Expansion of Theocracy in Indonesia and Singapore
ACCORDING to our last report the president of the Watch Tower Bible & Tract Society had concluded a successful national assembly at Sydney, Australia, and now he and his personal secretary were winging their way to Darwin on the northern coast of Australia. The account by N. H. Knorr regarding himself and M. G. Henschel continues:
Darwin was reached at 5:30 a.m. and we were taken by bus to the Qantas Empire Airways rest house for breakfast. The grass alongside the roads was as high as the roof of the bus in many places, and it was very hot even in the morning. Breakfast was enjoyed and soon we expected to be headed back to the airport. But the captain reported further engine trouble and that meant we must wait from hour to hour to hear the news. It was 1 p.m. when we finally left Darwin, which we learned was a military and air base of vital strategic value for the defense of Australia.
Our seats were directly over the wings, and that cut off the view of the ground below and the islands that we passed over. We flew over the Timor sea to Surabaja and passed over that city. At 5 p.m. we landed in Djakarta, Djawa, Indonesia (formerly Batavia, Java, under the Dutch administration). We were quite late and yet we saw many magazines published by the Society being waved above the heads of a group of waiting people. There were about 30 of them and it was a good surprise to us. Many among them were of Chinese descent; some spoke English. Conditions are difficult for living in Djakarta—there is a housing shortage. The new republic has many government departments organized and the people often live in the hotels. It was a real struggle for the brothers to locate a room for us, but they found a room at a hotel that is partly constructed, and there we were taken by them. After placing our luggage in the room we went to the home of Brother Tan at Djalan Tjiudjung 24 in a taxi. We spent an hour talking to about 25 brothers, with interpretation in Indonesian. Then we returned to the hotel to rest. People in general in Djakarta do not stay out late at night, and there is some danger of robbery late at night. At 8 p.m. there were still many people on the streets and the traffic was heavy on some roads. Many ride bicycles. Then there were the betjak travelers. We were later to have the experience of riding in a betjak, which is a three-wheel cycle operated by pedal power and licensed to carry passengers. Passengers sit in front of the driver and the ride is quite comfortable. When the sun is hot a shade is put up over the passengers. We noticed too how many canals there were, evidently the influence of the Dutch who developed the city, and in these many people bathe, launder clothing and wash cycles or other equipment.
March 28 was spent with some of the publishers. In the morning we went to their home to talk over the problems of the work and the centers where the work may be developed. There is a big field of some 70 million people in Indonesia, and at the present time they have four pioneers and a few company publishers. What is needed there is improvement in theocratic organization and trained publishers, such as graduates of Gilead. The about 30 local publishers are very willing to follow instructions and we found among them some with very quick minds. They were very thorough students and had many Bible questions at hand that we tried to answer. Also, some of them are translating the literature into Indonesian, and when this is available many more people can be reached with the Kingdom message. It was good to know that witnessing is done on four of the Indonesian islands. Three of the pioneers made request to go to Gilead for missionary training.
On the morning of the 29th we visited the offices of the Department of Immigration and the Department of Religion in connection with the giving of approval for visa applications filed for graduates of Gilead in New York. Matters had made little progress and so we did all we could to move things along. We were to call at these offices again during the next two days and we left with matters not fully settled.
That afternoon we joined in a meeting with the publishers and people of good will. I started to talk at 2:15 and a brother interpreted in Indonesian. At 3:30 Brother Henschel spoke and his talk was interpreted in both Indonesian and Dutch. I then summed up for 45 minutes with two interpreters. The meetings were held at the YMCA, and 37 were present. Most of them were Chinese, but there were Indonesians and others present too. They expressed great appreciation following the meeting and then showed their desire to comply with all theocratic requirements.
The public meeting was widely advertised by the use of handbills and the newspapers. The handbills were in all three languages. It was possible for the brothers to book the Gedung Kesenian (Schouwburg) at Djalan Komedi 2, a fine old theater that is centrally located in Djakarta. The talk was to start at 6 p.m., but according to custom a few minutes were allowed to pass before beginning. Interpretation was done in Indonesian and Dutch. There were 254 who attended, including many Moslems, Chinese and Indo-Europeans.
After spending Saturday morning, March 30, with the officials at the Department of Immigration and the Department of Religion, just past noon we reported to the airport for our onward trip to Singapore. Twenty of the publishers were there and they took a few photographs while we awaited the plane’s departure. This time it was a Constellation of the Qantas Airways, and there was some delay in loading. We did not mind, for we had enjoyed visiting with the publishers in Djakarta and rejoiced to see their zeal for the truth.
Our take-off time was 1:35 p.m. and the flight was a fairly short one. We saw a few islands en route, passed the equator, and landed at Kallang Civil Airport in Singapore at 3:50. It had been raining there, but it stopped a few minutes before we arrived. We were away from other Kingdom publishers for less than three hours, for there at the airport were the Gilead graduates assigned to Singapore and some of the company publishers, a few of whom we had met on our last visit to that city. Quite a few publishers are Chinese—it is not unusual, for eighty per cent of the population are Chinese—and there are also some Indians. Their convention was in session and we were looking forward to meeting all of the publishers of Singapore and Malaya.
