Christianity Advances in Northern Rhodesia and Ethiopia
Continuing the report on the African trip of the president of the Watch Tower Society, N. H. Knorr, and his secretary
SINCE November 17, when we left New York, we had visited Sierra Leone, Liberia, South Africa, Nyasaland, Southern Rhodesia, and now, on December 24, we were arriving at Lusaka, the capital of Northern Rhodesia. A meeting had been scheduled for the European brothers and seventeen attended that evening. Quite an increase over our last visit, five years ago, when just one European manifested interest. On the morning of the 26th we flew from Lusaka to Ndola, and then drove forty miles to Kitwe, in Northern Rhodesia’s Copper Belt, where the national assembly was to be held, December 26 to 28.
A large area on the outskirts of one of the mining camps, Nkana, had been put at the disposal of the Society free of charge by the mining company. Since it would be impossible to accommodate in private homes the thousands expected, the brothers built seventeen shelters, some of which were 700 feet in length. As the assembly drew nearer it became apparent that these would not be sufficient. No further supplies for making grass-thatched roofs being available, a second “layer” consisting of bamboo tables was made for three of the shelters and which extended their full length. In this way the shelters were able to accommodate 8,004; a like number being taken care of in the homes of the brothers and the public. The seven sleeping shelters were like giant spokes of a wheel with the seating arena as the hub.
In the seating arena bamboo benches were erected to seat over 18,000, set out with dividing aisles in a semicircular style. A beautiful platform was constructed by leveling a large abandoned anthill and erecting a grass-covered shelter. At the back of the platform the 1953 yeartext of Jehovah’s witnesses, “Worship Jehovah in Holy Array,” was displayed in the Cibemba language. Buildings were also erected to house the various assembly departments.
Such a vast construction project involved the hauling of some 30,000 bundles of grass, 3,500 large poles and 16 truck loads of bamboo poles. Additionally 60 truck loads of fork-shaped poles were brought in for the construction of the seating. Much material was also carried in by the brothers on bicycles and by sisters on their heads. Cut by the brothers in nearby forests, the cost of the material was negligible. All this work was well rewarded, for the assembly proved to be the happiest ever held by Jehovah’s people in Northern Rhodesia. Indeed, it was the largest ever held anywhere in Southern Africa.
Brothers came by foot, bicycle, trucks, buses and trains. Some traveled two weeks on bicycles from the northern part of the territory more than 500 miles away; brothers carrying their wives and children on their bicycles, over dirt roads and through the “bush”. From the southeast some walked four days through an area full of wild beasts, and then traveled two more days by primitive bus to reach the assembly. From the southwest they came part of the way by boat on the Zambezi river and then by rail: a five-day trip. Brothers from the Machusa tribe in Tanganyika sold their cows to find the £7.0.0 for the round trip, which took one week each way. Yes, knowing that the assembly was an arrangement of Jehovah’s organization, the brothers were determined to get to it. Nothing could stop them. All roads led to the theocratic assembly.
THE ASSEMBLIES AT KITWE
And what a blessing was in store for these brothers when they got to the assembly! Driving through the trees, one came upon the assembly suddenly, and there laid out before him was an unforgettable sight. Sitting under the open sky was this huge crowd of African witnesses, the multicolored hats of the sisters giving the effect of a garden of flowers of every hue. They were orderly and gave close attention to what was being said, trying not to miss a word. Had they not come many miles for just this?
However, there was something that made an even greater impression upon a visitor to this assembly—the singing! Led by a choir of 1,010, the singing at this assembly was something that sent thrills up the spine, and brought tears to the eyes, it was so beautiful. No musical instruments were needed. Indeed, they would have been out of place. At the signal from the conductor they began; and what seemed to be complicated part-singing was handled with wonderful ease. The harmony was exquisite, with the sound first coming through like the rustle of the trees in the wind and building up to a grand climax, like that of a thousand reeds. Although they composed much of the music by themselves, and some of the words are original with them also (based on Scripture texts), their songs all center around the true worship of Jehovah God, just as do the songs Jehovah’s witnesses sing in other parts of the earth.
The assembly opened with almost 14,000 in attendance, Friday, December 26. On this day 1,195 symbolized their dedication to do Jehovah’s will by being immersed. By Saturday morning 16,000 were present, and when the time came for the public meeting 20,000 had packed out the arena and overflowed into the surrounding area. Due to the kind assistance of a local European, the sound system was well nigh perfect, and the huge crowd easily heard every word of the public lecture, “It Is Time to Consider God’s Way.”
