Is Unity Possible Among All Ethnic Groups?
IS THERE a basis on which people can get along together in real, heartfelt love and unity? Is it possible, particularly if they are of different race or nationality, language and social background?
Near the close of 1970, when a group of 236 persons from the United States and Canada visited Africa, they had opportunity to get firsthand information about this matter. Where could a greater diversity of ethnic groups be found? And where on earth is there now a stronger expression of the quest for freedom than in this continent, awakening like a giant to its privileges and place in the world?
The travelers chose December for their trip, because throughout this month Jehovah’s witnesses in Africa were to hold their “Men of Goodwill” assemblies. These conventions would bring together thousands of Africans of many tribes and varied backgrounds. The traveling group were themselves Jehovah’s witnesses. They knew that the Bible says, ‘God made out of one man every nation of men.’ And they had seen unity and cooperation displayed in the first series of such assemblies held in North America last summer. Would this be possible in all lands? Moreover, would these North American visitors be received as “brothers” and would they, in turn, feel like brothers to the assembly delegates in Africa?
In order to cover the ten assemblies to be visited the travelers took different itineraries, some visiting one assembly and some another. Dakar, Senegal, situated on the westernmost point of Africa’s great bulge into the Atlantic Ocean, was first.
Arriving in Dakar, the tourists were warmly greeted at the early hour of 7:30 in the morning by a large delegation of local Witnesses, assisting them through customs and whisking their luggage onto waiting buses. Some were accommodated near the main hotel in quaint conical-shaped huts after the Senegalese fashion, to get the real feeling of a visit to Africa.
The four-day assembly, opening on December 1, was held at La Maison des Jeunes, or Youth Building. Though the exterior of the building was very attractive, the interior had fallen into a state of disrepair. But the Senegalese Witnesses got to work ahead of time with buckets of water and soap. At no cost to the hall owners they used nearly one hundred gallons of paint, replaced light bulbs, repaired and replaced doors, unblocked sewers and provided water facilities. After 1,200 man-hours of hard work everything was ready, including a fine platform with scenic backdrop. Surely the visitors from Western shores never had anything cleaner or more comfortable for a meeting place.
In this country of about four million people, 80 percent of whom are Moslem, 178 of Jehovah’s witnesses carry on their preaching activity. The assembly was not advertised, but was in the nature of a private gathering. The peak attendance was 325. Both the president of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society, N. H. Knorr, and the vice-president, F. W. Franz, appeared several times on the program, speaking through interpreters.
AUDITORIUM DIRECTOR COMMENTS
What did the delegates from the American continent observe here as to the question of unity among people of various races and languages? Perhaps it is reflected in the remarks made by the director of La Maison des Jeunes. Commenting on the cooperation and discipline displayed, he asked: “Please, tell me how you do it?” When it was explained that it is not achieved by making an announcement over the public-address system but is a way of life learned through a study of the Bible and practiced in everyday life, he asked to receive subscriptions for the Watchtower and Awake! magazines and wanted a copy of all the Watch Tower publications placed in the Youth Building’s library. In parting he concluded: “I never realized that you have such a serious organization with such high standards of cleanliness and orderliness. And you are always in such a happy frame of mind; it is obvious you have a very noble purpose.”
One of the Senegalese convention delegates exclaimed, as the visitors’ plane took off for the next assembly point: “I did not speak English, so I hesitated to go and talk with them, but how surprised and happy I was when they came to me and greeted me warmly when they first arrived and then said good-bye before they left. I felt loved so much. Jehovah’s people in other parts of the world are truly my brothers and sisters.”
While the Dakar assembly was in its third day, another planeload of travelers landed in the splendid modern city of Monrovia, Liberia. The Centennial Pavilion was a fitting place for this assembly. But the convention manager was given late notice that the government university had engaged the Pavilion for graduation exercises for the final day, the day of the public meeting. The meeting could be held afterward, at six o’clock. This adjustment did not seem wise, however, for the graduation might possibly be prolonged. So eyes turned toward a second effort to engage the four-million-dollar True Whig Party Building located nearby. The structure belonged to the government and was only nearing completion. It had never yet been used. Well, to get the use of such a building as this, a cabinet minister, the architect, the contracting manager, company president and the electrician had to be hunted up on this Sunday afternoon, for approval and access to the building. But it was all accomplished in time to let in the 1,427 persons patiently waiting outside to hear the public talk.