The brothers told us how much work had gone into preparing for the first theocratic assembly in Singapore with the president of the Society in attendance. Singapore has over a million people and they must know about it. The best auditorium in town, the Victoria Theatre, was engaged for the Sunday sessions, including the public lecture, and their advertising material was made ready. Invitations were sent out to all magazine subscribers and people of good will whose addresses were on file. At all home Bible studies the assembly was talked about. The real concentrated publicity campaign began two weeks before the assembly. The Victoria Theatre, right there in the center of the government buildings and on the main road, displayed a large, prominent advertising sign on its façade. Because of the regulations put into effect following the recent riots in Singapore, public advertising by handbill distribution on the streets, the wearing of placards by publishers and putting up signs on house walls was prohibited. Even so, 8,000 handbills were put in the hands of the people and 400 signs were put in store windows. Additionally, four theaters displayed slides and one of the daily newspapers carried two advertisements.
The convention had opened on Friday, March 30. It began with songs, followed by the chairman’s opening address, a service meeting and theocratic ministry school, all held at the Kingdom Hall, 33 Poole Road. While the usual attendance at the Singapore company’s service meetings had been around 17, the regular attenders were thrilled to see 50 turn up for this meeting, including three visiting brothers from the Federated Malay States. The theocratic ministry school session happened to be the beginning of the course in the New World Translation of the Christian Greek Scriptures and this first lesson showed the new ATTENDERS what benefits would be derived from regularly sharing in this highly educational meeting and learning what the Scriptures teach.
Saturday’s sessions were held at the Junior Technical (Trade) School on Balestier Road. It is located in a quiet neighborhood and across the road is a large cricket field. Field service activities for the day were organized from the school. After the afternoon sessions some of the publishers came to the airport to meet us. After their day and a half of convention activities they were all in a happy mood—many of them had never attended a convention before. That evening 72 persons assembled at the school auditorium and listened to us.
The Gilead graduates made room for us at the Society’s property at 33 Poole Road, and that is where we went that night to sleep. The home is a one-story building of recent construction and very well kept. The roof is of red tile and the cream-colored stucco exterior of the walls stood out in sharp contrast. The lawn and grounds surrounding it are very nice. We found the home very comfortable and it was a pleasure to be with those faithful missionaries for a few days.
On Sunday morning 45 turned up at the Victoria Theatre to hear a discourse on baptism, after which 5 persons symbolized their consecration to do God’s will by being immersed in a pond near the edge of the city. The question now was, How would the public respond to the advertising for the public lecture, “Proclaim Liberty Throughout All the Land”? At 4 p.m. came the answer. We saw the ground floor of the theater filled with an audience of 307 persons, which, considering the restricted avenues of publicity available due to municipal ordinances and emergency regulations, was a splendid result. There were Malays, Arabs, Indians, Jews, Chinese, Eurasians and Europeans present. Many publishers expressed surprise and appreciation, for it was the largest meeting of its kind they had ever attended. The entire audience gave close attention and I enjoyed speaking to them, warm though it was with a coat on. After the public talk there was an invitation for those who wished to do so to remain, and following the intermission 85 listened to several other talks, including one each by Brother Henschel and myself.
There was one more day of convention to go. Monday night 73 assembled at the Kingdom Hall. Chairs had been placed on the lawn in front of the house and temporary lights were suspended on bamboo poles. There was a pleasant breeze. Little lizards were busy catching bugs and giving out little peeps periodically. Occasionally a plane from the nearby airport would roar overhead, red and green lights blinking in the night. After experiences by some publishers and talks by Brother Henschel and myself the convention closed. It was indeed a pleasure, the publishers told me, and it will remain in their memories for a long time. They felt that the assembly would mean an advance in the work in Singapore. Already the March report showed a new peak of 72 publishers. It was quite a contrast to the group of nine, four of whom were publishers, that met together in 1947, when I visited Singapore before, and I told the publishers how well they had done, with Jehovah’s rich blessing. There must yet be many hundreds, yes thousands, of persons of good will who will want to come into Jehovah’s organization, the unwalled city around which Jehovah, like a burning fire, has thrown his protection. The Singapore publishers are thankful to be in it and to have the privilege of helping others to find their way into it by God’s undeserved kindness for their eternal salvation.
Singapore is always an interesting place and we enjoyed noting that it appeared much cleaner than it was in 1947. There are many new military barracks and many new buildings for civilians now in use. Traffic is heavy and business is thriving. Rubber and tin exports are large and there are always many ships in the harbor. Hundreds of them—ocean steamers, oil barges, tankers, small cargo boats, tramp steamers, junks, sampans, and launches—are in the harbor and rivers. It was a time of special holidays for the Chinese and often they would be seen burning paper houses, cars or imitation money that they send off to their relatives they think are alive and need such items to be happy. The small alleys they turn into bazaars, the stacks of firewood brought in from nearby islands, the Oriental music, the street peddlers carrying their wares by means of bamboo poles resting on the shoulders, the Chinese women laborers doing construction work, the many religious temples of Eastern and Western origin, the portable sidewalk restaurants—these are the things that make Singapore, that remain in one’s mind. And, of course, there is the humidity. But here, too, the light of Kingdom truths shines forth, teaching some how to choose life, that they might live.