The Pacific Islands Hear the “Good News”
“GET away from it all! Come to the Sunny South Pacific Islands” are slogans on travel posters around the world. And, indeed, ‘away from much of it’ are the nine colorful South Pacific island groups where Christian preaching activity is supervised by the Fiji branch of the Watch Tower Society.
The warm island climate and fertile, productive lands are reflected in the easygoing people. Life is still very casual. Time and other factors that govern in countries where people lead more regulated lives are not so important to many people here. It seems that they live for the sheer joy of living, and they are usually very hospitable and friendly. Among them are many of Jehovah’s Christian witnesses.
Serving the 1,200,000 people scattered over hundreds of lovely islands, there are fifteen times as many proclaimers of the “good news” about God’s kingdom as there were just twenty years ago. Would you like to come on a brief tour with us to meet some of them? It will mean some traveling.
Beginning east of Australia, these nine island groups stretch eastward across more than 3,000 miles of the South Pacific and reach north as far as the Equator. Tahiti is our first stop.
Tahiti is the largest and most developed of the 130 islands in French Polynesia. Reaching the 80,000 people in all these islands with the “good news” is a real challenge, but more than 200 of Jehovah’s Christian witnesses are eagerly meeting that challenge.
Very warm and humid air, fragrant with the perfume of the Tiara flower, greets us as we arrive on Tahiti island. But the kisses and flower leis from the many local Witnesses who come to meet us are what make us truly feel at home and welcome. Our guide, Jacques Inaudi, who came from France to work among these friendly people, is a traveling circuit overseer of Jehovah’s witnesses.
We travel by bus to reach the nearby Puunauia Congregation. At the end of a small valley, a large Kingdom Hall that can hold 400 persons awaits us. Our Christian brothers swarm all around, wanting to shake hands and embrace us. Noise outside signals the arrival of a busload who appreciate the meetings here so much that they regularly travel ninety miles to attend! After the meeting, the congregation prepares to visit the homes of local people to tell them about God’s promises. Brother Inaudi describes a typical visit:
“We usually begin at about 8:30 a.m. The people live in modest homes with either thatched or corrugated iron roofs. As we approach the house, we are surrounded by the usual pack of dogs. In response to our knock, a man appears with no shirt on, followed by his wife and several children. On learning that we are Jehovah’s witnesses, the man asks to be excused for a few moments and goes back into the house, returning with a shirt on. Tahitians are very respectful of the Bible and do not wish to discuss spiritual matters if they feel they are neglectfully dressed.”
An example of how the Bible’s truth develops appreciation for God among these humble people is a mother of six on the island of Raïatéa. Christian meetings are held on the other side of the island and the only bus comes along the main road at any time between one and three a.m.! So, at one o’clock in the morning the family come down out of the valley where they live, walk for about fifteen minutes and cross two rivers before reaching the road. Then they cover themselves and try to sleep while waiting for the bus. Would you put forth that much effort to attend Christian meetings to build up your knowledge of God and his purposes?
Before we take our leave of him, we ask Brother Inaudi about how he travels between the islands. “Well, on the five islands that I serve,” he answers, “I have traveled in everything from modern turboprop airplanes to small outrigger canoes. Some of the islands we are now reaching out to from Tahiti are hundreds of miles away. So, to save time, we travel by small airplanes. It is costly, but it is the only way we have of reaching these people with the good news quickly.”
Flying westward over about 1,500 miles of blue Pacific, we come to the lush, tropical Samoas.
Unlike French Polynesia with its many islands, Western Samoa has just two of any real size, with a total population of about 147,000. Because of the hot climate, people usually wear only a wrap-around piece of material tied at the waist, and their houses have no walls. In place of walls, plaited coconut-leaf blinds are lowered when they desire privacy at night and other times.
Paul Evans, a missionary from the United States who came with his wife to the Samoas in 1955, tells us about calling at these open homes in his Christian ministry. He says:
“It is easy to see who is at home in the village as one approaches. Before we enter a home Samoan custom requires that we remove our shoes so that the pandanus mats that cover the floor are not soiled. The householder then offers a ‘word’ of greeting, sometimes taking several minutes. The visitor replies, wishing that all is well in the home and returning the good wishes stated in the householder’s opening remarks. It is only when this formal greeting is over that the visitor is able to go ahead with his message.”
