African Tour—Sierra Leone First Stop
Account by N. H. Knorr, Watch Tower Society’s president, of service tour by him and his secretary, M. G. Henschel
AFRICA is very much in the news these days, from the top—Tunisia, Morocco and Egypt; to the bottom—The Union of South Africa. Unrest, riots, violence and uprisings lend emphasis to the facts showing we are living in the last days of Satan’s system of things. With desire for self-government constantly in the minds of the people in the colonies and protectorates, the ruling element worries far into the night over keeping them satisfied and in check. More troops have been rushed to Africa. More police have been enlisted. The situation has become tense.
There are thousands of Africans who know that “self-rule” is not the solution to the world’s problems nor to the problems of Africa. They know that the only hope is in God’s way of cleansing the earth of wickedness and establishing the righteous rule of his Son. They are Jehovah’s witnesses.
Late in 1947 the president of the Watch Tower Bible & Tract Society, N. H. Knorr, and his secretary, M. G. Henschel, had visited the publishers of God’s kingdom in Africa. Almost five years had passed when on November 17 they emplaned again at New York International airport for their next visit to Africa. Brother Knorr was going to Liberia first, Brother Henschel first to Sierra Leone.
A thick fog was hovering over New York that day. But even if the sun had been shining brightly in New York, a dark spot was to be seen on the African horizon, for our travelers were going to miss seeing thousands of their friends in the Gold Coast and Nigeria. Officials in those two British territories emphatically denied entry to them.
The week prior to their departure had been filled with extra activities at the Society’s offices. Cablegrams were sent to representatives in the British territories to seek reconsideration. The state department and the British embassy at Washington were contacted and investigations were initiated by them with their representatives in the African territories. The visa office in New York also sent cablegrams. But the authorities in Africa found themselves unable to “vary the decision”.
It was clear that religious prejudice was responsible, for one of Jehovah’s witnesses and his family from America, who were making a round-the-world trip as tourists, were refused visas simply because they happened to know of the Society’s representative in the Gold Coast. The thousands of witnesses in the Gold Coast and Nigeria would, of course, be disappointed; but by their being stirred to greater preaching activity than ever before, persecution would be thereby defeated. With this thought in mind our travelers pressed on in their African journey.
After picking up some passengers at Boston, we winged our way across the Atlantic toward Lisbon, where we landed in the bright sunlight. While the plane was refueling we had the pleasure of spending an hour with some Watchtower missionaries. From Lisbon to Dakar the Sahara Desert had almost lone possession of most of the territory over which we flew. It was dusk when the plane landed at Yoff airport. A police guard, colorfully attired in red and evidently Moslems, stood at attention. This was where Brother Henschel took leave of me, his destination being Sierra Leone. His experiences during the week were gratifying, and his account of them follows.
ARRIVING AT FREETOWN
“Before sunrise the Air France plane for Freetown, Sierra Leone, took off. The coastline of the Guinea coast is very green and many rivers wind their way to the sea. The rainy season had just ended. After arriving at the Lungi airport, which serves Freetown and is quite some distance from that city, a bus took me to the customs building, where I met a Watchtower missionary now serving in Sierra Leone. Entry through the customs was quickly effected.
“As the bus bumped along the narrow dirt road to the jetty or wharf, Freetown lying on the other side of the river, it was very apparent that I was in Africa. Men and women, stripped to the waist, were busy clearing land and tying bundles of sticks together while others were marching down the road with bundles balanced neatly upon their heads. Occasionally one would see cassava farms; the cassava, by the way, is the shrub from whose roots tapioca is derived. Mud houses with thatched roofs dotted the scene.
“A launch was waiting at the jetty. We headed out across the wide Sierra Leone river toward Freetown and in fifteen minutes we reached the city at the foot of the mountains. It did not seem that long, for there were many things to watch: a river cascading down the side of a mountain; white birds diving for fish; ships anchored offshore loading cargo onto lighters, etc. We disembarked at a small jetty and as we climbed up the stairs, with a native boy balancing my baggage on his head, some Watchtower missionaries came down to meet us.
“As we walked through the streets toward the Kingdom Hall and missionary home I was quite amazed to see a modern city much cleaner than many in most parts of the world. Was this the ‘white man’s graveyard’ they all talk about? Paved streets, busy shops, new cars and an endless stream of people passed by. There was the big cotton tree, an ancient, huge landmark for which Freetown is famous. It was to this tree that slaves had been chained in olden times when chiefs sold into slavery captives or people of their own tribes they did not like. Not a fly or mosquito did I see.
“The sun was hot and I was glad we had only two blocks to walk from the cotton tree to the home. The missionaries prepared a fine lunch. Then we met together to talk over their problems and the progress of the work in Sierra Leone. They told of the continued growth in the Freetown congregation after some troublemakers withdrew and how a new company had sprung up at Waterloo, some twenty miles away, through the hard work of two pioneers. Six others had taken up the full-time pioneer ministry. A large group was meeting at Kissy, just outside Freetown. Another group held meetings in Wellington, a few miles away. In the protectorate there were groups ready to be organized for Bible study. Sierra Leone seemed ready for expansion. All that was necessary was organization, an organized effort at taking the lead. The missionaries were delighted to hear that Brother Knorr had seen the need for it and had sent a letter with me appointing one of the missionaries as branch servant for the country. Now they would have their own office and the work would be given close attention.
