Viewed from above, the islands of French Polynesia, such as Tahiti, Mooréa, and Bora Bora, look like jewels set in the vast expanse of the cobalt-blue Pacific Ocean. Their opaline lagoons, festooned with corals and teeming with colorful fish, give way to beaches of golden-yellow or volcanic-black. Palm trees laden with coconuts sway in the breeze. And the rugged, mountainous interior, wrapped in green and capped with clouds, makes every scene a picture postcard.
For good reason, artists and writers alike have portrayed these islands as paradise on earth. And paradise they must have seemed to the seafarers of old who first saw them and settled there perhaps a thousand or more years ago. These remarkable pioneers, whose roots apparently go back to Southeast Asia, were among the forefathers of the people we now know as Polynesians. Over the centuries, they fanned out from established island bases and sailed ever farther into the vast Pacific, making its myriad islands and atolls their domain.
What today is called Polynesia, a word meaning “Many Islands,” is encompassed by an imaginary triangle that runs from Hawaii in the north to Easter Island far in the southeast and across to New Zealand in the distant southwest. This account focuses on one part of Polynesia—French Polynesia—of which Tahiti is the main island.* French Polynesia consists of five archipelagoes: Tubuaï (Austral) Islands, Gambier Islands, Marquesas Islands, Society Islands, and Tuamotu Archipelago. Not until the 16th century did European explorers chance upon this Pacific realm.
Spaniard Álvaro de Mendaña de Neira discovered some of the Marquesas Islands in 1595. Pedro Fernandes de Queirós, who had served under Mendaña de Neira, found part of the Tuamotu Archipelago in 1606. Dutch explorer Jacob Roggeveen discovered Bora Bora, Makatéa, and Maupiti in 1722. In 1767, Captain Samuel Wallis, aboard the British warship Dolphin, went ashore at Tahiti, the largest island in French Polynesia. The following year French navigator Captain Louis-Antoine de Bougainville did likewise.
Impressed by the beauty of the island and amazed at the amorous ways of its inhabitants, Bougainville named Tahiti “Nouvelle Cythère, after the Peloponnesian Island of Kithira near which Aphrodite [the goddess of love and beauty] was said to have risen from the sea,” says the book Cook & Omai—The Cult of the South Seas. British explorer James Cook visited Tahiti four times, from 1769 to 1777. He named the Society Islands, the archipelago that includes Tahiti.
Following the explorers came the missionaries. The most effective were those sent out by the London Missionary Society, a Protestant-backed institution. Two of its missionaries, Henry Nott and John Davies, accomplished the mammoth task of putting the Tahitian language into written form and then translating the Bible into that language. To this day, the Tahitian Bible is extensively used in French Polynesia, especially in the many islands where the Protestant Church holds sway. Adventist, Catholic, and Mormon missionaries also had a measure of success. The Catholic Church, for instance, has a strong foothold in the Marquesas, Gambiers, and eastern Tuamotus.
How did the five archipelagoes become a French territory? Beginning in 1880, France progressively annexed the islands, forming a new French colony. Papeete, Tahiti, was made the capital, and the people of the territory were extended French citizenship. In 1946, France designated the islands an overseas territory, and in 1957 the territory adopted the name French Polynesia.
The Kingdom Message Arrives
The first Witness to visit Tahiti was Sydney Shepherd, who arrived in 1931. For two years Sydney sailed to a number of Pacific islands to witness to the people. He was followed by New Zealander Frank Dewar. Although these brothers were unable to stay long, they placed much literature. In fact, some two decades later, circuit overseer Leonard (Len) Helberg, an Australian, reported: “I was with the congregation servant driving through Papeete when he stopped to give a lift to a man he knew from the hills—an elderly American. When the man learned that I was a Witness, he remarked: ‘Oh, I remember when one of you fellows came through here years ago and left me a pile of Judge Rutherford’s books.’ This was one of many traces of the work of the pioneers who preceded us. The pioneer in this instance was either Sydney Shepherd or Frank Dewar.”
Among the first Kingdom proclaimers to give a more thorough witness in French Polynesia were Jean-Marie and Jeanne Félix, a married couple who had learned the truth in Algeria, then a French colony. They were baptized in 1953. In 1955 a call went out inviting Kingdom publishers to serve where the need was greater, including French Polynesia. Responding to the invitation, the Félixes and their young son, Jean-Marc, moved to Tahiti in 1956. However, Jean-Marie, an engineer, could not find work. So the family went 140 miles [230 km] northeast of Tahiti to the island of Makatéa, in the Tuamotus, where Jean-Marie got a job with a phosphate company.
Immediately, the couple started witnessing to their neighbors and to Jean-Marie’s fellow workers. Writes Jeanne: “The islanders showed great respect for the Bible, were very attentive to the Kingdom message, and were assiduous in their Bible study. That was encouraging to us. The local clergy, however, made us feel most unwelcome. They even warned their flocks against ‘false prophets’ in their midst, saying that people should not talk to us or even walk by our home!”
In time, though, most people changed their view of this Christian couple. Many islanders even developed a deep respect for Jean-Marie and Jeanne because they did not look down on the Polynesians, as some Europeans on Makatéa did.
Still, it took courage to carry on the work, since the director of the phosphate company could dismiss an employee at any time. What is more, the two gendarmes on the island sometimes called on the family, inquiring about their activity. Little by little, these French police officers came to realize that Jean-Marie and Jeanne were no threat. The officers even became friendly.
The first Bible student to make fine spiritual progress was Maui Piirai, Jean-Marie’s fellow employee and a Polynesian. As the truth reached Maui’s heart, he made great changes in his life. For example, he stopped smoking and heavy drinking, and he married the woman with whom he had been living for 15 years. Baptized in October 1958, Maui became the first Polynesian in the territory to dedicate his life to Jehovah. Naturally, he too shared the good news with others, which angered the clergy. One pastor even schemed to have Maui dismissed from his job. But that plot failed because Maui was a good worker with a fine record.
The second person on Makatéa to respond to God’s Word was Germaine Amaru, a schoolmistress who became acquainted with the truth through one of her pupils, the Félixes’ son, Jean-Marc. Although only seven years old, Jean-Marc so impressed his teacher with his knowledge of the Bible that she called his parents. They in turn began a Bible study with her. But that is not the end of the story, for Germaine went on to help a fellow teacher, named Monique Sage, and her husband, Roger, to come to a knowledge of Jehovah.
The Félixes and Maui Piirai also began to study with Manuari Tefaatau, a young deacon in the Protestant church of Makatéa, and with his friend Arai Terii. At first the two kept attending their own church while sharing with fellow parishioners Scriptural truths about the Trinity, hellfire, the immortality of the soul, and so on. As you can imagine, this created quite a stir in the Protestant community. Like those in ancient Beroea, however, many sincere individuals delved into their Bibles to see if the things they were hearing were true.—Acts 17:10-12.
Needless to say, the church pastor was not impressed. He even threatened to expel anyone who continued to listen to the Witnesses. Some gave in to the threat, but others made spiritual progress and left the church. Among the latter were Manuari and Arai as well as Maui Piirai’s wife, Moea, and Taina Rataro, who is mentioned later in this account.
At first, the growing group of publishers and Bible students met at the Félixes’ home, where Jean-Marie gave talks in French and Maui interpreted them into Tahitian. When the Félix family left Makatéa in 1959, the group moved to Maui’s home, Maui now being a baptized brother. How did Jean-Marie and Jeanne feel about their service in the islands? Jeanne, now a widow living in Italy, speaks for her late husband as well, saying: “We had absolutely no regrets. In fact, our ministry on Makatéa was the finest memory of our life together.”
The Good News Comes to Tahiti
In 1955, just before the Félixes went to Makatéa, Len Helberg was assigned by the Australia branch to commence circuit work in the South Pacific. His assignment covered millions of square miles, from New Caledonia to French Polynesia. Yet, fewer than 90 publishers lived in this vast territory, and none were in Tahiti. Len had three basic goals: to visit each congregation and group every six months; to make contact with every isolated publisher and interested person; and to open up new territories using, wherever possible, the film The New World Society in Action.
In December 1956, Len stepped ashore on Tahiti for the first time and remained there for two months. He had studied French at school but had forgotten much of it. So he started off working business territory with a view to finding people who spoke English. There he met one of the wealthiest men in Tahiti. The man listened with great interest and invited Len to come back. On the following Saturday, after sharing lunch with Len, the man invited him to his home, taking him there in his chauffeur-driven car. Len writes: “Then, midafternoon, much to my surprise, the man took up a conch shell and blew into it. This, I discovered, was a signal for all the village dignitaries to assemble at a meeting hall adjoining the man’s house.
“About a dozen individuals came, including the mayor, the chief of police, and several deacons of the Protestant church. After introducing me as a representative of Jehovah’s Witnesses, ‘a new religion in the islands,’ my host announced, ‘Mr. Helberg will now answer any Bible questions you may have.’ I was able to answer all the questions raised.” This procedure was repeated every Saturday for the next two months. Although the wealthy man never accepted the truth, he did arrange for Len to show the film The New World Society in Action at a hospital for lepers. Over 120 attended.
