Unity That Amazes the World
THE world was shocked by the sudden fall of Communism and more recently by the ever-increasing ethnic violence. Yet, at the same time, millions in Eastern Europe have been amazed by the united, joyous activity of a group that has risen above racial and national animosities—Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Jehovah’s Witnesses have succeeded in maintaining united worship even while war raged around them. In 1991, when an international crowd of 14,684 Witnesses met in Zagreb, Croatia, a policeman said: “It would be good to show the mass media what is happening in this stadium, right here, where we see Serbians, Croats, Slovenians, Montenegrins, and others sitting next to one another in peace.”
That same year a newsman at a convention in Siberia saw Russians hugging a newly baptized person of Buryat descent. Knowing that real friendships between such diverse peoples are rare, he asked: “How were you able to overcome these national barriers?”
This summer 45 conventions were held by Jehovah’s Witnesses in Eastern Europe and Asia, the one in Moscow and the one in Kiev being international. Altogether over 368,000 attended the 45 conventions—more than 112,000 in the former Soviet Union and nearly 11,000 in four cities of the former Yugoslavia.
Despite the fighting in their regions, about 215 Witnesses made it to the convention in Belgrade, Serbia, August 19 to 22. It was attended by 3,241. A reporter noted: “Groups around Sarajevo itself were able to attend. They rented a bus, and 56 came. These were from Lukavica, Pale, Ilidža, and Vogošća. Five persons also came from Benkovac. Another point worthy of note is that 23 of the 174 who were baptized at the convention were from these crisis regions.”
In Moscow and Kiev
On July 28, 1993, the front page of The New York Times had a large picture of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Moscow, with the caption: “The unleashing of religion in Russia brought converts into Moscow’s Locomotive Stadium for a mass baptism as Jehovah’s Witnesses.”
The Times reported: “Members with tear-stained faces hug the wet recruits. In contrast to the usual behavior at Locomotive, nobody smokes, nobody curses, nobody is drunk.” For four days Witnesses from Russia and from over 30 other countries comfortably filled the stadium, the peak attendance numbering 23,743.
An even larger international convention of Jehovah’s Witnesses was held in Kiev, the capital of Ukraine. There was a peak attendance of 64,714 assembled in Republican Stadium, one of the largest in Eastern Europe. The front page of the Evening Kiev reported: “Jehovah’s Witnesses . . . are united not only by blue badges with ‘Divine Teaching’ written on them but by true faith.”
How Unity Is Achieved
How such unity is possible was well illustrated by an elderly Ukrainian Witness at the Kiev convention. She pointed heavenward and said, “Jehovah.” Then, extending her arms to form a circle, she held up a single finger. Her message was clear: ‘We are all one, united through the divine teaching of Jehovah God.’
Interestingly, Encyclopædia Britannica reported on Jehovah’s Witnesses in the former Soviet Union, showing why the Witnesses are united. It explained: “They know their [Bible-based] teachings, are keen proselytisers and arrange their whole life in accordance with their religious beliefs.” How appropriate it was, therefore, that the theme for this summer’s conventions of Jehovah’s Witnesses was “Divine Teaching”!
Jesus Christ, who championed divine teaching, pointed to an important unifying principle when he prayed regarding his followers: “They are no part of the world, just as I am no part of the world.” Yes, Jehovah’s Witnesses’ position of neutrality unites them, even as Jesus requested when he prayed: “That they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in union with me and I am in union with you, that they also may be in union with us.”—John 17:16-21.
The experience of a delegate from Spain illustrates how being no part of the world unites God’s people. En route to the convention in Moscow, he sat next to a man from Afghanistan who explained that even people of the same religion were killing one another in the civil war in that country. “What political party does your religion advocate?” he then asked. “None,” was the answer. Since Jehovah’s Witnesses are politically neutral, they are not involved in ethnic fighting, which pits one people against another.
Delegates traveling from a former Soviet republic personally experienced how frightening warfare can be. Their train was caught in the midst of gunfire between opposing forces. How happy they were to arrive safely in Kiev and enjoy the love and unity among the numerous ethnic groups of many nations in the stadium!
A number of German and Russian delegates particularly appreciated what divine teaching had done for them. As young men a generation ago, they were trying to kill one another during World War II. But during the Kiev convention, they were united in true worship, as seen on page 7.
