Part 5—Rounding the World with the Vice-President
IN ANCIENT times the meddling of Buddhist priests in politics became so distasteful to the Japanese court in Nara that, in the year 794, the emperor moved to Kyoto, to get away from the Nara priests. Kyoto remained the capital of Japan until A.D. 1868, when the capital was moved to Tokyo. But to Kyoto we now drove, the city from which the royal “Son of Heaven” had either in fact or nominally ruled Japan for more than a thousand years. Kyoto is free from the scars of World War II bombings. Its ancient culture and temples saved it from that indignity. It is a city of wide streets and beautiful parks, but is also a center for the many sects of Buddhism in Japan. It is packed full of demon gods. There is the hall of Kwannon, the goddess of mercy, with 1,001 images of the same goddess; there are huge replicas of the 108-bead Buddhist rosary, and gods with many hands, and a huge rope woven from hair donated by thousands of women worshipers.
However, focal point of interest in Kyoto this January 23 was this national assembly of Jehovah’s witnesses, now in its second day. Here an eager crowd of His witnesses was assembled from every corner of this insular country. Two months previous Japan had reached a new maximum of active Kingdom publishers, a 20-percent increase over the previous year, with a total of 657 ministers in the field. As the assembly started hundreds of these were in attendance and by the last day 470 of these members of the New World society were present, which was about sixty more than when the Society’s president visited the land nine months before that. It was very noticeable that these Japanese witnesses had now cast aside the reserve and formality that are so common among the Japanese. Here at the assembly they were laughing and happy and applauding, for this was one grand, big family reunion. When our party reached the convention building, the Okazaki Kokaido, the gathering had risen to 420 present. The first thing the vice-president was called upon to do was to make a five-minute recording backstage for a radio man, without interruption in English, this talk being then translated entirely from memory by our Japanese translator, this latter recording to be superimposed loudly upon the original English when broadcast over radio.
Among those attending were sixty-six missionary graduates of Gilead from ten different countries, as well as more than forty Japanese special pioneer ministers, young and old. On two occasions Fred W. Franz and these overjoyed ministers had a most profitable time holding meetings and talking together. Some of the Japanese special pioneers were preparing to go to new territory. Four of them were about to start work in the atom-bombed city of Hiroshima, which has grown again to a population of 400,000 and where there is much interest in God’s kingdom message. Another family of four adults and two children were shortly to open work in Fukuoka, a city of 600,000 in the southern island of Kyushu, where the truth has yet to be preached. During the assembly a ten-year-old girl from this group, who is still going to school, surprised the audience by giving a polished house-to-house Bible sermon from the platform, complete with looking up the scriptures in the Japanese Bible, and reading these and then presenting the Watchtower magazine subscription offer. Also special pioneers told many fine experiences resulting from the return-visit and Bible study work. One group, in less than a year, had established a congregation of fourteen publishers, and of these there were four that had now enrolled for vacation pioneer service. Another group, working in the far north, where the snow covered the names read by the postman on the houses and where all other religions hibernated for the winter, had in four months established a Watchtower magazine study attended by thirteen persons, and four of these were already Kingdom publishers.
The assembly organization functioned with good efficiency, and the cafeteria with tables in a large room on the first floor of the building fed hundreds of conventioners at each meal in quick time. The rice and other food was cooked in large boilers outside the hall. At the cafeteria table Brother Franz ate with chopsticks just as the others did and did a fair job of disposing therewith of a plate of fish and rice.
Now, on the evening of January 23, an assembly of Jehovah’s witnesses in Japan was to hear a discourse in English for only the third time in eight years, the two previous occasions being on the former visits of the Society’s president. Through a competent interpreter, a Japanese member Or the Tokyo branch office, Brother Franz spoke at 7:30 p.m. to an audience now grown to 437. A considerable number present who understood no Japanese or only some of it not too well were delighted and revived to hear once again a speech in English even if punctured with translation into the local language. It seemed that almost everyone in the audience had a Bible. Whenever the speaker mentioned a scripture, down from looking at him the heads would bow in unison, the Bibles would open and everyone followed along in his copy of the Word of God. It was a markedly attentive and enthusiastic audience, even to the sister who stood near the doorway with a baby strapped to her back, gently jogging to and fro to keep baby slumbering while mother listened.
The Kokaido platform was colorfully decorated with flowers, including many chrysanthemums, Japan’s national flower, and on the back wall of the stage was a large painting of the Society’s 1957 calendar picture. However, because of an emergency, the artist had unintentionally failed to paint in one thing—the bridge joining the new factory to the old. Artfully Brother Franz made use of this omission to emphasize the unity that exists between all parts of Jehovah’s organization. But next morning, sure enough, the bridge had been plainly added to the picture!
This Thursday morning, January 24, an event almost always an assembly feature took place—the baptism of newly dedicated ones. After the talk at the hall on the subject, many of us walked to the nearby Japanese bathhouse and there the immerser, standing in the small central square pool, baptized first six brothers and then twenty sisters, or twenty-six in all. The afternoon sessions were a protracted season of express joy, as Donald Haslett, the Society’s former missionary branch servant, as chairman introduced for talks first the district servant and then the acting branch servant, W. Lloyd Barry, and lastly the visiting vice president. A missionary graduate from Hawaii closed the afternoon sessions with prayer, as the final feature tonight was to be a public event. The afternoon audience showed a still further increase, to 470 conventioners.
The final evening of the assembly came on and the time neared for the advertised public talk, “New World Peace in Our Time—Why?” Would the reputedly self-satisfied people of Kyoto brave the wintry weather and come out? There was encouragement in the fact that the assembly was being held in Kyoto’s beautiful Okazaki Kokaido and the city prides itself in this Japanese-style hall. Moreover, the city of nearly two million people had been flooded with handbills, and it seemed that almost every shop window carried a sign giving public notice of the talk. Also Radio Kyoto had given the assembly excellent news coverage, broadcasting some of the Kingdom songs and a ten-minute interview. After all this the audience that showed up to consider New World peace was not a disappointing one. When the count was taken, look! 605 were in attendance, a comparison with the afternoon figure indicating that 130 of the public had turned out, well over one fifth of the total audience. And what an absorbed and attentive audience it was there in that Buddhist stronghold! They gave way to applauding most enthusiastically. Afterward many persons of good will were contacted and arrangements were made for further study with them.
In unmistakable fashion this national assembly demonstrated that New World peace is a reality in our time—among Jehovah’s witnesses in Japan and world-wide. As one Bible student attending for the first time remarked: “Everything here is so completely different. It is really a New World society!” The twenty-six newly baptized brothers and sisters rejoiced greatly at having made their entry into this New World society. Foreign missionaries and local Kingdom publishers alike agreed that it was the smoothest-running, most enthusiastic, most enjoyable assembly yet held in Japan!
The hour was not too late, and before parting for their scattered missionary posts practically all the missionaries, all graduates of the same beloved school of Gilead, gathered at the Kyoto missionary home, most of these more than sixty missionaries crowding out two rooms and sitting on the floor, enjoying a buffet lunch of unaccustomed morsels and listening to experiences of theocratic interest and import. The rarity of such a general gathering was worth the loss of some sleep beyond the midnight hour. Those not lodging there that night departed refreshed and with joyful appreciation. A few hours of sleep and at 5 a.m. it was time for three of us to rise and to proceed by car to connect up with the plane at Osaka for Tokyo. The afternoon at Tokyo was available for checking into the properties and the functioning of the Tokyo branch of the Watch Tower Society. The following morning the vice-president was off to the Haneda airport and at quarter after nine was flying through the air toward Korea. He and the friends left behind in the Tokyo area felt consoled at the hope of his dropping in at Tokyo for a day on his flight next week from South Korea to the Hawaiian Islands.
Passing by Mount Fuji once again that Saturday morning, January 26, was an eye-filling spectacle, this sacred and highest mountain of Japan rising up solitary from the surrounding terrain in symmetric contour and with a stately crest of snow. After flying over very rugged Japanese territory, quite besnowed near the western shore, we head out over the blue Japan Sea. Time flies too, then through the thin mist of clouds one can view below new mountains, those of Korea, with snow in the valleys, crevasses and gullies. Nearing the Korean capital we descend through clouds and skim over snow-covered fields and terraces and iced waters, the Han River being frozen over. About fifteen minutes before 2 p.m. we have a happy landing at the Seoul airport.
