Highlights of the Past Year
REPORTS from around the world confirm that Jehovah’s Witnesses have been busier than ever preaching the good news of the Kingdom “in all the inhabited earth for a witness to all the nations.” (Matt. 24:14) As a result of their endurance and united, unselfish labors of love, ‘the word of Jehovah has sounded forth, and in every place their faith toward God has spread abroad.’
UPBUILDING AND ENJOYABLE FAMILY WORSHIP
On January 1, 2009, Jehovah’s Witnesses made a significant adjustment to their weekly meeting schedule. The Congregation Book Study was renamed the Congregation Bible Study and was scheduled to be held in conjunction with the Theocratic Ministry School and Service Meeting. All were encouraged to use for Family Worship the evening previously devoted to the Congregation Book Study.
How have Jehovah’s servants responded to this loving adjustment? The feelings of many are summed up by one husband who wrote: “Thank you, thank you, and thank you. Words cannot express how my wife and I have benefited from the Family Worship evening. It has deepened our love for Jehovah and, at the same time, has brought us closer together as a couple. What a wonderful and wise arrangement by our heavenly Father!”
What are families doing to make the most of this valuable new time slot? A mother wrote: “Some nights we go through page 31 of Awake! together, and other nights we watch one of the organization’s videos. The children not only do their own research but also have fun learning and enjoy the Family Worship time. They are assigned to research a Bible character one month and to give a talk the next month. The same goes for my husband and me. Our ten-year-old son’s first presentation on Noah was an excellent talk! He even told us how we can apply the information today. Then he took out a scale model of Noah’s ark that he had built. Our daughter had a part the following week on the missionary trips of the apostle Paul. When she was finished, we all applauded, and she then quizzed us in a part she called Do You Remember? It was amazing!” This family has found the arrangement for Family Worship to be a real blessing from Jehovah. “My husband and I went through a lot this past year,” says the mother, “and this is what we really needed to keep us going.”
Another sister wrote: “I would like to express gratitude for this provision, which has awakened me spiritually! After our children grew up and moved out of the house, my husband and I stopped having a regular family study. Now we do. Most of the time, the study lasts two hours, and the time goes by so quickly!”
As the great tribulation draws ever closer, may the time you have set aside for Family Worship help you to dig deeper into God’s Word and strengthen yourself spiritually to oppose the Devil. Make the most of this precious time to “draw close to God, and he will draw close to you.”
DOING MORE TO OFFER BIBLE STUDIES
Beginning in January 2009, congregations were urged to designate one Saturday or Sunday each month to focus on offering Bible studies. The result? Many publishers have been experiencing surprise and great joy
Publishers who have never conducted studies are now making return visits and starting studies. Carolina, in Peru, said: “Before this arrangement I did not conduct any Bible studies, but the suggestion of concentrating one day a month on this made me see the need to strive to start a Bible study. I have been able to show householders that a Bible study is simple and does not take much time. Thanks to Jehovah, by applying the suggestions we have been given, I have had good results; now I conduct two Bible studies.”
Satya, a pioneer sister in Britain, was apprehensive about offering a Bible study on the first call. But on the day set aside for offering Bible studies, she determined not to return home without trying this method. She was delighted when a lady immediately accepted her offer. It was much easier than Satya had expected!
Luca, a young brother in Palermo, Sicily, regularly left our magazines with a widow who was afraid to let anyone into her house. One Saturday afternoon, on the day to offer Bible studies, Luca approached the widow with the Bible Teach book open, and he read an excerpt from the book. The lady was intrigued by the book and took some time to talk to Luca. He told her that he had in his hand the answers to her questions
“From the start,” reported a circuit overseer in Peru, “this arrangement has helped most congregations increase the number of Bible studies they conduct. One congregation in Chiclayo reported 25 new studies in one month, and in Chepén, 24 new studies were started.”
Young publishers have also had success offering Bible studies. Eleven-year-old Giovanna in São Paulo, Brazil, relates: “One Saturday afternoon I was working door-to-door with my mother, offering Bible studies in the Bible Teach book. At the first door, I asked the householder, a well-known businessman, if he believed that the Bible is inspired by God. He said yes. Then I showed him 2 Timothy 3:16. He said that he was moved to see a young girl telling him such beautiful things, and he accepted the book.
