“Good News” Preached in Australia’s Far-Northern Islands
“THIS good news of the kingdom,” Jesus said, “will be preached in all the inhabited earth.” (Matthew 24:14) Jehovah’s Witnesses obey Jesus’ command and try to reach people with the Bible’s message, no matter where they live. (Matthew 28:19, 20) This work is done voluntarily, sometimes despite considerable discomfort and personal expense.
Nathan and Carly, for example, reorganized their lives so that they could preach to people living on the remote Torres Strait Islands. In 2003, a representative of the branch office of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Australia invited them to move to Thursday Island to work along with the local congregation. That island is just one link in the chain of green jewels dotting the blue Pacific between Australia and New Guinea.
In 2007, the family bought an old wooden pearling boat called the Teisan-Y. At their own expense, they refurbished the boat and began making trips to preach to the inhabitants of ten of the most distant islands, using Thursday Island as a base. What follows is a “Captain’s Log” of some of their journeys.
January 2008: Today, I took a dinghy to Bamaga—a 50 mile [80 km] round-trip—to pick up six local Witnesses. We are now on the Teisan-Y, traveling toward Warraber and Poruma islands. The tanks are full—1,450 gallons [5,500 L] of fuel at $8.00 a gallon. The boat is very slow, averaging only six miles [10 km] an hour. But the weather is glorious—no more than a ripple on the ocean.
On arrival, we anchor offshore, load the dinghy with a few of our crew who have relatives on Warraber, and meet with the island’s councillor to gain permission to preach. He is a pastor in the local church but allows us to talk to the residents. We follow the same routine at Poruma and are allowed to preach. The people are very friendly and eager to read our literature. We start many Bible studies.
April 2008: We plot a course for Dauan, Saibai, and Boigu—the three most distant islands—near the border with Papua New Guinea (PNG). The weather turns very bad, and we head to Mabuiag Island instead. Mabuiag is only 43 miles [70 km] from our home port, but we will travel 86 miles [140 km] by the time we zigzag our way through the dozens of reefs.
The dinghy was wrenched from the Teisan-Y by a huge wave. We turned the boat around amid towering walls of water to retrieve it. Most on board are seasick.
At Mabuiag, we receive permission to preach on the island, and the locals give us such a warm greeting that our discomfort is soon forgotten. One lady is so happy to hear our message that she accepts extra literature so that she can display it at the local library, where she works.
May to October 2008: Because of weather conditions, we are unable to reach the islands. We use the time to preach locally, to work, and to perform maintenance on the boat.
The boat needs extensive work, so we travel to the mainland port of Weipa and pull the boat out of the water on a huge trailer. Easily said, not so easily done! Witnesses from the local congregation volunteer their time to help with the work, such as plumbing, painting, and carpentry. Others bring meals. Still others provide some supplies for our next preaching trip. Their hospitality and help are invaluable.
December 2008: Again we plot a course for Dauan, Saibai, and Boigu. We dodge tropical storms, using our radar, and maneuver through the reefs with the aid of our chart plotter. It takes 12 hours’ sailing time to reach Dauan, but it is the most beautiful island we have ever seen. The towering rocky hills are covered in clouds. The people on Dauan eagerly listen to us, and we arrange to continue our Bible discussions by phone after we return home.
One resident, a woman named Lettie, had somehow received our magazines and sent in the coupons to request more literature. The branch office in Australia sent her the items and also sent our congregation a letter asking that if possible, we contact her. We eventually find Lettie and are happy to play a small part in satisfying her spiritual needs.
At the island of Saibai, the councillor refuses to allow us to preach to the islanders. But he does allow those of our crew who have relatives on the island to visit and talk to them. I have a contract with the government to do some secular work painting houses on Saibai, and this helps to cover some of our expenses.
One of our sisters named Tassie is from a village in PNG, which is only about two and a half miles [4 km] from Saibai. Under a treaty with the Australian government, residents of PNG can come to Saibai and trade. Tassie meets many from her village and does not have enough literature for all of them. This is the first time that Tassie has seen people from her village since she became one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. We return to the boat and bring her a box of literature, most of it in PNG Pidgin, a language known as Tok Pisin. Tassie explains the Bible’s message to a crowd of more than 30 people from PNG, and those interested empty the box of literature. The village they live in is only accessible by boat and may never have been visited by Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Reaching the last island, Boigu, is a challenge. We are about two and a half miles [4 km] offshore and in only eight feet [2.5 m] of water. The boat draws six feet [1.8 m] of water. One of the crew and I use the dinghy to scout the area to find a passage to the island. It is pouring rain, and we are soaked! It takes two hours to find a route.
When we arrive, the surprised islanders tell us that the charts I have are inaccurate and that not even the coast guard or navy enter the area. The councillor refuses permission to preach but allows those of our crew with relatives on the island to visit and preach to them. We respect the councillor’s wishes and visit only family. One man accepts the book What Does the Bible Really Teach?, * reads it immediately, and begins writing down questions in the back of his Bible. This same man is later contacted again when he visits Thursday Island.
January 2009: We return to the islands of Moa and Mabuiag to talk again with those who had shown interest in the Bible’s message. On both islands, we receive a very warm reception. Many in the village of St. Paul on Moa Island tell us not to wait so long until our next visit. The councillor says that we are welcome to preach in the village whenever we wish.
There are 17 inhabited islands in the Torres Strait. We don’t know to what extent we will be able to contact everyone who lives on them. But all of us in the congregation here in Australia’s far-northern islands are happy to do what we can to bring praise to our Grand Creator, Jehovah.
^ par. 17 Published by Jehovah’s Witnesses.
[Map on page 23]
(For fully formatted text, see publication)
TORRES STRAIT ISLANDS
PAPUA NEW GUINEA
Based on NASA/Visible Earth imagery
[Map on page 24, 25]
PAPUA NEW GUINEA
Based on NASA/Visible Earth imagery
[Picture on page 24]
Landing on Thursday Island
[Picture on page 24]
Walking to visit people on Saibai Island
[Picture on page 25]
Sharing the good news in the Tok Pisin language