Korea is not along the main concourse of international travel and consequently visitors from abroad are few. To the joy of Jehovah’s witnesses in that peninsula of the Asiatic mainland the Watch Tower Society’s president accompanied by a personal secretary had visited their land for the first time in April of 1956. Now the notification of the visit of the Society’s vice-president toward the close of January of 1957 added greatly to that measure of joy. His pending visit stirred up the arrangements for a national assembly the weekend of January 25-27. The witnesses were not daunted by the fact that this meant an assembly in the dead of winter, something never before attempted by Jehovah’s witnesses in icy Korea. But, winter or summer, the prospect of this official visit together with a national assembly was very welcome, and without loss of time preparations began. The largest indoor auditorium in South Korea, that of the newly rebuilt Kyung-gi Boys High School in Seoul, along with its gymnasium, was obtained. The gymnasium served as both cafeteria and overflow hall for the assembly’s public lecture. Early in November of 1956, during the traditional “kimjang” sea son, three huge earthen vessels of kimchi were prepared and then buried in the ground until assembly time. This favorite dish of cabbage leaves pickled in garlic and red pepper is featured at every Korean assembly of Jehovah’s witnesses.
Other preparations included advertising by means of handbills, and by 1,500 two color window posters and 250 signs in Seoul’s streetcars. December came and turned out to be the coldest December in thirty-one years, seemingly an ominously forbidding factor. Then another thing: Just before the assembly was to begin the Korean government doubled the railroad fares. Undoubtedly the effect of this was to keep some of the financially embarrassed brothers from coming to the Seoul assembly. How good it was, then, to see about four hundred come from the circuits and congregations south of the capital! Lovingly 324 of these were provided with accommodations in four of the Kingdom Halls of Seoul’s nine congregations, these Kingdom Halls being turned into large dormitories. Pallets and comforts were spread on the straw-mat floors, and stoves were kept going all night to provide warmth for the sleepers. Such communal living during the days of an assembly is very much enjoyed by the Korean brothers, and it reminds one of what the assemblies of the Israelites by the millions at Jerusalem must have been like.
The opening session of the assembly Friday morning, January 25, was attended by 647, who were thereafter dispatched to the city territories for field witnessing. In the afternoon the address of welcome by a native Korean brother, a worker at the Society’s Seoul branch office, and three half-hour talks on timely themes by a missionary graduate of Gilead and two Korean brothers were heard by 1,191. The evening’s program, beginning at 6:30, was handled by three Korean and two Gilead missionary graduates, one of these being the Society’s branch servant, Donald L. Steele. Preceded by songs and experiences, this program presented a symposium of four half-hour talks on theocratic marriage, and despite the wintry weather and the approaching curfew at 11 p.m. it was enjoyed with profit by an attendance of 1,043.
Saturday morning, before the vice-president was scheduled to arrive, there was the morning’s baptismal talk. When the candidates were asked to stand up to answer the questions to be propounded to them, the great crowd of observers applauded to see 154, namely, ninety-six women and fifty-eight men, rise and then confess their readiness and worthiness to be immersed in water in token of their dedication to Jehovah God. After the benediction these candidates were led to two public bathhouses, one for the brothers and the other for the sisters. There they were immersed in warm water.
The scheduled time of the vice-president’s arrival at the distant Kim Po airport was 2 p.m. The assembly’s afternoon session began at a quarter of two. When a checkup at the airlines office revealed that the plane would be early, a group of the brothers who had chartered a bus, also others in private cars, hurried out to the airport to extend a warm Korean welcome to their American brother. About seventy-five were on hand to welcome him. As he emerged from the plane a shout went up from the crowd of brothers behind the fence toward the right. Various missionaries were at the foot of the staircase that was moved up to the plane, and news reporters took flashlight pictures. The welcoming crowd were waving copies of the Korean Watchtower and displaying bright smiles as well as assembly badges. There was no difficulty in determining who were Jehovah’s witnesses in this foreign land. A Korean newspaper reporter gave help to facilitate one’s getting through the customary entrance formalities. As the Society’s vice-president came out through the custom’s door he gave attention to each one of this big reception committee, even calling some of the Koreans by name. There was no feeling of strangeness or reserve.
At the Kyung-gi Boys High School auditorium the assembly’s sessions for the afternoon were finishing shortly after 4 p.m. with a talk by a Korean brother, when the vice-president entered the rear of the auditorium. A crowd of 1,321 filled the auditorium and many were standing. The vice-president could not restrain himself from mounting the stage and talking to them all without delaying for the evening’s scheduled appearance, especially to express his joy and his gratitude to Jehovah for the privilege of being there and to transmit to them the theocratic love and greetings of all the congregations and assemblies of Jehovah’s people that he had served along the two-months’ journey there. In view of the time-crowding 11 p.m. curfew, he arranged from the platform for the program to be moved up earlier, that the most of the brothers might find it convenient to be present and hear all that was to be said. This had a good effect. Instead of decreasing that night, the audience increased and few, if any, were obliged to leave early.
