So disillusioned with these political intrigues which permeated all my dealings with bodies of elders in the United States, I thought this could be escaped by moving to some foreign assignment. We sold everything and with our little 6-year old daughter moved to the largest island in the 700 island chain of The Bahamas, Andros.
We served there for two years, living in third world conditions. Scores of people became interested and meetings were conducted in school rooms, homes, and primitive buildings. We estimate we “brought into the truth” two score persons. A congregation was formed from such an isolated group. Later a “quick build” Kingdom Hall was to go up outside of Nicholls Town.
This was a marvelous missionary life, much isolated from those things about JWs I detested: the political intrigues, and hateful hidden agendas spurred by jealousy and ambition. It would be another ten years before I began to understand the reason for this terrible contradiction with the JW form of Christianity.
There were those joys of living in a “paradise.” Pristine beaches. Lazy days of snorkeling and spear-fishing for one’s dinner of fish or lobster (crayfish). In half an hour I could spear half a dozen very large crayfish for a meal. I would also catch reef fish and share them with needy families in the community. Hunting for crabs during the season “when the crabs are walking.” My daughter Sierra loved to hunt at night with an oil torch looking for these large crabs and became very adept at catching them. Great hurricanes. The most powerful lightning and thunder I have ever experienced. A different culture.
There were those undesirable aspects: 80% of all the cocaine entering the US comes through Andros. Living there was essentially living in a drug world. My wife was to study the Bible with the wife of a drug lord. She was later baptized. There were to be deaths and beatings. Automatic gunfire could be heard almost every night. Stories were aplenty about drug deals gone bad, shoot outs, strange Columbians visiting and then disappearing.
Most of the local churches were involved in this activity. One of the most famous drug pilots was a Seventh Day Adventist who would not fly on Saturday. Another pilot was the son of one of our Bible students. He was paid one million dollars per flight. One day he left for South America and never returned.
There was much animosity against JWs by the local churches who considered us competition drawing away their members to the Kingdom Hall. I had a Bible study with a young man who was the son of the Baptist minister. This raised quite a stir.
My wife studied with a woman, “Reverend Mrs. Wilson,” who began attending meetings after conducting her own church services. Later, she just told her congregation she was going to the Kingdom Hall from now on and any who wished could come with her. Our meeting attendance soared.
The Kingdom Hall was in our living room for nearly a year. At one point we were banned from going house to house, indeed, of visiting any Bahamian home. Thus, our Bible students all came to us. Our house would receive 20 to 30 visitors from 7 in the morning and there would be an ongoing flow throughout the day until the regular meetings were held in the evening.
My little daughter, Sierra Skye, was quite well known on the island. She was the only white girl in her school classes and had many friends among the Bahamians. Her blond hair was corn braided Bahamian-style. She was described as a drop of milk in a bucket of oil. She was to be chosen to meet Queen Elizabeth on her visit to the island. I never loved a living breathing human being more than this little girl.
Since I was the only elder on the island, it eliminated any possibility of some organized political war. However, I did not escape what a controlling, organized religion and what, by its very nature, produces. Early on an erstwhile friend and his wife had joined us in this missionary assignment. They were well-to-do Americans who wanted to live the plantation lifestyle. Unknown to me he had begun the same political manipulations I had experienced in many other congregations. Behind my back he was talking quietly with two of the other “brothers” and began gossip which was to surface after he was gone. It was reported to me years later than this pseudo-friend would tell people I would deliberately move to escape those who were accusing me of apostasy.
I discovered some years later he had made suggestive advances to my wife and tried to get others to go through our trash to find some kind of incriminating evidence against me. I was preparing a massive outline of the Bible along with notes. There was nothing in these to make any one suspicious for it was all drawn from Society publications. This disease of ambition and jealousy can infect even a good friend, so powerful is the force of organized religion. When ideas of “apostasy” are first planted, then nothing a person does can ever be deemed innocent. If someone has developed a dislike for you, then you can do nothing right. Later this former friend was to reveal his colors like many other JW elders through slander and gossip.
This rich JW left the island. Without the presence of this materialistic influence, and our move right into the humble circumstances of those on Andros, the “work” flowered despite local resistance. The churches in Nicholls Town usually broadcast their sermons over loud-speakers which could be heard all over town. There were constant warnings about JWs. So, there were “fights without and fears within.” (2 Corinthians 7:5)
However, generally, though I had some health problems, it was a true spiritual and physical paradise. I took great joy in my young daughter who was so faithful in attending meetings, conducting eight to ten of her own Bible studies, and riding her little bicycle around town as she “went in field service.” A couple of her studies, older than her, were to be baptized when she was baptized.
