Holding a New World Society Assembly Nationwide in Argentina
AT THE moment we find N. H. Knorr, the president of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society, on the concluding day of his visit to Chile in his South American service tour that began with his departure with his secretary, M. G. Henschel, from Idlewild airport, New York, Saturday, November 14, 1953. In Peru he had parted company with his secretary and for the time was now traveling solo, expecting to join company again in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
On Saturday morning, December 19, when checking with the airline it was learned that the plane traveling to Mendoza, Argentina, was moved ahead and so it meant rushing to finish up all things in the morning and get away by 2 p.m. All the missionaries in Santiago, Chile, and a number of the brothers who remained in town came out to the airport. The thirteen days spent in Chile will long be remembered, and it certainly was good to observe the excellent increase that is being made in gathering together the “other sheep,” and everyone feels sure that many more will come in during the next few years.
As Brother Knorr traveled alone across the fertile valley in which Santiago is situated he could not help but think of the tremendous amount of work that must yet be done in all parts of the world. It is a joy to know that about 520,000 are anxiously putting forth every effort to accomplish this preaching activity.
The route across the Andes Mountains was different this time from that before. Previously the president of the Society had flown through what is called “The Pass” to Argentina, but this was closed by heavy clouds, so a more southerly route was taken and it proved to be an exceedingly beautiful one. The plane, on getting near the Andes, kept circling twice in order to gain altitude to get over these peaks that pierce the heavens, and then headed past the snowcapped pinnacles on both sides. The plane was low enough along the sides of the mountains to permit a clear view of the great snowslides and waterfalls. It is all over in about twenty minutes: the Andes are very narrow but high and beautiful, rocky and full of crevices. But one never takes his eyes off them as long as he is in their midst. Certainly the towering peaks covered with snow picture well the everlasting kingdom of Jehovah, the Sovereign Ruler. It seems as though nothing could ever move them, but Jehovah’s Word says that he will even shake the mountains and bring them low in the fierce battle of Armageddon and then all will know that Jehovah is God.
Suddenly the plane started downward, for it was not too great a distance from Mendoza and altitude had to be lost. The pampas of Argentina spread out like a great sea and, it being very warm that day, the heat waves that rose from the ground made the land appear to be like a great lake off in the distance. Below were the vineyards and fruit orchards and garden lands near Mendoza. The poplar trees and other trees along the roads stand up as a windbreak to protect the fruit. Then all of a sudden the plane rolled to a stop at the airport. Three brothers were there to meet Brother Knorr. His name appeared to be the last one on the passenger list, so it took a long time to get through the immigration and customs formalities.
The brothers had been busy in Mendoza preparing for the special get-together. One sister expressed herself, “This is such a great occasion for us it seems like a holiday. When I go out in the streets it seems like all the stores should be closed.”
From 4 p.m. (3 p.m. in Chile because of the time change) many of the brothers were already at the assembly point in the country waiting and from there they saw the plane from Chile as it descended from the tops of the Andes and went out of sight toward the airport. It brought great joy to their hearts to know Brother Knorr would soon be there to give them counsel and instruction.
Within 72 hours after arrival in Argentina one must register at the Federal Police, so this was first taken care of and also checking on final arrangements for departure Monday for Córdoba, another speaking assignment. Brother Knorr stopped long enough at a brother’s home in the city to leave his luggage and arrived at the group at 6:30 p.m. Before the talk, scheduled in a half hour, the brother and owner of the little farm invited Brother and Sister Eisenhower and Brother Knorr and a few others to the orchard to eat cherries that they had kept for a whole month beyond the ordinary picking time. They had saved one hanging branch just chock-full of big ripe red and yellow cherries. The whole branch had been wrapped up in a burlap sack, thus protecting it from the birds. The cherries were delicious, greatly appreciated too. The farmer’s home was surrounded by grape arbors and fruit trees, a beautiful spot.
Brother Knorr spoke for two and a half hours from the porch to 64 in attendance, using Brother Eisenhower as interpreter. After the talk they had a lunch, including ripe and green olives raised on the farm, along with plenty of fruit. All joined in this repast under the grape arbors. Then came the ride back to the house in the city to the home of the parents of two Gilead students of the twenty-second class of the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead. The trip was made in a small truck. This was the only car there, so the rest of the brothers traveled the little winding road by foot in the dark, taking about forty-five minutes. It was a lovely place to walk or ride that night because the moon was full. There were no clouds over the Andes and one would just pause and look at them in awe.
