And … Paul said unto Barnabas, Let us go again and visit our brethren in every city where we have preached the word of the Lord, and see how they do.—Acts 15:36
Pastor Charles Taze Russell’s annual travels overseas kept him in regular contact with the adherents of his message in scores of countries, as well as offering numerous evangelistic opportunities to preach “present truth” to thousands of enthusiastic listeners. On one such occasion, in a public lecture at the vast Royal Albert Hall in London (capacity, 5,222), the crowds were so large that ushers were posted at all the doors to prohibit further entry.
Translation into Many Languages
In 1883, only four years after beginning the Watch Tower publication, a poll was taken as to which language group had the most interest in having it translated into their tongue. The winner was Swedish, with German following not far behind. Eventually the semi-monthly journal was issued in five languages.
Two popular monthly tracts, People’s Pulpit and Everybody’s Paper, each consisting of four newspaper-size pages, were produced in thirty-one different languages. Some parts of Pastor Russell’s messages had been translated and published in thirty-five to forty languages before his death in 1916. The circulation of these tracts in 1912 had reached 848,000 in languages other than English. A partial report in 1914 indicated these figures had grown dramatically as follows:
|United States, Canada [est.]||47,610,000|
The London Press, because of the frequency of Pastor Russell’s travels across the Atlantic, coined the title of “the ubiquitous preacher.” His first such journey was in 1891 to the British Isles, where the popularity of his message reached such proportions that he began making annual trips to oversee the activities there.
It was not long before these treks were extended into continental Europe, including Eastern Europe and Scandinavia. In 1912 Pastor Russell and six other prominent Bible Students traveled by ship to countries around the world, including Japan, the Philippines, India, Egypt, Israel, and Greece among their ports of call.
The burgeoning interest in his writings soon resulted in ten main branch offices being set up to more efficiently handle distribution of literature in Great Britain, Germany, Finland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Switzerland, France, South Africa, and Australia. Other smaller offices were also set up.
The tumultuous years from 1916-1918 divided the Bible Student movement into a number of segments. Most notable were the Pastoral Bible Institute and the Laymen’s Home Missionary Movement, formed from those who left the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society. Another large movement was the Philanthropic Society in Europe, 50,000 strong.
In Great Britain, Jesse Hemery was progressively centralizing power in himself. Secession from Hemery, J. F. Rutherford and the Watch Tower Society progressed rapidly after World War I ended. The Bible Students Committee was constituted in London on April 5, 1919 to coordinate publishing, pilgrim service, etc., outside the Society.
Albert O. Hudson
The B.S.C. Monthly (1924-1927), Bible Students Monthly (1927-1951), was published by the Bible Fellowship Union (BFU) under the original editorship of E. Housden. In August 1951 the name was changed to Bible Study Monthly, and A. O. Hudson served as editor until his death in 2000 at the age of 101. He was succeeded by Derrick Nadal. The BFUcooperates with the PBI in the U.S. Separate from the BFU William Crawford (d. 1957) commenced The Old Paths in 1925, which continued publication through 1961. Crawford was strict in doctrine and felt the harvest was essentially over. Frank Edgell began publishingFellowship in 1923. Frederick Lardent was publishing Gleanings. Jesse Hemery, departing from the Society later than the others, established Goshen Fellowship and published futurist interpretations of Revelation which have some adherents today. A monthly publication,Pyramidology, by Dr. Adam Rutherford of Newcastle, began in 1941. The Forest Gate Church (London) Bible Monthly was published 1936-1985. Phillys Stracy compiled an evening devotional book, Songs in the Night. A Dawn office was established in England shortly after World War II. The annual Conway Hall/London convention (1931-1970), sponsored by four ecclesias, was Great Britain’s largest. An annual convention was held in Portrush, Northern Ireland (1950-1980) [which corresponded roughly to the U.S. General Convention, though proportionately much smaller]. The annual Maranatha [Our Lord Cometh] Conference (1950-1980) corresponded approximately to the Berean (Grove City, Pennsylvania) Conference in the U.S.
In Australia, R.E.B. Nicholson rejected the “seventh volume” in 1918 and thence formed the Berean Bible Institute which has continuously published Peoples Paper in Melbourne since 1918 (edited by E. E. Martin, circa 1926-1988). The Institute represents both the PBIand the Dawn in that country. There are several associated Berean Bible Student classes (including Polish) in Australia and also a few in New Zealand. At the same time Henninges in Melbourne continued publishing New Covenant Advocate and Kingdom Herald from April 1909 to March 1943. It was later resumed by H. S. Winbush.
