of Buenos Aires. Later, the school was transferred to the branch office. With more qualified overseers to care for the flock of God, the number of publishers and pioneers increased every year during the 1960’s, reaching a peak of 18,763 publishers and 1,299 pioneers by 1970.
The increase in the number of Kingdom proclaimers in Argentina required enlargement of the branch office. Since 1940, the branch office of the Watch Tower Society had operated at 5646 Honduras Street in Buenos Aires. That building was demolished, and by October 1962 a new and larger building, built on the same property, was ready for occupancy.
By the end of the 1960’s, the branch again had become too small to keep up with the increase. A plot of land behind the branch building was purchased, and the local Witnesses constructed a new residence and office building. In addition, a building was purchased on Fitz Roy Street, adjacent to the old branch building and the new property. The demolition of the old branch building started in October 1970, and local Witnesses with building skills made up the major work force. Branch workers pitched in to help after their regular working hours. On weekends, Jehovah’s Witnesses from nearby congregations joined them.
Eventually, the three buildings were connected, making them a single complex. F. W. Franz, then vice-president of the Watch Tower Society, gave the dedication discourse in October 1974. The brothers in Argentina thought that surely the completed branch complex would suit the needs of the field until Armageddon. Little did they realize that this was only a beginning.
In the same year that the branch was dedicated, the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses decided that The Watchtower and Awake! should be printed locally. Since Jehovah’s Witnesses were not at that time legally recognized as a religion in Argentina, Asociación Cultural Rioplatense (River Plate Cultural Association) was formed in December 1974 to provide a legal entity that could import machinery for printing. A press came from France, a paper cutter from Germany, and a stitcher from the United States. All were gifts.
The pressroom workers, however, soon learned that it is one thing to have the machines but quite another to operate them. Although many difficulties had to be overcome, what joy they had when The Watchtower of April 15, 1975, rolled off the first web offset press ever to be used by the Watch Tower Society anywhere in the world! This was a milestone in the history of the printing done by Jehovah’s Witnesses.
“Divine Victory” International Assemblies
Early in 1974, Jehovah’s Witnesses in Argentina enjoyed international conventions held in Río Ceballos and Buenos Aires, featuring the theme “Divine Victory.” Some 15,000 delegates attended.
Preparations for adequate accommodations for so many visitors began months ahead of time. Many non-Witnesses lodged the visiting delegates, who gave a fine testimony of love, not just “in word” but also “in deed.” (1 John 3:18) The authorities approved the use of a huge field that accommodated a tent city with neatly arranged rows of tents and trailers, complete with streets having Scriptural names. All of this had a positive impact on the community.
Dark Clouds on the Horizon
Though the brothers had enjoyed increasing freedom of worship, troublesome times lay ahead. In June 1973, Juan Perón had made a comeback from his more than 17 years in exile and had taken office as president. Guerrilla conflicts between Peronist and non-Peronist factions were tearing the country apart. Political violence intensified, and on March 24, 1976, the military took control of the government.
The military government dissolved the Congress and began a campaign to wipe out the leftists. “In the process,” explains The World Book Encyclopedia, “they violated the civil rights of many people. Thousands were imprisoned without a trial, tortured, and killed. Many of these victims have never been found. They are called los desaparecidos (the disappeared ones).” Police surveillance of the activities of citizens increased. Although Jehovah’s Witnesses maintained their neutral stand amid the political chaos, in July 1976 the magazine Gente published an article with photographs of children, allegedly Jehovah’s Witnesses, turning their backs to the flag. It was a gross distortion of the truth! The four Witness children in the area had not even attended school on the day the picture was supposedly taken. Furthermore, Jehovah’s Witnesses do not show such disrespect for national symbols. Nevertheless, through such propaganda, many began to view the Witnesses with hostility.
Evidently, the social unrest made the government nervous about any seeming trace of dissension. At this time Carlos Ferencia, who was a traveling overseer, was visiting a congregation in a very dangerous area. He had just received a letter from the branch office informing him of an imminent ban on the work of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Argentina. As Carlos was walking and thinking about the letter, a car passed him, turned around, and headed right for him. Three men got out and pointed their guns at him. One of the men gruffly demanded to see his personal identification documents. Carlos explained that he was one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Nevertheless, they took him to the police station. He prayed to Jehovah that the letter would not fall into their hands.
The policemen took Carlos to a poorly lit room, and shining a bright light in his face, one of them shouted: “What do you have there in that bag?” The contents of his book bag were emptied on the table—a Bible, some magazines, and the letter!
One of the policeman exclaimed: “The Watchtower! The Watchtower! Subversive, subversive!”
But the officer in charge chided him: “Oh, be quiet. Haven’t you ever seen The Watchtower, you fool?”
Meanwhile, Carlos was trying to stay calm and to show respect. After the police examined the publications, they ordered him to put everything away. However, an officer interrupted and said: “What is in that envelope?”
Carlos handed the envelope with the Society’s letter to the officer, waited a few seconds, and then asked: “Excuse me, may I say something?”
“Sure,” the officer replied, looking up from the letter.
Carlos continued: “I understand that you are looking out for the safety of the community.” That captured the officer’s attention. Carlos then showed him from the Bible that the current violent situation fulfilled Bible prophecies.
When he had finished, the officer said: “I’m with you, my friend.” He then returned the letter without having read it.
A Ban on the Already Banned Work
How did the branch office know that a ban was imminent? In late August 1976, the federal police had raided the Society’s branch. The inspector in charge said that it was reported that the branch was storing firearms. Humberto Cairo, who was a member of the Branch Committee at the time, escorted them to the literature storage area. Of course, there were no guns. The only guns were the ones that the police were pointing at Humberto! The police led him up to the second floor to the office of Brother Eisenhower, the Branch Committee coordinator. There the inspector wrote a report of the results of the search and had the brothers sign it. He then told them that the government was preparing a decree on Jehovah’s Witnesses. Immediately, the Branch Committee composed the letter directing traveling overseers to prepare for a government ban.
But the work of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Argentina had been under ban since 1950. Would it be possible to ban the already banned work? The answer came quickly. Tomás Kardos, a Branch Committee member, recalls what took place on September 7, 1976, the day the new ban took effect. “At five o’clock in the morning, some noise in the street awakened us. A flashing red light penetrated the shutters. My wife got up quickly, looked out the window, turned to me, and simply said: ‘They have arrived.’”
Four heavily armed policemen jumped out of a patrol wagon. Guards were immediately posted at the offices and the factory. Brother Kardos continues: “We wondered if we could have our usual consideration of the daily text and eat breakfast. The officers did not object. So that morning, we discussed a Bible verse with one armed policeman guarding the door and another sitting respectfully at the table. All of us wondered, ‘What next?’”
The decree dated August 31, 1976, proscribed the work of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the entire country—in effect banning activity that had already been under ban since 1950. The police locked up the branch office and the printery. Shortly thereafter, all Kingdom Halls in the country were shut down.
Despite this situation, the brothers were determined to imitate the example of Jesus’ apostles by obeying God as ruler rather than men. (Acts 5:29) The Argentine Witnesses kept on preaching the Bible’s message “in troublesome season.”—2 Tim. 4:2.
Since the branch office was officially closed, the Branch Committee decided to relocate the offices and the printery. Humberto Cairo had to change the location of his office frequently—every month or so—working from apartments, businesses, homes, or offices of his fellow believers. Charles Eisenhower once worked from a wine store owned by a brother. The Branch Committee held their meetings in garages in downtown Buenos Aires.
The living quarters for the Bethel family were not closed down, so the branch workers ate and slept at the Bethel Home and discussed the day’s text together as a family. Then they commuted to their respective work areas. Those whose offices were nearby came back to Bethel and had lunch with the members of the family who looked after the home.
The police were suspicious of the activity of those living at Bethel. Several times, the entire Bethel family of about ten were taken to police headquarters for questioning. The police wanted to know all about the work of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Argentina. Who looked after local congregations, and where did they live? Brother Eisenhower clearly remembers such sessions: “We had to be truthful without compromising the work or the brothers. It was quite difficult, since the authorities were very insistent with their questions.”
“Suspend the Tea”
Just before the 1976 ban was imposed, the Society had arranged for the worldwide distribution of a special issue of Kingdom News. What would be done if the government imposed further restrictions on the activity of Jehovah’s Witnesses? Pablo Giusti, a traveling overseer at the time, recalls: “Since we did not have the answer, we had to consult the branch. If the branch thought it wise to postpone the campaign, the elders would receive a telegram with the message, ‘Suspend the tea.’ Little did we imagine the misunderstanding that would arise from this instruction!”
Soon after the government decree went into effect, Brother and Sister Giusti visited the Malargüe Congregation for the first time. This was in the south of Mendoza, where the border police had their headquarters. The Giustis had only the address of an elder who lived and worked in the National Highway Service building on the outskirts of the town. The elder was not there, but a worker mentioned that he might be in a nearby woods, where he often went to exercise. As they made their way down the lane, Brother Giusti noticed how isolated and desolate it was. It struck him as an ideal place to meet together without arousing suspicion. Since it was Sunday, he wondered if he would find the congregation meeting together. However, the brother was alone, exercising. The Giustis were in for a surprise!
After introducing themselves, Pablo asked about the congregation. The brother said: “Oh, here in Malargüe we suspended everything.”
Pablo replied: “What do you mean by everything?”
The answer was direct and simple: “We received a telegram that said ‘Suspend the tea,’ so we suspended the meetings, the preaching . . . everything.” Fortunately, it was the only congregation that did this.
When the branch was closed down, members of the Branch Committee met with circuit overseers to give them instructions on how to carry on their work. They were told to find part-time secular work and to establish a permanent address to minimize suspicion about their activities. Most of them sold a variety of products in the morning and then served congregations in the afternoon.
