The Canary Islands Sing Jehovah’s Praise
CAN you imagine a small group of islands capable of evoking in one visit the image of the planet Mars, a paradise and the Sahara Desert? Such are the Spanish Canary Islands that lie just off the Moroccan coast in northwest Africa.
Jehovah’s Witnesses have been organized there since 1958, when the first Bible study meeting was held in the city of Las Palmas with an attendance of six. The waters of truth have flowed freely over the last 24 years, and congregations have sprung up everywhere. On April 8, 1982, the total attendance at the Memorial for these islands was 4,357.
Let us take you on a swift journey through this archipelago and see the fruitage that Jehovah has given.—1 Corinthians 3:6, 7.
Lanzarote—An Island From Outer Space?
As our jet plane brings the island into view an awesome sight meets us. Stretched out before us is a panorama of stark volcanic cones and collapsed craters. Red, black and ocher are the predominant colors. We begin to wonder whether we are going to land on our planet Earth or on Mars.
Once down on land, two facts strike us—the lack of trees and the utter barrenness of the terrain. It seldom rains, so water is in short supply. The local farmers struggle to eke out a living from the parched lava by burrowing out hundreds of hollows to protect single vines. Somehow these manage to produce a precious crop of grapes.
Jehovah’s Witnesses on the island have shown the same tenacity in producing fruitage of praise to God. One such example is Juan Cabrera Medina and his wife, Benedicta. They had their first contact with the Witnesses in the early 1970’s. Juan relates:
“I had always been a practicing Catholic, so much so that the local priest was a friend of the family. Then one day a friend of mine asked me to help him refute the Witnesses who were visiting him. I thought that would be easy, but the first conversation soon put me right on that. With his Bible in his hand, Manuel Sosa, the special pioneer minister, discreetly exposed my ignorance. I did not even know God’s name. The outcome was that I started to study the Bible with the Witnesses.
“A few days later my ‘friend’ the priest came around to see me. He visited me for eight consecutive nights in an attempt to dissuade me from studying the Bible. When that failed he resorted to applying coercion at my place of work. I was threatened with losing my job, but all to no avail. I stood my ground.”
As a result of Juan’s tenacious stand for the truth, five members of his family are now Witnesses. They associate with the Arrecife Congregation that had an attendance of 111 persons at the 1982 Memorial. For an island of 50,000 inhabitants, that is good fruitage.
Fuerteventura, the Island Sahara
If Lanzarote made us think of another planet, Fuerteventura reminds us of another continent—Africa and the Sahara Desert.
For the past six years Vicente Bueno, from Zaragoza, Spain, and his Puerto Rican wife, Abigail, have been serving as special pioneer ministers on this island. Vicente explains a special feature of their missionary field:
“Our territory includes thousands of soldiers that form the Spanish Legion. Back in 1977 we met Máximo López, a sergeant musician in the Legion. He asked for a Bible and the textbook The Truth That Leads to Eternal Life. His wife was not too favorable, and on the next visit we expected problems from her. To our surprise we were invited in and got involved in a Bible discussion that lasted until four o’clock in the morning.
“As a result of the weekly Bible study we held with them, they decided they wanted to get baptized at the International Convention in Barcelona in August 1978. However, there was still one obstacle. Although he had requested his discharge from the army the order had not come through. Nevertheless, I went through the preparatory questions for baptism with them just in case the discharge should arrive in time. It came the day before the convention was due to start! They made it to Barcelona in time to be baptized.
“At present we have a small congregation of 19 publishers of the good news. It was a joy to share the Memorial celebration with a total of 69 persons. In this desertlike island we now have a solid spiritual oasis.”
Grand Canary, a Continent in Miniature
From the air Grand Canary island seems to be divided into two distinct zones—the fertile green north, with its abundant banana plantations and lofty trees, and the rugged terrain of the arid south that tails off into the sand dunes of Maspalomas. Little wonder the island is often called a continent in miniature.
The preaching activity here has something of an ancient Middle Eastern flavor about it, especially in the rural areas where people are generally hospitable to strangers. They may not accept your religion, but they will kindly offer you some refreshment.
