The New World Society in the Guianas
ON THEIR way to the Zandery airfield in Surinam, the president of the Watch Tower Society, N. H. Knorr, and his traveling companion, M. G. Henschel, stopped briefly at the airport in British Guiana. They were quite surprised to meet some of the Watch Tower missionaries at that airport, because the airport is many miles from Georgetown, the capital city, and the roads were very bad at this season of the year. It showed how members of the New World society are interested in each other, and those two travelers appreciated very much the kindness and hospitality shown by the brothers in British Guiana, whom they were to visit again in a few days.
It was quite late at night when the plane landed at Zandery airfield, but the brothers were on hand to meet their visitors and welcome them to Surinam with great joy. The brothers in Surinam had looked forward to this occasion for many weeks. They had arranged for a great advertising campaign for their public meeting and a special three-booklet offer of literature was used from house to house so that the brothers could get around the territory quickly and deliver an invitation to every home to attend the assembly, especially the public lecture.
All the brothers in Surinam felt the responsibility they had in connection with this assembly, and they used every possible opportunity to get out into the territory. When they had territory that was not completely covered they would always put that first and other things they had to do came second. Everyone wanted to see that his territory was completely covered with invitations so that the people would know about the assembly of Jehovah’s witnesses in the capital of Surinam.
The assembly sessions were held in a Chinese club called Kong Ngie Tong. Because the visit of the brothers was midweek, meetings were arranged for the evening periods so as to allow all those engaged in secular work to attend the sessions in the evening. Most of the Kingdom publishers in Surinam live in the vicinity of Paramaribo, so it was convenient for them; and the others who lived in other towns came in and spent their week in the capital and had a fine time engaging in the field service.
The brothers did their best to make a beautiful platform. They painted the background picture and then arranged many plants and flowers around the platform so that it would look inviting and fresh. Everyone enjoyed sitting nearby.
It happened to be in the rainy season of the year for Surinam, and the rain did interfere with the meetings to some extent. Just before the sessions got under way on Monday evening, January 18, 1954, the heavens opened up and the water poured down. In Surinam when it rains the only thing to do if you want to keep dry at all is to find cover. Anyone who is out for a few seconds in the rain will be drenched, because it comes down by the bucketful. Most of the houses have corrugated iron roofs, and so the rain beats out a merry tattoo, or the drums of the town are sounded as the water beats down hard and sets up a great roar throughout the city. It rained intermittently during the first evening, yet there were 159 who made their way to the assembly hall and engaged in worship before Jehovah. The next evening the weather was much better, and 216 attended. Then on the third night 208 were present.
They all enjoyed hearing the counsel from the visiting brothers as well as instruction by local speakers, and they were especially glad to hear the love and greetings and activities of their brothers in other lands related to them, for Surinam is truly an out-of-the-way place, not very well known and not very often visited by people from abroad except perhaps businessmen or missionaries.
During the assembly publishers told some interesting experiences. One was told by a pioneer sister who, accompanied by two more publishers, went to spend a few weeks at a town, Coronie, in isolated territory. One day while working from house to house she contacted a Catholic man with whom she left a Hollandish Awake! containing an article on church-sponsored gambling. The next day on walking by she noticed him sitting by the window reading his magazine, but she did not go in. The next day he called to her, invited her in, told her that he had nothing against her, but did not think that the organization was right in printing such things about his church. He thought it was slander. He had underlined the points in the article that he did not think were right. She told him that he had done well in underlining these points but told him he should have gone farther and underlined the authorities quoted as basis for those statements, so she sat down and underlined the name of the paper or the name of the speaker who had published or spoken the statement in the first place. He could see the point and was loaned a Catholic Bible to read. An appointment was made for her to return and he promised that others would be present to hear more. Because of rain only one other was present for the return visit, but the Catholic householder told her he had stayed up till two in the morning reading the Bible. He told her that his house stood open to her at any time. This sister is now going back to Coronie as a special pioneer.
When going from door to door another pioneer met a British Indian, a Hindu, who received him warmly. The publisher was told that this man had purchased some literature, although he could not read, and had told his children that they must read it and tell him what was said. “I’m sorry that the visit is unexpected,” he said, “otherwise I would have gone with you from house to house.” When asked who lived next door, he replied, “That is my good neighbor. At least I can go with you that far.” Whereupon he called the neighbor, gave him an extended witness over the points he had already heard and recommended the truth to him. In that small congregation where the brother has been working, at least one British Indian is a member of the theocratic ministry school.
