True Worship in Nyasaland and Southern Rhodesia
Continuing the report by the president of the Watch Tower Society, N. H. Knorr, of his trip through Africa
AFTER leaving Johannesburg our next stop was Blantyre, chief commercial city of Nyasaland. Due to many newly paved roads and new buildings the general appearance of Blantyre has improved considerably since our last visit, five years ago. However, the problems of pressing forward with the Kingdom message remain the same. European brothers are needed to help the Africans to gain a clearer understanding of the Scriptures and in their organizational activities, and therefore for some years now the Society has been trying to send in more European brothers. But even though this has not been permitted up to the present time the work has moved ahead well, the number of witnesses swelling from 4,918 to 11,244.
On December 18 the assemblies in Nyasaland began. Brother Henschel served the brothers assembled at Limbe, just outside of Blantyre, while I, accompanied by Brother McLuckie, the branch servant, flew to Lilongwe, where another assembly was being held.
For the assembly at Lilongwe the brothers built a large shelter over a hundred yards long and thirty yards wide, which gave protection from the sun and also somewhat from the rain, it having a gabled roof. There were 2,500 present and they had a very joyful time. Some had come long distances, a few even from the Northern Rhodesian border. They were very orderly and attentive. Jehovah’s witnesses in Nyasaland are peaceful and do not cause any disturbances. They do not engage in politics in any way whatsoever but center their hope in God’s kingdom.
While I was giving two talks to the brothers at Lilongwe Brother Henschel was speaking to an audience of about 4,000 at Limbe in a lovely grove of mango trees. At this place only the platform, elevated on bamboo poles some eight feet above the ground, was sheltered. The witnesses gathered in an oval, sitting on the ground. It must be mentioned that the singing at both places was unusually delightful.
After addressing the assembly at Lilongwe I had to hurry back for the public meeting at Limbe, which was due to begin at five o’clock. While my return trip had been delayed some because of a storm, the weather at Limbe had been fine all day and now 5,000 were gathered in an open field to hear the public lecture. Later in the evening I gave the same talk at the Town Hall for the benefit of the Europeans, 35 of whom attended. At both meetings the people evinced keen interest in what was being said about the great need for the people now to consider God’s way.
The following day I served the brothers at Limbe while Brother Henschel flew to Lilongwe and there gave the public talk to 3,000. Thus upward of 8,000 heard the public lectures in Nyasaland. During the assembly the brothers were encouraged to press on in the work and those still illiterate were urged to learn to read and write. Although there is illiteracy among the brothers, it is less than for the country as a whole.
While in Nyasaland I had the opportunity to talk to the government officials at Zomba about more European supervision and about allowing some missionaries to enter the country. What the outcome will be is difficult to say; but, regardless of what the government does, if it is their aim to keep the truth from reaching the people or to slacken the zeal of Jehovah’s witnesses, they will fail. In five years the number of witnesses has more than doubled and we can expect a like increase for the next five years.
In order to reach Blantyre in the first place we had to hire a small plane, and we used this same plane to take us back to Salisbury, Southern Rhodesia, our next stop. The craft was a two-engine biplane with fabric covering. The pilot, not having been to Nyasaland before, was not familiar with the locations of all the mountains, and so in view of the low clouds decided to follow the winding road. It was like driving a car at one hundred miles an hour, taking all the turns.
The land rose but the clouds did not. Several miles ahead we could see that the clouds met the ground. After skimming the tops of the trees for a while with the clouds brushing against the top of the plane, there was finally nothing left to do but to return to the airport. It was a 30-minute wild ride. By 9:30, an hour later, the wind and sun had caused the clouds to rise and so we started off again. By taking a different route and flying between two layers of clouds we were able to make our way to Southern Rhodesia.
SOUTHERN RHODESIAN ASSEMBLIES
When we arrived at Salisbury the convention was already under way. We were especially delighted to see 163 persons present, all Europeans. When we had our gathering in Salisbury five years before, only eight Europeans were present. Until recently it had been quite difficult to interest Europeans in the work of Jehovah’s witnesses. But even in the fine land of Southern Rhodesia there are anxieties that bother those who are of good heart and they are beginning to look for hope. The population consists of 120,000 Europeans and 2,000,000 Africans.
Shortly after I had arrived at this assembly I had to leave to address the African meeting. This required a drive of about five miles to Harari Native Township. We found the brothers seated on the ground in a large open lot and listening to three speakers. One was speaking in Cinyanja, one in Cishona and one in Zulu, one after the other giving the same information. Although I did not understand what they were saying, I could feel that the spirit of Jehovah was manifest among these people.
Upon beginning to address the assembly myself I could see that the old custom of the sisters sitting to the left of the speaker and the brothers in the center and to the right was gradually giving way among Jehovah’s witnesses and more and more the wives are sitting with their husbands. It was a beautiful sight, these 7,300 African brothers, who had gathered from all parts of Southern Rhodesia, enjoying their assembly to the full. The skies were clear for all the assembly.
On Sunday 280 African brothers were immersed in a river and 17 European brothers in a pool in Salisbury. While Brother Henschel was addressing the audience of European brothers in the morning I gave the public talk to the Africans and there were 11,000 in attendance. Later in the day when Brother Henschel and I addressed the Africans again there were at least 15,000 gathered together.
On Sunday afternoon the public meeting for the Europeans was held and 250 attended, which was excellent. Everybody was pleased with the results, for nearly half of the African audience and about 100 Europeans had attended the public meetings, due to the very intensive advertising of the lectures.
One thing that impressed the Africans, the police and the Europeans who observed the African assembly of Jehovah’s witnesses was that here on the ground Africans, from different tribes from all parts of the land, had come together, and yet there were no quarrelings, no fights, no bloodshed. To many who were not Jehovah’s witnesses this seemed almost incredible.
In Southern Rhodesia African Jehovah’s witnesses are being recognized by many Europeans as very good people to employ. For example, the boss of an African brother, an engineer on the railway, tried to get rid of the brother, and the matter came to the attention of the station master. The only reason given for wanting him fired was that he was one of Jehovah’s witnesses. The station master referred the matter up to the railway superintendent and asked what he should do. The superintendent answered: “We have hundreds of Jehovah’s witnesses working here in Bulawayo and they are the best boys. Do not fire that boy.” So they kept the brother and put him under the supervision of another boss.
At Shabani the brothers are giving a tremendous witness to the truth. The chief compound manager said: “A year ago I would not let Watch Tower representatives in the compounds, but now we realize your boys are the best boys we have. We are gradually putting them in the most responsible positions.” The mine manager recently issued a bulletin to all European employees saying that all Africans who are Jehovah’s witnesses working under them are to be allowed time off to go to their meetings, and that even if they are on shift work. When one compares the 10,315 witnesses in Southern Rhodesia at the present time with the 3,044 in 1947 he will appreciate how great an increase has been taking place there.
The work is growing so rapidly here that it seemed advisable to buy a house in a beautiful part of Salisbury, which may be called the queen city of Central Africa, to house the missionaries and the branch office. Arrangements were made for the European brothers to give greater personal supervision to the African congregations and more careful training to the African traveling representatives of the Society, known as circuit servants. While there is outstanding peace and unity among Jehovah’s witnesses, our African brothers are very anxious to keep on improving. The prospects for theocratic expansion in Southern Rhodesia are very promising.