Ireland’s Spiritual Increase—Reaping What Was Sown
“THE pouring rain descends . . . from the heavens and does not return to that place, unless it actually saturates the earth and makes it produce and sprout.” (Isa. 55:10) The Irish farmer is well aware of the truth of these words. Due to its copious rainfall, Ireland abounds with trees and plants, and is blessed with delightfully scenic mountains and glens. Rivers, streams and lakes add to the beauty of its lovely countryside. But it is not just the productive earth that is giving increase. Spiritual increase is manifesting itself after many years of faithful endurance and laboring on the part of the tireless, resolute proclaimers of God’s kingdom. They are now reaping fruitage from what they have sown.—Gal. 6:9.
During the past year, 1,891 joyful workers had a share in talking to others about the spiritual security that they had found, not only in the more peaceful south, the Republic of Ireland, but also in the troubled province of Ulster, Northern Ireland. Almost twice that number, 3,394, met together to commemorate the death of Jesus Christ. When viewed against the backdrop of how the work was carried on in past decades, this evidences a remarkable spiritual growth. For Jehovah’s work in Ireland came through some stormy times!
A BASTION OF CATHOLICISM
One writer has referred to the Republic of Ireland as the “strongest bastion of Catholicism in the English-speaking world.” Over 95 percent of the population are members of the Roman Catholic Church. The initial reaction to the evangelizing work of Jehovah’s Christian witnesses was violent. Early bearers of the Kingdom “good news” got a very hostile reception.
Those who tried to spread the message of truth, especially in rural areas, were often evicted from their accommodations. They had to face mobs who threatened and many times perpetrated physical violence, or who took their literature from them and destroyed it before their eyes.
Two Witnesses in the south of Ireland were suddenly confronted by a mob of incensed women who angrily accused them of being Communists. Despite all attempts to reason with the mob, they got more and more threatening. One of the Witnesses tried to escape by boarding a bus that was nearby, but instead of finding refuge he found himself under attack by the bus crew, also. Eventually he was pelted with stones but managed to get clear with cries of “throw him in the river” ringing in his ears. The mob then used the bus to overtake the other Witness and launched another vicious attack on him, destroying all his literature. Only the timely arrival of a policeman saved him from serious injury.
There were verbal attacks also. The press reported one of the bishops as saying about Jehovah’s Witnesses: “These false prophets . . . are no better than Mohammedans; indeed they are worse, for they do not believe in the immortality of the soul. . . . To listen to them is to deny Christ.” Those who did manifest any interest in the message of truth were immediately subjected to intense social and religious pressure, to break off association with these “false prophets.” In many instances, especially in the Republic of Ireland, it was made virtually impossible for those who responded to the truth to remain in their home areas, as their means of livelihood was often denied them. Some even left the country so that they would not be hindered in growing spiritually.
But today things are different! Generally, the Irish people are much more tolerant and are willing to discuss spiritual matters. Witnesses make good use of opportunities to talk about their hope as they go about the everyday business of life. Often whole families thus become interested in what the Bible says. One newly interested person spoke to a workmate about what he was learning and this aroused the workmate’s interest. He too got in touch with the Witnesses, and began talking to others about what he was learning. Now over thirty members of his family are themselves Witnesses or are showing interest in the Bible. The breaking down of old prejudices is making things much easier nowadays.
IN THE TROUBLED NORTH
In Northern Ireland, which is predominantly Protestant and ultranationalistic, the situation in earlier days was not much better. Vicious attacks were launched here also, and the deep-seated hatred between the Roman Catholic and the Protestant communities has remained as a threat to Jehovah’s Witnesses, especially as some Catholic people still mistakenly identify the Witnesses as “Protestants.” But now more and more people are coming to realize that the Witnesses are quite separate from all other religions, Catholic or Protestant.—Rev. 18:4.
On one occasion the Irish Republican Army threatened to explode bombs if a public lecture was not canceled. The assembly hall had to be guarded by policemen and detectives. On another occasion two Witnesses using a “sound car” drove unwittingly into a solidly Catholic area, where they were mistaken for Protestants. A barrage of missiles was hurled at them. Quickly they piled all their equipment back into their vehicle and headed out of the area, but not before the mob had smashed the car windscreen and battered the bodywork with iron bars.
However, in time things began to change, attitudes improved, and these courageous, patient workers began to see the fruits of their labors. Their work had not been in vain, although as late as 1960 there were, on the average, fewer than two hundred Witnesses reporting Kingdom service in the Republic.
A TURNING POINT
An event that marked a great turning point in the affairs of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Ireland was the first relatively large international convention held in Dublin, in 1965. The venue was a local football ground. When the news broke that Jehovah’s Witnesses were to use these facilities, the battle was on! Intense, virulent opposition was encountered. For a time it was in the balance whether the assembly would proceed at all. The city council that controlled the property was under incessant pressure to refuse permission for the grounds to be used by these “anti-Christian and particularly anti-Catholic people,” as they were called. Despite the Witnesses’ being referred to as a “menace” and a “threat,” and the old bigoted attitudes rearing their ugly heads again, permission was finally granted and a fine assembly was held.
There were other great problems in arranging for this assembly. For instance, over a thousand accommodations were canceled at the last moment as religious pressure was brought to bear, but despite this, lodging was found for all 3,948 delegates who attended. One landlady commented afterward: “We have not been told the truth about you people, but now that we know you we will always be happy to have you again.”
RAPID SPIRITUAL GROWTH
Oftentimes speedy spiritual growth follows the initial planting of the truth. Here is an example: While visiting his parents in a troubled part of Northern Ireland, a young man received a four-page tract published by Jehovah’s Witnesses. He appreciated what it said regarding God’s kingdom, and could see this as the only answer to the bitter sectarian hatreds that are tearing Northern Ireland apart. His work as a teacher in Catholic schools took him to England, where he was able to associate with a congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses. After only four months he determined to return to his hometown to help in spreading the “good news” there. Help certainly was needed as only five others were engaged in making known God’s kingdom in that entire area.
On arrival, he arranged for three local newspapers to publish a letter addressed by him to his fellow townspeople, and in which he explained his reason for returning home. This caused great interest and opened the way for many discussions. He has been able to help many others to grow in appreciation of Bible truth. These include one former friend who had been imprisoned for terrorist offenses connected with the I.R.A. This friend now sees the futility of violence, and that lasting peace and justice can come only through God’s Kingdom rule over the earth.
FULL-TIME WORKERS PLAY THEIR PART
Much of the spiritual increase in this formerly barren land has been brought forth under very trying circumstances. Devoted men and women have made it their life’s work to serve the people of Ireland. A tremendous volume of work has been accomplished by the present three hundred and more full-time workers and all those who courageously preceded them. About 15 percent of all the Witnesses in Ireland are now active full time in planting and watering seeds of truth.
The impact of this full-time service has been great. Illustrating how this works is a report from a newspaper concerning the activity of two young women Witnesses on a motor scooter: “Donegal has been invaded once again by a plague of pests more cunning than foxes or badgers. An army of men and women, some of them touring around on motor scooters, making a house-to-house call in town and country, leaving their free magazines.” A plague to some, but a gospel of peace to honesthearted persons!
SERVING WHERE THE NEED IS GREATER
A great boost to the work in Ireland was given, too, when families from other countries responded to the invitation to move from areas where there were many Witnesses to parts of Ireland where there were few. Some of these have been part-time announcers of the Kingdom, others full time, but all of them displaying a true pioneer spirit. Since many new Irish Witnesses had found it necessary because of pressure to leave the country, this has been a grand way to redress the balance. Remarkable work has been accomplished by these joyful workers who reflect the same missionary zeal shown by their early Christian counterparts.
Congregations all over Ireland have been strengthened by the addition of these helpers. It is no easy task to move house and home, and to settle in a new country. There were many problems, but these were tackled courageously and realistically. One congregation helped in this way now flourishes in a town in the Republic where, only a few short years ago, some of Jehovah’s Witnesses were attacked and beaten by a mob led by the local priest.
These congregations now provide easily identifiable centers where sincere persons can come. One former Catholic man who had given up religion completely lived in the area of one such congregation. His wife, an ardent churchgoer who entertained hopes of getting her husband to return to church, would have nothing to do initially with those who called to talk about the Bible. But the husband’s interest had been kindled. Patient cultivation slowly but surely bore fruit. This couple eventually made arrangements to attend one of the semiannual circuit assemblies of Jehovah’s Witnesses, making their own way there and obtaining their own accommodations. The fine association helped them both immensely and, despite family pressure, both made good spiritual progress and were eventually baptized together. On coming up out of the baptism pool the husband recognized another newly baptized Witness. In their younger days, they had served together as altar boys!
The evangelizing zeal of the local Irish Witnesses, combined with the zeal of those who have willingly moved across the sea to Ireland, has resulted in an abundant harvest. There is no part of Ireland now that is not being effectively cultivated for continued spiritual growth.
PRESENT EVIDENCE OF PROSPERITY
Sixty-eight congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses, besides thirty smaller groups in isolated places, are now served by five circuit ministers, who visit each place twice a year to give spiritual encouragement. These congregations and groups also derive many benefits from the fine assemblies held regularly throughout Ireland.
Because of the security situation in Northern Ireland, it has not been possible, for some years now, to hold any of the larger national assemblies there. But the Witnesses from that area have happily joined their associates from the Republic in upbuilding assemblies in fine facilities in Dublin. These assemblies have done much in breaking down barriers of prejudice against the Witnesses.
North and south of the border in Ireland, people with a love for God and for right principles are growing spiritually, becoming rooted and stabilized in their faith. (Eph. 3:17) As it is with the farmer waiting for his crops to grow, great patience has been required of all those who have shared in the planting and cultivating of seeds of truth. But now God is making it grow.—1 Cor. 3:6, 7.