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THE first people to see the island of Réunion​—most likely Arab traders—​chanced upon a tropical paradise. Set like a green gem in the deep-blue Indian Ocean, Réunion is endowed with natural beauty and diversity that rivals that of entire continents. Beaches of volcanic sand, waterfalls too numerous to count, rain forests, wildflowers in abundance, deep valleys, rugged volcanic peaks, vegetated calderas many miles across, and a live volcano​—these are just some of the island’s assets.

Although they live on this enchanting isle, many people in Réunion have come to appreciate something even more beautiful than that which is captured merely by the eye. They have come to love the precious truths of God’s Word. Missionary Robert Nisbet, assigned to nearby Mauritius, was the first Kingdom proclaimer to set foot on Réunion. During his stay of just a few days in September 1955, Robert aroused considerable interest in the Bible, placing much literature and obtaining a number of subscriptions to Awake! He maintained contact with interested ones by letter.

Between 1955 and 1960, Robert and zone overseer Harry Arnott made a few short visits to the island. In 1959 the France branch asked Adam Lisiak, a French pioneer and retired coal miner of Polish descent serving in Madagascar, to visit Réunion. Adam spent the entire month of December 1959 on the island. He wrote: “Ninety percent of the population are ardent Catholics, but many would like to know more about God’s Word and the new world. The priests are trying to stop the spread of the truth. Someone told an Awake! subscriber that the local priest wanted to borrow our book ‘Let God Be True.’ ‘If he comes in person, he can borrow it,’ said the subscriber. The priest never came.”


The France branch, which cared for the work at the time, invited qualified publishers to move to Réunion. The Pégoud family​—André, Jeannine, and their six-year-old son, Christian—​along with Noémie Duray, a relative, heeded the call. They docked in January 1961. Noémie, known as Mimi, served as a special pioneer for two years before returning to France.

Right away, they found much interest and even held meetings in their hotel room in the capital city, Saint-Denis. As soon as the family moved into a house, they held meetings there. About a year later, the fledgling group in Saint-Denis rented a small hall that could seat about 30. It was a wooden building with a corrugated iron roof, two shuttered openings, and one door. After obtaining permission, the brothers knocked out the internal walls, built a small platform, and installed wooden benches that had no backrests.

On a cloudless, tropical Sunday morning, the iron roof became a very effective radiator, and soon all in attendance​—especially those standing on the platform, their heads just inches from the roof—​broke out in beads of sweat. Moreover, because the hall was often filled to capacity, many stood outside, listening from the shuttered openings and the doorway, reducing the already poor ventilation.


Despite the discomfort, all were made to feel welcome at the meetings, and by the end of the first year, about 50 were attending regularly. The number of Kingdom publishers rose to seven, and there were 47 Bible studies! Some new ones studied twice a week. “We are joyful, very joyful, but a little overwhelmed,” wrote the brothers.

One of the new Bible students was Myriam Andrien, who had begun to study in Madagascar in 1961. She remembers that the afore-mentioned hall also served as an Assembly Hall of sorts. The brothers simply erected a shady extension using palm branches. Up to 110 attended those early, larger gatherings.

Among those baptized at an assembly in Mauritius in October 1961 were David Souris, Marianne Lan-Ngoo, and Lucien Véchot, all of whom contributed much to the preaching work. The second year saw an increase to 32 publishers, and the pioneers conducted as many as 30 Bible studies each! The attendance at Sunday meetings increased to 100 people, and they represented a variety of ethnic groups.

Many among Réunion’s Indian population practice an amalgam of two religions​—Catholicism and Hinduism. For some, giving up their old ways was a struggle. But the brothers’ patience, kindness, and firmness for what is right often led to good results. For example, one woman who had been studying with a pioneer for two years continued to practice false religion, to tell fortunes, and to live as a concubine. The pioneer decided to hand the study over to another sister to see if she could help. “After a few months,” the latter sister writes, “the woman’s appreciation began to increase, and to my great joy, she stopped her spiritistic practices. But she had not yet legalized her marriage. The man, she said, refused to commit himself. In the end, she decided to stay with him, so I had no choice but to discontinue the study.

“One day on the street, I met the woman, and she asked me to resume the study. I said yes, provided that she showed her genuineness by applying the things she had already learned. I counseled her to pray to Jehovah about the matter, which she did. She then mustered up the courage to talk frankly with her partner. To her great joy, he agreed to marriage. What is more, he began to attend meetings with his new wife.”

