A Letter From Ireland
Making a Diligent Search
IT WAS, as we say here, another soft day. A persistent drizzle left droplets of water on the windshield and blurred my view of the surrounding countryside. After driving ten miles [16 km], I reached the top of the hill overlooking Westport, a small coastal town in the west of Ireland. Finally, the sun dispersed the mist to reveal dozens of islets scattered around the bay, as beautiful as emeralds on blue velvet. Few are inhabited, but local farmers ferry their livestock to graze on some of them.
A range of hills follows the coast farther into the west. Clothed in bracken, peat, and heather, the hills had the look of burnished copper in the afternoon sun. Croagh Patrick, the conical peak known locally as the Reek, dominated the skyline. I negotiated my way through Westport’s crowded, narrow streets, past the Reek, and on to an area seldom visited by Jehovah’s Witnesses.
The man whom I was journeying to see did not know I was coming today. I had received a letter saying that he had recently moved out here and wanted to continue his discussion of the Bible with the Witnesses. I wondered: ‘How old is he? Is he single or married? What are his interests?’ I glanced down at my bag and mentally checked again that I had a Bible and a variety of Bible publications. I thought about what I might say to further his interest in the Kingdom message.
The Reek was behind me now. Drystone walls, many built during the Great Famine of the 19th century, outlined a patchwork of empty fields reaching down to the sea. Overhead, a lone seagull glided effortlessly. On the skyline, hawthorn and blackthorn trees, bent and twisted like old men, were huddled together with their backs to the wind.
There are no house numbers or street names in this rural area. The man’s address consisted of a house name and the townland.* My first goal, however, was to find the one person guaranteed to know where everyone lived—the postman. Thirty minutes later, I found the post office, a converted room in a terraced house. A sign on the door read “Closed.” Undeterred, I inquired at a local shop and was directed to the vicinity of the townland.
After driving another five miles [8 km], I found the landmark I was looking for—a sharp bend to the right with a boreen, or narrow lane, to the left. I knocked on the door of a nearby house. An elderly woman answered and proudly told me that she had lived there all her life but was most disappointed to admit that she did not know the whereabouts of the man I was seeking. She said that she would make a telephone call and invited me in.
As she was talking, she kept glancing at me, no doubt wondering who I was and what I wanted. I noticed a small statue of the Virgin Mary by the door and on the wall, a large picture of Christ. Rosary beads lay on the kitchen table. To put her mind at rest, I simply told her, “I have an important message for him from some friends.”
Her husband joined us and began telling me the history of the area. Meanwhile, the lady was unable to find out anything on her first telephone call and insisted that I wait while she telephoned others. Nobody, it seemed, had heard of either the man or the house. I checked my watch. It was now late in the day. I realized that I would have to try again another time. I thanked them both for their help, got back in my car, and began the long journey home.
I returned the following week. This time, I met the postman and received clear directions. Fifteen minutes later, I found the crossroads he had described. I turned left and drove up and down the boreen several times, looking for the next landmark, an old stone bridge. I did not find it. Eventually, I happened upon the last landmark, and there, at the top of the hill, was the house I had spent so much time and effort searching for.
I took a moment to think about how I might present the good news. An elderly man opened the door. “Sorry,” he said, “but the house you are looking for is over there.” He pointed to a house obscured by trees. Expectantly, I walked down and knocked on that door. While I waited, I gazed out at the Atlantic Ocean only a few hundred yards away. The wind had increased, and the waves were white as they crashed down on miles of unspoiled beach. There was no one in sight and no one at home either.
I made the journey twice more before meeting a young man. “This is the right house,” he said, “but the previous tenant, the man you are looking for, has moved out, and I do not know where he has gone.” I explained why I had called and found out that this young man had never spoken to Jehovah’s Witnesses before. He had been the victim of robbery and had wondered why God allowed this and other injustices to happen. He readily accepted the current issues of the Watchtower and Awake! magazines that dealt with that very topic.
The Scriptures command that we make a diligent search for sheeplike ones. Sadly, I did not find the man I was looking for. Even so, in no way do I consider my efforts wasted. In Ireland, many are eager to learn of the Kingdom message, and with Jehovah’s blessing, the small seeds of truth sown in this young man may one day bear fruit.
In Ireland, a townland is a geographical unit of land devised in the 11th century. Townlands vary in size, and some may contain hundreds of dwellings. Their names are used in the Irish postal system.