Presidential Visit to Northern South America
WHILE the travelers, the Watchtower Society’s president and his secretary, were in Panama they had the pleasure, too, of meeting five brethren from New Zealand. These pioneers were on their way to New York, planning to attend the next class at the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead. They spent a few days in the missionary home at Panama City during the early part of Brother Knorr and Brother Morgan’s visit. The three brothers and two sisters were anxiously looking forward to seeing the new Bethel home and then going on to Gilead. But here they got a little foretaste of what missionary home life is like and also firsthand information as to what missionaries can accomplish. Moreover, they were able to enjoy part of the assembly held in Panama City. To hear one of the New Zealanders say “Too right!” after a Panamanian publisher expressed his pleasure at the good meeting reminded Brother Knorr of his visit to Australia and New Zealand. Their flight to Miami (Florida) took the New Zealand brethren away from the missionary home in the wee hours of the morning. Brother Knorr and Brother Morgan left from the same airport a few days later, bound for Colombia.
Saturday, January 7, was a clear, bright day and it was interesting to watch the jungle and rolling terrain below. It was not long until the sparkling blue waters of the Caribbean came into view, with the coastline’s silver fringe. Then the plane headed south, inland toward Medillín, Colombia. Before arriving in Medillín the plane passed over some very beautiful mountains, but the valleys seemed to be quite barren with burned red earth. However, as your eye runs from the valley up the side of the mountain the color gradually changes from burned red to brown mixed with spots of green; and when your eye has reached the top of the mountain you realize that the color has become a rich forest green. Interesting it is to note the scattered houses on the tops of the mountains, with cultivated patches around them, for it is up here that crops grow. As one gets nearer to the equator one expects warm weather. The best place to live is in the high altitude, for here you get lighter air and cool breezes, as well as rain and sunshine.
Medillín was the first stop, and here it was necessary to change planes, from Pan American to Avianca. As the airport is approached the plane passes over the well-laid-out city. Scattered throughout the city itself, as well as on the outskirts, one sees large industrial plants. The hustle and bustle of the city are felt at the airport because of the great number of planes coming and going, all of them carrying heavy passenger traffic and freight. After a few hours’ wait for their plane to arrive, some sixty-odd passengers climbed aboard the DC-4, and within a short time the two travelers were being greeted by seventeen of Jehovah’s witnesses from Bogotá who had come to the airport to welcome the Society’s representatives to the city.
Inasmuch as Brother Morgan and Brother Knorr arrived in Bogotá late in the afternoon, it was not long until the brethren were coming to the Saturday night meeting, and 50 of them filled the small Kingdom Hall. Special permission had to be obtained for the public meeting, and this was granted by the government. It was impossible to rent a public hall for the occasion, so only those having Bible studies were invited to the meeting. On Sunday afternoon 81 persons packed out the hall and dining-room of the missionary home. Brother Robert Tracy, the Watch Tower Branch servant, did excellently in translating from English to Spanish. Brother George Dawkins, who interpreted for Brother Morgan, did very well too. These brethren have been in Colombia for only a little over three years and it was good to see how they had, because of careful study and practice, grasped the language sufficiently to be of use as interpreters. The third session of the three-day assembly was held on Monday night, and 61 brethren and people of goodwill gathered to hear more of the Lord’s Word discussed.
After going over the problems of the missionary home with the six brethren there now, three having just arrived in the latter part of December, it was concluded that a larger Kingdom Hall is needed. Every effort will be made to move to a new location so that the hall in the missionary home will be large enough to handle greater crowds. It is believed that in this city, which is situated a mile and a half above sea level, there are hundreds of persons who will become ministers of the gospel if they are given the opportunity to study and learn the truth. More missionaries are needed; more work must be done. The city of Bogotá is growing rapidly and it is a very pleasant place to live, although the cool evenings require one to sleep under two or three blankets for comfort. Brother Knorr observed many changes since his last visit to Bogotá. Many splendid improvements have been made in the city: streets have been paved; beautiful boulevards have been constructed; new model electric and gasoline busses are to be seen operating throughout the city; and a fine building program is under way in the heart of town. The construction program was made necessary mainly because of the havoc wrought by fire in the spring of 1949, which fire was touched off by the rioting crowds of people who were angry over the assassination of a popular political figure. The destruction was terrible. But the Colombians are not just letting the ruins stand. They are cleaning up the mess and are making the city more beautiful than ever. Streets are wider and the heart of the city is taking on a new look.
