Poland Hosts Jehovah’s Witnesses
DURING August 1989, a most remarkable display of international peace and unity occurred in Poland. The occasion was the “Godly Devotion” Conventions of Jehovah’s Witnesses held in the Polish cities of Poznan and Chorzów, August 4-6, and in Warsaw, August 11-13.
What made these conventions so special? In modern times Jehovah’s Witnesses have had conventions that were larger, that lasted longer, and that had more nations represented. But over 166,000 persons will tell you that seldom have conventions generated more enthusiasm, manifested such Christian unity, or been marked by so many spontaneous expressions of Christian love.
‘Only the New World Better’
Delegations were present from at least 37 nations, along with individuals from many others. Five members of the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses shared in the program. Over 12,000 guests came from Western Europe, the United States, and Japan, making this the largest group of international travelers ever handled in Poland.
Thousands more came from the Soviet Union and Czechoslovakia, as well as other Eastern European countries. This was the first convention ever for most of these delegates, although many have been Witnesses for 30 or more years. The feelings of such ones who for the first time were able to assemble with their Christian brothers can best be summed up by a delegate from Kazakhstan, Soviet Union, who said:
“For many years we have been waiting for this day, and now we are here at this international convention. We find it difficult to grasp all of this and take it all in. It is like a dream. It is impossible to express in words everything we have seen and heard. When we saw the gigantic, bowl-shaped stadium full of people and heard the music, our eyes filled with tears. And the prayer—while all of us were motionlessly united—it sent cold shivers down our backs. It was so solemn and unanimous. This convention in Warsaw is such a splendid and grand event that only the new world will be better. We will always remember these wonderful days.”
When first faced at the conventions with tens of thousands of fellow Witnesses, many of these visitors were visibly moved. In Warsaw they started a wave of applause that swept the stadium for well over five minutes. As a Western European delegate remarked: “At that moment, few were thinking about the hot weather or the hard benches or going home to soft chairs. They wanted more instruction and loving fellowship.”
Each day reports were given by foreign delegates, who related experiences from their own countries. The last of 24 such reports was reserved in Warsaw for a delegate from the Soviet Union. “We do not have enough words to express our joy that we can be in your midst,” he began. “We greatly appreciate that so many of us have been able to come here and that we have been received so hospitably by you. We also rejoice at being able to have personal contact with so many of you brothers. Some of us have come from far away places, such as Vladivostok on the coast of the Pacific Ocean, a train ride of six days. Some of us had problems getting tickets because so many wanted to go at the same time, and there were only so many seats available. But with Jehovah’s help, we made it.”
Appropriately, in his concluding comments on Sunday, a member of the Governing Body thanked the governments of Eastern Europe for allowing so many of Jehovah’s Witnesses from their countries to attend the conventions.
A United Brotherhood
In describing her experiences at the Polish conventions, one Witness said: “It was just like Babel in reverse.” Whereas confusion and disunity resulted at the Tower of Babel as people began speaking different languages, here was a marvelous manifestation of unity in thought, conduct, and actions, despite the problem of language.—Genesis 11:1-9.
This unity among fellow believers of different nationalities did not go unnoticed by outsiders. The publication Sztandar Młodych observed: “The only airline passengers arriving at Warsaw airport who were neither confused nor lost in the crowd were Jehovah’s Witnesses. Fellow believers had prepared announcements in many languages, information desks, and signboards and provided transportation to the city.”
The singing at the conventions was noteworthy, as tens of thousands sang in unison in over 20 different languages, all expressing the same thoughts in a spirit of love and unity. Also, in Warsaw portions of the program were translated into 16 languages (at Poznan into 13 and at Chorzów into 15). This had never before been done in Poland.
The 16 translators stood on the field directly in front of their particular language group. The speaker spoke from the platform, and each translator translated into the language of the audience in that section of the stadium. Loudspeakers pointed directly at that particular language sector made it possible to hear one’s own language without being unduly disturbed by the translations being presented in other languages in other sections.
