Last Stop—British Guiana
MUCH like Surinam, British Guiana is rather sparsely populated and its population is a mixture of East and West. There you see the original inhabitants called Amerindians. Then there are East Indians (or British Indians), Syrians, Europeans, Chinese and Creole all living together in a land of plantations and sugar mills and mining. Both Surinam and British Guiana are producers of bauxite, which is used in the manufacture of aluminum. Other mineral riches are available which have not been exploited to any great extent.
Just a few months ago this densely forested colony of Britain hit the newspaper headlines around the world. Warships and troops were hurriedly sent in to maintain order. This was because a recently elected government had been dissolved and a possible Communist uprising was feared. The controversial problems precipitating this crisis and suspension of constitution are still being hotly contended, resulting in various restrictions in public life being imposed. In view of all this, would the scheduled New World Society Assembly be held?
Since June of last year the brothers had looked forward to the visit of the Society’s president and his secretary. In fact, ever since the previous visit in 1949 they had been looking forward to it. Often in house-to-house work the question would be met: “When will Mr. Knorr be here again?” Now that the question could be answered the matter of advertising became of first importance because the majority of people here are interested in religious questions. Although the range of religious views includes Islam, Hindu, Catholic and Protestant with the former freely criticizing the hypocrisy of Christendom, yet thousands of open-minded people of all religions have respect for those who genuinely follow true Bible teaching. Irrespective of religion most people will readily accept literature if they can afford to do so and when it comes to The Watchtower and Awake! many are the expressions of appreciation for these magazines. In house-to-house work one may consume an entire morning on only eight or ten calls, due to so many opportunities to discuss Bible truth. Pioneers have the problem of eliminating studies rather than starting them. Especially when witnessing in rural parts you may be entertained at the home of a Hindu or a Moslem and the message will be well received. In fact, Guianese of all classes are very hospitable, and especially so to strangers. Cool drinks are ever on hand to welcome even the uninvited visitor. To keep one talking on the doorstep is considered the height of rudeness. For that matter, to stand talking in the broiling sun is also very uncomfortable. To be told “I’m not interested” or some other positive refusal is a very rare occurrence in house-to-house witnessing. You are more likely to hear, as a brother did after the convention from a new Bible study interest: “I understand that in your organization they call you Brother H——, so may I call you Brother H——?”
Well, now that you have been introduced to this land and its half a million population you will understand why no effort was spared to invite all interested persons to the New World Society Assembly January 21-24. Co-operation of the public presented no difficulty, though current restrictions prevented any outdoor public meeting and, for that matter, so did the heavy rainy weather. However, Georgetown’s newest theater, The Globe, seating 1,400 persons, was offered free by its Moslem owner for Brother Knorr’s public talk, “After Armageddon—God’s New World.” At any rate it would accommodate more people than attended the previous lecture given by the president in 1949. Other sessions were conducted in the Town Hall, which has been used for meetings of Jehovah’s witnesses since 1911.
Not only the brothers, but also good-will people made considerable effort to attend the assembly. Some made arrangements to leave their coconut or banana farms for others to care for in their absence. They paddled down river for miles in tiny canoes to reach the only road in that section of the country. Here a bus took them to the next river, where a steamer conveyed them across the island-dotted mouth for twenty miles to Demerara county. A train ride brought them to another river and another boat before the convention city of Georgetown was reached. Those who had not been to the capital for three years saw many new and modern concrete stores and offices, although the majority of the business section is still of wood. But the fresh sea breeze still fans the city for most of the year, making its tropical heat more tolerable to bear.
Much advance preparation is required for people of the old world to stop, look and listen to the voice of the new. The early replacement of the old by a new system of things is a vital message, and the delivering of it demands thorough organization. More than a month in advance 2,000 teasers were posted throughout the city asking the intriguing question: “After Armageddon—What?” That really had people guessing, and all kinds of answers were projected. Storekeepers who displayed them were asked by customers for the answer. They in turn asked the next publisher who came by, only to be told, “Await further announcement.” While all the speculating was becoming a byword and even shouted across the street, a small team of brothers was busy producing a beautiful two-color poster containing the answer. It was a duplication of that used in New York and was produced by cutting two stencils and by spray painting. A thousand of these were posted in city and country, which gave rise to a new question: “What is the new world?”
Two weeks before the assembly opened special meetings were arranged to inaugurate other features of advertising. A duplication was made of the badge worn at Yankee Stadium and publishers wore them at business and in everyday activity for two weeks before the assembly. This provided for many discussions about the New World society, and, as one party said: “After Armageddon—why the things you learn from these Jehovah’s witnesses! I’d like to be one too.” Sales clerks asked questions and at secular and parochial schools where some of Jehovah’s witnesses are teachers it was the pupils that wanted to know. Everyone there rides a cycle; so, in lieu of a ‘bumper sign,’ an attractive aluminum sign was fixed to the handlebars so that everywhere the cycles went the signs were sure to go. In fact, outsiders came and requested signs for their cycles too.