In India, S. P. Devasahayam (“Davey”), from near Nagercoil, had begun the work in 1912, including translation of Studies in the Scriptures, volume 1, into Tamil and then Malayalam. After Pastor Russell’s death, contact with the Watch Tower was lost for many years, but contact with the PBI was later established. Davey became physically weak about 1920 and thenceforth involuntarily inactive until his death in 1936. Then, also, many associates left the Society en masse.
Davey appointed V. Devasandosham to succeed him circa 1920. A capable organizer, Devasandosham organized the “Associated Bible Students” (later India Bible Students Association) and centered the work in Madras. Tamil publications included “Babylon and her Daughters,” “Is Saturday the Sabbath of the Christians?,” and “The True Bible Catechism.” Later, he suggested 2520+30 years might signify the end in 1944; after 1939 many sold everything for the sake of the Christian work, which afterwards led to serious problems.
Originally from Singapore, Bro. Pakian (of poor health) bought a small printing press in Madras, 1920-1924. Pakian Press printed many Tamil tracts, and a monthly magazine (since 1922) for the Associated Bible Students. After Devasandosham’s death, the press was moved to Coimbatore, in 1966 (with a press bought by the Dawn) to Madurai, and in 1974 to Trichy (Tiruchiripali, where there were about three hundred in the class). Sr. Ryer Pillai gave a trimming machine for books circa 1960.
As head of the India Bible Students Association, Devasandosham (1920-1944) was succeeded by T. C. Devakannu (“TCD” 1944-1970), by S. Rathansami (1967-1975) of Tiruchiripali, and Sebastian (1975- ). The India Bible Students Association [Tamil language] convention has been held annually since 1921. Currently it lasts about three days, attracts as many as five hundred, and from year-to-year rotates among a few cities. The Bible Students Press publishes a monthly magazine in the Tamil language. Several hundred Bible Students are scattered throughout India, but are primarily in the south.
Sundar Raj Gilbert left an engineering career to begin his activity. His outreach beyond the Tamil state began in 1940. Solomon Subamangalam and Bro. George by chance found a small Dawn booklet at Madras and wrote for free literature early in 1946. In 1947 Subamangalam gave some of it to Sundar Raj Gilbert. Then correspondence between H. A. Livermore of Portland, Oregon, and Sundar Raj Gilbert led to foreign support of the India work beginning in 1947. The Northwest India Committee (in America later renamed Northwest Committee for India, and now Friends of India) receives cooperation from several classes and individuals in the U.S. and Canada. The South India Bible Students Committee was formed in 1965 (in conjunction with G. R. Pollock’s visit) to publish literature also in the other native languages including Telugu, Kanada (Canarese), Malayalam, Marathi, Gujarati, Hindi, Urdu, Bengali, and Oriya. The Bible Students Press has a working agreement with the Dawn in America.
In Germany and Switzerland, Samuel Lauper (d. 1938) published Heroldes des Königreiches Christi, which was the German Herald of Christ’s Kingdom. Lauper also published a German translation of Streeter’s Revelation volumes. Ewald Vorsteher publishedWahrheitsfreund [Friend of Truth] in the 1920s. Conrad C. Binkele began publishing Der Pilgrim ca. 1930. These efforts were all suspended around the advent of the Hitler regime. After the war Bible Students were again able to receive Watchtower literature (for the first time in over a decade) and forthwith many left the Society. Joseph Huber began Die Brennende Lampe [The Burning Lamp], similar to the American Herald and Dawn (though more Futurist). Alexander Freytag published Jedermannsblatt [Everybody’s Paper]. Emil Sadlac of Kirchlengern began Christliche Warte [Christian Watchtower] in 1949, which offers a pre-harvest theology. The German Tagesanbruch [Daybreak, the German Dawn], began in Berlin around 1950 and later moved to Freiburg. The German general convention began in 1955 and now typically hosts two hundred. There are Bible Students in the former East Germany also. They published Christliche Verantwortung [Christian Responsibility] for two years circa 1950.
R. H. Oleszynski
Polish activity outside the Society began with the journals Straz [Watchman] in 1923, edited by R. H. Oleszynski (1857-1930), and Brzask Nowej Ery [Dawn of a New Era] in 1930. S. F. Tabaczynski, Jan Jezuit, W. O. Wnorowski and Anthony E. Bogdanczik were also energetic. The general convention in Poland is held every two years and can attract over two thousand. Roughly three thousand have registered with the government as Bible Students. Na Strazy [On the Watch] began publication in Warsaw in 1958. A group formerly cooperating with the Laymen’s Home Missionary Movement in the U.S. began publishing Swit[Daybreak] in 1958.
