Sharing in the Increase of Kingdom Proclaimers
As told by George Nisbet
TODAY there are outstanding increases in the number of people who are interested in the worship of Jehovah, the true God. This is evident from the rapidly growing attendance at the meetings of Jehovah’s witnesses in nearly every part of the earth.
But, as for myself, during my school days in Edinburgh, Scotland, I never felt moved to take the worship of God seriously. Even when my mother and eldest brother began to associate with Jehovah’s Christian witnesses in 1925, I was only slightly curious as to what interested them.
However, my school days having ended, one day I began to read a book published by the Watch Tower Society. What impressed me most was the reasonableness of the explanation from the Bible as to the condition of the dead and the hope of the resurrection. A study of several more of these increased my interest. The evidence convinced me so that I said: “This is indeed the truth.” Prayerfully I dedicated myself to Jehovah.
At this time I was preparing for my examinations to be a seagoing radio operator. And so in September 1930 I went to sea, serving there as a radio operator for over four years.
My first voyage took me from London to India. Sailing regularly out of Bombay for fifteen months, I was in that city for a few days every two or three weeks. Later, I had a day or two each week in New York. The kind assistance and the zeal of my Christian brothers in these places are exceedingly happy memories to me. Even now, after more than forty years, I never cease to express gratitude to Jehovah and to them for slowly but surely helping me by word and example to set my sights on a greatly expanded share in Christian service.
Since my eldest brother had gone to South Africa in 1931, I decided to join him there in the full-time preaching work.
JOYFUL DAYS DURING EARLY GROWTH IN SOUTH AFRICA
March 1935 found me in Cape Town, South Africa. Here was a vast field for preaching the good news, there being only about 240 proclaimers of God’s kingdom throughout the country. I covered the entire length of South Africa from south to north in just four months, preaching in many places along the way.
While preaching the good news in the Eastern Transvaal and Swaziland, in 1936, we witnessed for five months without coming across a single congregation of Jehovah’s people. But we had very encouraging experiences.
For example, the area around Barberton had a number of forestry settlements, and on one occasion we suddenly came upon one after sundown. Approaching the settlement, named Coetzeestroom, we reached an elevated spot from where we could cover the whole area with recordings from our transcription machine. A brief musical recording was played, followed by recorded Bible talks. It was a delight to call on the people the next day. They were poor, their houses small. Almost all of them associated our visit with the recorded message that they had heard the previous night. Some, in fact, said: “To us it was like a voice coming from heaven.”
A still happier surprise was that we came to the home of a Witness who had been working in isolation. What an animated discussion we had with him and his family! We felt that his household would greatly appreciate sharing in a Bible study with us. Not only did he and his family join in, but so did six others whose interest he had already developed! This in an area that seemed to be miles away from everywhere.
During our visit to Swaziland we worked from home to home, and in course of time found ourselves in the royal enclosure. King Sobhuza received us very kindly. We put on one of our musical recordings followed by recorded Bible talks. The king was greatly impressed as were the many eager listeners for some distance around. Since we had the equipment on loan from the Society, we had a brief moment of embarrassment when the king expressed the desire to buy the transcription machine and loudspeaker. But, having sympathetically received our explanation as to why we could not accede to his request, he was happy to receive instead a copy of each of the publications of the Society that we had available. In the years that followed, King Sobhuza displayed kindness to those of Jehovah’s witnesses who visited him. Not long ago he celebrated the fiftieth year of his enthronement.
From Swaziland we worked our way down through northern Natal to Durban. In the short space of twenty months, I visited all the provinces of the Republic of South Africa. Then, in October 1936, I was invited to work in the Society’s branch office in Cape Town.
I had already met my Christian brothers in the branch office, and they all seemed very able and efficient in their work. Just where would I fit in and be of practical help? My four fellow workers, all older in years and more experienced, were very helpful to me. While I was on board ship the pace was slow; in the pioneer ministry it was faster, but in the branch office it was very much faster, almost bewildering at times.
JEHOVAH MAKES IT GROW DESPITE WAR
While taking a walk on the winding main road in Clifton in Cape Town one afternoon, I suddenly became aware that the newspaper boys were calling out: “War special!” “War special!” The second world war was on, with South Africa quickly becoming a participant.
Suddenly a ban was placed on the importation of all Watch Tower literature. One day two detectives arrived at the branch office with a form authorizing them to seize all the literature of the Society. Was this to be the end of our using Bible study helps?
Alertly the branch overseer called the attention of the detectives to the fact that the authorization required that each and every one of the publications be named on the list—otherwise they could not rightly seize them. This proved to be the correct position, and off the detectives went. We knew, however, that they would be back.
Accordingly, without delay, the branch overseer, George Phillips, got busy in the legal defense of the good news. This led to a number of favorable Supreme Court decisions so that in due time thousands of cartons of literature held up in the Cape Town docks were released. Meantime Jehovah blessed the efforts of his people in a remarkable way. Our peak of Kingdom proclaimers moved up from 555 in 1939 to 1,253 in 1941. By the end of the war in 1945 we nearly tripled, reporting 3,466 preachers.
