District Assemblies of 1949 in Many Lands
PRECEDING issues of The Watchtower have reported on district assemblies held by Jehovah’s witnesses in South America, the West Indies, Canada, Germany and the United States of America. In this issue is presented a closing report on some of the other district assemblies that were conducted in other lands during the past year.
Five such assemblies were held under the oversight of the British Branch office, at Blackpool, Brighton, Dundee, Belfast and Leicester. From the industrial centers of the north of England the witnesses trekked to the seashore and Blackpool, for the district assembly there June 10-12. So thoroughly did the intensive advertising of the public talk “It Is Later than You Think!” catch on that when the prime minister was late to a social function one of the waiters remarked: “Someone should tell him that it is later than he thinks.” Saturday sessions were attended by 3,100, on Sunday 6,000 turned out for the public talk, and 177 were immersed.
Nearly two weeks later a four-day assembly opened at Brighton, convening from June 23 to 26. It was at the Stadium in Brighton that the witnesses met for a district assembly in 1948, and a comparison of the two assemblies shows the progress of the Kingdom work. In 1948 7,000 attended the public lecture, whereas in 1949 the figure swelled to 9,600. In 1948 at the assembly 140 were immersed, but the 1949 assembly saw that figure stepped up to 455. On Saturday 5,340 attended, which means some 4,000 newly interested ones were present on Sunday for the public talk.
The assembly for Scotland and the extreme north of England was held at Dundee, July 8-10. The companies served by this assembly are for the most part small, and a large attendance was not anticipated. Nevertheless, the witnesses made real effort to attend and they intensively advertised the public talk to the 175,000 inhabitants of Dundee. In addition to the usual advertising means employed by Jehovah’s witnesses, the cinemas in the town displayed slides during their shows, thereby advertising the assembly free of charge. The Saturday attendance of 1,250 increased to 2,300 for the public talk on Sunday, and 88 were immersed.
The three days’ district assembly held at Belfast, Ireland, July 29-31, was a milestone marking the grand progress that is being made in this most religious part of the British field. Just prior to the meeting there had been much publicity given by reason of a debate at Portadown. The so-called Protestant religious element had gone into a frenzy of rage because many were leaving their organizations and taking interest in the Kingdom message declared by Jehovah’s witnesses. The assembly was timely and met the needs of both Northern Ireland and Eire. Patience and tact are required to work successfully in this difficult territory, and these things were emphasized at the assembly. The wide publicity given to the public talk bore fruit, for on Sunday 1,600 gave close attention to “It Is Later than You Think!” On Saturday 725 were in attendance, and 37 were baptized.
The fifth and last district assembly for the British Isles for 1949 was held at Leicester, September 2-4. Leicester is located in the midlands and the district covers a thickly populated area, so a large attendance was expected. On Saturday 4,650 were present, and on Sunday 8,500 packed out the facilities. The people of Leicester are getting to know Jehovah’s witnesses and many came to see what their assembly was like. The previous large assembly of the witnesses there was in 1941, and left somewhat of a bitter taste with the Leicester people because of the touchy war years; but what a difference now! With Jehovah’s servants fully organized and trained to be tactful and alert to the dignity of the name they bear, Leicester watched, Leicester listened, Leicester was interested. Her press published fair reports, and of particular note is the following statement appearing on the front page of the Illustrated Leicester Chronicle of September 10:
“All over the country congregations in churches and chapels have dwindled to an alarming degree. Thousands of children are being brought up with little or no religious background. The man in the street shows small interest in the old established faiths. Yet a religious convention in Leicester last week-end attracted 8,500 adherents of a creed which inspires its members with overwhelming fervour. The burning enthusiasm of the Jehovah’s witnesses is something to make clergymen and their depleted congregations think—and think hard. Why is this movement so powerful a magnet? Why are its members filled with such ardour? One answer is that Jehovah’s witnesses believe in taking religion to the people. They believe in preaching from door to door. They are fully aware of the value of publicity, and enterprising in their use of it. They shout their religion from the house-tops. Whatever any church or chapel-goer may think of their beliefs or methods, their intense eagerness is a challenge to bishops and clergymen in every diocese, and to every chapel in the land. Will they answer the challenge by sweeping away old-fashioned ideas?”
When the 279 immersed at Leicester are added to those of the four other assemblies, the total shows 1,036 symbolized their consecration to do God’s will. Total attendance for Saturday was 15,065, and for the public talk on Sunday there were 28,000.