“When I called back on the man, I took my grandfather because he is an acquaintance of the householder. The man asked us in, and I invited him to look at the table of contents in the Bible Teach book and choose the subject that interested him the most. He chose chapter 11, ‘Why Does God Allow Suffering?’ After reading the first two paragraphs, he and his wife asked many questions. They were so happy to find all the answers in the Bible, and they agreed to a regular study. How happy I was to start a study at the first door we called on!”
Of course, not everyone will accept a Bible study, and not all those who start will continue. But as God’s fellow workers, we keep offering Bible studies to as many people as possible, knowing that Jehovah is drawing sheeplike ones into his organization before the destruction of Satan’s system of things.
TECHNOLOGY HELPS TO “SPEED IT UP”
Jehovah’s people rejoice in the fulfillment of the thrilling prophecy: “The little one himself will become a thousand, and the small one a mighty nation. I myself, Jehovah, shall speed it up in its own time.” (Isa. 60:22) There can be no doubt that Jehovah continues to use technological innovations to speed up the spiritual growth at this exciting time. Thus, the Governing Body authorized the development of an administration software system that could be used by all branches worldwide.
The development team, originally based at the South Africa branch, have moved to the World Headquarters, in Brooklyn, New York, where they continue to develop and maintain this software. About 20 branches serve as regional support centers, assisting nearby branches to utilize useful features of this computer tool.
What are the benefits? Because the branches all use the same software, they can share information. For example, all the printing branches worldwide can know what literature the other branches have in stock. If one branch is overstocked with a literature item, another branch can request it rather than print a new supply. This feature, along with tools that forecast the demand for literature based on prior requests from the field, has resulted in reducing overstocked literature in all branches.
The program helps Bethel workers to handle efficiently such tasks as processing literature and magazine orders, compiling annual field service reports, arranging conventions and assemblies, and assigning traveling overseers and special pioneers. The software also helps with purchasing, accounting, and the handling of inventories, which has reduced dependence on expensive commercial software.
LETTING SPIRITUAL LIGHT SHINE ONLINE
Just as literal light penetrates into dark corners, so too God’s people ‘let their light shine’ in all parts of the earth. (Matt. 5:16) A particularly useful tool that illuminates the most remote places is our official Web site www.watchtower.org. This Web site features magazine articles, tracts, and brochures in some 383 languages, as well as the complete New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures in 11 languages. In all, there are more than 700 articles available on the site. The home page, updated weekly, features recent articles on popular topics. What are the results of having material that is in print in so many languages readily available online?
Pat, who lives in Florida, U.S.A., has found the Web site to be the quickest way to get literature in foreign languages. She writes: “After we had completed our distribution of the tract Would You Like to Know the Truth? I started printing out the tract in the languages of some who accepted it in English but who also speak another language.” With what results?
Pat printed out a Thai tract for a lady who owns a little market. The lady was delighted and could not believe that Pat had found Thai literature so quickly. This woman and other customers in the market wanted the name of our Web site so that they could visit it for themselves. One of the women invited Pat to visit her at her home to continue their discussion. Like Pat, many find it beneficial to print a few pages in different languages from the Web site to share with interested people of other nationalities.
Last year more than 24 million people from every continent visited our Web site. Since 2007, the number of visitors has increased by 33 percent. Individuals from all over the world, including isolated islands, submit requests for a personal visit or a home Bible study. The number of electronic coupons submitted since 2007 increased some 55 percent. Yes, spiritual light is beaming in the remotest parts of the earth, all to the praise and glory of our Father in the heavens.
In addition to the www.watchtower.org Web site, www.jw.org has been developed to make certain key publications available in digital form. What is the value of this specific Web site?
Trisha, from Missouri, U.S.A., expressed the feelings of many when she said, “I look forward to Thursday with great anticipation.” Why? Because Thursday is usually the day she can download recordings of new issues of the Watchtower and Awake! magazines from www.jw.org. Trisha is one of thousands of our brothers and sisters around the world who frequent this spiritually rich Web site. They download audio magazines, the Bible, dramas, books, brochures, and tracts in 27 languages. American Sign Language publications are also available in two popular video formats.
