NEW Year’s Day is looked forward to by many people all over the world as a day of celebration, but to Jehovah’s witnesses in Uruguay January 1, 1954, was anticipated with special expectations. They knew that it would be the opening day of their national assembly in Montevideo and that, as announced in July, 1953, at Yankee Stadium in New York, the president of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society, N. H. Knorr, would be there.
They wanted this to be their best assembly ever held. About three months before the assembly the local organization began to take shape. A hall was rented and the program was made up with the high point being the public talk “After Armageddon—God’s New World.”
Publicity received special attention. About a month before the assembly a form of publicity never before realized in Uruguay began to break. This was the result of persistent and extensive efforts on the part of the missionary brothers in visiting all the many newspapers in Montevideo, the capital, with close to a million population, showing them the ‘newsworthiness’ and public interest involved in the event. Clippings from newspapers in New York at the time of the international convention there were shown and special write-ups were submitted. At first the editors were polite but not excited, and in one instance the brothers had to wait all day to see the right editor; but the result: he published the article. One newspaper broke out with headlines noting that the general assembly of Jehovah’s witnesses was going to take place in Montevideo. From then on every newspaper, except that run by the Catholic Church, 16 in all, published articles of interest, and all alerted their readers to the public talk Sunday, January 3. One newspaper published six separate articles in a period of three weeks before the convention. Radio was also extensively used and five separate interviews, as well as many news announcements, were obtained. All this publicity was free. Uruguay is famous for its freedoms, and Jehovah’s witnesses use these freedoms well.
Enthusiasm among the publishers and persons of good will was greater than at any previous time, and so all were invited to participate in the preconvention work. Three hundred placards for sandwich walkers were soon ready. Eighty thousand handbills were printed and distributed to the friendly Uruguayans milling in great numbers on the streets during this warm end-of-the-year fiesta season. The word Armagedón not being so well known in Uruguay, many were those who inquired about its meaning and many were the opportunities of witnessing. There below the equator they have a way of advertising not so widely used in the United States. On available walls and buildings on practically every street in the city are plastered “murals” or printed posters giving information on almost everything—matters political, social, religious, commercial, etc. A thousand posters advertising the public talks were prepared, and crews of brothers with brushes and pails of paste went out on night shifts plastering up the walls. The work was so well done that priests, who never bother the many false propaganda posters put up by the Communists, were noticed leading groups of small boys around to tear off the signs. But they soon gave up, because this gave only more publicity. The Uruguayans read these posters while traveling on buses and streetcars as New Yorkers read their headlines on the subways.
Brothers Knorr and Henschel were due in Montevideo Tuesday afternoon, the 29th of December, and the congregations in Montevideo wanted to be at the airport to see them in. How many wanted to go? They had to hire four buses. As the brothers emptied out of the buses at the airport and filled completely the expansive balcony overlooking the landing strip, airport personnel and onlookers, startled at this turnout of people, began asking questions and got answers that made them even more amazed. The New World society was growing fast in Uruguay. The 170, including the missionaries, who had come out to the airport were watching each passenger stepping out of the plane, looking for their brothers. Later roars of applause greeted the anticipated visitors as first Brother Henschel and then Brother Knorr appeared in the doorway smiling and then waving. One hundred and seventy smiles beamed back: “Welcome to Uruguay.” The enthusiasm sweeping through the crowd made one thing very evident: the assembly had already begun for the brothers in Uruguay.
After immigration, customs and photographers the visitors were conducted by this large welcoming committee into a waiting taxi and were soon in the familiar surroundings of the branch missionary home in Montevideo. An hour later a representative from a local radio station dropped in to record an interview with Brother Knorr, concerning the purpose of the assembly, which was broadcast later that same night. At sunrise the next morning Brother Henschel left with the circuit servant for a run up into the interior as far as Rivera on the Brazilian border. They stopped for three hours in Melo to see the missionary headquarters, and while they were there a recording of a 15-minute interview was made to be broadcast that same day. In Rivera two service talks were given besides a public talk in Hotel Casino, which seventy attended. Eight local publishers, besides two Gilead graduate missionaries, then came on down for the Montevideo assembly.
Thursday morning Brother Knorr and the branch servant were off by plane into the interior to the second-largest city in Uruguay, Salto. After visiting the missionary home another radio interview was had during a popular radio program and then dinner with the missionaries. At 4 p.m. Brother Knorr gave a talk on service and with timely counsel, with the branch servant interpreting. Then the public talk “After Armageddon—God’s New World,” with seventy in attendance. It was time now for the Salto delegates to the big assembly in Montevideo to be ready for the return trip. The bus rented especially for the trip and return rolled up about 10 p.m. and everybody, including Brother Knorr, got in. Every seat was taken and some sat in the aisle for the all-night run to the capital. After three flats it pulled into Montevideo limping on only three of its usual four rear tires.
Friday morning dawned warm and clear—New Year’s Day, January 1, 1954, midsummer in Uruguay. And this, the big day, had finally come. It was the best way in the world to start out a new year. A word about this may be of interest here. New Year’s Day is one of the most celebrated holidays in Uruguay. Everybody knew that it would require extraspecial effort to get out a good gathering for this holiday week end, what with the many detractions and its being also the season for the beachloving Uruguayans. Also the 31st of December was the day of the big end-of-the-year lottery with $2,000,000, $1,000,000 and $500,000 (pesos) being the first, second and third prize drawings. The evening before the assembly (New Year’s Eve) the papers were full of pictures of the jubilant winners and the whole population was keyed up to the glitter of gold, most of which was going out of rather than into their pockets. In the same edition with all this publicity one of the largest papers published the picture of Brothers Knorr and Henschel taken at the airport, noting that: “The distinguished spiritual leaders have arrived in our capital to take part in the general assembly of the Watch Tower Society.” So here in the midst of the worship of the materialistic, Jehovah had prepared a great feast of spiritual things and an occasion for clean worship as yet unparalleled in Uruguay.
