Lusaka (Times of Zambia, September 21, 1999) - There's a loud knock at the front door in one of Lusaka's residential areas. A man opens the door slowly as he waits for an immaculately dressed man carrying a briefcase and brochures to state his business. The smiling young man introduces himself as one of the Jehovah's Witnesses.
Before his introduction is over the owner of the house retorts, "I am not interested. I also have my own religion so please leave me alone," as he bangs the door.
This scene is typical of the reception that normally greets many Jehovah's Witnesses as they preach. They are viewed by many as a controversial, argumentative lot and as such are often given a cold shoulder by society in general.
Jehovah's Witnesses have endured rebuke in homes, places of work and learning institutions. According to recorded history, they are one single group of people that has experienced persecution because of their religious beliefs.
Thousands upon thousands have lost their lives on account of being associated with the organisation. Historian Johns Conway of a Canadian university observed that in the Adolf Hitler days, of the millions who died in the Nazi holocaust, some were Jehovah's Witnesses. In some countries, their activities had been banished for several years, their activities declared criminal and illegal by any means. Malawi, Russia, Poland, Nazi Germany were such countries whereas in the US some eight senior members of the organisation had to be rescued from jail by a supreme court order. However, despite all this opposition, invigorated by other more powerful religious organisations, the Jehovah's Witnesses have grown. They have been to about every home and no one can say they have not met one or been approached by a witness.
Who are these people? What makes them so unique or stand out from other religious organisations? According to one of their publications Jehovah's Witnesses are a world wide association of brothers and sisters united in love and actively bear witness regarding (their) true God, Jehovah, and His purposes regarding mankind. Its history is traced back to Pennsylvania US in the 1870s when Charles Taze Russell gave up business and founded the modern day Jehovah's Witnesses religious organisation that has remarkably grown over the years. They are neither a sect (break away from another established religion or off-set of some other church), nor are they a cult (a religion said to be unorthodox).
The stand for what is orthodox or doctrinal, according to them, is purely, that which is based on the Bible. At first they were known as Bible students, with the founder Russell elected its first president and succeeded at his death by Joseph Franklin Rutherford, but in 1931 adopted the scriptural name Jehovah's Witnesses, as they are known today. They operate under the legal name of Watchtower Bible and Tract Society (WBTS), incorporated as a non-profit making corporation in 1884 with its world headquarters in Brooklyn, New York, with branch offices established in many parts of the world.
Presently, it is estimated that there are six million members of Jehovah's Witnesses in 210 places and islands of the world, with Zambia reported to have over 300, 000. The number is increasing as the dedicated witnesses zealously carry round-the-clock preaching work, their main commission as "servants" of God.
They do vigorous preaching work through door-to-door visitations on the streets, at places of work, schools and markets using the Bible and Bible-based publications, mainly The Watchtower and Awake magazines including booklets produced by the Society. In recent years, a publication called Knowledge that leads to everlasting life has become the most widely-used material. Many who have read this booklet have come to admit that it is the proper synopsis of the Bible and personality of its author, God our Creator.
The WBTS operates systematically. It has a governing body of Jehovah's Witnesses (with headquarters in New York) with 10 Christians. At local or branch level, experienced and mature men are designated as elders or overseers. These with assistance of faithful men known as ministerial servants, supervise their various congregations and look after their spiritual needs, on purely voluntary basis.
The congregations have regular meetings - three times a week apart from the main Sunday meeting at a local Kingdom hall as their meeting structures are called. Once a year, three to four-day conventions, called district conventions, are arranged in each country, where thousands of people from all walks of life, some of them families, gather at one place and enjoy a spiritual banquets for their faith strengthening. Because of the magnitude of their activity - making the kingdom message available to an even greater number of people - the society has had to do its own printing work using volunteer workers, to ensure constant production of Bible literature at the lowest cost, using modern state-of-the-art technology.
The Society has also had to establish intensive training programmes for those wanting to be full-time ministers. These programmes are done at places called Bethel homes. Zambia's Bethel home and society branch office is located in Makeni in Lusaka.
Why are Jehovah's Witnesses considered controversial? They do not believe in the Trinity which is defined as the central doctrine of many other religious groupings where it is believed that there are three divine persons - the father, Son and the Holy Spirit - each said to be eternal, mighty, none greater or less than the other, yet being put as one. Arguments have been advanced both for and against, to support reasoning behind, and it has continued to show one major difference with the rest of the religious organisations.
