Land of the Incas. That is Peru, once the domain of the Inca empire. Today it is the home of some 17,000,000 people, among them the Quechua Indians, whose forebears founded the highly developed Inca civilization of over seven centuries ago.
Out of every 100 Peruvians of today, approximately 46 are either Quechua or Aymara Indians. For the most part, the balance of the populace are of mixed Indian and white descent. Actually, the towering Andes mountains, which split the country into an arid coastal region on the west and a luxuriant and steaming jungle on the east, have had much to do with the ethnic groupings of Peru’s inhabitants. In the jungle areas there are dozens of Indian tribes with customs and languages quite different from those of the “altiplano” Indians living in the lofty heights of the Andes. In the 1,400-mile (2,300-kilometer) Pacific coastal region are found the majority of Peru’s Spanish residents, not a few of whom have mixed in with the original inhabitants of the land.
To the north of Peru lie Ecuador and Colombia. Eastward are the countries of Brazil and Bolivia, and to the south is Chile.
It was to this country, the ancient Land of the Incas, that the Spanish conqueror, Francisco Pizarro, came in the sixteenth century C.E. Accompanying him, in 1535, were priests and friars from Spain. For that newly introduced Catholic religion to “stick,” the priests found it convenient to adopt many Indian traditions, customs and ideas. Never has the Catholic Church in Peru totally rooted out the age-old practices of the descendants of the sun-worshiping Incas. Hence, spiritism, animism and the worship of the dead all have been smeared over lightly with a veneer of Catholicism, and modern-day Peru is a land of fusion religion. But through the hills, mountains and valleys of this ancient Land of the Incas, spiritual light has been shining. (Ps. 43:3) How did this grand development have its start?
SPIRITUAL LIGHT BEGINS SHINING
During the 1930’s, traveling witnesses of Jehovah passed through Peru, leaving Bible literature here and there. Also, friends in other lands lovingly sent Christian publications to relatives in this country and urged them to look into the pages of God’s Word. In time, some of this literature found its way into a number of secondhand bookstores in Lima, the capital.
It was in one of these stores, during 1938, that Victor Lura came across a book entitled “The Harp of God.” That title enthralled him! “Was it possible that God had a harp? Indeed, what manner of harp would it be?” mused Mr. Lura. Buying the book for an insignificant price, he lost no time “devouring” its contents. Like a beautiful melody played on a ten-stringed harp, the newly acquired book brought its reader joy as it clarified ten fundamental teachings of the Holy Scriptures. How these truths differed from Catholic doctrine and his own Pentecostal belief!
Soon, Mr. Lura was back in the bookstore, combing it thoroughly for more publications of the Watch Tower Society. He found several. At that time, he was the janitor at the local meeting place of the Pentecostals. As the months progressed, Mr. Lura felt compelled to copy from these valued books excerpts that exposed evolution and spiritism. Moved with zeal, he had these portions printed, at his own expense, as handbills. Out these went to many residents of Lima and nearby Callao. During that period, Mr. Lura met a young lady, Lastenia Casana, who also attended Pentecostal meetings. In 1939 they were married, and together they pored over Bible prophecies so clearly outlined in the Christian publications they both prized so highly.
One day in 1943, Victor rushed home with electrifying news. “One of Jehovah’s Witnesses is in town,” he excitedly told his wife. Freida Johnson, a full-time Kingdom proclaimer traveling along South America’s west coast, had stopped in Lima. She had been witnessing to an evangelical woman, and the lady kindly had offered Sister Johnson accommodations in her home near the top of a large hill at the edge of the city. The house lacked sewerage facilities and running water, and had only straw mats for walls. But it sufficed. Our intrepid pioneer, though in her sixties, bathed in the river Rimac along with the local residents.
Without delay, Victor Lura went to meet Sister Johnson. At long last he had come in contact with Jehovah’s own people! A meeting was arranged for that very evening, and friends and neighbors were invited. That first meeting was not too successful. Mostly Pentecostals were present, and they did not let Sister Johnson say very much, always interrupting her with their own pet religious phrases. So, invitations to the meeting to be held the next night were extended only to those who had manifested real interest in Bible truth. At that gathering, Sister Johnson gave a concise, pointed witness touching repeatedly on the establishment of God’s kingdom in the heavens in 1914. A number of listeners were convinced. Among them were Pedro Garay and Victor Romero.
Sister Johnson remained in Lima for four days, witnessing and encouraging newly interested ones. Following through with her Christian commission, she sent their names and addresses to the Watch Tower Society’s headquarters in Brooklyn, New York. Then she left for Huancayo, in central Peru, and thereafter headed southward. Later, Peruvian Witnesses learned that Sister Johnson had died around 1945 during a bout with malaria at Medellín, Colombia.
Victor Lura, Pedro Garay and Victor Romero got together $20 and sent that sum to the Watch Tower Society in Brooklyn. They keenly desired information about what they could do to spread the “good news.” Just a month later, literature arrived, along with a phonograph and recorded Bible talks in Spanish. At times, letters and instructions arrived. Although these were in English, Victor Romero knew that language and translated them. So it was that, in 1943 and 1944, spiritual light was beginning to spread out in the ancient Land of the Incas.
CONTACT UPBUILDS US SPIRITUALLY
One of Victor Lura’s letters to the Society asked if help could be sent to Lima. The thrilling reply was that missionaries were indeed being prepared to go forth as witnesses “to the most distant part of the earth.” (Acts 1:8) Thus hope was kindled for the eventual arrival in Peru of missionaries trained at the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead. In fact, on June 10, 1944, the Watchtower Society’s president, N. H. Knorr, had called into his office seven missionaries and had told them that their assignment would be Peru.
But something very significant was to take place before those missionaries arrived. The small group in Lima learned that Brothers N. H. Knorr and F. W. Franz would pay them a visit, arriving on February 26, 1945. What joy of heart there was at the thought of having contact with Jehovah’s organization through association with these brothers!
The long-awaited day finally arrived. Five joyful brothers and interested persons were at Lima’s airport, vigorously waving La Atalaya (the Spanish edition of The Watchtower) as the incoming plane roared to a halt. Soon enthusiastic greetings were exchanged, and visitors and Peruvians alike were looking forward to a gathering at the home of Victor Lura.
That evening, eight expectant faces were turned toward the speaker, Brother Knorr, as he outlined the great responsibilities resting upon those desiring to serve Jehovah God. For one thing, Christian meetings should be held regularly. The problem of getting missionaries into Peru was mentioned. This would not be easy since the country had concordat relations with the Vatican. Moreover, the president of Peru had ruled that, with the exception of Roman Catholicism, no organization would be permitted to hold religious exercises in public. The penalty for doing so? Two to 30 days in prison and a fine of from two to 50 soles, or either one of these penalties. But how did Brother Knorr’s listeners feel about all of this? They were fearless and determined to spread the Kingdom message from house to house. It was with that spirit that the meeting was adjourned.
After a trip southward, the visitors were back in Lima on March 26. Eighteen people were crowded into the meeting place that night, four of them being the two travelers from Brooklyn and Brothers Albert Mann and Jack Powers, Gilead School graduates who were stopping over in Lima briefly before heading for their assignments to the south. Using Brother Franz as his interpreter from English into Spanish, Brother Knorr highlighted the importance of making return visits. He also discussed the possibility of organizing a local congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Did the new ones desire that? Indeed they did! Also, a number of those present expressed their wish to be baptized in symbol of their “consecration,” or dedication, to Jehovah. It was arranged that Brothers Mann and Powers should return the next evening for another meeting and that they should also come back the following night to celebrate the Memorial of Christ’s death. That occasion provided the opportunity for the first Christian baptism in Peru. Three persons then symbolized their dedication to God, one of them being Pedro Garay.
MISSIONARIES LEND A HAND
The government had refused entry to Witness missionaries. However, in October 1945 the Society arranged for two Gilead graduates from Bolivia to get in touch with the Department of Foreign Affairs in order to find out what was holding up the visas for our missionaries. Through inquiry, it was learned that by coming into the country as tourists, and then paying $25 per person, missionaries could in time get their visas to remain here. So it was that after much correspondence and many efforts eight Gilead missionaries finally arrived in Peru on October 20, 1946. That original group included Walter and Christine Akin and Nellena and Verda Pool, who would spend decades here aiding sheeplike ones.