Willing volunteers had been working at the hall since 5:30 a.m. to prepare it after the previous night’s new-year affair, and Friday morning found a transformed “El Hogár Húngaro” filled with Jehovah’s witnesses, who had come to enjoy the day.
The convention opened on the international theme, indicating that this was going to be a miniature New York assembly. All of the ample stage was set up to depict “Happenings at the Yankee Stadium.” Hanging overhead was a duplicate of the very same illustrated banner which had identified Uruguay at Yankee Stadium. The audience was taken as it were to New York city to enjoy in person the assembly there. Preconvention activity was shown, the welcoming and guiding of the visiting conventioners, and various departments. Twenty-five different persons in colorful native costumes, representing the various countries, moved in and about “New York city and Yankee Stadium” and then each gave a brief report of the work in his respective country. This was followed by a talk on the international assembly by the only local publisher who had attended the convention in person and who had just arrived a week before by boat. Talks on filling the house with glory and gathering men of good will from all nations finished off the morning.
Friday afternoon saw 520 in attendance to hear the welcoming talk by the branch servant. Following this came the theocratic ministry school. It was interesting to note that some of the young students who at the time of the Society’s president’s last visit were just out of knee pants were now mature, capable speakers. Then came the service meeting with the theme being the Watchtower magazine, its value and how to use it better.
In the evening Brother Henschel delivered a talk in Spanish on “The Day of Salvation,” which was well received, and then Brother Knorr gave his talk with interpreter, which was counsel and exhortation with apt examples, which was particularly well appreciated, as could be seen by the intent faces of the 525 listeners and their spontaneous, powerful applause.
When it was seen how many indicated their desire to symbolize their dedication to Jehovah by water baptism it was decided to have a truck ready besides the bus already arranged for transporting to the nearby ocean. Saturday morning both were needed and were filled to capacity. Upon arriving at the beach it was noted that because of the brisk wind and rough surf the red flag was out, which meant no swimming. But would this mean no baptism? As the happy crowd of prospective candidates for immersion swarmed into the dressing tents and then began to emerge toward the water to be submerged, the guard’s whistle shrilled out. “What’s all this about?” A minute’s conversation with the four brothers assigned to do the baptizing and all was well: “Go right ahead.” A satisfying picture this was: The blue-green expanse of the open sea, white-capped breakers foaming onto the gold-sanded beach and seventy-five witnesses of Jehovah expressing their dedication to do the will of the Most High by baptism in water, as commanded by Christ Jesus, the greatest witness of them all.
Among them were a young couple, parents of two children. Just a year ago they obtained a Bible from a witness, the first they had read, but did not desire further literature at that time. A month or so later their desire to understand the Bible better led to the placement of a “Let God Be True” book and then a home Bible study. Two weeks more saw all ‘holy’ pictures and images disappear from the house. Then followed a month-by-month progressive growth in understanding and a working knowledge of “Let God Be True”. This was followed by successively regular attendance at congregational meetings and active service two months before baptism. They missed not a minute of the three-day assembly, which most certainly marked a milestone in their lives. Thus one enters the true Christian ministry as early Christians did.
Saturday afternoon brought an increase in attendance to 560 and then Saturday evening with Brothers Knorr and Henschel again on the program there were 715 eager listeners.
Saturday night the main hall was packed out and the side patio onto which it opened was well filled. Although the advertised public talk was to be given Sunday morning due to the necessity of Brothers Knorr and Henschel having to leave to catch the only available plane that day to Brazil, arrangements would have to be made for even more to hear should they come. That meant more sound equipment and extra speakers to be put in the hallway entrance and the back patio where standees could hear. All business places were closed but a newly baptized brother was able to persuade his brother (not a witness) to bring his equipment and set it up.
Already at 8:30 on Sunday the hall was filling up. By the time the preliminary talks on “The Living Word” and “The New World Society Attacked from the Far North” were concluded, half an hour before the feature talk, every seat was taken and by 10:30 a.m. the main hall was ringed with standees, the patios were occupied and the entrance hall was filling up. One thousand and thirty-two persons had made a special effort to get out to hear about God’s new world after Armageddon, almost twice as many as the last time the president of the Society spoke in Montevideo. They were obviously not disappointed in what they heard and the direct, personal appeal to learn more about Jehovah’s new world and to avail themselves of the assistance of Jehovah’s witnesses toward that end was not lost. As a young man who approached and gave his name and address to one of the attendants expressed it: “I feel that I must learn more about this remarkable religion.”
After expressing his pleasure on having been able to visit Montevideo again, Brother Knorr and his secretary left for the airport. However, the momentum of the enthusiasm generated at the assembly in the morning carried over into the afternoon. An audience of 715 stayed on to draw the last benefits from this very interesting convention. They were looking forward to greater growth in Uruguay under the guidance of a newly appointed branch servant.
Although Yankee Stadium was thousands of miles away and the convention there had been long over, Jehovah’s witnesses in Uruguay had relived and shared in the spirit of that great event and were anticipating more of Jehovah’s blessings in the future. The high point of assemblies there had reached a new high. It was the best thing yet for Uruguay.