Adversity Does Not Retard the Witness Work in the Philippines
A report from N. H. Knorr, president of the Society
AFTER a successful take-off among the hills and clouds of the China coast and with Hong Kong behind us, our plane took little time in crossing the China sea and landing at Manila, capital of the Philippine Republic, that afternoon of April 16. It was 8:30 when the plane came to a stop, and Brother Henschel and I could see from the window of the ship that many people, perhaps the whole Manila company, had come out to meet us. Right outside the customs’ door was a sea of smiling faces and delighted people. Everyone wanted to say hello to us and shake hands and there was a great rush of people. After being able to personally greet many of them and receive their warm welcome, we started off to the city. We were told that more than 400 of the publishers had come out in chartered buses to greet us.
Manila had changed since my last visit there in 1947. The roads had been improved, many new buildings had been erected and the government buildings had been repaired, bringing back to the city much of its original beauty. There was a new bridge over the Pasig river and another was under construction. But the marks of wartime had not altogether vanished from the scene. And there were new things to mar the peaceful appearance—at several points along the way we were stopped by the police who checked to see that we were not connected with the rebels now roaming near to Manila. And left behind from the last war were the thousands of jeeps which enterprising Filipinos had converted into small buses and into which ten or twelve persons crowd until the front wheels threaten to leave the ground. They are painted with bright colors and so add a rainbow effect to the traffic jams so common to Manila’s many narrow streets. Small horses draw cabs as the crowds of people use every means of conveyance to move about the city. The fighting in the country has increased the population of the metropolitan area considerably, we are told, for no one likes to experience a raid by the Huks out on the farms.
The Society’s branch is located in suburban Quezon City, in the barrio called San Francisco del Monte. So we had to go into Manila and then out again on another highway in order to reach Roosevelt Road, which in the dry season proved to be very dusty. I had not seen the property before, because it had been purchased since my former visit; and I was pleased when we did arrive, for it was located on a hill and there was plenty of room around the building to permit expansion and to give the breezes encouragement to keep on the move and help cool things off. Mangoes and bananas grow there, as well as papayas, in season. There were many Filipino brothers to greet us, members of the Bethel family and some circuit servants.
There was a busy week ahead of us, and first on the list was checking into the convention preparations. Tuesday morning we walked to the convention grounds, which were located about the distance of four city blocks from the branch home. The branch servant, Brother Stewart, a graduate of Gilead who had arrived in the Philippines in June 1947, shortly after my former visit, had come to feel right at home there and he took great pleasure in showing us what had been done. We were told how the brothers had had quite a problem in finding a suitable location for the three-day assembly on the next week end. On previous occasions they had used the Santa Ana race track and the Rizal Memorial coliseum, but these would not be suited to such a big assembly in every way. They had checked all available locations and the result was the choosing of two one-hectare lots in San Francisco del Monte in sight of the branch office.
The large building that was being fitted up for the cafeteria was formerly used as a studio by Oriental Pictures, Inc. It was very kindly offered free by the owner, who is one of Jehovah’s witnesses. The other lot adjoining it and owned by a sister was to be the site of the assembly itself. It was a rice field formerly but in the dry season the ground had become baked by the hot sun. Here they built an unusual assembly pavilion that had to be made by the brothers. It was just completed. We were told that all of the material that was used to erect this airy pavilion was gathered and donated by brothers. The big, strong wooden posts and bojo (light bamboo) came from Bataan. Loads of strong bamboo came from Bulacan. The brothers had gone far back into the mountains in order to find a good amount of this material needed for the building of the interesting structure. We learned that eight weeks before the convention started the first posts were erected on the assembly grounds. A framework of bamboo and bojo was set over the top of the posts and made ready to receive the roof of native coconut leaves. Several truckloads of these leaves had been donated by many nearby companies and as soon as they arrived in Quezon City the brothers of the Manila company wove the leaves into great mats which provided a splendid shelter from the hot tropical sun. Every Saturday and Sunday volunteers from Manila and Quezon City came to the assembly lot and it was not long before the pavilion was put in excellent shape.
Next came the seats. Many of them were made out of bamboo and the rest were made of lumber which was purchased by the Society and could be resold. The seats were made in the form of benches supported on posts driven into the ground. They were quite comfortable. When completed there were seats for 5,000 persons. There was also some shaded standing room.
The stage was equally rustic and it was erected in the corner of the lot a short distance from the pavilion itself. It certainly was a unique structure. On the day before the assembly straw, flowers, mountain moss, tropical plants and other native decorations transformed the stage into a thing of rare beauty. It was very colorful. Placed in front of the tropical plants were the words cut out of wood, JEHOVAH’S WITNESSES. In Filipino style it was the symbol of the Theocracy’s Increase Assembly of Jehovah’s witnesses at Yankee Stadium of August 1950.