Despite serious economic problems in Poland, thousands of visitors were provided with private accommodations by their Polish brothers. Sixteen thousand were accommodated by the brothers in Poznan, 21,000 in Warsaw, and 30,000 in Chorzów. One family housed 18 and fed 21. And a congregation of 146 Witnesses accommodated 1,276 persons!
Fine News Coverage
Television, radio, and newspaper reports were for the most part factual and impartial. Noting in its headlines that “Jehovah’s Witnesses Practice Their Religion in 212 Countries,” the Polish publication Sztandar Młodych praised them by using in its article such subtitles as, “Consistent,” “Orderly,” “Modest,” and “Industrious.” Of the stadium in Warsaw, it said: “Not a single cigarette butt or piece of paper thrown by an unruly child. Jehovah’s Witnesses do not smoke, and their children are not unruly.”
The newspaper Życie Warszawy mentioned that convention preparations had been going on for an entire year and said: “Among other things, the stadiums where the conventions took place were reconditioned.”
The newspaper Express Wieczorny reported: “What struck all the observers was the prevailing order at the stadium. The disposal of garbage at assigned places, the temporary but clean toilets, many information stands—all of it was amazing.” To accomplish this, over 3,500 Witnesses spent time preparing and decorating the Warsaw stadium.
This newspaper also interviewed some of the delegates, asking them: “What did the Warsaw convention mean to you?” A Polish Witness said: “I am moved by the fact that I could meet our brothers from Czechoslovakia and the U.S.S.R., countries in which Jehovah’s Witnesses are not officially recognized as a religious association.”
And a Witness from the Soviet Union was quoted as saying: “I think it is the greatest experience of my life. . . . For the first time in my life I was able to meet so many of my brothers from all over the world. Moreover, this meeting was excellently organized; discourses were translated into 16 languages, our Polish brothers were our hosts—really everything was wonderful.”
Życie Warszawy noted: “The world convention of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Warsaw has now ended. . . . The convening of such conventions was made possible, as we recall, after the Religious Association of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Poland—now more than 80 thousand believers strong*—was registered some months ago. Since May 12 this previously illegal religious group has enjoyed legal status.”
Calling the conventions of Jehovah’s Witnesses “a manifestation of unity,” this newspaper said that “as regards orderliness, peacefulness, and cleanliness, convention participants are examples to imitate.”
Everyone, whether able to speak Polish or not, was overwhelmed by the thrilling spectacle of the baptism. In Warsaw a large number of chairs had been placed on the playing field immediately in front of the platform to seat the baptismal candidates. But during the morning program, it was exciting to see attendants hastily moving additional chairs onto the field as the group of candidates continued to grow. Then, when the baptism talk was to begin, the huge audience grew quiet. They were about to experience something they would never forget. As the speaker welcomed the baptism candidates, the entire stadium broke into spontaneous applause. And then, as if by prearranged signal, but in reality triggered by overflowing hearts moved by God’s spirit, the candidates responded by enthusiastically waving their hands in greeting to the overflow audience encircling them.
The candidates’ public declaration of faith in answer to the two questions generally asked of candidates sounded clear and determined—and indeed many of them had come to this step of dedication through much hardship and trial. Following a prayer, the candidates separated into two groups and walked from the stadium as the audience sang “To God We Are Dedicated.” The brothers exited from the field through a tunnel leading to their dressing rooms, while the sisters went through another tunnel leading to theirs. Attendants and immersers, all dressed in white, took up their positions, and immediately the candidates, attired in modest swimsuits, began to stream back onto the field, where 12 baptismal pools had been set up, 6 on one end of the field for the sisters, and 6 on the other end of the field for the brothers.
