Opening the Way to Increase in Gibraltar
THE stadium is in full view of Gibraltar—only about a mile away. Yet, for more than 13 years, the Gibraltarians had to make a journey of at least ten hours to get there. It involved a voyage by sea first to North Africa, then back to Spain, and finally a ride by bus. Why so long a journey to get to a point so close?
In 1969 Spain’s Franco regime closed the border at the narrow isthmus connecting Spain and Gibraltar. It was the result of a dispute between Spain and Britain over territorial sovereignty regarding the Rock, as Gibraltar is often called. Such an inconvenience, however, was not new for the Gibraltarians. Because of its unique strategic importance, Gibraltar has been a fortress often isolated from neighboring countries.
Early in the eighth century, Moorish invaders under Ṭārik captured this piece of land and named it “Jabal Ṭāriq” (Ṭārik’s mountain), which has since been corrupted to “Gibraltar.” The Moors strongly fortified the Rock, which rises about 1,400 feet above sea level. Over the centuries, it was the scene of numerous sieges by the Moors and the Spaniards. The Spaniards finally took over Gibraltar in 1462, holding it till 1704, when the British captured it and built a naval base there.
In addition to the garrison, people from many countries settled in the town that lies at the foot of the Rock, giving rise to a mixed population descended largely from Moorish, Spanish, British, Hebrew, and Genoese settlers. The majority of the population now speak Spanish and English.
Bible Truth Reaches Gibraltar
In modern times, seeds of Bible truth were first planted in Gibraltar in the summer of 1958. Jehovah’s Witnesses traveling to attend a convention in London, England, took advantage of their port of call at Gibraltar to preach the good news of the Kingdom. Some residents accepted subscriptions to The Watchtower.
A missionary couple arrived in Gibraltar the following year to water these “seeds.” But the authorities yielded to the pressure from religious leaders and expelled the couple after two years. Yet, a small group of some 25 Witnesses had been formed, and their faithful work over the years has been rewarded by a steady increase, reaching 132 Kingdom proclaimers in March 1987. Certainly, this growth testifies to the endurance of the congregation in the face of problems peculiar to Gibraltar.
Isolation—A Unique Problem
Apart from the economic and social problems that subsequently arose from the border closing, Jehovah’s Witnesses were severely hampered in associating with others of their faith in neighboring congregations in Spain. During the 13 years of the land blockade, however, they did not miss out on the rich spiritual food offered at both the circuit assemblies and district conventions. The program was always repeated later at the local Kingdom Hall in Gibraltar.
The forced isolation posed a special test for the younger ones of the congregation. Restricted to the 2.25-square-mile area of Gibraltar, they had to act wisely to face the issues of nationalism, materialism, and marriage.
Marriage? Yes, for being restricted to just their small congregation limited their opportunity of finding a suitable marriage mate. Female members of the congregation were besieged by invitations from worldly youths who wanted to date them. The young Witnesses in Gibraltar had to take to heart the wise counsel of the Bible to marry “only in the Lord.”—1 Corinthians 7:39; compare Genesis 24:1-4.
In one case a young Witness, ignoring the counsel from the Author of marriage, started dating a local girl who was not a member of the congregation. But the patient help of the elders in the congregation made him think more seriously about the dangers involved. Finally, he approached his girlfriend and told her that although he felt strong affection for her, his Bible knowledge obligated him to terminate their relationship. ‘I want to marry a girl with whom I can live forever, not just for a few years,’ he explained.
Though surprised and upset, she was intrigued over just what it was that could interest him more than her companionship. Eventually she started to study the Bible. What began as curiosity blossomed into genuine interest, and she made rapid progress in the truth and was baptized. After this clear indication of her desire to serve Jehovah, the brother renewed the courtship. Some time later they were happily married, reaping the blessing of following Jehovah’s wise counsel on marriage.
Border Opening Leads to Theocratic Increase
December 14, 1982, saw the opening of a pedestrian gate on the border. Then on February 6, 1985, free passage was completely restored. The populace fell into a more relaxed atmosphere. Capitalizing on this development, the local congregation stepped up their witnessing work and utilized the occasions to meet together in larger gatherings. Favorably disposed persons now had greater opportunities to come to know the love and harmony that exists among Jehovah’s congregated throngs.
For example, a man whose wife had been a Witness for some 20 years decided to accept the invitation to accompany his wife and children as they attended a circuit assembly in Spain. He enjoyed the program and association so much that he decided to stay for the second day. When the assembly concluded, he was offered a home Bible study. “Why not?” he replied, adding, “How about starting this week?” His wife, after long years of praying for such an outcome, was overjoyed.
To make full use of the additional opportunities for preaching, the number of Witnesses serving as auxiliary pioneers (those who devote 60 hours a month to the public ministry) increased. Such zealous activity has brought about a 35-percent increase in the congregation since 1982.
Informal witnessing has also played a large part in the growth of the congregation. Two Witnesses making an inspection at the port during their secular work noticed a New World Translation Bible that was just barely visible through the porthole of a yacht. Immediately, they looked up the owner. He turned out to be the pier master, who had studied with Jehovah’s Witnesses in Britain before recently settling in Gibraltar. He readily renewed his study and made rapid progress together with his lady companion. Soon they legalized their marital status and were baptized. This British couple now devote much of the time they spend in the ministry working among the English-speaking community and have been instrumental in the formation of a study group there.
One Bible study they started was with Tim and Tracy, a young married couple living in a military barracks. Although Tim played the trombone in the regiment’s band, he became determined to devote himself wholly to the peaceful Kingdom interests of Jehovah. Relatives brought pressure on the couple, urging them to stop associating with the Witnesses. However, they continued their Bible study and became firmer in their faith.
Tim requested a discharge, though he had originally enlisted for a six-year term. When the review of his case seemed to delay unnecessarily, Tim took the initiative to speak to the military doctor, explaining that the uncertainty of their future was adversely affecting his wife. The doctor concurred and used his influence to speed up the review. Soon Tim was transferred back to England with his regiment, where he finally won his discharge. Now both are serving as dedicated Witnesses.
With the border opened, the Witnesses in Gibraltar also have been able to give a helping hand to nearby Spanish congregations. They preach along the renowned Costa del Sol (Sun Coast), where many English-speaking people are found.
Although the “Gibraltar question” still remains unresolved from a political point of view, Jehovah’s Witnesses in Gibraltar and Spain are completely united spiritually, as is true earth wide. They put their trust in the “Rock” whose strength is eternal, echoing the words of the psalmist: “O come let us cry out joyfully to Jehovah! Let us shout in triumph to our Rock of salvation.”—Psalm 95:1.