Who uses this Web site to download our publications? Primarily our spiritual brothers and sisters but also members of the public in over 200 countries, including a number of lands where our work is restricted. We have regular visitors from such places as Papua New Guinea, St. Helena, and even Antarctica. How do audio downloads benefit our brothers and sisters? In French Polynesia, for example, shipping delays often cause supplies of our printed magazines to arrive after the issue date. Since even publishers on the remotest islands have Internet access, they can listen to the latest issues the day they are posted on the site.
Deborah, from Illinois, U.S.A., has severe health problems that keep her somewhat isolated from the congregation and also make it hard for her to remember what she reads. She now downloads and listens to the publications and says, “My retention of material has improved, and I am able to discuss what I have heard with confidence.”
A couple in a small town in Texas, U.S.A., conduct a study with a Bible student from Siberia, and they are happy to be able to download audio magazines for her in Russian. A brother in California, U.S.A., enjoys going for an early morning jog with a digital player and earphones, listening to our magazines as he runs.
Every week a couple in a small town in northern New Zealand download audio material for the meetings
Each week the chapters for the assigned Bible reading are downloaded thousands of times
‘IT WILL TURN OUT FOR A WITNESS’
While Jehovah’s Witnesses seek to lead “a calm and quiet life with full godly devotion,” it does not surprise them when they are persecuted. (1 Tim. 2:1, 2) Jesus Christ warned his disciples that they would be objects of hatred, when he said: “People will lay their hands upon you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons, you being haled before kings and governors for the sake of my name.” Yet, Jesus pointed out that such persecution would backfire on enemies of pure worship. He foretold: “It will turn out to you for a witness.”
In fulfillment of Jesus’ prophecy, Jehovah’s Witnesses contend with unjust treatment in numerous places. Court victories in many lands have helped to protect their legal freedom, including their right to preach from house to house and to assemble freely for worship. Although challenges remain, we have enjoyed significant legal victories this year that confirm the religious nature of our activities.
Culminating a 30-year effort by our brothers, in May 2009 the Federal Ministry of Education, Art, and Culture of Austria granted Jehovah’s Witnesses the highest possible level of recognition as a religious community. The Witnesses are now the 14th religious society in Austria to enjoy this status. Following the positive judgment of the European Court of Human Rights in July 2008, the Court issued three additional judgments in favor of our brothers in Austria, establishing beyond dispute that Jehovah’s Witnesses have full recognition as a religious society.
In 2005 a lawsuit against the South African Department of Labour was taken to the Labour Court of South Africa on behalf of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of South Africa and members of the Worldwide Order of Special Full-Time Servants of Jehovah’s Witnesses serving at the South Africa Bethel. The lawsuit sought a ruling that would establish that the Bethelites should not be classified as employees under South Africa’s labor laws. In March 2009 the Labour Court issued a favorable decision confirming this fact and also substantiating the religious nature of the activities carried on at Bethel.
In 2007 the Uganda Revenue Authority (URA) issued a ruling that members of the Worldwide Order of Special Full-Time Servants of Jehovah’s Witnesses serving at the Uganda Bethel are employees as defined in Uganda’s Income Tax Act. The matter was submitted for resolution to the High Court of Uganda in Kampala on behalf of the International Bible Students Association (IBSA) against the URA. In June 2009 the High Court ruled in favor of IBSA, finding that the Uganda Bethelites are not employees. The court took special note of the fact that the Bethelites “receive the same support regardless of the tasks they perform.” The court concluded that the Bethelites are members of a religious order and receive food, shelter, and modest support only to care for personal necessities in the course of carrying out charitable and religious activities in Uganda.
The authorities continue to arrest and imprison our brothers of military age for their conscientious objection to military service. As of August 2009, there were 74 brothers in prison. Since all domestic courts have ruled against the brothers, four separate applications have been filed with the European Court of Human Rights seeking relief. The government also continues to impose exorbitant Value Added Tax on the religious literature our brothers receive from other countries. Whether this unjust financial burden will be removed or not, we are confident that our brothers will continue to be spiritually well fed.
