Good News Penetrates “Lion Mountains”
A Thrilling Story of Kingdom Progress in Sierra Leone
“I WAS quite amazed to see a modern city much cleaner than many cities in most parts of the world. Paved streets, busy shops, new cars and an endless stream of people passing by. There was the big cotton tree to which slaves were chained in those earlier days when chiefs sold into slavery captives or people of their own tribes whom they did not like.” This was the expression of a tourist visiting Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone.
The name Sierra Leone, meaning “Lion Mountains,” goes back to the time when the Portuguese adventurer Pedro de Sintra first came to the region in 1462. This country is located on the southwest coast of West Africa and has a population of more than 3,000,000.
Jehovah’s Witnesses are not new to Sierra Leone. Publications of the Watch Tower Society were being read by persons there from at least 1915 onward. These publications were brought by persons from the West Indies who came to Sierra Leone for employment. One of these was Alfred Joseph of Barbados. He began sharing Bible truth with others. Seeing the interest among the local people, he wrote to the Watch Tower Society requesting help in developing the interest. Within a few months W. R. (Bible) Brown and his wife arrived from Trinidad, West Indies.
Brown’s first lecture was on the thought-provoking subject “Where Are the Dead?” and was advertised by word of mouth. Did the people of Freetown respond to the invitation? This is Alfred Joseph’s answer: “We were overjoyed with the result. Most clergy of Freetown, about twenty, turned out for the talk, but many of them left off their regular religious garb so as to be less conspicuous. Among the large audience of 500 that packed the Wilberforce Memorial Hall was a young ecclesiastical student, M. A. Garber. He and the entire crowd listened attentively to the hour-long discourse that was punctuated with scripture citations made visible to the audience by means of lantern slides. Forceful talks brought out such crowds that, as one old-time resident in Freetown put it, ‘The local churches had to close their evening services, for all the members were down attending “Bible” Brown’s lectures.’”
By the end of 1923, fourteen persons had been baptized, including Garber. The little group became very active in evangelizing. Up till 1927 most of the preaching work seems to have been confined to the capital. Then, from 1928 onward, these Bible students made trips to the provinces. Those in Freetown who could not go along helped to finance the trips to the interior. Every year, before the rains set in, house-to-house witnessing was done and lectures were given in the outlying villages. The first Sunday of each month was devoted to returning to the villages to build up the interest. With the coming of World War II, the publications of the Watch Tower Society were banned and some were even burned at the customs wharf. Nevertheless, the witness work continued.
In the years that passed, there were no spectacular increases in the number of persons who embraced the Bible’s message. But, among those who did, there were men who showed remarkable zeal and determination. One of these was Zachaeus Martyn. Before his death at the age of ninety-seven, he related: “I never had anyone to study the Bible with me. But in 1941 I was determined to attend one of the meetings of Jehovah’s Witnesses. After attending the third Sunday, I knew where I should be. Upon my return to my home on the mountain, Gloucester, I notified the local Anglican Church to take my name off the membership roll. One close friend who had been a fellow church member started to chide me by saying: ‘Old man, if you continue to walk those five miles up and down this mountain to go to the hall of those people, you will be dead within a year.’ I let him watch me walk up and down the mountain twice a week for five years, and then he dropped dead. That was thirty years ago, and I’m still feeling fit.”
The Good News Reaches the Kisi-speaking Tribe
From 1957 onward many persons from the Kisi-speaking tribe accepted the teachings of the Bible. This tribe is found in the three-cornered section of Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea. The people are mainly animists and have long resisted Muslim influence. Although entrenched in polygamous practices and faced with the problem of illiteracy, many abandoned their former ways and began harmonizing their lives with Bible standards. Through the Kisi-speaking people in Sierra Leone and Liberia, the good news reached their fellow tribesmen in Guinea. As a result, in Guinea there are now over 150 Witnesses from this tribe.
Just how did the Kisi-speaking people in Sierra Leone respond? A traveling overseer arrived at Koindu about 4 p.m. and was told by the Witness who had invited him that there would be a lecture at 6 p.m. The traveling overseer states: “I objected, as no one knew that there would be a lecture. However, he insisted, saying that the town crier would do the advertising. We ate and bathed. Before I could get dressed for the lecture, people started coming. Soon over ninety persons had arrived, mostly men. After speaking for one hour I stopped and told them that the lecture was over. But not even one person left. They wanted to ask questions. This continued until about 9 p.m., when a storm sent most of them to their homes. However, twenty men stayed until 2 a.m.”
There was quick response among these people. Soon five persons began having a share in spreading the Bible’s message to others, then ten, then fifteen and twenty. On learning about this, the traveling overseer had doubts as to whether these people really had the kind of faith required of true Christians. Happily, they did. Some of the first ones are still active in proclaiming the good news.
On accepting the Bible’s message, the humble people of the Kisi-speaking tribe faced serious problems and great opposition. A traveling overseer reports: “Many had to undergo bitter persecution due to their strict neutrality on political issues and because they no longer would support pagan religious rites and ceremonies. Some were sentenced to death by fellow tribesmen. In view of the circumstances, it appears that angelic intervention prevented the executions. Many Witnesses fled into the bush to escape with their lives until civil authorities were able to investigate the cases. In most instances the police protected the brothers. When two male Witnesses had their houses burned down and were tied and beaten, justice was rendered in their behalf. The magistrate court deprived the paramount chief of his ruling staff for nearly a year. Later, this paramount chief showed great interest in Jehovah’s Witnesses. In 1968, when they held a circuit assembly in his town, he provided some sleeping accommodations for visiting delegates and donated a big cow.”
The Work Continues
From 1959 onward, in particular, more and more persons began spreading the good news in Sierra Leone. August 19, 1967, was an especially memorable day, for then a new branch office of the Watch Tower Society was dedicated in Freetown. Surrounded by a tropical garden, this building is located in one of the finest residential areas and is equipped with an attractive Kingdom Hall. The structure has served to elevate the work of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the minds of many people. It has also silenced some religious critics who had been saying that Jehovah’s Witnesses did not come to Sierra Leone to stay.
Today over 550 Witnesses regularly share in calling at the homes of their neighbors to help them to learn about God’s purposes. Included among these are former polygamists and a onetime priestess and prophetess of a spiritist church.
Jehovah’s Witnesses in Sierra Leone are looking forward to helping many more persons to learn about true worship. It is their determination always to have “plenty to do in the work of the Lord.”—1 Corinthians 15:58.
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