Something New in International Construction
MANY marvel at such construction projects as the pyramids of Egypt and the Great Wall of China. Modern quarter-of-a-mile-high [400 m] skyscrapers also are awe-inspiring. Yet, features of another building program are equally astonishing.
Volunteers are building dozens of huge projects worldwide. Most of these volunteers are from the countries where the buildings are being constructed. But since additional help is often needed, workers from other countries have spent millions of dollars of their own money to pay their way to the distant construction sites. Many of these volunteers sacrifice their vacations to work; others take a leave from their regular employment and thus forfeit considerable income.
This remarkable assistance effort is an international volunteer construction program that is coordinated from the headquarters of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Brooklyn, New York. Since the start of this construction program in November 1985, over 3,000 persons have paid their own way to more than 30 work sites in North and South America, Australia, Africa, Europe, and various islands.
Presently, some 600 international volunteers are working in about 25 countries. Over 400 of them are on long-term assignments of one year or more, and they are termed “International Servants.” The rest are on short-term assignments of from two weeks to three months.
Why are all these workers volunteering their skills and labor free of charge? What do they consider of such importance that they would make these personal sacrifices?
To Fulfill Bible Prophecy
The reason for the marvelous response to the international construction program is found in the answer to a question. Over 1,900 years ago, the apostles of Jesus Christ asked him: “What will be the sign of your presence and of the conclusion of the system of things?” After describing such things as widespread wars, food shortages, pestilences, and earthquakes, Jesus said: “This good news of the kingdom will be preached in all the inhabited earth for a witness to all the nations; and then the end will come.”—Matthew 24:3, 14.
The volunteer workers are convinced that now is the time that Jesus’ prophecy is being fulfilled. So they are happy to do whatever they can to promote the Kingdom proclamation before the end of this system comes. This international construction program was instituted to coordinate efforts of such persons to build facilities that print and distribute the Kingdom message.
Expansion of the Kingdom Work
Last year 678,509,507 Watchtower and Awake! magazines, which feature God’s Kingdom as the only hope for mankind, were printed in facilities operated by Jehovah’s Witnesses. That is well over two million magazines—like the one you are reading—coming off the presses every workday! In addition, each year tens of millions of Bibles, books, booklets, and brochures are printed and distributed.
The largest printeries are at the international headquarters of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Brooklyn, New York, and upstate near Wallkill, New York. However, during the 1950’s and 1960’s many printeries were also built outside the United States. Thus, by 1970 The Watchtower and Awake! were being produced in facilities operated by Jehovah’s Witnesses in Germany, South Africa, Canada, England, Switzerland, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, and France.
Then, in 1972 and 1973, the magazines also began to be produced in printeries of Jehovah’s Witnesses in six more countries: Japan, Brazil, Australia, Ghana, Nigeria, and the Philippines. In the following years, as the Kingdom work grew, construction was started on new branch offices with even greater printing capabilities. To give an idea of the rapid expansion, consider that branch complexes with new printeries for The Watchtower and Awake! were dedicated on the following dates:
Greece, January 16, 1979; Sweden, December 23, 1980; Brazil, March 21, 1981; Canada, October 10, 1981; Italy, April 24, 1982; Republic of Korea, May 8, 1982; Japan, May 15, 1982; Australia, March 19, 1983; Denmark, May 21, 1983; Spain, October 9, 1983; the Netherlands, October 29, 1983; Germany, April 21, 1984; India, January 20, 1985; and South Africa, March 21, 1987.
Furthermore, there were dedications of new branch offices or major additions to older ones in Côte d’Ivoire, February 27, 1982; Tahiti, April 15, 1983; England, October 2, 1983; Finland, May 5, 1984; Norway, May 19, 1984; Martinique, August 22, 1984; Peru, January 27, 1985; Mexico, April 13, 1985; Venezuela, April 21, 1985; and France, May 4, 1985.
Although some of the construction work on a few branches was done by salaried non-Witness professionals, Jehovah’s Witnesses generally did most of it themselves. By the thousands they volunteered their services, even though many of them were unskilled in the construction trades.
As the Kingdom preaching of Jehovah’s Witnesses continued to increase, enlarged facilities were needed. How could these be built with greater efficiency?
The New Program Fills a Need
To organize and help with the phenomenal growth of this international construction work, the special volunteer program was conceived and developed. “During a construction project, particular trades are needed at particular times,” one of the overseers of the program explained. “You don’t need a roofer when the foundation is being poured. So the international worker office was established in Brooklyn, New York, to coordinate matters.”
Thus, as requests for tradesmen come in, the Brooklyn office serves as a “matchmaker.” It matches the needs of the construction projects around the world with the appropriate workers to fill those construction needs. For example, as new residence additions to the Mexico branch were nearing completion in 1988, a call was made to Brooklyn for skilled carpet layers. Within a few minutes, the office located four experienced ones who were happy to volunteer. By the time the branch addition was dedicated in January 1989, the carpets were laid and looked beautiful.
