Telling Forth Jehovah’s Praise in the Islands
“FOR his law the islands themselves will keep waiting. Let them attribute to Jehovah glory, and in the islands let them tell forth even his praise.” (Isa. 42:4, 12) Just how much “the islands” have been waiting for Jehovah’s law was made clear during my recent visit to the Madeira and Azores Islands. I was serving as a circuit overseer of Jehovah’s Witnesses, and was accompanied by my wife. Our itinerary included a total of eight islands, one of them to be visited by Jehovah’s Witnesses for the first time. Would you like to join us as we relive some of the experiences of this eventful trip?
An hour and a half after leaving Lisbon, Portugal, our jet banks over the island of Madeira and we get a breathtaking view of the rugged coastline with its steep cliffs jutting up from the sea. The twenty-five-kilometer (16-mile) ride from the airport to Funchal, the principal city, reveals this to be an island of sugarcane, banana trees, dense vegetation, rich flora and mountainsides neatly terraced with grapevines. The presence of many trees helps us to grasp the significance of the island’s name, for the Portuguese word madeira means “wood.” It is in this setting that we spend the next five weeks.
Our activity begins with visiting the three congregations in Funchal, a city of some 45,000 inhabitants. Since the Portuguese revolution on April 25, 1974, great changes have been seen in this previously Catholic-dominated island. Our fellow Witnesses tell us that there is virtually a whole new field for witnessing. Many have awakened to the fact that church leaders “hobnobbed” with the old dictatorial regime. In marked contrast with greatly diminished church attendance, how encouraging to see the new Kingdom Hall (dedicated in June of 1975) filled to capacity! Already plans are under way to enlarge its facilities. The rapid growth of Jehovah’s Witnesses here in recent years can be seen from this comparison: It took nineteen years to reach the first hundred active field workers, but in the next four years, the number more than doubled. The latest peak is 274 active Witnesses.
Our final week on Madeira Island is climaxed with a “circuit assembly.” City officials have offered the Municipal Theater free of charge. On Sunday we are thrilled to have 448 in attendance. The management of the theater expresses amazement at the fine Bible instruction offered. One theater employee states: “The priests should have attended your meeting to see how to teach the Bible to their parishioners,” and requests a weekly Bible study in his own home.
SÃO MIGUEL ISLAND, AZORES
Next morning our plane takes off for the archipelago of the Azores, in the North Atlantic Ocean. This group of nine islands is of volcanic origin (like Madeira Island). The climate is mild, with little seasonal change. Cattle raising and fruit growing are important industries, and the islands produce excellent cheese and a wide variety of fruit. Life for the 280,000 inhabitants of this archipelago has not been greatly affected by the changing times of this modern world.
Our first visit on São Miguel Island is with three “special pioneer” Witnesses working in the town of Ribeira Grande. The influence of the Catholic Church is immediately obvious. Most people are very suspicious of anyone who appears speaking about the Bible. So as we go from door to door many a householder makes fun of our activity, shouting for us to get out of town. Then, at one door, a dignified lady appears, asking who we are. “Jehovah’s Witnesses,” we answer. “Then please come in,” she gestures politely. She tells us of being nasty to Jehovah’s Witnesses in the past, then adds: “Although I am a practicing Catholic, I just do not know where the truth is anymore. The other day I asked the priest several questions and he could not answer one satisfactorily!”
She gets her Bible and an interesting conversation follows, only to be disturbed by neighbors who boldly enter her home. They show themselves visibly upset that she would listen to Jehovah’s Witnesses. We are amazed when this God-fearing lady kindly tells her neighbors that she is learning many interesting things about God. She explains that there is no reason for them to be so prejudiced against God’s Word, the Holy Bible, and that, for her part, she is determined to learn more. One by one, the neighbors begin to leave. What a joy to have started a home Bible study with this sheeplike woman who is truly hungering and thirsting for righteousness!
Shortly after leaving her home, we pass a crippled man sitting on a bench. He calls to us several times but we pay no attention, thinking he is ridiculing us as others have done. The man persists, though, shouting for us to speak with him, so finally we turn back. “What are you doing here?” he asks. As we explain the Kingdom message we see the man’s eyes sparkle with interest. What a pleasant surprise for us on Sunday to welcome this man among the forty-two persons present at the public meeting! He has walked two kilometers (1.2 miles) on crutches to attend!
