Part 2—President Visits Europe and Middle East
This is a continuation of the account by the Watch Tower Society’s president, N. H. Knorr, of his recent service tour.
On December 8 at two o’clock we arrived at Istanbul airport, fifteen brothers meeting us. Five years ago I had met a number of these and now it was a real pleasure to revisit them. To Brother Franz the trip was all new, but Brother Hoffmann had been there a year previously. Istanbul, an old city (formerly Constantinople), is interesting. On leaving the airport for the city’s main part we traveled along new, broad highways and it was not long until we saw the ancient walls that once, during the Byzantine splendor, guarded the city from the marauders. As we left the highway we entered the very gate through which Sultan Fatih rode in 1453 when the city fell to the Turks. By car we traveled through the city’s old section, then crossed the Golden Horn and arrived at our hotel, which overlooks the lovely Bosporus. Immediately after checking in we went to the home of a brother and had a meeting, dealing with problems confronting the brothers in Turkey. One of the discussions centered around the neutral position that Jehovah’s witnesses must take in all countries of the world. Alert Christians today do not interfere with affairs of the nations and one’s conscience must be trained according to Bible truths. Furthermore, it was pointed out that a Christian should not interfere with the conscience of another person. Each must decide what course of action he chooses to take. Every Christian must know what his own responsibility is before Jehovah and he must keep a clear conscience and maintain his integrity.
That same evening we were invited to the home of some Jewish friends who had recently come into the truth. About seventeen persons were gathered around their table, and we all had a most enjoyable time. Brother Franz and I were able to give some of our experiences and then immediately after the dinner many of the publishers in Istanbul came to this home, where both of us gave discourses. Brother Franz spoke particularly to parents about training their children for Christian worship. He showed that this duty of parents toward their children holds even where one of the parents is not in the truth. The one in the truth certainly should direct the course of the children so that they have opportunity to learn the truth. I discussed the qualifications for servants within the congregation and what the congregation could expect in the way of assistance and help. It was nearly midnight before the meeting ended.
Sunday was to be our big day, but first a description of some events that led up to this very important day in the lives of our brothers in Istanbul. Five years ago when at Istanbul I spoke to our brothers in an Armenian church. A year ago the brothers engaged the Dutch chapel for the Memorial celebration. But this time they had difficulty in finding a place where all the brothers could be gathered together. In Turkey no religious meetings may be held outside of religious buildings, so the brothers were wondering what they could do to gather together. Now a person of good will, part owner of a large casino, offered to rent the club to the brothers for all day Sunday. There they could have a sort of banquet celebration and at the same time people could be given the opportunity of talking. So immediately plans were made for the gathering at this casino. Only the brothers and persons who were about to be baptized were invited to attend; so you can see from this that the majority of good-will persons did not have opportunity to come. The program began early.
The first talk, at 8:30 a.m., was “Prosperity That Comes from Jehovah.” Other talks were given by various brothers who were visiting Turkey. After a very pleasant morning session there was an intermission for refreshments, lunch being served. During this period all had the happy opportunity of associating personally with Brothers Knorr, Franz and Hoffmann. It was told me that several persons of good will observed the easy way in which Brothers Knorr, Franz and Hoffmann fellowshiped with the friends; and they were surprised that they did not sit with pomp and circumstance, unapproachable, upon the platform, and have other persons serve them with their meals. To many this seemed to be the most impressive thing of the whole day. Humbleness is not one of the things that Istanbulians are intimately acquainted with. The fact that no regard was shown for Eastern protocol among the members of the New World society was rather revolutionary to many who were in attendance, especially those newly interested in the work of preaching this good news of the Kingdom. Some of the waiters who were serving food from the snack bar were overheard to say: “Look at the interest of these people in God. They like to feed their minds on his purposes, while we, like animals, never give him a thought.” The brothers made a good impression upon those who were serving them and everyone was delighted to be sitting around tables and having fine personal discussions and meeting with one another. At 1:30 I was given the opportunity of talking on the subject “New World Peace in Our Time—Why?” All present certainly paid good attention, and by this time many more had arrived, the attendance having increased to 270.
There is no question that persons attending were refreshed spiritually and strengthened and overjoyed because of this very fine successful theocratic assembly in Istanbul. The casino owner was very much delighted, and to show his appreciation for the things that took place he even reduced the rental fee, saying to some of the brothers: “This is the first time in my life that I have heard truths spoken all day long.”
That evening fifty-three brothers gathered together. All of these were servants or brothers who might become servants in the near future. Many problems as to how to work the territories and spread the good news of the Kingdom were discussed by all of us. All of Monday was devoted to meetings at different places. In Turkey one thing that Jehovah’s witnesses want is to be recognized, and we are very anxious to establish a local organization when this becomes possible. Matters were discussed with lawyers and those interested in developing such an organization. Arrangements were also made to establish a new branch so that the work can be carried on there with greater efficiency. A local brother who has been in the truth for ten years was appointed as branch servant. The afternoon and evening were spent in traveling to different homes, visiting groups of the friends. We were able to talk to 188 different persons in eight different homes.
