SITUATED on the Yucatán Peninsula and bounded by Mexico, Guatemala, and the Caribbean Sea is the tropical gem known as Belize. This little country, formerly called British Honduras, is a melting pot of cultures, languages, customs, foods, and religions.
With a population of about 300,000, Belize is uncrowded compared with the rest of Central America. Its lush, tropical jungles are home to gorgeous birds and fascinating animals, including the elusive jaguar. Here, too, you will find many ancient Maya ruins and majestic mountains adorned with towering palms and cascading waterfalls. A fascinating feature of the land is its huge network of caverns, some of which are connected by clear, winding rivers. The Belize Barrier Reef, which stretches the full length of the coastline, contains a spectacular array of corals and is dotted with cays—low islands covered with white sandy beaches and coconut palms.
The Arawak and the Carib, who migrated from South America, were early settlers in Belize. Centuries before the Europeans came to what was called the New World, Belize is thought to have been the heart of the Maya civilization, with flourishing ceremonial centers and magnificent temples.
Early efforts by Europeans to colonize Belize are not well documented. What is known is that Spain’s attempts to subjugate the Maya failed. In 1638, British pirates settled on the coast of Belize. By the middle of the 17th century, settlements for exploiting logwood (from which a valuable dye was extracted) had been established.
The British brought slaves to the country from markets in Jamaica and the United States, as well as directly from Africa, to harvest logwood and mahogany. Even though whip-wielding slave drivers were not as common in the timber industry as they were elsewhere in the Americas, living conditions were deplorable and ill-treatment was common. Many slaves revolted, committed suicide, or escaped and established independent communities within Belize. In 1862, Belize was proclaimed a British colony, and in 1981 it gained independence.*
SEEDS OF TRUTH TAKE ROOT
One of the first Witnesses, then called International Bible Students, to arrive in Belize was James Gordon, who was baptized in Jamaica in 1918. In 1923 this slightly built, soft-spoken young man left Jamaica to live in Belize. He settled in a remote Maya village called Bomba, where he married and began to raise a family. Although far from his Christian brothers, he shared the good news with his friends and neighbors.
How did the Kingdom good news reach the rest of this British colony? In 1931, Freida Johnson, a small woman in her late 50’s from the United States, began preaching in parts of Central America. Traveling alone, sometimes on horseback, she preached in towns, villages, and scattered banana plantations on the Caribbean Coast.
Arriving in Belize City in 1933, Freida rented a small room from Mrs. Beeks. She heard Freida reading from the Bible and singing a hymn before going out each morning. Many could not help noticing Freida’s unflagging zeal, such as when she did not stop for the usual afternoon rest as did most others in the Tropics. During her six-month stay in the country, she stirred the interest of a Jamaican baker named Thaddius Hodgeson. Although concentrating her efforts in Belize City, Freida also visited some rural areas, where she made contact with James Gordon in Bomba. Freida’s fine work enabled those who shared the same beliefs to become acquainted with one another and begin meeting together.
MORE HELPED INTO THE TRUTH
Though communication was very difficult at the time, James and Thaddius maintained contact as they carried on the preaching work in their respective regions. As early as 1934, Thaddius wrote to the world headquarters in Brooklyn requesting a transcription machine and recorded Bible talks.
On Saturday nights Thaddius played recorded talks in front of the Supreme Court building, in a small park that had been used as an exercise ground for the army garrison. Known as “the Battlefield,” the park became just that. Thaddius played recordings of Brother Rutherford’s talks on one side, and the Salvation Army band played on the other side, accompanied by the booming of a large drum played by Beaumont Boman. Soon, though, Beaumont responded to the Kingdom message and joined Thaddius on his side of the battlefield. “I give thanks to my God, Jehovah,” said Beaumont, “for making me put down that drum!”
Another good place for public preaching was a small area in front of the open market known as Mule Park, where there was a hitching post for mule carts used to transport goods into and around town. Thaddius—who was tall, brown-skinned, and good-looking and was known as a very dynamic speaker, could often be heard there. Despite the strong hold of Christendom’s churches on the Bible-loving people of Belize, many honesthearted ones, such as James Hyatt and Arthur Randall, both from Jamaica, responded to the good news.
On the north side of Belize City, Thaddius began conducting meetings in his bakery. To do so, he had to push aside the serving counter and place boards on chairs to create crude benches. On the south side of the city, meetings were held at the home of Cora Brown. In addition, Nora Fayad recalled that when she was a young girl, the few Witnesses in her area used to meet in Arthur Randall’s yard, next to her home.
VIGOROUS PREACHING YIELDS RESULTS
The hallmark of many of those early Witnesses was their tireless preaching. For example, James (Jimsie) Jenkins, though blind, walked all over Belize City, feeling his way with his stick. Molly Tillet says she could hear him preaching at the market, even when she was two blocks away! James was also remembered for paying rapt attention at the meetings, where he sat leaning slightly forward on his stick to catch every word. He memorized many Bible texts, which he used in the preaching work.
Meanwhile, James Gordon was known in the villages around Bomba for preaching to everyone he met, carrying his literature in a portable mahogany case in one hand and a transcription machine in the other. Every Sunday in the predawn darkness, he paddled upriver in his hollowed-out log canoe and then walked for many miles in the territory throughout the day. At day’s end he could be seen trudging up the path from the river in the fading light. After supper, James conducted a Bible study with his six children until he was just too tired to hold up his book.
At that time, Brother Gordon’s wife was not yet a Witness. In fact, one day when he was away, she burned much of his Bible literature. When James returned and saw what she had done, he stayed calm. With a firm voice, he simply said, “Don’t ever try that again!” His children were impressed by his self-restraint because they knew what a painful loss his wife had inflicted on him.
DRAWN BY JEHOVAH’S SPIRIT
One Sunday morning James preached to Derrine Lightburn, a devout Anglican, who accepted the book The Harp of God. She could not hear everything the soft-spoken man said, but she wondered what he was talking about. Later, during a stay with her aunt Alphonsena Robateau in Belize City, a man stopped at the gate and asked permission to enter the yard.
“He looks just like the man who brought me that nice book I told you about,” Derrine told her aunt.
It turned out to be, not James Gordon, but James Hyatt. He played his transcription machine for the two women and placed The Harp of God with Alphonsena. Although very involved in politics, Alphonsena and her sister Octabelle Flowers had been searching for the truth. What Alphonsena heard that day moved her to exclaim to Octabelle: “You know, a man came here talking about the Kingdom of God. I think this is what we’re looking for!” Octabelle made a point of being there when the brother returned. All three women—Alphonsena, Octabelle, and Derrine—embraced the truth and were baptized in 1941.
The mother of Alphonsena and Octabelle had recently passed away, and Amybelle Allen, their younger sister, prayed to God that she too would die and go to heaven to be with her mother. Octabelle invited Amybelle to hear the talk “Where Are the Dead?” Amybelle accepted the invitation and never stopped attending meetings.
“Those people were drawn by Jehovah’s spirit just by reading the publications and going to the meetings,” says Olga Knight, Derrine’s daughter. “They were so excited about the truth that they soon started telling others what they had learned.”
For example, Olga’s father, Herman Lightburn, accepted the truth after reading the book Children during a stay in the hospital. He was so enthusiastic about what he was learning that he rented a truck every Friday to take the small band of publishers to witness in the surrounding villages. He also did extensive preaching in the rural area of Black Creek, where he had a farm.
“My parents preached along the Belize River,” recalls Olga, “and the people would come with lanterns in the evening to listen. Every morning when we were on vacation at the farm, my parents, my aunt Amybelle, her daughter Molly Tillet, and I—all mounted on my father’s horses, one behind the other—would ride along the trail until we got to Crooked Tree. There, while the horses were let out to graze, we studied the Bible with interested ones. As a result, some of those families came into the truth.”
