“Land of Waters”—that is the meaning of “Guyana,” a South American country whose southern border lies just 80 miles [130 km] above the equator. How appropriate that name is, for well over 40 rivers and countless tributaries drain the rain forests and jungles that make up much of Guyana’s 83,000 square miles [215,000 sq km]! Some of these rivers define Guyana’s borders with its neighbors—Brazil, Suriname, and Venezuela. Rivers also provide a lifeline into the interior, where villages and farms are scattered along their banks. Indeed, Guyana’s commerce and history—including that of Jehovah’s people—are closely linked to its waterways.
From west to east, the four main rivers are the Essequibo, the Demerara, the Berbice, and the Courantyne. The longest, the Essequibo, is 630 miles [1,000 km] long and 20 miles [30 km] wide at its mouth and has 365 islands. One of these, Fort Island, was the seat of government during the Dutch colonial era. From their source in the mountains of the interior, which lie to the south, these major rivers flow north before finally snaking through the narrow coastal plain and spilling into the Atlantic. En route, their waters cascade over some of the most spectacular falls in the world, such as the Kaieteur Falls, where the 400-foot-wide [120 m] Potaro River, which flows into the Essequibo, plunges 741 feet [226 m] in its initial drop.
With its many natural attractions, Guyana is a paradise for nature lovers. Its waters are home to giant river otters, black caimans, and pirarucus, or Arapaima, among the largest freshwater fish ever discovered. These air-breathing, flesh-eating giants can grow to a length of 10 feet [3 m] and can weigh 485 pounds [220 kg]. Jaguars quietly prowl about in the shadowy forests, and howler monkeys shout from the trees above, which they share with over 700 species of birds, including harpy eagles and spectacularly colored macaws and toucans.
The human population of Guyana numbers about 770,000. The number includes East Indians, whose ancestors came from India as indentured workers; blacks, who are descended from African slaves; Amerindians (Arawak, Carib, Wapisiana, and Warrau); and those of mixed race. Although creole is spoken throughout the country, English is the official language, making Guyana the only English-speaking nation in South America.
Waters of Truth Reach Guyana
About the year 1900, life-giving “water” that quenches people’s spiritual thirst began to trickle into Guyana. (John 4:14) A man by the name of Peter Johassen, working at a logging camp on the Courantyne River, obtained a copy of Zion’s Watch Tower and Herald of Christ’s Presence. He shared its contents with a Mr. Elgin, who wrote to the Watch Tower Society for more Bible literature, including the book The Divine Plan of the Ages. Although Elgin did not hold fast to the truths he had learned, he interested others in them. This led to the formation of a small group in New Amsterdam, situated at the mouth of the Berbice River.
Meanwhile, in Georgetown, the capital of Guyana, Edward Phillips obtained literature published by the International Bible Students, as Jehovah’s Witnesses were then known. Eager to share what he was learning, Phillips gathered relatives and friends at his home for regular, informal Bible discussions. In 1908 he wrote to the Watch Tower Society, requesting that a representative be sent to Guyana, then called British Guiana.* Four years later, Evander J. Coward arrived and gave Bible discourses to hundreds gathered at the town halls in Georgetown and New Amsterdam.
Phillips’ son, Frederick, recalls Coward’s visit. He writes: “It was not long before Brother Coward became a popular figure in Georgetown, and through the message he preached, interested ones began to join our group of Bible Students. In those days, we discussed the books The Divine Plan of the Ages, The New Creation, and others. Soon our home became too small, so in 1913 we rented an upper room at Somerset House in Georgetown. It served as the congregation’s meeting place until 1958.” In 1914, Edward Phillips once again made his home available, this time as Guyana’s first branch office. He was made office overseer and remained such until his death in 1924.
In 1916 a boost was given to the preaching work by showings of the “Photo-Drama of Creation,” a slide and motion picture production. “During that time, we enjoyed peace and good spiritual prosperity,” writes Frederick. “The local press even ran a series of sermons by Charles T. Russell, a leading Bible Student.”
By 1917 the mood in Guyana had changed. The country was in the grip of war hysteria, and a prominent local clergyman urged the public to pray for the British and their allies. In a letter to the press, Coward reviewed the world situation in the light of Bible prophecy. And at the Georgetown Town Hall, he gave a powerful discourse entitled “Battering Down the Walls of Babylon.”
“The clergy were so incensed,” says a report in the October 1, 1983, Watchtower, “that they prevailed upon the authorities to have Brother Coward expelled and to have a number of our publications banned, a ban that lasted until 1922.” Many people, however, respected Coward for his courageous witness. In fact, when he left, they lined the wharf, shouting: “He was the only man preaching the truth.” Dock workers even threatened to strike in protest of Coward’s expulsion, but the brothers advised them not to.
After the first world war, the Bible Students faced a more subtle test that hindered the spread of Kingdom truth for a time. A former brother who had been a member of the Brooklyn headquarters staff but had turned apostate visited Guyana on a number of occasions in an effort to turn the Bible Students there away from the organization.
“For a while,” says the aforementioned Watchtower, “the Bible Students in the country were split into three parts, one loyal to the organization, an opposition group, and a third group not knowing what to do. However, Jehovah’s blessing was only upon the loyal group, and it eventually prospered.” Among the loyal ones were Malcolm Hall and Felix Powlett, baptized in 1915 and 1916 respectively. Both remained zealous servants of Jehovah and lived well into their 90’s.
To give the faithful brothers further encouragement, George Young from world headquarters came to Guyana in 1922 and stayed for about three months. “He was an indefatigable worker,” said Felix Powlett. Young’s knowledge of the Scriptures, powerful voice, flowing gestures, and visual aids moved many to peer more closely into God’s Word. Based on Young’s reports, the January 1, 1923, Watchtower spoke of “a greatly increased interest in the truth in that section of the world, a larger attendance at all the public meetings, with houses packed out, and with a corresponding increase of zeal and devotion on the part of the brethren.” At Somerset House, for example, an average of 100 attended the meetings, even though there were only about 25 Kingdom publishers at the time.
By 1923 the brothers were also making an effort to reach people farther inland. Often, all they carried were hammocks and literature, relying on hospitable people to give them something to eat. If someone offered them shelter, they would spend the night. Otherwise, they would sling their hammocks under the bough of a tree and pass the night there, often enduring clouds of mosquitoes. The following morning they would consider a Scripture text from the Daily Heavenly Manna, a book published by Jehovah’s organization, and then head off down a trail or hitch a ride on a boat to the next community.
Efforts to reach people in more distant areas continued until World War II when gasoline was rationed, limiting travel. In the meantime, the Bible Students adopted the name Jehovah’s Witnesses in 1931. The little groups of Bible Students dotting the coastline enthusiastically embraced the new designation and showed their zeal by their intensified service. Later in the 1930’s, publishers began using phonographs with recorded Bible lectures in the ministry. Frederick Phillips, branch supervisor at the time, writes: “There were no radios in the villages in those days, and the first indication of our presence in a village was the sound of music wafting from our speakers through the still, tropical air. The music would be followed by the recorded lectures. Almost everyone in the community would crowd around us, some in their pajamas.”
Radio stations also contributed to the spread of the good news. One station in Guyana broadcast the Kingdom message every Sunday and Wednesday. To be sure, all this activity did not go unnoticed by Satan, who exploited the nationalistic fervor of World War II to interfere with the work.
World War II and Postwar Activity
In 1941, during the second world war, 52 Kingdom proclaimers were active in Guyana. In that same year, The Watchtower and Consolation (now Awake!) were banned. In 1944 that ban was extended to include all literature published by Jehovah’s people. “Even copies of the Holy Bible containing no Watch Tower commentary but being simply versions published by other Bible societies were banned, that is, to Jehovah’s witnesses,” says a report in the July 1, 1946, Watchtower.
In April 1946, Nathan Knorr from world headquarters paid a visit to Guyana. He was accompanied by William Tracy, a recent graduate of Gilead. Their goal was to encourage the brothers and to appeal to the government to lift the ban. During a meeting in Georgetown, Brother Knorr explained to the 180 brothers and interested ones assembled that Jesus’ early disciples had no supplies of Bibles and books to help them in their ministry. Still, Jehovah blessed them with remarkable growth. Why? Because they kept preaching. So would God not do the same for his modern-day servants as they pressed on with the work? Indeed, he would!
Meanwhile, the brothers continued to pursue legal means to have the ban lifted. For instance, less than a year after the war ended, they obtained 31,370 signatures on a petition protesting the ban. The petition was then presented to the government. In addition, to keep the people of Guyana fully informed, Jehovah’s organization published a leaflet setting out the facts. The headline read: “THE HOLY BIBLE BANNED IN BRITISH GUIANA—31,000 PERSONS SIGN PETITION TO THE GOVERNOR for the restoration of freedom of worship to all inhabitants of the colony, irrespective of creed.”
