“Kingdom Proclaimers” Ply the Many Waters of Guyana
GUYANA.* This Amerindian word means “land of waters.” How appropriately it describes the terrain of this the only English-speaking country in South America. The land is crisscrossed by many rivers and their tributaries, which snake their way from the Guiana Highlands through the tropical jungle to the Atlantic Ocean. These waterways form the lifeline for the many villages and farms scattered along their banks.
Jehovah’s Witnesses in Guyana realize that when Jesus foretold that “this good news of the kingdom [would] be preached in all the inhabited earth for a witness to all the nations,” that would include preaching the good news to the people living in these riverside territories. (Matthew 24:14) Thus, for years, groups of Witnesses, many of them pioneers, have used boats, large and small, to ply the waters of Guyana to bring the good news to the people.
To help with the work, the Watch Tower Society in Guyana has operated, to date, five wooden vessels called Kingdom Proclaimer I through Kingdom Proclaimer V. They are 24-foot [7 m], open-top, V-bottom, wooden boats called balahoos, built and maintained by a Witness family. Affectionately referred to by the local Witnesses as Proclaimers, the original two were retired from duty after decades of service. Numbers III, IV, and V, however, are still in active service on the Pomeroon, Mahaica, and Demerara rivers.
On the Demerara
In Britain and parts of Europe, the word “demerara” may bring to mind a golden-brown, cane-sugar crystal, notably from the plantations along this muddy and silt-laden river. On the west bank, the road from the coast ends where the cane cultivation stops. Beyond that, the Witnesses depend on the Kingdom Proclaimer vessels to bring the sweet message of Jehovah’s Kingdom to the riverside residents—Hindus, Muslims, and nominal Christians.
Preaching campaigns on the Demerara can be one-day trips or can last several weeks, going from landing to landing, from morn till dusk. On overnight trips, the pioneers not only cook and eat on the boat but sleep on it as well. When night falls, the Proclaimer is tied to a mangrove tree or moored alongside a dock if one is available. Two eight-foot [2.5 m] staves are erected at the bow and at the stern. A rope is tautly stretched across the top of these vertical poles, and a large tarpaulin is draped over it to form a roof, or top. Wooden planks substitute for beds, and a blanket and sheet serve as a mattress. Regardless, sleep comes easily after a long day.
“Do you bathe in the muddy water?” the pioneers are asked.
“Not if we can help it!” is the answer. “Whenever we pass a freshwater creek, we fill our containers with water for cooking, drinking, and bathing.”
Their endurance is rewarded with many fine experiences. On one occasion, a man came onto the landing, stood with feet apart, arms akimbo, and watched us with keen interest. “Kingdom Proclaimer V”! He read aloud the name on the boat’s bow. “You must be Jehovah’s Witnesses. Only you people use the word ‘kingdom’ in this way. You have your Kingdom Hall and now Kingdom Proclaimer.”
From Gilead to the Pomeroon
Work along the Pomeroon River has a somewhat different character, as Frederick McAlman recalls. One year after his graduation from the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead in 1970, he came to Charity, a rural river village 21 miles [34 km] inland on the east bank of the Pomeroon, where there was a group of five Kingdom publishers.
“For five long years, we had the ‘pleasure’ of rowing Proclaimer II up and down the Pomeroon before we got a used, six-horsepower outboard motor,” recounts Brother McAlman. “Paddling with the tide, we would preach down the east bank until we got to Hackney, seven miles [11 km] from the mouth. There, we would get a good night’s sleep at the home of Sister DeCambra, the midwife serving the area at that time. Early the next morning, we would continue down to the river’s mouth before crossing over to the west bank. Then we would work our way back 21 miles [34 m] to Charity.”
The six-horsepower motor served them well for ten years. Then, in 1986, it was replaced by a new, 15-horsepower model. After serving faithfully on the Pomeroon for more than 21 years, Brother McAlman can look with a sense of accomplishment at the newly built Kingdom Hall in Charity, now used by the congregation of 43 publishers, who come from up and down the river. The average meeting attendance exceeds 60, and at the 1992 Memorial of the death of Jesus Christ, they had a crowd of 190!