Onlookers Were Amazed
Moscow, a city of some nine million, previously had little opportunity to become acquainted with Jehovah’s Witnesses. True, many had heard about their persecution and imprisonment under Communism. Also, by the summer of this year, 18 congregations had been formed in Moscow and 13 in Kiev to accommodate the growing numbers attending the meetings of the Witnesses. But now the local people saw tens of thousands of badge-wearing delegates at the convention sites and throughout their cities! Many observers were astonished.
The chief fire inspector of Moscow said: “This convention is most impressive. It is wonderful that so many people of different nationalities can find a common language. I am amazed at the cleanliness and orderliness of your people. I have been working at this stadium for 20 years and have never seen anything like it.”
One tour guide said: “Usually when I lead a group, its disunity becomes manifest as soon as it leaves the airport. This has not been true of Jehovah’s Witnesses.” A visitor to the convention in Kiev exclaimed: “You are really united. What a difference with the way things are outside the stadium walls!”
When the Moscow convention began on Thursday, July 22, several workmen standing on top of a large construction site nearby were seen momentarily stopping their work. They were apparently impressed by the sound of over 23,000 voices raised in song. They would have been even more amazed had they known that the songs were being sung in well over a dozen different languages. Even deaf Witnesses unable to sing with their voices “sang” with their hands by means of sign language.
A favorite gathering spot in the evenings was Moscow’s huge Red Square, right outside the walls of the Kremlin. The evening before the convention began (it didn’t get dark until after ten o’clock), many hundreds of Witnesses from different races and nationalities were there happily embracing. A reporter from the Moscow Times happened to stop by and was curious. “Whom do you represent?” he asked. When told, he said: “I’ve never seen a happy mingling of so many diverse peoples in Red Square. Usually such a large group is here to demonstrate or protest something.”
Citizens of both Moscow and Kiev were indeed impressed by the thousands of badge-wearing delegates excitedly greeting, hugging, and trying to communicate with one another. A businessman from Iran who was visiting Kiev approached a Witness from the United States and said: “You have something wonderful. I have been observing you people the last couple of days. I want some of your literature in English to read.” He explained that if he did not have to leave the following morning for Iran, he would come to the convention.
Throughout Moscow and Kiev—especially on the streets, in the squares, and on subway cars—convention delegates approached the people to offer Bible tracts and brochures. Every evening Witnesses could be seen standing near Lenin’s Tomb in Red Square quietly conversing and distributing tracts. The offer was usually readily accepted, often with a warm smile. If the offer was made on a subway car, the person would generally begin reading immediately. It was not unusual to see five or six people in a car reading Bible tracts.
After reading the message, a subway passenger would often express appreciation. “We have not had opportunity to learn of such things,” explained a middle-aged man in broken English. “Thank you very much.” In another instance, a young man and his mother were so impressed with the message that they got off the subway car at the stop of the convention delegate to continue the conversation.
Kiev was filled with over 50,000 Witness delegates who had come from over 30 countries, all of whom required accommodations. Most stayed in hotels, private homes, and schools, but about 1,800 were accommodated on six boats. A housekeeper on one of the boats left a note for the Witnesses. She said: “It seems to me that you have come from another planet. You have so much beauty and harmony that you bring a blessing. It could be you are the children of God. I think about this all the time.”
How appropriate that Jehovah’s Witnesses were able to hold their large conventions and that officials and the people alike could see such fine Christian qualities and conduct that glorify God! Local officials who worked with the Witnesses had nothing but praise for their efficiency, courtesy, and fine cooperation with stadium management and other city departments.
“The stadium has not been cleaned this well for 13 years,” said an official in Kiev. A policeman there exclaimed: “What people! It’s like being in a new world. I simply cannot understand why you people were persecuted.”
For the Witnesses in Moscow and Kiev, the main highlight was perhaps the presence of thousands of delegates from many other lands, including members of the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses. The joy of just being together, united in peaceful worship with so many diverse nationalities, was beyond description. When the concluding speaker at Moscow and at Kiev said that our chief thanks go to Jehovah God, who made the convention possible, the audience rose to its feet and erupted in sustained applause for several minutes until the speaker continued his talk.
Other convention highlights were the talks given each day in English by members of the Governing Body and the brief reports delivered by delegates from various lands. These English presentations were simultaneously translated into many languages. In Kiev, for example, into 16! So by sitting in those sections designated for a particular language group, delegates could hear that part of the program in their own language.