The circuit overseers made a whirlwind tour of their circuits with instructions from the branch. In just one week, the elders in each circuit of about 20 congregations were visited. The circuit overseers gave instructions on how to conduct the meetings and how to witness in view of the changed circumstances. The elders were also told that the length of the circuit overseer’s visit would not necessarily be an entire week but would depend upon the number of book study groups in the congregation. The meetings would take place in private homes, with each group receiving a one-day visit.
During the ban, circuit overseers played a key role in keeping local publishers in touch with the Branch Committee. Mario Menna, who served as a circuit overseer during the ban, recalls: “It was a real privilege to serve the congregations and comfort the brothers in those years. We tried to encourage them by sharing recordings of assembly programs, new publications that we obtained from neighboring countries, or upbuilding experiences.”
What Would Missionaries Do?
The social unrest was worsening. Since foreigners were not viewed favorably, the missionaries were given an opportunity to receive other assignments. Some accepted that invitation and served faithfully in their new assignments.
Others remained in Argentina. Mary Helmbrecht, from the 13th class of Gilead, was serving in Rosario, Santa Fe. On the morning the ban took effect, she went to a house and rang the doorbell. It was a warm summer morning, and the door was open. A radio was blaring. Suddenly, Mary heard a bulletin that said that the work of Jehovah’s Witnesses was banned in all of Argentina! “When the woman came to the door,” says Mary, “I composed myself and preached to her as usual. We continued preaching all morning as planned. We felt that there were no major problems where we were, so we decided to stay. We were thankful that we did. The ones in the congregations who were too frightened to preach saw that nothing happened to us, so they soon joined us.”—1 Thess. 5:11.
The local Witnesses showed courage and resourcefulness during these unfavorable times. Robert Nieto relates: “A sympathetic justice of the peace tipped us off that the Kingdom Halls were going to be closed and that the literature would be confiscated. Right away we went in two cars to our Kingdom Hall to get the large amount of literature that we kept on hand. As we were leaving, we saw behind us the police and the army arriving to fulfill the order to close the Kingdom Hall and confiscate the literature. However, they could carry out only the first part of their commission, since the only books left in the hall were the ones in the library.”
At another location, congregation elders cautiously entered their Kingdom Hall at night and quietly removed their literature. Later, they packaged it in small parcels and distributed it among the brothers.
In Tucumán, Nérida de Luna hid literature in her home. She relates: “We hid books in huge flowerpots and urns, on top of which we put artificial plants, then we concealed the boxes of literature in the laundry room. One morning, two soldiers searched the whole house including the laundry area while we stood by praying fervently. They didn’t find anything.”
Supplying the Spiritual Food
Of course, what literature local brothers could retrieve and hide was soon exhausted. However, Jehovah continued to provide spiritual food for them. Though the printery on Fitz Roy Street was closed, the printing operations continued at other locations in Buenos Aires. The magazines were also printed in the provinces of Santa Fe and Córdoba. Printed pages were sent to other locations to be assembled. At first, the congregations received just one magazine per study group, but later this was increased to one per publisher. One of these printeries operated in the attic of a house just two blocks from the presidential offices.
Rubén Carlucci, who was involved in the printing and shipping of literature during the ban, remembers an occasion when the owner of the house where the printing was being done came to warn them that the military police were searching from house to house. Immediately, the brothers stopped printing and quickly loaded onto a truck everything except the press. Rubén recalls: “The search was so extensive that we were surrounded and could not leave the area. We spotted a restaurant nearby, went in, and waited for the search to end. We had to wait four hours, but it was well worth it, since our brothers received their precious literature.”
“Pepita the Gunfighter”
The Watchtower and Awake! were secretly put together for a time in a building under construction in the capital. The building was originally meant to be a Kingdom Hall. Luisa Fernández, a longtime member of the Bethel family, was involved in the operation. One morning, just as Luisa and her fellow workers got started, someone knocked on the door. It was a police inspector! He informed them that the neighbors had filed a complaint because of the noise from the machinery. “That was all too understandable, since the stitcher was so noisy that we had nicknamed it Pepita la Pistolera (Pepita the gunfighter),” says Luisa.
Just then, a Branch Committee member arrived and explained what we were doing. The inspector said: “If no one is here when I return this afternoon, then I didn’t see anything.” Immediately, the brothers began to load everything onto trucks. In two hours, there was not a trace of the magazine-assembling operation.
Where did they take the machinery? Though the printery at the branch had been closed, it was possible to enter the building through the back door. Luisa and others moved everything into the old Bethel printery and continued to assemble the magazines there without being noticed!
Better Than a Cookie Factory
In order to produce and deliver the magazines to all of Argentina, it was necessary to set up magazine-assembling plants in other parts of the country as well. Leonilda Martineli, who has been a special pioneer since 1957, participated in such an operation in Rosario. When the printed material arrived to be assembled, the assigned brothers and sisters set up a long table on which they placed the pages in numerical order. Then starting at one end, each worker began collating the pages until he reached the other end. When a pile of finished magazines was stacked, the air had to be pressed out to fit more magazines in a box. Since no hydraulic press was available, a plump sister volunteered to do the job. When a good-sized stack was ready, she sat on them until they were nice and flat. Then another person packed them neatly in boxes. This system worked so well that the workers urged the sister not to go on a diet!
In the city of Santa Fe, the Gaitán family offered their home for magazine assembly. In spite of precautions, neighbors observed boxes being brought in and out of the house. They thought that the family was producing cookies. Later, in 1979, the branch moved the operation from there to another location. The neighbors were puzzled and later asked if the cookie factory had been shut down. Sister Gaitán recalls: “The ‘cookies’ that we made were delicious and much more nutritious than the neighbors realized!”
Delivering the Literature
Delivering the magazines and other literature to the brothers was yet another challenge. In the greater Buenos Aires area, a route was organized to supply magazines to strategically located literature depots. On one occasion, Rubén Carlucci was delivering the magazines and had only one more stop to make when a policeman signaled him to pull behind the patrol wagon. Rubén nervously obeyed, praying all the while to Jehovah for help. When he pulled over and stopped, the officer came to the truck and said: “Would you be kind enough to give me a push? My vehicle will not start.” Rubén, breathing a sigh of relief, was more than willing to oblige. He then happily went off to finish his deliveries!
Dante Doboletta, who was serving as a circuit overseer in the area of Rosario, Santa Fe, picked up the magazines at the assembling plant and distributed them to all the congregations in his circuit. This meant traveling 120 miles [about 200 kilometers] round-trip at least twice a month. To avoid being seen, he did those rounds late at night, leaving after he finished his activity with a congregation and sometimes returning at sunrise. On one occasion, he saw a long line of cars stopped at a checkpoint where more than 30 heavily armed soldiers carefully checked each person’s documents and baggage. One soldier asked Dante: “What do you have in the car?”
“My things,” answered Dante.
The soldier said: “Hurry up and open the trunk.”
To that Dante replied: “We are Jehovah’s Witnesses. What could we possibly be carrying?”
Another soldier overheard the conversation and said: “Let them go. Jehovah’s Witnesses never carry arms or contraband.” For two years, Dante was able to deliver the literature without being searched.
Not Forsaking the Meetings
From the very week the ban was imposed, Jehovah’s Witnesses in Argentina did ‘not forsake the gathering of themselves together.’ (Heb. 10:25) Meeting in small groups, they frequently changed the meeting place and time. This meant added work for the elders, who often had to conduct the same meeting several times in different homes.
In the small town of Totoras, the only house available for meetings was located in the middle of town. So the local Witnesses took added precautions. The owner of the house, Brother Reverberi, made what looked like an ordinary table with a drawer for odds and ends. However, the top could be lifted up, and there was space inside to hide books and magazines. When someone knocked on the door, all literature was quickly concealed in the table!
The publishers dressed informally at the meetings. The sisters sometimes had rollers in their hair, wore slacks, and carried a shopping bag. The meetings were fondly known as mateadas. Maté is a tea often taken with cookies or cake. Getting together to drink maté is a very common custom in Argentina, so this setting served as an ideal camouflage for spiritual gatherings.
However, there were tense moments. Teresa Spadini was a faithful, hospitable sister, who had an excellent reputation in the neighborhood. During a circuit overseer’s visit, a group of 35 gathered in her house for the meeting. Suddenly, a patrol car pulled up in front, and a police officer knocked on the door. Immediately, the brother who was giving the talk sat down with the rest of the group. When Teresa answered the door, the officer said: “Teresa, may I use your telephone?”
When he looked at the group gathered, Teresa explained: “We’re having a family reunion.” As the officer called the police station, those in the group held their breath, thinking that he would request a patrol wagon to take all of them away. However, to their relief, the call had to do with another matter. When he finished, he turned to Teresa and thanked her. Then he looked at the group and said: “Sorry for the interruption. Enjoy your reunion.”
Dealing With Police Raids
When a group met for a baptism, a neighbor reported the meeting to the police. Since the brothers had already planned to have an asado, or barbecue, as a cover for the real purpose of the meeting, they continued as planned. Grilled meat is a favorite dish in Argentina, so no one minded this delectable camouflage. When the uninvited “guests” arrived in an army truck, the brothers and sisters hospitably invited the soldiers to join the friendly gathering. The soldiers declined and left without finding out what was for “dessert”!
Sometimes the words that Jehovah’s Witnesses use among themselves proved to be a protection. On one occasion when neighbors called the authorities to inform them of a meeting in a private home, the officers arrived after everyone had left, with the exception of the elders. The police knocked on the door, and the sister who lived there answered: “Everyone is gone except the servants.”
The officers replied: “Well, we do not want the servants. We want the ones in charge!” They left empty-handed.
