Truly Out of This World in Barotseland
By Watch Tower missionary in Northern Rhodesia
TRULY out of this world was a recent assembly of Jehovah’s witnesses held in the Mankoya area of the Barotse province of Northern Rhodesia in Central Africa. The 1,000 persons who lived in temporary dwellings during the assembly by far comprised the largest village in the Barotse province. Yet they had no chief, no village headman, no policeman to keep order. They lived peacefully and purposefully as representatives of Jehovah’s New World society.
Apart from a local European administrator and his wife about ten miles away, and an isolated mission station, the nearest European center in any direction from the assembly was more than 120 miles distant. Yet African congregations of fifty, sixty and seventy persons walked for one, two, three or four days to get from their homes to the assembly area. As many as 500 were on hand four days before the assembly started; thus the assembly really began in advance of the scheduled program.
First, 385 small, neat, round grass huts provided sleeping quarters for all in attendance. Each of the fourteen congregations present was assigned to a line of huts that spread out from the auditorium center like the spokes of a giant wheel. Keeping the various congregations together made for excellent organization and easy location of individuals.
The camp awoke shortly after dawn, and at the sound of a buglelike call every man, woman and child would assemble before the platform for consideration of the day’s Scripture text. Children were encouraged to remember the texts and discussions, and their parents would examine them on the subject in the evening. Assembly construction work was then assigned to capable men. Seating for 1,000 people, overhead shelter from the sun and new sleeping huts were constructed.
As the heat of midday approached outdoor labor fell off and the people retired into the shelter of the grass huts, but not to sleep or drowse into inactivity. Bibles and Watchtower magazines in the local dialect, Silozi, were produced and carefully read and studied. Congregation servants met for discussions with the visiting European supervising minister. The work of their congregations was discussed. How many had been taught to read and write? How many new ones had advanced to the stage of being New World preachers to the people in the neighboring villages? What arrangements were on hand for training new ones in the preaching work? The problems may have differed from those in many lands, but the goal was the same—a clean Christian organization, geared for Bible educational work.
Soon the short African twilight was upon the assembly. The conventioners retired for their daily bath and an evening meal. Campfires blazed all around in the fast-falling darkness. Songs of praise to Jehovah’s name arose from various directions. Then shortly all were settled in the near-completed auditorium for a question-and-answer session on Bible matters. The day ended about 9 p.m. with thanksgiving to Jehovah.
The visiting European minister found sleeping in a grass hut on a bed of strewn grass and with a covering of animal-skin blankets to be out of his normal world, too. But the Christian unity of these preassembly days provided a unique glimpse of the spirit of New World living. There was none of the gambling, drinking and sensual dancing that is so much a part of the African’s world. But there was nothing to be mourned about the loss of these things. Peals of laughter came from all over the camp. A happy lilt marked the singing. As with all assemblies of Jehovah’s witnesses, smiling faces were everywhere.
Preparations were completed and the three days of the assembly proper followed the general procedure of the world-wide series of more than 80 district assemblies Jehovah’s witnesses held last year. The talks contained pointed exhortation to these people who have come out of Africa’s pagan religions. They no longer follow the non-Christian customs of their ancestors. They have rejected superstition and witchcraft and the African traditions of polygamy, and have come into the righteous New World system of things. And here they intend to stay!
Truly an unusual assembly, it proves that even in such isolated places as Central Africa true Christians really are out of this old world and into God’s new one!—John 17:16.