Also, Brother Knorr met with the colonial secretary, W. L. Heape, to seek a lifting of the ban. At the close of the 30-minute interview, Brother Knorr gave Mr. Heape a copy of the book “The Truth Shall Make You Free” and asked that he read it carefully. Mr. Heape said that he would. What is more, he advised Brother Knorr that the ban on our literature was, in fact, being reconsidered by the nine members of the executive committee at that very time! This proved to be true, for in June 1946, the governor issued a proclamation lifting the ban.
Soon thereafter, 130 dusty cartons containing 11,798 books and booklets were released to the brothers. Thrilled to be able to offer literature again, the Kingdom proclaimers now numbering 70 distributed the entire consignment in just ten weeks. In August the brothers also commenced street witnessing, with excellent results. “Magazines were placed almost as quickly as local newspapers were sold,” reports the branch.
Even during the ban, the brothers continued to receive valuable spiritual food, thanks in part to a brother who worked at the general post office in Georgetown. He writes: “I felt obligated to ensure that copies of The Watchtower reached the branch. With the help of the sisters, copies of the study articles were either typed or mimeographed and circulated to the families for use at congregation meetings.”
New Missionaries Give Impetus to the Work
When an accelerating car changes gears, it is able to go still faster. In Guyana, a “change in gears” in regard to the preaching work occurred when Gilead-trained missionaries arrived in the mid-1940’s. They included William Tracy, a graduate of the third class, as well as John and Daisy Hemmaway and Ruth and Alice Miller, graduates of the fifth class. These zealous Witnesses shared with the local brothers the valuable things they had learned at Gilead, and they set a fine example in the field.
Brother Tracy was concerned about those living in outlying areas. “I scouted out the land,” he wrote, “making a number of trips up and down the coast and up the rivers to contact isolated interested persons and to find new interest. I traveled by the coastal train, buses, bicycle, large riverboats, small boats, and even canoes.”
The missionaries also helped local pioneers become organized so that they could work the territory systematically and, their circumstances permitting, branch out and serve in previously untouched territories. Keep in mind that in 1946, Guyana had just five congregations and a peak of 91 Kingdom proclaimers. But no challenge is too great for those who are empowered by God’s spirit.—Zech. 4:6.
At first, many of the pioneers who worked along with the missionaries were elderly. Despite their age, however, they showed a fine spirit for the work. They included Isaac Graves, George Headley, Leslie Mayers, Rockliffe Pollard, and George Yearwood. Among the sisters were Margaret Dooknie, Ivy Hinds, Frances Jordan, Florence Thom, Atalanta Williams, and Princess Williams (not related). Armed with books, booklets, and magazines, they went far afield with the Kingdom message.
Ivy Hinds (now Wyatt) and Florence Thom (now Brissett) were assigned to the township of Bartica on the Essequibo River, about 50 miles [80 km] inland. The town is the gateway to the gold and diamond fields of the interior. One lone brother lived there. John Ponting, serving as branch overseer and circuit overseer at the time, writes: “Within two months 20 were attending meetings, and 50 attended the Memorial.” One of those who accepted the truth was a man named Jerome Flavius. He was totally blind. “Before long, he was giving talks unaided after the material had been read to him a sufficient number of times by Ivy Hinds,” says John.
Although in their late 60’s, pioneer sisters Esther Richmond and Frances Jordan both learned to ride a bike so that they could cover more territory. “Margaret Dooknie, who had lost count of the years she had spent as a pioneer, would walk until she was so tired that we would sometimes find her asleep on a park bench,” says Brother Ponting. “We will never forget people like that.”
Fired up by the example of the missionaries and the older pioneers, many younger ones began to join the pioneer ranks. As a result of all this activity, more people came into the truth, and groups and congregations were formed in various parts of the country. In 1948 there were 220 publishers in Guyana. In 1954 that figure rose to 434. In the meantime, the group of brothers from Kitty-Newtown who met at Somerset House grew to the point that they were able to form a separate congregation—called Newtown—the second in the capital. Today Georgetown has nine congregations.
Sound Carts, Cyclists, and Donkeys
Early in the 1950’s, under the direction of the branch office, brothers gave outdoor public talks all over Georgetown, usually on Saturday evenings and Sunday afternoons. They used a mobile sound cart that they built themselves. It carried a powerful amplifier, two large speakers, speaker stands, and cables. Says Albert Small, who was baptized in 1949: “During the day, a signboard was placed at the meeting location. It read ‘Your Bible Questions Answered’ and then gave the time of the meeting. Many attended those talks, and some later came into the truth.”
Indicating the potential for further growth, Nathan Knorr and his secretary, Milton Henschel, gave talks at the Globe Cinema in Georgetown early in 1954. John Ponting was present. He reports: “All 1,400 seats were filled, and 700 listened via extension speakers outside until heavy rain forced many to squeeze inside. We advertised the program by means of a parade of cyclists with placards. After dark, we advertised with a large illuminated sign pulled by a donkey accompanied by a brother who made the announcements over an amplifier.”
More Trips Into the Interior
While serving as branch overseer, William Tracy encouraged the brothers to reach those living in outlying areas. He himself visited places in the regions of the Essequibo and Berbice rivers and arranged for circuit assemblies with the small groups and congregations in those areas. The assemblies were usually held in cinemas and public schools, the former often being the only places large enough. In 1949 at an assembly in the cinema at Suddie, near the mouth of the Essequibo, the public talk “Hell Used as a Scare” made quite an impression. Some began to refer to Jehovah’s Witnesses as the no-hell church.
In 1950, William Tracy, newly married, was reassigned to the United States. John Ponting replaced him both as branch overseer and as traveling overseer. John also helped work some of the river territory. The brothers would take the regular transport ships. When villagers along the way paddled out in their canoes to exchange mail with the traveling post office, the brothers would ask to be taken ashore, trusting that someone would give them food and lodging. They would witness to the village and then at night enjoy the hospitality of one of the families. The next day someone would paddle them downriver so that they could witness to the next village. One afternoon they visited a lumber mill. The manager stopped work, assembled the men, and allowed the brothers to give them a 15-minute talk. They all took literature.
Thomas Markevich, a graduate of the 19th class of Gilead, was assigned to Guyana in July 1952. He also ventured into untouched territories. Says Tom: “There is special joy when you share the Kingdom message with someone who has never been reached before. But sometimes you get quite a surprise, which happened to me. I traveled the Demerara by riverboat and then walked deep into the jungle, where I came across a small hut. The occupant greeted me, invited me inside, gave me a seat, and listened to what I had to say. As I glanced around, I noticed to my amazement that the walls of the hut were papered with pages from Watchtower magazines, all dated in the 1940’s! Evidently, my host had come in contact with the Kingdom message before, possibly on a riverboat or in Georgetown or Mackenzie.”
Missionary Donald Bolinger was the first to make the arduous overland journey to Kaieteur Falls. While witnessing to Amerindians, he met a government officer who worked with them. Eventually, this man dedicated his life to Jehovah and took care of the group that was later formed there. Some publishers moved to isolated areas, such as the diamond or the gold mine regions, because of their secular work. Despite their isolation, they would often be found preaching from hut to hut in the camps. What helped them to stay spiritually strong? They maintained a good schedule of study and preaching.
‘Exciting and Satisfying’ Service
Missionaries John and Daisy Hemmaway served in Guyana from 1946 to 1961. They would sometimes spend two weeks of their vacation time in the northwestern district, near Venezuela, where there were Carib, Arawak, and other indigenous tribes. On one occasion they placed a large amount of literature with Arawak people. This did not impress the Catholic nuns who ran the local school. In fact, the nuns asked the children if their parents had obtained any literature. When the parents heard about this questioning, they became indignant and informed the priest that they would choose their own reading material. Undeterred, the priest, during a Sunday service, berated the booklet Can You Live Forever in Happiness on Earth? which many had accepted. But this tactic also backfired, for on the day that the Hemmaways departed, many villagers approached them for a copy of that very booklet.
To get to this region, which is 200 miles [some 300 km] inland, John and Daisy traveled by ferry, train, and truck. They took the necessary provisions as well as literature and a bicycle, which was essential for traversing the dirt roads to reach the Indian trails. “These trails,” explains John, “lead in all directions, and a person must use his memory or break off some twigs at the junctions of the paths if he wants to be sure of a safe return. When any member of the cat family is encountered on the trail, the customary thing is to stand perfectly still and stare it down. Eventually, the creature moves quietly out of the way. Monkeys pass high in the treetops, screaming their protests at intruders, while the sloth, hanging upside down, will eye a person lazily as he passes by. Here and there in the clearings, one may get a glimpse of colorful toucans feeding on the fruit of the papaya tree.”
After 15 years of missionary service in Guyana, Brother Hemmaway summed up his feelings, saying: “How exciting! Yes, and how satisfying! To sit down on the dirt floor of a palm hut and talk to the Amerindian folk about God’s Kingdom, teaching them a new way of life, gives a satisfaction that is beyond compare. Seeing those humble people respond to Bible teaching and then dedicate their lives to God is an experience that will never fade from our minds.”
