‘A Little One Became Thousands’
As told by W. R. Brown
INDEPENDENCE was coming to the British colonial territory of Nigeria in the fall of 1960. In preparation for that event, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, the governor general, remarked to his Council of Ministers: “Now all the heads of religion have been invited, what about the head or representative of Jehovah’s witnesses?” Some of the Council ministers, including clergymen, objected on the grounds that Jehovah’s witnesses abstain from politics and therefore did not help the government. To this Dr. Azikiwe, whom I had known for many years, replied: “If all the religious denominations were like Jehovah’s witnesses, we would have no murders, burglaries, delinquencies, prisoners and atomic bombs. Doors would not be locked day in and day out.” All the Council ministers kept silent. Then the governor concluded: “Invite Mr. Brown to represent Jehovah’s witnesses.”
That explains the cablegram I received in Trinidad late in 1959, inviting my wife and me to revisit Nigeria, all expenses paid. We gladly accepted. The following September, after stopovers in New York and London, we landed at Ikeja Airport in Nigeria, where an official greeted us. “That new Chevrolet is yours,” he said, “to take you anywhere you want to go in Nigeria until you leave. This man is your driver.” We drove to the governor’s residence, where Dr. Azikiwe met our car. He had arranged for us to take over their personal bedroom during our visit.
A few days later some high-ranking officials and their wives came to dinner. Among them were the queen’s representative, Lord Perth, and the ex-governor of Jamaica and Nigeria, Sir Arthur Richards. Dr. Azikiwe called us to the dining table where all were then seated except my wife and me. “I have known Mr. and Mrs. Brown for about thirty years,” said Dr. Azikiwe, “and they have added greatly to the spiritual upbuilding of our people in Nigeria. Therefore, Mr. Brown, take the head of the table and, Mrs. Brown, take the other end.”
Without a shadow of a doubt, the governor general of Nigeria appreciated our work as Jehovah’s witnesses. But I can remember the time when our work was unknown, not only in Nigeria, but also in the rest of West Africa. That was the reason Judge Rutherford, the president of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society, had invited me and my little family to leave the Caribbean Islands and cross the Atlantic to the west coast of Africa. It was a pleasure to accept that assignment.
FIRST TRIP TO AFRICA
My wife, child and I arrived in Freetown, Sierra Leone, in April, 1923. We were not any government’s guests in those days. In fact, we did not know exactly where we would stay. I asked one of the natives, “Are there any hotels here?” He replied: “Two. A white man is in charge of one, a native lady in charge of the other. Do you see that three-story building up there? Go there and you will be accommodated.” And accommodated we were in a clean, cool room.
By newspaper and handbills I advertised a lecture series at the Wilberforce Memorial Hall. My first topic was “The Spirits in Prison—Who Are They? Why Are They There? And How Jesus Preached to Them.” The aroused city wanted to know where this man Brown came from and what he would say. The spacious hall was packed out, hundreds were turned away. About six clergymen with their garb on joined the people in applauding as point after point was made clear. The crowd went away satisfied with the explanation, and you can imagine my joy. The subject for next Sunday’s lecture had them thinking and talking. “Have you heard the latest?” they said. “You can go to hell and come back!”
That Sunday another capacity audience came and heard the discourse: “To Hell and Back—Who Are There?” Again the audience applauded the Bible arguments, and the result of the talk was the resignation of many prominent church members who then came into Jehovah’s organization. Clergymen saw what was happening and began a public attack against me in the newspapers.
The newspaper attack failing, they then got a large building called the Buxton Church and, styling themselves “Gladiators,” put on a series of six nightly lectures. The lawyer they got as their chairman told them at the end of the series that they had failed to put down “Russellism,” as they called it. In the daily paper I challenged the six “Gladiators” to public debate for two hours each night on different subjects. They refused and rebuked the newspaper editor for printing my challenge without consulting them. Witnessing in Freetown was much easier after that.
More preaching and lecturing followed on my part and Jehovah gave the increase as the Freetown congregation expanded. I visited Bathurst, Gambia, in 1927 and also gave a witness in Liberia at the Hall of Representatives, placing many Bible-study aids. It was also my privilege to visit Ghana and Nigeria, taking my sound car along. The clergy in Nigeria became alarmed at my bold witnessing and tried to call a halt.
At the time the public had little regard for what they called “the white man’s religion.” It was appropriate that I speak at the Glover Memorial Hall on the failure of Christendom’s religion. Accordingly I advertised the lecture in the three leading newspapers. A Catholic editor submitted my write-up to Dr. Moses Da Rocha, who wrote a letter and had it published alongside my ad. He urged the government of Nigeria to prohibit my meetings or at least send policemen to preserve the peace. He appealed to various religious leaders in Lagos to send their ablest representatives to my meeting and smash to pieces my “heretical theses.” Policemen and many church representatives did show up.
Throughout the expose of Christendom the audience interrupted with applause. When the meeting was opened to questions, the son of an Anglican clergyman asked two questions, which were answered, and attempted a third, whereupon I said: “Please sit down and allow others to ask.” Other questions were propounded and answered to the audience’s satisfaction. I closed the meeting, offering them the paper-covered Deliverance book at a modest contribution. They emptied all the cartons we carried to the hall and even came to my home that night for more. When we took stock we found that they had obtained 3,900 books! They went far and wide placing them with their neighbors. It was a joyful day in missionary service.
When lecturing I always used lantern slides, enabling me to flash every Scripture text on the screen and then explain it. The people gained much understanding of the Scriptures thereby and wrote many letters to the Society requesting Bibles. That is how I came to be called “Bible Brown,” a nickname familiar to many on the west coast of Africa.
