It was February 24, 1945. The place: the Mexico City airport. The missionary tugged anxiously on the arms of his seat as the small propeller plane taxied down the runway. Seated across the aisle was the Watch Tower Society’s president, Nathan H. Knorr and vice-president Frederick W. Franz. Knorr suggested to the missionary that if he pulled a little harder the plane would soon be off the ground. Later, when the plane was airborne, he told him he did not have to pull any longer as his efforts had been rewarded.
The missionary was Roscoe A. Stone. Accompanied by his wife, Hilda, he was headed for a foreign assignment in the small, oblong-shaped Central American country of El Salvador. The couple were to begin an organized effort to declare the Kingdom good news to the then some 1,500,000 inhabitants of those 8,000 square miles (20,700 km2) of sunbathed tropical earth.
The Stones accompanied Brothers Knorr and Franz only as far as Guatemala. Four days later the missionary couple caught a plane that took them the rest of the way to El Salvador. Here they discovered a country of jewellike volcanic lakes, extinct and active volcanoes, coffee plantations, miles of unspoiled Pacific beaches, and open-air markets offering what seemed to them to be exotic fruits such as the mango, papaya, mamey, and medlar fruit.
The Watch Tower Society’s branch overseer in Mexico had asked two interested persons in the capital, San Salvador, to meet the Stones at the airport. They were told to hold up the Spanish edition of The Watchtower so that they would be recognized. However, the Stones arrived three days prior to the expected arrival date, which meant no one was at the airport to meet them. They found El Salvador to be in a state of siege, with no freedom of press. President Osmín Aguirre had been put in power by force, and there had been strikes in many departments of the government.
Since the San Salvador airport was about six miles (10 km) outside of the capital, the Stones got a taxi. Just as the driver stopped for inspection at the edge of the city, there was a loud explosion. Policemen came running toward their cab with rifles leveled at the Stones’ heads. The driver excitedly told the police not to be alarmed as they must have had a blowout of a tire.
After passing this crisis, the cab wove around oxcarts, children, and street vendors to the center of town. Machine guns were on all streets near the National Palace. As the Stones presented their credentials to an immigration officer, they heard him grumble about Protestant missionaries coming down to their Catholic country. Nevertheless, they were granted permission to remain for six months.
The Stones rented a small two-room house with a walled-in patio. There were no cooking facilities except a small charcoal stove. Water and electricity were rationed, being available only at certain hours. The vultures, which were numerous in the city, aided in garbage disposal. They roosted on the walls around the patio, watching; to say the least, their presence was a bit depressing.
When the Stones arrived in El Salvador they were unaware of some of the religious history of their new country. At the time practically all inhabitants were nominal Catholics. But Catholics in El Salvador had forms of worship different from those of Catholics in North America. Why? Because Salvadorans practiced rituals of their Indian forefathers in combination with the religious practices of the Roman Catholic Church. As one historian described the religious situation in Middle America:
“Especially in Indian towns the ceremonies of the Church appeared inseparable from the old pagan forms of idol worship. It may be safely said that in many communities in the [Spanish] colonies, the Roman Catholic religion had broken down and had become devoid of much of its European significance by grafting upon it many non-Christian practices.”—“Outline History of Latin America,” Wilgus and d’Eca.
Interestingly, historian Santiago Barbarena, in his Ancient History of the Conquest of El Salvador, declared that the Indians already had a high priest or pope called Papahuaquín when the Spaniards arrived in America. The conquistadores found it difficult to account for this and many other similarities to their own religion. Later chroniclers purposely avoided use of this term in order not to confuse the Indian pope with the Roman pontiff.
It soon became obvious to the Stones that the people generally knew little or nothing about the Bible. Most of them, in fact, had never seen a Bible, much less read one. Never having been taught, few knew anything about God’s requirements for Christians. Thus, according to official reports, more than 50 percent of all births in El Salvador were listed as illegitimate.
The Catholic priests themselves set an example in immorality. As a ruler of El Salvador, Rubén Rosales, later said: “I know that a priest in Cojutepeque, where I used to live, had a woman. It was public knowledge. He even had sons by her. ‘So why should we be any different from the priests?’ is the way I excused my conduct.” Truly, this was a country that needed to hear the Kingdom message!
STARTING THE KINGDOM PREACHING
Three days after the Stones arrived, which was when they were supposed to have landed, Roscoe and his wife Hilda went to the airport. There they found a man and a woman, side by side, the man holding aloft a copy of the Adventist magazine El Centinela and the woman a Watchtower. The Stones later started studying the Bible with them. The man failed to make any progress, but in a few weeks the woman began to accompany Hilda in the field service. After two days, however, she asked Sister Stone for her pay. When she learned how Jehovah rewards his people for serving him, she ceased her study and service and was never seen again.
The Stones were the first Witnesses to live in El Salvador, although four or five others earlier had done some distributing of the Society’s literature. On March 28, just one month after arriving, the Stones met with two persons to celebrate the Memorial. Then, on April 9, 1945, when Brothers Knorr and Franz passed through El Salvador on their return from South America, about 10 Salvadorans were at the airport to meet them. By the end of 1945, six more missionaries had arrived—Marion and Cordelia Barger, Gladys Wilson, Marguerite Stover, Ruth Price and Dorothy Thompson.
EARLY BAPTIZED ONES
With the Gilead graduates actively carrying Jehovah’s message to the people, many started coming to the meetings. Some of the early Gilead graduates have a picture of an elderly man being baptized. His name was Antonio Molina Choto. Brother Stone studied with Antonio, who was then 69 years old. In that same year, 1945, he became the first person to symbolize his dedication and be baptized in El Salvador.
Also among the first Salvadorans to become Witnesses were Herminio Ramírez and his wife. The Stones studied with them about every third day, and after about 15 days Brother Stone initiated Herminio in the field service. They went as constant companions from one end of the city to the other end, distributing Bible literature and visiting interested persons. Brother Ramírez, now an elder, still remembers with great fondness those days of about 35 years ago.
Marguerite Stover found Joaquin Sarmiento teaching shoemaking in a boys’ correctional school. He almost immediately began attending meetings. At his first one he heard arrangements being made for field service for the following Sunday. He appeared, and was ready to go along. After that Joaquin and Brother Stone were frequent companions in the service.
On April 30, 1946, Raymond and Della Maples, Winona Firth and Evelyn Hill arrived to begin their foreign service in El Salvador. So, a little more than a year after the Stones arrived, there were now 10 Gilead graduates working in El Salvador, the Bargers having left because of health reasons. This group of missionaries eagerly awaited the visit of Brothers Knorr and Franz, during which a branch was established in El Salvador in May 1946, with Brother Roscoe Stone serving as the first branch servant.
To climax the visit, 66 persons gathered in the patio of the missionary home to listen to Brother Knorr deliver the talk “Be Glad, Ye Nations.” Four persons were baptized. So May 1946 saw 24 people singing Jehovah’s praise—14 “company” publishers and 10 missionaries.
MISSIONARY WORK IN SANTA ANA
In June 1946 Leo Mahan and his wife, Esther, along with Mildred Olson and Evelyn Trabert, arrived. They were assigned to El Salvador’s second largest city, Santa Ana. It is located in the heart of the coffee belt in the western part of the country. This city became the site of the first expansion of the missionary activity outside of San Salvador. A suitable house was located the first day for a missionary home.
Illiteracy was prevalent. So, often the missionaries, in their broken Spanish, would have to read the “testimony card” with its printed witness. Frequently this resulted only in a look of confusion on the face of the householder. Placing literature was quite easy, but unfamiliarity with the language made the conducting of Bible studies difficult. This problem was alleviated a little when Sisters Wilson and Stover were sent to Santa Ana to help the new missionaries with the language. With persistence in the preaching work, they began to find people with a thirst for Bible truth.
One of these persons was Leonor Escobar. A Bible study was started with her, and after a period of about four months she began going in the field service. A few years ago, at the age of 91, she was still conducting four Bible studies weekly and spending 30 hours monthly in the preaching work. Now, as her age nears the century mark, she remains a faithful worshiper of Jehovah. She feels that being active in the service has helped her to enjoy better health and to feel even stronger than before she learned the truth.
Rosa Ascencio, a Baptist, heard that the missionaries were selling a book in Santa Ana about the Bible and expressed interest in buying one. A short time later one of her friends brought Mildred Olson to her home with the book “The Truth Shall Make You Free.” The next week Mildred began to study with her. After just four studies she was invited to accompany Mildred in the field service. Her progress was rapid and she was baptized on June 6, 1947. The following year Rosa became the first regular pioneer in Santa Ana.
By the second month of the preaching activity in Santa Ana new ones began attending meetings with the missionaries. Soon a congregation was formed. In January 1947 Evelyn Hill and her partner Winona Firth were sent from San Salvador to help out in Santa Ana. At the same time, three graduates of Gilead’s sixth class, Walter and Ione Wissman and Mary Taciak, took their place in San Salvador.
NEW MISSIONARY HOME
Early in 1947 a new home at North Twelfth Avenue at the corner of Centenary Park was obtained for the branch office and missionary home in San Salvador. It had five bedrooms, with the rooms forming three sides around a patio, and a 10-foot (3-m) wall on the other side. In the patio were mango, lemon, bitter orange and fig trees, as well as a few palms. It was indeed very exotic and exciting to be able to pick your own fruit.
Congregational meetings were held in the corridor outside some of the bedrooms. It was not unusual for some who arrived early for the meetings to part the curtains used to cover the bedroom windows and happily chat with a missionary as she finished her makeup and other personal preparations. It was hard to get used to this lack of privacy, but little by little it became part of the process of adjusting.
The conveniences of the home included a large homemade wood stove with sides of baked clay. Loads of green wood were bought and stored until dry enough to burn. Excitement was not lacking as occasionally large spiders and other tropical insect life brought in with the wood would sneak their way into the bedrooms to seek refuge in a shoe or another article of clothing. Though this was common, injuries were rare and not of serious consequence.
Cooking and heating water on this makeshift stove was a delicately balanced matter. When it was a missionary’s day to cook, she would rise at about five o’clock in the morning, get the fire started, and have hot water as well as breakfast ready by seven o’clock. The bathing facilities consisted of a large cement storage tank filled with water. The water would be scooped out with a gourd dipper and thrown over the body.
On the other hand, heartwarming experiences were the rule of the day. These kept the first missionaries joyful of heart, overshadowing less important inconveniences. Many of the seeds of truth that were then sown produced fellow publishers of the good news who are still serving Jehovah faithfully after these many years.
OPPOSITION IN SANTA ANA
Evelyn Hill and Winona Firth were assigned to Santa Ana just in time to share in the preparatory work for the first circuit assembly there March 21-23, 1947. A crowd of 475 turned out to hear the public discourse “Blessed Are the Peacemakers.” On this occasion Catholic priests became aware of our presence and work.
On Sunday, March 30, the priests organized a demonstration against us. They had handbills distributed over the city. One of these said:
“Oh! friends in Santa Ana, let us pray to Saint Michael that he defend us against the treacherous traps of the Devil incarnate in his witnesses in our city of Santa Ana. To El Salvador came the circumspect ‘Atalayas’ [Watchtowers] to populate our land looking for proselytes, and this is very logical, that Uncle Sam and the Devil go hand in hand.”
On this Sunday a small group was gathered at the missionary home for the weekly Watchtower study. Suddenly some boys came running past, throwing large stones through the open door. They just missed some of the brothers. Then came the procession led by priests. Many carried torches, others their revered images. Quickly the door of the missionary home was closed, and for two hours it was pelted with stones. Above the machine-gun-like rat-a-tat of the stones was heard the chanting, “Long live the Virgin!” and, “May Jehovah die!” About 11 p.m. the brothers could safely leave for their homes.
This incident served to publicize the preaching work and make the people curious to know the Witnesses better. The publishers were announced wherever they went, since the priests instructed the people to shout “Atalaya” whenever they saw them. Also, pressure was put on the children of those associating with the Witnesses to attend church, even though these children went to public schools.
The persistence of the Witnesses made a profound impression on the people of Santa Ana. They had expected them to move on as soon as they had sold all their literature. What a surprise to find them calling back where interest was manifested in order to show the people how to use the publications they had! Among those who accepted the truth were three blind men who became very active publishers.
Sunday, April 6, was the Memorial, and 104 gathered together for its celebration. By the end of the 1947 service year there were 48 Kingdom publishers in Santa Ana, a fine increase in the little more than a year since the arrival of the missionaries in June 1946.
THE WORK MOVES AHEAD
In August of 1947 Roscoe Stone was asked to go to San Miguel to open up the preaching work there. Brother Mahan was transferred from Santa Ana to San Salvador to become the branch servant. Soon afterward the Stones returned to the United States, so the extension of the work to San Miguel had to wait for a future date.
Yet the preaching work continued to move ahead. Joaquin Sarmiento, for example, was taking the initiative in giving public talks, even before he was baptized. He spent the night before his first talk in a hospital awaiting the birth of his son, Joaquin, Jr. At 6 a.m. his little son was born, and Joaquin went home, ate breakfast, and then went out into the field service, making return visits and inviting people to his talk that afternoon. Thus at 4 p.m., 40 people were in attendance to hear him speak on the theme “World Peace—By Whom?” That little son who entered the world back in 1947 is now an elder and a fine public speaker serving in one of the San Salvador congregations.
SOME MISSIONARIES LEAVE, OTHERS COME
Sickness was playing havoc with the missionaries, causing many of them to leave El Salvador. By late in 1948 the ranks of the missionaries had been reduced to five from the 17 that were serving there the year before. To help fill the gap, Charles Beedle, a Gilead graduate serving in Guatemala, was sent to El Salvador as branch servant.
Brother Beedle had a very busy schedule. He conducted the service meeting in San Salvador on Thursday, and made the trip to Santa Ana on Friday to conduct the service meeting there. For a time he followed this schedule every week. So, besides being the branch servant, Brother Beedle was acting as congregation servant for both the San Salvador and Santa Ana congregations, and as home servant for the San Salvador missionary home.
In November 1948 Charlotte Bowin and Julia Clogston arrived, and were assigned to the San Jacinto area of San Salvador. These missionaries were very much appreciated since they had worked in Spanish-speaking territories in Texas and Mexico City. They came just in time to witness a revolution, which occurred in the month of December. One minute the stores were open and business was going on as usual, and the next minute all business had stopped and it seemed everyone was hustling someplace. A coup replaced President Castañeda Castro’s regime.
USE OF RADIO
Kingdom preaching by means of radio was opened up in January 1949. A civil engineer put his radio station YSLL at the disposal of the Witnesses for an hour every Sunday evening. Brother Beedle inaugurated the “Watchtower Hour” by delivering the discourse “The Meek Shall Inherit the Earth.” Then he introduced to the radio audience the “López Family.”
During the weeks that followed the public could tune in to the imaginary López family and hear the Kingdom message discussed through the home Bible study instruction that was given. Such publications as “The Truth Shall Make You Free,” “Let God Be True,” “This Means Everlasting Life,” as well as articles in The Watchtower, were used in the Bible discussions. In these broadcasts the López family began going to the local meetings at the Kingdom Hall. Finally they accepted the truth, got baptized, and even started sharing in the Kingdom preaching. Much comment was made on the life of the López family by the radio audience.
In March 1949 new missionary home and branch facilities were obtained. Sisters Thompson, Wilson, Taciak, Stover, Price, Bowin, and Clogston, along with Brother Beedle, moved into this modern reinforced-concrete five-bedroom house on the corner of Campos Street and Republic of Cuba Avenue. The meetings were held in a central covered patio. One of the neighbors of the new missionary home was Maria Luisa Reyes, who accepted a Bible study from one of the missionaries and later came into the truth.
That same month of March a circuit assembly was held in San Salvador. The sessions for the first two days were held in the patio of the old missionary home by Centenary Park. But for Sunday a beautiful municipal school building was used, and 210 persons, including 42 who had made the trip from Santa Ana, came to hear the public talk. The following month 157 gathered to celebrate the Memorial in San Salvador.
PROGRESS IN SANTA ANA
In July 1949 the brothers in Santa Ana once again became the target of attack by the Catholic Hierarchy. The church published some very pointed articles directed against our work. But instead of facts, lies were offered, and the people of Santa Ana had a unique opportunity of realizing that one month later. One of the articles said that only three poor, blind men had become Jehovah’s Witnesses. The article ended with this confused admonition for the Catholic laity, “Remember that it is better to never learn English than to go to hell for having left the Church.”
A month later, in August, a second circuit assembly was held in Santa Ana. But in addition to the three blind men, there were many others who shared in distributing handbills and carrying placards advertising the public talk “The Only Light.” Some 50 visitors came from San Salvador for the assembly. All together a total of 188 turned out to hear the Sunday public talk at the local Kingdom Hall. The neighbors nearby thought it certainly strange that three blind men could have so much company!
Later in 1949 four more missionaries, Tillman and Josephine Humphrey along with Vivian Uhl and her sister Gloria Bauert, came to El Salvador from the 10th class of Gilead. They were temporarily sent to work in Santa Ana.
WORK OPENED UP IN THE EAST
Late in 1949 it was decided to open up the preaching work in San Miguel. The four new missionaries were sent there, and a new missionary home was established.
San Miguel is the third largest city in the republic. It is 30 miles (50 km) from the Pacific Ocean, and 1,500 feet (460 m) lower in altitude than the capital, with very few trees for shade. The heat is very oppressive for most of the year. During the six-month dry season, the winds bring generous portions of dust and dirt into the homes. However, these missionaries were of strong spirit and persevered in spite of these conditions.
The town has a very religious background. During “Holy Week” the cobblestone streets would be filled with long processions of people carrying torches and chanting as they followed their images. First would come an image of Mary and Joseph, then of Jesus carrying a large wooden cross, and later an image of Jesus in an elaborately carved wood and glass coffin, showing the bloodstained nail holes in his hands and feet.
The missionaries were among the first Anglo-Saxons to live in San Miguel. When a brother would go there to give a public lecture, their missionary home patio would be packed out. Soon 30 or 40 were coming to the meetings. On Sunday, May 6, 1951, Brother Humphrey was dismissing the meeting with prayer when a strong quake shook their adobe home. When he finished his prayer and raised his eyes, he found that the missionaries were all alone in the patio. The rest had followed the custom of fleeing to the street.
The following day it was learned that the towns of Jucuapa, Chinameca, Berlín and Santiago de María had suffered severe damage. In Jucuapa the people had run to the church to pray. Many were found within the thick adobe and earthen walls of the church, smothered from the dust when the walls fell in. A tremendous campaign of first aid was begun. The refugees were housed in school buildings in San Miguel and some were evacuated to San Salvador.
TRUTH SPREADS IN HOSPITAL
A man who was studying with a Witness had an accident and ended up in the Rosales Hospital in San Salvador. He was soon talking the truth to everyone he met. It was not long before he heard rumors of someone else who was preaching the same message in the tuberculosis ward. He told the missionary, Gladys Wilson, of this. Imagine her surprise when she found Luis Salinas and five other interested people. They had been poring over the Society’s publications and were overjoyed to see Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Gladys started a study right there in the tuberculosis ward with about 50 persons attending! The original six made splendid progress and witnessed to the other 200 patients in the ward. Some of these patients died. But others were discharged and continued their Christian growth elsewhere.
1950 INTERNATIONAL ASSEMBLY
The missionaries were happy to hear that Brother Knorr had given permission to all the missionaries, except the four that had arrived late in 1949, to attend the international assembly in New York’s Yankee Stadium. The Salvadoran brothers were happy to take the responsibility of caring for all the meetings and Bible studies of the missionaries while they were away. And they did a fine job. For months afterward the brothers would preface an experience with, “When the missionaries were gone and I was taking care of their studies or their servant duties . . .” They would then go on to tell of how Jehovah had blessed them in their efforts. The cooperation of all the local brothers at this time was certainly stimulating to the missionaries when they returned.
During the 1950 service year a new peak of 250 Kingdom publishers, including 18 missionaries, was reached. With the establishment of the congregation in San Miguel, there were four congregations of Jehovah’s people in El Salvador.
SUCCESSFUL CIRCUIT ASSEMBLIES
One of the goals for the new service year was to strengthen the San Miguel congregation in the east. What better way was there to accomplish this than to have an assembly there? So in November 1950 a circuit assembly was held in this hot city. Everyone was overjoyed to see 13 persons make public their dedication to do Jehovah’s will by water baptism.
To many the setting was an unusual one: Two missionaries wading out into the deep, rain-muddied water of the Rio Grande where fish slithered away silently, and above, flocks of wild parrots screamed as a quiet and orderly baptism was carried out. What a difference from the pomp and ceremony of church baptisms!
In April 1951 another circuit assembly was held, this time in the west. The location was the beautiful National Theater of Santa Ana. Over 200 Witnesses flocked to the town, and 1,300 packed out the theater to hear the public talk, “Surviving This World’s End.”
KINGDOM HALL AND NEW HOME
Increases also were being enjoyed in the capital, San Salvador. In fact, the brothers there needed larger facilities in which to meet. But most places adequate for the congregation cost from $120 to $160 (U.S.) a month, which was beyond the brothers’ means. However, in time, a large upstairs hall was rented downtown at the corner of Sixth Street and South First Avenue. As the congregation grew, walls were removed to make more space for all who were responding to the Kingdom message. The year 1951 proved to be one of significant increase for El Salvador, as a peak of 321 Kingdom publishers in seven congregations was reached.
At the same time as the move was made to the new Kingdom Hall, the missionary home and branch office were relocated to West 23rd Street and North First Avenue. This home had five comfortable bedrooms besides a spacious office, dining room, kitchen, pantry, and a small living room. There were also three bathrooms. Here the first modern convenience was introduced to the missionaries, a washer. It was purchased from a Bible study of one of the missionaries for only $10 (U.S.). All were pleased with the whiteness of the bed linen, and they were so happy to store away their little washboards.
An old wooden icebox was still being used. The missionary who was the cook for the day had the duty of getting up at 5 a.m. in order to catch the iceman for the daily purchase of 50 pounds of ice. But then the icebox, too, was retired. It was replaced by a refrigerator the missionaries were able to buy. So modern conveniences were penetrating the missionary home.
On August 8, 1951, a fire broke out in the National Theater in San Salvador. The sky-high flames stretched across the street to embrace the old cathedral. Breathless thousands watched as the 80-year-old timbers in the attic began to smolder. Some would-be hero rushed to the roof and chopped a hole in it, which acted as a made-to-order draft that encouraged the fire. Soon it was flaming up much like a blast furnace.
Within 40 minutes the once highly revered colonial-style structure was converted to ashes. Many faithful were in tears. Some had risked their lives to save the image of Jesus, placing it on the National Palace steps in front of the holocaust. In harmony with Psalm 115, many Witnesses used the fact that this image was unable to leave the burning building under its own power to emphasize the impotence of such images.
The Catholic Church asked the government for money to build a new cathedral. One of the principal opposers of the Church’s request was a young engineer, Baltasar Perla. With his removal from the committee handling the matter, the Church came out the winner and one million colones ($400,000, U.S.) was finally contributed by the government to the Church. Additionally, the Church asked for cooperation on the part of the people to help finance the reconstruction, all workers in the country being asked to contribute a day’s wage. Now, nearly 30 years later, the cathedral is still incomplete, and the Church continues to seek financial support for its construction.
CORRECTING A PROBLEM
The 1952 service year began with a circuit assembly in San Salvador, with 640 attending the public talk at the Follies Theater. Numberwise, the organization was growing, but, at the same time, something was not right. What was it?
A special representative of the Society, Brother T. H. Siebenlist, visited El Salvador in January of 1952. After reviewing the situation, he was quick to spot the problem. Many couples were living together without being legally married, and they were being accepted as Kingdom publishers. This was grieving the holy spirit.
So Brother Siebenlist gave talks in San Salvador, Chalchuapa, and San Miguel each time stressing the need to put marriages on a legal basis. Commenting on the situation, the report from El Salvador in the 1953 Yearbook of Jehovah’s Witnesses acknowledges:
“We could see that we had been asleep at the switch! . . . We had been too fearful of losing numbers, to the hurt of the quality of our organization, but as of February 1, 1952, all persons not living right according to the Bible could no longer be counted as Jehovah’s witnesses until such time as they should straighten out their lives. Those who sincerely turned around and changed their course were not disfellowshiped but were helped with their problems. Sometimes we had to rack our brains because of the profound complexity of the situations. El Salvador’s report for February showed that we had dropped 100 publishers from our last peak, but we were determined to see the matter through. . . .
“March, April and May passed, and we all felt better. There was a good, clean feeling in the whole organization. All the old ‘hangers-on’ had cleared out. Our good publishers had straightened themselves out, and we could really feel Jehovah’s spirit and blessing on the work. We worked as hard as before, yes; but now we could see something for it; we could feel the results. . . .
“Sure our publishers were down in numbers, but total hours refused to drop, but even climbed. The publishers were marvelous; they dug in and made more back-calls and conducted more studies than ever before in the history of the republic. We did not need those who had left at all; we only thought we did. We had not realized that what was important was dedication to Jehovah and not to a work.”
Rosa Ascencio, the first Salvadoran pioneer in Santa Ana, was affected by the new decision. She was living in a consensual relationship with a musician in the National Military Orchestra, Virgilio Montero, who also was a baptized Witness. What would they do?
Rosa explained: “We knew we were doing wrong, but we were just waiting for someone to tell us.”
So they discontinued their relationship immediately, and set about putting their lives in Scriptural order. It was a long four-year process until Virgilio could get a divorce from a former mate, and then obtain the necessary papers to marry Rosa. Finally, they were legally wed and symbolized their dedication to Jehovah by a second water baptism. Virgilio afterward enjoyed Jehovah’s blessing as overseer in a congregation in San Salvador, and for a time served as circuit servant. They were both very loved and appreciated by their brothers in El Salvador up until their death.
This matter of straightening out lives for Christian service was easier said than done in most cases. Yet many took whatever steps that were necessary to satisfy this Scriptural requirement. Thus the marriage campaign gained impetus, and the officials at City Hall were impressed as missionaries brought couple after couple, along with their children, to legalize their marriage.
The mayor of San Salvador once told Mary Taciak: “You teach them, and you just bring them to me and I will marry them.” This is exactly what the missionaries did. One little boy, on hearing his father speak of marriage, said: “But you will marry my mother, won’t you?”
One day when working from door to door Mary Taciak met a young mother in Colonia La Rábida who agreed to a Bible study. In time, both the woman and her companion, Ramon Argueta, became zealous in their studies and came to the meetings regularly. When Mary asked them if they were married, Ramon said: “No, we are just like Adam and Eve, just living together without being married.”
However, Mary explained that Adam and Eve were married by Jehovah. On learning this, they wanted to legalize their marriage too. Then the process began of collecting birth certificates for them and their four children. They could not find the certificate for Ramon so they had to visit a forensic doctor for him to give an official estimate of his age. When the doctor saw Mary, he asked her what these people were to her. “They are my brothers,” Mary said. He just shook his head: “You really do have a brotherhood in your religion.”
The 1953 Yearbook commented on these efforts to help people legalize their marriages: “Our reputation for high moral standards got around. It was beginning to attract people instead of repelling them. Responsible persons in the world were taking notice and applauding us.”
USE OF BIBLE DOOR TO DOOR
Also, during his visit Brother Siebenlist demonstrated how to read a few scriptures directly from the Bible at the doors, instead of handing the householder a plastic-covered testimony card. The missionaries first put this into practice when he visited San Miguel. There were many expressions of satisfaction, such as: “I feel like I have really taught the people something even if they do not take any literature.” In a short time all the publishers in El Salvador were being taught to use this method in their service.
CIRCUIT ASSEMBLIES HAPPY OCCASIONS
When the organization was small, the brothers really looked forward to the three-day circuit assemblies. Especially for the missionaries they were times of comradeship. This was true in May 1952 during the assembly in San Miguel.
After the day’s sessions the 22 missionaries crowded together into the San Miguel missionary home where they slept in cots and hammocks wherever they could find space. The doors were opened onto the patio for ventilation. Before going to sleep, the missionaries, exhilarated by the day’s activities, shared field service experiences, what they enjoyed from the program, what had happened in the kitchen, and so forth. Many a good joke would bring hearty laughter until some of the weary ones would plead for silence. Then, after an assembly was over, the entire group of missionaries would go to a movie together, or go somewhere to eat. There was a real family feeling among them.
On the final day of the San Miguel assembly it was a thrill to see 800 people gathered together in the National Theater to hear the public talk “What Religion Will Survive the World Crisis?” Another highlight of the assembly was the baptism. One of the 41 persons baptized was Ramon Argueta, who had gotten his marriage legalized shortly before. Ramon still remembers puffing away on a cigarette on his way to the baptism. Another candidate, also smoking, said to him: “This is our last cigarette.” Never did Ramon smoke again.
A year later, Ramon’s wife Julia was also baptized. Two of their children later spent years in the full-time service. Their son Victor Warren, after sharing in the special pioneer and circuit work, became the first Salvadoran brother to serve at the branch.
The next circuit assembly was scheduled for Santa Ana in November 1952. But the Salvadoran government announced a state of siege and all civil rights were suspended for 60 days. The Communists reportedly had laid plans to take control of the government. The manager of the National Theater was being held by the police, which meant that the brothers would not have the use of the theater.
However, the brothers did not give up. They got busy looking for another location for the assembly. Three proposed sites were canceled in succession due to fear on the part of the hall owners. Then, just one week before the assembly, the government lifted the ban and all civil rights were restored. Thus on Sunday 700 persons came to the theater to hear the public talk. Then, later that day, 19 symbolized by water baptism their dedication to serve Jehovah God.
NEW ONES CONTINUE TO COME IN
Among those responding to the truth about this time was Maura Flores. She was impressed by the unity demonstrated by the Witnesses, something she had not seen in her Adventist religion. Along with her nine-year-old son, she began to attend the meetings regularly. Later her son, Mario, spent many years in the special pioneer service, and later went to Gilead. Afterward he served for years in the circuit work in El Salvador. Now he and his wife are in a missionary home in San Miguel.
Then there was Federico Del Cid, who came from the village of Tejutepeque to San Salvador to find work. He met Ernesto Portillo and, in the course of discussing the rebuilding of the cathedral, Federico expressed sorrow that Ernesto had left the Church. Ernesto gave him a copy of the Watchtower magazine.
The following Sunday the two met again. Impressed with what he had read, Federico asked Ernesto for a home Bible study. When Federico went back to his family in Tejutepeque, he was able to interest them all in studying the Bible. Soon Federico and five other family members were baptized. For these many years he has enjoyed the love and respect of the brothers, and he now serves as an elder.
In the early 1950’s Angel Montalvo, a musician, showed interest when a special pioneer witnessed to him. His interest was so great that he sold his guitar, which was his sole means of making a livelihood, to buy a Bible. Making good progress, he was baptized in 1953. Angel spent a number of years as a special pioneer, and is now serving as an elder in the Soyapango Oriente congregation.
Due to sickness and for other reasons, seven missionaries left the country in just a short time in 1953. They carried with them fond memories and lasting impressions. Marguerite Stover, who had come nearly eight years before in 1945, found especially hard to forget the funeral processions on the way to the cemetery. The mourners would walk behind those carrying the casket on their shoulders.
All too often it was a small white casket that mourners would be following. One day Marguerite and Mary Taciak went out and bought such a casket for the baby of a friend. They helped put the baby in it, and later helped carry it to the cemetery. Such became common experiences to the missionaries.
In March 1953 Jane Campbell became a welcomed missionary replacement, especially to one brother. She had come over from Guatemala to marry the branch servant, Charles Beedle. Jane was assigned to work with the San Jacinto congregation.
Soon the missionaries were planning once again to attend an international assembly in New York, and the Salvadoran brothers again had the opportunity to care for the organizational activities during their absence. One of the missionaries in San Miguel, Ruth Price, noted: “I was without funds to attend the assembly. Then one day I received a letter from the missionaries in San Salvador saying that if I could arrange to get a ride from Miami to New York, they would buy a plane ticket to Miami for me. Needless to say, I took them up on it and was grateful to Jehovah to have such warm friends among the missionaries.” So all the missionaries got to attend this second Yankee Stadium assembly in the summer of 1953.
UNASSIGNED TERRITORY WORK
In 1953 publishers in San Salvador began visiting the small town of San Juan Talpa, about 20 miles (32 km) from the capital. They traveled by bus, with the last lap of the journey being made on foot. These excursions were full of excitement.
Once, because of the terrible heat, the brothers decided to swim in a small river. The idea seemed excellent until fire ants began to devour the girls as they were changing to their swimming suits. What a relief to reach the protection of the water!
On this occasion freshwater shrimp were caught and, while the group was working in the service, a relative of one of the brothers in San Juan Talpa prepared the shrimp. The missionaries watched while the others consumed their shrimp whole. To the surprise of one of the missionary sisters, the largest shrimp was prepared with head, eyes and feelers especially for her. There was nothing else to do but devour her special gift, hard shell and all, which she managed to do without too much distress.
These visits to San Juan Talpa produced a number of Bible studies and several persons came into the truth, including a grade-school student Raúl Morales. His parents would give him a lot of work to do in an effort to prevent him from going to the meetings. But he did his work quickly, and went. Eventually he began going in the field service, and in due time he became a special pioneer and eventually a circuit overseer.
Another outlying place visited by the San Salvador brothers was Santo Domingo, where some of the families had thrown out the priest. Later the mayor of this town learned the truth, got baptized and served as a presiding overseer. Other places visited in those early days that now have congregations are Quezaltepeque, San Sebastián and Los Planes de Renderos, a hilly area south of the capital. It is very cool there, and many successful businessmen from the city go there to make their homes. Now there are a beautiful Kingdom Hall and a thriving congregation of Kingdom publishers there.
In 1953, 515 attended the Memorial in El Salvador, and the number of congregations increased to 10.
KINGDOM MESSAGE ATTRACTS A YOUTH
Rodrigo Guevara began on a regular basis to take The Watchtower and Awake! from missionaries on the street corner in San Salvador. He wanted his boy, Jorge, to have a good education, and he was alert to anything that would help him. He also ordered the books “Let God Be True” and “The Truth Shall Make You Free” for his 12-year-old son. In time, Rodrigo took Jorge to the Hall and commended him to the brothers. He began attending regularly, and enrolled in the Theocratic School.
The Kingdom message attracted Jorge, and the following year he was baptized. In the course of his theocratic career, Jorge had some bumps. One evening, he felt offended when the school servant gave him rather severe counsel after one of his assignments. Jorge threw his Bible to the floor in despair, determining never to return to the Hall. However, the following week he decided to go back and ask the brother’s forgiveness. As he entered, the school servant rushed up to him and asked his pardon. Jorge’s close association with the theocratic family supplied a lack in his lonely life; his father was always busy, though providing him with money for his expenses and food. And his mother and other members of his family lived far away.
BROTHER FRANZ VISITS
An outstanding surprise in the fall of 1953 was the visit of Brother F. W. Franz. He was the principal speaker at El Salvador’s New World Society Assembly held from October 13 to 18. The brothers were thrilled to hear him deliver the main talks given a few months before at the huge international assembly in New York’s Yankee Stadium. To the delight of everyone, 1,225 came to the National Theater in San Salvador to hear the public address “After Armageddon—God’s New World.” The talk was simultaneously broadcast over one of the local radio stations.
FIRST OF THE SOCIETY’S FILMS
One of the outstanding features of 1954 was the republic-wide showing of the film “The New World Society in Action.” It truly enhanced the brothers’ appreciation of Jehovah’s organization. In the port town of Acajutla—population about 3,000 persons—a theater was offered free, along with an hour’s publicity over the loudspeaker. The results were that 400 attended and many people were attracted to the truth. One family asked that someone visit them since they wanted to become Jehovah’s Witnesses. Now there is a good-sized congregation in Acajutla. Experiences like this frequently followed the showing of the film in all parts of the country.
NEW BRANCH BUILDING
In December 1954, Brother Knorr visited El Salvador once again. By this time the construction of a new branch building at North Third Avenue and San Carlos Street was in progress. It is interesting how the building of this branch came about.
In 1949 Dorothy Thompson called on Paulina de Perla, the wife of the well-known engineer who had opposed the Catholic Church on the reconstruction of the cathedral. While Paulina bathed her little son, Baltasar, Jr., Dorothy witnessed to her. Although she manifested interest, communication was lost with her when she moved to another neighborhood.
Later, Paulina was found again, by Charlotte Bowin, and accepted a Bible study. Her husband, Baltasar, Sr., was then an undersecretary in President Oscar Osorio’s cabinet. Baltasar wanted to improve his English, and so he had his wife ask Charlotte if she would give him some private English classes. During these classes, Charlotte would talk about the Bible and the true religion. Eventually Baltasar became so interested that he asked Charlotte to study the Bible with him, in Spanish.
President Osorio’s government was having problems with the Catholic Church, so Baltasar suggested that the way to combat the Catholics was to set the Protestants against them. It was recommended that the president help the Protestants. He agreed, but where to begin? Baltasar invited Charles Beedle and Charlotte to talk with President Osorio. During this meeting they were able to give the president a good witness about God’s kingdom. He was very favorably impressed with what he heard and was glad to help the Witnesses.
Baltasar, although not yet having completely accepted the truth, expressed a desire to design and build a branch building for Jehovah’s Witnesses, without any professional charges. His plans were submitted to the Watch Tower Society in Brooklyn for approval.
Thus Brother Knorr, in December 1954, stood at the construction site, surrounded by first-story walls and iron framework, and gave a short speech translated into Spanish by Brother Beedle. He said that he hoped that the structure would soon be too small to care for the Kingdom work adequately in El Salvador. Since the home was to have six bedrooms, a dining room, a reception room, a kitchen, a pantry, a laundry, an office and a stockroom, besides the Kingdom Hall seating some 300 persons, plus space on the terrace for additional bedrooms, these comments seemed a little farfetched to those who listened.
EL SALVADOR CHANGES ITS APPEARANCE
During Osorio’s term as president the country started to develop impressively. New labor laws were established that provided social security benefits. Also, minimum wage laws went into effect. A new coastline highway was constructed, affording better access to the ports, such as the port at Acajutla, as well as breathtaking panoramic views for tourists. Changes in banking laws made conditions more favorable for investment and for opening new enterprises. As a result, a larger middle class was produced, and the standard of living for many was raised.
The goal of President Osorio, when he went into office in 1950, was to do away with the multiple compounds where the poor were obliged to crowd large families into a single room. Although this goal was not fully realized, the Urban Housing Institute began a systematic campaign of building four-story apartment buildings, as well as single dwellings, that could be bought or rented from the government by persons in low-income brackets.
So during the 1950’s El Salvador changed greatly from what it was when the first missionaries arrived. More and more cars began to appear. New motor buses replaced the old “green dragons,” many of which were truck beds with wooden bodies and homemade seats. Store windows displayed a variety of items to catch the eye of window-shoppers, and new factories sprang up everywhere.
APPRECIATION FOR SPIRITUAL THINGS
During Brother Knorr’s visit an assembly was held in the Workers’ Confederation Hall. The public talk “The Love of God to the Rescue in Man’s Crisis” was widely advertised. The Morales family in San Juan Talpa learned of the assembly, and young Raúl was determined to attend. He got up at three o’clock in the morning and walked more than 20 miles (32 km) to San Salvador to attend the assembly and was one of the 572 who heard the public talk. When he returned home, he was more determined than ever to keep on pursuing spiritual things.
ADJUSTMENTS IN MISSIONARY WORK
In December 1954 two new missionary couples arrived, Paul and Muriel Coconis and Daniel and Joan Elder. Paul and Muriel were immediately assigned to the San Miguel missionary home. Shortly afterward, however, the missionaries in San Miguel received notice that the home would be transferred to Santiago de María. This move was made so that the preaching work could be opened up in other communities.
The missionaries preached not only in Santiago de María, but in the surrounding villages as well. They would take a bus at six o’clock in the morning and usually return home on the last one in the evening. A Watchtower study was held on Sunday afternoons in Chinameca, and when the missionaries returned at night they would conduct another study in Santiago de María. On another day of the week they preached in Usulután, Berlín and Alegría. Much interest was developed in these places, and later, when the missionary home was moved, special pioneers were sent to some of these towns to follow up on the interest.
Also, early in 1955, the Santa Ana missionary home was moved to Sonsonate. So at this time there was a strong group of missionaries working out of missionary homes in Ahuachapán, Santiago de María, Sonsonate, and, of course, San Salvador.
A PATRIARCHAL FAMILY
Back in 1951 a young man in Santiago Texacuangos named Juan Peña began to study the Bible in earnest. He was baptized in 1952, and some time later began to pioneer. In time, he was appointed congregation servant in Santiago Texacuangos. Twenty of the people with whom Juan studied were baptized in this one congregation. His family alone made up a good-sized congregation. Juan’s grandfather, Abraham Peña, built a new concrete home so that there would be a more adequate Kingdom Hall.
One should not think that this activity of the Peña family was undertaken on the spur of the moment, an emotional reaction. They had always been very religious, and their home had been used by the Church as a depository for its images. Abraham’s wife, Lugarda, had about 20 images on a low table, and she spent an hour adoring and bowing before them each night. But as the seeds of truth were planted, Abraham called a family meeting in a cornfield to decide if the responsible heads of the family were in accord with the decision to abandon the Catholic Church. They were, so they moved into action.
Abraham bought a new station wagon, which his sons drove on excursions to other towns. These were not pleasure trips; they were for the purpose of bringing the Kingdom good news to these places. Sometimes the family would stay as long as two or three days. Brother Beedle, who usually went along on these trips, would give public lectures in the evenings. This was done in Sonsonate, and many people of interest were located. When the missionary home was established there in 1955, the interest was cared for by the missionaries.
PERSECUTION DEFEATED; SHEEP GATHERED
No sooner had the missionaries begun to work in Sonsonate than Italian-American priests started a campaign of hate and opposition against them. The leader of this group scorched Jehovah’s Witnesses nightly on his 15-minute radio program in the hope of rousing public opinion against them. Even though these priests had won the friendship of many of the people because of their liberal ways, some of their best friends told them to “lay off” the Witnesses.
The priests didn’t listen, however, and went so far as to excommunicate the landlord of the missionary home, because he would not expel the Witnesses from his house. The landlord, one of the most prominent men in Sonsonate, was not easily bluffed. Already his impression of the Catholic Church and its priestly representatives was not very good, and now it took a further plunge. His wife showed no signs of being perturbed over the excommunication edict either. This action cost the priests much prestige with the people, and the persecution was defeated. The missionaries continued faithfully carrying the message of life to the people, and today there is an active congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses in this city.
Sheeplike persons were also manifesting themselves in Ahuachapán. A young junior-high-school student was seen one day sitting outside the Kingdom Hall there listening to the meeting. His name was Pedro Guerrero. He was a small youth weighing probably less than 80 pounds (36 kg). When he was asked what he wanted, he said that he was looking for the Witnesses. From then on he began regularly to attend the meetings and received a home Bible study from Tillman Humphrey. In 1958 he was baptized, and he went on to enjoy many privileges in the organization, including serving as circuit servant.
DEFEATING THE SMOKING HABIT
A number of people with sheeplike dispositions had the smoking habit. One of these was an elderly man named Daniel Zaldaña, who lived across the street from the missionary home in Ahuachapán. He was a chain smoker, and it bothered him that he could not quit. Mary Nosal, the missionary who studied with him, told him to concentrate on his Bible study, and later he could decide what to do about the habit.
One night Daniel came to Mary with good news. He had finally quit smoking! He was baptized in 1956, and for the last 15 years he has been pioneering. What a fine example he sets! Although old, and suffering from bad health, he puts Kingdom interests first in his life.
About this same time two sisters, Juana and Herminia Escobar, were found by Mary Nosal. Besides being deeply involved in spiritism, they, too, were chain smokers. One of them would put a cigarette behind her ear to light as soon as she was finished with the one she was smoking. They also had an entire wall of the house covered with images, which they greatly esteemed. But, in time, these two sisters took down their images, gave up smoking completely and separated from spiritism. It became a common sight to see both of them at the circuit and district assemblies faithfully helping in the kitchen or dishwashing.
NEW BRANCH DEDICATED
In June 1955 the new branch building in San Salvador was completed. Long hours of hard work had gone into providing this comfortable home, office and Kingdom Hall. Jane Beedle wrote:
“We lived only two or three blocks from where the branch was being built. When my husband and Baltasar were putting the tar on the terrace and doing all the wiring, we would take a lunch over to them. They would sometimes work 14 hours a day to get the job done. When they were making the chairs Curtis Smedstad was here too, and how they did work to get the iron parts of the chairs made and welded. They made five hundred chairs. We missionary girls had an active part in getting the building clean and making curtains to have everything ready for the dedication.”
Brother John Parker came over from Guatemala to give the dedication talk. On that occasion Baltasar Perla surprised everybody by saying, “Jehovah God is responsible for this building.” This was the first time that he had acknowledged his belief in Jehovah as the Supreme Authority. Many people came to inspect the building and enjoy the ice cream that was served to all the visitors. The next day Brother Parker gave the public talk “Overcoming the Fears of This Generation.”
BALTASAR BECOMES A WITNESS
Shortly after the branch was completed, Baltasar Perla went to the United States on an invitation from the United States government. When he was in New York, he saw an advertisement for a correspondence course concerning Catholic doctrine. Here, he felt, was an opportunity to see what the Catholic Church taught about the Kingdom, which was the Bible subject that particularly appealed to him. He paid $200 (U.S.) for the complete course; this included two cartons of books and booklets.
Off he went to his hotel, and for the next three days he made comparisons of this literature with the Bible. He finally came to the conclusion that the Catholic religion was not in agreement with the Bible’s teaching. Since his business took him to various parts of the United States, he looked up the Kingdom Hall wherever possible.
In Columbus, Ohio, he made his dedication to Jehovah, and later, at an assembly in New York, he symbolized this dedication by water baptism. It was not particularly doctrinal information, he says, that attracted him to the Witnesses, but their Christian behavior. He was impressed by the happiness in their marriages, such as the marriage of Charles and Jane Beedle. He wanted his children to grow up and enjoy this happiness. In 1960, when Brother Curtis Smedstad left El Salvador, Baltasar became city servant of San Salvador.
A SECOND CIRCUIT FORMED
In October 1955 Saúl De León, a young pioneer from Santa Ana, was appointed circuit servant in place of Antolin Castillo Peña, who had become unfaithful. Then, in January 1956, a second circuit was formed, and Brother Smedstad was again made circuit servant.
ANOTHER SOCIETY FILM
In May 1956 Chrissie Wilson and Florence Enevoldsen joined the missionary ranks, bringing with them the Society’s new film “The Happiness of the New World Society.” Even though it was light outside, the missionaries immediately darkened the hallway in order to see it. Since Curtis Smedstad, a graduate of Gilead’s 14th class, had a car, he took this film from place to place showing it to hundreds of appreciative persons. Curtis tells of an experience in the northern part of the country.
“We had to pass through private property to another town. The owners had a toll for the privilege of using their road. Leaving our car there at the owner’s farm, we had to travel on by horseback. The arrangement was for us to pay when we returned. Well, along the way we were able to show the film to large crowds.
“By the time we returned to the farm, word had gotten back and they wouldn’t let us go on until we had shown them the film also. As it was daytime, they hurried up and gathered all the workers, about 75 or so, and crowded us all into a small room, shutting the doors and windows to make it dark. You can imagine the steam bath we got. Yet no one left, and all were very enthusiastic. As I made arrangements to pay for using their road, the manager refused, saying that they should pay me instead. Much literature was left.”
MISSIONARIES NEW AND OLD
Many of the new missionaries continued to experience the culture shock that often occurs when moving to a different country. Florence Enevoldsen and Chrissie Wilson were assigned to San Salvador. Florence reminisces:
“At our first meeting the only words that we understood in the whole two hours were ‘Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society.’ These were used in Charles Beedle’s closing comments. The following Sunday, we went out in the field service with a group that included Evelyn Hill. Evelyn patiently interpreted between the local brothers and us.
“We worked a particularly dirty ‘meson’ [housing facility for several families] that morning. Chrissie saw some huge cockroaches that duly impressed her and that, along with other conditions, contributed to making her somewhat ill. One lady kindly offered her a glass of water with an Alka-Seltzer. Having been warned of the water, she refused to drink it. So the local sister with her drank it so that the lady wouldn’t be offended. The publishers kindly saw us back to the missionary home, although we knew the way. But because of not being able to speak much Spanish, we couldn’t communicate sufficiently to convince them of it.”
As new missionaries came, older ones often left. Sometimes it was to get married. Charlotte Bowin, who had served seven years in El Salvador, became engaged to Albert Schroeder following the European assemblies in 1955. Early in 1956 she began her new assignment in New York, working at Kingdom Farm. Today Brother Schroeder is a member of the Governing Body, and Charlotte now serves with him and their 22-year-old son, Judah Ben, at Brooklyn Bethel.
FURTHER USE OF RADIO
Also in 1956 radio station YSAX began to broadcast the program prepared by Jehovah’s Witnesses, “Things People Are Thinking About.” These broadcasts continued for three years until the Catholic Church bought the station, when they were discontinued. Many people were attracted to the truth through these radio programs.
PROTEST TO RUSSIA
At the circuit assembly in August–September 1956 in San Salvador, a petition was presented protesting the mistreatment of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia. Some 500 voices joined in approval of this petition that was addressed to Soviet officials. Copies of the petition were given to the newspapers in El Salvador. Several of the papers printed the petition in part, or fully. It was also broadcast by some of the radio stations. Jehovah’s Witnesses in El Salvador thus took the opportunity to demonstrate their love for their brothers in Russia.
At the circuit assembly in the village of Armenia in December 1956 the program called for a showing of the Society’s film “The Happiness of the New World Society.” It was to be shown in a hall large enough to accommodate the number of people expected. However, somehow the Catholic priest in Armenia gained entrance to the place and cut the electric connections. Brother Beedle went to talk to the landlady about the problem and, while doing so, sensed that the priest was hiding behind the curtain. He asked the priest to come out, which he sheepishly did.
It was too late to make the necessary repairs for showing the film in the rented hall. However, the brothers arranged to show it against a white plaster wall, right out in the street. The result was that many more people saw the film there than would have seen it inside the hall.
SPECIAL PIONEER RANKS INCREASE
Angel Montalvo, the musician who had sold his guitar to buy a Bible, was now serving as a special pioneer in this same village of Armenia. His partner was Raúl Morales, the young man who had walked from his village of San Juan Talpa to attend his first assembly in San Salvador. It is interesting how he came to be a pioneer.
After his baptism in 1955 Raúl did not understand what a pioneer was. So when Charles Beedle, noting how active he was in the service, asked him if he was a pioneer, Raúl didn’t know what to say. Charles explained that a pioneer spends about 100 hours every month in the preaching work. Raúl then answered, “If that is what a pioneer is, then I guess I am one.”
After formally entering the pioneer ranks, Raúl accepted his first assignment in Cojutepeque as of January 1956. Later that year he went to Armenia to work with Brother Montalvo.
FIRST SALVADORAN GILEAD STUDENT
The young circuit overseer from Santa Ana, Saúl De León, became the first person from El Salvador to attend Gilead School. The missionaries had helped prepare him by teaching him English. He was invited in 1957 to the 31st class, and graduated the following year. This left a vacant spot on the circuit. Raúl Morales was chosen to take his place and began serving in September 1957.
YOUTH WITNESSES TO HIS FAMILY
The young lad, Jorge Guevara, who had thrown his Bible to the floor in despair on one occasion after being counseled by the Theocratic School servant, was making excellent spiritual progress. When he was only 16 years old, he gave his first public talk on the subject of evolution. In 1957 he graduated from high school. His mother and brother came in from El Hormiguero, a village about 90 miles (140 km) east of San Salvador, for his graduation.
Jorge had long felt resentment toward his family, blaming them for his loneliness as a youth. “If I hadn’t been a Witness,” Jorge says, “I would never have spoken to my family again.” However, now he began to witness to them. Though they were members of a Protestant sect, they listened to him attentively. Arrangements were made for Saúl De León, who was serving as circuit overseer, to visit them, and what he found amazed him.
There were five people who had made their decision to become Jehovah’s Witnesses just by reading the literature that Jorge had left them. Brother Saúl De León baptized them, and a crowd of 75 were present, which was a good witness in itself. Since then, more of the family of Jorge Guevara have learned the truth and have taken the step of baptism, and they continue faithful in Jehovah’s service.
IMPORTANT EVENTS IN 1957
In 1957 a compact Kingdom Hall-missionary home was completed in Santa Anita, a neighborhood in the south end of San Salvador. Shortly after its dedication in October, Gilead graduates Frederick and Dorothy Bowers and Kenneth and Virginia Kiesel arrived in El Salvador. The Kiesels, along with Chrissie Wilson and Florence Enevoldsen, were assigned to the new missionary home in Santa Anita. Florence writes, “We moved into the home in the midst of a tropical rainstorm. The water came in the house everywhere. We were bailing it out for several days.”
During 1957 two new congregations were formed to raise the total to 12 in El Salvador. There were also 46 full-time publishers, including 21 missionaries, working isolated territories. Both the Santiago de María and the Ahuachapán missionary homes were closed during the year and the congregations placed in the care of special pioneers.
Another fine circuit assembly was held in Sonsonate in 1957. The assembly site was the old City Hall. It had a concrete trough about 10 feet (3 m) square and two-and-a-half feet (.76 m) deep in the back patio. There 47 persons were baptized.
ASSEMBLY AT NEW SITE
In February 1958 Aubrey Bivens, the zone overseer, and M. G. Henschel from Brooklyn Bethel visited El Salvador for an assembly. The big problem facing the brothers was finding a suitable location for the gathering. Previous ones had been in the Workers’ Hall in San Salvador, but that was now too small to accommodate all who were expected. The solution to the problem was not long in coming.
Víctor Recinos, a friendly neighbor living on the north side of the branch home, had been watching the comings and goings of the Witnesses and admired them. One day, while conversing with Brother Beedle, he generously offered his property for the assembly. His large piece of property had a natural “bowl” that had been excavated for another project, and it was shaded by numerous and well-situated trees.
Many brothers helped to clear away the underbrush, and this left a clean, pleasant amphitheater. Since the public talk was entitled “The New Song for the Men of Good Will,” a low fence was built in front of the platform that was designed to give the appearance of a staff of music, with music notes for the uprights. Painted in gold, it was very attractive. Several large poinsettia plants in bloom completed the decoration.
There was a small building at the back of the property where the cafeteria facilities were set up. Much of the food was prepared at the branch home and transported across the street to the cafeteria. At the conclusion of the assembly each one lifted his chair, put it on his head, and carried it across the street to the Kingdom Hall at the branch. Many remarked that they had never before seen such cheerful cooperation.
Among the 61 who symbolized their dedication by water baptism at this assembly was a brother from La Unión who was of half Arabic descent. He was the first of the numerous Arabic population to become a Witness. On the Monday following the assembly Brother Beedle received word from a special pioneer in La Unión that the bus the brothers were on had been in an accident. Three brothers were instantly killed, including the one who had just been baptized.
Tears flowed as the brothers gathered at the scene of the accident and picked the convention notes, songbooks and other belongings from the wreckage. By the time Brother Beedle reached La Unión it was too late to give a funeral talk, since the crowds were already at the cemetery for the burial. The special pioneers in La Unión deeply felt the loss of their precious brothers who were the fruits of their labors.
ADJUSTMENT IN BRANCH MANAGEMENT
By the spring of 1958 Brother Beedle had, for ten years, taken almost sole oversight of the activity of Jehovah’s Witnesses in El Salvador. For much of this time he carried the duties of circuit and district servant, as well as congregation overseer, missionary home servant and chief errand boy. He had supervised the construction of the branch building as well as the Kingdom Hall-missionary home in Santa Anita. The pressures of all these responsibilities took their toll on him physically and mentally, and he needed some relief. So in April of 1958 Brother Frederick Bowers was appointed branch servant. That month 1,295 attended the Memorial in 13 congregations. And there was a peak of 460 publishers.
HEAD OF THEOCRATIC FAMILY DIES
In April 1958 Abraham Peña, Sr., died at a ripe old age. His wife, Lugarda, was 85 at the time. They had learned the truth only five years before. Shortly before his death Abraham called all of his children to his bedside to give them admonition to continue faithful to their dedication to Jehovah. Lugarda had borne him 17 children, only seven of which were alive at the time.
The meetings continued to be held in the Peña home. By 1971 all together 28 members of the family had been baptized. In that year Lugarda died at the age of 97. She had continued faithful, and the truth was clearly in her mind right up until her death.
ORIGIN OF USULUTÁN CONGREGATION
In 1958 Carlos Reyes, a member of the National Guard, began to study the Bible, and was moved by what he was learning to marry Rosa, the woman with whom he was living. Due to leaving military life, he found his economic situation very difficult, but his spiritual situation continued to improve. Within the year both he and Rosa were baptized. The next year they became pioneers and were assigned to Usulután, selling their furniture in order to make the move. A foundation was thus laid for a congregation there, beginning with only six publishers. Now there are over 90 publishers preaching the good news in Usulután.
SALVADORANS ATTEND NEW YORK ASSEMBLY
Up until 1958 only three or four Salvadorans had attended assemblies in the United States. But now, as the time for the Divine Will International Assembly in New York drew closer, enthusiasm ran high. All together 53 from El Salvador were able to make the trip.
A plane was chartered to Florida, where the brothers were met by Curtis Smedstad and Leticia Rosales, the former wife of Colonel Oscar Osorio. You will recall that Oscar had been president of El Salvador when Baltasar Perla began to study with the Witnesses. Baltasar had tried hard to help Oscar to progress in the truth, but Oscar was unable to withstand the attractions of worldly politics. However, Jane Beedle studied with Leticia, and when she eventually went to the United States she progressed in the truth and was baptized. She was so happy to be there to meet her countrymen.
Leticia bid the brothers farewell as they boarded the bus that had been chartered to take them to New York. Charles Beedle went along to help them with any problem they might have en route. At the assembly they rejoiced to be with their brothers from around the world, as well as Saúl De León, who was attending Gilead at the time.
Many Salvadoran brothers worked in volunteer service and some came home with a list of friends from other countries with whom they carried on correspondence. Pedro Aguilar, a special pioneer from La Unión, found this correspondence so interesting that he later went to the United States to marry a sister he was writing to. Raúl Morales faced the same decision, but he said he feared to bring a foreign girl to El Salvador. It might turn out like the European cars, he said, that you can’t always get parts for. He decided to continue his service in El Salvador where the need for Kingdom proclaimers was greater.
This assembly made a great impression on the brothers, and their minds and hearts carried indelible impressions of the love, harmony and unity in the New World Society. It was at a special get-together of all the convention delegates from El Salvador in a New York hotel that Jane Beedle announced that she and Charles would soon be parents. This meant that they would have to leave the missionary home. However, they were determined to remain in El Salvador.
FROM MISSIONARIES TO PARENTS
In the fall of 1958 the Beedles were busy trying to find accommodations outside the missionary home. One day Jane stopped at the market to talk to Paula Martínez, a Witness who was selling potatoes there. Jane explains what happened:
“There was a little stool behind the sacks of potatoes where I sat down. Paula knew that I was expecting a baby, so I mentioned that we would be leaving the missionary home and that we were looking for a place to live. She was so surprised that we would have to leave the missionary home. I explained to her that the brothers contribute their money to the Society for the sole purpose of getting the preaching work done. Therefore, no one who was raising a family, and thus was not in position to give full time to the preaching activity, would have a right to take up a place in the missionary home. She smiled so broadly and said, ‘What an organization we have!’ I really believe that the fact that we were ‘put out,’ so to speak, enhanced her appreciation of the organization.
“When we started raising a family, Charles had to find a secular job to make a living, as do most of our brothers. This common situation helped to create a certain closeness to the brothers that we did not feel before. Having common problems and difficulties gave us a tie with them that we hadn’t had as missionaries.”
Jessie Smedstad at this time also announced that she and Curtis would have a child. The Beedles found a lovely apartment that fall. The owner, Leticia Rosales, was still in the United States. The Smedstads also found a house near the branch office, and Colonel Osorio, the former president of El Salvador, gave each family some furniture to start housekeeping.
In January 1959 Ronald and Gladys Ash were assigned to El Salvador from the 25th class of Gilead. They were transferred to the Santa Tecla missionary home, and soon afterward announced that they were expecting a new arrival. Would they return to their home in Canada after only seven months in their assignment?
As yet they had very little experience with the people and the language, so it was really a difficult decision to make. Ronald’s four-month search for work ended with a job that he holds till now. They continue to associate with the Santa Tecla congregation, helping the missionaries strengthen the congregation there.
ASSEMBLIES IN 1959
In 1959 two circuit assemblies were planned, one for the circuit served by Saúl De León since his return from Gilead, and the other for the circuit served by Raúl Morales. Then thoughts were turned toward the national assembly. The previous year this was held in the lot across from the branch. This year a splendid location was found where the brothers had not looked before. It was the new community house for a modern housing development in one of San Salvador’s suburbs called Montserrat.
Ex-president Osorio once again manifested generosity toward Jehovah’s Witnesses by sending a butchered calf as a gift to the cafeteria. This assembly attracted 748 for the public talk “When God Speaks Peace to All Nations,” delivered by Brother Bowers.
A young mural painter, Violeta Bonilla de Cevallos, with whom Jane Beedle had been studying, offered to help to decorate the stage. Violeta had done well-known work on many national monuments, as well as murals in the president’s house and in other government buildings. She used as a model the illustration in The Watchtower of April 15, 1959, page 228, showing praisers of Jehovah from among people of all races. The mural she painted was photographed for newspapers and television and was cause for much comment. Violeta was one of the 61 baptized at this assembly.
A CHANGE THAT BROUGHT BLESSINGS
Celia de Liévano was Baltasar Perla’s secretary when he was in government. For some time he had tried to interest her in a Bible study, but with no results. One of the missionaries was asked to give her English lessons, and after these classes the missionary would witness to her. In time a Bible study was started, and Celia began to attend meetings and go in the field service. Finally, she was baptized at the national assembly in 1959.
Celia’s husband, Carlos, opposed her, principally due to his belief in evolution. He even took her to a Jesuit priest so that the priest could convince her that her new religion was wrong. With her newly acquired Bible knowledge, Celia not only defended her new religion but also proved the Catholic priest wrong. Thus in 1961 Carlos Liévano joined his wife as a baptized witness of Jehovah. Since then both of them have been active in speaking the truth to others.
All their lives the Liévanos had been taught to strive for professional prominence, and they were well on their way. When they decided to become Jehovah’s Witnesses, their worldly friends told them that they would now fail in the professional field and in anything else that they might try to do because they had left the Catholic Church. But as the Liévanos explain: “Looking back, we can see with appreciation the innumerable blessings we have received from the hand of Jehovah.”
NEW MISSIONARIES ARRIVE
September 1959 was an important month in the lives of four young girls: Winifred Scott, Patricia Hancock and Jean Unwin from England, and Tyra Mills from South Africa. These recent graduates of Gilead School were glad to see many missionaries at the airport to meet them. Then six more Gilead graduates from the 34th class were welcomed to El Salvador on May 5, 1960.
The scene was quite different from what it had been when earlier missionaries arrived. As their TAN Airlines plane taxied down the smooth runway, the new missionaries caught sight of a small but well-constructed and clean-looking airport. Their ride to the capital was no longer a breathtaking affair, but rather they rode in relaxed comfort along a paved, four-lane highway, enjoying the scenery of their new home. Thus it was that Samuel and Delores Stago, Leonard and Hilja Shimkus, and Paul and Marilyn Walthard were introduced to El Salvador. The very next day they began the month-long, 11-hour-a-day language course.
