Arboga—A New Center for Jehovah’s Witnesses in Sweden
By “Awake!” correspondent in Sweden
ON BUSY European Highway 3 between Sweden’s two largest cities, Stockholm and Gothenburg, you will find the idyllic little town of Arboga. One of Sweden’s oldest towns, it has a history reaching back over 1,000 years.
From the 13th century until the middle of the 17th, it was one of the most important towns in Sweden. But then, Arboga’s importance declined. Today it is almost unknown outside Sweden.
However, recently something has happened in this little town that will make it more widely known around the earth. There Jehovah’s Witnesses have built what one newspaper called “a town within a town,” a new branch office with a printery, offices and living quarters. From now on this will serve as a center for their Christian preaching activity in Sweden.
Unique Building Project
Never before has anything like this building project occurred in the construction field in Sweden. According to a newspaper reporter, this building complex is “the most outstanding and biggest ever built by volunteer workers in this country.”
During two and a half years, about 5,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses from all over the country, and from neighboring countries, traveled to Arboga to volunteer for the work, staying for a shorter or a longer period. They constructed 20,000 square meters (5 acres) of buildings and transformed the 120,000 square meters (30 acres) of wooded grounds into a park.
By the middle of the 1970’s, it had become evident that this project was needed because the 26-year-old former branch in Jakobsberg, a few miles northwest of Stockholm, was too cramped. So after two years of looking for a new place in the country, Jehovah’s Witnesses decided to build in Arboga. And from the very beginning, local as well as county authorities cooperated enthusiastically with the branch in this unique project.
To keep expenses low, it was decided that the entire project would be built by Jehovah’s Witnesses, all volunteers without pay. Letters were sent out to the more than 300 congregations of Witnesses in Sweden inviting both men and women to come and help.
Near the building site, an older hotel with apartments and rooms was purchased to serve as living quarters for the workers. Also, a nearby industrial building was rented, where the Witness workers could produce many of the carpentry and furnishing details. Additionally, a concrete-mixing plant was installed.
Unique, too, was the construction, on the building site, of a structure to house the offices, changing room, kitchen and dining room for the workers. What was unique about it? It was built in such a way that later, when the project was finished, this building could be dismantled and rebuilt into two meeting places, Kingdom Halls of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
The final go-ahead signal came when the government approved the project on September 7, 1978. The next day, the first tree was cut on the site.
Among the ‘volunteer lumberjacks’ was a horse, a mare called Lea. Though 23 years old, she was a skilled wood clearer. She worked a whole winter on the site, and sometimes was so eager to draw the timber sleigh that her owner had to hold the reins tightly.
The first winter was one of the biggest hindrances to overcome. Some days the temperature sank to −30° Celsius (−22° F). The ground was frozen and was as hard as stone. For the workers to be able to continue working, parts of the site had to be covered with tarpaulins. Oil drums were transformed into heaters and hot air was blown underneath the tarpaulins. The winter of 1978-1979 went down in history as one of the coldest of the century in Sweden. But the work was carried on without interruption.
The spring of 1979 came and the foundations took form. In the concrete-mixing plant thousands of tons of concrete were produced. Then the “skeleton” of the building was erected, and before the next winter began the roof was on most of the building. This meant that most of the work could continue inside the building.
The surface treatment of the large floors required really hard work. “These are not floors, they are fields!” one worker exclaimed. But little by little, the floors became one of the more spectacular items in the building.
At a marble quarry not far from the building site, the Witnesses were allowed to gather more than 100 tons of marble waste almost free of charge. These were put together on the floors to form a beautiful mosaic pattern. In between the pieces, a mixture of crushed marble and concrete (terrazzo) was poured.
The floors were then ground smooth and shiny with big grinding machines. In order to avoid great costs for the diamond grinding disk needed, a worker traveled to some 30 quarrying industries in the country to gather diamonds from worn-out, rejected disks. The “harvest” turned out to be about 20,000 small diamonds. These were then glued onto the disks used for grinding all three types of floors: granite, marble and terrazzo.
The first part of the buildings ready for use was the 4,500-square-meter (48,000-square-foot) printing hall. In the spring of 1980, the time came to move the presses from Jakobsberg. How would it be possible to move these heavy giants without taking them apart?
