Kingdom Preaching—What Impact in Catholic Spain?
ON Saturday, May 11, 1974, a crowd of 22,417 Christian witnesses of Jehovah assembled in the Monumental Bull Ring at Barcelona, Spain. This was truly a significant gathering, the largest yet that the Witnesses had enjoyed in Spain. In fact, they have held assemblies in this country only since 1971.
In previous years the Spanish government refused to permit the Witnesses to hold meetings for Bible study or to carry on their public preaching activities. They suffered harassment, confiscation of belongings, physical abuse, unjust imprisonment and many other indignities, especially fomented by the Catholic clergy.
Despite this opposition, however, the Christian witnesses of Jehovah in Spain kept speaking to their neighbors about the ‘good news of God’s kingdom,’ in imitation of Jesus Christ. (Luke 8:1) They firmly believed that many inhabitants of this country earnestly desired to know accurately about God and to do his will. The results of their determined efforts to preach in predominantly Catholic Spain are heartwarming.
“GREAT EXPANSION” DESPITE OPPOSITION
A report published in the 1949 Yearbook of Jehovah’s Witnesses revealed only 34 Witnesses active in Spain at that time. The report noted, however, that they were determined to “continue, by the Lord’s grace, to sing Jehovah’s praises. They are anxious to share in the great expansion program.”
And they did so. At the close of 1958, there were, on an average, 894 of Jehovah’s witnesses in Spain. The following year the Spanish Minister of the Interior issued a series of circulars ordering the complete extirpation of the Christian work of Jehovah’s witnesses in that country. This led to a rash of fines, imprisonments and other terrorism. Nevertheless, the number of Witnesses continued to grow, reaching 4,302 by the end of 1966. Further expansion went on during all the years of governmental ban on their activity.
Then came July 10, 1970. On that day the Spanish government announced that it had granted legal recognition to the “Association of Jehovah’s Witnesses.” This made it possible to import Bible literature into Spain, to open Kingdom Halls and to hold large assemblies. Now there are more than 31,000 of Jehovah’s witnesses in Spain.
This growth resulted in formation of many new congregations. By September of 1972, these numbered 162. The following year there were 294, and by May of 1975, there were 494 congregations.
So that all might have a place to hold meetings for Bible study, hundreds of Kingdom Halls were opened. One can now locate a Kingdom Hall in forty-nine of Spain’s fifty provinces. This is impressive, especially when one remembers that the very first Kingdom Hall was opened in December 1970. “Great expansion” has indeed occurred in Spain. How was this possible under intense opposition?
THE “SPIRIT” OF TRUE WORSHIP
Jesus Christ said concerning “true worshipers” of God: “The hour is coming, and it is now, when the true worshipers will worship the Father with spirit and truth.” (John 4:23) Serving God “with spirit” includes doing so out of heartfelt motivation. Expression of this spirit sometimes involves considerable self-sacrifice.
For example, Spain is a country where many must work at more than one job to meet rising food prices and high rent. Yet, from 1973 to 1974 the number of Jehovah’s witnesses who engage in Kingdom preaching activity full time rose from 1,690 to 2,786, though they receive no salary for this.
Jehovah’s witnesses are willing to go out of their way to reach as many persons as possible with Bible truth. For instance, there are some 90 Witnesses in Albacete, a city of 100,000 in the southern part of the country. The question arose as to what could be done to reach the inhabitants of some two hundred outlying towns and villages in Albacete Province. Few local Witnesses own automobiles; and since meetings and preaching activities were both scheduled for Sunday, little time was available for visiting these distant areas.
In view of this, the congregation decided to buy two inexpensive used cars. Meetings were rescheduled to Saturday, leaving all of Sunday for preaching in these towns and villages. What was the effect of this?
During seven months, 4,644 books explaining Bible truths were placed with residents of these areas. Many accepted the offer of a free home Bible study each week. In fact, so much interest was shown that it was necessary to arrange for five separate groups to hold meetings there.
The spirit of true worship has motivated persons from a number of other countries to move to Spain with their families. Some have come from the United States, Canada, Germany, the British Isles, and one from even Japan. Among them are individuals who did not learn the Spanish language until after their arrival in Spain, yet they now engage in preaching work full time.