Local Pioneers Go to Gilead
Several local pioneers also enjoyed the privilege of going to Gilead School, and some were assigned back to Guyana. They include Florence Thom (now Brissett), 21st class, 1953; Albert and Sheila Small, 31st class, 1958; and Frederick McAlman, 48th class, 1970.
Says Florence Brissett: “I had hoped for a foreign assignment, but being assigned to Skeldon in Guyana was a blessing from Jehovah. Many of my former schoolmates, teachers, friends, and acquaintances accepted my offer of a Bible study because they knew me. In fact, some asked me for a study! Among these was Edward King, whose wife was already studying with me. Interestingly, the Anglican priest heard that Edward’s wife was having a study. So he called Edward, demanding that he put a stop to it. But instead of complying, Edward himself began to study.”
After the Smalls returned from Gilead, Albert served as a member of the Branch Committee and also as a circuit overseer for many years. Presently, he and Sheila, despite health problems, continue to serve as special pioneers in a local congregation, where Brother Small also serves as an elder. Of course, not all who originally came from Guyana were reassigned there. For instance, Lynette Peters, a graduate of the 48th class, was assigned to Sierra Leone. She is still faithfully serving in her foreign assignment.
Film Stirs Up Interest
A film used extensively by Jehovah’s Witnesses in the 1950’s was entitled The New World Society in Action. It focused on the world headquarters in Brooklyn and on the large convention held at Yankee Stadium in New York City in 1953. The film helped all—Witnesses and others—to gain a better appreciation of Jehovah’s organization and its scope. To be sure, the film had a great impact on people who lived deep in the rain forest, many of whom had never seen a film of any sort!
Often the film was shown outdoors in a large compound. People would walk for miles to see it. ‘But how,’ you might ask, ‘were the brothers able to screen a film in places without electricity?’ Alan Johnstone, a Gilead graduate who arrived in 1957 and served as a circuit overseer, showed the film on a number of occasions. He writes: “Where there was no electricity, we used generators that were kindly lent by local people who used them to illuminate their stores at night. A large sheet stretched tautly between two trees served as the screen.”
After one such showing, John and Daisy Hemmaway were aboard a steamer heading home. Many on board had heard about the film and wanted to see it. So with the captain’s approval, the Hemmaways set up the screen on the deck and the projector in a cabin that had a window in the right position. “Catholic and Anglican priests were on board,” writes John. “Though they had not condescended to see the film on land, they were now, perhaps unwilling, viewers on board. Indeed, it was from their cabin that we ran the film. The passengers later plied them with questions that only one of Jehovah’s Witnesses could answer.”
Commenting on the power of the film, John Ponting writes: “Showing the film during those years was especially effective where Witnesses were few and viewed as insignificant. Skeptical ones got to see a tremendous multiracial, worldwide organization and acquired greater respect for us. It proved to be a turning point for many who then accepted a Bible study. Some of these later became elders. In just one two-week period, a circuit overseer showed the film 17 times, mostly outdoors, with 5,000 attending.
“On another trip, which involved spending two days on a river with rapids and then hiking along a jungle trail, a circuit overseer had his effort more than repaid when scores of Amerindians enjoyed the film—the very first they had ever seen. The next day, many of the villagers, most of whom were Presbyterian, obtained our magazines. As a result of this visit, the attitude of the entire village toward Jehovah’s people was greatly improved.”
From 1953 to 1966, Guyana experienced political and racial turmoil. The years 1961 to 1964 were the worst and involved rioting, looting, killing, and a general strike. Public transportation ground to a halt, and fear was pandemic. The brothers were not directly persecuted, but some suffered because of the prevailing conditions. For example, two brothers were beaten, and two others, including Albert Small, were hit by shotgun pellets and had to go to the hospital to have them removed. The situation became so serious that British troops intervened.
How fitting that during that stormy era, the film The New World Society in Action pointed to a people out of all nations who exhibit true peace and unity! Moreover, the brothers did not let the breakdown in public transportation stop them from attending meetings and sharing in the ministry. They simply walked a little farther than usual, or they rode bicycles. Above all, they showed true Christian love for one another. “They cared and shared,” reported Albert Small.
Sisters Spearhead the Work
Sisters also took the Kingdom message to far-flung places. Ivy Hinds and Florence Thom, for example, were appointed as special pioneers to Bartica, on the edge of the jungle. Mahadeo, an isolated publisher, lived there with his wife, Jamela. Like most East Indian girls at that time, Jamela had been denied schooling and could neither read nor write. Yet, she wanted to read the Bible for herself and help teach their two small sons. “With Jehovah’s blessing and my coaching,” said Florence, “she rapidly mastered the arts of reading, writing, and giving a witness to others.”
Two months after Florence and Ivy arrived, they still had not found a suitable place to live. They also needed a place to hold meetings, as they were already conducting over ten Bible studies. The situation became critical when they received notice of the upcoming visit of the circuit overseer. What is more, it was scheduled for the very week when workers from the interior and hoards of prostitutes from Georgetown would flock to Bartica, increasing the town’s population threefold!
But Jehovah’s hand is not short. Florence recalls: “The day before the circuit overseer arrived, late in the afternoon, we met a landlord who agreed to let us rent a small two-bedroom cottage in the center of town. We worked like beavers, scrubbing and painting the walls and then polishing the floors. We hung curtains and moved in furniture, finishing in the wee hours of the morning. What a night that was! John Ponting, the circuit overseer, could hardly believe our story. On the first night of his visit, 22 were in attendance, giving promise of what would soon become the Bartica Congregation.”
Plying the Rivers in Kingdom Proclaimers
In the early years, the brothers took advantage of whatever boats and canoes were available to get to the settlements along the rivers. Later, they acquired their own boats, named Kingdom Proclaimer I, Kingdom Proclaimer II, and so on, up to Kingdom Proclaimer V. (The first two are now out of action.)
Frederick McAlman relates: “Paddling with the tide, we would preach down the east bank of the Pomeroon River 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 mouth of the river before crossing over to the west bank. Then we would work our way back 21 miles [34 km] to Charity.” For five years, the brothers rowed up and down the Pomeroon before they got a used, six-horsepower outboard motor.
Navigating the waterways usually presented no hazards, but the brothers had to be careful, for there was other traffic. And Kingdom Proclaimer I and II were rowboats, so they were not fast. Says Frederick: “When I was on my way home from witnessing on the Pomeroon River one Saturday afternoon, a large cargo boat cruising at full speed collided with me. The captain and crew were not paying attention because of a rum-drinking spree. I was knocked out of Kingdom Proclaimer I, into the river, and under their boat. I went down, fighting for dear life in the darkness, continually bumping my head on the bottom of their boat, just a few inches from the powerful propeller. Seeing my plight, a young man on the boat plunged into the river and rescued me. For several weeks I was in constant pain because of injuries, but I was grateful to be alive!”
That misadventure did not deter Frederick. “I was determined to keep on,” he explains, “because of the interest in the Bible shown by people along the river. Seven miles [11 km] from Charity at Sirikie was a Congregation Book Study, and they depended on me.”
A Week With a Circuit Overseer
Serving as a traveling overseer in rural Guyana tests one’s mettle. Besides having to travel rivers, dirt roads, and jungle paths, circuit overseers and their wives sometimes have to contend with mosquitoes and other insects, big cats, drenching rain and, in some areas, robbers. They also face the risk of contracting malaria, typhoid fever, or some other tropical disease.
A traveling overseer describes a visit to some isolated publishers along the Demerara River. He writes: “After visiting the Mackenzie Congregation, we traveled by launch on Monday to visit a brother in the village of Yaruni, still on the Demerara, about 25 miles [40 km] from Mackenzie. Once there, we worked both sides of the river by canoe, going with the current toward Mackenzie.
“The people were very hospitable and gave us fruits and even invited us to have meals with them. On Friday, we paddled out into the river to board a steamer. At Soesdyke, we transferred from the steamer to a canoe and then went ashore. A brother met us and took us across the Demerara to his place at Georgia. That same evening, we held a meeting with the family.
“The next day, all of us crossed the Demerara to Soesdyke, working the territory there as well as the populated area near the Timehri Airport. We also went to the sandhills, where people loaded trucks with sand bound for Georgetown. On Saturday night, we held another meeting with the family at Georgia. The following day, all of us again crossed the river to Soesdyke for field service in the morning and a public talk in the afternoon on the open veranda of the post office. That finished off our week.” The hard work of such devoted circuit overseers and their wives paid off, for Soesdyke is now home to a thriving congregation. The brothers have their own Kingdom Hall, which was completed in 1997.
Circuit overseers also had their mishaps. Traveling by motorcycle, Jerry and Delma Murray came to a canal with a bridge made from a few wooden planks strapped together. Delma waited while Jerry crossed the bridge on the bike. But something went wrong in the crossing, for Jerry, bike, and suitcase all sailed off the bridge and disappeared into the murky depths below. Delma let out a scream, and local villagers ran to the rescue. Moments later, anxiety gave way to laughter when, as one brother wrote, “this white man sloshed ashore draped in waterweeds and his shoes smothered in mud.”
