Opening Up the Way to Life for the Peoples of India
THE year 1912 was a most important one for the peoples of India. It was impossible for anyone at that time to foresee just how important it really was. It marked the beginning of a movement in India that ultimately will spell everlasting life for many of its people.
Understanding of truth concerning Almighty God, the Creator, is essential to eternal life; but that truth has never been popular, because “the whole world is lying in the power of the wicked one,” Satan the Devil. As “god of this system of things,” Satan has “blinded the minds of the unbelievers, that the illumination of the glorious good news about the Christ, who is the image of God, might not shine through.” (1 John 5:19; 2 Cor. 4:4) So any movement that will open those blinded eyes of understanding and light up the way to eternal life is certainly an important movement. Just such a movement started in India in 1912.
That year a party of seven men made a tour of the world. It was part of a campaign sponsored by the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania, as it is known today. The Society was pledged to spread the message of the establishment of God’s kingdom throughout the world, in obedience to and in fulfillment of Jesus Christ’s prophetic words recorded at Matthew 24:14: “And this good news of the kingdom will be preached in all the inhabited earth for the purpose of a witness to all the nations, and then the accomplished end will come.”
C. T. RUSSELL VISITS INDIA
Those seven men were men of action, men of hope. Their hope was based on the sure Word of God, which Christendom professes to believe and teach. Those men wanted to find out for themselves whether the Christian missions were in fact doing what they were supposed to be doing: that is, bearing witness to the approaching end of this old system of things and teaching people the truth about God’s kingdom and the blessings that kingdom will bring to the earth.
So these men traveled. From America they went to Hawaii, Japan, China and on through Asia to India. In India they delivered Bible lectures in Trivandrum, Kottarakara, Nagercoil, Puram, Madras, Vizagapatam, Calcutta, Benares, Lucknow and Bombay. Crowds listened. A few listened with keener interest than the others. One in particular listened with more than passing interest. He discerned truth he had never before grasped. He sought a private interview with the chairman of this committee of seven men, Charles T. Russell. In such a busy program, Russell offered to give young Joseph, for such was his name, a half-hour interview. That interview lasted two hours and led to a permanent arrangement for the continuation of this Bible teaching in India, which today has resulted in bringing the hope of eternal life to many of India’s humble people.
Back in the days of 1912, basic truths were being learned but without much in the way of theocratic organization as regards the method of preaching them. Preaching services were held every week, and study classes were organized. Some of the more zealous ones would spend time distributing tracts or talking to the public at advertised meetings, as well as privately from house to house. But it was a beginning of a movement in India that was to grow and become God’s instrument for making known his will and purpose.
At first this movement was confined to southern India, particularly Travancore, as the present state of Kerala was then called. Bible study classes were organized in many places, and the members came to be known as “Bible Students,” from the designation of the British branch of this world society, the International Bible Students Association. Soon afterward a representative from the American headquarters was sent to India to help forward the work. But World War I broke out in 1914, and it was soon seen to be expedient that this one return home. There was some lag in the work. Then another man was sent out from headquarters, and the work expanded; but again war conditions forced him to leave the country. There was a short period of anxiety for this youthful movement. It was in the year 1926 that the way again opened up for a forward push and expansion of this life-giving work.
AID FOR THE INDIAN FIELD
Following an important convention of Jehovah’s witnesses in London in the month of May, 1926, two men were selected for work in India. The companion of one of them had returned to his preaching assignment in south Wales, rather wondering what the future might hold for him now that his partner had been taken away for foreign service. Just a day or two later this young man, F. E. Skinner, returned to his lodging after distributing some invitations to a Bible lecture and found a telegram awaiting him.
The telegram read: “Brother Rutherford wants to see you.” Brother Rutherford was in London at the time, and it was known that some of the brothers from the British field were being sent to foreign lands to organize the preaching work. So the first thought surging through that young man’s mind as he journeyed up to London by the next morning train was, “What does this mean? Surely it must mean some foreign service. I wonder where?” One thing was quite definite in that young man’s mind, and that was, “Wherever it may be, I’m ready to go.”
With that attitude of mind he arrived at the London branch office of the Society and quickly found Brother Rutherford. “Do you mind what part of the earth you work in?” asked Brother Rutherford. “No,” was the reply. “Would you like to go to India?” came the next question. “When do you want me to go?” answered the young man. So in a matter of minutes decisions were made and the two former companions were again to be associated together in enlarged responsibilities: organizing and spreading abroad in India the Kingdom work that had its beginning there in 1912. George Wright, the first of the young men invited to this task, lived in London, while his companion’s home town was Sheffield. So George had the immediate task of arranging for passports and reservation of sea passage from London to Bombay, while his companion made a quick dash to Sheffield to say Good-by to parents and friends—for time indefinite. It all seemed like the call Abram received: “Go your way out of your country and from your relatives and from the house of your father to the country that I shall show you.” “And he went out although not knowing where he was going.”—Gen. 12:1; Heb. 11:8.