AUSTRALIA, NEW ZEALAND, PHILIPPINES
“For, behold, the darkness shall cover the earth,” said Isaiah. This was literally true of the city of Perth, Western Australia, when the first of Australia’s 1949 district assemblies was held there, July 1-3. Because of the nation-wide coal miners’ strike all electric power was cut off and darkness settled over the city’s 273,000 population. But not so at the district assembly, neither literally nor spiritually. Auxiliary lighting for the hall was provided by the witnesses and sessions ran as smoothly as in normal times. And many new ones especially enjoyed the spiritual enlightenment at the assembly. On Sunday 925 packed out the hall to hear “It Is Later than You Think!”
The next week-end, July 8-10, saw the second assembly in progress at Adelaide, South Australia’s capital city. Here, too, public transport was curtailed and lighting restrictions were enforced due to the coal shortage. But again the assembly ran without difficulty. Outstanding was the large number of persons attending the public lecture. Though the place is known as “the city of churches”, and despite the holding of a Protestant rally that Sunday, there were 730 present to hear the public talk. This was a 32-percent increase over attendance at a similar assembly in Adelaide the previous year.
On July 22 the third assembly opened in Hobart, the capital of Tasmania, the island state. This time there were no power restrictions in force, for Tasmania is Australia’s only state having hydroelectric power. There are only 171 publishers in the entire state of Tasmania, but the attendance at the public lecture was 321. At least 25 persons came to the talk on the invitation of one pioneer sister.
Now back across Bass strait to Melbourne, Victoria’s capital and Australia’s second-largest city, with a population of 1,227,000. On July 29-31 the assembly was held there, with 1,316 in attendance at the public meeting. One week later the assembly in Brisbane, capital of the state of Queensland, was held. Now move your eye up on the map seven hundred air miles northward to the city of Townsville, Queensland. No sign of winter here, as this city lies in the heart of the tropics. Many more witnesses were present on this occasion than when an assembly was held the previous year. One small company from which only 3 attended then was represented by 20 now!
The last of the seven assemblies was the largest, being held in Sydney, Australia’s largest city, on August 19-21. It is here that the Watch Tower Society’s Branch office is located. The assembly was a fitting climax to all the assemblies, for it packed out the main floor of the Sydney Town Hall with 2,625 persons. It is news indeed when its main hall is filled by any organization, but this time there was not a word in the newspapers. The big newspapers in Australia seem resolved not to print anything favorable about Jehovah’s witnesses. One of the Town Hall guards had a hard time convincing two policemen that their services would not be needed to handle the crowd after the public talk. They just could not understand why some policemen would not be needed to handle such a large crowd, but the guard assured them that he had been present at many assemblies of the witnesses in the hall and that there was never any trouble whatsoever.
Concluding the report on the seven assemblies in Australia, we find that combined figures of the conventions show that 4,101 attended the largest meeting of the witnesses on Saturday, and that the total at the public lecture was 7,512.
In New Zealand the district assembly for Jehovah’s witnesses there was held at Palmerston North, a town with a population of about 30,000. To advertise the public talk 22,000 handbills were distributed, which means just about everyone of sufficient age to understand got one. For the talk 1,010 assembled in the Opera House. Fifteen were immersed. In reporting on the district assembly a newspaper commented on the attendance, saying: “From all parts of New Zealand Jehovah’s witnesses assembled for the 1949 district assembly. Many Maori representatives were in attendance from North Auckland, the King Country, and Hawke’s Bay.”
In the Philippines a really splendid district assembly was held early in 1949, on the days of January 28-30. The assembly was located in Quezon City, and accommodations for it were the spacious studio and grounds of the Oriental Pictures. This property is owned by one of the witnesses, who very generously permitted the entire property to be used without charge. Other buildings on the grounds, and even the brother’s own home, were used to sleep conventioners, more than 700 of them sleeping and preparing their meals right on the assembly grounds.
Witnesses came from all parts of the island of Luzon. One came from Negros and another from far-away Davao, on the southern tip of Mindanao. Most noticeable among the visitors were those from the remote sections of Mountain Province. These brethren are Igorots. The Igorots are pagans; some of them still head-hunters, roaming the fastnesses of the mountains of central Luzon. The womenfolk wear a very colorful native costume. In contrast with this the men wear a very scanty loincloth, frequently referred to locally as a “G-string”.
Our brethren from among the Igorots no longer practice head-hunting or any other of the tribal customs of their forefathers, but some of them still retain the native costume. A few of these who came to the district assembly wore the traditional loincloth, but over this they wore a shirt and light jacket. One of them was formerly a priest of one of the Igorot tribes. He was formerly called upon to invoke the favor of the pagan god at the native feasts, called cañao. Although he is totally illiterate, he is now a regular Kingdom publisher and devotes an average of more than thirty hours per month hiking in the mountains to tell his fellow Igorots what he has heard about God’s kingdom.
