Gem of the Indian Ocean. That is what many call the island you are about to visit. You may know it as Ceylon, but since 1972 this island home has been called Sri Lanka.
With an area of some 25,000 square miles, Sri Lanka is a many-faceted “gem.” Tropical and of low elevation all around the coast, it is crowned with central hills and mountains. You pass coconut plantations to reach the hills, many now covered with beautiful tea bushes.
There also are many facets when we consider races, castes, languages and religions. In the central and southern two thirds of the island, most people claim to be Aryans, speaking Sinhalese and practicing Theravada Buddhism. They are friendly, hospitable people. In the northern and eastern sections of Sri Lanka are Dravidian Tamil-speaking people, most of whom adhere to Hinduism. They are known for their industriousness.
Trade prospects once drew Muslims from as far away as Morocco. Early in the sixteenth century, the Portuguese, interested in spices, took the coastal regions. With them came Roman Catholic priests. Great efforts were made to convert the Buddhists to Catholicism. How? By offering them material advantages and also by using much force. Today many coastal cities are predominantly Catholic.
Somewhat over a century later, the Dutch took this “gem” and held only its coastal regions. To help maintain control, they brought soldiers from Malaya and Java, adding another racial type.
More by diplomacy than by conquest, Britain took Ceylon in 1796. Hence, other facets presented themselves in the way of race and many more Protestant churches. As matters developed, however, Ceylon became independent in 1948.
Both the British and the Dutch were very strict about avoiding intermarriage with people already on the island. Nevertheless, many individuals intermarried, and their numerous descendants, known as Burghers, belong to the various churches of Christendom. In fact, about 10 percent of Sri Lanka’s population claim to be Christian. But how did true Christianity reach this “gem of the Indian Ocean”?
THE GOOD NEWS IS HEARD
Legend has it that the apostle Thomas visited Ceylon. (Luke 6:12-16) But it is not legendary that two zealous Christian women, passing through by ship, preached the good news here in 1910.
They contacted Mr. E. W. de Z. Van Twest, a Burgher, shipping master of the port of Colombo. They convinced him to read The Divine Plan of the Ages and another book by Charles Taze Russell, first president of the Watch Tower Society. In time, Mr. Van Twest was telling others the new things he was learning. One who responded favorably was a Wesleyan minister, a Sinhalese individual named D. N. Pieris. Another was H. W. Wendt, Van Twest’s assistant.
Others who gratefully accepted the good news about this time were two more Sinhalese “Christians,” Mr. Edirisinghe and Mr. Baptist. There also was A. B. Chapman, a Burgher who had once worked at Queen’s Hotel in Kandy as a hostler in charge of the horses and carriages, but who was retired. A sanitary inspector, T. E. Karunatilleke, also accepted the truth and began sharing the good news with others. With all this activity, increase was to be expected.
PASTOR RUSSELL VISITS CEYLON
Early 1912 found these families eagerly awaiting the visit of Pastor Russell, as part of a world tour. At the time, Brother Van Twest was ill, but Brother Russell made a special trip to his home and had a short, spiritually strengthening talk with him. A well-advertised lecture about the rich man and Lazarus was given by Brother Russell at the old Public Hall, with over 900 in attendance. Brother Pieris translated Russell’s second talk at this hall into Sinhalese, so that all could understand.
Brother Russell also visited the leper asylum at Hendala, just across the river from Colombo. Here the Parsi individual in charge arranged for the lepers to listen as Pastor Russell spoke and Brother Pieris translated. Some requested and readily received tracts and other literature. Incidentally, while there, Brothers Russell and Pieris were offered the refreshing water from a young coconut. Russell insisted that Pieris drink first. Observers considered it a great thing to see a white man having a “native” drink ahead of himself.
Regular Sunday study classes now were arranged in an annex of Brother Van Twest’s home, ideally situated in Colombo. He conducted these classes, with one of his daughters playing the baby organ and another helping out in singing hymns.
After reading the sixth volume of Studies in the Scriptures, entitled “The New Creation,” Mr. and Mrs. Wendt saw the need of water immersion. So arrangements were made for the first baptism of Bible Students here. This took place in one of the canals the Dutch had built, at Wellawatte, just behind Brother Karunatilleke’s home, on May 31, 1914.