So, late in 1946, they were here—eight enthusiastic missionaries. Now what? Before them was a newly opened territory. ‘A large door leading to activity had swung open to them.’ (1 Cor. 16:9) They had a new language to master. But, first things first. Although not knowing Spanish, they sought and found hotel accommodations, limited though these were. The four single girls piled into one room, a room that had neither lock nor bars on the door. Being wary of foreign surroundings, they took the precaution of stacking all the furniture against the door before retiring that night.
House-hunting while lacking knowledge of the language and of currency values proved to be quite a job. During their second week in Peru, the missionaries found a house for rent, but it proved to be too expensive; and a month later another house was rented. The sisters carried their baggage and few possessions, while Brother Akin took the heavier things in a taxi. But, at least, they were getting settled.
The first meeting of the missionaries with the interested persons living in Rimac showed that the new ones needed much help. Therefore, the Lura family and the Garays were invited to attend meetings in the new missionary home. At the first congregation meeting held there, just four Peruvians were present with the missionaries.
During those early weeks, when much incidental witnessing was done by the missionaries, it became evident that they should quickly learn the language of Peru. So, it was decided that the group would take a two-month course in Spanish at the Peruvian-North American Cultural Institute. Each paid for his own course. Now they had to prepare for their studies and they had to do more talking in Spanish. A concerted effort was put forth to increase their vocabulary. While walking to and from classes, street names and words appearing on various signs were laboriously pronounced and one missionary would correct another. But they were making progress, much to their delight.
Learning Spanish has been an “adventure” for many Gilead-trained missionaries assigned to Peru, and teaching methods have been varied. For instance, during one period these newcomers were given intensive instruction for two months after their arrival. During the first month, for eleven hours a day, they virtually “soaked” themselves in Spanish. For the second month, half of their time was spent studying the language at home and the other half was devoted to using that knowledge in field service. Of course, the newer missionaries just learning Spanish could always benefit from listening to their “older” brothers speaking in that tongue as they sat together sipping cups of coffee around the kitchen table in a missionary home.
Unquestionably, though, the best language training was received in the field service. On the “testimony card,” used some years ago in the Kingdom-preaching work, there was a fine witness printed in Spanish, and the householder could be asked to read this card. However, the new missionaries also learned short presentations that they were able to recite, parrotlike. So, how might matters go at the door? Edna Waterfall, one of the later missionaries to come into Peru, admits:
“I’ll never forget the first house at which I had to give a witness all by myself. Jehovah gave me the strength to get through it. . . . I broke out in a cold sweat. The maid asked me what I wanted, and I asked for the lady of the house. . . . I quietly prayed to Jehovah for help, the maid reappeared, and I was ushered into the living room. An elderly lady came, smiled kindly, and sat down to listen to what I had to say. I stumbled through my memorized sermon, showed her the testimony card, and offered her the book ‘The Kingdom Is at Hand’ in Spanish. She took the book and I arranged for a Bible study, but that was the end of my Spanish. As I was sitting there wondering how to make a graceful exit, I think she realized my situation. She smiled and then said, in perfect English: ‘All right, that is all very fine. I will study with you and we will do it all in Spanish to help you learn Spanish.’ Shocked, I said: You know English? And you let me do all of that in my wobbly Spanish?’ ‘It was good for you,’ she replied. It was, too, and we had a wonderful study.”
OFF TO A GOOD START IN LIMA
On December 5, 1946, a prayer of thanksgiving went up to Jehovah as the missionaries received official notice that they could stay in Peru as nonimmigrant residents. Ah, that was fine! It was then that the normal door-to-door witnessing work began. The missionaries were delighted because they could now use their time and energies fully in declaring the “good news.”
The original group of eight missionaries divided Lima into eight territories. It fell to Brother and Sister Akin to work the section called Lince, which proved to be a very fruitful field. How could Sister Akin ever forget witnessing at her first door there? She presented her testimony card to the lady of the house, read a verse or two from the Spanish Bible, and mentioned the contribution for the literature. The lady seemed interested, rattled off something in Spanish, and started to push Sister Akin down the street. They came to a halt in front of a tailor shop. The lady pointed to her wedding ring, and it dawned on Sister Akin that she wanted her to talk to her husband, the tailor. Imagine our sister’s surprise at seeing, not just one, but five tailors in that shop! With a prayer in her heart to Jehovah, she courageously gave a witness and offered the book “The Truth Shall Make You Free.” All five men tried to converse with Sister Akin, and finally the owner pointed to her wedding ring. That meant, Come back with your husband. Well, this led to a home Bible study and to some “letters of recommendation,” eventual associates in Jehovah’s service. (2 Cor. 3:1-3) Years later the Akins could point to their “letters” resulting from that first Bible study in Lima. Luis and Adriana Sanchez later became regular pioneers. Another of those five tailors, Flavio Ramos, eventually became a special pioneer in Lima. One young man who accepted the book from Sister Akin in that tailor shop later became a special pioneer serving high in the Andes.
As our work spread out in the capital city, it found its way into Barrios Altos, the oldest section of colonial Lima. There, many of our books were placed in one of the large passageways or “interiors.” When the Witnesses returned to continue their work, a man came out of one of the houses looking for Nellena Pool. He had accepted the book “The Truth Shall Make You Free” from her companion, Lastenia Lura, a week earlier and had read all of it. The man had a long list of questions, and in time he got his answers. Before long, this man—Leopoldo Sanchez—was attending Christian meetings and engaging in field service. He was baptized in January 1948, and four years later he became the first special pioneer to be enrolled from among the local brothers in Peru.
INTO THE INTERIOR
By mid-1947 some 20 persons were attending Christian meetings in Lima. But what about other parts of the country? Well, the missionaries’ first venture outside the capital into Peru’s interior was undertaken in June 1947. The Garay family, associated with God’s people since 1943, had property in Huancayo. That city, high in the Andes and about 12 hours by train from the capital, was in typical Indian territory. And what was the predominant language? Quechua—the age-old language of the Incas.
Sister Maria Garay was witnessing diligently at Huancayo and was finding interested ones there. She was using a testimony card, and, in place of a briefcase, she had one of our magazine bags over her shoulder. No, Sister Garay was not doing magazine street work. That was not permitted in Peru. The law of the land prohibited any religions, other than the Roman Catholic State religion, from going into the streets for any type of religious activity. That would be defined as proselyting. Also, whereas in most parts of the world Jehovah’s Witnesses speak of themselves as “placing” literature with people for a nominal contribution, in Peru we are considered officially as “book salesmen.” So, we are viewed as “selling” Bibles from house to house, something that is permitted by law.
At any rate, Sister Garay was busy in God’s service, although she was not having an easy time of it. Priests followed her from door to door and confiscated the literature she left with the people. These clerics also urged the young boys of the neighborhood to throw stones at her and to cry out “Heretic,” or “Protestant.” Nevertheless, sufficient interest in Bible truth had been sparked at Huancayo to warrant a visit from Lima’s Witness missionaries.
Going ‘over the hump’ to Huancayo is a unique experience indeed. The train grinds its way upward to almost 16,000 feet (4,800 meters) before beginning the long descent toward the valley and the city of Huancayo, situated at an altitude of about 10,950 feet (3,340 meters). Lack of sufficient oxygen affects many travelers by causing splitting headaches, giddiness or even attacks of fainting and vomiting.
Upon arrival, the missionaries had a joyful reunion with Sister Garay. Help and counsel were given, a congregation of God’s people was established, and, at the end of the 1948 service year, five Kingdom publishers were reporting field service at Huancayo.
SPREADING TRUTH WITH MAGAZINES
By the late 1940’s, increased use of The Watchtower and Awake! was opening the way for many new ones to come into association with Jehovah’s people in Peru. At that time, about 1948, each full-time Kingdom proclaimer was being sent seven free copies of each issue. Distribution was increasing, but not all the brothers were placing their magazines. So, these began to accumulate. Then some of the missionaries got an idea—‘Why don’t we make a special day and go out and place those magazines?’ Soon several missionaries in the Rimac area of Lima were using magazines in their witnessing work every Saturday. Noticing their success in this activity, others joined them. Before long, therefore, every Saturday the local Witnesses were busily engaged in presenting just our magazines to people at their doors. And, in a short time, more and more magazines were being requested for this productive activity.