When entering a village with the sound car I would go to the chief and invite him to attend the lecture to be given in front of his compound. It was not uncommon for the chief to send a man around the village advertising the talk with a bell. The chief’s people would spread a large carpet for him and place a chair on it. There he would sit with a man holding an umbrella over him and sometimes a man with a large ostrich fan keeping him cool. Thousands would attend and respond enthusiastically to the Bible points.
On different occasions I drove from Freetown to Ghana, where I witnessed, lectured and showed the Society’s Photo-Drama of Creation. In Accra I secured the city’s largest theater for the lecture “All Nations Marching to Armageddon—Millions Now Living Will Never Die.” Hundreds had to stand outside and listen, and the papers gave good write-ups. However, the “Christian Council” in Ghana objected to my pointed speech and as a result the government declared me a prohibited immigrant. Two years passed and a new governor took over. The brothers got up a petition asking that I be allowed to visit Ghana. It was signed by thousands and presented to the authorities. Permission was granted! Imagine how happy I was to see my children in the Lord and attend the convention in Ghana.—3 John 4.
During the twenty-five years that I was branch servant in West Africa I never felt at home sitting in the chair in the office for any length of time. I would budget my time so that I could be out with the sound car delivering the good news orally and by printed page. Brother Rutherford’s letters to me were refreshing and strengthening during those years.
In 1930 we took up residence in Nigeria. Fourteen congregations were organized there from 1931 to 1938, and by 1947 the number had jumped to 165. In a new field laying the foundation I had to act as congregation servant, circuit servant and district servant, though these duties had different names then. Twice yearly we had our conventions at five or six places and I attended all of them, some days driving over 400 miles to arrive at the next assembly. Attendance varied from 65 to more than 2,400. During the difficult years of World War II the brothers did not slack their hands. The West African Branch translated many books and booklets into local tongues.
In 1947 the Society was able to send us ten graduates of the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead. Three were assigned to Sierra Leone, two to Liberia, two in Ghana and three to Nigeria. I was approaching seventy years of age then and was glad that Jehovah had provided willing hands to carry on. Not many months after the Gilead missionaries took over the load of branch duties, the president of the Society, Brother Knorr, arrived on the scene with Brother Henschel, his secretary. The meeting was a joyful one.
BACK TO THE WEST INDIES
Sister Brown and I stayed on in West Africa until 1950 and then arranged to return to the West Indies. A member of the Legislative Council who was also editor of one of the leading newspapers thought our departure newsworthy. He published an article in the Daily Times captioned: “‘BIBLE BROWN’ SAYS AU REVOIR, NOT GOODBYE.” The editor recounted my twenty-seven years in West Africa as a controversial Bible lecturer and commented: “Today ‘Bible’ Brown has become an institution and is the friend of all, young and old, European, African and Lebanese, even by those who disagreed with him and hated his religious propaganda. . . . Lagos will miss the familiar figure of ‘Bible’ Brown, and all his friends will wish him and Mrs. Brown good luck in their home in the Caribbean Isles.” Particularly touching was the farewell letter I received from the brothers in Nigeria. It said, in part: “Yes, ‘one man has become thousands’ is not idle talk, but the undeniable facts show that on your arrival to West Africa there was no single person as a Jehovah’s witness. But as you preached, there was one and rising from one to seven in 1928. Not stopping there, the rise jumped from seven into formation of [congregations]. The creation of the branch office resulted and today over ten thousand are answering to the honouring name, Jehovah’s witnesses, in the West Coast of Africa. . . . we say goodbye with tears to you and your family.”
On the way back to Trinidad we were privileged to attend the 1950 international convention at Yankee Stadium in New York. Refreshed, we then proceeded to Trinidad, and later to Jamaica, where I am busily engaged in the full-time ministry. However, because of old age and ill health I cannot put in pioneer hours. I wish I could; I love pioneering. It is one of the highest privileges that can be offered to a human creature, to be an ambassador of Jehovah!
According to the 1962 Yearbook of Jehovah’s Witnesses there are 35,729 Witnesses now in Nigeria, 8,662 in Ghana and hundreds more in the immediate vicinity. Having been used of the Lord to plant the seed and seeing how Jehovah made it grow calls to mind Paul’s words at Romans 15:17-21. What a joy to see men and women become obedient to the good news of God’s kingdom. Looking back in appreciation at the wonderful life spent in Jehovah’s service, fifty-three years as a pioneer minister, I am thankful to Jehovah that I heard the truth from that Watchtower lecturer who spoke by the side of the road in Panama. Gold was to be earned at the Canal in those days, but the truth meant more to me than money. By attending Bible studies I learned what God’s purpose is for man. Determined to tell others, I rented halls and gave Bible lectures. When the Watch Tower magazine called for colporteurs, I responded and have never regretted it.
In 1920 my wife and I were married, but there was work to be done. Two days after our wedding we left Trinidad for Montserrat with the Photo-Drama of Creation. We witnessed in Dominica, Barbados and Grenada, then returned to Trinidad. It was a joyful honeymoon in Jehovah’s service.
In 1922 I wrote to Brother Rutherford, president of the Society, informing him that by Jehovah’s help I had given the witness throughout the majority of the Caribbean Islands and made disciples in many. Should I go over them again? Not many days later his reply came: ‘Proceed to Sierra Leone, West Africa, with wife and child.’ Imagine my joy, going to a people that had not heard the good news!
Joy still fills my heart as I see more and more persons of goodwill coming into Jehovah God’s organization on both sides of the Atlantic. How many more will do so before the work is done, I cannot say. But I do know that our heavenly Father has certainly kept his promise given through Isaiah: “The little one himself will become a thousand, and the small one a mighty nation. I myself, Jehovah, shall speed it up in its own time.”—Isa. 60:22.