PHOTO-DRAMA COMES TO CEYLON
In 1917 Brother A. A. Hart from England spent about four months in Ceylon. He brought the Photo-Drama of Creation, a photographic slide, motion picture and sound production outlining God’s purpose for earth and man. There were showings in Colombo, Kandy and elsewhere. These presentations were very popular, and it was said that whenever the Photo-Drama was shown the churches were empty.
The climax came in Kandy, where the clergy made representations to the chief of police to get the showings stopped. However, when Brother Wendt showed him the scenario, the police chief said: “I can’t see anything wrong with it, Mr. Wendt, but these people are worrying me to get it stopped.” “These people,” the clergy, had so much influence that Brother Hart was given forty-eight hours to leave the island.
A GLANCE AT EARLY BIBLE CLASSES
While working as a sanitary inspector in 1918, Brother Karunatilleke met Thomas Walmsley, here from England on contract with the Lead Works. Walmsley quickly recognized the truth and soon severed connections with the Baptist Chapel and the Freemasons. His home in Boswell Place, Wellawatte, became a center for one of the daily Bible classes.
Yes, daily! At a different home each day the Bible Students were having classes. These began with a hymn and a prayer, followed by a reading from the Daily Heavenly Manna, forerunner of the Yearbook of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Then a sermon was given. One of Brother Russell’s sermons was read, or it was delivered by Brother Van Twest. Concluding features included another hymn and prayer.
SLOW BUT STEADY THROUGH THE 1920’S
By 1923 more than fifty persons were associated with the local organization in Colombo. The daily classes continued, and about every three months a one-day convention was held, either at the home of the Karunatillekes or that of the Wendts.
The Sunday classes were advertised in the local newspapers, but there was no organized house-to-house preaching. It was a matter of talking to those whom one met, giving out tracts and having long discussions with persons showing interest. Brother Wendt was from Kandy and went there for visits from time to time. Of the train trips, Sister Wendt reports:
“Whenever the family traveled to Kandy, father would settle us in a carriage and then he would disappear. He would go to another carriage and sit and talk with the passengers. If possible, he would sit near a Buddhist priest and then show him some things in the Sinhalese tracts and ask him please to read them so the others could listen. Many would listen as the priest read. At Kandy [Brother Wendt] would arrange to give a talk at a friend’s home and usually his friend would invite the neighbors. With about fifteen people listening, he would talk from the Bible, often about the dead . . . He would stress that there will be a resurrection . . . He told them about celestial bodies and terrestrial bodies. Oh, were they surprised at this! But most of them never gained sufficient courage to take a stand against clergy interference.”
In 1926 Brother F. E. Skinner made a visit from India. Brother Chapman’s daughter Ann helped him to distribute leaflets advertising a talk he was to deliver. For some time, Ann served as a colporteur (today called a pioneer) and was assisted for a while by Katie Mergler from India. They spent some months working the area south of Colombo, distributing much literature.
UPS AND DOWNS OF THE 1930’S
It was exciting to learn that an assembly of God’s people would be held at Madras, India, in 1931. Ann and Ruth Chapman, Brother D. N. Pieris and some others attended. There they met some brothers who had come from England to preach the good news in India. One of these was George Wright, who was working with Brother Skinner in Bombay. Ruth Chapman evidently made a fine impression on Brother Wright, for he went to Kandy to marry her on April 6, 1936.
George was assigned to work out of Kandy as a colporteur. From time to time, some visiting brothers from India joined the Wrights in the preaching activity for extended periods. Much of this work was done up in the hill country on the tea estates, where the Kingdom proclaimers distributed thousands of publications. This fine work continued until George died in 1941. Shortly thereafter, Ruth left for England. Her father, Brother A. B. Chapman, had died in 1933.
Brother Van Twest became quite feeble in the 1930’s and was not able to do much. He died at the age of eighty-six, in May 1938. Brother Wendt died the next month, at sixty-two. Classes now were discontinued, apart from Bible discussions that isolated families had in their own homes. A few did a little preaching, but no record was kept of this activity. Some endeavored to meet for the Lord’s Evening Meal yearly, but the Christian organization in Ceylon grew very weak, almost coming to a standstill as World War II began.
