Rescue on Robinson Crusoe Island
ROBINSON CRUSOE is one of the three islands in the Pacific Ocean that make up the archipelago called Juan Fernández, about 400 miles [640 km] off the coast of Chile. * The 36-square-mile [93-sq-km] island got that name from a famous 18th-century novel entitled Robinson Crusoe, written by the English author Daniel Defoe. The novel apparently was loosely based on the adventures of a Scotsman, Alexander Selkirk, who lived alone on the island for some four years.
A wooden sign on the island states in part: “At this site, day after day for more than four years, the Scottish sailor Alexander Selkirk anxiously searched the horizon for the rescue boat that would free him from his isolation.” Eventually, Selkirk was rescued and taken back to his homeland, to a world that no longer satisfied him after he had lived in his own little paradise. He reportedly later said: “Oh, my beloved island! I wish I had never left thee!”
With the passing of time, the island came to be used as a penal colony, inhabited by some who had committed “crimes of faith” against the Catholic Church. What a change from the paradisaical island that Selkirk once knew! Present-day residents of the island, however, enjoy a peaceful serenity unknown in many parts of the world. The laid-back life-style, which is typical of many island cultures, makes it easy to start conversations with just about anyone.
Officially, Robinson Crusoe has about 500 inhabitants, but during most of the year, only about 400 people occupy the island. In part, the reason is that some mothers and their children live on the Chilean mainland during the school year, returning to the island only during the vacation months to spend time with the rest of the family.
In spite of the beautiful gardenlike surroundings on Robinson Crusoe, some islanders feel a spiritual void and are searching for answers. Others have felt as if they needed to be spiritually rescued.
A Spiritual Rescue
Such a spiritual rescue work began about 1979. A woman who was studying the Bible with Jehovah’s Witnesses in Santiago, Chile, moved to the island and started to teach others what she had learned. Sometime later a congregation elder who was visiting the island for secular reasons was surprised to find a small group of Bible students progressing spiritually with the help of that woman. By the time the elder visited the island again three months later, this isolated Bible teacher and two of her students were ready to be baptized, so the elder presided over their baptism. Later, one of these newly baptized Christians got married and, together with her husband, continued searching for others who needed spiritual rescue. Her husband took the lead in building a modest Kingdom Hall, which continues to serve the small group on the island. In time, for economic reasons, they left Robinson Crusoe and moved to a congregation in central Chile, where they continue actively serving Jehovah.
Little by little, the small group on the island continued to grow as others were rescued from false religion. However, since students must move to the mainland for their high school education, the group was reduced to two baptized sisters and one young girl. The group grows during the vacation period when some mothers return to the island. This serves to rejuvenate the three isolated Christians who remain there all year long. As a result of the hard work of these sisters, Jehovah’s Witnesses are well-known on Robinson Crusoe. True, some islanders have taken a stand against their work and try to pressure others to reject the Kingdom message. Nevertheless, seeds of Bible truth planted in sincere hearts continue to sprout.
Strengthening Those Who Have Been Rescued
Once a year a traveling overseer visits the island. What is it like to visit a handful of Witnesses on a remote island? One circuit overseer describes his first visit to Robinson Crusoe:
“This trip was a dream come true. It started at 7:00 a.m. when we left Valparaiso to drive to Santiago’s Cerrillos Airport. We boarded a small seven-passenger plane. After a flight of 2 hours and 45 minutes, we saw in the distance a mountain peak that rose above the clouds. As we got closer, the island came into view—an impressive rock-mass in the middle of the ocean. It seemed to be floating in a watery expanse, like a ship lost at sea.
“After landing, a boat took us to the village. Here and there, rocky masses protruding from the sea form small islets that serve as resting places for Juan Fernández fur seals. The fur seals are a protected species because their numbers have been greatly diminished. Suddenly, something flew by alongside the boat before disappearing again in the sea. It was a flying fish, whose pleated fins resemble wings. It seemed to enjoy leaping out of the water to catch insects. Of course, sometimes the catcher also gets caught; his leaps may draw the attention of other predators who are ready to swallow him as he makes his splashdown.
“Finally, we arrived at the village of San Juan Bautista (St. John the Baptist). There were quite a few islanders standing on the dock, either waiting for their visitors or just curious about who might be arriving this time. We were impressed by a beautiful panorama—the majestic and jagged mountain called El Yunque (The Anvil), carpeted as if with dark-green velvet, and in the background, a clear, blue sky bordered by masses of white clouds.
“We soon noticed a group of our Christian sisters and their children waiting for us on the dock. It was vacation time, so the group was larger than normal. After exchanging warm greetings, we were taken to the attractive cabin that we would call our home for a week.
“It was a very special week, and we realized that it would pass by quickly. We needed to make good use of our time. That very day, right after lunch, we visited a Bible student who was soon to become our spiritual sister and part of God’s spiritual paradise. She was beaming with joy but was also a bit nervous. Her long-awaited goal of baptism was nearing. We considered some necessary information with her so that she could qualify as a publisher of the good news. The next day, she participated in the preaching work for the first time. The third day, we began to consider the requirements for baptism with her. Before the week ended, she was baptized.
“The meetings held during the week were well supported, with a maximum attendance of 14. Each day there were arrangements for field service, return visits, Bible studies, and shepherding calls. What an encouragement for the sisters who carry out their activity by themselves all year long!”
It has been more difficult for men on the island to respond to the truth, perhaps because of the strenuous demands of their secular work. The main work is catching lobsters, which calls for much dedication. Prejudice also plays a role in the negative reaction of many. Nevertheless, it is hoped that more islanders, both men and women, will respond in the future.
Until now, ten individuals have been rescued on the island by coming to know the truth and Jehovah God’s purposes. Some of them have since left the island for various reasons. But whether they remain or not, their spiritual rescue has proved to be much more significant than Alexander Selkirk’s rescue. They now enjoy a spiritual paradise wherever they may live. The sisters who still live on the island and their children enjoy gardenlike surroundings, but even more than that, they have the prospect of living when the entire earth will be a true paradise in every sense of the word.
The Rescue Work Continues
Geographically, this small group of Jehovah’s Witnesses on Robinson Crusoe live very far from the rest of their spiritual brothers and sisters. Yet, they do not feel abandoned, as did the Scotsman Selkirk. By means of the constant flow of theocratic literature, the videos of assemblies and conventions that are sent to them from the Watch Tower Society’s Chile branch three times a year, and the yearly visit of the circuit overseer, they maintain close contact with Jehovah’s organization. So they continue to be an active part of ‘the entire association of brothers in the world.’—1 Peter 5:9.
^ par. 2 The island is officially named Más a Tierra.
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ROBINSON CRUSOE ISLAND
San Juan Bautista
SANTA CLARA ISLAND
As the island comes into view, one sees an impressive rock-mass in the middle of the ocean
Map of Chile: Mountain High Maps® Copyright © 1997 Digital Wisdom, Inc.
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The majestic jagged mountain called El Yunque (The Anvil)
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The village of San Juan Bautista (St. John the Baptist)
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Small islets serve as resting places for fur seals and sea lions
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We flew in a small plane from Santiago, Chile
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The rugged coast of Robinson Crusoe Island
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The modest Kingdom Hall on the island