Our next visit is to Povoacão, on the south side of the island some forty kilometers (25 miles) distant. What a pleasant trip, passing hot springs bubbling out boiling water from hidden cracks in the earth, and seeing tea plants and gentle mountain streams that abound with trout, black bass and perch! Upon our arriving, the “special pioneer” Witnesses there tell us that the local priest has been very disturbed by the interest some folk have shown in our studying the Bible with them. So he prohibited his parishioners to study the Bible with the Witnesses, saying that we do not believe in God or the Virgin Mary.
On the main street, I enter a barbershop and begin to speak with the owner. He listens closely, and soon everyone in the shop becomes attentive too. There is a taxi stand in front of the shop and shortly all the cab drivers come in to listen. Then some men from the café on the other side of the street join the growing crowd. With such a fine opportunity, I decide to improvise and end up by giving a “public talk” for close to one hour.
A lively discussion follows, with many of those present raising questions about the Bible. Every time someone enters the shop and begins talking, the others say: “Quiet! We are listening to an interesting explanation about the Bible. If you don’t want to listen, then you can leave, because we want to hear what is being said.” Finally satisfied with the Scriptural answers given, several make comments such as these: “This is not what the priest has been telling us!”; “He has been deceiving us!” and “He has not been preaching the truth!”
Later we are told that a group of at least thirty of those present at the barbershop discussion went to see the priest, complaining that he had not spoken the truth about Jehovah’s Witnesses. Although there are threats of mob action against us on the part of some fanatical zealots, the week’s activity is crowned with unexpected success. On Sunday there are fifty-two present to see the slide presentation entitled “A Close Look at the Churches.”
Our visit on this island ends with a circuit assembly, the peak attendance being 240, and six persons are baptized. What a marvelous climax to a month of special activity on São Miguel Island!
ON TO TERCEIRA AND PICO ISLANDS
Terceira Island gets its name from the fact that it was the third island to be discovered in this archipelago, its name meaning “Third.” It has a thriving fishing industry. There are two congregations here, one in the principal city of Angra do Heroismo and the other in Praia da Vitória. Average weekly attendance at meetings for the two congregations is over 200, and how everyone enjoys those meetings! One Witness who has an unbelieving husband and is the mother of six children regularly walks twelve kilometers (7 miles) to attend meetings. She has served as an “auxiliary pioneer” several times and during our visit she distributes 180 magazines in store-to-store activity.
We have no direct flight to our next island. So after landing at Horta, Faial Island, we must take a small boat across to Madalena, Pico Island. The boat trip lasts only half an hour, but it is unforgettable! To say the least, the ocean is rough. One minute we are riding high the crest of a wave and the next we are in the very trough of the wave, eyes overwhelmed at the sight above. Getting off the boat is a real challenge. Our timing has to be just right. As the boat comes down on a wave and levels with the wharf—then we must jump!
Pico Island is rather unique. A moderately inclined plain rises from the shores, steeper and steeper, until it curves to a bell-shaped cone, some 2,350 meters (7,700 feet) above sea level. Here life is primitive. Many homes have no electricity. By hard toil, the people wrest food from the land and fish from the sea. Doors are always unlocked and everyone is very friendly.
There are two small congregations on this island. Some of the Witnesses regularly walk ten kilometers (six miles) to get to the meetings, and then they make the return trip home, following unlit footpaths. When it is rainy weather, they arrive thoroughly drenched, but they are used to it, so it does not hinder their enjoying a fine meeting.
Here also we visit the town of Lajes, which is isolated territory. Loaded with Bibles, books and magazines, we leave at five o’clock in the morning on the only bus that makes the trip daily. Our work begins as soon as we get off the bus. We are deeply moved when some householders plead with us, saying: “Please don’t go today. We would like you to stay longer and help us to learn these marvelous things about God.” That afternoon several persons come searching for us, as they were not at home in the morning when we visited their area. Oh, how they want the same Bible literature that their neighbors have obtained from us! In just one day we distribute 240 items of literature!
A circuit assembly program is adapted to the local circumstances on Pico Island, and the fifty-seven in attendance resolve to continue faithfully proclaiming the good news during whatever time is remaining of this “day of salvation.”—2 Cor. 6:2.
