Witnesses to the Most Distant Part of the Earth
THULE is part of a name used since ancient times to describe an ultimate goal, geographic or otherwise. Today Thule is the name of a settlement in the far north of Greenland, the world’s largest island. The settlement was so named in 1910, when Danish explorer Knud Rasmussen used it as the staging post for polar expeditions. Even now, going to Thule is more of an expedition than a pleasure trip.
Still, there is an urgent need for expeditions to Thule. In response to Jesus’ command: “Be witnesses of me . . . to the most distant part of the earth,” Jehovah’s Witnesses are eager to bring the good news of God’s Kingdom to this place, one of the northernmost permanent human settlements on earth.—Acts 1:8; Matthew 24:14.
‘When Can We Go to Thule?’
In 1955 two Danish Witnesses who wanted to have a share in preaching “to the most distant part of the earth” arrived in Greenland. Others came later, and gradually their preaching work covered the southern and western coast up to Melville Bay and partway up the eastern coast. But more distant parts like Thule were reached almost exclusively by letter or telephone.
One day in 1991, Bo and his wife, Helen, two full-time ministers, were standing on a rock overlooking Melville Bay. Looking north they wondered, ‘When will we be able to go way up to Thule to take the Kingdom good news to the people there?’
In 1993, Werner, another full-time minister, ventured to cross Melville Bay in his 18-foot [5.5 m] speedboat Qaamaneq (Light). He had already sailed 750 miles [1,200 km] from Godthåb up to the Upernavik area. Yet, crossing Melville Bay—250 miles [400 km] of open Arctic water—is quite another matter. Most of the year, the bay is blocked by ice. Werner succeeded in crossing the bay, even though he lost an engine because of the ice. And he managed to do some preaching work before he had to return.
Bound for Thule
After that trip, Werner started to make new plans. He spoke with Arne and Karin—who also owned a boat, a 23-foot [7 m] one with four berths and, above all, with modern navigational equipment—about making a joint trip to Thule. The boats would provide accommodations, and with two boats traveling together, crossing Melville Bay would be less risky. To cover the main town with its 600 inhabitants and the six settlements in the area, they needed more help. So they invited Bo and Helen and Jørgen and Inge—all experienced ministers familiar with traveling in this country—to come along. Five of this group also speak Greenlandic.
They sent supplies of Bible literature ahead. The boats too were loaded with literature, as well as with the necessary provisions of food and water, fuel, a spare engine, and a rubber dinghy. Then, on August 5, 1994, after months of preparation, the team was gathered and both boats were lying ready and loaded in the harbor of Ilulissat. The northbound trip was on. Werner, Bo, and Helen sailed in the smaller of the two boats. “All you could do was sit or lie on your berth and hold on to something,” writes Bo. Let us follow the ship log for the journey.
“There were long stretches of calm sea. Gorgeous panoramas unfolded before our eyes—the glimmering sea, thick patches of fog, bright sun and blue sky, icebergs of the most fascinating shapes and shades of color, a brown walrus sunning himself on an ice floe, the coastline with dark mountain slopes and little plains—the change of scenery was endless.
“The most interesting part, of course, was visiting the settlements along the way. There were always people, usually children, down at the pier to see who the visitors were and to welcome them. We distributed Bible literature and lent the people a video about our organization. Many were able to see it before we had to leave. At South Upernavik, several people sailed out to our boats even before we came in. So for a whole evening, we had guests on board and answered many Bible questions.”
Now, after the first 450 miles [700 kilometers] of the journey, the two boats were ready to cross Melville Bay.
The Crucial Challenge
“This was widely held as the crucial part of the journey. And we had to do the crossing in one stretch because the settlement of Savissivik (where the territory begins and where we could otherwise have found shelter) was still blocked by ice.
“So we set out. Since there was a lot of ice, we sailed farther out on the open sea. Fortunately, the waters were calm. The first several hours were uneventful—plowing through mile after mile of ocean. By evening we sighted Cape York and slowly turned north, closer to land. Now there was ice again—old, thick, and disintegrating floes for as far as the eye could see. We followed the edge of the ice for a long stretch, sometimes maneuvering through narrow passages. Then there was the fog, a thick grayish soup, peculiarly beautiful in the light of the low sun. And the waves! Fog, waves, and ice all at the same time—any one of these is usually enough of a challenge.”
“We entered calmer waters as we approached Pituffik. Creation gave us an overwhelming welcome: the sun high on a blue, blue sky; in front of us, the wide, shiny fjord, dotted with floating mountains of ice; and far ahead the characteristic silhouette of the rock at Dundas—the old Thule!” About 60 miles [100 kilometers] farther to the north, the travelers came to their final destination.
They were now eager to begin preaching from house to house. Two of them received a brusque response at their first door. “We were rejected just as if we were in Denmark,” they said. “But the majority gave us a hearty welcome. The people were reflective and well-informed. Some mentioned that they had heard about us and were happy that we had finally come. We met some wonderful people, such as sealers who had been on expeditions to the North Pole, and natives, contented and frugal and with a somewhat skeptical view of modern civilization.”
The next few days brought fine experiences for all. The Bible literature was received with appreciation everywhere. In several homes the Witnesses started Bible studies right away. Inge relates about a home where she found interest: “It was a clean and cozy one-room house. For three days in a row, we visited the mild man who lived there and grew very fond of him. He was a true sealer, with his kayak outside his house. He had shot many polar bears, walrus, and, of course, seals. On our last call, we said a prayer with him, and his eyes filled with tears. Now we must leave everything in Jehovah’s hands and hope for time and opportunity to return.”
