The Discovery Begins
On Sunday, April 1, 1945, Gilead graduates Lennart and Virginia Johnson arrived in Ciudad Trujillo (now Santo Domingo), the capital of the Dominican Republic. As the first Witnesses in the country, they were entering a land whose history was riddled with conflict and struggle.* “This is a real pioneering territory,” reported the 1946 Yearbook, “and these Gileadites had to start from scratch.” Just imagine: There was no branch office, there were no Kingdom Halls, and there were no congregations. The missionaries knew no one in the country, they knew very little Spanish, and they had neither a home nor any furniture. What would they do?
“We went to the Victoria Hotel and acquired accommodations—five dollars a day for the two of us, including meals,” recalled Lennart. “That very afternoon we started our first home Bible study. It happened this way: Two Dominican women with whom we had studied the Bible in Brooklyn had given us the names of relatives and acquaintances, one of whom was a Dr. Green. When we visited him, we also met his neighbor Moses Rollins. After they learned how we got their names and addresses, they listened intently to the Kingdom message and agreed to a Bible study. Soon Moses became the first local Kingdom publisher.”
Four more missionaries arrived early in June 1945, and soon they had placed a considerable amount of literature and had started many Bible studies. By October it became apparent that a meeting place was needed. So, the missionaries modified the living and dining rooms of their missionary home to make an improvised Kingdom Hall. As many as 40 people were attending the meetings.
One of the first people to respond to the truth was Pablo Bruzaud, known to everyone as Palé. He operated a bus line between Santiago and Ciudad Trujillo, so he made frequent trips to the capital. One day while in Ciudad Trujillo, Palé spoke with some Witnesses and accepted the book “The Truth Shall Make You Free.” He began studying the Bible daily with them. Palé soon began preaching with the missionaries and providing transportation for them. Later, he met Lennart Johnson and traveled with him from Ciudad Trujillo to Santiago and over the mountains to the coastal town of Puerto Plata to visit a group of interested people who had written to the world headquarters in Brooklyn, New York, for information.
A Visit From Brothers Knorr and Franz
In March 1946, Nathan Knorr and Frederick Franz from world headquarters visited the Dominican Republic. There was much anticipation for the visit, and in addition to the brothers, 75 interested people attended a talk given by Brother Knorr. During the visit, Brother Knorr made arrangements to establish a branch office in the Dominican Republic.
More missionaries arrived, and by the end of the 1946 service year, there were 28 publishers in the country. Since the good news was just getting established in this land, the missionaries spent many evenings meticulously mapping out the territory to ensure an organized and thorough preaching campaign.
The Work Expands
In 1947, there were over 59 publishers participating in the preaching work. That same year, some missionaries who had served in Cuba were reassigned to the Dominican Republic. Among them were Roy and Juanita Brandt. Brother Brandt was appointed as branch servant and continued as such for the next ten years.
By the end of the 1948 service year, there were about 110 publishers preaching the good news alongside the hardworking missionaries. However, those zealous preachers did not realize that extremely difficult times were on the horizon.
Watch Tower literature was distributed in the Dominican Republic as early as 1932, but personal instruction of interested people began in 1945, when the Johnsons arrived.