Before the convention began we were kept busy at the branch office. We had a meeting with the missionaries and graduated students of Gilead assigned to the Philippines. While working at the branch we observed how the brothers responded to the announcement of the first national convention since 1947. They had been planning for it ever since the announcement was made at Yankee Stadium of the visit of the Society’s representatives to the Far East. Delegates to the convention arrived even before we did, as early as the 15th, even though the convention was not beginning until the 20th. And they kept coming in. A boatload of 125 came on the 16th from northern Mindanao. Another boatload of the same number arrived from Davao city. Others came from Cotabato, Zamboanga and Lanao. Some traveled over a thousand miles and took more than a week for the trip. All of these delegates talked about the convention while they were on the way and found many goodwill persons who were very much interested in such a large delegation traveling to a Christian convention. Then on the 18th and 19th busloads of conventioners began arriving from northern and southern Luzon. All were a happy, expectant lot eagerly looking forward to the spiritual feast which Jehovah was to provide.
Just the day before the assembly the Igorot brothers arrived in several large buses. These are people from the mountains who very rarely get into the big city. It was therefore thought well for them to camp on the Society’s property; so all around the branch home there were 160 of these. Many of them were living in tents and sleeping out in the open under the stars, cooking and enjoying life in the open air.
All this traveling to Manila was a great witness in itself because there is much internal trouble in the islands. The Huks are disturbing the peace and tranquillity of the nation by raiding cities and villages and trying to cause the overthrow of the government. Often they raid passing vehicles. Through all of the land there are many road blocks where everyone traveling by car, bus or foot is stopped and questioned and in many instances searched if it seems necessary. If one has a reason for traveling from one place to another he may go. Knowing that thousands of our brothers would be coming from many parts of the islands and they would not be used to traveling to the big city of Manila, the branch servant reported the assembly and gave the authorities notice of the many people coming in. The law enforcement agency was given this information a week before Jehovah’s witnesses began coming into Manila and Quezon City. The Department of National Defense was kind enough to circularize all check points on the highways leading to Manila, and so the men at these check points were all informed of the purpose of so many people traveling at one time. The Manila City police and the Quezon City police were very co-operative.
So as to take full advantage of our visit to Manila, the branch servant arranged for meetings every night in the City of Manila before the convention opened. On Tuesday night both of us spoke to the Paco and South units. These had joined meetings in the South unit Kingdom Hall, which is on the second floor of a building. It was packed out and people were standing on every step going down to the ground floor. The ground floor was filled with people and so were the small yard and the street in front of the hall. Five hundred and thirty had packed in as close together as they could to get a foretaste of some of the joys that they were anticipating on the week end. Brother Henschel spoke about how the work was carried on in the islands of the Caribbean, while I followed with a report on the good work Jehovah’s witnesses are doing in the Pacific area.
The next night was really a busy one because we had to visit two units. We went to the one hall where the East and North units gathered and then we rushed off by jeep to another hall where the Tondo unit and the Caloocan company were gathered. This night we spoke to a total of 473 persons. The next night we went to a hall where the Binondo and West units gathered and 302 were present. So in these three evenings reports were made to about 1,300 persons, a number of whom were early arrivals for the convention.
During all of this time the advertising of the public meeting was going on. They had planned to distribute handbills throughout the city in a special way because so many persons were coming to the assembly. They covered the residential and business sections by extending to individuals a personal invitation to hear the public address to be given in the New Luneta, a public park in the heart of the city along Manila bay. Government buildings were thoroughly worked in this manner, the publishers inviting each one personally and handing out the announcement slips. One senator was reported to have said: “I know you people are doing a great deal to uplift the Filipino people to higher standard of living. I admire your work very much.” This method of working slowed down the distribution of handbills, and so the general public were reached through the three leading Manila newspapers, by placing advertisements in each one. The days before the convention were just as exciting and thrilling and full of movement as the convention itself.
At 2 p.m. on Friday the branch servant gave his opening address from the delightfully decorated platform. It looked woodsy. To the surprise of everyone 5,459 had taken up all of the seating space in the pavilion and some were standing around the outside edges in the shaded sections nearby enjoying the opening address of welcome. Both of us spoke to this same audience that day. Right after Brothers Stewart and White gave their discourses it appeared to me that a good time had come to see whether all were understanding what was being said. So before Brother Henschel spoke I had the audience checked as to how many understood English and how many could not. From those that showed they could not it was determined that a great number could understand Ilocano; so from that time on all lectures were given in English and interpreted into Ilocano. More than nine dialects were represented in the audience. There were Tagalogs, Ilocanos, Cebu-Visayans, Hiligaynon-Visayans, Samareños, Benguets, Ibanags, Bicolanos, Pampangos, and others. Discourses were also given in Ilocano and Tagalog during the assembly.
At the present time there are more persons in the truth who speak the Ilocano language than any other language, but a great work is being done in all the tongues. Because the three principal languages so far as interest in the truth is concerned are Ilocano, Tagalog and Cebu-Visayan, arrangements were made that their Watchtowers in those languages should be printed at Brooklyn before the end of this year and no longer produced by mimeograph in the Philippines. This will be a great help in the street magazine work and in taking many new subscriptions.
