Faithful to God Despite Persecution
FOR the fourth time in recent years, innocent Christians are the target of brutal persecution in the African country of Malawi. As reported in the December 8 issue of Awake!, thousands of Jehovah’s witnesses who, in 1972, were allowed to enter neighboring Mozambique after vicious persecution broke out in Malawi been forcibly repatriated to Malawi. There they have once more met horrible, degraded treatment.
Yet, all of this comes not because of any lawlessness on the part of these Christians. Throughout the world Jehovah’s witnesses are known to be very law-abiding citizens. As Guy Wright noted in the San Francisco Examiner: “You might regard them as model citizens. They pay taxes diligently, tend the sick, battle illiteracy.” And it is recognized that among them there are not the crime, corruption and immorality so rampant in the earth today.
But in Malawi, Jehovah’s witnesses, as elsewhere, consistently maintain their Bible-based stand of neutrality in political matters. Jesus said of his followers, “They are no part of the world, just as I am no part of the world.” (John 17:14) Hence, in Malawi they have refused to buy political party membership cards issued by the ruling Malawi Congress Party, which cards have on them the picture of the Life President of Malawi, Dr. H. Kamuzu Banda, an elder of the Presbyterian Church. This refusal has resulted in terrible persecution, instigated at the highest levels of government.
The spirit of these Malawian Witnesses has proved to be a source of great encouragement both among themselves and also to their spiritual brothers and sisters in other lands. They have demonstrated to the world that in these 1970’s there are indeed Christians who keep their faith in God regardless of what brutal persecution comes their way.
This was shown by the expression of many Malawian Witnesses who, when interviewed, stated: “We will never compromise our faith in God even if faced with the threat of death at the hands of these brutal attackers.”
Indeed, one elderly Witness from Malawi who was interviewed said: “We know that Jehovah must have a purpose in permitting these things to come upon us. We are determined to go along with him until his purpose is accomplished.”
The observer remarked: “All the Witnesses, along with their young ones, appeared to be very strong spiritually.” Also, the interviewer reported that their Christian overseers “showed no fear of anything, but were determined to carry on with their shepherding work, come what may.”
What a testimony their faith is to all the world! Throughout the ages to come in God’s new order, when the acts of true Christians in this time of the end are recounted, how well spoken of their present faithful course will be!
Flight to Zambia
Recently, when the tens of thousands of Malawian witnesses of Jehovah who had been living in Mozambique were forcibly sent back to Malawi, thousands of them fled to neighboring Zambia. There the refugees camped at Sinda Misale in the Chipata district, where opportunity was given to nearby congregations of Jehovah’s witnesses to send relief supplies, including food and medicine. About 4,800 Witness refugees were camped in the extreme eastern province of Zambia near the Malawi border until late October.
Visitors to the camp were amazed at the beehive of activity. One said: “There was activity everywhere. Some brothers were marking plots of ground where the new arrivals would build their shelters, while others that had already been assigned plots were busy building. The completed part of the camp was neat and clean.”
This observer also noted many Witnesses—men, women and older children—scattered in the bush cutting poles and grass for these shelters. The women were collecting black soil for the floors of their shelters.
As Jehovah’s witnesses were unloading relief supplies, the refugee officer who was in charge of the camp was asked what his impressions were. He said: “I am very much amazed with these people. They are so hardworking and need very little supervision. I am sure that if these people were given a piece of land and told to cultivate it, they could do a tremendous work.”
The hard work and discipline were also evident in the clinic that had been established at the camp. There, Witness medical personnel tended to the sick in cooperation with three Zambian government medical orderlies. It was observed that the Witnesses in the camp were quite strong and active, although the majority of them were thin because of having been without food in the bush for many days before they reached Sinda Misale.
No Compromise in Spite of Suffering
Many reports were submitted at the Sinda Misale camp telling of the suffering of both adult Witnesses and their children at the hands of Malawi Congress Party officials, youths and policemen.
For instance, on September 28, 1975, six Witnesses, male and female, were taken to Chimutu branch of the Malawi Congress Party in Lilongwe area. They were ordered to buy party cards, but they all refused. Then these Witnesses were tied with ropes and were beaten ruthlessly.
In Mkochi village, an elderly Witness woman was very badly beaten by the youths because she would not buy a political party card. One of her teeth was knocked out in the course of the beating, and she was left lying unconscious.
Another elderly Witness, from Mambala village, reported that when she arrived home on August 26 from Mozambique with her pregnant daughter, party officials demanded that they buy the political cards. Upon finding out that the two women would not buy them, they were chased from the village. The elderly Witness, along with her pregnant daughter, continued to sleep outside the village under a tree.
A few days later, it was time for the daughter to deliver her baby. The mother asked the village dwellers if she could be permitted to take her daughter into one of the houses to deliver the child there. All the villagers refused. The village headman ridiculed her, saying: “Call on your God Jehovah to send you a ladder so that you can take your daughter to heaven to deliver her baby there.”
The young woman delivered her baby under the tree while the villagers stood around watching. Immediately after the delivery was completed, the village headman along with his people chased the elderly mother away, leaving her daughter and the new baby under the tree.