One day in 1978, Yajaira Arias, a pleasant-natured Venezuelan sister, called at a house and was met by the teenage daughter, Julia Rosa. Julia had recently been deeply disillusioned by the local parish priest who had failed to answer her questions. Yajaira’s visit seemed like an answer to her prayers for help. Having her questions answered from the Bible, Julia eagerly awaited the promised return visit to learn more. She says this about it:
“I was so impressed to receive a warm friendly greeting from Yajaira, since I was in need of genuine friendship. That same morning I learned God’s name, Jehovah, for the first time. What a revelation for me after having prayed so many times ‘Let your name be sanctified’! From then on I started to study the Bible carefully with the aid of the book The Truth That Leads to Eternal Life. In May 1979 I was baptized in symbol of my dedication to Jehovah. My search for the true God had been rewarded.”
By 1970, when the work of Jehovah’s Witnesses was given legal recognition in Spain, there were some 175 Witnesses preaching on Grand Canary. Now they have grown to 839, in 14 congregations.
Tenerife, the Island Paradise
As we sweep in to land at the Reina Sofia airport our gaze is caught by the lofty Teide Mountain, its white volcanic head poking up through the clouds. At 3,717 meters (12,195 ft), it is Spain’s highest peak.
On the north coast of Tenerife, beyond the lush banana plantations of Orotava, lies the town of Icod de los Vinos. José Ramírez and his wife, Antonia, have preached in this area for several years. He says this of the reaction to the Witnesses’ preaching work among the island’s inhabitants:
“Although these folk are basically kind and peaceful, if the clergy sow hatred we sometimes get trouble. For example, a few years ago, preaching from house to house in the San Pedro Daute area, we came across Ester Alonso, who showed interest in the Bible. Eventually her husband also started to study the Bible. This only served to provoke worse opposition from their family and friends. The neighbors who had always supplied them with water now refused to do so. That meant that Ester had to go down to the local public fountain to do her washing.
“One day she had to leave her washing unattended. When she returned she found that someone had deliberately soiled it. Why this unchristian attitude? Because the local priest had distributed booklets against the Witnesses and had criticized them in his sermons.
“Ester was not easily beaten and she courageously kept up her fight for true worship. Now five baptized persons have resulted from that small area and various relatives are also studying the Bible.”
In the capital city of Santa Cruz there are now four congregations. The island is covered by a total of 774 active Witnesses, in 15 congregations.
La Gomera, La Palma and Hierro—Island Outposts of Truth
Columbus used La Gomera as his last point for taking on supplies before heading across the Atlantic for unknown shores. The first time that Jehovah’s Witnesses landed on this mountainous isle was in 1972, with the arrival of Gary Nelson from the United States and Hasse Stenberg from Sweden. They quickly sought cheap lodging, explaining to the family that they were missionaries.
“What kind of missionaries?” they were asked.
With that, one of the daughters entered the house and returned with several Watch Tower publications. “We have these, but we do not understand them. Can you help us?” Gary and Hasse did not need a second invitation! Gary eventually married that daughter and they are both in full-time service in Tenerife.
La Palma, la isla bonita, the pretty island, is endowed with an abundant water supply. The overall impression is that of a mountainous but fertile and verdant paradise. There are two congregations of Witnesses, one on the west coast at Los Llanos de Aridane and the other on the east at Santa Cruz de la Palma. Between them they cover a population of 66,000 inhabitants. For the Memorial this year they had an attendance of 113.
Our last port of call is Hierro, the most westerly of the islands. For centuries navigators considered it to be the edge of the world. Blighted by water shortage, it supports a sparse population of 7,000 persons, isolated from the problems of modern civilization. Back in 1973 the previously mentioned Gary and Hasse were the first Witnesses to set foot there. Now the preaching work is cared for by 70-year-old Trinidad Vidal, who moved there from Malaga, Spain, four years ago.
Just in case you are wondering—the Canary Islands were not named after the wild canaries but after the wild dogs that were found there 2,000 years ago. Thus Pliny the Elder wrote of “Canaria [from Latin canis, dog], so called from the multitude of dogs of great size.” Regardless of dogs or birds, however, Jehovah’s praises are being sung throughout the Canary Islands by Jehovah’s Witnesses who are urgently announcing God’s Kingdom by Christ.—Matthew 6:9; 24:14.
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