Amerindians Respond to the Good News
In the early 1970’s, while witnessing in the marketplace in Charity, Frederick McAlman placed the Watchtower and Awake! magazines with an Amerindian woman named Monica Fitzallen. (See box on page 176.) Monica, who lived on an Amerindian reservation, took the magazines back to her home. During a spell of illness, she read them and recognized the ring of truth. Before long, she became a publisher of the good news—the only one on the reservation—and was baptized in 1974.
Monica reflects: “I vigorously engaged in house-to-house witnessing, happy to share my newfound knowledge with the people in my community. To get to their homes, however, I had to row along rivers and creeks. As the number of interested ones increased, I began to hold meetings with them, reading and discussing material from the Bible study aid The Truth That Leads to Eternal Life.”
Did Monica’s hard work bear fruit? Yes, indeed, for she now enjoys the company of 13 other publishers, including her husband, her son and his wife, and her granddaughter. Until recently the little group had to travel 12 hours by canoe to Charity, the nearest congregation. Now, though, they have meetings in their own community, and attendances reach three times the number of publishers!
In the meantime, the congregation in Charity has also grown. It now has 50 publishers, many of whom travel the Pomeroon to get to meetings. The average meeting attendance exceeds 60, and for the 2004 Memorial, 301 were in attendance. The Charity Congregation also has a new Kingdom Hall.
Remarkable Growth in Baramita
Another area in Guyana where many indigenous people have responded to the Kingdom message is Baramita. Situated in the northwest of the country, Baramita is home to a community of Carib Indians. The Carib were some of the earliest inhabitants of the Caribbean region, which derives its name from them. Their language is also called Carib.
Ruby Smith, a native Carib, became interested in the truth in 1975 when she received a tract from her grandmother. (See the box on page 181.) Ruby was 16 years old at the time. She progressed spiritually and was baptized in 1978 at the “Victorious Faith” Convention. Shortly thereafter, her family moved to Georgetown for business reasons. There she married Eustace Smith. Eustace could not speak Carib, yet he and Ruby were eager to move to Baramita to share the Kingdom message with Ruby’s relatives and others. Says Ruby: “Jehovah saw what was in our hearts and answered our prayers because in 1992 we went to Baramita.”
Ruby continues: “Upon arriving, I immediately began witnessing in the community. We held meetings below our little house, which was about five feet [1.5 m] above the ground. Before long, the crowd became too large to be accommodated at this location, so we borrowed tents. As word about the meetings spread, attendances grew and eventually reached about 300! Because I was fluent in Carib, it fell upon me to interpret The Watchtower. How did everyone hear? We used an inexpensive FM microphone transmitter, while many in the audience brought along their radio and simply tuned it to the right frequency.
“By that time, Eustace and I felt that the group really needed a Kingdom Hall. So after calculating the cost and discussing the project with others, we went ahead with the work. My brother Cecil Baird contributed much of the building material, while others helped with the labor. Work began in June 1992, and the project was completed early the following year, just in time for the Memorial. We were amazed when 800 attended the discourse, which was given by Gordon Daniels, a traveling overseer.
“The Baramita group became a congregation on April 1, 1996, and the Kingdom Hall was dedicated on May 25. Since then, it has been enlarged and can now seat over 500 comfortably, enabling the brothers to use it for circuit assemblies and special assembly days. Indeed, what began as a small group is today a congregation of close to 100 publishers with an average attendance of 300 at the Public Meeting. And up to 1,416 have attended the Memorial!”
A Very Big Wedding!
In the Baramita district, scores of couples who had been living together outside of wedlock legalized their marriage in order to conform to Bible standards. Some, though, had difficulties acquiring the necessary documentation, such as birth certificates. Still, after much effort and with help from the brothers to ascertain birth dates and other details, these couples were able to get married.
On one occasion, 79 couples were married at the same ceremony. Adin Sills, a member of the Branch Committee, gave the wedding talk. Three days later, 41 persons, mostly newlyweds, expressed the desire to become unbaptized publishers.
So many in Baramita have shown an interest in God’s Word that the whole community has seen a remarkable improvement. At the Kingdom Hall dedication, one of the elders stated: “Baramita is now a place of tranquillity and peace. This is so because it is not unusual for over 90 percent of the community to attend the meetings on a regular basis.”
In 1995 the Baramita district suffered a severe drought. How did Jehovah’s people fare? Schoolteacher Gillian Persaud was teaching in Baramita at the time. When she heard a light aircraft land at the small airport nearby, she ran as fast as she could to intercept the pilot before he took off again. She convinced him to take her to Georgetown, where she went straight to the branch office to report the plight of the brothers.
James Thompson, a Branch Committee member at the time, relates: “The Governing Body gave us permission to airlift food and other provisions to Baramita. We were also able to arrange for 36 publishers to be flown to Georgetown so that they could attend the district convention. For many, that was the first convention they had ever attended.”
Ministerial Training School
Since the Ministerial Training School (MTS) commenced in 1987, many countries have benefited from the work of the single elders and ministerial servants who attended the school. Guyana is no exception. After attending the school, held in nearby Trinidad, many local brothers have been able to give greater support to the Kingdom work in Guyana. Some are presently serving as regular pioneers, special pioneers, and congregation elders. Those who returned to their home congregations are doing much to care for Jehovah’s sheep.
Several MTS graduates have been able to accept additional responsibilities. For example, Floyd and Lawani Daniels, fleshly brothers, were assigned as special pioneers to congregations in urgent need of elders. David Persaud was given the privilege of serving as a circuit overseer. Fellow student Edsel Hazel was appointed to the Guyana Branch Committee. Regarding some who have attended the school, a circuit overseer stated: “I have seen all these individuals grow spiritually and especially so after they attended the Ministerial Training School.”
Serving Where the Need Is Greater
In the late 1970’s, the Atlantic Coast west of the Essequibo River had about 30,000 inhabitants and just 30 publishers. So occasionally, the branch assigned special pioneers to work sections of that territory for a month at a time. The brother caring for one witnessing group said: “The brothers were able to complete the territory and place 1,835 books, and they made many return visits and started a number of Bible studies.”
Another brother reported: “We paddled our small boat for two hours, covering 17 miles [27 km]. At times, we had to drag or push the boat through knee-deep mud, but our efforts were rewarded because the householders were hospitable. One, a music teacher, had been using our songbook to teach music. ‘I really appreciate how the music is arranged,’ he said. He then played two songs for us and accepted six books.”
Other brothers and sisters made themselves available to help in areas of greater need. Consider the example of Sherlock and Juliet Pahalan. Sherlock writes: “In 1970, Juliet and I were invited to assist the Eccles Congregation, eight miles [13 km] south of Georgetown on the Demerara River. There were problems in the congregation, and some individuals had to be disfellowshipped. This left the congregation with about 12 active publishers and their unbaptized children. For a time, I was the only elder. In addition, the congregation cared for a small group at Mocha, an isolated village. On Monday evenings I would conduct the Congregation Book Study at Mocha and then another at Eccles.
“I also had to conduct the Watchtower Study. Because we rarely had enough magazines to go around, we would first read each paragraph and then ask the question, contrary to the normal procedure at the time. We took candles to the meetings on account of the frequent blackouts; during the rainy season, we had to endure hordes of mosquitoes. In those days, most brothers walked or cycled to the meetings and to the territory for witnessing. The publishers from Mocha came to Eccles in the same way. After the meetings, I would squeeze as many as possible into my small Austin van and take them home to Mocha.”
Was all this effort worth it? Looking back on that time, Brother Pahalan writes: “While in Eccles, my wife and I studied the Bible with a number of people, many of whom, along with their families, are still in the truth. And some of the men are now serving as congregation elders. Nothing can compare with such blessings!”
Serving in “a Pioneer’s Paradise”!
Over the past few years, approximately 50 brothers and sisters—mostly pioneers—from Britain, Canada, France, Ireland, and the United States have gone to the Land of Waters to add their voices to the call: “Come! . . . Let anyone that wishes take life’s water free.” (Rev. 22:17) Some have been able to stay for a few months; others, for years. When their funds run low, many return to their home country, work for a while, and then go back. Most count themselves blessed for having served in Guyana. Especially have they appreciated being able to discuss spiritual matters with people who, in general, have a high regard for the Bible. Even many who do not profess to be Christian enjoy discussions with Jehovah’s Witnesses. What is more, householders will sometimes share a meal with the brothers. “So it is no exaggeration to call Guyana a pioneer’s paradise,” says Ricardo Hinds, current Branch Committee coordinator.
Arlene Hazel, who now serves at the branch with her husband, Edsel, recalls some of their experiences in rural Guyana: “In 1997, after communicating with the branch, we received an assignment to serve in Lethem, a town deep in the interior near the border of Brazil. We served there with fellow Canadians Robert and Joanna Welch and an American sister, Sarah Dionne, who had arrived in Lethem a few months earlier. One baptized brother—Richard Achee, a veterinarian—lived in the territory at the time. The branch gave us a list of some 20 people who had studied in the past, but we found that most were not really interested. Two, however, wanted to become unbaptized publishers.