Later, when Brother Knorr came to Peru, he was very interested in learning why so many more magazines were being distributed in Lima than in various other places. The reason? Why, the brothers and sisters were using them every Saturday for group magazine work! Was it then that the idea of having a regular “Magazine Day” took hold? We in Peru are not sure, but that seems quite possible. At any rate, many magazine routes were developed and numerous Bible studies were started as a result of magazine placements.
BRANCH OFFICE ESTABLISHED
Excitement ran high in early 1949 when we learned that N. H. Knorr and his secretary, M. G. Henschel, were to pay us a visit. Accordingly, on March 5, some 50 brothers and interested ones greeted the travelers upon their arrival at Lima’s airport. Coinciding with the visit was an assembly held in the Kingdom Hall of the missionary home at 256 Ramón Dagnino. We were delighted to see 224 persons present for Brother Knorr’s public talk “It Is Later than You Think!” During this visit, a large group of Witnesses went out to one of the beaches where 20 persons were baptized.
But Peruvian Christians were in for a surprise. A little later Brother Knorr delighted the missionaries by explaining one of the principal reasons for his visit. What was that? The Watch Tower Society was establishing a branch office in Peru. One of the missionaries was appointed as the first branch overseer.
Starting in October 1950 the new branch suffered an upset of sorts. The original branch overseer was replaced and his responsibilities were assumed by Robert Hoyt, a graduate of Gilead’s fifteenth class. Our work in Lima was expanding rapidly, and so at the year’s end, a new missionary home was established in the San Isidro area of the capital. Also, the branch office-missionary home was moved to a new location, on Pasaje Velarde, nearer the center of Lima. Immediately, Brother Hoyt started getting the branch well organized and ready for the hard work ahead.
INTO THE PROVINCES
Now that the new branch office had been organized, our activities were expanding. For instance, public talks were being prepared and presented in various places. Even so, the great amount of work to be done in this country, then having a population of some 7,000,000, staggered the imagination. How earnestly the brothers prayed that the “Master of the harvest” might send out more workers! (Matt. 9:37, 38) Soon the answer was forthcoming. Twenty-one new missionaries of Gilead’s thirteenth class were on their way to Peru. They arrived in the months of December 1949 and January 1950. Six were sent north to Trujillo. The large southern city of Arequipa was the destination of seven others. And a missionary home for eight workers was set up at Callao, Peru’s major seaport situated eight miles (13 kilometers) west of Lima.
Being a port city, Callao had a high degree of crime and immorality. Nevertheless, Kingdom-preaching activities proved fruitful there. In fact, some individuals were found who had been contacted years earlier by Victor Lura when he had distributed tracts in that seaport city. Before long, a number of Callao’s residents were attending Christian meetings. Among them were Arturo Guzman and his wife, as well as Manuel Calderon, Victor Cespedes and the Carlos Vega family. Today six lively congregations with a total of 367 Kingdom proclaimers are declaring the “good news” in Callao.
Arequipa proved to be ‘a tough nut to crack.’ For years this town has been known as the “Little Vatican,” for its populace is steeped in Catholic tradition and custom. The new missionary home there became the center for congregational meetings and activities. Progress was slow, although interest was found after diligent house-to-house searching. On one occasion, however, things worked out the other way around—an interested person earnestly looked for the truth. A young man, Eliseo Balboa, spied a “gringo” sitting alone in a park reading a book. Why had he come to Peru? Mr. Balboa wanted to know. The brother, Horace Criss, explained that he was a Christian, a minister. That struck Mr. Balboa as rather strange because all the ministers he knew wore long, black robes. So it was that a witness began, and it led to a Bible study.
After just a few studies, Mr. Balboa left Arequipa in search of secular work. In time, he went to Callao, where he kept inquiring about Jehovah’s Witnesses and their meeting place. Finally, he met Sister Charlotte Barron, who was distributing magazines from stand to stand in the marketplace. Obtaining the branch address from her, Mr. Balboa attended a few Christian meetings. Then his search for secular work took him away once more, this time to a vanadium mining camp at Jumasha, high in the Andes. However, contact was maintained through correspondence with the branch office. Also, despite a long and arduous trip, Robert Hoyt visited Mr. Balboa. This strengthened the young man spiritually and also afforded opportunity to help him with the witness work, which he carried on alone thereafter. Later, returning to Arequipa, Brother Balboa was helped spiritually by the missionaries to the point of entering the full-time preaching work.
Up north, in Trujillo, missionary Harvey Conrow found sheeplike Encarnacion Leiva. She virtually soaked up Bible truth, but only by ear, since she could neither read nor write. However, being a determined 51-year-old woman at the time, she obtained a book that could help her to understand letters and how to group them into words. With the aid of her daughters, she soon was able to read and write, becoming an able Kingdom proclaimer in Trujillo. As she later admitted, without the truth behind her as an incentive, she never would have made the attempt to become literate. Sister Leiva died in 1967, an able and faithful witness of Jehovah.
The Theocracy’s Increase Assembly on July 30 through August 6, 1950, at New York city’s famed Yankee Stadium aroused excitement here in Peru. Twelve missionaries made the trip, accompanied by three local publishers. The humble and loving Peruvian Witnesses who were left behind thought they never would see the missionaries again. Not so, however! All of them returned to their assignments.
HOODLUMS IN CHOSICA
In 1950 Emil and Clara Müller moved from Switzerland to Chosica, an inland city about an hour’s ride east of Lima. Later, pioneer Leopoldo Sanchez contacted them while witnessing in this town, where Brother Müller was working at the hydroelectric plant. Still later, in July 1955, special pioneer Betty Myers began to serve in Chosica.
One day Sister Myers knocked at the door of a lady who proved to be a fanatical Catholic and a close friend of the local priest. The woman was furious that one of Jehovah’s Witnesses should be knocking at her door. Sister Myers and her young pioneer associate had gone just a short way down the street when the enraged lady, together with a gang of young boys, hoodlums, accosted them.
Just what did the two Witnesses think they were doing in that Catholic neighborhood? The mob wanted to know. Why, they were doing a good Christian work and had every right to do it, replied Sister Myers! Soon the priest was on the scene. He demanded that the two Witnesses leave at once. But the young pioneer sister, who once had been the Catholic girl friend of that very priest, asked him to show her where the Bible said she should not be out preaching the “good news.” It was his turn to be furious. After all, she had put her onetime boyfriend on the spot in front of those young hoodlums.
The situation was almost comical, but what followed was not. As the two sisters turned away and started down the road, the boys began to pelt them with mud balls packed with small stones. These were thrown until the two Christians were completely covered with mud. One stone cut the young pioneer sister on the ear, and it bled profusely. Finally, an elderly black gentleman—himself an ardent Catholic—called them into his patio-garden and shamed the boys away.
Sister Myers went directly to the police station, reported the incident, and requested protection. As a result, a plainclothes policeman was assigned to accompany the sisters in their work. Not long thereafter, several of the boys tried to repeat their stone-throwing harassment. But the plainclothesman caught them, got their names, and ‘laid down the law’ to their families. That stopped the mob action in Chosica.
A NEW ARRANGEMENT FOR MISSIONARIES
Gilead-trained missionaries continued to come into Peru in considerable numbers during the early 1950’s. For instance, by the end of 1952, 46 missionaries had come to this country. Of that number, 20 had left, some of them due to dissatisfaction with missionary life. But, 26 remained active in the Peruvian field.
In the year 1952 a different arrangement was made for missionaries coming into Peru. No longer could they be brought in as instructors, as had formerly been the case. They had to come into the country as tourists. Once having entered Peru, they were enrolled in San Marcos University, the oldest in the western hemisphere. They studied the language and, on that basis, could apply for a permanent residency permit as students. Only when they received their permanent carnets, or official papers, were they able to carry on their missionary activities as did the other Gilead graduates. This arrangement was quite effective and lasted for about four years.
‘AND THEN, TO CHINA’?
During early 1953 our attention was focused on the New World Society Assembly to be held in New York city, from July 19 to 26. Charter flights carried 20 missionaries and a couple of Peruvian Witnesses, along with about 18 brothers from Bolivia, to the assembly city. Soon after that spiritually rewarding convention, more missionaries arrived in Peru. But it was toward the very end of 1953 that Kingdom proclaimers in this land enjoyed an especially upbuilding event.
In December 1953, Brothers N. H. Knorr and M. G. Henschel visited Peru. After days of searching, we had found a highly suitable meeting place for that occasion, the Salón Majestic in Pueblo Libre, a residential section of Lima.