But while the war was still on we received a wonderful booklet called “Peace—Can It Last?” Digesting its contents, we could dimly envision a mighty postwar preaching work. Any lingering doubts we may have had about this were dissipated as we heard of the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead getting under way for the training of missionaries to go to all parts of the world.
JEHOVAH MAKES THINGS GROW STILL MORE AS THE WAR ENDS
In 1946 about a dozen of us from South Africa attended the international assembly in Cleveland, Ohio. Later, our first Gilead graduate arrived in South Africa. Learning much about the Gilead missionary school in New York, I was moved to fill out an application to attend the school. What joy when, in 1950, I was accepted! I left behind in South Africa over 7,600 proclaimers of God’s kingdom, twice as many as we had in 1945! En route to Gilead, I enjoyed being reunited in Scotland with my parents and my other two brothers, whom I had not seen for fifteen years.
Attending Gilead was a privilege beyond compare. There was seldom a moment to spare and the whole atmosphere was that of whole-souled giving. The instructors assuredly gave a lead in that direction, and I felt moved to give of myself to the full. We were all counseled on our particular weakness in giving talks, and I still have my Gilead speech counsel slip and have never forgotten that I was marked weak on enthusiasm. Sometimes years go by before one really appreciates the counsel one receives in a particular direction, then one observes the good fruit it bears. How glad one is that the molding process has been applied to oneself!
GROWTH ON MAURITIUS ISLAND
What a pleasant surprise when my eldest brother and I were assigned from Gilead to go to the island of Mauritius in the Indian Ocean! We were off to our assignment in July 1951. French was the main language that we had to learn in Mauritius, and it proved to be a blessing that I had learned a little of this in school twenty-five years before. I spent many hours relearning French and using it in my ministry.
Two Gilead graduates from Canada joined us in 1953. It was a joy to me to see the Kingdom work grow. By the year 1958, the number of Gilead missionaries on the island had risen to eight. However, since the government in Mauritius decided to limit the number of missionaries to four, the Watch Tower Society advised that I should carry on in South Africa, where I was enjoying a vacation. I had spent so many happy years in South Africa previously that I was delighted. Two missionary couples carried on in Mauritius, and it has greatly stirred me to hear, from time to time, how the Kingdom work has progressed. They and Mauritius-born Witnesses have spread the Kingdom good news throughout the island.
ENJOYING MORE GROWTH WHILE IN BETHEL
After a year’s happy activity in the missionary work in Cape Town during 1959, I was invited to the Society’s branch office or Bethel home at Elandsfontein. When I entered Bethel at Elandsfontein in 1959 there were 46 serving there. Now there are 96. While I was in Mauritius, Witnesses in South Africa had grown from 7,658 in 1950 to 16,776 in 1959.
Working with my Christian brothers brings happy memories of the spirit of cooperation so manifest among Jehovah’s people. Cooperation manifested hitherto was, however, dwarfed by the manner in which the South African brothers responded when it came time to aid our Christian brothers from Malawi, when they were in a refugee camp in Zambia. In giving of their means, their clothing and of themselves I have never seen anything like it in my life. Tons and tons of canvas and tarpaulins were obtained by the Society for making tents, large and small. What a moving scene it was as two huge lorries and trailers moved out of Bethel with thirty-four tons of canvas and clothing!
While my main work has been in Bethel, I have enjoyed working with a congregation and sharing in the witness work. On one occasion a number of Witnesses had been visiting an Italian man who was interested in the Bible. One of them asked me if I would conduct a Bible study with him and I did. He made excellent progress, started to share in the witness work himself, made his dedication to Jehovah and was baptized.
By this time his wife was ready for a study, and I continued it for the benefit of both. In time, she began to share the good news with others and was baptized. They made steady progress and, after a while, he started three home Bible studies in Italian in quick succession. He was ready to start a fourth one, which could be handled in English, but kindly handed it over to me for attention.
All of these four studies were successful, and the number of Italian-speaking ones in our congregation was growing steadily. The circuit overseer, during his next visit, recommended that an Italian congregation be formed. The Society was agreeable, and they are now making use of our hall. Those who attend come from distances of up to fifteen miles, some, on special occasions, over a hundred miles. Great was our joy when the Italian brothers had their first district assembly in Pretoria, in October 1972!
I am happy to have had a small share in the marvelous increase of Kingdom proclaimers in South Africa. Their number has grown from 240 in 1935 to 4,163 in 1947 and now it has reached over 28,000. I cannot think of any work that could in the least compare with thirty-nine years full time in Jehovah’s service. What breathtaking events lie before us in the coming years! What a joy it will be to see the continuing fulfillment of the scripture at Isaiah 9:7 concerning God’s Messianic kingdom: “To the abundance of the princely rule and to peace there will be no end”!