In 1933, Frank Rice invited Theodorus (Theo) Ratu, a native of North Sulawesi, to help him operate the Jakarta literature depot. “I became very interested in the noble Kingdom work and started to preach along with Brother Rice,” recalled Theo. “Later, I joined Bill Hunter on a preaching tour of Java and the crew of the Lightbearer on a voyage to Sumatra.” Theo was the first Indonesian to accept the truth, and he pioneered for decades in Java, North Sulawesi, and Sumatra.
The following year, Bill Hunter placed a copy of the booklet Where Are the Dead? with Felix Tan, a student living in Jakarta. Felix returned to his family in Bandung, West Java, and showed the booklet to his younger brother, Dodo. Both were amazed to learn from the booklet that the first man, Adam, did not have an immortal soul. Adam was a soul. (Gen. 2:7, ftn.) With their spiritual appetites aroused, Felix and Dodo scoured the secondhand bookstores in Bandung for more Watch Tower publications. They also shared what they had learned with their family. After devouring all the books and booklets they could find, they wrote to the literature depot in Jakarta. To their surprise, they received an encouraging visit from Frank Rice, who brought them new literature.
Soon after Brother Rice returned to Jakarta, newlyweds Clem and Jean Deschamp visited Bandung for 15 days. “Brother Deschamp asked our family if we would like to be baptized,” related Felix. “Four members of my family—Dodo, my younger sister Josephine (Pin Nio), my mother (Kang Nio), and I—symbolized our dedication to Jehovah.”* After they were baptized, the Tan family joined Clem and Jean in a nine-day preaching campaign. Clem showed them how to preach using a testimony card that contained a simple Bible message in three languages. Soon the small group in Bandung became a congregation, the second in Indonesia.
The Pope’s Hat
As the preaching work gained momentum, the clergy of Christendom stirred from their slumber. They and their agents wrote articles in the press attacking the beliefs and the work of the Witnesses. The articles prompted officials at the Department of Religious Affairs to summon Frank Rice for questioning. Satisfied by his answers, the officials allowed the work to continue unhindered.*
During the early 1930’s, most colonial officials ignored or tolerated the preaching work. But when Nazi Germany rose to power in Europe, some bureaucrats changed their tune, especially those who were ardent Catholics. “One Catholic customs official impounded a shipment of our books on the pretext that they contained unfavorable references to Nazism,” recalled Clem Deschamp. “When I called at the Customs Department to complain, the hostile official was on vacation. His replacement—a friendly non-Catholic man—promptly released the books, saying, ‘Take all you can while the regular man is away!’”
“On another occasion, officials insisted that we censor two pictures in the book Enemies,” said Jean Deschamp. “They objected to caricatures of a writhing serpent (Satan) and a drunken harlot (false religion). Both were wearing the papal hat (miter).* We were determined to distribute the book. So three of us sat at the wharf in the stifling heat, plowing through thousands of books to black out pictures of the pope’s hat!”
As Europe edged toward war, our publications fearlessly continued to expose Christendom’s hypocrisy and political meddling. In turn, the clergy ratcheted up pressure on the authorities to restrict our work, and several of our publications were banned.
However, the brothers were determined to move ahead with the work, and they made good use of a printing press they received from Australia. (Acts 4:20) Describing one of their strategies, Jean Deschamp related: “Whenever we printed a new booklet or magazine, we had to submit a copy to the authorities for approval. We printed and distributed the publication early in the week. Then, at the end of the week, we took a copy to the attorney general’s office. When the publication was rejected, we shook our heads sadly and then hurried back to the printery to print the next publication.”
Brothers and sisters who distributed banned publications often played a game of cat and mouse with the police. For example, while witnessing in Kediri, East Java, Charles Harris unwittingly called on the local police inspector.
“I’ve been searching for you all day,” said the inspector. “Wait while I get my list of your banned books.”
“While the inspector rummaged inside his home,” says Charles, “I stashed the banned literature in hidden pockets in my coat. When he returned, I gave him 15 booklets that were not banned. He reluctantly gave me his contribution, and then I placed the banned literature further down the street.”
Printing Under Pressure
When World War II engulfed Europe, literature shipments from the Netherlands to Indonesia dried up. However, the brothers had seen trouble coming and prudently arranged for a commercial company to print the magazines in Jakarta. The first issue of Consolation (now Awake!) in Indonesian appeared in January 1939, and The Watchtower in Indonesian was released soon afterward. The brothers then bought a small press and began printing the magazines themselves. In 1940, they received a larger flatbed press from Australia with which they printed booklets and magazines in Indonesian and in Dutch, covering the expenses out of their own pockets.
Finally, on July 28, 1941, the authorities banned all of the Watch Tower Society’s publications. Jean Deschamp recalled: “I was typing in the office one morning when the doors flung open and in marched three policemen and a senior Dutch official in full regalia—medals, white gloves, dress sword, and plumed hat. We were not surprised. Three days earlier we had received inside information that our publications would soon be banned. The pompous official read a lengthy proclamation and then demanded to be taken to the printery to seal our press. But my husband told him that he was too late. The press had been sold the day before!”
The Bible, however, had not been banned. So the brothers kept preaching from house to house, using only the Bible. They also conducted Bible studies. But since the prospect of war loomed in Asia, the foreign pioneers were directed to return to Australia.
Later, Felix’s father and three younger brothers also became Witnesses. His sister, Josephine, married André Elias and attended the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead. Her life story was published in the September 2009 issue of Awake!
After World War II, Frank returned to Australia and raised a family. Brother Rice finished his earthly course in 1986.