A Far-Reaching Educational Program
“Only the educated are free.”—Epictetus, c. 100 C.E.
THE 19th-century antislavery activist William H. Seward believed that “the whole hope of human progress is suspended on the ever growing influence of the Bible.”
Jehovah’s Witnesses too have high regard for the Bible. They are convinced that those who apply its principles become better husbands, better wives, better children—yes, the best people in the world. So they obey the command of Jesus Christ: “Go therefore and make disciples of people of all the nations, . . . teaching them.”—Matthew 28:19, 20.
In the pursuit of this goal of teaching people the Bible, Jehovah’s Witnesses have embarked on what may be the most widespread educational campaign in human history. How far-reaching is it?
A Worldwide Publishing Work
In their public ministry, the Witnesses use Bible translations that are available in hundreds of languages. But they have also produced the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures in 21 languages and the New World Translation of the Christian Greek Scriptures (so-called New Testament) in 16 additional languages. Also, they are in the process of translating this Bible into 11 more languages. The Witnesses also produce literature that enhances appreciation for the Bible and contributes to a better understanding of it.
For example, this journal, Awake!, is published in 82 languages, and an average of more than 20,380,000 copies of each issue are printed. Its companion magazine, The Watchtower, has an average printing of 22,398,000 copies per issue in 137 languages. This amounts to the printing of well over a billion copies of these magazines each year! Moreover, The Watchtower is printed simultaneously in 124 of these languages and Awake! in 58. So, worldwide the information in these journals is being read by people of many language groups at the same time in their own language.
In addition, in recent decades Jehovah’s Witnesses have produced hundreds of millions of copies of Bible-study aids. The book The Truth That Leads to Eternal Life had a printing of over 107 million copies. Later, You Can Live Forever in Paradise on Earth surpassed 81 million copies, and more recently, Knowledge That Leads to Everlasting Life has surpassed 75 million copies in 146 languages. Also, over 113 million copies of the 32-page brochure What Does God Require of Us? have been printed in 240 languages.
Other books have been produced to fill particular needs. My Book of Bible Stories, designed for children, has reached a printing of over 51 million. Two books prepared especially with teenagers in mind, Your Youth—Getting the Best Out Of It and Questions Young People Ask—Answers That Work, have a combined printing of over 53 million. And The Secret of Family Happiness, which has assisted millions of families to cope with their problems, has been printed in 115 languages.
Four other publications released since 1985 that build faith especially in the Creator, his Son, and the Bible have a combined printing of over 117 million copies. These are Life—How Did It Get Here? By Evolution or by Creation?, The Greatest Man Who Ever Lived, The Bible—God’s Word or Man’s?, and Is There a Creator Who Cares About You?
Today Bible-based publications produced by Jehovah’s Witnesses are available in 353 languages, and some of these will be released soon in an additional 38 languages. Indeed, well over 20 billion books, booklets, brochures, and magazines have been printed by Jehovah’s Witnesses since 1970! What is more, nearly six million teachers are busy disseminating Bible knowledge in more than 230 countries. But how has all of this become possible, and how are people’s lives affected?
Why in Their Own Languages
As you can well imagine, it takes a huge coordinated effort to produce quality literature simultaneously in over a hundred languages. Translation teams, who have volunteered their time and skills, utilize computer systems to achieve high levels of quality, accuracy, and speed. Thus, even for languages in which there is a limited staff of translators, publications are made available quickly. Presently, more than 1,950 men and women are involved in this global, not-for-profit translation work. But why is such an effort made? Is it really worth it, since so many who speak the lesser-known languages also have some knowledge of a major one?
Jehovah’s Witnesses have discovered that the effort truly is worthwhile for a reason identified by William Tyndale, a renowned Bible translator of the 16th century. He wrote: “I had perceived by experience how that it was impossible to establish the lay people in any truth, except the scripture were plainly laid before their eyes in their mother tongue, that they might see the process, order, and meaning of the text.”
True, it has not always been possible for people to have Bible publications in their mother tongue. But when these can be provided, Bible truths touch their hearts more quickly and more deeply. This has been noted in countries of the former Soviet Union where ethnic peoples speak scores of native languages. During the early part of the last century, many of these peoples were absorbed into the Soviet Union and were taught—and required to use—the Russian language. Thus, they read and write Russian and, at the same time, speak their native tongue.
Especially since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, many of these people want to use their mother tongue. This is true for those whose native language is Adyghe, Altai, Belorussian, Georgian, Kirghiz, Komi, Ossetian, Tuvinian, or any one of dozens of others. Although most can converse in Russian, Bible literature in Russian does not so readily touch their hearts. On the other hand, literature in their local vernacular has remarkable appeal. “It’s good that you are starting to produce literature in our language,” noted one who received a Bible tract in Altai.
Another example of this is Greenland, an Arctic island with a population of only about 60,000 people. Both The Watchtower and Awake! are printed in Greenlandic, and these magazines are quite popular—as are other publications that Jehovah’s Witnesses print in the Greenlandic language. In fact, such literature can be found in many homes in the island’s most distant settlements.
In the South Pacific, some 7,000 people speak Nauruan, 4,500 Tokelauan, and 12,000 Rotuman. The Witnesses now produce Bible tracts and brochures in those languages as well as monthly editions of The Watchtower in Niuean, spoken by about 8,000, and Tuvaluan, spoken by some 11,000. Jehovah’s Witnesses are, in fact, one of the largest publishers of printed material in little-known languages, producing Bible literature in such tongues as Bislama, Hiri Motu, Papiamento, Mauritian Creole, New Guinea Pidgin, Seychelles-Creole, Solomon Islands Pidgin, and scores of others.
