THE imposing Levká Mountains of the island of Crete slowly slip away as our boat heads for a small plateau jutting out from the depths of the Mediterranean. On board is our group of 13, who are looking forward to a preaching trip to the island of Gavdos, a tiny dot on the map, which marks Europe’s southernmost frontier.
It seems that we should have a smooth journey on this hot summer day. But soon gusts of wind lash the sea into a fury, causing the boat to bob like a cork. Feeling sick, I recall the Bible account of the apostle Paul, who experienced a violent storm in these waters centuries ago—when Gavdos was known as Cauda. (Acts 27:13-17) I only hope that we will make it safely to Gavdos.
At last we see our destination, a rocky outcrop with cliffs plunging into the sea. It is relatively flat, only about 1,000 feet (300 m) high, with no defining peaks. Thick growths of pine trees and scrub cover most of this island of roughly ten square miles (26 sq km). In some areas, coastal junipers go right down to the shores.
At one time the island had about 8,000 inhabitants. Today, the number of permanent residents is fewer than 40 people. Modern civilization seems to have bypassed Gavdos. Even though freighters and tankers often sail by its coasts, the island has only an infrequent ferry connection with Crete, often delayed or canceled because of bad weather.
We have come to Gavdos to offer the people something cheerful and uplifting—a sure hope for a better future and the prospect of endless life in perfect health. As our boat gets ready to dock, we are eager to go ashore to share such good news.
Having been tossed about for four and a half hours, our pale faces betray that the trip to Gavdos was hardly a relaxing cruise. But a refreshing nap and a cup of coffee perk us up nicely. After a brief review of the Bible account about the apostle Paul’s trip, as well as an earnest prayer, we are ready to begin our work.
The local people are friendly and hospitable. They invite us into their homes and offer us refreshments. In addition to sharing the good news from the Bible with them, we respond by extending practical help when needed. While speaking to a woman, one member of our group who is an electrician notices a broken appliance in her place of business and offers to fix it. The woman is touched. She accepts the Bible literature we offer and commends us and our ministry. Another woman expresses her appreciation and says, “Your work is from God, not from men, and this is obvious because you came to preach on this remote island.”
The Bible literature we brought along seems to be greatly appreciated by the people. One man accepts the Watchtower and Awake! magazines and wants more literature to read during the winter months. Another man not only wants some of our literature for himself but also asks for more to put in his shop for his clients to read. He gives us his contact details so that we can mail him the magazines every month. One family is very impressed when they are shown that their small island is mentioned in the Bible. They also happily accept our magazines.
Although such responses are very encouraging, the visit to Gavdos brings back sad personal memories for some of us. Near Sarakíniko Bay, there is a building that once housed political exiles. Emmanuel Lionoudakis, one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, was exiled here in the late 1930’s for his preaching activity. * Gavdos of that time has been described as a “barren island producing only deadly scorpions, a place where many . . . died of starvation, privations and diseases, [a place] which has been rightfully called the island of death.” Lionoudakis fished for food, though he was also busy preaching to other detainees, being the only Witness here. Seeing the place where he stayed some 70 years ago, his daughter, son-in-law, and granddaughter are touched to the heart. For us his example is an inspiration to remain loyal and active in the ministry.
For those exiled here, Gavdos was hardly a tourist paradise. But for us, it proves to be a welcoming place as we preach in every part of the island this weekend, placing 46 magazines and nine brochures with the warmhearted people there. How we look forward to seeing our new friends again!
Before we know it, the time has come for us to leave. But once again the weather is against us, and our 5:00 p.m. departure is postponed. We embark at midnight, preparing ourselves for another rough trip. Finally, we depart at 3:00 a.m., and after being tossed about for five hours on stormy seas, we make it to Crete. We are exhausted as we set our unsteady feet on dry land, but we are glad that we were able to make Jehovah’s name known on the island of Gavdos. (Isaiah 42:12) All in the group agree that the effort was well worth it. The hardship we experienced will soon be forgotten, but we are sure that the memory of this trip will remain indelibly embedded in our hearts.
^ par. 11 For the life story of Emmanuel Lionoudakis, see The Watchtower, September 1, 1999, pages 25-29.