Part 2—Rounding the World with the Vice-President
IN CALCUTTA, India, near the mouth of the sacred Ganges River, plans began to be laid just as soon as the news broke of the coming of the vice-president of the Watch Tower Society toward the end of December. A hall was arranged for. At the beginning of the month 2,000 handbills were distributed to interested or curious ones, particularly as the local witnesses of Jehovah did advertising work on the streets with placards, especially on the main thoroughfare of the city known as Chowringhee. This is a broad road with some good shops, hotels and offices on one side, and facing a maidan, a large park area crisscrossed with good roads and having many lovely trees. This maidan has dozens of small sporting and social clubs on it. Each evening for two hours as many as thirty to thirty-five Kingdom publishers stood with placards putting the question “Is World Peace Possible in Our Day?” This really aroused interest, and many stopped to ask them what it was all about. Then the first “teaser” handbill was given out, and magazines and also the booklet Basis for Belief in a New World were placed in many languages. The Bengali brothers and sisters thoroughly enjoyed this. A keener than usual interest on the part of the people was noticeable; they were kindly disposed. Many persons had their names noted down for further discussion. Meanwhile, devoted brothers prepared banners and made arrangements for the assembly cafeteria and other services. Two hundred posters were now put up in shops, or were put on placards, and 5,000 handbills were distributed before all advertising was finished.
A special fund was built up to aid financially poor brothers (some had never been to an assembly of Jehovah’s witnesses) to make the journey to Calcutta. You ought to have heard the expressions of joy, yes, the delight, that these gave vent to in thanking Jehovah with full hearts for all these manifestations of loving-kindness. Two graduates of the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead, George Singh (a former Sikh) and his wife, Grace (nee Joseph), came about 600 miles from Cawnpore. Others traveled 300-odd miles to get to the assembly city.
As the time for the assembly approached expectation ran high. People saw nightly placard parading on the main streets. Many were surprised to see men of all kinds, Europeans and Indians, all doing the same advertising, all very happy, all smiling. People were curious and asked questions, a thing that Jehovah’s witnesses love. Sincere questions need a good Scriptural answer, and often one would note quite a group around Indian brothers and sisters, who ably defended the truth and spoke enlightening facts to aid many. One young Hindu, contacted on Saturday evening, came to the study of the Watchtower magazine Sunday evening and began a personal Bible study the following Wednesday. Among those contacted were Bengali, Hindi, Tamil, Kanarese, Malayalam, Gujarati, and Assamese-speaking persons. How would the people eventually respond? We wondered.
Thursday, December 27, arrived, and a happy party went to Dum Dum airport to meet the vice-president arriving from Delhi. The plane put in early, with none yet at the airport to meet him. Gilead graduate Grace Singh was first to stare at him with some recognition. Others arriving later found Fred W. Franz already there, chatting to Indian brothers and sisters who were earlier comers. A party of about twenty-five finally welcomed him to the city. The weather was warm, for the winter season there, yet pleasant. In due order the vice-president was settled in a hotel on the Chowringhee, and then lunch followed at the Ripon Street missionary home. The pleasant time there spent together afforded the occasion for some things of concern to be discussed. Interestingly, a fat roll of copies of an issue of The Watchtower had just been received from Brooklyn, delayed owing to the Suez Canal crisis. So it happened that for the first time a study lesson assignment in this magazine had been missed because of failure of the magazine to arrive on time for Sunday evening study by the Calcutta congregation.
The time on our hands until a specially arranged evening meeting allowed for a bit of sightseeing, along the Chowringhee, and down through a temple gate to visit a ghat along a muddy stream, and then into the gloomy, forbidding, beggar-infested temple of the ferocious, four-eyed goddess Kali. At first one felt a shrinking at some of the sights. Back at the hotel a discussion followed with the Calcutta congregation servant, Zavits, and the circuit servant, Cotterill, both missionary graduates of Gilead, going over some of the problems pressing for attention. At 7:30 p.m. the Kingdom Hall was packed, when the last of the brothers came in from preparing the assembly place at the Artistry House. All lived through the experience as the vice-president told of the brothers he had encountered along his route there, brothers of exclusive devotion to God, faithful under the test now being applied. They laughed about his sitting by invitation on the pope’s gold throne in a big audience hall over St. Peter’s Basilica’s main entrance, he being told right afterward that it had been against the law! A dubious honor! They appreciated the love and greetings conveyed from all the brothers along the way. So a happy, unscheduled pre-assembly meeting made them all glad and ready for the coming program.
