Showing Unselfish Interest in Others
By “Awake!” correspondent in Guatemala
WE STARTED out from mile-high Guatemala City. In a few hours we arrived at the shore of Lake Izabal. After loading our gear onto a waiting craft, we set out on an unusual and rewarding journey. Let me tell you about it.
Lake Izabal lies at the foot of Guatemala’s Sierra de Santa Cruz mountain range. It is a body of water comprising some two hundred square miles, about three times as big as the Sea of Galilee. It empties into the Rio Dulce (sweetwater river) and thenceforth into the Caribbean Sea.
Our intention was to make a complete circuit of the lake, talking to everyone we could contact. During our three-week-long trip we spoke with fishermen, merchants, plantation owners and humble land workers.
Why Did We Do This?
My family and I have noticed that many today show little interest in their fellowman. As Jehovah’s witnesses, we have tried to avoid that spirit by arranging our affairs to aid other people. We have found ample opportunity to do so in this Central American country of Guatemala, where we have been for the past five years. On a recent vacation to Lake Izabal we noted the friendliness of the natives that live along its shores. For the most part they have heard little of the Bible’s comforting promises. We keenly felt their need to know of the “good news” contained in the Scriptures. (Matt. 24:14) But, we thought, what good was knowing of their needs if we did nothing about it? We decided, therefore, to return to Lake Izabal, this time not for a vacation, but to help the people to understand the Word of God.
Careful Preparations Necessary
Our intention was to talk to all the inhabitants living along the shores of the lake as well as to navigate various rivers to reach inland jungle settlements. We would need a watercraft with capacity to accommodate the three of us for two or three weeks. It would have to provide protection from the tropical sun and rains as well as have room to store conveniently our camping gear and many cartons of Bible literature. As the waters are often shallow, we would need a boat that would come right up to the shoreline, so that we might disembark and board easily.
With this in mind we decided to build a “catamaran,” or twin-pontoon vessel of lightweight plywood with a deck size of only five by twelve feet. We outfitted it with a small canvas canopy for shade, a small outboard motor, and a long pole and paddle, which we had to resort to frequently. Food and clothing were kept dry inside large metal containers or plastic bags, and each article was assigned a definite place.
Reaching Everyone Possible
We organized our schedule so that two of us would devote the day to visiting homes and villages, while the third member of the group stayed with the boat, keeping alert to come ashore to pick the others up when foot travel between houses or villages proved impossible.
At times as many as thirty persons would gather around our boat at the shoreline to listen to the Bible’s message. They showed considerable interest and accepted much literature. Sometimes interested persons ran up to us asking for Bibles, books, or magazines by name, having seen one in the home of a neighbor.
These humble folk were willing to trade foodstuffs and other commodities for Bible literature. We quickly learned the local values of such items as tortillas, eggs, elote (sweet corn), bananas, plantains, coconuts, cacao pods and dried or fresh fish.
One day, as our load of foodstuffs piled high, we were happy to see one of our group return with a large woven cane basket that he had gotten in trade for Bible literature. Although we saw little of the type of food that we customarily eat, there were abundant provisions available; it was a pleasant change for us.
When confronted with several days of rainy weather, we had to get used to wearing a long plastic raincoat or piece of plastic covering, as well as working out of a plastic-covered briefcase. In the evening we would dry off around a charcoal fire.
Talking to these people in their simple surroundings, we could not help but feel reassured that we had done the right thing in coming here. One couple in a dug-out canoe (cayuco) greeted us enthusiastically. Their small craft contained baskets of fresh delicious bread, neatly covered with clean white cloths. They readily accepted Bible literature and expressed eagerness to have us return to study with them. As we munched on some of their delicious pan dulce (sweet bread), we assured them that we would come back soon.
One day we paused for a brief lunch, pulling the boat onto the beach near some coconut palms to take advantage of the shade. Here we noticed many persons passing by on the beach as they returned to their ranchitos (thatched-roof houses of cane). Could we pass up such a golden opportunity of speaking to them about the Word of God? Not if we were truly interested in their welfare.
In this way a man named Carlos Enrique accepted a Bible publication and expressed his desire to learn how to study it. Later that same afternoon he again located us, sitting down for an hour-long study. We admired his eagerness to learn.
That evening we pitched tent, built a fire, and sat down to prepare supper and to share joyful experiences with one another. Then we heard someone approaching our campsite. How surprised and delighted we were to see Carlos Enrique! He had searched for us, wanting to study another chapter in his newly acquired Bible study aid. By the time that we finished the second chapter, the charcoal had burned low. Then Carlos explained that he had to return to his village, which was a number of miles away along a dark jungle path. Such appreciation! Among others who visited us at an unusual hour was José Morales, who approached our tent at midnight, requesting a Bible and a publication to help him to understand it.
As our circuit of the lake neared completion, we reflected on the number of persons interested in the Bible that we had been able to contact on our three-week trip. We placed hundreds of Bible publications and made many new friends. How thankful we were to our Creator for the opportunity of sharing the truth of His Word with the friendly folks around Lake Izabal!