From then on the vice-president was kept busy on the platform. For his talk that Saturday night 1,402 packed into the auditorium. All the space outside the many and long rows of chairs was utilized. Between the front row of seats and the stage many sat on the floor Korean-style. The Korean brothers sit very close together and really get the maximum number of persons into an assembly hall. From the auditorium stage the speaker seemed to see a great sea of upturned faces, dear faces, all attentive to the precious Word of God. The singing of this great throng was also notable, led by a small foot-pumped organ. During the assembly a chorus of trained voices sang Kingdom songs, to parts, in lovely harmony.
Sunday morning, January 27, an attentive 1,275 heard the vice-president’s exhortation to keep oneself faithfully within the safe limits of the New World society. Almost all the listeners were following along closely in their Korean Bibles and marking the scripture explanations in the Bible margins. This was pleasing to behold. Shortly after the conclusion of the talk the big crowd got a huge amount of enjoyment out of hearing Brother Franz’ concert of Kingdom songs that he played for them on his chromatic harmonica. Korean people love a spontaneous unscheduled thing like this, as at almost every social function the guests are called upon to perform by singing or dancing or by playing some musical instrument.
In spite of the forbidding economic conditions many are the full-time pioneer publishers in South Korea. To show appreciation of this Brother Franz now called upon all the pioneers to postpone a bit their taking of dinner by coming up on the auditorium stage to hold a Korean pioneer meeting. January had been a heavy month for vacation pioneers, and so it was quite overwhelming to see 147 pioneers, special and general and vacation, crowd up onto the stage, while Brother Franz encouraged them in their choice of pioneering as a career. His own choice of pioneering away back in 1913 had laid the foundation or paved the pathway for his being there in Korea that noon hour. So, too, greater blessings and privileges would be theirs by continuing on in their full-time service. To see so many of such Kingdom publishers there on the stage was heartwarming indeed, for it showed that almost all the pioneers in Korea had been able to attend the assembly.
Sunday afternoon was bright and not very cold. Consequently expectations were high for a good attendance. The high school auditorium and the gymnasium could seat 2,100 persons, and thoughts were on how wonderful it would be if both halls were filled. The witnesses of Jehovah were requested to fill up the overflow gymnasium hall to allow for most of the goodwill persons to get into the main hall and hear the speaker direct. The brothers considerately complied with this. The public turned out. They exceeded all hopes for that midwinter day. The count gave assurance that there were 2,254 present in both halls, sitting on the floor, seated in the available chairs and occupying the standing room. There were at least a thousand persons of good will that attended this public lecture by the Society’s vice-president. Many were the slips that were turned in by this audience requesting further information and a call by a competent witness of Jehovah.
After this public talk Brother Franz was introduced to an elderly brother from Suwon. He said he was an old friend of Korea’s president, Dr. Syngman Rhee, being also of about the same age as he. He told of how during the field-service session he had made a return visit on the nation’s chief executive, giving him a Korean-language copy of the booklet “This Good News of the Kingdom”. Some time previous he had placed with him a copy of the feature booklet of 1955, Christendom or Christianity—Which One Is “the Light of the World”? At this courtesy call on the president during this national convention Dr. Rhee had expressed appreciation of the booklet placed with him. Our elderly brother with the thin white chinbeard hastened to explain to Brother Franz that he had first asked the circuit servant of Korea if it would be all right for him to make this return visit upon Dr. Rhee instead of doing the accustomed magazine work that morning in the field.
In the announcements following upon the public lecture the people of good will were invited to remain for the final session of the assembly, when the public speaker would tell of his trip around the world to Korea. Appreciatively, 1,436 remained for this session, and this was the highest attendance at a regular assembly session outside of the public lecture of any assembly ever held in Korea. On request, first the Korean branch servant gave an impromptu talk directly in Korean, much to everyone’s appreciation. They were glad to hear in their own tongue branch servant Steele, who had served them so faithfully, together with his wife, during all these trialsome and perilous years, since before the Communist incursion of 1950 from North Korea. As for the vice-president in his farewell talk and travelogue, he had to avail himself once more of his accustomed translator, a tall young high school boy who has corresponded with him. It was strenuous for the young man, doing all that translating without benefit of any notes or previous coaching, but he stood up to the ordeal well and put across the truths and exhortations of the vice-president very well, discharging this heavy responsibility very conscientiously.