The two-day assembly opened Friday, December 28, at 9 a.m., in the pleasant little theater known as the Artistry House on Park Street. The program closely followed that at the Bombay assembly. Although here there were only two days of assembly, a careful arranging of the program made the most of the items of the larger companion assembly at Bombay, where the Watch Tower Society has its Indian branch office. This made it possible to have at least one morning’s field service. At 11:30 a.m. the program for the Bengali-speaking brothers, of whom sixty-nine were in attendance, had principal items from the English program, given by Bengali brothers; after which Brother Franz spoke to them through an interpreter. He told of the pending sale of the Society’s radio station WBBR on Staten Island, New York; he encouraged all to use the Bengali publications they had, though not greatly diversified yet, as Jehovah’s provision. Also, do not listen to those who speak against Jehovah’s organization and its theocratic ways of preaching. Preach, at the same time using all of Jehovah’s provision. If we have no literature in our language, we can always talk, we can preach. Also an appeal was made for more to do pioneer work in the Kingdom proclamation. Recently four Bengali brothers began pioneering, one of them as a vacation pioneer. Brother Franz was glad that the Bengali-speaking brothers had come to the assembly and had, in the larger sense, come to be all one with us, all speaking the one “pure language” of Kingdom truth, all under our one Right Shepherd and under our one God.
After songs from 2:45 p.m. forward, the address of welcome was given by the circuit servant to a gathering of 106. Herein our living and keeping pace with the New World society and our recognizing the theocratic organization for gaining life were stressed. A pleasant intermission followed, during which an excellent cafeteria went into operation, both Indian and other dishes being provided for all tastes. In the evening sessions the presentation of the model of the theocratic ministry school was appreciated by the 121 conventioners, some of whom for the present never see a large organized meeting. Following this the vice-president discussed Jehovah’s visible organization with them. The matter may have been presented simply, but it was full of meaning, which these Indian brothers caught. On this occasion they were delighted to see the then-new 1957 Yearbook of Jehovah’s Witnesses and also the 1957 calendar with its striking design, for the first time.
In India there are numerous brothers engaged full time in the Kingdom proclamation, and Saturday morning of the assembly excellent talks encouraged all toward the full-time service, also one’s being and keeping active in order to gain life eternal, and the keeping of our place in Jehovah’s arrangement. A Nepali-speaking brother opened the session. The vice-president’s talk that followed was devoted to the 1957 yeartext: “From day to day tell the good news of salvation by him,” and ninety-eight enjoyed this encouragement to lose no time in publishing the good news of a different kind, news about God’s kingdom, no longer a mere promise but now established in the heavens since 1914. Next a baptismal talk was delivered in English and Bengali, and ten candidates presented themselves, three Bengalis, three Hindustanis, one Bihari and three Anglo-Indians. Their immersion took place in a lake in a distant park. There was also another full Bengali session for further upbuilding our Indian brothers who know only that tongue. In the afternoon full consideration was given from the platform to the need for servants in the congregations of Jehovah’s witnesses to take the lead in Jehovah’s worship and active service, and a half-hour summary was given on the day’s Watchtower study assignment, the receipt of the needed issue of The Watchtower only two days before this owing to the Suez Canal crisis making this possible.
