Thursday Island Hears the Good News
AS THE plane circles, all we can see is a cluster of islands of various shapes and sizes in the midst of an aqua-blue sea. Nearing touchdown, we see the runway—how tiny—but what a relief!
We have landed on Horn Island. After a bus trip to the wharf, a small ferry takes us to Thursday Island, the center of the Torres Strait Islands. These isles spread out like stepping-stones from the northern tip of Queensland, Australia, all the way across to Papua New Guinea.
During the hot, wet season (January through May), everything is green and lush. Violent cyclones sometimes develop, making interisland passage dangerous. For the balance of the year, dry and dusty is the norm.
Good News Reaches These Islands
It was in 1938 that the Watch Tower Society’s 52-foot [16 m] ketch Lightbearer stopped briefly at these islands while on the way to the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia). On board were seven of Jehovah’s Witnesses, eager to share the Bible’s message of hope.
Unknown to these brothers, however, one of Christendom’s missionaries arrived about the same time. He told the islanders not to listen to the Witnesses or to accept any of their literature. But when the brothers reached his home and talked to him, he accepted four books. Some of the islanders saw this, so they thought: ‘If he can have them, why can’t we?’ That evening, while the other Witnesses were showing slides, one brother sat outside with cartons of books. Repeatedly, in the dark, a hand with money in it appeared, and a voice asked for a book. In just one hour, 200 books were thus placed! Later, the missionary tried without success to use the books he obtained as evidence in a charge against the Witnesses.
A Congregation Is Formed
Those first seeds of truth were not watered for a long time. Not until the late 1950’s did additional help arrive in these isolated islands. Two full-time workers were sent in by the Watch Tower Society. They were followed by the Rudds, a family of three who came to serve where the need was greater. Soon, a small congregation was formed on Thursday Island.
These were difficult times, with scarcely any accommodations available and substantial opposition from the government and the established religions. At first the congregation met in a small room right above the local bakery’s ovens. Just imagine how hot that was in the tropics!
Realizing the need to keep spiritually strong, the Witnesses determined to attend a convention on the coast of mainland Australia, approximately 800 miles [1,300 km] away. Not having the airfare, they prayerfully sought another way to the convention.
First, the brothers purchased an old pearling boat that lacked engine, propeller, sails, and anchor. Searching among derelict boats, they finally found one with a big five-cylinder diesel engine and gearbox. Buying this, the brothers were delighted to find sails, anchors, and many other parts. Yet, there was still no shaft or propeller.
Brother Rudd asked a slipway owner if he might look around. The owner jokingly said that if he could find a shaft anywhere on the premises, the Witnesses could have it. To the owner’s surprise, a shaft was found. While going from house to house a few mornings later, Brother Rudd kicked something in the long grass. It was a propeller that would just suit their boat!
After preparing the vessel, the congregation of 25 was ready for the seven-day voyage. As they departed, the local witch doctor put a “curse” on them. One night the boat got stuck on a reef. The brothers used the time advantageously to catch a supply of fish. When the morning tide came in, the boat floated off, though they had to pump water out for the rest of the trip.
As they arrived at Townsville, Australia, a wealthy slipway owner met them. Apparently he had read a newspaper article about their efforts to attend the convention, and he was moved to help. He insisted on repairing the damage to the boat even though they could neither afford to pay nor help with the repairs because they were at the convention. Later, they were charged only 40 pounds ($80, U.S.) instead of the 500 pounds ($1,000 U.S.) that might have been reasonable.
Reaching the Other Islands
By Jehovah’s direction, the Kingdom message has also reached the outer islands. For instance, Brothers Rod Anderson and Allan Webster, who moved to Thursday Island a few years ago, have used their boat in witnessing on other islands. Up till now, preaching has been done on 12 of the 17 inhabited islands.
A Fine Meeting Place
The brothers long wondered, though, if they would ever have their own Kingdom Hall on Thursday Island. Then Jehovah’s spirit in action became evident. In September 1983, Brother Graham Keen, a skilled builder, moved in to help construct a hall. A number of Australian congregations had generously provided materials needed for the construction. This was packed into containers and shipped from Cairns, Queensland. The islanders were surprised to see this mound of building material on the once-empty plot of land. It took only 140 working days to complete the hall, together with a home at the rear. There were 120 in joyful attendance on the day the new hall was dedicated.
How happy all the Witnesses were to have this new Kingdom Hall to serve as a center for the work of spreading the good news in the Torres Strait Islands. With the help of Jehovah’s spirit, they rejoice to tell forth praise to Jehovah God.—Isaiah 42:12.