Preaching Under Ban
In spite of restrictions, the preaching activity continued. Of course, under those difficult circumstances, the brothers were cautious. Usually no more than two Witnesses worked a territory at the same time. Sara Schellenberg recalls how she visited people in Buenos Aires. She says: “We made miniature territory maps that fitted in the palm of our hand. On the back was a sheet of paper folded accordion-style with a list of all the house numbers. We called at only one house on each side of a block and then checked it off the list so that the next publisher working that territory would go to a different house. Then we went to another block and called at another home.”
Shortly after this strategy was instituted, Cecilia Mastronardi was preaching alone. As she knocked on a door, a police officer riding a motorcycle suddenly appeared. “He asked me what I was doing there,” says Cecilia. “The only thing I could think of was to witness to him and present the book Did Man Get Here by Evolution or by Creation? He accepted the book, handed me the contribution for it, and bid me a friendly good-bye. I then realized that he hadn’t stopped to arrest me. He lived in the house where I was calling!”
A wide variety of methods were employed to disguise the preaching activity. One sister purposely began working for a cosmetics company so that she could go from house to house and talk to her customers. María Bruno, who is now 86 years old and has been a regular pioneer for 29 years, carried a purse containing plants that were peeking out, beckoning housewives who were interested in talking about gardening. In this way she could engage in conversations that led to planting seeds of truth.
Juan Víctor Buccheri, a shopkeeper who was baptized right after the ban took effect, also wanted to tell others about the good news he had learned. He had religious pictures and posters of famous sports and entertainment figures on his shop walls. So he replaced them with pictures of landscapes that had Bible texts below them. What a surprise for his customers! Brother Buccheri witnessed to those who inquired about the pictures or scripture citations, and by so doing, he started more than ten Bible studies. Some came into the truth and are still faithful brothers today.
The People With the Green Bible
Difficulties during the ban trained the publishers in Argentina to be better ministers. Since they made initial calls using only the Bible, they became skillful in locating Bible texts to overcome objections and to comfort people.
To avoid arousing suspicion, they sometimes used a Bible other than the New World Translation. When using the Torres Amat, a Catholic Bible in archaic Spanish, one brother met an unexpected response. After listening to the scriptures being read and not understanding them, the householder suggested that she bring him a Bible that was much easier to understand. Much to his surprise, out she came with the New World Translation!
During those years, the New World Translation had a green cover. Consequently, the community had been warned not to listen to the people who carried a green Bible. However, since few were in agreement with governmental restrictions, such a prohibition only served to arouse people’s curiosity. One householder asked a sister what color her Bible was. When the sister truthfully answered that it was green, the lady said: “Good, I want to hear what the people with the green Bible have to say.” The sister was invited in and had an animated discussion.
Who Has the Books?
For a while, Argentine Witnesses continued to preach using the literature that they had concealed. But in time such supplies were exhausted, and it was impossible to import new literature. Yet, sealed up in the branch warehouses were 225,000 books that had been impounded.
The federal police decided to confiscate the impounded books and sell them to a paper recycling company. A hauling service was contracted to go to Bethel, pick up the books, and take them to a recycling plant. It happened that the driver had studied the Bible with a neighbor who was one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. When he saw what he was hauling, he asked his former neighbor if Jehovah’s Witnesses would like to buy the books from him. The necessary arrangements were made, and with police authorization the books were transported to a place designated by the branch! Hence, despite the ban, 225,000 books became available to recycle in a way far different from what the authorities had anticipated!
Jehovah also provided for his people through courageous brothers who volunteered to bring in from other lands books published by the Society. Norberto González, a regular pioneer, relates: “On one occasion, a Branch Committee member from Uruguay entrusted us with 100 copies of the Kingdom Ministry School textbook to be delivered to the responsible brothers in Argentina. We were able to get this vital information into the country. All of us jumped for joy when we were safely through customs.” Perhaps a brother who could not jump quite so high was one who had hidden the material in his wooden leg!
The Argentine Witnesses learned to value the literature published by the Watch Tower Society as never before. At the start of the ban, each study group received only one copy of The Watchtower. That single magazine was circulated among all the publishers, who copied the questions and answers for the study so that they could participate. (Phil. 4:12) The cover of The Watchtower was blank to disguise its content, but the spiritual food inside was exquisite. The brothers were sustained and unified by these special provisions.
How to Conceal an Assembly
The Argentine brothers were fed spiritually through meetings in small groups using what literature was made available, but how could they benefit from the three annual assemblies, which Jehovah’s Witnesses in other parts of the world enjoyed? The first assemblies after the ban went into effect were called pilot assemblies. Only the elders and their families attended them. Later the elders repeated the program in their own congregations. Héctor Chap, who has served tirelessly as a traveling overseer for many years, says: “At times, we were able to hold the assembly in fields. Out in the country, we were surrounded by farm animals. We barely noticed them because we were so involved in listening to what was being said. Many brothers taped the program for the ones who could not attend. Later, they were in for a good laugh—talks were accompanied by the mooing of cows, crowing of roosters, and braying of donkeys.”
The brothers fondly called the assemblies “picnics” because they were often held out in the country. A favorite spot in the province of Buenos Aires was a rural area close to the Santa Fe border, named Strago Murd. The location was ideal since it was surrounded by trees, providing a good cover. But those attending the “picnic” were shocked one day to find that the beautiful trees had been cut down! Although there was no concealment, they went ahead with their “picnic,” using one tree stump as a speaker’s stand and the others as benches for all those in attendance.
Another location the brothers used for assemblies was a factory owned by one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. The owner of the factory had a large panel truck and used it to pick up those who wanted to attend the assembly. The driver went around, packed 10 to 15 brothers at a time into the truck, returned to the factory, and unloaded them behind the closed garage door. In that way about 100 people could gather together unobserved by neighbors and police. Others of the Argentine Witnesses traveled to Brazil and Uruguay during those years in order to benefit from the spiritual provisions at the assemblies.
Meetings in Prison
Even before the 1976 ban, many of our young brothers faced tests of loyalty as a result of their Christian neutrality. Because they followed the Bible principle found at Isaiah 2:4, not to “learn war,” many were sentenced to from three to six years in prison.
Yet, even in prison they devised ways to study the Bible and to hold the meetings. They also eagerly shared the Kingdom message within the penitentiaries. Elders from neighboring congregations willingly visited these faithful young men to give encouragement and to provide vital spiritual food.
Omar Tschieder, who has been serving at Bethel since 1982, was imprisoned from 1978 to 1981 in the Magdalena military prison in the province of Buenos Aires. He was there for refusing to wear a military uniform. This prison was made up of several pavilions, with 20 cells that faced the same corridor, each cell seven by ten feet [2 x 3 m] in size. The imprisoned Witnesses used the three cells at the end of the hallway for their meetings. Only 10 or 12 could meet together at one time, so there were often 8 to 14 meetings each week.
The brothers arranged for one of them to watch through the peephole and alert the group if anyone approached. They devised several signals to warn the group. Sometimes the watchman simply knocked on the wall. At other times a thread was tied between the watchman and someone in the audience. At the sign of danger, the watchman pulled the thread, and the one at the other end alerted the group. Another way was to utter a statement having a password in it. For example, the watchman might shout: “Does anyone have an envelope?” Upon hearing the password “envelope,” the brothers took cover. Each had an assigned place to hide—under the bed, behind the door—wherever they would not be visible to the guard who might look through the peephole. All of this flurry of activity took place silently in seconds. They had to be well organized!
Once during a meeting, the brothers quickly hid after they were warned that a stranger was entering the pavilion. A prisoner who was not one of Jehovah’s Witnesses opened the door and put something on the table. As he was going out, he turned around and asked, “Why are all of you hiding?” At that very moment, a guard was blowing a whistle, looking for volunteers to do some cleaning. So the brothers replied, “We are hiding from him.” The visitor readily sympathized and quickly departed. The brothers finished their meeting without further interruption.
A Secret Prison Library
The good conduct of the Witnesses resulted in their being entrusted with additional responsibilities in the prison. The brothers operated the prison printing presses and were in charge of the theater, the infirmary, and the barbershop. To further Kingdom interests, they took full advantage of their well-earned privileges. For example, the blueprints of the Magdalena prison showed that the theater was a rectangle, though the corners of the wall were rounded. So behind the walls was a space about eight feet high, six feet wide, and four feet deep. [2.4 m by 1.8 m by 1.2 m] This was perfect for a library, stocked with Bibles and the Watch Tower Society’s publications!
Héctor Varela, who spent three years in that prison, explains that the brothers could enter this area by removing a wall panel in the projection room and then climbing over a workbench. Books were also hidden in cupboards in the dining rooms.
Occasionally, the brothers were granted permission to leave the premises and briefly visit their families. These brothers often took advantage of this opportunity to bring back the latest issues of the Watchtower and Awake! magazines. Rodolfo Domínguez, now a traveling overseer, relates what took place on one such occasion. He says: “We had put The Watchtower and Awake! under our clothes. When we arrived at the prison, there was a long line because the guards were doing a thorough search. Little by little we advanced to the inspection point. Then just as our turn came, the guard changed, and the search was called off!”
“We held all the congregation meetings in prison,” continues Brother Domínguez. “In fact, I gave my first public talk there.” Imprisoned Witnesses even presented full-costume Bible dramas, something that was made possible by bringing in personal items during family visits. Guards did not suspect how the sandals, togas, and the like would be used.
Making Disciples Behind Bars
The preaching and disciple-making work flourished even behind bars. One of those who benefited from the zeal and fine conduct of the brothers in prison was Norberto Hein. He was serving in the Argentine armed forces when he was sent to prison on a drug charge. In several prisons he met young Witnesses who were detained for conscientious objection. He was impressed by their attitude, and while he was imprisoned in the Puerto Belgrano prison, he asked for a Bible study. Within one month, he finished studying the book The Truth That Leads to Eternal Life. Afterward, he was transferred to the Magdalena prison, and in 1979 he was baptized in prison.