After a night’s rest and awaking at 5 a.m. a party of five was ready to go by taxi to another assembly 178 kilometers north of Mendoza along the foothills of the cordillera. This city is called San Juan. The group arrived there safely after going through a flood caused by a storm the night before. Some roads were four inches deep with water. As they drove there someone remembered and told an experience that had taken place in this town. One brother, rather tactless in presenting the Kingdom message, had told one opposing lady that at Armageddon when the stones began to fall on her she would remember the message he had given her. Then when that terrible earthquake came a few years later she thought it was Armageddon, because hundreds of persons were killed. At that time a rock did fall on her head and that made her think seriously. Soon she was in the organization. It took a “little Armageddon” to wake her up. Another report was of a brother’s opposing wife who had been warned about what Armageddon would be like and who really believed the quake was it; so she was surprised that she had survived the terrible shaking.
In this city, where the effects of this catastrophe can still be seen, the congregation servant was picked up and he showed the driver the way to go. The group went through the city and headed for the mountains, driving into a narrow valley with towering jagged rocky hills on both sides of the road. There, just behind this first row of mountains, the ascending and curling smoke at the foot of the mountains denoted the chosen picnic place of the brothers. The fast-rushing creek nearby made a cheerful noise of welcome to all. Arrival of the taxi broke up the friendly conversation and the oncoming crowd began to salute everyone with a hearty handshake. In no time the group was assembled near a clearing along the stream and the talk was on, with the trees providing a roof over a crowd of 135 brothers. This group was made up of two congregations. Children played and listened quietly and the brothers shifted from one position to another to get a shady spot, as the two speakers kept talking for two and a half hours. It was well after high noon when the meeting was closed with prayer. Everyone was overjoyed with the spiritual feast and then someone called out in Spanish: “Bring your meat to the fire.” It was time to eat and the asado was soon under way.
Hot coals and sizzling beef—what an aroma! Then about twelve brothers carried and laid two long logs horizontally about three feet apart, not far from the fire. These made the table, being topped with long sheets of galvanized iron. This stood about two feet from the ground. The smoke that had been seen on arrival was the burning of branches and charcoal, preparing for the asado, for the coals from this had to be spread over the ground under and very near an iron grate. This is typical of Argentina and the gaucho thrives on this food. Anyone could!
Near the grates a burning fire was kept for supplying more coals as the original ones burned out. The meat is roasted slowly in this way and produces continual drippings, which gives the asador and those looking on a terrific appetite. That was the signal everyone was waiting for: the asador calls out, “Está lista.” (”It is ready.”) It means few minutes can be lost, for the meat is at the right point to eat. If it remains even a bit too long it becomes dry and tough.
With forks the huge pieces of meat were carried from the grates a few feet away to the clean-topped metal “table.” Never mind the plates! Too many hungry people! And besides, it is most delicious and more fun to eat the asado with the fingers, as the people of Argentina do it. So everyone ate as they do. There is one fork for all in the big tin platter that contains a mixed salad of sliced tomatoes, onions, green peppers, seasoned with oil, salt and lemon. It is a wonderful combination with the meat. The meat was delicious. It was something like a big watermelon feast, but, instead of water on your nose, chin and mouth, it was the natural juices of the meat that dribbled down your chin and fingers. As everyone stood there around the table they had a drink of wine from the family glass, for without wine the asado is not complete in Argentina.
After the eating Brother Knorr gave a little farewell talk and then said good-by personally to everyone. Then to the taxi and the road back to Mendoza. Arrival was at 6:15 p.m. That meant the whole trip had taken twelve hours that day, seven of which were used in actual traveling.
Monday, December 20, at 5 a.m. the branch servant and his wife and Brother Knorr were up packing to travel. They left by plane at 7 a.m., heading for Córdoba, 700 kilometers away. A brother from Buenos Aires met them there in his car and, as planned, was to drive them from place to place for the rest of the trip. The luggage was put in the car and off they drove to a little farm out of town where 241 brothers from four congregations of the same city were waiting for Brother Knorr’s message based on God’s Word, which he had come to deliver. Since the Argentines are accustomed to saluting one another by the shaking of hands, it took quite a few minutes finally to start the talk and it was then about 11 a.m. Two and a half hours were spent in counseling. There were no seating accommodations; so all stood.
As they drank in the words of life, what a joy it was for all of them to be assembled together for the first time in many months! In Argentina they have their regular group studies of eight to fifteen persons and they preach the Word regularly, but at the moment there are no Kingdom Halls for large group assembly; however, out in the country they could all be together in one big picnic and hear Jehovah’s Word discussed, as well as hear of their brothers throughout the world. Their joy was beyond measure. They had lots of questions and through one or two persons who spoke English Brother Knorr could carry on conversation. They intended to make a day of it and all around the house little groups formed to eat their lunch. They too arranged for a delicious asado of which the visitors partook and then said good-by.
