On Service Tour in New Zealand
This article continues the account of the travels of the Watchtower Society’s president, N. H. Knorr, and his secretary, M. G. Henschel. The previous article brought us up to their departure from Fiji.
WE MANAGED to sleep about 3 1/2 hours on the trip to Auckland that Saturday morning and then we took our breakfast. After breakfast it seemed no time at all until we could see land below us, the tip of New Zealand’s North Island. It was cloudy below us and there was not much to see, and when we landed at the Whenuapai airport at 10:15 we caught only a glimpse of Auckland. The Wellington convention was on and we did not know if there would be any publishers at the airport, but almost at once we noticed some people holding up a copy of The Watchtower, and we realized that a few had been unable to take the special train to Wellington, about ten of them. We had to go through customs and immigration formalities, and a Pan-American passenger representative checked with us on the onward passage to Wellington via the New Zealand National Airways. He arranged that we depart on the 10:55 plane, and thus we were able to spend only a few minutes with the brothers at the airport, but even that was a pleasure.
So we boarded the Airliner Piere (which in New Zealand, we were told, means “Robin”) and were soon flying above the clouds at 183 m.p.h., in company with 18 other passengers. The clouds were so thick that all we could see besides them was the blue sky and the peaks of Mt. Egmont and Mt. Ruapehu that showed themselves at our 7,000-foot altitude, until we finally sighted land and sea while passing over Wanganui. The sun was shining brightly when we landed shortly thereafter at Paraparaumu airport, about 35 miles from Wellington. None of the brothers expected us on that flight, so we had to wait about 45 minutes until the branch servant, a brother from Bethel and one of the Gilead graduates arrived at about 2 p.m. Then we drove into Wellington, passing along the coast for a few miles and then through narrow valleys. The steep hills along the way were very green and some were covered with yellow gorse, which we were told is a prickly pest in New Zealand. It looked beautiful from the highway. It was drawing near the end of summer and there were still many flowers in the yards of the homes we passed.
When we reached the branch office we had lunch and then went on to the Town Hall where the convention was in session. Brother Henschel and I were not scheduled to speak on Saturday night, but due to the fact that we were there early it seemed best to change the program and switch the Saturday night program with the Monday morning session. Actually, it was on account of the fact that we could not arrive earlier that a Monday program was planned.
Before the evening session started we were told how the March 8-11 national convention had aroused the publishers when they learned that visitors from America would attend. Gilead graduates Crosswhite, Betley and Benesch were called in from circuit work to help organize the preconvention activities. Accommodations had to be provided for more than a thousand visitors, so rooming work was a big job for the fairly small Wellington company. A camping ground for caravans and tents was set up too. Advertising was emphasized. About 1,000 window placards were used, signs appeared on the trams, miniature billboards appeared along the highways and many publishers were busy walking the streets with signs, so everyone in the city knew that there would be a speech on “Proclaim Liberty Throughout All the Land” at the Town Hall on March 11.
The branch servant, Brother R. Lazenby, opened the convention on March 8. Acting as chairman he delivered the address of welcome and thus opened the way for discourses, demonstrations, experiences and general features of interest to the delegates. Early attendance surpassed 1,000 and all wondered what the number would be for the public talk. The enthusiasm of the conventioners ran high right from the start and they were in very good spirits when we arrived.
After a few songs were sung by the conventioners, Brother Henschel spoke and showed how courageous witnessing brought the Lord’s approval, protection and blessing, and that contrariwise those who fled from their responsibilities would meet with disaster. He encouraged the publishers to show fearlessness today as the faithful men in Bible times did, even in the face of growing opposition and persecution.
My first subject was concerning marriage and proper living. From the Scriptures it was shown that it is proper for Christians to marry and the purpose of marriage is the rearing of children. The dangers of adultery, loose conduct and fornication, which Satan would like to bring into Jehovah’s organization from the outside world, were discussed. Strong admonition was given for proper conduct and maintaining a clean organization that Jehovah would bless. The audience of 1,111 gave rapt attention. It was good information for them to know and I had found it appreciated in Hawaii and Fiji too.
Brother Henschel spoke on three other occasions during the convention, showing the importance of seeking godly devotion instead of material wealth or things of this world. He made clear that the time of judgment is now here and how imperative it is now to serve the theocratic government and be content with such service, and pointed out the real joy that godly devotion brings. He also told of the experiences and problems of publishers throughout the earth and how they should all make wise use of their time and overcome their problems.
It was my privilege to speak three times on Sunday and Monday, in addition to the public talk, and I used the time to good advantage, making it clear that every trouble or accident encountered was not from the Devil, just as it is a mistake to imagine that an angel of the Lord stands at one’s side at all times protecting the Christian from natural diseases and accidents. Divine healing was explained and it was shown that the apostles did not heal themselves or those who were consecrated, but it was a gift that was used to spread the truth and that the gift passed away with the death of the apostles. What is to be looked forward to is the healing that was foretold and that which will be brought in through the new world. These general subjects I planned to cover wherever I went on the trip, and the New Zealand publishers in convention surely appreciated the information.
