Advance of the New World Society in South America
BACK in the year 1942 there were only eight lands in South America where Jehovah’s witnesses were preaching the good news of the Kingdom, and their total number came to 807. In 1943 the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead was opened for the purpose of training ordained ministers to carry forward the missionary work in foreign lands.
By the end of the 1953 service year 301 specially trained Gilead students were scattered throughout South America, with the prospect of more entering, and there was a total of 13,174 representatives of the New World society proclaiming the good news in all parts of this great continent—high in the Andes, in the valley of the Amazon and far to the south in the pampas of Argentina.
At Yankee Stadium in the summer of 1953 it was announced that the president of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society, N. H. Knorr, and one of the directors, M. G. Henschel, hoped to tour South America and visit all the branch offices and missionaries. The schedule was prepared so that the visit could begin in the latter part of November, 1953.
The first scheduled stop for the two visitors was to be at Caracas, Venezuela. All of Jehovah’s witnesses in the interior of the country were invited to come to the national assembly to be held there and to participate in the largest theocratic feast ever prepared for Venezuela.
During the week prior to the assembly the witnesses of Jehovah in Venezuela kept coming from the east and the west, all enthusiastic about worshiping Jehovah at a central point. Distribution of handbills proceeded among persons of good will. Radio and newspaper notices were given during the week, and all the conventioners were anxious to see how this convention would compare with the one of three years before when the president of the Society spoke to 146 at a public lecture.
At the main entrance of the meeting place pictures of the 1953 convention at Yankee Stadium were put up, as this Venezuelan assembly was a kind of continuation of that grand gathering. The new Spanish Songbook that had been released at Yankee Stadium was released on the opening day of this assembly and all were anxious to learn the new songs. New Spanish tracts were put on display in the hall.
The convention opened on Friday, November 13, with 324 brothers joyously gathered, equipped for field service. The afternoon was set aside for a baptismal service for all those who desired to symbolize their dedication of their lives to Jehovah. A very fine pool had been rented for this purpose. Because of its being a religious gathering, the owner of the pool reduced the rental price from one thousand bolivars to a hundred; but upon watching the immersion of 81 persons of all ages he was so impressed that he refused to accept any money at all and said it was an honor to have accommodated such Christian people.
By Friday evening 468 were in attendance, taking in the information presented in a well-arranged program. At that time Brothers Knorr and Henschel were due to leave Idlewild airport, New York, but because of engine trouble they did not get under way until 11:20 the next forenoon. While this made it impossible for them to arrive in time for any of the Saturday sessions, the program in Caracas went right ahead with substitutions being made for them. The principal talks of the Yankee Stadium assembly were translated into Spanish and given and films in color of the assembly were shown.
After the Saturday evening program was over our travelers from the Brooklyn headquarters arrived at the branch office. Their trip from New York to Maiquetia airport had passed without incident.
The Sunday sessions got off to a good start with Brother Henschel giving the talk he was scheduled to deliver the night before. The audience was delightfully surprised to hear him give his entire talk, “Lies Lead to Loss of Life,” in Spanish. He clearly pointed out that Jehovah’s witnesses must be speakers of the truth publicly, in their homes and in the congregations.
What would be the response to the invitations to the afternoon’s public lecture, “After Armageddon—God’s New World”? At three o’clock Brother Knorr began speaking through an interpreter and the people continued to come in. The main hall was filled and many were seated in the adjoining patio with a total of 942, the largest gathering by far for any theocratic assembly in Venezuela.
After the serving of food there were more singing and other talks by the two visiting brothers, for which 733 remained. The Society’s branch servant for Venezuela presented to the assembly the Resolution that had been presented and accepted by the Yankee Stadium assembly on July 20, and the brothers in Venezuela were pleased to accept it also. Brother Knorr concluded the convention by stressing the need of sticking to the organization, keeping it clean and following through faithfully on one’s dedication to Jehovah God. The joyous expressions of these humble, zealous and happy brothers showed their appreciation for this grand assembly.
There are now many well-established congregations and thirty-one missionaries scattered throughout Venezuela, with a number of local brothers engaging in the full-time ministry. Arrangements were made for further increases and expansion of the Kingdom witness. It was a joy to meet with the missionaries and to talk over their problems with them; and the days that followed the assembly were well used, Tuesday being spent with the group at Valencia, Wednesday with the group at Barquisimeto and Thursday with the group at Maracaibo. At each place a meeting was held for the good-will interest, each of which was very well attended.