On the second day of the gathering the 679 active witnesses of Jehovah in Liberia were happy to see sixty-two persons baptized in the Atlantic Ocean. A wide variety of backgrounds and walks of life was represented in these newly ordained ministers. One was a well-known lawyer, another an American woman formerly with the Peace Corps. There was a young African girl who had suffered repeated beatings in school because of her faith, and a seventy-seven-year-old former Protestant preacher. All were now united in the worship of the true God.
A real highlight, especially for the Liberian Witnesses, was the arrival on Friday of Milton G. Henschel, a director of the Watch Tower Society. Henschel had been present seven years previously at an assembly at Gbarnga, Liberia, when some persecution from those opposing Jehovah’s witnesses had taken place. On Henschel’s arrival this time, scores of the Liberians pressed forward to shake hands, recounting some of the sufferings that had taken place when their assembly had been broken up and very severe treatment had been dealt out to the four hundred then assembled. Now they were even able to laugh at some of the ludicrous or humorous aspects of the tense occasion. Some of the children present at that time have grown up to become strong, active witnesses of Jehovah, and they wanted their visiting brother to know this.
FREETOWN, SIERRA LEONE
Sierra Leone (meaning “Lion Mountains”), the site of the next assembly visited, is the world’s third-largest producer of gems. Its capital city, Freetown, was founded by freed slaves in 1787.
The time for the assembly here early in December was ideal. It is the season of the “harmattan,” a dry, cool wind that blows in from the Sahara Desert, providing relief from the sun’s hot rays by day and a cool, soft breeze at night. The natives call it the “Doctor,” because those afflicted by malaria and other tropical diseases get “cured,” at least temporarily.
Since there are 851 active ministers of Jehovah’s witnesses in Sierra Leone, a sizable crowd was expected. So application was made for use of the Brookfields Stadium, the largest and best facility in Freetown. However, it was already booked by another organization. Undaunted, the convention planners approached representatives of the organization, who kindly relinquished their booking in favor of the assembly. The attendance at the public lecture proved to be 1,540.
CHANGING LIVES TO MEET GOD’S STANDARDS
A trying problem is faced by many desiring to serve God in Sierra Leone, as well as in many other parts of Africa. This is because polygamy prevails. How great the desire is on the part of thousands of honest Africans to bring their lives into line with God’s will and to please him was portrayed in a real-life demonstration, in a special session arranged for the visiting delegates from North America.
As reenacted on the platform, the scene opened with an African chief studying the book The Truth That Leads to Eternal Life with one of Jehovah’s witnesses. Soon he came to the realization that one cannot be accepted for baptism and become a servant of Jehovah God while in a polygamous state. But what would he do? He had six wives. Scriptures were pointed out showing that he could be acceptable only if he gave up all his wives but one. After much thought, he agreed to dismiss five and keep the young one, because she could bear him many children. But again, counsel from the Scriptures admonished: “Rejoice with the wife of your youth.”—Prov. 5:18.
The man then gathered together his wives and explained to them what he must do, namely, keep the first wife and dismiss the rest. He offered to support the others until they were able to take care of themselves, or until they should marry again. He stood firm against the arguments of his wives, and also against the pressures brought against him when he resigned as chief. As a result, one of his dismissed wives, seeing the propriety and cleanness of this course of action, also became a witness of Jehovah. From this, which is only a sample of thousands of such cases, the visitors could see that Jehovah’s witnesses in Africa live by the same high Bible standards as their Christian brothers in other parts of the earth.
A remarkable circumstance was noted by an observer of the assembly in Freetown. Here people from eleven tribes that are usually hostile toward one another had gathered, along with delegates from other nations. What was the result? He remarked: ‘On the first day six policemen were seen strolling across the grounds. The second day two were sitting in the shade. On the last day, when 1,540 persons were present, not a policeman could be found. This is amazing when you remember that Sierra Leone is now under a state of emergency.’ Among these people unity is not only possible but a present reality.
ABIDJAN, IVORY COAST
Ivory Coast received its name because of being a center of ivory trade in the fifteenth century. Coffee is now its main crop, however. In this land the work of Jehovah’s witnesses was banned in 1964. This ban remained for three years. When it was lifted, the Witnesses were so overjoyed that at their first meeting they sang Kingdom songs until they were hoarse.