After tea at 6:30 p.m. the conventioners were very happy when the Artistry House was filled with the biggest crowd yet for Calcutta, and 261 listened very attentively to the intensely advertised public talk, “New World Peace in Our Time—Why?” Many Hindus and other non-Christians really enjoyed the talk, very instructive though simple. “Is this Christian preaching? Then it is something worthwhile, isn’t it?” they seemed to think, and 135 stayed to enjoy the final remarks of the vice-president as he showed the necessity of keeping in the New World society by cleanness, obedience and faithfulness. With this there must be a producing of increase, a good fruitage as a result of the operation of God’s spirit within us. Unless we are faithful to the finish, we shall fail to gain the prize, after a full test.
Spiritually refreshed and strengthened, all the conventioners thanked Jehovah from their hearts for the exhilarating two-day assembly. That Saturday night the vice-president enjoyed having the five missionary graduates of Gilead with him to dinner at the hotel. Sunday morning, in appreciation and also with regard for the Society whom he represented, forty-nine brothers came to see Brother Franz depart by plane for Rangoon, Burma.
During the noon hour of Sunday, December 30, the Union of Burma Airways plane winged its flight southeastward, for many minutes passing over a series of broad, winding waterways, the mouths of the Ganges River. During the serving of a box lunch the steward’s remark, “This is the meat one,” stressed the fact that there were aboard vegetarian Buddhist monks in their saffron robes. Our plane is shortly out over the bay of Bengal, flies coast-wise for a time, cuts inland and grounds at the coastal town of Akyab in Burma. Soon we are aloft again and at 5 p.m. local time we land at Rangoon airport. Eager brothers had hired a bus, and about thirty of them—Burmese, Karéns, Tamilians and Gilead graduate missionaries—are out there to meet the incoming Society’s vice-president. He was taken aboard, and as we rode together to the capital city we vented our joy at being together by singing Kingdom songs. On our arrival at the Kingdom Hall the Sunday Watchtower study was just ending. Promptly the vice-president was put on the program of the evening, to give them a travelogue for more than an hour. The five-day Rangoon assembly was to begin three days from then, but now the fifty-five attendants at the Kingdom Hall felt as if it had already begun. During his eight-day stay in Burma Brother Franz had the pleasure of lodging at the missionary home with the five graduates of Gilead, where also the Watch Tower Society’s branch office is located. Thereafter much time of most days was spent in checking over this branch establishment. Came midnight of Monday, December 31, and twelve strokes of a bell sounded, followed by the chain reaction of firecrackers, the sounding of auto sirens, the blowing of whistles of vessels in the harbor, and the barking of neighborhood dogs, all for some minutes. Yes, the 1957 calendar New Year was being celebrated even in Buddhist Burma.
The Rangoon assembly was notable in several ways. For one thing, it was longer than usual. Also, delegates came from an unusually wide area. There were brothers who had overcome great difficulties to be in attendance. Whole families had traveled hundreds of miles on trains with hard wooden seats, not knowing when the train might be delayed for hours or days, should bandits blow up bridges and rob passengers; but there they were, and glad to be there. One conventioner who was due to give birth about assembly time came to Rangoon early, gave birth and a few days later was listening to the assembly talks with the baby in her arms.
Even in the advertising of the public address of the assembly there was something unusual: All the printing of handbills and signs for this in Burmese and English was done by a Gilead graduate on his small hand press, largely from types he had designed and made. He also painted the striking 16-inch by 4-inch banner sign in red and black on white plastic sheeting that was stretched across the front of the porch of the assembly place, the Kingdom Hall on the second floor. For some time before the assembly the city was flooded with these handbills, and shops exhibited window signs, and daily placard marches were held by the brothers.
The theme of the assembly is to be found at 1 Timothy 6:18 (NW): ‘Work at good: be rich in right works.’ On the opening day, Wednesday, the branch servant, R. W. Kirk, told the audience how to become adequately qualified to serve Jehovah thus. Daily other speakers gave sound counsel on right action to meet His approval and to advance the spiritual interests of His kingdom by Christ.