The witnesses have however, apart from several Bible verses, also relied on some authorities that have been issued at various fora. For instance, the Encyclopedia Brittanica says: "Neither the word Trinity, nor the explicit doctrine as such, appears in the New Testament, nor did Jesus and his followers intend to contradict the Old Testament where it says "Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord. . . (Deuteronomy 6:4) - see 1976 Micropedia Vol X page 126. The New Catholic Encyclopedia also states: "The formulation 'one God' in three persons was not solidly established, certainly not fully assimilated into Christian life and its profession of faith.
Among the Apostolic Fathers, there had been nothing even remotely approaching such a mentality or perspective" - (1967) Vol.XIV, page 299. The Encyclopaedia Americana, in its 1956 Vol. XXVII production on page 294L, further says, " Fourth century Trinitarian did not reflect accurately early Christian teaching regarding the nature of God, it was, on the contrary, a deviation from this teaching." Another controversial issue is on blood transfusions. Several times Jehovah's Witnesses have been called murderers, even taken to court for refusing their children to have a blood transfusion when faced with a health crisis, but have been resolute in their stand to "abstain" from blood, for doing otherwise would violate God's law.
To show how serious their stand is on the matter, adult dedicated witnesses move with cards in their pockets and handbags so that even in case of an emergency there is no blood transfused. "If it means dying because of lack of blood, better that than violate God's laws", they say! However, recent scientific developments have made surgeons adhere to the witnesses' wishes, as it has been proved that "all types of surgery can be performed successfully without blood transfusions".
This includes, according to one medical journal in New York, brain surgery, amputation of limbs, and total removal of cancerous organs. Jehovah's Witnesses, in line with the Bible principles they believe in, do not participate in what they call worldly issues like gambling, smoking, spiritism, faith-healing, drugs at cetera and are choosy on entertainment - immoral and violent films.
They are against their Bible-trained consciences, as much as abortions, object or image veneration. As much as possible, Jehovah's Witnesses avoid the snares of materialism, especially to the point where spiritual matters would suffer negation.
This can be either in secular employment or self-employment. They do not participate in all political activities neither do they take sides with or give support to either of two or more contending parties. They do not interfere with what others do in matters like joining a political party as seen in their neutrality in all wars of the world. They do not, as much as possible, allow themselves to be overwhelmed or weighed down by problems of the world like economic difficulties, increasing crime et cetera.
They do not actually believe in dealing with problems of the world in a worldly way! Some of their identical marks are zeal and diligence in their ministry, determination to advertise the kingdom of (their) God, discipline and strong faith. They are a peaceful people and endeavour to be humble at all times no matter what opposition or persecution they face. A witness during the Nazi days was humiliated by being made to stand naked in front of 12 men who ended up raping her! That was not the end; she was sentenced to several years imprisonment because of her unwavering beauty! Today, still alive but old and free, she is more vigorous in her preaching work and does not harbour hard feelings for that experience.
She even managed to convert one of her rapists, he became a witness! Over the years, more and more people have begun to accept Jehovah's Witnesses and respect their choice of worship. There's calm and harmony where initially there was acrimony. Marriages that were on the verge of collapse have stabilised, with some spouses even won over.
Prejudices are now rare, as more speak well of Jehovah's Witnesses. "Jehovah's Witnesses are more or less to be admired." says Seher Grubler, Enthusiasten (Visionaries, Ponderers, Enthusiasts) of 1982, a German book. Though somewhat critical of the witnesses, the book admits: "In general, they live blameless, middle-class lives. They are diligent and conscientious in their work, are quiet citizens and honest tax payers.
"Their discipline is praise worthy. Their self-sacrificing spirit is one par with any religious group; as regards the ministry they top others", says the book.
Recently in Spain, the mayor of a seaport city presented a plaque to the local Jehovah's Witnesses in "appreciation for their collaboration and efforts on behalf of the city for the well-being of the citizenry". When all else is considered, the Jehovah's Witnesses are indeed a growing phenomenon world wide. As one Catholic nun in Italy said of them, "wherever they are, the Jehovah's Witnesses reveal signatures of humility, sound-mind, kindness, peace and integrity as regards the word of God".
Are you still going to slam your door in the face of a Jehovah's Witness?
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