Spreading Bible Truth in Portugal
FROM Caminha in the north to Vila Real de Santo Antônio in the south, thousands of colorful fishing boats dot the 500 miles [800 km] of Portugal’s Atlantic Coast. Fishermen have ‘gone down to the sea in their ships’ for centuries, making fish the mainstay of many a Portuguese table.—Psalm 107:23.
For the past 70 years, another type of fishing has been taking place in Portugal. Jehovah’s Witnesses have been busy bringing the good news to tens of thousands of symbolic fish. (Matthew 4:19) In May 1995 there was a peak of 44,650 Kingdom publishers—a ratio of 1 to about 210 inhabitants. In some cities the ratio is half that.
With so many workers, the witnessing territories in many areas are covered every week or so. Thus the Portuguese Witnesses are very keen on using different approaches in order to share their Bible hope with others. Yes, they appreciate the importance of making known Bible truth in every way possible.—1 Corinthians 9:20-23.
Helping Those Religiously Inclined
According to a 1991 census, 70 percent of those 18 years of age or older in Portugal profess to be Roman Catholics. In spite of this, knowledge of the Bible is at a low ebb among the people. The newspaper Jornal de Notícias noted: “This is one of the greatest tragedies of the Catholic world: Ignorance of the Bible!” Why is this the case? The Portuguese newspaper Expresso points to the answer. Reporting on a meeting of 500 priests in Fátima, the paper says: “According to the prelate, it is necessary that the priest frees himself from an endless number of activities so that he can reestablish exclusively his position as ‘herald.’ . . . If the priest puts his soul into preaching the Gospel, he will not have time for any other activities.”
In contrast, Jehovah’s Witnesses in Portugal are busy making known Bible truth in every way possible. As a result, many sincere Catholics are gaining knowledge of the Bible.
Carlota was a devout Catholic and a member of the youth group in a religious order. She was also a teacher in the kindergarten where Antônio, a Witness, worked. As a regular pioneer, or full-time minister, Antônio always endeavored to talk to his fellow workers about the Bible during lunch hour. One day Carlota asked him about belief in hellfire and the cult of Mary. Antônio showed her what the Bible teaches on these subjects, and that was the beginning of many Bible discussions. When Carlota attended her first meeting at the local Kingdom Hall, she was very impressed. However, the meeting times conflicted with those of the religious order to which she belonged. She realized that she had to make a decision. What would she do?
Carlota assembled the entire youth group and explained from the Bible why she was resigning. All criticized her decision, except one young girl named Stela, who listened very carefully. When Carlota spoke with her later, Stela asked many questions about the origin and purpose of life. Carlota gave her the book Life—How Did It Get Here? By Evolution or by Creation?* and started a Bible study with her.
In the meantime Carlota made fine spiritual progress, was baptized in June 1991, and began serving as a regular pioneer six months later. In May 1992 she and Antônio were married, continuing in the pioneer service together in a neighboring congregation where there is a greater need. And Stela? She was baptized in May 1993 and now serves as a regular pioneer.
Young Francisco was very religious. Every Sunday he attended Mass in the morning and Rosary recitations in the afternoon. He served as sacristan, helping the priest during Mass. He even prayed to God that he be made a “saint” some day!
Francisco really wanted to have a Bible, and one day a friend lent him one. He was surprised to find that God has a name, Jehovah. (Exodus 6:3; Psalm 83:18) When he read at Exodus 20:4, 5 that God forbids the use of images in worship, he was even more surprised! Seeing that the church was full of images, he prayed fervently to God to help him understand all this confusion. Several days later he met a former schoolmate and asked him why he had left the night school.
“I am attending a better night school now,” his friend replied.
“What school is that, and what are you studying?” asked Francisco. He was totally unprepared for the friend’s answer.
“I am studying the Bible at the Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses,” the friend told him. “Would you like to come along?”
Francisco could hardly believe what he saw at his first meeting—happy, smiling faces; people talking to one another in a warm, friendly manner; children sitting with their parents and paying attention to what was being said.
“Here I was, a total stranger, and I felt like part of the family!” exclaimed Francisco. He has been attending meetings regularly ever since. Now Francisco serves as an elder in the congregation, and together with his wife and two children, he rejoices in the grand Kingdom promises in God’s Word.