Qualifying to Serve
To share in the international volunteer program, a worker needs first to qualify. Each volunteer must be a dedicated, baptized Witness of Jehovah. In the United States, the prospective volunteer must first serve at one of the New York facilities of Jehovah’s Witnesses. This provides an opportunity for his work habits and abilities to be evaluated. He may then be invited to submit an application for the program. Wives of prospective volunteers, although usually not invited to serve with their husbands in New York, can also qualify for the program and fill out an application.
Jehovah’s Witnesses in other countries can apply to participate in the program by requesting an application from their home branch. This application is forwarded to the office at the Brooklyn headquarters that supervises the international servants and other international volunteer workers. The applicant is then notified when his work skills are needed.
Contribution of the Wives
Although wives of construction workers usually are unskilled in the trades, many have been trained to tie reinforcing steel together with wire, to set and grout tile, as well as to sand and paint. Others care for necessary domestic chores. All of them thereby contribute in a fine way to the work at construction sites around the world.
One wife who joined her husband in working on the new branch construction in Puerto Rico recently wrote the Brooklyn office: “We arrived January 1, 1991, for our one-month assignment. I worked with the crew that tied the reinforcing steel into mats. This was by far the hardest physical work I’d ever done. Basically, it consisted of bending over and tying steel rods together, using pliers and a spool of wire—all day!
“The first few days my hard hat kept falling off, and I kept tying my oversize gloves into the mat. But eventually I got it together. Five or six Band-Aids kept my blisters in check. I learned to take measurements from prints, strike chalk lines, and lay out the steel for each mat. It was truly satisfying work. So much of what I normally do on a day-to-day basis needs to be done over and over again—cleaning, cooking, laundry, and so forth. But those steel mats are going into walls that will stand as long as the branch stands. That thought is rewarding!”
Grateful for the Privilege to Work
An overseer of this international construction work said: “It is the most remarkable thing you can imagine. People use their vacations to travel to distant work sites, paying their own way. There they may work harder and for longer hours than they have all year. And when they get home, they write to thank us for the privilege!”
For example, a recent letter says: “We are writing to thank you for the tremendous privilege we enjoyed working for three months on the branch in the Philippines. At the end of each workday, we were physically tired, as we expected, but very built up spiritually by our fine association. We enjoyed getting to know many of the other volunteers who were there, and we were so very impressed by the local Witnesses with whom we worked. Truly they have become beloved to us, an extension of our family.”
A couple who went to Ecuador wrote: “We learned to live without junk food, to bathe in just a little water, and to shave and shower in cold water. We had no idea how much our thinking had been influenced by advertising. We gave the best we had at the work site, but we came away with much more than we gave. Our Ecuadoran brothers are poor materially, according to U.S. standards, but their spirituality and appreciation for the preaching work is outstanding. Words cannot really describe how we feel about this privilege.”
A unique feature of the international construction work is the use of the tilt-up method. This method consists of on-site casting of large, steel-reinforced concrete wall panels. These may be up to three stories high and weigh as much as 20 tons. The panels are formed either on the floor slab of the building or on a nearby casting slab.
Six or eight panels can be stacked on top of one another. When the panels are strong enough—usually after seven days—a crane is used to tilt them up into place. Panels are now being used for both exterior and interior walls, as well as in multistoried buildings. Hundreds of these panels, for example, were used in the 11-story branch home in the Philippines. The smooth precast concrete panels need only to be painted.
Not only is this method of construction timesaving but it makes effective use of less skilled workers. A trade publication, Concrete, said regarding the construction of the new factory of Jehovah’s Witnesses in England: “Tilt-up construction was particularly appropriate to their needs because of the simplicity of this method of building . . . Savings in time and costs have always been the system’s prime advantages.”
The magazine added regarding tilt-up construction: “Its ability to construct large areas of walling (load-bearing and otherwise) in a short period of time, allied to the use of local labour not needing an unusual amount of supervision, gives the method its speed and economy.” How appropriate, therefore, that the new construction program should utilize this simple, efficient method of construction!
Direction for this international construction program is provided from a large engineering office at the headquarters of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Brooklyn, New York. There, well over a hundred engineers, construction designers, and draftspersons—members of the headquarters staff—work on the building plans. To help with the increased workload, regional engineering offices were recently established in Japan, Australia, and Europe.
In 1987, CAD (Computer Aided Design) was introduced to prepare drawings. A typical CAD station consists of several pieces of equipment. Used together, these make it possible to prepare drawings on a computer rather than by hand on a drafting board. Presently, over 65 CAD stations are being used in Brooklyn and in the branches.
Since drawings can be stored in the computer’s memory, designs from previous projects can be incorporated into current drawings. This aids in productivity and also in the standardization of design and construction.
