‘Fishing for Men’ in Belize
BELIZE is a small subtropical country nestled between Mexico and Guatemala. Off its coastline, the turquoise-blue Caribbean is dotted with atolls and coral reefs that form the longest barrier reef in the Western Hemisphere. Most of the land along the coast is dry and flat. But inland toward the south, the Maya Mountains reach an altitude of 3,680 feet [1,120 m]. This once thickly wooded mountainous region is characterized by ravines, river gorges, and beautiful waterfalls.
The country was originally inhabited by the Maya, as many ruins and artifacts testify. In the 1600’s, it began to be settled by ex-buccaneers who had turned to logwood and mahogany cutting. Later, it became the colony of British Honduras. Independence and nationhood came in 1981.
Today, Belize has a population of about 175,000. It is truly a mixed company, made up of Afro-Belizeans (Creoles), Mestizos, Maya, Garinagus (Caribs), Asians, Europeans, and others. Because of the British background of Belize, English is the official language, with Spanish a strong second language. Creole is also widely spoken, as are Maya, Garifuna, and other languages.
The 175-mile-long [280 km] barrier reef, with its brightly colored corals, castlelike turrets, and caves, harbors a wide variety of sea creatures that delight the eye and the palate. These offshore fishing grounds are one of the country’s largest natural resources. Likewise, with its wide variety of people and culture, Belize has proved to be a productive ‘fishing’ ground for those who respond to Jesus’ invitation: “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.”—Matthew 4:19.
‘Fishing’ Getting Started
It was in 1923 that James Gordon, a Witness baptized in 1918 in Jamaica, moved to Belize. He began casting his net, as it were, among his neighbors in and around the village of Bomba in the Belize District. His ‘fishing equipment’ came to include a very large mahogany case containing books, carried in one hand, and his phonograph carried in the other.
About 1931 Freida Johnson, a full-time minister from Texas, came to Belize in the course of a tour to spread the good news in Central American countries. During her six-month stay, she contacted a baker named Thaddius Hodgeson, who in turn introduced the truth to a fellow baker, Arthur Randall. Brother Hodgeson carried on the work until the arrival in 1945 of the first Gilead-trained missionaries, Charles Heyen and Elmer Ihrig.
The next year, during a visit of N. H. Knorr and F. W. Franz, then president and vice-president respectively of the Watch Tower Society, a branch office was established there. Since then the “net” has been cast in all parts of Belize, and the work has grown steadily. The number of those sharing in ‘fishing for men’ reached a peak of 844 in 1989.
‘Casting the Net’ Afield
Today, Belize City and other towns are worked regularly by those preaching the good news of the Kingdom, but many of the outlying villages and cays (islands) are not. Such was the case with San Pedro, on Ambergris Cay, until a few years ago.
For many years, the only contact the inhabitants of San Pedro had with the truth was when Witnesses from the mainland went over for brief visits. The Witnesses left Bible literature with interested people, but they could not follow up the interest because they had to return to the mainland. Later, a family of four came to Belize to serve where the need was greater. They volunteered to move to the island even though they had to live in a recreational vehicle until they could build a house. But the “fishing” was good. They started many Bible studies, and today there are over 20 “fishers of men” on the island. In September 1986, with the help of Witnesses from all over the country, they built their own Kingdom Hall in just one weekend.
The branch territory also includes several isolated Maya villages in the southern Toledo District, where the Ketchi and Maya Mopan languages are spoken. Once a year, during the dry season when the rivers and mountains can be crossed, a group of Witnesses used to visit these villages. Carrying everything they needed on their backs, they walked to the villages, gave the inhabitants a witness, and returned to call on those who showed interest.
On one such annual ‘bush trip’ in 1968, the brothers visited the village of Crique Sarco. A young girl found a copy of the book The Truth That Leads to Eternal Life, which a brother had inadvertently dropped. She recounts what followed.
“That book was precious to me, but I would only look at the few pictures, and I never read it. The annual visits the brothers paid my father impressed the name Jehovah on my mind, and I came to know that He has an organization. When I started high school in the town of Punta Gorda, the question came up in class one day: What is God’s name? When I answered, ‘Jehovah,’ I was given an ‘automatic jug’ (five demerits plus a disciplinary work assignment, such as toilet cleaning). Then the priest called me in and told me that I must not use that name again or I could be expelled from school. At that I left the school voluntarily and never returned.