RESTORATION IN THE 1940’S
In 1941 a ban was placed on the Society’s literature and none of it was allowed to enter Ceylon. Brothers traveling through brought in a little, and an airline pilot was able to bring copies of The Watchtower quite regularly from Bombay. These were circulated among some of the brothers and interested ones. In 1943 Juvenal Chapman (son of A. B. Chapman) and another brother attended an assembly in Bombay and brought back some new literature. Juvenal then was a private surveyor at Gampaha, where he did some preaching. He also had a little printing done locally, including the booklet Cure in Sinhalese. The ban was lifted in 1945, making free contact with the Society’s Bombay office possible again.
During the early 1940’s, visiting brothers from India contacted a railway driver, E. L. V. Campbell, a staunch Roman Catholic. Vier, as everyone called him, eventually preached to his fellow workers, and another driver, Robin Tucker, and his family also became very interested. So things were beginning to stir. When Gerry Gerrard from Bombay visited Colombo early in 1947, he was able to aid nineteen persons to share in Kingdom preaching. The great need then was for some brothers to take the lead and organize regular meetings and preaching work.
MISSIONARIES LEND A HAND
About 7:00 a.m. on April 30, 1947, a train pulled into the Maradana Station, Colombo, with four graduates of the eighth class of the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead aboard. Before long, the four missionaries—Stanley Bowdery, George Griffiths, Frank Stebbing and Ray Matthews—were preaching in Colombo. People readily took literature. In fact, the missionaries placed 305 books and obtained 238 subscriptions during May, their first month in Ceylon.
A missionary home was rented at Talawatugoda and the missionaries obtained two bicycles and an old motorcycle for transportation. They found many English-speaking ones with whom to study. Brother Matthews recalls:
“From the time of our arrival, regular meetings were held, and soon the Colombo Company [Congregation] of Jehovah’s Witnesses was formed . . . We found the preaching work very easy, as all householders, whether Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, or ‘Christian,’ would invite us to be seated, order a cool drink for us, listen to all we had to say, and then take at least some literature . . .
“Then we started magazine work on the streets . . . We placed many magazines. . . . To have white people on the streets offering magazines in the midst of the hawkers was quite unknown. . . .
“Next we started public meetings. The first one was held in Earl’s Court and everyone we invited promised to come. So we expected a crowd; but only about twenty came. We noted that large crowds gathered on the Galle Face Green, a large open area near the sea and close to the Fort, the business section. So we decided we would have public meetings there. . . . With two trumpet speakers, people on a large section of the green could hear. At times two or three hundred would listen to at least some of the talk. A witness was given to many and, though we were few, our presence was felt. During the first four months, a peak of twenty-two publishers was reached.”
In March 1948, a small place at Borella was rented for a missionary home. It was not a “classy” place, but at least it was in Colombo and saved the missionaries a lot of traveling time.
PROGRESS AMONG THE TAMILS
Some claim that nearly half the population of Colombo is Tamil, though most of these people know English. One of their number, G. H. G. Abraham, became very interested. He began attending meetings regularly, started in the Kingdom-preaching work in 1952 and was immersed in Calcutta on January 10, 1953.
At the end of 1954, Henry Abraham resigned from his secular job, forgoing desirable pension privileges. Why? For the greater privilege of serving Jehovah as a special pioneer. Since then Brother Abraham has become “father” to many spiritual children.—Compare 1 Corinthians 4:14, 15; Philemon 10, 11.
A TRULY UPBUILDING VISIT
But, step back to early 1952. How thrilling it was to learn that the Watch Tower Society’s president, N. H. Knorr, planned to visit Ceylon in January of that year! It had been forty years since C. T. Russell had visited the island.
The Railway Institute was used for most meetings during Brother Knorr’s visit, but the Town Hall was rented for the public talk. Anxious that everyone know about this lecture, the brothers distributed many handbills. Furthermore, they mounted a large sign in three sections on bicycles and rode around Colombo. This really was effective. Whereas the average attendance at meetings in the Institute was about fifty, despite a pouring rain 235 assembled to hear Brother Knorr’s public talk “Will Religion Meet the World Crisis?”
