Africa’s “Men of Goodwill” Stand Firm for Truth
EDUCATORS have long turned their eyes toward Africa. But there have been obstacles, not the least of which are the many tribes, often warring with one another. Additionally, the barriers of superstition, illiteracy and local tribal religions have hindered progress. Nevertheless, hundreds of thousands of Africans have gladly taken hold of the highest form of education—instruction in the Bible. These Africans have amazed persons from the so-called “cultured” nations by their strong Christian personalities and by their standing immovably for what is right.
A special delegation from North America, visiting Africa recently, had an opportunity to see this education in operation, along with its results, at the “Men of Goodwill” Assemblies. Ten of these assemblies were held across the equatorial belt of Africa during the month of December 1970. The first seven were reported on in the preceding issue of The Watchtower. Such assemblies play an essential role in the education and unification program of Jehovah’s witnesses.
The “Men of Goodwill” Assembly at Cotonou, the largest city of Dahomey, was scheduled for December 8-11, running concurrently with one at Lomé, in Togo, the country just to the west. It developed, however, that the convention in Togo lasted for only one day. Cholera had cropped up in parts of Africa. And though 85 percent of the conventioners had been inoculated and the rest were ready to submit to inoculation, authorities insisted on closing the convention immediately after its opening day. As a consequence, most of the travelers converged on Cotonou.
Dahomey’s population consists of about sixty groups of people, with some fifty languages or dialects being spoken. Just four languages, though, were needed to serve those attending the convention: French (the official language), Gun, Yoruba and Ewe. This required the erection of four platforms so that each language group could hear all the program in its own tongue. The 1,835 Witnesses in Dahomey were happy to see 3,793 persons come to hear the public talk, “Saving the Human Race—in the Kingdom Way.”
At this assembly sixty-six persons were baptized in symbol of their dedication to the true God, Jehovah. Many of these had formerly practiced fetishism, but now having abandoned magical fetishes they are standing firm for Bible truth.
LARGEST ASSEMBLY AT LAGOS, NIGERIA
On to the large and densely populated country of Nigeria. An expected attendance of more than 100,000 persons at Lagos made it obvious that there was no auditorium large enough to accommodate the assembly. A place had to be built.
Lagos officials cooperated by contributing the use of a forty-five-acre tract and gave permission to connect into water and electric facilities. An additional need at this assembly was seventeen separate platforms for the speakers who would address the seventeen language groups. Furthermore, these had to be arranged so that sound from the public-address system in one area would not interfere with the next. When the Society’s president and vice-president and others spoke in English, what they said was immediately interpreted into the sixteen other languages, so that all present received the same message from God’s Word of truth, the Holy Bible.
The seventeen language groups present were English, Yoruba, Urhobo, Efik, Ibo, Isoko, Ika, Edo, Ishan, Kwale, Ijaw, Okpe, Owan, Itsekiri, Ogoni, Abua and Hausa. Before becoming God’s “men of goodwill,” many of these people used to war with other tribal groups in the past; but now they are all working and meeting together in peace. And how could so many language groups have such unity? Because of their standing firm for Bible truth, which unites people of all kinds.
Among the things needed in great quantity for such a large assembly were bamboo poles, 100,000 of them fourteen to twenty-four feet long, and 36,000 large woven reed mats. A big order, but these people can do things. The women in the various congregations agreed to weave the mats and bring them in. The bamboo supply was some thirty miles away, and it called for a volunteer force of 1,500 to 2,000 men to cut the poles. Moreover, holes had to be dug for the bamboo posts; acres of ground had to be covered to shade the conventioners from Africa’s burning sun.
Backless seats were made of clean planks rented from a lumber company. The planks were laid across abutments in the ground. For the baptism pool the men, using shovels, dug a pit in the hard ground four feet deep and twenty-five feet square and filled it with water. On the day arranged for baptism the applicants were organized into five lines, and 3,775 were immersed, at the rate of twenty a minute!
The planners had not overestimated. For the public talk by N. H. Knorr on the subject “Restoration of All Things of Which God Spoke,” there were on hand 121,128 persons! With such a great crowd of people, some may wonder how many policemen were there on duty. Actually, throughout the four days of the assembly, not one policeman could be seen on duty. Even the direction of heavy traffic around the grounds was left to Africa’s “men of goodwill.”
New equipment for teaching, in the form of Bible publications in six languages, were happily received. In his closing remarks at the convention’s final session Knorr delighted those present when he announced plans to enlarge the Watch Tower Society’s printing facilities in Nigeria.