MISSIONARY ACTIVITY BEARS FRUITAGE
The work of the missionaries continued to bear fruitage. Before moving to Costa Rica to marry Charles Sheldon, Florence Enevoldsen started to study with Bessie de Cañas, who had a small store in the south end of San Salvador. Bessie’s husband, Héctor, opposed her from the beginning. But by the time that Florence turned the study over to Chrissie Wilson, Héctor had begun reading the magazines once in a while. He and Bessie were soon baptized, and Héctor now serves as an elder in one of the congregations that meet in the branch Kingdom Hall.
Also in 1960, Chrissie Wilson met Oscar Zeleya López who was 17 years old at the time. Chrissie, and whoever accompanied her, would sit on stones outside a little hut where the family slept. Oscar never missed a study, rain or shine. Chrissie still remembers many a Sunday afternoon when she would sit under an umbrella or tarp and conduct the study with the rain pouring down. Oscar, too, now serves as an elder in one of the San Salvador congregations.
In September of 1960 college students joined in a rebellion against the government. It became necessary for the president, Colonel José María Lemus, to abdicate the presidency and leave the country the following month. A new six-man government called “La Junta” was formed. There were some skirmishes in the streets, and on one occasion a bus was turned over to form a barricade. After a few days things quieted down, but the city carried a few scars since trigger-happy desperados had gone through the capital, shooting public clocks maintained by the city or by commercial houses. Years passed before any of these were repaired or replaced.
The witness work was not greatly affected by all of this except that it was thought best that the missionaries do household chores for a few days until the rumors of violence disappeared. It was during this time that Baltasar was making his last efforts to help Colonel Oscar Osorio come into the truth. However, when Oscar went to the United States to live, his studies were interrupted. They were never renewed, and he died in 1969 without really doing much with the Bible truths he had learned. The situation, however, was quite different with another former ruler of El Salvador. It is interesting to consider his efforts in governing the country.
EL SALVADOR’S NEW GOVERNMENT
A member of the six-man Junta that began to rule El Salvador in October 1960 was Rubén Rosales. He was a military leader who had been prominent in ousting the Lemus regime. In fact, he had complete control of the planning and executing of the military part of the overthrow. The new Junta felt that it could be instrumental in changing conditions in El Salvador for the better. But matters did not work out as hoped, as Rubén explained:
“Things did not go as we planned. Shortly after we came to power, the archbishop called me. He said that he wanted to talk to the Junta in private, and that the discussion should be kept secret.
“The archbishop told us, in effect: ‘You are a new government and I am in position to support this government from the pulpit. In return, you can support us.’
“We knew what he was talking about. From the records available to us, we knew that Catholic religious institutions had been receiving financial support from the previous government. The archbishop obviously was interested in seeing a continuation of such considerations to the Church by our new government.
“I was a Catholic, but I could see that such preferential treatment was not proper; it was not constitutional. The other members of the Junta agreed. So the six of us refused to provide the Church financial support. The archbishop was visibly upset and suggested that we would regret our decision.
“Shortly, a campaign started from church pulpits. The priests asserted that our government was pro-Castro and pro-Communist. We had tapes made of these talks, so we knew the charges being made. But we felt it might do more harm than good to suppress this campaign, since the Church carried much weight with many.
“An adverse effect on our government was soon felt. There came to be suspicion about our political orientation. The United States was concerned and withheld recognition of us. But what were the facts?
“In time the Church-sponsored charges were seen to be unfounded, and the United States extended us recognition. The New York Times of December 1, 1960, said:
“‘The tendency to see communism and the new appeal of “Fidelismo” in every drive for political and social change in Latin America is a dangerous one. . . .
“‘The three civilian members of the junta, despite loose accusations of “Fidelismo,” are liberals and democrats. . . . All six men have pledged themselves to a democratic program and they deserve every chance to prove their goodwill.’
“Despite the vindication, great harm to our credibility had been done by the Church-sponsored vilification campaign. And when the army learned of the Junta’s intention of taking it out of the political situation, it also began to oppose the Junta. So the following year our new six-man government was overthrown and replaced by another government.”
Rubén Rosales went to the United States, settling in Los Angeles, California. There, a number of years later, he learned the truth and was baptized in August 1969. His entire family, including some relatives in El Salvador, also became Witnesses. For many years now he has served as an elder, sharing with others the only true hope regarding the way good government will be realized.
CIRCUIT WORK SUFFERS
The circuit activity received a blow when Brother Raúl Morales left the circuit work in August of 1960. For some time he had been torn between a desire to go to Gilead and to get married. In January 1961 he married Andrea Lazo, a young sister in the Santa Anita congregation.
About the same time, the other circuit overseer in the country, Saúl De León, became involved in immorality with a married missionary sister. In time, however, they turned from their wrong course, and once again are members of Jehovah’s clean organization. Thus, within a few months, both circuits lost their circuit overseers. So missionary Foi Bryen, whose wife had died only a few months before of a rare form of colitis, was chosen to replace Saúl De León on one circuit. And Pedro Guerrero, the young man who years before had come and sat outside the Kingdom Hall in Ahuachapán, replaced Raúl on the other circuit.
VISITS OF SPECIAL REPRESENTATIVES
Early in 1961 Aubrey Bivens made a timely zone visit. Shortly afterward Brother Knorr also visited El Salvador again. Raúl Morales was introduced to him, and Raúl, along with his wife, was placed on the special pioneer list. They were assigned to Santa Ana. At the time of these visits Samuel Stago was assigned to replace Brother Bowers as branch overseer, as of April 1, 1961.
PUTTING KINGDOM INTERESTS FIRST
For the Memorial in 1961 the attendance rose to 1,878, an increase of almost 300 over the previous year. Also, a new peak of 638 Kingdom publishers was reached that month. This fine progress was made possible in part by the hard work of people like Antonia Contreras, a schoolteacher who had been busy preaching the good news in the town of Juayúa since 1958.
In 1961 Antonia decided to leave her secular vocation and join the pioneer ranks. She thus became the first of the Salvadoran publishers to leave a professional career for the full-time service. Antonia has been richly blessed for her efforts and sacrifice. Now, some 20 years later, she is still in the pioneer service, and many have learned the truth from her diligent efforts. One of her Bible studies later became her pioneer partner.
In December 1961 the United Worshipers District Assembly was held. Once again the property of Mr. Recinos, located opposite the branch building, was used. Enthusiasm ran high as 1,200 persons came to hear the talk “When All Nations Unite Under God’s Kingdom” delivered by Brother Stago.
The following March Brother Knorr visited once again. A total of 1,130 came to hear his public talk in San Salvador’s National Gymnasium. This is a beautiful, modern gymnasium that can seat up to 11,000. It is built in the form of a bowl with no upright supports for the roof. This is a place that Jehovah’s Witnesses in El Salvador were to become well acquainted with.
KINGDOM MINISTRY SCHOOL
Earlier in the year, on February 5, 1962, the first class of the Kingdom Ministry School commenced in El Salvador at the branch headquarters. Congregation overseers, circuit overseers, special pioneers and missionaries attended and received valuable instruction. Eventually all the missionaries had opportunity to take the course. Brother David Hibshman, the branch overseer in Guatemala, came over for four months to teach the first three classes. When Brother Knorr made his visit in March, the second group was just beginning the course, and it was an additional treat for the students to meet him.
Arranging for carrying on the School was something new for everyone, but each one pitched in and things went along smoothly. Locating places for the students to sleep had to be taken care of in advance. Congregations in San Salvador responded by providing lodging, and a few students slept upstairs in the Kingdom Hall. Those who slept in the Hall had the assignment of going to market and helping to prepare breakfast. This meant that they had to rise very early in the morning, resulting in the following embarrassing situation.
A brother assigned to the early chores found himself locked out of the home on coming back early from the market. He did not want to ring the doorbell and awaken Brother Knorr. So he began to tap on the window of one of the bedrooms, calling Chrissie Wilson’s name and asking her to open the front door. What he did not know was that Chrissie had given her room to Brother Knorr. Brother Knorr, awakened by the tapping, began to say a word he had learned in Spanish, hoping to frighten the caller away. He shouted several times, “vámonos” (let’s go), thinking this meant “go away.” The only mention made of this at the breakfast table that morning was Brother Knorr’s comment that some very strange things happen in this home.
The first meals prepared for the students proved rather trying for some of them. They were used to picking up their food with a corn tortilla instead of using knife and fork. But, after a while, they became used to using silverware. Others couldn’t get accustomed to the kind of food prepared by the missionary sisters. However, nobody got sick or died of starvation, and there was very little complaining.
One of the missionaries invited the students to accompany her on sight-seeing tours of the capital. This enabled those from small towns to see some of the interesting spots. Still other missionaries, with the help of two or three students, took turns with the wash. Everybody was kept busy in work and in study, and by all cooperating a fine spirit of companionship was built up.
Raúl Morales had a special reason to remember the Kingdom Ministry School. His wife, Andrea, began the course in her last month of pregnancy, and gave birth to their daughter Dorotea before the class was over. So little Dorotea had a theocratic beginning. It is only natural to see her faithfully serving Jehovah more than 18 years later as a special pioneer.
NEW CIRCUIT SERVANTS
In 1962 the country was again in need of circuit servants. Foi Bryen married Marina Vidaurre, a young sister from the Soyapango congregation. And the family of Pedro Guerrero, who had been serving on the other circuit since August 1960, was growing so fast that his wife, América, could no longer manage to special pioneer and care for the children. Brother Hibshman, who was at the time teaching the Kingdom Ministry School, recommended two young men from Guatemala. They were zealous, anxious to learn and quite capable, although without circuit experience.
So on May 31, 1962, Marco Rolando Morales and Juan Mazariegos came to El Salvador and lived temporarily at the missionary home. They were given a few weeks’ training on the circuit, and then they were on their own.
ARRANGING CIRCUIT ASSEMBLIES
In the summer of 1962 Brothers Morales and Mazariegos had their initiation in assembly preparations. In the east, an assembly was arranged for San Miguel, and in the west one was scheduled for Sonsonate. Juan Mazariegos could not find a place suitable in Sonsonate for an assembly. The only place that appealed to him was a school, but schools had never been used for circuit assemblies in El Salvador. Juan went into action and talked to the school principal and then to the school delegate in Sonsonate. He was told to get a permit in San Salvador from the Office of Provisions and Student Housing. Permission was given to use the school, and so the assembly program was arranged.
However, shortly before the assembly Juan went to check on the school, and the principal said that the Witnesses would not be able to use it since the permit had been revoked. Juan rushed to San Salvador where he was told that the school could not be used due to clergy opposition. So he began a search for another suitable place, but without success.
Therefore Juan decided to fight for the use of the school and trust in Jehovah to help him. He called the Minister of Education and asked for an audience, but it was denied him since the minister was so busy. But Juan did not give up; he typed a nice letter to the minister, prayed for Jehovah’s guidance and, dressed in his very best, went to the minister’s home on Saturday morning, one week before assembly time. This resulted in an interview for the following Tuesday.
On that occasion Juan talked to an under-official of the minister. He was told that a decision would be made the following day. Juan spent Wednesday in Sonsonate preparing for the assembly, and a missionary sister went down to the ministry to obtain its decision. How happy Juan was to receive the wire, “Ministry grants permission to use school.”
The principal of the school gave Juan the keys to the school and the invitation to use anything that was needed. A total of 420 came to hear the public talk that Sunday. After the assembly the principal marveled at how clean the school was and asked when the Witnesses were going to have their next assembly there. Later the Ministry of Education wrote: “We gladly grant you permission to use the facilities of the schools because we recognize your order and cleanliness.”
COURAGEOUS MINISTERS ASSEMBLY
Shortly after this assembly was completed preparation began for the Courageous Ministers District Assembly, which was to be held August 31 to September 2, 1962. A contract was drawn up to use the National Theater in San Salvador, and by means of radio and newspapers the public was encouraged to attend. Then, shortly before assembly time, the contract was suddenly canceled. Fortunately, arrangements were made to use the National Gymnasium again, which, with its ample quarters for cafeteria, refreshment stands, and restroom facilities is an ideal place for assemblies. A total of 1,545 were in attendance for the public talk.
From this time on district assemblies became better organized. Baltasar Perla was the assembly overseer, and other Salvadoran brothers also began to share in caring for responsibilities. The missionaries were no longer able to handle all that is involved in putting on these larger assemblies. The Gymnasium was left in such good condition that the Witnesses were welcomed to use the facilities in the years to follow.
ADJUSTMENT IN BRANCH ADMINISTRATION
Samuel Stago and Marco Rolando Morales were invited to attend the 10-month Gilead course in 1963. In January they left for New York, and Leonard Shimkus took over the duties of branch servant. This became a permanent assignment due to developments later in the year. At that time it came to public notice that, some years before, Brother Stago had been involved in immoral conduct. So he was removed as branch servant and disfellowshiped.
Samuel’s wife, Delores, continued to special pioneer in San Salvador, and Samuel joined her there faithfully attending all the meetings. A year later he was reinstated to the joy of all the brothers. He and Delores have ever since been truly a strengthening aid to the Christian organization in El Salvador, with Samuel now serving as a member of the branch committee.
As 1963 was drawing to a close the minds of the brothers turned once again to preassembly work. The “Everlasting Good News” assembly was to be held in the National Gymnasium December 26 to 29. A total of 25 were baptized there, and 1,340 attended the public talk given by Baltasar Perla.
NEW SOCIETY FILM
During 1964 the Society’s new film “Proclaiming ‘Everlasting Good News’ Around the World” was shown in El Salvador. The film shows the common heritage of all false religions. This presentation was very appropriate in El Salvador because false worship runs rampant here. As viewers watched, the connection between the worship conducted by the churches of Christendom and ancient Babylonish religion was easy to see.
Interestingly, El Salvador has shrines and churches built for the veneration of at least 14 different virgins, such as the Virgin of Transito, Virgin of Candelaria, Virgin of Guadalupe and others. Of course, there are many shrines and altars dedicated simply to the Virgin Mary.
A MAN WHO HELPED WITH PUBLICITY
In visiting radio stations to make arrangements for assembly publicity, Julia Clogston met Rafael Castellanos, the manager of radio station YSU. A Bible study resulted. On the first study Rafael handed Julia a copy of Lecomte du Noüy’s Human Destiny, and said: “This is where I am now. See what you can do with me.”
That was in March 1964. Rafael and his wife were two of the 2,853 in attendance at the Memorial celebration later that month. In May he offered the Society time on station YSU for the program “Things People Are Thinking About.” Also, the station began broadcasting spot announcements whenever there was an assembly or special meeting to be publicized. This couple and their two boys, Roberto and Ricardo, in time were baptized.
MILTON HENSCHEL IS ASSEMBLY GUEST
The “Fruitage of the Spirit” District Assembly was held in February 1965 in the National Gymnasium. By this time the brothers had begun to think of the place as “our Kingdom Hall for once a year.” Milton Henschel from the Brooklyn headquarters was then visiting El Salvador as zone overseer, and he gave the public address “‘Peace Among Men of Good Will’ or Armageddon—Which?” A total of 2,416 heard the talk, which was an increase of more than a thousand over the maximum attendance of the previous district assembly held in December 1963.
ENLARGED PRIVILEGES OF SERVICE
The circuit overseer Juan Mazariegos was invited to the 40th class of Gilead, and Juan De Dios Peña took over his circuit. Also in 1965 Baltasar Perla, Jr., came to enjoy enlarged privileges of theocratic service. It had been many years since his mother, Paulina, had first learned the truth. In July young Baltasar was accepted in Brooklyn Bethel, where he is still faithfully serving. Since December 1978, Hernán Peña, a member of the Peña family of Santiago Texacuangos, has also been serving at Brooklyn Bethel.
In 1965 a new peak of 2,914 persons attended the Memorial, and the number of Kingdom publishers rose to 961.
“DAY OF THE CROSS” EARTHQUAKE
Early each May the markets in El Salvador offer an exceptional variety of fruits so that the people can decorate their wooden crosses for the Day of the Cross, celebrated by many Catholics of San Salvador and environs on May 3. But at 4 a.m., May 3, 1965, something happened that changed all their plans. The Libro de Oro (Book of Gold) published by La Prensa Grafica explains:
“At 4 a.m. today the most violent earthquake registered in 46 years shook the capital and the towns of Ilopango, Soyapango, Mejicanos, Villa Delgado, Santo Tomas, San Marcos and other neighboring places. The intensity of the movement was 7.5; the National Emergency Committee has entered into full activity.”
