Fishing for Men in the Aegean Sea
WITH mainland Greece to the north and west, the island of Crete to the south, and Turkey to the east, the Aegean Sea covers a vast area of the eastern Mediterranean. The cradle of some great early civilizations, the Aegean Sea is studded with islands and islets. The rugged outlines of the islands, which have a smattering of tiny, white houses gleaming in the sunlight, inspired one poet to liken them to “stone horses with rampant manes.”
Little wonder these islands have become one of the most popular tourist attractions in the world! Their physical beauty is enhanced by the sterling qualities of the men and women who live and work there. Down to earth and hospitable, yet independent, these people add a special touch to the uniqueness of the area.
Many of the islanders make a living by fishing in the waters of the Aegean Sea. Another kind of important “fishing,” however, is producing bountiful results in that area. “Fishers of men,” evangelizers of the good news of God’s Kingdom, traverse the islands of the Aegean, making Christian disciples.—Matthew 4:18, 19; Luke 5:10.
About 19 centuries ago, Christian evangelizers visited islands of the Aegean. In about 56 C.E., the apostle Paul, returning from his third missionary journey, stopped briefly at the islands of Lésvos, Chios, Samos, Kos, and Rhodes. Ever a zealous preacher, Paul must have preached to some of the islanders. (Acts 20:14, 15, 24; 21:1, 2) Following his two years of imprisonment in Rome, he most likely visited Crete and engaged in Christian activity there. Near the end of the first century, the apostle John was exiled to the island of Patmos “for speaking about God and bearing witness to Jesus.” (Revelation 1:9) How do modern-day proclaimers of the good news fare in these islands?
Rewarding Preaching Campaigns
Preaching in these island groups is difficult and demanding. It requires great effort and self-sacrifice. Some islands are far apart. Transportation by sea or air is random to some of them and nonexistent to others, especially during wintertime. The sea can be rough, particularly when the meltemia—seasonal strong northern winds—blow. Moreover, the villages on many of the islands are isolated and hard to reach because the dusty, unpaved roads are often barely passable. Some villages can be reached only by small boats.
Take, for example, the island of Icaria. The 11 publishers of the Kingdom good news in the small congregation there cannot cover all the villages on that island and the nearby islets. Thus, Christian brothers and sisters from Samos come to help preach to the people of Icaria, as well as to those on the islands of Phournoi, Patmos, and Lipsos. Recently, during one such two-day campaign, the Witnesses were able to place 650 magazines, 99 brochures, and 25 books on Bible topics! They were surprised to meet people who had no idea who Jehovah is, people who begged them to stay and teach them more from the Bible. A lady told one Witness: “Well, now you leave. But I still have many questions on the Bible. Who is going to help me?” The Christian sister promised to follow up the interest by using the telephone, and she did start a Bible study in that way.
When a traveling overseer visited Icaria, he arranged to cover the entire island in one weekend. He enlisted the help of about 30 Kingdom publishers from Samos. The visiting brothers had to pay for staying two nights at a hotel and for renting cars and four-wheel-drive vehicles. There had been two days of heavy rain, and the weather forecast for the weekend was bleak. But the brothers did not let this hinder them, recalling the words of Ecclesiastes 11:4: “He that is watching the wind will not sow seed; and he that is looking at the clouds will not reap.” Eventually, the weather did improve slightly, and after having covered the whole island with their important message, the brothers returned home happy and satisfied.
The 16 publishers who live on the island of Andros put forth great effort to cover the entire island. When two brothers reached an isolated village, they were determined to preach to all the inhabitants. They talked to people in their homes, on the streets, and in the fields. They even visited the police station and left literature there. Confident that they had contacted all the villagers, they were about to leave. As they were departing from the central square, they saw the Greek Orthodox priest coming. Realizing that he had not been given a witness, they offered him a small publication, which he gladly accepted. Now they knew for certain that no one had been overlooked in their preaching efforts!
Gavdos (or Cauda)—an islet under the belly of Crete with only 38 inhabitants—is considered to be the southernmost point of Europe. (Acts 27:16) A traveling overseer and his wife, along with another married couple, spent three days preaching there. To save on expenses, they slept in a tent. All the inhabitants were reached with the good news, and the brothers were delighted that people there were not prejudiced. They had heard nothing—good or bad—about Jehovah’s Witnesses. The local people, including the priest, accepted 19 books and 13 brochures. As the Witnesses were returning to Crete in a small boat, the sea became turbulent, putting their lives at risk. “We thanked Jehovah that we got home alive, but we also glorified him for letting us honor his name at this southernmost point of Europe,” they said.
