EARLY Spanish explorers called it Bajamar, meaning “shallow sea.” The name Bahama Islands (islands of the shallow sea) is derived from this word. The 700 islands and about 2,300 rocky islets and reefs of the Bahamas are scattered over a hundred thousand square miles* and lie about 50 miles* off the coast of Florida. They stretch southeastward 550 miles, almost as far as Haiti.
Since the days of Columbus, visitors have enthusiastically commented on the natural beauty of the islands, their beaches with pink and white coral sands, the clear and beautiful blue-green water and the many coral reefs. Here, too, are the lovely sea gardens where myriads of gorgeously arrayed fish swim in among the enchanting coral formations. There are also many submarine banks, such as the Great Bahama Bank. This is a vast underwater plateau of sand that reaches nearly to Cuba in the south. It has a water depth ranging from about 6 feet* to more than 24 feet. These features, plus an excellent climate, have attracted many visitors; so it is no wonder that the Bahamas have become famous as an international tourist center.
Even though the 700 islands and 2,300 cays stretch out over so many miles of ocean, the actual land area of the islands covers about 5,300 square miles and thus, all together, is about the size of the state of Connecticut. The Bahamas gained their independence from Great Britain in 1973, and today they are home for over 210,000 people. Two thirds of the population live on the important island of New Providence. It is here that the capital, Nassau, with its excellent deep-water harbor, is located. Another major island and the next most populated is Grand Bahama. About one fourth of the population live on the other islands, known collectively as the Out Islands. These include Abaco, Acklins, Andros, Bimini, Cat Island, Crooked Island, Eleuthera, the Exumas, the Inaguas, Long Island, Mayaguana and San Salvador. As you can note from a map, most of the Bahamian islands are long, narrow strips of land. Tourism is now the main industry, followed by farming, fishing, salt production, the refining of petroleum and the refueling of ships.
THE GOOD NEWS REACHES THE BAHAMAS
The earliest reports of the work of Jehovah’s Witnesses in these islands go back to around 1926, when Brother and Sister Edward McKenzie of Jamaica talked to the people in Nassau about Jehovah’s Kingdom. In 1926 two other Jamaicans, Clarence Walters and Rachel Gregory, came to spread the good news to the people of the Bahamas. Within a short time, Aubrey and Martha Blackman accepted the truth and were baptized. In 1928 there were seven preachers of the good news on these islands.
In February 1929 Brother C. J. Woodworth of the editorial staff of The Golden Age (now Awake!) made a two-week visit to the Bahamas. Two Canadian and five Bahamian publishers greeted Brother Woodworth on his arrival in Nassau. Among the five local ones were Brother Walters, Sister Rachel Gregory and Brother and Sister Blackman.
During his visit Brother Woodworth traveled by the mail boat Priscilla to Norman Castle in Abaco, where he gave talks and placed Bible literature. Brother Woodworth recounted what happened one evening on board the boat as it lay at anchor: “The steward came up to me, saying, ‘We heard of your talks at Norman Castle. We have no time to get a church, but if you are willing to speak in the open square, we can guarantee you a good audience.’ The canvasser [as Brother Woodworth referred to himself] said, ‘Let’s go!’ It is a novel experience to stand out in the square of a strange town, open with a hymn, and then start preaching. But an audience of 75 paid close attention to the end.”
On returning to Nassau, he did much witnessing in company with the local brothers. Continuing to refer to himself as the canvasser, Brother Woodworth said: “In a few hours on Friday and Saturday the canvasser [distributed] the rest of the 170 bound books and 100 booklets that he had brought with him from Miami. They were [distributed] in 1 1/2 blocks, and the map shows 74 1/2 blocks yet to do, though many of these blocks had already been worked locally. On Sunday night there was another meeting in the public square, an excellent audience of about 250. . . . Monday night there was a meeting in a Baptist church with 30 in attendance. Altogether the trip to the Bahamas was the happiest event of the canvasser’s life.”
The little band of seven publishers continued preaching in Nassau, and in 1932 they were joined by E. P. Roberts from Trinidad. Those who heard his Bible talks say that he was a dynamic speaker. He gave lectures regularly in many public buildings in Nassau. Among those who heard and ‘received the word with the greatest eagerness of mind’ were Julia Archer, Alice Ambrister, Bertha Sturrup and Blanche Edgecombe.
In attendance at one of these public meetings in the Palace Theatre was a policeman, who, many years later, stated: “What I heard that night convinced me that this was the truth! He proved from the Bible that what I had been taught in church was not so.” This man was Donald Oscar Murray (affectionately known as D. O.), who was to become one of the pillars of the Kingdom work in the Bahamas. A small place on Blue Hill Road was rented, and the meetings were held there.
FIRST PIONEER FOR THE BAHAMAS
In 1933 Sister Rachel Gregory began pioneering in the Bahamas. She had left her home in Jamaica in 1926 to serve where the need was greater. During the 1930’s she would often go to the Out Islands on small mail boats then plying from Nassau. With baggage and books, plus the phonograph, balanced on her head, she often had to wade ashore where there was no dock. She continued her tireless efforts to bring the Kingdom good news to others until her death in August 1972. Those who knew her say that she was small in stature but strong in spirit.