In 1941 the first group of new publishers was baptized in the waters of the Caribbean in Belize City. Included in this group was George Longsworth, who pioneered from that year until he died at the age of 87 in 1967. He did much of his preaching in the interior, where he opened up new territories, riding on horseback for miles between towns and villages. George’s consistent zeal for the ministry and his regular meeting attendance were especially encouraging to newer ones. Jehovah was using these zealous and faithful servants in a powerful way to draw honesthearted ones into his organization.
THE FIRST MISSIONARIES ARRIVE
October 5, 1945, saw the arrival of Elmer Ihrig and Charles Heyen, graduates of the first class of Gilead. Just the day before, however, a hurricane had struck about 100 miles [160 km] south of Belize City. The ten-mile [16 km] stretch of road from the airport to the city was under water, so the two missionaries were transported in large army trucks. Thaddius Hodgeson placed cement blocks and wooden boxes in the water in front of his home so that when the two arrived, they could enter without getting their feet wet.
The brothers in Belize eagerly anticipated the arrival of the first missionaries. James Gordon, León Requeña, and Rafael Medina were willing to travel from the north of the country to Belize City to meet the new missionaries—quite a challenge at that time! “There was no highway connecting the north of the country and Belize City,” explains Ismael Medina, Rafael’s grandson. “There were only picados, rutted trails used for mule carts. There were no houses along the way, so they slept wherever night found them, despite the snakes. When they had met the missionaries and received instructions and literature, the three brothers walked all the way back again. It took days!”
The missionaries were introduced to the public in Mule Park in a most unusual way. James Hyatt began the program with a scathing attack on the clergy for their false teachings, which provoked an outburst of profanity from some of the onlookers. At the end of his talk, he abruptly pointed to the two new missionaries and said, “I hand these two over to you!” That was about as much as the public was going to find out about the two new brothers on that occasion!
There was no doubt that those early brothers had an outstanding love for Jehovah and Bible truth, as well as an abiding hatred for false religious teachings. It was clear too that the missionaries had valuable experience to share with the eager publishers that would help them become more effective preachers.
The two missionaries started their work in Belize City, which had a population of about 26,700 at the time. It was built on fill, which brought it to the height of just one foot above sea level, and it had poor drainage. Added to that, the climate was hot and humid. The homes had no city water supply, but in almost every yard, there was a large wooden vat to collect rainwater during the rainy season. Sometimes, though, the rain came with a vengeance, such as in 1931 when a hurricane demolished the city and killed more than 2,000 people.
PROGRESS DESPITE RESTRICTIONS
Although there was never a ban against the activity of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Belize, the government imposed a ban on our publications for some time during World War II. Shortly before the arrival of the missionaries, though, these restrictions had been lifted.
Nevertheless, The Watchtower of July 15, 1946, reporting on the activity of the two missionaries in Belize, stated: “In the interior a Roman Catholic priest still tries to have the ban enforced against the literature received by mail. The Roman Catholic clergy resent the presence of these two missionaries of Jehovah’s witnesses; and one Irish-American priest . . . grew indignant that the British Colonial Government should let them into the country. . . . The two [missionaries] reminded the priest that he claimed to be an American himself, and they sent him scurrying away by showing him from American prison statistics that the Roman Catholic system was no real guardian of the morals of the people of the United States.”
The first accurate record of publishers in Belize was in 1944 when seven publishers reported. To give a more effective witness, the publishers began using testimony cards in the door-to-door work. Within a year of the arrival of the missionaries, the number of publishers rose to 16.
In 1946, Nathan H. Knorr and Frederick W. Franz, from the world headquarters, visited the country and established a branch office here. Brother Knorr gave a talk on organization, explaining the need to report field service on the printed forms provided. Brother Franz urged the congregation to show mercy to others by continuing to preach the Kingdom message. Later in the week Brother Knorr explained to an audience of 102, which included many interested persons, why the interested ones should be glad to be with Jehovah’s people. He invited them to study the Bible regularly with the Witnesses.
That same year, Charles and Annie Ruth Parrish and Cordis and Mildred Sorrell arrived. Truman Brubaker and Charles and Florence Homolka followed them in 1948. They were most welcome, for much work lay ahead.
MUCH WORK TO DO
“There was only the one small congregation then,” wrote Elmer Ihrig, “there being no congregations in the outer districts. I used to go to these places and spend a couple of weeks at a time, sowing seed by placing books, taking subscriptions and giving talks.” During that first year, Charles Heyen traveled by truck to Orange Walk, where he worked the territory and encouraged the brothers to hold regular meetings.
The only link with the southern towns was by boat. So Elmer and Charles traveled on the Heron H to reach the coastal towns of Stann Creek (now Dangriga) and Punta Gorda, two Garifuna settlements, with the goal of opening up the preaching work there. Back then, Punta Gorda could only be reached by a 30-hour boat trip from Belize City. Elmer made the trip and then gave a public talk to about 20 people in the lobby of the hotel where he was staying.
Olga Knight remembers Elmer accompanying her family to the remote village of Crooked Tree, where her father conducted meetings along the tree-lined river. The local brothers appreciated the hard work and humble attitude of the missionaries.
By 1948, there was an average of 38 publishers, and four new congregations were formed outside of Belize City. These small congregations were made up of a handful of publishers in rural communities, such as the Lightburn family in Black Creek, the Gordon family in Bomba, the Humes and Aldana families in Santana, and Brothers Requeña and Medina in Orange Walk. The missionaries and special pioneers were concentrating their efforts on Belize City, as they had been encouraged to do. Jehovah blessed their diligent efforts, and an ever-increasing number of sincere people were becoming Jehovah’s servants.
Brother Knorr’s next visit, in December 1949, was timely and encouraging. He spent one evening in the missionary home talking about the challenges of missionary work. Many new publishers wanted to serve Jehovah but did not appreciate the need to dedicate their lives to him and symbolize it by baptism. Brother Knorr reminded the missionaries that patience, endurance, and love for people were needed. He also reminded them that they had enjoyed good results.
NO MORE MISSIONARIES ALLOWED
By 1957 the brothers sensed that the government was keeping a close check on the activities of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Belize. For example, at a presentation of one of the Society’s films in Orange Walk, a police officer questioned the brothers from the branch about their time of arrival in the village and the time they would be leaving. He said that this was for a report to the superintendent of police and pointed out that a plainclothes officer was present at a recent assembly to make a similar report.
Between 1951 and 1957, ten more missionaries had been granted permission to enter the country. Suddenly, in June 1957, the brothers received a letter from the police and immigration headquarters, stating: “The Government of British Honduras [now Belize] has decided that, with immediate effect, no further Ministers of your Society will be permitted to enter British Honduras from overseas.” A request to meet with the governor to ascertain the reason for this decision was denied.
Although some other religious groups were not permitted to bring in new missionaries, they were allowed to replace missionaries that left. This provision was not extended to Jehovah’s Witnesses, who needed to replace two missionaries. In 1960 the brothers wrote to the authorities in Belize as well as in London pointing out that they were not applying for new missionaries but, rather, requesting replacements.
The curt reply was: “The Governor-in-Council has reached a firm decision not to permit the entry into British Honduras of any further missionaries of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society.”
When the brothers requested an interview, they were told: “The Governor-in-Council reached a firm decision in 1957 not to permit the entry into British Honduras of any further missionaries of your Society; and in these circumstances His Excellency does not consider that it would serve any useful purpose for him to see you on this matter.” It seemed that the brothers had come up against a stone wall.
