The Land of the Pepper Bird Hears the “New Song”
AT THE crack of dawn, the melodious warble of the pepper bird is heard all over Liberia. For generations, its trill has served to awaken the villagers to another day of work under the tropical sun. This common bulbul has given Liberia its nickname “land of the pepper bird.”
The name Liberia, however, brings to mind another story. In 1822 liberated slaves returning from America to the continent of their forefathers arrived at the mouth of the Mesurado River and formed the settlement that became Monrovia. Other settlements cropped up at Buchanan, Greenville, and Harper, and the settlers concluded treaties with the kings of the indigenous tribal people. Those early returnees brought with them the Negro spirituals—songs that combined African rhythms with Biblical themes and reflected their longing for freedom. In keeping with that longing, in 1824 their colony was named Liberia. In 1847 it became the first black African republic.
In recent years, however, a new song has been heard in this land. This is a song sung, not by the pepper bird or by returned slaves, but by a growing chorus of people who are responding to the urging of the Biblical psalmist: “Sing to Jehovah a new song. Sing to Jehovah, all you people of the earth. Say among the nations: ‘Jehovah himself has become king.’” (Psalm 96:1, 10) Yes, this is the song of God’s established Kingdom, with Jesus Christ as King. It is being sung by prospective heirs of Jehovah’s heavenly government. They and their companions are joyously proclaiming the “good news” about that Kingdom in all the nations—including Liberia—during “the conclusion of the system of things,” in which we now live. (Matthew 24:3, 14) When and how did this song first come to be heard in the land of the pepper bird? And what effect has its heart-searching melody had on appreciative hearers? Let’s listen.
The “New Song” Reaches Liberia
In 1946 Harry C. Behannan, a gifted black pianist who had performed throughout Europe, gave up his musical career in order to serve as a missionary. For six months he served alone as a pioneer Witness of Jehovah, going from house to house to spread Kingdom truth. He placed over 500 books and made many friends. Then, tragically, Brother Behannan died of tropical fever. But the “new song” did not die out, for other missionaries followed him.
In 1947 George Watkins (a former amateur boxer) and his wife Willa Mae came to serve in Monrovia, the capital of Liberia. They were patient and diligent in teaching humble Liberians “to observe all the things [Jesus] commanded.” (Matthew 28:19, 20) By September 1948 a group of 15 was sharing in Kingdom service with them. Thus, the first congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses was formed in Liberia.
The preaching work spread rapidly down the coast to the port of Harper, in Kakata and surrounding villages, and among the Kisi-speaking rubber tappers at the Firestone plantation. By 1952 a branch office of the Watch Tower Society was established in Liberia. During the next year, the first Kingdom Hall together with a missionary home was built on McDonald Street in Monrovia. Those were exciting times. Today, there are 1,724 praisers of Jehovah in this land, and they are having fine results among the friendly, hospitable, and humble people.
Response to the “New Song” Today
Jehovah’s Witnesses from the 16 major tribes of Liberia, along with the missionaries and individuals who have come to serve where the need is greater, have now blended their voices in sounding forth the Kingdom message. Lately, they have added a note of urgency in appealing to those searching for the truth. On an average, each Witness is spending over 27 hours per month in the preaching work, and the number of those in the full-time ministry has more than tripled in the last five years. Such efforts have brought blessings both to them and to others. Let us hear about some of them.
Emmanuel adjusted his affairs so that he could care for his large family and share in the full-time pioneer work in Gardnersville. He met Varney and Lucinda and started a home Bible study with them. However, they believed it was a sin for a person to change his religion. Emmanuel showed them what the book Reasoning From the Scriptures says on the subject. They borrowed the book, read other material in it, and started attending Christian meetings. Shortly thereafter, they took up the Christian ministry. Meanwhile, their landlord—a clergyman—noted the change in their conduct and invited them to use his sitting room for their Bible study. After attending a district convention, the landlord was convinced that he had found the truth and requested a Bible study of his own.
Responding to the “new song” liberated Tamba, a former spirit medium from Lofa County. Worried about his son’s illness, he had consulted the spirits. They had assured him that his son would live but claimed that his wife was plotting his son’s death. With offerings and sacrifices, Tamba implored the spirits to kill his wife so as to prevent her from harming his son. What was the result? The son died but the wife was unharmed. Angry and frustrated, Tamba threw out all his spiritistic paraphernalia. In his grief-stricken condition, he was deeply touched by the message about the hope of a resurrection and the coming paradise earth. He accepted a Bible study, cleaned up his life, and dedicated himself to Jehovah. Since then he has helped his family and nine other people in his community to dedication.
