A Letter From Australia
“I’ll Sit and Read It by the Campfire Tonight”
AUSTRALIA’S outback conjures up visions of parched deserts, blistering temperatures, and vast empty spaces. Yet, this inland region is home to some 180,000 people, about 1 percent of the national population.
My parents, who are Jehovah’s Witnesses, took me preaching in the outback when I was young. Its immense size and rugged beauty fired my imagination. I also warmed to the hardy, easygoing inhabitants of the area. Now having a young family of my own, I wanted my wife and our two children, aged 10 and 12, to have that experience.
Planning the Trip
First, we sat down to count the cost. How far could we afford to travel? How long could we be away? A married couple and two full-time ministers from our congregation offered to join our group. We agreed on a travel time—the midyear school break. Then we wrote the Australia branch office of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Sydney to request a territory assignment. We were invited to cover a remote area near Goondiwindi, a small rural town some 250 miles [400 km] west of Brisbane, where we live.
We learned that a small congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses was located at Goondiwindi. This was an added blessing. Meeting Christian men and women would be a highlight of our trip. We contacted the congregation to tell them of our visit. Their enthusiastic response let us know that they were looking forward to our arrival.
Shortly before setting off, our group met to discuss how to present the good news of God’s Kingdom in an outback setting. We especially wanted to respect the culture and customs of any Aborigines we might meet. Some tribes, for example, consider their land to be their communal home. To barge in uninvited would be impolite.
Into the Outback
Finally, the big day arrived. Our two family sedans, fully loaded with people and supplies, headed inland. Cultivated fields gave way to grassy plains dotted with eucalyptus trees. The warm winter sun sparkled in a cloudless sky. Hours later we arrived at Goondiwindi and settled into rented cabins at a trailer park for the night.
The next day, Sunday, dawned sunny and crisp—perfect weather for preaching. Summer temperatures here regularly soar above 100 degrees Fahrenheit [40°C]! Our first stop was an Aboriginal community some 20 miles [30 km] away. We were directed to Jenny, an elderly, gray-haired woman who was a community leader. She listened carefully to our Scriptural presentation and happily accepted the book Learn From the Great Teacher. * She then invited us to enter the community to preach to the residents.
Local children ran ahead to announce our visits. Every householder we met listened respectfully to our message and accepted Bible literature. Soon our literature was gone, and it was time to return to town for the congregation meeting. Before we left, we promised to return to visit those whom we had missed.
That afternoon the Kingdom Hall buzzed with happy conversation as new acquaintances quickly became friends. The 25 local Witnesses had faithfully been carrying the Kingdom message to some 11,000 people scattered across 11,500 square miles [30,000 sq km] of countryside. “Thank you for making the effort to come and help us,” said one grateful Witness. After a lively meeting, we all adjourned for some refreshments. Before we went to bed that night, we fed the native possums roaming our trailer park.
“By the Campfire Tonight”
Over the next two days, our two car groups visited remote properties scattered along the Queensland-New South Wales border. The countryside, for the most part, was dry eucalyptus scrub interspersed with flat, open grasslands where sheep and cattle grazed. Along the way, we saw several kangaroos, their twitching ears alert to our presence. Stately emus strutted across a dusty paddock in the distance.
Tuesday afternoon we encountered a large herd of cattle moving slowly down the road. Contract drovers have long moved livestock through this area, especially in times of drought. Soon we came across a drover mounted on his horse. Pulling over, I stepped from the car and called out a greeting. “G’day mate,” he replied. The elderly man, his cattle dog by his side, stopped to talk.
After chatting for a while about the drought, I introduced our message. “Why, I haven’t heard anything from the Bible since I was a child!” the man exclaimed. He held religious leaders responsible for the moral decay in the world. Still, he had a deep respect for the Bible. After a fine Scriptural discussion, I offered him the book What Does the Bible Really Teach? * Grasping it firmly, he placed the book in his shirt pocket and said, “If it tells me what the Bible teaches, I’ll sit and read it by the campfire tonight.”
That night we related our experiences to our spiritual brothers and sisters at the Kingdom Hall. They promised to call again on the interested ones we had met. When the meeting ended, it was hard to say good-bye. A warm bond of affection had developed among us. We all felt enriched by our interchange of spiritual encouragement.—Romans 1:12.
The next day we traveled home. Reflecting on our trip, we agreed that Jehovah had richly blessed our efforts. We felt spiritually refreshed. When we arrived home, I asked the children: “Where would you like to go for our next vacation? The mountains?” “No, Dad,” they replied, “let’s go outback witnessing again.” My wife chimed in: “Yes, let’s. It was the best vacation ever!”
^ par. 11 Published by Jehovah’s Witnesses.
^ par. 17 Published by Jehovah’s Witnesses.