BROTHER WALTERS TAKES THE LEAD
In 1933 E. P. Roberts left the Bahamas, and the meetings were transferred to the tiny lean-to at the back of Brother Walters’ home on the corner of Taylor and Market streets. Brother Walters used a sound car to play Bible lectures by the Society’s president, J. F. Rutherford. Brother J. A. C. Royal had a store on East Street, and Brother Walters often played the Bible recordings in front of that store, where he also distributed tracts. By now the group had grown to include the Neeley family, the Andersons, the Wilsons, the Royals and Mr. Lightbourne.
The zealous lead provided by Brother Walters came to an abrupt end in 1942. One evening, after leaving his small grocery store on Blue Hill Road, he remembered something and had to return to the store to get it. In doing so, he surprised two youths who were burglarizing his store. One of these struck Brother Walters a fatal blow. This was indeed a setback for the little group that was struggling to keep the witness work alive. The two intruders were apprehended, found guilty and were executed.
In the wake of this turn of events, Brother D. O. Murray was given the responsibility for taking the lead among the group.
BAN ON THE SOCIETY’S LITERATURE
By now World War II was raging, and the nationalistic fervor reached the Bahamas. Brother Murray relates: “The police called me and asked me to come to the station to explain the booklet Who Shall Rule the World?, which they heard was being distributed. I told them that I would have given them a copy, but this publication was out of stock. When they asked me about a radio that they heard we were using to broadcast to Germany, I assured them that the rumor was false.” Despite the bold witness given by Brother Murray on that occasion, a few days later the local newspaper, The Guardian, published word of an official ban on the importation of the literature of the Watch Tower Society.
The brothers, however, received some literature via Grand Bahama from Florida and were overjoyed to receive this spiritual food during the ban. During this time the authorities said that anyone having the Society’s literature was to turn it in. If one was caught with the literature, it would mean three months in prison. Brother Murray related that on one occasion he was told to bring all the literature down to the police station. He told them that it was not his property, and that if they wanted it, they would have to come and collect it from his house. They never came.
Brother Murray further recalls that the brothers at that time misunderstood the ban to be on the work of Jehovah’s Witnesses and not just on the literature. Due to this misunderstanding, there was a marked decrease in the activity of the brothers in the field during that time. For the year 1946 there were only three publishers reporting. The preaching work dropped to its lowest point since its beginning.
MISSIONARIES STIMULATE THE WORK
Shortly afterward, the witnessing work was reinvigorated. On March 1, 1947, Brother Murray stood expectantly on the dock in Nassau awaiting the arrival of the ship Yarmouth, which had withstood the unusually severe winter voyage from New York. On board was a young woman by the name of Kathleen Fairweather, a graduate of the eighth class of Gilead School. She describes her arrival: “Dazed and a little debilitated, I stared at the serene blue waters of Nassau harbor. Blue skies, white clouds, clear jade- and emerald-green waters all bathed in brilliant sunshine—what a contrast to the angry Atlantic Ocean! A man in a khaki government uniform came forward and introduced himself as Brother D. O. Murray.”
Also on board that ship were George and Nancy Porter of the same eighth class of Gilead School. Sister Porter 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.’ Brooklyn had promised to send help, and now we were here. The prayer was so touching that it made us feel that we wanted to stay and never wanted to leave.”
At this first meeting, arrangements were made for field service. Sister Mae Royal was there and she recalls: “Much of the meeting was spent demonstrating better methods of doing the house-to-house work. In fact, the first two weeks were spent largely in helping the brothers to improve their door-to-door witnessing. The first territory we worked as a group was directly across the street from the meeting place. Sister Gregory and I called on a house at the corner of King and Market streets. I prayed that no one would answer the door. Much to my consternation the door swung open and the man’s gaze went past me to Sister Gregory, whom he recognized. He smiled broadly. It was all I needed to give me the courage to start. This was after I had been associating with the small group for six years. We needed help and appreciated it.”
At the first Memorial celebration after the arrival of the missionaries there were 23 persons in attendance. Among them was Gilead graduate Frieda Pulver, who had arrived as a partner for Sister Fairweather.
PETITION TO THE GOVERNOR
Within weeks the missionaries received shocking news. A letter from Immigration Officer P. S. Brice informed them that they must “arrange to leave the Colony forthwith.”
“On the advice of a lawyer, we worked on a petition to the governor, our only means of appeal,” stated one of the missionaries. “With the local Witnesses, we organized to get as many signatures as possible in the six days left to us. We went to as many homes as possible each day, explaining the situation, reading the petition to them and obtaining signatures. We were well received as a whole, and many people expressed indignation that those who preached the Word of God were being put out. All together we obtained over 2,400 signatures. Then we submitted the petition to the colonial secretary through whom it would go to the governor. The colonial secretary, a Welshman named Evans, was offhandedly reassuring. Before very long we heard the results—we could stay!”
So now it was “on with the work”! The group of 3 publishers active at the beginning of the year grew to 27 by August 1947. The seeds of truth had begun to bear fruit as some of those studying with the missionaries began to take their stand for Jehovah’s Kingdom. Among these “firstfruits” were Rowena Bowe, Corda Archer, Harry Petty, Rosa Mallory, Naomi Johnson, J. H. Johnson, Wellington Bain, Jeraldine Fernander and others.