The lives of many honesthearted ones were touched by the “new song.” Herbert won a scholarship to the university in Monrovia and a government job because of his outstanding ability as a soccer player. When he learned what the Bible says about a competitive spirit, however, he was moved to give up his sports career. (Galatians 5:26) Now he rejoices in his new career as a full-time minister.
James asked the Witness studying with him how he could overcome his addiction to marijuana. Encouraged to pray about the matter, James asked Jehovah to help him to quit. A couple of weeks later, he could not resist the urge and he smoked again. On his way home, he walked right into an iron bar and bled profusely around the eye. Remembering his prayer, he never again went back to his habit. Today, he serves as a regular pioneer and a ministerial servant in the congregation.
The appeal of the “new song” has also reached an older man, Samuel of the Krahn tribe, who formerly was the superintendent of Montserrado County. What moved him to give up a career with high wages and pursue the full-time ministry? “What impressed me was the fact that in my Bible I could find support for everything that Jehovah’s Witnesses said, taught, and did,” said Samuel. He added that among Jehovah’s Witnesses he has found the love Jesus described at John 13:34, 35. Samuel noted that the members of his former church, in contrast, “were always wrangling and fighting about money matters right in church.” Samuel is now serving as a regular pioneer.
The “New Song” Reaches a Crescendo
When it comes to singing praises to God, there are no happier times for Jehovah’s people than at their annual district conventions. In recent years, however, here in Liberia the challenge has been in finding facilities large enough to accommodate all the Witnesses and interested persons who would attend. In 1986 two conventions were held at the only suitable auditorium, but the total attendance of more than 4,000 overtaxed the facility. What was to be done for 1987? Well, the Samuel K. Doe Sports Complex was completed just in time with the assistance of the Chinese government. But could we afford to rent this facility?
Because of the educational nature of our program, the management agreed to let us use the stadium at a very reasonable rate. But just a couple of weeks before convention time, the management wanted to increase the charge. Why? Because a prominent TV evangelist from the United States had just completed a crusade in the stadium, and the crowd had left it in deplorable condition, with litter strewed everywhere. The management was assured that Jehovah’s Witnesses were different. The day before the convention, over 500 brothers and sisters gave the stadium a thorough cleaning. After the convention, a member of the Chinese management team was overheard saying that our effort in keeping the stadium clean was worth more than what we paid for the use of it.
The convention itself was a success. A new peak of 5,852 attended the public address “In These Fearful Times, Whom Can You Trust?” What a joy to see 101 new ones symbolize their dedication to God by undergoing water immersion! The baptisms took place in two portable pools right at the convention site—a first for Liberia!
With increasing numbers of people responding to the “new song,” the original branch office on McDonald Street in Monrovia had proved to be too small. Even the subsequent building in Sinkor was not large enough for storing all the Bible literature needed to care for the spiritual needs of the Liberian people. Therefore, a large residence building was bought and renovated near the Paynesville Kingdom Hall, and a new branch office was dedicated on March 28, 1987. With this spacious and ideally located building, Jehovah’s servants in Liberia are well equipped to care for the growing interest.
How much work remains to be done in Liberia? The 1988 Memorial attendance of 8,600—five times the number of Kingdom publishers—indicates that there is a great potential for more disciples. And the hardworking Liberian Witnesses are responding to the challenge. They are conducting more than 3,000 home Bible studies each month. It is our prayer that many more here will join the ever-growing “great crowd” who are praising Jehovah in response to the “new song.”—Revelation 7:9, 10.
[Box on page 28]
From House to House in Liberia
As we approach a stick-and-mud house, instead of knocking, we announce our presence by calling out: “Kpaw, kpaw, kpaw!”
Getting no answer, we walk to the back of the house and find a family sitting in the “kitchen”—a small booth in the backyard. A pot of thick red palm butter is simmering over a wood fire. The mother, who is dishing out the rice, sends her children scurrying to the house to fetch chairs for us.
The family members now settle down. Sitting on a bench, they listen attentively as we present the Kingdom message. They happily accept a copy of the brochure Enjoy Life on Earth Forever! and we make arrangements to return. As we get up to leave, they say: “Let’s eat!”
[Maps/Pictures on page 26]
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