Continuing the travel report of the Society’s president, N. H. Knorr, and his secretary, M. G. Henschel
SUNDAY afternoon, December 16, was clear. The weather was good for flying over the Aegean sea. There were numerous Greek islands to attract our attention and it was not long after we left Athens that we came to the mainland of Turkey near the Dardanelles. The land was covered with snow because the day previous had brought to Turkey much stormy weather. Flights had been canceled the previous day because planes could not land at the Istanbul airport. We saw that the villages in the mountains were blanketed with snow, but after we crossed the Sea of Marmara and saw Istanbul we felt better because there was no snow there. We were surprised and pleased to see twenty of the brothers at the airport to meet us.
Only a few weeks before this the brothers had been informed that the president of the Society and his secretary would come to Istanbul to talk to them, and that gave them just a little more than four weeks to make all of the arrangements and invite interested persons to attend the public meeting that was to be held in the Armenian Church Hall which was engaged for the occasion. The organization of Jehovah’s witnesses is not yet recognized as a religious society but they may have meetings in buildings where regular religious services are held. That was the reason for engaging an auditorium in the Armenian Church building. No public advertising could be done but just word-of-mouth invitations to friends and persons of good will that were being taught the good news, the Lord’s Word. So while we were driving from the airport toward the city in the bus we had much discussion about how great the attendance would be.
This was our first visit to Istanbul and in the dusk we saw the rolling hills of the farmlands outside the city and then the old walls and ruins of an old aqueduct. The coffee houses were always full of men. Round loaves of bread were set in rows on shelves in the shop windows. The streets were paved with cobblestones and the trams and other traffic looked out of place on the old, narrow streets of the city. We soon learned that traveling in that part of the city is best accomplished on foot. Vehicles were jammed up and very little movement could be seen. The streets were crowded with people too, making a scene that was quite interesting. We felt we were in a different world, because all kinds of people from many nations live in Istanbul, a crossroads of the world.
Just around the corner from the hotel was the Armenian Church where the meetings were to be held. All of us were glad and surprised when we entered the hall and found more than a hundred persons already there. When the talk was delivered, “Will Religion Meet the World Crisis?” 150 were assembled. The teachers were overjoyed, for they were able to see some of the fruits of their labors.
In order to make the audience understand what was being said by me in English it had to be repeated in two languages, first in Greek with Anna Matheaki, a graduate of Gilead, the interpreter, and then Brother Avrilios Kallinikou, who understood Greek but not English, had to say it in Turkish for the benefit of the majority present. Everyone was very attentive and all expressed appreciation of the thoughts presented. A good number of professional men were there. Much discussion followed the meeting.
The next days were busy ones, with the five teachers that are in Istanbul talking over their problems. The Society has a Watchtower bookstore in the city in which store people can obtain publications and Bible helps in various languages and then the teachers give private instruction to those that are interested. The problems are numerous, the principal one being that of language. One of the teachers was telling us of a study that she was conducting with four persons, one of whom was born in Russia although of Hungarian descent, a member of the Russian Orthodox Church. His wife was a member of the Greek Orthodox Church, speaking Greek. A young German lady living in the same home was a Roman Catholic and another person attending the meeting was a German engineer, temporarily staying in Istanbul and of the Lutheran religion. All four had different ways of worshiping and spoke a number of tongues. To really explain things clearly the teacher had to express herself at times in several languages. This was possible and shows that despite the language problems the teachers have to contend with in Istanbul the Lord’s Word is being announced and “other sheep” are being found. One of the teachers speaks English, Greek, French, and some Turkish and Spanish, whereas another one speaks German, Swedish, French, English and some Turkish.
Often the teachers when making their visits to their studies have to take Bibles in three different languages so as to be able to properly care for the interest they have found. Our discussion with the teachers and considering the problems in connection with the work proved very interesting. It is hoped that someday arrangements can be made for our own religious assembly instead of meeting in the auditorium of another religion.
Also it was possible to meet with the servants of the group of witnesses that are looking after the Kingdom interests. They had many questions on organization and a whole evening was spent with 14 of them. One of the principal points made was that it is necessary for the servants to shepherd the flock of God and that they must aid them by setting the proper example for the Lord’s “other sheep” by being kind, patient and diligent in their activities. In Turkey those preaching God’s kingdom must use tact and talk to those that they find to be interested. One cannot go about the streets publicly preaching the gospel, nor even go from house to house as our ministers of the gospel are able to do in most other lands. According to the peculiar laws of Turkey one may not go about advocating his form of worship. The only way is to find those that are interested and study with them. This takes patience and real endurance; however, it is good to report that the two sisters are devoting on the average more than 160 hours monthly in their teaching work and they each conduct about 25 home studies every week. When one has the zeal to push the work he will find the time to do it even though the obstacles are greater in Istanbul than in other lands.
The last night we were there another meeting was held in the Armenian Church Hall. Brother Henschel and I spoke to those who are instructing persons that show interest in the Kingdom work in Turkey. There were 44 in attendance and they had great joy. It was very unusual in the lives of these witnesses of Jehovah in Turkey to have a big meeting together. Comparing this with the public meeting, it goes to show there were more than 100 persons of good will who had come in addition to the witnesses themselves.
The Turkish tongue, of course, is the principal one and with it one can get along very well in the city, but there are thousands of Greeks, Armenians, Germans, Spanish, French, and other nationalities too. Istanbul has been the center of much religious conflict and it is a city where the East meets West and where the many philosophies of life are at odds. There is only one thing that will bring peace and happiness to these peoples, and that is the kingdom of Almighty God. Confusion of tongues, confusion of ideas and confusion of religion will be removed. The city of ancient days, where crowds of people jam the narrow stony streets and ragged peddlers by the thousands hawk their wares, is going to be replaced along with the rest of the old system of things by God’s new world organization and then people will be free to meet together and worship Jehovah all over the earth.
A witness is being given in Turkey, but by no means is it widespread. Those who are there are zealous in their service and they have increased in numbers. We wish them Jehovah’s continued rich blessing.
On Wednesday morning, December 19, a number of the brothers came to the BEA office to say good-by to us. The five teachers and two others went along to the airport. It was very cold and a light snow was falling. It made us appreciate what they must put up with in the way of weather in this season of the year, for we had rain and snow the whole time of our visit. But their zeal for the Lord overcomes these problems and Jehovah is giving an increase.