East and West, Jehovah Strengthens His People
IN TERRITORIES where the preaching work is banned, in lands ripped apart by violence, and in countries where bans have recently been lifted—indeed, throughout the worldwide field—Jehovah continues to provide his Witnesses with “power beyond what is normal.”—2 Corinthians 4:7.
Prosperity Under Ban
In an archipelago of the Far East, the preaching work has been under ban now for 17 years. Are the Witnesses discouraged? Not at all! This past May, they reached a new peak of 10,756 publishers, of whom 1,297 were serving as full-time ministers. As world conditions deteriorate, the island people are ever more inclined to listen to the truth. So they have been reporting 15,654 Bible studies conducted in the homes of interested persons. Earlier, 25,397 attended meetings that were held quietly to commemorate Jesus’ death.
When the “Divine Teaching” District Conventions took place—again discreetly according to local circumstances—the brothers were delighted to receive, in the local language, their copies of the same releases that had been made in the United States. The translators, proofreaders, and others had volunteered to work extra hours so that they could prepare the principal release, with its hundreds of pages, in time. And a cooperative outside printing plant was happy to do a beautiful job of the printing and binding. Conventioners were delighted to receive the publication, with its colorful array of more than a thousand pictures. Many government officials respect Jehovah’s Witnesses, and opposition comes mainly from Christendom’s clergy. It is hoped that soon the ban will be lifted.
What of the Americas?
Jehovah’s Witnesses in these Western countries are united with their brothers in the East in courageously tackling their problems, and Jehovah’s holy spirit helps them to overcome difficult situations. Take, for example, the following report from a Latin-American land where drug cartels ply the jungles.
A group of Witnesses took a bus to an isolated territory. As they got off the bus, they noticed a small side road leading off from the village. So the five brothers went off to see where the little dirt road led, assigning sisters and children to work in the village. One of the brothers relates:
“Two hours of walking along the road presented very few houses. Then, eight armed men with hoods over their heads suddenly came out of the woods. Some had machine guns, and some had machetes. What had we run into? We started to ask what they wanted, but we were told to be quiet and not talk—just march ahead. We did! Two more hours of walking through thick jungle bush brought us to a clearing that was obviously an armed camp. Guards with guns were everywhere. In the center was a decently built house to which we were directed.
“Once seated we were addressed by one who was apparently the head man of the camp. He was neatly dressed, well educated, and quite dignified. He pointed to one of our group of brothers and told him to stand up. He then asked him: ‘What do you think of [our] group?’ Fully realizing where we were, the brother replied: ‘Well, we know about your group, but we have no interest in it or in any other political group. The only reason we are here is to preach about Jehovah God’s Kingdom by Christ Jesus. It will soon destroy all political governments of this system of things and bring marvelous blessings to people on this earth under Paradise conditions—something that no man or group of men can do.’
“The man’s attitude changed. He began to ask questions. ‘Where did you learn all of this? How were you prepared to talk like that?’ For an hour and a half, we were able to give a good witness about world conditions and show that the Bible identifies the only hope for mankind. We also explained Romans chapter 13—that we obey the authorities in power, but when there is a conflict between Jehovah’s Word and theirs, we obey our God, Jehovah, first. Finally, we offered him the books we had. He took three of them and a Bible and, much to our surprise, gave us a contribution for them. He said he would read them.
“Next, the leader motioned to one of the men to take us out of the camp. Soon we were on our way back, thanking Jehovah for the victory we had in another field of witnessing.”
In Strife-Torn Africa
Midway between the Far East and the far West lies the African continent. Tribal warfare has turned some countries there into maelstroms of violence. In Liberia, Jehovah’s people have again been deeply affected by an upsurge in the civil war. First there was fighting in and around the capital city during October and November 1992. Then, as the war spread up-country, whole congregations were disbanded as the brothers fled into the bush with the rest of the population. However, their zeal has remained undiminished. As they fled, they preached, and this has resulted in a grand witness being given in the remotest parts of the interior.
One congregation of displaced brothers built a temporary Kingdom Hall in the middle of a rubber plantation. In a town near the front lines, during the daytime the civilian population would flee into the surrounding rubber plantation to escape bombing from the air. The local brothers (including many displaced publishers from the capital, Monrovia) organized field ministry and could regularly be seen preaching to the thousands sheltering under the rubber trees! Whenever a plane approached, the brothers and sisters would jump into a nearby ditch and then, when the danger had passed, continue on with their calls.
Amazingly, the thousand-and-more congregation publishers who are able to get reports through to the Society have averaged, despite these civil war conditions, 18.1 hours in the field ministry and are conducting 3,111 Bible studies monthly.