“The baptism talk was given on a Sunday about nine o’clock in the evening,” Norberto reminisces. “There were about ten of us in attendance, although other brothers were outside the cell keeping watch. After the talk, I went with two brothers to the dining room where there was a huge tub for washing pots and pans.” The “baptism tub” was full of cold water, which Norberto remembers vividly because it was winter!
Despite being persecuted for associating with Jehovah’s Witnesses, he continued steadfast in serving Jehovah. (Heb. 11:27) Norberto and his wife, María Esther, have faithfully served at Bethel for more than 15 years.
‘Don’t Ask God to Punish Me’
Though many prison officers were tolerant of the Witnesses, some were not. One head guard in a military prison deprived the brothers of food and blankets whenever he was on duty. This guard was vicious. Hugo Coronel relates: “One morning before dawn, this guard kicked open my cell door, dragged me out, and pointing to five armed soldiers, told me that my hour had arrived. He tried to get me to sign a paper renouncing my faith. When I refused, he told me to write my mother a letter because I was about to die. Infuriated, he next put me against a brick wall, told the firing squad to raise their guns, and gave the order ‘Fire!’ I heard only the firing pins click. The rifles were not loaded. It was merely a trick designed to break my integrity. That guard, sure that I would be weeping in fear, came over to me. Seeing that I was calm, he lost control and began shouting. I was taken back to my cell, a little shaken but happy that Jehovah had answered my prayers to be steadfast.”
A few days before Hugo was to be transferred to another prison, the head guard announced to the entire barracks that the next day, he was going to force Hugo to put on a uniform. Even Jehovah could not prevent it, the guard said. What happened? “The next day,” says Hugo, “we found out that the guard had been decapitated in a terrible auto accident. This had a tremendous impact on the entire prison population. Most felt that God had punished the soldier for his boasts and threats. In fact, the guard that took me to my cell that night begged me not to ask God to punish him also!” Hugo now serves as an elder in Villa Urquiza, Misiones.
One thing is certain—these young men who refused military service maintained integrity under very difficult circumstances. The prison authorities threatened to shoot some. Others they beat, deprived of food, or put in solitary confinement. Despite the treatment these brothers received, their faith and integrity gave a powerful witness to military personnel and other prisoners alike.
Benefiting From Regular Family Study
Children were also called upon ‘to make a defense before everyone that demanded of them a reason for the hope in them.’ (1 Pet. 3:15) When Juan Carlos Barros’ sons, aged seven and eight at the time, were attending public school, the principal demanded that the older son salute the flag in front of the whole class. When he refused, she shouted, hit him, and pushed him toward the flag. Even so, he refused to salute it. She then took both boys to her office and tried for an hour to force them to sing patriotic songs. When her efforts failed, she decided to expel them.
This case reached an administrative court. During the hearing, the judge took the boys aside to question them. Their ready answers made the judge so upset that he started trembling, pounded the table with his fist, and left the room. He came back 15 minutes later but was still visibly shaken. Yet, the decision was in favor of the Witnesses! After rendering a favorable decision, the judge said to Brother Barros: “What a nice family you have! If all families had such high principles, the country would be in better shape.” Brother Barros says: “This experience drove home to me how beneficial it is to have a regular family study so that our children are prepared to stand firm.” Eventually, in 1979, the Supreme Court of Argentina ruled that the children had a right to an education.
Favorable Season Again
Ever since 1950, the branch presented to every new government their request for Jehovah’s Witnesses to be legally recognized as a religion. Acquiring legal recognition involved a number of steps. First, it required the forming of a legal entity with a certain number of members and with social and religious objectives, such as teaching the Bible to people. Next, this legal entity had to be registered. The government had to agree that the objectives were legal. If the government approved, then a registration number was assigned. With this number, application could be made for legal recognition as a religious organization. Until 1981, Jehovah’s Witnesses were turned down on the pretext that their social and religious objectives were illegal because the work was banned.
In November 1976, only two months after the renewed ban on the work of Jehovah’s Witnesses took effect, the branch office petitioned the Argentine national court to lift the ban. In addition, the branch appealed cases involving the expulsion of Witness children from school for declining to participate in patriotic ceremonies, the imprisonment of brothers for their conscientious objection, and the confiscation of the Watch Tower Society’s publications.
On October 10, 1978, these appeals were also presented to the Inter-American Human Rights Commission. The commission determined that the government had violated the human rights of Jehovah’s Witnesses and recommended that the ban be removed.
On December 12, 1980, the de facto military regime accepted the recommendation of the Inter-American Human Rights Commission and lifted the ban. This allowed Jehovah’s people in Argentina to meet freely. What joy this brought to the brothers! Though the activities of Jehovah’s Witnesses were no longer prohibited, however, their religious organization was yet to be legally recognized.
Finally, on March 9, 1984, the government recognized the Association of Jehovah’s Witnesses as a religion. The long years of fighting for legal recognition were over. At last, Kingdom Halls could be identified by signs! What rejoicing there was among the brothers in Argentina! All echoed the words of the psalmist: “Jehovah has done a great thing in what he has done with us.”—Ps. 126:3.
But the legal recognition meant far more than a sign on a Kingdom Hall. Ciríaco Spina, a Christian elder in Buenos Aires, said: “When the ban was lifted and we were able to have large assemblies again, we wanted to use the best facility available in order to honor our God, Jehovah. We had repeatedly tried to use the new City Stadium of Mar del Plata, but because of not being legally recognized, we had never been granted its use. Then in 1984, thanks to Jehovah, the Witnesses obtained legal recognition. Now we have the use of both the City Stadium and, in recent years, the new Sports Center for our assemblies.”
It had been years since the brothers enjoyed the encouraging atmosphere of a large gathering, so the branch decided to take full advantage of the upcoming visit of the zone overseer, Fred Wilson. In less than two weeks, arrangements were made to accommodate brothers from Greater Buenos Aires in the Vélez Sarsfield Stadium, the first large meeting since the ban was lifted. Despite short notice, a crowd of nearly 30,000 attended the joyful spiritual “festival” on February 15, 1984.—Ps. 42:4.
The Aftermath of the Ban
Under the military regime, thousands of people disappeared and were executed. Surprisingly, despite the government’s strong stand against Jehovah’s Witnesses, not one of the Witnesses was among those who disappeared.
Not only were their lives spared but they received better publicity because of the ban. Before the ban, those who asked the Witnesses what religion they belonged to would look puzzled upon hearing the response “Jehovah’s Witnesses.” This was not so after the ban. Susana de Puchetti, who has served as a full-time minister for 37 years, said: “When the ban ended, we were no longer called Sons of Jehovah or The Jehovahs; neither were we confused with evangelical groups. During the ban, our correct name was mentioned frequently over the radio and in the newspaper. There was a happy result—people finally recognized the name Jehovah’s Witnesses.”
Legal Exemption From Military Service
About the same time, Dr. María T. de Morini, the under secretary of worship who had taken action to recognize the Association of Jehovah’s Witnesses as a religion, arranged for a significant meeting of representatives of the Association of Jehovah’s Witnesses, the secretary of worship, and the defense minister. The purpose of the meeting was to consider exemption from military service for Jehovah’s Witnesses. The Branch Committee had hoped to have regular pioneers exempted from the military, but the authorities were willing to go further.
The authorities were willing to apply the exemption to anyone regarded as a student, and all those who were enrolled in the Theocratic Ministry School were considered theology students. When a baptized brother reached the age of 18 and was required to report for military service, the elders of his congregation would fill out and sign a form attesting to his good conduct. This form was sent to the branch office to be signed and then forwarded to the registry of worship. They, in turn, issued a certificate that the brother had to present to the military authorities in order to be excused from service. This efficient system was used until obligatory military service was discontinued in the 1990’s.
Surprising Growth Everywhere
Between 1950 and 1980, the work of Jehovah’s Witnesses was banned by the government. The brothers zealously continued to preach the word during that troublesome season. As a result, Jehovah blessed them with increase. In 1950 there were 1,416 publishers in Argentina. By 1980 there were 36,050!
With legal recognition came further increase in harmony with Isaiah 60:22, which states: “The little one himself will become a thousand, and the small one a mighty nation. I myself, Jehovah, shall speed it up in its own time.” Just a glimpse at reports from all over the country demonstrates the truthfulness of these words. For example, since the lifting of the ban, the 70 publishers in the Francisco Solano Congregation in Greater Buenos Aires have increased to 700 now in seven congregations.
Alberto Pardo, who serves as an elder in Cinco Saltos, Río Negro, remembers when there were only 15 publishers in Cinco Saltos. Today there are three congregations and a total of 272 publishers, a ratio of 1 Witness to 100 inhabitants. Marta Toloza of the Carmen de Patagones Congregation in Buenos Aires says: “It is marvelous to think of the little group that met in a small room back in 1964 and compare it with the 250 brothers and sisters in three Kingdom Halls today.”
Because of the rapid growth in Palmira and the surrounding towns, it was necessary to have the public talk and Watchtower Study twice each weekend so that the brothers and sisters would be more comfortable in the Kingdom Hall. A bigger hall was rented for the Memorial, since the attendance was consistently more than 250. Since 1986, congregations have been formed in four different towns that were originally assigned to the Palmira Congregation.
The original José León Suárez Congregation in Greater Buenos Aires with 33 publishers has expanded to five congregations. Juan Schellenberg, an elder there, says: “Every time we formed a new congregation, our territory got smaller. Now we have a small section of territory just 16 blocks long and 8 blocks wide. We cover our assigned area once or twice a week. Many people we preach to are apathetic, but we still have good experiences and are able to start some Bible studies. The Kingdom Hall is centrally located, so most of the 100 publishers can walk to the meetings.”
The Pioneer Spirit Flourishes
With the lifting of the ban, an extensive field of activity opened up. There were many territories where the need for Kingdom proclaimers was great.
