Does Nigeria Fear the Truth?
JUST before leaving his disciples Christ Jesus commissioned them to “make disciples of people of all the nations”. (Matt. 28:19, NW) In obedience to this command the Watch Tower Society has sent missionaries to all parts of the earth.
In the interests of freedom of worship, in the spirit of fair play and in view of the good work done by such missionaries, they have, in the main, been welcomed by the officials of the various countries to which they were sent. Not so Nigeria, however, for during the past year it has not only refused entry to Watchtower missionaries seeking to enter but has expelled two of the six that were in the country, and even going to the extreme of refusing entry to two traveling representatives of the Watch Tower Society, N. H. Knorr and M. G. Henschel, for just a few days.
Why should Nigeria so discriminate against ministers of the Watch Tower Society? It allows ministers of other religious groups to enter. Is it because of the record made by Jehovah’s witnesses in Nigeria? Is the message they bring to the people too controversial? Do they engender strife and ill will? Lest any should think that such is the reason, we will briefly present the record made by Jehovah’s witnesses during the past thirty years in Nigeria.
It was back in 1923 that the first missionary of Jehovah’s witnesses came to Nigeria. He came with his family from the West Indies and settled down to give twenty-seven years of his life preaching the gospel. By the power of Jehovah’s spirit and with the aid of the Bible and Bible helps the Kingdom message began to penetrate into almost every town and village. Printed Bible sermons translated into many vernacular languages opened the field of gospel-preaching to many who could not read English. Thousands of truth-hungry people now began to see in the light of God’s Word the clear outline of his purposes.
Many of these saw their privilege now to preach to their neighbors and slowly congregations of Jehovah’s witnesses began to spring up, until in 1941, at which time a war ban was imposed, there were 1,800 active preachers in 83 congregations. When the ban was lifted in 1945 their ranks had swelled to 3,542 ministers working with 165 congregations.
The year 1947 saw the arrival of the first European missionaries that were graduates of the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead. Then, in December of that same year, came the first visit to Nigeria of the president of the Watch Tower Society, N. H. Knorr, and his secretary, M. G. Henschel. This was an occasion of great rejoicing for all the brothers.
There is no doubt that this visit did much good in many ways. In a country sharply aware of color, race, social distinction and other divisive factors, it was a revelation to see these Christian people overcome these things and demonstrate, in practice, Christ’s way of life based on brotherly love.
Many were the expressions of gratitude that Knorr and Henschel should spend much time and money to come to Nigeria to help and advise their African brothers. They had preached to 4,800 people in Lagos and 6,000 in Ibadan. Although their stay had been for only a few days, they had established a firm bond of love, in addition to giving sound Scriptural admonition on many problems and planning a great expansion campaign that would bring the peaceable Kingdom message to thousands more.
The months that followed showed unmistakably what a blessing that visit had been, not only to Jehovah’s witnesses but to the people of Nigeria as a whole. Thousands who had formerly heard and watched now came out and boldly took their stand with Jehovah’s witnesses as preachers of peace and righteousness through God’s kingdom. During the next year, the number of active ministers rose sharply, to 5,500. The increase has been continuous each year since, rising recently, in October, 1952, to a peak of 12,835.
At each assembly held during those years one could expect the same questions to be asked by the brothers: “When is Brother Knorr coming to Nigeria again?” “When shall we see Brother Henschel again?” We had to point out that Brother Knorr had to visit many countries all over the world because the good news is being preached in all the inhabited earth, but we knew that he would come to Nigeria again in its turn.
Just imagine the joy and gladness it brought to the hearts of the Nigerian publishers when the announcement was made in September, 1952, that Brothers Knorr and Henschel had planned an African tour and would be in Nigeria from November 26 to December 4. At once arrangements were made to hold two assemblies, at Ilesha and Port Harcourt. It would not be possible to hold more than two assemblies in this short visit, so arrangements must be made to bring together many different language groups at each assembly and to provide a good system of interpretation for them.
To properly grasp the work involved, let us recount a little of the labor put into the Ilesha assembly. Everything had to be built from scratch, or, more appropriately, from “bush”. Permission was obtained to use an old football field now overgrown ten feet deep in “bush”. Scores of brothers went to work with machetes, and inside a week a 3 1⁄2-acre location had been cleared and half a dozen poisonous snakes killed in the process. Then came the work of assembling the building material. The brothers went out for miles around cutting long bamboo poles, and the work of the sisters, many with babies on their backs, was to carry these 40-foot poles on their heads to the assembly grounds. There the booths were being marked out, one for each language group, Yoruba, Urhobo, Bini, Ijaw and Isoko. Similarly, at Port Harcourt, the brothers were working hard with the same object in view.
At the same time as this, work of a different nature was in progress in Lagos, where the Society’s representatives were busy trying to expedite the granting of temporary visas to Knorr and Henschel to cover their eight-day visit. Time was running short. Knorr and Henschel were due to leave New York on November 17 and must have their visas before they left. However, the principal immigration officer was unable to grant these temporary visas himself. The matter had to be referred to a higher government office. It was suggested that a decision would be reached by the 12th. But the 12th came and went and so did the 13th and no decision had been given. It was not until the 14th, a bare three days before Knorr and Henschel were due to leave New York, that a decision was handed down, refusing visas. Why? No reason was given.
