Guadeloupe—“The Island of Beautiful Waters”
GUADELOUPE, located some 300 miles (480 km) southeast of Puerto Rico, is a group of islands at about the middle of the Lesser Antilles island chain. On the map, the two main islands look something like a butterfly with outstretched wings. The mountainous Basse-Terre, with its dormant volcano Soufrière, is on the west, and the low-lying Grande Terre is on the east. The two islands are separated by the narrow channel of Rivière Salée. Five other smaller islands and some islets make up this French overseas département, or administrative district.
Before Christopher Columbus discovered it in 1493 and gave it the present name of Guadeloupe, the native Caribs called it Karukera—Island of Beautiful Waters. Undoubtedly, they had in mind the numerous rivers, streams, and waterfalls on the islands. Today, that name is even more appropriate because of the abundant waters of truth flowing to the 328,000 inhabitants. Though predominantly Catholic, many of these courteous and hospitable folk are eagerly taking in the pure waters of truth from God’s Word, the Bible.
Waters of Truth Started to Flow
The first trickle of waters of truth began to flow in Guadeloupe in 1938, just prior to the outbreak of World War II. Cyril Winston and his family came from the neighboring island of Dominica and started to preach the good news to the islanders. Soon 5 persons began to meet regularly, and by June 1940 the first congregation was organized, with about 15 people attending the weekly Watchtower Study in French.
World War II, however, brought strong pressure from the German-controlled government in France. During that time an entire shipment of literature from Brooklyn was burned at the docks upon arrival, and ties with headquarters in Brooklyn were severed. Brother Winston became seriously ill and had to return to Dominica, where he died three months later. The flow of waters of truth were at a low ebb; it was a difficult time for the small group of Christians.
After the war, the brothers resumed their work the best they could. In order to reach as many people as possible, they tried putting on Bible talks in public places in the evenings. The speaker would give his talk standing up on something high, with the people gathered around in a circle. Another brother would provide the light by holding up a homemade torch. In the mild, tropical evenings, passersby and neighbors enjoyed listening to God’s Word being discussed in the open.
But during one such talk a band of Catholic boy scouts suddenly appeared. Surrounding the speaker, they began to blow their bugles and beat on some large kettles, trying to drown out the speaker’s voice. Realizing what was going on, the speaker calmly went on with his talk but only by gesturing and moving his lips. Soon, the scouts, running out of breath, gave up and left. And the brother went on with his talk as planned.
The Flow Quickened
Over the years a number of missionaries were sent to Guadeloupe to help the little group of zealous local publishers. Initially, the language barrier limited them in what they could do. In the mid-1950’s, however, French-speaking missionaries began to arrive, and the work moved ahead.
Because of strong religious opposition, however, many who accepted the Bible’s truth had to take their stand with unusual determination. This was the case with one woman who had to be baptized in the sea under the cloak of darkness at five o’clock in the morning. This woman and her husband started to study the Bible together. But when neighbors began to pressure them, the husband gave up the study for fear of losing them as customers at his little family grocery store. The woman continued and made fine progress. Soon, however, tension became so strong that her husband threatened to kill her.
One evening, she found a knife hidden under her husband’s pillow, and his attitude, she felt, left her with no doubt as to his intentions. Sensing that her life was in danger, she fled to the home of a Witness family, walking about ten miles (16 km) through tropical forest and banana plantations. While in hiding from her husband, she asked to be baptized, saying: “If I have to face death because of my faith, I want to be counted among Jehovah’s people!” Later this faithful sister took up full-time service and has been a special pioneer for the last 24 years. Though she has lost her fleshly family on account of her faith, she has gained a large spiritual family, as promised by Jesus at Matthew 19:29. She has helped about 35 people to dedication and baptism.
The waters of truth reach out in unexpected ways. Two Catholic men in a remote northern village obtained a Bible. They began reading it daily and were looking for someone to help them understand it. A neighbor told them that he could contact a cousin, a “Jehovah’s,” who would be glad to help them. That was the first time they had ever heard of God’s name.
The cousin sent them some copies of the Awake! magazine, which they not only enjoyed reading themselves but also distributed to others in the village. When they learned that an assembly was being held near Pointe-à-Pitre, they went to it and told the circuit overseer: “We have come to this assembly, and we would like to be baptized.” Of course, they were warmly welcomed but were also helped to understand that certain steps must be taken and changes made before qualifying for baptism. So arrangements were made to help them, and they were baptized at the next assembly.
Experiences such as these brought great joy and encouragement to the brothers. The waters of truth continued to flow, and by 1960, there was a total of 251 Kingdom proclaimers in Guadeloupe.
A Challenge Taken Up
A big problem in this small island has been finding facilities large enough for assemblies. For a long time, there were only two sites available. The brothers strongly desired to hold assemblies throughout the island so that the waters of truth could reach more people.
Finally, the brothers decided to build their own facility. They designed, and contributed enough funds for, a portable structure made of steel pipes and sheet metal, large enough to accommodate 700 people. When they used their own “assembly hall” for the first time in Basse-Terre in January 1966, an enthusiastic crowd of 907 came. The “hall” was too small from the start!
With this new provision, it has become possible to hold assemblies even in some of the outlying islands. This has given real impetus to the dispensing of waters of truth in many areas. Imagine the reaction of the local people in Grand Bourg, a little town of about 6,000 people on the island of Marie Galante, when they were “invaded” by three boats carrying about a thousand conventioneers along with their luggage and other gear. It was a sight never seen before—a long line of people marching from the wharf through the town to the assembly site. This gave a fine witness to the local people, and today there are three zealous congregations on this island.
Over the years, the “hall” had been enlarged many times. Eventually, it became a 30-ton structure, covering about 32,000 square feet (3,000 sq m), with a seating capacity of 5,000. Obviously, it was a tremendous task transporting, setting up, and taking down all the equipment each time an assembly was held. To complicate matters, it was becoming harder and harder to find suitable locations at which to set up the portable “hall” because vacant land was rapidly taken up by building projects. It appeared that the only solution was to find a permanent place for the “hall.”
Once more Jehovah provided for the needs of the brothers. A centrally located piece of property of over half a million square feet (50,000 sq m) became available. With generous contributions from all the congregations in the islands, the site was purchased in 1979. It became a permanent center of true worship for Guadeloupe.
Ever-Increasing Flow of Waters of Truth
Back in 1954 when the branch in Guadeloupe was first established, there were 128 Kingdom publishers. Now that number has grown to over 4,500. That means that about one in every 72 persons in Guadeloupe is a witness of Jehovah. And in Pointe-à-Pitre, the principal city, the figure is one in every 29—undoubtedly one of the best ratios in the world!
These faithful ones have been busy dispensing the waters of truth, conducting more than 7,300 home Bible studies with interested ones throughout the territory. Their efforts were blessed when 12,553 gathered in 1986 to commemorate the death of the Lord Jesus Christ. Truly, the brothers in Guadeloupe feel that Jehovah God is ‘rocking’ their islands to gather “the desirable things” together.—Haggai 2:7.
The “island of beautiful waters” is becoming more beautiful than ever in a spiritual way. Many are those responding to the call: “Come!” and who are taking in “life’s water free.”—Revelation 22:17.
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