Harvest Time in Northern Europe
THE summer heat was on the wane in Europe when N. H. Knorr, president of the Watch Tower Bible & Tract Society, accompanied by his secretary, M. G. Henschel, visited the northern countries. But summer had done its work well and the farmers were busy in the fields gathering the rye and wheat so golden in the sunshine. Some used modern tractors and mowing machines to gather the harvest, but there were others who used the sickle as harvesting was done in Jesus’ day.
Those who were traveling to the conventions of Jehovah’s witnesses at Copenhagen, Vaasa, Helsinki, Stockholm, and Lillehammer in that harvest time were reminded of the illustrations used by Jesus when he taught his disciples concerning the gospel-preaching and the period of time at the end of the wicked world under Satan: “On seeing the crowds he felt tender affection for them, because they were skinned and knocked about like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples: ‘Yes, the harvest is great, but the workers are few. Therefore, beg the Master of the harvest to send out workers into his harvest.’” (Matt. 9:36-38, NW) These conventioners were having this experience; there were so many people of good will to help to learn the truths of the Bible that they found themselves working day and night and still unable to serve everyone who wanted Bible studies. They were working in the spiritual harvest time and also begging the Most High to send more witnesses into the field of service.
There was no question in the minds of the convention delegates that the time for the great harvest Jesus foretold at Matthew 13:39-43 (NW) has come. Now he regards some creatures as fruitful grain and others as useless weeds, for they produce no fruit to Jehovah’s praise but carry on as sons of the wicked one. In other words, creatures would be divided or separated, and those who do not honor Jehovah are scheduled for eternal destruction as by fire at Armageddon’s battle.
In Northern Europe, as in other parts of the world, this separating work is in progress. The president of the Society was visiting his brothers in that part of the field to help them spread the good news of the Kingdom, for as people hear that gospel the separating work is hastened.
Brother Knorr and Brother Henschel landed at Kastrup airport, Copenhagen, on Wednesday, August 29, arriving from the big assemblies in Frankfurt and Berlin. They were going to serve Denmark, with its population of a little more than four million people. First they were taken by car to a small village in North Zealand to visit the branch servant, Brother West, who had been ill for more than two months. The visit was comforting and strengthening to this ailing brother and all the brothers hoped that he would soon recover. He was indeed disappointed that he could not attend the convention to be held in Copenhagen. The next day the two visiting brothers went back to Copenhagen to check matters at the branch office. There they met Brother K. M. Jensen, who was sent out from Brooklyn Bethel to serve the brothers in the Scandinavian countries and speak at the convention.
The convention was held August 31 to September 2 inclusive at the modern K. B. Hall. Since the hall is not right in the center of the city, the publishers were sent out into advertising work and field service from 55 places throughout the city. This was found to be most practical in order to cover the entire city and save time. The convention program really swung into operation at 2 p.m., and much to the delight of everyone a new Songbook was released in Danish, containing the same songs as the Songbook that was released in New York at Yankee Stadium in 1950.
An unusual and instructive service meeting was conducted by Christian Rasmussen, a graduate of the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead. Had the crowd been more than the 4,461 present it would have been impossible to put it over. The work throughout the country was demonstrated by a very large map marked with circuit divisions, having locations of companies indicated by red marks and the pioneers in the country by blue marks. Electric lights were installed on the map to show the main figures mentioned during the service meeting. A special point was put in concerning successful pioneering, and the conventioners were assured there was plenty of blue paint to put more blue marks on the map!
Copenhagen had really never seen such advertising as was carried on by the conventioners. The public was amazed to see them wear signs by the hundreds all over the city. Many cars and bicycles were used for advertising work too. Furthermore, there were 6,000 little signs to pin on coats, similar to those used at the London convention, and this was a good idea for Denmark. When we identify ourselves we often meet up with people of good will. A brother riding a tram got proof of this when a man looked at the sign pinned on his coat and said: “I know you are one of Jehovah’s witnesses. I have heard so much about you people and I find Jehovah’s witnesses everywhere. Now I want to know more about your work and teachings.” After the baptismal talk, 259 expressed their desire to symbolize the dedication of their lives to Jehovah’s service, which they were able to do later by baptism at an indoor pool.
Throughout the convention the talks and demonstrations were well presented. Everyone was looking forward to the public talk by Brother Knorr on “Will Religion Meet the World Crisis?” set for Sunday afternoon. In 1950 there were 6,571 who attended the public meeting at the district assembly of Jehovah’s witnesses and thereafter the religious daily wrote that Jehovah’s witnesses could do that only once. Would their words be found true? An hour before the public meeting the K. B. Hall was packed. Adjacent to the main hall was the Tennis Hall, and that was used for the overflow. When the count was added up it was found that 6,912 persons were present. It was an eye opener for the people of good will and public who attended just to see the crowd and hear the forceful message which held the audience in their seats right to the end. A theologian who used to travel all over the country giving talks against Jehovah’s witnesses was noticed in the audience. He was busy taking notes and as the lecture went on he looked more and more bewildered and embarrassed. The hard-hitting truths concerning the failure of false religion seemed to be a real whipping to him. Public interest in the talk was shown in the fact that after the talk 2,342 copies of a booklet were given away free.
