Spreading Theocratic Cheer Through Argentina
WHILE the Watch Tower Society’s president, N. H. Knorr, was visiting the brothers in Mendoza, Argentina, on Saturday, December 19, his secretary, M. G. Henschel, was traveling from Asunción, Paraguay, to Buenos Aires, en route to Neuquén, in the southern part of the Argentine republic. One of the graduates of the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead, Brother Hughes, met him at the airport near Buenos Aires, and took him to the headquarters of Jehovah’s witnesses for Argentina in Buenos Aires, where they spent about six hours and got some rest. Before dawn they returned to the airport and took an Argentine Airlines plane for their journey of over 1,000 kilometers to Neuquén, in the prospering Rio Negro fruit-growing district, situated below the 38th parallel. It is the irrigation from the river that makes a desertlike part of Argentina produce some of the most delicious fruits in the world. Among those participating in the raising of fruits are some of Jehovah’s witnesses, and it was at the quinta, or farm, of one of the brothers that 115 brothers and many of their children, from four congregations of Jehovah’s witnesses in various towns of the zone, awaited the sight of the cloud of dust rising above the unpaved road that would signal the approach of the car coming from the airport.
On entering the quinta, which was surrounded by high poplar trees that bound together the small dikes carrying lifegiving waters to the fertile land, the visiting brothers saw a rapid concentration of brothers running from all directions to surround the auto and stretch out the hand of welcome. Quickly they gathered together boxes and tree stumps and planks and made a small auditorium in the shade of the poplar trees next to a grape arbor. A pleasant breeze cooled the listeners. Brother Henschel delivered three talks and Brother Hughes one. An assembly of three and a half hours with 115 members of the New World society might not seem to be so much, but for these brothers it was the greatest event in the history of the local congregations. Their appreciation of this assembly was seen in their complete silence during the talks and how carefully they noted down all the Bible texts referred to and points of special interest.
The first congregation in this part of the country was formed in Neuquén in 1945 around an isolated publisher who is employed by the railways and whose work was favorable for extending the message of the Kingdom to many towns during his trips. His work and the help of some pioneers, plus constant visits from circuit servants, caused the congregation to grow and the isolated interest to develop. Now there are four congregations in the area and the brothers are happy that one in their midst has been able to enter the pioneer service and is putting forth an effort to learn English so that he can have the privilege of going to Gilead and entering the missionary service thereafter.
Almost directly east of Neuquén on the coast is the important city of Bahía Blanca, a distance of 587 kilometers. Because the train of the Ferrocarríl General Roca must stop at every town along the way, with long stops at many stations, the trip would consume an entire day. But the long stops did provide an opportunity for the brothers along the way, who had taken so much joy out of the assembly the day before, to spend a little time with the traveling brothers, and so at the start of the trip some brothers waited at nearly every station. And the brother who is employed by the railways was working that day, so he was able to see the brothers from time to time during the first eight hours of the journey. It is the rivers that make this part of Argentina produce fruit, and the train follows the Rio Negro for a time, then crosses the arid land to the edge of the Rio Colorado, which was in flood stage. A few cities were passed on the way where there are no congregations of Jehovah’s witnesses, so it is evident there is more room for expansion in Argentina and more pioneers can well be used.
It was past midnight when the train pulled into the station at Bahía Blanca, but two brothers were waiting with a car to take the visitors to their rooms. In this city the one congregation had recently been divided into two units and all the brothers were embracing their new responsibilities with great enthusiasm and joy, making it possible for one of the brothers who met the train, a special pioneer, to be given a new assignment in a nearby city where many interested persons were asking for assistance. In this connection the major problem facing the special pioneers in Argentina when they go to new assignments is finding a place to live, and this was a problem that had confronted the special pioneer brother in Bahía Blanca, who was making arrangements to go to his new territory. But the brothers in Bahía Blanca demonstrated their appreciation for the services of love shown them by the special pioneer and provided him with a prefabricated house and obtained the piece of land on which to erect it in the new city.