Sharing the Truth With Relatives
Manuela, a regular pioneer in the Lisbon area, has had an abundant catch of spiritual fish due to her perseverance in kindly witnessing to all, including relatives. Among them was her fleshly brother, José Eduardo, who was trained in the martial arts and in the use of weapons. He had broken the law so many times that he was finally brought to trial on 22 counts and sentenced to 20 years in prison. He was so violent that even fellow inmates were afraid of him, and he was kept in a high-security cell.
For seven years Manuela patiently visited José Eduardo, but he always rejected her Bible message. Finally, when the book Life—How Did It Get Here? By Evolution or by Creation? was published, he accepted it, and a Bible study was started. Right away he made tremendous changes in his conduct. One week later he gave a personal witness to 200 prisoners, and the following week to 600 more. He even received permission to visit the inmates in other prison blocks. Due to the remarkable change in his behavior, the sentence was reduced to 15 years. After serving 10 years, he was released on probation. Since then five years have gone by, and José Eduardo is now a baptized Witness of Jehovah, serving as a ministerial servant in the local congregation. Truly a case of ‘the wolf residing with the lamb’!—Isaiah 11:6.
Because of her continued effort in witnessing to her family, Manuela has had the joy of helping her husband and four other members of her family to become active in Jehovah’s service. Her husband is now a ministerial servant.
“I’ll Run Them Out With a Kick and a Whip”
Maria do Carmo lived in a Lisbon suburb when the Witnesses called on her. She liked what she heard and asked her husband, Antônio, if she could have a Bible study at home. “Don’t even think of it!” he replied. “If I ever find Jehovah’s Witnesses in our house, I’ll run them out with a kick and a whip.” Antônio, incidentally, was a karate instructor and a third-degree black belt. So Maria do Carmo decided to have her Bible study elsewhere.
Later, Antônio had to go to England for an eight-day course in karate, and Maria do Carmo carefully packed in his suitcase the publication My Book of Bible Stories.* Since Antônio had plenty of time on his trip, he read the book. On the return flight, a storm shook the plane violently, and it had difficulty landing. For the first time in his life, Antônio prayed to Jehovah.
When Antônio got home, the Witness who conducted the study with his wife invited him to a meeting. He accepted and found everyone to be very friendly. Arrangements were made for a Bible study, and in a short time, Antônio knew he had to make some decisions. The outcome was that he quit teaching karate and began teaching his students how to live peaceful lives now and forever. One of them, also a black belt, is now a baptized Christian.
As for Antônio, he was baptized in April 1991. The day after his baptism, he began serving as an auxiliary pioneer. Six months later he began serving as a regular pioneer, and soon he was conducting 12 home Bible studies. In July 1993 he was appointed as a ministerial servant in the congregation.
In Frequently Worked Territory
In many areas of the country, the territory is worked every week or so. How do the Witnesses carry on their “fishing” activities productively?
João tries to contact every person in every home. When visiting one lady, he asked if there were others living in the home. The lady answered that her husband and two sons lived there, but it would not be easy to contact them as they worked and would be home only in the evening. So João moved on and visited others in the area. About an hour and a half later, a man approached him.
“You said you wanted to speak with me,” the man said to João. “Please tell me what you want.”
“Excuse me, but I don’t know you,” João answered, caught by surprise. “Who are you?”
“I’m Antônio, and I live just up the street. You told my mother that you wanted to talk to the rest of the family, so I have come to find out what you wanted.”
João gave Antônio a thorough witness and started a Bible study with him. After the second study, Antônio asked if the study could be held twice a week. In just four months, he joined João and began preaching the good news on his own street. Three months later, he was baptized. Recently his mother too began to study the Bible. How important it is to try to speak with all members of the household in the ministry!
Such exciting experiences show that there is still plenty of spiritual fishing to be done in the waters of Portugal. Jehovah has blessed the hardworking Witnesses there with thousands of progressive Bible studies. As they continue to seek out more and more ways to make known the Bible truth to all, the apostle Paul’s words to the Christians in Philippi are truly being fulfilled in Portugal today: “In every way . . . Christ is being publicized.”—Philippians 1:18.
Published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc.
Published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc.
[Map on page 23]
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[Pictures on page 24, 25]
Witnesses in Portugal use every opportunity to make known Bible truth