When Preaching Is a Real Challenge
WHAT if you were given as a preaching assignment a territory nearly half the size of Europe, or half the size of the United States? What if this territory was mainly desert, where heat from a relentless sun commonly soared above 120 degrees Fahrenheit? Would you accept the challenge of preaching where the dirt roads, the dust, the flies, the swarms of other insects and the occasional torrential rains bring seemingly endless trials?
My wife and I were offered such an assignment in the desert outback of Australia, and we accepted it. You may be surprised that Australia is so big—it is fifty-eight times the size of England! It has more snow country than Switzerland, more lakes than Scotland, Holland, France and Belgium combined, and more sun and surf than Hawaii, Tahiti, Bali, Fiji and Pago Pago put together. And its deserts are among the world’s largest.
For two years we traveled these desert areas, covering some 10,000 miles every six months in our visit to fourteen congregations and seven small groups of Jehovah’s witnesses. Do you know what is involved in just making it from congregation to congregation in this desert outback?
PREPARATIONS FOR TRAVEL
First, our car had to be modified to stand up to the bone-shaking corrugations, ruts, river crossings and dust. Especially hard on the car were the 3,000 miles of dirt roads we traveled each time around our preaching circuit.
To protect our windshield, we put a screen on it. Next we installed a kangaroo bar to prevent damage when kangaroos jumped into the oncoming car lights. Larger coil springs were fitted to the front of the car to lift the engine and gear mechanism higher off the road. In the rear, a sheet-metal plate was welded completely around the gas tank to prevent it from being punctured by stones. Lastly, a differential stiffener was installed to stop the differential from vibrating free and dropping onto the road.
Our car is outfitted with a roof rack that almost completely covers its top. We used every inch of its space for spare wheel rims, tires, extra gas, oil, filters, air pump, tow ropes, jacks, battery jumper cables, water for washing and drinking, and tools and spare auto parts to handle practically any mechanical breakdown. You are correct in concluding that before a person qualifies for a preaching assignment here he needs to be a good mechanic. Emphasizing the need for being prepared is the fact that each year a number of people die in their stranded cars from the extreme heat. Often it is more than 300 miles between gas stations and you rarely meet up with another car.
Also, an important part of preparation is the wrapping of all clothes in plastic before one puts them in the suitcase. Then the suitcase is wrapped in canvas. Why? Because otherwise the clothes would become permeated by the talcum-like dust.
EXPERIENCES ON THE ROAD
Generally, we would spend the first part of the week traveling and the latter part sharing in the preaching work along with a congregation of Witnesses. We averaged about a 500-mile drive between visits to congregations or isolated groups. This meant that we slept in our car on the road one or two nights every week, in night temperatures of 100 degrees Fahrenheit or more.
In traveling the 750 miles from Wyndham, Western Australia, to Broome we ran into wet weather. At times we had to leave the road and “go bush” (off the beaten track) to avoid trouble spots. Or we would get out and shovel anthills to fill up rough sections of road. But with me pushing the car and my wife driving, we would make it through.
The first time around our circuit we did not see any grass in all those 10,000 miles, except in one town. The drought was devastating! But, as the Scriptures indicate, deserts can blossom like the saffron after rain. (Isa. 35:1) Following the seasonal rains, we have seen thousands of miles of beautiful flowers literally covering the earth as far as the eye can see. Also, the desert areas are alive with wildlife, including kangaroos, goannas, wild donkeys, horses, emus, dingoes (wild dogs) and even a few camels.
One 455-mile section of dirt road was especially isolated and hot. To save on weight, we had decided to leave our extra water supply behind. But on the road we had a flat tire, then later a blowout. Our two spare tires were now in use; hardly any cars were traveling the road, and we still had 120 miles to go to reach the next town.
With few words and with our hearts in our mouths we plugged on at twenty miles per hour for what seemed an eternity, fearing that at any moment another tire would go. The temperature was near 115 degrees Fahrenheit and all we had was half a water bag of warm water. Suddenly, another flat tire, but we were at the outskirts of town. It was good to be back in “civilization” that night.
On another occasion we experienced unseasonal rain, and huge trucks were bogged down along the road. “You’ll never make it, mate,” one truck driver told us. But we said that we would go up the road at least to have a look. It appeared almost impassable, so we parked in the middle of the road that night and slept a few hours.
The next morning I cautioned my wife, “No screams.” Then, after warming up the motor carefully and thinking of the wild-driving Bible character Jehu, I took our “chariot” roaring up the hill, with mud and slush flying in all directions. (2 Ki. 9:20) It is necessary at times really “to have a go,” as the Australians say. We had uppermost in our minds getting to the next congregation and sharing with our Christian brothers there in the preaching work.
However, we were not always able to keep our schedule. Owing to floods, on one occasion we had to detour 2,600 miles in order to visit a congregation! So, instead of arriving early in the week, we came in on Thursday night, tired and especially dusty and disheveled. This was partly because 450 miles back down the road we had broken a windshield. But we were able to share with the congregation in the preaching work Friday through Sunday.
The distances traveled to Christian assemblies were even much longer. For example, we went over 6,000 miles round trip to attend an international assembly in Sydney, leaving from Port Hedland and returning to Mount Newman. In case of problems, for such trips we would take a box of food, usually enough to last two weeks. Biscuits and baked beans were my favorites, while my wife liked canned sardines the best.