Our brothers there contend with a steady decline in their freedom of worship. It is increasingly difficult for them to obtain literature and to meet for worship. Although they enjoy legal status in Baku, the capital, the lack of registration in other cities has led to frequent illegal police raids of meetings held in private homes, followed by hours of detention in police stations. This occurs even though the law does not require worshippers to register in order to meet in private homes. On April 9, 2009, our brothers filed for national registration with the government of Azerbaijan. We are hopeful that this registration will ease the difficulties experienced by our brothers.
Over the past three years, brothers from Egypt as well as from Belgium, Italy, and the United States have met with Egyptian authorities to obtain legal status for our work. As a result, the authorities have granted our brothers in Egypt permission to worship peacefully in private homes in groups of 30. Even so, some elements of the government continue to mistreat our brothers. The State Security offices keep our brothers under surveillance and sporadically interrogate and threaten congregation members. In addition to meeting directly with the authorities, our brothers are making efforts to obtain legal status through the courts.
In total disregard for fundamental human rights, the authorities arrested 23 members of one congregation on June 28, 2009, including elderly sisters and three children ranging from two to four years of age. Although the elderly sisters have since been released, the children are still in prison with their mothers; the fathers were imprisoned long ago. Thus, whole families are now in jail. This brings the count of our brothers and sisters in prison to 64, which includes three brothers who have been imprisoned since 1994 for their neutral stand on military service without being informed what laws they are alleged to have broken.
Over the past few years, Jehovah’s Witnesses in India have become victims of mob attacks when engaging in their public ministry. They have also endured verbal and physical abuse, threats of imprisonment, and the burning of their literature. Oftentimes, after being beaten our brothers are arrested and imprisoned and face criminal prosecution. Angry mobs influence local authorities to act against our brothers by falsely accusing them of violating local laws.
For example, in December 2008, three of Jehovah’s Witnesses (a mother, her daughter, and her ten-year-old granddaughter) in Kundapura, Karnataka, returned to visit a woman in Koni Village who had shown interest in learning about the Bible. Later, five or six men forcibly took the three Witnesses to the local police station. A mob gathered, and the police charged the sisters with trespassing, promoting enmity between classes, and insulting another religion. The Witnesses were eventually allowed to go home. Our brothers and sisters in such circumstances are being given legal assistance.
Our brothers in Transnistria, the internationally unrecognized region of Moldova, continue to display zeal for Kingdom interests, although they have been under constant threat of ban or liquidation for some 12 years. Despite numerous challenges, the brothers have experienced Jehovah’s blessing and a measure of success in defending Kingdom interests in the courts. Here are three examples: An Orthodox priest who verbally and physically abused two of our sisters while they were preaching in the village of Ordăşei was held liable and fined, the city court in Tiraspol handed down a favorable decision in connection with the brothers’ efforts to register our community there, and a decision was handed down against the Rîbniţa City Tax Inspectorate for unlawfully taxing food provided for volunteers while they were working on a Kingdom Hall construction project.
The General Prosecutor’s Office of the Republic of Kazakhstan initiated protests that resulted in favorable court rulings for our brothers. Earlier, courts in Kyzylorda, Shymkent, and Saryagash had ordered that our religious activity be suspended for six months. As a result of the rulings in November 2008, however, our religious freedom was restored in the Kyzylorda Region, in Shymkent, and in the entire southern Kazakhstan region. Additionally, in December 2008, after seven years of denials by the local government, the city court in Atyraū held that Jehovah’s Witnesses have the right to legal registration in that city.
During the past service year, our Administrative Center here has been subjected to repeated investigations by the prosecutor and numerous other State authorities, with the obvious intent of unlawfully closing down our religious activities. Individually, our brothers and sisters are being subjected to harassment and hundreds of groundless investigations. In one instance, a pregnant sister 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. The prosecuting authorities are using the Law on Counteracting Extremist Activity as a basis for liquidating several of our local congregations and banning our religious literature. These unfounded allegations of extremism have led to other official abuses of religious freedom, including unjustified arrests, deportations, and denial of entry to four foreign legal representatives of Jehovah’s Witnesses who were assisting in the defense against these false charges. One of these brothers was detained in a holding cell in Moscow for 23 hours.