Did anyone respond to the Kingdom message? Brother Helberg recalls, “On Christmas day 1956, while working from house to house in the district of Arue, I called on a family named Micheli that eagerly accepted the message.” The Michelis were familiar with The Watchtower and Awake! thanks to a relative living in the United States who had arranged for them to receive subscriptions. Later the Michelis’ daughter, Irene, and her husband came into the truth. Len was also able to start a Bible study with a Mr. Garnier, which led to others in his family accepting the truth. When the Papeete Congregation was formed in 1959, the Michelis and Garniers were among its first members.
In 1957 when Brother Helberg went to Gilead, the Australia branch asked circuit overseer Paul Evans and his wife, Frances, to visit Tahiti. In the short time they spent on the island, they placed over 70 Bibles and books and obtained many subscriptions to The Watchtower and Awake! Brother Evans wrote: “Several people on Tahiti now have enough Bible knowledge and are so interested that they are anxious to start preaching under the direction of the organization.” Would these new ones receive the support and direction they needed?
A Tahitian Sister Returns to Her Homeland
Agnès, a young Tahitian woman, left Tahiti for the United States in 1936 to marry Earl Schenck, an American. The couple met Jehovah’s Witnesses, embraced the truth, and were baptized in San Diego, California, in 1954. In 1957 they and friends Clyde and Ann Neill were sitting together at a district convention in Los Angeles when Nathan Knorr, from world headquarters, announced several places where the need was greater. Tahiti was one of them.
“Agnès jumped up from her seat with excitement and wept,” says Brother Neill. “I then turned to her and Earl and said that I would do whatever I could to help them and their son, who was 11 years old, to get to Tahiti. At that, Earl, who was disabled, also began to weep. He had lived in the South Pacific for 17 years, working as an artist and a writer, and was keen to return. What is more, Agnès, his wife, still had French citizenship.”
Clyde continues: “After much prayer, Ann and I decided that we along with our three sons, who were 12, 8, and 3 years old, would go to Tahiti. Our friends David and Lynne Carano and their son, David, Jr., decided to join us. So after attending the 1958 international convention in New York City, we sailed for Tahiti.
“The United States branch had given us the names of some interested people, so immediately after our arrival, we began calling on these ones. Agnès, having arrived before us, had already been working hard in the ministry. Because Ann and I spoke neither French nor Tahitian, we would take Agnès preaching with us whenever possible. When working alone, we would take along both an English and a French copy of ‘Let God Be True,’ the study aid we used in those days.”
As a result of these efforts along with the groundwork laid by Brother Helberg and Brother and Sister Evans, in just a few short weeks, 17 persons began to study God’s Word. Recalls Clyde: “One memorable student was former Protestant minister Teratua Vaitape. He had lost his job because of his many questions about church doctrines. Teratua lived with his family in a tiny, one-room house that had no plumbing and no electricity. He told me that he had learned more about the Bible in just a few weeks of study with us than he had learned during four years at the seminary and seven years as a clergyman.”
Clyde continues: “After we had been on the island for several weeks, the ‘coconut radio’ [word-of-mouth communication] got buzzing, and people began to hear about us. This was a good thing because Tahitians are friendly, and they love the Bible.”
At first the small group of publishers held their meetings in the Schenck’s home. Just two interested persons attended. “But before long,” recalls Brother Neill, “about 15 joined us regularly. One lady with whom we studied had helped Len Helberg when his bicycle broke down in front of her house two or three years earlier. Len had placed literature with her, so she was quite excited to learn that we were of the same religion. Her home was a long way from ours, so when we called, she would give us lunch—usually delicious fresh fish cooked over a steel drum.”
Before the Neills and Caranos left in December 1958, Clyde gave the second baptism talk ever given in French Polynesia, the first having been delivered on Makatéa in October, when Maui Piirai was immersed. Sixty persons attended, and eight were baptized. Included were the Neills’ son Steven and Auguste Temanaha, a Tahitian who would later help establish a congregation on the island of Huahine.
A Period of Consolidation
At the request of the Fiji branch, John Hubler and his wife, Ellen, who came from Australia, moved to Tahiti in 1959 to help the fledgling Papeete Congregation. John served as congregation servant for the seven months he and Ellen were able to stay in Tahiti. Of Swiss birth, John was fluent in French. Ellen also spoke the language, having served with her husband for a number of years in New Caledonia. The Hublers gave the new publishers much-needed training in the door-to-door ministry, for most had only been preaching informally.
In 1960, John and Ellen took up circuit work. Their territory was French Polynesia, which enabled them to continue rendering assistance to the local publishers. “Then, in 1961,” says John, “I was invited to attend Gilead School. After graduating, I was assigned as circuit overseer to all the French-speaking islands of the Pacific.”
First Kingdom Hall
“During our second visit to Tahiti,” says Brother Hubler, “I was privileged to start a Bible study with a former schoolteacher, Marcelle Anahoa. At that time, we were desperately searching for land to build our own Kingdom Hall. But there were two obstacles. First, nobody seemed to have any property to spare; second, congregation funds were very low. Still, we kept looking, trusting that Jehovah would direct matters.
“While conducting the study with Marcelle, I mentioned the situation to her. ‘I want to show you something,’ she said. Taking me outside, she pointed, saying: ‘See this land? It belongs to me. I had planned to build units, but now that I am learning the truth, I’ve changed my mind. I will donate half of the land for a Kingdom Hall.’ Upon hearing that, I immediately uttered a silent, heartfelt prayer of thanks to Jehovah.”
As soon as the legalities were handled, the Papeete Congregation built its first Kingdom Hall, completing it in 1962. It was of a simple island design with open sides and a roof made of pandanus leaves. Unfortunately, though, the neighborhood chickens could not resist nesting on the seats and roosting in the rafters. Hence, when the brothers arrived for meetings, they found eggs and other far less desirable signs of feathered tenancy on floor and furniture. Still, the hall proved adequate until the brothers built a larger, more permanent building.
Legal Uncertainties Resolved
In the early days, the brothers were unsure about the legal status of Jehovah’s Witnesses in French Polynesia. The Watchtower magazine had been banned in France since 1952, but the work itself was not under ban. Was that also the case in this French territory? Meanwhile, the number of publishers kept increasing, bringing Jehovah’s Witnesses into the public eye. In fact, on one occasion toward the end of 1959, the police entered a meeting to see what was going on.
Consequently, the brothers were advised to establish a legal association. Official registration would clear up uncertainties and eliminate suspicion. How thrilled the brothers were when on April 2, 1960, they received confirmation that they had been officially registered as the Association of Jehovah’s Witnesses!
Still, The Watchtower remained under ban in France. Believing that this ban also applied in French Polynesia, the brothers received Watchtower articles in a journal called La Sentinelle (The Sentinel), which was sent from Switzerland. On one occasion, the police disclosed to the then president of the legal association, Michel Gelas, that they were well aware that La Sentinelle was a substitute for The Watchtower. Nevertheless, the police did not block shipment of the magazine. The brothers would learn why when the ban on The Watchtower was lifted in France in 1975.
When that ban was lifted, the brothers in Tahiti sought permission to receive The Watchtower locally. It then came to light that the ban had never been published in the Official Journal of French Polynesia. Thus, The Watchtower had never been banned in French Polynesia, which was a surprise to many.
On the other hand, the local authorities were strict when it came to issuing or extending visas. Hence, those who were not French citizens, such as Clyde and Ann Neill, mentioned earlier, were usually able to stay for just a few months. The Hublers were also in that category. But because John was also a member of the legal association, French law permitting one foreigner to be on the board, he was able to obtain visas with less difficulty.
This helped John in his circuit assignment. In fact, the police commissioner called John to his office one day, wanting to know why John was visiting the islands so often. John explained that as a member of the association, he had to attend board meetings. The commissioner was satisfied with the explanation. But that was not the only time that John had to come before the commissioner.
Beginning in 1963, many Polynesians, including at least one prominent pastor, became angry about the testing of nuclear weapons in the Pacific. An apostate took the opportunity to complain to the police that Brother Hubler was one of the agitators, which was untrue, of course. Nevertheless, John was again hailed before the commissioner. Instead of denouncing the accuser, John kindly explained our Bible-based neutrality and respect for governmental authority. (Rom. 13:1) He also gave the commissioner some literature. In the end, this official rightly concluded that someone was just trying to make trouble for the Witnesses.
Eventually, however, the Hublers were no longer able to obtain visas. Therefore, they returned to Australia where they continued in the traveling work until 1993, when failing health caused them to stop.
While in the islands, the Hublers saw a number of individuals make remarkable changes in their lives in order to please Jehovah. One was a 74-year-old woman with 14 children, all born out of wedlock. “We used to call her Mama Roro,” says John. “When Mama Roro learned the truth, she married the man with whom she was living and had all her children properly registered, even though they had different fathers. To list all the children, the local mayor had to join two forms to make one long one. Mama Roro insisted that things be done Jehovah’s way.” After her baptism, this faithful sister began pioneering and proved to be especially adept at placing magazines. Along with other publishers, she even went to preach on remote islands.
The Tahitian Bible—A Blessing
In the 1960’s, it was not uncommon to find people who spoke only Tahitian. But thanks to translators Nott and Davies, the Bible was made available in that language after 1835.* One of its salient features is the use of God’s name, Iehova in Tahitian, throughout the text, including the Christian Greek Scriptures.
Widely distributed throughout the islands, the Tahitian Bible has helped many come to an accurate knowledge of the truth. One such person was Taina Rataro. Born in 1927, Taina was one of that early group of Bible students on Makatéa. At first, though, he could neither read nor write Tahitian, his mother tongue. But he applied himself diligently and made fine progress. He was even enrolled in the Theocratic Ministry School and later appointed a ministerial servant.
Elisabeth Avae, who is 78 years old, was born on the remote island of Rimatara in the Tubuaï Islands, some 400 miles [600 km] from Tahiti. Back in the 1960’s, she could not understand a word of French, but she was able to read and write Tahitian. After her marriage, she and her husband moved to Papeete. There she became acquainted with Bible truth through her eldest daughter, Marguerite, who had begun attending Christian meetings. Elisabeth also started to attend, along with her nine other children. And she did this despite strong opposition from her husband, who would throw all her clothes out of the house while she was at the meetings.
Back then, meetings were held in French, with some parts being translated into Tahitian from time to time. Elisabeth derived spiritual sustenance from the program by following along in her Tahitian Bible when scriptures were mentioned. The sister who studied with her used the booklet “This Good News of the Kingdom,” translating it orally from French into Tahitian while Elisabeth read the Scripture texts in her Bible. As a result, she made fine progress and was baptized in 1965. She, in turn, studied with others who spoke only Tahitian. She also taught her children, six of whom dedicated their lives to Jehovah, and some of her grandchildren, several of whom she raised herself.
One grandchild, Diana Tautu, has served at the Tahiti branch as a translator for the past 12 years. Says Diana: “I thank Grandmother for aiding me in acquiring a good knowledge of Tahitian. Now I am privileged to play a small part in helping others to receive life-saving spiritual food in their native tongue.”
Chinese Come to Know Jehovah
In the 1960’s, about 10 percent of Tahiti’s population was Chinese. The first Chinese person to accept Bible truth was Clarisse Lygan, a teenager at the time. Clarisse came from a poor family. To help out financially, she did secular work every Wednesday, when there was no school. She was employed by a Witness family. Thus, Clarisse came in contact with the truth and, despite strong parental opposition, was baptized in 1962 at the age of 18.
Alexandre and Arlette Ly Kwai and Ky Sing Lygan were also among the first Chinese to serve Jehovah in Tahiti. One day Alexandre, who drove a taxi, met Jim and Charmian Walker, a Witness couple who had come from New Zealand in 1961 to help with the work. Alexandre expressed his desire to study English. Says Charmian: “At the time I was a pioneer. So Jim told Alexandre that I could teach him. He accepted the offer. His study consisted of a 30-minute English lesson and a 30-minute Bible study, with the aid of the book From Paradise Lost to Paradise Regained.”
Meanwhile, Alexandre’s brother, Ky Sing, also came into contact with the truth. At the time, however, both men were recent converts to Catholicism and were taking a course on that religion. Inevitably, therefore, they began to see differences between Bible teaching and that of the church. Then at the end of the course, the priest asked the class, numbering about 100, if they had any questions. Alexandre raised his hand and requested Scriptural proof that the soul is immortal. “I know where this question is coming from,” the priest retorted. “You are talking with Jehovah’s Witnesses, aren’t you?” He then ridiculed the young man in front of the class.
To Alexandre and Ky Sing, this incident confirmed that the Catholic Church is not the custodian of truth. Eventually they and their wives dedicated their lives to Jehovah, and later, the two brothers were appointed congregation elders. Alexandre even served on the Tahiti Branch Committee for a time. Thereafter, he and his wife moved to Raïatéa, one of the Society Islands, to support the Kingdom work and then to Bora Bora, where Alexandre served faithfully until his death.
A Life That Changed Course at Sea
Antonio Lanza was a technician in a television factory in Milan, Italy. In 1966 the company asked for a volunteer to go to Tahiti to run an after-sales service. Antonio accepted the post, which was to last three years. However, he planned to leave behind his wife, Anna, and their two young sons. For weeks, Anna wept, trying to convince her husband to change his mind, but to no avail.
The crossing from Marseilles, France, to Papeete took 30 days. Antonio was a friendly person who liked to talk, but nearly everybody on board spoke French, which he did not understand. On the second day out, though, he met two Catholic nuns, who were Italian. But they had their daily rituals, so did not have a lot of time to chat. They did, however, tell Antonio about a French lady on board who could speak Italian. This person was Lilian Selam, a Witness. With her children, Lilian was en route to Tahiti to join her husband, who had obtained a job there.
Antonio found Lilian and enjoyed a conversation with her. She, in turn, gave him a Bible-based publication in Italian. Thereafter, they had many spiritual discussions. During one of these, Lilian reminded Antonio of the morally dangerous situation he was placing himself in by leaving his wife and children for three years while he worked in Tahiti. She also showed him God’s view of the sacredness of marriage, sharing with him such Bible passages as Ephesians 5:28, 29 and Mark 10:7-9.
Taking these things to heart, Antonio began to regret his decision. In fact, while in Panama, he wrote to his wife, telling her that as soon as he had the funds, he would fly her and their two children to Tahiti. Then he wrote again, this time to ask Anna to obtain a Bible from her priest and to bring it with her. What did the priest think of this idea? He told Anna that her husband must be out of his mind, wanting to read such a complicated book.
Six months after Antonio stepped ashore at Tahiti, his family joined him. The day after her arrival, Anna, who was a religious woman, asked Antonio to take the family to church in order to thank God for their being reunited. “OK,” said Antonio, “we will go to church.” But instead of taking his family to the Catholic church, he took them to the Kingdom Hall! Of course, Anna was more than a little surprised. Nevertheless, she enjoyed the program and even agreed to a Bible study. Who studied with her? None other than Lilian Selam, the sister who had witnessed to Antonio on the ship.
The three years that Antonio was to spend alone in Tahiti have become 35 years with his whole family. What is more, Antonio, Anna, and now their four sons are all united in true worship, and Antonio serves as a congregation elder.
Families Serve Where the Need Is Greater
Over the years, many brothers and sisters have moved to isolated islands to help where the need for Kingdom publishers was greater. These include the Mara, Haamarurai, and Terii families, as well as Ato Lacour, whose family was not in the truth. The Mara family—Vaieretiai, Marie-Medeleine, and five children—moved from Tahiti to Raïatéa. A special pioneer couple who had been serving there were reassigned elsewhere. Just two sisters and some unbaptized publishers remained on the island.
Vaieretiai was a wood sculptor and, later, a coral sculptor, which enabled him to move without having to change his work. The only elder, he cared for the small group on Raïatéa for five years until another qualified brother arrived. The Maras then moved to Tahaa, where they remained for four years.
Materially speaking, life on either island was not easy for the Mara family. “I had to go to Tahiti to sell my sculptures,” says Vaieretiai. “Sometimes I had no money to pay for the flight. On those occasions, I asked the man in charge of the small airline to give me the ticket on credit, promising that I would pay the full fare on my return. Yes, finances were tight at times, but we never had to do without.” Vaieretiai and Marie-Medeleine’s example of self-sacrifice had a fine influence on their daughter Jeanne, who has now been in full-time service for 26 years and is a member of the Tahiti Bethel family.
In 1969, Ato Lacour moved with his family to the island of Rurutu in the Tubuaï Islands, having arranged for a job transfer there. Baptized just three years, he was the only member of his family in the truth and the only publisher on those islands. The day after he arrived, he went out witnessing. He wrote in his diary: “I have started to preach—alone. It is difficult. Babylon the Great is firmly entrenched here.”
Before long, however, interested ones began to respond to the good news, and a group was formed. At first, they met in the living room of the Lacour home. Says Ato: “Being members of a new religion on the island, our group was labeled ‘Lacour’s religion.’ But Jehovah ‘kept making it grow,’ and our group became a congregation in 1976.” (1 Cor. 3:6) Before Brother Lacour passed away in the year 2000, several members of his family, including his wife, Perena, joined him in true worship.
Rudolphe and Narcisse Haamarurai moved to Bora Bora. Rudolphe resigned from his job as a supervisor for the territorial electric company in Tahiti and got work on Bora Bora picking coconuts and preparing copra. For two years he found no other work. But how Jehovah blessed him and his wife, for in time they saw a congregation established on the island! For more than 25 years, the congregation met at the Haamarurai home. Then, in the year 2000, they moved into their own, brand-new Kingdom Hall, right by Bora Bora’s picturesque lagoon.