The brothers who came to the assembly came to learn pure worship and the way to live together as members of a new-world society. They had left behind the many superstitious ways of the old world. For instance: In some districts when a man dies his brothers are not allowed to wash for three months. In other places at death the whole community sits up all night beating drums and moaning in order to drive away the evil spirits. In yet another locality, if the headman of a village dies, all the villagers move away to another place, leaving their homes and gardens, lest the spirit of the dead headman come back to trouble them. Another superstition calls for the putting of a certain medicine on the upper lip of a newborn child so that the top teeth come through first; otherwise there is danger of the baby’s turning into a crocodile! Well, Jehovah’s witnesses quit these practices, for they see that such are foolish and demonic.
An assembly for the European brothers was also held at Kitwe. This furnished a pleasant surprise, for when we visited the country previously, five years ago, no European assembly could be held, for the simple reason that there were no European congregations of Jehovah’s witnesses in Northern Rhodesia. This time at the public talk 145 were in attendance, with a peak of 92 at the other assembly sessions. Seven Europeans were baptized.
At both assemblies the second edition of “Let God Be True” was released, much to the joy of the brothers. They had not had the first edition, due to there being a ban upon it, so that it could not be imported.
Outstanding in connection with the assemblies was the co-operation of the various officials that had to be contacted—quite a change from five years ago, when the mere mention of the name “Jehovah’s witnesses” aroused antagonism on the part of most of them.
There are thousands of people in Northern Rhodesia that want to become Jehovah’s witnesses, but we will not allow them to call themselves such until we first examine them and are sure that they know the teachings of Christ and the purposes of Jehovah God. Then, after they symbolize their dedication to do Jehovah’s will by water immersion, we allow them to say they are Jehovah’s witnesses.
Jehovah’s witnesses, now about the largest unified body in Northern Rhodesia, are of one mind and what they want and what they are preaching is God’s kingdom, the only hope for the world. Various political factions and other groups would like to have Jehovah’s witnesses swing into their movements and support them. Some influential men of such large organizations attended the African assembly to hear what was said and see how we managed our affairs. They were absolutely amazed to see such orderliness and peacefulness even though the people were from every part of Northern Rhodesia and represented all the tribes. God’s spirit has worked marvels, but the world will not accept this answer. They think there is something else behind it that causes this oneness of action. Jehovah’s witnesses have Jehovah’s spirit because they study his Word, they believe it and preach it.
THROUGH KENYA TO ETHIOPIA
On Monday, December 29, we left for Ndola, there to catch our plane for Ethiopia. En route we stopped overnight at Nairobi, where we had to make connections for the Ethiopian airlines. We were entertained at the home of one of Jehovah’s witnesses, and from 6:45 in the evening until 12:30 a.m. we had a meeting with eight brothers and sisters, two of whom had traveled hundreds of miles over dusty roads to be with the brothers at Nairobi for this meeting. We answered their many questions and gave them interesting information about Jehovah’s work and organization and what we felt should be done in Kenya and Uganda.
Early the next morning we left Nairobi and soon passed over Mount Kenya, about 17,000 feet in altitude. Far below were the plains and jungles of Kenya. We also saw many lakes between Nairobi, the capital of Kenya, and Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia. Africa does indeed offer many sights of beauty from the air.
At Addis Ababa we were met by brothers at the airport and had a nice trip to the heart of the city. It has a population of about 300,000 and lies at an elevation of 8,000 feet. In it we found a modern civilization being built up alongside an old one, also many buildings started by the Italians when they took over the land, and which were not completed because of their sudden departure.
Ethiopia lies in the eastern part of Africa, the southern part being just 250 miles north of the equator. Most of the cities and villages are perched on high plateaus, providing perpetual springtime for the inhabitants. The first Watch Tower missionary arrived in Ethiopia in September 1950. Now there are eleven in the country and three congregations have been established. Because the government requires missionaries to aid in the education of its citizens the Society at present operates two elementary schools, at Harar and Dire Dawa, and a night school at Addis Ababa.
The native tongue, Amharic, presents a great problem. It is a very ancient language and in some respects resembles Hebrew and Arabic. Its alphabet has 276 characters, each with its individual sound. Some are strange explosive expressions and others are clucking sounds.
An assembly was arranged for four days and the students were invited to attend, school being dismissed while it lasted. When the assembly opened, the missionaries that had been in the country, one five and a half months, were happy to see one of their number act as chairman and give an enthusiastic address of welcome. And the Amharic brothers were especially well pleased.
