See What Jehovah Has Done for Us!
“WE USED to pray for such an occasion,” said one man. Another woke up every morning at four to pray. For what? “To pray that some day we would have freedom to worship Jehovah openly,” he said. In January 1992, when Jehovah’s Witnesses in Ethiopia met together in Addis Ababa for their “Lovers of Freedom” District Convention, it was clear that these humble, sincere prayers had been answered.
That Ethiopian convention was an indication of how things are changing in Africa. In recent years Jehovah’s people in 13 lands there have rejoiced to receive legal freedom where they had formerly been banned or restricted. In Ethiopia, 34 years of official ban ended on November 11, 1991, when government officials granted recognition and reregistration took place. Immediately, the Witnesses made arrangements to hold an international convention. Yet, to see a crowd of 7,573 gathered in the Addis Ababa City Stadium was beyond everyone’s fondest imagining. For most of those in attendance, it was as if they were dreaming. Again and again they were telling one another: “Brother, see what Jehovah our God has done for us!”—Compare Psalm 66:1-5; 126:1.
Their having been under ban for 34 years created some unexpected problems. Most were not acquainted with the beautiful Kingdom songs. How would they learn to sing them before the convention? Forty songs, including the 17 used on the convention program, were translated into the Amharic language. Then, a special chorus was set up to record the songs on audiocassette. Each congregation in the capital received a copy of the tape, and the entire congregation would take 30 minutes before and after the meetings to practice the songs. The result? The stadium was filled with wholehearted and joyful singing during the convention.
Because of disturbances in the eastern part of the country, the road to the capital from Diredawa and Harar was cut off. The only means of travel from there was by plane. Not being able to afford the airfare, but determined to be at the convention, eight brothers in Harar went to a military base and requested passage on a military aircraft. To their surprise the request was granted. They were provided a free trip to the convention!
To see their prayers answered brought tears of joy to these Ethiopian brothers, who for the past three decades had endured hardships and persecutions and had even seen their friends executed for their faith. One delegate said: “I have cried since the beginning of the convention.” Another: “If you had the ability to read hearts, you would see how happy I am.” Yes, what a wonderful thing Jehovah did for these faithful Witnesses!—Psalm 66:16, 19.
Greater Freedom in West and Central Africa
Benin is another land where the work of Jehovah’s people has recently been legalized. How do the Witnesses feel about it? One speaker at a Christian gathering there acknowledged: “Freedom of worship in this country is truly a gift from Jehovah.” Yes, Jehovah’s servants there are deeply grateful that now they can enjoy unrestricted freedom to meet together in worship and speak to their neighbors about Jehovah’s Kingdom—freedoms that so many of us take for granted.
How will they show their joy? The above-quoted speaker pointed to one way when he said: “Our sharing in the preaching work—particularly our going from house to house with the good news—reflects our appreciation for this liberty.” In Benin this has certainly been the case. As evidence, just look at the figures for pioneers. During January 1990, the month the 14-year ban was lifted, 77 publishers were engaged in regular full-time service. Two years later the number had more than tripled, to 244!
This is not to say that Witnesses in Benin were not active before the ban was lifted. Indeed, their endurance had a profound effect on one military officer who was assigned to a camp where they were brought when arrested. Since their determination to serve Jehovah led to frequent arrests, he found himself in almost constant contact with them. But this only served to remind him of the enjoyable Bible discussions he had had with them in earlier days when they had enjoyed legal freedom.
Finally, their strong faith awakened a feeling of spiritual hunger within him. He visited different churches and sects but could never satisfy that hunger. It was only after the ban was lifted in January 1990 that he was able to discuss the Bible freely with the Witnesses and find the answer to his spiritual need. He is now baptized and is serving as a pioneer. In a sense, his change reminds the brothers in Benin of what happened to Saul of Tarsus: “The man that formerly persecuted us is now declaring the good news about the faith.”—Galatians 1:23.
In December 1991, Jehovah’s Witnesses in another West African country, Niger, were registered as a legal corporation, and restrictions on their work ended. Here too there was a joyous reaction. The Nigeria branch, which cared for Niger, reports the response at one convention: “After the keynote address at the Maradi convention on Friday, it was announced to the brothers that we now had legal recognition in Niger. They were very excited and applauded for several minutes. At the conclusion of the session, the brothers were very expressive, hugging one another and rejoicing at such good news.” We can imagine the scene, and we rejoice with them.