Following the convention Brother K. M. Jensen and Brother Leo Larsen, a Gilead graduate from Iceland who was visiting in Denmark, served some of the largest Danish cities, giving many talks. The attendances were: Aarhus, 540; Aalborg, 406; Odense, 362; and Vejle, 215.
The spirit of the publishers in Denmark is very good. In Copenhagen alone there are about two thousand active workers and in the whole country they have had a peak of 6,064. The four million Danes are being reached with the message of the truth from God’s Word, and when we look back to the previous visit by the president of the Society to Denmark in 1947 we can see how much of a harvest ingathering has taken place; there were 2,977 workers then.
At dusk on September 3 at the Helsinki airport, Brothers Knorr and Henschel arrived to spend a busy week with the Bethel family and the Kingdom publishers in Finland.
On Tuesday evening, Brothers Knorr and Henschel and the branch servant, W. H. Endres, a graduate of Gilead, boarded the train to Vaasa. Early Wednesday morning they could see the broad flat fields full of grain. In this northern area of Finland, where the summers are very short, there is always danger of losing the whole crop if the frost comes too soon; so the farmers were busy.
When the train arrived in Vaasa at 9 a.m. Brothers Knorr and Henschel had reached the most northerly point of all their travels, but the weather was not cold. It was evident that something unusual was happening in that city of 40,000 inhabitants. In the market place was a 12-foot tower just like the one found on the cover of the Watchtower magazine and on it was the advertising for the public meeting. Other signs, large and small, were scattered all over town and in the stores of this two-language city. Since this two-day assembly in North Finland was held in both Finnish and Swedish, it was necessary to print handbills and placards and advertising matter in those languages. For some days the newspapers carried articles about the president of the Watch Tower Society coming to Vaasa and they printed his photograph.
The City Hall, which had been engaged for the assembly, was richly decorated on the walls and ceiling. Many Finnish brothers who came from simple one-room farmhouses were surprised when they saw the convention hall, for they could not imagine having such a beautiful place for the convention.
This was only the beginning of their happiness. As the convention opened a new complete 96-page Songbook was released in Finnish. Convention sessions were arranged so the Finnish brothers held their talks in the one hall and the Swedish in another. When Brother Knorr or Henschel would speak both groups would assemble together. The speaker would stand in the center of the platform and the Finnish translator on the one side and the Swedish translator on the other.
The high light of the afternoon came when Brother Knorr spoke on how true, clean, undefiled religion will triumph. He showed that false religion had failed to meet the needs of the people and how true religion was needed. At the end of his talk Brother Knorr released a new publication in the Finnish language, the booklet Evolution versus The New World. It becomes a real instrument of warfare against the Communists, whose false religion includes belief in evolution and not a Creator. There were 308 brothers in attendance.
In the evening many of the townspeople and good-will persons joined in the assembly in the hall and Brother Knorr began the public meeting, which was translated into both Finnish and Swedish. Present were many prominent businessmen and clergymen. All paid very close attention to the speaker. The attendance was 670 and the interesting thing is that there were more strangers present than witnesses. At the conclusion of the talk came another surprise release. Brother Knorr announced that a copy of the new booklet Can You Live Forever in Happiness on Earth? would be given free both in Finnish and in Swedish.
Although the public lecture was over, still many more important events were in store for the brothers. Thursday morning a talk on baptism was given and 14 new witnesses of Jehovah were baptized. One of them was a young brother who a few days before had come to the home of the circuit servant with the simple words, “I am seeking God.” The circuit servant spent much time with him, showing him from the Scriptures the grand purposes of Jehovah God. Their discussions were enough to convince him it was the truth and he dedicated his life to doing God’s will. At the assembly he remarked, “This is the first time I have even been treated like a human.” He had been forced to work hard all his life and could not have time to study about God. Now he is free to serve his Creator.
Brother Knorr closed the morning session with the talk “Making Your Mind Over for New World Living”. This talk richly abounded with practical and worth-while counsel and information for conducting the course of life and developing the mind. Then came another release, a bound book in Finnish, “This Means Everlasting Life”. A thunder of applause came forth from the brothers who realized that this was the first Finnish bound book produced in Finland for ten years. Everyone rejoiced. That evening as the train pulled out of Vaasa there were many happy Kingdom publishers aboard, talking and thinking on the new world, singing the new songs and telling experiences.