Brother Knorr went out to the missionary home for an evening meal. After negotiating the narrow lane flooded with rainwater, stumbling over a heap of sand and getting caught in a clothesline, he managed to make his way to the home. He chatted for a while and then said: “Well, you boys certainly need a new missionary home.”
MORE MISSIONARIES ARRIVE
Three months later, the missionaries moved to 10/1 Vidiyala Place, Colombo 10. A fine two-story home, it had modern conveniences and was very suitable for congregation meetings.
Three missionaries had arrived in Ceylon on September 20, 1951—Harold Gluyas, John Wesley-Smith and Fred Carroll. In October 1952, Ralph and Betty Johnson arrived, having graduated from Gilead’s eighteenth class. That December, their classmates Charles and Marion Boshnyak joined them.
Now, with missionary sisters to brighten up the home and assist their Ceylonese sisters in the field, prospects looked good. So did the missionary home. There was a big improvement in meals and the home’s general appearance.
EXPANDING THE KINGDOM WITNESS
Early in 1953, plans were made to visit some of the brothers and interested persons in various parts of the island. Since some of the missionaries now had motorcycles, you might visualize a convoy of these traveling through the villages and beautiful jungles. The first stop was Anuradhapura, an ancient capital 120 miles from Colombo. Here some visited a Mrs. Lucas, an interested lady, and her neighbors. Others arranged for a public talk in the evening. It was held on the green by the market. A volunteer in the audience translated the talk into Sinhalese, so that all could understand.
Trincomalee was the next stop. In that area, pleasant association was enjoyed with the Tucker family. Since they lived at China Bay, six miles south of Trincomalee, this meant a short train ride each day. Many Sinhalese and Tamil booklets were placed with the passengers while the brothers were traveling. Meetings were enjoyed by all, and then it was time for the return journey.
Kandy, a city in the hill country, was visited on the way back. Quickly, a public talk was scheduled in the lounge of the Queen’s Hotel. About twenty residents of Kandy were present.
CEYLON BRANCH ESTABLISHED
In November 1953, a very significant forward step was taken in Ceylon’s theocratic history. A branch office of the Watch Tower Society was established in Colombo, with Brother Ralph Johnson appointed as branch overseer. This was sure to mean much closer supervision of the Kingdom-preaching work on the island.
Jehovah’s blessing on this new branch office seemed quite evident. Each month brought a new peak in publishers, so that the average for that service year was 66, a 50-percent increase over the previous year. And, how happy all were that the Memorial was attended by 122!
Through the years it has been necessary to move the branch office and missionary home several times. Today it is well situated at 62 Layard’s Road, Colombo 5. Facilities there include a fine Kingdom Hall, and they are much larger and better laid out than any previous facilities.
Due to his wife’s illness, Brother Johnson was unable to continue caring for the duties of branch overseer. So Douglas King, who had been serving in India with his wife, came and assumed these responsibilities in April 1954.
By now there were two congregations, one in Colombo, the other in Kandy. Ray Matthews was appointed to serve some of the time as circuit overseer, and, with a view to expanding the work, he also traveled to Jaffna and other places.
In May 1954, plans were finalized for Ceylon’s first circuit assembly. It was held in Colombo’s Girl Guide Headquarters. This assembly was upbuilding indeed, and all rejoiced to see an audience of 357 for the public talk.
A TIME FOR EXPANSION
The disciple-making work was moving ahead. More local brothers were responding to the training that they received and were able to care for more congregational duties. This meant that some of the missionaries could go to open up new territories. Hence, in December 1954, John Wesley-Smith and his sister Moira (a graduate of Gilead’s eleventh class), along with the Boshnyaks, opened a new missionary home in Jaffna, at the very north of the island.
Loo Joseph, whom Ian Campbell had met at radio Ceylon, and her stepson Euchie soon started in the special pioneer work. With Loo’s other children, they later went to work in Galle, at the south of the island. This meant that the good news would be preached even at these extremities of Ceylon.
In February 1955, Ian Campbell and Henry Abraham left for Batticaloa. Many people there remembered a Mr. Iyampillai, who had talked about God’s kingdom, reportedly until his death at eighty-three in 1951. Now with the coming of the two pioneers, the work in the eastern province really got under way.