Looking for the “Watchtower Man”
Monday is market day at Charity. So it is a good time for preaching the good news, and the Witnesses are there with the Watchtower and Awake! magazines. One day in the early 1970’s, Monica Fitzallen from Warimuri on the Moruka came to the market and accepted two magazines from Brother McAlman. But when she got home, she stuck the magazines on the bottom of her clothes chest.
“They stayed there for two years without my reading them,” Monica recollects. “Then I got sick and was bedridden for some time. As I recovered, I started to scrutinize every scrap of reading material in the house to keep myself occupied. Finally, I remembered the two magazines in the clothes chest and began to examine them.” She recognized the ring of truth right away.
When Monica recovered, she asked her husband, Eugene, to find work along the Pomeroon so that she might locate the gentleman who gave her the magazines. Eugene consented but could only get a job on a farm in the Pomeroon area for one week, from Monday to Saturday noon.
By that Saturday, Monica still had not found the man who gave her the magazines. At about noon, she asked her husband if the tide would permit them to paddle to Charity to find the “Watchtower man.” Just as she finished speaking, they heard footsteps on the walkway and saw the smiling face of a sister who was coming to offer the latest copies of the magazines. “Are you one of the Watchtower people?” asked Monica. So many questions followed that the sister had to go back to the boat to fetch reinforcements. Who did it turn out to be? Who else but Brother McAlman!
A Bible study by correspondence was arranged. A short time later, Monica sent her letter of resignation to the Anglican Church. In reply she got a note from the priest: “Don’t listen to the JW’s. They are shallow in their Bible understanding. I will come to discuss the matter with you.” To date, the priest has not turned up. Meanwhile, Monica was baptized in 1975. A year later, her husband, now affectionately called Uncle Eugene by the brothers, was also baptized after he had carefully scrutinized the Scriptures. (Acts 17:10, 11) Though they live 12 hours by canoe from the nearest congregation in Charity, they remain active Kingdom publishers to this day.
Missionary Trips to the Interior
In recent years the Watch Tower Society has been sponsoring regular missionary expeditions deep into the interior. By means of boats equipped with outboard motors, willing volunteers have tasted the excitement of taking the good news to people living on Amerindian reservations and in isolated logging and farming communities along some of the hinterland waterways. Pioneers in the true sense of the word, they have the privilege of bringing the lifesaving “name of Jehovah” to these remote areas for the first time ever. (Romans 10:13-15) The brothers have to endure many hardships, sometimes navigating the waterways up to three full days to reach some of these places. But the rewards are well worth it.
One young man, a Pentecostal living near the logging community of Kwebanna on the Waini River, was contacted on the first missionary trip to that area in July 1991. On the follow-up visit in October, a Bible study was started. For the first time, he saw from his own Bible that God’s name is Jehovah, that Jesus is not the Almighty, and that the Trinity doctrine is not Scriptural. (Psalm 83:18; 1 Corinthians 11:3) He was so enthusiastic that, after the brothers left, he gathered some fellow Pentecostals together and started to show them from their own Bibles the truth about Jehovah God and Jesus Christ. When the majority turned their backs on the truth, he decided it was time to resign and get out of “Babylon the Great.” (Revelation 18:2, 4) When the brothers came back to see him in February 1992, he told them what had happened and added: “I want to join you. I want to become one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. I want to teach people the truth!”
Experiences like that help to keep the brothers going in this challenging work. Those who go on the missionary trips must sacrifice the comforts of home, be exposed to diseases such as malaria, and endure the hazards of bush life. But those who stay behind make sacrifices as well. Families miss their loved ones, sometimes for weeks at a time. Congregations have to do without their elders and other young men as, in some cases, only one brother is left behind to care for the needs of the congregation. Yet, what joy and encouragement there is when the congregation hears their stimulating experiences upon their return! The cost pales into insignificance.
The Kingdom proclaimers who ply the many waters of Guyana with the good news enjoy a truly unique experience. Along with their fellow workers around the world, they courageously and willingly “offer to God a sacrifice of praise, that is, the fruit of lips which make public declaration to his name.”—Hebrews 13:15.
Formerly British Guiana, the name was changed to Guyana after the country gained independence from Britain in 1966.
[Maps on page 24]
(For fully formatted text, see publication)
[Pictures on page 26, 27]
Left: Witnessing on market day
Above: Discussing the good news on the Demerara River
Above right: Missionary group paddling back to camp