Patmos is the island where the apostle John wrote the last book of the Bible, Revelation. Until recently there was no Witness of Jehovah on Patmos. A preaching campaign on that island was carefully organized by the brothers from Samos. They knew that they could expect fierce opposition because the island is a stronghold of the Greek Orthodox Church. Two sisters who were presenting the good news to a lady were invited into her home. The lady’s husband persistently asked who had sent the sisters to their house. When they explained that they were visiting every house, he asked again: “Are you sure that some neighbor did not send you here?” The wife, who had come to know about Jehovah’s Witnesses while in Zaire, later explained to the sisters what had happened that morning. She said: “I was praying to Jehovah, as I did on other days, that he send some Witnesses to the island. My husband laughed at me. When I saw you at the door, I was surprised and so was my husband. That is why he kept asking who sent you to our home.” A Bible study was immediately started with the lady. The study was conducted over the telephone for ten months, although this cost a lot of money both for the sister and the interested woman. She was baptized and is now the only Witness on that island where the apostle John was isolated 1,900 years ago.
“Fishing” in Ports
Cruise liners stop at the numerous ports of the Aegean islands every summer, bringing loads of visiting vacationers. Thus, Jehovah’s Witnesses have a unique opportunity to reach people of many nations and tongues. The congregations keep in stock Bible literature in many different languages, and the publishers place thousands of magazines with tourists. Some cruise ships visit the same ports each week, which affords the brothers excellent opportunities to make return visits and even to conduct Bible studies with some of the ships’ crew members.
In the summer of 1996, a sister who is a full-time preacher on Rhodes witnessed to a young Jamaican man who worked on a cruise liner that visited that port every Friday. The next Friday the man was invited to attend a district convention to be held on the island. English Bible in hand, the pioneer sister helped him to understand some of the Bible truths presented on the program. The young man was deeply impressed by the love and warmth shown by the Witnesses at the convention. The following Friday, he invited two pioneers onto the ship. The pioneers took with them literature in English and Spanish. Their witnessing bags were emptied in less than an hour! The young Jamaican studied the Bible every Friday until the end of summer. The next summer he was back, ready to resume his study. This time, though, he decided to change his job in order to be able to make spiritual progress. Then off he went again. How happy the brothers in Rhodes were to learn that this young man was baptized in early 1998!
Catching Migratory “Fish”
The Aegean Sea is renowned for its abundant migratory fish, such as sardines and swordfish, that cross its waters and end up in the nets of skilled fishermen. In a similar manner, Kingdom evangelizers find many receptive hearts among immigrant workers who have moved to Greece from many Eastern European countries.
Rezi was ten years old when she first read about Jehovah and his purposes in the pages of The Watchtower and Awake! That was in Albania. Three years later she moved with her family to the island of Rhodes. One day, Rezi prayed to Jehovah to help her find his people in her new home. The next day her father came home with those familiar magazines, The Watchtower and Awake!, much to Rezi’s joy. Rezi came in contact with the sister who had given the magazines to her father, and soon she started studying from the book Knowledge That Leads to Everlasting Life. At times, she asked to have a study three times during the same day! After two months she became an unbaptized publisher, and in March 1998, she was baptized at the age of 14. That same day, she started auxiliary pioneering, and six months later she enrolled as a regular pioneer, or full-time minister.
A brother on the island of Kos was studying with some people from Russia. When he asked them if they had any friends who would like to study the Bible, they led him to an Armenian couple—Leonidas and his wife, Ophelia—in a village some 20 miles [30 km] away. A surprise awaited the brothers. The Armenian couple brought out a bag full of Armenian and Russian Bible literature published by the Watch Tower Society! They explained that they had studied the Bible with Jehovah’s Witnesses and had progressed to the point of becoming unbaptized publishers. Because of political upheaval and economic difficulties, they had to leave their homeland. As soon as they arrived in Kos, they started studying with Leonidas’ mother and sister, who were already there. All of a sudden, the Witness had three new Bible studies to conduct—one with Ophelia, one with Leonidas, and one with his mother and sister. This required traveling on a motorcycle 20 miles [30 km] each way three times a week. Leonidas and his wife got baptized some months later. What a reward for the self-sacrificing spirit of the local brothers!
Jehovah Makes It Grow
Jehovah’s blessing is evident upon the tireless efforts of the over 2,000 active Kingdom proclaimers on these Aegean islands. Now there are 44 congregations and 25 groups of Jehovah’s Witnesses there. Of the groups, 17 are in foreign languages, since it is Jehovah’s will that “all sorts of men should be saved and come to an accurate knowledge of truth.” (1 Timothy 2:4) Additionally, 13 special pioneers are putting forth increased efforts to reach many more in those isolated territories.
For centuries the Aegean Sea has been a center of cultural development and commercial trading. In recent decades it has become the preferred resort for hundreds of thousands of tourists. But more important, as “fishers of men,” Kingdom proclaimers have found on these islands many honesthearted people eager to praise Jehovah. Together, they have responded in a grand way to the prophetic invitation: “Let them attribute to Jehovah glory, and in the islands let them tell forth even his praise.”—Isaiah 42:12.
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The island of Patmos
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The island of Crete