Taking on the Gladiators
When Freetown’s clergy saw their flocks enjoying Brother Brown’s lectures, they became filled with jealousy and rage. The December 15, 1923, issue of The Watch Tower reported: “The clergy have taken up the cudgel and are attacking the truth through the press. Brother Brown answered them time and again, the papers publishing both sides.” Finally, the clergy fell silent. Their false reasoning had been clearly exposed. Bible truths had been spread far and wide, prompting many newspaper readers to request Bible literature. The clergy had schemed to silence God’s people, but Jehovah had ‘made their wicked deeds come back upon them.’
Rising to the clergy’s defense, a church youth group, dubbed the Gladiators, announced a series of public meetings to put down “Russellism,” as they had styled the Kingdom message. In response, Brother Brown publicly challenged them to a series of debates. The Gladiators refused to accept Brother Brown’s challenge and rebuked the newspaper editor who printed it. They also barred Brother Brown from attending their meetings, so Alfred Joseph attended instead.
The meetings were held at Buxton Memorial Chapel, a prestigious Methodist church in Freetown. “During the question-and-answer session,” recalls Alfred, “I questioned the Anglican creed, the Trinity doctrine, and several other unscriptural teachings. Finally, the chairman refused to take any more questions.”
One of the Gladiators present that night, Melbourne Garber, had earlier attended “Bible” Brown’s lectures. He was, in fact, the young ecclesiastical student who said, “Mr. Brown knows his Bible!” After carefully weighing what he had heard, Garber was convinced that he had found the truth. Accordingly, he asked Brother Brown for a Bible study. Brother Brown invited him to the weekly Watch Tower Study at his home. Even though his family disowned him, Garber made rapid spiritual progress, and he and several others were soon baptized.
Satan’s efforts to quash the preaching work in its infancy had failed. As the mayor of Freetown had told the Gladiators: “If this is the work of men, it will come to an end. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop it.”
In early May of 1923, Brother Brown cabled the London branch office for more literature. Soon 5,000 books arrived, and this was followed by other shipments. He also continued to hold public meetings, and these attracted thousands of interested people.
Later that year, The Watch Tower reported: “The work [in Sierra Leone] has increased so rapidly that Brother Brown called for an assistant; and Claude Brown, of Winnipeg, formerly of the West Indies, is now on his way to join in the work.”
Claude Brown was a tried and tested minister of the good news. During World War I, he had endured ill-treatment in Canadian and English prisons for refusing to violate his Christian neutrality. He served in Sierra Leone for four years, greatly strengthening the local brothers and sisters.
Pauline Cole recalled, “Before I was baptized in 1925, Brother Claude questioned me carefully.
“‘Sister Cole, do you understand what you have learned from the Studies in the Scriptures?’ he asked. ‘We do not want you to drift away from the truth because you did not understand the Bible’s teachings.’
“‘Brother Claude,’ I replied, ‘I have read and reread what I have learned. I have made my decision!’”
Pauline served Jehovah for more than 60 years, much of that time as a special pioneer. She completed her earthly course in 1988.
William “Bible” Brown was also conscious of helping others cultivate good spiritual habits. Alfred Joseph relates: “When I met Brother Brown early in the day, our conversation would go something like this: ‘Hello, Brother Joe. How are you this morning? What’s the Bible text for today?’ If I couldn’t answer, he would impress on me the need to know each day’s text from the book Daily Manna. [Now called Examining the Scriptures Daily.] The next morning, I would read the text right away, so he would not catch me off-guard. At first, I did not fully appreciate the invaluable training I was getting, but later on I did.”
All this training bore fine fruit. During 1923, a congregation was established in Freetown and 14 people were baptized. One of the new brothers was George Brown, who brought the number of “Brown” families in the congregation to three. The zealous activity of those three families moved many Freetown residents to label the Bible Students “Browns’” religion.