By midday of November 20 our travelers were flying over the Gulf of Venezuela, to the north of Maracaibo, on their way to Barranquilla, where the convention for Colombia began with Brother Knorr speaking at the local Kingdom Hall.
On the following day certain programs were devoted to the full-time ministry and it was good to see and hear how a number of the brothers have arranged their affairs to get into that field of service. The Society has only six missionaries in Colombia; so it is up to the local full-time ministers to do the preaching of the message in all parts of the country. One sells plantains in the open market every morning and preaches afternoons and evenings; another takes in washing; another drives a taxi half a day; others operate their carpenter and shoe shops part time. One eleven-year-old girl has answered the call to full-time service and is doing well. The Society is giving financial support to a number of special full-time ministers so that these can go into other territories and build up new congregations. With forty full-time ministers pushing ahead in Colombia the work there has seen an increase of 31 per cent in the past year.
The first two months of the present service year, September and October, have already seen a twenty per cent increase, for a total of 439 ministers, and the average hours are excellent. Probably the reason for this is that the Barranquilla congregation, where there are only two missionaries, who, however, are extremely zealous and spend much time with the newly interested people in educating them in door-to-door witnessing, has set such a good example. In just a few short years three congregations have been established there and these have produced practically all of the full-time ministers in the country. One sister sixty-one years old in the general full-time ministry averages 135 hours a month.
The convention at Barranquilla followed the same pattern of other conventions of Jehovah’s witnesses, and here also they were happy to accept the Resolution of the New World society.
In the Sunday morning’s discussion of baptism the matter of proper living was injected into the talk. The Catholic religion has never stressed high morals in South America. Legal marriage is difficult for the poor because the Catholic Church demands such high prices, and, as a result, fornication, adultery and immorality are rampant. Divorce is impossible, even on the grounds of adultery; hence many complications present themselves in such Catholic-dominated lands when persons begin to learn the principles of God’s Word through the preaching of Jehovah’s witnesses. So when the baptismal talk was finished a number of brothers inquired as to whether they could be baptized or not, and they were advised they could not until they had straightened out their lives and lived with only one wife or married the woman they were living with. These seekers for life were happy to straighten out their affairs, and so put off baptism until the next opportunity. Fifty symbolized their dedication to do Jehovah’s will.
The president of the Society delivered the public lecture, “It Is Time to Consider God’s Way.” The Kingdom Hall was packed, the driveway was full, the crowd overflowing into the large patio in the rear, for a total of 655, a new record in attendance for Barranquilla. Of these, some 500 remained to hear the concluding remarks by Brother Knorr, at which time a report was given regarding the fine increases accomplished by the witnesses in Colombia. The witnesses there are determined to bless Jehovah’s name every day and praise him forever and ever.
The Society’s branch office for Colombia is located at Barranquilla; so a day was devoted to handling the problems and planning for the future expansion of the work in Colombia. Colombia is a large territory and millions of people have yet to receive the witness concerning God’s kingdom.
Engine trouble caused a delay in getting away by plane to Bogotá. After a brief stop at Cartagena, in a driving rain, our two travelers were off to the mountains. Higher and higher the plane rose, until finally it crossed the ridge that brought into view the beautiful plateau on which rests the capital city of Colombia.
The missionary home in Bogotá is located conveniently in the city. Extensive preparations had been made for the evening talk “After Armageddon—God’s New World,” but due to action by the authorities the public lecture had to be held as a private meeting and in the local Kingdom Hall. Here in the interior of the country the people seem quite fanatical about their religion and much opposition has been manifested toward non-Catholics.
By 6:30 p.m. about 100 people were seated in the Kingdom Hall, with loudspeakers tying in the garage and dining room. The total attendance of 162 extremely pleased the missionaries. As an added pleasant surprise colored slides of the New World Society Assembly of Jehovah’s Witnesses at Yankee Stadium were shown and commentary was given along with them. While those inside the hall were pleased with the truths being presented and happy over the prospects of the new world of righteousness, there were some on the outside that displayed different feelings, showing their displeasure that such a meeting should be held by trying to create a disturbance.