“Our first meeting was held under a mango tree, and 12 were present, including 6 of us pioneers. A few months later, 60 attended our first Memorial. Meanwhile, our group of pioneers had been reduced to three. Yet, we were trying to care for 40 Bible studies! When the circuit overseer came, he advised us to stop studying with anyone not attending meetings. This proved to be good counsel, since the studies we kept made fine progress.”
Indeed, four years later, Lethem became a congregation made up of 14 publishers. Attendances at special assembly days in Lethem have grown to 100. Such clear evidence of Jehovah’s blessing on the efforts of his servants more than makes up for all the hardships they may endure.
Rented Halls and “Bottom Houses”
From the beginning of the work in Guyana, finding suitable places of worship has been a challenge. Back in 1913, the handful of brothers in Georgetown rented a room at Somerset House, which served them well for 45 years. By 1970, only two congregations had their own Kingdom Hall—the Charlestown Congregation in Georgetown and the Palmyra Congregation in Berbice. Yet, three years earlier, Guyana passed the 1,000-publisher mark! So most congregations met in rented facilities, which often were far from ideal.
In the late 1950’s, for example, the Wismar Congregation, situated on the Demerara River, grew to the point that the brothers had to find a suitable hall. They were given the use of a place called the Islander Hall. They met midweek for the Theocratic Ministry School and Service Meeting and Sunday evening for the Public Meeting and Watchtower Study. But getting things set up for the meetings was quite an exercise in logistics. First the brothers crossed the Demerara from Mackenzie to Wismar in a small boat. One brother took a carton of magazines, another took a carton of literature, and a third brother carried the various forms and the contribution boxes. Of course, all of this had to be set up before the meeting. Afterward, the entire procedure was reversed.
Meetings were also held in so-called bottom houses—the space that exists under a home. Because of the possibility of flooding, homes in Guyana are generally built high off the ground on wood or concrete posts, or stilts. This design provides usable space, such as for congregation meetings. In Guyana, however, many people hold the view that if a religion cannot afford a proper meeting place, then it does not have God’s blessing.
Furthermore, meetings in bottom houses were sometimes interrupted, detracting from the dignity of the occasion. In one instance, a chicken, frightened by a dog, flew into the meeting place and landed on a six-year-old girl. She let out a hair-raising scream, which startled everyone. After the meeting, the incident evoked a little laughter but demonstrated again the need for a better place of worship. What is more, holding meetings in bottom-house Kingdom Halls did little to provide interested ones incentive to attend.
Kingdom Hall Construction
“In my 32 years with the Charity Congregation,” recalls Frederick McAlman, “we rented five different bottom houses. Situated as we were on the lower part of the house, we had to be careful to avoid hitting our heads on the wooden beams. While carrying her child, one sister misjudged the height of a beam and bumped her child’s head. Later, she reported this to her father, an unbeliever. Her parents concluded that the congregation needed to have their own place of worship. In fact, her mother offered to donate a parcel of land to the congregation, and her father said that he would finance the construction of a Kingdom Hall. And that is exactly what happened. Today, that original Kingdom Hall, after being remodeled several times, continues to be the center of true worship in the community. It also serves as a small Assembly Hall for the local circuit.”
In the early days, Kingdom Halls took many months to complete. This was true of the hall in Eccles. Sherlock Pahalan, who was serving as an elder in Eccles at the time, relates: “Our meetings were held in a school. We knew that more increase would come if we had our own Kingdom Hall. But the few publishers in Eccles were poor financially. Nevertheless, they passed a resolution to build a hall. I searched for suitable land within the territory, but in vain.
“Meanwhile, the brothers in Georgetown lent us two molds and taught us how to make concrete blocks. At first, it took us several hours to make just 12 blocks, but with practice we became quite proficient, especially the sisters. Another challenge was obtaining cement because it was rationed at the time. I had to apply for permission to receive a limited amount. Then to ensure that we got our quota, I would go to the wharf early in the morning and wait in line. Next I had to find a truck that was going to Eccles and that had sufficient space to carry the cement. Jehovah came to our aid every time. But we still needed the land.”
Sherlock continues: “In 1972, Juliet and I took a vacation in Canada and visited my cousin, who is not a Witness. He mentioned that he owned two plots of land in Eccles but that the relatives caring for them were falling down on the job. So he asked for my help. I said that I would be happy to assist, adding that I just happened to be searching for land in Eccles for a Kingdom Hall. Without hesitation, he told me to choose either of the lots.
“We saw additional evidence of God’s hand during the construction. Even though many other building materials besides cement were in short supply, we substituted and improvised and somehow always managed to get the job done. Furthermore, few brothers had the necessary skills, and it took much scheduling to get volunteers to the site. Indeed, my little van traveled hundreds of miles shuttling brothers to and fro. In the end, our Kingdom Hall was complete. We even had a member of the Governing Body, Karl Klein, deliver our dedication talk. What a treat that was!”
Quickly Built Kingdom Halls
As recent as 1995, over half the congregations in Guyana still met in rented facilities, including bottom houses. Hence, the branch organized a national building committee to address the need. In October of that very year, the brothers constructed their first quickly built Kingdom Hall at Mahaicony, about 30 miles [50 km] east of Georgetown on the Mahaicony River. When told that Jehovah’s Witnesses were going to build a Kingdom Hall over four weekends, one neighbor stated: “If you are talking about a chicken coop, OK, but a concrete building—never.” Needless to say, that man soon changed his view.
In a land where racial tensions sometimes run high, Kingdom Hall projects have demonstrated to all that regardless of race or nationality, Jehovah’s Witnesses work together in true Christian unity. Indeed, one elderly woman who watched the project at Mahaicony exclaimed to a circuit overseer: “I observed six different races of people out there working together!”
In 1914, Guyana’s first branch office was located at the Phillips’ home, where it remained until 1946. In that year, there were 91 publishers. By 1959, that number had grown to 685, and the work continued to expand. So in June 1960, the brothers obtained a property at 50 Brickdam, Georgetown. With a few modifications, the existing buildings served both as a branch office and as a missionary home. But by 1986, this complex also became inadequate. So with the Governing Body’s approval, a new branch was constructed on the existing site. International servants aided by local brothers completed the job in 1987.
Like the daughters of Shallum, who helped their father rebuild a section of Jerusalem’s walls, sisters proved invaluable on the branch project. (Neh. 3:12) For instance, 120 sisters, divided into some ten teams, made the 12,000 concrete blocks needed for the project. Using 16 molds, they completed the job in 55 days. And that was no easy task! The concrete mix had to be just right—wet enough so that the cement would cure properly yet not so wet that the blocks would collapse when lifted from the mold.
Local brothers served as night watchmen, often coming straight from their secular jobs to the site. Others worked along with the international servants, who taught them valuable skills. One of these young brothers, Harrinarine (Indaal) Persaud, recalls: “My job was to install corner moldings on a window sill—something I had never done before. I labored at it until I got it right. After inspecting it, the overseer, evidently pleased with my effort, said, “Now you have the whole branch to do.” Today, this young brother shares his expertise with others during Kingdom Hall construction projects.
Since the brothers had to import certain materials, they needed the cooperation of governmental authorities. As a result, many officials came to the site, including President Forbes L. Burnham and his entourage. All were impressed with the workmanship, as was a local carpenter. “You people are getting first-class work done on your building,” he said. On January 14, 1988, Brooklyn representative Don Adams, serving as zone overseer, delivered the dedication talk.
On February 12, 2001, ground was again broken for construction—this time on a new site. Once again, international servants aided by local brothers worked on the project. The new branch was dedicated on Saturday, February 15, 2003. Richard Kelsey from the Germany branch delivered the dedication talk to an audience of 332.
Many early missionaries returned to Guyana for the program, some for the first time in decades! Then on Sunday, 4,752 from 12 countries—well over double the number of publishers in Guyana—attended a special meeting.
Assemblies Call for Ingenuity
For circuit assemblies and special assembly days, the brothers often rent facilities. In rural areas, they may even erect a meeting place. Says Thomas Markevich, who served in Guyana from 1952 until 1956: “Our assembly was held some 40 miles [60 km] up the Demerara River from Georgetown. About two hundred Witnesses from the city wanted to attend in support of the local brothers. So we decided to build a temporary Assembly Hall using local materials—bamboo for the struts and seats and banana leaves for the roof.
“We gathered the materials, loaded them onto a small railway car, and guided it down an incline. But alas, the car got away from us on a curve, careened, and dumped the whole load into the river. Soon disaster turned to advantage, however, for the cargo floated conveniently right to the construction site! When the assembly began, the visiting brothers were thrilled to have several hundred villagers join them for the three-day program.”
