Big Brazil Sees Expansion
PORTO ALEGRE, the center of commercial activity for the two southernmost states of Brazil, received its first visit by a president of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society when, on January 3, N. H. Knorr and a director of the Society, M. G. Henschel, arrived. This southern point of the country is very much like Uruguay and Argentina and has the same cowboys or gauchos. Many of these countryfolk traveled by train and bus for as many as 600 miles to the assembly that was opened on January 2. Brothers Knorr and Henschel arrived Sunday at 3:00 p.m., about an hour after an all-morning cloudburst which thoroughly soaked the earth and many of the conventioners who were not so fortunate as to get a taxi. The rain brought such a cold spell that the baptism scheduled for 9:00 a.m. had to be moved over to Monday, the last day of the assembly, when Brothers Knorr and Henschel were to speak to the brothers.
But it did clear up for the Sunday public lecture “After Armageddon—God’s New World,” and a local brother gave it to 645 gathered in assembly in the Exposition Pavilion of the Ministry of Agriculture. Just two years ago an assembly was held in the same place with an attendance of half that number.
When Monday morning dawned the sun was bright and the heat it generated licked up the remaining puddles and dried up the grounds around the palm-thatched cafeteria, where more than 400 brothers ate their meals on wooden tables and benches. After breakfast the front seats in the hall were reserved for the ones being baptized. There 115 persons who were to be baptized in the bay not far away heard the talk made directly to them. Of these, 40 were men and 75 were women. All conventioners were encouraged to see so many people from their midst dedicating themselves to the new-world ministry work.
In the evening 445 brothers and people of good will stayed for the climax of the assembly when Brother Henschel first spoke for two hours through his interpreter followed by Brother Knorr in like manner. These brothers in the south were very glad and bade these representatives to return as soon as possible.
The ten banners strung up all the way across the streets in most cases received many comments. Groups of people gathered at some points to discuss the word Armageddon in the title, and the meaning of the word itself aroused one storekeeper to take off part of this Sunday to come to hear the lecture out of curiosity over the meaning of the word. When the brothers came to take the sign down the following Tuesday he said he heard that lecture and he would like to live in God’s new world. Maybe he will if he follows through on his wish. At any rate some of the brothers arranged to call back on him. Many show windows in the center of town received the window cards offered by the brothers and over a thousand were placed in that manner. Local newspapers all over those two states, dozens of them, carried articles announcing the assembly and during the assembly many of the local city papers published articles. One published pictures of the baptism. In most cases they accepted the write-ups and a good witness was given through an explanation of Bible doctrine.
Brothers Knorr and Henschel, accompanied by the branch servant, were up bright and early on the sixth of January so as to catch their airplane for Rio de Janeiro, center of the federal government, and also where the branch home and factory are located. At 1:30 p.m. the picturesque harbor of Rio de Janeiro, Guanabara Bay, hove into sight. One of the busiest ports in the world, Rio showed the travelers what seemed like hundreds of steamships from all corners of the earth waiting for their chance to tie up at the docks. For the third time Brother Knorr was seeing the famous Sugar Loaf Mountain from the air. Then down went the plane to land at Aeroporto Santos Dumont, situated right in the heart of the city on some land that extends out into the bay. And yes, there in the ultramodern terminal building was a whole group of happy Gilead graduates and native brothers waiting to give warm greetings to the world travelers from headquarters.
After exchanging greetings Brothers Knorr and Henschel were off in the Society’s station wagon to get their first view of the new two-story factory and office building constructed in 1953 and another view of the Bethel home which had been remodeled since their last visit to the country in 1949. This time instead of an iron picket fence there was a white wall in the form of a watchtower and parapet, giving the building a very striking appearance. It was all in keeping with the theocratic expansion.
During the visit to Brazil in March, 1945, Brother Knorr found 354 publishers, which number rose to 1,900 at the last visit during April, 1949. This time he was pleased to find that the number of ministers has now risen to 6,429. The tireless efforts of the many missionaries and local publishers of the good news produced much fruit.
The two visiting brothers spent the rest of that day, Wednesday, and Thursday going over the branch records and working out the problems of expansion in the vast territory, even greater than that of the United States.
In the meantime, the final preparations for the greatest assembly in the history of Jehovah’s witnesses in Brazil were being carried to a successful climax. Although difficulty in finding an adequate place was encountered, arrangements had been made to use a large enclosed area, a sports playground, the Praça de Esportes da Associação dos Servidores Civís.
Brothers from all over the country had heard the call to come to Rio and on Wednesday afternoon a special plane came in from Salvador to the north with fifty brothers aboard. It was a trip of over 700 miles. Especially moving was the fact that some of the elderly brothers and sisters that came had hardly ever traveled out side their own city by bus and had never been in an airplane before. Others from the north came in by train a week ahead of time. It was a long and arduous journey of six days and nights on train with facilities more like the days of the wild west of the nineteenth century: the trains still burn wood in Brazil and are narrow gauge. It took one pioneer a month and a half to get to the convention, stopping in cities along the way to give a witness. Two special trains brought 1500 conventioners from the big capital of São Paulo and one special train brought about 250 brothers and people of good will down from the mountainous mining state of Minas Gerais. Others came by special bus and private car. So it was not surprising to find 2,625 present for the opening talk. Above the entrance to the field a large banner saying, “Welcome to the New World Society Assembly,” greeted every visitor. To reach the platform one walked through an aisle of giant “fico” trees that gave refreshing respite from the hot sun of the tropical summer. The weather was ideal for an outdoor assembly.