Particularly memorable was a comment made by Brother Knorr during his final assembly talk. Why were the missionaries in Peru? To help the Peruvian brothers attain the necessary maturity to be able to reach out and shoulder various responsibilities in the congregation of God’s people, Brother Knorr indicated. Once that was accomplished, he said, the missionaries would be freed for work in other fields. “And then,” he remarked, looking around the hall, “we will send the missionaries to China!” Of course, that did not happen. Nevertheless, Brother Knorr certainly had made clear the privileges and responsibilities of Peru’s missionaries.
As it was, we had plenty to do among the Peruvian people themselves. Accordingly, a feature of our work that opened up in 1953 and was being pushed ahead with more vigor during 1954 was that of caring for unassigned territory. The congregations from Lima and Callao spread out into all the surrounding districts, intent on declaring the “good news.” Callao’s Witnesses went down as far as Cañete and Chincha Alta, while those from Lima headed out to Puente Piedra, Ancón and Huaral.
A TIME OF SPIRITUAL STRENGTHENING
Aside from the 26 missionaries serving in Peru during 1952, there were 260 Kingdom publishers associated with the seven congregations then functioning. There were two congregations in Lima, as well as one each in Callao, Arequipa, Trujillo, Chosica and Huancayo. Three years later, in 1955, the average number of publishers in Peru was 460, with a peak of 563.
With the continuing increase during this general period, it became necessary to give attention to the spiritual strengthening of Peruvian Christians. For one thing, consideration had to be given to the upbringing of children, not allowing them to be contaminated with false religious teachings. The law requires that the national Catholic religion be taught in all the schools. Nevertheless, non-Catholics may apply for and receive exemption from this religious instruction. Hence, it was necessary to prepare letters to the effect that a certain person was one of Jehovah’s Witnesses and was receiving adequate religious training from other sources. These letters were submitted to the school authorities and applications were considered by the Ministry of Education before exemption was granted. Particularly from that time onward have Peruvian Witnesses used this method to prevent the exposure of their school-age children to the false teachings and practices of Babylon the Great.
It also became necessary to place great emphasis on the need for moral cleanness. Some men in Peru have lived with one, two or three women at the same time, and might have had children by each woman. In other cases, a man and woman might be living together in a respectable home with several children but had never legalized their union. So, some serious decisions had to be made in an effort to ensure that marriage received the honor it Scripturally should. (Heb. 13:4) While individual circumstances have varied, it seems sufficient to say that a number of today’s Peruvian Christians have the deep satisfaction of knowing that they have resolved their moral problems in a godly way.
CIRCUIT WORK A CHALLENGE
Back in 1953, the entire country of Peru comprised just one circuit. When Sidney Fraser became the branch overseer in that year, Robert Hoyt began serving in the field as the circuit overseer. It was quite a challenge to travel throughout the land visiting the seven congregations and the various isolated groups manifesting interest in Bible truth.
During one unforgettable trip, Brother Hoyt had to sit for nearly 20 hours in the back of a truck on a load of dried fish that was being carried to the sierra. Hotel accommodations in the sierra always left something to be desired. Communal rooms were favored there. In one room there were many beds, available for any man or woman who happened to come along and needed a place to sleep. Making good use of the chain and padlock he customarily carried with him, Brother Hoyt chained his suitcase to the head of one bed and went off to find a bathroom or its equivalent. Upon returning, he found a woman in his bed! She had decided that she was going to sleep there. Since there was no other bed available, this posed a problem. But there was evidence of priority padlocked to the head of that bed! Happily, the hotel administrator managed to straighten things out so that our circuit overseer got that bed for himself and enjoyed a much-needed night’s rest.
Naturally, as Jehovah prospered our Christian activities, circuits grew in number, and more circuit assemblies were scheduled. At one of these, held in the Surquillo section of Lima, among persons in attendance was a dentist, whose wife opposed him bitterly. When he arrived, it was quite noticeable that he was wearing his bedroom slippers. What had happened? “Well,” he said, “my wife hid my shoes to stop me from coming. But here I am.” Yes, there may be large or small obstacles to overcome, but how important it is that we remain firm in the truth!
FILM SHOWINGS AID MANY
A new feature of our work had its start in Peru during 1954—the use of motion pictures to aid persons spiritually. The first of these films produced by the Watch Tower Society was entitled “The New World Society in Action.” What an impression it made on viewers! Hundreds flocked to see this movie that provided fine insight on the activities of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
One place where this film was shown was a workers’ hall in the Andean mining town of Casapalca, situated at an elevation of 15,000 feet (4,600 meters). The hall was next to a hydroelectric plant, and consequently the voltage was very high. Although the projector was set at its slowest position, the film raced along at a speed faster than the script-reader could maintain. Add to that the rarefied atmosphere at that elevation, which made breathing difficult. As you might imagine, a few gaps were evident here and there. Nevertheless, all those present enjoyed the presentation.
At a circuit assembly film showing in Callao during September 1954, everything went well when running the first reel. But the projector’s take-up spool ceased to function during the second reel. Oh, the film was going through the machine all right! When we finally became aware of the malfunction, there was a pile of film all over the floor. Yes, a few minutes passed while the brothers wound it up by hand. For the rest of that showing, the take-up reel had to be turned manually, but the show went on.
In later years, the Society’s film “Proclaiming ‘Everlasting Good News’ Around the World” was shown throughout Peru, and it certainly struck a mighty blow against Babylon the Great, the world empire of false religion. At Toquepala it was shown to an audience of 3,251. True to type, a certain priest had done his best to hinder the exhibition of the film. Not being able to do so, he sneaked into the dark hall after the film showing had started, obviously curious about it. Well, the film ended, the lights went on, and there he was in plain sight. Becoming very self-conscious, the priest got up and sort of danced out of the hall, childishly and loudly singing: “Babylon the Great has fallen. Babylon the Great has fallen.” Present were many Catholics who watched their priest make this ‘Babylonish’ spectacle of himself.
MISSIONARY ENTRY EASED
As of the year 1955, all missionaries coming into Peru were still entering as tourists and going to San Marcos University while endeavoring to obtain residency papers. However, while witnessing from door to door in Lince shortly after her arrival in this country, missionary Lucille Rapraeger called at the home of an official of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He recognized that she was working as a missionary and, of course, obtained her name.
Several days later, Nellena and Verda Pool, as well as Sister Rapraeger, met up with a lawyer with whom Nellena had placed literature. Calling her aside, he said: “Nellena, one of your missionaries is in trouble.” What did he mean? Well, while in the Office of Foreign Affairs, this lawyer had noticed that Sister Rapraeger’s application for permanency papers was lying on a desk, ready for refusal. Evidently, this was a result of her earlier call at the home of that official of the Ministry. Immediately, the matter was reported to the branch office of the Society.
This lawyer, who already had shown interest in Jehovah’s Witnesses, was able to use his influence in working out this problem. The missionary stayed in Peru. Through the services of this lawyer, other missionaries were helped into the country—but now as missionaries, not as university students. From that time onward, the Society was able to get visa clearance for missionaries assigned to this country.
COURAGEOUS CHRISTIAN NEUTRALS
Peruvian Christians, young and old, have faced tests involving God and the State. For instance, according to the law, all males reaching 19 years of age must register and perform two years of military service. This posed problems for certain special pioneers sent to witness at Cuzco, Arequipa and elsewhere in the interior back in 1956, for many of them were young men around 19 or 20 years of age.
In fact, many brothers in Peru attempted to file as conscientious objectors and/or ministers, but the authorities recognized only Catholic clerics as religious ministers. Hence, in not a few cases, young Witnesses who sought recognition as ministers were beaten, thrown into filthy jails, and subjected to all kinds of abuse because of their stand as Christian neutrals. (Mic. 4:2, 3; Jas. 1:27) In this country, there never has been an arrangement for exempting from military service individuals who have objections to ‘learning the art of war.’
Maintaining Christian neutrality is also of concern to godly parents and their children. In Peru, schoolchildren must take a course in premilitary training. There is no arrangement for exemption, and at the end of the term anyone not taking the course does not receive recognition for the school year. Such a pupil cannot advance toward getting a diploma. Although several things can be done to help the children get their education in another way, some have compromised and have permitted their youngsters to ‘learn the art of war.’
