Report from Nigeria
Ekritam Circuit Assembly
WHEN the circuit servant approached the village chiefs about holding an assembly in Ekritam they flatly refused to cooperate. So arrangements were made to build a booth on property belonging to one of Jehovah’s witnesses bordering the Scottish Mission church. On seeing the earnestness of the witnesses in building the booth, the villagers protested against the action of the chiefs. Saturday, the witnesses were invited to the church to meet the chiefs. They had changed their mind. It would not be right to refuse to welcome strangers. They begged them to move the booth onto Scottish Mission ground. Building activity was transferred.
Came Sunday and work was in full swing. But the chief elder of the church began to plot trouble. Tuesday the district servant arrived and it only remained for seating to be installed. Returning from a public talk that evening the witnesses were met with a native court summons, charging them with trespassing on Scottish Mission property, claiming damages of £25 ($70) and seeking an injunction restraining the witnesses from using the booth. In court the elder denied that permission had ever been given, then adjournment.
What could be done? Build another booth! Back to the old site. With zeal and energy a new booth shot up in one day. The elder was stunned. From all sides came the villagers exhorting and encouraging the witnesses as they built. Arriving conventioners quickly volunteered. Friday morning, back to court. The court must inspect the Mission property, so another adjournment. That week eight persons in the village died and the chiefs became panicky. Maddened, the opposing elder came out with another summons for disturbing the peace on Sunday.
By five o’clock every seat was occupied. Present were 1,054 in a circuit with a peak of 733 publishers. The village was shaken to its foundations. Opposite stood the empty booth as a silent testimony to religious intolerance. Saturday evening over a thousand were at the circuit activity meeting. Sunday, 103 were immersed and by evening the attendance had swelled to 1,350.
Finally the case was settled and the witnesses were fined £5 for disturbing the peace. More people in the village died and the chiefs became terror struck. The £5 was brought but the court clerk would not touch it. Off to the chiefs to pay. But no! they would not touch it either. They were quaking with fear lest a terrible calamity befall the village should they take the money. Now, three months later the £5 still remains with the circuit servant.
Catholic “Father” Booed Out of Town
When we arrived at Adagbrasa for the assembly I learned that the Catholic “father” had been pounding holes in the road between here and Warri, planning some strategy to hold Catholicism together before the onslaught of hundreds of witnesses wielding the “sword of the spirit”. Catholics were warned to stay away from my lodgings, not to go near the assembly place, or dare to speak to any witness. In the evening the headmaster of the Catholic school and the catechist stayed around on police duty to see whether any Catholic boy was disobeying.
Next morning “father” was back in the village. In the evening, just as a fine service meeting was under way, “father’s” strategy revealed itself. Crowds of Catholic hoodlums rushed out of the bush around the assembly booth, beating drums, shouting and making so much noise that no speaker could be heard. But this only backfired. The village elders and people present at the meeting rose up in indignation and drove the hoodlums off with many angry blows and threatened to break down the entire Catholic compound and drive Catholicism out of town. Saturday morning the chiefs made an announcement throughout the village: “Jehovah’s witnesses are not to be disturbed. Anyone molesting them will be severely punished and fined five shillings and a bottle of gin.”
Late afternoon “father” came bumping into the village again fearfully and desperately trying to hold his religion together. By this time the whole village was wholeheartedly for the witnesses. By the following afternoon things had got so hot for “father” he could stick it out no longer. As he stalked out of the village the people lined up and booed him.