Taaroa and Catherine Terii, with 7 of their 15 children still in their care, moved to the tiny island of Maupiti, also in the Society Islands. When the Teriis arrived in 1977, they were the only publishers on Maupiti. They lived on a motu, a vegetated islet at the edge of the lagoon. Their food consisted chiefly of fish and grated coconut. The family also collected edible shellfish, which they sold. When the Teriis went witnessing, they waded across the lagoon to the main island, careful to avoid stepping on any fish with poisonous barbs.
In 1980, Taaroa and Catherine were assigned to Bora Bora, this time as special pioneers. After serving in that capacity for 5 years, they served as regular pioneers for 15 years. As we shall now see, among their early Bible students was one married couple who endured much opposition for the sake of the good news.
Spiritual Babes Put to the Test
The Terii’s first Bible students to accept the truth on Bora Bora were Edmond (Apo) and Vahinerii Rai. The Rais lived in a house belonging to Edmond’s mother. After the couple studied for about six months, Edmond’s mother, influenced by her pastor, ordered them out of the house. Edmond, Vahinerii, and their two-year-old boy were forced to live in a hut in the bush. The pastor also persuaded Edmond’s employer to dismiss him—in fact, the pastor went so far as to tell other potential employers not to give Edmond work! For eight months, the little family survived largely on fishing.
Then one day a woman who wanted a house built contacted Edmond’s former employer. She had high regard for Edmond’s skills and wanted him to work on the house. When she learned that Edmond had been dismissed because he was associating with Jehovah’s Witnesses, she told the contractor that he would get the job only if Edmond worked for him. As a result, Edmond got his job back. Meanwhile, his mother softened in her attitude and invited Edmond and Vahinerii back to her house. Today, Edmond serves as an elder in the Bora Bora Congregation.
The Good News Takes Root on Huahine
One of that original group of Bible students who were baptized in Tahiti in 1958 was Auguste Temanaha. After his baptism, Auguste moved to the United States, returning to Tahiti in the late 1960’s with his wife, Stella, and their three children. There he ran a successful business. In 1971, after being encouraged by a circuit overseer and by the example of the aforementioned Mara family, the Temanahas sold their business and moved to the island of Huahine, just over 100 miles [160 km] from Tahiti.
At the time, one sister and some interested people lived on the island. Their only contact with Jehovah’s organization was occasional visits by pioneers and the circuit overseer. So they were thrilled when the Temanahas arrived. Auguste immediately organized meetings, holding them in the kitchen of his home. About 20 attended.
At the start, Auguste could not find work. Nevertheless, he and his family kept busy in the ministry, trusting that Jehovah would provide. And he did. For instance, when the Temanahas went out preaching, Auguste usually left the car parked in the territory. When they returned to the car, they would often find it packed with food. Who put it there, they did not know. They assumed that it was kindhearted individuals in the territory who were aware of their situation. This went on for a number of weeks until the family’s financial situation improved.
In view of the zeal and endurance of the Temanahas and others like them, as well as the kindly disposition of the islanders, it comes as no surprise that today Huahine is home to a flourishing congregation. In fact, the island has 1 publisher for every 53 inhabitants. And in recent years, up to 1 person in every 12 has attended the Memorial!
Many other Witness families have shown a similar self-sacrificing spirit. For instance, beginning in 1988, Jean-Paul and Christiane Lassalle served for two years in the Marquesas Islands. Jean-Paul had been a member of the board of directors of the Social Security Administration in Tahiti but resigned from this prestigious job in order to expand his ministry. In 1994 the Lassalles moved again, this time to Rangiroa in the Tuamotus, where they stayed for three years. Jean-Paul is now serving faithfully in France.
More recently, Colson Deane, after retiring as assistant prison director in Tahiti, moved with his wife, Lina, to the island of Tubuaï in the Tubuaï group. Both are pioneering and are a fine asset to the small congregation on that island, which is in an area where there is still a great need for elders.
Families Move From France to Help Out
Some families came all the way from France to help with the work. Consider the Sicari family—Francis, Jeannette, and their two daughters, six and nine years of age. “We were waiting for an opportunity to widen out our ministry,” reflects Francis. “Then we read in the 1971 Yearbook of Jehovah’s Witnesses the call for publishers to serve in the South Pacific.” Even though some friends and relatives tried to discourage the Sicaris, they took up the challenge and arrived in Papeete in April 1972.
Because Francis was an elder, his presence led to the formation of a second congregation on Tahiti, in the township of Punaauia. Along with Jean-Pierre Francine, at that time presiding overseer of the other congregation, Francis had the privilege of serving on the first Branch Committee in Tahiti when that arrangement was instituted in 1976. He served in that capacity for 12 years.
Was the concern of the Sicaris’ friends and relatives warranted? “Contrary to what others said, our move had a positive effect on our daughters,” says Francis. “In fact, the four of us have now spent a combined total of 105 years in full-time service and have enjoyed many blessings, just as Jehovah promised.—Mal. 3:10.”
In 1981 in the Kingdom Ministry, the France branch announced the need for elders on the island of Mooréa, a 30-minute ferry ride from Papeete. Two brothers and their wives responded to the call, one couple being Alain and Eileen Raffaelli. They helped to establish a congregation on Mooréa, where they served for eight years. Alain also served on the Branch Committee from 1987 to 1994.
In 1997 the France branch invited retired brothers to move to remote islands for two years or more to help where there was an urgent need for elders. Says Gérard Balza, Tahiti Branch Committee coordinator: “We expected that two or three couples might respond. What a surprise when 11 couples volunteered! Two couples even chose to settle here. Thanks to their spiritual maturity and experience, these brothers and sisters have been a great help to our publishers. And while they are not missionaries, they have tasted missionary life and the challenges of living on a remote island.”
Establishing the Branch
As the work in the Pacific forged ahead, organizational adjustments followed. Australia supervised the work in French Polynesia until 1958 when Fiji, which is much closer, took over. Another change came in 1975 when Nathan Knorr and Frederick W. Franz from world headquarters visited Tahiti. They gave encouraging talks to over 700, and Brother Knorr gave a slide presentation to about 500 in one of the Kingdom Halls.
After the program, Brother Knorr met with the elders and proposed the opening of a branch in Tahiti. The brothers were delighted with the idea. Alain Jamet, a circuit overseer who spoke English, was appointed branch overseer. Effective April 1 that year, the new arrangement proved to be a step in the right direction. True, Fiji was closer than Australia, but the language barrier remained. Now, however, the brothers in French Polynesia could have direct and close communication with their own branch.
With fewer than 300 publishers in the entire territory, the branch office was small. In fact, it was just a room adjoining the Kingdom Hall in Papeete. A desk was on one side, and the stock of literature, on the other. Initially, the branch overseer’s job was part-time, which allowed Alain and his wife, Mary-Ann, to continue in the circuit work and also to preach on remote islands where there were no publishers.
Preaching in the Tuamotu and Gambier Archipelagoes
With the establishment of the Tahiti branch, greater emphasis was placed on reaching remote islands with the good news. In some instances, brothers organized themselves into groups to travel to these islands. Axel Chang, who served for a while on the Branch Committee, remembers when a group of 20 brothers and sisters chartered a plane and flew to Rangiroa, the largest atoll in the Tuamotus. He says: “After witnessing to everyone on the atoll, we made preparations for a public talk. The local mayor gave us the use of a covered area. At first, it seemed that our group was going to be the entire audience! ‘Perhaps the people are afraid of their religious leaders,’ we thought. But then, as the talk got under way, people began to trickle in, and the place gradually filled up.”
Brother Chang continues: “During the discourse, we could see the Catholic priest on his bicycle, pedaling hard toward our meeting place. As he got closer, however, he slowed down, straining to see who of his flock were present. He made a number of these sorties, providing us with not a little amusement.”
Alain Raffaelli organized a preaching tour of the Gambier Islands in 1988. Over 1,000 miles [1,600 km] from Tahiti, this predominantly Catholic archipelago is the smallest and remotest in French Polynesia. The only other time the islands had received a witness had been in 1979 when Alain Jamet spent three days there.
The brothers first approached the mayor to explain their activity and to request a place where they could hold a Public Meeting. He offered them the marriage hall but apologized for being unable to accompany the brothers while they invited people, for he was involved in an election campaign. Needless to say, the brothers excused him. The discourse was attended by 30 people, including the mayor and the local gendarme.
During the public talk, which discussed the condition of the dead, Alain mentioned that the Bible hell is merely the grave and that Christ himself went there. “This could not be true of Jesus!” cried someone in the audience. Alain then quoted the Apostles’ Creed, which says that Christ “descended into Hell.” This reply amazed the audience, for at that moment it dawned on them that they had been reciting this phrase for years without really thinking about it. One family who attended that meeting is now in the truth.
Traveling overseers often took advantage of weeks between congregation visits to pioneer in areas where there were no publishers. This was the case with Mauri and Mélanie Mercier, a Tahitian couple. They were the first to preach the good news on a number of atolls in the Tuamotus, namely, Ahe, Anaa, Hao, Manihi, Takapoto, and Takaroa. Whenever possible, Mauri would also give a public talk or show slides. “Most of the islanders were friendly,” he recalls, “except for those on Anaa, a bastion of Catholicism. During the slide presentation, some started to shout, and others wanted to beat us up. Much to our relief, however, we were finally able to calm them down.”