In December 1983 ten temporary special pioneer couples were sent for three months to open up the preaching activity in areas that were seldom covered by Jehovah’s Witnesses. The couples selected were already regular or auxiliary pioneers and were recommended by the circuit overseers. The goal was to give an extensive witness by placing literature and striving to start Bible studies. Those who expressed interest would be cared for either by publishers in nearby congregations or through correspondence. This campaign produced excellent results. Now congregations exist in nine out of the ten towns where those pioneers served.
One of the temporary special pioneers was Argentina de González. Along with her husband, Argentina was assigned to Esquina. They arrived there with their four children. Three times a week, one of the bedrooms in their house was transformed into a meeting place. As they went from house to house, almost everyone invited them in. First, the householder wanted to know where they were from, how many children they had, and where they were staying. “After we satisfied their curiosity,” says Argentina, “they were quite willing to listen to our message. I was able to start seven Bible studies, one of which was with a woman and her four children. They started to attend the meetings right away and never missed a meeting. In just a few months, the mother was baptized along with her daughter, who later became a pioneer. It makes me happy to know that all are still faithfully serving Jehovah.”
Self-Sufficient in Whatever Circumstances
Some with the pioneer spirit were willing to adapt to severe weather, isolation, and primitive living conditions. When José and Estela Forte were sent as special pioneers to Río Turbio in the province of Santa Cruz, there were no other Witnesses or Bible students in the area. To add to the challenge, Río Turbio is situated in the extreme south of Argentina where the temperature often drops well below zero degrees Fahrenheit [-18°C.].
The Fortes stayed in a small room in a house that belonged to some relatives of Witnesses, and they traveled 190 miles [300 km] to the nearest congregation in Río Gallegos. Once as they were returning from a meeting, the engine of the car overheated on a deserted highway, because water had leaked from the radiator. The temperature was dangerously low, and they began to experience what the local people call el sueño blanco, an overwhelming sleepiness that leads to death. They prayed to Jehovah that they would not fall asleep. How grateful they were when they reached a nearby ranch, where they were able to warm themselves and fill the radiator!
At first, the Fortes concentrated their preaching in the most populated area and soon had more than 30 progressive Bible studies. Within a short time, a group was formed in the town. Next, efforts were made to contact people in the mountains and the rural areas. Once a year, José made a six- or seven-day preaching trip on horseback. On one occasion, José and his companion approached a ranch where a woman with an aggressive guard dog met them. When they identified themselves as Jehovah’s Witnesses, the woman looked at them and burst out laughing. “Not here too!” she said. Asked why she had reacted in such a way, she explained that she had lived around the corner from Bethel in Buenos Aires. She added: “I never imagined that Jehovah’s Witnesses would make it to such an out-of-the-way place and, to top it off, dressed like gauchos.” The woman invited them to have something to eat, and they had an animated Bible discussion. The persistent efforts of the Fortes bore fruit; there is now a thriving congregation made up of 31 publishers in Río Turbio.
A Floating Kingdom Hall
Determined to take advantage of the favorable season in which to preach, some took on the challenge to witness to the islanders in the delta area of the Paraná River, near Buenos Aires. Witnessing in the delta is no small undertaking because of the distance between islands, the kind of transportation available, and the unpredictable weather. The trip made in private boats is costly, and it can be dangerous. Yet, persistence brought results. By 1982 an isolated group was formed as a part of the Tigre Congregation.
To cut costs, Alejandro Gastaldini, a brother from the Tigre Congregation, built El Carpincho, a 23-foot [7 m] light plastic boat with a propane-powered motor. About the same time, Ramón Antúnez and his family from Buenos Aires offered their sailboat to further Kingdom interests in the delta. These zealous brothers enthusiastically took the lead, inviting publishers from other congregations to support their ministry on the weekends. Studies began to blossom and bear fruit as entire families embraced the truth.
Since few living on those islands had boats and there was little public transportation, most interested people found it difficult to attend meetings. So the brothers helped one another to meet together and to strengthen one another spiritually. For example, to make it possible for all to attend the Memorial, a boat went around to pick up baptized Witnesses and interested ones so that they could observe the Memorial on board.
Later on, Carlos Bustos, his wife Ana, and daughter Mariana were assigned as pioneers in the delta. The branch helped out by purchasing a motorboat called Precursor I, equipped with a kitchen, a bathroom, and sleeping space for three. Mariana’s bed in the stern was called el sarcófago because it was so narrow that it resembled a coffin!
At present, 20 publishers live in the delta area, serving Jehovah as a part of the Tigre Congregation. Most of the brothers now have their own boats and are thus better equipped to care for their theocratic responsibilities. However, the dream of building their own Kingdom Hall seemed unattainable. Why?
Because of the constant flooding in the area, land suitable for building is very expensive. For a small group with limited funds, this obstacle seemed insurmountable. However, while land was scarce, water was abundant. So why not build a floating Kingdom Hall? The branch took the lead in building such a Kingdom Hall, and it was completed in June 1999. Now elders from the Tigre Congregation take turns visiting the Kingdom Hall to conduct weekly meetings for the group.
Reaching the Korean Population
Jehovah’s Witnesses in Argentina not only try to reach people in a variety of geographic locations but also make efforts to preach to people of different nationalities. Before the second ban was imposed, a Korean brother, Hwang Yong Keun, and his family immigrated to Argentina in 1971 and began associating with a Spanish-speaking congregation. The fruitfulness of the disciple-making work among the Koreans and the immigration of more Witnesses from Korea made it possible to form a Korean group in Morón, in the province of Buenos Aires. Soon they were holding all five congregation meetings each week, leading to the establishment in 1975 of the first Korean congregation in Argentina. A year later, they dedicated their first Kingdom Hall to Jehovah.
During the ban, the Korean congregation was divided into smaller groups. Since the Korean brothers longed to meet together as a congregation, arrangements were made for them to meet once a month in a park for a public talk and Watchtower Study. Since the police did not understand a word of Korean, they had no idea that the meetings were of a religious nature!
After the ban was lifted, the Korean field saw a steady increase. Since Koreans are scattered throughout the country, preaching to them often requires traveling hundreds of miles in search of deserving ones. Two or three times a year, the Korean Witnesses traveled to distant provinces trying to locate Korean merchants. Jehovah has blessed their diligence. Today, an average of 288 Korean publishers in four congregations are preaching the word zealously.
Until recently, the Korean congregations were visited by a Spanish-speaking circuit overseer who needed an interpreter for the meetings, field service, and shepherding visits. In 1997, however, Steven and June Lee (Yi Sung Ho and Kim Yun Kyeong), graduates of the 102nd class of Gilead, were assigned to serve the Korean congregations in Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay. Since the Lees are of Korean descent and speak the language fluently, the brothers benefit greatly from their visits. All are very grateful for this loving arrangement of our impartial God, Jehovah.—Acts 10:34, 35.
The Lees have to adapt continually to the climate, water, and food of the three countries. In a six-month period, they are in Argentina for three months, in Brazil for two, and in Paraguay for one. Although they serve the Korean congregations, they still have to speak the local languages. In addition to speaking Portuguese in Brazil, the Lees have to get acquainted with two distinctive accents of Spanish. Yet, they enjoy this truly international circuit. After two years, the number of pioneers in the circuit has increased from 10 to 60!
Deaf Ones Praise Jehovah
In the 1970’s, another group with special needs became evident when some deaf people began to attend congregation meetings. For such ones to benefit from the meetings, sign-language interpreters were needed. By 1979 a group was meeting in the home of Coco and Coca Yanzon, a deaf couple in Villa Devoto in Buenos Aires. It was just a beginning.
The number of deaf people who embraced the truth continued to grow during the ban as well as in the 1980’s and 1990’s. In the 1980’s, deaf brothers and sisters, along with their interpreters, were assigned to selected congregations in Greater Buenos Aires. The entire program was interpreted for the deaf, enabling them to benefit from the meetings.
However, the deaf yearned to participate more fully in the congregation. So in 1992 the branch decided to gather them and the interpreters into one sign-language congregation. In this way, the deaf publishers began to have an active share in teaching, commenting, and preaching in their own language.
“The sign-language congregation was the answer to my prayers,” says Silvia Mori, a deaf sister who is raising her child alone. “I feel very happy to have more contact with deaf brothers and sisters. Before, we were divided up among different hearing congregations and saw one another just once a week.”
Elba Basani, another deaf sister, says: “When there was no sign-language congregation, I tended to be discouraged, but now I feel very happy because I am able to auxiliary pioneer, keep busy in serving Jehovah, and have more contact with my spiritual brothers. I am very grateful to Jehovah.”
Since sign language is a visual means of communication, the Society’s videos are particularly effective. The video Jehovah’s Witnesses—The Organization Behind the Name is already available in Argentine sign language. In addition, video versions of the brochure What Does God Require of Us? and other publications are being prepared. Now there are four sign-language congregations throughout Argentina, with a total of 200 publishers, including 38 deaf brothers serving as elders and ministerial servants.
Help for English-Speaking People
Toward the end of 1993, corporations from abroad began operating in Argentina. Some of the employees sent to Argentina were baptized Witnesses who did not speak much Spanish but who could understand English. To care for their spiritual needs and to reach those in the growing English-speaking field, the first English-speaking congregation in the country was formed in Buenos Aires. Some Argentines who had learned English made themselves available to support the new congregation.
Since this congregation was established in June 1994, ten persons have been baptized, and many others who are temporarily in Argentina can enjoy and benefit from the meetings presented in a language they understand.
