The Treasures of Central America’s Largest Lake

THOUGH Nicaragua is a small country, it boasts the largest inland body of water in Central America​—Lake Nicaragua. Intriguingly, Lake Nicaragua is perhaps the only freshwater lake in which are found such oceanic fish species as sharks, swordfish, and tarpon. Scientists believe that this body of water was once a bay open to the Pacific but that volcanic action sealed it off from the ocean. As the water lost its salinity, the fish adapted to their new environment.

The lake, about 100 miles [160 km] long and 45 miles [70 km] across at its widest point, is some 100 feet [30 m] above sea level. There are over 400 islands in Lake Nicaragua, with about 300 of them clustered around the Asese Peninsula, near the town of Granada at the northern end of the lake. They are called the Islets of Granada.

The largest island in the lake is the centrally located Ometepe Island. About 16 miles [25 km] long and 8 miles [13 km] wide, Ometepe is made up of two volcanoes connected by an isthmus. The striking symmetrical cone of the taller volcano, Concepción, rises 5,282 feet [1,610 m] above the lake. It is active and dominates the north side of the island. The other volcano, 4,573-foot [1,394-m]-high Madera, is dormant. Draped in thick vegetation, Madera cradles a misty lagoon in its crater.

Lake Nicaragua is one of the attractions for tourists to this area. They come to see its natural tropical beauty and the abundant archaeological remains of ancient civilizations. But there is another aspect of Lake Nicaragua’s treasures that awaits discovery.

A Community on Water

The Islets of Granada are rich in tropical plants and wildlife. Exotic flowers bloom in the lush forests that cover most of these volcanic islands. Along the shore, beautiful waterbirds, such as little blue herons, great egrets, ospreys, anhingas, and cormorants, go about their daily business. On the fringes of the jungle, nests built by large chestnut-colored birds called Montezuma oropendolas hang from the huge trees and sway precariously in the breeze from the lake.

Some of the islets are inhabited. Here are the homes of the local fishermen and the  vacation cottages of the wealthy. Also found on the islands are local schools and a cemetery as well as restaurants and bars. The archipelago resembles a village, a community on water.

Every morning a blue and white boat makes its way from one island to another to pick up children for school. A floating store on a canoe goes from islet to islet, bringing fruits and vegetables for sale. Scenes of daily life include men setting up their fishing nets and women washing clothes in the lake.

Jehovah’s Witnesses are also busy in these islands. They call on the local people by boat to speak to them about the good news of God’s Kingdom. (Matthew 24:14) The unusual geography of this area posed a challenge: Where could meetings be held to study God’s Word, the Bible? In response to the Bible’s injunction ‘not to forsake gathering together,’ the Witnesses came up with an ingenious solution​—Nicaragua’s first floating Kingdom Hall!​—Hebrews 10:25.

A Floating Kingdom Hall

A married couple who are full-time ministers of Jehovah’s Witnesses moved to the Islets of Granada in November 2005. A few months later, when they invited the local people to the annual Memorial of Christ’s death, they were pleasantly surprised to have 76 present. This convinced the couple of the need to start holding regular Christian meetings in the area. Since a suitable location for such meetings was difficult to find, the pioneers pursued another idea. Why not build a floating Kingdom Hall that could be towed to different locations convenient to the people?

This enterprising couple, who had never designed or built anything that floats, set about the construction. They and six others worked on the project for a month. The new meeting place was to be a simple raft. It would consist of welded frames made of steel pipes holding together a dozen 40-gallon drums filled with compressed air for flotation. There would be a plywood floor, and a tarpaulin would serve as a roof. The workers prayed every night about the project because they were not sure that the hall would float. It did!

 The new Kingdom Hall was used for its first Public Meeting on June 10, 2006. The next day, it was towed to the other side of the archipelago in order to hold the same meeting for people there. The combined attendance of the two events was 48, despite the fact that some of the people had to walk more than half an hour through the jungle. All were delighted to have their own place of worship!

Meetings in this Kingdom Hall certainly have a local flavor. As the speaker gives his talk, the audience can hear in the background the sound of water gently lapping against the rocks or the occasional howl of a monkey off in the distance. The hall soon became quite a familiar sight to the islanders. They waved when they saw it being towed from one location to another. Every week, more than 20 people come to the floating Kingdom Hall for Christian fellowship and Bible education. What a treasure this has turned out to be!

On Ometepe Island

Some 30 miles [50 km] to the south of Granada lies Ometepe Island. The island’s natural beauty and its fertile soil have long made it a desirable place for habitation. In fact, the earliest evidence of agriculture in Nicaragua was found here. Today, Ometepe supports a population of some 42,000, who busy themselves with fishing and the cultivating of corn, bananas, coffee, and other crops. Here, too, the wildlife is splendid. There are flocks of screeching parrots, large magpie-jays that flash their blue and white plumage as they flit among the trees, and white-faced capuchin monkeys, a favorite with many.

The inhabitants of Ometepe are also well-served by proclaimers of the good news of God’s Kingdom. From 8 who were baptized in 1966, the number of Witnesses on Ometepe has grown to 183, in four thriving congregations. Each congregation has its own suitably located Kingdom Hall. Today, there is 1 Witness to every 230 people on the island.

Jehovah’s Witnesses in Ometepe have faced difficulties over the years. For example, opposers burned down the Kingdom Hall in Mérida in 1980. Another hall was built in 1984. It was used until 2003 when a beautiful new Kingdom Hall was constructed, much to the joy of the 60 members of the local congregation.

In Moyogalpa, a Kingdom Hall was designed to accommodate larger gatherings when needed. A roof extends from the back of the hall, and a platform is built under it. In front of the platform, seats shaded by a canopy extend toward the back of the property. Here, local Witnesses and their friends from around the lake gather periodically for larger assemblies. At these gatherings, Lake Nicaragua offers a convenient location for baptizing new disciples of Jesus Christ.​—Matthew 28:19.

Treasures​—Will They Be Preserved?

Lake Nicaragua has always seemed invincible, perhaps because of its great size. But today it needs protection. Its water is threatened by contamination from agricultural and industrial runoff and sediment from deforested land.

Whether efforts by local residents and the government will improve matters remains to be seen. Even so, the Creator will see to it that all earth’s treasures, including its sparkling lakes, delightful islands, and magnificent wildlife, are preserved as a heritage for obedient mankind. “The righteous themselves will possess the earth,” the Bible tells us, “and they will reside forever upon it.”​—Psalm 37:29.

[Picture on page 26]

A floating Kingdom Hall for Bible meetings