However, to overcome the problem, one congregation in Chimbote asked if it could organize a class in the Kingdom Hall using volunteers among the brothers to teach the children different subjects. This has worked out well, especially since some Christian activity also is encouraged and participated in after the regular school studies.
Yet, this does not mean that parents and children encounter only minor problems in maintaining Christian neutrality, avoiding idolatry and ascribing salvation to Jehovah. (Ex. 20:4-6; Ps. 3:8) During 1970, for example, in the mining town of Toquepala, 10 Witness children were expelled from school for not saluting the flag and singing the national anthem. In other isolated cases, Christian children have been called before the authorities to explain why they do not take part in such ceremonies.—Mark 13:9; 1 Pet. 3:15.
Because of our stand as Christian neutrals, we have faced problems through the years. For instance, in 1975 we had to change an assembly site from the university city of Trujillo to another town because of a wave of patriotism that had arisen due to the fact that a Witness schoolboy would not participate in singing the national anthem or saluting the flag. Local authorities refused to acknowledge our neutral position, and newspapers in northern Peru carried such banner headlines as, “Jehovah’s witnesses refuse to honor national emblems.” Some articles falsely accused us of “brainwashing” the people by means of a “six month study course” during which we supposedly taught doctrines not in line with the interests of the country.
In Lima, the capital city, a Catholic priest preached the same type of message over the radio twice a day for a week. Actually, however, what he said resulted in a good testimony for the truth. He stated clearly and concisely what we believe, but then floundered around trying to refute our Biblical viewpoint of 1914 and the Trinity doctrine.
Paralleling the adverse publicity, the government decreed that in January 1976 all young men and women 18 years of age were to register for obligatory military service. Of course, Jehovah’s people complied with the law by registering. Since so many young Witnesses were regular pioneers, they were supplied with a certified letter attesting to the fact that their chosen vocation was that of being preachers of God’s Word. As far as is known, all these pioneers chose to prepare a file on their dedicated life of service to Jehovah and to present that material along with an appeal for exemption from military service because they were preachers. In previous years, the Military Manual of Law provided for exemption for members of the clergy or laymen without any specification as to religion. However, something new had now been added, and any application for exemption had to be signed and approved by the archbishopric of the Catholic Church, the State-recognized religion. Nevertheless, our brothers presented their documentary file and application when registering. Although some of these files were not accepted because they lacked a stamp of approval, there was acceptance of others. And, when the first lists were issued in January 1976, it was noted that at least some brothers had received exemption on the basis of their religious activities.
Now that we have rounded out our story of Christian neutrals in this country, let us return to the late 1950’s.
The year 1957 opened with a well-planned visit by Milton G. Henschel of the Society’s headquarters in Brooklyn. Witnesses from all over Peru gathered for the assembly scheduled to coincide with this helpful visit. Only 389 persons were in attendance on the first day. But for the main talk on Sunday the audience numbered 1,044. What a joy it was to see over 1,000 present for the first time at an assembly in this country!
Another assembly “first” was enjoyed in 1958. During that year, for the first time, a district assembly was held in Iquitos—on the banks of the Amazon in the very heart of the jungle. In that equatorial region, rain was unpredictable and plentiful. It was quite paradoxical to hear a brother speaking on The Song of Solomon and saying, ‘Come, my dear one, for the rainy season has passed and the downpour is over,’ while the assembly hall’s tin roof amplified the sound of the torrential downpour of the moment.—Song of Sol. 2:10, 11.
Care had to be taken in choosing a place for the baptism during that assembly. Although the flesh-eating piranha fish are not often found in the Amazon, we could not be sure about the inland rivers and streams. Happily, though, the baptism was held with no casualties.
ASSEMBLING DESPITE DIFFICULTIES
The Divine Will International Assembly of Jehovah’s Witnesses held in New York city during the summer of 1958 caused excitement throughout Peru. Many Witnesses had been saving for that trip, and, when the time came to leave, we had 82 delegates. At the time of departure, it was very touching to see about 350 brothers on the veranda at the airport and to hear them sing Kingdom songs.
Toward the end of 1958, arrangements were being made for a district assembly to be held the following January in the stadium of a Lima soccer club. But the then Director of Government, an ardent Catholic, had decided to close down our assembly, although he did not act until the very day it was to start. All the equipment had been transported to the stadium, the cafeteria groups were preparing the noon meal, and preparations were under way for the afternoon meetings when a truckload of policemen pulled up at the stadium and began to move us out. Efforts to contact the Director of Government were to no avail.
The assembly had to be moved to Lima’s two largest Kingdom Halls, and it was necessary for the speakers to give their talks in both places. Nevertheless, we had a good assembly and the difficulties only served to strengthen the brothers for further trials.
We would like to mention the 1958 assembly talk “Serving Where the Need Is Great Overseas.” It showed that there was a need for more Kingdom proclaimers in many lands. In time, quite a number of individuals and families interested in expanding their service moved to this country. Actually, however, among the first arrivals in Peru was Eileen Sobie, who came from Canada as early as September 1957. But brothers and sisters kept coming. For various reasons, many have had to leave, but we can say that all have contributed something toward building up the faith of their Peruvian brothers and sisters.
While attending the 1958 New York assembly, the branch overseer was told to register the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania upon returning to Peru. Among other things, such registration would be necessary in order to hold property.
Accordingly, the Society was duly registered on April 29, 1959. From that time forward, all property bought by congregations or donated by brothers for building Kingdom Halls has been registered in the name of the Society.
NIGHT OF THE “GREAT DISASTER”
Naturally, not all developments are of major proportions. Sometimes, however, relatively minor incidents can create big problems. So, let us tell you something about what we have humorously called the night of the “great disaster.”
Missionaries Edna Waterfall and Lucille Rapraeger had been sent to Puno, situated on the shores of Lake Titicaca at an elevation of some 12,500 feet (3,800 meters). These sisters had kerosine heaters that did not work just right at that altitude. After a fine meeting in the Kingdom Hall one Sunday evening, Sister Rapraeger went upstairs to the bedroom. But, when she turned on the light, she could not see it or anything else. The heater had been smoking for two hours. Naturally, she turned it off and opened the window before coming downstairs.
Edna Waterfall took one look at Sister Rapraeger and groaned. Why, her face had been blackened by the soot! Everyone trudged upstairs to have a look at the black “snowfall.” Well, a big clean-up job had to be done that evening and the next day. What a task to clean that sticky soot from walls, clothes, blankets and books! But spirits were lifted when 60 persons showed up that week for our first assembly in Puno.
CLERICS FOMENT OPPOSITION
Of course, we have also had serious problems and tests of faith. At times we have encountered outright opposition, even mob violence. For example, consider what happened to missionaries Frances and Elizabeth Good in the remote jungle town of Moyobamba. The only way to get there was by plane, and because it was so isolated the town was very, very religious. The Spanish priests ruled the people with a tight grip and had instilled the feeling that ‘woe would befall anyone daring to speak against the images of the Church.’
Almost as soon as they arrived in Moyobamba, our missionary sisters began witnessing from house to house and started inviting people to come to the newly established Christian meetings in the town. They had invited only a few honest-hearted persons when leaflets began to appear on the streets. The message? “There are two dangerous elements that are in Moyobamba—two women who don’t believe in Hell nor in our images. Do not listen to them; do not accept their literature. Bring any that you have to us and we will take care of it.”
Almost immediately, the two missionaries were the objects of a clergy-inspired campaign of hate. During one Christian meeting a mob of about 50 men and boys led by three priests stormed up to the one-room adobe Kingdom Hall. The sisters had bolted the door shut and it held against the blows of the opposers. But, among other things, the mob threw cow manure all over the outside walls. Also, the two missionaries were threatened with bodily harm if they did not get out of town.
The next day our sisters went to the mayor of the town and explained what had happened. He was appalled, and they formulated a letter of protest to the Prefect of the Department. The sisters received a promise of protection, but the threats and general harassment continued.
The priests promised to give a comic book to every boy that brought one of our publications to the parochial school. Quite some time later, the prefect sent a policeman from Lima to stand outside the Kingdom Hall door while Christian meetings were in progress. The opposers had lost the battle, for up to 26 persons were present at meetings during visits of the circuit overseer, and two sheeplike individuals were baptized despite the clergy-fomented opposition in Moyobamba.