A Young Mapuche Opens the Door
Helping “all sorts of men” to “come to an accurate knowledge of truth” involves reaching native Indians living on reservations. (1 Tim. 2:4) In the southwestern province of Neuquén, there is a Mapuche Indian reservation where the community chief did not permit Witnesses to enter because of the past conduct of other religious groups. A young Mapuche woman, Patricia Sabina Guayquimil, obtained some publications from her mother, who received them while working outside the reservation. Patricia wrote to the branch requesting more information. Mónica López, the sister assigned to reply, sent Patricia the book You Can Live Forever in Paradise on Earth and explained the Bible study arrangement. Patricia accepted, and they studied through correspondence for a year without ever meeting each other.
One day there was a knock on Mónica’s door. She was overjoyed to see Patricia, who had come to town in an ambulance, accompanying her sister who was about to give birth. In the short time that they could spend together, Mónica showed her the Kingdom Hall, explained how the meetings are conducted, and invited her to the upcoming circuit overseer’s visit.
After returning home, Patricia continued to make excellent progress. In fact, one morning when the day’s text stressed the importance of preaching, she saddled her mare and witnessed to her neighbors from seven o’clock in the morning till the early evening hours. Her witnessing activity opened up the way for Jehovah’s Witnesses from outside to preach on the reservation. Patricia was baptized in 1996, and she continues to extend “the good news of salvation” to the Indian community. (Ps. 96:2) Other Indian reservations are regularly being visited by the Witnesses.
Kingdom Halls Needed
As Jehovah’s Witnesses in Argentina eagerly expanded their preaching work in the favorable season after the ban, there was a need for suitable Kingdom Halls. Some Kingdom Halls were poorly built. For example, the walls of one hall in the northern province of Santiago del Estero were made of plastic. Luis Benitez, who has been involved in Kingdom Hall construction projects for many years, relates: “On a trip to Formosa, Brother Eisenhower and I found brothers meeting in a building that had walls four feet [1.2 m] high but had no roof, doors, or windows. For seats, the brothers used boards resting on bricks. When we asked them what they did when it rained, they said, ‘Some bring umbrellas, and the rest get wet.’”
After the ban was lifted in 1980, the elders of the congregation in Trelew, in the province of Chubut, soon realized that they had no place big enough to hold the large number of people who came for spiritual instruction. A sister who worked for a family that owned a meeting hall asked for permission to use the hall for meetings. This was granted, and the congregation met in the hall free of charge for seven or eight months. Next they used a brother’s upholstery shop for a while. However, the congregation could not use the place all the time, so they had to arrange to meet in smaller groups in the homes of the brothers. It was obvious that they needed a more permanent place to meet. The congregation members were determined to build their first Kingdom Hall. After five years of looking for a place to meet, Jehovah’s Witnesses in Trelew finally had a Kingdom Hall to dedicate to Jehovah. But soon the increase in the number of publishers again made it necessary to build another Kingdom Hall.
Throughout the country, congregations needed Kingdom Halls. Something had to be done to provide appropriate buildings for true worship.
The Branch Comes to the Rescue
Responding to this need, the branch developed a Kingdom Hall construction program. It provided a loan arrangement to finance the construction as well as professionally drawn plans for comfortable, practical, and modest halls. Additionally, suggestions were given on how to organize the building work. Qualified brothers were assigned to give technical assistance. With this program, Kingdom Halls were built in two months, and later, in just 30 days.
The congregations in Trelew that needed another Kingdom Hall benefited from this simplified construction program. Only 60 days after the building began, they enjoyed meeting in their new hall. It served as a great witness to the townspeople, who saw an empty lot that was little more than a garbage dump suddenly adorned by a beautiful Kingdom Hall. The builders in the area were so impressed that they wanted to hire the brothers!
Assembly Halls for Larger Gatherings
Meanwhile, the Argentine brothers recognized the need for Assembly Halls to accommodate larger gatherings. In Oberá in the northern province of Misiones, one family donated a plot of land, and the local brothers made a covered shelter without walls. An assembly was held there in 1981, with 300 in attendance. On the same property, there is now a more permanent structure that accommodates 2,200.
After the Association of Jehovah’s Witnesses was registered in 1984, two Assembly Halls were dedicated to Jehovah in the Buenos Aires area—one in Moreno in 1986 and the other in Lomas de Zamora in 1988. The one located at Lomas de Zamora was originally an abandoned factory and warehouse. On July 9, 1985, some 1,500 volunteers showed up to start an 18-day project of uninterrupted hard work. They cleaned the building and converted a portion of the factory into an auditorium that comfortably accommodates 1,500 people. Some worked all night to get the hall ready for the first assembly, which was held on July 27, 1985. Today, there are four Assembly Halls, including the one that was dedicated in 1993 in Córdoba.
Where Can District Conventions Be Held?
Because of the constant growth, it became increasingly difficult to rent adequate facilities for district conventions. Auditorium rents were high, and the management often did not respect the terms of the contract. It was inconvenient as well as inefficient to transport and assemble the sound system and other necessary equipment. Additionally, in the large open-air stadiums, the audience was exposed to the weather, making it harder to benefit fully from the program.
To solve these problems, land was purchased at Cañuelas, a rural area southwest of the capital city. A Convention Hall would be built and used for district conventions as well as other assemblies. This would supplement the four Assembly Halls already operating in the country.
The spacious 9,400-seat Convention Hall was ready for the first district convention in October 1995, less than six months after the project started. (Joel 2:26, 27) In March 1997 this facility was dedicated to Jehovah. Carey Barber of the Governing Body gave the enthusiastic dedication talk, and the next day he also participated in a special meeting held in the large River Plate Stadium. The stadium was packed with 71,800 brothers from all over the country, including a group who traveled 1,900 miles [3,000 km] from Patagonia.
New Branch Facilities
By December 1984 a new peak of 51,962 Kingdom proclaimers was reached. This increase created a need for more literature, and that, in turn, required a larger printery. To fill the need, a building complex at 1551 Caldas Street in Buenos Aires was purchased and refurbished to increase factory and office space. The branch also purchased an abandoned ceramic factory at 3850 Elcano Avenue, Buenos Aires, tore it down, and built a beautiful new residence complex.
Altogether 640 full-time workers shared in the building project, including 259 from the international construction program. Additionally, hundreds of others came to help out on the weekends. Having on site over 200 volunteers from overseas gave rise to some interesting situations. One brother filled out a form requesting 12 white palomos (male pigeons). The Purchasing Department overseer wondered why the birds were being requested. As it turned out, the brother needed 12 pomos (tubes) of white paint!
At the time of that project, Argentina was experiencing hyperinflation. The cost of construction materials sometimes increased three times a day, posing challenges for those involved in purchasing. During this period, the brothers at the construction site never forgot the most important work—that of preaching the word. One supplier often sent representatives to the work site; they always received, along with an order for materials, a thorough witness. In all, 20 magazines and five books were placed with this company’s employees, and at the owner’s office, copies of the magazines were on display.
The construction itself proved to be a witness. The brothers used the tilt-up construction method in which concrete, steel-reinforced wall panels are cast on site and later lifted into place by a crane. It was an unusual building technique and attracted the attention of local builders. On Saturday mornings, students from the architectural college came to observe and were given a tour.
In October 1990 this beautiful complex was dedicated to Jehovah. Theodore Jaracz of the Governing Body gave an inspiring dedication talk based on Isaiah 2:2-4. Many who had shared in planting early seeds of the truth in Argentina, along with guests from other branches, shared in the joyous occasion.
No sooner were the new branch facilities dedicated than further expansion involving the factory complex on Caldas Street began. A three-story building with a basement was built on an adjoining lot to provide for literature storage. A group of 25 volunteers finished that project in eight months.
Just as a need for more office space arose, a building one block from the Bethel home was put up for sale. As the city was becoming increasingly strict about issuing building permits, acquiring property with a finished structure was a reasonable option. Although the building was more than 30 years old, it was made of high-quality materials, with an interior of hardwood and an exterior finished with marble. The building, acquired and refurbished, now accommodates the administrative offices as well as the Purchasing, Service, Construction, and Accounting departments. It was dedicated in 1997 at the same time as the Cañuelas Convention Hall.
Helping a Neighboring Country
During the ban, Jehovah’s Witnesses in neighboring countries, such as Brazil and Uruguay, helped Argentine brothers to obtain spiritual food. Now, the Argentina branch fills the need of neighboring Chile. Since January 1987, magazines have been sent to Chile, first via a commercial service and since 1992 in the Society’s own trucks.
The trip to Chile requires crossing the Andes mountain range at an altitude of 10,200 feet [3,100 m]. It calls for great skill on the part of the driver to maneuver a semitrailer through snow-covered mountains on a winding road; one section has 31 treacherous hairpin curves. But the long trip is rewarding, since the Chilean brothers receive their magazines in good time.
Four-Color Printing Makes Magazines More Appealing
As the world became more picture oriented, the Society considered printing The Watchtower and Awake! in full color. The goal was to produce our magazines in as attractive a form as was economically reasonable. The Watch Tower Society in the United States sent a reconditioned four-color web offset Harris press to the Argentina branch. The press had to be disassembled, packed, and shipped from Wallkill, New York. When the precious cargo arrived in Buenos Aires on October 10, 1989, it had to be reassembled. Experienced brothers from the world headquarters traveled to Argentina to supervise the job and to train operators.
Four-color printing greatly increased magazine placements. To illustrate, in 1991, the year after the four-color printing began, magazine placements increased by nearly a million, from 6,284,504 to 7,248,955!
International Conventions Provide Mutual Encouragement
After being under ban for so many years, the Argentine Witnesses hungered for the opportunity to host another international convention. Finally, in December 1990 they were able to welcome nearly 6,000 foreign delegates from over 20 lands to Buenos Aires for the “Pure Language” International Convention. John Barr and Lyman Swingle of the Governing Body attended and gave encouraging talks. The four-day program was presented at both the River Plate and Vélez Sarsfield stadiums, with a combined attendance of over 67,000.