STILL SOME OPPOSITION
Though Jehovah’s witnesses are now legally recognized in Spain, opposition still occurs at times, especially in small towns and villages. For example, an elderly couple were distributing Bible tracts in the town of La Calahorra, Granada. A priest came out onto the street and challenged them, shouting so that onlooking parishioners could hear. Then a gang of children showed up, shouting: “Out with the demons! Get out of town!”
The couple, therefore, left the area for the time being, but returned the following day to finish their tract distribution without further incident. They noted: “We recognized that the children acted out of ignorance and were not to blame.”
Recently in Las Cuevas de Fátima, Granada, a priest struck one of Jehovah’s witnesses and stirred up a mob against him. Both Catholic and Protestant clergymen continually publish books, booklets and articles in an effort to counteract the work done by Jehovah’s witnesses.
A CHANGED ATTITUDE—WHY?
On the whole, though, a changed attitude toward the work of Jehovah’s witnesses is evident among the Spanish people. Many now readily listen when a Witness calls at their door to discuss the Bible, especially in larger cities, where people are less worried about what their neighbors think.
Even persons who do not agree with Jehovah’s witnesses see the wisdom of allowing them freedom to share their beliefs with others. After a flare-up of opposition in the town of Munera, a newspaper writer commented in La Voz de Albacete:
“We have to realize that there is religious liberty in Spain and that they [Jehovah’s witnesses], because of that liberty, can preach . . . And what is more, what they are doing is what we are not doing: Trying to teach people the things of God. We have abandoned the field . . . We must reconsider our conduct. Jesus Christ was never in favor of violence, and on the other hand, was always willing to teach, even when the Pharisees came asking trick questions.”
Also, there has been an easing up of the grip of Roman Catholicism in Spain. The clergy themselves have caused many individuals to turn away from the Catholic Church. People notice, for example, that priests become involved in politics. Some have turned to the liberal “left” in a display of favor toward the working classes. However, this belated tactic has not fooled the majority of people. A lady remarked to one of Jehovah’s witnesses preaching near Níjar, Almería: “The priests make us lose faith by their conduct. They show up with their sleeves rolled up, their shirts all open—and smoking. They themselves stop us from believing in them.”
There is also lack of agreement among many priests with regard to Christian doctrine. Two full-time preachers of Jehovah’s witnesses from San Javier, Murcia, explain: “We have spoken to the majority of priests in the area. Each one has expressed ideas that differ from those of other priests. The priest of San Pedro del Pinatar even agreed that it is wrong to use images in worship.”
THEY HUNGER FOR BIBLE TRUTH
Thousands of Spanish people hunger for Bible truth. During just two years ending in late 1974, Jehovah’s witnesses placed with these God-fearing people 1,022,576 books and Bibles, as well as 500,000 booklets and 4,000,000 copies of the Watchtower and Awake! magazines. From the fall of 1972 to the fall of 1973, there were 3,486 persons baptized by Jehovah’s witnesses in Spain. The following year 7,070 were baptized. These were not indiscriminate baptisms of curious people or of infants. Baptism by Jehovah’s witnesses symbolizes dedication to Jehovah God and comes only after months of Bible study.
Among persons in Spain who have shown a desire to learn more about the Bible are some Catholic priests. One priest wrote requesting an interview with Jehovah’s witnesses, who then started a regular Bible study with him. Recently priests have attended meetings at Kingdom Halls in Málaga and Barcelona. And in the northern mining region of Asturias, one priest told his flock to treat the Witnesses with kindness and to listen to them.
To date, however, there is only one of Jehovah’s witnesses for every 1,124 people in Spain. A report from the Watch Tower Society’s office there explains: “There are whole groups of towns, some comprising 50,000 to 70,000 inhabitants, that Jehovah’s witnesses have not yet reached.”
Do you speak Spanish? Do you have the freedom and financial means to move to Spain? If so, feel free to write for information to the office of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society in Barcelona. It may be that you can have a direct share in Kingdom preaching in Catholic Spain.