Now, please consider another example of foiled clerical opposition. In November 1959, Reginald and Irene Wallwork opened up the Kingdom-preaching work in Ayacucho. Later, they were joined by Merle Laurens and Phyllis Wepener. As the people began to know these Christians as Jehovah’s Witnesses, it did not take long for the priests to work up opposition. This they did in a subtle way. They went to the political authorities and pressed them to do something about expelling the missionaries from that town. Consequently, one day Brother Wallwork was called into the office of the Investigation Department. There he was plied with many questions, but was also shown a petition signed by nine priests and by the prefect. This paper had been sent to Lima, and so an investigation had been ordered. This could be serious.
Brother Wallwork promptly refuted all the lies spoken by the priests. It was also explained that only recently he had talked to the prefect and found him to be a reasonable man, quite interested in the Bible. What, then, had happened? Well, someone in the prefect’s office was working in cahoots with the priests. That individual had slipped the petition in among other papers so that the prefect had signed the document without really knowing its true nature. All of this was reported to the Society’s branch office and, since our work was well known in Lima, the whole scheme “fell through” without further difficulty.
Of course, the priests were not happy about that. Whenever they passed by the missionary home carrying religious idols during processions, they never failed to stop, look up at the balcony of the home and mutter a few incantations against all those living there.
A TIME FOR EXPANSION
The work of declaring the “good news” was making fine advancement in Peru when Brother N. H. Knorr visited us in December 1959. An assembly was to be held in connection with that visit. However, just the previous year we had been ousted from our chosen assembly site. So, to prevent a recurrence of this, we instituted a writ of habeas corpus against the Director of Government. When confronted with it, he disclaimed any responsibility for what had happened to us the year before and even proclaimed himself a friend of Jehovah’s Witnesses. So, we had a fine assembly in the “U” Stadium where the main talk was attended by well over 2,000 persons. That was almost twice the number of Kingdom publishers in the country. Incidentally, we shelved the writ of habeas corpus, although it is still on file in the Palace of Justice at Lima.
At the time of Brother Knorr’s visit, Bent Pedersen was appointed branch overseer. But expansion was the big item on our visitor’s agenda. Consideration was given to the building of a new branch-missionary home in Lima.
Construction got under way in Miraflores the following June. The Society had acquired two lots covering an area of 7,948 square feet (738 square meters). There a beautiful two-story branch-missionary home was erected. The first floor housed the office and stock rooms, a large entryway and a Kingdom Hall capable of seating 200 persons. On the second floor were living accommodations for 12 missionaries or members of the Bethel family. The new building truly was a “home” in every sense of the word. Construction was completed in October 1961, and the new building was dedicated on the 21st of that month.
It might be mentioned that because of personal responsibilities Brother Pedersen had to leave the missionary field and return to the United States with his wife. So, in April 1961, Brother Don Burt was appointed as branch overseer in Peru.
DISASTER STRIKES ICA
Disciples of Jesus Christ have the identifying mark of love. (John 13:34, 35) How well this was demonstrated in March 1963, when disaster struck the town of Ica, 170 miles (270 kilometers) southeast of Lima! Because mistakes were made by those controlling the floodgates on the river, the town and many vineyards were inundated. The waters swept away the local Kingdom Hall, as well as many homes, including those of some Witnesses.
However, Christian love went into action. All over Peru Jehovah’s people acted as one. Quickly, a relief fund was set up and two tons of clothing and food also were sent to stricken fellow believers in Ica. Yes, God’s servants really care about each other.
OVERCOMING KINGDOM HALL CONSTRUCTION PROBLEMS
Besides the love they have among themselves, Jehovah’s people manifest other godly traits that often contribute to the success of their endeavors. This can be illustrated by what happened in Trujillo in the mid-1960’s. Because of rapid growth in the congregation the Kingdom Hall was unable to accommodate everyone and a new hall was needed. Happily, Jehovah opened the way for the brothers to obtain a plot of land and a loan for Kingdom Hall construction.
Before long the local Witnesses were busy carrying bricks, hauling loads of iron and working hard at the construction site. Why, even the sisters became very adept at mixing cement “by hand,” as they did not have a cement mixer!
There were many obstacles. For example, the brother assigned to complete the “paper work” needed an engineer’s signature on the plans. Well, to sign them one engineer wanted $110, another, $150—prices the brothers could not pay. But the problem was overcome in an unusual way.
One day the brother doing the “paper work” was standing in line at a bank when a man came along and pushed in front of him. The brother was annoyed, but exercised the Christian fruit of self-control and said nothing. That very day someone suggested that the brother contact a certain engineer to obtain the signature needed on the plans. Well, that engineer turned out to be the same individual who had pushed in front of our brother at the bank. The man was very friendly, said he liked to help good work, and readily signed the papers, asking only $11 as his fee. Truly, displaying Christian qualities can be rewarding. Today the Kingdom Hall in Trujillo stands as a silent testimony to the fine traits and hard work of Christians in that vicinity.
ANOTHER ASSEMBLY “FIRST”
Our first large international assembly was held in Lima from January 4 to 8, 1967. The Peruvian brothers were thrilled that the delegates included many fellow believers from other lands, as well as certain directors of the Society. Almost 500 Witnesses from various countries were on hand and their presence certainly upbuilt their Peruvian brothers and sisters.
Brother F. W. Franz gave the principal talk to 5,940 conventioners on Saturday night. But the largest crowd that had ever attended an assembly in Peru up to that time gathered to hear Brother Knorr speak the next day. That audience numbered 6,925. That was a fine attendance, for in 1967 the peak number of Kingdom publishers in Peru reached only 2,810.
In 1969, 51 missionaries, circuit overseers and others in Peru came under provisions made by the Society to assist them financially so that they could travel to assemblies abroad. This certainly was appreciated and these conventioners returned with a wealth of spiritual things to share with their fellow believers in this land. However, we had our “Peace on Earth” District Assembly in Lima during January 1970. What a delight it was to have a peak attendance of 7,414 at that gathering! Increased activity truly had borne fruit by the late 1960’s, for our 1969 Memorial attendance reached 13,751.
We had entered the 1970’s, and the work of declaring the “good news” was going well in this ancient Land of the Incas. But what awaited us in the months and years ahead?
THE EARTH QUAKES!
One of the worst disasters in Peru’s history struck at 3:30 p.m. on Sunday, May 31, 1970. A gigantic earthquake then literally shook down villages and towns in the Andes and coastal areas. Many of Jehovah’s people were affected, and Kingdom Halls were damaged or completely destroyed at Chimbote, Casma, Huaraz, Trujillo and other places.
News of the earthquake flashed around the world. Almost as quickly, Jehovah’s people went into action. It was heartwarming indeed to see their response. Christians in Peru and other lands quickly came to the aid of their stricken brothers. From the Watch Tower Society’s headquarters in Brooklyn came $25,000 for relief and reconstruction, as well as 15 tons of clothing. Peruvian brothers themselves contributed $3,091, and $2,084 came from others all over the world. Seven tons of clothing were gathered from the congregations in Lima. Later, over a period of time, funds were provided to rebuild three Kingdom Halls in Chimbote, one in Huaraz and the halls in Máncora and Sullana that were damaged by subsequent earthquakes.
Although the major earthquake struck on Sunday afternoon, roads were not open until late Tuesday evening, and there was much speculation over the radio as to whether private cars would be permitted to use them. Undaunted, the brothers loaded supplies into four cars or panel trucks and one 10-ton truck and headed for the disaster area at 1 a.m. on Wednesday.
The first town reached was Casma, which then had a congregation of 20 publishers. Most of Casma’s structures were adobe buildings that had been shaken down into a pile of suffocating dust and rubble. Even the town’s hospital, although built with reinforced steel, had collapsed. Unfortunately, one brother, confined to a wheelchair, was unable to escape, and he died in the disaster. Supplies intended for distribution among the brothers were left with a special pioneer.
Then it was on to Chimbote, with an estimated population of about 200,000. Some 300 Witnesses were associated with the three congregations in that city. All the homes had been destroyed and the Kingdom Halls had been ruined. Nevertheless, the brothers had cleared the rubble from the cement floor of one hall, had put up straw mat walls and held their weekly congregation book study there on Tuesday night. The first of the relief supplies of food, drinking water, blankets, clothes and so forth arrived the next morning.