A NEW ERA DAWNS
In 1948 a new era dawned for the preaching work. This was the result of a new means to reach every corner of the Caribbean with the good news—the Society’s missionary boat Sibia. This boat was to visit all the islands of the Caribbean that had no one active in preaching the good news. The Sibia’s first stop was the Bahamas. This 60-foot schooner, a floating missionary home, had a crew of four: Gust Maki (captain and navigator), Arthur Worsley (missionary home overseer), Stanley Carter and Ronald Parkin. Even today many have vivid memories of the visit by the Sibia. Gust Maki recalled: “In December 1948 four of us on the Society’s boat arrived in Nassau harbor. We wanted to see the four missionaries and the faithful publishers in Nassau. I recall that there was a fine, zealous pioneer sister who had done much Kingdom preaching in many of the islands.” This would be the sister from Jamaica, Rachel Gregory, now deceased, whose daughter, Alma, is still serving as a faithful Kingdom publisher with her family in Jamaica.
THE SIBIA SAILS TO THE OUT ISLANDS
The brothers on the Sibia spent considerable time on the island of Eleuthera. They also visited Andros, Abaco, Bimini, Cat Island, Long Island, Harbour Island, the Exumas, the Inaguas and Rum Cay. Some of the 3,278 pieces of literature they placed found their way into almost every home the brothers went to, although there were many settlements that they were unable to reach. Brother Arthur Worsley, who was in charge of the boat’s missionary activities, related:
“Preaching in the islands was so refreshing. With the nine-foot draft of the Sibia, shallow water was sometimes a handicap, but we went to all of the larger islands, though at times our keel barely cleared the bottom. It was quite commonplace for someone with whom literature had been placed to ask if he could continue along with us and carry our bag. They were so delighted with what they learned that sometimes, before we could even begin our own presentation, they would start telling about the books. In many instances, books were placed at the insistence of the individual who had come along with us. I remember, too, their beautiful way of acknowledging our introduction, saying: ‘Thank you, Sir, and may it please God we be strangers no longer.’
“The people on some of the islands were very poor, and on the island of Bimini one man obtained a whole carton of Bibles because they were only one dollar each, and he felt that no one should be without a Bible. He then gave them out with the kind suggestion that they be paid for, a few cents at a time, whenever the person could spare them. One man had several of our books but did not have enough money for the Bible, so I gave him one and made the gift acceptable by saying: ‘You can send me the money whenever you have it.’ A year later I received a letter from him, thanking me for the Bible and enclosing a dollar.
“Some people still had cherished copies of the Society’s literature dating back to The Harp of God. They were delighted to know that the books being presented were published by the same organization. Many proved by their conversation that they had digested much of the information they had read.
“Sometimes whole families would be out in the fields when we called, but, after coming home and seeing the Bibles and books of their friends, they would be waiting at the dock early next morning to get some for themselves. Some would come out to our boat and bring little gifts of fish, fruit or coconuts, for which we always gave them extra reading matter.
“The public meetings were difficult to arrange in some places and quite easy in others. In many instances it simply meant getting up and speaking. These talks were given in schools, churches, private homes, stores, barrooms, at docks, under trees—whenever there was an opportunity, many times without the benefit of lights or notes. It was quite often difficult to get the people to disperse after the talk, and many seemed never to have enough. We regretted that we could not spend more time with them.
“Frequently, while coming home from a long hard day in the service, we would have the pleasure of hearing people reading aloud to themselves as we passed by their small dwellings. Many of them would call to us and express their pleasure with the book and thank us again for calling on them.
“A great deal of literature had been placed in the major islands, and many friends had been made because of the truth, so we were all very sad at the thought of having to leave. There was much more work to do; in fact, our boat could not approach some of the islands because of the shallow water. But the hurricane season was due, and the Bahamian waters were so shallow that there would be few places for the nine-foot-draft Sibia to find shelter. So, after seven months of most enjoyable preaching, we set our course for the Virgin Islands.”
INCREASE DESPITE CLERGY REACTION
All this preaching activity caused great distress to the religious leaders. One religious leader could not suffer in silence any longer, and so he made this plea in The Parish News, a portion of which reads:
“I am a little disturbed by the people who have come to sow seeds of dissension in the parish. They are called Jehovah’s Witnesses. Please be careful and firmly reject the doctrines of these people. They no doubt will tell you that what we are teaching you is wrong, yet good church people receive these people in their homes and let them try to explain their own book to them. Remember that the church existed long before the Bible. . . . Any time you want to know anything that you do not understand please consult your parish priest. He will put you right. Do not listen to the people who do not know what they are talking about.”
The facts show that the “good” people of the Bahamas were more inclined to listen to the truth of the Bible than to take to heart the frightened cry of The Parish News. As proof of this, the average number of publishers in the Bahamas grew from 33 to 52, a 58-percent increase in one year. The attendance at the Memorial was 112—more than twice that of the previous year.
MORE BOATS TO EXPAND THE WITNESS
In 1954 two other boats were used to cover the islands of the Bahamas. The Kirkwood II went to Andros, Berry Islands, Grand Bahama and Eleuthera. The Faith went south to the Exumas, Long Island and Cat Island. On board Kirkwood II was its owner, Arthur Hill, Sr., also Jack and Nettie Copple, the Porters, Bill Prince, Dick Ryde and Kay Fairweather. No small number of hardships were encountered in preaching to the people living on the islands, but the joyful response of many humble persons more than compensated.
