Declaring Good News in New Zealand’s “Polynesian City”
“THE World’s Largest Polynesian City.” That is what some have called New Zealand’s metropolis Auckland. Why? Not just because it is the home of New Zealand’s own Polynesians, the Maori, but also because tens of thousands of other Polynesians live there. In recent years, they have emigrated from Western Samoa, the Cook Islands, Tonga, Niue, and other Pacific islands. Why, there are now more Cook Island Maori in New Zealand than in all of the Cook Island group itself! Similarly, Niuean residents in Auckland considerably outnumber those in Niue.
Although these Pacific islanders have moved to Auckland primarily for economic reasons, they also have other needs to be filled. An important one for these basically Bible-loving people is their spiritual need. (Matthew 5:3) Recognizing this, Jehovah’s Witnesses in New Zealand have put forth considerable effort to declare the “good news of the kingdom” among these islanders. (Matthew 24:14) What has been done in this regard, and how have the islanders responded?
The Samoans Making Headway
The comment made by a missionary in Samoa tells us something about the islanders’ outlook on spiritual things. “When you first meet someone in New Zealand, it is customary to inquire about his secular occupation,” he explains. “In Samoa the first question asked usually relates to one’s religious affiliation.” It comes as no surprise, therefore, that the two Samoan-speaking congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Auckland are growing at a much faster pace than the average congregation in New Zealand.
The first Samoan congregation in Auckland was established in 1977. Because of God-given growth, a second one was formed seven years later. (Compare 1 Corinthians 3:6.) In these two congregations, there is a total of 154 Kingdom proclaimers, 12 of whom are active in the full-time ministry. On an average Sunday, more than 275 people attend the Bible-based meetings held at the Kingdom Hall.
The Samoan brothers and sisters take their faith seriously, as is demonstrated by the zeal and determination they show in their Kingdom-preaching and disciple-making work. (Matthew 28:19, 20) This can be seen from the following experience of a Samoan sister:
In the house-to-house ministry, the sister met a woman who denounced all religions as hypocritical and shut the door. Stunned and frustrated, the sister wondered what to do. ‘I cannot leave her thinking that Jehovah’s Witnesses are hypocrites,’ she thought. So she decided to leave a note. “I briefly explained the Scriptural basis for my work and asked if she would give me time to explain to her the hope that the Bible offers. I also included my phone number.”
The sister then went on with her ministry, calling at other homes. As she reached the fourth house along the way, she was given a telephone message to go back to see the woman who had angrily shut the door earlier. “The lady apologized for her initial response,” the sister relates, “and expressed appreciation for the note I left. A fruitful discussion followed, and a home Bible study was established.”
It is also heartwarming to see the self-sacrificing missionary spirit shown by some of the Samoan Witnesses. One brother and his family moved from Auckland to Wellington in 1981 to help the small group working among the Samoan population there. From a nucleus of 11 Kingdom publishers at that time, a congregation of 47 has developed. “The rewards far outweighed the sacrifices,” said the brother. Recently, he and his family have answered the ‘Macedonian call’ and have moved back to Western Samoa. (Acts 16:9, 10) Others too have returned to their former places of residence and have taken up special pioneer, missionary, or Bethel service.
The Niuean Response
The preaching work is also moving ahead among the Niueans in Auckland. The traveling overseer reports: “In the house-to-house ministry, it is customary to be invited in. The family Bible is usually close at hand, and it is considered the normal thing to discuss it.”
There is now a very active Niuean congregation in Auckland. During a visit of the traveling overseer last year, the 76 Kingdom publishers associated with it were able to welcome 127 people to the public Bible lecture on Sunday. And there is a fine spirit among the brothers and sisters.
“The visit is viewed as a special week of encouragement for all,” observes the traveling overseer. “Each meal is a congregation affair. And these are occasions for serving such Niuean favorites as takihi (a dish of papaws [papayas], taros [a tropical root vegetable], and coconut cream wrapped in banana leaves), pitako (a loaf made from taros, bananas, and tapioca), and punu povi (canned corned beef), sometimes jokingly referred to as the islanders’ porterhouse steak.”
To satisfy the spiritual needs of the Polynesian population in Auckland and elsewhere, the Watch Tower Society has arranged to produce a number of Bible publications in the Polynesian languages. For example, the Rarotongan, or Cook Island Maori, Watchtower is published semimonthly. The monthly Niuean Watchtower is also well received. Circulation of the Rarotongan and Niuean editions of The Watchtower is currently about 1,000 copies each, and some 900 copies of the Samoan edition are now being circulated in New Zealand.
In addition to The Watchtower, a number of books and brochures are available in various Polynesian languages. The book The Truth That Leads to Eternal Life, published in Niuean in 1989, is the first publication in that language providing an understanding of basic Bible teachings. Particularly effective in the Cook Island Maori (Rarotongan) field is the book You Can Live Forever in Paradise on Earth in that language. Virtually all home Bible studies are conducted with the help of that book. “Testifying to its being an effective teaching aid,” observes an elder, “is the readiness with which the students start attending congregation meetings.”
In addition to their usual house-to-house distribution of these publications, Jehovah’s people place much literature in what could be called flea-market witnessing. Because of the Polynesian population explosion in Auckland in recent years, large markets with temporary stalls specializing in Pacific Island foods and crafts have cropped up. As many as 25,000 people may come to such a market on a Saturday morning. Making wise use of this opportunity, the Witnesses go to these markets and talk to the stall owners and the shoppers about God’s Kingdom.
Through their ministry, Jehovah’s Witnesses have been able to sow abundant Kingdom seed and place large amounts of Bible literature with the Polynesian people. The Watch Tower Society’s branch office reports that during the 1990 service year, 23,928 pieces of Polynesian-language literature were shipped from the factory.
Rejoicing at One Spiritual Table
Being conscious of their spiritual need, the Polynesian Witnesses place high priority on attending the weekly Christian meetings at the Kingdom Halls, as well as attending their assemblies and conventions. (Hebrews 10:23-25) At the “Divine Justice” District Convention held in Auckland in December 1988, separate sessions were held in Samoan, Niuean, and Cook Island Maori. A highlight of the Samoan program was a well-rehearsed and enthusiastic Bible drama. Auckland’s Niuean and Cook Island Witnesses demonstrated their Christian hospitality by serving as gracious hosts to visitors from their native islands. The convention proved to be an occasion for feasting and rejoicing at Jehovah’s spiritual table. At the 1990 “Pure Language” Convention in Auckland, a peak of 503 attended the Samoan sessions.
Positive response to the Kingdom message is clear evidence that people from the South Pacific Polynesian islands have been ‘waiting for Jehovah’s law.’ (Compare Isaiah 42:4, 12.) In turn, they joyously share in declaring the good news in New Zealand’s “Polynesian city.”