But how were the Witnesses faring in Huaraz and Caraz, high in the Andes mountains? According to radio reports, these towns had practically been wiped out, either by the quake or by a mammoth mud slide caused when a portion of Huascaran mountain fell into a nearby lake. Although planes and helicopters had been dropping supplies into the stricken areas, eight days passed before it was announced by radio that the road was passable. Immediately, two vehicles were packed with supplies, and some brothers headed for Huaraz, where there was a congregation of 20 publishers and two special pioneers.
There were delays and dangers on the road. Finally, however, early on Wednesday morning the brothers reached Huaraz at an elevation of about 10,000 feet (3,000 meters). Little camps had cropped up all around the city and it was quite a job locating the brothers and sisters. However, finally at 5 p.m. they were found in huts made from branches of eucalyptus trees. What a delight it was to see them! And how glad they were to get the supplies, which included food, medicine and kerosine stoves that would help them to keep warm during the extremely cold nights!
Only two persons associated with the Huaraz Congregation had been injured; no Witnesses there had died in the disaster. By helicopter an injured sister had been taken to Lima for medical attention. And a young brother, who had been buried under adobe debris but had been dug out with no more than a broken jaw, accompanied the brothers to Lima on their return trip.
ON TO CARAZ
Only some time later were we able to reach the town of Caraz, where there was an isolated group of seven brothers. A mud slide had completely covered two towns between Huaraz and Caraz, blocking all traffic by land.
Around July 1, 1970, we applied for a permit to travel into the mountains through Huaraz and on to Caraz. It turned out, however, that our schedule called for a trip up the mountain when traffic was actually supposed to be coming down the mountain. Nevertheless, the brother assigned to obtain the permit found that he had held Bible studies with the man handling the permits. As matters turned out, the official gave the brother a permit for a five-car caravan and wrote on the document the words “First Priority—Jehovah’s Witnesses’ Caravan.” Although our brothers were stopped three times, in each case the permit got them through.
After a stop at Huaraz, four of the five cars headed for Caraz. Without difficulty, they got through the first mud slide—the one that had hit the town of Ranrahirca. The engineers had made a makeshift road across the mud. While the brothers were thinking about what to do next, a captain of the Civil Guard approached the car and asked if they would take him on to Yungay, the next town that had been covered over by the mud. That was fine with everybody.
Huge boulders and rocks were strewn everywhere. At one point, the cars had to go down into a newly formed swiftly flowing river. Three of them made it, but one car had to turn back.
At Yungay, the other covered town, the smell was not too pleasant, for many dead bodies were in evidence close to the edges of the mud slide. Leaving Yungay, the brothers and the captain continued on to Caraz. They went as far as they could across the ground prepared by the road workers. Then they started out across the trackless waste. Everything went fine until they hit a soft spot and both rear wheels sank in up to the axle. Everyone got out. The captain called about 20 workers of the road gang and, though the ground had a shaky movement to it, they pushed until the car was free. From there on to Caraz the going was not too difficult.
Caraz was in the path of the mud slide that had followed the course of the river, but the slide had swerved just before reaching the town. Although most of the adobe houses had been damaged by the quake, generally the people had been able to salvage their personal possessions. Our brothers were all right but sorely in need of food and medicine. We left them tents, food, blankets and lanterns.
The brothers from Caraz accompanied us to Yungay. As they started loading additional supplies on their backs to carry them back to Caraz, the captain who had accompanied us stopped a truck and told the driver: “Here, take these things and these people over as far as you go.” So our brothers, as well as those heavy supplies, were taken at least three quarters of the way across the mud slide of Yungay. From there, the journey was comparatively easy for them. Incidentally, all of this took place while no traffic was permitted in the area. So, Jehovah’s Witnesses were the first to get through to Caraz by car.
In succeeding weeks our fellow believers in the devastated areas were further fortified through visits of their spiritual brothers from other parts of Peru. In fact, during that period a circuit assembly was held in Chimbote, much to the surprise of the city’s residents. That gathering showed them that Jehovah’s people care for one another.
Outstanding throughout the crisis was the guiding hand of Jehovah, so evident in directing his people. Certainly, the brothers and sisters in the stricken areas deeply appreciated the assistance and generosity of their fellow worshipers of God. Of course, especially do we credit Jehovah with the outworking of matters during that time of disaster and we are deeply grateful for his unfailing direction and aid.
REACHING UNTOUCHED TERRITORY
Throughout Peru on April 9, 1971, a total of 18,397 persons attended the Lord’s Evening Meal. That year we had a peak of 5,384 Kingdom publishers, or one publisher to every 2,600 inhabitants. So, we still had plenty to do in God’s service. In fact, although there was a need for much witnessing in urban areas, we had long been wondering how we were going to cover our vast rural territory. Situated here and there throughout the rugged Andes mountains was one populated valley after another—a great untouched territory.
True, some inroads had been made by special pioneers and a few brothers who served where the need was great. For example, special pioneer Alfredo Diaz and 16 others had taken a 20-day witnessing journey into northern Peru. They had placed hundreds of publications and had found many honest-hearted individuals. But there was so much more to do throughout the country!
Happily, Jehovah’s hand never is short. Accordingly, in May 1971 something happened that led to better coverage of our untouched territory. While visiting their son in Peru, one married couple also wondered how all the isolated inhabitants of this country could be reached with the Kingdom message. On returning home to the United States, they made arrangements to send a fully equipped, self-contained motor home to their son for use in the Andes. Two motorbikes also were sent for this purpose.
With this development, a whole new field of activity was opening up. Missionary Joe Leydig and three special pioneers (one of whom spoke the native dialect, Quechua) were assigned to use the house-car. It was dubbed the Casa Luz, or “Light House.” The four brothers also used a Land Rover that had been obtained locally.
On May 21, 1972, the four full-time Kingdom proclaimers started out. Their assignment? The Urubamba Valley, once sacred to the Incas. It is located high in the mountains between the cities of Cuzco and Macchu-Picchu, the last Inca stronghold.
EARNEST EFFORTS BRING GOOD RESULTS
In three and a half months of preaching throughout the valley, the four brothers placed 5,042 books and 9,146 magazines. For efficient coverage of rural sections, our brothers rose at five o’clock in the morning and witnessed to farmers on the way to their fields. Villages along the roadside were covered quickly. But what about those perched high up on the side of a mountain and surrounded by terraces and ancient ruins? Reaching those villages required hiking up steep paths while loaded down with bulging book bags.
Interestingly, each village seemed to have its own personality. In one, books were placed only with the children—10- to 14-year-olds. The parents wanted nothing. In another village, everyone—men and women alike—literally had “passed out,” apparently under the influence of a local beverage that must have flowed liberally during the fiesta of the previous night.
Only three people were found in the next town; all the others were in the fields. Reaching the following village required some climbing. But it was worth the effort. Much interest was found. Few had money for the literature, but all were willing to trade something for it. At the end of the morning, our brothers were loaded down with foodstuffs as they hiked back to the Casa Luz. One had a sackful of corn; another a book bag full of sweet potatoes. Joe Leydig had pocketed two eggs in exchange for several magazines, but unfortunately forgot them until he leaned against the Land Rover.
Later in the day, a book and a Bible were traded for a live sheep—fresh meat for the table! Another book and two magazines were exchanged for 15 avocados. A combination of five books was given for some 200 bananas. And one interested man gladly gathered up about four pounds (1.8 kilograms) of coffee beans to offer for a book. At the nearest town of any size, such items could be sold and the money used to buy needed gasoline.
How quickly will some abandon Babylonish practices? Well, when two brothers made a return visit on one man, a discussion of doctrine ensued and it was shown that the Bible condemns idolatry. At that, the man shook his head and looked up at the images adorning his adobe wall. One by one, he took them down, walked outside, poured kerosine over the images and burned them in front of the brothers.
Working outlying sections that are isolated because of numerous mountain ridges and almost inaccessible valleys required patience and determination. At times the trail bikes came in handy. For instance, with difficulty, two of the pioneers used the bikes to reach the town of Lares. They arrived there with briefcases full of publications and several boxes of literature tied to the bikes. A wonderful day was spent witnessing in the town. That evening, several interested persons gathered for a Bible talk. So, that trip, too, was rewarding.
“THE ARK” AND “THE SCORPION”
Up to this point, the Casa Luz had been used mainly in the southern part of Peru. But what about the central and northern sections? Well, it was possible to obtain a truck chassis and construct a new house-car, one strong enough to meet the rigors of rural roads and trails. Because this vehicle was oblong and boxlike, it was named “The Ark.” That name may also be fitting because the five special pioneers using the vehicle often brought in live sheep, chickens, guinea pigs, turkeys and ducks received for literature placed with the people.
