Assemblies in the West Indies
AFTER a forty-eight-hour stop-over in Trinidad at the branch office of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society in Port of Spain, the president of the Society, N. H. Knorr, and his traveling companion, M. G. Henschel, flew to the beautiful little coral island of Barbados on Wednesday, January 13, 1954. They were accompanied by the branch servant for the British West Indies, Robert Newton. Their purpose in going was to attend the assembly of Jehovah’s witnesses at Queen’s Park, Bridgetown.
The assembly was already in progress with sixty present at the Tuesday morning session, but the attendance grew rapidly to 244 for the afternoon session and reached a peak of 886 in the evening. This news was given to the arriving brothers by the group that met them at the Seawell airport in Barbados. In this group were nine brothers who had graduated from the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead. Some of them had come from other islands where they were doing missionary work, and they reported that this was really an international assembly because delegates from seven different countries and islands were present and twenty-five different congregations were represented.
They all seemed very happy to come to Barbados and enjoyed the trip very much, because Barbados is a thriving tourist center and a very picturesque island with an excellent climate. The roads are narrow, and as one drives from the airport by the cane fields and past the old sugar mills into the more densely populated area he sees the little stone houses with the pastel colors and the excellent beaches which are nearby. The glistening white sands of the beaches and the warm water are an inducement to any visitor to want to enjoy a swim. The streets through the towns are very narrow, so it is a good thing that small cars from Britain are most generally used. The center of Bridgetown is the harbor, which is too small for the large liners. The liners have to anchor outside, and small boats are used to bring passengers and cargo in to the shore. But schooners that ply between the islands and carry on much of the commerce in the West Indies are present in considerable numbers, and these are discharging cargo and taking on more for other islands. Many barrels are in evidence because among the principal products of Barbados are fine rum and molasses.
Barbados is an island of hospitality and a place where the Kingdom work is advancing well. The hospitality shown to the traveling brothers was very warm as some of the publishers gave their home, a pink building beside a narrow lane, for the use of the brothers during their stay and provided them with excellent meals.
The visitors were told how weeks in advance the advertising had gotten under way and 30,000 handbills were used to let the people of Barbados know about the public address “After Armageddon—God’s New World.” Posters numbering 300 along with 200 placards were used in the campaign. Five bicycle parades were organized, ten or more bicycles to a parade, and each bicycle carried placards to advertise the public talk. Three large banners announcing the public talk were stretched across three of the most popular streets in Bridgetown, and another one was hung up over the main gate of the Queen’s Park. A large poster, ten feet by eight feet, was placed just outside the Kingdom Hall on Bay Street, which is one of the main avenues. In addition to all this was the publicity in four newspapers of Barbados, which totaled twenty-four column inches of news items concerning the assembly. So on this small island, which is only twenty-one miles long and fourteen miles wide, all the people were well aware of the presence of Jehovah’s witnesses for their assembly. Many heard about it on the radio. One of the Gilead graduates spoke for seven minutes outlining the purpose of the assembly. Besides this, 700 letters of invitation were sent out to persons of good will inviting them to attend the New World Society Assembly.
Queen’s Park, where the assembly was held, is a very fine, well-kept public place. It is surrounded by an iron fence, and inside the lawns and flowers are beautiful. There are many trees, too, and it was a blessing to the brothers attending the assembly to have so much cover, as the Steel Shed in which the assembly was held was not adequate for all the crowds that came to attend. The platform was very beautifully decorated behind the speaker. Made in flowers and ferns was a sign reading “New World Society Assembly of Jehovah’s Witnesses.” The brothers had cut the letters out of wood, drilled holes in the letters, and into these holes fresh flowers were inserted every day. The gold flowers and the green ferns made a beautiful contrast as a backdrop for the platform. Potted plants were set on the platform to add to its beauty.