DISTURBANCES OVER LANGUAGE
This tranquil “gem” in the Indian Ocean manifested a fiery facet in May of 1956, when rioting broke out at Amparai. The issue? National language. Moves were afoot to make Sinhalese the national tongue, and the Tamil people vigorously demanded parity of status for their language.
A Tamil individual, Thomas Meadows, working at Amparai, had shown great interest in the truth. Along with Brothers Abraham and Campbell, Ray Matthews, the circuit overseer, had traveled the forty-two miles from Batticaloa to visit him. While they were having a Bible discussion, a riotous, shrieking Sinhalese mob charged down the road, wrecking Tamil homes and ill-treating any Tamils they could find. With the help of a Sinhalese neighbor—and possibly angelic protection—the brothers and the Meadows family escaped.
Thereafter, Thomas Meadows progressed so rapidly that within two months he started in the field service. After retirement, he became a special pioneer. Incidentally, a Hindu friend who was visiting him the night of the riot also accepted the truth, symbolizing his dedication to Jehovah in December 1956. He, too, eventually became a special pioneer.
Language riots broke out again in May of 1958, and many atrocities were committed. But loving consideration was shown among the brothers as they moved around in a very tense situation to see if all were safe. Because of remaining neutral and cooperating with the authorities, not one of our brothers was harmed.—John 17:16.
ANOTHER HELPFUL VISIT
Among the joyful theocratic events in Ceylon was the second visit of Brother Knorr, from December 31, 1956, to January 3, 1957. An assembly was planned to coincide with his visit, and there was extensive advertising of the public talk “New World Peace in Our Time.” For example, four large banners were put up in strategic places and a transportation company carried a hundred bus posters free of charge. Needless to say, everyone was delighted to see a dignified, respectful audience of 435 present for the lecture at Colombo’s Town Hall.
A LOOK AT THE CASTE SYSTEM
In January 1958, Ian and Sheila Campbell, as well as Henry Abraham, left to attend the thirty-first class of Gilead School. They returned that September as Ceylon’s own first Gilead graduates. The Campbells worked out of the Colombo missionary home and Brother Abraham out of the one at Jaffna, where Brother and Sister Harold Gluyas then served.
Concerning Jaffna, Sister Gluyas says: “Here we learned for the first time how strong a hold the caste system has, even among the so-called Christians. On one occasion when we held a [Watch Tower Society] film showing at the home of an interested person who was a nominal Christian, another ‘Christian’ person said that he would not be able to attend, as he would offend his relations, they being of a supposedly higher caste.” Often when Bible studies were conducted in “Christian” homes, some neighbors would come but maintain their imagined lower status by sitting on the floor while others used chairs.
DIVINE WILL ASSEMBLY
The Divine Will International Assembly of Jehovah’s Witnesses, held in New York city during the summer of 1958, was a grand Christian event. But the brothers in Ceylon had their own Divine Will Assembly at Colombo on October 23-26, 1958. All were thrilled with the spiritual food and the new publications, especially the book From Paradise Lost to Paradise Regained. With its simple language and many illustrations, this publication proved to be a valuable instrument for the disciple-making work.
In just two months after the shipment was received, 1,044 copies of the Paradise book were placed. Perhaps because of having such a fine aid, the Bible study work increased by 38 percent during the year.
It might be mentioned that Brother I. R. David began sharing in the field service at the 1958 Divine Will Assembly. He was baptized at a convention in Jaffna on April 30, 1960, and soon was conducting fifteen home Bible studies. One was held with a Mr. Cassim, who became the first Muslim to embrace true worship in Ceylon.
INTERNAL PROBLEMS ARISE
Spiritual prosperity and unity were being enjoyed by Jehovah’s people in Ceylon. But then some internal trouble developed. Satan found opportunity to use his old method of promoting immoral conduct. In 1951 some changes became necessary for the advancement of the work. Accordingly, Brother C. A. Tareha, a missionary, was appointed to care for the circuit work. In December Brother and Sister King opened a new missionary home in Nuwara Eliya, high up among the tea estates, where practically no preaching work had been done.
In January 1962, Ray Matthews took over the duties of branch overseer. These developments helped all to realize that individuals are not indispensable. Rather than looking to humans, Christians must look to and rely upon Jehovah God.—Ps. 37:5; Prov. 28:25.
