Ethiopia’s “Divine Teaching” Convention—A Time of Special Joy
IT WAS not Ethiopia’s first district convention in freedom, but it was definitely special. Since obtaining legal recognition on November 11, 1991, Jehovah’s Witnesses met for the third time in the country’s largest stadium, the City Stadium, right in the center of Addis Ababa. As this arena was initially unavailable on Sunday and no other facility large enough could be found, the program was compressed into three days, from Thursday to Saturday, January 13-15, 1994.
These three days basked not only in beautiful temperate weather under blue skies but also in spiritual enlightenment with the full impact of “Divine Teaching.” In the setting of an attractive floral arrangement around the platform, that convention theme stood out prominently in Amharic script.
But what made the convention special? Along with the rich program, everyone’s thoughts and feelings were focused on our loving international brotherhood and the clear manifestations of God’s blessing on his people in the form of Kingdom growth. There were some 270 foreign delegates from 16 lands, including even Djibouti and Yemen. Over half came from winter weather in Europe and North America. The visitors included two members of the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses, Lloyd Barry and Daniel Sydlik.
Traditional Ethiopian hospitality coupled with heartfelt love for their visiting brothers made for an exuberance that overcame language barriers. The greetings were not mere handshakes but hugs and kisses, up to sixfold! Many visitors had read about the Kingdom work in Ethiopia and knew that their Ethiopian brothers were tested integrity keepers who had persevered through imprisonments and other forms of persecution.* But visiting delegates were surprised to see so many young people showing happy faces and a politeness that is on the wane in most lands today. Many Ethiopian sisters wore their white, skillfully embroidered traditional dresses, which added to a truly festive spirit.
The baptism on Friday proved to be thrilling. A long line of 530 newly dedicated ones, from 10 to 80 years of age, stretched across half the playing field in the stadium. This was much more than anyone had expected—more than 1 for every 7 Witnesses in the country. What an evidence of Jehovah’s blessing on his people here! There were many tears of joy at this sight, which was enhanced by the beautiful singing by over 40 Italian delegates. Many thought of the prophetic words of Isaiah 60:5: “At that time you will see and certainly become radiant, and your heart will actually quiver and expand, because to you the wealthiness of the sea will direct itself; the very resources of the nations will come to you.”
Special Causes for Joy
Jehovah’s blessing was further emphasized on Friday, when the small beginnings of the Kingdom work in Ethiopia were recaptured in interviews. These were conducted with a group of early missionaries who had served there in the 1950’s and 1970’s. Well over 8,000 heard Ray Casson, John Kamphuis, and Haywood Ward describe their work of Bible education, starting on September 14, 1950, when they arrived in Addis Ababa. The imperial government of those days required that they be active in general education. So they set up a school for adult education in the center of town, featuring a variety of subjects. But in their spare time, these missionaries sought to advance education focused on divine teaching. They had to struggle to learn Amharic, a complicated language with an alphabet of 250 characters. About half a year went by before they succeeded in conducting their first home Bible study. About 43 years later, they met people on the street who remembered these former schoolteachers. At the convention, though, they rejoiced to be reunited with dozens of their former Bible students who became stalwarts in the faith, and who introduced them to their own spiritual children and grandchildren.—1 Thessalonians 2:19, 20.
The joyful and very attentive audience applauded at length not only the interviews with former missionaries but also reports and greetings from Britain, Canada, Germany, Israel, Italy, Kenya, the Netherlands, and the United States—brought by foreign representatives. This again underscored the loving worldwide brotherhood of God’s people. The main talks presented by the anointed brothers from the Governing Body, as well as their heartfelt prayers, also touched the audience deeply. The young people in the stadium identified themselves with the characters in the drama about young people who remember their Creator, the drama being presented in a very natural and lively manner. In addition to the new releases in English, three new Amharic releases generated much enthusiasm.*
During intermissions and at other times, there were fine opportunities to get acquainted with many precious individuals. For instance, right in the front row, with a handmade cane, sat the oldest publisher in Ethiopia, Tulu Mekuria. Last year, at the ripe old age of 113, he was baptized as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. At this convention he had the joy of seeing his 80-year-old wife follow his example, becoming his spiritual sister as well. His presence during the entire program was a fine inspiration to younger ones. One of such was Yohanes Gorems, who at age 16 and still a student in school has already served for four years as a regular pioneer publisher. He and other school-age pioneers who are even younger have learned to buy out the opportune time, such as by witnessing early in the morning on the way to school or by using intermissions and after-school hours.