FLORES AND FAIAL ISLANDS
We learn that there is air service only once every two weeks to Flores Island, but are happy that a boat is leaving right away for the port of Santa Cruz. Flores is a small island with abundant vegetation and several delightful cascades. Instead of stone walls dividing the farms, there are walls of hydrangeas! No wonder the island is called Flores, which means “Flowers”!
How did a congregation get established in this distant place? A zealous couple learned the truth in the United States and corresponded with relatives on this, their native island. In 1975 they returned expressly to help their friends to learn about God’s provision for a new order. And how they have been blessed! There are already eight new Witnesses actively preaching the good news to the island’s 5,500 inhabitants. An average of twenty persons attend meetings at their small Kingdom Hall.
Our return trip brings us again to Faial Island, where we now enjoy a short visit with the “special pioneer” Witnesses who have only recently begun working in this new assignment. Here are fine prospects for Kingdom-preaching and disciple-making, as a total of sixteen home Bible studies are being conducted already.
SÃO JORGE ISLAND—VIRGIN TERRITORY
Now a special privilege awaits us. We will join a “special pioneer” couple in Angra do Heroismo and travel together by boat to inaugurate Kingdom service on São Jorge Island. This is a new assignment for the couple. We will share their joy in getting the work established.
Our boat leaves at eleven o’clock at night but no one can sleep as the waters are stormy. Taking advantage of the opportunity, we distribute free tracts to everyone on board. At breakfast time, we are surprised to have a Catholic priest join us at our table. Soon a lively conversation is under way about the Trinity and the immortality of the soul. Our discussion catches the attention of other passengers and before long there is a sizable audience listening as we show point by point what the Bible teaches. Suddenly the priest stands up, excuses himself by saying that he has to get some rest and quickly disappears.
At our destination, the first day of Kingdom service is truly productive. The four of us distribute a total of 343 books and other Bible literature. Best of all, several home Bible studies are started. An unusual experience takes place when an interested man eagerly accepts the book The Truth That Leads to Eternal Life. After reading several pages, he runs to tell his neighbors what a fine message the book contains, encouraging them to be sure to get a copy. Then after a short period, he reappears, requesting four copies of the book for his friends. It seems he has no sooner left us than he is back again, this time asking for five more copies for more of his amigos. This happens several times in the afternoon, and we think the first day of Kingdom service on this island truly has a fine start, as we already have a helper anxious to distribute the truth of God’s Word.
Just how much the ‘islands are crying for help’ is again revealed as we visit people in the town of Velas. After I introduce myself at one door, the man says: “I have waited a long time for your visit! I read my Bible daily and I just knew that one day disciples of Jesus Christ would call at my door because the Bible says they would do such a work in these last days.” Needless to say, we enjoy an excellent visit, and I start a home Bible study. He kindly offers me lunch, but this I have brought along. Later in the afternoon we meet again and this time he is carrying a huge sack of oranges. He says to me: “You couldn’t accept my offer for lunch, so please accept this sack of oranges as a gift. Our Lord said that his disciples would not need to take along a purse or food pouch, for they are worthy of their wages.” How we marvel at such genuine appreciation of the service we are engaged in!
LAST STOP—SANTA MARIA ISLAND
A young baptized Witness had been transferred from Portugal to work for his employer on this island. He zealously seized the opportunity to make known Jehovah’s purposes among the population. When we arrive here, do we find him feeling lonely and abandoned? Rather, he is bubbling over to tell us one experience after another. He is conducting eighteen home Bible studies on weekends and evenings, and many months he spends 90 to 100 hours in Kingdom service, while holding down a full-time job at the same time. Our visit proves to be a grand “interchange of encouragement.” (Rom. 1:12) Truthfully, his example is faith-strengthening to us.
It is hard to believe that our trip has come to an end. Firsthand we have seen the marvelous work Jehovah is accomplishing in these “last days.” We deeply treasure the example that fifteen “special pioneer” Witnesses are setting, serving as real missionaries in the Azores Islands. A total of 267 publishers and pioneers have been conducting as many as 271 home Bible studies on these islands. How glad we are that we could follow the example of Paul and Barnabas in ‘visiting the brothers, to see how they are’ in all these islands where “the word of Jehovah” is now being published so zealously! (Acts 15:36)—Contributed.
[Map on page 73]
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