Part 3—Visiting Jehovah’s Witnesses in Central America
WHAT a pleasant surprise in arriving at El Salvador, for on walking out of customs there were over 200 brothers to greet the president of the Society! They formed a human corridor, which made it possible for Brother Knorr to walk between the two columns and speak personally to everyone. What smiles! all radiating joy, which only people of the New World society can express. The convention was already going on in San Salvador, but two radio interviews had been arranged for that afternoon. So the branch servant, Brother Beedle, and his wife, along with Sisters Bowin and Clogston, who arranged for the interviews and broadcasts, took their visitor directly to the radio stations. The group drove past the building site for the new branch home and Brother Knorr surprised his companions by accurately pointing out some of the details of the future building from memory of the floor plan sent to him several months previously for his approval. When the party arrived at the radio station they found out that they were offered twice as much time as they had expected, so they spoke extemporaneously about The Watchtower, Awake! the New World society and their expansion work.
That evening Brother Knorr sat in the audience along with the Spanish-speaking brothers of El Salvador and he enjoyed the analytical discussion of the Bible study work and magazine distribution. From time to time he would ask the branch servant just what certain expressions meant, but he was able to follow along fairly well because of the charts, which depicted nine years of progress in these two important features of the work in El Salvador.
That night twenty-two missionaries stayed up quite late examining the new Yearbook and calendar brought along for them from Brooklyn. Overjoyed, they all engaged in a pleasant discussion. Even though all got to bed late that night there was no sleeping in on Sunday morning. The baptismal talk was the first event on the program and thirty-two persons declared to the great congregation that they had dedicated their lives to serve Jehovah God. The immersion took place at a mountain lake, secluded amid rare beauty. Then all sped to the site of the new branch home, where Brother Knorr dedicated the building, 150 attending. Using pointed, forceful words, he explained extemporaneously that the stone and brick of the new structure would not be able to do the speaking, but those who would use the new Kingdom Hall could and would make the building speak by means of their lips. Pointing to the steel girders that had been put in place, he expressed the hope that the hall (70 feet long and 30 feet wide) would soon be too small to accommodate all persons of good will in San Salvador, the capital of El Salvador. This would become true because of the vigorous preaching that would be done by all the publishers. The audience fully appreciated that success depended on their activity. They certainly did not want the stones to do the crying out because of their silence.
That afternoon there was a very fine crowd of 572 in attendance to hear the public talk, and the entire discourse was simultaneously broadcast from the convention to an uncounted multitude. That evening Brother Knorr’s closing talk included earnest, pointed remarks to all the dedicated Christian ministers. Even though they did not understand his tongue, they felt to their hearts the things he explained and none of the sincerity and personal warmth was screened out in the interpretation. He told them of Paul’s advice to speak up in the congregation meetings. Their heads nodded in approval. He gave them counsel on their faith and urged them on to maturity. The assembly seemed to have a very good effect upon all of Jehovah’s witnesses in the country, because in December they had 316 publishers out in the field.
Next day there was much to do at the branch office—details for building of the new branch home and Kingdom Hall, conferring with missionaries, etc. There is a very friendly man of good will, a consulting engineer, who has greatly helped the brothers in erecting the new building. Jehovah’s witnesses there appreciate his kindness and his love for their work. The new structure, of brick over a framework of welded steel, is fireproof, earthquake-proof. The brothers are very proud of their new home, and expected to move in during May.
Undoubtedly the work will advance in El Salvador with the good lead that the missionaries set before the people. A great crowd from that country should be gathered. Progress! Growth! Expansion! is the talk of the day in El Salvador.
Flying south from El Salvador one sees volcanoes, to right and left; and on landing at Managua’s airport he sees Las Mercedes, a volcano of Santiago, continually puffing off sulphuric steam. While volcanoes through their quaking can shake the very ground under man’s feet, still Jehovah God at the battle of Armageddon will shake all the nations and at the same time preserve alive all members of the New World society for his new earth. Right now many of Jehovah’s witnesses live amid these volcanoes, not fearful of their shaking, but happy even there to preach the good news of God’s kingdom.
As is usual, the president of the Society checked over all the branch records, talked with missionaries, had the pleasure of meeting and greeting those at the convention and bringing to them Scriptural advice and information. Due to constant changes in currency values, it was necessary to reduce the subscription rate on La Atalaya and ¡Despertad! (Spanish editions of The Watchtower and Awake!)—bringing it more into line with the current exchange rate. This, many hope, will greatly increase the distribution of these magazines in Nicaragua. When house-to-house ministers once realize the great value of these magazines they share eagerly in taking subscriptions, working regularly with them week by week. This practice was urged at the assembly, it being pointed out that there is a fertile field for sowing of the magazines in this country.
The brothers had a very hard time finding a building where they could hold a district assembly. Finally a man of good will offered his large vacant house. Its spacious corridor, opening on a patio, made a very acceptable auditorium. There Brother Knorr spoke to the audience on Psalm 112, particularly stressing the 1955 yeartext for all of Jehovah’s witnesses world-wide.
On the opening night of the assembly there were 242 present and this was most encouraging, especially when in November only 160 publishers had shared in field service. This was not the public talk—just the opening of the assembly. So surely there are many people of good will in Managua and throughout Nicaragua, and these are gathered together in a convention.
Saturday morning brought great joy to the audience, for then a discourse on dedication and baptism was being given. When those desiring to be baptized were asked to stand up there were twenty-two men and thirteen women. These candidates for immersion then drove out thirty kilometers to the shore of Lake Managua, a beautiful spot. But what was still more happifying was the faith of these people. After some years of the work’s standing still in this country because of local conditions, it now appeared that advancement was being made; and the missionaries, scattered in numerous cities throughout the country, are very zealous and are giving splendid assistance to those of good will, bringing them on to maturity, helping each to be a real minister of the good news. It was indeed a pleasure to be there for a few days. Brother Knorr could not stay to give the public talk, but this the branch servant did (while Brother Knorr traveled on to Costa Rica, where another convention was in session and where he was scheduled to speak). In Managua the assembly was very successful. The brothers learned new ways of doing better work, enjoyed fellowship with one another, and encouraged and incited one another to love and right works. Jehovah’s irresistible power that made these stately mountains and beautiful lakes now is operating upon His witnesses in Nicaragua, and Jehovah will give them the increase.
When the branch office learned that the president of the Society would visit Costa Rica, the first thing to do was to arrange for a national assembly and find a hall to accommodate all the country’s publishers. In previous years an indoor basketball stadium had been used, so its owner was again approached. The inquirers were told that she could not rent to Jehovah’s witnesses because of the law. It turned out, however, to be ecclesiastical law. Catholics had been forbidden by the priest to rent buildings to anyone of another religion. The owner asked the branch servant to come back in a week, and in the meantime she would speak to the priest and try to obtain permission to rent the stadium. The priest refused permission, even though the owner told him that Jehovah’s witnesses were the most reliable people she had ever rented to. Catholics thought that would bar the convention from San José. But the search on the part of the branch servant and others continued. They discovered that the National Baseball Federation was completing its new stadium and, while that would not be ready for baseball, the stands were finished, usable for an assembly. The baseball people did not permit religious prejudices to interfere with their renting their stadium; so a contract was signed. Jehovah’s witnesses throughout all the land were invited to come to the assembly in San José, which began on Saturday, December 18.
To get the stadium ready meant a lot of work. They had to put in wiring, install lights, fix cafeteria equipment, build the platform, etc., but the brothers energetically went ahead, preparing everything. Just before the convention the weather was very lovely; but now a storm was brewing, cold winds and rain were coming in on San José. This could be a real obstacle for the assembly, as the grandstand was uncovered, but under the seats there was ample room for all to sit and see everything, since the stands themselves were eight feet from the ground. So this would provide shelter in case of rain.
Eager volunteers had arranged a very attractive platform right in front of the green infield of the ball diamond. The platform was flanked on both sides by palm leaves and other plants; and two small coffee trees, with ripe red coffee berries, were prominently placed. At the platform, too, more local color—a typical oxcart.
Conventioners that came from the coast understood English. Those in San José and other parts of Costa Rica understood Spanish. So the programs were put on in two languages. Saturday opened up with 825 in attendance, and twenty-three symbolized, by water baptism, their dedication to Jehovah God.