Finally, after almost five years of continual requests, the branch received a letter in October 1961 from the Secretariat in Belize, which said: “I am to inform you that your most recent representations have been considered by the British Honduras Government which has decided that, for the time being, it will permit further foreign missionaries to enter this country as replacements for the existing foreign missionaries who are already here.” As a result, in 1962, Martin and Alice Thompson from Jamaica were permitted to enter the country as missionaries.
THE WORK WAS UNHINDERED
It was obvious that religious opposers had tried to slow down our work, but had they succeeded? The report for the 1957 service year showed a peak of 176 publishers in seven congregations. Belize had a population of 75,000 people at the time, which means the ratio was about 1 publisher to every 400 people. The 1961 service year report showed 236 publishers, a 34 percent increase, bringing the ratio to 1 publisher to every 383 people! Jehovah’s promise to his people proved true: “Any weapon whatever that will be formed against you will have no success, and any tongue at all that will rise up against you in the judgment you will condemn.” (Isa. 54:17) The preaching work continued unhindered.
Many couples who studied the Bible were living together without being legally married, and some drifted from one partner to another. But as soon as they learned of Jehovah’s high standards, many went to great effort and expense to become properly married. Some of them were over 80 years of age!
A NEW KINGDOM HALL IS NEEDED
In December 1949 the brothers paid in advance to use Liberty Hall in Belize City for a series of four special talks to be held in January 1950. The day before the final talk, an announcement was aired on the radio that the hall was going to be used the next day for the funeral service of a prominent person. Despite several appeals by the brothers to the owners of the hall, the special talk was interrupted by a group of people who entered the hall and loudly started making preparations for the funeral. Eventually, the brothers had to ask the police to intervene. Clearly, the brothers needed a Kingdom Hall of their own. Available halls were all used as clubs and dance halls, and rent was expensive.
“Last Sunday night at the Watchtower Study there were 174 present,” relates Donald Snider, serving then as branch overseer. “The hall is not able to accommodate nearly that many, so quite a few have to stand. Because it’s very crowded, it’s hotter than ever.” The branch office and missionary home were moved to various rented locations several times.
In September 1958 construction began on a two-story structure. The first floor housed a small branch office and missionary home, while the entire second floor was an auditorium. In 1959 construction was completed, and the Belize City Congregation finally had its own Kingdom Hall!
GROWTH IN THE SPANISH FIELD
One outstanding area of spiritual growth among Jehovah’s people in Belize has been among Spanish-speaking people. In 1949 there were places where Spanish was spoken, but none of the missionaries then spoke the language. Later, however, some were sent who could speak Spanish. One of these was Leslie Pitcher, who came in 1955. He was assigned to work in Benque Viejo, a town with a Spanish-speaking population, located in western Belize next to the Guatemalan border. When he arrived, some of the locals were already waiting for him. Why was that?
About a year before, in the town of San Benito, farther west in Guatemala, Natalia Contreras had learned the truth and was baptized. She crossed the border into Belize to witness to her relatives living in Benque Viejo. One of these, Serviliano Contreras, took special note of Natalia’s Scriptural comments about idol worship, and he accepted the truth. He was a faithful Witness until his death in 1998 at the age of 101. Many of his children and grandchildren are Witnesses. The territory of the small band of publishers in Benque Viejo in those early days extended across the Guatemalan border to the town of Melchor de Mencos, where they conducted meetings. Eventually, a congregation was formed in Melchor de Mencos, and the Benque Viejo Congregation is still known for its zealous spirit.
As early as 1956, portions of the district and circuit assembly programs were presented in Spanish. But it was not until February 1968 that a complete circuit assembly program was presented in Spanish at the Kingdom Hall in Orange Walk. There were 85 in attendance, and 4 were baptized.
Marcelo Dominguez and Rafael Medina, two Spanish-speaking brothers, along with other Spanish-speaking Witnesses, such as Dionisio and Catalina Tek, faithfully attended the meetings and assemblies in English, even though their understanding of the language was limited. It was not until October 1964 that a Spanish-language congregation was formed in Orange Walk with 20 publishers, who had been associating with the English congregation.
During the 1980’s, civil wars were raging in nearby El Salvador and Guatemala, causing many people to flee to Belize. Among them were several Spanish-speaking Witness families that included elders, ministerial servants, and pioneers. These boosted the expansion in the Spanish field, as did some bilingual missionaries from other Spanish-speaking countries.
“TRUE CHRISTIANS PREACH FROM DOOR TO DOOR”
One day, two strangers knocked on Margarita Salazar’s door in Orange Walk and asked, “Do you know one of Jehovah’s Witnesses by the name of Margarita Salazar?” The callers, 23-year-old Teófila Mai and her mother, were from August Pine Ridge, a village 21 miles [34 km] southwest of Orange Walk. Why were they looking for Margarita?
“About a year before,” explains Teófila, “my nine-month-old son was very ill. So I took him to the village of Botes to dedicate him to a virgin saint known as Santa Clara. I was traveling in the front seat of a truck, and the driver, who lived in our area, began to witness to me. After asking why I was taking my baby to Botes, he told me that the Bible did not approve of image worship. This interested me very much. Over time, this man shared many Scriptural truths with me, which he had learned from Jehovah’s Witnesses.
“On one trip,” continues Teófila, “the truck driver told me that true Christians preach from door to door. He explained that Jehovah’s Witnesses did and that they would read scriptures such as Zephaniah 1:14 and 2:2, 3 to people. So, taking my small son by the hand and my baby on my arm, I went from door to door in August Pine Ridge, reading these verses to my neighbors. Later, the man suggested that if I really wanted to know the truth, I should study the Bible with Jehovah’s Witnesses. He told me about the Salazars and said where in Orange Walk I could find them. I had never been to Orange Walk, so with my mother, I went to look for them.”
Margarita remembers the morning that Teófila and her mother first visited her. “They asked many Bible questions,” she recalls, “and we had a lengthy discussion. They wanted to know if it was true that Jehovah’s Witnesses help people understand the Bible, no matter how far they must travel to teach them. I assured her that it was true and promised that we would go to their village every two weeks to study the Bible with them.”
When Margarita and her husband, Ramón, arrived at August Pine Ridge, Teófila had gathered six adult members of her family for the Bible study. Subsequently, other pioneers from Orange Walk regularly traveled the 21 miles [34 km] of narrow, unpaved, bumpy road with the Salazars to preach in the village while Teófila and her family had their Bible study. Often Amybelle Allen stayed overnight in the village so that she could conduct Bible studies there. Teófila was baptized in 1972, five months after her first Bible study. A congregation was formed in August Pine Ridge in 1980, and over the years, 37 members of Teófila’s family have embraced the truth.
BUSH TRIPS YIELD FRUITAGE
Although Belize City and the largest towns in Belize were being worked thoroughly, rural territory was not being covered regularly. Early missionaries had made trips by boat to the southern towns, but later a road was built that connected the southern districts of Stann Creek and Toledo with the rest of the country. Then, early in 1971, the branch organized annual preaching excursions, called bush trips, to take the Kingdom message to the Mopan and Kekchi Maya in remote parts of the Belize rain forest.
Using rented vehicles and dugout canoes, the brothers and sisters were able to reach villages and towns from Dangriga to Punta Gorda and as far south as Barranco, near the border with Guatemala. Some trips were made by a group in a van accompanied by two to four motorcyclists. Each night they stopped at a different village, and during the day, while the larger group worked the village, the motorcyclists went in pairs up trails to isolated farms.
In the Punta Gorda area, the brothers backpacked from village to village. They often had to speak to the alcalde (chief) in the cabildo, the meeting place for the older men of the village, before preaching to the rest of the villagers.