The 1963 service year saw 11 peaks in Kingdom publishers, the last one being 93. Réunion now had two congregations and one group. The first local baptism ceremony, held in December 1962 on the beach at St.-Gilles-les Bains, saw 20 new ones immersed. The second, held in June 1963, saw 38 baptized. In 1961, Réunion had 1 publisher to every 41,667 of the population. Three years later the ratio was 1 to 2,286. Yes, Jehovah was “making [the word] grow” on this spiritually fertile island.​—1 Cor. 3:6.


By 1965​—just four years after the first Witness family arrived—​the congregation in Saint-Denis had grown to over 110 publishers, and they were covering the local territory every three weeks! Yet, other areas were hardly being touched. The solution? The brothers rented buses and preached in other coastal towns, including Saint-Leu, Saint-Philippe, and Saint-Pierre.

It took many hours to reach some territories, so the brothers would set off early in the morning and travel roads that were often narrow, steep, and tortuous. The drive from Saint-Denis to the city of Le Port, which takes 15 minutes today, was a two-hour ordeal. “It took faith to travel that road,” reflects one brother. Even the new road is not without risks on account of falling rocks. In places, mountains rise almost vertically from the roadside, and heavy rain sometimes loosens overhead rocks, some weighing many tons. Over the years, a number of people have been killed.

“When I was about eight years old,” says Christian Pégoud, “our group would place from 400 to 600 Awake! magazines in isolated territories. The Watchtower was banned. Because some unbelieving but friendly husbands enjoyed the day’s outing, they came with their wives but did not go witnessing. After field service, we had a picnic, which was a real treat for us children. To be sure, these special activities had a big impact on my life.”


In May 1963, Milton G. Henschel became the first representative from world headquarters to visit Réunion. He gave a special talk to an audience of 155. As a result of his visit, four were appointed as special pioneers to help care for the congregations and to work in areas where the good news had not yet been preached. David Souris was assigned to Le Port, Lucien Véchot to the city of Saint-André, and Marianne Lan-Ngoo and Noémie Duray (now Tisserand) to Saint-Pierre.

On May 1, 1964, oversight of the work was transferred from France to Mauritius. In addition, a literature depot was established on Réunion. Meanwhile, the publishers were invited to work more unassigned territories, and the brothers were encouraged to reach out for congregation responsibilities so that the new ones flocking into the truth could be well cared for. Indeed, during the 1964 service year, 57 were baptized​—21 at one assembly!

During the preceding year, the group at Saint-André applied to become a congregation. The application read: “At the end of June 1963, there will be 12 baptized publishers, with the possibility of 5 or 6 new publishers in the next two months. The brothers are conducting 30 Bible studies.” The application was approved, and two brothers took care of the congregation​—Jean Nasseau as congregation servant, or presiding overseer, and Lucien Véchot as his assistant. Both had been in the truth for less than two years.

Big in heart and in frame, 38-year-old Jean was an instructor at a technical school and a master builder. Baptized in 1962, he had the skills and the ability to get things done to help advance the Kingdom work. In fact, he built Réunion’s second Kingdom Hall at his own expense and on his own land in Saint-André. A sturdy, well-finished wooden structure, the hall could comfortably seat over 50. Eight congregations have since been formed in the territory originally cared for by the group at Saint-André. Jean died faithful to Jehovah in 1997.

The third group that developed in the early 1960’s was in Le Port, a harbor city, and included interested ones from Saint-Paul, about five miles [8 km] to the south. Le Port consisted of simple wooden homes surrounded by milkbush, a cactuslike plant devoid of spines. David Souris rented a house and held meetings there. In December 1963, the group applied to become a congregation. There were 16 Kingdom publishers, 8 of whom were baptized, and they averaged 22.5 hours a month in field service. David and his assistant alone conducted 38 Bible studies! When the circuit overseer visited that same month, he gave the public talk to an audience of 53.

Also assigned to Le Port were special pioneers Christian and Josette Bonnecaze. Christian had been baptized in French Guiana and came to Réunion in the early 1960’s. Single at the time, he was the only member of his family in the truth. Brother Souris kindly moved into another house to make room for Christian and Josette in the house where the meetings were held. In time, however, the congregation grew so much that this couple had to move out as well!

Meanwhile, clergy in this predominantly Catholic area began to turn people against the Witnesses. During the day, children and youths often threw stones at the publishers and at night tossed stones on the brothers’ roofs.

New Bible student Raphaëlla Hoarau knew some of those youths. After one stone-throwing episode, she followed the culprits home. “If you continue throwing stones at my brother,” she said, “you will have me to deal with.”

“We are sorry, Mrs. Hoarau,” they replied. “We didn’t know that he was your brother.”

Raphaëlla came into the truth, as did her three daughters, one of whom, Yolaine, married Lucien Véchot.

