El Salvador and the Honduran Countries
AT THE new, beautiful airport of San Salvador, which bespeaks the increasing role being played by international air travel, a group of Jehovah’s witnesses were awaiting the arrival of R. E. Morgan on December 12, and ten days later for N. H. Knorr, president of the Watchtower Society. The first visitor saw new terrain and a city new to him in Central America.
In all of El Salvador there are 207 publishers, but not more than 100 of these are in the capital city. Nevertheless, the brethren had arranged for a public meeting on Tuesday evening, December 13. The declaration of the truth deserved the best, and so the Branch leased the Teatro Nacional, the finest and most reputable theater in El Salvador. The meeting was widely advertised with handbills and posters, and several hundred letters of invitation had been prepared and delivered. The occasion was a bit unusual because of the fact that this night marked the eve of the national celebration of the first anniversary of the revolution. The government had made elaborate arrangements for the celebration and the festival spirit was everywhere in evidence. Bands, drum corps, troops, police—all were ready for the big day marking one year of freedom from dictator rule in El Salvador. How would “Liberty to the Captives” be received in such an atmosphere? What would the reaction be to a strong declaration against Catholic oppression? Would many people come to such a meeting on this evening?
These questions were soon answered as 803 persons found their way into the National Theater. Nothing this big had ever happened to Jehovah’s witnesses in El Salvador before. The talk, with interpretation, progressed well. About halfway through the talk it was noted that some national police had entered the building, one coming up front near the stage. However, they made no effort to interfere with the meeting and were apparently there to see that order was maintained. The spirit of the audience was good, all listening attentively as religious-political-economic oppression and captivity were contrasted with the great freedoms which the new world will bring to the people. Spontaneous applause answered the declaration in this supposedly strong Catholic country that people who wanted to know the truth should not depend on the priests, for they would never teach the truth from the Bible. The meeting was a huge success, and it is estimated that at least 600 of the public were there.
Arrangements had been made for the Branch servant and Brother Morgan to travel by station wagon to Santa Ana the next morning, some 45 miles from the capital. Here are located another missionary home and a company of Jehovah’s witnesses, and a meeting was scheduled for Wednesday night. All passengers but two were aboard and it appeared that we were to enjoy a pleasant trip with our Spanish-speaking chauffeur. But, alas, the shiny new Chevrolet soon coughed, sputtered and quit cold. The chauffeur manifested disgust as he muttered in English, “Ugh, no gas!” He seemed dumfounded and aghast that such a thing could happen to him; but the fuel gauge registered “Empty” when he called at the Branch home for two of his passengers. And so we waited patiently for a half hour while he trotted off in search of more combustible fluid. When gas had been put in the tank, the battery would not turn the engine over. So we lent some assistance to our distressed chauffeur by helping him push the machine. It got to Santa Ana.
That afternoon several hours were spent distributing invitations. During the course of the work the publishers saw two funeral processions en route from church to cemetery which well demonstrated the attitude of the Catholic Church toward the people here. The first was the funeral of a poor man, whose body was being carried in a plain box by relatives. Those who followed wore tattered clothes and some had no shoes. It was indeed a pitiful sight to behold. But the second funeral was for a wealthy man. Well-dressed pallbearers carried an ornate casket. They were preceded by two priests in flowing robes. A long line of black-clad mourners followed, and many automobiles and flowers were in evidence. Brother Morgan inquired of a shopkeeper as to why the priests did not also lead the first funeral procession. The answer shows where the love of the clergy is, for the poor people did not have sufficient money to pay the priests to lead their funeral. How wonderful that God loves the poor and gives the water of truth to them freely! Certainly these people need the Kingdom and its blessings to release them from their poverty and captivity.