“At one village,” relates missionary Reiner Thompson, “the brothers arrived when the men were in a meeting in the cabildo, discussing the procedure for the corn harvest. After the meeting, the men asked the brothers to sing a Kingdom song for them. The brothers were tired and hungry, and they did not have a songbook.” Brother Thompson adds, “They sang with all their hearts, much to the delight of the men.” In time, congregations were formed in Mango Creek and later in San Antonio, one of the largest Maya villages.
“Sometimes we walked between villages at night to keep up with our schedule,” explains Santiago Sosa. “We learned to walk in single file in the middle of the road, not at the sides, because the bushes along the road were sure to harbor snakes. We also learned to drink from a water vine when we were out of water.”
Sometimes the group was divided into twos or fours to preach in different parts of the village. Then, they all met up again in the evening. Two would stay behind to do the cooking. “That could be a disaster,” recalls Santiago with a chuckle, “because some didn’t really know how to cook. I remember looking at one meal and asking, ‘What is it?’ The cook said, ‘I don’t know, but it’s food.’ If the cook couldn’t identify the food, we thought we had better test it first on a skinny stray dog. But even the hungry dog wouldn’t eat it!”
KEKCHI ACCEPT THE TRUTH
Rodolfo Cocom and his wife, Ofelia, moved from Corozal to a remote Kekchi village in the south called Crique Sarco. Ofelia had grown up in this village, which the Witnesses visited only on the annual bush trips. When she was about 14 years old, Ofelia found the book The Truth That Leads to Eternal Life under an orange tree and began to read it. She wanted to know more, but it was not until she was married and living in Corozal that she and her husband, Rodolfo, studied the Bible with two special pioneers, Marcial and Manuela Kay.
When the Cocoms moved to Crique Sarco in 1981, they wanted to renew contact with the Witnesses, so Rodolfo went to Punta Gorda to look for them, a trip that took at least six hours on foot and by boat, on both river and sea. In Punta Gorda he met Donald Niebrugge, a pioneer, who arranged to study with the couple by correspondence. However, there was a problem. There was no post office in Crique Sarco.
“At the post office in Punta Gorda, I asked how I could send mail to Crique Sarco,” explains Donald, “and I was told that the priest went there once a week.” So, for about six months, the priest carried the Bible study correspondence back and forth without realizing that he was acting as a courier for Jehovah’s Witnesses.
“When the priest found out what he was carrying,” says Donald, “he was quite upset and refused to carry our letters any longer.”
During those months Donald made several trips to Crique Sarco to study with the Cocoms. When the next bush trip was made, Rodolfo started out in field service. “We took him with us for four days,” continues Donald, “preaching in several villages, and the association with the brothers on that trip really helped him make progress.”
“Ofelia and I would go out to preach in our village,” explains Rodolfo, “just the two of us sharing what we had learned. The people I studied with faced more opposition than we did. Some were denied access to the medicine, food supplies, and clothing that were donated to the village. My mother-in-law was also very opposed to what we were doing. Ofelia and I realized that we wouldn’t be able to progress spiritually in Crique Sarco. We needed to attend meetings. Hence, we moved to Punta Gorda to continue studying. There we made spiritual progress, and we were baptized in 1985.” Today the Cocoms associate with the Ladyville Congregation, where Rodolfo serves as a ministerial servant.
SEA TRIPS BRING IN A SPIRITUAL CATCH
Sea trips were arranged each year to preach to people on the cays and in villages along the coast. Such villages as Hopkins, Seine Bight, Placencia, and Punta Negra, as well as Monkey River Town, were inaccessible by land at the time. Polito Bevens captained his lobster boat in the off-season and took four pioneers and missionaries on a two-week trip from north to south, stopping at every place along the way.
Donald Niebrugge, who participated frequently in the annual bush and sea trips, remembers with fondness the time they borrowed Ambroncio Hernandez’ sailboat for a sea trip. As a result, Ambroncio, affectionately known as Bocho, began to study the Bible.
“The following year four of us planned a two-week sea trip all down the coast,” recalls Donald, “but by this time, Bocho had sold his boat. He recommended another fisherman, who was willing to take us, along with his partner and Bocho. There we were, two special pioneer couples with these three fishermen. During that trip Bocho started in field service. When we got to Placencia harbor, there were a lot of yachts moored there, so we preached from yacht to yacht. The two unbelievers were very supportive during those two weeks. One day when we returned after preaching all day in a village, the two fishermen had bought chicken and cooked a meal for us on a little kerosene stove.” By the time of the next sea trip the following year, Bocho was baptized. He has been serving as an elder in Belize City for the past 18 years.
UNASSIGNED TERRITORY PRODUCES GOOD FRUIT
Toledo District, in southern Belize, is an area of rolling hills and dense rain forest, peppered with Mopan and Kekchi Maya villages of thatched-roof houses with dirt floors. For the most part, the villagers lead hard lives doing heavy farmwork with simple hoes. During dry spells they have to carry water to the fields by hand to grow corn, beans, and cacao. Many of the women do traditional Kekchi embroidery and make baskets for the souvenir shops throughout the country. Increasing numbers of young people are leaving the villages to study or work in the more populated centers of the country.
In 1995, Frank and Alice Cardoza were invited to serve as temporary special pioneers during April and May to help distribute Kingdom News No. 34, “Why Is Life So Full of Problems?,” in the Toledo District. “I had taken part in one of the annual bush trips in this area,” recalls Frank, “and I saw that the Maya people could be better helped to learn the good news if someone would move into the area. The branch recommended that I rent a place to stay, start a Bible study group, and give the special talk in San Antonio. We were to distribute the Kingdom News there, as well as in eight other villages.”
The Cardozas conducted a weekly group study in their rented one-room basement, and within a few weeks, three to four families started attending. These interested ones also joined the Cardozas for their hour-long drive in a well-worn pickup truck on a rutted dirt road to Punta Gorda for the Theocratic Ministry School and Service Meeting. That first month, Frank delivered the special talk in San Antonio. Jesús Ich, one of those attending for the first time, paid rapt attention. As a member of the Nazarene Church, he was particularly impressed to learn that the teaching of hellfire is rooted in paganism and that the Biblical hell is the common grave. He took Frank aside after the meeting, plying him with more questions on the subject. As a result, he began to study the Bible and was baptized a year later.
At the end of their two-month assignment as temporary special pioneers, the Cardozas had to make an important decision. “We had started many studies,” remembers Frank, “more than we could handle. Our hearts and consciences just wouldn’t let us go back to our comfortable house in Ladyville. If we decided to stay in San Antonio, we could have better living conditions by renting the upstairs of the house we were in rather than the basement. I could install a little sink, a water gutter to pick up rainwater and, in time, maybe a flush toilet and electricity. We prayed to Jehovah about it, confident that with his blessing a congregation could be formed in this area. Then we wrote to the branch, informing them that we were willing to stay in San Antonio as regular pioneers.”
Jehovah’s blessing on the Cardozas’ decision was quickly apparent. Within just six months, in November, they held their first Public Meeting in their rented house. And by April of the following year, they began holding the Theocratic Ministry School and Service Meeting in San Antonio. How relieved the little group was not to have to make the weekly 40-mile round trip to Punta Gorda for the meetings.
“HIS THREATS COULD NOT STOP ME”
The group of sincere Bible students in San Antonio soon began to progress, and their love for the truth was truly moving. “In these villages,” explains Frank, “the women in particular are very shy, and by tradition they are submissive to their fathers and husbands. It is not their custom to talk to strangers. It was very difficult for them, therefore, to participate in the door-to-door ministry.”
Priscilian Sho, who was 20 years old at the time, was an unbaptized publisher who really wanted to preach to her neighbors in the area. On one occasion, Priscilian was making some return visits with a sister-in-law, Amalia Sho, when they suddenly faced a crisis.