But the brothers did not want the four visitors to go away in the car and a brother, through the interpreter, told Brother Knorr he was going to puncture the tires so he could not go. But Brother Knorr told him, “You wouldn’t want to prevent the many others of Jehovah’s sheep along the way from hearing these things.” “Oh no, you are right. Go ahead!” he said with a smile. It was easy to see that the brothers disliked having the visitors leave, but it was quite astonishing after all had said good-by and the car had begun to pass out to the main road to see there a large crowd of the sisters who had run ahead and locked hands, blocking off the road. As the car advanced slowly the line that showed this expression of love and of wanting the visitors to stay longer was broken and then there was a final wave of good-by amid the joyful laughter and away the travelers sped for San Francisco, Argentina.
This was a three-hour drive, with arrival a little after 7 p.m. The home where the brothers were to meet was very quiet as the visitors approached. Only one brother sat on the sidewalk anxiously waiting, and when the car arrived he directed the passengers inside where 35 were waiting.
Then on to Santa Fe that night, arriving at 11:30 to get some rest in a hotel. At 7 a.m. that Tuesday the travelers were down at the river bank waiting for the launch to Paraná. This was a ride of an hour and a half, and then direct to the meeting place, where 55 persons were seated ready to listen.
At 10:15 the group was again crossing the river back to Santa Fe. On the way the engine of the launch caught on fire and even the pilot became frightened. One fat man with his coat in hand was really scared and started for the roof of the boat so he would be the last to go under, and he was heard saying, “And it had to happen today!” The pilot steered the boat head on for the shore, about 200 yards away, but when he saw the fire was being overcome he changed his course not far from being grounded and headed for deep water again. It was exciting while it lasted, especially for those who could not swim. Soon the fire was out and everyone arrived safely on the shore at Santa Fe. Four groups in this city had to be visited, too, one hour at each place. All were waiting and the time schedule was being kept well. There was no time to say good-by personally, for it was a quick run from one place to the other and there was no time to lose.
A little after 5 p.m. they drove and made one more assignment on the outskirts of the next city to be visited, Rosario. The other four groups here would wait for the following day as planned. At 8:30 Tuesday night supper was enjoyed at a missionary home where two, man and wife, are living. There also the circuit servant and wife, who are Gilead graduates, met the visitors. It was a pleasant evening and a most enjoyable day.
The next morning at 8:30 the first talk started and by 1:30 four groups had been served and 189 had heard Brother Knorr speak. Lunch again at the missionary home and at 3:30 the travelers arrived at the next town, Ciudád Evíta. The congregation servant was met, as was done all along the way, so he could direct the visitors to the place of the meeting. This time they had chosen a place about six kilometers from town on a brother’s farm. As they drove in on dusty roads they could see the brothers walking around the farm. They had made a day’s picnic out of it and it had really been an assembly for them. Here were present three congregations from two other neighboring towns. A couple spied the car and ran with the news and by the time the car reached the farm and the travelers walked to the back of the house everyone was in his place and not a sound were they making. The four visitors could see the big backyard had received special attention during the day. A platform had been set up. The year’s text (Psalm 29:2) had been hung on the outside of the house, making a very appropriate background for the speakers. Flowers were arranged in different ways around the text. Bouquets were on the speaker’s table, and still others were tied to trees. It was a thrilling sight to see them sitting there really taking in Brother Knorr’s talk. All 115 are devoted publishers.
This was really an occasion for them, but even more so for Brother Knorr. All these brothers all along the way in all parts of the country had come great distances and taken off from work in the middle of the week just to be assembled with their brothers of like precious faith and to receive good words from one of Jehovah’s servants. To tell just how they felt and how Brother Knorr felt would be hard to put in writing. But love is expressed. Here love was in action. Jehovah’s witnesses in Argentina are full of zeal and have the joy of the Most High and want to praise Jehovah with their brothers everywhere. And they are doing so!
After the talk Brother Knorr and the others were invited to eat, and the table was all prepared, but the schedule would not allow time to eat there, so they had a cold drink and as they walked out of the house they were loaded with a huge cake and a roasted chicken. When they went to get into the car they heard theocratic songs being sung by the brothers who had gathered up near the car. One was playing the accordion. It sounded good in Spanish, just as good as in English.
