“Good News” Comes to the Virgin Islands
THE Virgin Islands are a group of numerous islands—some large, others tiny—lying at the northeastern edge of the Caribbean Sea just east of Puerto Rico. The ideal climate and the beautiful scenery—mountains dropping down into the sea, hundreds of picturesque bays and sandy beaches—attract many tourists. By plane and by cruise ship, thousands of vacationers arrive daily, especially in the winter months. No wonder the Virgin Islands are called the “Vacationland of America.”
“Good News” Comes to St. Thomas
How did the “good news” proclaimed by Jehovah’s Witnesses reach this area? In January 1947, two missionaries from the first class of the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead, T. E. Klein and his wife, were assigned to proclaim the “good news” on St. Thomas. They really exerted themselves in preaching on the streets and from house to house. In the Virgin Islands, the individual approaching the door usually calls out, “Inside!” The householder answers, “Outside!” and comes to the door.
Working from early morning till after sundown, going through narrow streets and alleys, and climbing steep hills and stairways, the missionaries brought the Kingdom message to all kinds of people. The response was amazing. In just four months, the Kleins obtained 750 new subscriptions for the Watchtower and Awake! magazines. As a result, the post office had to initiate rural delivery service. Soon a number of interested persons joined the missionaries in calling on others from house to house.
The “Good News” Reaches Other Islands
Another area of the Virgin Islands was reached when Edmead George returned to his native St. John after studying the Bible with Jehovah’s Witnesses in New Orleans, Louisiana, U.S.A., and in Puerto Rico. He began to tell his relatives and neighbors about the things that he had learned. His wife, mother and aunt responded favorably. So did his neighbor Amos Sullivan, a wiry seaman. When Edmead and his family found it necessary to move to St. Thomas for economic reasons, Amos kept right on declaring the “good news.” Not only did Amos regularly witness to his neighbors, tramping over the hills and mountains, but he would also row some two miles (3 km) in his small rowboat to reach people living on the other side of the bay. Today there is a congregation in Cruz Bay, where a son of Amos settled after he became a Witness.
In 1948, Jehovah’s Witnesses began to declare the “good news” to the inhabitants of St. Croix. When T. E. Klein and his wife arrived there in 1951, they found a small congregation at Christiansted. Toward the end of 1951, Klein made a number of calls on a native islander. Because the calls mostly ended in arguments, Klein finally told the man: “Now if you want to study the Bible, young man, I came to study the Bible and I didn’t come to argue with you.” This man, Leroy Boyce, then said: “The only way we can have this thing settled is if you meet with my minister and discuss the matter. Then I can decide which of the two I am to believe.” What was the result? During the discussion that followed with T. E. Klein, the minister became angry and left in a flurry. Today Leroy Boyce serves as an elder in the congregation at Christiansted.
It was in 1949 that the “good news” reached the inhabitants of the British Virgin Islands. In July of that year the missionary boat, the Sibia, pulled into Road Town Harbour in Tortola. The four missionaries immediately began to go from house to house, sharing the “good news” with the people. During the day they would scatter along the coast and over the mountains, preaching to the people and conducting Bible studies. In the evenings the missionaries would bring their gas lantern ashore to provide illumination for a Bible discourse under a convenient tree. Seeing the gas lantern, the islanders would light up their torches, consisting of rags put in little bottles of kerosene, and would make their way down the mountainside to come to hear the talk. The torches looked like many moving stars on the mountainside. It was a thrilling sight.
The Sibia visited Tortola a number of times. Gradually a small group of interested persons formed. The missionaries were able to hold meetings regularly while they were there. When they left, the group continued to meet together. In 1955, Lionel Sullivan, another son of Amos Sullivan, came to Tortola, and the Road Town congregation was formed.
Finding Suitable Kingdom Halls
To accommodate the meetings of the growing congregations, small halls were rented. But these halls soon became too crowded. On St. Thomas it seemed impossible to find a suitable meeting place. Property was very expensive, and places for rent were scarce and also very costly. However, one morning the presiding minister of the congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses, Walter Georges, was informed that a woman wanted to talk to him. This conversation paved the way for the building of a meeting place, a Kingdom Hall.
The government had made it mandatory for all residents to have flush toilets. This woman was willing to donate land, provided the Witnesses helped her to satisfy the new governmental regulation. In view of the poor condition of her dwelling, the Witnesses offered to build a two-bedroom house for her. The woman was pleased with the arrangement. After the Witnesses obtained the deed to the donated land, they were ready to build a new hall.
But who would build it? The Witnesses there had very little knowledge about construction. A Witness living in Florida, U.S.A., but who was a native of St. Thomas, volunteered to draw up the plans. But how could they make sure that they were reading the plans correctly? Every evening Walter Georges would call Leroy Boyce, a fellow Witness and a contractor on St. Croix, and read the plans to him. Leroy would tell Walter what to do the next day. In this way, the Witnesses were able to build a Kingdom Hall and a house for the woman who donated the property.
The Situation Today
The 1970’s showed a tremendous increase in the number of those proclaiming the “good news” in the Virgin Islands. There are now upward of 570 doing so in the American and British Virgin Islands. District assemblies held each year, usually on St. Thomas or St. Croix, are attended by close to 1,000. Certainly “good news” has come to America’s Vacationland, and many are responding favorably, including the Spanish-speaking population that is now served by two congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses.