Returning to North America
This article concludes the series reporting the Far Eastern service tour of the Society’s president, N. H. Knorr, and his secretary, M. G. Henschel. It covers their return to North America.
IT WAS 10 p.m. on Tuesday, May 8, at Tokyo when we took off from Haneda air base on Northwest Airlines and we settled down in our seats for the long flight over the expansive waters of the Pacific in the direction of Alaska. We were to share in a most unusual experience that day. Technically speaking, we would arrive at our destination before our time of departure from Tokyo. The crossing of the International Date Line makes it all possible. We covered well over a thousand miles before land was sighted. Small, grassy bits of land were seen below, and the steward said they belonged to the Aleutian island chain. On one of the large sections called Shemya the Americans maintain an air base, and it was there that we landed for refueling. The weather was clear when we landed at 10 a.m. Tuesday, but before we took off at 11 a.m. there were four changes. From sunshine to pouring rain was possible in but a few minutes. The winds were rather strong and there were no trees. The American-built quonset huts and barrack buildings were not built on the surface of the island, but in each case the builders dug a hole and piled the dirt up around it and then in the hole the house was constructed. Whether this was for protection against weather or bombing we do not know. The airfield itself was first class, and the long runways covered with black top were situated on a plateaulike section of the island. A dock for unloading ships carrying supplies stretched out into the icy waters of a small bay. We were told this island is one of the loneliest spots on earth.
Alaska is a rugged territory. The highest mountain in North America, Mount McKinley, is there. High ranges cut through several parts of Alaska, and thus there is really only one clear route from Shemya to Anchorage, where the huge Elmendorf air base is situated. After having spent weeks in the tropics, we took unusual interest in the sights below our plane. It was May and there were still vast expanses of arctic lands yet unconquered by summer’s attacking forerunner, spring. There were many frozen lakes several miles wide dotting the snow-covered plains. In the mountainous sections smaller lakes nestled down in the valleys, bordered by evergreen forests which clung to the lower portions of the mountains. On occasions, the bright sunlight struck jutting white peaks, glistening spires of snow-covered rock contrasted against backgrounds of blue.
Dusk was settling over Anchorage when the plane landed at Elmendorf air base. It was 8:30 p.m. on May 8. We had come thousands of miles and still had an hour and a half to the good over our take-off time in Japan. Our brothers were waiting for us. After some delay with the customs all passengers cleared and we joined our friends. It was a pleasure to see their enthusiasm and to know progress was being made theocratically in Alaska.
Our impressions of Anchorage and surrounding towns might be summed up in saying there was every appearance of a boom town. Many of the homes looked like temporary shelters rather than permanent dwellings. Prices are considerably higher than in New York, perhaps double on most items. On the main street it seems every other place is a barroom or saloon, but probably it is not quite such a high average. Though a person might imagine himself to be in a gold-rush town, it is not the mining of gold that brings the wealth to Alaska. At Anchorage it is the federal government that is responsible for the flow of money. Huge appropriations have been made for construction of defense bases in Alaska, and it is the construction workers and the military personnel that bring the prosperity to Alaska. Much of the work is seasonal and summer brings in thousands of workmen from “outside”, as the Alaskans say when they speak of the States. Because the people work such long hours in the summer, it is difficult to carry on the witness work then. And in the wintertime many of them go to California or other states. This is reflected in the company reports too, because quite a number of the publishers go “outside” for the winter. Of course, while there is a loss on the Alaskan reports, actually there is no loss in the Kingdom service; the brothers keep on preaching wherever they go, and thus Alaska has contributed publishers to companies in the States; and when the over-all viewpoint is taken we find good progress in Alaska. The witness is being given.
The brothers in Alaska were in good spirits at convention time. The new Carpenter’s hall, just recently completed, was the place of assembly. A large banner in orange and black hung at the front of the hall, announcing the public lecture. Never before had Anchorage received such a witness, for the publishers were out with placards and handbills every day, letting the people know of the assembly. The yellow taxicabs co-operated well by allowing signs to be taped to the sides, free of charge. Many of the owners of stores and bars put the signs in their windows. And the newspapers did their part in telling of the arrival of the Society’s representatives and of the assembly in general.
The assembly was held May 11 to 13 inclusive. On the first day there were 59 present. Saturday there were 70. And on Sunday 162 came to the public lecture. Four new publishers were immersed. The representation was very good. Conventioners came from Ketchikan, Juneau, Palmer, Fairbanks, Eileson air base, Elmendorf air base and from Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, Canada. A number were men from the armed services who have recently learned the truth and who have regular meetings at the Elmendorf air base and Eileson air base near Fairbanks. It is very encouraging to see how new companies are being organized and more praisers of Jehovah are to be found even in the far reaches of the cold north. A new company was formed at Palmer, in the famed Matanuska valley, at the foot of the snowcapped Chugach range. It is hoped one will soon be organized in Fairbanks. So far it has not been possible to find great success among the Eskimos and Indians, but a few show interest and there is evidence of progress already. The territory is so scattered in most of Alaska that it is difficult to organize companies and to work the territory, but faithful witnesses like Gilead graduates Errichetti, Woodard and Davis, and others, fight temperatures of 50 degrees below zero Fahrenheit and steady rains of weeks at a stretch in order to advance clean worship in Alaska’s vast territory. It was a privilege to meet the faithful fighters for truth and righteousness in Alaska and to assure them that, while they received courage and strength through the assembly and the visit of representatives from Brooklyn, the brothers everywhere would take courage and receive joy when they learned of the good work under difficult circumstances in Alaska.