Though united in worship, the cultural diversity of the delegates was colorfully evident. One could observe Spanish sisters in their beautiful national costumes, Japanese women in traditional kimonos, and Mexican delegates in black suits and wide-brimmed sombreros.
When the convention concluded, no one wanted to leave. The different national groups spontaneously started singing Kingdom songs in their languages, waving their handkerchiefs. This went on for almost an hour before the conventioners finally went home. A press photographer stated: “This has never happened before in Argentina . . . Such emotion and such warmth!”
Think of the excitement on the part of Argentines to be invited to attend an international convention in another land! That happened in 1993. The destination? Santiago, Chile. More than one thousand traveled from Argentina to attend. Fourteen chartered buses made the 870-mile [1,400 km] trip from Buenos Aires to Santiago. Even the spectacular scenery the delegates enjoyed while crossing the Andes Mountains during the 26-hour journey could not compare with the joy of being united with some 80,000 fellow Christians from 24 countries at the four-day “Divine Teaching” District Convention.
Later, in 1998, the Argentina branch was invited to send delegates to São Paulo, Brazil, and to San Diego, California, for the “God’s Way of Life” International Conventions. Sara Bujdud, a longtime special pioneer, thoroughly enjoyed the convention in San Diego along with the more than 400 delegates from Argentina. She comments: “The Governing Body’s arrangement to place us in the homes of the brothers was very loving. It gave us a glimpse of what life will be like in the new world when racial and language barriers no longer exist.”
“The Tongue of the Taught Ones”
As a result of the zealous preaching of the brothers and the spiritual programs, including international conventions, many responded to the truth and joined the growing ranks of publishers. By 1992 a peak of 96,780 was reached. The number of Witnesses had doubled since they were legally registered in 1984.
Clearly, there was a need for more shepherds to care for the increasing flock of Jehovah’s sheep. (Isa. 32:1, 2; John 21:16) Hence, Jehovah provided a program for training single elders and ministerial servants to look after the congregations—the Ministerial Training School. In 1987 that school started in the United States, and in November 1992 its counterpart in Argentina was inaugurated. The old Bethel complex became an ideal place to conduct the school.
The 375 students, including 91 from neighboring countries, have shown extraordinary appreciation for this privilege. Taking two months off from their secular work for the Ministerial Training School was a challenge. Some gave up or lost their jobs. Yet, Jehovah provides for those who put Kingdom interests first in their lives. Many were blessed with better paying jobs under better terms than they had before.—Matt. 6:33.
Hugo Careño was working for a bank when he was invited to attend the first class. The pay was good, and the schedule was such that he could pioneer. He prayed fervently to Jehovah and approached his boss, but he was told that a leave of absence to attend the school was impossible. At that Hugo said: “I really must go, but I would be grateful if you would hold my job until I finish the course.”
After the board of directors considered the matter, his request for a leave was granted. Upon graduation, though, Hugo was appointed to serve as a special pioneer, which meant spending 140 hours a month in the ministry. Hugo prayed intensely before advising his boss that he was leaving. How did his boss react? “We are very sorry to lose you,” he said, “but we wish you well in your new endeavor.” Hugo, who now serves as a traveling overseer, said: “I have repeatedly seen that Jehovah sustains us when we choose to put his service first in our lives.”
These graduates are building up the congregations to which they were assigned and are attesting to the truthfulness of Jesus’ words: “Wisdom is proved righteous by its works.” (Matt. 11:19) The quality of the meetings has improved, resulting in increased meeting attendance. Using the training received, the brothers, as they engage in shepherding the flock of God, endeavor to discern “how to answer the tired one with a word.” (Isa. 50:4) Some of the graduates are now serving as circuit overseers, and many others, as substitute circuit overseers.
Help to “Keep Abstaining . . . From Blood”
As the number of publishers increased, so did the number of Witnesses needing medical care. Because they strive to live by the Bible’s command to “keep abstaining . . . from blood,” it proved practical to implement a network of support services to assist them.—Acts 15:29.
The medical community was reluctant to refrain from administering blood transfusions when they thought them necessary. Additionally, most judges readily authorized forcing blood transfusions on Witness patients. In one case a judge ordered a blood transfusion for a patient who had a valid legal document expressing his refusal to receive blood under any circumstances.
An international seminar initiating the Hospital Liaison Committee (HLC) program was held in Buenos Aires in February 1991. Three brothers from the Hospital Information Services in Brooklyn served as instructors for 230 brothers from Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Paraguay, and Uruguay. Those who attended the seminar learned how to identify the needs of Witness patients and how to assist doctors with information about treatment without blood.
Today, 17 HLCs, made up of 98 elders, are active in major cities throughout Argentina, giving vital information to the medical community and providing loving support to Jehovah’s Witnesses. Their work is complemented by hundreds of other self-sacrificing elders who make up Patient Visitation Groups that call on Witness patients to help and encourage them. Currently in Argentina there are some 3,600 doctors who willingly cooperate in treating Jehovah’s Witnesses without blood.
Relief Work Motivated by Love
Argentina, of course, is not immune to natural disasters. How do Jehovah’s Witnesses cope with such adversities? On November 23, 1977, an earthquake registering 7.4 on the Richter scale caused serious damage in the entire west-central part of Argentina. Though the work of Jehovah’s Witnesses was under ban at the time, the brothers immediately organized the relief work. Moved by love, Witnesses nearby shared in the operation, despite the difficulties involved.—1 Thess. 4:9.
On the day of the disaster, Witnesses from the neighboring provinces of Mendoza and San Luis headed toward the affected area in every kind of vehicle imaginable. Because of the immense cracks caused by the earthquake, the authorities closed almost all the roads leading to the city of Caucete, which had been devastated. Taking alternate routes through neighboring towns, the Witnesses brought food, clothing, and first-aid supplies. As they approached the city, they saw what they thought was smoke ascending from the ground, but it was really dust resulting from the quake. Within moments people had lost their homes and material belongings, and some had lost their lives. Moaning filled the air. In Caucete, more than a thousand houses were totally destroyed, including all of the homes of the brothers. Quickly, the Witnesses erected temporary shelters. About a hundred Witnesses shared in the relief work.
María de Heredia, a regular pioneer in the Caucete Congregation, relates: “My neighbor’s daughter was about to give birth and was having contractions. The brothers put up a big tent on my neighbor’s property to provide shelter. That same night there was a bad storm. My appreciative neighbor exclaimed: ‘Who would believe that no one from our church has shown up to find out if we are dead or alive. Jehovah’s Witnesses came to our aid when we needed shelter!’”
In April 1998 the Witnesses again mounted a relief operation. Torrential rain caused severe flooding in northern Argentina, particularly in the provinces of Corrientes, Formosa, Chaco, and Santa Fe. In a 72-hour period, the city of Goya, Corrientes, had 24 inches [60 cm] of rain. The water flooded the homes and ruined the belongings of 80 percent of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the area. The flood swept away crops and animals as well as bridges and highways, cutting off access to the city. Brother Heriberto Dip, the circuit overseer in the affected area, worked with local elders, divided the territory into sections, and checked on the brothers in their homes. Some were evacuated by canoe to the Kingdom Hall. Food, clothing, and medical supplies were provided for all.
When Jehovah’s Witnesses in the nearby province of Entre Ríos learned about the plight of their fellow believers in Goya, they responded quickly. In just two days, the 12 congregations in Paraná, in the province of Entre Ríos, collected nearly four tons of nonperishable food items and clothing and loaded these supplies onto a truck that they had borrowed from the Highway Department.
Delivering the relief supplies was far from easy. Two bridges had been washed out. At the first crossing where a bridge had been, the brothers paused to help the highway crew lay hundreds of sandbags. Then they unloaded their cargo, carried it across the river, and loaded it onto trucks that were waiting for them.
On the second leg of the trip, they had to travel on a road so heavily flooded with rushing water that it was hard to control the trucks. At dusk, they reached the second crossing, where military personnel with a good-sized boat agreed to make several trips to get the goods to the other side.
There the relief crew finally met the brothers from Goya and continued on their journey with them. The brothers from Goya were truly moved by the love and determination of their fellow believers, while those from Paraná were encouraged by the firm endurance of the flood victims.
The congregations in the flooded area also gave a witness by their consistent displays of love. In one case a sister’s unbelieving husband expressed his great concern and sadness over the difficult economic situation the rain had caused. The sister assured him that the congregation would help them. The next day, his melancholy gave way to joyous wonder as the elders arrived at their home with an ample supply of provisions! By the time government and civil relief supplies finally reached the people, Witnesses had already received assistance four or five times.
Pioneer Spirit Not Dampened
Though the brothers affected by the flood were deprived materially, they were determined to preach the word. A number of publishers in the flooded area increased their preaching activity. In one congregation, many enrolled as auxiliary pioneers, though 80 percent of their territory was under water!
Congregations made arrangements to preach in downtown business territories, in hospitals, in bus terminals, and in high-rise buildings. Though the rain continued, the pioneers could work in those areas and still keep themselves comparatively dry. The auxiliary pioneers also learned to work as a team, supporting the field service arrangements and manifesting a positive spirit. As a result of experiencing Jehovah’s loving care during the very difficult circumstances, many of them are now serving as regular pioneers.
The Scene of the World Is Changing
Recognizing that “the scene of this world is changing,” the Argentina branch encouraged circuit overseers to adjust their service schedules so that they can contact more people. (1 Cor. 7:31) In some localities it is hard to find people at home during the day because more people are working full-time. So it was suggested that street or business witnessing be done early in the day in order to leave the door-to-door preaching work for the evening. Telephone witnessing and informal witnessing are also being emphasized. The publishers are encouraged to be alert to any opportunity to speak to people.
While preaching from house to house, a sister noticed a man playing with his children in the park across the street. Though somewhat hesitant, she and her companion approached him. They struck up a conversation and were surprised by his positive response. The man even gave them his address. The sister and her husband called on him and found the man and his wife eagerly awaiting their visit. After several conversations, a Bible study was started. Jehovah’s Witnesses had often called at their home, but the wife had never shown interest. The family is now progressing well, attending and participating in the meetings.