Thomas adds: “After the assembly, we all worked some unassigned territory nearby. At one village, we held a public talk, and the entire village came—including a pet monkey. He listened for a while and then decided that he wanted to see things from another vantage point. So he took a few leaps and bounds and landed on my shoulder. He looked things over briefly and bounded back to his master for the rest of the talk, much to my relief!”
Early in the last century, large gatherings were usually held in conjunction with the visit of special representatives from world headquarters, such as Brothers Coward and Young. In 1954, Nathan Knorr and Milton Henschel came to Guyana for the New World Society Assembly, which had an attendance of 2,737.
Decades later, in 1999, over 7,100 delegates attended two conventions in Guyana. One was held in Georgetown, and the other, in Berbice. The convention in Georgetown called for some major last-minute changes, which really put the brothers to the test. “A famous movie star and his dancing troupe arrived from India, and the National Park Commission felt that they could not reschedule the show, even though our booking had been made first,” writes the branch.
“We promptly arranged for another site—the cricket grounds—and immediately notified the congregations. The convention was just eight days away! But the problems did not end there. In the Caribbean, cricket is held in very high esteem, and the cricket grounds are viewed as almost sacred. So the idea of us walking on the grass was all but unthinkable to the management. But how would we present the drama? And where would we put the stage?
“Still, we went ahead, confident that Jehovah would open doors. And that he did! We were given permission to use the grassy area, provided that we made the platform and the walkway leading to it a certain height off the ground. To get the job done, everyone worked feverishly through the night. Even the weather refused to cooperate, for it rained most of that time. Despite all these challenges, the program began just about on schedule.
“The convention proceeded smoothly, and the weather held until the final day, Sunday. We woke up to the sound of rain. Before long, the cricket grounds were awash, and the water level rose to two inches [5 cm] below the walkway and the platform. The rain stopped just before the program started. Fortunately, the electric cables had not been laid out on the ground but had been attached to the underside of the planks. So our having had to build an elevated platform and walkway was really a blessing in disguise!”
When the drama commenced, all 6,088 present enjoyed it in brilliant sunshine. Two weeks later, 1,038 attended a second convention, held at Berbice. The grand total of 7,126 was the best attendance recorded in Guyana up till then. More recently, attendances have reached nearly 10,000.
Bright Prospects for the Future
In his prophecy, Ezekiel saw Jehovah’s restored and glorified temple. From it flowed a stream of water, widening and deepening as it went forth until it became a “double-size torrent,” bringing life even to the salty, lifeless Dead Sea.—Ezek. 47:1-12.
With the progress of pure worship since 1919, God’s people have seen that prophecy undergo fulfillment. Nowadays, a veritable river of spiritual provisions—Bibles, Bible study aids, meetings, assemblies, and conventions—is quenching the spiritual thirst of millions worldwide.
Jehovah’s Witnesses in Guyana count it a privilege to share in the fulfillment of that prophecy. What is more, they will continue to use rivers in a very literal sense to transport life-giving spiritual food to all who are “rightly disposed for everlasting life,” no matter where such deserving ones may live in this Land of Waters.—Acts 13:48.
When British Guiana gained independence in May 1966, the country’s name was changed to Guyana. We will use this name, unless the context demands otherwise.
[Box on page 140]
An Overview of Guyana
The land: The coastal belt, much of which lies below sea level and is protected by about 140 miles [230 km] of dikes, consists of soil deposited by rivers. Forests cover about 80 percent of the country, including the interior highlands, the source of most of Guyana’s rivers.
The people: About half are of East Indian background, over 40 percent are of black African descent or of mixed race, and about 5 percent are Amerindians. About 40 percent profess to be Christian; 34 percent, Hindu; and 9 percent, Muslim.
The language: English is the official language, but creole is also spoken throughout the country.
The livelihood: Agriculture employs about 30 percent of the work force. Other industries include fishing, forestry, and mining.
The food: Main crops include rice, cacaos (or, cocoa beans), citrus fruits, coconuts, coffee, corn, manioc (or, cassava), sugar, and other tropical fruits and vegetables. Animals kept for food include cattle, pigs, chickens, and sheep. Major seafoods are fish and shrimps.
The climate: Guyana is tropical with little seasonal change. The coastal region receives 60-80 inches [150-200 cm] of rain a year. Although near the equator, Guyana has a mild climate, thanks to persistent trade winds that blow in from the Atlantic Ocean.
[Box/Picture on page 143-145]
Nobody Could “Lock Up” His Mouth
Profile: A native of the island of Leguan, he was one of the first to preach the good news in that region and took care of the group that developed there.
As related by his grandniece, Yvonne Hall.
An election officer once said to Granduncle: “Is it true that you do not vote? If so, we will lock you up and confiscate your Bible.” Looking him in the eye, Granduncle responded: “But what will you do with my mouth? Can you lock up my mouth for speaking the truth that your religious leaders have hidden from you for so long?” The only words the officer could muster in response were: “I will get back to you later.”
Baptized in 1915, Granduncle was one of the earliest preachers of the Kingdom in Guyana. He was “a real fighter for the truth,” said one brother. Granduncle was introduced to Kingdom truth while living and working in Georgetown. After having heard just one public talk at Somerset House, he recognized the truth. In fact, he went home and checked all the scriptures in his Bible.
Thereafter, he returned home to Leguan and immediately began witnessing to others. Among the first to accept the Kingdom message were his two fleshly sisters and some older nephews. They formed the nucleus of the group that met in Granduncle’s home.
In the early days, the clergy had an iron grip on the islanders, and it was a battle to get people to respond to the good news. The clergy used to say that Granduncle was “mad, Bible crazy.” But that did not dampen his zeal. For example, on Sunday mornings he would set up his phonograph on the front porch and play recorded Bible discourses. People would often stand outside on the road and listen.
In time, some responded with appreciation. This was especially evident on Memorial night, when the whole upstairs part of Granduncle’s house would be packed with people. He was chairman, speaker, and sole partaker. One of his Bible students, Leroy Denbow, took up the pioneer service and even served for a time as a circuit overseer.
After retiring from his secular work as a ship’s purser on the Essequibo River, Granduncle took up the pioneer service, working the island of Leguan and its neighbor Wakenaam. His day began at 4:30 a.m., when he milked his cows and tended to his pigs. At about 7:30 a.m., he cleaned up, read both the daily text and a passage from the Bible, had breakfast, and then prepared for the ministry. I can still see him pumping air into the tires of his bicycle before going out. On any given day, he would cover at least 12 miles [20 km].
Granduncle finished his earthly course on November 2, 1985, having served Jehovah faithfully for some 70 years. And during all that time, no one was able to “lock up” his mouth. Indeed, both Leguan Island and Wakenaam Island now have a congregation.
[Box/Picture on page 155-158]
Answers to My Childhood Questions Changed My Life
Profile: Began pioneering in 1953. With his wife, Sheila, attended Gilead in 1958 and was assigned back to Guyana.
“God made you”—that is what I was regularly told as a boy. So when Mother said that I was the worst of her four children, I reasoned that God had made three good ones and one bad one.
When I was about ten years of age, I asked the Sunday school teacher, “Who made God?” I got no answer. Still, like most people back then, when I was old enough, I joined a church—in my case, the Presbyterian Church. Yet, many of my questions remained unanswered. For instance, at church we would sing a hymn that said, in part: “The rich man in his castle, the poor man at his gate. God made them high and lowly; he ordered their estate.” ‘Had God really “ordered their estate”?’ I wondered. On one occasion I asked a minister, “If God made Adam and Eve, where did the different races come from?” His reply, in brief, was that the Genesis account is a myth.
Then, during World War II, we were encouraged to pray for the British soldiers. This finally convinced me that what my church taught contradicted what I had read in the Bible. Still, I asked myself, ‘Where will I go?’ So I remained in the church. When I was 24 years old, I married Sheila.
One day I had just returned home from church when one of Jehovah’s Witnesses called. We used to call the Witnesses the no-hell church, and I had no time for them. They held their meetings in private homes and wore no clerical garb. What is more, certain things that had happened in my life, including my marriage to an excellent woman, led me to conclude that God was caring for me.
When the Witness—Nesib Robinson—introduced himself, I was patching a tire on my bicycle. “This tire is punctured,” I said. “If you are a Christian, help me repair it.” Then I abruptly went into the house. The following week, as I walked out the door on my way to church, my Bible in hand, Nesib was just coming up the steps. “I am not interested in your religion,” I said. “My wife is inside. Talk to her.” And off I went.
I regretted having said that, for at church, instead of listening to the pastor, I was thinking, ‘If Mr. Robinson and my wife get talking, she might not have time to prepare our special Sunday soup.’ But I need not have worried; when I got home, the soup was ready. Curious, I asked Sheila: “Did you speak with that Robinson fellow?” “Yes,” she said. “He sat down and preached while I cooked.”
Not long after that, Sheila accepted a Bible study. She also gave birth to our first child, but it was stillborn. I asked Mr. Robinson why such things happen. He replied that it was not God’s fault but the result of the disobedience of Adam and Eve and the imperfection we inherited from them. This answer satisfied me.