That evening Brother Henschel addressed the sixty-one in attendance by means of an interpreter, on the subject “Integrity”. He left on Saturday, January 3, to take care of speaking appointments in Cairo while I remained until Monday and spoke to the brothers several times on Saturday and Sunday. A high spot of the assembly was the immersion, held in a small stream dammed up a bit to make the water deep enough for immersion. Six symbolized their dedication by baptism.
ETHIOPIANS MANIFEST GREAT INTEREST
The missionaries told some very interesting experiences. Shortly after the ones assigned to Dire Dawa arrived, day after day persons of good will would come to their home in groups of as many as fifteen and ask them to study the Bible with them. In the beginning this grew to such a point that it was impossible to study with all of them. So the missionaries turned their studies into lectures, giving a different public lecture each night for a month.
At first it was thought that this interest was due to its being a new mission and that the interest would subside when the novelty of it had worn off. But not so, the interest has been maintained. Many Bible studies have been started and a number of those who heard that series of talks have taken a firm stand for the principles of the truth and are now preaching to others. A group of five Arabs are coming regularly for Bible study, which is being carried on in Arabic and English.
Hyenas are so numerous in this neighborhood that many people are afraid to go out at night. Consequently few studies are held in the evening. Those who do venture forth carry a big club with them for protection.
The peak in visitors for study for one afternoon was fifty. They were inquiring students from the Swedish Mission who came to the home to ask questions. Critical at first, they were so taken aback by the ready answers they received that they soon let the missionaries keep right on talking about the new world. By the time the talk was concluded sarcasm had been replaced by meekness and humility. The man who took the lead asked if he could have a regular Bible study.
At his second call he arrived early and overheard the summary of a previous lesson showing there was no trinity. In amazement he exclaimed, “You mean Jesus isn’t God?” Further explanation was given to him and after that he went back to his mission and told them that the Bible did not teach the trinity. The only answer he got was that Jehovah’s witnesses were false prophets and that he should not listen to them. Not satisfied by that answer, he has continued his studies and now feels he wants to be the right kind of minister, one of Jehovah’s witnesses.
Another example in another territory was that of a young man who was a student priest. He could not speak a word of English. The missionary at the time could not speak a word of Amharic, and so their first discussion was through an interpreter. When controversial points arose the student priest would resort to the ancient-language Bible in Geez. It is a dead language not used by the people, but only by those who are studying to be priests. This version of the Bible is looked upon as authoritative. This translation proved to be very good, not having that favorite text of the trinitarians, 1 John 5:7: “There are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost; and these three are one,” which is found in the King James Version in English. So the student priest was shown very quickly that the entire doctrine of the trinity was wrong. Many other points of the discussion were proved by the Geez Bible and it was not long before the student priest changed his attitude. He came for studies three or four times a week, bringing others with him. He left the seminary where he was being trained and moved in with an Ethiopian brother. They talked the truth for hours.
The next morning the school clerk of the seminary came to the mission with a policeman and took the student priest away. It was a hectic day, going from one office to another, to the headmaster’s secretary, to school officials, the police, and it seemed that no one knew what to do with this man now. The missionaries were involved because here was a man who was changing his beliefs, no longer believing like the state church. The missionaries were asked to tell their story, and they pointed out simply and clearly that this priest had come to their mission voluntarily, wanting to study. He had had full permission of the headmaster to find out what Jehovah’s witnesses believe. The brothers stood by this young man and defended him before his accusers.
Later he was locked up in a seminary for four days. But he finally sent a note out to the missionaries, telling them not to feel sorry for him. He was rejoicing that he was a prisoner for the sake of Jehovah. “Do not think I will go with them,” he said. ‘No man that has put his hand to the plow looks at things behind.’
On the fifth day of imprisonment he managed to have his private guards take him to the mission and he told the brothers that he would be sent to Addis Ababa. This occurred, but soon after he arrived in Addis Ababa he was allowed to go free. He attended the meetings of the brothers in Addis Ababa. He came to the assembly and there was immersed with the other brothers. He is very zealous and anxious to preach the gospel.
Many more experiences could be related showing the eagerness on the part of the people to learn the truth. Arranging for Bible studies is a simple matter. All missionaries have far more Bible studies than they can handle. We look for big increases in this country, even though the brothers must teach school in addition to taking care of the teaching of the truth regarding God’s kingdom. It was a joy to be with them.