Joy in Ivory Coast—A Result of Overcoming Difficulties
IVORY COAST, as the name suggests, was once the domain of the elephant, but these massive creatures are rarely seen here nowadays. This country is typical of most people’s notion of the tropics. The climate along the coast is hot and humid, and lush forests spread north until they give way to the savanna. Industries based on the export of timber and coffee contribute toward making the Ivory Coast a developing country. The official language is French, the country being a former French colony, but the people are a polyglot collection of tribes that speak seventy indigenous languages of five major linguistic groups.
Many difficulties were encountered by Jehovah’s Witnesses in starting the Kingdom-preaching and disciple-making work in this country, and for many years official government recognition was denied. However, under the direction of the Ghana branch of the Watch Tower Society, and with Jehovah’s blessing, difficulties were overcome. Even so, from the first report of the preaching activity in 1950 there was continual harassment through to 1967.
In 1952 a missionary graduate from the sixteenth class of the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead of New York was arrested, his house was searched and his stock of literature was confiscated. Although the policeman in charge of the case personally expressed sorrow, the Witnesses were brought to trial in Grand Bassam, where the Supreme Court then was, and charged with possession of illegal literature. Convictions resulted, and fines were imposed, but the big loss was the Bible literature. However, to the great joy of the Witnesses, several months later they found the confiscated publications in some second-hand bookstalls at the market. They promptly bought all of them back.
Though not the natural expression of the Ivorian feeling, an official government ban was imposed on the Watch Tower Society from 1965 to 1967. The small group of Witnesses, numbering just over a hundred at the imposition of the ban, faithfully endured harassment and imprisonments, and had the joy of seeing an increase to 220 in their number by the time the ban was lifted. By 1971 this figure had again more than doubled, and the Ivory Coast rejoiced to see a branch office of the Watch Tower Society set up there in September of that year.
A PURE ORGANIZATION
The influences that created difficulties for Jehovah’s Witnesses in the Ivory Coast were not just external ones. Loose morals are a characteristic of today’s system of things, and these are prevalent also in the Ivory Coast. In order to measure up to the standards required by pure Christianity, and to qualify for baptism, many of the local people have made great changes so as to live clean moral lives. Often, they have had to do this in the face of bitter opposition from their families.
In general, few people in the Ivory Coast accept the standard of legal marriage to one mate. Polygamy abounds and marital unfaithfulness is common. Often the men fear that legal marriage could bring difficulty, with the legal wife’s exploiting her secure position and turning rebellious. Consequently many couples live together without a legal marriage, and then marry only after the woman has proved that she can bear children. Jehovah’s Witnesses overcome these difficulties by obeying Bible principles, and the result is the joyful occasion of a marriage ceremony presided over by the mayor of the city. Often these officials express surprise at seeing so many smiling faces, as large numbers of Jehovah’s Witnesses assemble to share the joy of the happy couple at being legally married.
Getting legally married is not always easy. Many official papers are required, including copies of birth certificates. Often it is difficult to obtain these, as the individuals concerned may have been born in distant villages where no official records of births were kept.
One newly interested person had lived with a woman for five years and had four children by her when he became acquainted with Jehovah’s Witnesses. His Bible study with the Witnesses led him to see the need of a legal marriage. He then discovered that official records were in error in showing the woman’s age to be now only fifteen years, three years below the legal age for marriage. For two and a half years he made great efforts to obtain accurate documents, meeting up with stiff opposition from the woman’s parents, who demanded a large bride price, although this practice has been declared illegal in the Ivory Coast. Finally he was able to be married legally, and both he and his wife now have the joy of serving Jehovah as dedicated and baptized servants, living pure lives.
LEAVING FALSE RELIGION
Many are the ones who have happily overcome difficulties in order to make the break from “Babylon the Great,” the world empire of false religion. (Rev. 17:5, 15) A missionary tells how the desire to preach the good news motivated an interested person, with whom he studied God’s Word, to file papers for a legal marriage within three days after they had discussed the matter. Though he was a Catholic, his church had never required him to honor marriage in this way. He now saw the need to cut his ties with the Catholic Church and determined not to let this become too great a difficulty. Joyfully he wrote a letter of resignation and delivered it personally to the priest. Being legally married, and having no ties now with “Babylon the Great,” this man and his wife made a 230-mile (370-kilometer) journey to attend a circuit assembly of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Within two months this couple had the joy of taking up the house-to-house proclamation of God’s kingdom.
Many persons like these are leaving “Babylon the Great.” The churches have lost much influence as people discern how difficulties have been provoked by their money-minded efforts. One new Witness relates that, when his son died some years ago, the priest loudly asked at the graveside burial service, “Where is the boy’s father?” The bereft parent presented himself sadly at the priest’s side, whereupon, to the surprise of many, the priest demanded immediate payment of 1,000 francs ($5) for the prayer just offered. Astounded and upset, the father handed over the money. Some of his friends mocked him for continuing to put faith in a religion that takes such obvious advantage of its members. Later, when Jehovah’s Witnesses contacted him, he really appreciated their adherence to the principle ‘You received free, give free.’ With no hesitation he gave his address, and the resulting Bible study quickly led to his breaking all ties with “Babylon the Great.” He now joyfully serves in spreading the Kingdom good news.
A major difficulty to be overcome in the Ivory Coast is the grip of animism, which holds 65 percent of the population in fear. These people believe that all aspects of life are affected by the “spirits” of their dead ancestors. Even highly educated men still offer sacrifices to these ancestors. At many road intersections, there are to be seen on the ground a small earthenware bowl or a gourd containing two or three eggs and some cola nuts as a sacrifice for the spirits. Despite the abundance of diseases caused by microbes and amoebas, so common in tropical countries, people rarely attribute death and sickness to natural causes. Consequently they resort to the witchdoctor, or fetish priest, and to charms to protect them from the spirits. Those who want to serve Jehovah have had to learn not to fear demon power.
A man and his wife who began to study the Bible with Jehovah’s Witnesses had many problems, resulting in irregular studies. Then the man agreed to burn all his fetish objects. Two days later an urgent message came from his home village. The witchdoctor there had looked into the “sacred calabash” (a type of gourd) and had seen the “souls” of all in the village except that of the interested man. The fetish priest said: “This man is no longer one of us. His soul has left us and therefore he is weak and no longer protected against any fetish.” The interested man, however, was able to inform the village that this was the best news he could have, because he now enjoyed a far greater protection, that of Jehovah the true God. Although he had many family problems to overcome, good progress was made and he and his wife were baptized at the 1969 “Peace on Earth” International Assembly of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Abidjan.
So, despite the many difficulties in the Ivory Coast, people are flocking to Jehovah’s organization. Almost half of the Witnesses in the country have been baptized in just the last two years. By October 1975, 1,113 persons were sharing in the joys of God’s spiritual paradise, which is being extended rapidly throughout the country. March of this year 1976 saw a new peak of 1,148 Witnesses joyfully preaching “this good news of the kingdom.” (Matt. 24:14) In January, a circuit assembly was held for the thirteen congregations organized in the capital, Abidjan, with 1,508 persons attending the public talk and 68 being baptized. Truly, many are joyfully overcoming difficulties in order to serve Jehovah God. Other cities and towns in the interior of the country are being opened up by courageous missionaries and special pioneers. The joy of overcoming difficulties in order to serve Jehovah is being expressed by more and more persons, and these look forward also to enjoying, after the “great tribulation,” a literal paradise where the elephant with his wonderful tusks of ivory may once again roam freely throughout the land.—Rev. 7:14-17.