The platform was the center of attraction, of course, because it was from there that the brothers received their instruction. It was there that they saw the demonstrations on how to carry on the field work, how to engage in advertising the public talk and how to improve themselves in the pioneer work. A number of the pioneers working in Barbados and other nearby islands gave experiences and showed how important it is for people to make an effort to get into this work and stay in it. All the pioneers were assembled together for one of the sessions, and the visiting brothers spoke to them, dealing with their problems and encouraging them to continue on in the blessed service of full-time ministry.
The high light of the day’s activities was Brother Knorr’s talk in the evening on the subject “True Love Is Practical.” This discourse was heard by 714 persons in and around the Steel Shed. They were grateful for the illustrations given on how to deal more tactfully with their brothers, how to show appreciation for the service and the good things the brothers do and how they can take into consideration the weaknesses of others and make practical use of love in their daily living. There were many comments on the part of the Barbadian brothers in appreciation for this excellent discourse.
Thursday morning at 8:00 a.m. the brothers assembled for the baptismal discourse, and after that the candidates proceeded to the Kingdom Hall on Bay Street, which is not far from the sea. From there they were able to walk over to Brown’s beach, and twenty-one brothers and fourteen sisters symbolized their dedication to the Most High God, Jehovah, by being immersed in water. Meanwhile most of the brothers who had remained at the Steel Shed were going forth in the Kingdom service and advertising the public meeting, which was to be held that night. Later they returned to Queen’s Park, made use of the fine cafeteria that was set up for the convention, and then enjoyed the afternoon sessions.
One of the outstanding features of the afternoon session was instruction on how to make use of the book “Make Sure of All Things”. This is something that will prove very helpful to the Kingdom publishers in Barbados, where the people have considerable information concerning the Bible and where there are many discussions on the Bible itself. This book is a piece of equipment that all Kingdom publishers should be familiar with. One of the Gilead graduates demonstrated how “Make Sure of All Things” could be put into practical use in Barbados. Another high light of the afternoon session was Brother Knorr’s speech on “Letting Your Advancement Be Manifest,” following which the branch servant presented a resolution which was unanimously adopted by the 804 witnesses and persons of good will present. The afternoon session concluded with the chairman’s remarks of appreciation to the authorities and the park committee for their cooperation in providing all the things required for the conduct of a successful theocratic assembly in Barbados.
A question in the minds of many brothers was, Would the weather be good for the public meeting? It was evident that the Steel Shed would never hold the crowd that would come if the weather was good. So all were hoping that excellent weather would prevail. Some ominous-looking clouds formed in the sky in the evening, but these soon blew away and beautiful, starry, tropical skies held sway. Under this fine canopy 2,804 listened to the president of the Society speak on “After Armageddon—God’s New World.” They were delighted afterward to receive a copy of this lecture in print.
To Jehovah’s witnesses Barbados is a fertile land. The population is around 200,000, and in this small island of 166 square miles there are over 500 Kingdom publishers praising Jehovah every day, associated with 18 congregations. The island constitutes a circuit in itself, and there is still much fruit to be harvested in Barbados. This is clear from the attendance at the assembly, over 800 publishers and persons of good will, many more than the publishers number now, and also the great number of some 2,000 of the public who attended the public lecture showing their interest. All this has made Jehovah’s witnesses in Barbados happy to be associated in the New World society, and they look forward to building up a great increase in the months to come. That little island on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean is going to be watched with interest by Jehovah’s witnesses all over the world to see how the progress will continue.
The air line office told the two travelers from Brooklyn and the branch servant from Trinidad that the plane from Britain would be coming in late, so it was not until 11:30 p.m. that the travelers went to the airport and bade good-by to their friends. Then at the airport they were told that the B. O. A. C. plane would be considerably later, and it was not until 3:15 in the morning of Friday the 15th that the plane took off for Piarco airport, Trinidad. The travelers arrived at their destination in Port of Spain at 5:00 a.m. on the day of the opening of the Port of Spain convention.
OVERCOMING OBSTACLES IN TRINIDAD
In Trinidad, as in many other countries and cities, finding a place to hold an assembly is the problem, and so the field of prospective places was surveyed. There are some fine places in Port of Spain that would be ideal for such an assembly, but they had never been available to Jehovah’s witnesses. The brothers decided, however, to apply for everything that could be used, regardless of previous responses to such applications.