How will the brothers there use their newfound freedom? One pioneer sister in Niger has no doubt as to the answer to that question. She writes: “The facts show that in our territory in Niger, those who will come out of Babylon the Great before the end are numerous. As proof of this, I have been able to report from 80 to 85 return visits each month and conduct 13 or 14 Bible studies, in spite of the fact that I have turned over many of my calls to other publishers.” This faithful sister adds: “Because of my health problems, I cannot do as much as I would like in the field service, but everyone does what he can.”
In Rwanda in Central Africa, the situation of Jehovah’s Witnesses has also changed dramatically. In April 1992 a document was issued to the effect that they were at last a legal organization. The document was received the same week as the Memorial, and the 1,526 publishers in Rwanda were thrilled to see 6,228 attend that event. Will these dear brothers demonstrate their joy and appreciation by more activity in declaring the good news? Evidently! During that same month of April, congregation publishers averaged 27.7 hours in the preaching work and 17 return visits, conducting on an average 2.4 Bible studies. And about 40 percent of them were in some form of full-time service.
Legalized in Southern Africa
Down in southern Africa, the fresh winds of freedom blew across two beautiful lands, Mozambique and Angola. In Mozambique legalization was granted in February 1991. As the situation eased there, the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society sent missionaries into the country, which had been tragically devastated by civil war. The missionaries found fertile soil. Bible literature—particularly the book Questions Young People Ask—Answers That Work—is in great demand. One missionary reports placing 50 books in less than two and a half hours.
Interested people respond quickly. A missionary visited an address that had been given to the Society, and it turned out to be that of a man in the military. A good discussion was held with the man himself and two of his relatives. On a return visit, another fruitful discussion was held with the man and five others. Then they accepted an invitation to attend the public talk and Watchtower Study—all within four days.
In Angola the Witnesses have enjoyed increasing freedom that culminated in the legalizing of their work in April 1992. How are they using their greater freedom? They are sharing in the field service! There are about 17,000 publishers in Angola, and those publishers are conducting almost 60,000 Bible studies. What a prospect for future increase!
The Young Share in Witnessing
In these countries where the preaching work has recently been legalized, even the young and the not-yet-baptized are showing their appreciation by activity in the ministry. In Cape Verde Republic, where Jehovah’s Witnesses were legalized in November 1990, at one convention a 17-year-old girl stood up to make a public expression of faith. After the baptism, a visitor saw a crowd around her. He went up to congratulate her and asked who the crowd were. “Oh,” she replied, “these are my Bible studies.” She was conducting seven studies, and they were there congratulating her on her baptism. She had already put in her application to serve as an auxiliary pioneer and looked forward eventually to qualifying as a regular pioneer.
A ten-year-old girl in Angola was asked if she was a publisher. She answered: “Yes.” Did she conduct any Bible studies? “Of course.” How many? “Seven,” this ten-year-old replied.
We read in the book of Acts that at one point in the first century, “the congregation throughout the whole of Judea and Galilee and Samaria entered into a period of peace, being built up; and as it walked in the fear of Jehovah and in the comfort of the holy spirit it kept on multiplying.” (Acts 9:31) We pray that for our brothers in Africa, this too will turn out to be a period of peace. We rejoice with them as they are built up, and we pray that Jehovah’s spirit may be on them as they take advantage of their freedom to spread the good news and keep on multiplying.
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Lands Where Jehovah’s Witnesses Were Legalized or Restrictions on Them Removed
1. The Gambia, December 1989
2. Benin, January 1990
3. Cape Verde Republic, November 1990
4. Mozambique, February 1991
5. Ghana, November 1991
6. Ethiopia, November 1991
7. Congo, November 1991
8. Niger, December 1991
9. Togo, December 1991
10. Chad, January 1992
11. Kenya, March 1992
12. Angola, April 1992
13. Rwanda, April 1992
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In Benin a Kingdom publisher beats out the words of Matthew 24:14 on his talking drum
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In many African lands, true Christians are making good use of their newfound freedom
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New Witnesses symbolize their dedication to Jehovah by water baptism