What Examples of Integrity!
Hundreds in the audience had experienced imprisonment and torture under previous governments. Mandefro Yifru looks back on five such years in prison, but now he enjoys serving in Addis Ababa in the newly established office, which cares for translation, printing, and shipping. Another young man serving with him, Zecarias Eshetu, did not veer from his integrity eight years ago when his father was murdered for maintaining Christian neutrality during three years of imprisonment. Zecarias, one of five children, was ten years old when his father went to jail. Meswat Girma and his sister, Yoalan, now in their late teens and still in school, remember their father only from pictures, as they were very small when he was suddenly executed for his neutrality. His loyalty inspired them, and both are serving as regular pioneers, as their father was doing at the time of his death.
Another integrity keeper was Tamirat Yadette, now serving as a special pioneer in a beautiful region of the Rift Valley. Because of his Christian neutrality, he spent three years in seven different prisons, at times in chains and subjected to severe beatings. Yet, in prison he helped over a dozen people to take their stand for God’s Kingdom.
Tesfu Temelso, now serving as a circuit overseer, was imprisoned 17 times during his years as a special pioneer. He has scars from the beatings, but he is thrilled to see congregations in his former assignments. Dozens of brothers and sisters from the Akaki Congregation suffered imprisonment and cruelty, yet the congregation has grown to over a hundred publishers. They have built the first Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Ethiopia. From Dese, a town in a picturesque setting about 200 miles [300 km] north of the capital, came a group of five who faced death and saw a local brother die from the torture he had been subjected to. One elder among them, Maseresha Kasa, explained that he persevered during six years’ imprisonment, not because he was special in any way, but merely because he learned to rely on Jehovah.—Romans 8:35-39; compare Acts 8:1.
Even recently, others have demonstrated their faithfulness under test. A large group came to the convention from a nearby country where, because of their neutrality, Witnesses had been denied police protection, travel documents, marriage certificates, hospital treatment, and jobs. When war was raging near Mesewa, an Eritrean port on the Red Sea, the whole congregation, 39 in all, including children, lived for about four months under a low bridge in the desert to escape the bombardment of their homes by the former government. In this setting of heat and deprivation, their daily text discussions and other meetings gave them great strength and a close attachment to Jehovah as well as to one another. Two special-pioneer sisters serving near the source of the Blue Nile endured mob threats and harassment instigated by the Orthodox Church, but the two persevered and saw several Bible students symbolize their dedication by baptism at this convention.
One brother recounted his trial of isolation on a job deep in the arid Ogaden region, not far from Somalia. He kept alive spiritually by preaching and then holding meetings with interested ones, including medical doctors, who benefited from divine teaching and now teach others. Another fine example of integrity keeping was a special pioneer in Addis Ababa who, in 1992, was brutally beaten and left for dead by a mob incited by Orthodox priests. Happily, he recovered and continues serving in the same territory. The radiant smile on his face reveals no trace of bitterness. For him, as for all the other tested ones and newer ones, this “Divine Teaching” Convention was a festival of joy.
The convention organization operated smoothly, making visitors think that the volunteers involved had had many years of experience. In fact, they have made rapid progress during the past two years. The three-day convention ended all too quickly. The peak attendance on Saturday was 9,556. The national television, radio, and the press provided favorable coverage. All could see that Jehovah was making his people spiritually rich. The audience included thousands of interested ones who have started to benefit from “Divine Teaching.” A wide field is open to Jehovah’s Witnesses in this country of about 50 million people, and the convention strengthened all in their determination to use the remaining time in this system of things to help sincere ones to benefit also from divine teaching.
See the 1992 Yearbook of Jehovah’s Witnesses, published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc.
Your Youth—Getting the Best Out Of It, Making Your Family Life Happy, and Jehovah’s Witnesses—Unitedly Doing God’s Will Worldwide.
[Pictures on page 23]
Addis Ababa, January 13-15, 1994
[Pictures on page 24]
A group of pioneers in Addis Ababa (right); integrity keepers who all were imprisoned (below); 113-year-old Witness and his wife