1973-08-The Beacon

EXTRACTS FROM THE BEACON - AUGUST 1973

 

Page 14

BISSELL“IN TRANSIT” on board S.S. ‘Fairstar’

The Bulletin

OUR INTREDID GLOBE-TROTTERS are now back in Goodmayes, and once again we say “Welcome Home” – many of our readers have already said this personally – and here we would say “Many Thanks” to Bob & Marjorie Bissell for their great service to us with all those “Bulletins” – and, for the record, and for all who have been following them in the Beacon – here’s the last instalment, written and posted on June 27 [1973] “in transit” …

 

Dear Friends at Goodmayes,

By the time you read this letter we shall be home.  We have been passing over the Gulf Stream and are now looking forward to another visit to Lisbon.  This has been a somewhat disappointing trip, in no way comparable to our outward trip.  We could not get a return passage on a P & O boat as there were none coming to the UK until late autumn.

The weather has been rather disappointing too – either stifling hot and humid but no sun, or else bright and very windy.  Nevertheless, we have had some grand times.

When we reached Auckland, New Zealand, after a week on board, it was very wet indeed.  We knew no one in Auckland but we, and two ladies we have met, had a desire to go to church.  We did not disembark until 6 pm. on a Sunday evening & there were crowds of people (there are over 1,600 people on board).  But we made our way from the crowds to a gloomy courtyard and saw a dock official and asked him if it were possible to obtain a taxi.

He showed us a way out and we were very fortunate – there were no people waiting but there were two taxis.   So we asked the driver if he could take us to a nonconformist church.  He, poor man, looked blank.  He did not know what we meant.  However, he called on his radio to his office, and was told of a Baptist church in Queen’s Street.

It was now nearing 6.30 pm. and we had arrived at the “Baptist Tabernacle”.  It was in semi-darkness and we got out to investigate.  The notice-board said “Evening Worship 7pm”.  So I went round the back way where we saw a light.  A lady saw me and came out, and I explained.  She was very welcoming and led us into the church where, as yet, no one had arrived.

We had all been instructed to wear white “In Transit” badges whilst in Auckland & we had them pinned on our coats.  When the pastor and people began to arrive they all came up to us and made us feel very much at home.  There were not many at evening service, but it was a very inspiring one, and the minister said how glad he was to see friends from overseas.

After the meeting was over, the deaconess came and asked us if we would like to go back to her home for supper.  As we had left the boat before our evening meal we were very delighted to accept.  Two members of the congregation (both doctors) drove us to her home which was some distance from the church.  On arrival we found some 20 church members had been invited to meet us – and what a lovely time we had!
 

After a welcome meal of hot scones, toasted sandwiches and cakes, not to mention delicious cups of tea and coffee (they cannot make either on board) we all gathered around in a large half-circle and gave account of ourselves.

A couple of young marrieds were taken home on a short holiday from Bible College, preparatory to going to Papua, New Guinea as missionaries.  Others were in various positions, and there were the doctors, three in all & each told of their Christian experience.  It was very enjoyable and so “out of the blue”.  After prayer together and goodbyes were said, our kindly friends drove back to the ship about 10.30 pm.  We really understood the meaning of Christian fellowship.  All one in Jesus Christ.

The morning in Auckland was very disappointing.  We had booked on a tour taking us into the mountains, but the fog prevented us from seeing very much.  It was terribly misty.  The trees and flowers we did see were very lovely but we felt very sad at not seeing the beautiful views we had hoped for.

The weather has not been what we had been told to expect at all, and we came as far as Tahiti with gusty conditions & very rough seas.  However, the sun did shine for us at Papeete (Tahiti).  It is a beautiful island and its people are so friendly and happy.

We went out in a glass-bottomed boat to the coral reefs.  How breathtaking it was in its beauty!  Snow-white coral sands out of which rose miniature trees (?) of white, green & deep azure blue coral, from which darted shoals of brightly coloured fish of every shape and hue.

A diver went down from the boat and caught a huge shell-fish (he called it an oyster) which he brought up and passed round for us all to see.  He then removed flesh from the shell and broke it up, placed it in a huge open-mouthed jar & then, going down again, appeared under the boat.  The fish came around him like flocks of birds coming down to feed, and swan into the jar to get a morsel.  Bob took lots of pictures and we hope they come out.

We were sad to have to leave Tahiti with its reed-thatched stalls with all the colourful island handwork for sale, but at 12 noon we started on our trip through the Panama Canal.  It was an enthralling journey.  Such a wonderful feat of engineering which cost many men their lives in its construction.  We, in company with hundreds of others, leaned over the side watching the way we passed through the various locks.  Ships have to line up to go through.

As we emerged from the canal we came into the harbour at Balboa, which is literally in the middle of the High Street.  Here was our great ship and several others docked here, and the shops & tradespeople all around.  It was an extraordinary sight!

We had been advised not to go about in ones or twos as the local people are light-fingered and are noted pickpockets and rogues.  So five of us were taken for a taxi ride by a South American Indian driver who had a mouthful of gold teeth and spoke quite good English.

It is an island of contrasts.  Abject poverty and great wealth.  Some of the homes were very ramshackle & tiny in very squalid surroundings.  Washing was draped in the streets on wire netting and anything that came to hand.  It is, of course, Roman Catholic territory and we visited the “Church of the Golden Altar”.  It really was all covered in gold leaf, and richly bejewelled.  But the statues were terribly crude and it was bewildering to see such gaudy furnishings inside, and the drab and shabby appearance of the outside of the building.

We were taken and shown the ruins caused by the activities of Henry Morgan, pirate captain who, it is said, fired the place because of the cruelty of the Spanish who had devastated the island.  This was somewhere in the region of 1670 – and the buildings, even in decay, are really beautiful.

The schoolchildren were a delight to see.  We saw several parties accompanied by their teachers, some in khaki shirts & skirts, other in white and red or white and blue.  We were very interested to see how bonny and well-cared for they seemed.  One little group, who were evidently on an excursion by bus, had stopped for lunch.  We stayed and tried to talk with them and Bob took their pictures – which covered them with confusion, they were all giggling and shy.

After coming through the Caribbean Sea with most unseasonable weather and very rough seas, we passed over the Gulf Stream, again most unlikely weather, and are now headed for Lisbon, where we hope we shall have a day ashore.

Shall have to stop now.  We have had no mail at all from home since we came abroad.  We did not get our tickets or posting information until four days before sailing, so we were not able to let anyone have details of where we could pick up post – so we feel sadly out of touch with all at home and also our families in Australia.

We send our love to everyone and are dearly looking forward to Sunday July 8 when, God willing, we shall be in our own beloved church with all our friends.  You cannot conceive how very much we are looking forward to being with you once again and making the acquaintance of our pastor and his wife and family.

God bless you all,

BOB & MARJORIE BISSELL

 

Inserted Note.  For information about the SS Fairstar see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/TSS_Fairstar