For example, Nancy Porter describes their method of covering Eleuthera: “They put Kay Fairweather, my husband and me off at Hatchet Bay close to the north end, and then the boat went to the southern end over 60 miles away where Dick Ryde and Bill Prince disembarked. We met three or four weeks later at Palmetto Point.”
But where did they stay each night? “People in those days,” she explained, “opened up their homes and appreciated the message and our visits. There was a very kind man living at Palmetto Point who put his home at our disposal. The boat had gone on to another island, and when the brothers finished there, they returned and picked us up.”
Sister Fairweather had also been aboard the Faith on a trip to the southern islands. She shares some of their experiences with us: “The first landfall that we sighted after leaving Nassau was Bell Island in the Exuma chain, and six of us went ashore in the dinghy, anxious to get started after a day and a half on the boat. There turned out to be only two small palmetto-thatched houses there, with just three people and these were almost illiterate. However, some literature was left, and we proceeded to other cays.
“On a typical day two would be left on the boat, and the other eight would pile into the dinghy and go ashore. Two groups would be formed to go in opposite directions and would call at every house, proceeding away from the boat. A halt would be called at lunchtime for a half-hour break, and then it was back to the field. Since we placed much literature, each of us carried two bags. The people seldom had the opportunity to buy anything to read. By nightfall we might be many miles from the boat.
“Then we had to retrace our steps in as direct a way as possible back to the boat, which was anchored up to half a mile offshore because of the shallows. We had a loud whistle to blow to signal the boat. A dinghy would then push off from the boat, and we would climb aboard for the trip back. This was often a wet ride, as the dinghy was usually overloaded. Tired, not to say exhausted, we had something to eat, and then we went to bed.”
Through much effort, expense and time the Kingdom good news was reaching people of the Out Islands.
BROTHER KNORR’S FIRST VISIT TO THE BAHAMAS
In December 1950, the then president of the Watch Tower Society, N. H. Knorr, and his secretary, M. G. Henschel, made their first visit to the Bahamas. Brother Knorr delivered the discourse “Can You Live Forever in Happiness on Earth?” to 312 people packed into the meeting place they were using at that time, The Mothers’ Club Hall. Quite a few dignitaries of the town were present, including a member of parliament and the editor of one of the two daily newspapers. That night Brother Knorr announced the establishment of a branch office in the Bahamas. Shortly afterward Brother August Claude Blum, a British citizen and a graduate of the 16th class of Gilead School, was appointed to be branch overseer. During this visit arrangements were made for organizing the circuit work. Also the first Bahamian special pioneer, Harold E. Clarke, was appointed and sent to Andros.
DISSENSION BREAKS OUT
One of the characteristics of the subtropics is that the weather can change suddenly. The day can begin cloudless, sunny and blue, and without warning thick, great clouds can cover the sky, producing torrential rains. Similarly the bright and optimistic spirit enjoyed by the brothers at the end of 1950 was soon overshadowed by regression caused by dissension. This brought about a polarizing of the brothers into two camps. To help restore unity among the brothers, the Society sent John Jones, a Canadian of the 18th class of Gilead School, to the Bahamas to serve as branch overseer. During this period of difficulty there was a decrease in the work so that from an average of 110 publishers in 1951 there was a decline to 92.
True, the brothers in Nassau had been shaken somewhat by the trials they had endured. But, in the final analysis, their faith had been strengthened. The most pressing need now seemed to be to add impetus to the work in the Out Islands. While the brothers on the boats had been doing a fine job of distributing literature, there was a need for more permanence in the settlements. This need was met to some extent in 1954 with the arrival of four new missionaries from the 23rd class of Gilead School.
THE WORK DEVELOPS IN ELEUTHERA
Two of the new missionaries, Arthur “Bud” Hill and his wife, Shirley, were assigned to the island of Eleuthera. This name means “freedom” and is derived from the Eleutheran Adventurers, a band of English Puritans who left Bermuda in search of freedom; they were dissatisfied with religious conditions, and in 1648 they established a colony on the island.
One of the persons that the missionaries soon found was Mrs. Angie Rankin at Governor’s Harbour. She had shown interest when called on earlier by Kay Fairweather in Nassau. Her response to Bible truth was immediate, and so was opposition from her father, who escorted her to the Anglican church of which he was a catechist. She refused to participate in the ritual, and due to this suffered much abuse from her family and husband.
Brother Hill relates: “Shirley had to study with her under a tree because neither we nor any of our literature was allowed in the house. She progressed to dedication and has been able to bear up under continued opposition for many years.” She has served as an auxiliary pioneer a number of times and today is one of the diligent proclaimers of the good news with the Rock Sound Congregation.
If you look at the map of Eleuthera you can see that it is very long but narrow, so narrow that at one place the waves of the ocean often wash completely over, with no connecting road. From this point north the brothers would walk in order to work the settlements.
In one of these settlements, The Bluff, a lady showed interest. She was a Sunday-school teacher, and her husband was the Church of God minister and very opposed, even to the point of forbidding the Witnesses to enter his property. The study had to be conducted outside the fence, and, finally, she took her stand for the truth. The small community was very disturbed when she left the church. Now that she had become a Witness she wanted to share in the house-to-house work, but the neighbors would not invite her in nor give her a hearing. What could she do?