The overseers who are looking after the work in Istanbul are very happy. Some Gilead graduates also are there and it was a real pleasure to be associated with them and the others and to see how well the work has advanced in the past few years. As elsewhere, the time with the brothers in Turkey was too short, but there was work to do in other countries; so on December 11 we left Turkey, the next stop being Beirut. (We did not return to Athens because word had come through that there were no Cyprus visas for us at the British consulate in Athens; so we made a direct flight.) The three of us arrived in Beirut, Lebanon, just about midnight and there about thirty of our brothers and sisters met us.
At Beirut a number of problems confronted us. A new branch servant had been appointed a few months previously; so there was much to do in connection with the branch and in showing him how to operate the office. Another matter that needed attention was the banning of The Watchtower, which had occurred about six months earlier. Then, of course, there was the convention that took our time.
The assembly of Jehovah’s witnesses began in Beirut on Friday. I had a meeting with the missionaries. I also had the privilege of speaking to all the pioneers and special pioneers during my visit and of associating with many of the brothers at the convention itself. There were 331 in attendance on Saturday and 551 came to the public meeting on Sunday. Twenty were baptized, and this brought great joy to those at the assembly, for they now see the results of their witnessing work. The Beirut convention was for all congregations throughout Lebanon, and many came from Syria, Jordan and other Arab states; but the brothers in Tripoli were very desirous of our coming up there; so Monday was set aside for that. To our surprise 291 packed out their Kingdom Hall to overflowing.
As mentioned, one problem was the banning of The Watchtower and how we were ever to get this magazine back into use in Lebanon. One of the brothers diligently worked on the matter of arranging an appointment for me with the prime minister, and on Tuesday morning at 10:30 three Lebanese brothers and a missionary and I called on the prime minister and we had an excellent interview. The reason for our visit was very plainly stated and it was pointed out to Mr. Sami Solh that the only principal countries in the world that were banning The Watchtower were those of Russia and countries behind the Iron Curtain, and we were very much surprised to find the free country of Lebanon banning this publication and taking away the freedom of the press. Also in the ban it was stated that Jehovah’s witnesses were supporting Zionism and that we were pro-Zionists, but it was soon pointed out that Jehovah’s witnesses and Zionism have nothing to do with each other. In fact, the Jews who are returning to Palestine do not accept or speak the name Jehovah. They do not even pronounce the word with its Hebrew pronunciation, but Jehovah’s witnesses boldly and joyfully proclaim the name of the only true God throughout the world. The Jews forbid the pronunciation of the holy name; so how could they in any way be associated with Jehovah’s witnesses, who have heralded that name to the ends of the earth?
The prime minister then called for his secretary to bring in the law that banned the Watchtower magazine. This was thoroughly discussed during the next few minutes. Then the Director of Information who wrote the law was also called in and further discussion was had with him. At the conclusion of the thirty-minute discussion the prime minister told the Director of Information that he should do whatever he could for Jehovah’s witnesses. He then asked all of us to go to the office of the Director of Information, where further discussions were had. It was a most profitable visit and we sincerely hope and pray that the ban will be lifted and that the Watchtower magazine will have free course. The Director of Information really had nothing against the magazine personally, or against the work of Jehovah’s witnesses, for he informed us that he knew that we had a very large convention in Beirut just that weekend, that we were still going from house to house preaching the good news of God’s kingdom and that we were conducting our Bible studies, and he had no intention, nor did anyone else in Beirut, of interfering with our work. Certain pressures had been brought to bear, particularly from the Catholic Church, and so many protests were raised about the Watchtower magazine on the part of Catholics that it seemed advisable to put a ban on it to appease them. However, the peculiar part of it all is that nothing was said about the Catholics in the law, the statement of the law merely being that we are pro-Zionists. So it shows how the Catholics were happy to throw the blame for the banning of The Watchtower on someone else and try to tie Jehovah’s witnesses in with the Israel-Arab trouble and get the finger of scorn pointed at Jehovah’s witnesses in Lebanon. But a good witness was given to the rulers of Lebanon. They were all of Moslem faith, most courteous, and they gave us full opportunity to express our thoughts and to defend our cause.
It was my intention to go to Baghdad and Teheran from Lebanon, but due to the trouble in Syria and among the Arab states there were no planes flying from Beirut direct, and the only way to reach the East was to go back to Istanbul. While we were in Beirut Brother Hoffmann kept to his schedule, which required him to leave and go on to Cairo, Egypt. Just a few days before we arrived plane service was reopened between Beirut and Cairo.