Missionaries Come to the Islands
Beginning in 1978, a number of missionaries were sent from France to the remoter islands. Michel and Babette Muller arrived in August 1978 and were assigned to Nuku Hiva, the largest and most populous island in the Marquesas. Brothers had occasionally visited this predominantly Catholic archipelago, but nobody had been able to stay for any length of time. Because there were no roads, Michel and Babette got around either on foot or on horseback. The locals often gave them a place to sleep. One night they even slept on a layer of drying coffee beans!
The Mullers remained in the Marquesas for 18 months before commencing circuit work. Many appreciated their visits and accepted literature. In fact, in one year Michel and Babette together placed one thousand copies of My Book of Bible Stories! As a result of the efforts of such fine missionaries, as well as that of the pioneers and publishers in general, the work not only in the Marquesas but also in the branch territory as a whole progressed very well. In fact, records reveal 69 consecutive peaks in publishers!
Of course, all these new ones needed training. But there were not always enough experienced brothers to help them one-on-one. In the case of the Mullers, they got around this difficulty by working with two new publishers at a time. One went with Michel or Babette to the house while the other waited on the road for his turn. The Mullers now serve as missionaries in Benin, Africa.
‘Witnessing Tested Our Knowledge of the Scriptures’
Missionaries Christian and Juliette Belotti arrived in French Polynesia in February 1982. At first they served in the circuit work, and then for five years, they pioneered on the island of Raïatéa, parts of which were accessible only by outrigger canoe. But witnessing there tested more than one’s skill with a paddle; “it also tested one’s knowledge of the Bible,” says Christian. “Quite often we would be asked such questions as: How do the anointed know that they will go to heaven? or What do the beasts of the Apocalypse represent?”
As in most small communities, Raïatéans all knew one another. “So when a publisher became inactive,” says Christian, “it was not unusual for a householder to say: ‘I have not seen So-and-so for a while. Has he gone cold?’ Or ‘So-and-so should be helped. There must be something wrong with him spiritually!’” By the time the Belottis left Raïatéa, someone in almost every fare (Tahitian for “house”) had studied with Jehovah’s Witnesses.
From their base on Raïatéa, the Belottis also went to the island of Maupiti. On one occasion they arranged for a shipment of books to be sent directly to the island. But the consignment failed to arrive on time. Not deterred, Christian and Juliette showed people their personal copies of the books they had intended to offer. Nearly 30 families requested the books, confident that they would come. An interested person kindly distributed the books when the shipment finally arrived.
The Belottis’ next assignment was Rangiroa in the Tuamotus, where they were the only Witnesses. Later they were reassigned to French Guiana and finally to the Democratic Republic of Congo, where Brother Belotti serves on the Branch Committee.
“Jehovah Will Train You”
Frédéric and Urminda Lucas arrived from France in April 1985 and were assigned to the island of Tahaa, where there were only three publishers. The first two weeks were difficult for this young couple. They held the meetings in their own living room and were the only ones in attendance. They sang the Kingdom songs, and they cried; but they did not give in to discouragement.
There was no electricity on the island and no telephone service. However, Frédéric and Urminda did have a walkie-talkie, which they used to communicate with the missionaries on nearby Raïatéa—that is, when they could make contact! They also had a small refrigerator that was plugged into a neighbor’s generator. “Usually,” says Frédéric, “it ran from 6:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. One time we got home to find that our tomatoes were all frozen solid. Our neighbor had decided to watch a sporting match on television and had turned his generator on much earlier.”
The Lucases also had to learn Tahitian. As anyone who has learned another language knows, novices have their embarrassing moments. For example, Frédéric recalls going from house to house thinking that he was saying “holy spirit”—varua mo’a. But he had not mastered the difficult pronunciation of mo’a, so he had been saying “chicken spirit.”
When the couple arrived in Tahaa, Frédéric was 23 years old and a ministerial servant. He confided to Alain Jamet, Branch Committee coordinator at the time, that he felt inadequate to take on the responsibilities given to him. “Don’t worry,” said Alain, “Jehovah will train you!” And that he did. Five years later when the Lucases left for their next assignment, Burkina Faso, the little group on Tahaa had become a congregation of 14 publishers with their own Kingdom Hall, and Frédéric was serving as an elder.
How glad this couple are that they did not give in to discouragement at the outset! “Those were the best years of our youth,” they recently said. “We learned to be patient and to trust fully in Jehovah rather than in our own ability. When our spirits were low, prayer lifted us up. We made Jehovah our refuge, and he never let us down. Yes, he truly did train us.”
Single Missionaries Take On Tough Assignments
Single missionaries from France also went to French Polynesia to help out. Early arrivals were Georges Bourgeonnier and Marc Montet. Both served at the branch and in the traveling work. Marc’s circuit took in the Tubuaï, Gambier, Marquesas, and Tuamotu islands. On a number of atolls, he preached alone; at other times he worked along with local special pioneers. Wherever possible, he gave public talks, and on some islands almost the entire population attended. After he married, Marc continued in the traveling work for a time. Now he and his wife, Jessica, are in the Bora Bora Congregation, where Marc serves as an elder and a pioneer.
In February 1986, Philippe Couzinet and Patrick Lemassif arrived from France. They were assigned to the Marquesas. Unlike the other islands in French Polynesia, the Marquesas are not protected by coral reefs. The high cliffs on these islands plunge almost vertically into the cobalt-blue Pacific, where they are pounded by its mighty waves. Between rugged ridges lie narrow, fertile valleys with streams and waterfalls—a perfect home for the many goats, horses, and wild cattle that roam the islands.
Over the years, the Marquesas had been visited sporadically by pioneers and publishers. The Mullers, for instance, spent 18 months on Nuku Hiva in 1978/79. But no thorough witness had been given in the archipelago as a whole. This changed when Philippe and Patrick arrived. True, progress did not come easily, for Catholicism was entrenched and many people feared the priests. In fact, the priests were responsible for certain threats that were made against the two brothers. Also, a Catholic charismatic movement was flourishing at the time, fueling fanaticism and inciting some nasty incidents in the community.
Patrick and Philippe worked together at first and separately when they became more familiar with the territory. One took his turn at the missionary home on Hiva Oa, where he conducted the meetings, while the other left by boat for several weeks to visit other islands. Eventually, they found it more practical and effective to separate completely—Patrick working the islands to the north, and Philippe, those to the south.
In order to help the two missionaries, the branch assigned special pioneers from Tahiti to work along with them. One was Pascal Pater, who now serves as a congregation elder; the other was Michel Bustamante, now a circuit overseer. These enthusiastic young men were happy to offer Jehovah the power of their youth. (Prov. 20:29) And power they needed, because preaching in the Marquesas was not for the delicate or the fainthearted. There were no roads, just rocky and often muddy trails wending their way through deep, narrow valleys to isolated homes and communities. The only practical way to get to some of these places was by means of a small motorcycle called a trail bike.
Philippe recalls riding his bike along a narrow trail when a herd of wild cattle frightened by another vehicle charged toward him. With a precipice on one side and the sheer rock face of a mountain on the other, Philippe had no way of escape. So he did the only thing he could—he stopped his bike and leaned with it hard against the rocky escarpment. The beasts thundered by, leaving him shaken but unhurt.
“For me, the assignment was an adventure,” says Michel Bustamante. “But we had our scary moments, especially when we were alone on some of the islands. On one occasion, my bungalow was in a deep, dark valley, far from where I had spent the day witnessing. I tried to find a bed in a nearby village but in vain, so I had to walk home. By then it was dusk, and the towering cliffs closed in on me with the darkness of night. I began to think about the spiritism practiced on the island and the demons that must be lurking about. All of this brought on an anxiety attack. So I began praying and singing Kingdom songs that used Jehovah’s name often. When at last I stepped inside my bungalow, I shut the door, opened my Bible, and began reading. Peace slowly came over me.”
After three years of hard work, the brothers were thrilled to see their first Marquesan Bible student come into the truth—a young man named Jean-Louis Peterano. Jean-Louis had a visit from a priest who wanted him “to return to the fold.” In an attempt to “save” the young man, the priest asserted that the name Jehovah was coined by Jehovah’s Witnesses. Jean-Louis then quoted Psalm 83:18 from the French Catholic Crampon Bible (1905), which uses the divine name. Speechless, the priest left, never to return. This was likely the first time that a Marquesan using a Catholic Bible successfully challenged a priest on theological grounds. Later, even the Catholic bishop’s private secretary left the church and came into the truth.
On Hiva Oa, the missionaries contacted a European couple, Jean and Nadine Oberlin. Like the famous French painter Paul Gauguin, they had come to the Marquesas to withdraw from society. They lived in an almost inaccessible place and led a simple life devoid of all modern conveniences. After studying for three years and making many changes in their lives, Jean and Nadine were baptized.
