Discovery of a Different Kind in the Bahamas
LIKE stepping-stones across the azure-blue seas between Florida and Cuba, the Bahamas received unprecedented attention by world media in 1992. Why? Because most authorities consider the Bahamas to be the landfall of Christopher Columbus’ historic voyage in 1492, when he discovered the Americas. The quincentenary, or 500th anniversary, of Columbus’ landing on October 12 captured international attention.
Nonetheless, the quincentennial fervor was not without its detractors. Addressing the 23rd National Conference of Black Lawyers, John Carew (a professor of international studies) reportedly said that Columbus “unleashed a tide of death on the Caribbean.”—The Nassau Guardian.
Today, none of the 250,000 indigenous population of the Bahamas can trace blood relation to the peaceful natives Columbus met and described as a “well-built people, with handsome bodies and very fine faces.” What happened to those islanders? A History of the Bahamas answers: “Between 1500 and 1520 the entire population of the Bahamas, probably about 20,000 Lucayans, were carried off” as slaves to work in Spanish gold mines in Hispaniola.
Thus depopulated, the Bahamas were “rediscovered” first by the British and later by large contingents of “loyalists.” The latter were mainly plantation owners from the American colonies. Loyal to the British Crown, they fled the war of independence then brewing on the continent. Today’s Bahamians are primarily descendants of these settlers and their slaves. Upon being freed, many of the slaves retained the names of their former masters.
Discovery of Another Kind
There is little doubt that Columbus saw himself as a missionary of sorts. He reportedly said: “God made me the messenger of the new heaven and the new earth. . . . He showed me where to find it.” Yet, the devastation that resulted proved otherwise. The righteous ‘new heavens and new earth’ promised by God had to await a discovery of another kind.—2 Peter 3:13.
In 1926, Edward McKenzie and his wife arrived in the Bahamas. Unlike discoverers before them, this humble Jamaican couple came in search of honesthearted people to whom they could impart a treasure. They were the first to bring to the Bahamas the good news of God’s Kingdom. (Matthew 13:44; 24:14) Later that year they were joined by two other Jamaicans, Clarence Walters and Rachel Gregory. By 1928 there were seven Kingdom publishers in the Bahamas. For four years they worked hard in preaching the good news to the islanders.
Then came E. P. Roberts, a dynamic speaker from Trinidad. His public lectures in popular meeting halls did much to dispel false beliefs and touched the hearts of many with Bible truth. Sitting enthralled in the audience at one of those meetings was Donald Oscar Murray, later affectionately known as D. O. He eventually took the lead in the work.
Missionary Nancy Porter well remembers how D. O. Murray spoke of his fervent prayers for help in the preaching work. In 1947, Nancy and her husband, George, along with two others, became the first missionaries sent to the Bahamas by the Watch Tower Society. She recalls: “The first meeting we went to is something I do not think we will ever forget. There were about nine or ten present. Brother Murray was chairman and opened with a prayer, thanking Jehovah for the arrival of the missionaries. Help was needed, he said, and ‘we have prayed for assistance for so long.’ The Society had promised to send help, and now we were here. The prayer was so touching that it made us feel we wanted to stay and never wanted to leave.” Now, some 45 years later and despite the death of her husband, Sister Porter is still carrying the comforting Kingdom message to the islanders.
Particularly since 1947 has the Kingdom-preaching work in the Bahamas benefited greatly from full-time ministers and others who have visited the islands by boat. They often had to navigate the treacherous sandbanks and rippling shallows and then wade ashore to take the good news to remote settlements. Those early efforts are bearing fruit even to this day.
A milestone was reached in 1950. In December of that year, Nathan H. Knorr, then president of the Watch Tower Society, and his secretary, Milton G. Henschel, visited the Bahamas for the first time. Knorr addressed 312 persons packed into the Mother’s Club Hall, a small wooden building on Jail Alley. Quite a few well-known people were on hand, including a member of parliament and the editor of a daily newspaper. That night, Brother Knorr announced the establishment of a branch office of the Society in the Bahamas.
Islanders’ Friendly Response
The friendly people of the Bahamas have generally given the Kingdom message a hearing ear. Still, it is a challenge to reach all of them. Why is this so? Well, though most of the people live in the capital, Nassau, and on neighboring Grand Bahama, others are scattered throughout 15 of the larger islands and some of the 700 islets and atolls making up this island group.
Seeing the need, increasing numbers of local Witnesses and many from elsewhere have moved into small island communities to help with the preaching work. Commendably, they have done so at considerable sacrifice and expense to themselves. But their efforts have been amply rewarded.
One young couple moved to the large island of Andros. Preaching from house to house one day, they met an immigrant from Haiti. There are thousands of these individuals in the Bahamas. The man readily agreed to a home Bible study. One was started that very night, using English and French copies of the book You Can Live Forever in Paradise on Earth. The next evening, he attended his first Christian meeting. Soon, the man gave up smoking, made rapid progress, and began sharing in the preaching work.
In the morning of the day that this man was to be baptized, he received a tape recording from his family in Haiti, although he had not heard from them for five years. What did they have to say? They recounted how they had become Jehovah’s Witnesses. They explained that his sister was already a regular pioneer, or full-time preacher, and they exhorted him to locate the Witnesses and study the Bible with them. Needless to say, the man was baptized that day with full confidence that he was doing the right thing.
Enthusiastic responses such as this have warmed the hearts of the local Witnesses. Ever-increasing numbers of them have taken up the work as full-time evangelizers, and this has contributed to the growth. So it was that in 1988 the number of Kingdom proclaimers in the Bahamas reached 1,000. Today, in 19 congregations, there are about 1,300 Kingdom publishers, on virtually all the major islands.
Prepared for the Future
Because of their numerical growth, the Witnesses have had difficulty finding affordable facilities large enough for their annual conventions. Two conventions had to be held on separate islands to care for the crowd. Thus, plans were made to build an Assembly Hall along with a new branch office. Work was started in December 1989. Hundreds of international and local volunteers worked on the project “whole-souled as to Jehovah.”—Colossians 3:23.
Without a doubt, the largest and happiest gathering of Witnesses in the Bahamas to date took place on the occasion of the dedication of the new branch office and Assembly Hall on February 8 and 9, 1992. Eager anticipation was mounting as the brothers in all parts of the islands made preparations for the event. The weather was unusually cool, and it rained the night before the dedication program. But nothing could dampen the joy of the jubilant crowd of 2,714 as John E. Barr, a member of the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses, delivered the dedication address, entitled “The Song of Theocracy’s Increase.”
Hearts overflowed with gratitude to the heavenly Father, Jehovah God, for an occasion of such joy and excitement. Those present were all the more resolved to apply their full energy to the spiritual educational work that had made the physical expansion necessary.
Whether Columbus’ discovery was a turning point for the betterment of these islands will probably continue to be debated. Nevertheless, Jehovah’s Witnesses in the Bahamas are united in their gratitude to God for providing Kingdom proclaimers whose spirit of self-sacrifice moved them to brave the unknown and bring the glorious good news into what had been spiritually uncharted waters. Their work and “discovery” have resulted in spiritual riches beyond compare for all truth seekers in the Bahamas.
[Map/Pictures on page 24, 25]
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Preaching in the Straw Market
Wading ashore to share the good news
The branch office is situated on a hill overlooking the Assembly Hall