Despite the clergy-inspired prejudice, the brothers’ zeal and God’s blessing resulted in a zealous congregation in Le Port, and the hall was soon filled to overflowing. Often, in fact, more listened from outside than from inside. Chairs were placed in every possible spot, even on the platform, and a row of children sat on the edge of the platform facing the audience. Eventually, the brothers built a fine Kingdom Hall, and today, the area boasts six congregations.


One of the early pioneers in Réunion was Annick Lapierre. “Annick studied with Mother and me,” recalls Myriam Thomas. “She encouraged me to work hard in the ministry, and I told her that I wanted to become a pioneer. I was baptized after six months. Back then, the whole island was our territory, and we usually walked, for there were no buses and very few cars. Brother Nasseau, though, owned a car and took us out in service whenever possible. Preaching was a joy, and we were all highly motivated.”

Family man Henri-Lucien Grondin recalls: “We always encouraged the children to pioneer. The circuit overseers made us aware of the importance of giving Jehovah our best. Henri-Fred, our eldest, is now 40 years of age and has made the full-time service his career.”

“Our congregation had a large group of zealous youngsters,” reminisces Henri-Fred. “Some were baptized, but others, like me, were not. During our school vacations, we all spent 60 hours in the ministry anyway. We never lost sight of our spiritual goals, and today I serve in the circuit work, accompanied by my wife, Evelyne.”


Spiritism is common in Réunion. “In the village of La Montagne,” recalls Jeannine Corino (formerly Pégoud), “I met a man who said that he would put a curse on me by sticking pins into a doll. I did not understand what he was talking about, so I asked my Bible student to explain. ‘The man is a witch doctor,’ she said, ‘and he is going to invoke the spirits to hurt you.’ I assured her that Jehovah protects those who fully trust in him. Needless to say, no harm befell me.”

A brother recalls that when he was a child, his family conducted séances. In 1969 he met Jehovah’s Witnesses and began to study the Bible. However, the demons tried to discourage him by making him deaf when he came to the meetings. Nevertheless, he not only kept coming but also had the talks recorded so that he could play them at home. Before long, the demons left him alone, and soon thereafter he began to share in the field service.​—Jas. 4:7.

In 1996, Roséda Caro, a Pentecostal woman, started to study the Bible with the Witnesses. Earlier she had lost her sight because she had taken the advice of her church friends and stopped taking medication for her diabetes. Her husband, Cledo, who was involved with the local Communist party, was feared in the community because of his violent temper. He also practiced witchcraft, participated in Hindu ceremonies, and later became a Pentecostal.

When Roséda began to study, Cledo opposed her and even threatened the congregation elders. But Roséda did not cower. Some months later, Cledo was taken to a hospital, where he fell into a coma. When he eventually regained consciousness, two Witnesses brought him some soup, which he thought was for his wife.

“No, Mr. Caro, the soup is for you!” said the sisters.

“That touched me deeply,” recalls Cledo. “No Pentecostal had visited me, yet two of Jehovah’s Witnesses​—the very people I had strongly opposed—​brought me a meal. ‘Jehovah, the God of my wife, really does exist,’ I said to myself. Then I offered a silent prayer, asking that Roséda and I be united in our beliefs.”

Cledo did not make this humble request on the spur of the moment. Before he became ill, his attitude had softened somewhat and he had allowed his wife to study at a neighbor’s house. Then one day he said to Roséda and the sister studying with her: “It’s not good that you study there. Come to our house.” The women did just that. But unbeknownst to them, Cledo listened in from the next room and liked what he heard. Although Cledo was illiterate, when he recovered from his illness, he studied twice a week and was baptized in 1998. Despite health problems that often accompany old age, Cledo and Roséda continue to serve God faithfully.


A small percentage of Réunion’s population lives away from the coast in deep valleys hemmed in by steep mountains rising 4,000 feet [1,200 m] or more. Others live high up in the vast, verdant calderas of a massive but extinct volcano. Some of these people rarely, if ever, see the ocean. The caldera Cirque de Mafate, for example, is accessible only by foot or by helicopter.

Louis Nelaupe, a descendant of African slaves, grew up in Cirque de Mafate. As a young man, he helped carry the Catholic priest on a litter. Louis eventually moved to Saint-Denis, where he came into the truth. Naturally, he wanted to share his newfound beliefs with his relatives. So one day in 1968, Louis and his wife, Anne, and two other sisters, aged 15 and 67, set off on foot for the interior. They took a knapsack along with a suitcase and a briefcase full of literature.