The Race Stand in the Queen’s Park Savannah was applied for, as it was in the heart of the city and had everything necessary to accommodate a large gathering. Several letters passed back and forth between the committee and Jehovah’s witnesses. It seemed they were concerned for their horses in the paddock; Jehovah’s witnesses might make them nervous. Their last letter on the matter curtly stated that the stand would not be available for Jehovah’s witnesses. In passing it is observed that crowds at the races are not what could be termed mute. Also at carnival time the stand is used; throngs of noisy bands and revelers fill the area. If they would not panic horses nothing would. Later the Archbishop of York visited Trinidad and had no difficulty in securing the use of the Race Stand for an address, which was broadcast by radio. So far not a whisper has been heard about any disturbance among the horses over what he said.
As with the Race Stand so with the Cricket Oval, it was not for religious use. Union Park also declined the application. The time was going rapidly, and suitable places were by then almost nil. The assembly must be held somewhere. Some East Indian businessmen were constructing new buildings in the downtown area that might be used as a last resort if they could be had and were finished in time. One person was interviewed and seemed favorable. Yes, Jehovah’s witnesses could use one of his buildings which were going up. It should be finished in time. Some more time went by, but no progress was noted on the building. Finally the brothers abandoned the hope of using that building.
The Bahadoorsingh brothers were building a new shirt factory and had told one of the missionary sisters that it could be used, although at the time they had just started building. Now as a last resort the brothers saw them and were again assured that they could have the use of the building free if it was sufficiently finished. December 15 was set as the deadline for decision. It came, and one floor at least was promised; advertising material could be made at last! A large sign ninety by six feet was started, to hang on the street side of the building, and a smaller one for the end. Over fifty thousand handbills were prepared along with six hundred placards and two hundred posters and other material such as teasers. The program was made up; press releases were made and assembly preparations were in full swing. This would be one assembly where the brothers were going by faith and hope rather than sight.
This was the situation when Brothers Knorr and Henschel arrived on the morning of Monday, January 11, to go over the branch records. The Bahadoorsingh brothers had been doing everything possible to have the upper floor ready. Their men were working like ants to get necessary things done. They had hung up the signs on the building and were to make a platform also, which they did later on. When Brother Knorr and the branch servant inspected the building Tuesday evening the brothers said they would have all things ready in time. Temporary electrical installations would be made. Toilet facilities and water also would be ready. An enjoyable conversation was had, which included some Bible discussion too.
Friday morning the 15th saw the building, even though still unfinished, fully occupied and ready for the morning session. The long upper floor had been practically completed except for a little at the east end where workmen were closing it in as fast as they could. A tastefully decorated platform with white watchtower effects graced the west end. In large white-on-green letters were the words “Jehovah’s witnesses.” On the wall back of the platform was a beautiful sign with the yeartext in the same colors and with the same ribbon effect as the calendar. Palm branches formed wings to the platform and concealed the sound equipment nicely. Along the south wall stretched a series of pictures. First a large oil painting depicting the blessings of the paradise earth. Following this was a series of smaller drawings copied from page 749 of the December 15, 1953, Watchtower showing the activities of Jehovah’s witnesses every day.
The brothers had done a fine job in volunteering their services, so much so that they had made quite an impression on the workmen and the owners. One of the owners asked a brother if they were getting paid for their services. Upon being told no, he exclaimed, “I really must look into this!”
The unfinished downstairs portion of the building was put to use, also. Here the cafeteria and refreshment departments were set up.
Two hundred and twenty turned out for the Friday morning assembly for field service and were soon out in the field. Information walkers were observed all over the business section and did a great job of advertising the public lecture. In fact, all forms of service were engaged in. By afternoon the attendance swelled to 709 to hear three brothers explain the importance and purpose of the Watchtower magazine and how it should be studied.
