Faith—Does It Really Move “Mountains”?
JUST how powerful is faith? Centuries ago Jesus Christ said: “If you have faith the size of a mustard grain, you will say to this mountain, ‘Transfer from here to there,’ and it will transfer, and nothing will be impossible for you.”—Matt. 17:20.
He indicated that such faith was powerful enough that no mountainlike obstacle could prevent a person from performing his worship of God. But is this realistic? Are Jesus’ words merely a ‘nice-sounding philosophy’? Is solid evidence available that there exists among some the faith that can ‘move mountains’?
We invite you to consider the following experiences. They are all actual cases that happened in connection with nine “Victorious Faith” International Conventions held during the fall and winter of 1978. These assemblies, which were held in the Far East and in the South Pacific, are important features of the worship of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Consider some of the huge “mountains” that were faced by those involved.
In the areas where the assemblies were held, there is much poverty among the common people. In some instances, to reach the nearest convention, many delegates had to travel hundreds of miles. Where would they get the money to pay for train and boat fare?
In Burma it was touching to hear experiences of how some sold most of their reserves of rice, and many others sold their prized possessions, including, in some cases, their only cow to obtain the needed money. This may not seem much to some readers, but for them it represented the loss of their material security for the winter season. Their confidence was that the Creator would bless their own industrious efforts to provide for their future necessities.
One Christian woman in New Caledonia who had received a considerable amount of money from the government, because of the recent death of her husband, used part of it to attend the assembly. The part she used represented three years of income, but she was happy to make this special effort with her two children.
Among those in attendance at Bangkok, Thailand, were seven young fleshly brothers and sisters who paid their way from almost 700 miles (1,120 kilometers) away. To get the money, two of the girls saved the tiny scraps of raw rubber where they were employed and eventually sold them, as well as making and selling simple bracelets. They did this over a year’s time, despite the efforts of their opposed mother to stop them from attending the assembly.
Determined faith was needed in scores of cases where employers refused to grant delegates a leave from their job. Many made the hard decision to attend the assembly regardless of the consequences. This matter became a blazing issue in Australia where the assemblies were scheduled in December, when the world’s end-of-year retail activities would be at their peak. Yet, the Witnesses as a whole acted in faith and attended the fine assemblies. Among them was one Witness who was fired because of attending the convention. He prayerfully submitted an application for another job. The result? He was invited to begin work on December 18, three days after the assembly at Sydney ended!
A crippling disease can appear like a large mountain to hinder one from getting to an assembly. Especially would this be so with one Australian Witness who describes himself as “dead from the neck down.” However, this quadriplegic (paralyzed in both arms and legs) acted in faith and appealed to the hospital where he was being treated. Special arrangements were made so that he and his two children could be flown to the assembly, where his example touched the hearts of many.
Even for a robust young man in good health, a 1,242-mile (2,000-kilometer) sleepless trip on a jostling train would be quite an ordeal. Well, one of the delegates to the Indian assembly, a 78-year-old man (see picture), traveled sitting up on a hard wood bench in a train for four days and three nights to reach the assembly! Neither his age nor failing health stopped him!
The older son of a very poor widow in Thailand is a cripple who can move himself only by crawling. Last year he became one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. But how was he going to get to the assembly? He began to share his new faith with his mother and younger brother. They responded, and both accompanied and assisted him to the assembly (see picture). His brother was one of the 21 baptized there. Indeed, apparent “mountains” in the form of severe physical handicaps were victoriously overcome.
Natural and Man-made Upheavals
Several weeks before the assembly at Bombay, India, the country was saturated with severe flooding that left thousands dead and millions homeless. About 100 Witnesses were preparing to come from Calcutta, 1,300 miles (2,092 kilometers) away from the assembly city. Eighty percent of Calcutta was under water. One brother thus described his circumstance:
“The water gradually began to recede, but we had no food, no kerosene, no cooking fuel, and, to make matters worse, there was an earthquake scare that caused panic in the wet dirt-laden streets.
“Because of arthritis my wife is not able to walk. Out of despair she said: ‘How can we think of going to the assembly under these circumstances with three children?’ After prayerful consideration, I replied, ‘If we cannot bear these pressures now, how will we stand the great tribulation?’ So we managed to get to the station to board the train to Bombay for the assembly.”
This family and others braved the dangerous traveling conditions to the train station only to discover that all trains had been canceled! Floodwaters had damaged the tracks. “Perhaps the railways will provide a special train just for you!” chided some onlookers. All appeared lost.
Several hours later the announcement was made that a test train would be sent out to Bombay to view the condition of the tracks. Soon the amazed Witnesses found themselves en route to the assembly!
Wearied after a 36-hour journey, they happily joined other delegates in Bombay and arrived at the convention hall. It was locked! They were greeted with the sour news that there might not be an assembly. This was just hours before the first scheduled session.
A man-made upheaval, a labor strike, by the maintenance workers had shut down the facility. Intense prayers and supplications ascended from the conventioners. A last-minute personal visit was made by the Witnesses to the union leader. The point was made that these were peace-loving persons who wanted to use the hall merely for religious reasons.
After a tense hour of talk, the union leader, in a rare public appearance, went to the hall and instructed his strikers to allow the Witnesses to use the building without any disturbance. It soon became the largest assembly of Jehovah’s Witnesses ever held in India.
