Outstanding Assemblies in Korea and Alaska
AS TO Kingdom work, Korea is really bustling. In April, 1956, 1,506 publishers were energetically preaching in major cities and many isolated regions of the country. Newly interested persons are constantly coming to the congregations, wanting to know about the work and why Jehovah’s witnesses are so different. The people are especially amazed but very grateful to see American missionaries preaching from door to door and speaking to them in their own language. When Christendom’s clergy, particularly those of Korea’s strongest churches (Presbyterian and Methodist) talk against the work of Jehovah’s witnesses, the people become all the more curious. Even among unbelieving people there is high respect for the Bible. It is common to see Bibles in people’s hands as they walk along the streets. For these reasons working in Korea is very fruitful.
All of Jehovah’s witnesses in Korea were happily anticipating the assembly in Seoul, April 27-29. The brothers worked hard and quickly to complete arrangements. Indeed they do everything swiftly. In the Korean language two of the most frequently used terms are, “There is no time” and “Do it fast.” The brothers engaged a school auditorium for all sessions except Sunday’s public lecture. Since a larger crowd was expected the swimming pool stadium located inside Seoul Stadium grounds was also obtained. Posters had been put in every streetcar in the city as well as window signs all around town. Days ahead the sisters were busy preparing huge quantities of rice, fish and various Korean dishes. As these arrangements progressed, excitement mounted. The brothers talked of nothing but the convention.
Finally April 27 came. That morning some 800 brothers had met at the various congregations for field service. No announcement had been made concerning the arrival time of the Society’s representatives and it did not seem likely that many of the brothers would be able to go. However, the branch servant and the missionaries did arrange to meet the visitors.
Because of a head wind the plane was late, but by 12:30 p.m. four busloads of Korean witnesses of Jehovah were on hand at the airport—not too much of a surprise, in view of the known disposition of these earnest brothers. Scores of them, representing Seoul’s flourishing congregations and other congregations, were vigorously shaking hands, snapping pictures and discussing Scriptural questions, with their Bible pages fluttering in the breezes. Koreans discuss the truth everywhere. Most of the sisters were dressed in their full costumes, Korean-style—colorful, delightful. Blue lapel badges identified all as Jehovah’s witnesses.
The plane having landed, its giant door opened and soon Brothers Knorr, Barry and Adams came out smiling at nearly 500 brothers who had been waiting to welcome them, the brothers waving and joyful. What a sight! As Brother Knorr walked down the ramp he was greeted by the branch servant and Brother Yuh Wan Chang, who is Minister of Reconstruction for the Republic of Korea. The visitors greatly appreciated the stirring enthusiasm and sincerity of the huge welcoming delegation.
That afternoon the convention opened at the Hui Moon Middle School auditorium. Even before the session started the hall was filled to capacity. Benches were provided to sit on, except in the front part of the auditorium, where straw mats had been placed. By people’s sitting on the floor the space available is conserved for seating more people, and Koreans are used to sitting on the floor. Eager, bright faces, young and old, listened to the address of welcome in Korean by Don L. Steele, branch servant for Korea. Then followed discourses by local brothers and missionaries. That evening the local brothers were thrilled to hear Brother Knorr talk to them for the first time. The 1,330 in attendance went home refreshed and happy, but eager for more. Here in a struggling country, a new republic, Jehovah’s witnesses are really alive, preaching about Jehovah’s new world of righteousness.
A chilly but bright and bracing Saturday morning brought everyone together early for the baptismal discourse. As the talk was concluding the speaker asked the candidates to stand. It was indeed wonderful to see 303 rise from an audience of about 600. There were 202 women and 101 men. This ratio of 2 to 1 was particularly encouraging, as two years before it had been three women to every man. Then manpower was really short, but now many more men are associating with the New World society. Among the candidates was an American soldier who had come into the truth during the previous eight months; also an ROK army general’s wife and the daughter of a former prime minister of Korea.
After the prayer the candidates filed out to the waiting chartered buses. In time the buses arrived at the Han River bridge on the north bank, and minutes later hundreds of happy people were walking along in the sand to a place about a quarter of a mile away, where the baptizing was done.
To reflect on that lovely scene also served to recall that just three years before over these same hills soldiers were crawling and fighting a bloody war. Now all appeared peaceful. The slopes had been gracefully landscaped, including patches of green grass and a few houses scattered here and there. In midsummer the river is filled with floating concessions and small pleasure boats, where thousands lazily spend afternoons escaping city heat. Those attending this assembly were glad it was being held during chilly weather.
At the baptismal site a small house was used as a dressing room, divided into two sections. Brothers and sisters quickly changed clothing and then, five at a time, walked courageously into the cold, cold water. The chilling air did not hold back any of the dedicated ones. Once before in early winter they had broken the ice for an immersion.