When Philippe Couzinet and Patrick Lemassif arrived in the Marquesas in 1986, there was only one publisher in the whole archipelago. Eight years later when Philippe—the second of the two to leave—was reassigned to Cameroon, there were 36 publishers—1 for every 210 inhabitants. And there were three congregations, one on each of the three main islands—Hiva Oa, Nuku Hiva, and Ua Pou.
The Last Missionaries Arrive
The last missionaries to arrive from France were Serge and Marie-Louise Gollin, who came in November 1990. They too were assigned to the Marquesas, where they have done much to strengthen the congregations. The Gollins have learned Marquesan, and amazingly, they have visited every family on the six inhabited islands!
From the Gollins’ base on Hiva Oa, where Serge is the only elder, they regularly go to a number of other islands, including two where there are no publishers. On their first visit to Fatu Hiva, Serge was amazed at the cooperation shown by the local Catholic and Protestant deacons. At the end of their religious services, both men made announcements inviting people to attend a half-hour public talk to be given by Serge at a local school. What is more, the Protestant deacon came along and translated Serge’s talk into Marquesan, which at the time he spoke more fluently than Serge did.
To help the audience find the various scriptures in their own Bibles, Serge wrote them on a chalkboard. He also said the prayers, to which all responded with a clear “Amen.” The next day, the Gollins placed literature with every family on Fatu Hiva. Since then, they have continued to receive a warm welcome when visiting this island, which has a population of just under 600.
Bible Truth Penetrates Prisons
As in many other lands, not a few people in French Polynesia have come to a knowledge of Bible truth in prison. Take, for example, Alexandre Tetiarahi, who became delinquent in his youth and spent seven years in confinement. He escaped at least six times and was dubbed Butterfly, after the main character in a famous novel about a fugitive prisoner.
At a place where he was hiding on Raïatéa, Alexandre found a Bible and a copy of the book “Things in Which It Is Impossible for God to Lie.” He read the Bible from cover to cover and the book several times. Convinced that he had found the truth, he began to experience a troubled conscience. What did he do?
Even though he had made no personal contact with Jehovah’s Witnesses, the publishers of the book, Alexandre turned himself in to the police, who sent him back to prison in Tahiti. There, Colson Deane worked as a warder. Soon after Alexandre arrived, he overheard Colson witnessing to a colleague and immediately recognized the teachings. So he approached Colson privately and asked to learn more.
Brother Deane obtained permission from the prison director to study with Alexandre in his cell. Soon several other inmates also wanted to study. The director allowed Colson to study with these inmates as well, during his noon break. Later it was decided that it would be better for two other elders to take over. For several years, from 30 to 50 prisoners enjoyed a weekly Bible discourse followed by a personal study for those who wanted one.
In the meantime, Alexandre made rapid progress, which prison officials observed. As a result, they gave this former escape artist special permission to attend his first district convention, under the charge of Brother Deane. There, Alexandre was baptized. Since then, he was released, and he continues to serve Jehovah.
International Conventions in Tahiti
In 1969, Tahiti enjoyed its first international convention. At the time, there were only 124 publishers in the islands. So you can imagine how thrilled they were to host 210 delegates from 16 countries, including Frederick W. Franz—the first member of the Governing Body to visit Tahiti. With a peak attendance of 610, the convention was a real stimulus to the brothers, contributing to a 15 percent increase in publishers the following year. Then in 1978, Tahiti hosted one of the “Victorious Faith” International Conventions. This time the attendance reached 985!
Translation Into Tahitian
As the number of publishers grew, so did the work at the branch, especially the translation of Bible-based literature into Tahitian, the main Polynesian language. Even before the branch was established, a few older publishers who had a good knowledge of Tahitian translated some publications part-time, usually from the French. Beginning in 1963, for instance, they translated the Kingdom Ministry. Then in 1971 they completed the book The Truth That Leads to Eternal Life.
The establishing of the Tahiti branch in 1975 gave further impetus to translation. Many newer translators were familiar with English, which is taught in school. Hence, they could now work directly from the original English text rather than from the French translation. Beginning in 1976, the branch translated The Watchtower into Tahitian as a semimonthly edition, and for a time, they translated Awake! They also translated “All Scripture Is Inspired of God and Beneficial,” Reasoning From the Scriptures, and the complete songbook. Indeed, no other group has published as much literature in Tahitian as have Jehovah’s Witnesses!
Over the last 30 years, however, Tahitian and other Polynesian languages have gradually given way to French. One reason for this trend is that French, a major language with a broad scope, is employed both by the media and by the school system right through the university level.
Still, many Polynesians consider Tahitian to be a part of their cultural identity, so the brothers often witness in that language. And of the 26 congregations in the branch territory, 5 are Tahitian, representing some 20 percent of the publishers. Hence, there is still a significant demand for literature in that tongue.
An Intense Building Program Gets Under Way
The small room adjoining the Kingdom Hall in Papeete served as the branch office from 1975 until 1983, when a new branch was constructed in the township of Paea, about 15 miles [25 km] from Papeete. Built entirely by local brothers, the new Bethel complex had four rooms for Bethel family members, three offices, a literature storage area, and a Kingdom Hall. On April 15, 1983, Lloyd Barry of the Governing Body dedicated the new facilities before an audience of 700.
But even that branch soon became too small. So the Governing Body approved the construction of a larger complex, including an Assembly Hall, in Toahotu, a semirural district near the isthmus connecting the two parts of the island. This project was completed by a team of brothers from Australia, Canada, France, New Zealand, and the United States. Of course, the local publishers provided much support. Governing Body member Milton G. Henschel dedicated the new complex on December 11, 1993.
At about the same time, an intense Kingdom Hall construction program also got under way. Supervised by the local Regional Building Committee, the brothers built 16 new halls in less than ten years. As a result, most congregations now have their own Kingdom Hall.
Adjustments at the Branch and Further Training
By 1995, Alain Jamet had been the Branch Committee coordinator for almost 20 years, but because of family responsibilities, he was unable to continue in this role. However, he was able to remain on the Branch Committee and to serve part-time as district overseer. So in September of that year, the Governing Body assigned Gérard and Dominique Balza, of the France Bethel family, to Tahiti. Gérard was appointed Branch Committee coordinator.
The third member of the Branch Committee is Luc Granger. He and his wife, Rébecca, moved to Tahiti in 1991 to serve where the need was greater. After a brief period as special pioneers, they shared in the circuit and district work for four years before being assigned to the branch in 1995.
In May 1997 the Tahiti branch was able to hold its first class of the Ministerial Training School. Many of the 20 students who attended went on to enjoy privileges of special service. Félix Temarii, for example, is now one of the two circuit overseers in the islands. Says Gérard Balza: “Our prayer is that more brothers will reach out to qualify and to make themselves available so that we can hold a second class. To be sure, a great need still exists on a number of the islands, some having no publishers even today. On other islands, qualified brothers are needed to take on congregation responsibilities. And the inhabitants of 58 islands, representing about 7 percent of the population, rarely hear the good news. In some cases, the need could be filled by spiritually mature, retired couples with French citizenship. If such ones would like to help us—even if for two years—the branch would be pleased to hear from them.”
Challenges in a Rapidly Changing Society
Tahiti in particular is experiencing economic growth and a rapid secularization and urbanization. This, in turn, has contributed to a population drift away from other islands to Tahiti. Materialism, consumerism, and the pursuit of pleasures have followed in the wake of material prosperity.
Sadly, a number of Jehovah’s people have fallen victim to these subtle pressures. Young ones especially are finding it a challenge to keep spiritual things to the fore and to remain morally chaste. Still, Jehovah’s blessing continues to be manifest, for the territory now has 1 publisher of the good news for every 141 inhabitants.
This is evidence that many people in French Polynesia have come to appreciate a far more beautiful paradise—a spiritual one, which is the exclusive domain of God’s name people. (John 6:44; Acts 15:14) Furthermore, this paradise is the precursor to a literal paradise that will soon clothe the earth and that will be free of pain, sorrow, and even death—things that have afflicted every generation of humans no matter where they live.—Job 14:1; Rev. 21:3, 4.
The early Polynesians exhibited great courage, seamanship, and faith that land—perhaps even a better land—lay beyond the horizon. They were not disappointed. Similarly, Jehovah’s loyal worshipers today, such as those mentioned in this account, keep striving for the vastly superior prize that Jehovah has set before them. They too will not suffer disappointment. Yes, better than any star in the sky, Jehovah will unfailingly lead all who trust in him to the earthly Paradise that lies just ahead.—Ps. 73:23, 24; Luke 23:43.
Although this account covers French Polynesia as a whole, it is entitled “Tahiti” because this island is the hub of the region and the name Tahiti is more familiar to many. Nevertheless, “Tahiti” mentioned in the story itself refers specifically to the island.
For a discussion of the history of the Tahitian Bible, see The Watchtower of July 1, 2003, pages 26-9.
[Box on page 72]
An Overview of French Polynesia
The land: Scattered over 1.9 million square miles [5 million sq km] of ocean, the 130 islands have an area of 1,550 square miles [4,000 sq km]. They form five archipelagoes: Tubuaï (Austral), Gambier, Marquesas, Society, and Tuamotu. The 14 Society Islands are home to 85 percent of the population.