Sometimes I had to take on a few days of secular work in order to have sufficient funds to keep our car going. I will never forget the time I had the opportunity to work with the aborigines in Wyndham, reported to be one of the hottest places on earth. One of the natives there was particularly interested in the Bible, and I had an opportunity to give him a good witness about God’s promised new system.—2 Pet. 3:13.
COPING WITH THE HEAT
Many a time we would not have minded giving others some of our heat in exchange for cooler weather. When the big drought was on in 1972, the temperature was consistently 120 degrees Fahrenheit plus. My wife survived by dabbing a damp cloth on her face and neck. We would eat our lunch crouched under a shrub, as there are no trees for some 800 miles across the Nullarbor Plain. This plain is well named, since Nullarbor means “No Trees.”
Everything was shimmering hot; to touch the car would burn the flesh. The prolonged heat blistered the rubber around our car windows. I made the mistake of buying a cheaper pair of shoes, and the soles melted and slid sideways after just a few weeks. Once, after we reached our destination, the temperature dropped to 117 degrees Fahrenheit, which almost felt cool.
We often experienced temperatures of over 110 degrees Fahrenheit during our preaching work, but still we were able to maintain our normal schedule of house-to-house visits. In Exmouth, I remember, it was 110 degrees Fahrenheit before 9 a.m. one morning as I knocked on my first door. But the people are very tough, and they learn to cope with this type of weather.
We saw a twenty-two-month-old Witness child go from house to house all morning without a whimper in over 105-degree heat. When we met up for lunch he had red mud all over his face, sweat beads on his head and rivulets of perspiration streaking down his cheeks, as he walked along holding his father’s hand. But he had a big smile from ear to ear, and tried to tell us about some of the people that they had met that morning.
One day when it was 117 degrees, I gave a public talk in a home in Meekatharra. The next time that I took off my trousers a white square of salt was caked to the left knee where I had placed my Bible, and there were two white patches where I had sat down. But the local folks, being used to the heat, had not even bothered to turn on the fans that afternoon. My wife and I were able to cope with these conditions by consuming extra salt and trusting in Jehovah God for strength.
KEEPING STRONG SPIRITUALLY
One family of Jehovah’s witnesses that we visited live hundreds of miles from the nearest congregation, yet they make sure that they receive the same spiritual food as other Witnesses do. Each meeting night they dress up, and the various members of the family share in handling the same meeting parts considered in congregations of Jehovah’s witnesses world wide.
A problem came up when the mother was in the hospital, having given birth to a baby during the day. How were they going to conduct their meeting that night, since she had a talk in the Theocratic Ministry School? Well, off they all went to the hospital, and held their meeting there! Nothing stops that family from its regular program of spiritual instruction.
Another isolated Witness followed the same pattern. But since he was alone, he handled all the meeting parts himself, even singing the Kingdom songs by himself. The townsfolk noticed his absence from social functions, so they thought they would do him a favor and placed his name on the membership rolls of two clubs in town. He tactfully explained why he chose not to be involved in club functions.
This person was a new Witness, and it took a while before he worked up courage to call on his neighbors to preach to them. Then people would often tell him: “Not today, mate. You’re a good bloke, mate, but don’t bring that religion around here.” However, he started a Bible study with someone, and it was not long before this person was sharing with him in his meeting program. We felt that our visit with them was all too short.
There were a number of places we visited where only one Witness lived. One isolated Christian sister kept up a vigorous preaching schedule, having over 10,000 people to witness to in her territory. She carried a baby on her back in a “papoose,” taking another child along by the hand. She was able to cultivate much interest in God’s Word among the people. Occasionally cassette tape recordings of public Bible lectures in the congregations are sent to isolated publishers or groups so that they can receive these spiritual benefits.
Witnessing is a delight in most of the remote mining towns. To get to these, Witnesses often will travel hundreds of miles, camping out a week or so at a time. Here we met many young families, and found the people to be very friendly. They have fewer distractions, and so have more time to read. One day a person in Karratha took all the Bible literature that I was carrying.
Even though at times we got a little fatigued, the blessings were very great indeed. Sometimes we were low on provisions. Once we were ‘hundreds of miles from nowhere’ and I was under the car trying to find a brake pad that was not there. To our surprise, a car pulled up. The driver turned out to be one of the Witnesses doing preaching in unassigned territory. What a pleasant sight! When he returned home he immediately wired us $50 to our next stop. We never lacked the things we needed.
It is nothing for Witnesses in the outback to travel seventy miles to go to a weekly Bible meeting. A committee of three Christian elders may spend their entire weekend assisting a nearby congregation with a judicial matter, traveling as much as 1,200 miles. Some Witnesses travel 3,000 miles round trip to attend their semiannual circuit assembly. If the roads are too bad or flooded, they will fly if they can afford it. One family spent over $1,000 in air fares and for accommodations to attend their circuit assembly. What a pleasure it was to be with these people who put spiritual matters first in their lives!
Now we have another preaching assignment. The territory we cover in our new circuit would fit into the area of just one congregation in the previous one. Our hearts go out to our brothers in the great outback of Australia—they will always be especially dear to us.—Contributed.
[Picture on page 677]
An outline of Australia over a map of Europe, with the route of travel indicated