As hundreds viewed the immersion, 515 others were busy in the field service. Service arrangements for the entire assembly were directed from the local congregations. Each of the seven Kingdom Halls in the city (except one) is within twenty minutes’ walking distance of any other one. Although Seoul’s population now is 1,500,000, living space is very crowded, making the city’s general area very small. Because of the zealous activity of the 700 publishers in Seoul, every home has been called on several times. The work of Jehovah’s witnesses is well known, making Seoul the most-often-worked city on the Asian mainland.
UNUSUAL INTEREST OF THE KOREAN PUBLIC
During the assembly week the public relations department gave careful consideration to publicity. Good write-ups appeared in every newspaper in Seoul, as well as several published pictures of Brother Knorr. There were also excellent articles in some of Korea’s leading magazines. In addition, a radio interview for Brother Knorr was arranged. It was conducted by a young woman who is employed as an announcer on a leading station in Seoul. She is studying with one of the missionaries.
Sunday was the climax of the convention with Brother Knorr’s public discourse “Making All Mankind One Under Their Creator.” Chilly air and brilliant sunlight beaming down on those seated and standing around the huge empty swimming pool inside the Seoul Stadium grounds made an ideal atmospheric setting for the widely advertised address. People kept pouring in until it became obvious that it was to be a capacity crowd. As for Jehovah’s witnesses present, their joy was overflowing to see their expectations exceeded and the evident blessings of Jehovah thus manifested. The crowd having settled itself, a chorus of brothers sang Kingdom songs over the microphone. During the ninety-minute lecture delivered by the Society’s president through an interpreter, the 3,473 assembled were listening carefully, the majority copying the Scripture citations in their notebooks. To see that throng (more than half of whom were persons of good will) brought real happiness, especially to the missionaries who love working in Korea.
After the lecture hundreds of that audience orderly and quickly boarded chartered streetcars, riding back to the school for the assembly’s closing sessions. Exactly one hour later, despite heavy traffic, 1,408 had reassembled to enjoy Brother Adams’ final talk and concluding remarks by Brother Knorr. Then, after one more delicious meal of rice, “kimchi” and other flavorful dishes, the brothers left the campus and headed for home. Filled with new truths and admonition, they talked of the work ahead—to find others like themselves who want to know Jehovah.
This first national assembly of Jehovah’s witnesses in Korea not only stimulated the already marvelous zeal of the brothers but helped all to appreciate how necessary it is to advance to maturity. In Korea people usually see the truth very rapidly. Even people in high positions do not allow their pride to hold them from admitting their religious belief to be wrong. Once convinced, they become very diligent about studying and preaching. An example of this was an interesting experience related at the assembly.
A prominent prosecuting attorney and his wife were contacted by one of the missionaries about a year ago and a study was arranged. As Presbyterians, both strongly believed the doctrines of that religion. During the ensuing months the lawyer, Mr. Kim, reserved two hours from his work every Thursday afternoon for a very detailed study of the Bible. So it took a great deal of Scriptural proof to convince them, but slowly and surely they came to see the truth. They stopped supporting the church, despite protests of the wife’s father, a prominent local minister. Mr. Kim was sent on business to America by the Korean government and he has since visited Brooklyn Bethel and factory. He has enjoyed preaching in New York, but writes that he is eager to return to his homeland to help in the preaching there. Recently his wife has become very zealous in the service and she was immersed at the assembly.
Monday, April 30, through Thursday noon, May 3, Brothers Knorr, Adams and Barry visited the branch office to discuss missionary and branch matters. It was pointed out too that missionaries in Korea have a special responsibility to bring the vast multitudes, who have quickly come into the organization, to full maturity. They are diligent in this respect and try hard to do this. To accomplish this, the need to master the language was stressed as the most important step toward becoming an effective missionary. In just a year’s time the new missionaries have done well; but only by becoming qualified to speak fluently in the language of the people can a missionary convey Scriptural and organizational points to brothers and persons of good will. All who received the benefit of the wise and loving counsel were greatly appreciative and eager to carry out the president’s suggestions.
For all, these were a busy six days, and though the missionaries were sorry to see the visitors leave they were eager to put to good use the things they had learned. As the departing plane faded from their view and finally disappeared into the blue sky, these ministers of Jehovah firmly turned around for looking at their country and their responsibilities to its inhabitants. With thankfulness in their hearts they reflected upon the precious privilege they have to serve Jehovah full time in such a sheep-filled land as Korea.
The three travelers now had to return to Japan where Brother Barry would remain while Brother Knorr and Brother Adams went on to Alaska. On the flight back to Tokyo the scenery was outstanding, the plane soaring high above the rugged, picturesque terrain of Korea, then over the Sea of Japan and on by the beautiful mountain Fujiyama. Pleasant it was to be again with the missionaries in Tokyo for two days. This time there was no earthquake as there had been a week earlier just before Brother Knorr spoke at the service meeting in one of Tokyo’s Kingdom Halls, when he had started his speech by saying, “That was my initial nervousness.”