Members of the Federal Security Service have interfered with numerous rental contracts at venues for meetings and conventions, causing rental agreements to be canceled. Authorities have also obstructed the building of new Kingdom Halls. Crimes against the Witnesses include torture while in police custody on trumped-up criminal charges.
On June 16, 2008, the government of South Korea backed off from the announcement it made on May 7, 2008, to give conscientious objectors the opportunity to participate in alternative civilian service. It stated that “the issue of conscientious objection to military service required further study and the forging of a broad national consensus.” To date, the Korean National Assembly has not considered any bill on alternative service. The brothers are awaiting decisions from the Human Rights Committee of the United Nations, which ruled favorably on two applications. In January 2009, the Korean Presidential Commission on Suspicious Deaths in the Military acknowledged that the Korean government was responsible for the violent deaths of five of Jehovah’s Witnesses who were forcibly conscripted into the army from the 1970’s to the mid-1980’s. This is the first significant decision recognizing the State’s responsibility for deaths resulting from violence within the military.
The Religious Association of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Tajikistan was banned in 2007, and our literature from Germany was confiscated by customs officials. An appeal was submitted to the military court, and in September 2008, the appeal was denied. A subsequent appeal was filed with the Military Collegium of the Supreme Court, which also rejected the appeal. These decisions uphold the banning and confiscation of literature. Additional efforts are under way to help our brothers.
The brothers there face challenges relating to military service. One brother has been in prison for two years for his resolute stand. Many other brothers of military age continue to be threatened with fines and imprisonment as well as loss of jobs. In March 2009, the brothers were informed that the Human Rights Committee of the United Nations had started to investigate two complaints that were filed on behalf of the Witnesses.
Additionally, in May 2009, the European Court of Human Rights decided to join three pending applications together to begin the process of investigating whether the human rights of six of our brothers are being violated
The legal situation of Jehovah’s worshippers in Uzbekistan is steadily deteriorating, with our brothers increasingly being the target of State-sponsored persecution. One married father of two sons was released from prison on May 14, 2009, after completing a two-year sentence for teaching religion. The next day, he was deported to Tajikistan, the country of his citizenship. Three other brothers remain in prison for organizing “illegal religious activity.” Attorneys for the three are preparing further appeals to the Supreme Court of Uzbekistan. Local brothers and a foreign delegation of brothers have had several meetings with the Uzbekistan State Committee of Religious Affairs and its representatives in an effort to resolve these matters.
EUROPEAN COURT OF HUMAN RIGHTS
Jehovah’s Witnesses in Armenia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Cyprus, France, Georgia, Russia, Serbia, and Turkey have a total of 22 applications pending before the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg, France. The applications cite violations of basic human rights afforded to all citizens living under the jurisdiction of the European Convention on Human Rights. Nine of the applications involve the right to refuse military service, seven involve persecution and discrimination on the basis of religion, four involve deregistration or banning of a legal entity used by Jehovah’s Witnesses to organize the work, and two object to a government’s interference in the right to assemble peacefully for worship.
On June 17, 2008, the ECHR gave attention to the application brought by the Association Les Témoins de Jéhovah (ATJ) against the government of France. The application focuses on the discriminatory 60 percent tax levied on all the religious contributions the ATJ received from 1993 through 1996. The Court raised additional questions about the possible violation of Article 9 of the European Convention dealing with freedom of religion. Jehovah’s Witnesses in France and in other countries of the Council of Europe are now waiting to see whether the Court will accept this case.
While Satan tries to disrupt true worship by “framing trouble by decree,” Jehovah’s servants remain “solid in the faith, knowing that the same things in the way of sufferings are being accomplished in the entire association of [their] brothers in the world.” May all true worshippers continue to take an unflinching stand against Satan and throw all their anxiety upon the God of all undeserved kindness, knowing that he cares for them and will make them firm and strong.