We were to leave for Seattle on Monday, May 13, just after noon. The brothers came to the hotel to bid us farewell, and then we were told there would be a delay. This gave us time to see some of the surrounding communities and to visit with the publishers in Anchorage. It was not until 11:30 p.m. that we took off for Seattle-Tacoma airport, bidding our brothers Godspeed as they carry on in Alaska.
SEATTLE AND EASTWARD
Our purpose in visiting Seattle was to see how things were going at the Society’s literature supply depot, which is located on Broadway. However, we did arrange in advance to speak to the brothers in the Seattle company on Wednesday night. When the announcement of the visit was made to the units of the Seattle company there was much gladness, but it was expressed to many who lived in other cities. So the story spread through the state of Washington and into Idaho, Oregon and British Columbia. Judiciously the Seattle brothers selected a large hall for the meeting, the Eagles auditorium. They did not know exactly how many would come, but, as they heard rumors, they added to the number of chairs rented for overflow halls. The three-hour meeting was attended by 3,300 brothers and sisters from the Northwest, a real surprise to everyone. The brothers in the Northwest have great zeal and their interest in the work is such that they travel miles to learn more of the good things being done around the world.
Thursday morning at 8:30 we emplaned for the East. Brother Henschel stopped at Minneapolis and I went to Chicago. At these cities we met with other brothers from the Society’s headquarters and joined in the first of a series of district assemblies for the United States and Canada. In the year 1948, in the United States, six district assemblies were held and the attendance totaled 66,350. Fourteen cities were used in 1949 and 85,441 attended. We hoped for further increases for the 1951 assemblies and we were not disappointed. The report showed the following:
Assembly Date Public Meeting Baptism
Chicago May 18-20 19,074 290
Dallas May 18-20 8,740 225
Minneapolis May 18-20 5,275 118
Denver May 25-27 5,513 105
San Francisco June 1-3 19,233 635
Atlantic City June 1-3 23,052 405
White June 8-10 9,300 149
Colored June 8-10 3,116 78
Six district assemblies were held in Canada. Of these, I was able to attend the one at Montreal. Montreal proved to be the most outstanding assembly of them all for several reasons. For many long years the publishers have battled hard against the strongly entrenched religious element in Quebec. The Society has concentrated an ever-increasing number of pioneer publishers in this French-speaking community. When the facilities of the Verdun auditorium were engaged and convention preparations began things seemed to be running very smoothly, strange for the province of Quebec. But trouble was brewing! The City Council of Verdun decided that the auditorium could not be used for a religious convention and told the management the contract would have to be broken. We being determined to have the convention, injunction proceedings were instituted, and on May 17 Mr. Justice Smith of the superior court granted Jehovah’s witnesses full use of the auditorium in spite of the objections of the council. On May 23 the city secretly and illegally retaliated with another injunction, whereby a different judge of the same court made a contrary order directing the opposite to what had been ordered in the injunction of May 17. Such a scandal had never been heard of before in legal history. What a dilemma! One court order gave us full use of the auditorium and the other gave the City of Verdun the right to keep us out. In faith our arrangements went forward and the publishers continued going from house to house giving oral invitations to the public meeting in two languages. But would the meeting be held? The fight was pushed to the very limit, arrangements being made for a special court hearing on May 24, which was a holiday, and to the great joy of all we got the full use of the auditorium. So it was named “the victory of Verdun”.
Three thousand five hundred and twenty attended the public lecture delivered in English and interpreted into French. One striking point that impressed all present was when the question was asked as to what the Communists and the Roman Catholic Church had in common and it was answered by saying, “Both are aiming at world domination.” One press photographer could be seen hurriedly putting his camera to the floor and joining in the applause; a taxi driver standing in the doorway said it was the most wonderful thing he had ever heard. Only the days and months ahead will fully reveal the work accomplished by this district assembly in the heart of the Hierarchy’s North American organization. The press gave a good report the following day, with quotations of much that was said about the record of the Catholic Church, a very unusual occurrence in Quebec.
Here is a summary of the Canadian assemblies:
Assembly Date Public Meeting
Toronto May 18-20 9,381
Montreal May 25-27 3,520
Winnipeg May 25-27 3,813
Vancouver June 1-3 7,488
Saint John June 1-3 1,112
Edmonton June 8-10 4,254
At these assemblies 645 were immersed, showing their dedication of their lives to Jehovah’s service.
And so I bring to a close this series of reports on the progress of the work of announcing Jehovah’s righteous kingdom. It was a great pleasure and a unique privilege to see so many of Jehovah’s witnesses in so many lands in such a short time. Everywhere the reports show that Jehovah’s witnesses are very busy and they are finding many persons of good will who study the Bible and accept God’s instruction found therein. That means that what follows is the expansion of the work by the adding of additional ministers, fearless preachers of the good news. This should be an evidence to all people that we are living at the end of the rule of Satan the Devil, for, just as the Bible foretold, the good news of the Kingdom is being preached throughout the world and Jehovah is gathering in the sheeplike or meek ones and showing them how to live forever in happiness on earth. He is letting them see what false religion has done for mankind and that true worship, spotless from this evil world, is the way that leads to eternal life. To Jehovah go the praise and thanks that these things may be viewed and that they are so. There is every indication that more increases are in store and that it is proper to say to the people that a “great crowd” now living will never die.