That evening an enthusiastic group of 136 persons assembled in the patio of the missionary home in Santa Ana to hear a service talk and to listen to a report of the wonderful expansion of the Kingdom work in many countries of the world. Surely these dear brethren in Santa Ana were not alone in praising their God, for everywhere and in every language Jehovah’s people were holding high the Signal. Just as thrilled as all their brethren were three totally blind publishers who sat in the first row. They sell newspapers and know every inch of the city, and at least one supports a family. They are among the best publishers in the Santa Ana company. They have their own territories and work them; they attend every meeting and answer from the Informant and Watchtower better than most brethren who can read these publications for themselves; they are enrolled in Theocratic ministry and give student talks, and they give good ones, too. What an example they set for Kingdom publishers everywhere who have eyes with which to see! It was a pleasure to meet them and see their joy for the Lord and for the privilege they have of helping open the eyes of those who are blinded by religious tradition.
A few days after Brother Morgan left El Salvador Brother Knorr arrived and again had a good visit with many faithful missionaries. Extra chairs were obtained for the meeting in the Kingdom Hall, which is situated in the missionary home. At the evening meeting 128 persons packed out the assembly place, the largest meeting of brethren ever held in San Salvador. The less than two-day visit was much too short to go into all the details, but the big problems were handled. Arrangements were made to open a new missionary home in San Miguel on February 1. Four of the missionaries from Santa Ana will be transferred to this home. Arrangements were made, too, for the visiting of companies and isolated publishers more often during the year; and efforts will be made now to open up new territories for witnessing. Since the last visit of Brother Knorr, when there were 22 publishers there three and a half years ago, a magnificent increase has taken place. There was an average of 177 publishers for 1949, with a peak of 207. There are twelve missionaries in the country, and it is hoped that before 1950 is over more will be able to enter to help in the expansion program. It was a pleasure to answer the Gilead graduates’ many questions about the new Bethel home, the changes at Gilead, and tell them about the increases made in other lands. To learn of the faithfulness of their fellow students in sticking to their work always brings joy to those who are working hard to stay in the field.
Saturday morning, December 17, Brother Morgan bid adios to the brethren in San Salvador and boarded a DC-3 for the 55-minute flight to Tegucigalpa, Honduras. This proved to be a rough trip, no doubt due to air currents created by the extremely mountainous terrain below. The captain ordered seat belts fastened all the way, for the ship was tossed around like a feather. As it heaved to and fro, some of the passengers did likewise. It was good to settle down on the rock-strewn airfield at Tegucigalpa and feel the solidness of terra firma again. Brother Burt and seven of the eleven Gilead graduates presently in Honduras were there at the airport to meet the visitor from New York, and so were many of the local publishers. Soon the entire group was headed back toward the city in the bus that had been rented for the occasion. The remaining hours before noon were spent in necessary formalities with three different departments of the government so that Brother Morgan’s passport and papers would be in order for his departure from the country a few days later.
This was a big week-end for the brethren in Honduras. Friday had marked the beginning of the first general convention ever held in that country. Brethren from all seven companies in the land were in Tegucigalpa, and many isolated publishers were here too. This represented a big effort for many of the brethren, but they had planned for this occasion. Twenty-eight publishers came from one company by air to the capital, and some of them had never flown before. One brother sold the family cow in order to get sufficient funds for the trip. Others walked.
The inhabitants of Tegucigalpa were startled to see Jehovah’s witnesses advertising with placards for the first time, and the brethren had several interesting experiences as they walked about the streets. One “padre” followed a sister along the street, discouraging passers-by and bystanders from accepting handbills advertising the public lecture, though he had a handbill in his own hand. One gentleman reminded the “padre” that if he, the “padre”, could take a handbill then there seemed to be no reason why others could not take them. With that the clergyman ripped up the invitation. Such interference did not stop people from attending the public meeting. On Sunday morning at 10 o’clock there were 511 persons in the theater to hear “Liberty to the Captives”. This was the largest public meeting ever held in Honduras by Jehovah’s witnesses. That afternoon eleven new witnesses were baptized in the Rio Grande river about a mile out of town, to which place all the brethren walked. One person, a transient who had talked to one of Jehovah’s witnesses just a few days before and who had then attended all sessions of the convention, was among those baptized. He is anxious to learn everything he can now so that he too can join in the preaching, and so he asked if he might have a Bible study in his home.
