How Important Is Good Association to You?
When the apostle Peter in the first century referred to Christians as “the entire association of your brothers in the world,” his was an accurate allusion to one of the outstanding characteristics of Christ’s followers. (1 Pet. 5:9) They associated with one another. They were not content to stay home and enjoy a secret, personal religion. They felt the need for as much association as was practicable with others of the same faith. Their faith had to be talked about.
Those Christians needed the association of one another. No other association could satisfy. Then, too, they were mindful of the apostle’s warning: “Bad associations spoil useful habits.” (1 Cor. 15:33) By regularly assembling together in good association, they could heed the urgent advice of Bible writer Jude to be “building up yourselves on your most holy faith.” (Jude 20) So vital to them was this link with the Christian congregation that persecutions, political turmoil, distance, hardships, weather—none of these could dissuade zealous Christians from meeting together. Is that your attitude too?
DISTANCE, PROBLEMS OVERCOME
The fact that their home is far from the nearest meeting place with other Christians, together with lack of transportation, may loom as an obstacle to some, but not to many witnesses of Jehovah in Panama. Over rugged mountain paths one group of eight spend three and a half hours on horseback. Rain or shine they are regularly at the Kingdom Hall at the appointed time, eager for fellowship and spiritual nourishment. In another region of jagged hills Witnesses walk for hours, crossing streams on narrow logs, often wading, carrying their shoes. On arrival at the meeting place they wash their legs and feet, put on their shoes and enjoy the program, undaunted by the prospect of a similar return trip, only this time in the dark.
Are you without transportation, and is the Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses quite a distance from your home? Well, think about some of the Witnesses in Colombia, South America, who often have to go on foot, in sunshine or rain, twenty miles to get to a meeting place, and not on well-lighted paved roads, but along narrow paths, fording rivers up to the waist, enduring the heat or the torrential downpours. And all of this, not for some special meeting, but to get to the regular weekly sessions for study of the Bible with the help of The Watchtower.
In many parts of Mexico the only means of transportation is one’s own legs. Yet meetings are keenly appreciated by Jehovah’s witnesses in that land. Attendance at the weekly Watchtower study averages 119 percent of the total number of Witnesses, 91 percent attend the smaller weekly meetings in private homes, and 82 percent the midweek meeting for discussion and improvement of the preaching ministry. Nor are these high attendance figures the rule only in the larger cities; they apply throughout the whole country.
In rural Paraguay Jehovah’s witnesses maintain regular meeting attendance despite many difficulties. A few can ride horseback or in horse-drawn carts, but the majority travel on foot. In fact, when it rains they have no choice, for all roads are closed by law until they have dried out. So the Witnesses make their way barefoot through deep mud, and on arrival at the Kingdom Hall they wash their feet and put on their shoes again.
In Costa Rica, where three-fourths of the Witnesses live in the rurals, hundreds of them walk or ride horseback for up to six hours over muddy trails to associate with one another. One Witness conducts twelve Bible studies at various locations, besides walking the six hours to attend congregation meetings. Once each month she makes a journey by canoe that takes eight hours in order to reach a remote part of the territory where interested people eagerly await the Bible lessons she conducts with them.
POVERTY NO HANDICAP
Poverty may be considered by some as a reason for missing meetings at the Kingdom Hall. Transportation costs are heavy. But this is not considered an insurmountable problem in Central and South America. Consider, for example, the case of a mother and her seven children in Asunción, Paraguay. They regularly attend Kingdom Hall meetings twice a week, even though the long bus ride costs them 36 percent of the family’s average monthly wage. To them the blessings of Christian association are well worth it.
Then there is the fine example of an elderly Witness in Panama who is a source of great encouragement to all who attend the same congregation. They know that in order to be at the Kingdom Hall she must paddle across Gatun Lake in a cayuco or homemade canoe, and then walk two miles to catch a bus ride for ten more miles. How does she pay for her bus ride? She brings along eggs wrapped individually in palm leaves and sells them to other passengers.
In Venezuela those living in the interior have to make a determined effort to enjoy regularly the benefits of association at the Kingdom Hall. But they do. Many live on small farms and have very little cash income; so it is difficult to find money for bus fares. One elderly woman living in an isolated area often walks twenty miles to the nearest Kingdom Hall. She brings with her some produce to sell at the market in order to pay her way home on the bus. Despite handicaps such as these, attendance at Kingdom Halls in Venezuela is good—95 percent of the Witnesses attend the weekly Watchtower study.