BROTHER HENSCHEL VISITS
Many of the newer brothers had never met a member of the Watch Tower Society’s headquarters staff from Brooklyn, New York. So all were very pleased to learn that Milton G. Henschel would visit Ceylon February 9 through 14, 1962. (It was in 1973, some eleven years later, that he visited a second time.) The United Worshipers District Assembly was scheduled for February 8-11, to coincide with his visit.
Brother Henschel’s loving counsel certainly was appreciated. So was his suggestion on trading literature for whatever the people have, if they lack money. Thereafter, it was interesting to see publishers returning from field service with rice, coconuts, eggs, soap, clothes and the like. Having given something in exchange for the publications, the people were more likely to value them.
KINGDOM HALL CONSTRUCTION
The early 1960’s found the brothers of the Moratuwa Congregation busy constructing the first Kingdom Hall to be owned by Jehovah’s witnesses in Ceylon. Brother B. L. Wooding, the presiding overseer at that time, received a legacy and it could have been expected that he would use the money to go home to New Zealand for a visit. Instead, he used it to realize his dream of a Kingdom Hall for the Moratuwa Congregation. Others helped by pooling their resources and selling possessions.
On May 4, 1963, more than 200 were present for the dedication of this Kingdom Hall. Situated on Galle Road at Ratmalana, it has become a landmark so well known that postcards arrive when addressed simply “Kingdom Hall, Mount Lavinia.”
“EVERLASTING GOOD NEWS” ASSEMBLY
For those in Ceylon, New Delhi was the nearest center on the planned route of the 1963 “Everlasting Good News” Assembly, an around-the-world convention. From Ceylon, 109 were able to make the trip, 32 of whom were pioneers.
A major problem would have been making train connections after the ferry ride between Ceylon and India. “The third-class passengers never get the connecting train; they always have to wait here and go on the next day,” said the Chief Collector of Customs. But the brothers appealed to responsible individuals for cooperation, then prayed to Jehovah. What happened? Why, the customs officials cared for their party separately, and almost before they knew it they were on the extremely crowded train. They had made the connection!
All benefited greatly from the assembly program. And how fine it was to associate with fellow believers from many lands! Several of the delegates were baptized at New Delhi, bringing Ceylon’s immersion total that year to an all-time high of 43.
Brother C. A. Tareha was called to the branch office in November 1963 to become familiar with the routine, as Ray Matthews, the branch overseer, was preparing to attend the thirty-ninth class of Gilead School. Melroy Campbell and Brother A. Gnanasunderam, newly returned from Gilead, began working out of the Jaffna missionary home at about that time.
After Brother Matthews returned from Gilead in February 1965, more emphasis was laid on use of the vernacular languages in the Christian activities. The younger generation, educated either in Sinhalese or Tamil, could not otherwise be reached. Greater use of these languages was encouraged at all congregation meetings, in order to better equip Ceylon’s Kingdom proclaimers to make disciples. Of course, Christian publications were already available in the vernacular. For instance, The Watchtower was first published in Tamil in August 1956, and its first Sinhalese issue was produced in March 1958.
Almost all the parts on the district assembly program in December 1967 were translated into Sinhalese and Tamil, and the presentations were of a high standard. Assembly organization has become quite efficient over the years too, with all departments functioning well. Incidentally, Ceylonese people like their cup of tea in the afternoon, and so a tea break is a must at every assembly. Great quantities of cake and sandwiches are consumed with the tea.
One publication in particular has resulted in marked advancement of the disciple-making work. It is the book The Truth That Leads to Eternal Life. By December 1968, when a small shipment arrived, three chapters already had appeared in the Tamil Watchtower. That very month there was an all-time peak of 445 home Bible studies. With the Truth book a six-month Bible study arrangement was instituted here, as it was elsewhere. Soon reports indicated that new ones were responding quickly to this study arrangement.
“PEACE ON EARTH” ASSEMBLIES
In 1969, the missionaries and a small number of other publishers traveled abroad to attend the “Peace on Earth” International Assemblies. Two missionaries had been lost in death (B. L. Wooding and Frank Stabbing), but after the London assembly, Arthur and Gwynneth Morris, graduates of Gilead’s forty-seventh class, arrived in Colombo.