She took her book bag and walked all around the various streets so everyone could see her, and she also talked to anyone she met. Thus she witnessed. Now 17 years later Sister Lula Hudson is still active and often serves as an auxiliary pioneer. Jehovah has blessed her faithfulness, and she has been able to help four persons to dedication and baptism. As yet there is not a congregation in her area. Her husband now listens to the message of truth and is pleased to have visiting Witnesses stay in his home.
PIONEERING AT ROCK SOUND
Brother and Sister Harold Clarke volunteered to take up a pioneer assignment at Rock Sound, Eleuthera. Brother Clarke relates: “It was in February 1962 that we landed at Rock Sound and were happy to meet the two missionaries, Bud and Shirley Hill. Since the Hills were now preparing to be parents, it was necessary for them to move to Nassau, where there was better opportunity for Brother Hill to find employment. To keep ourselves spiritually strong, we set about organizing meetings in the Rock Sound area, going over all the assigned meeting parts. Since the people showing interest lived on the southern tip of Eleuthera, 30 miles away, how would we get them to the meetings?
“Our first means of transportation was a tiny English Hillman car. Sometimes there were up to 13 persons squeezed into the small car, and I would be driving with some of the little ones sitting on my shoulders.
“It took real faith that Jehovah would provide for us in his service. Sometimes our funds would run out. I recall that on one Friday the car was completely out of gas, and we were due to go 35 miles to conduct a study with an interested family in Governor’s Harbour. My wife suggested that I telephone them and tell them that we were unable to come. But I decided to wait for a little while. I went to check my post office box for letters. There was a letter from a Polish sister in New York whom we had met during the 1963 convention. After reading the letter, I noted at the bottom a P.S., which read: ‘Enclosed you will find $5 which you might need for gas.’ I went home overjoyed and off we went to our Bible study.”
A BRUSH WITH DEATH
You would think that on a quiet subtropical island the last thing you would have to concern yourself with would be the threat of death for faithful service. Yet the Clarkes faced such a test from a most unexpected quarter. Brother Clarke continues:
“Once while we were at the dining table in our home someone shot at us through the window. Although I saw nothing but a car disappearing around the corner, I learned several days later that a former brother had taken a shot at us. In fact, he admitted that on several occasions he had aimed his gun at us but could not pull the trigger. Not realizing that this idea was still in his mind, we visited his home some time later to see his sick child, since the rest of the family was still in the truth. What we did not know was that before he had gone to sleep he had said that if I came there, I was not to enter his house or he would kill me. We went into the house and I even went into the room where he was sleeping but did not disturb him, and apparently Jehovah allowed him to continue sleeping. When he awoke and found out that we had been there, he jumped into his car and came speeding to catch us.
“About four miles down the road I said to my wife: ‘Let’s turn off and check a plot of onions.’ We later appreciated that this must have been by Jehovah’s direction. He continued on to Rock Sound, went to our house, found no one and then went to the police station where they took away his gun. After we arrived home the sergeant came and told us what had happened. We reflected on the 23rd Psalm as we appreciated Jehovah’s loving care and how he protects those who are serving him.”
The same congregation continues to thrive, and all were delighted recently to move into a newly constructed Kingdom Hall. This is the second Kingdom Hall that the brothers have built in Rock Sound and represents Jehovah’s blessing on their hard work and self-sacrificing spirit. Brother Clarke serves as a member of the Bahamas Branch Committee.
SPIRITUAL PROGRESS IN GRAND BAHAMA
About 50 miles off the Florida coast lies the country’s fourth-largest island, Grand Bahama, which is the site of the giant Freeport industrial-residential-resort complex. Freeport is only a small portion of this flat island, whose pine forests have supported lumbering operations for some years. While the Hills were getting settled in Eleuthera, their fellow graduates, American Gordon Swisher and New Zealander William Mayer, were using their ingenuity to adapt to their first exposure to the then undeveloped island. On arrival they found three interested persons, Henrietta Pinder, Mrs. Barr and one other, who formed the nucleus of what would become the congregation. One can certainly admire the true pioneer spirit of these two missionaries as they put personal comfort secondary to bringing the good news to these humble people.
After about two years they were reassigned to Nassau, where Brother Swisher became the new branch overseer to replace John Jones, whose departure became necessary for health reasons, and Brother Mayer became the islands’ first circuit overseer. In their place Brother Charles Anderson served as a special pioneer. In 1956, the year of his appointment, the congregation consisted of six adults and two children. They met in a dance hall belonging to one of the local sisters. Shortly thereafter the congregation was blessed with other pioneers.
By 1961 tremendous industrial expansion was going on in Grand Bahama. The government of the Bahamas had granted permission to developers to create a city that would become a free port to attract industry and duty-free shoppers. Almost overnight a modern metropolis materialized out of what had been, up to that time, mainly pine forest.
Among the thousands attracted by opportunities that this created were many brothers from other parts of the Bahamas and all parts of the world. Soon the small Kingdom Hall that was built in Eight Mile Rock was too small. In this congregation of cosmopolitan character many skills were then represented among the brothers. So in 1972 they constructed a Kingdom Hall that was truly a credit to Jehovah’s name. It is one of the most tastefully designed meeting places of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the Bahamas.
Since that time the original concept of Freeport has undergone great changes. The government of the Bahamas has made its presence felt to a much greater degree, and the city has become largely Bahamian in character. The thriving congregations in Freeport and Eight Mile Rock are today less cosmopolitan but certainly no less active in getting the good news preached to the inhabitants of Grand Bahama.
