Preaching in a Land of Contrasts
KANGAROOS, koalas, wombats, and platypuses, Ayers Rock and the Great Barrier Reef—these are names that come to mind when people think of Australia. But surprising as it may be, the majority of Australians have probably never visited Ayers Rock or the Great Barrier Reef or seen a koala, wombat, or platypus outside a zoological park. The reason is that 85 percent of the country’s population of 17.3 million are urban dwellers, living in five major cities along the coastline.
Leaving the coastal fringe and traveling inland 125 miles [200 km] or so, one comes to the start of the continent’s famed outback. The terrain changes from lush rain forest and rich farmland to hot, dry, open country, where only shrubs and coarse grass survive. There is life in the outback, however. Large sheep and cattle ranches, or stations as they are called, cover hundreds of square miles. Farther inland are scorching deserts, where human lives are sometimes lost when proper precautions are not taken.
The Good News Flourishes
It is in such a setting that the good news of God’s Kingdom is being preached in this land down under. Thousands each year are responding to Jehovah’s promise of a righteous new world. Last service year, the number of Kingdom publishers reached a peak of over 57,000, almost doubling that of ten years ago. While most of the publishers, like the major part of the population, are concentrated in the coastal cities, the good news also flourishes in the interior.
To get a glimpse of what it is like preaching in this vast land of contrasts, let us join one of our five district overseers and his wife as they visit some of the congregations in the remote outback areas. Their travels cover the state of Western Australia, half the state of Queensland, and the Northern Territory, an area of over 1.8 million square miles [4.7 million sq km]. That is almost the size of Europe, excluding what was formerly the Soviet Union.
Our trip starts in Perth, the capital city of Western Australia. In this thoroughly modern city of 1.2 million people, there are now 49 congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses. In addition to the English, there are Greek, Italian, Portuguese, and Spanish congregations, as well as smaller groups in other languages. There is also a congregation made up exclusively of Aboriginal brothers and sisters, who concentrate their preaching efforts among these indigenous people of the continent. Many of these humble people are now responding to the Kingdom message. But what are things like away from the big cities?
From Perth we head 1,100 miles [1,800 km] north to Port Hedland, where a circuit assembly is to be held. Most of the 289 in attendance have traveled between 100 and 400 miles [200-700 km] to be here. They come from isolated areas where the nearest congregation may be 150 miles [250 km] away over unpaved roads covered with sharp stones that often pierce car tires. Three congregations in this area have recently built Kingdom Halls, using the quickly built method.
Quickly Built Halls in Isolated Areas
What a contrast between building a Kingdom Hall in these areas and building one in cities and larger towns! Most of the building materials must be trucked in from Perth, a thousand miles [1,600 km] to the south. Hundreds of brothers and sisters travel this distance and more on the specified weekend to come and build the Kingdom Hall in 105 to 115 degree Fahrenheit [40°-45° C.] heat. Such an influx into small isolated communities is an outstanding witness in itself. When a Kingdom Hall was built in Tom Price, a small iron-ore mining town, the front page of the local newspaper proclaimed: “A warm welcome to volunteer tradesmen and assistants involved in the three day ‘quick build’ of the Jehovah’s Witnesses Kingdom Hall in Tom Price.”
It seemed that nearly everyone in town was anxious to cooperate. Instead of the normal $11,000 cost to bring in 50 tons of materials, a generous truck owner asked only that the brothers contribute for the fuel. Local painting contractors donated 26 gallons [100 L] of paint. Earth-moving contractors made machinery available, and the mining company made a crane available free of charge. Finding accommodations for 300 visitors posed a problem, but cooperation from townspeople was outstanding. Some phoned and offered beds. One man called to say that he would be away for the weekend but would leave the back door open. He said: “The house is yours for the duration of the project.”
A humorous incident occurred when some brothers were given an address where they were to pick up a trailer belonging to the local circuit. They were puzzled to see a sign on the gate that said, “No Religious Callers.” But there stood the trailer. So they informed the lady of the house that they were taking the trailer, which was full of rubbish. While they were cleaning it out, they suddenly realized that it was not the circuit trailer! When the owner of the trailer came home, his wife told him that Jehovah’s Witnesses had taken his trailer. The brothers soon returned with the now empty trailer, explaining the mistake. A fine conversation followed, and these former opposers had many questions to ask about us and our work. They were now anxious to come and see the new Kingdom Hall.
To preach the good news in this area calls for endurance. First, there are the great distances involved. One pioneer sister and her husband regularly drive a round-trip of over 220 miles [350 km] on unpaved, dusty roads, from Port Hedland to Marble Bar, to make return visits and conduct Bible studies. Marble Bar is among the hottest places in Australia, temperatures often reaching over 120 degrees Fahrenheit [50° C.] from October through March.