In all, the Society’s vice-president gave seven speeches, besides the one on the night of his arrival. Before displaying the 1957 Yearbook and calendar amid lively applause (which often punctuated all his speeches at Rangoon), Brother Franz noted the world average increase in the number of Kingdom publishers during 1956 and that this year the publishers in Burma had slightly exceeded it, though not yet catching up to past peaks of theirs. Some of the conventioners gathering there had asked him about higher education. For their benefit and for that of all he said that, while a college education and its qualifications make one much in demand for higher-paid jobs in this world, such an education can be a severe handicap to those seeking life at God’s hands. Not money, but God’s favor to the righteous ones will deliver them at Armageddon. It is therefore better to serve Jehovah now before that battle and get godly knowledge now in this crucial time than to hamper oneself by seeking worldly higher education in universities, materialistically. Following this talk the 113 conventioners unanimously adopted, in both Burmese and English, the special resolution of protest to the Communist rulers of materialistic Soviet Russia over their evil treatment of Jehovah’s witnesses in that empire. Copies of this resolution were submitted to the Rangoon newspapers.
The assembly cafeteria was conducted on the second flood across the hallway from the Kingdom Hall. It was really in a schoolroom. The operators of the school, although Roman Catholic, granted Jehovah’s witnesses the free use of their schoolroom during the assembly, which was also a school holiday time, and there meals were served from the kitchen on the school student tables, yes, good, smacking Burmese cooking. Some of the conventioners, who would have had to travel distances nights, slept in this schoolroom. Other visiting conventioners were put up in the homes of the local brothers.
At the baptism talk Saturday morning the eleven candidates who publicly confessed to having made their dedication to Jehovah God through Jesus Christ comprised four racial groups. Six were Tamils from South India, one was a Gurkha from Nepal in the Himalaya Mountains, one was an Anglo-Indian and three were Karéns from Burma. In addition to these races, then and at other sessions there were in the audience Lushais from the mountains of Assam, Chins from the western Burmese ranges, Goans from Portuguese India, Chinese from Burma, Malaya and China itself, and Caucasians from New Zealand, England, Canada and America. The biggest single group were Karéns, who comprise about 40 percent of the Kingdom publishers in Burma and who have a professed Christian background to begin with. About 75 percent of the audience understood Burmese fairly well, and a different 75 percent understood English.
The youngest baptism candidate was a boy of twelve years, whose grandmother and mother were, like those of Timothy of old, also faithful servants of Jehovah God. The oldest candidate, aged seventy-seven years, had been an ordained clergyman of the Baptist Church for over twenty years. The baptism took place some distance away in the Royal Lakes, while those witnessing it sang songs of the Kingdom. Far off to the right, rearing itself above the treetops, the biggest pagoda in the world gleamed in its gold sheath in the sunshine, the Shwe Dagon, 310 feet high above its main pavement, the center of world Buddhism.
The Indian and Gurkha sisters wore graceful saris. A Lushai special pioneer sister wore her national costume, a long shawl that had been woven and richly embroidered on a small hand loom and was worn like a sarong. The Karén girls wore the Burmese longyi, or sarong, along with jackets, mainly of nylon. These longyis, worn also by many men, were mostly hand-woven on cottage looms. Some of them, particularly those from Bangkok and Chiengmai in Thailand, and those of richly figured silk brocade from Szechwan in western China, were very beautiful. Nearly all the conventioners carried their Bibles and literature from house to house in hand-loom-woven cloth bags hung from one shoulder. Brightly colored and ornamented, these bags come from the hill peoples of Burma, particularly from the Kachʹins of the far north.
Nearly all the talks were translated from English to Burmese, and the baptismal talk was also partly translated into Tamil. A Tamil meeting on Saturday summarized the main talks of the assembly.
Among the many interesting experiences related on the platform, one missionary sister told how, when going from house to house in one of the poorer areas of Sagaing, just after an earthquake had killed some people and ruined many of the pagodas in that very religious city, she found many interested in the prophecy of Matthew 24:7, which predicted earthquakes in the “time of the end” of this world. Among these was an old Indian who spoke good English and who eagerly took literature to learn more about the truth. His interest was followed up by brothers from nearby Mandalay, and he is now gaining good understanding concerning Jehovah God.