THE KINGDOM WORK STARTS IN ACKLINS
To explain how the Kingdom work got started in one of the most southeasterly islands of the Bahamas, you would have to understand the common Bahamian expression “going on contract.” In the years immediately after World War II, there was a shortage of manpower in the southern United States to service the fruit-growing industry. To fill the need, a recruiting drive was launched in the Bahamas to attract Bahamian labor primarily for fruit picking. Bahamians would sign a contract to work for a certain period. Thus the expression developed “going on contract.”
In 1951 Wilbert Cox of Acklins was one of these contract workers. He had never heard of Jehovah’s Witnesses while in the Bahamas, as very few boats had penetrated to his area of the island at Snug Corner. The Witnesses contacted him in Florida, and he was impressed by the hope of living forever on the earth, and also by the fact that the brothers would drive the six miles back and forth to the migrant labor camp to help him get to the meetings. After three months he lost contact with the Witnesses because he was transferred to another part of Florida. But in 1954 he was contacted again at Deland, Florida, and this time he took the initiative to ride a bus 30 miles to the meetings. The brothers would help him to return.
In 1955 he went back to his home island of Acklins as a baptized Witness full of zeal and optimism, anxious to share the truth with the people of his island. In the 29 years since then, no one on Acklins has taken a stand for the truth except his own family. This is in spite of the fact that his exemplary conduct and Christian neutrality have earned for him the reputation of being “the only true minister of God in Acklins”!
ANOTHER CONTRACT WORKER LEARNS THE TRUTH
Another Bahamian contract worker, Thomas Dawkins, learned the truth in a similar way. Thomas was a staunch member of the Gospel Hall religion in the Bahamas, and he did almost everything possible to avoid speaking to the Witnesses. When on contract in Florida, he always tried to avoid having a conversation with the Witnesses. Early one morning he went out to get some fresh air, and as he was sitting on an old orange crate outside the home where the workers lived, a Witness approached. Thomas was still in his pajamas. As soon as he spotted the sister coming, he tried to get inside the house, but in his haste to flee, his pajamas caught on a nail in the orange crate and were badly torn. Too embarrassed now to scurry away and with the Witness so close, he felt constrained to sit on the crate and listen to the Kingdom message. To his surprise he found the information interesting, and a Bible study was arranged. He began attending meetings and in time was baptized. Years later, Brother Dawkins and his wife moved to Marsh Harbour, Abaco, to give support to the small group that had been formed into a congregation in 1971.
FIRST KINGDOM HALL IN THE BAHAMAS
But let us go back to the year 1954 and to the capital, Nassau, on the island where two thirds of the population reside. Here the brothers were working hard on the first Kingdom Hall in the Bahamas. A unique arrangement provided the funds to build this hall. Brother Gus Gravas, a Greek brother from Florida, visited the Bahamas to witness to Greek-speaking people in Nassau. While in Nassau he was moved by the brothers’ need for a permanent meeting place. So he arranged to send them regular shipments of used clothing. The brothers sold the clothing and the funds were applied to the building program.
How delighted the brothers were that, within a year, they were able to purchase two lots at 500 pounds (about $1,400 U.S.) each, in Centreville, a prime location for a new hall! Although this financial arrangement came to an end when the government banned the importation of used clothing, the Society made a loan so that the brothers were able to complete their Kingdom Hall. It was on this site in 1958 that the brothers constructed the branch office of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society, as well as a missionary home. Two Canadian brothers, Hall Olson and Albert McBrine, who had come to serve where the need was greater, became the backbone of the construction project. At the same time that the Centreville Kingdom Hall was taking shape, another Kingdom Hall was being constructed on Quakoo Street, on a piece of land donated by Brother and Sister Blackman.
FURTHER EFFORTS TO REACH THE OUT ISLANDS
In 1960 Gordon Swisher, who had been the branch overseer up to that time, left to get married, and the Society appointed George Jenkins as his replacement. The following year saw two noteworthy events, the visit of M. G. Henschel in February and the “United Worshipers” District Assembly, July 27-30. The historic site of the convention was the Royal Victoria Hotel, built in 1863 as the first major hotel in the Bahamas. The attendance rose to a peak of 800, far surpassing any previous gathering of the Witnesses in the Bahamas. During Brother Henschel’s visit the matter of doing more to reach the Out Islands with the good news was discussed. In response to the call for serving where the need was greater, Brother and Sister Porter volunteered, and they were assigned to Long Island, Bahamas, where they carried on missionary service for the next 11 years.
Brother Porter recalls: “To get all the interested people assembled in one location for the meetings on Sundays, we would start early in the morning and drive from where we lived almost to the ends of the island in both directions. By midnight we had driven over 200 miles, but it was worth it. For example, at 72 years of age, grandmother Ritchie, with whom we studied, shocked everyone in her settlement by witnessing boldly to the parish priest. Years later the grandchildren in this family moved to Nassau, took their stand for the truth and today two of the boys are elders.”
The small congregation that now has its Kingdom Hall at Glintons continues to give the Kingdom witness to the people of Long Island.
THE SOUTHERNMOST ISLAND OF INAGUA
Inagua, the southernmost island in the Bahamas, is home for thousands of pink-plumed flamingos, the national bird of the country. They are protected in a special wildlife preserve. But what had been done to reach the people of this out island with the good news?