Nesib often visited me while I was in my furniture workshop. Our conversations would revolve around my work, but somehow he would include a point from the Bible before he left. In time, our conversations became less about furniture and more about God’s Word. One day I decided to ask him one or two of the questions that had bothered me all my life, thinking that they would stump him too—after all, “proper” ministers didn’t know the answers.
Insisting that Nesib’s comments be based on the Scriptures, I fired my first question, “Who made God?” Nesib read Psalm 90:2 from the King James Version, which says: “Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever thou hadst formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, thou art God.” Looking at me, he said: “You see what it says? Nobody made God; he has always been.” This clear, logical reply amazed me. And it opened the floodgates, for now I asked all the questions bottled up inside of me for years. Nesib’s Scriptural answers, especially in regard to God’s purpose to make the earth a paradise, brought joy to my heart such as I had never experienced before.
My very first visit to the Kingdom Hall had an especially powerful effect on me. How so? Because I was amazed to see the audience participate in the meeting—something I had never seen at church. My wife, who had not yet been to a meeting, was away at the time. When I told her about it, she said: “Let’s go together.” And we are still going 55 years later!
Sheila and I were baptized in the Atlantic Ocean in 1949. In 1953, I began pioneering. Two years later, Sheila joined me in what would become a 50-year career in the full-time service. In 1958 we were invited to attend the 31st class of Gilead and were assigned back to Guyana. We served in the traveling work for 23 years and then as special pioneers, our service privilege to this day. Yes, I thank Jehovah not only for providing the answers to my childhood questions but also for allowing my wife and me to serve him.
[Box/Picture on page 163-166]
“Here I Am! Send Me”
Joycelyn Ramalho (formerly Roach)
Profile: Now a widow, she spent 54 years in the full-time service, including the traveling work with her husband.
I was born on the Caribbean island of Nevis. My mother was a single parent, a Methodist, and a nurse. She taught me to believe in God. Because of her work, we moved to a small village on the island. On the following Sunday, we went to the Methodist church and sat down in one of the pews. Minutes later, however, we were advised that the “owners” of that pew had arrived and that we had to sit elsewhere. Even though another parishioner graciously allowed us to sit in “his” pew, Mom decided that we would never go back to that church. Instead, we joined the Anglican Church.
In the early 1940’s, while visiting a friend, Mother met a Witness from St. Kitts who gave her some literature. An avid reader, Mom devoured the literature and recognized the truth. Shortly thereafter, she married, and we all moved to Trinidad. Our publications were banned there at the time, but we were able to attend meetings at the Kingdom Hall. Before long, Mother severed her ties with the Anglican Church and took up serving Jehovah, as did my stepfather, James Hanley.
In Trinidad, I met a young sister named Rose Cuffie. Little did I know that 11 years later, Rose would be one of my partners in the missionary field. In the meantime, my desire to serve Jehovah continued to grow. I still remember the first time I went witnessing on my own. At the first door, the householder came out, and suddenly I was struck mute. I stood there for I don’t know how long before I opened my Bible, read Daniel 2:44, and promptly left!
I began pioneering in 1950, and just over two years later, I was thrilled to receive an invitation to attend the 21st class of Gilead. Three of our class were assigned to Guyana: Florence Thom, who came from Guyana; Lindor Loreilhe, who was my roommate; and me. We arrived in November 1953 and were assigned to Skeldon, a town about 110 miles [180 km] from Georgetown, near the mouth of the Courantyne River. The isolated group there eagerly awaited us.
Most people in the Skeldon area were of East Indian background and either Hindu or Muslim. Many were illiterate, so when we witnessed to them, they would often reply: “Bruck am up, Sista,” meaning, “Break it down, or make it simple, Sister.” At first, between 20 and 30 would attend the meetings, but that number dwindled when those who were not really interested stopped coming.
One woman progressed to the point that she wanted to share in the field service. But when I called at the appointed time, it was her 14-year-old son who was all dressed and eager to go with me. His mother said: “Miss Roach, you can take Frederick along instead of me.” Later we learned that the woman’s father, an ardent Anglican, had brought pressure to bear on her. Nevertheless, her son, Frederick McAlman, made excellent spiritual progress and later attended Gilead.—See the box on page 170.
I was later reassigned to Henrietta, where there was one isolated publisher, a brother. The area came under the care of the Charity Congregation. My new pioneer partner was Rose Cuffie, whom I mentioned earlier. Rose and I would spend four days each week in Henrietta, and every Friday we would head off early, traveling by bicycle over 18 miles [30 km] of dusty roads to Charity for the meetings. We carried groceries, sheets, blankets, and mosquito nets.
We would witness along the way and stop to encourage some isolated publishers and an inactive sister. We usually studied The Watchtower with them. On Sunday, back in Henrietta, we would conduct the Watchtower Study with our Bible students as a group. We never had any serious mishaps, just an occasional flat tire or a drenching when we got caught in the rain.
Our joy never faded. In fact, a woman said to us one day: “You are always happy; nothing ever seems to bother you.” Adding to our joy, Jehovah gave us a fruitful ministry. Even the inactive sister we visited resumed serving Jehovah. Now some 50 years later, she is still faithful.
On November 10, 1959, I married Immanuel Ramalho, a pioneer. We served together in Suddie, 14 miles [23 km] south of Henrietta. Here I became pregnant but suffered a miscarriage. Keeping busy in the ministry helped me to cope. Later we had two children. Nevertheless, we managed to continue in the pioneer service.
In 1995, Immanuel fell asleep in death. Together we had served Jehovah in many different territories. We had seen some tiny groups become thriving congregations, complete with elders, ministerial servants, and even their own Kingdom Hall! We also enjoyed ten years in the traveling work. While I miss Immanuel very much, Jehovah’s loving support and that of the congregation continue to be a great comfort.
The prophet Isaiah answered Jehovah’s invitation to service with the words: “Here I am! Send me.” (Isa. 6:8) My late husband and I tried hard to imitate that prophet’s fine attitude. True, like Isaiah, we endured difficult, even disheartening, times. But the joys have outweighed them by far.
[Box/Picture on page 170-173]
My Gilead Assignment Was My Home Country
Profile: After Gilead, he was assigned back to Guyana. He and his wife, Marshalind, now serve as regular pioneers.
When I was 12 years old, a missionary named Joycelyn Roach (now Ramalho) began to study the Bible with my mother. I would join in the discussion. Mom stopped studying, but I continued and began to attend all the meetings. When I was 14 years old, Sister Roach and fellow missionaries Rose Cuffie and Lindor Loreilhe took me out on their bicycles to go witnessing. Their missionary spirit influenced me more than I knew at the time.
When I began to study with Jehovah’s Witnesses, I was also preparing for my confirmation as an Anglican. On one occasion, the priest tried to explain the “holy” Trinity. After listening for a while, I spoke up, saying that I did not believe that this doctrine was in the Bible. He retorted: “I know that you are reading certain books, and those books are poisonous. Don’t read them. You must believe in the Trinity.” From then on, I never went back to the Anglican church but continued my study with the Witnesses. I was baptized in 1958.
In September 1963, I received a letter from the branch office inviting me to take up the special pioneer work. I accepted the invitation. My new assignment was the Fyrish Congregation on the Courantyne River, and my partner was Walter McBean. We served together for a year, working the territory up and down the river. This prepared us for our next assignment—Paradise Congregation, which had ten publishers when we arrived in 1964. We pioneered there for over four years and saw the congregation grow to 25.
In 1969, I was invited to attend the 48th class of Gilead. That same year I was thrilled to be a guest of the Brooklyn Bethel family so that I could attend the 1969 “Peace on Earth” International Assembly. What a spiritual treat it was to meet so many faithful brothers and sisters! I will never forget the time that Frederick W. Franz, one of the Governing Body, took us to his room. He had so many books that I wondered where he kept his bed! Another excellent student of God’s Word was Ulysses Glass, one of our Gilead instructors. I can still hear him saying: “The ABC’s of good writing and teaching are accuracy, brevity, and clarity.”
I must confess that I was disappointed when I learned that my assignment was Guyana. To me Guyana was home, not a foreign assignment. However, Brother Glass kindly took me aside and helped me to view things differently. He reminded me that to attend Gilead is in itself a grand privilege and that I would probably be sent to a part of Guyana that would be foreign to me. That proved to be true, for I was assigned to Charity Congregation on the Pomeroon River. At the time, Charity had just five publishers.
My partner Albert Talbot and I had little experience in river travel, so we had to learn how to maneuver our boat. This may sound easy, but I can assure you, it is not. If you do not take into account currents and winds, you just sit there motionless or spin aimlessly. Thankfully, we had excellent help, one of our best tutors being a local sister.
For ten years, oars and muscle power got us about. Then a local resident offered to sell the congregation a motor, but we did not have enough money to pay for it. So you can imagine how delighted we were when we received a check specifically for that purpose from the branch office. Apparently, several congregations had got wind of our need and wanted to help out. In time, we acquired other boats, which were all designated Kingdom Proclaimer followed by a number to identify the specific boat.