Priscilian remembers: “I hadn’t told my father I was going out to preach publicly because he had forbidden me to do it and I was afraid of him. That Sunday morning when we were out preaching, we suddenly saw my father in front of the Baptist church he attended. At first, we crouched in the grass because we didn’t want him to see us. But then I said, ‘You know, Amalia, Jehovah is watching us. It’s not right for us to be afraid of my father. It is Jehovah we must fear.’”
Priscilian’s father was furious, but an even bigger issue lay ahead because he was violently opposed to her becoming one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. After praying about the matter until the day before the assembly where she was to be baptized, Priscilian finally mustered up the courage to tell her father.
“Tomorrow,” she said to her father, “I’m going to Belize City.”
“What are you going to do?” he inquired.
“I’m going to be baptized,” replied Priscilian. “I’m going to do what Jehovah wants me to do. I love you, but I have to love Jehovah too.”
“Are you really going to do that?” he responded angrily.
“Yes,” said Priscilian. “Acts 5:29 says I must obey God rather than man.”
Priscilian’s father stormed off in a rage. “I didn’t feel safe until I was in the truck, ready to leave for the assembly,” she recalls. “I didn’t know what he would do when I came home after the assembly. But I knew that by then I would be baptized, so even if he killed me, I would have done what was right.”
Although Priscilian’s father did not harm her when she got home, he later threatened to kill her. “But he saw that his threats could not stop me,” she says, “and since then he has softened toward me.”
AN OPPOSER TAKES SIDES WITH JEHOVAH
The newly formed group of zealous publishers in San Antonio was prospering spiritually when the Cardozas were suddenly informed in a letter from the local village council that they should leave San Antonio. Earlier, when he paid an application fee, Frank had obtained permission from the council to stay in the village. Now, a prominent member of the village was intent on having the Cardozas chased out. At one of the council meetings, three of Frank’s Bible students spoke in his behalf. Then Frank’s landlord spoke up, warning the council that if they evicted the Cardozas, they would have to pay the rent the Cardozas had been paying him. Frank himself then presented a letter from the Lands Department stating that a person renting privately owned property could not be asked to leave. In the end, the council granted the Cardozas permission to stay.
The man who had wanted the Cardozas evicted was Basilio Ah, a former alcalde (chief) who was still prominent in politics. Basilio used his influence to oppose Jehovah’s Witnesses in San Antonio in every way he could. When the little group wanted property to build a Kingdom Hall, he warned, “You’ll never build a Kingdom Hall in this village!” In spite of that, the brothers obtained property and built a modest and attractive Kingdom Hall. Amazingly, one of those at the dedication of the Kingdom Hall in December 1998 was Basilio. What had happened?
Two of Basilio’s married sons had been having family problems. Twice Basilio had asked his church to help his sons, and both times he had received no response. Then his sons started studying the Bible with Jehovah’s Witnesses. Basilio’s wife, María, began to notice that her sons were making changes for the better and that their family life was improving. So María herself asked to study the Bible with the Witnesses.
“I really wanted to get to know Jehovah God,” María says, “and I told my husband we should go to the Kingdom Hall to learn more about God.” Although Basilio did not easily let go of his strongly held feelings against Jehovah’s Witnesses and Frank Cardoza, whom he called “that foreigner,” he was impressed with the positive changes his sons were making as they applied Bible truths in their lives. Basilio decided to examine Jehovah’s Witnesses for himself, and after a few discussions, whom did he agree to have as his Bible study conductor? None other than “that foreigner,” Frank Cardoza!
“What I read in the Bible changed my mind,” explains Basilio. “I had been a Catholic for 60 years, lighting incense before the idols in the church. Now what I was learning about Jehovah was in his own book, the Bible. I am ashamed of the way I acted with Frank Cardoza, who is now my brother. I’m not afraid to say that I was wrong. I was zealous for the things I believed were right for my village and my religion. But I stopped practicing the Maya traditions that have to do with spiritistic healing, common in our villages. I also ended my involvement in the Maya political movements.” Today Basilio and María Ah happily serve Jehovah as baptized publishers.
Jehovah’s servants are known for their loving, joyful, and zealous spirit. In remote regions of Belize, many publishers walk three hours or more up and down steep hills to reach householders, and they do not like to miss meetings. For example, one evening Andrea Ich was assigned to be a householder on the Theocratic Ministry School. That day she had walked two or three miles [3 to 5 km] through the jungle to pick avocados with her sons. In the process she received 23 wasp stings. Nevertheless, she went home, prepared a meal for her family, went to the meeting, and handled her part on the program. Her face was swollen from the insect bites, but it was a happy face. It is always encouraging to see that although the dear Maya brothers and sisters may have traveled a whole day in a truck or bus to attend assemblies and conventions, they are delighted to be united in worshipping the true God, Jehovah.
VIOLENT WEATHER BATTERS BELIZE
Over the past 115 years, Belize has had 51 hurricanes and tropical storms. Since 1930, there have been 12 hurricanes that either hit Belize directly or passed close enough to cause serious damage and loss of life. One of the worst, Hurricane Hattie, struck in the early morning of October 31, 1961, with winds gusting up to 200 miles an hour [300 km/hr] and a tidal surge that caused hundreds of deaths. Belize City, which lies only one foot [30 cm] above sea level, was a foot [30 cm] deep in mud. A report from the branch stated: “While most of the brothers [in Belize City] have had their homes badly damaged or destroyed completely, they do not have any serious injuries. They have lost their clothes or had them ruined by the water.
“Bulldozers are clearing the streets and large fires are burning up what is left of the destroyed houses. Here in the [missionary] home, we had about two feet [60 cm] of water, which did much damage. It was up to about nine feet [3 m] on the outside, . . . but it was good that the missionary home was built above street level. . . . Very little food can be purchased . . . , and they are still digging out bodies.”
Ten days later, the branch reported: “Conditions [in Dangriga] are worse than here [in Belize City]. The people are forced to work eight hours a day to get coupons to buy anything. The army controls everything, and nothing can be bought with money.” Two boys died, and their father’s legs were broken when their house collapsed. Both boys were active publishers, and the 12-year-old had a fine reputation for witnessing to his schoolteachers.
The eye of the hurricane passed between Belize City and Dangriga, where most of the brothers suffered either partial or total loss of their homes and possessions. In the days after the hurricane, the governor invoked emergency powers, imposed a curfew, and summoned the British army to enforce these measures and to shoot looters. Men, women, and children caught breaking the curfew were herded into pens for the night.
Despite the chaotic conditions, regular congregation meetings and field service activities were resumed as soon as possible. This was difficult with so many people living in shelters and with the yards swamped with water and mud. But people needed the comforting message of the good news of the Kingdom, and Jehovah’s Witnesses were willing to make sacrifices to share it with them.
Living conditions were very difficult, but the love and generosity of Jehovah’s Witnesses abroad did much to lift the spirits of the brothers in Belize. Twenty-five boxes of clothing and other items were received from other branches and distributed among Witnesses as well as many non-Witness neighbors. The branch office and the Kingdom Hall were among the few buildings that withstood the onslaught of the hurricane. Consequently, when the government requested the use of the Kingdom Hall as a public hurricane shelter for the community, the brothers readily agreed.*
“WOULD YOU PRAY FOR US, MRS. PRATT?”
For three days in October 2000, the inhabitants of San Pedro on Ambergris Cay were battered by Hurricane Keith’s 125-mile-an-hour [205 km/hr] winds and torrential rain. Ladyville, 10 miles [16 km] north of Belize City, was flooded by some 32 inches [80 cm] of rainfall in three days. Forty-two brothers sought refuge in the Assembly Hall in Ladyville. Almost all the homes on Cay Caulker were destroyed. The 57 publishers on Ambergris Cay and Cay Caulker lost most or all of their possessions, and both cays were without electricity, water, and telephone service for several weeks. The prime minister declared the Belize, Orange Walk, and Corozal Districts as well as Ambergris Cay and Cay Caulker to be disaster areas. A mandatory curfew was enforced throughout the stricken region in an effort to stop looting.