In Africa during the past four years, restrictions on the work of Jehovah’s Witnesses have been lifted in 18 countries. And joy of joys! On August 12, the ban on the Witnesses in Malawi that had been imposed in October 1967, was lifted. The underground preaching of the good news had always prospered, but now the Witnesses are able to move ahead in freedom, though they will have to await the resurrection to greet again their many dear companions who were murdered by the oppressors.
In Mozambique a peace accord went into effect on October 4, 1992. Territories formerly inaccessible because of the devastating war of the past 16 years are being reached. In the area of Carioco, communication was reestablished with 375 brothers and sisters who had lost all contact with the organization for the past seven years. A special one-day assembly was held in Milange, capital of the district formerly known as the site of a concentration camp and center for “reeducation” of Jehovah’s Witnesses, many of whom were refugees from Malawi. A surprising total of 2,915 persons attended, including the town administrator, who welcomed Jehovah’s Witnesses. So the former “reeducation” center became a center for divine teaching for the day.
A missionary writes: “Concerning our brothers who found themselves in refugee camps in Tete Province, an interesting observation was made by a representative of UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.) He said that Jehovah’s Witnesses had organized their own camps, separate from other groups. ‘Their camp,’ he said, ‘was the only one that was properly run,’ adding, ‘Jehovah’s Witnesses are clean, organized, and educated.’ He then offered to take me by plane across the bush to see for myself. From the air, the pilot pointed out two camps. One was shabby and dirty, with mud houses built on top of one another without any planning. The other was well laid out, with houses separated into rows by roads. The houses had a neat appearance, with swept courtyards. Some were even painted with homemade paint. ‘Guess which one belongs to you people?’ the pilot said. It was a great joy for me to meet the brothers in this camp. There are now eight congregations in this Witness village.”
In “the Land of the Eagle”
No, this is not the U.S. eagle! Between East and West lies a European country, Albania, its name in the official language, Shqipëria, meaning “The Land of the Eagle.” Recently, a cruel 50-year ban on Jehovah’s Witnesses in this land has been lifted, and they are able to unite with their brothers from East and from West in their enjoyment of freedom of worship. They are truly “buying out the opportune time.” (Ephesians 5:16) The first assembly in the history of Albania, a one-day assembly, was held at the National Theater, in the capital, Tiranë, on Sunday, March 21. On Saturday afternoon a crew of 75 Witness volunteers had transformed a dilapidated meeting place into a bright, clean assembly hall. The management was left speechless. And it is to be noted that of the 75 volunteers, only about 20 had been baptized!
The weather could not have been better. As overseas delegates arrived, greetings—largely by gestures and hugging—made that special assembly day very special. With palms extended heavenward, Brother Nasho Dori gave the opening prayer. He was baptized in 1930 and is now legally blind. The program was presented in Albanian, the greater part by the foreign special pioneers. The 585 in attendance sang the song “Christian Dedication”—one of six that had been translated into Albanian for the occasion—as 41 new brothers and sisters marched out toward a pool that visiting Greek brothers had kindly set up in the local Kingdom Hall. What a change! Formerly, possessing a Bible meant going off to labor camps, and meetings were limited to groups of two or three persons.
The day following the assembly, the Watch Tower office received a phone call from the director of the theater. Normally he takes little interest in who uses the theater. That is the assistant director’s job. But he said: “I just had to call to thank you. I have never seen this place so clean. If I had to describe it, I’d say that an air from heaven descended on our theater yesterday. Any time you would like to use our facilities, please come back, and we will put you first in line. You know, we really should have you come every three months rent free.”
The Witnesses returned to their towns strengthened and thankful and began preparing for the Memorial of Jesus’ death. Just 15 days later, on Tuesday, April 6, the first open Memorial was held in seven places.
In the town of Berat, meeting attendance has swelled to about 170, and the local priest is furious. Of the 33 Kingdom publishers in Berat, 21 were baptized at the assembly. Berat reported 472 attending the Memorial. Other Memorial attendances were also outstanding, largely as a result of the fine lead given by special pioneers.
In the most Catholic town of Albania, Shkodër, where there is a basilica, the church began printing a monthly newsletter, and each issue has dealt with “How to Avoid Jehovah’s Witnesses.” The last issue said: “Jehovah’s Witnesses have taken over Shkodër”! The large army of two Witnesses there gathered 74 well-behaved and serious-minded people to the Memorial. After hearing the Memorial talk, 15 families asked for home Bible studies. In another town, Durres, where there is an army of four Witnesses, attendance was a splendid 79.