The cafeteria was operated between sessions, and this was a new experience to all of the Filipino brothers. When they came to conventions in the past they usually brought with them rice, vegetables and other things that are used by them and they would cook these themselves in the fields or anywhere convenient, and the majority of them continued in this manner even though the Society through the Informant had announced there would be a cafeteria where rice and meat and vegetables would be served. To pick up a tray and get in line and eat standing at a table was a new experience for many. No one went hungry whether they took their meals at the cafeteria or made their own.
All the spiritual food provided by graduates of Gilead, company servants of the Philippines and circuit servants, as well as Brother Henschel and myself, was very much appreciated. The Filipino brothers were in attendance in full force all the time when sessions were on. They wanted to learn more about God’s Word. Some of their local problems were discussed, and it was pointed out that those in Jehovah’s organization must line themselves up with God’s principles of truth and righteousness. God does not change his standards, no matter where people live on the earth. He does not take into consideration their nationality or their countries or conditions of living, but he is calling people from all nations, kindreds and tongues to serve. The Filipino brothers were anxious to learn more of God’s Word and to live according to Jehovah’s standards and at the same time have the glorious privilege of preaching the good news of the Kingdom to their fellow men. Fine experiences concerning field activity were given. A well-arranged service meeting and school were conducted for the benefit of all attending so that they could go back home with better ideas of how to conduct their service meetings and theocratic ministry school. It was a very educational and instructive convention.
The baptismal service was arranged for Sunday morning, and long before time the pavilion was packed out even though they were not due there until eight o’clock. It was arranged for all those to be baptized to take seats in the front rows. So as to be sure that everyone understood the questions that were asked prior to immersion by the Gilead graduate who gave the discourse the questions were put to them in nine different tongues. It was interesting to hear them all announce at the end of the questions in their own tongues, declaring that they recognized they were born in sin and shaped in iniquity and that Christ is their Redeemer and that they were determined by God’s undeserved kindness to serve him and preach the message of the Kingdom.
On the lot next to the cafeteria building there is a large swimming pool which a sister owns, and she offered it to the Society for use during the convention, and this was where the immersion of 522 persons took place. It was certainly a joy to see all of these people stand and declare themselves for the Most High God. They were from many tribes and tongues, but now were all consecrated to the same God and working shoulder to shoulder preaching the only hope for the world.
The rest of the time in the morning was filled in by discourses by Brother Henschel and myself, and 5,809 were present. After that there was a lot of time allowed for taking meals and for fellowship until the public meeting in the afternoon which was being held in Manila. The time for the delivery of the talk “Proclaim Liberty Throughout All the Land” was set for 5 p.m. In the meantime we went back to the branch office.
About three o’clock in the afternoon back in the hills storm clouds were rising and by 3:30 the winds had driven this storm over Quezon City and there was a heavy and continuous downpour of rain. In fact, thirty minutes later the roads were like rivers and all the dust was gone. We left at four o’clock in the drenching rain by car to go down to Manila and there check things at New Luneta, about six miles away. After we traveled about two miles we got outside of the storm area and were surprised to find that there had been no rain in Manila’s downtown section; but the storm was coming that way. When we reached New Luneta the hot sun was still beaming down and it was very warm, but there was a strong breeze from the bay blowing in an opposite direction to the storm which was sweeping down from the mountains. However, it seemed that the winds from the mountains were stronger than those from the bay, and the clouds kept coming in until at five o’clock instead of the crowd standing in the open under a hot sun they had become shaded. Thousands of persons were already assembled when we arrived at 4:30. The little platform had been erected and some chairs and benches were set out in a “V” shape from two sides of the platform, leaving a large strip of lawn between the two sections of chairs. This was done so as to keep intact the audience in that section of the open park. The loudspeakers were set up and sound equipment put in shape and it was thought well to start the public meeting a few minutes before five o’clock because thousands of persons had been gathered together.
As soon as the chairman gave the introductory remarks people began to close in around the platform and the location where the meeting was being held. Some people sat on the lawn, but the majority stood. They gave excellent attention and were very enthusiastic about many of the things that were said, showing their appreciation by spontaneous applause. The talk was given in English only. Ushers had a difficult job checking the crowd because there was no arrangement for seating everyone. A number of persons were assigned to this and all made a separate check. At the conclusion of the talk it was reported that there were more than 10,000 persons in the audience.
I was told after the talk that while I was concluding my speech a rainbow appeared in the sky behind me. No rain had fallen. While I was talking I could see the setting sun painting gorgeous hues of color across the sky and over the entire bay. It was the end of a wonderful day and a wonderful convention. The good people flocked around the platform and asked many questions of the chairman and myself and others who were there ready to answer questions. They expressed appreciation for the message and they desired to hear more. They could hear another public talk next week.
The wind from the bay was still blowing in and the storm seemed to be parting and going to the north and to the south. It never did rain that day on the New Luneta. Another meeting was held in another part of the very large park, which we did not disturb and they did not disturb us. Of course, all the conventioners were very thankful that no rain had come and that this good witness could be given in Manila. Jehovah’s servants were really full of enthusiasm and ready to go back to their homes again and take the good news of the assembly to their fellow workers who could not attend and tell them of the instructions received. They had a lot of people to take this news to.