Cecilia Pratt, a special pioneer on Cay Caulker, heard the hurricane warnings and prepared a bag in case she had to seek refuge when the hurricane struck. That day, she had just collected the field service reports from 12 sisters and had intended to take the afternoon boat to the mainland to turn them in to the branch. Cecilia carefully wrapped the group’s field service reports in plastic and put them in her emergency bag. Sure enough, during the night, Cecilia and some of the sisters had to take shelter in a concrete school building, while the rest of the group found protection in the health center.
“The wind ripped the zinc roof off the first classroom we were in,” relates Cecilia. “We all had to grab our things and dash to another room. It felt as if the whole building were shaking in the wind, even though it was made of concrete. When we peeped outside, it seemed like the sea was all around us—there was no land. Our little group stayed together, and we prayed intensely. The 40 people in the classroom, all from different religions, were terrified. Some were saying, ‘This is God’s work.’ A Catholic lay preacher came to me and asked, ‘Would you pray for us, Mrs. Pratt?’ I answered, ‘I can’t. I’m a woman, and I don’t have a hat.’ The man replied, ‘Well, I have my cap.’ I wasn’t sure if I could pray for everyone, but I wanted to let these people know that it wasn’t Jehovah who was bringing the hurricane. So I prayed with our little group loud enough for everyone to listen. Just as I finished praying and everyone in the classroom said ‘Amen,’ the wind went quiet! At that point the eye of the hurricane was passing over us. The Catholic preacher said: ‘That was a good prayer. Your God is the true God.’ After that, they didn’t want us five Witnesses to leave the shelter, and for the next three days, they gave us food and coffee.
“I was worried, though, about the other publishers. The next morning, when the wind stopped, I left the shelter to look for them. There were fallen trees and destruction everywhere. Some houses had been moved 40 or 50 feet [10-15 m] by the wind. I looked in the community center first and found two sisters and their children. Another sister’s house was gone, but she was alive.”
In the aftermath of the hurricane, the branch had difficulty collecting field service reports from the storm-ravaged congregations. But the reports from Cay Caulker were the first to arrive. Cecilia had kept them safe in her emergency bag and had personally handed them to the brothers who came from the branch to check on their welfare.
During the following weeks, the brothers on the devastated cays received relief supplies as well as practical assistance from volunteers who helped clean and repair their homes and the Kingdom Hall on Ambergris Cay.
Merle Richert, who worked with the team in Cay Caulker, reports: “First we set up accommodations and arranged for the distribution of supplies. The next day we started repairing the houses of the publishers. On Sunday we all went out in field service in the morning. Then we prepared a place for meetings in a sister’s yard, making benches for the audience and a podium out of an old coconut stump. We adjusted the meeting schedule to allow for the 8:00 p.m. curfew and had 43 at the public talk and Watchtower Study.”
ASSEMBLING TO BE TAUGHT BY JEHOVAH
In the late 1960’s, the use of a tent made it possible for assemblies to be held in various places in the country. Yet, it takes days of hard work to put up a large tent. Santiago Sosa explains: “We started work early in the week, putting up the tent, bringing benches from the Kingdom Hall, and borrowing chairs. We had a cafeteria at assemblies then, so we borrowed pots and pans and often stayed up all night to cook and complete the work. Sometimes we would have everything set up, only to have it all blown down by a violent squall during the night. The next day we simply had to put everything up again. But nobody complained.”
Jeanne Thompson remembers a convention held in a rural community between Belize City and Orange Walk. The brothers had to chop out the bush next to the Kingdom Hall before the tent could be erected and the benches set in place. “It ended up raining for the whole district convention,” says Jeanne, “and it flooded under the tent. So we sat with our feet propped up on the bench in front of us. Little did we realize that the area was infested with coral snakes. Thanks to the rain, we were compelled to stay in the tent and close to the Kingdom Hall. It would have been dangerous to venture out into the bush.”
In the 1970’s, Bird’s Isle, a small tropical island about 400 feet [120 m] off the southeast tip of Belize City, became available for assemblies. The owner had built a thatched auditorium with electricity, water, and toilet facilities with the idea of using it for entertainment. The brothers built a wooden bridge from the mainland, providing ready access to a quiet and peaceful place for many assemblies.
In March 1983, land was leased from the government for an Assembly Hall in Ladyville. At first, the brothers built a temporary structure for circuit assemblies, special events, and district conventions. Then, in 1988, a steel building was purchased in Guatemala that could be used as a permanent Assembly Hall on the Ladyville property.
PROGRESS IN THE CHINESE FIELD
Since the 1920’s, Chinese immigrants have settled in Belize, many of whom enjoy reading our publications in their language. For example, Roberta Gonzalez relates: “I wanted to witness to a friendly Taiwanese lady who owned a bakery, but I knew she was not religiously inclined and was always very busy. I also knew she had two teenage children, so one day while I was in her bakery, I gave her a copy of the Young People Ask book in Chinese and told her I would like her opinion of it. A few days later, as I drove by her bakery, I saw her waving frantically at me. When I stopped, she excitedly told me that since I left the book, she had been waiting for me to come back. She said that most of the teenagers in the Taiwanese families were having problems after immigrating to Belize. She felt they all needed to read the Young People Ask book. She had her son count up the number of Taiwanese families in town that had teenagers and then asked for 16 books because she wanted to give each of them a copy as a gift.”
In October 2000 the branch arranged for a three-month language course in Mandarin for pioneers and publishers who were willing to care for the Chinese communities in their territory. What were the results? A Chinese group with several pioneers was formed, which has subsequently grown into a congregation. In spite of intense opposition, some have responded to the good news and to the love they are shown in the congregation.
For example, Monje Chen accepted a Bible study in 2006. In the beginning, his family cooperated with him, but soon they started to ridicule and oppose Monje. Suddenly, the family sold all their property, including the store Monje was managing, and gave him an hour to give up his new religion and move with them to another country. He refused to renounce his new beliefs, so his family moved away, leaving him with nothing. Monje moved in with a brother and continued studying the Bible and attending meetings regularly. “I built up a close relationship with Jehovah,” says Monje, “and he took care of me. My Bible study and meditation on the Scriptures have helped me, as has the encouragement from the brothers.”
Monje was baptized in November 2008, and his family’s attitude has improved after seeing the transformation in his conduct and speech. “Obeying Jehovah did not make me poor,” Monje adds, “and it certainly brought me happiness. Jehovah did not leave me but let me live among a united, loving brotherhood.”
MEXICO BRANCH OVERSEES THE WORK IN BELIZE
After carefully considering the needs of the Kingdom work with the Branch Committees in Belize and Mexico, the Governing Body determined that the work in Belize should come under the supervision of the Mexico branch. This became effective on January 1, 2001, and has resulted in benefits and happiness for our brothers in this part of the world.
Since then, the Mexico branch has helped supervise the construction of a number of Kingdom Halls in Belize. On March 16, 2002, a modest double Kingdom Hall was dedicated in Belize City. The following day, a dedication program was held for the beautiful new missionary home and renovated Assembly Hall in Ladyville. Many who had been serving Jehovah faithfully for five or six decades were among those who enjoyed the dedication talk given by Gerrit Lösch of the Governing Body. Good progress has been made since the formation of a Kingdom Hall Construction Group, which has helped build 20 Kingdom Halls throughout the country.
In 2007, to help preach in seldom-worked territories, 325 pioneers from Mexico came to Belize. Their visit proved to be a fine stimulus to the evangelizing spirit in Belize. As a result, the number of pioneers here rose impressively.