In the same plantation, Meerzorg, where this took place, the brothers have been working well and they decided that they needed a Kingdom Hall. Plans were made. Some planted more rice and other produce than they normally would have done, and when this was harvested the money was donated toward the building of the hall. A bit more was loaned. Concrete building bricks and timber were bought. A portion of land was given by the brother who had been the only publisher in the plantation for a number of years, and the building work began. Publishers from Paramaribo heard of it and some brothers who were carpenters from the city lent a hand. Now it lacks only a zinc-plated roof and cement floor. The construction is very good, well suited for a plantation in the tropics. Concrete-brick walls reach a height of about four feet above a good foundation, and above them the walls will be left open with only planed two-by-four’s stretching up from the cement to support the roof structure with its cap of zinc plates. Its location is excellent, being close to a main path and situated among the heavy foliage of mango and orange trees, which will provide shade and coolness.
One of the very pleasant incidents of the convention period was the ride that the branch servant, a missionary and the two travelers took across the Paramaribo River to a plantation on the other side to visit the new hall site and speak to the new brothers and sisters there. The land in Surinam is very low, some of it below sea level, and of course the only way they can handle the farms is by having drainage canals and by building dikes high enough to keep the sea water out. The four had to journey up one of these canals quite a distance and then get out of the boat, which was an outboard-motor-driven launch. Then they took a walk for about a mile along another canal until they met the publishers. Twenty-five persons gathered in a brother’s little home and it took a lot of squeezing to get all the 25 in that house, at which time Brother Knorr and Brother Henschel spoke to them through an interpreter, the branch servant.
A meeting was arranged, too, on another day for all the pioneers to discuss their problems and see how we could reach out to other territories.
On Thursday, the last day of the visit of Brother Knorr and Brother Henschel, about 80 of the publishers took them along on a group-witnessing expedition. Three buses had been chartered, and arrangements were made to work a stretch of territory about 20 kilometers long, including about five small villages and many paths leading from the road into the bush, which are settled by farming families.
Their method of farming is interesting but wasteful. A person establishes his home in a certain sector, cuts open a clearing in the bush, leaving, however, the stumps of trees still in the ground. The cut-down brush is burned and shoots of cassava are planted by the simple expedient of loosening the earth with a machete, making a little hill of dirt, placing a budding stem of the cassava in the ground with some leaves over it as fertilizer. When the cassava has become mature it is pulled, a bud is cut from the stem of the plant, placed in the same hole with a few more leaves over the top. These leaves on top of the new hill tell the farmer that he has already planted a new shoot in that spot. Other things such as corn, squash and different greens are planted too. When the ground has been worked for about three years it does not produce well, because of overwork, so that clearing is abandoned and another is made farther away. Some folks have to walk miles to get to their “gron.”
When the publishers had worked these villages and paths they were picked up again by the buses and were brought to Republiek, where they were received hospitably by one of the sisters at her country cottage. Here Brothers Knorr and Henschel spoke to the brothers once more, pointing out the need for servant leadership, the qualifications of servants, the necessity for interservant co-operation and of co-operation between servants and publishers, then the need for expanding the work through use of special pioneers and by having everyone possible take part in the vacation pioneer work, going out into isolated places and spending two or three weeks there sowing seed. Questions about which the publishers had been wondering were answered too—points on baptism and common-law marriage, birthdays and the wearing of either white or black clothes as a sign of mourning, and other important subjects concerning service and associated privileges. Soon there should be more congregations here in Surinam they were told, and rightly so.
Six o’clock came and the publishers climbed into buses for the ride back to the city, leaving Brothers Knorr and Henschel with some of the missionaries behind to wait for the taxi which would later carry them to the airport a short distance away. Time went quickly while talking over experiences, some amusing and some serious, typical of the witness work in all places on the earth’s surface. Then the taxi, the airport, and after a short wait the plane taking the brothers off the ground and toward their next service assignment in British Guiana. The practical suggestions they left behind will be put into practice, which must result in more increase in harmony with God’s will.
Because Sunday evening has proved to be the only good time in which to hold a public talk the public meeting was arranged for the Sunday of the same week as the visit of the two brothers. So arrangements for working the territory continued to be carried out. Just as was previously mentioned the publishers showed a good spirit in taking care of their territory assignments, and as nearly as can be determined practically every house in Paramaribo received an invitation to come and hear the talk on Sunday evening at the Cultuurtuin, a football field equipped with a covered grandstand. During the whole week it had rained quite hard for portions of almost every day, and when Sunday came they were wondering what kind of weather would be had. In the morning it rained, but in the afternoon it cleared off and when the time came for the public lecture a few stars were shining down. In attendance at the talk were 379, about 300 of whom remained to hear the two closing talks.
More brothers came from outside points for this assembly than ever before to be fed with the food needful, and when the brothers in Paramaribo are given the opportunity to attend assemblies in the other little towns and plantations then they will certainly attend them. It is so encouraging when they can hear brothers from other places taking part on the program and giving good talks. It takes away the feeling of isolationism and congregationalism and puts things more on a circuit basis; it unites congregations into a circuit and helps the publishers to think of the work in the whole field for which they are responsible, this land of Surinam in which they find themselves. They will certainly put forward their best efforts in this direction, because they have been told what to do, and how it can be done, and they are willing to do it.
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NETH. GUIANA (SURINAM)