Most of Ceylon’s delegates to assemblies in various lands had returned by December, when the local “Peace on Earth” Assembly was held. Ten new disciples were baptized at that gathering. Some of them had embraced true Christianity due to the six-month Bible study course with the Truth, book.
GROWTH AMID DIFFICULTIES
April 1970 saw a new peak of 292 publishers. But each publisher still had, on an average, 42,774 persons of the island’s 12,490,000 to reach in witnessing. As they continued preaching to the populace, trouble arose.
Threat of an armed revolution in April 1971, with terrorist activity throughout the country, resulted in the imposing of a curfew. On April 9, when the brothers were about to commemorate Jesus Christ’s death, suddenly a full twenty-four-hour curfew was imposed. This made it impossible to hold meetings. Yet, some family groups faithfully held the celebration at home. In keeping with Scriptural provisions, arrangements were made for all congregations of God’s people to observe the Memorial thirty days later that year. (Compare Numbers 9:9-13.) Some did so in small groups, since the curfew still was in force from 9:00 p.m., making travel difficult. Even with such problems, however, the total attendance came to 615.
FRUITS OF PERSEVERANCE
Despite the problems encountered through the years, the publishers have endeavored to persevere in declaring the good news. Such steadfastness has borne fruit. True, nearly all those responding to Bible truth are nominal Christians. Yet, many who do not profess Christianity read the Society’s literature, and a few former Buddhists and Hindus, for instance, have become Jehovah’s witnesses.
The change from false to true worship can result in quite a transformation. To illustrate: For several years a Hindu native doctor attended meetings in Jaffna. Brother Nadarajah, who had left Hinduism himself, patiently conducted Bible studies with this man. When the doctor first came to the Kingdom Hall, his clothing was unkempt, Hindu “sacred” ash was smeared across his forehead, a red hibiscus was on one ear and most of his hair and beard had been pulled out because of a vow he had made. But each week he would be there, sitting upright in the front, a son on either side of him. Gradually, the power of truth could be seen. His clothing became cleaner, the ash disappeared, along with the flower, and his hair was allowed to grow normally, while the beard was completely shaved off. At home, the family shrine was broken down and other steps were taken so that this man could dedicate his life to Jehovah. Although he did not know English, the big Kingdom smile he exchanged with fellow believers after his baptism showed that he really knew that he was accepted as Brother Gopalan. He progressed quickly, becoming a special pioneer in November 1967. His wife and all his children also became Kingdom proclaimers.
GROWTH BRINGS DELIGHT
Here, as elsewhere, spiraling prices and meager incomes make it difficult to obtain life’s necessities. Also, higher bus and train fares work hardships on some in their preaching work and in traveling to meetings and assemblies. Doubtless these individuals appreciate the fact that an effort often is made to hold circuit assemblies in places where the smallest number of publishers have to travel.
Though there are various problems, Jehovah continues to promote growth, and with this the brothers are happy indeed. During the past service year they reached a peak of 529 Kingdom proclaimers, and the Memorial attendance for 1975 was 1,377. During the “Divine Sovereignty” District Assembly in the month of August they were delighted to have an attendance of 912, and another assembly was yet to be held. Now, looking ahead, they are confident that the fourteen existing congregations on the island will prosper as God keeps making things grow.—1 Cor. 3:5-9.
It also brings them delight that more are sharing in the pioneer work. Likely, a number will yet become special pioneers, able to go to new areas and help to establish congregations. This seems essential, as there are well over ten million inhabitants of Sri Lanka who have not yet heard the good news.
During the first century, Jesus’ followers ‘reaped’ by gathering responsive Jews as his disciples. Similarly, for years those in Sri Lanka have been “gathering fruit for everlasting life.” But there is more to do and they joyously press on with their God-given work, confident that they will continue to enjoy divine blessing. It appears that here the fields still “are white for harvesting,” and there are thrilling prospects ahead in the Kingdom-preaching and disciple-making work.—John 4:34-38.
[Picture on page 252]
Sri Lanka’s happy pioneers at the end of 1958
[Picture on page 255]
Branch office and missionary home in Colombo since 1967