In contrast with church leaders who pray every year that Belize be protected against hurricanes, Jehovah’s Witnesses received practical direction for emergency procedures in advance of the 2007 hurricane season. How grateful they were for this instruction when Category 5 Hurricane Dean struck in August. All the brothers at risk were evacuated and housed with brothers in safer areas. After the hurricane passed, Witnesses from all over the country helped repair homes and Kingdom Halls, prompting a local radio station to praise Jehovah’s Witnesses as an example worthy of imitation.
UNITING PEOPLE OF ALL NATIONS
With Jehovah’s blessing, there are now over 1,800 publishers in Belize—a ratio of 1 publisher to every 149 inhabitants. And with 1 out of every 39 Belizeans attending the 2009 Memorial, the potential for growth is great!
The disciple-making work in Belize over the past 80 years has produced a mosaic of beautiful, spiritual people, who are united by the “pure language,” the truth about God and his purposes. “Shoulder to shoulder” with their spiritual brothers and sisters earth wide, Jehovah’s Witnesses in Belize are making good use of the pure language to give a public witness that brings honor to Jehovah, our loving God.—Zeph. 3:9.
Although Belize was called British Honduras until 1973, we will refer to the country as Belize unless the context demands otherwise.
As a result of this hurricane, the capital was moved from Belize City to Belmopan, in the interior of the country.
[Blurb on page 224]
“The truck driver told me that true Christians preach from door to door”
[Blurb on page 234]
“It’s not right for us to be afraid of my father. It is Jehovah we must fear”
[Box on page 208]
A low coastal plain rises to the Maya Mountains in the south. The forests are home to jaguars, pumas, black howler monkeys, peccaries, green iguanas, and crocodiles, as well as up to 60 species of snakes, such as the very poisonous fer-de-lance, locally known as the yellow-jaw tommygoff. There are almost 600 species of birds, including the endangered scarlet macaw and the gorgeous keel-billed toucan. The kaleidoscope of marine life ranges from corals, sponges, and parrot fish to manatees, barracuda, and whale sharks.
Inhabitants include Maya (Kekchi, Mopan, and Yucatec), Creoles (people of mixed African and European ancestry), Mestizos (mixed Spanish and Maya), Garinagu (mixed African and Carib), East Indians, Lebanese, Chinese, and Europeans, including German and Dutch Mennonites.
English is the official language, but Belize Creole, Spanish, Garifuna, Kekchi, Maya, German, and Mandarin are also spoken.
Much of the population is employed in growing and exporting cane sugar and tropical fruit. Fishing and tourism also provide income for many.
The country’s varied cultures contribute to a deliciously diverse cuisine. Rice and beans cooked together in coconut milk is a traditional favorite, often served with fried or stewed chicken, beef, or fish and fried ripe plantains. Delectable seafood is abundant and very popular.
Located on the Caribbean Coast of Central America, Belize has a hot, humid, subtropical climate and is vulnerable to hurricanes.
[Box/Picture on page 215]
The Garinagu Respond to the Truth
BEVERLY ANN FLORES
PROFILE A Garifuna who accepted the truth and now helps her people learn about Jehovah.
◼ THE Garinagu (plural of Garifuna) trace their ancestry to the early 17th century, when slaves intermarried with indigenous Carib. Garifuna is an Arawakan language with elements of French and Swahili.
Garinagu religion is a mixture of African and Amerindian traditions, with strong Catholic influences. The dugu, for example, is an elaborate ceremony to appease dead ancestors by offering them food and drink. “My mother did not believe in the dugu ceremony,” says Beverly. “She couldn’t see how God could approve of all that food being buried. She used to say, ‘Food is for people to eat! And if the dead are loved ones, why would they come back and do you harm?’”
Beverly goes on to explain what happened when she learned the truth. “Being a Garifuna motivated me to go to Dangriga to preach to my people. I knew that most Garinagu would respond better to one of their own people. Many stop and listen when I speak Garifuna, and several have begun to associate with the congregation. They have seen that they can break away from unscriptural traditions and not be killed by evil spirits.”
[Box/Picture on page 218]
“Jehovah Always Took Care of Us”
PROFILE She raised six children on her own and has been in full-time service for 47 years.
◼ “IN 1959, Amybelle Allen talked to me about the Bible,” recalls soft-spoken Lilly. “We had been warned in church about all these ‘false prophets’ who were going from door to door. I agreed to a study using only the Bible, accepted the truth, and was baptized the following year.
“At first, it was difficult for me to preach. My hands were trembling so much I could hardly hold my Bible. But my desire to share what I was learning was ‘like a burning fire shut up in my bones,’ as Jeremiah said, and I had to speak, whether people listened or not.”—Jer. 20:9.
How did Lilly raise her six children by herself and manage to pioneer? “I prayed to Jehovah, and he made it possible,” says Lilly. “Three times a week, I got up at 3:30 a.m. to make biscuits. My daughters and I baked them in a woodstove, and people lined up to buy them hot out of the oven. After all the biscuits were sold, my children left for school and I went out in field service. Jehovah always took care of us.”
Since 1969, Lilly has been pioneering in Corozal. Her eldest son and two of her daughters have entered the full-time service, and she has had a share in helping 69 people to baptism.
[Box/Picture on page 227, 228]
Bush Trips—Preaching in the Rain Forest
“In March 1991, a group of 23 brothers and sisters from all over the country gathered at Punta Gorda for a ten-day preaching adventure in the depths of the rain forest,” relates Martha Simons. “Included in our load of clothing, blankets, and hammocks was literature in English, Spanish, and Kekchi. We also carried food, which included 200 journey cakes, or biscuits.
“The following morning we set out into a choppy sea in a wooden dugout, made by hollowing out a large ceiba (cotton) tree. At the village of Crique Sarco, we off-loaded and set up camp. As the brothers put up the hammocks, the sisters cooked one of our favorite dishes—pigtail boilup—a stew made from cassava, yams, green plantain, coconut, boiled eggs and, of course, a pig’s tail. Word got around that we had arrived, and soon a steady stream of Kekchi villagers stopped by to greet us. In this way we were able to witness to the entire village within two hours. That night, the brothers slept in hammocks underneath the police station, which was raised on stilts, while the sisters slept inside a thatched cabildo, the meeting place for the older men of the village.
“The next day we loaded up the boat again and went farther up the creek, which in some places was overgrown with mangrove roots that made it dark and eerie. After about half an hour, we disembarked and hiked another hour and a half through the bush to the village of Sundaywood. The people there were small with dark olive skin and straight black hair. Most of them were barefoot, and the women were dressed in native skirts and wore bead jewelry. The thatched-roof houses had dirt floors, no inner partitions, and no furniture, other than hammocks. To one side of the houses was a communal cooking hearth.
“The people were very friendly, and we found much interest. They were especially impressed with the fact that we had literature in Kekchi and could show them scriptures in our Kekchi Bibles.
“The next morning we were awakened by the roosters, forest birds, and howler monkeys. After a hearty breakfast, we made return visits on all those who had shown interest the day before. We started several Bible studies and encouraged all of them to continue studying on their own until we returned to study with them next year. Subsequent days followed a similar pattern as we penetrated deep into the rain forest to reach remote villages.
“After ten happy days in the forest, our minds went over the long distances we had traveled, the many villages we had reached, and all the people we had met. We prayed that Jehovah would protect the seeds of truth we had planted until we returned the following year. Our feet were sore, and our bodies were tired; but our hearts were overflowing with thankfulness to Jehovah for the joy of sharing in this year’s bush trip.”