The Helsinki convention on the week end brought new experiences, new joys and new problems. In previous years the largest and best-equipped hall in Finland, Messuhalli, was rented. This year the brothers learned that this hall had been reserved all of September and October for fall fairs. Their only other choice was Ratsastushalli. It was not really an assembly hall, but rather a horse-riding hall. Just three days before the convention the brothers were informed that the city had ruled only 2,000 people would be permitted inside the hall. Their reason was insufficient exits. Permission was granted by the hall authorities to tear open a hole in one end and make an emergency exit. Then came the permission to put 3,500 in the hall. But still this was not enough to accommodate the expected number of people. A circus tent was rented and on the day of the assembly a group of 20 brothers were busy pitching the tent on the grounds next to the hall. Since the hall was used for riding horses it was dirty and there were no seats in the arena. Some bleachers were brought in and fitted around the sides. Benches were a problem, for no one would rent them out. Then one brother saw a pile of them sticking over a fence at the army camp. These were rented and seating was provided.
As the bright morning sun shone its welcome to the visiting conventioners at Helsinki a wonderful transformation had taken place. Ratsastushalli was no longer a riding hall; it was the seat of a great theocratic assembly. At the one end where horses usually performed there was a beautifully decorated stage, and in front of it hundreds of well-arranged seats. The windows were clean. No longer did dust cover the benches or walls. Brothers and sisters from the Helsinki company had spent many hours cleaning and brightening up the place. Even the smell of horses was gone. Outside on the field four temporary buildings had been erected and these served as a cafeteria and refreshment center for the brothers. More than seven thousand meals were cooked out in the open. Two lines of 15 army field cookers were used. The workers’ co-operation was inspiring as they labored behind the scenes preparing the food and keeping things clean.
When the assembly opened at 9:15 on Friday morning the hall was almost filled with brothers. The program followed closely the one in Vaasa. On Saturday 156 were immersed. Add the 14 from Vaasa and there is a total of 170 new theocratic publishers. The harvest is on in Finland.
Field service was very effective. Some went into the street advertising work, taking handbills and placards. Others worked from house to house. A group of about 70 went on a bicycle parade through the streets of Helsinki, with placards tied on the back of each bicycle. One could see an almost continuous stream of signs in the city as workers lined the streets. For about two hours the bicycles paraded through the main section and then went off into the outlying parts of the city. People took notice of the advertising which consisted of using 25,000 teaser leaflets distributed before the assembly and 175,000 regular two-color handbills. Over 12,000 placards and window signs were used and 27 large signs 5 feet by 10 feet were erected. There were four of the 12-foot-high square “Watchtowers” set up in the center of the city to advertise the public meeting. Almost all the noncommunistic press carried articles.
It was very gratifying to observe how well the two American Gilead graduates, Brothers Endres and Bruton, were getting along in Finland. They had arrived in February 1950, and although the Finnish language is a rather difficult one to learn they had applied themselves to study and at the assembly they were able to address the brothers in Finnish and converse with those they met about the hall. Their effort was indeed commendable and it shows what can be done by people who set their minds to learning a new tongue for the sake of sharing in Kingdom preaching.
The high point of the assembly came at the public meeting on Sunday afternoon. The hall was packed an hour before the talk began and people were sitting outside on the lawn, on rocks, in the circus tent, in the cafeteria area, yes, wherever it was possible to hear the message by loudspeakers. When the final count was made it was 5,080. Adding to this the 670 at Vaasa, the total who heard the public talk in Finland was 5,750, a fine move to speed the harvesting work. It was interesting to note that the comparison between the Saturday night and Sunday afternoon attendances showed a 40 per cent difference. Many more Finnish people will soon be gathered to the theocratic organization.
The talks by Brothers Knorr and Henschel were translated into Swedish simultaneously to a group of about 100 Swedish-speaking brothers and people of good will who assembled in a restaurant room in the building. The translator, Brother Harteva, who was the first one in the truth in Finland, would listen through headphones and then translate into Swedish while another brother was translating into Finnish.
Since both Finnish and Swedish are officially recognized languages in Finland, Brother Knorr proposed that further attention be given to the harvesting work among the Swedish-speaking population. In some companies there were both Finns and Swedes and they often could not speak to one another. So separate Swedish companies are being organized throughout all of Finland, wherever the Swedish-speaking people live, and all meetings can be held in Swedish. Additional service by the circuit servants will be required, and Brother Knorr arranged to send the Swedish district servant to Finland twice a year to hold circuit assemblies for the Swedish people.
Expansion in Finland has been excellent. In 1947 when Brother Knorr made his previous visit there were 2,696 publishers in Finland. The 1951 peak is 5,078, almost doubling the number of publishers in four years, excellent for a land of 4,015,000 persons.
It was certainly a week full of blessings and rich experiences for the brothers in Finland, and all are of the same mind. They look ahead with gladness to their privileges of service. Gilead graduate Nikkila, the district servant, pointed out that, though it is extremely cold during the winter months, the publishers will meet in circuit assemblies and keep pushing ahead and hastening the increase in Finland.