In 1960 Brother and Sister Robert Perrin were sent to Inagua as special pioneers. They found the people extremely receptive, and within a short time they were conducting some 20 Bible studies a week. Needless to say, this disturbed the religious leaders on the island, and so they exerted pressure on the local government representative. Within a year the clergy succeeded in having the Perrins deported. Since then, special pioneers have been sent to the island on several occasions. The result has always been the same: Many Bible studies are conducted and many subscriptions obtained, but it has not been possible for any Witness to settle there.
To improve the operation of the branches worldwide, the Society invited branch overseers to attend a ten-month course at Gilead School. Brother George Jenkins had the privilege of attending this course during 1962, at the conclusion of which he and his wife were reassigned to Costa Rica. One of his classmates, Emil H. Van Daalen (earlier a graduate of Gilead School’s first class), who had been serving in Puerto Rico, was appointed to be the new branch overseer in the Bahamas. From that time until they were reassigned to the southern United States in December 1981, Brother Van Daalen did a great deal to encourage the brothers to work the Out Islands. The brothers responded, as is indicated by the following experience related by Brother Van Daalen:
“One of the problems in the Bahamas is that of reaching the people that live on the Out Islands, especially on the small out-of-the-way cays. To solve this problem, the brothers put forth diligent efforts, such as they did in August 1966, when six brothers traveled over the open seas 60 miles in two 15-foot outboard motorboats to the small island of Grand Cay, where about 200 people live. It is not known whether anyone had ever visited this island with the message of truth before. The circuit overseer reported: ‘Literature was left in almost every home. The people proved to be very friendly, even offering to lead us to the next house and introduce us.’ On the way back one of the motors stopped and the boat had to be towed, but the brothers felt well rewarded in spite of the danger involved.”
“A WONDERFUL EXPERIENCE”
Summing up his many years of Kingdom service in these picturesque islands, Brother Van Daalen wrote: “Serving in the Bahamas proved to be a wonderful experience. My wife, Bettyjane, and I found that the people there are friendly, religiously inclined and tolerant. They are willing to spend time discussing the Bible.
“During the 18 years that my wife and I were in the Bahamas, the Kingdom-preaching work made fine progress because of our heavenly Father’s blessing. Jehovah’s Witnesses are well known in the islands, and many fine brothers and sisters are expending themselves to search out the humble sheeplike ones while there is yet time. We are sure that Jehovah will move the hearts of others to assist where there is need.”
BROTHERS WITH BOATS RENDER ASSISTANCE
In the late 1960’s and the early 1970’s brothers from the United States again visited the Bahamas. They worked under the direction of the branch office and used boats to reach the widely scattered islands and cays. Among them were Richard and Ilona Farris and their four children; Eddie and Gary Irons; Jack and Ethel Miller and three children; Joe and Dorothy Miller and two boys; Allen and Betty Doe, and the Walters family. The Farris family went down to the island of Mayaguana, where they were able to assist Susanna Ford and her sister, Angie, to the point of their being baptized. Up to that time the interested people on Mayaguana had been helped by correspondence Bible studies conducted by Sister Fairweather in Nassau. The work in the Bahamas by the Farris family was cut short by the untimely death of Richard Farris. Several years later, however, the remainder of the family was able to return on their boat to Andros to witness on that island with Allen and Betty Doe. The Millers worked at South Andros (later transferring to Grand Bahama), and the Irons at Cat Island.
Before leaving for the Bahamas, Allen and Betty Doe constructed a trimaran sailboat because its shallow draft was very suitable for the “islands of the shallow sea.” Life was not always easy on a boat. Sometimes the weather would not cooperate. For example, a circuit assembly was scheduled in December 1972 at Marsh Harbour, Abaco. Allen Doe tells us about their trip from Morgan’s Bluff, Andros, to Marsh Harbour, Abaco:
“The weather started out absolutely beautiful—sunny with a 10-15 knot breeze from the southeast. Suddenly a black line of clouds appeared in the northwest. The unexpected storm hit with fury. We turned the boat around and headed for a small indentation, called Hole in the Wall, in the shoreline at the southeast corner of Abaco Island. The wind turned to the northeast and increased to at least 50 knots. The waves in the anchorage became eight feet high, pounding the boat mercilessly while we were anchored. At ten that night one of the anchor lines snapped like a piece of string. We were soaked from the waves crashing over the boat. We learned the true meaning of the scripture ‘pray incessantly.’
“When the morning dawned, we decided to brave the ocean rather than stay in that anchorage. It was good that we did because the only remaining anchor line was almost chafed through. But at first we were not sure that we had made the right decision—the seas were 30 feet high! The boat rode them well, surfing down the huge seas. Soon we were in the lee of the island and reached a safe harbor at Sandy Point. But we were still 50 miles from the assembly at Marsh Harbour. The roads were flooded from the storm, so we had to wait several days until the water subsided.
“Then we rode our little motorcycle to the assembly. We had to stop and wade through water up to our knees at least four times before reaching the assembly site on Sunday afternoon—just in time for the public talk! How happy we were to be with our brothers and sisters and how happy they were to see us, for they had feared that we were lost at sea! Many brothers were not able to attend, but, thankfully, no brothers were injured or killed.”
