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Jehovah’s Witnesses

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2014 Yearbook of Jehovah’s Witnesses

 SIERRA LEONE AND GUINEA

1945-1990 ‘Bringing Many to Righteousness’—Dan.12:3. (Part 3)

1945-1990 ‘Bringing Many to Righteousness’—Dan.12:3. (Part 3)

Confronting the Poro

The first attack came in a village near Koindu where a group of men were studying the Bible and regularly attending meetings. Like most Kisi males, the men belonged to the Poro, a secret society steeped in spiritism. “When the Bible students refused to share in demonic rites, the Poro headman was furious,” explains James Mensah, a Gilead-trained missionary who also served in Sierra Leone. “The headman and his supporters beat the men, stole their property, burned their homes, chained them, and left them in the bush to starve to death. The paramount chief egged the Poro members on. Despite this abuse the Bible students stood firm.”

When the brothers in Koindu reported the matter to the police, the Poro headman, his cronies, and  the paramount chief were arrested. They were tried and severely reprimanded, and the paramount chief was suspended for nearly a year. This legal victory became widely known and emboldened more new ones to start attending meetings. Later, the paramount chief had a change of heart and became interested in the truth. When a circuit assembly was held in his area, he accommodated visiting delegates and even donated a large cow.

Other Poro leaders tried a different form of attack—craftily “framing trouble in the name of the law.” (Ps. 94:20) Poro politicians tabled a motion in Parliament banning the work of Jehovah’s Witnesses. “Yet, the paramount chief rose to our defense, telling the assembly that he had been studying with us for two years,” says Charles Chappell. “He said that our organization was entirely non-political and that it educated the people and uplifted their morals. He then declared that he hoped to become a member one day. When another member of Parliament who had also studied supported him, the motion was dropped.”

“Let God feed you!” they taunted

Those who left the secret societies faced severe opposition from their families. Jonathan Sellu, a teenager from Koindu, had forefathers who were juju priests going back four generations. He was being groomed to do the same work. When he started studying the Bible, he put away his spiritistic rituals and sacrifices. His family bitterly opposed him, removing him from school and refusing to feed him when he went to Christian meetings. “Let God feed you!” they taunted. Yet, Jonathan stood firm. He did not go hungry. He learned how to read and write, and he later became a regular  pioneer. Jonathan rejoiced to see his mother accept the truth.

Growth in Other Areas of the Country

In 1960, congregations and isolated groups were located in Bo, Freetown, Kissy, Koindu, Lunsar, Magburaka, Makeni, Moyamba, Port Loko, Waterloo, and as far north as Kabala. The number of publishers that year jumped from 182 to 282. Many special pioneers from Ghana and Nigeria arrived to strengthen the growing congregations.

Most of the new ones belonged to two groups: The Krio, who lived in and around Freetown, and the Kisi, who lived in the Eastern Province. But as the good news continued to spread, other tribes began responding too. These included the Kuranko, the Limba, and the Temne in the north; the Mende in the south; and other ethnic groups.

In 1961, the Freetown East Congregation dedicated their Kingdom Hall. Then the Koindu Congregation dedicated a 300-seat mud-brick Kingdom Hall that doubled as an Assembly Hall. Soon afterwards, 40 elders attended the Kingdom Ministry School—Sierra Leone’s first. Capping off an outstanding year, the brothers engaged in a successful campaign to offer the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures to the public.

Kingdom Ministry School in Sierra Leone, 1961. William Nushy (Back row, middle), Charles Chappell (middle row, second from right), and Reva Chappell (front row, third from right)

Jehovah was clearly blessing his people. On July 28, 1962, the International Bible Students Association, a legal corporation used by Jehovah’s Witnesses in many countries, was officially registered with the Sierra Leone government.

 Guinea Opens Up

Let us now turn our attention to neighboring Guinea (formerly called French Guinea). Prior to 1958, a few brothers had briefly witnessed to some while passing through the country, but the French colonial authorities were opposed to our work. However, in 1958, a door of opportunity opened—Guinea renounced French rule and became an independent republic.

Later that year, Manuel Diogo, a French-speaking brother from Dahomey (now Benin) who was in his early 30’s, started working at a bauxite mine in Fria, a town about 50 miles (80 km) north of the capital, Conakry.  Eager to preach in this untouched territory, Manuel wrote to the France branch asking for literature and for help from special pioneers. His letter concluded: “I pray that Jehovah will bless the work because there is plenty of interest here.”

The France branch wrote Manuel an encouraging letter and urged him to stay in Guinea as long as possible. The branch also arranged for a special pioneer to visit him in order to train him in the ministry. Manuel thrived on the encouragement and preached zealously in Fria until his death in 1968.

When zone overseer Wilfred Gooch visited Conakry in 1960, he found two other African brothers preaching there. Brother Gooch recommended that Guinea be cared for by the Sierra Leone branch rather than by the branch office in France. This transfer took place on March 1, 1961. One month later, the first congregation in Guinea was formed in Conakry.

Spiritual Light Penetrates the Rain Forest

The good news was also spreading into southern Guinea. Falla Gbondo, a Kisi tribesman who was living in Liberia, returned to his home village, Fodédou, about eight miles (13 km) west of Guékédou. He carried with him the book From Paradise Lost to Paradise Regained. Falla could not read, but he was able to explain the pictures in the book to his fellow tribesmen. “The book stirred up much discussion,” he recalls. “People called it the Adam and Eve book.”

Falla returned to Liberia. He got baptized and eventually became a special pioneer. Twice a month, he returned to Fodédou to study with a group of about 30  people. Soon he was joined by Borbor Seysey, another Kisi special pioneer from Liberia. Together they started another group in Guékédou. Both groups became congregations.

As more and more Kisi became Witnesses, local chiefs noticed their fine conduct. The Witnesses worked hard, they were honest, and they promoted peace in their villages. Accordingly, when brothers asked for permission to build a Kingdom Hall in Fodédou, the chiefs readily gave them eight acres (3 ha) of land. That Kingdom Hall—the first in Guinea—was completed in early 1964.

Upheavals in Conakry

Meanwhile, in Conakry, trouble was brewing. Political turmoil prompted government officials to view foreigners with suspicion. Four Gilead missionaries were refused permanent visas and were deported. Two Ghanaian brothers were arrested on false charges and imprisoned for nearly two months.

Following their release, one of the brothers, Emmanuel Awusu-Ansah, was promptly rearrested and held in appalling conditions. From a filthy prison cell, he wrote: “I am spiritually healthy, but I have continuous fever. Nevertheless, I can still preach. Last month, I spent 67 hours in field service, and two Bible students started preaching with me.” One of his students came into the truth. After five months, Brother Awusu-Ansah was released and was deported to Sierra Leone. Only one publisher remained in Conakry.

In 1969, when the political tension had eased, special pioneers arrived in Conakry. With permission from the authorities, they established a Kingdom Hall with a  sign on it. Soon about 30 interested people were regularly attending meetings.

Because of the danger of arrest, the brothers preached cautiously at first. But as they gained confidence, they expanded their efforts. During 1973, that small congregation had distributed 6,000 tracts. Later, the publishers began offering magazines in offices and business centers. Slowly, government officials and the public began to understand and appreciate our work. On December 15, 1993, those patient and persistent efforts culminated in the legal registration of the Christian Association of Jehovah’s Witnesses of Guinea.