But the most original idea was the large four-wheel float slowly drawn through town by a patient donkey. This carried two 12-by 5-foot signs with an 8-foot tower in the center, the entire float being designed to represent The Watchtower. At night the addition of lights to the blue-edged white letters set on a red background brought young and old to a halt and to their windows. Some described it as Noah’s ark and various other terms but all added up to what one envious preacher expressed: “It’s a pity we don’t see more of this sort of thing.” And as another observed: “You all did a lot of advertising.” Daily cycle parades were organized whereby a procession of cyclists wearing placards fore and aft toured the city while pedestrian witnesses did placard work on the sidewalks. Predictions that the capacity of the Globe theater was inadequate for such an event grew more numerous. The day dawned bright but with prospect of showers and, sure enough, by noon the streets were wet. As time for the lecture at 5:30 p.m. drew near, so did the black clouds and so did the crowds. The recorded musical program had hardly begun and all seats were occupied. First, a request was made for children to share seats; later, gentlemen were asked to give their seats to the ladies. Soon all available standing room was occupied and a loud-speaker was placed outside for those who could not get inside. From the balcony, the platform presented a colorful picture. In large white letters “Jehovah’s witnesses” was spelled out across the stage before a background of rich-green tropical plants, and behind the speaker loomed the white theater screen. The talk had only just commenced when the long-threatened rain came with all its fury, causing the crowd outside to disappear very quickly. However, of those inside, a conservative count showed at least 2,122 persons present. Since the lecture many encores have been heard, such as “When will Mr. Knorr be coming back?” “No indoor religious meeting ever had so many people,” etc. Some ask: “How can I become one of Jehovah’s witnesses?”
But what of the other sessions held at the Town Hall? The first night saw 445 in attendance, but for Brother Knorr’s closing remarks 615 had literally jammed the hall and balcony as well as the platform itself. The program generally followed that of Yankee Stadium, with demonstrations adapted to local problems. Notable was the demonstration in Creolese illustrating the necessity of speaking such where circumstances demand. In former years very few East Indians had accepted the truth, but at this assembly the large number of good-looking young men and women of this race was very noticeable. Some of these have come directly from the Hindu religion and not only are very zealous and enthusiastic ministers of Jehovah but also display a very loyal and lovable disposition among their brothers.
The talks by Brothers Knorr and Henschel were highly appreciated and have been recorded for further reproduction. Each evening as the sessions closed no one was ready to go home but lingered in the cafeteria to take refreshments and to enjoy a favorite pastime of the Guianese—talking. The discourse had certainly been taken to heart. Remarks were plentiful such as: “Brother Knorr was really talking to me; he looked right at me.” “How did he know we needed that counsel?” Encouragement was given for more young publishers to become pioneers and go to places where little witnessing has been done.
The last item on the program was “Closing Remarks by the President” and there were a few surprises in store. Until now there had been only one circuit, but over the past four years the number of publishers had about doubled, and due to the expansion work by both pioneers and publishers there are now groups of publishers spread over all the three counties that are in need of more regular attention by the circuit servant. So now three circuits are organized and will be served by two circuit servants at least three times a year. Local brothers will now take the place of missionaries as servants in congregations. These and other suggestions were enthusiastically received and as the brothers prepared for their homeward journey they really felt that a new era of expansion was before them.
Before closing it was announced that a four-day intensified training course would be available, following the assembly, for all pioneers who wished to attend. Almost all the 45 pioneers attended and experienced a miniature Gilead ‘Missionary Service and Bible Truth’ course. Impromptu field settings were arranged and counsel given on the use of tact, argumentation and refutation. Doctrinal subjects were analyzed in the light of our new publications and organization problems also were handled. Each afternoon counsel was given in actual field service and at night written tests taken as homework. The pioneers really appreciated this and returned to their assignments determined to ‘bear more fruit.’
Though most of their first three days was occupied in going over branch matters and making some excellent recommendations for the more efficient care of the work and for future expansion, Brothers Knorr and Henschel, nevertheless, found time to attend the immersion. Like the public talk and the cafeteria, it too was the biggest yet. A bus transported persons to the sea wall where a considerable crowd witnessed the fifty-five candidates wade out to where the sea was deep enough for them to symbolize their dedication as members of the New World society to serve Jehovah God forever.
With the convention over, the last day of the visit was mainly spent with the twelve Gilead missionaries now assigned in various parts of the colony. There were some problems to be discussed and experiences to relate. Inquiries were made of fellow schoolmates, now graduates in other parts of South America whom the traveling brothers had met during the past few weeks. No time had been available for this until now, so the visit was brought to a very happy conclusion with all enjoying a meal together. That evening two carloads of pioneers risked getting stuck in the muddy road as they traveled the twenty-eight miles out to the airport to see the brothers off for New York city.
It was nearly midnight when the plane took off from Atkinson field for the first stop in Trinidad. In the early hours of the morning some of the Watch Tower missionaries had traveled from Port of Spain and were waiting for the arrival of their friends whom they had seen just the week before. They were glad to have information concerning the progress of the work in the nearby Guianas, and then bade farewell to their fellow ministers who were off again on the air liner toward New York city. The plane landed at other islands. Brothers were at the airport in Guadeloupe, St. Croix, St. Thomas and Puerto Rico, and all expressed hope that they would have conventions soon in their territories. They were promised that arrangements would be made in their behalf, in the few minutes that were spent with them at the airports.
The last leg of the journey was a long over-the-water flight from Puerto Rico to New York city, and then on the evening of January 26, 1954, the two travelers returned to the Society’s headquarters in Brooklyn, the Bethel home.
And so the tour of the president of the Watch Tower Society and his traveling companion had come to its end. South America had been visited and spurred to more theocratic activity. It was a source of great joy to look back. Looking back is sometimes an interesting occupation, at least when one is looking back to see the progress made in recent years in the growth of the New World society. In South America in 1942 there were only 807 publishers of the Kingdom preaching in eight different countries, but by 1953 the work had increased to twelve countries with 13,174 ministers preaching the good news of God’s kingdom throughout the continent. This is a remarkable expansion, and this, in great degree, is due to the work started at the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead, a school that produces missionaries who carry the work of Jehovah’s witnesses into distant countries. Throughout the world people have given generous support to the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead and the missionary expansion program that is being carried on throughout the world, and so it is possible that one can see expansion in every continent. The travelers were busy with South America and thinking in terms of South America, and they were happy to know that such a great forward movement had occurred in just a little more than ten years in South America.