Further efforts were put forth. Phone calls were made to try to arrange personal interviews with the governor and the chief secretary, but in each case it was impossible to get nearer than a polite private secretary. An appeal was immediately written out and taken to the office of the chief secretary with the request that it be placed before him at once. An official reply was received on November 19, stating that the government was “not prepared to vary its previous decision”. But still no reason was given!
Why should the administration of this British colony refuse to permit two American Christians to visit and talk with their Christian brothers in Nigeria? Did their first visit bring trouble to the government or the people of Nigeria? No, but rather to the contrary, their peaceable preaching of the good news brought joy and hope to many hearts. Is it that Jehovah’s witnesses have fomented trouble by joining in the bitter political struggles centering around the burning issue of self-government for the Nigerians? Again the answer is No. Jehovah’s witnesses are known throughout the length and breadth of the country as a people separate from all brands of politics. Then maybe Jehovah’s witnesses have come into disfavor for being obstructionists and promoters of civil disobedience? Once more, the answer is a definite No! They are not mixed up with the scores of cases of theft, embezzlement, bribery, etc., which daily crowd the courts. They give help to the government in one of their big problems, the collection of taxes, for Jehovah’s witnesses adhere strictly to the Scriptural rule to ‘pay back Caesar’s things to Caesar’.
WHY THE DISCRIMINATION?
Can it be that their great assemblies have brought an official frown for being conducted in a disorderly manner? Read the answer in the West African Vanguard in its editorial comment of November 28, 1952, entitled “Witnesses’ Convention”: “Ilesha town had been host to thousands of religious guests belonging to the sect known as Jehovah’s Witnesses since the beginning of the week and, we are sure, the public will be sorry to see them go at the end of their convention today. The town had been buzzing with activities since the influx of these ‘brothers’ and ‘sisters’ in Christ, and there can be no doubt that their way of life these few days had influenced, and will surely change, the life of many a doubting Thomas.
“Christians of other denominations should learn the lesson of brotherhood in the Fatherhood of God and of togetherness as taught by these brothers and sisters of the one Holy Father. They should be less critical, less suspicious and less destructive, but rather, examine, with clear consciences, sans prejudice, the teachings of these Witnesses, their preachments and, what is more, the way they live one with the other. It may well be the road to a happier world lies with the Watch Tower section of the Christian world.”
This candid comment sums up the friendly attitude of the townspeople of Ilesha. Many of them came to see the assembly in session and stayed to marvel at the clean, neat orderliness of the people and grounds, and especially the way in which thousands of people from different tribes lived and worshiped together in perfect peace and concord. One man was so impressed by what he saw and heard that he exclaimed, “This is God’s way and these are God’s people. I must be one of them.” True to his word, he returned the next day and was numbered among the 541 persons who were baptized.
A report in the Lagos Daily Times of August 25, 1952, announced that Dr. J. D. Grey, president of the Southern Baptist Convention of America, had arrived in Nigeria to tour Baptist centers. Quite rightly he found no difficulty in getting a temporary visa for his good-will mission to Nigeria. The same newspaper in its issue of October 22, 1952, published a photograph of a special plane-load of Roman Catholic missionaries, 32 Holy Ghost fathers and 4 Holy Rosary sisters, setting out for Nigeria to do missionary work. For years Jehovah’s witnesses have been trying unsuccessfully to get more European missionaries into Nigeria. During the last two years they have pushed ahead their expansion program with only six European missionaries. And then, in September, 1952, the government ordered two of these to quit the country, leaving only four. Hard on the heels of this came the refusal to grant even temporary visas to Knorr and Henschel. Contrast this treatment with the liberal help given to other religious bodies, and the facts point unmistakably to religious discrimination.
But what of the future? What will Jehovah’s witnesses do even though Knorr and Henschel could not visit them? Judging by the success of the assemblies at Ilesha and Port Harcourt, they are due to enjoy in the future greater increase than ever before. In spite of the absence of their American brothers, these assemblies were easily the largest and most joyful ever held in Nigeria. Some 10,300 assembled at Ilesha and 5,500 at Port Harcourt, and a grand total of 1,062 were baptized. Recovering swiftly from their initial disappointment, their spirits soared high as they settled down to enjoy the program of wise Scriptural counsel and guidance. When it was pointed out that, although the government could keep out Brothers Knorr and Henschel, no power in heaven or earth could keep out Jehovah’s spirit, they roared their approval and it was clear that the government’s action was really becoming a stimulant to them. Time and again they affirmed their determination to hold on to their Kingdom hope and demonstrate even greater zeal and loyalty.
This action of the government might disappoint them but it would not disturb them at all or cause anger or bitterness to well up in their hearts. Their dedication of their lives is to Jehovah God, and they are not Jehovah’s witnesses because of any man. They are slaves of the Most High and are interested only in glorifying their Father’s name by joyful obedience to his Word. Their work of bearing fruit to the honor of his name is a peaceable work. They have no part with the lawless elements of the world, but they will continue to work quietly, pleasantly and peacefully in preaching the good news, for they know that “the fruit of righteousness has its seed sown under peaceful conditions for those who are making peace”. Whatever the future may hold for them, they will continue to do good to all men by educating them in the peaceful ways of God’s Word and encouraging them to lay firm hold upon the glorious hope of everlasting life in his new world of righteousness and peace.
Put on the complete suit of armor from God that you may be able to stand firm against the machinations of the Devil; because we have a fight . . . against the wicked spirit forces in the heavenly places.—Eph. 6:11, 12, NW.