I remember this delicate child singing hymns or “Kingdom songs” in our own juju fruit tree. She was later baptized at the age of eight, very young for JWs. In order to be baptized one must answer the “Baptism Questions” which can amount to about 200. She went through these questions in the presence of a circuit overseer demonstrating her knowledge of the Bible, generally with a verse citation in each case.
She was to be baptized in a thunder storm at Nassau during a district convention. She was to have parts on the assembly and her experience related in the Watchtower. She was to personally meet two members of the GB during their visits. Her baptism was mentioned in the Watchtower though they edited the age to ten, not eight years of age, as it was: “Time and again, we hear of youngsters making a valid dedication solely on their own initiative. For example, . . . attending the Pioneer Service School in the Bahamas recently was a ten-year-old baptized girl, the daughter of two full-time ministers!” (w88, 3/15, page 14, 15) Her picture was to appear several times in the Awake! magazine. The tragedy which would destroy her faith was six years in the future.
One of our experiences was related later in the Watchtower: “In the Bahamas a certain Catholic woman's conscience bothered her because she had not been to church for five years. So one rainy Sunday morning, she set out on the road to church. Along came three Witnesses, who gave her a car ride-and a witness. When they got to the church, she wanted to hear more and remained with them as they drove on to pick up a Bible student. They again passed the church, yet she wanted to hear more and so went on to the Kingdom Hall. The public talk was on the very subject discussed in the car. A Bible study was started with the woman, who dismissed the man with whom she was living (the father of her four children), and she was baptized during a convention in Nassau in 1986. How happy she was that someone witnessed to her informally!” (w87, 10/15, page 26, 27)
The Branch Coordinator was a charming man who I liked very much. However, here again was a man who drank considerably. I had witnessed him down three stiff bourbons after several glasses of wine at dinner before a committee hearing. He was even cautioned by his wife before those at the table. This is definitely verboten among JWs but it occurs more often that admitted. One wonders how this would influence decisions which affect people’s lives. ‘It is not for kings ... to drink wine or for high officials [to say:] "Where is intoxicating liquor?" that one may not drink and forget what is decreed and pervert the cause of any of the sons of affliction. Give intoxicating liquor, you people, to the one about to perish and wine to those who are bitter of soul. Let one drink and forget one's poverty, and let one remember one's own trouble no more.’ (Proverbs 31:4-7 NWT) I do not condemn this man for this for I liked him a lot. It just demonstrates a certain double standard: one for corporate executives, and another for the average JW.
There were to be other JW contradictions during this period. I had uncovered a homosexual ring among some of the pioneers. Since one young Bahamian wh0o was well-liked was involved, when I sent my report to the Branch some of the Bahamians took exception. I was later treated coldly by some of these elders for suggesting how the matter might be corrected. Some of the persons involved were reproved or disfellowshipped.
There were many “theocratic” privileges during this period: speaking assignments on circuit and district assemblies; and, the responsibility to handle the correspondence from JWs interested in “serving” in the Bahamas. I was responsible to write letters to all interested in coming to this assignment.
Many visitors would come to experience this “witnessing” on such an isolated island. One group sailed to our shores on a forty-foot sail boat. Upon the sickness of one, I volunteered to help sail back with them. This turned into another interesting experience on the high seas. We left Gun Kay at Christmas night to cross the Gulf Stream. Everyone but me and the captain became ill. We encountered fifteen-foot erratic seas, with stiff forty knot winds with cold, heavy rains. We remained alert all night and the only protection from the elements were diving wet suits. Several times we came close to capsizing and in another the boom nearly knocked out the captain. I feared for the others should we go down and I had visions of trying to rescue several ill persons from a sinking boat.
Because The Bahamas is quite isolated, there were incidents in which professed JWs got away with conduct for which they would have been disfellowshipped. This included regular and Special Pioneers. One wealthy JW owned a large and elegant eighty-foot sailboat with twin screws. This kind of moored boat attracts every kind of sun-bunny in the Caribbean and there would be uncontrolled and wild parties on the part of unsupervised JW pioneers. Though I reported the matter, I understand the wealthy JW father intervened somehow.
There were other “sharks” – real ones. On one dive in murky water a man-size reef shark came out of the obscura and a Bahamian diver poked it with his Bahamian-sling. The shark exploded away from him and came right at me, filling the view of the reef with its body. Its mouth going wide, I instinctively brought up my own spear and was able to hit it on the snout. It jerked to the right between my legs and disappeared into the reef.
During this period I was forced to return a couple times for health problems. Because of the heavy humidity I contacted walking pneumonia more than once and had to return to the US for special treatment. I also returned for a couple photography assignments. I supported my family with those royalties from various stock photography agencies. I wrote and reported “experiences” regularly to Brooklyn Bethel as well as continued to submit photography to them. In time my health continued to deteriorate with chronic respiratory problems and arthritic pain. We planned to return to the United States.
Nazarene Commentary 2000©
Mark Heber Miller
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