Because of misunderstanding and deep-rooted feelings, religious persecution can seem like an enormous “mountain,” especially to those who are studying the Bible to become Witnesses.
This certainly was the case with one Australian couple who were told by the wife’s father to discontinue their discussions with the Witnesses. In that family strong patriarchal customs give the father much authority. To reinforce his demands he kicked his six-month-pregnant daughter in the stomach and with his fist broke her nose!
Did this stop the young couple from attending the assembly? Not at all! In fact, their determination so impressed the father that he softened and even kept their newborn baby while the couple with their three-year-old son enjoyed the assembly!
At the assembly in Fiji, all 25 candidates were preparing to be baptized. Suddenly the husband of one candidate entered and grabbed his wife, slapped her and dragged her to his car. He then drove her about a mile (1.6 kilometers) away and told her to go home while he went off to work. Did she return home? No, but she ran back to the assembly grounds, just in time to be immersed with the rest of the group!
Isolated cases? Hardly! In many of the lands where the assemblies were held, religious animosities run high. Christians are a looked-down-on minority. There is much community pressure when one becomes a witness of Jehovah. Yet hundreds braved such opposition, and even former Hindus and Buddhists were a part of the assembled throngs.
Racial and Ethnic Prejudice
Racial and cultural prejudices are rife in today’s world. A recent poll taken in England, for example, suggested that one of every two Britons is concerned about race relations and feels that the government “should pay immigrants to return to their countries of origin, such as Pakistan, Jamaica, India, Kenya, and other former British possessions.” Most religions have not helped the situation much, as a Canadian study found that 65 percent of Baptists, Lutherans and Presbyterians are either somewhat or very racist. Would such prejudices prove to be a mountainlike obstacle when visitors with different racial and cultural backgrounds would attend these international assemblies?
Hundreds of delegates from Great Britain, the United States, Canada, Germany, Sweden, Switzerland, Venezuela and other countries attended these assemblies in the Far East and the South Pacific. But what a marked contrast! There was not even a trace of racism on their part, nor on the part of their hosts. Usually there was a warm welcome awaiting the foreign visitors at the airport. The Fijian Witnesses provided a typical greeting. One report states:
“On leaving the customs area the delegates were surprised to see a huge banner welcoming them and to be garlanded with aromatic frangipani leis by smiling Fijian brothers awaiting them. It was a thrilling reminder of the words of the apostle Peter when he referred to the ‘association of brothers in the world.’ (1 Pet. 5:9) Such a warm bond of love from persons who did not know them personally, but only by faith, will be remembered for a long time.”
Soon the visitors found themselves fully involved in the customs of their warm hosts. Many visitors happily stayed in the modest homes of fellow Witnesses, rather than the more convenient hotels. This included some from the world headquarters of Jehovah’s Witnesses in New York.
In New Caledonia the general populace was astounded to see Witnesses of different races working together. One woman who lived near the convention site warmly greeted the two Witnesses who called at her home, saying: “Are you Witnesses? Then I’ll gladly take your booklet! Do you know that my apartment is close enough that I can see and hear all the assembly program? I am very impressed because of so many nationalities!”
One of the members of the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses visited Burma, where the humble people feel that “Westerners” look down on their culture and manner of dress. To the delight of the Burmese he wore a local longi, or skirt, that had been given to him. He even gave his lectures in the ‘skirt.’ Race and cultural differences could have been a divisive “mountain,” but genuine faith removed it.
What Created Such Faith?
We have but scratched the surface of the many personal examples where faith moved a great obstacle. But how was such faith developed? This is illustrated by the following experience of one conventioner:
A man in Thailand was a drunk and also gambled away his money. He regularly beat his wife and children. Six months before the assembly he and his wife began to study the Bible with the Witnesses.
Immediately he began to apply the principles of the Bible and stopped his bad habits. He became a diligent worker and managed to save enough money for himself, his wife and six other family members to attend the assembly. From a drunken gambler to an industrious worker in just six months—all because of the Bible!
The same point was made in Fiji, where a special program was held for the English-speaking visitors. The chairman, a native Fijian, reflected on the former conduct of many of the Fijian Witnesses, saying: “We were headhunters and cannibals.” He then dramatically held up the Bible and continued: “If it had not been for this book you visitors would probably be in our cooking pot!”
Yes, the Bible is the source of genuine faith. It can create in persons a genuine love for righteous principles. It is from this book that faith also can be built that is strong enough to ‘move mountains.’
[Chart on page 22]
CITY ATTENDANCE WITNESSES
Bangkok, Thailand 1,026 720
Sydney, Australia 27,808
Perth, Australia 9,043
Bombay, India 4,456 4,506
Ba, Fiji 2,282 610
Nouméa, New Caledonia 816 372
Papeete, Tahiti 985 437
Auckland, New Zealand 12,328 6,520
Rangoon, Burma 901 884
TOTALS 59,645 41,913
[Map on page 22]
(For fully formatted text, see publication)
[Picture on page 24]
78-year-old delegate to Indian assembly
Crippled Thai delegate with his mother and brother
[Picture on page 25]
Delegate shares message with Buddhist monk despite flooded Bangkok streets
[Picture on page 26]
Delegates of various races assembled together in genuine love