There were other places to be visited in Honduras, where graduates of Gilead are working, along with others of the Lord’s people who were unable to come to the general convention at the capital. So on Monday afternoon the Branch servant and Brother Morgan boarded a TACA plane for San Pedro Sula, a city lying northwest of the capital. Monday evening witnessed the gathering of 92 brethren and persons of good-will at the Kingdom Hall located in the missionary home where two graduates of Gilead live. The local brethren were happy with the turnout. Right next door to the missionary home is a radio station which grants free time to Jehovah’s witnesses each week. The missionaries put on some very interesting programs. San Pedro Sula is hot, and it rains a great deal, but the Lord is blessing the efforts of the brethren in preaching the gospel there.
Tuesday afternoon the two brethren traveled to La Ceiba, a city on the coast directly north of Tegucigalpa. En route the plane stopped at Puerto Cortez and Tela. As we approached La Ceiba we saw thatched roofs of the homes below and great fields of banana trees. The north coast of Honduras is fine banana country, and the fruit companies provide about the only means of employment for the population. That evening the three Gilead graduates who have worked in La Ceiba for about six months were pleased to see 41 persons at the meeting. Ten of these persons are now publishers, and a company of Jehovah’s witnesses is being organized. Many of the people of good-will learning of the truth here are active in the local churches, and some were troubled by the warning of the clergy that Jehovah’s witnesses would just sell as many books as possible and then leave for another town. But they were assured that Jehovah’s witnesses were in La Ceiba to stay and that they were forming a permanent company organization for true worship in that city. These new people were interested in hearing about the Society’s work throughout the world, as well as considering the responsibilities of Jehovah’s witnesses in La Ceiba to proclaim the truth. Working here is not easy, but the brethren are enthused with the prospects for expansion.
The paths of Brother Morgan and Brother Knorr crossed on Saturday the 24th of December. The plane that the president of the Society came in on at Tegucigalpa was the same plane Brother Morgan was to leave on for Nicaragua, he having already visited British Honduras and Honduras. For ten minutes they discussed matters pertaining to the countries visited, and then Brother Morgan was on the way to Nicaragua. Brother Knorr was to stay and decide on matters relative to the Branch and missionary home. He recalled being there in 1946 when the work was really just beginning, when seven graduates of Gilead had been sent in there to organize things for preaching the gospel. Brother Burt had been transferred from Costa Rica to Tegucigalpa, and other inexperienced missionaries were sent to the capital city to assist in the organization work. During the year 1946 there was an average of only 19 publishers in the field, twelve of these being company publishers. 1947 saw the work more than double, reaching 45 publishers for the year. Then 1948 saw a large increase, the publishers jumping to 119. Again in this last service year they more than doubled in number of publishers, bringing the total up to 246. This means they have had an increase of more than 100 percent in each of the last four years. So Honduras has proved to be an excellent field for the advancement of Kingdom interests.
On Saturday evening at the Kingdom Hall, which is situated in the missionary home, 66 brethren attended the talk delivered by Brother Knorr. The brethren here, as in other countries, must be preachers of the Word, every individual being on his own as a minister of the gospel. Jehovah’s witnesses are not in this work because someone else is doing it; they are in it because they have accepted the responsibility of preaching the Word in the presence of Jehovah God and in the presence of his Son, and at the time of Christ’s second appearing and the setting up of his kingdom. While most of these brethren have been in the truth for only a year or so, they are beginning to appreciate the responsibility the Lord has placed upon them and how they must always remain faithful in order to gain eternal life.
Uppermost in the missionaries’ minds was how they might expand during 1950. After considering the conditions in the country and the prospects of the future, it was believed best to add more missionaries to the present homes and open a new home as soon as possible in another city. There are a lot of small villages of from two to five thousand persons that will also have to be reached by aggressive, young missionaries who will be able to “rough it”. It is hoped that by the time the year is over penetration will have been made into other parts of the country with the Kingdom message.
