“And They Just Keep Knocking…”–A Portrait of Faith

In Human Interest, Non-fiction on July 29, 2011 at 7:29 pm

Knock, knock!

Odds are, even in our little town of Colville, you have been visited at your home by members of a religious group that almost everyone in the world has heard of: Jehovah’s Witnesses. Critics have long painted an unfavorable picture of the religion and its people; they have been the butt end of many a joke over the years. However, from a purely academic standpoint—on an observational level—who really are these people? Indeed, what is the organization behind the name? When analyzing the activities of Jehovah’s Witnesses, would it surprise you to learn that there is, in fact, more behind the knock than meets the ears?

“Jehovah’s Witnesses are an organization of global proportions,” stated one Witness, who attends the local Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Colville. He goes on to comment: “We are a people dedicated to promoting an education in the Bible, and also a practical application of its contents in our day-to-day life.”

In fact, the Colville congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses is just one strand in a web of some 105,298 congregations worldwide in 236 lands, containing over 7,300,000 members, all held firmly together by an adhesive of love for Bible teachings. Last year, the organization collectively spent 1,557,788,344 hours in their “patented” public Bible education work, spending this time conducting 7,619,270 Bible studies. So stated the 2010 Yearbook of Jehovah’s Witnesses, a publication designed to help members remain up to date on the global activities of their religion by providing first-person accounts and experiences, as well as statistics like those previously mentioned, illustrating the growth of the Witnesses’ activities worldwide. Indeed, the accomplishments of Jehovah’s Witnesses have eclipsed nearly every corner of the globe, cultivating sincere interest in the Bible in a world where value of the book seems to be waning and fading; an accomplishment to say the least! However, since its inception in the early 1870′s, the organization as a whole has not been free from its challenges.

For example: In Russia, a recent press release published by the Watchtower and Bible Tract Society of Pennsylvania, one of the Witnesses’ legal entities, noted that members of their religion there are facing a literal replay of the persecution inflicted upon them in the 1940′s, during World War II. “What is happening,” stated a recent press release from the Watchtower Society, “is exactly as the chairman of the Presiding Committee of the religious organization the Administrative Center of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia, V.M. Kalin, predicted when he said that the decision of the Supreme Court [in Russia] has opened the way for a new era of persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses.”

Such words are concisely illustrated by the effects of the opposition. “In one instance,” reports the 2010 Yearbook of Jehovah’s Witnesses, quoted earlier, “a pregnant [woman] suffered a miscarriage after police illegally raided a religious meeting. A 15-year-old boy who was also present at the meeting was illegally detained…Unfounded allegations of extremism have led to other official abuses of religious freedom, including unjustified arrests [and] deportations.” Similar opposition, according to reports made by branches of Jehovah’s Witnesses in several foreign countries, and in related news reports, is being experienced in places such as Eritrea, South Korea, Tajikistan, Turkey, and Uzbekistan.

However, despite obstacles to the activities of the organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses, they do their best to absorb the impact of such harrying; the organization as a whole still exerts itself to assist in areas where help is needed. These communal efforts are seen, for example, in Haiti.

“In cooperation with local authorities and other relief agencies, the Witnesses organized to help meet the immediate needs of their fellow worshippers and other victims in Haiti and care for them,” wrote J.R. Brown, media contact for the Watchtower and Bible Tract Society in Brooklyn, New York. The Witnesses’ branch office in the Dominican Republic responded to the devastation of the earthquake by sending six tons of food and medical supplies to the branch office in Haiti. The Haiti branch then prepared 700 bags of just over 22 pounds each, all containing basic necessities and providing 2,800 meals. The supplies were transported to Kingdom Halls of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the locale, which were designated as centers of relief distribution. Anything exceptional about such efforts? Brown adds: “These supplies were received the morning after the disaster.”

The same efforts were made to assist those suffering from the effects of Hurricane Katrina, back in August of 2005. The August 8, 2008 issue of Awake! magazine commented concerning their efforts during the disaster in Louisiana: “Directed by the United States branch office of Jehovah’s Witnesses, disaster relief committees swung into operation. In Louisiana, they set up 13 relief centers, 9 warehouses, and 4 fuel depots. Their field of operation covered 32,000 square miles [80,000 km²]. Nearly 17,000 Witness volunteers from all parts of the United States and from 13 other lands poured in to help with emergency aid and reconstruction.” The article added: “The results showed that the forces of nature are no match for Christian love.”

Another milestone of theocratic progress for the organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses was the initiation of the Theocratic Ministry School, instituted as a regular feature of one of two meetings held weekly in all congregations worldwide since 1943. It is an impressive, university-level program of instruction capitalizing on the importance of communication, assisting volunteer students to become better public speakers and also more effective in expressing their faith with others. The program features opportunities for participants, ranging locally from ages 8 to 85, to bring portions of Scripture to life through public reading, and by giving talks on Bible-based topics, such as “What Are the Benefits of Knowing the Truth About Death,” and “The Scriptures Reveal Jehovah’s Love for Children.” The same schedule of instruction is followed by all congregations around the world, and Witnesses use Hebrews 10:25 as the scriptural basis for their regular assembly: “Do not stay away from the meetings of the community, as some do, but encourage each other…”—The Jerusalem Bible.

In light of such information, though, are there any members of Jehovah’s Witnesses right here in Colville? Certainly there are. But who are they? And what is their objective in our community?

“What is amazing,” says a local member of the religion, who’s name has been modestly withheld by choice, “is that, around the world, Jehovah’s Witnesses are on the same page, and that’s why we are able to accomplish so much.  But our main goal is always the same: We benefit from an educational approach to faith, based on what the Bible teaches, and we offer any who are willing to benefit also.”

Due to the reputation Jehovah’s Witnesses have earned themselves—even in spite of the often negative stereotypes often attributed to them by opposers—what conclusion have some drawn regarding these people? “They do not abuse alcohol, they do not smoke, they are not money hungry, they do not break their promises…” stated Anatoly P. Zilber, who happens to be a professor in the Department of Intensive Care and Anesthesia at Petrozavodsk University and Republican Hospital of Karelia, Russia. “[They] are respectable, happy people, interested in history, literature, art, and life in all its aspects. To alter Voltaire’s words, we could say that if Jehovah’s Witnesses did not exist, we would do well to invent them.”

Indeed, even for the community of Colville, right here in Washington, there is more behind the knock than may meet the ears. For over 120 years of modern history, the organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses has been knocking on doors, talking to people. And as one long-time Colville resident observed, even despite unfavorable circumstance, “They just keep knocking.”

An abridged version of this article awaits future release.

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