At the Tokyo airport Saturday evening (May 5) at 6:30 Brother Adams and Brother Knorr waved good-by to a happy crowd of missionaries and others of Jehovah’s witnesses. All that night and a good part of the next day they flew over the Aleutian Islands, finally landing at Anchorage, Alaska, at 2:30 Saturday afternoon. How strange one feels to live the same day twice! Again they had crossed the international date line. Before boarding the plane to Fairbanks a few hours were spent with a brother and a sister who were unable to go to the convention. They had met the visitors at the airport, showed them the modern, fast-growing city of Anchorage, and then took them to the new Kingdom Hall—one which any congregation anywhere could be proud of. While the structure was not quite finished, one could see this was due to become an outstanding assembly place for Jehovah’s witnesses.
The plane to Fairbanks took off in the late afternoon, but the sun still shone brightly on the snow-capped hills around Anchorage and on the mountain range to the north—an awe-inspiring sight. The thick layer of snow blanketed the rugged peaks and lowly valleys as far as the eye could see. Towering above everything was Mt. McKinley, North America’s highest point (20,300 feet above sea level), higher above the surrounding country than any other mountain in the world. Although this majestic peak was almost fifty miles to the west of the route to Fairbanks, it stood out prominently on the landscape as a monument to the unfathomable power of its Creator. Its summit under favorable conditions affords a panorama of an area over 200 miles in diameter.
Within an hour after arriving at Fairbanks the brothers were at Carpenters’ Hall where the convention was being held, and a few minutes later Brother Knorr delivered his first discourse to an audience of 152. It was very pleasant to be with this small group. Here everyone was speaking English and this allowed for warm fellowship with the brothers after the talks and during mealtimes. The public meeting on Sunday packed out the hall with 231 in attendance, and the brothers were indeed overjoyed with this largest group ever assembled together for a public meeting of Jehovah’s witnesses in any part of Alaska.
On the previous day nine had been baptized, this bringing great joy to the missionaries and others who had served faithfully in Alaska. One of the brothers had prepared a baptismal font in his basement, as ice prevented an outdoor immersion. Alaska, as some probably think, is a hard territory in which to work. Indeed it is, but the missionaries who have gone there love it and feel right at home. The same is true of many other brothers who have made just one trip to Alaska. They feel the freshness of the air and the freedom of that great expanse of land and decide to make it their home. When they go out in the deep snows of midwinter to witness, the people usually invite them right into their homes and excellent Bible discussions can be carried on. Since Fairbanks is so near the Arctic Circle the days are very short in winter, but in spring and summer it never really gets dark. In fact, while the convention was on the sun rose at 2:51 in the morning. If one is used to getting up at dawn, he would find it a little early in Alaska. All during the assembly beautiful sunshine prevailed.
The brothers had arranged for a fifteen-minute interview on the radio as well as two television programs the day following the assembly. The local congregation was very glad to get all this publicity as they felt it would help the territory greatly by preparing the people for their next ministerial visits.
The day before they were to leave, Brother Knorr and Brother Adams had the pleasure of being with the missionaries and eating moose steaks well prepared by one of the brothers in the missionary service. It was a joy to discuss with them the marvelous increase of the work in Alaska. Eight years had passed since these same missionaries had been visited here by the Society’s president, but they continue faithfully carrying on in their service.
New York was the next stop, but before getting there thousands of miles had to be covered. The first stretch was flight over interesting Yukon Territory of Canada. A stop was made at Whitehorse, where a number of brothers who had traveled by car from Fairbanks over the Alaskan highway the day before boarded the plane for the short one-hour hop over the mountains to their home congregation at Juneau, Alaska. Here again a group came to the airport to meet the travelers headed for New York. These little thirty-minute refreshers along the way certainly made the heart glad, both for the travelers and for the local congregation publishers. From the plane a fine view was enjoyed of the beautiful glacier of Mendenhall, as well as of the snow-capped mountain range along Canada’s west coast. From the Seattle airport Mt. Ranier could be seen in all its glory as a tall cone standing above the low clouds.
The transcontinental flight in the United States was rapid. It was good to see from the air the fine new structure the Society had been building since the summer of 1955 (now completed) at Brooklyn. Thus ended ten weeks of traveling, meeting missionaries, branch servants, special pioneers, circuit and district servants and many thousands of other publishers of Jehovah’s kingdom in far-flung areas of the South Pacific and Far East. Love shown by all these made one’s heart glad and the Society’s traveling representatives rejoiced that they had had the opportunity of serving their brothers and having wonderful fellowship with them in these many lands. Truly Jehovah and his enthroned King continue gathering together the “other sheep” from every nation, kindred and tongue, and the time draws nearer when all surviving mankind will be made one under their Creator. The thousands of Jehovah’s witnesses in all these countries expressed their warm love and greeting to all their fellow workers world-wide, and are determined to stick together in the New World society, giving Jehovah exclusive devotion.