While the missionary home in Tegucigalpa is a beautiful place and very comfortable, it is believed to be in the wrong part of the city to bring about much more advancement in that territory. Instructions were given to the Branch servant to move the missionary home into the heart of Tegucigalpa. It is now on the outskirts of the city. A small Kingdom Hall situated in that district will take care of whatever good interest has been developed around the home. The public meeting of a week previous demonstrated that there is a lot of interest in the city, and better attention can be given this interest if the home and Kingdom Hall are more convenient to the people.
After attending the English Watchtower study and the Spanish La Atalaya study on Sunday, and talking over problems with the missionaries, Brother Knorr’s very pleasant stay with this group came to a close. Monday morning he was on his way to San Pedro Sula to visit four other graduates of Gilead and discuss their work with them. Getting away at 8:30 in the morning of the 26th, the plane landed at Progreso, a few miles away from San Pedro Sula. In a few minutes it was taking off again, skimming the treetops of the banana plantations and the clean little city of La Lima on the way to San Pedro Sula, where it landed five minutes later. The day was spent with the missionaries in their home, and at 3:30 in the afternoon many of the company publishers of San Pedro Sula and La Lima came to the airport to see Brother Knorr off to British Honduras. More than thirty brethren had come to say hello, regretting very much that he had been unable to be at their convention in Tegucigalpa.
BELIZE, BRITISH HONDURAS
The same reception was given Brother Knorr as Brother Morgan received when he arrived in Belize, British Honduras. Two truckloads of brethren had come out to greet the visitors from the Society’s headquarters. In Brother Morgan’s case his plane arrived two hours late and his landing was in the dark; while Brother Knorr’s plane was on time and, in fact, arrived there before one truckload of brethren got to the airport. It was indeed a pleasure for both to see these 65 zealous brethren of Belize welcoming the visitors to their seaside city.
Brother Morgan, after clearing Customs, climbed into one of the trucks with the rest of the brethren and headed back into the city of Belize. That evening he gave them a report on what had occurred on his trip up to that time. Thursday morning was devoted to checking the Branch records and missionary home reports. In the afternoon the brethren were addressed on the subject of “Love”, and at 7 o’clock that evening 100 persons came to hear the public lecture. The majority of them remained to hear an hour’s talk following the public lecture, on the responsibility of Jehovah’s witnesses in praising Jehovah’s name.
His schedule called for him to leave early Friday morning, and the missionaries saw him off at the airport. The weather was bad and visibility poor. Flying away over the Gulf of Honduras the plane struck some very rough weather and heavy rains. It was necessary to keep the seat belts fastened all the time, and it seemed as though the plane were bouncing and sliding around in the air and could not do much to overcome the force of the elements now raging. The destination was San Pedro Sula in Honduras, but the storm and fog were too intense for a landing there, although a try was made. After circling the field for some time, trying to get in, the pilot changed his course and eventually landed at a small field in Puerto Cortez. This meant that Brother Morgan missed seeing the missionaries again at San Pedro Sula, who were waiting at that field. After the plane had refueled it got away to Tegucigalpa. It was indeed good to get out of that drenching rain and off the muddy field and see the sunshine when arriving in Tegucigalpa. It was here that Brother Morgan stayed overnight and then met Brother Knorr the next morning at the airport on his way to Nicaragua.
The elapsed time between Brother Morgan’s visits and Brother Knorr’s was growing shorter. It was only a matter of days, and it seemed to the brethren as though it were a continuous convention with a little rest period in between. At Belize Brother Knorr was driven into the city by truck, enjoying the company of the brethren and the beautiful scenery along the Belize river, which is really jungle country. Some of the missionaries have gone away back into the country of British Honduras where the mahogany trees are cut and lumber floated down the river. Six small companies have been organized in various parts of British Honduras and there has been a steady growth in the number of publishers in this country. In 1946 when the first graduates of Gilead arrived there were only thirteen publishers and the one company at Belize. Now there are fifty-five publishers and six companies in different parts of the country. When the two truckloads of brethren arrived in Belize they drove right to the Kingdom Hall. Brother Knorr did not have opportunity to speak to them at the airport, so they assembled in the Kingdom Hall for a few minutes and Brother Knorr talked to them in the late afternoon. It was a great pleasure to greet some who had been there on his former visits, and also to see many new faces, and wish them well.