On to the “Top End”
Darwin, 1,550 miles [2,500 km] farther north, is the next town for a circuit assembly. The district overseer and his wife make use of the long hours of driving to keep up with personal study. First they read and consider the daily text. Then they listen to the Bible reading on tape. As they take turns driving, they also take turns reading articles from The Watchtower and Awake!
A road sign cautions them to be alert to “roadtrains.” Those are long prime movers that tow three or four trailers and measure up to 180 feet [55 m] in overall length. So plenty of room is needed when passing. They are used to haul cattle and other goods to isolated towns.
The weather is always hot and the countryside constantly dry. The arid landscape could perhaps be mistaken for a vast cemetery because the ground is covered with evenly spaced anthills. These anthills vary in color, depending on the earth that the ants used, and they can be anywhere from three to eight feet [1-2.5 m] high. Then, as our travelers cross the Victoria River, many homemade signs catch their attention. “Danger: No Swimming Allowed. Man-Eating Crocodiles in These Rivers!” says one. Wisely, they decide to find other ways to bathe and keep cool!
Finally, they reach the northern tip of Australia, commonly known as the “Top End.” Darwin, the capital city of the Northern Territory, is home to two large congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses. The multicultural nature of Darwin can easily be seen when attending the circuit assembly. Meet 30-year-old Charles, who originally came from war-torn East Timor in Indonesia. His Chinese parents brought him up to practice ancestor worship. He had also become heavily involved in martial arts. Quitting was not easy because of the strong tie with spiritism. However, keeping in mind Jesus’ promise that “the truth will set you free,” he broke free from this way of life. (John 8:32) “Today,” he says, “I have a clean conscience before Jehovah, and I am currently serving as a ministerial servant. My goal is to attend the Ministerial Training School.”
Next, meet Beverly from Papua New Guinea. “At first I had little confidence witnessing to white people,” confesses Beverly, “because English was my second language and certain expressions, along with the Australian accent, made it difficult for me to understand. But remembering that the Bible tells us to trust in Jehovah and to taste and see that he is good, I started in the full-time pioneer ministry in January 1991. My first Bible student is now a pioneer. Two of her daughters have also accepted the truth, and one of them is pioneering, along with her husband.”
Before leaving Darwin, let’s take a quick trip 155 miles to the east to Kakadu National Park, well-known for its prolific bird life. Here we meet Debbie, the one isolated preacher of the good news in the entire area. We ask her how she manages to keep spiritually strong in such isolation. She replies: “First, by prayer. . . . And I draw comfort from such scriptures as Isaiah 41:10, which says: ‘Do not be afraid, for I am with you. Do not gaze about, for I am your God. I will fortify you. I will really help you. I will really keep fast hold of you with my right hand of righteousness.’”
At Jilkmingan, 280 miles [450 km] south of Darwin, we meet a small group of Aboriginals. For many years this Aboriginal community was regarded as a community of Jehovah’s Witnesses because so many regularly attended conventions and assemblies, even though none of them had been baptized. The community was noted for its cleanliness. Happily, some have now taken a firm stand for the truth and are baptized. They are among the first nonurban-dwelling Aboriginals to do so. It takes real courage and reliance on Jehovah’s holy spirit for these humble folk to break free from the centuries-old traditions and spiritistic practices of their tribespeople.
To Alice Springs and Out From the Outback
Now it is time to leave “The Top” and head 1,000 miles [1,600 km] south to Alice Springs, in the continent’s “Red Center,” near famous Ayers Rock. Here in the air-conditioned Kingdom Hall, comfortable seating is provided for an assembly, with 130 or more attending from the two congregations in this area. Again, we see the happy sight of Polynesians, Europeans, and Aboriginals mixing together in Christian association.
Finally we leave Alice Springs and begin the last leg of the journey with our itinerant district overseer and his wife. This trip takes us some 1,250 miles [2,000 km] across the continent, heading north and east. As we do so, we say farewell to the outback, for eventually we reach the lush tropical rain forest of Queensland. Here, on the coast of north Queensland—the land of the Great Barrier Reef—there are many congregations with a high ratio of Witnesses to population.
We are not done with traveling, however, before we attend one more circuit assembly. Boarding a plane at Cairns—the Queensland tropical town of Barrier Reef fame—we leave the Australian mainland for a brief hop over the northern tip of the Cape York Peninsula, across Torres Strait, to Thursday Island. There is a small congregation of just 23 publishers here. What a joy to see 63 in attendance at our last assembly on this trip!
We hope you have enjoyed this glimpse of the Kingdom preaching work being done in this land of contrasts. Perhaps some day you may be able to visit us in this intriguing land down under and meet firsthand the brothers and sisters who faithfully carry out their ministry in their unique assignment.
[Map/Picture on page 23]
(For fully formatted text, see publication)
[Picture on page 24]
Perth, capital of Western Australia
[Picture on page 25]
Street witnessing produces good results