Hundreds of adobe homes became rubble. The quake created the sensation of a freight train running through the house. If the house did not fall, bottles, knickknacks, china, pictures, and plate-glass windows were shattered. Over a hundred persons were killed, and hundreds more were seriously hurt. Thankfully none of the Witnesses were seriously injured. Nor did the branch building suffer damage beyond some cracks in the plaster.
One missionary couple had heard that you should crawl under the bed in an earthquake. But they looked like a couple of ostriches as they tried this; only their heads would fit under. After the first tremors, another missionary ran to the dining room and took all the dishes in the cupboard and placed them neatly on the floor so they wouldn’t be broken. The next missionary that went to the dining room thought that the quake had left the dishes nicely stacked on the floor, not breaking a one.
INTERNATIONAL ASSEMBLY OF 1966
Over 300 foreigners visited El Salvador from 13 countries to attend the “God’s Sons of Liberty” international assembly, December 10-14. Again the National Gymnasium was the site for the gathering. Radio, TV and newspapers as usual cooperated in giving good publicity.
Fred Franz delivered the discourse “Preach Liberty to the Captives” on the opening day to an audience of 1,640. Since there were only 995 Witnesses in the country, it was evident that many of the public were appreciating the assembly too. Then when Brother Franz gave the public lecture “Mankind’s Millennium Under God’s Kingdom,” with an attendance of 4,780, the brothers’ hearts ran over with joy. On Sunday night even a greater crowd—4,989—came back for the touching dramatization of the endurance of Jeremiah.
Brother Franz sat in the bleachers during the drama. Not realizing whom he was talking to, a visitor asked him who this F. W. Franz was that had received so much publicity. The man expressed some differences with Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Brother Franz answered him, giving Biblical reasons for our beliefs. Then, shortly before the end of the session, Brother Franz left to conduct the final song and prayer. Great was the surprise of this man to discover that it was Brother Franz who had been sitting beside him in the audience. He commented to many afterward that only among Jehovah’s Witnesses could you find a person in such a position of responsibility who was so humble.
There always had been many of the public at assemblies of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Sometimes the attendance would be two or three times the number of Witnesses, but at this assembly the public outnumbered the Witnesses by a ratio of four to one! Since many of the visitors from other lands were lodged in the modern Intercontinental Hotel, it was possible to use their beautiful swimming pool for the baptism.
Tours were arranged so that the visiting assembly delegates could see some of the lakes and volcanoes of El Salvador. Some regretted not having time to spend a few hours of rest and swimming at beautiful, volcanic Lake Coatepeque. However, they were delighted to take pictures of this sapphire-blue gem, with its lava deposits protruding from the tranquil surface to form small islands. Also, the ferns and tropical plants of the country were fascinating to the travelers.
THIRD CIRCUIT FORMED
During the assembly it was suggested that a third circuit be formed, since El Salvador now had 20 congregations and a good number of isolated groups. So in January 1967 Marvin Roth, one of the missionaries, was appointed circuit overseer. He joined Brothers Morales and Mazariegos, who cared for the other two circuits. The Memorial attendance figure of 3,363 in 1967 showed the wonderful prospect for increase.
WHEN WAS JESUS BORN?
Some time after the assembly, radio station YSEB raised the question as to when Jesus was born. As a large number of observations poured in, the station was surprised by the differences of opinion. What they thought would be a simple question with a simple answer had turned into a very complex situation.
One day a representative of the radio station visited the Society’s branch, asking that someone come and give a short discourse on the subject on the radio. This assignment was given to the young circuit overseer, Juan Mazariegos. The Catholic archbishop, along with a priest and a Protestant minister were also invited. Each clergyman spoke a few minutes, and even the archbishop and the priest could not agree as to when Jesus was born. None of them cited the Bible for their answer.
When Brother Mazariegos was given the microphone, he spoke for 30 minutes showing from the Bible why Jesus must have been born around October 1 of the year 2 B.C.E. Many letters were sent to the station asking for more information, and some of these resulted in Bible studies. One letter was from a priest that Brother Mazariegos was able to locate and visit.
MORE APPRECIATED HELP
Reporting on the international assembly in December 1966, the March 8, 1967, Awake! carried the article, “El Salvador—A Gem of the Tropics.” For a number of Witnesses this created an interest to move here to serve where the need for Kingdom proclaimers is greater. John Trayer and his wife arrived almost simultaneously with five new missionaries from the 44th class of Gilead—Concha Dorantes, Juanita Alarcon, Elizabeth Naviski, and Richard and Sandra Bryan.
In October 1968 John Trayer began to pioneer with his wife Betty, and in April 1969 he was appointed overseer in a congregation in San Salvador. Speaking of the changes he had to make, John said a few years ago:
“The greatest difficulty for me was the language, and for Betty it was leaving the children, even though they were grown. The transition to different living conditions presented some problems also, and the heat bothered us. But the gains were in the form of helping to organize a new congregation, and helping with the work at assemblies and in building and maintaining Kingdom Halls. Yes, we are really happy that we came!”
In January 1968, Charles and Eleanor Taylor, along with their children Barry and Monica, arrived. In time the family was sent to Apopa, a village to the north of the capital. The group of 15 publishers there were very happy to have the Taylors with them. Some time later a congregation was established, and Charles was made congregation overseer. In April 1971 he was busily making arrangements for a circuit assembly in Apopa. Regarding their service, Charles commented:
“A family like ours can often serve in a capacity that the Society’s missionaries cannot. For example, generally the missionaries don’t have automobiles to help groups that are in dire need of mature brothers. So, as a family, we can speak from experience and say that a special blessing is in store for those who desire to cast out their nets in foreign waters where the need is greater.”
Not long after coming to El Salvador in 1968, the Taylors had a third child, who is now progressing toward physical and spiritual maturity. Monica is happily married and living in the United States, while the rest of the family served their brothers in Apopa until just this past year when, for economic reasons, they also returned to the United States. There are now two congregations in Apopa, and they have their own Kingdom Hall.
1967 DISTRICT ASSEMBLY
For the “Disciple-making” District Assembly in December at the National Gymnasium, 3,005 were present for the public talk given by Baltasar Perla. By means of articles and pictures in the newspapers and on television the Bible dramas were advertised weeks before the assembly.
The Salvadoran brothers take the dramas seriously, showing great appreciation for the privilege of having a part in them. For weeks before each assembly they faithfully practice together. And real effort is made to have costumes that authentically fit the Bible times. No doubt all such efforts are part of the reason for the large attendances at the district assemblies.
NEW BRANCH SERVANT
In 1968 the immigration authorities informed the missionaries of new regulations. If the missionaries desired to stay in the country after five years, they would have to pay $800 for permission to become permanent residents. Otherwise they would have to leave the country. The branch overseer, Leonard Shimkus, and his wife had already been in El Salvador more than five years, so they were notified that they would have to leave. Leonard was able to extend their stay for one more year. After that, the Society advised them they should leave and go to Guatemala where they could continue their missionary work.
Thus, in the spring of 1968, Marco Rolando Morales was notified that he would replace Brother Shimkus as branch overseer on June 1, 1968. Juan De Dios Peña was then appointed to replace Brother Morales in the circuit work.
The Memorial attendance in 1968 leaped to 4,027, an increase of 664 over the year before. Also, in April 1968 the seventh congregation was formed in San Salvador. This was in the section Villa Delgado, now called Ciudad Delgado. The congregation was made up of 29 publishers meeting in the home of José Montoya. The new branch overseer, Brother Morales, was assigned as congregation overseer. Because most of the brothers here were so new, Brother Morales at first handled most of the meeting parts, besides caring for the literature, magazines and territories. However, gradually other brothers began to take more responsibility in the congregation.
During 1968 the preaching work began to be opened up in many different areas. Brother and Sister Stago concentrated their efforts in the small community of San Ramón, situated on the slope of San Salvador Volcano. At the time there were no Kingdom publishers there.
Brother Stago made a return visit on the owner of the principal store in San Ramón, whose mate had taken some literature. This man, José Chavez, was of an extremely violent nature and had a large collection of bad practices. Yet he had a spark of respect for the Word of God. Thus a study was arranged. In time José’s bad habits were replaced with good ones, and he began to attend the meetings. Now six members of the family have been baptized, and José is an elder in one of the San Ramón congregations.
Sister Stago started a study with Domitila Paz, her sister Ana Paz and Domitila’s common-law husband, Isabel Escobar. Little did she realize that these women were the daughters of Brother Martín Paz, who had died back in 1960 after refusing a blood transfusion. These women now made rapid advancement in the truth. In time Ana became a pioneer, and later served as a special pioneer. Domitila and Isabel got legally married and now associate with the San Ramón congregation. Other members of the family also soon learned the truth. How happy Martín Paz will be when he awakens from his rest in the grave to see all these family members of his serving Jehovah!
In December 1968 the “Good News for All Nations” District Assembly was again held in the National Gymnasium, with 4,500 attending the public talk and 109 getting baptized. This was a thrill for six new missionaries who arrived in the country in November.
A SUDDEN TRAGEDY
In the February 15, 1968, Watchtower advertising the “Good News for All Nations” District Assemblies, the statement was made that something was planned that “will have considerable influence on the work that we will be doing during the years to come.” One of those most anxious to hear about what this might be was Charles Beedle. After serving for many years as branch servant, he had obtained work in El Salvador, and Jane and he now had three children, Sandra, Charles, Jr., and Susie.
As the first missionary left for the district assembly in California, Charles bid her farewell and commissioned her to send back the news immediately. She did, but before the news arrived about the book The Truth That Leads to Eternal Life and the six-month study program, Charles had been buried in the general cemetery of San Salvador. His death on July 7, 1968, was sudden and a shock to all the brothers. He died following an infection from a fishbone that lodged in his hand, and tetanus shots given him. Some were heard to say, “We lost our ‘tata’ [daddy].”
The funeral was held in the branch Kingdom Hall, which Charles himself had helped to build just 13 years before. Brother Perla gave the funeral discourse. More than 500 were in attendance, although less than 12 hours had passed since Charles had died.
In the cemeteries of El Salvador there are many memorial tombs of fine brothers and sisters waiting to be resurrected following Armageddon. It will then be a grand privilege for the survivors to enjoy their companionship once again in carrying on Jehovah’s educational work.
MORE BROTHERS COME TO SERVE
Since the district assemblies in 1968 had stressed serving where the need for Kingdom proclaimers is greater, in a short time El Salvador received nearly 400 letters about the matter. Brothers wrote from Europe, North America and islands of the sea. But since only highly skilled technicians could get work in El Salvador, most of those who would come needed to have an income from outside the country. So in 1969 there were eight families who had made their home in El Salvador, including the Trayers and Taylors who had come shortly before. These brothers and their families helped to strengthen the congregations and their presence was highly appreciated. Most of them, however, have since had to leave.
EVEN THE BLIND CAN SEE
With the acquisition of the Truth book, the work began to move ahead more rapidly. Interested ones were being helped to make a decision much sooner. One of these was a blind man named Filadelfo Alvarado, whom Sam Stago studied with. He was soon sharing in field service, got baptized, and started a Bible study with his grandchildren who began attending meetings with him. In time Filadelfo was even handling parts in the Theocratic School and on the service meeting.
About this same time Delores Stago offered the Truth book to a lady who told her: “I’d like the book but it wouldn’t do me any good. I’m blind.” Delores offered to read the book to her and this lady, Victoria Carias, was pleased to hear this. As the Bible study progressed, Victoria said: “Before I was always crying and sad. But now I have a real hope, thanks to Jehovah.”
She began to associate with the Zacamil congregation too, along with the blind man, Filadelfo. Soon they both were happy Kingdom publishers, sharing in field service, chatting away with the brothers at meetings and encouraging one another in their Christian activities.
In July 1969 El Salvador had trouble with her neighbor, Honduras, ostensibly over a soccer game. About the same time many of the brothers were leaving to attend the “Peace on Earth” assemblies in the United States. A large delegation went to the one in New York. Then the trouble with Honduras turned into war. On July 14 El Salvador bombed Honduras, and that night Honduran planes came to bomb El Salvador and all the electric power was turned off. One of the missionaries wrote:
“After the bombing of the airport no planes would come in, and there was no mail. The brothers were constantly calling about the meetings and Juan De Dios Peña arranged to have them in the afternoons. . . . We put the file cabinet against the outside office door because it was so heavy, and we hid the branch money when rumors were spread about paratroopers being dropped from Honduran planes.”
There were so many rumors that no one knew what to believe. On the fourth day the fighting stopped when the Organization of American States (OAS) threatened a boycott on Salvadoran coffee. Estimates of the dead ran into the thousands. There were also many stories of atrocities on both sides.
Thousands of refugees returned to El Salvador from Honduras, including some Salvadoran brothers who had been living in Honduras. Most of them had lost their material things. Among those who returned was Mario Flores, who had served in the circuit work in Honduras after graduating from Gilead. Soon after returning he married a sister he had met at Gilead, and they went into the circuit work in El Salvador.
The war was indeed a harrowing experience. However, as soon as the brothers began to return from the assembly the ones who had remained behind began to relax and concentrate on all the good news the brothers were bringing.
The branch servant Rolando Morales got married and was replaced in 1969 by Domenick Piccone. Domenick and his wife, Elsa, had graduated from the 23rd class of Gilead and had been serving in Morocco. Domenick was the branch servant there before being deported in May of 1969. Not being able to return to Morocco from the assembly in New York, they were reassigned to El Salvador, arriving on October 31, 1969.
Brother Piccone was the first person who had previous branch experience to serve in the El Salvador branch. Also, he was already familiar with the language and customs, having served in Spain and Portugal before Morocco. One of his first concerns was preparation for the “Peace on Earth” District Assembly in January 1970. It was again held at the National Gymnasium, where 3,850 came to hear the public talk “The Approaching Peace of a Thousand Years.”
Just a few weeks before, on December 16, 1969, work began on enlarging the branch building. At its construction 15 years before, Brother Knorr looked forward to the increase of Kingdom publishers that would necessitate enlarging the building. That time had finally come.
Three new rooms were added upstairs, and the lower floor received a complete new paint job. Also, the piece of land to the north of the building, measuring 37 by 89 feet (11 x 27 m), and which allows the branch property to extend to the corner, finally became available for purchase.
OTHER ASSEMBLIES IN 1970
In October and November 1970 the three circuits made up of 25 congregations held their assemblies in Sonsonate, San Miguel and Soyapango, with a total attendance of 2,909. Raúl Morales served as district overseer for these assemblies, and Mario Flores, Juan Mazariegos and Juan De Dios Peña were the circuit overseers. A total of 83 were baptized. A visitor at one of the assemblies was Chiang Kai-shek’s ambassador to El Salvador who was studying the Bible with a Witness at the time.
In December the eighth district assembly was held in the National Gymnasium. There were 1,785 publishers in the field service that month. Yet at the assembly the attendance rose to 5,322 for the drama “Love Is a Perfect Bond of Union.” This was the largest attendance the Salvadoran brothers had enjoyed at any assembly. And 4,072 were present for the public discourse “Saving the Human Race—in the Kingdom Way,” given by Brother Piccone. The many brothers who had come from other countries to serve in El Salvador helped behind the scenes to make everyone more comfortable and free to enjoy the assembly.
In 1971 the growth in number of congregations and isolated groups called for the addition of a fourth circuit. During the year there was an average number of 1,949 publishers each month, an increase of more than 400 over the previous year. This meant that about half the publishers in El Salvador had become Witnesses in the previous five years—since 1966—when there were only 995 publishers!
On April 9, 1971, there were 7,924 persons who celebrated the Memorial. That meant an average of over 230 persons met together with each of the 34 congregations in the country. Of all these persons, only two partook of the emblems to indicate that they had the heavenly hope of sharing with Christ in ruling over the earth.
NEW CONGREGATIONS FORMED
The Increases in publishers required the forming of new congregations, and brothers who had come to serve where the need is greater were having a prominent share in the work. A congregation was formed in Chalchuapa. Charles Taylor was appointed congregation overseer in the new congregation of Apopa, and Joseph Backloupe, an ex-missionary who had served in Bolivia, was appointed overseer of a new congregation in San Salvador. Also, Robert Wolfe, who had left an exterminating business in New York city to come to El Salvador with his wife, Edel, was appointed assistant congregation overseer in a congregation in the capital. In March 1971 the growing congregation in Santa Ana was divided. The Juayúa group had grown sufficiently to become a congregation, and another was formed in El Platanar near San Miguel.
Attention also was given to isolated groups of publishers. John Trayer left the capital in 1971 to help the group in Cojutepeque, a town east of San Salvador. Publishers in San Sebastián and Ilobasco were also given attention, and, as a result, congregations were established there. Now the people in these territories are constantly visited by Jehovah’s Witnesses.
The brothers who had come here from other countries to serve are greatly loved and appreciated by the Salvadoran brothers. They have filled many needs with their contributions of time, equipment and their zealous activity in the field service.
PRESIDENT’S DAUGHTER LEARNS TRUTH
In March 1967 Fidel Sánchez Hernández became president of El Salvador. Not long afterward his teen-age daughter Marina began searching for the truth about God. Let her explain how this came about:
“I grew up in a nonreligious atmosphere, where false religion had been exposed. Neither my mother nor my father had any connection with the Catholic Church due to their previous personal experiences with the Church.
“My father assumed the presidency when I was 13 years old, and I remember how the most prominent clergymen, like bishops and cardinals, desired to have a close relationship with the family. However, was it to help us spiritually? Well, my mother very frankly expressed that she would only attend church functions when they had to do with official State matters. The clergy never showed any interest in helping us spiritually. They only appeared on the scene when a political campaign was taking place or when a national problem arose.
“I had been trained to distrust everyone. It was proved to me that there was a reason for this mistrust, when one night there was an attempt to overthrow my father as president. I was the only member of the family at home with my father when the shooting started. I really experienced the fear of death as bullets almost hit me. I called for God’s help, for I did believe in his existence. I faithfully promised that if I came out of this alive, I would search for him and try to find him.”
Marina could not turn to the clergymen for guidance, as she had witnessed how they were so involved in politics. And now they became the mediators between the government and the rebels. This disappointed her deeply. Where could she turn for help? She associated briefly with various Protestant sects and with some Jews, but did not find God. Then Marina and her fiancé accepted a study with Jehovah’s Witnesses. Today, as a happily married Christian couple, they are so thankful to be among Jehovah’s people where they can serve God with their spiritual brothers and sisters in a climate of genuine trust.
AN APPRECIATED FAMILY
In 1971, Joseph and Nancy Tremblay, with their two children Jennifer and Tony, came from the United States to serve in El Salvador. Joe had worked as a choreographer in New York before learning the truth, and had gone to California to visit his family who were Jehovah’s Witnesses. While there he had an opportunity to talk to other Witnesses, and he noted that his own family was not living up to what Jehovah’s Witnesses teach. So he decided to investigate. What he discovered was a “purpose in life.”
The truth touched Joe’s heart and he called his boss in New York and resigned from his job. All the energy, ideas and time that he had formerly spent on worldly pursuits he now dedicated to spiritual ones. He and his wife decided to look for a way to keep busy spiritually, and thus protect themselves from the spirit of the world. That is how they happened to come to El Salvador.
It is well remembered how Joe one time asked about the allowance given to special pioneers. When he was told what it was, he replied: “Why, that wouldn’t even pay for the olives I put in my cocktails.” Little did he realize that his days of cocktails and olives were coming to an end. Now, after nine years of pioneer service, constructing Kingdom Halls and caring for assembly responsibilities, Joe’s zeal and enthusiasm have not diminished. In his present assignment in Metapán, he has recently helped in the building of a new Kingdom Hall.
ASSOCIATION OF JEHOVAH’S WITNESSES
Since its beginning in 1945, the preaching and disciple-making activity of Jehovah’s Witnesses had been done without legal recognition. Now, in 1972, the “Association of Jehovah’s Witnesses” was formed in El Salvador. As a legal instrument, it aids in carrying out the purpose of helping the people of the country to know Jehovah and to become true Christians.
By means of the Association, the Witnesses are able to buy property for Kingdom Halls, as well as for assembly halls and missionary homes. Over the years many fine Kingdom Halls have been built in the country, including one in San Marcos. For that hall rocks were blasted out of a nearly vertical piece of land, and the walls were constructed of these rocks and iron reinforcement. Up to the present time there are 42 Kingdom Halls in the name of the Association, as well as an assembly hall, and missionary homes in Santa Ana and San Miguel.
It was Alejandro Lacayo, one of the five new missionaries that arrived on May 5, 1972, who planted in the minds of the brothers the idea of building a new missionary home and Kingdom Hall in San Miguel. By August 1974 the new home, which is attached to the Kingdom Hall, was ready for use. It is a comfortable three-bedroom home with kitchen, living room, patio and large entranceway. In San Miguel, where the work has been slower in growing, there are now four congregations.
GROWTH SPEEDS UP
We have noted a number of times how the activities of Jehovah’s Witnesses had become well known in El Salvador. As a result, often attendances at meetings and assemblies were three and four times the number of persons who actually were Witnesses. Now, during the early and mid-1970’s, many of these persons who were associating with the Witnesses made their dedication to Jehovah, began proclaiming the Kingdom message and got baptized.
In 1973 the average number of Kingdom publishers leaped to 2,854, nearly 1,000 more than two years before. But truly amazing increases were yet to follow. In 1974 the average number of publishers skyrocketed to 4,065—a peak of 4,535 was reached—and 1,509 new ones were baptized! But the increase did not let up.
The following year 1,612 more were baptized, and the number of publishers jumped to an average of 5,124! So for the second year in a row there was an increase of well over 1,000 publishers! Then, in 1976, 984 more persons were baptized. Also, the number of those proclaiming the Kingdom message leaped that year to an average of 5,632 each month!
Thus, in just three years, there were 4,105 new persons baptized. And the number of Witnesses in El Salvador nearly doubled—going from 2,854 to 5,632!
CARING FOR THE GROWTH
As you can imagine, this tremendous growth created pressures on the organization to expand so as to care for all the new ones. In just one year—from 1972 to 1973—the number of congregations was increased from 36 to 68. The following year 23 more congregations were added, and by 1976 there were 118 of them in the country. So in just four years the number of congregations in El Salvador more than tripled, going from 36 to 118! Surely there was a need for providing spiritual help to all the new ones in the organization.
As the number of congregations increased, there was a need for more circuits, and hence of capable brothers to serve as circuit overseers. So Samuel Stago and Carlos Reyes, the former National Guardsman who had helped in forming the Usulután congregation many years before, were appointed to circuit activity. Because of the rapid growth, not always were the new circuit overseers men long experienced in the truth.
For example, it was in the late 1960’s that Gladys Romero was able to interest her husband Saúl in studying the Bible. But when finally he was convinced he had found the truth, he embraced it wholeheartedly. He was baptized in 1970, and by February 1971 he was a regular pioneer. In 1975 he was appointed to share in the circuit activity.
Still other circuits needed to be added. But who could serve as traveling representatives of the Society? Carlos Villanueva and Roberto Guzman, two young special pioneers, were the answer. What they lacked in experience, they made up in faithfulness and hard work. Today there are 137 congregations and 23 groups in El Salvador and these are divided into eight circuits.
ASSEMBLIES STIMULATE GROWTH
The district and international assemblies continued to be held at the National Gymnasium in San Salvador. These annual gatherings were a great stimulus to the brothers to press on in their Kingdom preaching and disciple-making work. At the “Divine Rulership” assembly in 1972 further information was provided regarding the new arrangement for congregational administration by a “body of elders,” rather than by a “congregation servant.” Now, eight years later, there are a total of 182 elders in the country. Since that is an average of only a little more than one elder per congregation, you can see that the need is still great for mature, qualified help in El Salvador.
The “Divine Victory” International Assembly at the National Gymnasium in December 1973 was the most inspiring one held until then. Up to that time, the largest number of Kingdom publishers reporting in any one month had been 3,310. So how many could be expected to attend this assembly? An amazing total of 10,788 persons jammed the gymnasium! But there was even a greater surprise. At the baptism, 1,046 presented themselves as persons who had dedicated their lives to do Jehovah’s will and now wanted to symbolize this by public expression. This represented almost a third of the maximum number of publishers for the year. Truly the harvest was great!
What would the “Divine Purpose” District Assembly bring? It was scheduled for December 1974, again in the National Gymnasium. Would the place hold all the people? The Memorial celebration in April gave a clue as to what to expect. On that occasion a total of 15,836 were present, almost twice as many as were present just three years before for the Memorial of Christ’s death. Well, for the assembly’s public talk “Human Plans Failing as God’s Purpose Succeeds,” the gymnasium was packed beyond capacity, with 12,125 in attendance. It certainly seemed that God’s purpose was succeeding as far as disciple-making in El Salvador was concerned.
FORMER POLITICIAN MAKES A CHANGE
Among the more than 1,000 who were baptized at the “Divine Victory” assembly in 1973 was Atilio García Prieto. He had been a member of President Osorio’s cabinet some 18 years before, at the same time that Baltasar Perla had served in Osorio’s government. When Baltasar became a Witness, Atilio had thought to himself: “This man must be insane.” Now he believes that he must have been the insane one.
After Atilio became an active servant of Jehovah, he conducted as many as 12 Bible studies. Now he serves as an elder in a San Salvador congregation. In 1975 he received the award as professional man of the year in El Salvador. In his acceptance speech he said that his desire had always been to construct a better world. But then, with the use of Bible references, he showed to all those present, including the president and his cabinet, that God’s kingdom alone could accomplish this.
ADJUSTMENT FOR DISTRICT ASSEMBLIES
Now that the National Gymnasium was too small, where could the annual district assembly be held? Since the gymnasium was such an ideal place for these gatherings, it was decided that the 1975 “Divine Sovereignty” District Assembly would have two separate gatherings at this same location, during different weeks. Congregations in San Salvador had their assembly one week, and those outside the capital had theirs during another week. How happy the brothers were to learn that Brother Knorr would be with them for these gatherings!
Little did those present realize that this would be the last time that they would have a visit from Brother Knorr. They thoroughly enjoyed his association, and drank in his fine spiritual counsel at the missionary meeting and at other times during his stay. Less than two years later, on June 8, 1977, he died of cancer.
For the assembly Brother Tremblay was asked to prepare an appropriate platform. With the aid of the brothers in the Ahuachapán congregation, where he was special pioneering at the time, he used cardboard and plenty of imagination to create a beautiful white palace as the platform scene. Above the palace was the throne and crown of the Great Sovereign. How fitting this was to represent the position of Jehovah God over all the universe! A combined audience of 15,025 enjoyed the program to the full.
Since the two gatherings had been such a success, the brothers arranged for three in 1976. So the 1976 “Sacred Service” District Assembly was planned for Santa Ana, San Miguel and San Salvador. This way people from all parts of the country would have an opportunity to receive fine spiritual food and association more conveniently. A combined attendance of 13,203 was achieved. Although this was a drop of nearly 2,000 from the previous assembly, it still represented more than double the number of publishers in the country, a peak of 6,010 publishers having been reached in 1976.
FURTHER BRANCH CONSTRUCTION
The increase of the organization required yet further expanding of the branch facilities. As noted earlier, back in 1970 a strip of land in front of the building had been purchased. For some time it provided space for a nice green lawn sprinkled with a few flowers, which enhanced the beauty of the branch building. However, during the visit of the Brooklyn headquarters representative Robert Wallen in 1975, the possibility of using this land to enlarge the facilities was considered.
In 1976 plans for this expansion were drawn up and approved. By using volunteer help, and with the cooperation of all, the addition was constructed at half the estimated cost. John Trayer and Vicente Valdarrama, a brother who had been serving where the need was greater in Ahuachapán, spent their full time on the project.
Thus, in 1977, the new addition was ready for use. What a joy it was to move the office out of its cramped quarters into a roomy, well-ventilated area! The literature supplies came out of the hallways, bedrooms and bathrooms and were neatly placed in the spacious warehouse. With this change, even the home seemed new.
In December 1977, at the “Joyful Workers” District Assembly, Milton Henschel of the Governing Body gave a talk dedicating the enlarged branch facilities. Once again this assembly was divided into two gatherings that were held at the National Gymnasium in San Salvador. This time the combined attendance was 13,615. Although this was below the peak attendance of two years before, many more persons were associating with Jehovah’s Witnesses throughout the country. This was shown by the fine Memorial attendance in March 1978 of 21,285.
A NEW ASSEMBLY HALL PROPOSED
Over the years it had been extremely difficult to find appropriate places for circuit assemblies. Some circuits had to have as many as five small assemblies due to a lack of places large enough to accommodate everyone. Especially during the rainy season, when it is necessary to have a place that is protected from the weather, was it difficult to find an assembly site. The schools now were often too small for these assemblies, and, besides, their facilities were not always the best. The following experience illustrates the type of problems that were encountered.
Once when the brothers assembled for an assembly program, the army band took their places in front of the platform and began playing the national anthem. Groups of schoolchildren gathered for a musical program that Saturday morning. It seems that one of the teachers, who was not favorable to the Witnesses using the school, had arranged for the army band to play for classes. After about an hour the band left and the children slowly made their way home. Then the assembly program was properly begun with a song to Jehovah’s praise followed by prayer. This is only one example of the trying times our brothers faced to provide these spiritual banquets every six months.
What could be done? With eight circuits operating, would it be reasonable or possible to build an assembly hall in El Salvador?
This was the matter that was taken up with Brother Henschel during his visit for the “Joyful Workers” assembly. Then the idea was presented to the Governing Body in written form. A search had already begun for property at a reasonable price. In time a brother from San Salvador offered a piece of land near Lake Ilopango that had its own water supply. It was quite large, and the price was reasonable. Many brothers made generous contributions to buy the land and get the project under way.
What was the response from the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses? Their questions were: Will the brothers in El Salvador support such a project? Will they be able to make the necessary payments to cover the loan asked for? The matter was then presented to the members of the Association, and then to the congregations by letter. The congregations responded with an energetic “Yes!” So it was decided to give this project full attention, and to look to Jehovah for his direction in the matter.
NEW SCHOOLS ORGANIZED
Following the “Joyful Workers” assembly in December 1977 plans were made for a new Kingdom Ministry School, as well as a special school for pioneers. Since 1962 a Kingdom Ministry School had been in operation. Periodically, brothers who had responsibilities in congregations were invited to attend. During 1978 all elders and ministerial servants in the country attended this new 15-hour course of instruction. The four-member branch committee, along with two other capable brothers, were the instructors. With three schools operating at the same time, within a month all were able to attend.
No sooner was this school finished than the school for pioneers began. By the middle of June 1977 all the pioneers in El Salvador that had been on the pioneer list for at least one year had the chance to receive this special 10-day course. The pioneers in El Salvador were indeed grateful to Jehovah for this fine provision made by Jehovah through his organization.
CHANGING SCENE IN EL SALVADOR
Over the years, El Salvador had begun to change its appearance and even its customs. For one thing, the population had grown from about 1,500,000 in 1945 to some 5,000,000 by 1980. In the capital especially, old adobe houses were replaced with modern, bright-colored cement-block houses. New developments began to sprout up everywhere. Jobs became more plentiful, and even wages began to climb. Many people started leaving rural areas to look for jobs in the cities.
In time San Salvador came to resemble, in many respects, a modern North American city. In the 1960’s, the hamburger was classified as strictly “gringo food,” being found in just a few places that catered to the tourists. By the late 1970’s, however, fast-food places like “McDonald’s” or “Hardee’s” were doing a thriving business, shoving out hamburgers and French fries to tourist and native alike. Recreation parks have sprung up in various parts of the city to compete for the business that was formerly confined to tourist spots like the tropical park called “Los Chorros,” and Lakes Coatepeque and Ilopango. A cable car was installed to take customers from the southeastern part of San Salvador up to the top of San Jacinto mountain. There one can seek entertainment in the amusement park, or simply enjoy the magnificent view of the city. There certainly was plenty to keep one entertained.
