Tides of Change Bring Overwhelming Catch to Chile
IN CHILE seafood is as common as bread. This should come as no surprise, for the country’s coastline extends for some 2,650 miles (4,265 kilometers) along the Pacific Ocean. Commercial fishing is a flourishing industry. But fishing of a spiritual kind is also yielding amazing returns. Persons sharing in this ‘fishing’ are, in the words of Jesus Christ, “fishers of men.” (Mark 1:17) Jehovah’s Witnesses in Chile have been diligent in this activity and the results have been astounding.
Think of it, the majority of Witnesses in this land have learned the Bible’s truth in just the last three years! During the years 1974 and 1975, just about as many people were baptized as were sharing in ‘fishing for men’ only five years ago. Last October, 16,862 devoted some time to such ‘fishing,’ and they conducted 17,400 home Bible studies, an average of more than one study per spiritual fisherman.
Sometimes it seems as if the “fish” are just begging to be taken into the spiritual nets. Take the case of Eugenio, a young “liberated” university student. He was very much impressed by the Bible discussion he had with a Witness who called at his home. Without waiting for another visit, Eugenio made his decision to serve Jehovah and went to the nearby branch office of the Watch Tower Society. “I want to be a missionary, I’m ready to go anywhere right away—to Peru, Bolivia, anywhere, just send me off,” he announced to the astonished receptionist. Concluding that the young man might be in trouble with the law, the receptionist asked him to wait until she could locate a male Witness.
Eugenio was told that wanting to be a missionary was a very commendable goal but that some preparation would be necessary first. A Bible study, an hour at a time, would gradually equip him for this service. Asked which day would be convenient, he replied, “Why, every day.” Arrangements were made for two studies a week, and six months later Eugenio was himself sharing in spiritual fishing as a baptized witness of Jehovah.
At times one Bible study starts a chain of events that results in a huge catch of “fish.” For example, a home Bible study was conducted with the director of a neighborhood community center and his wife. As he came to appreciate the Bible’s message, he used his position to spread the “good news” and, one by one, his neighbors started to show interest. Among them was Juan, a young drug addict. He began to study God’s Word and made such a tremendous change that his mother was moved to study also. His two brothers joined in, and the group multiplied. Soon thirty-five of them were associating with the Witnesses, including former political fanatics, alcoholics and, like Juan, drug addicts. As they gave up their former vices, many of these people began to conduct Bible studies of their own. This has greatly upset the local Catholic priest. He and an associate nun started a campaign against the Witnesses, but it was unsuccessful. Why did they undertake such a campaign? Well, one day at Mass, not even one person had showed up!
In Copiapó, a town in the arid north, a spiritistic group numbering about sixty met in the home of Angel. His nephew heard from a Witness co-worker that spiritism is really demonism. Frightened, the nephew went to see his uncle to warn him about his practices. Angel was unperturbed. He reasoned, ‘How could this be when a prominent Catholic priest as well as a Protestant pastor participated?’ Due to the nephew’s insistence, Angel promised to get in touch with the Witnesses.
Arriving at the Kingdom Hall, he met a man in work clothes. “This must be the janitor who works sweeping the floor for the ‘gringos,’” he said to himself. How surprised he was to find out that he was talking to an elder of the congregation! Angel was promptly shown from the Bible why he should abandon his spiritistic practices. Convinced, he determined to have nothing more to do with demonism. Back at home, Angel had a visit from the priest. Surprised at Angel’s decision, the priest wanted to make inquiry of the spirits about the matter. But Angel refused to go along with this, saying that it would be detestable to God, whereupon the priest asked, “Have you been talking to Jehovah’s Witnesses?” All of this resulted in the truth’s being taught to Angel’s entire family and twenty members of the spiritistic group.
ARRANGEMENTS FOR MEETING PLACES
With such excellent response among the people of Chile, a need has arisen for new meeting places. Jehovah’s Witnesses, therefore, have worked hard to obtain their own Kingdom Halls, despite the problem of galloping inflation.
Take the case of the Puerto Montt Congregation in southern Chile. This congregation had been meeting amid automobiles and tools, in a garage—a most uncomfortable place in the winter when lashing winds and freezing rain make their presence felt. Then an opportunity presented itself to buy a building in a fine location. The price, however, was considerable, and the money had to be raised quickly. The Witnesses contributed what they could. But still there was not enough. So jewelry was donated; not even wedding rings were spared. A Witness traveled to Santiago, the capital, where the jewelry was sold. Thus, finally, enough money became available for the down payment on the property.
A four-hour journey to the north of Puerto Montt is the picturesque city of Valdivia. Here the Witnesses obtained a lot not far from the main plaza and proceeded to build a beautiful hall. They would travel down to Puerto Montt and then cross to the Island of Chiloe in ferries to obtain huge tree trunks from the forest for the piles they needed. Laboriously, these trunks were transported back to Valdivia and, with even more effort, sunk into the ground so that the hall would have the kind of foundation required by city building regulations. With little modern building equipment available to them, the Witnesses did nearly everything by sheer manpower. Over two years later the lovely hall was complete. “The Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses constitutes an architectural contribution to Valdivia,” said the local newspaper.