The three-day national assembly ended much too soon, according to the feelings of all. By the Watch Tower Society’s two films, which have been exhibited in South Korea, the Korean brothers had come to know the Society’s president and vice-president even before their coming in person. Now after the visit of both the president and of the vice-president they knew why Jehovah’s witnesses are a unified organization throughout the earth. They know that the principle of love and brotherhood is truly a real bond of Jehovah’s witnesses, along with the truth and our common determination to preach God’s established kingdom under Christ. Naturally they left this assembly deeply resolved to remain loyal to Jehovah’s theocratic organization and stay inside its bounds.
The following Monday and Tuesday as well as Wednesday morning Brother Franz spent with the missionaries and the Korean brothers. This enabled him to receive the very generous hospitality and warmth of the Koreans in thankful expression for the spiritual blessings brought to them. By experience, when visiting the Korean homes, Brother Franz got to see and know the way they sit on the floor to eat their meals. The floor heated underneath in offering radiant heat was particularly comfortable.
Wherever the vice-president was received he was asked to answer some of their Bible questions. Willingness to do this delighted these Bible-searching Koreans. One group of brothers from thirteen congregations arranged for a banquet of Korean food for the missionaries from the homes in Seoul and Pusan and for Brother Franz, this at the Korean Restaurant Nak Won Chang upon a hillside. Dinner began at 1 p.m., Tuesday, January 29, with all kinds of tasty dishes being served to the delectation of all present. All having eaten to satiety, the waiters cleared away the remnants of food and also the tables, clearing out the big banquet room. Then all the forty-nine reseated themselves—yes, on the floor—and besieged the vice-president with Bible questions. This went on till after 6 p.m., when it became necessary for many to get off to their service center book studies. When it became too dark for the forty-nine to see their Bibles longer, the question-and-answer meeting was continued by candlelight. The first translator had to be relieved by another, a high school principal. What eagerness there was to dig out the treasures of truth and revelation from God’s Word! It was an unforgettable experience for both the Korean brothers and the missionaries working with them. Repeatedly on other occasions so deep wouId be the engrossment in such profitable discussion that it was necessary to apply a reminder that the curfew hour was approaching. Then there would be a hurried scramble into scarce taxis and jeeps to make it home before the siren wailed out the curfew hour.
The final night of Tuesday was spent in the missionary home on the mountainside in the company of the eleven missionaries and three members of the Seoul Bethel family. Warm counsel was then given to the missionaries to abide in their assignments and to maintain their appreciation and enjoyment of their wonderful privilege of service to such responsive brothers as these Koreans, regardless of all the inconveniences and the dangers they had to endure. Since this farewell meeting was in the Seoul missionary home and Brother Franz was to lodge there that night, there were no worries over curfew this night. What wonder that this closely knit group beat off all weariness and stayed together talking and getting the fill of one another’s company till nearly two o’clock in the morning!!
This spending the night at the branch and missionary home enabled the vice-president to enjoy breakfast with the thirteen missionaries from Seoul and Pusan. Before partaking of the material food a Bethel service, the same as that carried on at Brooklyn headquarters, was conducted by Brother Franz. But all the discussion of the day’s Bible text by them was in Korean; only Brother Franz gave a comment, the sum-up, in English, and offered the prayer.
It is Wednesday, January 30, the day of the vice-president’s departure. At the Kim Po airport across the frozen Han River there crowded into the airport building more than 150 Korean brothers to bid farewell. Again they crowded against the airfield fence. Tears were seen on many faces, as their departing fellow servant walked to the waiting NWA plane. There is a mutual waving of good-by, and then the vice president boards the plane. The tightly sealed plane moves away, and a few minutes before 2 p.m. the watching Koreans see it mounting into the air and nosing toward Japan. Now for them all it was back to work, charged with new strength from the privileges of the past week. For the three preceding months they had had increase after increase until in their December of extreme cold they had attained the peak of 1,801 active publishers. Now this national assembly month of January did not lag behind.
(To be concluded)