“My next contact with the truth was many years later when I was married and living in Corozal Town in the north. I saw a piece of paper blowing in the breeze, picked it up, and found that it was the cover of the booklet Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Question of Blood. I commented to a friend that this was one belief of the Witnesses I could not agree with. She said that perhaps some day I would agree with them. The next day, a brother called and said he had heard that I was interested in studying the Bible with Jehovah’s Witnesses. Even though I told him I really wasn’t, he explained that it would not take much time, so I accepted. At last, that Truth book that I had cherished for eight years was put to use!
“Soon, my in-laws were urging my husband to stop my study. Then we moved to an isolated village, and I lost touch with the Witnesses. Finally, a sister called on me in the house-to-house ministry, and I renewed my study. My husband did all he could to disrupt the study. He would get drunk, make a lot of noise, chase me out of the house, or threaten to have another woman. But I stood firm and relied heavily on Jehovah in prayer. Two years ago Jehovah answered my prayers far beyond my expectations.
“One day my husband came home with his face all bruised, and he went straight to bed. Later that day he said, ‘I want to study the Bible too!’ That change brought me great joy but also the wrath of his family. ‘Changing religion is like changing parents,’ they told him, ‘so you are no longer our son!’ Now that my husband and I were united, we made rapid progress. On December 5, 1987, we were baptized at our first Special Assembly Day.”
So it is that “fish” are being caught even in the remote areas of Belize. The brochure Enjoy Life on Earth Forever! has been translated into Ketchi in the hope that many more in these villages may be helped to accept the good news. Those who have been saved from the polluted waters of Satan’s system are enjoying the crystal-clear waters of truth in Jehovah’s spiritual paradise.
For instance, a young man in Belize City learned of Jehovah’s clean standards from the Bible. He gave up his addiction to marijuana and other drugs and was baptized. Soon after, he became a full-time “fisher of men.” He also has the privilege of being a ministerial servant in his congregation. Hundreds of others have been helped to clean up their lives by legalizing their marriages and registering them with the authorities. Many others have been taught to read and write so as to be able to study God’s Word for themselves. So the educational work of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Belize is not only satisfying the spiritual needs of the people but also bringing other beneficial results to the community.
Bringing in the Net
Once Jesus’ disciples followed his directions and cast their net on the other side of their boat. As a result, “they were no longer able to draw it in because of the multitude of the fishes.” (John 21:6) Similarly, the response to the good news is so great that the Witnesses in Belize are finding it a challenge to take care of the multitude coming into the organization.
There is a great need for mature brothers to take the lead in the congregations. On the average, there are only one or two elders in each congregation. Then, there is the challenge of reaching all parts of the country with the good news on a regular basis. Many areas can be reached by roads, but because of the lack of public transportation, it is hard for Witnesses to cultivate the interest found or for interested people to get to the meetings regularly. Walking or using a dugout canoe is still the only practical way to reach some isolated areas.
The Witnesses in Belize also experience difficulty in finding adequate facilities for their weekly congregation meetings and annual conventions and assemblies. The total attendance at the 1987 “Trust in Jehovah” District Conventions was over 2,200, about three times the number of publishers in the country. For those conventions, the brothers erected a temporary structure on a property near Ladyville. Now, they are looking into the possibility of building a permanent Assembly Hall on the site.
While the challenge is great, the Witnesses are enthusiastically responding to it. They have demonstrated this by increasing their share in the field ministry. In 1979 the publishers spent, on the average, 8.3 hours each month in the preaching work. Now they spend an average of 11.3 hours each month. There has also been a fine increase in the pioneer ranks. In 1979 there was an average of 10 auxiliary pioneers and 12 regular pioneers a month. Now there are 51 auxiliary pioneers and 42 regular pioneers each month, ranging from 14 to 74 years of age.
The prospects for expansion are great, judging by the outstanding attendance at the Memorial of Christ’s death held on March 22, 1989. The brothers worked hard to invite interested people. The result? A total attendance of 3,834—more than four times the peak number of publishers! It was thrilling to see the many ethnic groups—Creole, Mestizo, Maya, European, Chinese, Lebanese, and others—mixing together in this way.
In addition, the 844 publishers in the country are conducting more than a thousand home Bible studies. By continuing to look to the Head of the congregation, Jesus Christ, for direction, many more in Belize will no doubt respond to the invitation to become “fishers of men.”
[Maps on page 22]
(For fully formatted text, see publication)
GULF OF MEXICO
GULF OF HONDURAS
[Pictures on page 24, 25]
Construction of a Kingdom Hall in San Pedro, Ambergris Cay