Saturday, March 20, 2010

A "Religious Hitchhiker" Comes To Malawi

This experience taken from (pgs 148-152 of the 1999 Yearbook) is interesting in relation to today's text discussion, because it shows the importance of why we need to keep our worship untainted by false religious practices, and what can happen when people who claim to be JW's, have failed to do so in the past.

First, here's a little intro about Malawi:

Welcome to the warm heart of Africa! With its lovely climate and friendly people, Malawi is indeed a warm country with plenty of appeal. Especially appealing to many is the heartwarming message of Bible truth being preached by more than 40,000 Witnesses of Jehovah God. (apprx 75,000 Witnesses as of 2009) There was a time, however, not too long ago, when these humble servants of God faced much tribulation. Instead of their being shown warm friendship by their neighbors, they were subjected to the fierce heat of persecution, horrors reminiscent of the pogroms against the Jews and the Inquisition of the Middle Ages. The record of what they experienced and how they endured is a remarkable example of integrity under adversity. Before we tell their story, though, take a look at the country itself.

A Look at Malawi
Although it is a very small country, Malawi boasts a beautiful variety of mountains, rivers, and lakes. Mount Mulanje, in the south of the country, is particularly breathtaking. From the low surroundings of the verdant tea estates below, it rises majestically to a height of 9,849 feet [3,002 m] above sea level, making it the highest mountain in this part of Africa. Probably the best-known attraction, however, is 360-mile-long [580 km] Lake Malawi. The famous explorer David Livingstone called it “the lake of stars” because of the way the sun glistens on its surface. In it are found hundreds of species of fish—more, it has been said, than in any other freshwater lake in the world.

The friendliness of Malawi’s 11 million inhabitants (apprx 13 million, as of 2009) is welcoming. They flash broad, warm smiles and manifest an eagerness to help. Love for God’s Word is also evident. The Bible has been available for about a hundred years in Chichewa, Yao, and Tumbuka, major languages spoken in Malawi. Almost every household owns at least one copy, and many people read it regularly. Most Malawians are poor in a material way, but by accepting the help offered by Jehovah’s Witnesses, some have found great spiritual wealth within the pages of their Bibles.
The activity of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Malawi stretches back to the early part of this century. It was introduced to the people here in quite a dramatic way.

‘Like Wildfire Catching the Grass’
Our story begins with Joseph Booth, a colorful but controversial character. Fired with enthusiasm after reading some publications of the Watch Tower Society, he met C. T. Russell in 1906. He convinced Brother Russell of the need for a representative of the Watch Tower Society in southern Africa. Since Joseph Booth had previously worked in Malawi, or Nyasaland as it was then called, it appeared that he might render valuable service. Unknown to Brother Russell, though, was the bad reputation that this man had in this part of the world. He had become known as what a writer later described as a “religious hitchhiker,” using one denomination of Christendom after another in order to pursue his own aims. As a result of this, Booth was very unpopular with the local authorities and was no longer even welcome in Malawi. Once again, though, this experienced “hitchhiker” had successfully thumbed a ride!

Knowing that he could not go directly to Malawi, Booth first established a base in South Africa. There he met up with Elliott Kamwana, an old acquaintance from Malawi. Before long, Booth instructed this young man to return home. On his arrival, in 1908, Elliott Kamwana began a campaign of public preaching, loosely basing his message on some of the Watch Tower Society’s publications. McCoffie Nguluh, who died as a faithful elder a few years ago, had his first contact with the truth back then. He described Kamwana’s preaching as being like “wildfire catching the grass.” The effects of Kamwana’s preaching, with his dramatic open-air baptisms, did indeed spread rapidly, like a bushfire, through Malawi. Thousands responded, and many “congregations” were soon established.

However, neither Booth nor Kamwana had ever left “Babylon the Great.” (Revelation 17:5; 18:4) Their aims were really politically motivated. It was not long before the dubious preaching methods of Elliott Kamwana were attracting the unfavorable attention of government authorities in Malawi. He was soon deported to the Seychelles. By 1910, Joseph Booth had also moved on and was finished as far as the Watch Tower Society was concerned. Sadly, these two men had done more harm than good, but there was one redeeming feature: Many publications containing Bible truth had been distributed throughout the country. During the next few years, honesthearted ones, such as McCoffie Nguluh, would respond favorably to what they read.

“Watch Tower Movements” Cause Confusion
Following this unsatisfactory start in Malawi, the Society sent William Johnston, a well-qualified brother from Glasgow, Scotland, to investigate the situation. He found that many so-called congregations had been established but that their grasp of Bible truth was poor. However, there were some genuine truth-seekers. From among these Brother Johnston trained a few local men to take the lead before he moved to South Africa. Then a long time passed before further attention was given to the work in Malawi. Terrible confusion developed. This caused adversity for the Bible Students, as Jehovah’s Witnesses were then known, and tested their integrity.

In imitation of the charismatic style of Elliott Kamwana, many movements sprang up that mixed some Bible truth with false doctrines and unscriptural practices. Because such movements used Watch Tower publications to some degree, they often included Watch Tower in their name. This caused problems for our few genuine brothers in the country. Without their having proper oversight and needed spiritual food, it is remarkable that the activity of these genuine brothers did not fade out altogether. Yet, they continued to meet together and to witness to others, and they endeavored to walk in the footsteps of Jesus Christ.—1 Peter 2:21.

Taking advantage of the situation, the local religious leaders slandered the Bible Students by falsely identifying them with the movements that had dishonestly adopted the name Watch Tower. In time, however, the difference between these local sects and our brothers became clearly evident. Prompted by disturbing reports from members of Christendom’s clergy, the chief commissioner of police made an investigation in the early 1920’s. In disguise, he personally attended several meetings of the Bible Students. His reaction? Disgust at the wicked lies being circulated about them. Nevertheless, the confusion caused by these false “Watch Tower movements” continued for many years.