At the present time there are ten congregations in the land, and six missionary homes, with 440 active ministers. They are studying the Bible with 1,000 persons. A fruitage of their work was manifested when 1,003 attended the assembly in Abidjan. They were especially glad to receive the encouragement and fellowship of the American visitors who were able to visit their country.
ACCRA AND KUMASI, GHANA
Ghana, formerly called the “Gold Coast,” still produces gold and diamonds, but the chief export is cacao, the source of cocoa and chocolate. Lake Volta, the world’s largest man-made lake, is located in east-central Ghana. The capital city, Accra, and the second-largest city, Kumasi, were the sites for two conventions in this country. More than fifty languages and dialects are spoken in Ghana, though six, including Twi, Ewe and Ga, predominate. English is the official language.
The visitors appreciated the beautiful, brightly colored garments of kente cloth worn by both men and women. They also noted that the “Afro” hairstyle is not the general style in Africa. The women in Ghana, for instance, divide their hair into sections, winding black thread around each tuft, in the nature of short braids. They give names to each style, such as “Corn Row,” “Mother Popcorn,” the “Y,” and so forth.
There are 289 congregations in Ghana, made up of 14,363 active ministers of Jehovah’s witnesses. A crowd of 14,526 at the Accra Race Course heard the public address “Saving the Human Race—in the Kingdom Way,” given on the second day by M. G. Henschel. On the final day, N. H. Knorr gave the closing remarks, delighting the conventioners by announcing that sometime in the near future The Watchtower may be printed in three languages right in their own country, instead of being mailed from abroad.
The North American delegates to the assembly at Kumasi, Ghana, were greatly moved by the spontaneous welcome. As two busloads of visitors arrived, shouts of joy and a roar of applause broke out from the 18,000 then assembled. Hundreds lined up to shake hands and personally welcome them. For the public talk at Kumasi, the Sports Stadium was filled with an audience of 24,960, and 662 new ministers were baptized.
Togo is a country between Ghana and Dahomey having a coast forty miles wide, but reaching back from the coast 365 miles. Here the assembly in the capital, Lomé, turned out to be of only one day’s duration, but nevertheless a very successful one. On the evening of that first day, some 4,000 persons gathered to see performed, by native Togolese, a dramatization of the Bible book of Esther. This attendance was the more remarkable in view of the fact that there are only 1,638 active ministers of Jehovah’s witnesses in the entire country.
Disappointingly, at the close of the first day’s session, the health authorities, because of a cholera epidemic scare in the country, closed the convention, even though the Witnesses had taken careful precautions to safeguard the assembly delegates against the epidemic. Nonetheless, the native Witnesses, who had spent long hours of work in preparing the assembly site and the necessary equipment, many of whom had also spent all their savings to come to the assembly over primitive roads and paths, enjoyed what they had seen and heard, as well as the association experienced. So they returned to their homes happy.
VISITING NORTH AMERICAN DELEGATES SATISFIED
Up to this point, what had the North American travelers observed? Is there a basis on which people can work together in real harmony with love? One writes: ‘After the assembly was canceled in Togo the brothers were reluctant to go home. They just had to see the visitors who were scheduled to come in the second day. They came to the branch office throughout that entire day and into the night. When at five o’clock a busload of visitors arrived, the brothers broke out in song and held outstretched arms to welcome each one. What a sight of love among brothers! I don’t think there was a dry eye among the visitors as they were overcome with such affection.’
After the assembly in Dakar one of the visitors remarked: “Dakar made a big impression on our minds and hearts, because we were able to appreciate more than ever the apostle Paul’s statement in Acts 17:26, 27 [“And (God) made out of one man every nation of men, . . . and he decreed the appointed times . . . for them to seek God, if they might grope for him and really find him, although, in fact, he is not far off from each one of us.”]. The seed of truth is being sown here, and we pray Jehovah’s rich blessing upon all those here in this land as they seek Jehovah.”
Before completing their tour, the travelers visited other African lands too. They saw well over 175,000 persons assembled in peace, talked with thousands and became personally acquainted with hundreds, all manifesting the same unity. They could certainly return fully satisfied that men of all ethnic groups can find unity on the basis of Bible truth.
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North American visitors arrive in Dakar, Senegal, to attend assemblies in Africa
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Building assembly facilities in Sierra Leone
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Presentation of the drama based on the Bible book of Esther, at Monrovia, Liberia
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Top: Some of 662 baptized at Accra, Ghana. Bottom: Baptism of 25 at Dakar, Senegal