The French Dawn, Aurore, began publication circa 1951. Journal de Sion began near Lille, France, in 1956 and publishes translated writings of Pastor Russell and some current articles. The Polish constitute the largest proportion of Bible Students in France. Along a different line, Alexander Freytag formed the Man’s Friends (or Philanthropic Society) group in 1920. Freytag claimed special revelations and looked for Christ’s Second Coming in the future. The Swiss and the French groups are divided now and publish their own journals. They claim an earthly hope and endeavor to do many good works.
The New York Greek congregation was established in 1933 and in 1934 began publishing a Greek Dawn, He Haravgi. Frouros [Watcher] was a doctrinaire publication by George Loumbardas in Toronto. In Greece most of the Bible Student activity is in Athens. Activity in Greece was often hampered by anti-proselytizing laws.
A publication in the Italian language, L’Aurora Millenniale [The Dawn of the Millennium] was attempted in Hartford, Connecticut, beginning ca. 1933. The Italian Dawn, Aurora, began publication in 1953.
Prominent among Scandinavians who left the Society was (Count) Carl Lüttichau of Copenhagen. The Dano-Norwegian Dawn, Daggry Forlaget, began publication ca. 1951.
Swedish efforts outside the IBSA commenced about 1920, with Mr. Mellinder of Harnosand and Axel Sjo prominent. A 1922 winter convention in Stockholm was attended by nearly one hundred. (A few years later most of these turned to universalism.) Anders Karlen stressed the divine plan in the Great Pyramid of Egypt. A Swedish Dawn, Dagnigen, was published 1951-1960.
Finnish efforts apart from the IBSA commenced early in 1921. A year later a Finnish journal had fifteen hundred subscriptions, five hundred attended a convention in Helsinki (one hundred fifty spoke Swedish), and a thousand attended public meetings. Mr. Nortamo was a full-time pilgrim, and W. Berghäll (pronounced “Berryhill” in English) appears to have been a guiding light. There were active classes of about fifty in Tampere (Tammerfors) and Turku (Åbo).
A journal, Strasz and corresponding to the Polish Straz, was published from Winnipeg in the Ukrainian language. A Ukrainian radio broadcast, Peter and Paul, was also sponsored by the Ukrainian class in Winnipeg.
Spanish broadcasts of Francisco y Ernesto are heard throughout Latin America and the southernmost U.S. The Spanish work was spearheaded by Roberto Montero in San Diego, California.
Romanian activity was curtailed by World War II. Afterwards, property was confiscated and activity suppressed during the Ceausescu regime. Several thousand there had no contact with Bible Students from other countries until the fall of the Ceausescu government at the end of 1989.
Africa work began in earnest in 1972-1973 with visits to interested groups in Nigeria, though the Layman’s Home Missionary Movement had been active there for years. Recently a number of visits have also been made to Ghana.
Still more recently the New Brunswick, New Jersey, congregation has begun an extensive ministry of comfort to Israel. Kenneth Rawson has traveled extensively to Israel and many eastern European countries with the audio-video presentation Israel, Appointment With Destiny that has been well-received not only in the Holy Land but by thousands of Jews of the Diaspora.
The International Convention
Although there were Bible Students in many countries of the world, there often was little communication and co-operation between them. It was largely to facilitate such collaboration that the International Convention of Bible Students was organized in 1982. A committee of representatives from Poland, France, Germany, Greece, England and the United States was formed to make the arrangements. The first convention was such a success that the gathered brethren voted to become self-sponsoring with an international committee and meet every two years. Venues have included Kufstein and Obsteig, Austria; Willingen, Germany; DeBron, Holland; Poitiers, France; Miskolc, Hungary; and Polanica Zdroj and Nowy Sacz, Poland.
From the first conference held in Austria, with an attendance of about two hundred fifty to the last such meeting in Poland, with about nine hundred attending, brethren have come from over fifteen countries, including Japan, Russia, Nigeria, India, Argentina, and Brazil in addition to the U.S. and Canada, Australia, and many countries in both Eastern and Western Europe.
These gatherings have also spawned international youth camps with over a hundred attending, and such multicountries gatherings as a joint French-German convention every year.
Bible Students now live and/or hold meetings in at least these countries: Russia (including Siberia), Ukraine, Lithuania, Slovenia, Moldova, Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland, Finland, Sweden, Denmark, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Greece, Italy, Spain, France, Belgium, Holland, England, Ireland, Northern Ireland, Wales, Nigeria, Ghana, Malawi, Cameroon, Kenya, Pakistan, India, South Africa, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Peru, Bolivia, Colombia, Mexico, Uruguay, Guyana, United States, Canada, the Philippines, and the West Indies. Some work has recently begun in Sri Lanka.
The most sizeable movements, with over a thousand each, are in the United States, Poland, Romania, and India. The Herald magazine currently reaches subscribers in nearly fifty different countries and, through its web page, has an outreach to many more.