Besides “The Ark,” which was put in service during 1973, a third vehicle became available for use in what we might term our witnessing expeditions. It was called “The Scorpion,” a name chosen with the figurative language of Revelation 9:3-5 in mind.
So, then, all sections of Peru—north, central and south—have been reached through the hard work of full-time Kingdom proclaimers covering the unassigned territories in this country. Thousands of books, booklets, tracts and magazines have been placed with the Quechua-, Aymara- and Spanish-speaking Indians. Wherever our three mobile units have gone—whether into the jungle or up to mining towns at altitudes of 16,000 feet (4,900 meters)—something fine has been accomplished. In 1978, the Casa Luz was still working in unassigned territory and carrying the Kingdom message to some remote areas of Peru.
SPREADING TRUTH IN THE AMAZON JUNGLE
But wait! There was a section of the country that the house-cars could not reach—the vast jungle in northeastern Peru. For the most part, it, too, was unassigned territory. What about that area?
The Amazon region is composed of thousands upon thousands of square miles of tangled jungle crisscrossed with rivers large and small. Along their shores are hundreds of little “chacras,” or farms, with villages dotted here and there. It is said that about 37 different Indian tribes live in the Amazon territory. Some of these have been influenced little by so-called civilization, whereas others have been attracted to modern ways. How were we to spread the truth to these isolated jungle peoples?
In 1973, Cesar Chavez, Manuel Molina and Americo Matsuda got together to talk about building a boat for use in witnessing along the shores of the jungle rivers. Soon such a craft was being built at the port town of Callao, with missionary Walter Akin in charge of construction. When completed, the boat was separated into two parts. These sections were hauled to the town of Pucallpa, where they were rejoined. Dubbed El Refugio, the 15-ton boat was launched in the Ucayali River.
The special pioneer list had been combed and much care had been taken in selecting a proper crew. For one thing, all six brothers had to know how to swim. Also, these men would have to be able to stand the rigors of life in the jungle. Theirs would not be an easy assignment by any means.
One of the first settlements covered was New San Juan, where about 500 people lived in thatched-roofed, open-air homes. When the brothers arrived, the villagers (most of whom were Protestants) were sure they would be able to convert the newcomers to their religion. But, in a short time, just the opposite happened. The pioneers began many home Bible studies, and soon, on an average, 23 persons were attending the talks and meetings that had been organized in that small village.
Among the Shipibo and Conibo tribes the pioneers effected what might be called a ‘strange exchange’ with the natives. They traded languages! Yes, the tribesmen would teach their dialect to the pioneers who, in turn, taught them Spanish, along with Bible truth.
The town of Contamana, between Pucallpa and Iquitos, was full of people interested in the Bible. Day and night, individuals sought out the pioneers to ask Bible questions and obtain literature. Copies of the book Your Youth—Getting the Best out of It went like “hot cakes.” Among many of Contamana’s 10,000 inhabitants, it was possible to establish Bible studies, a number of which later developed into congregation meetings.
Besides the general hardships of jungle life, the crew members of El Refugio faced other perils. Even as the apostle Paul experienced “dangers from rivers,” these pioneers found the Ucayali to be a swift-flowing, treacherous river.—2 Cor. 11:26.
At 3 a.m. on Wednesday, August 10, 1977, hurricane winds suddenly exploded over the area, causing a flash flood. Rapidly, the volume of water increased and the river rose in choppy waves. Because of the rising waters, the mooring ropes of El Refugio broke away from their stakes, requiring that the crew member serving as watchman go ashore and try to secure them. But the buffeting wind soon tore away all the ropes and the boat was adrift. The other crew members, who had slept through all of this, awakened and tried to start the motor in order to fight against the raging current. However, their efforts were to no avail and they had to watch helplessly as the waters slammed the craft against the steep riverbank.
At that very moment, a large section of the bank, undermined by the rushing waters, fell into the river. This caused the boat to tilt to starboard with the brothers trapped inside. Fortunately, though, one of the sliding doors was open. Though this permitted the boat to sink more rapidly, it did provide an opening for the pioneers to fight their way out of the craft. They all got out! In the pitch black of the night, the brothers swam safely to shore. Yes, all their literature, clothing, cooking utensils, book bags and personal effects had been lost to the hungry river. But they were there—alive! A fervent prayer of thanks went up to Jehovah for his protection.
At early dawn, the brothers could see their boat, one end apparently being held up by a large air bubble in the prow. The craft was floating gently in the then calm waters, but there was no time to lose. At seven o’clock, with cables and two tractors kindly loaned by the townspeople, the boat was pulled to the shore. Later that day, an enormous floating boat-crane belonging to a petroleum company was able to right the 15-ton boat and put it afloat once more. Thanks again to Jehovah, this time for opening the way to recover their floating home so quickly!
As news of this mishap reached the brothers throughout Peru, contributions and supplies came pouring in. Consequently, it was possible to equip the pioneers for further service along the rivers of the Amazon basin.
Meanwhile, increased activity on the part of Jehovah’s people throughout Peru impressed upon us the need for larger branch facilities. Memorial attendance in 1972 reached 19,772. It was not surprising, then, that during a brief visit by Brothers N. H. Knorr and M. H. Larson arrangements were made to buy an empty lot next to the branch building.
Work on the branch addition began in March 1973. The project was well supported by the brothers and, in spite of an increased shortage of building materials, the new structure rapidly took shape. On the first floor was a spacious Kingdom Hall that could comfortably seat 300 persons. Living accommodations for missionaries assigned to work in nearby congregations were provided on the second floor. The branch addition was dedicated on January 19, 1974, by Brother N. H. Knorr, who then spoke to a happy audience of 456 witnesses of Jehovah.
During that same month the “Divine Victory” International Assembly was held in Lima. That gathering certainly was significant in the eyes of those who had watched our work grow in this country over the years. Among the 19,738 persons present (our greatest assembly audience till that time) were delegates from Canada, the United States and Europe. Interesting English-language programs and tours had been arranged for these visitors. Colorful folkloric dances rounded out the informative historical presentations. Indeed, that assembly was a delight to foreign delegates and Peruvian Christians alike.
With continued growth, most sites were too small for our assemblies. Also, we could not use most sports stadiums because religious gatherings were prohibited in them. So, the Lima circuits appointed a committee and before long an ideal spot for an assembly site was obtained in an undeveloped area called Campoy, just a 20-minute ride from the center of the capital city. In that quiet, peaceful setting enthusiastic volunteer workers labored until an excellent assembly field with essential facilities had been prepared. It was ready in time for the two 1976 district assemblies attended by a total of 18,914 persons. About a year later, the assembly grounds and various structures were dedicated during a visit of A. D. Schroeder, a member of the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses. On that occasion, 14,353 persons were present, representing 96 congregations of greater Lima and nearby cities.
In 1977, the love and care of the Governing Body certainly was impressed on us here in Peru because during that year we enjoyed, not just one, but two visits by members of the Governing Body. Brother Grant Suiter, along with his wife, Edith, spent six fast-moving days at the branch office. Brother Suiter also spoke to a crowd of 15,056 at the assembly site in Campoy.
WE CONTINUE “SHINING AS ILLUMINATORS”
The year 1978 has proved to be a very busy one for Jehovah’s people in Peru. Our four “Joyful Workers” District Assemblies drew a total of 28,063, with 636 being baptized at these gatherings in symbol of their dedication to Jehovah God. We now have 12,925 Kingdom proclaimers spreading spiritual light and truth in this ancient Land of the Incas.
How grateful we are for Jehovah’s many spiritual provisions through the years! For example, not only have we benefited from the missionary work of brothers and sisters sent here after being trained at Gilead School, but certain Peruvian Witnesses have received such training. Also, since its inception here in 1962, the Kingdom Ministry School has been very beneficial. And, how grateful we are for the present Pioneer School! All this beneficial schooling, along with the many other rich spiritual provisions made by our loving heavenly Father, enables us to continue serving as effective light-bearers.
So, with confidence in Jehovah, Peruvian Christians look to the future. We are determined to press on in Kingdom service, whether in the towering Andes, along tangled jungle paths, or elsewhere in our vast territory. Delighted we are indeed to serve faithfully with our fellow believers earth wide while “shining as illuminators in the world”!—Phil. 2:15.
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