The Bible Unifies Diversified Suriname
By “Awake!” correspondent in Suriname
A DRIVE of 30 miles (50 km) from the airport to Suriname’s capital city, Paramaribo, provides the tourist a cross-sectional view of life in this South American country. The first impression of the traveler is that he has landed in some country in Africa, as he rides by palm-thatched huts, occasionally seeing a half-clad Bush Negro woman preparing her breakfast. But the scene rapidly changes and he gets more of a total world flavor as he passes Caribs and Arawaks, two Amerindian tribes, the original inhabitants of Suriname; East Indians, whose women still wear their traditional head coverings of white lace; Indonesians, characterized by their nicely cultivated gardens; and Chinese, with their businesses on every corner. Within the capital’s old city you still find centuries-old colonial Dutch-style houses.
One can easily see that, with the great variety of peoples and the diversity of languages, backgrounds and customs, any educational work would face problems. Accordingly, the preaching and teaching of the Bible’s good news have required much effort. One of the problems met in teaching the Bible has been illiteracy, especially among those living deep in the jungle. In 1976, the branch office of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society tackled the problem by setting up three schools, using the booklet Leri Lesi en Skrifi (Learn to Read and Write) in Sranan-tongo (the language of Suriname), taught twice a week by some of Jehovah’s Witnesses who are professional teachers. Before long a congregation in the bush grew to 27 members when helped by three young Witnesses who moved there to teach in an elementary school. Now the people there enjoy reading their own Bibles. Better understanding of the Bible has brought greater unity among the varied nationalities. In Paramaribo many were helped in the same way and now one congregation of 120 members in that city worships alongside the other 10 Dutch-speaking congregations.
Heading Southward by River
Strong efforts are now being made to reach more remote areas. Come along with us on a visit to a small congregation along the Tapanahoni River.
“Welcome aboard!” greets one of the Bush Negro Witnesses, who regularly spends full time in taking the “good news” to people in hard-to-reach places. We are impressed by the size of the korjaal, a 59-foot (18-m)-long canoe. Four men spent two months hollowing out a giant tree, fashioning it into the biggest boat on the river. When the boat is used to bring the Witnesses to assemblies in the capital or to take them to the various villages for the preaching work, the village children shout, “Noa e psa!” (“Noah passes by!”)
Building a Kingdom Hall
By the time we arrive at our destination, Godo Holo, the village where a congregation is located, we are ready to step off onto land for a while.
This congregation was, in a most unusual way, brought to the decision to build their own hall. During a circuit assembly (several congregations meeting together), the place then used for meeting could hold only 80 of the 100 persons attending. Worse than that, during the public talk, heavy rains suddenly collapsed the whole roof! Happily, no one was seriously injured, but they decided to build a hall.
The forest would have to provide the basic materials. The men went into the jungle, cutting trees for two months, while the women and children busied themselves hauling 250 barrels of sand and gravel to a small hill. But cement, metal roofing and nails were needed. When the Witnesses in the capital heard of the expansion plans, they spontaneously gave financial assistance for obtaining these items. And that invaluable boat Noah transported these building materials to the site.
One of the men is a bricklayer and he taught the others to make bricks. Although building under these circumstances is hard work, there is a certain joy when one knows that practically all the materials and the construction itself is the product of one’s own labor. After one year the hall was dedicated on April 15, 1979.
A Village Gets a New Face
While the Witnesses are overjoyed to have a meeting place of their own, the citizens of the village have also benefited. When the building of a new hall was decided upon, the acquiring of a site was the first problem. Godo Holo is really three villages bordering one another. The originally proposed site was immediately refused by the chieftain of that village. But the chieftain of the middle village was more sympathetic toward the Witnesses and said: “You just go ahead and build on that hill near my village.” His decision brought ridicule upon him, since the majority of citizens in his village scoffed at him. But he stuck to his word.
The Witnesses went ahead with their building. When former villagers now living in the capital city heard what was being done in their village, they sent a letter of protest and by radio even aired threats to destroy the hall. The chieftain, however, sent a reply to the opposers that he was waiting for their attack and reminded them that they had contributed nothing in building better homes for their wives, children, parents and older folks in the village.
The people now admit that the Gado Woortoe sma (God’s Word people), as the Witnesses are called there, have been an asset to their village. The Witnesses brought not only spiritual light to their village, but also literal light. The village now has electricity, thanks to the boat Noah, which brought a generator from the capital right through cataracts to this place. The result of all of this is that, when engaging in the preaching work, the Witnesses are received in a very friendly manner.
Visiting the People with the “Good News”
As your boat docks at this village, your hosts, the boat crew, take you along with them to visit the homes of the people with the “good news.” You find that you cannot merely introduce yourself and get to the point quickly, as is the case in busy city areas. That would be impolite here, for custom requires that you first give the following greeting: “Did you wake up well?” The householder replies: “Yes, I woke up well. How did you sleep?” “I slept very well. How did you sleep?” “I slept quite well, too.” Then you slowly guide the conversation into a Bible discussion.
Returning from this strenuous but enjoyable trip, you are invited to take a journey, this time by road, to the southwest part of Suriname. Some years ago the government started making plans to construct two dams, a bauxite mine and a railroad. In the process, a 220-mile (350-km) roadway was built, also opening up the way to reach the once remote Amerindian villages of Apoera and Washabo on the Corantijn River, which borders Guyana. What a road! Our Land Rover bounces and sways over bumps, holes, dust, ruts and mud. The hardships are somewhat relieved as we stop now and then along the roadside to marvel at the snakes, to admire the hardworking parasol ants or to listen to the cries of the colorful parrots.
At last we reach an American work camp, 30 miles (50 km) from those Indian villages. Our fatigue is quickly dispelled by our two Christian sisters who greet us hospitably. They know we are in need of a bath to wash away the fine red dust covering us and our clothing. A delicious meal restores our strength, and after pleasant conversation and a good night’s sleep we arise the next morning to set out calling on the people with the Bible’s message.
Interest in the Bible among these simple folk is overwhelming. In every hut you find responsive listeners. You think to yourself, How would one ever find the same hut again to make a return visit? All the huts look alike and have no house numbers. But that is no problem, because in every hut people are willing to study the Bible with you. Sometimes you merely set your book bag in the hut and people not only desire one of the Bible books, but help themselves to what is in the bag.
As you return to the capital from this journey, you feel encouraged in the knowledge that the good news of the Kingdom is reaching into all parts of this beautiful country of Suriname.
[Picture on page 18]
“That invaluable boat ‘Noah’”