On Wednesday, December 19, Brother Franz and I left for Istanbul, there to catch a connecting plane to Pakistan. It turned out, however, that in Europe there was a heavy fog over all the continent and especially in Britain; therefore all planes traveling across Europe were grounded. In fact, this very bad weather condition existed for two days and no planes came to Istanbul from the European continent. It was therefore necessary for us to wait in Istanbul and we enjoyed the company of our friends and had opportunity to see some of the interesting sights of the city, such as the sultan’s palace, the museum and some of their very interesting mosques, and we took a trip by car along the Bosporus. At the northernmost point of the Bosporus one can look toward the north across the Black Sea, and on the other side is Russia. We could not help but think of our brothers who are held in concentration camps and prisons because of their faithful stand in that land just beyond Turkey. Finally, after two days of anxious waiting, Brother Franz and I got away late in the afternoon of Friday the 21st. It was hoped that our plane would be stopping at Teheran, for I had informed the brothers there that we would be coming through on Pan American airlines and that they should meet the plane, for it would be refueling for an hour and I would have opportunity of seeing them at least for that short time. However, when our plane got over Teheran they were informed that landing would be very dangerous—very low ceiling and snowing; so the ship’s captain decided to turn back and go southward toward Baghdad. Here we landed in the wee hours of morning, but because of the tense situation over the Suez crisis no one was allowed to get off the plane except the captain; the plane was surrounded with soldiers while the refueling took place and then we were sent away to our destination, Karachi.
We had expected to arrive in Karachi two days earlier than scheduled, but because of bad weather in Europe that hindered flying we were two days late. No one met us at the airport. I had reservations to go on to Lahore, where the convention was being held and where I could also meet the brothers and check the branch office and see the missionaries. Brother Franz was scheduled to go up to Delhi in India, but our arrival in Karachi brought an experience that we did not like very much. All the passengers disembarked, went into the station ready to go through health formalities, immigration and customs. The authorities kept us sitting around for about an hour. Then all were informed that we should leave and go into a quarantine room, all transit passengers as well as disembarking passengers being held there for about another hour. Finally we learned that the health officer was of the opinion that the plane we had flown on was not cleared for yellow fever or given a clean bill of health when it left Prestwick, Scotland. So all of us were quarantined. You can imagine how disturbed all were, for many had appointments in Karachi and plane connections to make. Already two days late, and now quarantined.
At last the health officer decided that any holding a certificate showing inoculation for yellow fever could be passed through to go on their way. I had such a certificate, but Brother Franz was without one, as he had not expected to go to any territory where yellow fever prevailed.
Therefore he and about fifteen other passengers lacking the certificate (very rarely needed, except in certain parts of Africa) were detained. This I very much regretted, and I felt sorry because I did not know how long they were to be held up. However, I did get through immigration and customs and arranged for flight to Lahore that afternoon. Then I returned to see Brother Franz in quarantine, and did find him; by climbing up on a window ledge I had conversation with him for a while. Both he and I had been informed that very likely they would be quarantined for nine days, which was distressing to both of us, in view of the fact that on his trip around the world Brother Franz had scheduled appointments in India, Burma and Thailand. We seemed to be helpless, but there was a gentleman in our group who was connected with the American consul in Lahore and he immediately got in touch with the embassy. The Pan American organization, as well as the United States government, began working on the matter, hoping that they could get these people free, because it was truly ridiculous that this plane was not cleared. They had a clear bill of health and furnished the certificate to the health authority, but he refused to accept it because it was out of Scotland rather than out of London (as I was told by the PAA official).
During the hours that followed, from ten o’clock until 4 p.m., when I had to leave for Lahore, the ambulance would drive up outside of the quarantine section and take away a few people at a time. Up to the time that I left, Brother Franz had not been taken away to the hospital. At the time I said good-by to Brother Franz and boarded the plane I certainly felt sad and helpless. I knew that as soon as I got to Lahore I would get in touch with people who could do something for him if at all possible.
Arriving in Lahore late that evening I arranged with Brother Pope, Pakistan branch servant, to telephone a good friend of ours in Karachi to see what could be accomplished for Brother Franz. The next morning we had to make our way to the convention assembly, and while I was walking along the main street of Lahore toward the assembly place a brother on a bicycle rode up and handed me a telegram. I opened it; it was from Brother Franz, saying: “RELEASED TONIGHT.” MY heart certainly leaped for joy and I thanked Jehovah that Brother Franz was again free and could be on his way to serve his brothers in other lands. (Later, on returning to Karachi, I learned from Brother Britain that he had finally met Brother Franz outside the Indian Air office in Karachi, and he said that Brother Franz was certainly delighted to see a brother.) It was good to hear that he was on his way to Delhi and his two convention appointments in those parts of India. With this experience over, I resume in the next issue the story of Lahore and its convention.