FROM OUR ARCHIVES
How the First Kingdom Seeds Were Sown in Portugal
AS THE Atlantic waves battered the ship on its journey toward Europe, one of the passengers, George Young, reflected with satisfaction on the Kingdom fruitage he had left behind in Brazil. * However, as the journey continued, Brother Young turned his attention to his new assignment—the largely untouched territories of Spain and Portugal. Once there, he hoped to arrange Bible lectures to be given by Brother J. F. Rutherford and to distribute 300,000 tracts!
Upon his arrival in Lisbon in the spring of 1925, Brother Young found a turbulent scene. The republican revolution of 1910 had ended the monarchy and stripped the Catholic Church of its favored status. The population obtained greater freedoms, but civil unrest continued in the country.
Just as Brother Young made arrangements for Brother Rutherford’s talk, the government imposed martial law because of an attempted coup d’état. The secretary of the British and Foreign Bible Society warned Brother Young that he surely would meet much opposition. Even so, Brother Young requested a permit for the Camões Secondary School gymnasium, and permission was granted!
Then, May 13 arrived—the day scheduled for Brother Rutherford’s lecture. Anticipation ran high! Placards on buildings and newspaper advertisements announced the public lecture “How to Live on the Earth Forever.” The religious opposers hurriedly published an article in their newspaper to warn its readers against the newly arrived “false prophets.” At the entrance of the gymnasium, the opposers also handed out thousands of brochures with information directed against the teachings presented by Brother Rutherford.
Nevertheless, some 2,000 people packed the venue, with an equal number having to be turned away. Some intrigued listeners hung from rope ladders on the sides of the gymnasium; others perched atop the exercise equipment.
Not all went smoothly. Opposers shouted and smashed chairs. But Brother Rutherford kept his poise and calmly climbed onto a table to make himself heard. After he finished—close to midnight—over 1,200 interested ones left their names and addresses in order to receive Bible literature. The very next day, the newspaper O Século published an article about Brother Rutherford’s lecture.
By September 1925, the Portuguese-language edition of The Watch Tower began to be published in Portugal. (Earlier, a Portuguese-languageedition had already appeared in Brazil.) About that time, Virgílio Ferguson, a Bible Student in Brazil, began making plans to move to Portugal to help with the Kingdom work. Earlier, he had worked with Brother Young in the small branch office of the Bible Students in Brazil. Before long, Virgílio set sail with his wife, Lizzie, to join Brother Young again. Brother Ferguson’s arrival was timely because Brother Young would soon move to other preaching assignments, including the Soviet Union.
When a military coup installed a dictatorship in Portugal, opposition increased. Brother Ferguson stood his ground and took steps to protect the small group of Bible Students and bolster their activities. He sought permission to use his home for regular meetings. In October 1927, that permission was granted.
During the first year of the dictatorship, about 450 people in Portugal subscribed to The Watch Tower. In addition, through tracts and booklets, the word of truth spread to the far reaches of the Portuguese Empire—Angola, the Azores, Cape Verde, East Timor, Goa, Madeira, and Mozambique.
In the late 1920’s, a humble Portuguese gardener, Manuel da Silva Jordão, came to Lisbon. While living in Brazil, he had heard a public talk given by Brother Young. He readily recognized the ring of truth and was eager to help Brother Ferguson to expand the preaching work. To do so, Manuel began to serve as a colporteur, as pioneers were then called. With the printing and distribution of Bible literature now well-organized, the fledgling congregation in Lisbon thrived!
In 1934, Brother and Sister Ferguson had to return to Brazil. However, the seeds of truth had been sown. Amid the upheaval in Europe during the Spanish Civil War and World War II, the faithful group of brothers in Portugal managed to survive spiritually. For a while they resembled glowing embers, but in 1947 the group’s fire was rekindled, so to speak, when the first Gilead-trained missionary, John Cooke, arrived. After that, the growth in the number of Kingdom proclaimers was unstoppable. Even when the government banned the activities of Jehovah’s Witnesses in 1962, the increase continued. In December 1974 when Jehovah’s Witnesses gained legal recognition, there were more than 13,000 publishers in the country.
Today, over 50,000 Kingdom publishers preach the good news of God’s Kingdom in Portugal and on several islands where Portuguese is spoken, including the Azores and Madeira. Among these publishers today are third-generation descendants of some of those who attended Brother Rutherford’s historic lecture in 1925.
We give thanks to Jehovah and to those early faithful brothers and sisters who courageously took the lead in spearheading the work as ‘public servants of Christ Jesus to the nations.’—Rom. 15:15, 16.—From our archives in Portugal.
^ par. 3 See “There Is More Harvest Work to Be Done” in The Watchtower, May 15, 2014, pp. 31-32.