Because of opposition by Catholic youths, who threatened to drive the Witnesses away with stones, the Memorial meeting in the mountain village of Kalmeti i Vogel was moved to a local brother’s home, where 22 attended peacefully. There are five publishers in this group, of whom three were baptized at the assembly in Tiranë.
In Vlorë two young men received a copy of The Watchtower, read it, and wrote the Society: “We now call ourselves Jehovah’s Witnesses because of the truth we have learned in The Watchtower. Please send us help.” Two special pioneers were assigned there, and one of these young men quickly became qualified as a publisher. He was happy to be among the 64 attending the Memorial in Vlorë.
An Albanian brother who learned the truth in the United States returned in the 1950’s to his native town of Gjirokastër, where he served to the extent possible until his death. He sowed the seeds of truth in his son’s heart. When the ban was lifted, this son asked the Watch Tower Society for help. Another interested person living in a village just to the north had also written for help, so four special pioneers were sent there. On the Wednesday morning following the Memorial, one of them phoned the Society’s Tiranë office: “I couldn’t hold back from telling you how much Jehovah’s spirit has done. We are so happy. The Memorial was a success.” Attendance was 106, including their band of seven Kingdom publishers.
What of the total Memorial attendance? In 1992, when there were just 30 Kingdom publishers, the attendance was 325. In 1993, the 131 publishers had gathered in 1,318 attenders. In both years, attendance has been ten times the number of publishers. How exciting to see “the little one . . . become a thousand” in such a short period of time!—Isaiah 60:22.
“Lengthen Out Your Tent Cords”
As the preaching work of Jehovah’s Witnesses expands into all corners of the globe, the call goes forth: “Make the place of your tent more spacious. And let them stretch out the tent cloths of your grand tabernacle. Do not hold back. Lengthen out your tent cords, and make those tent pins of yours strong. For to the right and to the left you will break forth.” (Isaiah 54:2, 3) This breaking forth in God’s “grand tabernacle”—represented in the worldwide congregation of his worshipers—has indeed been apparent in Eastern Europe, especially in the lands of the former Soviet Union. After sustaining his servants during decades of repression, Jehovah is now providing his Witnesses with the dynamic energy needed to expand and strengthen the organization.
In Moscow, Russia, at Locomotive Stadium, on July 22-25, a peak of 23,743 attended a landmark international convention of last year’s “Divine Teaching” series. Who would have thought this possible, even two years ago? But there they were! More than 1,000 came from Japan and Korea, almost 4,000 came from the United States and Canada, and other thousands came from more than 30 lands in the South Pacific, Africa, Europe, and other areas—truly a meeting of East and West. How encouraging for all of these to mingle freely with more than 15,000 of their Russian brothers and sisters! Joy knew no bounds.
An amazing total of 1,489 new Witnesses were baptized. The baptism was given great publicity by the media around the world, including a fine picture on the front page of The New York Times. As thunderous as was the applause during the baptism, it was exceeded during the final talk when, after the speaker thanked the 4,752 volunteers and officials who had helped make such a success of the convention, he said: “Above all, we thank Jehovah!” Yes, Jehovah’s spirit had held back strong opposition from the Orthodox religionists and provided the vital energy that made the convention a thrilling reality.
More was to come, however, in the Ukrainian city of Kiev, August 5-8. Again, willing volunteers completely refurbished the stadium, and this mammoth Kingdom Hall accommodated 64,714 as the peak attendance. Once more, the Witnesses came from East and West and all places in between. Principal talks were interpreted into 12 languages. Some 53,000 delegates, who arrived by mass transport, had to be met at stations and airports and transported to their accommodations in hotels, schools, and private homes, as well as on ships. All of this was accomplished at minimal expense with a smoothness and efficiency of organization that brought expressions of amazement and praise from the city’s police.
The high point of the thrilling convention program was the baptism, which occupied all of two-and-a-half hours. A total of 7,402 new brothers and sisters symbolized their dedication to Jehovah, while the applause echoed and reechoed around the vast stadium. This was more than the previous all-time baptism peak of 7,136 recorded when 253,922 conventioners assembled in New York City in 1958.
As this judgment period now proceeds toward its finale, sheeplike people from East, West, and even “the most distant part of the earth” are being gathered into a unity unparalleled in all human history. Indeed, a “great crowd . . . out of all nations and tribes and peoples and tongues” are joining spiritual Israel in declaring their faith in Jesus’ precious ransom sacrifice, the foundation of all that is being accomplished in vindication of Jehovah’s sovereign rule.—Acts 1:8; Revelation 7:4, 9, 10.
[Pictures on page 8, 9]
East meets West in Moscow and Kiev