Recent Construction Projects
As the Brooklyn Engineering Office grew in size, so did the concept of organizing volunteers for the work. It might be said that the program began in 1985 when workers from other countries responded to help build the new branch in Panama. It developed further when Peru needed help with a huge addition to its branch. And the program really started to be formulated with the construction of the branches in Costa Rica and Nigeria. Soon key personnel were being sent to help with projects around the world.
International servants and other volunteers have now helped build many new branches as well as additions to older ones, including most of those finished since early 1986. In the past five years or so, projects have been completed and dedicated in Panama, Costa Rica, Chile, Mexico, New Zealand, Haiti, Liberia, Austria, Ecuador, Papua New Guinea, Guyana, Ghana, Hawaii, Portugal, Hong Kong, Cyprus, Peru, El Salvador, Mauritius, Japan, Honduras, Guatemala, Nigeria, Argentina, Australia, New Caledonia, Fiji, the Philippines, and Greece.
Many of these were huge construction projects. In Nigeria a small town, in effect, was erected on a 140-acre [57 hectares] piece of land. A 450-foot-long [140 m], 225-foot-wide [70 m] factory was built, as well as residences to accommodate over 400 people, an office, a garage, and other buildings. Construction material sent from the United States alone was enough to fill 347 freight containers, which if placed end to end would extend 2.2 miles [3.5 km]!
At times, there is clergy opposition to the building projects. In Greece the clergy marshaled 40 busloads of protesters in March 1989, but the police backed up the Witnesses’ legal right to build, and the protest fizzled. The new branch, with a large, new factory and 22 residence buildings to accommodate over 170 persons, was completed and dedicated this spring.
In France the Bishop of Evreux, Jacques Gaillot, protested the plans for a large new branch of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Louviers. He said that the public ministry of the Witnesses does not “respect human dignity.” Yet, others do not agree with the bishop. They believe that Jehovah’s Witnesses should have the right to expand their facilities in the area, even as they are doing in many places throughout the world.
Presently, international construction volunteers are working on branch projects in Colombia, Puerto Rico, Zambia, Brazil, England, Canada, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Poland, Guadeloupe, Thailand, Leeward Islands, Bahamas, Western Samoa, Tahiti, Solomon Islands, Venezuela, Republic of Korea, South Africa, and Germany. Other projects are on the drawing boards, including new branches or additions to present ones in France, Spain, Mexico, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, and Suriname.
Anticipating a Need
When the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses authorized a 50-percent enlargement of the branch in Germany in 1988, some observers considered the addition excessively large. But in 1989 and 1990 the preaching work of Jehovah’s Witnesses was legalized or was permitted to operate unhindered in Poland, Hungary, East Germany, and Romania. And on March 27, this year, Jehovah’s Witnesses were recognized by the Soviet Union as a religious organization.
Over 250,000 persons in Eastern European countries attended conventions of Jehovah’s Witnesses last summer and were eager to receive Bible literature. “During just two months,” noted the 1991 Britannica Book of the Year, “the West German branch office of the Watchtower Society shipped 275 tons of Bible-based literature, including 115,000 Bibles, to East Germany alone.” Thus it is obvious now that the Germany branch needs every bit of the expansion authorized, and it needs it quickly!
Preparing for Future Needs
As you can imagine, to preach ‘this good news of the Kingdom in all the inhabited earth before the end comes’ in fulfillment of Jesus’ prophecy requires tremendous effort. (Matthew 24:14) And true Christians worldwide are putting forth that effort. They are doing everything they can in a well-organized way to make the Kingdom message available to all nations.
To accomplish this, Jehovah’s Witnesses are expanding their capacity for publishing Bible literature at their world headquarters in Brooklyn, New York. Construction of a 30-story building, located at 90 Sands Street, to accommodate a thousand more members of their headquarters staff is now under way and is scheduled for completion in 1993.
The largest building project, however, is that which is in progress about 70 miles [110 km] from New York City, near Patterson, New York. “When [Jehovah’s Witnesses] are finished, sometime in 1996,” The New York Times of April 7, 1991, reported, “they will have built 6 apartment houses 2 to 5 stories high with 624 apartments, a 450-car garage, a 144-room hotel, a huge kitchen and dining room to serve 1,600 people at one sitting, an office building, a classroom building and several service buildings.” Hundreds of volunteers are providing free labor to build this huge Kingdom educational center.
Truly, a marvelous building program is under way in every part of the earth—all being coordinated and accomplished by volunteer workers. It is indeed something new in international construction!
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Tying reinforcing steel is a part of construction work
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In tilt-up construction, concrete panels may be formed on top of one another. When the panels are strong enough, they are lifted into place
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The new branch complex in Poland is reviewed in Brooklyn.
Architectural drawings being prepared on a computer
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Branch complexes as planned for Puerto Rico, Zambia, and the Leeward Islands
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Volunteer workers on the construction project in a European country