Initially, they walked along a riverbed and then up a narrow, winding mountain path. In places, there was a sheer rock face on one side and a precipice on the other. They preached at every dwelling along the way. “That night,” says Louis, “Jehovah provided for us by means of the only storekeeper in the district. He gave us a two-room cabin complete with beds and kitchen. In the morning, we set off again, our route taking us over the brow of a 4,500-foot-high [1,400 m] mountain into the caldera, a vast, natural amphitheater.

“Eventually, we arrived at the home of an old friend, who showed us hospitality. The next day, we left some baggage with him, and we pressed on toward our destination, sustaining ourselves with small guavas that grew wild and preaching to humble folk who had never before heard the Kingdom message. We arrived at the house of a relative at 6:00 p.m. Happy to see us, she prepared a tasty chicken dinner, reminding us of Abraham and Sarah, who fed God’s angels. (Gen. 18:1-8) Of course, we witnessed to her while she cooked. Finally, at 11:00 p.m., we ate.

“On the following day, Thursday, we worked our way around the basin, dining on guavas and visiting all the homes we could find. One kind man offered us coffee, and we were able to rest a little​—our feet, that is, not our tongues! Indeed, this man so enjoyed our Bible discussion that he accompanied us to all the homes within a mile of his, playing his harmonica as we walked.

“Finally, we circled back to where we had left our luggage and stayed there overnight. By the time we arrived back at our homes late on Friday, the four of us​—including our dear 67-year-old sister—​had walked about 100 miles [150 km], visited 60 homes, and placed over 100 pieces of literature. Oh, yes, we felt tired physically, but we were refreshed spiritually. For me, of course, the trek to Cirque de Mafate was also a return to my roots.”


In 1974, Christian Pégoud and his mother moved to the southern town of La Rivière, which had no congregation at the time. “We used our garage for the meetings, and soon 30 people began to attend,” says Christian, who was now 20 years old. “I started a study with a woman and her daughter, Céline, who was engaged to Ulysse Grondin. A militant Communist, Ulysse did not want his fiancée to study with us. However, Céline convinced Ulysse to listen to us, and Mother went to see him and his parents. Much to our delight, they listened to Mother and liked what they heard. The whole family started to study, and in 1975, Ulysse and Céline were baptized and married. Ulysse was eventually appointed an elder.”

Christian continues: “Besides La Rivière, our territory included the inland communities of Cilaos, Les Avirons, Les Makes, and L’Étang-Salé. We found much interest at Les Makes. Above the village is Le Cap, a section of the rim of an extinct volcano. From there, on a clear morning, one can see a vast, verdant amphitheater over a thousand feet [300 m] below.”

A family by the name of Poudroux lived on a small holding near the foot of Le Cap. The firstborn, Jean-Claude, reminisces: “My four brothers, five sisters, and I helped Father grow vegetables for the market. He also grew and distilled geraniums in order to produce an essence used in perfume. We walked three miles [5 km] to school in the local village, often carrying garden produce with us. Coming home, we sometimes carried about 20 pounds [10 kg] of groceries​—all on our heads.

“Father was a hard worker, and we respected him for that. But like many, he drank heavily, and when under the influence, he became violent. My siblings and I often witnessed nasty scenes at home, and we feared for our family’s future.”

Jean-Claude continues: “In 1974 a pioneer contacted me. I was working as a schoolteacher in La Rivière. Because of the hypocrisy and injustices I had seen in the churches, I was more or less an atheist. Still, I was impressed when the brother used the Bible to answer all my questions. My wife, Nicole, and I began to study. We also visited my family to share Bible truth with them, often talking late into the night with my siblings. Sometimes my parents would listen in.

“Before long, my brothers Jean-Marie and Jean-Michel and my sister Roseline began to come regularly to our home to sit in on our study. We all progressed spiritually, became publishers, and were baptized together in 1976. Sadly, Father accused me of wrongly influencing my siblings and stopped talking to me. He even became belligerent to the point that I had to avoid him in public!

“Even though she was illiterate, Mother began to study. And I am happy to report that Father eventually softened in his attitude. In fact, he began to study the Bible in 2002. Today, 26 members of our family are baptized. They include my nine siblings and me, our marriage mates, and our mother, who is still zealous despite her advanced age. Jean-Michel and Jean-Yves served for a while as circuit overseers but had to stop for health reasons. Both are congregation elders, and Jean-Yves is also a pioneer, along with his wife, Roséda. My eldest son and I serve as elders.”

When Christian Pégoud and his mother arrived in 1974, La Rivière and the surrounding towns had no congregations, but now there are five. One is in the town of Cilaos, high up in Cirque de Cilaos and famous for its mountain springs and thermal spa. How did the Cilaos Congregation begin? Every Thursday from 1975 to 1976, publishers from La Rivière traveled up the 23-mile [37 km], narrow, winding road​—notorious for rockfalls—​to Cilaos and preached until about 5:00 p.m. Their efforts bore fruit, for now there are about 30 publishers in the town, and they have their own Kingdom Hall.