Sunday morning, March 11, dawned rather cold and cloudy and before long the rain was falling. But that did not stop those who had made a consecration from being baptized. There were 51 persons who underwent immersion that morning, and that brought great joy to everyone. The rains did not interfere with the public meeting either, for when 3 p.m. came around the Town Hall was almost filled. There were 1,645, and they listened attentively as I spoke for an hour and twenty minutes. That was the largest public meeting Jehovah’s witnesses ever held in New Zealand.
I was glad that the convention held over until Monday. Most of the publishers were able to stay and they enjoyed the sessions very much. At 9 a.m. the pioneers came together in the balcony and I talked to them about Gilead and missionary service and complimented them on the splendid work they are doing in New Zealand and showed them that if more publishers took up the service in New Zealand we could take some of the pioneers and send them to other lands, as was done with 13 other New Zealand pioneers who graduated in the past and are now in distant lands. Nineteen volunteered to go to Gilead, if they met the requirements. A number also expressed a desire to go out into the islands of the South Pacific, if the Society cared to send them, and some may be able to take the good news out to new territories in that way.
That morning there was a review of the New York assembly. Here again a fine program was presented. A good number of the New Zealand publishers had gone to America to attend the assembly, so they had a few minutes apiece on the program to tell of their impressions and experiences. In between, Brother Clayton announced various recorded features from the convention, such as a few sentences spoken by various ones on the New York program, some of the music that preceded the public meeting in Yankee Stadium, and some of the songs that were sung by the Bethel family.
Though the public meeting had been a very large meeting for any organization in New Zealand, the press were more interested in the fact that the Town Hall had been used as a restaurant as well as meeting hall for five days and that over 800 meals had been served to conventioners three times daily. This they took special note of and published a good report and two photos.
Before the British took charge of New Zealand it was occupied solely by the Maori people. They are Polynesians and they have a language of their own. Many of the younger generation know only English, but the language is still widely used in New Zealand. Many of them have taken to the truth and over a hundred are now active publishers. One of their number is now a graduate of Gilead and he is being sent to a distant land. An American Gilead graduate who is serving as a circuit servant in New Zealand has learned to speak the Maori tongue and he gives public talks in many towns, which is helping the increase. There were about 80 of the Maori brothers at the convention and they were rejoicing. They have broken from the traditions of their people and this has brought them some problems too. They have refused to indulge in the heathen rites of the Maoris that are practiced at the time of a funeral. They do not believe that they must wash themselves with water and rub themselves all over with bread to keep away the evil spirits, and because they do not do this they are not permitted by the Maori people to bury the dead in Maori cemeteries. This demonstration of their belief in God’s Word has been a means of giving a great witness.
The convention ended with Monday afternoon, and that night the special train with more than 350 left for Auckland. They were all rejoicing in the blessings of Jehovah and the increase of the work. It was truly a great privilege for me to be back in New Zealand and see so many of them, because in 1947, when I was there before, the publishers were 678, on the average, and now there are 1,213 as a new peak. There is theocratic expansion in New Zealand too.
The Society has a very fine Bethel home in Wellington to house the staff. That is where we stayed during our visit to New Zealand. Also, there are offices in the central part of the city where business is taken care of and shipping and printing done. The stock of literature is very low at the moment because of the dock strike. The 1951 Yearbook and other literature has been in the port for some time, but there has been no solution of the strike and the books remain unavailable to the publishers. The strike has brought about many shortages in New Zealand, which so depends upon shipping because it is one of the most isolated countries of the world, and it is another proof that the world of Satan is so divided that its members cannot get together regardless of all the peace and harmony they talk about. Yes, every government on earth wants to tell another how to run affairs, but it seems they cannot run their own to the satisfaction of all the people. The only hope of the world is the government that Jehovah has established, which he says will sweep away all other rule and stand forever.
March 20 to 22 were spent in the Wellington office. It was a pleasure to talk with the circuit servants and learn of the obstacles that the publishers have overcome in making the theocratic advances. Arrangements were made for more expansion in New Zealand.
Friday, March 23, was a clear day, but it was quite cool. Summer was coming to an end. So was our visit to New Zealand. After breakfast a few of the Wellington company came by and then we all drove away to Evans bay where the Solent flying boat was moored. The Tasman Airways representatives informed us that the plane had arrived late and was not going to be ready for departure until about noon, but they did not want us to leave the vicinity of the terminal. We had a very enjoyable time visiting with the brothers at the bayside, and gradually the numbers increased until over 20 of the local publishers were on hand. The call for passengers to board the launch was made at about 11 o’clock, but after we had cleared customs and boarded the launch we were politely told that the captain was still in the city and would be late. So we stepped ashore and enjoyed practicing increasing our volume while speaking at a distance with some of the publishers who were behind the barrier set up by the customs officials. When the captain did arrive the passengers were tempted to cheer, but he was reputed to be a rather stern fellow and advice was given against the act. All boarded the launch and we were transported across the calm blue waters to the side of the flying boat. We waved good-by to those on the shore and climbed into the side of the big ship. Forty other passengers were with us. The breeze was from the north, so the big boat proceeded to the south end of Evans bay and then with a roar of her four engines she threw up a great spray of water before finally taking off for the west and Australia. Once again we were winging through the clouds anticipating a meeting with other old friends and a view of theocratic expansion in another part of the earth.