The visit to Bahía Blanca was very short. Brother Henschel addressed two groups of brothers, a total of 50, registered with the police as required of all tourists who enter the country, and then had lunch. One of the publishers in the congregation owned a car that he offered for the service of Jehovah, and so he very kindly began his work of chauffeur for a trip of 1,245 kilometers. The first leg of the trip was 490 kilometers, and the destination was the famous seaside resort, Mar del Plata. But the departure from Bahía Blanca was over an hour late, according to the information on the itinerary provided by the Society’s branch office, and, as it turned out, it was impossible to recover this lost time even though the roads to be used in this part of the country are paved. The trip was pleasant, through a verdant farming country teeming with cattle and horses, but the big question was whether the brothers waiting in Mar del Plata would wait long enough. It was dark before the group arrived in the city, but the brothers kept waiting until after 10 p.m. and in the end were not disappointed. They had carried on with a service meeting of an improvised kind during their waiting period. These 25 publishers had lots of work to do, for Mar del Plata is a city of some 150,000 in normal times, but in the summer the inhabitants increase to 500,000. But their life is not a dull one, for among the visitors to these beaches are a number of brothers who join in worship of Jehovah during their brief vacation visits to the city. But they are not enough to deal with the augmented population.
It would have been pleasant to spend a little time in Mar del Plata seeing the fine city and the beaches, but there was no opportunity for that. At dawn it was time to move on to the city of Balcárce, an hour-and-a-half trip from the coast. There, in a farmhouse close to the city, 22 brothers were found waiting to spend an hour with the traveling brothers. Notable in this congregation is the fact that the majority of the brothers are from Spain.
Next on the route was Tandíl, a city visited often by tourists who enjoy the good air of the nearby hills. Here there are four pioneers who are rejoicing in the increase of the work and who beamed at seeing 33 publishers assembled in a small house toward the edge of town. It is notable that this congregation had been formed through the work of one pioneer during his travels. This original pioneer is still working diligently in the city to spread the good news of the Kingdom, while he also works eight hours a day to maintain himself and his wife in the pioneer work. The pioneers are looking forward to the day when they will be able to leave behind in this city of their birth a strong congregation of Kingdom publishers and take new assignments in isolated territories. And looking even farther ahead, they are studying English in the hope of qualifying for an invitation to attend the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead and entering missionary service.
Tandíl has a very Catholic population and the extremely active group of Jehovah’s witnesses has made the clergy uncomfortable. In various ways the clergy warn their parishes not to take the literature of “those Protestants.” Often mention is made in their publications about the work of Jehovah’s witnesses and at times they solicit the co-operation of the authorities among the local police, saying “they should take action against those Protestants.” On the walls in the city signs have been seen bearing the following inscription: “Burn the magazine, The Watchtower, in your furnace.” With it all, the brothers have not been molested, except for a few warning words from some policemen, and they continue working regularly from house to house.
Buenos Aires was the next stop. The road was dirt part of the way and its roughness shook loose part of the exhaust pipe. There was a brief stop for repairs, and the result was that night fell long before Buenos Aires was reached. The driver felt the need of rest, so Brothers Hughes and Henschel took a train for the remaining 80 kilometers to the federal city.
The next day, December 24, the schedule called for a visit to Eva Perón, formerly La Plata, capital of the province of Buenos Aires. Groups of 20 and 30 were visited. Then on to nearby Berisso, where 22 were gathered. Next was Ensenáda, a congregation that is growing fast, where there are now three groups. The attendances were 34, 32 and 26. The chauffeur, who had joined the visitors again at Eva Perón, served well in a territory strange to him, about 50 kilometers from Buenos Aires city. For some years the brothers in this area had traveled all the way to Buenos Aires to attend the meetings, but now they were found to be well established, representing the New World society in the area with 144 publishers in the various groups.
Later, on the way back to Buenos Aires, a visit was made to a group at Bernál. Some brothers from another community were there, too, making up a total of 43. Here the congregation is formed of a mixed group, many being immigrants from Europe, but all active and full of joy, and the numbers are increasing.