But one must have considerable money to enjoy these things, since prices have skyrocketed. For example, the typical pupusa, made of ground cornmeal formed into a round cake with a layer of cheese, meat or beans in between, increased in price to at least four or five times what it had been in the 1960’s. And to treat the family to the typical pupusa, fried banana and coffee now represents a large bite out of the average family budget.
Also, new highways and widened streets have taken the place of mesons and shacks that have served for many years to house thousands of poor people. With the construction of the new airport “El Salvador,” located some 22 miles (35 km) south of San Salvador, a new four-lane highway has been built to make the airport accessible to the people. Back in the early 1960’s cars were a luxury, enjoyed by a select few, but by the late 1970’s they swarmed like ants, zooming up and down the streets of the city. Only on the comparatively quiet roads outside the city was a driver able to find some relief.
The religious scene in the country also has changed. In the past Protestant groups were always in the minority and kept in the background by Catholicism. But in recent times the people in general have become disgusted with the clergy meddling in politics, and many are looking for something else. Thus many people have abandoned the Catholic Church in favor of the numerous evangelical groups that have sprouted up in recent years. But the fact is, neither Catholicism nor Protestantism has satisfied the people who sincerely want to learn the truth.
Little by little the religious fanaticism of the past is being replaced by a religious apathy that has only a vague resemblance to true Christianity. In an effort to stem its downward trend, Catholicism has begun to blend its religious practices with those of sectarian groups, in many places dropping the use of images. The changes, both religious and otherwise, have affected people’s lives. Especially since 1975 have a desire for pleasure and the disrespect for the laws of man and God begun to take their toll.
What has been the effect on the Christian congregation? The following observation from the El Salvador branch is significant:
“Even those who have been following a course of true Christianity have been affected. Some brothers have given up Christian privileges in the congregation because this interferes with other personal pursuits. Others have gone to other countries for the purpose of furthering their own financial position.
“Also, it has become increasingly difficult to interest young people in dedicating their lives to the full-time service of Jehovah. Secular work and study begin to squeeze out Kingdom service, and the time and energy that was formerly spent in service to Jehovah and others is now many times being detoured into satisfying one’s own personal desires. Truly these modern times are taking their toll on those who apparently did not have the truth in their hearts or who for lack of keeping awake had lost their faith and confidence in Jehovah’s promises.”
Of course, by far the majority of God’s people in El Salvador have maintained their spiritual strength. They have kept on with zeal in the preaching and disciple-making work, and they continue to enjoy grand fruitage from their labors.
CHANGE IN ASSEMBLY SITE
During 1978 a peak of 6,017 Kingdom proclaimers in El Salvador was reached. With such growth, it seemed that the usefulness of the National Gymnasium was now limited to circuit assemblies. A larger facility needed to be found. Improvements had recently been made on the National Stadium of Flor Blanca, located only a few blocks from the gymnasium. Thus, it became the site of the “Victorious Faith” International Assembly December 27 to 31, 1978.
Since most of the stadium is without covering, the program was held in the afternoons and evenings. The mornings were devoted to field service and programs for the visitors. These sometimes featured typical native dances. Although the number of foreign visitors was much less than for the previous international assembly in 1973, those who shared in field service Friday morning certainly provided a stimulus to the local brothers. Many here still talk about the fine time they had in service with their brothers and sisters from other countries.
Grant Suiter of the Governing Body was a principal speaker at this international assembly. Although he does not speak Spanish, the brothers felt encouraged by his presence and his words translated into Spanish. A peak attendance of 11,109 was reached for the assembly, and a total of 470 were baptized.
REVERSING A TREND
During the months just prior to the “Victorious Faith” assembly in December 1978, the number of Kingdom proclaimers had been decreasing. This was of concern to many of the brothers. But the international assembly provided just the encouragement needed. Thus, in January 1979, a new peak of 6,058 publishers was reached for the country. And a steady increase has been realized since then.
During 1979 a total of 22 circuit assemblies were held, with a combined attendance of 24,794. And by October the number of Kingdom publishers had leaped to 6,528. Then, in November, the brothers received further fine encouragement from the zone visit of Albert Schroeder of the Governing Body. The congregations were invited to a special talk by Brother Schroeder at the amphitheater of the International Fair Grounds in San Salvador. What a surprise it was to have an attendance of 7,127 on this beautiful cool evening under the starlit sky!
“LIVING HOPE” DISTRICT CONVENTION
About a month afterward, December 29 to January 1, the “Living Hope” convention served as a further stimulus to the brothers to remain firm in their determination to serve Jehovah. Again the assembly was held in the Flor Blanca Stadium in San Salvador. The enthusiastic spirit that the brothers had reflected during the year was evident as the assembly organization took form. The peak attendance of 11,939 surpassed by 830 the number that had come to the international assembly the year before.
Although there was turmoil in the country, inside the stadium all was peaceful. Yet the dangers outside were illustrated by what happened to the young brother who played the part of the fatherless boy in an evening drama. He had gone out for a brief walk with another brother. As he was returning to the stadium to put on his costume for the drama, he was approached by a man who pulled out a knife and asked for his possessions. Although the brother surrendered his watch, money and other possessions with no resistance whatsoever, he was stabbed in the back. He received some treatment in the first aid department at the assembly, and was told to seek medical attention right away. However, without saying anything to others, he quietly dressed for the drama and painfully carried out his part before the audience that was unaware of his injury.
Crime and violence had become a common thing here as political problems began to divide the country. Although even greater problems for the assembly were expected, everything came to a happy ending, and the brothers returned to their homes with little difficulty.
NEW ASSEMBLY HALL
A highlight of the “Living Hope” convention occurred when it was announced that the following series of circuit assemblies would be held principally in the new assembly hall under construction by Lake Ilopango. From the time the hall was proposed back in 1977, many brothers had dedicated time and effort free of charge to get the project under way. As in all undertakings by imperfect people, problems were faced, but these were overcome.
Entire congregations had spent a Sunday now and then to help with the construction. The brothers contributed freely to buy construction materials and to pay the workers who were doing the tasks that the brothers could not handle. Even people who are not Jehovah’s Witnesses showed a willingness to give a hand. So, with good reason, the stadium resounded with applause at the announcement that there were plans to use the assembly hall within a few months.
With smiling faces, busload after busload of brothers and sisters arrived for the first circuit assembly at the hall on March 1, 1980. There is still much to be done to finish the construction, but, judging from the cooperation thus far and the evidence of Jehovah’s spirit backing up the work, there is every reason to believe that the project soon will be completed to Jehovah’s praise.
During the latter part of 1979, political unrest in El Salvador threatened to erupt into full-scale civil war, similar to the recent conflict in Nicaragua that claimed some 30,000 lives. In October the president of El Salvador, General Carlos Humberto Romero, was forcibly ousted from office. He was replaced by a five-man junta.
Hopes were high that this development would put an end to the episodes of violence that had claimed hundreds of lives in the country during the year. Yet violence was only escalated. Churches, embassies, government and other buildings were seized by revolutionary groups, and people were held hostage. Often innocent people, including some of our brothers and sisters, fell into the hands of unprincipled individuals.
For example, one young sister found herself a hostage along with a group of only men. She showed great courage in using the opportunity to give a witness to both those who had taken control of the office building where she had been working and those who were fellow hostages. After a few days they were released unharmed. Fellow hostages mentioned that the prayers and spiritual strength of this young girl helped them to endure the experience. What a fine example of courage this sister gave for others to imitate!
Assassination and bombing have become a daily occurrence. Businessmen, due to fear, have been leaving the country in droves. “Capable leaders from both the public and private sectors are leaving daily,” reported Douglas Bernard, an American businessman. “They stand in line outside the U.S. Embassy starting at 4 a.m. waiting for visas. The better organized businessmen go out in groups, scouting new territory in Paraguay, Ecuador or Bolivia. They have given up on El Salvador.”
Thus businesses and factories are closing down, and people are seeking any way possible to change the local currency into money that can be transferred to other countries. As this happens, jobs become scarce and, at the same time, prices begin to skyrocket. This has resulted in an atmosphere of fear and crime.
Places like McDonald’s have felt the violence. A group ordered all the people out of one of these establishments, splashed gasoline around and burned it to the ground. Banks have been bombed, supermarkets bombed and burned, buses burned, and individuals shot down in their places of business, in their homes and on the streets.
Government and police forces have had their hands full trying to keep extremist groups from gaining control. This leaves the common person with no protection whatsoever from those who take the law into their own hands. Law and order have disappeared from El Salvador. For example, many people refuse to stop for red traffic lights. The reason is that it is common for people to be robbed while they are sitting in their cars waiting for the light to change, or even worse, have their cars taken from them by force.
Small stores and businesses are many times told to “give us your money or we’ll burn your place down.” People are learning to leave their watches, valuable papers and most of their money at home when they have to walk the streets. It is not uncommon for a thief to pull out a knife in a bus and tell you, in full view of all the other people, to turn over all your money to him.
For some time after the junta took power in October 1979 conditions seemed to turn for the worse. Two of our brothers, Jorge and Eugenio Vasquez, ministerial servants in the San Juan Opico congregation, decided to pick coffee in order to have enough money to attend the upcoming “Living Hope” District Convention in December. They had been working on this particular hacienda for about a week when they began to notice that many of the pickers didn’t seem too interested in picking coffee. They spent most of their time talking about social injustices and the need for a change. Our brothers kept to themselves, minding their business of picking coffee.
On Monday, December 17, 1979, many of the workers were surprised by the announcement that they would not be allowed to pick coffee. That day the hacienda was taken over by farmers backed by a group of guerrilla fighters. The 1,500 coffee pickers were forcibly detained from working in the fields and made to dig trenches. The following morning armed forces arrived with soldiers and tanks, and the rebel forces were asked to surrender. When the request was answered by gunfire, the armed forces opened fire.
The battle lasted two and a half hours, turning the hacienda into a place of devastation. Bodies of young and old were scattered about like leaves on the ground. Our two brothers were among the dead. Those who survived later told how they refused to take up arms and had insisted on complete neutrality. For this they were labeled cowards and sent into the zone where the action was the heaviest.
The husbands, wives and friends of the victims had no idea of what had happened to their loved ones. Rumors began to circulate that they were all dumped into a common grave. Ten days later 26 bodies were found under a mound of earth. They were unrecognizable. After hours of searching, the bodies of Jorge and Eugenio were found.
Tragically, the wives of these two brothers, now without the help and protection of the family head, became the victims of shameless thieves seeking to deprive them of their crops. However, the congregation came to their aid. When the district convention began the brothers of this congregation, including the two widowed sisters, were in attendance.
In another instance, in March 1980, an elder in one of the San Salvador congregations, who worked as an agronomist in a sugar-cane processing plant, failed to arrive home at his usual time. It was the night for the Theocratic School and service meeting and he always made a special effort to be on time Friday nights. But he didn’t make it home that night nor for any night during the following week. The family and his Christian brothers searched high and low for some trace of his whereabouts, but it was all in vain. A week later his lifeless body was found along with the body of a fellow worker.
Why our brother was ruthlessly killed remains a mystery. It was well known that he did not mix in the political affairs of the country. What a blessing it is to have a sure hope in the resurrection, and to know that Jehovah promises to restore life to such faithful servants!
FAILURE TO STEM VIOLENCE
In March 1980 the government declared a state of emergency, and restricted certain rights. As a result, the taking over of public buildings seems to have come to an end. The same can be said for demonstration marches by subversive groups, which were a threat to all businesses in their line of march. Yet the state of emergency has not stopped the violence in the hearts of people, which is still reflected by their acts under cover of darkness or masks.
On March 24, 1980, the Catholic archbishop, Oscar Arnulfo Romero & Galdámez, was assassinated as he went about his religious duties of performing Mass. This set off a further explosion of violence and fear. That evening various buildings all over the republic were shaken by bomb blasts. One of our brothers, in going about his door-to-door activities, fell into the hands of a group of subversives and was threatened with death if he did not agree to join the group. He remained firm and, after being badly treated, was finally released.
On March 30 thousands of people thronged the park in front of the cathedral in San Salvador for the funeral of the Catholic archbishop. Suddenly, as the pope’s special representative for the occasion was speaking to the crowd, the burning of cars and shootings turned the area into a scene of panic. Catholic trampled Catholic in an effort to reach a place of safety. The dead and injured give evidence of the seriousness of the political problems facing the country of El Salvador, where the sacrifice of lives means nothing where political objectives are involved.
HOW JEHOVAH’S PEOPLE ARE FARING
Amid all this turmoil Jehovah’s people in El Salvador have been pressing on, not letting it interfere with their attending assemblies, congregational meetings or getting out in field service. If anything, they are putting forth even greater efforts in their service to God. As one of the missionaries wrote to a member of the Brooklyn Bethel family in May 1980:
“All of us are getting used to hearing the shooting and bombings, and we do not get very excited about it anymore. It always sounds worse in the papers than it actually is. Of course many brothers call up to see if the meetings are canceled or not, but we always have them.”
Thus, the day after the violence at the archbishop’s funeral, Jehovah’s people and their friends turned out in record numbers for the Memorial. While the people in general were fearfully staying off the streets, Monday, March 31, after sundown 27,319 persons courageously ventured out to the meeting. This was over 5,000 more persons than had ever attended a Memorial celebration in El Salvador before!
Also, the brothers are showing real zeal in comforting the distressed people here with the only true message of hope, God’s kingdom. In January 1980 a new peak of 6,655 publishers was reached. This was followed by 6,690 in February, 6,721 in March, and 7,008 in April and over 8,000 Bible studies are being conducted monthly with persons of interest. The prospects for theocratic growth appear brighter and brighter, as those of the world grow ever dimmer.
Thousands have had a part in the 35 years of theocratic history in El Salvador, and in that time many persons have come and gone. Without a doubt changes will continue as Jehovah’s people keep on in his service. Full confidence is placed in Jehovah who promises at Romans 8:28 that he makes all his works cooperate together for the good of those who love him. Through his prophet Isaiah, Jehovah promised: “The little one himself will become a thousand, and the small one a mighty nation. I myself, Jehovah, shall speed it up in its own time.”—Isa. 60:22.
The two Witnesses that came to El Salvador on February 24, 1945, have truly become thousands as the good news is being extensively declared in El Salvador by the 7,156 Kingdom proclaimers reporting in May 1980. All those who have had the privilege of participating in this work are deeply grateful to Jehovah, and they look to him for further blessings as theocratic history is made in the future.
[Map on page 37]
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San Juan Talpa
Santiago de María
[Picture on page 36]
Stone relics said to date back to 2000 B.C.E. bearing cross symbols, dug up in El Salvador
[Picture on page 40]
Antonio Molina Choto, 69 years old; the first Salvadoran to become a dedicated, baptized Witness
[Picture on page 44]
Salvadoran spider, showing size in comparison to foot rule and man’s hand
[Picture on page 47]
Charles Beedle, a Gilead graduate who took a lead in the Kingdom work in El Salvador for many years
[Picture on page 48]
Julia Clogston (left) and Charlotte Bowin Schroeder, Gilead graduates assigned to San Salvador; now both serving at Brooklyn Bethel
[Picture on page 66]
Baltasar Perla, a government official who became a Witness. His son, Baltasar, Jr., now serves at Brooklyn Bethel
[Picture on page 71]
Abraham Peña, an aged family head, with two of his sons. He was an encouragement to his large family to pursue true worship
[Picture on page 79]
Raúl Morales, who as a youth showed outstanding appreciation for spiritual things, later enjoyed many privileges of service
[Picture on page 84]
Lugarda Peña, who survived her husband Abraham, remained faithful until her own death at age 97
[Picture on page 92]
The archbishop in private meeting with members of the government, including Rubén Rosales (fifth from right) who is now one of Jehovah’s Witnesses
[Picture on page 101]
San Salvador’s National Gymnasium, used often for Witness assemblies
[Picture on page 104]
San Salvador earthquake scene—May 1965
[Picture on page 115]
Domenick Piccone became branch servant in 1969 and now serves as branch coordinator
[Picture on page 127]
Branch building in San Salvador with its new addition in front
[Picture on page 136]
New assembly hall built near Lake Ilopango. First assembly held here in March 1980