Enthusiastic applause continued through the 45 minutes during which 1,905 were baptized in Warsaw. (The previous week, 1,525 had been baptized at Poznan and 2,663 at Chorzów, for a grand total of 6,093, or 3.7 percent of the peak attendance.) At least two crippled brothers were lovingly lifted from their wheelchairs before being baptized, including one who had been brought out onto the field on a stretcher to listen to the baptism talk.
“The Absolute Climax”
‘This sounds all very emotional,’ you may say. Well, it was! But it was not the kind of emotion you find at Christendom’s religious revivals. The emotion of the Polish conventioners was based on accurate knowledge of God’s Word, so those in attendance would be better equipped to serve God afterward. It was emotion evoked by the knowledge that after decades of opposition, the Witnesses in Poland were at last able to assemble freely with fellow believers from neighboring countries. It was emotion born from the joy of knowing that the delegate sitting next to you had perhaps never attended a convention before and most surely not one of this magnitude. It was emotion stemming from an overwhelming, visible proof that Jehovah’s Witnesses are the one united, international brotherhood that serves the living God of truth.
One delegate from Western Europe summed it up by saying: “Despite having attended every convention since 1952, as far as atmosphere, enthusiasm, joy, love, appreciation, and gratefulness are concerned, this was the absolute climax.”
Without doubt the emotion reached a climax in Warsaw on Sunday during the final prayer. Although thousands could not understand its words, everyone sensed the spirit, the love, the dedication, the exultation, the heartfelt recognition of the Sovereign Lord Jehovah, and the determination to continue in Jehovah’s work that it expressed. The awe-inspiring silence as some 60,000 heads bowed in prayer to their God was broken only by the unmistakable sound of joyful sobs of appreciation. As the prayer ended, no one had difficulty saying “Amen” from the bottom of his heart. There followed a spontaneous outburst of applause that echoed through that vast assemblage for more than 11 minutes.
Over 166,000 persons had been eyewitnesses of theocratic history being made in Poland. Before Satan’s wicked system crashes into final destruction, much more history will be made—exciting, breathtaking, spine-tingling history that will be climaxed by the vindication of Jehovah’s sovereignty. And if you choose, you can survive as a part of that history. Will you?
The newspaper’s estimate.
[Box on page 21]
1928 Poland’s 300 Witnesses hold their first small assemblies.
1939 As World War II starts, 1,100 Witnesses are preaching; many are imprisoned, and some die in German concentration camps.
1945 By the end of World War II, the number of Witnesses has more than doubled to 2,500.
1946 In June, 1,500 attend assembly near Lublin; 298 are baptized. In September 5,600 attend assembly in Katowice.
1947 A convention in Kraków is attended by 7,000; 476 are baptized. Two Gilead graduates arrive to help organize the preaching work.
1950 A peak of 18,000 Witnesses reached in March. The Memorial attended by 24,000. In July the work is banned, making it necessary to hold small meetings in private homes.
1968 One-day district conventions are first held in the forests with 100 or 200 present; later, as many as 1,000 attend.
1980 Almost 2,000 Witnesses from Poland travel to Vienna, Austria, for the district convention.
1981 A convention even larger than that of 1980 is held in Vienna for the Polish brothers.
1982 Polish government grants Witnesses permission to rent halls and stadiums for one-day assemblies.
1985 Three-day district conventions attended by over 94,000 persons are held in Poland. There are hundreds of guests from 16 nations, including four members of the Governing Body.
1989 “Godly Devotion” District Conventions overflow three stadiums, with five members of the Governing Body attending; total attendance 166,518, with 6,093 baptized. Two tracts released in Polish, What Do Jehovah’s Witnesses Believe? and Why You Can Trust the Bible, as well as the 32-page brochure Should You Believe in the Trinity?
[Pictures on page 23]
Baptismal candidates at Warsaw sitting before the platform, and the crowd watching their baptism
[Pictures on page 25]
Part of the section reserved at Chorzów for delegates from the Soviet Union, and some of the buses that brought Russian Witnesses to Poznan