The next morning the missionary home was found to be marked up with expressions such as “Down with Jehovah!” “May Jehovah’s Witnesses Die!” and “Long Live the Virgin!” and crosses were marked all over the building. The brass plate bearing the name Salón del Reino (Kingdom Hall) was all scratched up. It was quite a washing job, cleaning all the doors and making the outside of the home look presentable again. When the religious education has been so corrupted that people do not know who Jehovah is, they will do such things. Catholic translators and scholars, whether Spanish or of some other tongue, know that the name of the Sovereign of the universe is given in the Bible. In Spanish we call him Jehová.
After cleaning the walls, the missionaries had a discussion of their problems with the visiting brothers. In this city of Bogotá, with some 600,000 population, they are wondering why, after eight years of work, they have an average of only thirty Christian ministers of Jehovah. Is it the people? Is it the fear of the government? Is it a lack of a sense of responsibility? It is difficult to comprehend how some individuals think, but the conclusion was reached that we must continue to teach and try to bring to maturity those who are seeking righteousness. The fact that ninety-one persons of good will attended a meeting that evening was considered encouraging.
Morning soon came and it was time for the president and his secretary to move on to Quito, Ecuador, where a convention was to open that day, November 26. It was a cloudy day and it was not long before the plane, in which the Society’s representatives were riding, began to circle high above the clouds. According to the schedule the plane should have been over Quito. This capital city of Ecuador is hidden in a valley, surrounded by high mountains, and the pilot decided it was too risky to try to land on the small airport. After circling for some time the plane headed off in a westerly direction and an hour and fifteen minutes later landed safely at Guayaquil. Our travelers were hustled off to a hotel and advised that the plane would take off for Quito the next morning. This unexpected stop resulted in an enjoyable visit with the local missionaries who, having received word from Quito that our travelers were landing in Guayaquil, called at their hotel.
The next morning Knorr and Henschel were on their way over the large peaks of the Andes and then up through the beautiful green valley in which Quito, the city of red roofs, is located. A dozen peaks rise some 16,000 feet and the city itself lies 9,243 feet above sea level. The highest volcano in the world, Cotopaxi, is just a few miles south of Quito. A smiling crowd of conventioners was at the airport to welcome the travelers, glad that they had finally arrived safely.
There was still another day for the convention and it was turned over to the visitors. The morning sessions were at the Kingdom Hall and those in the afternoon at the Club Checoeslovaco-Ecuatoriano, where 113 were present. Two zealous sisters came from Ambato, where they are devoting fifty hours monthly to the witness work and conducting sixteen weekly Bible studies between them.
The congregation in Quito is doing steady work. Ten missionaries together with sixty local ministers are busy preaching.
Leaving Quito, our travelers, Knorr and Henschel, arrived in Guayaquil Saturday afternoon where, in the spacious Salón del Reino, they found an enthusiastic assembly in progress since the previous day. The attendance had climbed to 189 and then increased to 252 for Brother Knorr’s final talk on Sunday evening.
Five years ago when the first missionaries arrived in Guayaquil they found no witnesses at all. Now there are eighty sharing in the work. They find the people eager to take the literature and to study.
Travel between cities in Ecuador is difficult because of lack of roads, but nevertheless fifty brothers did come to Guayaquil from Manta, Riobamba de Cuenca, by truck. A number of these were baptized.
Following the assembly Brothers Knorr and Henschel spent two days discussing local problems with the missionaries. More missionaries will be sent into the country to help expand the work.
In all three countries there is much evidence of stepped-up activity on the part of the Roman Catholic Hierarchy. Priests are being brought in from other countries, particularly Spain, and a struggle is on to hold the power over the people.
Jehovah has his New World society in operation and its representatives are in all parts of the earth. They are not trying to gain control of the people by intrigue but are preaching the truth from the Bible and pointing the people to their only hope, the reign of Christ and the new world. Year by year their numbers increase because sheeplike ones are being found and taught, while at the same time all grow to maturity. The fight may become intense before the issue is settled, but Jehovah leaves no doubt as to the outcome. He will remove wickedness from the earth and preserve the righteous for life eternal. In South America increasing numbers look forward to this new world, and they will not be disappointed.
[Picture on page 168]
13,174 publishers in 1953
807 in 1942