AN OUTSTANDING CONVENTION
The success of spiritual fishing was especially evident at the “Divine Victory” International Assembly held in Santa Laura Stadium in January of 1974. That such a gathering could be held at that time was practically a miracle. Just four months prior thereto the government had been taken over by the military. Conditions were highly unstable and the country was still in a state of siege. Few meetings were allowed, much less a convention of more than 20,000 in a large stadium. However, somehow permission had been granted for a circuit assembly, attended by about 4,000, one month after the takeover and right in Santiago itself. So a basis had been laid for obtaining permission for a much larger international assembly.
Expectations had been running high throughout the country for the entire year previous. No one wanted to miss the ‘big convention.’ To finance the trip, many Witnesses sold their furniture and, a few, even their homes.
From the north, 1,300 Witnesses, including children and small babies, came in a special eight-car train. Due to the narrow-gage railway, the train took three days to get through the hot desert. Finally, the grueling four-and-a-half-day journey was completed and the train pulled in at Santiago after curfew time.
When the curfew is in effect, no one is allowed to leave the terminal. Soldiers on guard there said that people generally do not want to obey, thinking that they can somehow reach their destination. So the soldiers were accustomed to fire their rifles into the air and then force the insulting crowds back into the railroad coaches for the night.
Knowing the situation, Witnesses from Santiago were waiting at the terminal with food, coffee and first-aid equipment for their spiritual brothers. To the amazement of the guards, the tired Witnesses left the train in a very orderly manner. Officials arranged for ambulances for some adults and children who needed medical attention. The remainder of the Witnesses quietly settled themselves in family groups for the night. Soon they began to sing and even the guards joined in. The Santiago Witnesses thereafter cared for these convention delegates in their homes, and the majority were given free meals and bus fare during the assembly.
The day before the assembly the local police commissioner said that Jehovah’s Witnesses were well known as being orderly and that no problem was anticipated. His only concern was the traffic. However, policemen were present at the assembly for security reasons, since the country’s situation was very uneasy. These armed policemen soon abandoned their usual tense, guarded manner. They accepted the invitation to eat in the cafeteria, propped their weapons against the wall and enjoyed their lunch among thousands of conventioners. Even the police dog seemed tranquil.
At this assembly 1,502 were baptized, and a crowd of over 21,000 was present for the final day.
The convention made quite an impression on the people of Santiago. This was reflected in many favorable comments that appeared in the newspapers: “Easily recognized by their friendliness and refusal of the sloppy fashion (they do not even accept long hair on their teen-agers), the Witnesses assure us that they do not have problems with the generation gap.” “The results of . . . good organization are visible. There reigns an order and cleanliness that is not common in functions so well attended.” “It can well be said that this religion has more followers than have some of the professional clubs that up until now have not been able to attract so many people to this stadium.” So outsiders, too, find the catch of “fish” overwhelming, and not only in numbers, but in conduct as well.
WHY SUCH PRODUCTIVE “FISHING”?
To what do we attribute such wonderful blessings among the Christian witnesses of Jehovah in Chile? There are many factors. In the case of literal fishermen, the “waters” have to be right. So it seems that the tides of change have contributed to the spiritual catch.
For a long time Chile enjoyed one of the most stable political atmospheres in all of South America. Suddenly this changed. In five years the Chilean people have seen three forms of government, each radically different from the others. The political turmoil has produced disillusionment. As a result, many people find the Bible’s message about a perfect government in the hands of Jesus Christ both appealing and reasonable.
Then, too, never before has the economic situation been so precarious, despite Chile’s rich agricultural land and natural resources. Inflation and unemployment are causing people to realize that even with hard work and sacrifice it is difficult to get ahead.
However, the main thing that has resulted in favorable spiritual fishing is the failure of the churches. People who for years passively submitted to the religious systems have had a rude awakening. They have been disappointed in seeing religious leaders supporting and blessing first one government and, then, a few days later coming out in favor of its diametrically opposed successor.
Jehovah’s Witnesses, on the other hand, have stood out as different. During the days immediately following the military takeover, they were left unmolested because it was well known that they had not meddled in the politics of the former Communist regime. When the arrest of Communist activists in factories and industries left critical vacancies, Witness employees were often put in key positions. In one case, on the morning of the coup, soldiers arrived at the home of a Witness and asked how long it would take him to put the local oil refinery into operation. No other qualified man could be trusted!
Spot searches for firearms and the like were made of neighborhoods at the break of dawn. Often, known Witness homes were simply passed by. One soldier, taking the publication The Truth That Leads to Eternal Life out of a bookcase, commented: “If everyone read and practiced what is in this book, we would not have to make these searches.”
The contrast between Jehovah’s Witnesses and the religions of Christendom has not gone unnoticed. Sincere ones, tired of hearing political sermons, are forsaking Christendom’s churches and are finding their spiritual needs at last satisfied in association with Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Are Jehovah’s Witnesses in Chile “astonished,” as Peter was over a miraculous catch of literal fish? Astonished they are but, more importantly, they are also determined to take advantage of these swarming “waters” to continue in catching men alive so that these may gain life everlasting.—Luke 5:4-11.