Already the newspapers, seven radio stations, 300 signs in buses, along with 1,800 window signs, were calling the public’s attention to the gathering of Jehovah’s people.
The day’s program went well with informative talks setting the theme of living according to principles of the New World society. The climax of the first day arrived with Brother Henschel’s talk “Lies Lead to Loss of Life.” Underneath the giant trees that stretched their arms toward the heavens, 3,243 persons gave attentive ear to the mature Christian counsel on controlling the tongue to speak only the truth and on dealing truthfully with one another. Happily content with much more information to give them a solid basis for confidence in the theocratic organization, they sang the final song underneath starry tropical skies.
Saturday would be the big day of the baptism. The assembly grounds were within walking distance of the Atlantic Ocean. There near Copacabana, under the brilliant morning sun, 457 brothers and sisters walked across the stretch of white sand beach to take their turn of being immersed in the blue-green waters. Brazil has a mixture of peoples, so there were peoples of many races in the group.
Brother Knorr had invited all the Gilead graduates to a luncheon in the Bethel home, and after an hour of happy fellowship all of them considered together the expansion of the work and what could be done by them to push out into other fields. It was decided to break down the larger eight- and nine-member groups now present in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo into smaller groups and go out into the cities of the interior with the aim in mind of starting new congregations. Everyone felt as though this was a big step forward in reaching the sixty million people in Brazilian territory. After being in the same place for some time the missionaries expressed their willingness to be on the move again to new fields of theocratic expansion.
The time passed so rapidly that the circuit servant and the two visiting brothers had to be hustled off in the station wagon to the assembly grounds in time for the meeting with all the circuit servants at 4:30 p.m.
Using an interpreter Brother Knorr explained the necessity for more attention to the work in the field. Arrangements were made to have a short two-day meeting with all the circuit servants in the branch office, to bring all to the same meeting of the mind, thus leading to greater unification of the work in the field. The possibilities of teaching the congregations reading and writing and of establishing schools were discussed and found a necessity. In some sections in the north of Brazil not all have educational opportunities. Sometimes 75 per cent do not read or write, and this is a handicap. Arrangements were discussed for bringing on more special pioneers and mature ones to take up special service with the Society. Brother Knorr showed the necessity of pushing ahead the preaching of the good news on a greater scale than ever before. There will now be fifteen circuits in Brazil in order to cover the circuit itineraries once every four months, each servant having ten congregations along with many isolated people to visit.
Finished with this special meeting, Brother Knorr went to the microphone with his interpreter to give a forcefully appealing discourse on “Make Your Advancement Manifest to All Persons.” It appealed to the individual publisher and to the individual person of good will, and was based on 1 Timothy 4:15, 16. The New World society is advancing, so all should get into it and stay there, progressing with it. Many times the Brazilian brothers and all present expressed their appreciation for the Scriptural admonition by applauding. They understood the points made. This was the first time that the majority had the opportunity to hear the president of the Watch Tower Society speak and it seemed that the information given was just the thing needed. It transmitted the very spirit of the theocratic expansion program to have every person desiring life in the new world manifest his progress by works, within the congregation and publicly.
As always seems the case the last day of the assembly came too soon. The assembly grounds were replete with thousands of theocratic publishers and their friends. Jehovah must have looked down with pleasure on that center of theocratic activity. Brother Henschel’s talk on “The Day for Salvation” strengthened the brothers for the future burning tests of integrity at the hands of the Devil’s organization. Brother Knorr followed up by forcefully proving that “Love Is Practical.” Then, seeing that the two North American visitors were going to leave later that same day, the Brazilian brothers and people of good will said good-by to Brother Knorr, and when he asked whether to take their love to the Brooklyn Bethel family and to all others along the way he was greeted with a resounding burst of applause. He commended the wonderful progress shown by the organization but also showed the necessity of greater distribution of the Watchtower magazine, each publisher distributing at least a hundred copies a year. Invitations were given to enter the special pioneer service. On announcing that the Society was buying a new linotype machine and that Awake! in Portuguese would be larger, equal in size to The Watchtower, the audience clapped with happiness. The theme was expansion. With the new machinery some of the present Bethel force could enter the circuit or special pioneer work. As soon as the barriers on importation of literature could be raised, more bound books would be sent to Brazil. The audience regretted hearing Brother Knorr say his last word. They showed their appreciation for his coming, hoping that he would return again soon.
The weather continued to be dry and hot and the climax of the New World Society Assembly in Rio arrived with 5,443 present to hear a Brazilian brother deliver the talk “After Armageddon—God’s New World.” This combined with the attendance of 645 in Porto Alegre brought the total audience to 6,088, giving a grand opening to 1954, remembering too the total of 572 that were baptized.
It can be said with certainty that this was the best and the biggest theocratic assembly ever held in the country and was well recognized by the press, television, radio and magazines.
The manager of the sports field, who had been a little nervous and irritable about the whole affair the first day, told the brothers after the cleanup of the assembly grounds: “You people can come here every three months if you want to. Why, the two football teams of just 22 men practicing give me more work than thousands of you witnesses.” So, that night, January 10, the thousands who had come to meet together in Jehovah’s name and to bless it went back to their more than sixty cities, carrying with them the satisfying hope of the new world and a much clearer vision of what it means to live as a New World society.
At the same time Brothers Knorr and Henschel were waiting for their airliner at the Galeão International airport, outside of Rio, to carry them on the next leg of their journey, over the vast reaches of the South American continent to another theocratic outpost on the island of Trinidad.