“QUALIFIED TO TEACH OTHERS”
Training has been a characteristic of the Christian congregation from its very beginning. The apostle Paul told Timothy: “These things commit to faithful men, who, in turn, will be adequately qualified to teach others.” (2 Tim. 2:2) Today, too, Jehovah’s organization has numerous training programs. Since 2008, for example, 6,528 elders from the United States branch territories
The intensive week-long instruction covers various aspects of elders’ lives, helping them to take the lead in the preaching work and to be more effective teachers in the congregation. (2 Tim. 4:5; 1 Pet. 5:2, 3) The course also encourages them to maintain their spirituality and that of their family and trains them to ‘handle the word of the truth aright’ when assisting others. (2 Tim. 2:15) The following are a few of the many expressions of gratitude made by elders who attended the school.
“The humility of the instructors was an example of how to treat the brothers in the congregation. My heart wells with appreciation for the Governing Body. This is one of the greatest educational privileges that has ever been extended to me in my years in the truth.”
“Our God, Jehovah, knows what we need and when to provide it. My faith has been renewed, and my spiritual battery has been recharged. This experience has helped me to appreciate what Jehovah has done by means of the visible part of his organization and also to see how he is caring for all of his people.”
“This has been a tremendous experience. The more I learned in the school, the more I realized how much I didn’t know. I have developed a new appreciation for personal study and why I must apply all that I learned to myself.”
“The training has better equipped me to care for my family and the congregation, with the mind of Christ. (1 Cor. 2:16) It has assisted me to reflect on what type of man I am.”
“I would not trade this one week with Jehovah’s instructors for a university education.”
“What an uplifting and beneficial experience! It has energized me to carry on in Jehovah’s service, be self-sacrificing, and be a source of refreshment to our brothers and sisters. (Isa. 32:2) Thank you, Jehovah!”
“Through this course we have perceived the love of Jehovah. It has been like a shepherding call from him.”
“I thank Jehovah for this privilege to learn how better to handle my assignment to his glory and praise.”
In due course the Governing Body will announce arrangements for elders in other places to get the benefit of this timely instruction.
BRANCH DEDICATIONS BRING JOY
On January 24, 2009, Samuel Herd of the Governing Body was the guest speaker at the dedication of the new branch in Tanzania, in East Africa. Twenty-five years ago, the branch started in a three-room cinder-block building known by Witnesses throughout Tanzania as House Number 46, Magomeni Quarters. Many of the 779 joyful guests from 22 countries had tears in their eyes as they reflected on the progress of the work since the ban there was lifted in 1987. “Only Jehovah could make such a thing possible in this land,” observed one old-timer. Now the preaching work has flourished, and over 14,000 publishers rejoice, thank Jehovah, and make melody to his name.
At the Netherlands branch office, on Saturday, May 2, 2009, some 600 brothers and sisters from 31 lands attended the dedication talk delivered by Theodore Jaracz of the Governing Body. A residence wing had been added to the structure originally built in 1983, and the areas formerly used for printing magazines had been converted into offices and a video studio for the Regional Audio Video Center (RAVC). The RAVC assists in producing CDs and DVDs in 24 languages, most of which are spoken in Europe. In addition, the RAVC supports video productions in some 20 different sign languages. This work includes coordinating the production of CDs in Europe, Africa, and Oceania and DVDs worldwide. The Netherlands branch also buys and ships items needed by branches in other parts of the world, and the remodeled facilities are well suited to these activities.
“KEEP YOURSELVES IN GOD’S LOVE”
Indeed, we have many reasons to rejoice. How blessed we are to be living in these thrilling times! True, as prophesied, “the last days” are “critical times hard to deal with.” (2 Tim. 3:1) But with deliverance so near at hand, it is vital for each one of us to be resolved to heed Jude’s compelling exhortation: “You, beloved ones, by building up yourselves on your most holy faith, and praying with holy spirit, keep yourselves in God’s love, while you are waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ with everlasting life in view.”
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DAILY VISITORS TO www.watchtower.org
1999 2001 2003 2005 2007 2009
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Areas of Recent Significant Legal Activity
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Even young publishers enjoy offering Bible studies
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The School for Congregation Elders equips them to fulfill their theocratic responsibilities
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Brother Jaracz giving the dedication talk at the Netherlands branch
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Brother Herd giving the dedication talk at the Tanzania branch