In one case a Samoan woman who appreciated this message could not be permitted to share in spreading it to others because she was not legally married to the man with whom she was living. With loving concern, Paul Evans and his wife concentrated on helping the man of the house, pointing out to him what the Bible says about marriage and clean living habits in order for his worship to be acceptable to God. Soon he legalized their marriage and quit his heavy drinking, smoking and other unchristian practices. In 1974 he and his wife were baptized, symbolizing their dedication to do God’s will.
Just a few miles across the water, on the more westernized islands of American Samoa, about 70 proclaimers of the “good news” work among the 28,000 inhabitants, and up to 130 persons associate at the local Kingdom Hall.
Our next stop takes us another 1,500 miles to the westernmost group of islands under the Fiji branch, French Melanesia. About 125,000 people live on the large island of New Caledonia and the Loyalty Islands off its coasts.
“The preaching of the good news started in this area of the Pacific in the middle 1950’s,” says Jacques Chichemanian, who has long been associated with the work. “Because it can get very warm in this country, we try to do all our traveling early in the morning. After the first day’s work, we set up camp beside a small river in a fine shady spot. There are eleven of us from three families and we are going to be preaching in this area for a whole week.”
One day this group spoke informally to a mechanic who replaced a broken windscreen on one of their cars. They explained to him the reason for their being in such an isolated area, and were pleasantly surprised when he said: “This interests me a great deal. Come in!” He took the Witnesses into his modest home and invited his family to join in the conversation. After the Witnesses finished their explanation, he told them:
“I am one of the chiefs of my tribe. Recently our priest brought us together and said that we should go and work for him without pay so that he could make some money to repair the church. So I stood up and asked him, ‘Why is it that the contractor who is a Catholic is being paid 800,000 CFP [over $10,000] to construct the church and repair it, while we who are also Catholics must work without wages? Are there two Gods, one for the contractor and the other for us? We refuse to help you out!’” So the mechanic said, “I believe that my religion is not the true one, and I am looking for the true one.”
“Needless to say,” Brother Chichemanian continued, “that night we went back to camp tired but happy that we had made the effort to come to this isolated area.”
On nearby Lifou Island, after a whole week of advertising a slide showing on the subject “A Close Look at the Churches,” there appeared to be no newly interested persons at all in attendance at starting time. But, surprise! Out of the shadows and from behind trees, people started appearing in groups. It seems that they had been watching one another to see who would make the first move to go into the hall. The final count was 117 in attendance, and many had to be turned away for lack of space!
Flying north from New Caledonia with a French “Bon Voyage” still ringing in our ears, we soon arrive at Port Vila, in the New Hebrides island group. About 85,000 people live primarily on the twelve larger islands in this group. English, French and many native dialects are spoken here; in fact, it is not uncommon to find tribes within a few miles of each other on the same island speaking a different language!
Allan Taylor, an Australian Witness, tells us that recently they made an effort to reach some of the closer islands in their area. Fifteen of the Witnesses made a twelve-day trip to five islands off the coast of their main island. Although it cost them $400 to hire the boat, and they had quite a rough passage at times, they were able to get the Kingdom message to many people who would not have otherwise heard.
On the island of Pele, a native Hebridean schoolteacher, on learning that they were Jehovah’s witnesses, answered: “Oh, is that true? I, too, am one of Jehovah’s witnesses. A man brought me the book The Truth That Leads to Eternal Life. I read the whole book and knew it was the truth, so I started applying it in my life. I thank Jehovah for putting you on my trail.”
So the “good news” of the Kingdom is reaching out into the most remote places. Helping in this expansion has been the fine effort by Witnesses who have sold their homes and moved to serve where there is a greater need for proclaimers of the good news. In a similar way the message is reaching the coral atolls of the Gilbert and Ellice Islands to the north, as well as the other island territories supervised by the Watch Tower Society’s Fiji branch. Before leaving the South Pacific, come with us on a visit to the hub of this activity, Fiji itself.
Fiji’s multiracial population of over a half million saw the start of this movement of truth into the far reaches of the South Pacific. Since 1947 the Kingdom work has spread to twenty congregations located on six of the surrounding 105 inhabited islands, with as many as 524 sharing in preaching the “good news.”
Donald Clare, who currently supervises the activity in all these islands, reflects: “It has been my joy to see the work develop from the days when we had only 35 proclaimers of the good news in Suva, Fiji’s capital, and when it was only being done in Fiji, to the point where it has now expanded to nine territories and has grown to the fine number of 1,214 preachers having an active share. With Jehovah’s help we have overcome the problems of distance, isolation, and so many language barriers. As a result, just as Jesus commanded, the good news is being preached in these remote islands of the South Pacific.”