Along the Atlantic coast of Costa Rica the United Fruit Company laid narrow-gauge rail lines years ago for transport of bananas. Although the lines are now almost out of use, Witnesses and others use the track, traveling on flatcars drawn by mules. Of course, they have to dodge the flying mud from the mules’ hoofs, and often at their destination the male Witnesses have to wash and change clothing before sharing in the program of the evening at the Kingdom Hall. They go through it all just to have fellowship with others of the same faith. Would you?
In Honduras, too, faithful Christians have that strong desire to associate with brothers in the faith. One woman, whose husband is not a Witness and who has eight children, rarely fails to attend the meetings of the congregation, though she has to walk two miles each way. And a married couple walk four miles to the Kingdom Hall. After each meeting they set out for home through jungle-like territory in the darkness, arriving home quite often at one or two in the morning. Yet they would never dream of missing one of those upbuilding sessions with fellow Christians.
OTHER DIFFICULTIES OVERCOME
Perhaps fatigue after a day’s work may seem to some good reason for staying home on meeting night. Not so the father of two small children in British Honduras. He works from dawn to dark, sometimes as late as seven o’clock. But he has organized his household so that they will not miss the many benefits of the weekly meetings. His wife prepares the children in advance and leaves early for the Kingdom Hall, since the pace of the little ones is slow and they have two miles to walk. Before leaving she sees to it that everything is in readiness for her husband to change quickly and hasten after her along the trail.
And often there is need for his presence, for heavy rains at times bring snakes out on the trails. So he has to be vigilant then to protect his family. Nevertheless, getting to the assembly of the brothers in the faith is the overriding objective. He knows how satisfying the spiritual feasts to be shared on those occasions are.
Think, too, of the case of a woman in Venezuela. She lives twelve miles from the nearest Kingdom Hall. When it rains the roads become impassable for cars, rivers overflow and in places she has to wade through water almost to the armpits. There are other hazards also. On one occasion as she made her way to the Kingdom Hall, located in a bushy area, she felt something sharp on her leg, but dismissed it as being only a sharp twig that brushed her. After a time she began to feel a numbing sensation. She sought treatment for a snakebite at the local Medical Unit. She is now quite well and not a bit discouraged from following her regular schedule of meeting attendance.
Having a large family may tend to hinder some from being in regular attendance at weekly meetings of the congregation. However, in Central and South America there are many large families, and yet this poses no insurmountable problem. In one town in Venezuela, for example, the family group of six live one hour’s walk from the nearest Kingdom Hall, yet they are regularly present for meetings. Another family group walks five miles to meetings of the Christian congregation three times a week, half of that distance being on rough trails.
Even the language barrier is not enough to deter those who appreciate the value of association with others who love God. In Mexico it often happens that Indians who come to meetings do not understand Spanish. Yet they come regularly and sit through the Spanish-language meeting until the time comes for highlights of the program to be interpreted into their own tongue. It is gratifying to note their evident pleasure at being there, even though they do not understand all that is being said. And how eagerly they drink in the explanation of the interpreter!
In the Dominican Republic during recent political disturbances the Witnesses continued to associate under great difficulty. Sometimes they had to make long detours to get to the Kingdom Hall because of barricades. Then, when the capital was cut in two by the opposing forces, many Witnesses were cut off from access to Kingdom Halls. Did they give up? No. They gathered in private homes, thus minimizing the loss of upbuilding association.
In some lands Christians are even forbidden to read the Bible and to assemble with others to study it. Does that overcome them with fear to the extent of forsaking the association with others of the same faith? Not at all. Despite human rulings to the contrary, they abide by the course counseled by the inspired apostle of Christ Jesus: ‘Do not forsake the gathering of yourselves together.’ (Heb. 10:25) Subsequent developments prove that they are taking the right course, for Jehovah protects and blesses them, and even when unjustly apprehended and punished, he gives them fortitude and hope to overcome and outweigh the mental and physical sufferings they may have to undergo.
With such an inspiring array of testimony about the enduring love of fellow Christians, as seen in their valuation of regular association together, is it not appropriate for each one to analyze his own view of weekly meetings of the Christian congregation? There is danger in taking them for granted. There is danger that creature comfort could cause us to shrink from inconveniences, to consider our material wants rather than our spiritual welfare. Does it take denial to us of the right to assemble with fellow Christians to arouse us to fullest appreciation of the privilege? Surely not.
It is obvious that if we desire something keenly enough we will put forth the effort to attain it. Why, even sickly persons, weary ones, aged ones, yes, cripples and blind ones get to meetings of the Christian congregation regularly. Why is this so, in spite of their handicaps? It is because they are convinced of their need of the association and the spiritual strength to be derived from interchange of expression about God’s will. (Rom. 1:12) By all means, then, build up the good habit of healthful association. Be a blessing to fellow Christians, and they will be a blessing to you.