Many such accounts were told by the refugees at the Sinda Misale camp. Yet, all the reports showed that those under persecution remained steadfast. As one observer related: “They had so far not received a single report of compromise in spite of so many accounts of vicious persecution.”
Endurance Under Prolonged Test
One report came from four Witness men who had recently been released from jail in Malawi. They, and another Witness, were held in prison for one year and five months before being brought to trial in June 1974. During all that period, they were subjected to various forms of torture in an effort to get them to renounce their faith in God. They were subjected to severe and repeated beatings and long sessions of interrogation conducted by officials. They were asked to give the names of fellow Christians, such as responsible overseers. However, they remained silent, not betraying their brothers.
Then prison officials were instructed not to give the five Witnesses any food for nine days. They were also locked in a dark room and not allowed to see the sun or light for nineteen days. Then they were transferred to another cell, a very dirty one. One of the men died from this abuse, but he did not compromise. The four others said that they prayed earnestly to Jehovah and were strengthened to endure this trial.
On one occasion officials came to the prison cells and brought some food for the Witnesses to eat. But they demanded that these pray out loud before eating. Since Jehovah’s witnesses give thanks to God at mealtimes, this was done. However, immediately after the prayer they were all charged with ‘managing an unlawful society.’ This was because the one who prayed used the same expressions that are used elsewhere by Jehovah’s witnesses including God’s name, Jehovah.
In June they were taken to court and sentenced to very hard labor. But when the prison officials saw that these Witnesses performed their hard work very faithfully, they were put in charge of other prisoners. Prison officials came to respect these Witnesses highly.
Also, these four Witnesses were given the freedom to discuss the Bible with other prisoners. And the prison department made available to the group nineteen Bibles in the Cinyanja language. The official in charge said to the Witnesses: “We want you to use these Bibles in teaching these criminals here in prison so that they too may become good people like yourselves.” Soon, eight Bible studies were started, one with a prison warder!
Finally, in early October 1975, the four Witnesses were released from prison. They went to Zambia, to the Sinda Misale camp, where they related their experiences. Throughout all their trials, they felt that Jehovah’s strengthening power was with them.
Standing Firm in Spite of More Persecution
Late in October, the Malawi government arranged to have these thousands of Witnesses in the Zambian camp repatriated to Malawi. Thus, the Witnesses were once more faced with the sadistic cruelty practiced by the Malawi Congress Party.
Yet in the face of all of this, Jehovah’s witnesses in Malawi are standing firm—men, women and even young children. They have resolved never to compromise what they know is right, what they konw is God’s will. They will not commit treason against God by compromising their faith in him.
So today another thrilling chapter in faith is being written in the dictatorial land of Malawi. This takes its place alongside the record of many faithful people of ancient times mentioned in the Bible at Hebrews chapter 11. There it states that men such as Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel and others “through faith defeated kingdoms in conflict, effected righteousness.” It also notes that “ohter men were tortured because they would not accept release by some ransom,” that is, by a compromise or a renunciation of their faith in Jehovah God.
This same chapter of Hebrews also relates: “Others received their trial by mockings and scourgings, indeed, more than that, by bonds and prisons. They were stoned, they were tried, they were sawn asunder, they died by slaughter with the sword, they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, while they were in want, in tribulation, under ill-treatment; and the world was not worthy of them.”—Heb. 11:32-38.
Hebrews chapter 12, verse 1, calls these faithful people “so great a cloud of witnesses.” The ‘great cloud of witnesses’ now certainly includes those Christians in the country of Malawi who demonstrate the same kind of faith in God. Though some may die, and many others are savagely mistreated, the faithful Christians in Malawi have determined not to let Satan the Devil and his agents here on earth break their faith. And they are comforted by the guarantee that, even if they die for their integrity to God, they may “attain a better resurrection,” one with the prospect of eternal life.—Heb. 11:35.
Also, these Christians appreciate that, just as Jehovah permitted persecution to come upon his people before, such as in the case of Job, so He permits it today, until His time to bring Satan’s world to an end. And though, as it was in Job’s case, the period of trial appears to be prolonged, Jehovah’s witnesses in Malawi are confident that, as with Job, the end result will be totally satisfactory, more than compensating for any hurt they receive now through brutal persecution.—Job 1:9-12; 2:3-7; 42:12-17.
Soon now, God’s judgments against this Satanic system of things will be executed. He will rid the earth of its wickedness and of wicked people to make way for the righteous ‘new heavens and new earth’ that he has promised. (2 Pet. 3:13) God’s enemies and the persistent opposers of his people “will depart into everlasting cutting-off, but the righteous ones into everlasting life.”—Matt. 25:44-46.
Hence, while Jehovah’s witnesses in Malawi are undergoing terrible persecution solely because of their faith in God, they have the firm guarantee by God that they will be rewarded with the opportunity for eternal life in his new order. For this reason they may rejoice, knowing that the “tested quality” of their faith, “of much greater value than gold that perishes despite its being proved by fire, may be found a cause for praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”—1 Pet. 1:6, 7; Ps. 37:10, 11, 28, 29.