After working along with several different pioneer partners, I met the one who would become my life partner, Marshalind Johnson, a special pioneer assigned to the Mackenzie Congregation. Her late father, Eustace Johnson, was well-known in Guyana, having served as a circuit overseer for some ten years prior to his death. Now regular pioneers, Marshalind and I have a combined total of 72 years of full-time service, including 55 years as special pioneers. During that time, we raised six children.
Jehovah has also blessed our efforts in the ministry. For example, early in the 1970’s, while witnessing along the Pomeroon, we met a young tailor who agreed to a Bible study. He proved to be a fine student. We encouraged him to learn the names of the books of the Bible. Not only did he learn them all by heart in one week but he could also recite their page numbers! He, his wife, and seven of their nine children have since come into the truth, and he and I serve together as elders in Charity. Blessings like these would likely never have come my way had it not been for the wonderful example of those zealous, early missionaries.
[Box/Picture on page 176-177]
I Studied God’s Word by Correspondence
Profile: Isolated, she studied God’s Word for two years by mail and witnessed extensively to fellow Amerindians. Now blind, she memorizes scriptures for the ministry.
I live on an Amerindian reservation called Waramuri, which is on the Moruka River, in the northwestern district of Guyana. In the early 1970’s, when I came in contact with the truth, the nearest congregation was Charity, on the Pomeroon River. It was 12 hours away by dugout canoe.
I met Jehovah’s Witnesses when I was shopping in Charity. Frederick McAlman offered me The Watchtower and Awake! I accepted them, took them home, and put them away in a chest, where they stayed for two years. Then I fell ill, was bedridden for some time, and became deeply depressed. That’s when I remembered the magazines. I read them and immediately recognized the ring of truth.
Around that time, my husband, Eugene, began looking for work and decided to go downriver toward Charity. My health had begun to improve, so I went with him. My main reason for going, however, was that I wanted to find Jehovah’s Witnesses. I did not have to look far; a Witness lady came to the very home where we were staying. “Are you one of the Watchtower people?” I asked. When she answered yes, I inquired about the man whom I met in the market two years earlier. She promptly went looking for Frederick McAlman, who happened to be with a group of publishers working territory nearby.
When the two returned, Brother McAlman demonstrated the Bible study arrangement using the book The Truth That Leads to Eternal Life. I agreed to a study. Since Eugene and I had to return home, I had my lessons by mail. I studied two books that way—the Truth book and “Things in Which It Is Impossible for God to Lie.” While studying the Truth book, I officially resigned from the Anglican Church and became an unbaptized publisher. The priest wrote to me, saying: “Don’t listen to Jehovah’s Witnesses. They are shallow in their Bible understanding. I will come and discuss the matter with you.” But he never came.
As the only publisher on the reservation, I shared my newfound knowledge with my neighbors. I also witnessed to my husband, who—I am delighted to say—was baptized a year after I was. Today, Eugene is one of our 14 local publishers.
In recent years, glaucoma and cataracts have taken away my sight, so now I memorize scriptures for the ministry. Nevertheless, I thank Jehovah that I can still serve him.
[Box/Pictures on page 181-183]
Jehovah Has Given Me ‘the Requests of My Heart’
Profile: A native Carib, she played a key role in preaching the good news in Baramita, an Amerindian reservation in the interior of Guyana.
My first contact with Jehovah’s Witnesses was in 1975. I was 16 years old. Grandmother received a tract from her stepson and asked me to translate it for her, since she could not read English. Amazed at the Biblical promises discussed in the tract, I filled out the coupon and mailed it to the branch office. When the publications I requested arrived, I studied them and began to talk to others about the Scriptural truths I had learned. I started with my grandmother and aunt. Sadly, Father disapproved of my activity.
Before long, my grandmother and aunt began witnessing. In response, some villagers came to our home to learn more about the Bible. In the meantime, the more I read, the more I came to realize that I needed to make changes in my life so as to please Jehovah. This involved confessing to my father that I had stolen something from his workshop and getting back on good terms with one of my brothers. After much prayer, I was able to do both.
Meanwhile, the branch office arranged for a special pioneer, Sheik Bakhsh, to visit our area. However, Brother Bakhsh could not stay for long, so he and another brother, Eustace Smith, who later became my husband, studied with me by mail.
In 1978, I went to Georgetown for the “Victorious Faith” Convention. Upon my arrival in the capital, I went straight to the branch office to make known my desire to be baptized. They arranged for Albert Small to review with me the questions that elders discuss with those wanting to be baptized. How thrilled I was to return to Baramita a baptized servant of Jehovah!
Filled with zeal, I immediately got busy in the preaching work. Many became interested, so I asked some of them to build a simple place of worship. There, each Sunday, I would interpret the English Watchtower into Carib. However, Father opposed my activities and insisted that I stay at home on Sundays. So I secretly recorded the articles on cassette tape, and one of my brothers would play it at the meetings. By this time, about 100 regularly attended.
Shortly thereafter, our family moved to Georgetown for business reasons, and Grandmother moved to Matthews Ridge. My aunt remained in Baramita but stopped sharing the good news with others. So Kingdom activity there became dormant for a time.
In Georgetown, I met Eustace Smith in person, and a short time later, we were married. Even though Eustace could not speak Carib, both he and I wanted to go to Baramita to cultivate the interest there. In 1992 our desire became reality. As soon as we arrived, we got busy in the ministry and organized meetings. Before long, the attendance grew to about 300!
We also organized a literacy class to be held after the Watchtower Study. Yolande, our first child, helped with the lessons. When she started, she was 11 years old and an unbaptized publisher. Today, she and our other daughter, Melissa, serve as regular pioneers.
In 1993, Jehovah blessed Baramita with a Kingdom Hall. He also provided us with “gifts in men” who could speak Carib and who could take the lead in the congregation. (Eph. 4:8) Effective April 1, 1996, we became the Baramita Congregation. I am thrilled to report, too, that the congregation includes my mother, my grandmother, and almost all of my siblings. Truly, Jehovah has given me ‘the requests of my heart.’—Ps. 37:4.
Eustace and me today
[Chart/Graph on page 148-149]
GUYANA—A TIME LINE
1900: Individuals begin to read and discuss Zion’s Watch Tower and other Bible-based publications.
1912: E. J. Coward delivers talks to hundreds in Georgetown and New Amsterdam.
1913: A room at Somerset House is rented as a meeting place. It is used until 1958.
1914: First branch office is established in Georgetown.
1917: Pressured by the clergy, the government bans certain publications.
1922: Ban is lifted. George Young visits.
1941: The Watchtower and Consolation (now Awake!) are banned.
1944: All publications of Jehovah’s Witnesses are banned.
1946: Ban is lifted in June. First Gilead missionaries arrive.
1950’s: The film The New World Society in Action is shown throughout Guyana.
1960: Branch purchases property in Georgetown. Existing buildings serve both as branch and as missionary home.
1967: 1,000-publisher mark is surpassed.
1988: New branch, on existing property, is dedicated.
1995: First quickly built Kingdom Hall is completed.
2003: Present branch, on a new property, is dedicated.
2004: 2,163 publishers are active in Guyana.
1910 1940 1970 2000
[Maps on page 141]
(For fully formatted text, see publication)
[Full-page picture on page 134]
[Picture on page 137]
Evander J. Coward
[Picture on page 138]
Somerset House in Georgetown, Guyana, served as a congregation meeting place from 1913 to 1958
[Picture on page 139]
[Picture on page 146]
Frederick Phillips, Nathan Knorr, and William Tracy, 1946
[Picture on page 147]
In June 1946, this proclamation was issued, officially ending the ban on our literature in Guyana
[Picture on page 152]
Nathan Knorr, Ruth Miller, Milton Henschel, Alice Tracy (formerly Miller), and Daisy and John Hemmaway
[Picture on page 153]
[Picture on page 154]
Geraldine and James Thompson served in Guyana for 26 years
[Picture on page 168]
Group witnessing by boat
[Picture on page 169]
Preaching along the Moruka River in “Kingdom Proclaimer III”
[Picture on page 175]
Jerry and Delma Murray
[Picture on page 178]
Frederick McAlman and Eugene and Monica Fitzallen share the good news with an Amerindian man repairing his canoe
[Picture on page 184]
Circuit assembly in Baramita, 2003
[Pictures on page 185]
Many in the Baramita district have responded to Bible truth
[Picture on page 186]
Witnessing by dugout canoe
[Picture on page 188]
Sherlock and Juliet Pahalan
[Pictures on page 191]
Guyana—“a pioneer’s paradise”
[Picture on page 194]
Kingdom Hall in Orealla, Guyana
[Picture on page 197]
The former branch office at 50 Brickdam, Georgetown, completed in 1987
[Picture on page 199]
Branch Committee, from left to right: Edsel Hazel, Ricardo Hinds, and Adin Sills
[Picture on page 200, 201]
The newly built Guyana branch