Part 1—Visiting Jehovah’s Witnesses in Mexico and Central America
LAST winter the president of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society visited branch offices and missionary homes in Spanish-speaking countries south of Texas. Mr. Knorr left New York on November 17, pausing at Dallas. There Jehovah’s witnesses from many states had gathered at the Fair Park auditorium that evening to hear him. The 2,850 in attendance were thrilled to learn that one of the 1955 international assemblies of Jehovah’s witnesses would be held July 13-17 in the Dallas Cotton Bowl. This announcement came as a climax to his 90-minute talk based on Hebrews 10:23-25. Ever since, preparations have been under way for readying certain fairgrounds’ buildings, along with the Cotton Bowl, to handle the crowds expected to attend this “Triumphant Kingdom” assembly of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Its program is to be carried on simultaneously in English and Spanish. For the Spanish programs a special pavilion has been arranged, and many of the countries that Mr. Knorr visited on this tour will be sending representatives to Dallas for this important gathering.
On Thursday evening (November 18) Mr. Knorr arrived by plane at Mexico’s flourishing industrial city, Monterrey (400,000 inhabitants). Here Jehovah’s witnesses of northern Mexico assembled in the first of four district meetings in the nation. “Bienvenidos” (Welcome), in large neon-lighted letters, graced the ball park used. Certainly all in attendance at this fine assembly felt welcome as they listened to the series of talks covering a wide range of subjects. In Mexico no public advertising can be done, so only those invited or Society members may attend.
One of the principal talks was “God’s Love to the Rescue in Man’s Crisis.” Attendance, 3,350. Many Mexicans present had come mile after mile on foot just to be with their brothers. No hardship was too much. The assembly was their goal. They came for the enriching blessing of Jehovah. Love for Him and for their brothers fired all, glad to be relieved from Catholic oppression. Mexicans threw the Catholic power out of their country once and then gave the stolen land back to the people. The history of the Catholic Church in Mexico is worth reading, including its torture of the Indians, the taking of their gold, silver and land. Deprived, too, of education by that ruthless, self-serving power, now they thirst for the truth and for righteousness, conscious of their spiritual need.
Immediately after this three-day assembly the branch servant of La Torre Del Vigia along with the Society’s president flew by plane to Mexico City for a second district assembly. This began Monday morning. Jehovah’s witnesses came from Vera Cruz on the east, Acapulco on the west, and as far south as the state of Chiapas on the Guatemalan border. Some attended even from California, Texas, Oklahoma and other points in the United States. Sessions were held in the Arena Coliséo, ample for the crowd of 4,006. The arena’s caretaker was surprised to see the orderliness of the crowd. It was something never before seen in this boxing and wrestling arena. A heavy screen of wire is stretched between the lower sections and the balcony to prevent broken bottles and other missiles from reaching the ring when such objects are hurled by dissatisfied spectators. Obeying God’s Word makes, not trouble-breeders, but peaceful people, and this spirit certainly was manifest at this convention.
In addition to the regular assembly sessions, a special meeting was held with circuit and district servants of Mexico. Here was a problem that needed handling, due to lack of single, mature ministers to perform circuit and district duties. So more circuits were set in Mexico and mature congregation servants chosen and appointed as circuit servants, each being assigned to visit and serve a given number of established congregations. Now every group of Jehovah’s witnesses in Mexico is being served at least twice yearly by a competent servant. Sometimes full-time circuit servants and their wives travel as far as they can in automobiles, then ride a horse or a burro two or three days to reach small congregations in mountain or desert areas. It takes devoted ministers to do such work, persons healthy and strong to carry on. The work is growing much faster in Mexico during the 1955 service year. In fact, by January, 1955, publishers numbered 11,563, to compare with the previous January’s 10,613.
A real joy it was to see the splendid progress of the witnesses of Jehovah in Mexico, as they boldly carry the good news of the Kingdom into every nook and corner of that land. Two more assemblies arranged for other districts of Mexico the president of the Society had to forego attending, to reach his next stop.