There has been considerable political unrest throughout the whole country of Colombia, and everything is under army control. Everyone is waiting to see what the new president will do when he takes office in August, 1950. Conditions are certainly favorable for the preaching of the gospel, for when the people mourn it is good to take to them the hope of the Kingdom. Usually they are in a more receptive frame of mind under such circumstances. If the people once get started in a study of the Word of God and come to appreciate the blessings of the new world, they will desire to preach ‘in season and out of season’, as Paul admonished Timothy to do.
The stay of the Society’s representatives in Bogotá was much too short, but meetings had been arranged in Barranquilla at the second missionary home. So on Tuesday at 9:30 a.m. the Branch servant, along with the two brethren from New York, were winging their way northward to this Colombian seaport city. One of the most thrilling sensations, and probably one of the most fascinating sights in the world, is to leave Bogotá for Barranquilla by plane. For ten minutes after taking off you are cruising over the beautiful plateau on which the city of Bogotá is built. Then you come to the edge of the plateau and abruptly there is a drop of many thousands of feet. It appears to the passenger that the plane is soaring high into the sky, gaining altitude in an almost miraculous manner; but the fact is that the earth below has dropped away from the plane. The jagged peaks were a sight to behold. They come on you very suddenly and this makes them all the more awe-inspiring. God’s creative powers certainly have made the earth glorious! What will it be when God instructs man how to make it his paradise home?
At the airport in Barranquilla were the four missionaries of that city, along with thirty other publishers who had come out by bus to meet the brethren from Bogotá. Maybe it is the climate, but the company publishers here seemed warmer and more enthusiastic about the visit and about the work of preaching the gospel than the brethren in Bogotá did. When you enter the Kingdom Hall, which is in the missionary home, one of the first things you observe is that the company recently reached a new peak of 81 publishers; also that each publisher is averaging 17 hours per month, and the average number of home Bible studies is .9, or nearly one study for each company publisher. No wonder they were enthusiastic, for in Barranquilla things are on the move! That feeling prevailed throughout the entire stay. A meeting had been arranged for the company that night, and 94 listened attentively to Brother Morgan and Brother Knorr give them counsel on the work to be done at the present time and also help them with their organizational problems.
The brethren asked if they might advertise the public meeting on the radio and by means other than through handbill distribution and the extending of invitations to those having Bible studies. But Brother Knorr advised them that with such enthusiasm among the company publishers they would probably fill the hall to overflowing with just their personal activity. This turned out to be true. So no extra money was spent in advertising the talk “Liberty to the Captives”. Before the talk began on Wednesday evening the hall was practically filled. When the count was taken there were 261 present, not including children under the age of understanding. The hall was packed out and some were standing on the front porch. The audience gave excellent attention, and the brethren were certainly delighted with the attendance. This was Jehovah’s witnesses’ biggest public meeting in Barranquilla, in fact, in all of Colombia. It demonstrated to everyone that there are interested people in the city, and now is the time to take the message of the Kingdom to them. It was expected that Barranquilla would be unbearably warm, being right on the coast and practically at sea level, but steady breezes from the Caribbean made the visit most pleasant. They were a wonderful aid to the public meeting, too, because the people packed into the hall did not have to endure the usual sweltering weather.
At the present time there are only nine missionaries in Colombia. The Society could very easily use 25 more in the principal cities of this country, which has nearly eleven million people. The Society has tried diligently in the last four years to keep missionaries there, but for one reason or another more than fifteen have left their assignment. For three years, from 1946 to 1948 inclusive, the work practically stood still in the way of aiding the people of good-will. But 1949, with only eight hard-working missionaries, found the Lord’s blessing upon the work. It is firmly believed that if the brethren who take up missionary privileges would stick to their work rather than become entangled in the affairs of the world, as a number did in Colombia, the work in that country would be far more advanced than it is today and would show an increase more in proportion to the efforts put forth. But it was a joy to spend a few days with the brethren who are working diligently to expand true worship in Colombia. By the Lord’s grace, much more work will be done in the very near future. On the morning of January 12 ten of the publishers traveled to the airport with us, and soon we were saying good-bye and were en route to Maracaibo, Venezuela.
Here again another grand reception was accorded Brother Morgan and Brother Knorr. There were about fifty present at the airport. Children carried bouquets of flowers, and a newspaper photographer was there to take a picture, which appeared in the paper the next day, giving notice of the arrival of the speaker who would talk on “Liberty to the Captives”, at the Masonic Temple. The two travelers, along with the missionaries located in Maracaibo, left for the home while the other company publishers went into the field to distribute handbills advertising the public meeting. The Kingdom Hall was much too small for the little assembly that had been arranged for the companies near Maracaibo, but chairs were set up in the patio behind the house and 75 persons listened to the lectures given that evening from seven to nine.