Friday night there was a gratifying increase again to 1,055 in attendance. They roundly applauded the chairman’s address of welcome and gave good attention to the various features of the program.
Saturday broke clear and sunny; it promised to be another fine assembly day as was Friday. It turned out to be a day packed with unscheduled events. The morning session for service went off smoothly, and then a discordant note crept in. The mayor and some of the council inspected the building and began to find fault. Some of them jumped up and down on the second-story floor to see if they could shake it. An occupancy permit for the use of the building had not been issued, as it was not finished. A consultation was held among them, which was attended by the branch servant, but all to no avail. The building department issued a vacate order, and the convention had to get out. About 1:30 p.m. the chairman announced that everyone should move to Woodford Square at once, as the building could not be used, and the mayor had given permission to use the Square for the rest of the assembly.
The brothers quietly moved out and quickly fell to moving out equipment with remarkable zeal. In a short time sound equipment and chairs and other necessary equipment were installed in the Square, which is right in the heart of the city; and the afternoon program began just on time. The move had been a surprise and a disappointment, but Jehovah’s witnesses are not easily discouraged. The Square was well shaded by trees, and the weather was ideal. The sound equipment worked splendidly and reached all the brothers and even some passers-by. The attendance swelled to 1,419 for Saturday evening.
Sunday’s program opened with a baptismal service. The brothers were in their seats early, as Brother Knorr’s lecture was to begin at ten o’clock. A large crowd of 984 listened quietly to the baptismal talk. Then the candidates, 125 strong, stood and answered “yes” to both questions. Waiting buses whisked them away to the immersion point so that they could be back for the public lecture.
Time sped by quickly. A steady stream of people came into the Square through the various gates. Now all the seats were full and knots of people formed under the most suitable trees and even in the sunlight near the speaker’s stand in readiness for the main talk. Clouds came and went, but the weather did not promise rain. The morning was very pleasant, with a breeze blowing off the hills. Time for the talk had been set back a half hour to allow the services in the two churches on the Square to be completed.
The audience had continued to increase and was added to by some of the persons leaving their church services. They paid close attention to Brother Knorr’s argument and exposition of Armageddon and the following new-world conditions. When he began to speak extemporaneously near the end of his talk, everyone paid even closer heed to his remarks concerning the work of and purposes of Jehovah’s witnesses. Some well-known persons were observed in the audience, including a high government official. It made everyone happy to learn that 3,269 had heard the lecture. It was really true that every knock is a boost. A crowd that size could never have been accommodated in the Bahadoorsingh building.
The final session began at 1:00 p.m. Most of the audience were still on the grounds to hear the afternoon session. The count revealed 2,454. Brother Newton gave a talk on house-to-house training and at its end offered to the brothers the same resolution adopted at Yankee Stadium. It was unanimously adopted. Then followed a series of demonstrations on the use of “Make Sure of All Things”.
In his final discourse to the assembly Brother Knorr explained the seven additional requirements besides faith of those who are approved servants of Jehovah. On self-control he showed that getting to meetings late, or not getting there at all, or not supporting group witnessing, showed lack of self-control. All were encouraged to ponder over the truth and pay constant attention to themselves in order to make individual advancement manifest.
At the conclusion of his talk Brother Knorr said good-by to the brothers for himself and Brother Henschel and agreed to carry their love to the brothers en route on the rest of his trip and to those of the Bethel home. The plane taking them on to Surinam would be at the airport in a short time, and so it was necessary for them to take their leave of the assembly before the Watchtower summary and the chairman’s concluding talk. The brothers were sorry that the time for parting had come so quickly but were glad that it had been possible to have Brothers Knorr and Henschel with them. So, while the assembly continued on to its conclusion two of the missionaries used their cars to carry the brothers and some of the other missionaries to the airport. After a short, pleasant visit the traveling pair were off for the next assembly site at Paramaribo, feeling happy to know that the New World society in Trinidad had grown to nearly forty congregations and that over 1,200 persons were praising Jehovah there.