LITERACY AND BIBLE PRINCIPLES
Illiteracy is still high in Nigeria. Only about one out of five is able to read and write. This situation presents a real challenge to those trying to teach the truths of the Bible. However, among Jehovah’s witnesses about three out of four can read and write, and the ratio is rapidly increasing. This is because, in 1951, Jehovah’s witnesses set up literacy classes (as in many other lands). A special booklet, Learning to Read and Write, is used, along with Bible publications in the language taught, so that Bible truth accompanies the teaching.
These literacy courses run for a full year, with a graduation day, when marriage mates, parents and friends are present. There are about one thousand of these literacy schools in operation. During the past ten years 6,162 persons have been taught to read and write. At present 7,279 are enrolled.
Such education and training in the Bible have produced real Christians that can stand alongside their brothers in other parts of the earth in integrity and Christian qualities. During the recent civil war the Witnesses in the former “Biafra” suffered much because of their nonpolitical, neutral position. They were badly mistreated as gangs of men passed through “Biafra” conscripting every able-bodied man for the army. But as Christians, these witnesses of Jehovah would not take sides or join in the killing. For this they were beaten, some were killed, their women raped and their homes and meeting places burned. Through all this they stood firm. Many appeared on the assembly program to relate thrilling, though trialsome, experiences of those troubled months.
A REPORT FROM CAMEROON
At the Lagos assembly some came from bordering Cameroon. Here the government recently confiscated the branch office of the Watch Tower Society, closed up some of the Kingdom Halls used for meetings by the Witnesses and banned their work. Pressures and persecution in many forms have been brought on the Witnesses, but they too are standing firm for truth.
Many thousands of letters written from all over the world expressing regret at this action against the Witnesses have been received by government officials, and they are taking the matter under special consideration. Of the 14,000 Witnesses in that land, reports of activity have filtered through from 65 percent.
At the assembly in Nairobi delegates came from Uganda, Ethiopia and Tanzania with reports of the increases of the work in those countries. The first group of over 120 visitors from North America arrived in Nairobi, Embakasi Airport, soon after dawn. Knowing the fine reputation of the Witnesses for honesty, the customs officer let them through without checking even one piece of baggage. The second group arrived close to midnight. A friendly African airline official explained to a different group of customs officers that the group was composed of Witnesses. “You can be sure of these Christian people,” he said. The officer in charge permitted one or two local Witnesses into the customs hall so they could help carry out the baggage without so much as a customs’ chalk mark.
Though God’s Word of truth is growing rapidly in Kenya now, the preaching of it had, at first, a slow start. In 1931, two of Jehovah’s witnesses spent a short time there and placed 2,000 pieces of Bible literature. It was in 1949 that a Witness moved there and opened her home as a meeting place for Bible study. In 1955 Watch Tower President N. H. Knorr and M. G. Henschel, a director, visited and began organizing of the work. The number of one hundred Witnesses was reached in 1960. A branch office was established in 1962. Now there are 966 of these Christian teachers of God’s Word.
One of the problems in Kenya, as in many African lands, is polygamy. To date, in the congregations of Jehovah’s witnesses, there have been 306 marriages adjusted to conform to the Scriptural standard of monogamy. The insistence of Jehovah’s witnesses that they will receive in baptism only those meeting this high moral standard has impressed the government officials.
During the Nairobi assembly a lady asked a Witness who called at her home: “Does your religion really make any difference in people?”
“Why not come down to the City Stadium and see for yourself?” was the pleasant reply.
What a change she saw! Why so? Because the African man often eats his food alone, not caring if there is enough for the other members of the family, who wait for him to finish before they can eat. He will let his wife do all the heavy work and also care for the children. But Witnesses assembled in Nairobi no longer conform to that way of life. Men were not separated from women as they often are in the churches in Africa. Families were seated together! Husband and wife shared the responsibility for the care of their children. Father, mother and children had their meals together. These families reflect the new homelife and family unity that the Bible truth has brought them.
Those baptized at the assembly were from four different countries and totaled 101. The public talk, given by the Society’s president, was translated into Swahili and heard by 2,503—the highest attendance ever in Kenya.
In his closing remarks on the last day of the Nairobi assembly, President Knorr encouraged all to continue in their educational work, training yet others to conform their lives to the Bible’s high principles. He announced a grand total attendance at these ten African “Men of Goodwill” Assemblies of 175,218. The number baptized as new ministers joining the ranks of the Witnesses in teaching their fellowmen was 5,115. Indeed, more and more Africans are proving themselves to be God’s “men of goodwill,” standing firm for Bible truth.
[Picture on page 155]
A Witness assists in the construction of facilities for the assembly in Dahomey
[Picture on page 156]
Roofing of the assembly pavilions in progress at Lagos, Nigeria
[Picture on page 157]
A Witness mother in Kenya carries her baby with her as she goes out to teach Bible truths to others
[Picture on page 158]
Families at the assemblies sat and ate together, as did this one at the Nairobi assembly