Maracaibo is a thriving city; the production of oil makes it a very busy place. Friday morning it was necessary to go downtown in connection with immigration regulations and to check on travel to the next city, and while there the brethren went into the market, which was very interesting. In the food section the meat hangs down from a rail right above the counter, and when someone wants to make a purchase he has to push a leg or some other large cut of beef or pork out of the way in order to talk to the man behind the counter. A missionary working the market may have a rabbit or chicken draped around his neck while giving a witness to the person in the booth. It was certainly a crowded place, but everyone seemed congenial and friendly. The missionaries have a number of Bible studies with persons who work in the market. Everyone seemed to know of the public meeting that night; so the brethren were looking forward to a good attendance. The rainy season was supposed to be over, but the weatherman changed his mind and it had been raining every day since the beginning of the dry season. It was hoped that no rain would fall that afternoon or evening, because when it rains in Maracaibo people just do not come out. Unfortunately there was a downpour just an hour before the public meeting, which dampened the zeal of some. Despite this the hall was filled, 132 occupying the seats and a few standing in the lobby.
The brethren were so enthused about Brother Knorr’s coming that they thought the lecture should be broadcast and they arranged for this with radio station Ondas del Lago (which means “Waves of the Lake”). Special permission had to be obtained to have a public meeting, and permission also had to be obtained to speak in the English language over the radio. This permission was given by the government. Just fifteen minutes before the lecture was to begin the radio technicians arrived to make the connections so that the talk in English and Spanish would be relayed from the Masonic Hall to the transmitter. A few minutes after 8 p.m. the program commenced. Approximately fifteen minutes after Brother Knorr began speaking to the very attentive audience all the lights in the building went out. The auditorium was plunged into darkness, and the power failure interfered with the broadcast. Brother Knorr asked the audience to remain quiet and he continued with his discussion. No one left, with the exception of the few who hurried out to see what could be done about getting the lights back on. There was a momentary murmur through the hall, but soon all quieted down and resumed listening to the lecture. It was learned later that a fuse had blown on the main line. The caretaker replaced this quickly; so the audience was in darkness only about three minutes. Within a matter of seconds after the power came on again, Brother Morgan heard the English-Spanish conversation once more coming forth from the small radio with which he was monitoring the program.
The broadcast went through very well, both in English and in Spanish, for an hour and thirty minutes. The next day it was reported to brethren working from house to house that the public lecture was greatly appreciated. One woman was bubbling over with enthusiasm because of what she had learned and it was no effort to place a book with her and arrange for a study. She had heard the radio announcements advertising the public lecture, but her neighbors advised her not to attend the talk at the Masonic Hall. The priests had told her neighbors that Jehovah’s witnesses were “white devils from the States”. But her curiosity got the best of her and she listened to the broadcast. She was certainly overjoyed with what she heard, and wanted to hear more. Other publishers reported that some people listened to the English discussion, while still others understood only the Spanish. Favorable comments concerning the broadcast were heard everywhere. The local publishers were extremely glad to know that the broadcast went over well, and they hope to reap good results due to this meeting.
The little company of Jehovah’s witnesses in Maracaibo has been growing well since the missionaries started there a year ago. Now there are 36 company publishers. Five missionaries from Gilead are now helping the publishers in that city. Another thing that made the local brethren happy was that the newspaper Panorama del Diario published another picture of Brother Knorr, along with his interpreter, speaking at the Masonic Temple. They made the comment that the talk was very interesting. So Jehovah’s witnesses are at work in Maracaibo, and the missionaries and company publishers will take advantage of the advertising that has been done and will help free the captives from their superstition and religious chains by diligently carrying on Bible studies in the homes of those of good-will. Once again the visit seemed much too short, but it was felt that a lot of good was accomplished by talking to the missionaries and handling some problems that had arisen among the company publishers.