Thule receives frequent visits from Canadian Eskimo. Inge reports: “Helen and I met several Eskimo from Canada. It is interesting that they can communicate with the Greenlanders; people in the Arctic area seem to speak related languages. Though the Canadian Eskimo have their own written language, they were able to read our literature in Greenlandic. This may open up exciting opportunities for them.”
The settlements 30 to 40 miles [50-60 km] away by boat were also visited. “On our way to the settlement of Qeqertat, we followed the coastline closely, hoping to find people out hunting for narwhals. Sure enough, on a rock shelf, we found a camp made up of three or four families, clothed in furs, with their tents and kayaks. Harpoon in hand, the men took turns sitting on a rock to watch for the highly desired narwhals. Having already waited in vain for several days, they were not too pleased to see us because we might scare the whales away! They seemed to be totally in a world of their own. The women accepted some literature, but it was not the right moment for further conversation. We finally arrived at Qeqertat at 11 o’clock in the evening and finished our last call in the settlement by 2 o’clock in the morning!”
“Finally we reached Siorapaluk, the northernmost settlement in Greenland. It is situated on a sandy beach at the foot of some green, grass-covered rocks in an otherwise barren environment.” The Witnesses have literally reached distant parts of the earth, at least in the northerly direction, in their preaching work.
The Witnesses have completed their work. They have preached from house to house and from tent to tent, handed out literature, obtained subscriptions, shown videos, talked to many Greenlanders, and conducted Bible studies. Now it is time to go home. “When we got in our dinghy that evening to row out from the settlement of Moriusaq, quite a few people were down by the beach to see us off, waving the books or brochures they had obtained.”
Later, on a desolate part of the coast, the Witnesses were astounded to see a man waving from a rock—there in the middle of nowhere! “Of course, we went ashore to meet him. He turned out to be a young man from Berlin, Germany, who was traveling up the coast in his kayak and had been on his way for a month. In Germany he received regular calls from Jehovah’s Witnesses and had several of their books. We spent a couple of hours with him, and he was truly impressed to meet Witnesses at such a place.”
In the settlement of Savissivik, which was bypassed on the journey out, the traveling ministers received an overwhelming welcome. Some there had received and read the literature the previous year, and they hungered for more spiritual food.
The return crossing of Melville Bay took 14 hours. “We witnessed a sunset, which up here is an experience of many hours, with constant changes of mesmerizing colors. The sunrise, which follows immediately, also took a long time. While sunset fans of red and crimson still covered the northeastern sky, the sun rose just a little to the south. It is a scene impossible to describe—or even photograph—adequately.” The crew stayed up all night.
“As we reached Kullorsuaq, we were very tired. But we were happy and satisfied. We had successfully completed the journey! On the rest of the trip, we found much interest in towns and settlements along the coast. The question was often repeated, ‘Why can’t some of you stay with us? We are sad to see you leave so soon!’”
In Qaarsut a friendly family invited five of the visitors to have a meal with them. “The family wanted us to stay overnight. But since there were better anchoring places 25 miles [40 km] farther away, we declined and sailed on. Later we heard that a large iceberg had calved early the next morning, and a wave capsized 14 small boats where we had been!”
Finally, the group was back in Ilulissat, having completed their Thule expedition. At about the same time, two other publishers had traveled to isolated parts on the east coast of Greenland. On those two journeys, the publishers distributed a total of 1,200 books, 2,199 brochures, and 4,224 magazines, and they obtained 152 subscriptions. Contact with the many newly interested ones is now maintained by telephone and correspondence.
In spite of the time, energy, and finances involved, Jehovah’s Witnesses find great joy in carrying out their Master’s injunction to ‘be witnesses of me . . . to the most distant part of the earth.’—Acts 1:8.
[Box on page 28]
On the East Coast of Greenland
AT ABOUT the same time that the group of publishers reached Thule, a Witness couple, Viggo and Sonja, traveled to another unworked territory—Ittoqqortoormiit (Scoresbysund) on the east coast of Greenland. To get there they had to travel to Iceland, take a plane back to Constable Point on the coast of Greenland, and then go by helicopter.
“This was the first time Jehovah’s Witnesses had come here,” relate these two pioneers, whose mother tongue is Greenlandic. “Despite their isolation, the people were surprisingly well-informed. Still, they were also happy to learn new things. As gifted storytellers, they eagerly told us about their seal hunts and other experiences in nature.” How did they respond to the preaching work?
“Preaching from house to house, we met J——, who is a catechist. ‘Thank you for including me among your calls,’ he said. We showed him our literature and how to use it. The next day he came to us and wanted to learn about the name Jehovah. We showed him an explanation in a footnote in his own Greenlandic Bible. When we left, he telephoned our friends in Nuuk to express his thanks for our visit. We must try to continue helping this man.
“We also met O——, a teacher who knows about Jehovah’s Witnesses. He gave us two hours to speak to his class of 14- to 16-year-olds. So we showed them our video and answered their questions. Questions Young People Ask—Answers That Work* and other books went like hotcakes. We met three of the girls later. They had lots of questions, one of them being especially interested. She asked, ‘How does one become a Witness? It surely must be good to be like you. My dad is also on your side.’ We promised to write.
“In one of the settlements, we met another catechist, M——, and we had an interesting discussion. He offered to make sure that the men who were out hunting would receive our literature as soon as they returned. So now he is our ‘publisher’ in that remote place.”
Though it was a circuitous and strenuous trip, the two pioneers felt that their efforts were richly rewarded.
Published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc.