Alexander MacGillivray, the branch servant in Australia, paced about his office deep in thought. For several days he had been wrestling with a problem, and he had finally come up with a solution. Now he needed to talk to Frank Rice.

Frank, a hardy 28-year-old colporteur (pioneer), had arrived at the branch office a few weeks earlier. He had learned the truth as a teenager and started in the colporteur work soon afterward. He then spent over ten years preaching throughout much of Australia, traveling by horseback, bicycle, motorcycle, and motorized caravan. After stopping briefly at Bethel, Frank was now ready to tackle his next territory assignment.

Calling Frank into his office, Brother MacGillivray pointed to a map of the islands north of Australia. “Frank, how would you like to open up the preaching work here?” he asked. “There is not one brother in all these islands!”

Frank’s eyes were drawn to a string of islands that gleamed like pearls in the Indian Ocean—the Netherlands East Indies (now Indonesia). * On those islands lived millions of people who had not yet heard the good news of God’s Kingdom. Pointing to the capital, Batavia (now Jakarta), Frank said, “That is where I want to start!”

 Preaching in Java

In 1931, Frank Rice arrived in Jakarta, a large, bustling city on the island of Java. He rented a room near the center of the city and filled it with cartons of Bible literature, astonishing his landlady.

Frank Rice and Clem Deschamp in Jakarta

“At first I felt rather lost and homesick,” recalled Frank. “People strolled around in white drill suits and pith helmets, while I sweltered in my heavy Australian clothes. I spoke not a word of Dutch or Indonesian. After praying to Jehovah for guidance, I decided that there must be people in the business district who spoke  English. That is where I started preaching—and what a fruitful field it proved to be!”

Since most Jakarta residents spoke Dutch, Frank studied hard to get a working knowledge of the language and soon began preaching from house to house. He also tackled Indonesian and gradually learned that language too. “The problem was that I had no Indonesian literature,” said Frank. “Then Jehovah guided me to an Indonesian schoolteacher who became interested in the truth and agreed to translate the booklet Where Are the Dead? More booklets followed, and soon many Indonesian-speaking people became interested in the truth.”

In November 1931, two more pioneers from Australia arrived in Jakarta, Clem Deschamp, aged 25, and 19-year-old Bill Hunter. Clem and Bill had brought along a pioneer home on wheels—a house car, or motorized caravan—one of the first to arrive in Indonesia. After they learned a few Dutch phrases, they set off on a preaching tour covering the major cities in Java.

Charles Harris witnessed using a bicycle and a house car

Following in Clem and Bill’s tire tracks was Charles Harris, another hardy Australian pioneer. Starting in 1935, Charles covered most of Java by house car and bicycle, placing literature in five languages: Arabic, Chinese, Dutch, English, and Indonesian. Some years he placed about 17,000 pieces of literature.

The amount of literature that Charles distributed made many people sit up and take notice. One official in Jakarta asked Clem Deschamp, “How many people do you have working down there in East Java?”

“Only one,” replied Brother Deschamp.

 “Do you expect me to believe that?” barked the official. “You must have quite an army of workers down there, judging by the amount of your literature being distributed everywhere!”

The early pioneers kept constantly on the move in order to reach as many people as possible. “We worked through the island from end to end, seldom speaking to anyone twice,” said Bill Hunter. Along the way they sowed vast quantities of spiritual seed that later yielded a rich spiritual harvest.Eccl. 11:6; 1 Cor. 3:6.

 Sumatra Hears the Good News

About 1936, the pioneers in Java discussed how to expand the work to Sumatra—the sixth-largest island in the world. This rugged island spans the equator and contains large cities and plantations along with extensive swamps and rainforests.

The pioneers agreed to send Frank Rice, so they pooled their meager funds to pay his fare. Soon afterward, Frank arrived in Medan, North Sumatra, with his two witnessing bags, 40 cartons of literature, and a little money in his pocket. Frank was a man of strong faith. He immediately set to work, confident that Jehovah would provide what he needed to carry out his assignment.Matt. 6:33.

During his last week of preaching in Medan, Frank met a friendly Dutchman who invited him in for coffee. Frank told the man that he needed a car to preach the good news throughout the island. Pointing to a broken down car in his garden, the man said, “If you can fix it, you can have it for 100 guilders.” *

“I don’t have 100 guilders,” Frank replied.

The man fixed his gaze on Frank. “Do you really want to preach to the whole of Sumatra?” he probed.

“Yes,” answered Frank.

“Well then, if you can fix the car, you can take it,” said the Dutchman. “If you get the money, you can pay me later.”

Frank set to work on the car and soon had it running smoothly. He later wrote, “With a car full of literature, a tank full of petrol, and a heart full of faith, I headed off to preach to the people of Sumatra.”

Henry Cockman with Jean and Clem Deschamp in Sumatra, 1940

 One year later, having covered the island from top to bottom, Frank returned to Jakarta. There he sold the car for 100 guilders and mailed the money to the Dutchman in Medan.

A few weeks later, Frank received a letter from Australia directing him to a new pioneer assignment. Immediately, he packed his bags and headed off to open up the work in Indochina (now Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam).

^ par. 4 Also formerly called the Dutch East Indies. The Dutch arrived some 300 years earlier and established a colonial empire based on the lucrative spice trade. Throughout this account, we will use modern place-names.

^ par. 3 The equivalent of about $1,100 (U.S.) today.