Saturday morning the two representatives of the Society had to be on their way to the capital city of Venezuela, Caracas. A number of brethren were at the Maracaibo airport to see them off, and at 11:15 a.m. the Pan American Clipper was speeding down the runway, heading toward Lake Maracaibo and then out to sea. The two travelers, along with the other passengers, had settled back into the comfortable seats, thinking that in an hour and a half they would be meeting more of their fellow workers in the capital city. Suddenly the plane seemed to pause in the air momentarily and then go ahead again. Something was going wrong. The same thing happened a second time, and a third. The sensation is difficult to describe. You might imagine that you are pulling hard on the end of a rope, with an equal force pulling on the other end. Suddenly the force at the other end of the rope lets go momentarily and you slip back. Then when the pull resumes you return to your original position. But in the process you get a jolt. This occurred with the plane three times, and the two travelers realized that one of the engines was not functioning properly. In a matter of minutes after this occurred it was noted that the captain banked the plane to the right, heading inland, and kept it going to the right until he had completed the turn. Then he straightened the plane out for a direct run to the airport which we had left only fifteen minutes before.
By that time the brethren who had seen the travelers off had returned to the city. Not knowing how long the plane would be grounded for repairs, all the two brethren could do was to wait. In a little more than two hours the mechanics had taken out some parts of the engine and made replacements. When they tested the engine it seemed to be in excellent condition; so at 2 p.m. Brother Morgan and Brother Knorr left again, this time completing a smooth trip to the airport at La Guaira, which city is the seaport for Caracas. The brethren were there waiting for the travelers, wondering what had happened, and were very glad to see them. Then came the interesting ride up the mountainside, with the road zigzagging, twisting and turning, first this way and then that way, with many sharp precipices all along the route. But the road was much improved compared with its condition when Brother Knorr traversed it three and a half years ago on the occasion of his first visit. For Brother Morgan it was all new and interesting. Finally the city came into sight, about three thousand feet above sea level. Big changes are being made in the city of Caracas. The center of town has been pretty well torn down and a new super highway or boulevard, parts of it subterranean, is going right through the heart of the city. Fine new buildings are being constructed, some already being completed. Caracas is a growing, busy city and the missionaries assigned here are happy to be in this metropolis to preach the Word.
Saturday night was the second day of the circuit assembly, and Brothers Knorr and Morgan were scheduled to speak. They did so to an audience of 110. This was a great contrast to the little meeting held a few years previous in the small home of an interested person. Now in the large Kingdom Hall, which was a remodeled garage, it was interesting to meet some of the brethren whom Brother Knorr met before and to enjoy to the full the splendid increase in the work. The next morning twelve brethren symbolized their consecration by water baptism. The afternoon was set aside for a public meeting, but because written permission had not been obtained for Brother Knorr to address the public assembly a native minister of Jehovah’s witnesses gave the public talk on “The Only Light”. He did very well, and those who braved the rain, of which there were 90, enjoyed the talk very much. Later in the day the weather cleared and the people of good-will felt more free to come to the evening meeting to hear Brothers Knorr and Morgan once again. This was the largest meeting of the assembly, namely, 143.
All the company publishers were inquiring about their pioneer brother who had been called to Gilead and who would attend the class beginning in late February. They were told he was well and studying English diligently, as well as changing pace from the slower Latin style to the faster ways of our American brethren in the factory. For a number of years the missionaries in Caracas had to be content with a very humble home in a poor section of the city, because they were unable to obtain anything else. About a year ago the Branch servant, Brother Baxter, finally succeeded in renting a very lovely home in the better section of town. The brethren are very well pleased to have decent living conditions, as well as their fine Kingdom Hall, which is now much too small, connected right to the house. In fact, at the Sunday night meeting half of the audience had to sit in the driveway and front yard and were served by loud-speakers. Probably it will not be very long until another company will have to be formed to accommodate the growing interest. The new missionary home, which is a large house, is now filled with missionaries, five new ones just having arrived. There are now ten in Caracas. All are very much enthused about the assignment, and like the people and their customs. The only thing they do not like is the terrific expense—the cost of food and clothing. Venezuela is one of the most expensive countries in which to live in all of South America at the present time. But this obstacle is taken care of by the Society through the missionary home.
Back in 1946 when Brother Knorr made his first visit and the first two missionaries started to work there were only one or two good publishers, but by the end of that year thirteen were reporting work. By the close of the service year 1949 there were 91 regular publishers in the field, and a peak of 132 had been reached. There are prospects that before the 1950 service year ends they will have 100 publishers in the city of Caracas alone, with good increases in the six other companies that are organized throughout the country. If possible the Society will send more missionaries to Venezuela at the close of this service year and will open missionary homes in several of the larger cities. There is a lot of work to be done among the 3 1⁄2 million Venezuelans.