In the southern province of Santa Cruz, Claudio Julian Bórquez takes advantage of his position as a tour guide to witness informally to tourists who visit Glaciers National Park. This park is home to 13 major glaciers, including the nearly three-mile-wide [5 km] Perito Moreno, which attracts tourists from all over the world. When tourists marvel at the beauty of the glacier, this brother calls attention to the Creator and distributes literature in different languages. Yes, Jehovah’s Witnesses in Argentina are using every opportunity to preach the word to “all sorts of men.”—1 Tim. 2:4.
Street witnessing is another means of reaching people with the Bible’s message. Victor Buccheer, who is very active in street witnessing, invited an irregular publisher to join him. The publisher had to be at work by 8:30 a.m., so they decided to start street witnessing at 5:30 a.m. This early-morning activity helped the publisher and his family of nine to be regular in the ministry again. They were able to start Bible studies and to place as many as 176 magazines in a month. This encouraged others to join in the early-morning street witnessing.
Longtime Missionaries—Still Active Ministers
Over the years, many missionaries have served in Argentina, learning a new language, adapting to different customs, enduring health problems, and braving hardships during the bans. Some have had to leave the country because of assignment changes, health problems, or family responsibilities. Gwaenydd Hughes, a brother from the sixth class of Gilead, later got married and reared two sons; he continued serving Jehovah faithfully until his death. Others, such as Ofelia Estrada and Lorene Eisenhower, died while continuing in their assignments. Yet, a number of devoted missionaries from the early classes of Gilead still remain active in their assignments.
Helen Nichols and Helen Wilson, of the first class of Gilead, were assigned to Argentina in 1948. In 1961 they were sent to the northwestern province of Tucumán. At that time, there was only one small congregation in the city of San Miguel de Tucumán. Today, there are 13 congregations and seven Kingdom Halls in that city and 5 more congregations in the surrounding area. What a joy it has been to these missionaries to have had a share in this increase!
Charles Eisenhower, from Gilead’s first class, began his missionary service in Cuba, where he served from 1943 to 1948 and saw the number of publishers there grow from 500 to 5,000. Then he was assigned to Argentina, where he served as a missionary, then a circuit overseer, and then a district overseer until April 1953. At that time, he was assigned to be branch overseer. He has been privileged to see the number of publishers in Argentina grow from 900 to over 120,000. Brother Eisenhower, who serves as Branch Committee coordinator, observes: “There is nothing that can bring more happiness to young men and women than to be devoting their lives fully to Jehovah’s service.”
The Joy of Serving Jehovah
Argentine Witnesses who have taken up the full-time ministry as a career are also happy to use their lives in serving Jehovah. Marcelo and María Oliva Popiel were baptized in 1942 and 1946 respectively. They have both been special pioneers for 44 years. For the Popiels, the ban of 1976 was not a new experience, since they had experienced the restrictions on their work right after the ban in 1950. They helped the newer ones to deal with the restrictions brought on by the renewed ban and encouraged them to continue their service faithfully. Marcelo cherishes the years he has served Jehovah. He says: “It is a joy to have served Jehovah loyally. We are very grateful to Jehovah for giving us the privilege of serving him and for letting us spend the best years of our lives doing a truly worthwhile work.”
Pietro Brandolini, who was baptized in 1957 and who has been serving as a special pioneer for almost 40 years, shares the same feelings. He is happy to have used his life in the full-time ministry, for he has received blessings more numerous than he could ever have hoped for. He enthusiastically says that Jehovah has always taken care of him, both spiritually and materially.
Pietro is over 70 years old, and at times he has health problems. Yet, he is still active as a special pioneer. Recently, he met a man who works as a teacher in a Catholic school. Pietro offered him a Bible study, which the teacher gladly accepted. After the fourth study, the man told Pietro that he believed that he was learning the truth. Pietro warned him that when the priests at the school found out about his study with Jehovah’s Witnesses, he might lose his job. However, the man said that he was not worried, since he could find work elsewhere. How happy Pietro was to hear that the schoolteacher viewed the truth of God’s Word as something so valuable!
Zealous for Fine Works
Many others have recognized the urgency of the time and have proved themselves to be “zealous for fine works.” (Titus 2:14) Currently, there are more than 120,000 publishers in Argentina, and upwards of 7,000 of these have made room in their lives for regular pioneer service. Hernán Torres is one of them. As he is almost 70 years old, blind, and confined to a wheelchair, it takes extra effort for him to meet the hour requirement for pioneers. Some days, he gets up early and goes to an area in the nursing home where he lives. There he talks to others about the Bible, makes return visits, and delivers magazines to the residents who are on his magazine route. If the weather is fine, he sits outside the home and preaches to those who walk by. On other days, a brother or sister accompanies him in the door-to-door ministry. Since he cannot see, his partner lets him know whom he is addressing. If a man answers the door, his companion taps him once on the shoulder. If it is a woman, two taps. If it is a young person, three.
Another regular pioneer, Rolando Leiva, is a barber. In his barbershop, he has a display of the Watch Tower Society’s publications. The most recent issues of The Watchtower and Awake! are always on view. The customers are used to having only Watch Tower publications available to read. “Since I charge so little for haircuts, my customers are willing to accept my conditions,” says Rolando. As he works on a customer, he observes in the mirror those who are waiting. “When I see someone reading a magazine with interest, I start a conversation with him while cutting his hair.” By doing so, Rolando obtained 163 subscriptions during one service year! He has also started many Bible studies with his customers. Eight of the studies he presently conducts were arranged through informal witnessing in his barbershop.
Young ones are also showing their zeal in preaching the word. Elber Heguía, a 13-year-old brother, has been pioneering for two years in the Centro Congregation in San Pedro, in the province of Jujuy. When a sister gave him the address of a man whom she met while doing street witnessing, Elber followed through on the call and was surprised to find a man who teaches martial arts. He approached the instructor and explained why he was there, after which the man accepted a copy of the book Knowledge That Leads to Everlasting Life. The man enjoyed the book and requested copies for his martial arts students. As a result, Elber placed 50 books, 40 brochures, and several magazines. He started a Bible study with the instructor and 25 of his students. Some are progressing well.
Witnesses to and From the Most Distant Part of the Earth
Zealous publishers originally brought the good news to Argentina from other countries, and the Argentine brothers have imitated their self-sacrificing spirit. The Bethel family has grown to 286. Another 300 brothers and sisters share in other aspects of special full-time service.
Others have made themselves available to serve in countries where there is a greater need. (Isa. 6:8) For example, in the 1980’s, the Governing Body arranged for 20 brothers from Argentina to serve as missionaries in Paraguay without having attended Gilead School. More recently, a large number of single sisters, as well as others, have moved there to serve where the need is greater. They have willingly adapted to a hot and humid climate to declare the good news. Many of the 73 Argentine brothers and sisters now serving in Paraguay are endeavoring to learn the native Guarani language in order to reach a greater number of people.
Over the years, many have gone to serve in Bolivia and Chile as pioneers and as traveling overseers. When the work opened up in Eastern Europe, an Argentine brother who speaks Hungarian made himself available and is now serving in Hungary as a circuit overseer. A married couple inquired about moving to assist in the preaching work in Benin, Africa, and were sent there as missionaries. Their love reflects the attitude of all of Jehovah’s people who reside in the spiritual paradise, where national boundaries do not exist.
In Argentina the ardent proclaimers of the good news of the Kingdom have been willing to ‘preach the word, being at it urgently’ both “in favorable season” and “in troublesome season.” (2 Tim. 4:2) Thanks to their persistent efforts, more than 120,000 people in Argentina are today praising Jehovah and are enjoying his rich blessing.—Prov. 10:22.
[Graph/Picture on page 186]
(For fully formatted text, see publication)
INCREASE IN THE NUMBER OF WITNESSES DURING THE YEARS OF THE BAN
1950 1960 1970 1980
1,416 7,204 18,763 36,050
[Full-page picture on page 148]
[Pictures on page 150]
They helped lay a foundation for the preaching of the good news in Argentina: (1) George Young, (2) Juan Muñiz, (3) Carlos Ott, (4) Nicolás Argyrós
[Picture on page 152]
Using this bus, Armando Menazzi along with other zealous Witnesses preached throughout at least ten provinces
[Picture on page 156]
Brother Knorr (right) at one of the assemblies held in 1953 during the ban
[Picture on page 161]
The first web offset press used by Jehovah’s Witnesses
[Picture on page 162]
“Divine Victory” International Assembly in Río Ceballos, in 1974
[Picture on page 178]
An assembly held in the woods during difficult times
[Picture on page 193]
A floating Kingdom Hall in the delta area of the Paraná River
[Picture on page 194]
Steven and June Lee serve an international circuit for the Koreans
[Picture on page 200]
One of the southernmost quickly built Kingdom Halls, in Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego
[Pictures on page 202]
Assembly Halls in Argentina: (1) Moreno, (2) Córdoba, (3) Lomas de Zamora, (4) Misiones
[Picture on page 204]
Cañuelas Convention Hall
[Pictures on page 208, 209]
1990 international convention
[Picture on page 215]
Severe flooding in northern Argentina left many without shelter
[Pictures on page 218]
Early missionaries still serving in Argentina: (1) Filia Spacil (2) Edith Morgan (3) Sophie Soviak (4) Helen Wilson (5) Mary Helmbrecht (6) Charles Eisenhower
[Pictures on page 223]
(1) Branch Committee (left to right): M. Puchetti, N. Cavalieri, P. Giusti, T. Kardos, R. Vázquez, C. Eisenhower
Branch facilities: (2) offices, (3) printery, (4) Bethel Home