The widely advertised public lecture was held on the large grassland in front of the Manila hotel, known as the New Luneta. Located near the shore of Manila bay, it was a pleasant spot for the splendid turnout for the more than 7,000 persons to hear “It Is Later than You Think!” This represented a high percentage of public present, for the Saturday attendance of witnesses was 2,350. Many Europeans were seen in the audience, and this gladdened the hearts of the Filipino brethren, for they sometimes feel that the white people in the Philippines pay little heed to the message of the Kingdom.
INDIA AND EUROPE
The first of two district assemblies in India was held at Dehra Dun in northern India, December 17-19, 1948. While this was not in the calendar year of 1949, it was in the 1949 service year. There were 45 witnesses present, and 40 of them traveled a total of more than 105,000 miles to attend, coming from Karachi (Pakistan), Darjeeling, Calcutta, Bombay, and places in between. A man who had been more or less associated with the Society for many years is now vice-chairman of the Dehra Dun municipality, and he certainly rendered valuable service in using his influence to get accommodations for the assembly, also good publicity. A pleasant hotel room was used for all the meetings except the public lecture. For that the Town Hall was placed at the witnesses’ disposal free of charge, and 164 attended.
The second assembly was held January 7-9, 1949, at Bangalore, where 90 witnesses attended. Attendance at the public meeting was 248, and 18 left their names for being called on. Many favorable remarks were heard at the conclusion of the public lecture.
A previous issue of The Watchtower reported on the thrilling district assemblies in Germany; but many other district assemblies were held in Europe. Few details are available at present and the figures are sometimes incomplete, but the following information will make evident the fact that during 1949 Jehovah’s witnesses did cover many countries with district assemblies.
Three were held in Switzerland. Italian-Swiss conventioners were served at Locarno, French-Swiss at Geneva (where 560 heard the public lecture), and German-Swiss at Zurich. The latter one was held June 3-6, and on Sunday 3,200 persons assembled to hear the discourse “It Is Later than You Think!” The advertising of this talk in Zurich required some firmness on the part of the publishers. The police did not want to give permission to use handbills and placards in advertising, arguing that such activity was prohibited by city regulations. However, the regulations involved only commercial matters. Finally the police allowed use of handbills but prohibited the information marching with placards. But because the mere difference in size between handbill and placard was immaterial, and since the handbill was admittedly not commercial, then surely the larger placard was not; the witnesses used both in advertising. Some publishers were accosted by police, but no arrests occurred and advertising was thoroughly and successfully completed.
One district assembly was held at Rotterdam to serve the witnesses in the Netherlands, on July 1-3. A large stadium was used, and its spaciousness was used to good advantage in housing the many departments necessary for the smooth running of an assembly. In this seacoast city the weather is very unpredictable, but for the assembly days it was beautiful and the fresh air in the stadium was far better than the hot stuffiness of an enclosed hall. Between 8,000 and 9,000 attended the public lecture, and 239 were immersed.
In Belgium district assemblies in Antwerp and Brussels showed a combined attendance of 2,380 and immersion of 151. Two in Austria, at Vienna and Salzburg, had more than 2,450 for Sunday and 119 immersed. At Odense in Denmark 178 were immersed and on Sunday 4,102 listened to “It Is Later than You Think!” Finland provided three assemblies to serve that country, in Helsinki and Oulu and Vaasa, at which a total of 6,485 heard the public talk. The number baptized was 201. Norway held four assemblies, and reports for the two at Haugesund and Fredrikstad show more than a thousand at the public lectures. Three in Sweden totaled 3,169 witnesses attending and 5,075 out for the public discourse. Baptized were 198.
The second assembly in Sweden, at Vasteras on August 5-7, was held under interesting circumstances. The clergy there advertised five weeks in advance of the convention that they were going to hold a meeting right after the witnesses’ assembly closed, in the same building, and for the purpose of exposing Jehovah’s witnesses. Newspaper publicity was often belittling the witnesses, and on the streets the orthodox religionists were rather aggressive. The townspeople became quite stirred up over the controversy, and as a result more than 800 strangers appeared at the public lecture, to make the total attendance 1,914. Several clergymen were present and a State Church priest, along with many of their congregations. For the most part they were favorably impressed, and surprised at the sound Scriptural presentation that they heard. The next evening the meeting sponsored by the local association of pastors, made up of both State Church and other religious bodies, gathered only about 1,000 persons to hear the usual derogatory statements. After that meeting many who attended both sessions said they saw the difference between Jehovah’s witnesses and the orthodox religionists, and that they were no longer going to attend the orthodox churches.
And now with the closing out of the reports on the district assemblies of 1949, Jehovah’s witnesses look forward expectantly to the grand international convention scheduled for New York city next July 30 through August 6.