“Two of the missionaries had just come up from Nigeria, where they acquired much experience in pushing expansion in Africa, having spent months back in the bush, living in the native villages and preaching God’s Word. This experience would be invaluable for the advancement of the work in Sierra Leone.
“I attended their weekly service meeting on Thursday, November 20, and was asked to speak to the local congregation, a nice group of all ages. It was doing good work in the field, the chart showing a new peak of 76 ministers for the month of October. All were looking forward to the assembly on Saturday and Sunday, for it was the first time they had a representative of the Society from headquarters in their midst, as well as their first assembly.
FIRST SIERRA LEONE ASSEMBLY
“On Saturday morning we all came to Wilberforce Memorial Hall, a big red building on the hill above the customs docks. A friendly breeze cooled the conventioners as they worked to decorate the stage with flowers and palm branches. They were braiding palm branches together and in among the braids they inserted red and blue flowers and bright leaves. These added a great deal to the somewhat worn stage.
“When the assembly for service was called there were 80 present, including ministers from Freetown, Kissy and Waterloo. They listened to the information on the field service activities and then considered baptism. Some were not sure, so they thought it best to wait until a later time. Of course, they were right. It would be a mistake to be baptized if one were not certain that he had made a dedication of his life to Jehovah’s service.
“The baptism was held at Scotland’s farm, bordering White Man’s Bay, which was reached by city bus. A group of brothers looked on and rejoiced as a brother and a sister were immersed in the salty waters. As we stood in the shade of a big tree waiting for a bus to take us back we watched natives a few yards away going about their business of cleaning rice. Five young women and a girl were working while a man sat nearby on a big rock. As usual in Africa, the women were doing the work. In a tall slim stone mortar, about three feet high, one woman and a girl poured some rice and then pounded down on it with a four-foot wooden pestle. It was warm and the sweat poured off their bare backs. Nearby another woman carried a baby on her back as she pounded rice. It seemed incredible that the baby could sleep, but sleep it did. After watching for about fifteen minutes our bus came along and we had to leave this interesting scene.
“Local brothers opened the afternoon program. Six of them were assigned and they all did well in speaking the Word of God. Although this was their first assembly, those taking part in the demonstrations and pantomimes also did well. These features were both instructive and entertaining, showing ministers why they should regularly take part in the ministry and why they should attend the congregational meetings. New and weak ones were assisted by the more mature and experienced ones. We closed the day with the afternoon sessions, because Saturday evening was always taken up with shows at the hall. The first day brought joy to 82 ministers. They were looking forward to the morrow.
“Many people in Freetown take their Sundays seriously, and so on our way to the assembly that morning we passed many people dressed in their Sunday best, some men wearing tails, striped trousers and stiff winged collars. Heat or no heat, they must dress in fashion.
“There were 93 assembled at the convention hall for a morning of spiritual feasting. One local full-time minister did a fine job talking on love. Two Watchtower missionaries spoke on doing God’s will and on not missing the purpose of God’s undeserved kindness.
CLIMAX OF THE ASSEMBLY
“The public meeting was on the subject that Brother Knorr planned to use all through Africa. Since he was not present, I was glad for the privilege of delivering the lecture. The question was, How many would come to hear it? for three o’clock was an early hour for the tropics. The hall began to fill up at that hour and the lecture began. There are a considerable number of Moslems in Sierra Leone and many of them came to listen. When the hall was filled, others listened outside under the trees by means of a public-address system. The attention paid was exceptional and each evidence of the time in which we live was understood by them. Their interest in the message of the Kingdom was definitely aroused; for after the public lecture ended and the chairman had announced the intermission to be followed by other talks, to the surprise of everyone, out of the 400 persons who had come 253 remained.
“The assembly reached its climax for the ministers when announcements were made concerning the expansion program in Sierra Leone: a new branch office opened, a circuit servant appointed, circuit assemblies to be held, a new congregation to be formed at Kissy, expansion into the protectorate, the interior, being planned. The co-operation of all in the house-to-house ministry, followed by calling back and conducting home Bible studies would provide the ministers necessary for the expansion program. Their joy was unbounded. They saw clearly, as never before, how Jehovah’s organization is one around the world and that the Society is just as interested in them as in the brothers in larger countries. They expressed their determination to do their part in the expansion work. They saw assembled about them many who might take up the work. And they also had heard the reports of the marvelous expansion in Nigeria as given by the two missionaries from there, to spur them on. Thus ended a great feast for God’s ministers in Sierra Leone.
“They kept saying kusheh, a very expressive word having the meaning of ‘well done’. Their spirits were high. Groups departed from the hall in the evening darkness, and as we went down Westmoreland street to the missionary home we could hear some conventioners singing songs in the distance as they walked beside the road. With such happiness they would surely go on to many good works in preaching the good news in the days ahead.
“When early on Wednesday morning, November 26, I left the Freetown dock on the way to Lungi airport, a number of local brothers and missionaries were on hand to say good-by. They all once again expressed a keen appreciation for the assembly and all the provisions made for them and their work by the Society. They hoped it would not be a long time before the Society’s president would visit them and they would have a bigger assembly. It will be interesting to watch the progress of the work now in Sierra Leone.”
While Brother Henschel was thus serving the brothers in Sierra Leone, I was with the brothers in the neighboring country, the Republic of Liberia. A succeeding issue of The Watchtower will carry this report.
[Map on page 105]
(For fully formatted text, see publication)
FRENCH WEST AFRICA
FRENCH EQUATORIAL AFRICA
UNION OF SOUTH AFRICA