An inventive brother suggested that four air cushions be bought. They could always be sold afterward. No sooner said than done! A cushion was put under each corner of the press and compressed air was fed into the cushions. The press “took off” by our pushing lightly on it.
It was a historic moment for the hundreds of workers on the site when, on a sunny day in April, they saw the first press “float” into place on the shiny floor in the printery. “It gives me the shivers,” said one of the women who had worked at the site from the beginning. Many others felt the same way. On June 8, 1980, the first paper for the Awake! magazine in Norwegian to be printed in Arboga was fed through the rollers.
“A Fantastic Organization”
“The whole project builds on a fantastic organization where everything works in every detail,” a newspaper reporter wrote after a visit to the site. This is true, but it is not the whole truth.
An organization must have loyal and wholehearted support by devoted men and women for its purpose to succeed. “Such support has surely been present here,” said one of the organizers, Ake Olofsson. He added: “Among the many Witnesses who volunteered were those who had vastly different professions and situations in life. But all these workers had one thing in common: faith in the good purpose of this building. Therefore, they happily accepted any job assigned and did their very best. Persons who were not even Witnesses came to help.”
Thousands of others supported the project in other ways. From the entire country, monetary gifts and loans streamed in. Tons of food were contributed. One congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses baked and sent 4,500 buns. A farmer near the site sent two tons of carrots after he noticed the eagerness of all the workers. Others sent honey, fruit and jam, as well as office equipment, furniture, clothes and shoes.
According to the local tourist bureau, by the summer of 1980 the building site had become the second-largest tourist attraction in Arboga. Individual visitors and groups have been guided around almost daily. What has the common impression been? A local newspaper declared: “Everybody who has visited that big building has come back filled with enthusiasm about what they have seen.”
“Guidance from Above”
A middle-aged couple who, by mistake, came into the site decided to take a look around. The more they saw, the more enthusiastic they became. As they left, they said to the Witnesses: “When one sees all of this, it is evident that you have guidance from above here.”
This spontaneous expression summarizes exactly what the many volunteers have felt. Jehovah’s Witnesses do not take the credit for what has been done at Arboga. They have turned to their heavenly Father, Jehovah God, and have prayed for strength, knowledge and wisdom to accomplish the work. Without firm faith and confidence in God and his purpose, they would never have been able to do it as they did.
It is this faith that has united them to work in harmony with God’s purpose. Only God can bring an end to this unsatisfactory world and guide righteous-hearted men and women into a peaceful new order of things here on earth. (Isa. 2:2-4; 2 Pet. 3:13) It is to share such “good news” by using Bibles, magazines, books, booklets and other printed matter that Jehovah’s Witnesses so wholeheartedly devoted themselves to a building project like the one in Arboga.—Matt. 24:14; 28:19, 20.
Dedicated to Jehovah
One of the darkest days of the whole year was December 23, 1980. Then the sun rose at 8:55 a.m. and set at 2:50 p.m. in Arboga. Yet it was the brightest and happiest of all the days during the building period. On that day the new branch was dedicated to Jehovah God.
A meeting was held in the beautiful new Kingdom Hall. Among those present were guests from branches in nearby countries. From the local Swedish branch, Bengt Hanson reviewed the activity and growth of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Sweden since its beginning in the 1890’s. And he thanked the 17,329 Witnesses throughout Sweden for all the fine support given the building project.
Milton Henschel, from the headquarters of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Brooklyn, New York, reviewed the building activity of God’s people since the time of the tabernacle in ancient Israel. He noted the building of the magnificent temple by King Solomon, and reminded the audience: “All of this was also dedicated to Jehovah and His worship, exactly as is being done with this new building.” All present were encouraged to continue wholeheartedly doing the will of the God to whom this new branch in Sweden is dedicated.
“Throw your burden upon Jehovah himself, and he himself will sustain you. Never will he allow the righteous one to totter.” (Ps. 55:22) “Trust in Jehovah with all your heart and do not lean upon your own understanding. In all your ways take notice of him, and he himself will make your paths straight.”—Prov. 3:5, 6.