The people: Most are Polynesian or part Polynesian. The rest—just a minority—are Chinese, European, and American.
The language: French and Tahitian are the main languages, French being the language of government and commerce.
The livelihood: The economy is based primarily on administration and service industries, including tourism. Agriculture, manufacturing, and pearl farming employ the balance of the work force. Pearls account for 80 percent of the exports.
The food: The islands rely heavily on imported foodstuffs. Local crops include bananas, cassavas, coconuts, lettuces, papayas, pineapples, taros, tomatoes, and watermelons. Meat sources include fish, oysters, shrimps, cattle, goats, and pigs.
The climate: The weather is tropical—warm and humid—but varies somewhat between archipelagoes. The wet season (summer) runs from November to April. Annually, central Tahiti can be drenched by over 30 feet [9 m] of rain.
[Box/Pictures on page 74]
High Islands, Low Islands, and Motu
The islands of French Polynesia are all of volcanic origin and form two main kinds—high islands and low islands. The high islands are rugged and mountainous, some having summits thousands of feet above sea level. Tahiti is a classic example of a high island.
Of the high islands, all except the Marquesas are protected by encircling coral reefs. On many of these reefs, such as the one around Bora Bora, you will find tiny vegetated islets called motu. These are popular sites for resorts.
The low islands are coral atolls rising just a few feet above sea level. Typically, the reef forms a loop that gives rise to a crystal-clear lagoon. The islands of the Tuamotu Archipelago are of this kind. Some lagoons are immense. The one at Rangiroa, for instance, is 40 miles [70 km] long and 12 miles [20 km] across at its widest point.
[Box/Picture on page 77]
From Church Deacon to Kingdom Proclaimer
Profile: A deacon in the Protestant Church, he learned the truth from some of the first Bible students on the island of Makatéa.
After Witnesses Jean-Marie and Jeanne Félix arrived on Makatéa in 1956, their first Bible students, Maui Piirai and Germaine Amaru, witnessed to me. Soon I began sharing Bible truth with fellow parishioners, which caused quite a stir in the church. In fact, the pastor told me to stop talking with Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Without hesitation, I resigned from the church and began to attend the meetings, which were held at the home of the Félix family. A few other parishioners also began to study and attend meetings. I count it a privilege to have been among that first little group of Bible students in all of French Polynesia.
[Box/Picture on page 83, 84]
Jehovah Made Up for My Lack
Leonard (Len) Helberg
Profile: As a single circuit overseer on his first circuit assignment, he opened up the work in Tahiti. He and his wife, Rita, now live in Australia.
In 1955, when the Australia branch assigned me to begin circuit work in the South Pacific, this vast expanse of territory had just two congregations—one in Fiji and the other in Samoa—and six isolated groups. There were no publishers in Tahiti.
I set aside December 1956 for my first visit to the island, arriving there after a six-day voyage from Fiji on the ocean liner Southern Cross. I found accommodations in a boarding house overlooking the picturesque harbor of Papeete. The next morning, while dressing for field service, I saw the Southern Cross pass by only a few hundred yards from my window. I was alone in a new land, two thousand miles [3,000 km] from my nearest brothers, with a people who spoke a foreign tongue—French. All I had was one single address of an Awake! subscriber.
Suddenly I was so overcome by feelings of loneliness that I broke down, sobbing uncontrollably. Unable to stop weeping, I said to myself, ‘Well, count this as a lost day—back to bed. I’ll start tomorrow.’ After much earnest prayer that night, I awoke the following morning in good spirits. That afternoon I found the Awake! subscriber—a woman from Algeria. Like Lydia mentioned in Acts, she and her 34-year-old son welcomed me with open arms, insisting that I stay with them. (Acts 16:15) Suddenly, my loneliness was cured! I thanked Jehovah, who I am certain heard my prolonged and tearful supplication.
Now when I look back, I truly appreciate what a loving Father Jehovah is! Yes, when we make ourselves available, he will more than make up for any lack we may have.
[Box/Pictures on page 87, 88]
Alexis Tinorua attended the meetings Len Helberg organized in the late 1950’s. Said Alexis: “I sat in on a Bible discussion that Brother Helberg had with a number of Protestant deacons. Right there, I recognized the ring of truth in the teachings of Jehovah’s Witnesses and began to study with the Witnesses. I was baptized in 1960. I then enjoyed nine years of pioneer service. In 1965, I had the privilege of being the first to preach on the island of Huahine, in the Society archipelago. I am deeply indebted to Jehovah for granting me the privilege of helping 80 people come to an accurate knowledge of Bible truth.” Alexis served Jehovah down to his death in May 2002.
Hélène Mapu started pioneering in 1963 in Tahiti, soon after she learned the truth. Her husband, though not a Witness, was very supportive. His work involved sailing between Tahiti and Raïatéa. Hence, he had no objection to Hélène accepting an invitation to special pioneer on Raïatéa, where she became the first to preach the good news. Hélène then moved back to Tahiti, this time to the peninsula (the smaller part of the island, also called Tahiti Iti), where she and another sister, Mereani Tefaaroa, were the only Witnesses. Says Hélène, “There was a great deal of interest on the peninsula, and in a short time, we started many Bible studies.”
Jehovah’s blessing on these faithful sisters was evident, for a congregation was later formed in that territory, in the township of Vairao.
[Box/Picture on page 101]
“You Have to Choose Between Me and Jehovah”
Profile: Has been a regular pioneer longer than any other pioneer in French Polynesia.
When I told my husband that I wanted to become one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, he gave me an ultimatum: “You have to choose between me and Jehovah.” I tried to reason with him, but to no avail. He left me and our three children. However, he did return years later.
In the meantime, I was able both to provide for my family and to regular pioneer. I did my secular work early in the morning and then conducted the meeting for field service. In the late 1960’s, there were only about a hundred publishers in the islands, so brothers were not always available.
I thank Jehovah for granting me the privilege of helping some 50 persons dedicate their lives to him, including Richard Wong Foo, who has been a member of the Tahiti Bethel family since 1991. My two sons, I am delighted to say, serve as congregation elders.
[Box/Picture on page 105]
Funeral for the Last Princess
Michel Gelas, an elder in Papeete, had an unusual experience that involved the last member of Tahiti’s royalty, Princess Takau Pomare, who died in 1976 at the age of 89. The princess was a direct descendant of the Pomare dynasty, which ruled Tahiti and a number of nearby islands for a time. Her adopted daughter, one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, asked Michel to deliver the funeral discourse, even though the princess had not been a Witness.
Michel agreed to give the talk, feeling that it would be a fine opportunity to explain the resurrection hope to a number of people, including political and religious officials and members of the news media. The day after the service, a local newspaper published a picture of Brother Gelas presenting his talk, the coffin resting in front of him. In attendance were the governor, the president of the Polynesian government, other officials, and the Catholic archbishop, clad in his formal white cassock.
[Box/Picture on page 109, 110]
One Cleric Lent Us His Scooter; Another Burned Our Books
Profile: Along with his wife, Paulette, served as a special pioneer in France and in the traveling work in the Pacific.
In 1969, Paulette and I said our good-byes to family and friends in France and set sail for Tahiti, our new assignment. Adding a little excitement to our voyage, our ship caught fire in the middle of the Pacific, and we drifted for four days! Upon our arrival in Tahiti, I was assigned to serve as a circuit overseer.
Our circuit included New Caledonia, Vanuatu, and French Polynesia. At the time, French Polynesia had one congregation and two isolated groups. In 1971 our circuit was reduced to just French Polynesia, which gave us time to visit a number of isolated islands. On some of those islands, the Kingdom message had never been preached before. Paulette and I also spent nine months on Huahine and a little time on the small island of Maupiti. While on Huahine, we had the privilege of starting 44 Bible studies.
For food, I caught fish—mostly with a spear gun. We lived frugally but never went hungry; our material needs were always cared for. When witnessing on the island of Tubuaï, we were pleasantly surprised when a pastor lent us his scooter. Perhaps he felt pity for us because we had no transportation.
In 1974 we visited four of the Marquesas Islands: Hiva Oa, Nuku Hiva, Ua Huka, and Ua Pou. The branch asked us to visit Kalina Tom Sing Vien, an isolated sister who had moved to Ua Pou as a nurse in 1973. She remained there for 13 months, becoming the first Kingdom publisher to submit a field service report from the Marquesas.
Unlike the kind pastor on Tubuaï, the priest on Ua Pou opposed our activity. In fact, he secretly followed us around the territory, demanding that his parishioners hand over any literature we had placed with them. Then he burned everything in front of Kalina’s home—an act that shocked not just us but many Catholics as well!
Despite such opposition, the work in the Marquesas moved ahead, and we count it a privilege to have had a small part. Because of Paulette’s health, we had to leave the full-time service. Nevertheless, we are resolved to continue giving Jehovah our best.
[Box on page 113]
Visiting an Island for the First Time
Imagine arriving on a remote island or an atoll for the first time. You plan to spend a week or two witnessing to the people. However, you are the only Witness on the island, and there are no public accommodations and no transportation. What will you do? Where will you stay? Marc Montet and Jacques Inaudi, who have served as pioneers and circuit overseers, have experienced this very situation a number of times.