Often the smaller the population speaking a language, the more isolated and poor the community. Yet, literacy rates for such regions may be high. And the Bible in the local language is often one of the few publications available to the local residents. In fact, there is not even a newspaper in some of these languages, since producing one is not commercially viable.
Why an Appreciated Work
Because Jehovah’s Witnesses provide literature that improves the quality of people’s lives, many people have praised their translation efforts. Linda Crowl, a worker with the Institute for Pacific Studies, based at the University of the South Pacific in Suva, Fiji, said that the translation work of the Witnesses is “the most exciting thing that is happening in the Pacific.” She recommends their publications because of their excellent quality.
When the quarterly edition of Awake! was started in the Samoan language, local newspapers as well as the national TV news carried the story. During the broadcast the cover of Awake! was shown, and the magazine was opened to each article. These were then featured one at a time.
Significantly, in some countries translators of Witness publications are regularly consulted by local language institutes about grammar, orthography, coinage of new terms, and so on. Clearly, the free educational work done by Jehovah’s Witnesses has touched the lives of many more people than just those who have become active members of their congregations.
Yet, as noted in the preceding article, close to one billion adults—nearly one sixth of the world’s population—are illiterate. What has been done to help such ones benefit from the vital information available through reading and study?
Filling Basic Educational Needs
In many countries the Witnesses have organized free literacy programs, teaching people how to read and write. They have even developed their own instruction manuals, such as the publication Apply Yourself to Reading and Writing, which has been produced in 28 languages. Many thousands of individuals, including women and the elderly, have been helped to become literate by means of these classes.
In Burundi, Jehovah’s Witnesses have conducted literacy classes that have assisted hundreds of people to read and write. After reviewing the good results of this program, the National Office of Adult Literacy of that country awarded four Witness instructors a prize on International Literacy Day, September 8, 1999.
The following report was received regarding literacy classes in some 700 congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Mozambique: “Over the past four years, 5,089 students have graduated, and at present we have 4,000 enrolled.” One student wrote: “I would like to express my sincere appreciation for the school . . . I was a person who knew nothing. Thanks to the school, I can read, and although still needing practice, I can write.”
Since 1946, when records began to be kept in Mexico, over 143,000 people there have been taught to read and write in special schools established to teach these skills. A 63-year-old woman wrote: “I am very grateful to Jehovah’s Witnesses, who taught me how to read and write. My life had been miserable. Now, though, I can go to the Bible for counsel, and I have found happiness in its message.”
In the South American country of Brazil, the Witnesses have also taught thousands to read and write. “Learning to read was like being freed from chains after many years,” said one 64-year-old. “I now have access to all kinds of information. Most important, reading and studying the Bible has freed me from false teachings.”
Often Bible teachers who are Jehovah’s Witnesses help their students on an individual basis to learn to read. In the Philippines, Martina was in her 80’s when a Witness visited her. Martina wanted a regular Bible study, but she did not know how to read. With the help of her Bible teacher, Martina made progress, and with additional training at the local congregation, she became qualified to use the Bible in teaching others. Today she is a literate, full-time Bible teacher.
Clearly, the capacity to become literate is present among all peoples. Yet we might ask, Does knowledge from the Bible regarding God and his purposes actually benefit people? The final article of this series will answer that question.
[Box/Picture on page 9]
“I Cannot Express in Words . . . ”
Governmental authorities, academics, and ordinary people have all taken note of the efforts of Jehovah’s Witnesses to promote the education of people worldwide. Here is a sampling of their comments:
“My government and I are especially happy because this book [You Can Live Forever in Paradise on Earth, in Tuvaluan] is yet another new and vital addition to the essential ‘riches’ of Tuvalu. You should be very happy with the part that you have played—an excellent part in the building up of the spiritual life of the people of this nation. It is my belief that this work will be written into the history of Tuvalu with regard to the printing of educational books.”—Dr. T. Puapua, former prime minister of Tuvalu, South Pacific.
“Jehovah’s Witnesses have a very active publishing programme, which uses the most up-to-date technology in the South Pacific. . . . This publishing feat is all the more remarkable when one considers the vagaries of communication . . . among the Pacific Islands.”—Linda Crowl, University of the South Pacific, Suva, Fiji.
“How wonderful and powerful is the book The Secret of Family Happiness in the Isoko language! We thank the volunteers working in the Isoko translation team for helping us get the full understanding of the book.”—C.O.A., Nigeria.
“I cannot express in words how grateful I am for this translation of the Bible [the New World Translation in Serbian], which is easy to understand. In the past, I tried to read the whole Bible, but I always found myself giving up quickly because I was not able to understand the language. I am now able to read this unique translation and to understand it!”—J. A., Yugoslavia.
“Thank you for the fine, instructive, and upbuilding publications translated into the Tiv language. In fact, words cannot express all the benefits and the encouragement derived from these books and brochures. These publications have reached thousands.”—P.T.S., Nigeria.
36 million copies 115 languages
[Pictures on page 4, 5]
Over 100 million copies of the “New World Translation” have been produced in 37 languages
[Pictures on page 7]
Worldwide nearly 2,000 share in translating the publications of Jehovah’s Witnesses. (Zulu team in South Africa, left; and Japanese translator, below)
[Picture on page 7]
Over one billion “Watchtower” and “Awake!” magazines are printed each year
[Pictures on page 8]
Literacy classes are conducted by Jehovah’s Witnesses around the world. (Mexico, right; and Burundi, below. Ghana shown on our cover)