The voyage to India was full of new and novel experiences, as mile after mile, day after day the ship sped on through ever-warmer waters, through the wonderfully blue Mediterranean Sea, to Port Said. Here was the first glimpse of the life of the East, but they were only halfway there. On through the Suez Canal, past those frightfully barren, grassless mountain wastes of Sinai that the nation of Israel had crossed on their way from Egypt to the Promised Land. Down through the long Red Sea to Aden, and then across the Arabian Sea to Bombay on India’s western coast. There on the pier was an Indian brother, the same Brother Joseph who had contacted Pastor Russell fourteen years before. After a day or two spent together talking over the plans for the future, our two British companions were left to themselves in the great city of Bombay to get started in the important work they were commissioned to do: get the message of everlasting life through Jehovah’s kingdom to the millions of persons in India.
It was not easy going. Plans were immediately made for two publicly advertised Bible lectures with the startling titles: “Millions Now Living Will Never Die!” and “Where Are the Dead?” It was a mixed audience that came to hear those talks, but some left their names for further discussion and were visited. Then a little while later a series of lectures was advertised in a railroad workman’s institute. These lectures resulted in the organizing of regular weekly Bible study classes; and there are stalwart servants of God still actively serving as Jehovah’s witnesses who first attended those meetings. It was a work that turned the minds of men from religious traditions to the pure Word of God and gave them hope of everlasting life on a paradise earth.
But the movement was not to be confined to Bombay, nor to Travancore. All India must be given the opportunity to hear. There were isolated individuals and small groups in several places in India and these had to be visited. So arrangements were made for our two companions in Bombay to take turns in touring the country to visit these isolated ones. North, south, east and west they went, mostly to the cities where the British or those of British descent (Anglo-Indians) were located.
It was obvious that so vast a country with so enormous a population could never be adequately covered by two or three men. So a call was sent for additional workers. Two more came in 1928, and again two more in 1929. But that was insufficient. Moreover, the means of travel were very inconvenient, not to mention the facilities for lodging in the smaller towns and villages. So to overcome the latter problem a Ford car, the renowned model A, was purchased and fitted with a closed body equipped with sleeping accommodation and cooking facilities. That at least made the travelers independent of hotels, and often there were none.
Then in 1931 three more Britishers volunteered for service in India and built up the working force. Also, another house car was purchased and touring work expanded. Not long afterward a local brother bought a house car, and another brother also bought one. During 1933 one pioneer traveled alone during the whole year in a house car equipped with a cinema outfit for showing “The Photo-Drama of Creation”; thus many thousands of persons were given a thorough witness concerning the Kingdom hope. So by 1934 there were four house cars constantly touring India, distributing printed literature containing the message of eternal life.
In 1937 the book Riches was published in four Indian vernaculars; this Bible-study aid helped many obtain a good knowledge of the truth. A report from the Punjab in 1937 said: “The Riches book in Urdu is seen in the hands of every Urdu-reading man and woman in the Christian villages around Khanewal.” That year there were 28 pioneers and 365 congregation publishers preaching the good news of God’s kingdom in India.
By the time the second world war broke out in 1939, this little team of workers had distributed far more than half a million books and booklets, covering most of the important towns and many villages of this vast subcontinent. Thus the basic truths of God’s purposes were brought within the reach of many millions of persons.
Many and varied were the experiences of the pioneers in those days before petrol pumps, or gas stations, were strung out along the highways. Often the roads were but oxcart tracks. Rivers were invariably unbridged, and more than once those house cars had to be unloaded in midstream and the rear wheels jacked up from the mud under a foot or so of water, to get across. Or a long stretch of burning sand had to be crossed during the dry season, necessitating half deflating the tires so as not to sink down in the sand and reinflating them with a foot pump on the other side. During 1940 a party of pioneers in Travancore hired a boat and made a tour of villages isolated in the “backwaters.” About a thousand persons listened to lectures, and some six hundred books and booklets were placed with people. The same year the manager of the Talkie Theater asked for certain records of the series “Government and Peace” to be played at intervals during the showing of the film “Nazi Spy.” As a result many books were placed.
“WATCHTOWER” GOES TO PEOPLE DESPITE BAN
During World War II a ban was placed on all importation of the Society’s literature into India; in Calcutta pioneers had their literature taken away from them. But the officials could not ban the truth, for this work was ordained of God, and nothing could stop it. Though The Watchtower was banned, not a single issue was missed. And more than that, we printed copies of every issue and got them into the hands of those who wanted to read them.
Toward the war’s end, in 1944, some members of the Legislative Assembly took up the case of the ban on our literature. It was not long before the Minister for Home Affairs declared the ban lifted. A convention was held at Jubbulpore amid great rejoicing, for once again it was possible to advertise a public Bible lecture and, without threat of police action, to distribute Bible literature.
