Chile—Unique Country, Unique Convention
THEY came by the thousands and the tens of thousands to Santiago, Chile’s capital city. Even in a population of over four million, this influx was clearly noticeable—these visitors all wore blue badges announcing the 1993 “Divine Teaching” Convention of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Over 400 came from faraway Japan; more than 700 from the United States. Over a thousand flocked in by air and road from neighboring Argentina. The daily paper La Tercera stated in its postconvention report: “White, brown, ‘yellow,’ and black faces gave evidence of the distinct races and nations represented in the National Stadium. In addition, men and women from Mexico, Brazil, Peru, Bolivia, Venezuela, Spain, and Japan stood out in their typical dress.” Delegates came from Australia, Belgium, Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Holland, Switzerland, Paraguay, and most of the other South American countries. Over 4,500 foreign visitors streamed into Santiago the week of November 15, 1993. Then to cap it all, there were the 30,000 Chilean Witnesses who traveled great distances to get to Santiago. Why was that?
Chile—A Unique Country
You see, in the geographic sense, Chile is a very special country. What makes it distinctive and unique? Take a look at the map and you will see a country that is more than 2,680 miles [4,310 km] long and yet less than 270 miles [440 km] at its widest point. In fact its average width is just over 110 miles [180 km]. The capital, Santiago, is about in the middle of the country. These factors mean that many Chilean Witnesses had to travel hundreds of miles with their families to get to the international convention—and this with limited economic means in many cases. Yet they arrived by the thousands, their faces wreathed in smiles.
Chile is a land of rich variety, from the arid Atacama Desert in the north to the lush vineyards of the region around Santiago and on down to the south where the forested Andes decline into the Pacific. Finally, there are the glaciers and fjords that end at the Antarctica region.
Foreign visitors were fascinated by the city of Santiago. One delegate put it this way: “The impression was one of constant hustle and bustle, and yet the people were kind and friendly. I had never in my life seen so many buses on a street. Dozens of bus companies vie for customers. Small taxis were hurrying everywhere. The one negative factor was the pollution. To alleviate it, Santiago has rules whereby cars take turns to be off the streets one day a week, rotating by the number of their car license plate.” He added: “Another interesting feature was the neatly dressed schoolchildren, all in school uniform, without exception. There was certainly no competition and peer pressure there to have the latest designer clothing and sneakers! And none looked sloppy.”
Warm Welcome for Foreign Visitors
The “Divine Teaching” program opened on Thursday, November 18. The foreign delegates were in for a surprise when they arrived at the Estadio Nacional soccer stadium. For the 300-yard [270 m] walk from their buses to the stadium, they threaded their way through a tightly packed avenue of Chilean Witnesses—men, women, and children—all wanting to welcome the visiting brothers and shake their hands. Many had even learned simple phrases in English in order to say: “Welcome to Chile!” Over the next four days, many friendships were formed in spite of language barriers. Cameras and video recorders were working overtime. Souvenirs, names, and addresses were exchanged by the thousand.
The potential audience peak for this convention had seemed to be about 60,000—the 44,000 Chilean Witnesses, the 4,500 visitors, and then the interested ones. Imagine the surprise when the attendance for Thursday and for Friday was already well over 50,000. On Saturday the crowd swelled from 67,865 in the morning to 70,418 in the afternoon. On Sunday morning, when the program included a drama dealing with some of the problems facing Witnesses today, the attendance peaked at 80,981! The stadium was filled to capacity, and hundreds more were listening to loudspeakers outside. This was one of the factors that made the convention unique—the largest attendance of all the conventions held across the world in the “Divine Teaching” series. It was a surprise for the Chilean Witnesses and an indication of the potential for their congregations to grow and increase in the immediate future.
The electronic scoreboard was used to announce each talk in Spanish and English. It even indicated when the audience was applauding! At the conclusion it displayed farewell greetings in several languages, including Dutch, French, German, and Japanese.
Baptism Attracts the Media
Such a spectacular event could not be ignored by the Chilean media. The coverage each day by the press, radio, and television was excellent. This was especially so for the mass baptism that was held on Saturday. Twelve small pools had been set up at one end of the soccer field. During the baptism talk, hundreds of candidates stood up to signify their decision to follow the example of Christ by serving Jehovah God. After the talk, the prayer, and the song, 24 ministers in white shorts and T-shirts took their position, two at each pool. Female assistants also came out to help. Then the first candidates emerged from the changing rooms and walked onto the field, men on one side, women on the other. It seemed like two endless lines wending their way toward the pools. Everything was orderly as press photographers also took up their positions. Within an hour the baptism was completed—1,282 new Witnesses, Christian ministers, had been immersed in water, following the example set by Jesus.
A Colorful Farewell
The weather had been excellent all through the week. This was, after all, the Chilean springtime, when no rain is expected. Sunday saw the temperature rise into the 80’s. Nearly every family brought umbrellas and parasols as a protection against the blazing sun. The thousands of colorful parasols reminded one of a host of butterflies posing on flowers. The final talk concluded at about five o’clock. After the song and prayer, hardly anyone moved. Nobody wanted the convention to end. Groups broke into spontaneous singing of Kingdom songs; waves of applause spread from one end of the stadium to the other; handkerchiefs were waved and parasols twirled in unison. It was a moving scene—this stadium with its backdrop of the Andes Mountains—full of happy, loving Christians grateful for the “Divine Teaching” that had changed their lives.
During the Sunday program, two large Chilean birds, queltehues, or southern lapwings, wandered across the field, occasionally feeding on some insect or seed. From time to time they interrupted the program with their raucous calls. During the final talk, as if they sensed the program had concluded, they slowly lifted off, circled to gain altitude, and flew away. No doubt they will return, even as Jehovah’s Witnesses will be happy to return to that stadium another year to share their joy and faith—in Chile, un país singular, a unique country.
[Pictures on page 17]
Over 80,000 attended the convention in Santiago
[Full-page picture on page 18]