THE LARGEST ISLAND
Andros is the giant of the Bahamas, being over 40 miles wide and 100 miles long. From 1950 onward special pioneers have done much good in preaching to the humble people of this island. For several years, following up the fine work of Jack Miller and his family, the southern part of Andros was the assignment for a group of pioneers that, at various times, included Yvonne Dean, Shirley Corsey, Donna Schorer and Debbie Sands. Sister Sands had been preparing to join a convent as a nun when she learned the truth through her brother. Although very young, she exhibited the same zeal for true worship that she had shown in her former religion. Through the combined efforts of these pioneers many have learned the truth, but they have generally moved to other areas. Today there are scattered pockets of publishers along the length of the eastern shore.
REACHING BIMINI WITH THE GOOD NEWS
East of Miami, in the Straits of Florida, is the island group of Bimini. Though the brothers on the Sibia preached to the people there, how did those people receive a witness in more recent times? A group of brothers from the Fort Lauderdale area used an airplane to travel back and forth to the island to carry on the ministry there. Brother Dean Tarbert rented and flew the plane. Though no congregation was formed, the people received a thorough witness, and interest was found. It just awaits further watering, and Jehovah will make it grow.
AN INCOMPARABLE INTERNATIONAL CONVENTION
In every part of Jehovah’s international organization, conventions have figured prominently in the gathering and training of his people. In the Bahamas no convention has yet eclipsed the 1971 “Divine Name” District Assembly held at Arawak Cay. It has been the only official international convention held here. Finding a facility that was reasonable in price and yet adequate for the expected influx of foreign visitors was a challenge. The brothers solved the problem by renting a 400- by 40-foot newly constructed customs warehouse standing on a man-made island in Nassau harbor. To turn this place into a convention center required the brothers to improvise as they had never done before.
Imagine the setting: The convention delegates sat in this long, narrow hall, with cooling sea breezes, listening to a discourse given by a speaker standing against the backdrop of Nassau harbor with majestic cruise ships tied up at the dock. With the influx of over 1,500 delegates from all over the world, the 409 local Witnesses thrilled to host 2,036 for the public talk.
The first circuit overseer, Bill Mayer, traveled by mail boat to visit and encourage the brothers in all corners of the islands. Although the waters of the Bahamas are renowned the world over for their clarity and beauty, this may not always have been appreciated by a seasick circuit overseer on a cargo-laden, creaking workboat, reeking of diesel oil, with 270 miles yet to go on the voyage.
After Brother Mayer married and eventually returned to New Zealand, a zealous young American brother came to the islands as a tourist, fell in love with them and decided to combine the two things he loved most, preaching the good news and being near the water. Within a short time Brother Ronald Deaumler was appointed as circuit overseer. He married soon thereafter and was accompanied on his circuit voyages by his wife, Helen, until they were invited to Gilead School and assigned to Ecuador.
The first Bahamian circuit overseer was Brother Allison Dean, a grandson of J. H. Johnson and one of about 40 members of that family now in the truth. After marrying Canadian Betty Jean McDonald who was serving as a special pioneer, he continued serving the congregations. Today they have a family, and Brother Dean serves as a member of the Branch Committee.
Another local brother, Frederick Lord, and his wife, Gloria, took up the circuit work until Canadian missionary Steven Ray replaced him in April 1974. Presently the congregations are being served by missionary Anthony Reed who had served five years at Brooklyn Bethel. Burleigh and Alice McKee were transferred from Antigua to the Bahamas, arriving in May 1981, to continue missionary work, and Brother McKee serves as coordinator for the Branch Committee.
The Exuma cays and islands extend for 140 miles, beginning at a point some 40 miles southeast of Nassau. Here live 3,670 people. Cat Island to the north has a population of another 2,000, and there are San Salvador and other smaller islands that are populated but are not being worked on a regular basis. There is need here for persons who are well grounded in the truth and who have an independent income, to move to these areas to help spread the good news. It may be a practical arrangement for brothers on two or three boats to make regular visits to the islands where the population is small and where little or no witnessing is done. Is there anyone who can meet the above requirements and respond?
EXCELLENT FUTURE PROSPECTS
From that small beginning in 1926 when Brother and Sister Edward McKenzie came to the Bahamas from Jamaica to spread the comforting message of God’s Kingdom, there has been fine progress. There are now more than 600 very active proclaimers of the good news in the Bahamas. With 2,244 in attendance at the 1984 Memorial, the future is full of excellent prospects. We here in the “islands of the shallow sea” look forward to further increase that will bring more praise to our God Jehovah.
1 square mile = 2.6 square kilometers.
1 mile = 1.6 kilometers.
1 foot = .3 meter.
[Map on page 226]
(For fully formatted text, see publication)
Eight Mile Rock
Hole in the Wall
The Exuma Cays
[Picture on page 232]
The first four missionaries to the Bahamas: Nancy Porter, George Porter, Kathleen Fairweather and Frieda Pulver
[Picture on page 239]
To reach the Bahamian islands with the good news, this floating missionary home, the schooner Sibia, was used
[Picture on page 250]
Kingdom Hall, Centreville, Nassau, built in 1954. Behind it is the branch office and missionary home, built in 1958
[Picture on page 255]
This trimaran sailboat was used in preaching the good news on Andros and other islands
[Picture on page 257]
Allen and Betty Doe on their motorcycle