Off to the Pacific Islands—To Work!
THE departure lounges at the international airports in Brisbane and Sydney, Australia, were abuzz with more excitement than usual. A group of 46 people was set to fly to sun-drenched Samoa to rendezvous with 39 others from New Zealand, Hawaii, and the United States. Their luggage was most unusual—consisting primarily of tools, such as hammers, saws, and drills—not the sort of things one ordinarily takes on a trip to an attractive Pacific island. But, then, their mission was anything but ordinary.
Traveling at their own expense, they were about to spend two weeks as unpaid volunteers in a construction program supervised by the Regional Engineering Office at the Australia branch office of Jehovah’s Witnesses. The program, financed by voluntary contributions, involves building Kingdom Halls, Assembly Halls, missionary homes, and branch or translation facilities for the rapidly growing congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the Pacific islands. Let us meet some of the workers, who had been on Kingdom Hall building teams in their own countries.
Max, a roof sheeter, comes from Cowra in New South Wales, Australia. He is married and has five children. Arnold is from Hawaii. He and his wife have two sons, and he is also a pioneer, or full-time minister. Like Max, Arnold serves as an elder in his home congregation. Obviously, these men—and they are typical of most in the program—are not volunteers because they have time to spare. Rather, they and their families see a need, and they want to do what they can to assist.
Multinational Workers Fill a Vital Need
One place where their skills and services were needed was Tuvalu, a Pacific nation of about 10,500 people located on a remote group of nine coral atolls close to the equator and northwest of Samoa. The islands, or atolls, each average about a square mile [2.5 sq km] in area. By 1994, the 61 Witnesses there were urgently in need of a new Kingdom Hall and a larger translation office.
In this part of the tropical Pacific, buildings must be designed and built to withstand frequent savage storms and cyclones. But few quality building materials are available in the islands. The solution? Every component—from roof sheeting and trusses to furniture and curtains, toilet bowls and shower nozzles, even screws and nails—was shipped over in containers from Australia.
Before the materials arrived, a small advance team prepared the site and laid the foundation. Then the international workers came in to erect, paint, and furnish the buildings.
All this activity in Tuvalu, incidentally, raised the ire of a local clergyman who announced over the radio that the Witnesses were erecting a “Tower of Babel”! What, though, were the facts? “When the people building the Biblical Tower of Babel found that they could no longer understand one another because their language was confused by God, they had to abandon their project and leave the tower incomplete,” remarks volunteer worker Graeme. (Genesis 11:1-9) “It is quite the opposite when working for Jehovah God. In spite of language and cultural differences, the projects are always completed.” And so was this one—in just two weeks. Indeed, 163 people, including the prime minister’s wife, attended the dedication ceremony.
Doug, the project supervisor, reflecting on the experience, says: “It was a joy to work with the volunteers from other countries. We have different ways of doing things, different terminology, even different systems of measurement, yet none of these things caused any problems.” Having been on a number of such projects now, he adds: “This reinforces in my mind that with Jehovah’s backing his people can erect a building anywhere on this earth, regardless of how isolated or difficult the site may be. Sure, we have many talented men, but it is Jehovah’s spirit that makes it possible.”
God’s spirit also moves the Witness families in the islands to provide food and accommodations, which, for some, is quite a sacrifice. And it is deeply appreciated by those who receive such hospitality. Ken, from Melbourne, Australia, had worked on a similar project in French Polynesia. He notes: “We came as slaves, but we were treated like kings.” Where possible, local Witnesses also help with the construction work. In the Solomon Islands, women mixed concrete—by hand. One hundred men and women climbed high into rain-soaked mountains and carried down over 40 tons of timber. Young people pitched in too. One worker from New Zealand recalls: “I remember a young island brother who carried two to three bags of cement at a time. And he shoveled gravel all day long in heat and rain.”
Having the local Witnesses participate in the work brings another benefit. The Watch Tower Society’s Samoa branch office reports: “The island brothers have learned trade skills that they can use in building Kingdom Halls and in doing postcyclone repairs and reconstruction. It may also help them to earn a living in a community where many find that difficult.”
The Building Program Gives a Fine Witness
Colin was in Honiara and saw the Solomon Islands Assembly Hall being built. Impressed, he wrote the Watch Tower Society’s local branch office this message in Pidgin English: “Everyone they gettim one mind and no one they cross, they also one family.” Shortly thereafter, when he returned to his village at Aruligo, 25 miles [40 km] away, he and his family built their own Kingdom Hall. Then they sent another message to the office: “Our Kingdom Hall, including even a podium, is ready, so can we have some meetings here?” This was promptly arranged, and over 60 people attend regularly.
A European Union adviser saw the project in Tuvalu. “I guess everybody says this to you,” he commented to a worker, “but to me this is simply a miracle!” A woman working at the telephone exchange asked another visiting volunteer: “How come you are all so happy? It’s so hot here!” They had never before seen Christianity at work in such a practical and self-sacrificing way.
Sacrifices Without Regrets
“He that sows bountifully will also reap bountifully,” says the Bible at 2 Corinthians 9:6. The workers, their families, and their congregations are continuing to sow generously in helping fellow Witnesses in the Pacific. “My own congregation donated over a third of my airfare,” says Ross, an elder from Kincumber, near Sydney, “and my brother-in-law, who also came along, contributed an additional $500.” Another worker paid for his trip by selling his car. Still another sold some land. Kevin needed an additional $900, so he decided to sell his 16 two-year-old pigeons. Through an acquaintance, he located a buyer who offered him exactly $900 for them!
“Was it worth the airfare and lost wages, totaling about $6,000?” Danny and Cheryl were asked. “Yes! Even at double that sum, it would have been more than worthwhile,” they replied. Alan, from Nelson, New Zealand, added: “With what it cost me to go to Tuvalu, I could have gone to Europe and had money left over. But would I have received the blessings, or made so many friends of different backgrounds, or done something for someone else instead of for myself? No! Even so, whatever I gave our island brothers, they gave me far more in return.”
Another key to the success of the program is family support. While some wives are able to accompany their husbands and even help on site, others have school-age children to care for or family businesses to tend to. “My wife’s willingness to look after the children and the household while I was away,” said Clay, “was by far a greater sacrifice than mine.” Indeed, all husbands who were unable to take their wives along would add a hearty “Amen” to that!
Since the completion of the project in Tuvalu, volunteer workers have constructed Kingdom Halls, Assembly Halls, missionary homes, and translation offices in Fiji, Tonga, Papua New Guinea, New Caledonia, and other places. Many projects, including some for locations in Southeast Asia, are still on the drawing board. Will there be enough workers?
Apparently that will not be a problem. “Everyone here who has participated in international building projects has asked to be remembered when another one is planned,” writes the Hawaii branch office. “As soon as they return home, they begin saving for it.” How can the program be anything but successful when you add Jehovah’s rich blessing to selfless dedication like that?
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Materials for the project
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Work crew at the building site
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As the projects ended, we rejoiced over what God’s spirit had accomplished