For good reason, locals label the southern part of Réunion “the wild south.” Huge waves explode in white fury along the rather barren coast, which is dominated by Réunion’s active volcano, Piton de la Fournaise (Peak of the Furnace). Saint-Pierre is the largest town in the area. Special pioneers Denise Mellot and Lilliane Pieprzyk were assigned there in the late 1960’s. Later, as interest developed, special pioneer Michel Rivière and his wife, Renée, joined the two sisters.

An early Bible student in the area was Cléo Lapierre, a builder who came into the truth in 1968. “The first meeting I attended was held under a big tree,” says Cléo. “The ‘Kingdom Hall’​—a ten-foot by ten-foot [3 m by 3 m] shed—​was being demolished to make way for a larger building, which I was able to share in constructing.”

That same year Cléo, who was in the army reserves, was called up to do military service. “With the little Bible knowledge I had,” relates Cléo, “I wrote to the authorities, explaining my now neutral position. They did not reply, so I went to the army base in Saint-Denis, on the other side of the island, to investigate the matter. An officer told me to go home but to prepare to go to prison. Hence, I prayed frequently and studied diligently. Before long, I was called back to the base. When I arrived, I asked the brother who rode there with me to wait for an hour. ‘If I’m not back by then,’ I said, ‘I will most likely not be coming back. In that case, please sell my car and give the money to my wife.’

“When I went inside, I observed officers arguing over what to do with me. After about 45 minutes, a sergeant approached me.

“‘Get out of my sight!’ he said. ‘Go home.’

“I had walked no more than 50 yards [45 m] when he called me back. In a changed tone, he said: ‘I admire you people. I heard about Jehovah’s Witnesses in France, but you are the first one I’ve met.’

“At the time, I was the only brother in Saint-Pierre, so I conducted all the congregation meetings. However, I did receive help from time to time, and in 1979 the missionary couple Antoine and Gilberte Branca arrived.”


At first, congregations and groups usually met in modified houses and private homes. Because of frequent cyclones, however, sturdier structures were needed. But buildings made out of masonry are expensive, and they take a lot longer to construct. Still, Jehovah’s hand is not short, and in time, such Kingdom Halls began to appear in Réunion.​—Isa. 59:1.

In the town of Saint-Louis, for example, a young brother was taking a course in masonry when the congregation received the plans for their new Kingdom Hall. The brother witnessed to his instructor, told him about the hall, and explained that it would be built by volunteers. How did the teacher respond? He brought the class to the site for some practical training! The class helped dig the footings, and the teacher later donated steel for the foundation.

The brothers arranged to pour the 2,000-square-foot [190 sq m] slab of concrete on a public holiday, and over a hundred eager volunteers arrived early for the work. For some reason, however, the town had turned off the water supply! Not short on initiative, a brother who knew the chief of the fire department explained the predicament to this kind man, who promptly sent a fire truck with enough water for the job.

When the Kingdom Hall was completed, a newly interested man, impressed by the brothers and their work, pulled out his checkbook and donated nearly enough for a new sound system. While visiting Mauritius in December 1988, Carey Barber of the Governing Body came to Réunion to deliver the dedication talk. The first quickly built Kingdom Hall was completed in 1996 in St.-Gilles-les Bains. Today, the island has 17 Kingdom Halls serving 34 congregations.


The work in Réunion got off to such a good start that it was a challenge to find places that were big enough for assemblies. In 1964, the brothers planned their first local circuit assembly. After months of searching, however, they could find only one place​—an upstairs restaurant in Saint-Denis. The building was old, expensive to rent, and made out of timber. The owners said that it would hold the weight of over 200 people, the expected attendance.

Left with no choice, the brothers booked the restaurant, and a favorably disposed man contributed a loudspeaker system. When the day arrived and the brothers began to fill the building, the floor creaked and groaned, but it held. The attendance on Sunday was 230, and 21 were baptized.

Soon thereafter, Louis Nelaupe, the brother who had grown up in Cirque de Mafate, kindly offered space on his land in Saint-Denis for the construction of a temporary Assembly Hall. With a simple, open design, the structure had a wooden frame, an iron roof, and walls of plaited palm leaves.

The first assembly held there was a three-day district convention. “On the first morning,” recalls delegate Myriam Andrien, “we went out in service and came back to a hot lunch​—a real Creole meal of rice, beans, and chicken with hot chili peppers thrown in. For palates not accustomed to hot peppers, the cooks prepared a rougail marmaille, or children’s chutney.”

The Assembly Hall was extended as attendances grew, and it also served as a Kingdom Hall. In time, the families that rented homes that were on that piece of property left, and Louis donated all the land to the congregation. The site now boasts a handsome brick Kingdom Hall, which is shared by two congregations in Saint-Denis.

In 1997 an Assembly Hall was completed in the town of La Possession on a parcel of land purchased five years earlier. The building has open sides, and a baptism pool is incorporated into the platform. Able to accommodate 1,600, the hall is used at least 12 times a year for assemblies and conventions. Next to it is a missionary home that can accommodate nine people. It includes a literature depot and an office for the Réunion field.


Before the brothers had their own Assembly Hall, they rented the Olympic Stadium in Saint-Paul for district conventions. Even so, they often had to go elsewhere at the last minute because of sports or cultural events that received priority. In time, the municipality asked the brothers to use the exposition grounds next to the stadium. Set aside for fairs and exhibitions, this area has no seating or covering, so delegates had to bring their own chairs and sunshades. As a result, those on the platform looked out over, not a sea of attentive faces, but a mass of multicolored umbrellas.

“Once, the municipality double booked the grounds,” writes the Réunion office. “The other party was a musical group from Martinique who played zouk​—a blend of African rhythms, reggae, and calypso. Favoring the zouk group, the officials offered us a recreation area called The Cave of the First Frenchmen, the spot where the first French settlers landed. The setting was beautiful, with a backdrop of high cliffs and many shady trees, but there were no seats, very few restrooms, and no stage.

“This time, though, we were glad to be there, for on the Saturday evening of the convention, a storm rolled in and lightning knocked out the entire electric system at the stadium, ending the zouk concert. Three miles [5 km] down the road, we were unaffected. Locals even talked of ‘God’s judgment’ over the affair.”


On June 22, 1967, the legal entity Association Les Témoins de Jéhovah (Association of Jehovah’s Witnesses) was established. In February 1969 the island received its first local circuit overseer, Henri Zamit, who was born in Algeria and raised in France. His circuit included the six congregations in Réunion and the four in Mauritius as well as a number of isolated groups. Today, Réunion alone has two circuits.

In 1975 the 22-year ban on The Watchtower was lifted in France, and the brothers promptly made use of this magazine in the Réunion field. They had been using the publication Bulletin intérieur. Printed in France, it contained the same information published in The Watchtower but was not placed with the public. In January 1980 the France branch began printing a French edition of Our Kingdom Ministry that was tailored to the needs of Réunion and other islands in that area. Also, for the benefit of people who speak Réunion Creole, certain publications​—including tracts, brochures, and the books Knowledge That Leads to Everlasting Life and Worship the Only True God—​have been translated into this language. These fine spiritual provisions have aided the advancement of the good news in this remote part of the world.

Yes, in the vast expanse of the Indian Ocean, Réunion is a mere speck. But what a mighty shout of praise has ascended to God from there! This calls to mind the words of the prophet Isaiah: “In the islands let them tell forth even [Jehovah’s] praise”! (Isa. 42:10, 12) In telling forth that praise, may Jehovah’s Witnesses in Réunion continue to be as constant and faithful as the big blue waves that roll in endlessly on the island’s volcanic shores.

[Box/​Maps on page 228, 229]



About 40 miles [65 km] long and 30 miles [50 km] wide, Réunion is the largest of the Mascarene Islands​—Mauritius, Réunion, and Rodrigues. Near the center of the island are three inhabited, well-vegetated calderas called cirques, or steep-walled basins, which were formed by the collapse of a massive, ancient volcano.


The 785,200 inhabitants are mainly of mixed African, Chinese, French, Indian, and Southeast Asian descent. About 90 percent are Catholic.


French is the official language, but Réunion Creole is the common tongue.


The economy is largely based on sugarcane and its products, such as molasses and rum, as well as on tourism.


Principal foods are rice, meat, fish, beans, and lentils. Besides sugarcane, crops include coconuts, lychees, papayas, pineapples, cabbages, lettuces, tomatoes, and vanillas.


Situated slightly above the Tropic of Capricorn, Réunion is tropical and humid with regional variations in rainfall and temperature. Cyclones are common.


(For fully formatted text, see publication)







La Montagne

La Possession

Le Port


St.-Gilles-les Bains






Le Cap

Les Makes

Les Avirons


La Rivière




Piton de la Fournaise




Photo taken from space

Lava flow


[Box on page 232, 233]

A Brief History of Réunion

Early Arab sailors called the island Dina Morgabin (Western Island). When Portuguese navigators discovered the still uninhabited island in the early 1500’s, they named it Santa Apollonia. Frenchman Jacques Pronis claimed Santa Apollonia for France in 1642 when he deported 12 mutineers there from Madagascar. In 1649 it was renamed Île Bourbon, after the French royal house. When the House of Bourbon fell in 1793 during the French Revolution, the island was named Réunion, commemorating the union of the Paris National Guard with revolutionaries from Marseille. After more changes, Réunion was readopted as the name in 1848. In 1946, the island became an overseas department of France.

In the early 1660’s, France founded a colony on the island and established coffee and sugar plantations, the workers being slaves shipped in from East Africa. After the abolition of slavery in 1848, France brought in indentured servants, mostly from India and Southeast Asia. The island’s present mixed population stems largely from these groups. In the early 1800’s, coffee-growing waned and sugarcane became the main export crop.

[Box/​Pictures on page 236, 237]

From Bodybuilder to Special Pioneer


BORN 1937


PROFILE Once a well-known bodybuilder, he served as a special pioneer from 1963 to 1968 and has served as an elder since 1975.

ON A memorable day in 1961, I went to my friend Jean’s home to “rescue” him from Jehovah’s Witnesses. Jean’s wife had asked me over, afraid that the false prophets, as she called the Witnesses, might become argumentative and assault her husband!

‘If they lay a hand on him,’ I said to myself, ‘I’ll beat them up.’ But they were pleasant and reasonable and showed no hint of aggression. Soon I became engrossed in a discussion about the cross, in which the Witnesses showed clearly from the Bible that Jesus had died on a simple pole, or stake.

Later, I asked what the prophet Daniel meant when he spoke of Michael the archangel “standing” in behalf of God’s people. (Dan. 12:1) The Witnesses explained from the Scriptures that Michael is, in fact, Jesus Christ and that he has been “standing,” or ruling as King of God’s Kingdom, since the year 1914. (Matt. 24:3-7; Rev. 12:7-10) I was amazed at these answers and at the Witnesses’ knowledge of the Bible. From then on, whenever the Witnesses were in the area, I seized the opportunity to discuss God’s Word with them. I even followed them from door to door and joined in their discussions. Before long, I began to associate with the isolated group that met in Saint-André.

At my first meeting, even though I could not read well, I read some of the paragraphs in the Bulletin intérieur, which, at the time, we used instead of The Watchtower. Then, immediately after my baptism, I was asked to conduct the book study because no other brothers were available. ‘But how do I conduct the book study?’ I wondered. Aware of my anxiety and uncertainty, Jeannine Pégoud kindly suggested that she read the paragraphs and I ask the printed study questions. So that’s what we did, and the study went well.

When Milton Henschel visited Réunion in 1963, he encouraged those eligible to consider special pioneer service. I wanted to give my all to Jehovah, so I filled out the application and was accepted. My assignment was the city of Saint-André, where, in time, I conducted nine Bible studies.

The fledgling congregation met in the home of Jean Nasseau. When Jean broke his hip in a car accident, I took care of the congregation for six months. This meant giving talks, conducting the Theocratic Ministry School and Service Meeting, and preparing reports for the branch office​—all of which gave me additional valuable experience.

In the territory, we had to battle superstition, which stemmed from a confusing blend of Catholicism and Hinduism. Still, people responded to the good news. In fact, in one family at least 20 members came into the truth. Today, there are five congregations in the Saint-André area.

[Box/​Pictures on page 238]

My Faith Was Tested by Ridicule


BORN 1937


PROFILE Has pioneered since 1966.

WHEN my cousin Louis Nelaupe and I started preaching in 1962, we were invited in at almost every door. People would offer us coffee, lemonade, and even rum! Before long, however, the clergy influenced many to change their attitude. Some householders mocked us, at times using deliberate corruptions of God’s name. In one town, people threw stones at us.

As a result, some of us stopped using God’s name in the ministry. The circuit overseer noticed this and inquired about it. When we explained our reasons to him, we felt a little ashamed. In a kind way, though, he counseled us and encouraged us to be more courageous. We deeply appreciated this, viewing his words as discipline from Jehovah. (Heb. 12:6) Indeed, without God’s patience, mercy, and holy spirit, I would have stopped pioneering long ago. Instead, I have been able to devote over 40 precious years to the pioneer service.

[Box/​Picture on page 246, 247]

Jehovah Supported Me Through Trials


BORN 1947


PROFILE One of the first in Réunion to be baptized, he spent three years in prison because he would not join the military.

