In July 1951, the small congregation in Jakarta gathered together to welcome Peter Vanderhaegen, the first Gilead-trained missionary to enter Indonesia. By year’s end, another 13 missionaries had arrived from Australia, Germany, and the Netherlands, nearly doubling the number of publishers in the country.

“I had visions of going from house to house using gestures to communicate,” recalled Fredrika Renskers, a Dutch missionary. “But since so many people spoke Dutch, I mostly preached in that language at first.” Ronald Jacka, from Australia, related: “Some of us used a testimony card with a short printed sermon in Indonesian. I looked at the card before knocking on each door and tried to recite the words from memory.”

With the missionaries taking a strong lead, the number of publishers quickly grew from 34 to 91 in just one year. On September 1, 1951, a branch office of the Watch Tower Society was established at André Elias’ home in Central Jakarta. Ronald Jacka was assigned as branch servant.

Other Areas Open Up

In November 1951, Peter Vanderhaegen was assigned to Manado, North Sulawesi, where Theo Ratu and his wife had established a small group. Most of the locals were professed Christians and showed great respect for God’s Word. Many householders invited the Witnesses in and asked them to explain Bible doctrines. They  often spoke to groups of ten people. Fifteen minutes later, about 50 people would be listening. Within the hour, the discussion would move to the front yard and up to 200 people would join in.

Early in 1952, Albert and Jean Maltby established a missionary home in Surabaya, East Java, Indonesia’s second-largest city. There they were joined by six missionary sisters—Gertrud Ott, Fredrika Renskers, Susie and Marian Stoove, Eveline Platte, and Mimi Harp. “Most local people were moderate Muslims and were  very friendly,” says Fredrika Renskers. “Many people seemed to be just waiting for the truth, so it was easy to start Bible studies. Within three years, the Surabaya Congregation had 75 publishers.”

Missionary home in Jakarta

About that time, a Muslim man named Azis from Padang, West Sumatra, wrote to the branch office requesting spiritual help. Azis had studied with Australian pioneers during the 1930’s but had lost contact with them during the Japanese occupation. Then he stumbled across a booklet that was published by Jehovah’s Witnesses. He wrote: “When I saw the Jakarta address on the booklet, it renewed my spirit!” The branch office quickly dispatched circuit overseer Frans van Vliet to Padang. He discovered that Azis had talked to his neighbor, Nazar Ris, a spiritually hungry civil servant. Both men and their families accepted the truth. Brother Azis became a faithful elder. Nazar Ris became a special pioneer, and many of his children are zealous Witnesses today.

Frans van Vliet and his younger sister Nel

Soon afterward, Frans van Vliet visited an inactive Dutch brother who was rebuilding a war-damaged oil refinery in Balikpapan, East Kalimantan. Frans accompanied the brother in service and encouraged him to study with several interested people. Before the brother returned to the Netherlands, he had established a small group in Balikpapan.

Later, a newly baptized sister, Titi Koetin, moved to Banjarmasin, South Kalimantan. Titi preached to her relatives in the Dayak community, helping many of them learn the truth. Some of those new ones returned to their villages deep in Kalimantan and established groups that grew into strong congregations.

 Producing Indonesian Literature

As the preaching work spread rapidly, the brothers needed even more literature in Indonesian. In 1951, the book “Let God Be True” was translated into Indonesian, but the authorities revised the Indonesian spelling system, making it necessary for the branch to revise the translation. * When the book was finally released, it stirred much interest among Indonesian readers.

In 1953, the branch office printed 250 copies of The Watchtower in Indonesian—the first local edition to appear in 12 years. The 12-page mimeographed magazine contained only study articles at first. Three years later, it was increased to 16 pages, and a commercial firm was printing 10,000 copies a month.

The monthly edition of Awake! in Indonesian was introduced in 1957. It rapidly reached a circulation of 10,000 copies. Because of a nationwide shortage of printing paper, the brothers needed to apply for a  paper license. The government official who handled their application told them: “I consider the Menara Pengawal (Watchtower) one of the best magazines in Indonesia and I am only too glad to help with the paper license for your new magazine.”

^ par. 1 There have been two major revisions of the Indonesian spelling system since 1945, mostly to replace the former Dutch spelling system.