The evening was spent in the missionary home talking over the problems, of which there were many. One of the great problems is that of impressing on the minds of the publishers their responsibilities. Many new publishers want to serve the Lord but they do not appreciate consecration and the necessity of symbolizing it. It takes great patience on the part of missionaries to keep after the new interest. But then the Lord is patient with all of his people in these last days of this old world. And we must be patient, too. In some lands individuals appreciate their privilege of service more quickly than in other places. Then, too, many people are steeped in the habits of this old world and its religious ideas and it is hard for them to change in so short a time. The brethren are not discouraged but they needed counsel and were wondering how missionaries handled the same situation in other lands. Patience and love for the people of the land in which you work is the answer to the problem. We must always recognize that people have their own way of life and have formed habits over centuries of time, and some of the things they do and the way they think are inbred in them. British Hondurans are slow to take on new ideas, and it takes real patience to convince them. However, the brethren have had good results and there are now more people proclaiming the message of the Kingdom than ever before in British Honduras.
In addition to the missionary problems there are other things to contend with. Belize has no running water furnished to the homes by a city water supply. Every home must have its own wooden or concrete tank, and during the rainy season drain water off the roof and store it for later use. But these problems are met, along with the marketing problem and the mode of travel, which are different from what the missionaries were used to in the United States. Accustoming oneself to conditions, as all missionaries must do in their country, is important to successful service and enjoyable living. It was indeed good to see the splendid attendance at the evening meeting. The missionaries invited their people of good-will and, to their surprise, 111 persons came to hear Brother Knorr talk on “Preach the Word”. The responsibility of being a minister here was put squarely up to the congregation assembled. God’s laws apply to all people regardless of land, education or customs. God’s laws never change. All individuals must accommodate themselves to these laws and adjust their lives to be in harmony with Jehovah’s purposes.
It is believed that the visit of the brothers to Belize has helped the publishers and the new interest, as did the visits to other countries. It was a pleasure to be associated with these brethren and it was too bad the visit could not have been longer, but the plane schedule called for leaving early the next morning. By taxi all the missionaries and Brother Knorr went to the airport. He anticipated seeing the Gilead graduates again at San Pedro Sula and Tegucigalpa on the way to Managua. After saying good-bye to the little group the president of the Society did not experience the same kind of trip as his secretary in the way of rough weather on his way to San Pedro Sula, but like his secretary he missed landing at San Pedro Sula because there were no passengers to get off and none to get on. He was told this by the stewardess on the plane about fifteen minutes after leaving Belize. He was sorry he did not get to see these missionaries again, but he consoled himself in the fact that the group in Tegucigalpa would be at the airport to greet him. But thirty minutes later the stewardess said the plane would not land in Tegucigalpa either because no one would be getting on or off, and that instead it would go on to San Salvador.
The brethren in San Salvador had been told that Brother Knorr would not land there on his way to Managua, but would land at Tegucigalpa; so both the San Pedro Sula and Tegucigalpa groups and Brother Knorr were disappointed in not seeing each other. Now he was landing at San Salvador at 10 a.m., and so he talked to the El Salvadorean Customs officers, requesting permission to go into town during the three-hour stay. However, he was informed that transit passengers were not allowed to leave the airport. With the aid of a kind Pan American employee, he phoned a taxi company in San Salvador and told them to go to the address of the missionary home and tell the people living there that Mr. Knorr was at the airport and that they should take the selfsame taxi and come out immediately. Six brethren happened to be at home, doing their washing and cleaning. So they hurriedly changed, and a very enjoyable visit was had for two hours, including a dinner together at the airport. The time was well spent. Air travel is a little uncertain. You are not always sure where you are going to land. But you eventually get where you are going.
Shortly before 1 p.m. the plane came in and, after saying good-bye, Brother Knorr was on his way to Tegucigalpa, where all the missionaries were coming out to meet him, believing he would be on that plane. And so the president of the Society had the pleasure of talking to them for fifteen minutes before going on to Managua.