From Bassein and Pyapon on the steaming delta of the big Irrawaddy River others told of a young boy, a new publisher, who in halting words told about the lion’s dwelling with the lamb and of the end of sorrow and death, thereby striking such appreciation in the heart of an elderly Burmese Buddhist that he took all the books the boy had and came on to the meeting to learn more. Also of an elderly woman, striving to continue along the path of pure worship, but who was threatened by the clergy of the American Baptist Mission with the loss of her house if she continued to associate with Jehovah’s witnesses and to preach the Bible truths. And of a young man, a graduate of the seminary of that Mission, who told a pioneer witness of Jehovah that, after trying different religions, he was convinced that only Jehovah’s witnesses could give the answers.
Until Thursday of the week it appeared that the Society’s vice-president would be prevented from delivering the widely announced public talk on “New World Peace in Our Time—Why?” But by the manifest skillful maneuvering of the irresistible Almighty God Jehovah the way was cleared for the public event to go forward as advertised. Sunday afternoon, January 6, 1957, the public meeting was held at the Railway Institute Hall and 237 persons attended, among them a Buddhist monk. A few more came in afterward to see the film, “The Happiness of the New World Society,” shown for its first time in Burma. Many of those viewing this remained still longer for the vice-president’s closing talk, thus enjoying the close of a most blessed assembly for Burma. For weeks thereafter the brothers were still talking about it, and all were doing a better work at the witness work in the field since this blessed get-together. Three of the Rangoon newspapers in English gave fine reports of the public address, The Burman giving the full report and submitting front-page spread, top, the first two columns, with big headlines.
By a revision Brother Franz was scheduled to fly from Rangoon by way of Pan American Airways Monday, at 10:30 p.m. That evening about twenty brothers assembled in the lounge of the missionary home and enjoyed a farewell theocratic discussion with him for an hour. The brothers had borrowed two cars and rented a jeep taxi in order to accompany him to the airport. There they saw him emplane for his next appointment, in the adjoining country to the east. He and they had been mutually refreshed by one another’s wholesome company for eight days.
In the early part of last October the Watch Tower Society’s branch office in Bangkok, Thailand, was notified of a coming visit by its vice-president. This posed a problem for the Bangkok branch office. Should a general assembly be held during the vice-president’s visit or not? At the time of receipt of the notice the branch office was right in the middle of preparations that were going on for the approaching district assembly scheduled for October 25-28. An assembly in January would mean that in two months another convention would be held. Since most of Jehovah’s witnesses in Thailand live in its northern part and the travel distance is great, how many of the brothers would come, could come? Well, it was decided to have an assembly during the vice-president’s visit, even though the two assemblies were close together and the second assembly would come in the middle of the week, January 8-10, the days being Tuesday through Thursday. The place chosen for this assembly was the Sala Lumpini Romya, a dance pavilion, which was rented for three days. The location was ideal, as the pavilion was situated on a beautiful lagoon in one of the fine parks of Bangkok.
While there may have been debate on just how many of the Kingdom publishers of various congregations would attend this assembly, one thing was very certain: every one of the missionary graduates of Gilead would be on hand. It did not matter that the vice-president’s arrival at the Don Muang airport of Bangkok was after midnight, at half past one in the morning, local time; all the missionaries, twenty-six in number, were at the airport to meet him. Some of the Siamese brothers were on hand, too, which was appreciated. It is a fine feeling when one lands in an unknown alien land and is cordially received with open arms by friends, old ones and new ones to get acquainted with! But that is something unique that the globe-girdling New World society of Jehovah’s witnesses provides.
Later on that same morning an interesting thing on the day’s agenda was a three-hour trip down the famous klongs (canals) on an intimate sightseeing trip in Bangkok. Most of the missionaries made this trip with Brother Franz, which, as the klongs were full of water, some of the missionaries pronounced “The best trip yet!” The afternoon was set aside for a special meeting with all the missionaries. During the two-hour meeting many problems and questions that they had were solved and answered to their satisfaction. The good counsel given therewith encouraged them all to stick to the work on hand, and also to push ahead with greater zeal and determination in the work before us, not being disheartened by the religious barriers to be overcome.