WHEN I accepted the truth at age 15, my parents put me out of the house. But that did not weaken my determination to serve Jehovah. I started regular pioneering in 1964 and special pioneering in 1965. I also had the privilege of sharing in the oversight of the congregations in Saint-André and Saint-Benoît. Jean-Claude Furcy and I regularly cycled between the two, which had 12 and 6 publishers respectively.

In 1967, I was called up for military service. I explained that as a Christian, I could not take up arms. Nevertheless, because mine was the first case of its kind in Réunion, the authorities neither understood nor accepted my position. In fact, an officer beat me in front of about 400 recruits and then took me, now limping, to his office. He laid a uniform on his desk and told me to put it on, otherwise he would beat me again. Nearly six feet [1.8 m] tall and well built, he towered over me. Still, I mustered up courage and said, “If you hit me again, I will file an official complaint because France guarantees freedom of religion.” Fuming, he stepped toward me but restrained himself. Then he took me to the commanding officer, who said that I would do three years of hard labor in France.

I did the three years, but in Réunion. And it was not hard labor. After sentencing me, the judge invited me into his office. Smiling, he shook my hand and sympathized with me, explaining that as judge, he had to apply the law. The assistant prison director too was friendly toward me and arranged for me to work in the courtroom. He even came with me to the visitors’ area to meet my parents and a member of the congregation.

Initially, I shared a cell with 20 to 30 others, but then I was put in a cell for 2, which gave me more freedom. I requested an electric light and, amazingly, received one. Normally, electric items are forbidden because inmates might try to electrocute themselves. Thanks to my lamp, I could study the Bible and also complete a correspondence course in accounting. When I was released in 1970, a judge kindly found work for me.

[Box on page 249]

The Threat of Cyclones

In February 1962, Cyclone Jenny swept across both Réunion and Mauritius, transforming the surrounding Indian Ocean into a foaming monster that flooded coastal areas, especially on Réunion. In Saint-Denis, buildings were damaged, trees were stripped of leaves, and roads were littered with broken branches. Electric poles leaned at dangerous angles, and cables dangled on the ground. Amazingly, the small Kingdom Hall was undamaged. The cyclone took 37 lives, injured 250, and left thousands without shelter. At the time, the brothers were attending an assembly on Mauritius, which was not hit as hard. Although they could not return home for a few days, at least they survived unscathed.

In 2002, Cyclone Dina caused a landslide that blocked the road to Cilaos for three weeks. The Réunion office quickly arranged to send in a four-wheel-drive vehicle loaded with supplies for the 30 brothers there. The vehicle joined a convoy of 15 others, with the police taking the lead. Sections of paved road had been washed into a river, and the convoy had to drive down into the riverbed and back up onto the road. How the brothers in Cilaos rejoiced when the vehicle arrived!

[Chart/​Graph on page 252, 253]

TIME LINE​—Réunion

1955 Robert Nisbet visits in September.


1961 A Witness family arrives from France and finds much interest.

1963 M. G. Henschel from world headquarters speaks to an audience of 155.

1964 Oversight of the work is transferred from France to Mauritius; 230 attend the first local circuit assembly.

1967 The legal entity Association Les Témoins de Jéhovah is registered.


1975 Ban on The Watchtower is lifted in France.


1985 Publisher figure exceeds 1,000.


1992 Publisher figure exceeds 2,000. Branch purchases property in La Possession for the Réunion office, an Assembly Hall, and a missionary home.

1996 First quickly built Kingdom Hall is completed.

1998 First assembly is held in the new La Possession Assembly Hall.


2006 About 2,590 publishers are active in Réunion.


(See publication)

Total Publishers

Total Pioneers




1960 1970 1980 1990 2000

[Full-page picture on page 223]

[Picture on page 224]

Adam Lisiak preached in Réunion for a month, 1959

[Picture on page 224]

Noémie Duray, Jeannine Pégoud, and her son, Christian, on their way to Réunion, 1961

[Picture on page 227]

Le Port Kingdom Hall, 1965

[Picture on page 230]

Open-air buses were rented for preaching trips, 1965

[Picture on page 230]

Josette Bonnecaze

[Picture on page 235]

Jeannine Corino

[Picture on page 235]

Witnessing in Saint-Paul, 1965

[Picture on page 243]

Cléo Lapierre

[Pictures on page 244, 245]

Louis and Anne Nelaupe witnessed in isolated villages and dined on guavas along the way

Cirque de Mafate

[Picture on page 248]

The finished Kingdom Hall in Saint-Louis, 1988

[Pictures on page 251]

Assemblies and Conventions

The first local circuit assembly was held in an upstairs restaurant, 1964

The Cave of the First Frenchmen, a district convention site

Temporary meeting place, Saint-Denis, 1965