[Box/Pictures on page 235, 236]
Maya Who Love Jehovah
JORGE AND NICOLAS SHO (WITH THEIR SISTER, PRISCILIAN)
BORN 1969 and 1971
BACKGROUND Maya tradition stresses respect and complete obedience to parents, even from married adults.
◼ WHEN Nicolas and Jorge came to know and love Jehovah, their father adamantly opposed their Christian activities.
“I explained to my father that I was learning beneficial things,” says Nicolas, “but he was a member of the Baptist Church, and he didn’t share my enthusiasm. I quit my Bible study a few times because I didn’t want to hurt his feelings. But I also knew that by getting drunk with my father, I was not setting a good example for my children. My wife and children were so unhappy that they never smiled.
“Once I began studying the Bible and attending Christian meetings regularly, the truth helped me to break free from bad conduct. I worked hard for my family, and they got the full benefit of my income. Now, as a family, we are busy in Jehovah’s service, and there is happiness and laughter in our house.”
Jorge’s situation was much the same. His drunkenness and bad language caused problems for his family, and he was never at home on the weekends. But his study of the Bible resulted in a marked improvement in his conduct.
“As I progressed,” Jorge relates, “my father became more opposed. He called us false prophets. More than once he threatened us with his machete. Brother Cardoza, with whom I was studying the Bible, had tried to prepare us much earlier. ‘Suppose your father tells you to leave the family property?’ he asked us. ‘My father loves me,’ I explained, ‘and he won’t do that.’ But, sadly, that is exactly what he did.
“Nevertheless,” continues Jorge, “I loved what I was learning, and my life was improving. My family was benefiting from my new Christian personality. We respected one another and were happy together. Today, the preaching work brings me much joy, and thanks to Jehovah, I am a regular pioneer.”
Frank Cardoza witnessed to Jorge
[Box/Pictures on page 238, 239]
Joyfully Serving Where the Need Is Greater
Moving to a country where there is a need for more Kingdom proclaimers is a big step. But remaining in a foreign field year after year often requires much effort and self-sacrifice. Many of our brothers and sisters have met these challenges with great fortitude and joy.
Arthur and Roberta Gonzalez, for example, came from the United States to serve in Belize with their three-year-old son, Dalton, in 1989. “The biggest challenge,” admits Roberta, “was leaving a secure, well-paying job to live in a country where so many people are out of work.”
“Yes,” confirms Arthur, “you have to trust in Jehovah. Reading in the Bible about Abraham, I’m amazed at how he went out from his home, family, and everything he knew. But Jehovah took good care of him. One challenge we faced was getting our ears tuned to Belize Creole. But we relied on Jehovah, and he took care of us.”
Frank and Alice Cardoza came from California in 1991 to pioneer in Belize. “Reading the book of Acts,” says Frank, “made me want to be a missionary. But because we have four children, I knew we would never qualify for Gilead School. So when our youngest daughter finished her schooling, we saw the opportunity to move to another country. When we read in The Watchtower about Belize, we made up our minds.”
“I agreed to try it for three years,” says Alice. “Now we’ve been here for 18 years, and I love it!”
“We love people, and we love to work,” adds Frank, “so it’s easy for us to draw close to those who love Jehovah. Starting more studies than we could handle and seeing people respond to the truth has made these the best years of our life. We would not give up this privilege for all the money in the world.”
Carl and Martha Simons moved from Texas to Belize in 1988. “Our two children were ten and eight years old when we moved,” says Martha. “In Belize we spent entire days preaching together with the congregation in villages in the bush. We also worked together on the construction of the Assembly Hall, and we always had a house full of brothers and sisters staying with us during the assemblies. We are grateful that we could raise our children here, because they associated with special pioneers and missionaries. Yes, there were times when we felt like getting on a plane and leaving—times without electricity, running water, batteries, and telephones. But if we had to do it again, with all the ups and downs, we would do it. Our lives have been enriched because of serving where the need is greater.”
Left to right: Dalton, Roberta, Arthur, and his mother, Martha Gonzalez
Alice and Frank Cardoza
Carl and Martha Simons
[Box on page 250]
“Somebody Who Cares!”
ALEJANDRO AND REBECCA (BECKY) LACAYO
BORN 1950 and 1949
BAPTIZED 1966 and 1959
PROFILE After graduating from Gilead in 1972, they served as missionaries in El Salvador, Belize, Nicaragua, Mexico, and Honduras. They now serve in the circuit work in the United States but have never forgotten the time they did relief work in Belize.
◼ “WE’RE in the middle of Hurricane Keith!” wrote Becky on Monday, October 2, 2000. “It’s been raining for about two-and-a-half days without letup.”
The following day, after the wind and rain abated, Alejandro and special pioneer Donald Niebrugge were able to take some provisions to Ambergris Cay. They and two local elders visited every publisher in the two congregations to check on their welfare.
“On Wednesday,” recalls Becky, “brothers from different parts of the country brought food, water, and clothing to the branch for the brothers on the islands. Soon the lobby and the library were filled with supplies.”
Meanwhile, Alejandro and three others took provisions to Cay Caulker, gave timely encouragement, and prayed with the group. Witnesses as well as non-Witnesses were deeply moved by the brothers’ love and concern. “I’ve been giving donations to my church for years,” grumbled one woman, “and no one has come from my church to ask how I am.”
“Look at the other people,” said one sister through tears of joy, “and look at us! We have somebody who cares!”
[Chart/Graph on page 244, 245]
1923 James Gordon preaches in Bomba.
1933 Freida Johnson preaches in Belize City.
1934 Thaddius Hodgeson conducts meetings in his bakery.
1941 First publishers baptized in Belize City.
1945 First missionaries arrive.
1946 Branch office established.
1957 No more missionaries allowed.
1959 Branch office, missionary home, and Kingdom Hall are built.
1961 Missionaries again permitted.
1961 Hurricane Hattie devastates Belize.
1971 Bird’s Isle is used for assemblies for the first time.
1988 An Assembly Hall is built in Ladyville.
2000 Hurricane Keith batters Belize.
2001 Mexico branch is given oversight of Belize.
2002 A double Kingdom Hall (left), a missionary home, and the renovated Assembly Hall are dedicated.
1930 1940 1950 1960 1980 1990 2000 2010
A boatload of brothers going to an assembly
[Maps on page 209]
(For fully formatted text, see publication)
Melchor de Mencos
ORANGE WALK DISTRICT
August Pine Ridge
STANN CREEK DISTRICT
Stann Creek Valley
Monkey River Town
[Full-page picture on page 200]
[Picture on page 206]
Alphonsena Robateau and Amybelle Allen along with three special pioneer brothers
[Picture on page 207]
Herman and Derrine Lightburn with Stephen, their son
[Picture on page 210]
A group of Witnesses with sound cart, Belize City, 1940’s; (1) Thaddius Hodgeson, (2) George Longsworth
[Picture on page 213]
Elmer Ihrig expanded his ministry to the outer districts
[Picture on page 214]
Charles Heyen encouraged the brothers to hold regular meetings
[Picture on page 221]
Branch office, missionary home, and Kingdom Hall in Belize City
[Picture on page 223]
The first complete Spanish circuit assembly, at the Kingdom Hall in Orange Walk, 1968
[Picture on page 229]
Special pioneers Marcial and Manuela Kay
[Picture on page 230]
A typical Maya village, Toledo District
[Picture on page 240]
María and Basilio Ah
[Picture on page 246]
[Picture on page 249]
Sitting under a tent at a circuit assembly, Punta Gorda, 1960’s
[Picture on page 251]
Becky and Alejandro Lacayo
[Pictures on page 252, 253]
The steel building below now serves as an Assembly Hall (right)
Renovated Assembly Hall
[Picture on page 254]
Brothers and sisters at the site of the double Kingdom Hall, Belize City