December 25 was a day of great celebration for forms of religion in Buenos Aires and other parts of the world. Buenos Aires had been lavishly decorated for the holiday, with many signs, plaster figures and decorated trees. But since the day is not a real Christian time of celebration, Jehovah’s witnesses went about their business as usual. It rained hard all day and, since no meetings had been scheduled, the time was devoted by Brother Knorr, who had now rejoined Brother Henschel, to activities in the branch office. It was a pleasure to be with brothers who had served in Argentina from the very time that the work began there. And in the evening all the graduates of Gilead in Buenos Aires met at the missionary home to have dinner and a discussion.
Although the weather in Buenos Aires is usually stiflingly hot in the summer, it was unusually cool for this week of meetings, and that was especially fine in the city, for most of the meetings during this visit of the Watch Tower representatives were held in apartments or small rooms or garages next to the homes of brothers, and practically every place was quite comfortable, enabling the listeners to pay good attention.
Saturday, December 26, was the start of three big days of touring through Buenos Aires and talking to the brothers. A look at the Yearbook showed the day’s text to be Ezekiel 9:4, and one could not help but think it appropriate for the day in Argentina. The first meeting was scheduled for nine o’clock in the morning. Brother Knorr spoke first for about forty minutes. As soon as he concluded his talk he introduced Brother Henschel, who read a forty-minute talk in Spanish, and he was followed by Brother Hughes, who gave a discourse in Spanish on the theocratic organization and how it leads to life, a talk that had been given by the president in a number of other countries. This gave all of the brothers a full two-hour program and it ran as smoothly as clockwork. A very accurate schedule had been made out, and when the speakers walked into an apartment or patio everyone was seated waiting. Each meeting was opened with prayer. So throughout the whole day this continued until nine congregations had been served. Sometimes they met in a patio or in a third-floor apartment or in someone’s kitchen or out in a little house on the edge of the city. Wherever one went there were smiling faces and eyes filled with anticipation, and a great desire to applaud was seen everywhere, but the brothers dared not attract attention to their place of meeting. At the close of every talk that Brother Knorr gave every group asked to have their love and greetings sent on to the others in the city and to other parts of the world. Surely here was the spirit of unity.
The speakers got home at midnight, tired, but filled with joy at seeing so many radiant faces and knowing they belonged to brothers who wanted to push on in this grand witness work. The speakers had given something to the audience, but the audience had helped the speakers to avoid thinking about being tired, by the appreciation and enthusiasm for the work which they displayed. Audience, car drivers and speakers all co-operated together completely to produce a memorable day for the Kingdom service in Argentina.
Sunday’s program was even heavier. All the car drivers and speakers were up at 6 a.m. and left for the first stop at 7:30. Eleven groups were visited on Sunday, so each speaker delivered eleven talks, but somehow the speakers had as much strength on the eleventh talk as on the first. Certainly the spirit of Jehovah furnished the strength to keep up this pace. There was not much time to eat, and even this was scheduled. The brothers would get into a home, sit down and eat, and as soon as the work time arrived they began to talk to a group assembled nearby. Every meeting began punctually. Amazing as it may seem, very rarely was there a latecomer. This was a special event! A big assembly was on and all wanted to hear what the Society, through its representatives, had to tell them.
Monday, December 28, brought the close of the tour, with four more groups to visit in the afternoon. When the last lecture was given, Brother Knorr had talked to 43 groups in Argentina and the persons addressed totaled 2,053. Brother Henschel had talked to all those in Buenos Aires too, and to 13 other congregations outside to the south and west of Buenos Aires, an additional 452 persons, bringing the grand total spoken to during this trip in Argentina to 2,505. It was a source of great satisfaction and joy, this accomplishment, and all gave thanks to Jehovah for the way he used his people and organized them and brought them together in such a splendid way—no difficulties, no mishaps, and everyone extremely grateful to Jehovah.
There were many things to do at the branch office on Tuesday the 29th, and then in the afternoon it was a pleasure for Brothers Knorr and Henschel to spend a few minutes with the missionary graduates of Gilead and some of the other brothers at the airport. They were all satisfied that a visit so profitable had had a successful conclusion and that a few difficulties concerning holding meetings had not been sufficient to prevent the servants of Jehovah God in Argentina from having their own form of New World Society Assembly, with up into the hundreds together in the country and groups of 19 to 49 in the capital. By the end of December a new peak in number of publishers of the Kingdom was reached. Now 2,794 ministers are blessing Jehovah every day.