Waiting at the airport to meet the president were 250 persons. But he never got to meet them at the airport. Approaching Guatemala City from Mexico City, the plane made a landing at Tapachula in southern Mexico. On refueling and again taking off, one of the large plane’s engines caught fire. A warning bell rang! Brakes screamed, as fumes of burned rubber spread. The pilot stopped the huge craft before it got to the end of the runway. No harm, but excitement aplenty for a few moments! Then for eight hours the grounded passengers waited either at the airport or went into the city. But none could dodge the sun’s intense heat. Choosing the shade of a banana tree, N. H. Knorr there read and did some writing. Not until 8:30 p.m. another plane, flown in from Mexico City, took away all the passengers, landing an hour later at Guatemala City.
By that time the evening meeting of Jehovah’s witnesses was over. They had expected the president to speak to them, but the plane accident deprived him of the pleasure of being with them. For the Guatemala visit a very heavy schedule had been arranged. On Tuesday morning (November 30) the branch servant and the traveler were up and on their way at 5:30, flying past the beautiful peaks that surround Guatemala City, on their way to Mazatenango. Over beautiful lakes they sped; also alongside smoking mountains—which could erupt at any time—over attractive cultivated farm land and grove after grove of banana trees.
At Mazatenango only four publishers of the Kingdom awaited them. These had been enthusiastically advertising a public lecture. In the afternoon Jehovah’s witnesses and people of good will from nearby congregations converged on the Kingdom Hall, literally packing it out. Yes, 140 had jammed into that missionary home, and those that could not get in stood out on a balcony. Rapt attention they gave as the service talk was being delivered simultaneously by Brother Knorr and his Spanish interpreter.
Here, the week before, when Roman Catholics were celebrating their dogma of the “immaculate conception of Mary,” Jehovah’s witnesses were advertising the public lecture, “God’s Love to the Rescue in Man’s Crisis.” Priests, it was reported, had notified their congregations that if anyone went to hear that lecture it would be a mortal sin and would put their souls in danger of everlasting hell-fire. Not all thus warned were afraid of these false teachings, because 347 persons came to the town’s theater to hear the talk at 5:00 p.m. Since then, eight others have associated themselves with the congregation at Kingdom Hall.
The next stop was Quezaltenango. The trip was made over long, winding, narrow roads, through banana and coffee plantations, up and over mountains with blind curves and hairpin turns—and on every turn a gorgeous display of the ever-varying creation of Jehovah; from great walls of jagged rock and peaks towering into the clouds, to delicate orchids along the roadside. Here, too, as far as humans are concerned, you are in another world, for you go through village after village whose Indian inhabitants—dressed in their odd costumes, colorful shirts and trousers, women in festive dress of yellow, bright red and blue design of their style—pause to look momentarily, all busy, carrying loads on their heads or on their burros.
The station-wagon-load of travelers finally reached their destination, going through its narrow cobblestone streets, stopping briefly at a colorful market, and then on to the afternoon meeting. Forty of Jehovah’s witnesses of the local congregation attended. Here it was cool, especially in the shade, for now the gathering was high in the mountains, to compare with the previous afternoon when the travelers were on the coastal plain of the Pacific. That evening at the city hall (engaged for the public lecture at eight o’clock) 355 persons were in attendance.
Now to return to Guatemala City. By car it would take over five hours, with 12,000-foot peaks to be crossed. The driving was through the clouds and, of course, to any car driver that means fog. Then down out of the clouds to Lake Atitlan and on to Guatemala City. There was plenty of work to be done at the branch office before the meeting that night, but in the meantime the witnesses for Jehovah had carried on intensive advertising, doing magazine work with The Watchtower (La Atalaya), distributing handbills, putting on information marches and going about the city with sound cars, thoroughly advertising the eight o’clock session at the theater. Their efforts were well repaid when 1,260 attended. In the three days 1,962 persons were able to hear the public talk delivered by the president of the Society. The work in this Central American country is going on excellently. In October there were 451 publishers; in November (the month of the visit), 463; and in the first month of 1955, a new all-time peak of 505 witnesses.
Guatemala, the entire country, still is struggling to recover from its recent civil war. Recovery is slow; many are despondent because of postwar hardships. But meantime, more and more happy voices are joining the swelling chorus, hailing Jehovah’s new world and its enthroned King and announcing the good news of his kingdom.
(To be continued)
[Map on page 397]
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