To make the day complete, that Tuesday evening at six o’clock the three-day assembly got under way. To the surprise of the branch office this very first meeting was well attended. On hand were ninety-five persons. Of these, about fifty publishers were from the local congregation, and also included were brothers who had made the trip down from northern congregations. A fine program was carried through, with talks given on many subjects by the local brothers and missionaries. The evening’s program was climaxed by the talk given by the Society’s representative from Brooklyn headquarters. The brother who translated into Siamese for him was the circuit servant, a graduate of the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead. The illumination beamed upon Jehovah’s visible organization by this talk was very much appreciated by the local Siamese brothers.
Wednesday, January 9, offered a full program. Meetings began at 9 a.m., with the initial meeting for field service. The afternoon and evening program consisted of many fine talks given by the local brothers, who showed fine capability. Again the Society’s vice-president concluded the day’s program, this time enlarging upon the 1957 yeartext that hung overhead in Siamese: “From day to day tell the good news of salvation by him.” (Ps. 96:2, NW) The importance of singing the new song to Jehovah was driven home to the 115 conventioners present. At every opportunity it is to be sung by the witnesses of the God to whom it is sung, as the salvation of the singers and the salvation of others who hear depend on our doing so.
Thursday morning brought the beginning of the last day of an all-too-short assembly, also the final day of the vice-president’s brief visit. During the course of the day’s activities two recently dedicated men were baptized in a plastic tank in the back yard of the Society’s branch building. As the public meeting of the assembly was to be its closing event on the day’s program, Brother Franz gave an hour’s talk with his farewell admonition earlier at 4 p.m.
But how many would come to hear the midweek public talk by the vice-president was the question. This talk “New World Peace in Our Time—Why?” was well advertised by the brothers by the distribution of a handbill with the printing of the subject in two languages. Together with the report of the speaker’s arrival, the lecture was given good publicity by the local newspapers, both English and Siamese. At the hour announced, from 7 p.m. on, the absorbing question was answered, in that 2,500th year of the Buddhist era. Assembled both in the pavilion and in the front yard outside to listen by loud-speaker were 190 persons. There was no taking of offense on the part of any attending Buddhist. All gave fine attention during the entire talk, down to the last word. They heard how the entrance of a lasting peace for men of good will was a sure thing in our generation, not to be introduced, however, by the United Nations organization, of whose General Assembly Thailand’s Prince Wan Waithayakon was then the president, nor by any other means that worldly men may yet use, but to come by the Almighty God named Jehovah after his war of Armageddon. Some of the points of this public address were published in the English newspapers next day.
The pavilion had to be vacated for the proprietor’s evening entertainment there, and so the assembly disbanded quickly after the public address. That same night, at 1:15 a.m., the vice-president was scheduled to depart from Bangkok by plane. The precious time in between was therefore utilized specially for the benefit of the congregated missionaries who had come from their scattered posts throughout Thailand. At the branch home there was a final, though late, get-together with Brother Franz, a tasty buffet lunch and joyous Kingdom songs providing enjoyable refreshment.
At 11 p.m. four cars of brothers and sisters left the branch with Brother Franz for Don Muang airport. Upon arrival there we soon learned that the plane was about two hours late. All the send-off party made up their minds to stay with their visitor till the plane arrived. The missionaries took advantage of the extra time by arranging another missionary meeting with him. In the lovely airport patio they assembled enough chairs for all to sit on, and the meeting was on! Certainly it was late and all were tired and somewhat sleepy, but this lively meeting with many questions, each of which received an answer, kept everyone awake. Finally in comes the long-awaited plane. Just before 3 a.m. Brother Franz breaks loose from this missionary group. On his way across the field to the airplane there is a wave of good-by to them all on the airport balcony. Not many minutes more and the great mechanical bird of the air is off into the darkness, with its destination Hong Kong.
(To be continued)
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