During the war years the Society opened a Bible training school in America, known as the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead. This was for the purpose of training men and women for foreign missionary service. Would India share in this provision? Yes, indeed. It was one evening during the weekly service meeting at a Bombay congregation that the branch servant, F. E. Skinner, was handed a telegram. Thinking it was an urgent call for literature from some pioneer, he opened it and read: “Attend Gilead.”
Though the war was over, there was still no regular shipping service available to the public. It became a problem as to how to get from India to America in time for Gilead’s next term. At last a booking was made on what was a troopship made available for civilian passengers. It made the trip from India eastward across the Pacific Ocean via Singapore and Shanghai. What a thrill it was to get ashore at San Francisco and find warm hospitality in the home of an American brother! Then across the American continent to Chicago, Buffalo and on to Ithaca, New York, and Gilead School.
Gilead training was followed by six months of touring of congregations in America in the circuit work. After that, year after year, more missionaries were assigned to India from Gilead. The hope of everlasting life was planted in the hearts of many persons. From some 300 members of the New World society in 1950, it grew to well over 1,500 by 1960.
NEW BRANCH BUILDING
Impetus was further given by visits of the president of the Watch Tower Society. Then came another important step forward: India was to have its own new branch office building and housing accommodations for the office staff. Work was started on the foundation for a spacious office building in the suburbs of Bombay, near the sea and in a clean, quiet locality. Gradually a fine building emerged from the cement framework, and the question now was, When and by whom would it be officially opened and dedicated to Jehovah, the Giver of this provision?
It was now November, 1960, and it was customary for a traveling representative of the Society to visit India in December. Yes, the anticipated visit was announced. How fitting it would be for him to dedicate the new building! So a dedication program was arranged. It happened that the district servant, Brother Sanderson, was on vacation and could easily come to Bombay for the occasion; and he, too, was invited to address the happy gathering.
The branch servant was the first of a symposium of speakers. He discussed the vision described by the prophet Zechariah, where Jehovah’s organization is symbolized by a city without walls because of the multitudes in it, protected by a “wall of fire all around,” even by Jehovah himself, whose glory filled the place. He sketched the early beginnings of the Kingdom work in India, its growth up to the present day and the further prophecy of Zechariah wherein he described “ten men” taking hold of the skirt of a man who is a Jew (spiritual Israelite) because it was a recognizable fact that “God is with you people.”—Zech. 2:4, 5; 8:23.
Next came a discourse by the district servant, speaking on the present work of preaching the good news in India. He emphasized the importance of maintaining integrity under difficulties, citing examples of how brothers are doing this. He related the case of a brother who found a wallet on the roadside containing a considerable amount of money. He then noticed a Roman Catholic priest walking slowly down the road, obviously in distress, looking first one way, then another. The brother approached the priest and asked him if he was looking for something. Yes, he had lost his wallet. The brother returned the lost wallet, to the great relief of the priest. Asked who he was, the brother said: “I used to be a Roman Catholic, and if I still was one I would have kept that wallet and said nothing, but now I am one of Jehovah’s witnesses. Here is your wallet.”
Brother Dower, a member of the Bombay office staff, next spoke on “Building for the Future.” He pointed out that God does not dwell in temples made with hands, but that he is pleased to use buildings to carry out his purposes. Then came the dedication speech by the zone servant, G. D. King. It was a well-expressed statement of gratitude to Jehovah, the Giver of this fine new building, which is to be exclusively devoted to the doing of his will. This was followed by prayer; then Brother King delivered a service talk to the audience of 263, drawn from the various congregations of Jehovah’s witnesses in Bombay.
The building itself is a two-story structure of concrete frame, with brick filling. The entire front is faced with stonework, adding beauty and dignity to the building. At one end is a main entrance flanked with gray marble panels, and on each side of the steps there are built-in boxes for flowers. The entrance lobby also forms a reception room, and this is beautified by a glass panel of deep-etched glass portraying a fine picture of the paradise earth. On the ground floor are dining room, kitchen and general storage facilities. Upstairs are six bedrooms and a spacious, well-lighted Kingdom Hall accommodating 250 persons. Up on the terrace roof is adequate space for open-air meetings. The whole building is enclosed in a garden, which, in time, will grow to paradisaic beauty.
Such, then, is the growth of a movement that began in a small way in India in 1912. It is a common saying in India that “all religions teach the same,” “all religion is good,” “all lead to the same goal.” But is this really so? No, for Jesus said: “Go in through the narrow gate; because broad and spacious is the road leading off into destruction, and many are the ones going in through it; whereas narrow is the gate and cramped the road leading off into life, and few are the ones finding it.” (Matt. 7:13, 14) It is the narrow way, in contrast to this world’s ‘broad road,’ that leads to everlasting life in the new world. Yes, it was a most important movement that started showing the people of India this narrow way to life in 1912.
[Picture on page 313]
New branch office building in India