Sunday morning Brother Knorr arrived right on time. He came in by plane, speaking Sunday afternoon to the assembled 1,129. The public lecture was set for Sunday evening, but, with heavy rain and cold weather, only 1,250 came to hear the lecture, “God’s Love to the Rescue in Man’s Crisis”—although even that was the largest number ever to attend a public meeting in this country. Very helpful instruction was given to all of the brothers, in both English and Spanish; and at the final session, in a pouring rain, the president related some of the experiences encountered in other countries and told the large congregation of some changes in the work in Costa Rica. Another circuit servant was to be assigned, making four, and the congregations would be visited every four months instead of semiannually, to build them up more strongly and help them in their organizational work. All were noticeably glad for this additional service, and especially were they happy when the president of the Society announced that a new branch office and missionary home would be built and a Kingdom Hall constructed in the same building. Up until now the Society had been renting a home for the branch and for missionaries’ quarters, and the congregation was renting a hall that was much too small for the many congregations in San José itself. Some months earlier the San José congregations had started a building fund, but now they would not have to be waiting four or five years to get enough money together to start building a Kingdom Hall of their own, for the Society had agreed to finance it and the local brothers could make contributions as usual. This was recognized as a wonderful provision from Jehovah. (By April property had been purchased, plans already having been made for the construction of the building, and everyone was pleased with the location, central to the city.)
It was a real pleasure for Brother Knorr to meet again with Brother Hardin in the missionary home. He was a graduate of the first Gilead class who had faithfully served the interests of the Kingdom in Costa Rica for many years. He had been confined to bed for quite some time, arthritis now affecting all of his limbs. His wife, with help of other missionaries, was giving him all needed care, doctors were looking after him as he required their attention, and from time to time in the past six months he had gained sufficient strength to do considerable preaching. The local congregation would not let him resign as congregation servant, because of their love for him, and while he was bedfast he continued to prepare the service meetings and direct the work of the congregation from his room in the missionary home. All of the brothers loved him for his zeal and his determination to keep on working. During all of his illness he never expressed the desire to leave his assignment. During the convention he was very happy to hear of the progress of activities and to get reports, and Brother Knorr had great delight in talking to him as he had opportunity. However, at 3:30 Wednesday morning, December 22, Brother Hardin died. He was a missionary right up to the end. His faithfulness and service are an excellent example to all those with him in the missionary service and to the congregations round about. Brother Knorr had to leave at 11:30 a.m. to go on to Panama, but before he left he knew all about the funeral that would be held that same afternoon. In these countries it is necessary to bury the dead within twenty-four hours. So news was sent around to the brothers concerning Brother Hardin’s death and announcement was given of the funeral services for that afternoon. There were 300 persons crowded into the Kingdom Hall to hear the funeral discourse.
It is wonderful to know and work with such faithful brothers and to see Brother Hardin’s wife continue on there faithfully. While these are sad moments, still Jehovah’s witnesses do not sorrow as do others, for they know of the hope that is set before them. Sister Hardin continues on in the missionary home along with the other missionaries and her joy will be full. One cannot help thinking of the contrast between faithful missionary service, as here exemplified, and those unfaithful.
Some missionaries have gone to Costa Rica in times past, and after working for a few years became interested in money and commercialism and in settling down to get more of the things this old world has to offer. Not only have such stopped missionary work but they have become negligent congregation publishers, thus setting a bad example for those brothers who did not even have the Gilead School training to aid them in their faith and give them the knowledge of Jehovah God. Certainly one today can rejoice with those who are faithful; and what joy it must be to those who, having been faithful for years and sticking with the work assigned, keep right on going, even though their brothers or sisters, or husbands or wives, finish their ministry for the present! Some day, in the resurrection, they will joyously resume and continue worshiping and praising the Sovereign Ruler of the universe, whereas others who go back to the world, seeking its pleasures and its goods, never will have the opportunity of gaining everlasting life. To turn away completely from Jehovah’s organization and be interested just in this old world, not bringing praise to Jehovah’s name, not meeting with Jehovah’s people, must bring torment to the minds of those so doing. They must convince themselves to believe a lie and the Devil is the father (sustainer) of them. People who turn back to the world must make excuses for their having failed to pursue the course on which they started and, instead, following another course, in order to try to convince themselves and others that they have taken what, in their eyes, is a right course. Those who enter and stay in full-time service, like missionaries, are happy in their work, for their work is the “joy of the Lord.” As long as one’s heart is fixed, trusting in Jehovah, he will have no fear of evil tidings that spread in the world, and he will not try to find security in this old world but will find true security only in the New World society.
In Costa Rica there is much more to be done. Those who have been careless with their privileges will either have to line up with Jehovah’s requirements or get out. There are still many sheeplike ones to be gathered and they will be brought into Jehovah’s clean organization and work with those who set the right example. By Jehovah’s undeserved kindness Costa Rica will share in the prosperity of God’s nation in 1955.