Taking the dirt road, they reached the highway that led them to the next stop, Bell Ville. There too everyone was waiting. In the home of one of the sisters on the outskirts of town they had prepared a place along the side of the house. Where the trees and bushes failed to cover sufficiently, blankets and pieces of material were hung, to keep from drawing attention from passers-by. Here there were 75 from three congregations. To get to the last two places they had very dusty roads. On occasions the dust made it necessary to put up all windows in the car, in spite of the heat, as clouds of dirt were raised by passing cars.
Leaving there at 8:30 p.m., they traveled until 1:40 the next morning to the city called Rio Cuarto. They slept about five hours in the hotel and Brother Knorr was up and gone, giving his next discourse at nine that morning. He gave a very stern and emphatic discourse on service here. About 30 publishers in this congregation had caused division among the brothers and were failing to recognize the present congregation and yet would come and request literature and territory. This included four pioneers. After the lecture, questions by the congregation servant were answered by Brother Knorr in the presence of all the brothers as to the proper procedure in disfellowshiping those causing division. This was very interesting to all. Despite the problems here being considered, all enjoyed the Creator’s creation as everyone stood throughout the discourse surrounded by trees and grass. It was a beautiful place, though the wind was terrifically strong. This is a common thing in this part of the country, but it was specially noticeable when the interpreter had to reach up several times and break off the molesting small limbs as they switched above his head.
It was amazing here to see how organized this group was, so that the unfaithful ones would not find out the meeting place. The congregation servant had indicated to them a certain place on the outskirts of town where a brother would be waiting and there he would tell them the exact place. In that way the others could not filter in. This group numbered 48 from three congregations, including two neighboring towns. Some had traveled from 5 a.m. to 8:30 by bus and then had walked from the town out to the little farm.
Saying good-by until next time, the travelers headed for Pergamino, leaving after 10 a.m. and arriving at 4 p.m. They bought fruit along the way and so did not lose time for lunch, just traveling straight through. A congregation from Junin had come to join this one, making a group of 28. After he closed this talk, the brothers expressed their desire, as all the others along the way did, to have Brother Knorr take their love and greetings along to all the others he would meet.
There was one more stop, the last before arriving in Buenos Aires. This was flat country and rather green along the way. A little way out the travelers came to a dirt road and traveled 30 kilometers on to Salto. The mud bird-nests stuck on the top of fence and telephone posts, as well as dozens of owls, made it quite interesting along this road. Along the way the travelers had received a letter from the brothers of this little town saying they must stay for supper. They did not mind after being on a fruit diet all day. Upon arriving and as they entered the passageway alongside the house, the travelers caught sight of two roasting lambs stretched out on an iron rod asando. The rod, one end buried in the ground, held the meat in the air in a reclining position over the coals. The visitors learned that it takes three hours of slow cooking in this way. It was seasoned with salt before cooking and then each one would be served his portion seasoned with a sauce.
It happened to be the night before Christmas, when the people of the world were celebrating a big feast, but Jehovah’s witnesses used this feasting occasion for a big get-together for truly Christian purposes. First they were served with spiritual food. The meeting was to begin at 7 p.m. and the four travelers arrived five minutes late after all these days of travel and keeping a tight schedule. The brother who furnished and drove the car had done a wonderful service to his brothers and it was appreciated by Brother Knorr. He was not finished yet, but all were grateful that such a vast territory could be covered. So on went the last meeting outside Buenos Aires in this home. It was pleasant and upbuilding to all. Brother Knorr talked for more than an hour to 38 and then the tables were set.
At the table about 26 were present and enjoying Brother Knorr’s experiences in the United States and other places as he related them. Before leaving they expressed their joy that it had not rained, for it would have been impossible to travel that muddy road. The weather had threatened all afternoon and the four visitors too had wondered if it would be possible to travel if the roads had been muddy. After they were on the way the cloudburst came and it really rained. A brother of Salto rode with the travelers to the next town to make sure the travelers kept on the right road. He made it by 11 p.m., just in time to take the train back.
Brother Knorr and Brother and Sister Eisenhower and the car driver continued on and finally arrived in Buenos Aires at 2 a.m. It was Christmas eve and the traffic was heavy. Driving was bad. All were thankful to Jehovah for this great privilege of service they had had all along the way and they appreciated the way the brothers had carried out instructions faithfully. All this contributed to a successful way of talking to as many as possible.
From the time they met in Mendoza until they arrived in Buenos Aires they had traveled over 1,500 miles by car and 400 by plane. All this was done from Saturday, December 19, to the following Thursday. A total of 19 talks with 1,232 in attendance was the report.
[Map on page 269]
(For fully formatted text, see publication)
N. H. Knorr’s route
Distance: 1900 miles
Time: 6 days
Total attendance: 1,232 at 19 talks