Says Marc: “I would begin witnessing as soon as I got off the plane or boat, and at the same time, I would make inquiries about accommodations. It was not always easy for a single man to find somewhere to stay, but someone would usually give me a bed and provide some meals. On subsequent visits, finding accommodations was always easier because people knew me. It was also easier after I got married. People felt more at ease with a married couple.”
Jacques explains his approach, saying: “Often I would visit the mayor and ask him if he knew anyone who could accommodate me for the desired time. He would usually point me in the right direction. On many islands, people respect someone whom they view as a man of God and do what they can to help. So I usually had somewhere to stay free of charge.”
[Box/Picture on page 117, 118]
Our Greatest Delight Is the Field Ministry
Profile: Along with his wife, Mary-Ann, shared in various aspects of the full-time service in France and in French Polynesia.
When I was 13, my family moved from France to Tahiti. After high school, I returned to France to study medicine. There I met Mary-Ann, a biology student from Tahiti, and we got married. In 1968, Jehovah’s Witnesses called on us, and we embraced the truth.
Naturally, we shared our newfound hope with our parents, but to no avail. We also wrote to our respective churches in Tahiti, requesting that our names be struck from the registers. Mary-Ann’s parish in Papeete went a step further and publicly excommunicated her. The pastor even invited her parents along for the occasion.
We were baptized in 1969 and took up the pioneer service. While in Marseilles, France, I was called up for military service and spent two months in prison because of my neutral stand. After my release, Mary-Ann and I were assigned to serve as special pioneers in Marseilles and Bordeaux. Then at the request of our aging parents, we returned to Tahiti in 1973 and worked full-time for one year as primary-school teachers.
Then the branch overseer in Fiji asked us if our goal was to resume the full-time ministry, since there was a need for a circuit overseer in French Polynesia and New Caledonia. Our parents’ situation having improved, we accepted the invitation and commenced circuit work in August 1974. In 1975, during a visit by N. H. Knorr, I was invited to serve as Tahiti’s first branch overseer.
Our son, Rauma, was born in 1986, and my wife discontinued full-time service. Happily, Rauma is our spiritual brother today. Looking back, we have deeply appreciated our many privileges of service. But our greatest delight is still the field ministry.
[Box/Picture on page 123-125]
Jehovah Cares for His Sheep
Profile: With his wife, Sandra, serves one of the two circuits in French Polynesia.
Our circuit includes all five archipelagoes of French Polynesia and is the size of Europe. Some of the remoter islands may have just one or two publishers. Despite their isolation, however, we still visit them. Rosita, for example, lives on Takapoto, in the Tuamotus. This faithful sister prepares for all the meetings each week, and her husband, who is not in the truth, often joins her. Every Sunday, even when most people go swimming or fishing in the lagoon, Rosita dresses in meeting attire and studies the Watchtower lesson for that week. She is also faithful in reporting her field activity. In fact, her report, which she phones in to the branch, is often the first one received! What makes this especially commendable is that the nearest telephone is a 45-minute boat ride from her motu.
The arrival of a plane is always a big event. So when we fly in to visit our sister, almost everybody living near the airport is there to see who disembarks. On one occasion, a lady said to Rosita: “Whom are you welcoming?” She replied: “My spiritual brother and sister. They are coming just for me, to encourage me.” We spend three days with Rosita, working with her in the field and giving her spiritual encouragement. Often we do not get to bed before midnight, such is her desire for spiritual companionship.
On another island, an Adventist saw us visit his neighbor, a Witness. Later he confided to our brother: “I’ve lived here for seven years, yet nobody from my church has ever come to encourage me.” This man serves in an unofficial capacity as pastor of the small group of Adventists on the island.
Daniel and Doris are the only two publishers on Raevavae, in the Tubuaï Islands. When we finally found them—they live in a very isolated place—we asked if we could arrange for a meeting that afternoon at their home. They were thrilled at the prospect, and off we all went to invite people to attend. When we arrived for the meeting, seven plantation workers who had just finished work for the day were waiting outside on the road. Some had bags of taro draped over their shoulders.
“Don’t worry about how you look,” we said. “Come along anyway.” And they did, but they sat on the floor, even though we had seats for them. They enjoyed the meeting and asked us many questions afterward. Of course, the afternoon was most encouraging to our brother and sister, fulfilling the main purpose of our visit.
Sometimes it is difficult to visit isolated publishers because the airport is not on their island. In one case, after landing, we had a two-hour boat ride across open ocean to get to the island where two publishers lived. The boat, by the way, was an open speedboat, about 12 feet [4 m] long. Of course, we questioned the boatman to satisfy ourselves that his craft was seaworthy and that he carried a spare motor. To be adrift in the middle of the Pacific Ocean is an unpleasant experience, to say the least!
By the time we got to our destination, we were soaked with sea spray, and our backs ached from the waves pounding against the hull. The return trip was no better. Says Sandra: “When we got back to the main island that afternoon, I got on my bicycle to do some preaching. However, my body was so weak and shaken from the boat ride that I could not control the bike on the coral road, and I promptly fell off!”
In view of the foregoing, you can see why every time we visit our isolated brothers and sisters, we reflect on the deep love that Jehovah and his organization have for them. To be sure, we belong to a very special spiritual family.—John 13:35.
“They are coming just for me, to encourage me”
[Chart/Graph on page 80, 81]
FRENCH POLYNESIA—A TIME LINE
1835: Translation of Tahitian Bible completed.
1930’s: Sydney Shepherd and Frank Dewar visit Tahiti and possibly other islands.
1956: The preaching work begins in earnest on Makatéa and Tahiti.
1958: Two baptisms are held, the first in French Polynesia.
1959: French Polynesia’s first congregation is formed, in Papeete.
1960: Association of Jehovah’s Witnesses is registered.
1962: First Kingdom Hall in the islands is erected in Papeete.
1969: Tahiti hosts its first international convention.
1975: Branch office is established in Tahiti.
1976: Translation of The Watchtower into Tahitian begins.
1983: First Bethel home is dedicated.
1989: Peak of 1,000 publishers is reached.
1993: New Bethel home and adjacent Assembly Hall are dedicated.
1997: First Ministerial Training School is held.
2004: 1,746 publishers are active in French Polynesia.
1940 1960 1980 2000
[Maps on page 73]
(For fully formatted text, see publication)
TUBUAÏ (AUSTRAL) ISLANDS
[Full-page picture on page 66]
[Picture on page 70]
Jeanne and Jean-Marie Félix were among the first to give a thorough witness in French Polynesia
[Pictures on page 71]
Maui Piirai, the first Polynesian in the territory to dedicate his life to Jehovah, was baptized by Jean-Marie Félix in 1958
[Pictures on page 79]
Clyde and Ann Neill (below) joined Agnès Schenck (right) in Tahiti to assist with the preaching work
[Picture on page 85]
John and Ellen Hubler took up circuit work in 1960
[Picture on page 86]
In 1962 the Papeete Congregation built its first Kingdom Hall—a simple structure with open sides and a thatched roof
[Picture on page 89]
April 15, 1965, issue of “La Sentinelle,” containing articles from “The Watchtower”
[Picture on page 92]
To progress spiritually, Taina Rataro learned to read and write Tahitian
[Picture on page 92]
Elisabeth Avae (seated) with her granddaughter Diana Tautu
[Picture on page 95]
Anna and Antonio Lanza
[Picture on page 96]
Vaieretiai and Marie-Medeleine Mara
[Picture on page 97]
[Picture on page 98]
[Picture on page 99]
Vahinerii and Edmond Rai (left) with Taaroa and Catherine Terii (right)
[Picture on page 100]
Auguste and Stella Temanaha
[Pictures on page 102]
Christiane and Jean-Paul Lassalle (left) and Lina and Colson Deane (right)
[Picture on page 103]
Roger Sage (left) interpreting into Tahitian a talk by Francis Sicari at a district convention in the 1970’s
[Picture on page 107]
Eileen and Alain Raffaelli
[Picture on page 108]
Mauri and Mélanie Mercier
[Picture on page 120]
Marie-Louise and Serge Gollin serve as missionaries in the Marquesas
[Picture on page 122]
Alexandre Tetiarahi, with his wife, Elma, and two youngest daughters, Rava (left) and Riva
[Picture on page 126]
The Tahitian translation team
[Picture on page 127]
The 1969 “Peace on Earth” International Assembly was the first international convention to be held in Tahiti
[Picture on page 128]
This Kingdom Hall on the island of Bora Bora is the latest to be built in French Polynesia
[Picture on page 130]
Christine and Félix Temarii
[Picture on page 131]
Branch Committee, from left to right: Alain Jamet, Gérard Balza, and Luc Granger
[Pictures on page 132, 133]
(1) Tahiti branch facilities
(2) Gérard Balza releasing the book “Draw Close to Jehovah” in Tahitian, July 2002
(3) The Tahiti Bethel family