Still another convention highlight was the release in Russian and Ukrainian of the new brochure What Is the Purpose of Life? Especially appreciated was the release in Russian of the Theocratic Ministry School Guidebook, which is used to equip Jehovah’s Witnesses to present Bible truths more effectively. Also released in Russian was My Book of Bible Stories, a concise, chronological presentation of Bible history written especially for young people. Already over 36 million copies of this book have been printed in more than 80 languages.
The huge baptism of new disciples was truly a convention highlight. The fact that many of those baptized were youths did not go unnoticed. At a press conference in Kiev, a correspondent from the newspaper Osvita asked: “Noticeable at your convention is the considerable number of young people. They are kind, good-looking, and well behaved. How do you do it? Do you have a special policy for young people? I work with youths, and I would be most interested in knowing.”
Although dedication to God must be based on knowledge, not on emotion, the actual baptism is still an emotional occasion, touching the heart. In Moscow the crowd stood and applauded from the time the 1,489 baptism candidates started moving toward the three baptism pools until all had been baptized, more than an hour later.
In Kiev, where over 64,000 were present, six pools were set up for the baptism at one end of the stadium. With six or more baptizers in each pool, the equivalent of a good-sized congregation was immersed every two minutes. Still, the baptism continued for over two hours! At the 1958 “Divine Will” International Assembly in New York, 7,136 were baptized. But in Kiev, the 7,402 newly ordained Witnesses of Jehovah from Ukraine and other former republics of the Soviet Union made this the largest Christian baptism on record. These were Russian-speaking persons from territories where until just recently Jehovah’s Witnesses were banned, and had been for decades!
A highlight of the convention in Belgrade was the presence of delegates from war-torn, besieged areas. “These delegates many times warmly expressed thanks for the privilege extended to them to come to the convention,” a convention worker reported. “However, we feel that the real encouragement was for the rest of us who were able to meet them and witness their love and zeal for Bible truth.”
At many of the “Divine Teaching” Conventions, a moving letter written last winter from Sarajevo was read. “The temperature is about 5 degrees Fahrenheit [-15° C.],” the writer said. “I am with my wife and two sons and do not have electricity and not enough firewood . . . Machine-gun fire and explosions can be heard. But in our hearts we are calm and warm because of the truth and because of our good relationship with Jehovah. . . . We beg you to keep on praying to Jehovah to help us persist and endure all these terrors, firm in faith. We are praying for you!”
What Difference Does It Make?
When viewed against the backdrop of the disunity manifest among the religions of the world, the Witnesses clearly stand in stark contrast. But really, what difference can they make? Concerning a Witness convention years ago, an editorial stated: “Suffice it to say that if all the world lived by the [Bible] creed of the Jehovah Witnesses there would be an end of bloodshed and hatred, and love would reign as king.”
Yet, the majority of mankind have never followed divine teaching. In the first century, they even refused to listen to God’s Son, Jesus Christ. So is it too much to expect that we will one day see a united world? How is such a thing possible?
[Box on page 12]
CONVENTIONS IN EASTERN EUROPE AND ASIA
Country Peak Attendance Baptized
Albania (1 convention) 598 39
Bulgaria (1 convention) 704 45
Czech Republic (2 conventions) 20,025 620
Former Soviet Union
Estonia (2 conventions) 4,732 383
Russia (3 conventions) 32,582 2,454
Ukraine (2 conventions) 69,333 7,797
Kyrgyzstan (1 convention) 5,678 604
Croatia (1 convention) 5,003 157
Macedonia (1 convention) 642 27
Serbia (1 convention) 3,241 174
Slovenia (1 convention) 1,961 69
Hungary (5 conventions) 22,191 798
Poland (13 conventions) 152,371 4,352
Romania (9 conventions) 36,615 2,375
Slovakia (2 conventions) 13,215 473
TOTALS: 368,891 20,367
[Picture on page 7]
More than 64,000 assembled in Republican Stadium, Kiev
[Picture on page 7]
World War II enemies from Germany and Ukraine united by Bible truth
[Pictures on page 8, 9]
Over 23,000 united worshipers in Locomotive Stadium, Moscow
7,402 were baptized in Kiev, and 1,489 in Moscow
Foreign delegates brought tons of food to those in need
Top and center: Many ethnic groups met in peaceful unity Bottom: Witnessing in Red Square
[Picture on page 10]
Convention delegates were delighted to receive the “Bible Stories” book, the “School Guidebook,” and the new brochure in their language