Building Together on a Global Scale
THE feeling of genuine brotherhood among Jehovah’s Witnesses is manifest in many ways. Those who attend their meetings see evidence of it. At their conventions it is demonstrated on an enlarged scale. It is also clearly evident as they work together to provide suitable places of assembly for their congregations.
As the decade of the 1990’s began, there were upwards of 60,000 congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses worldwide. During the preceding decade, 1,759 new congregations had been added, on an average, each year. By the early 1990’s, that rate had increased to over 3,000 per year. Providing suitable places for them all to meet has been a monumental task.
As was true of the first-century Christians, many congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses initially used private homes for most of their meetings. In Stockholm, Sweden, the few who first held regular meetings there used a carpentry shop, which they rented for use after the day’s work in the shop was done. Because of persecution, a small group in the province of La Coruña, Spain, held their first meetings in a small storehouse, or granary.
When more space was needed, in lands where there was freedom to do so, the local congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses would rent a meeting place. However, if this was a hall that was also used by other organizations, equipment had to be hauled in or set up for each meeting, and there was frequently the lingering smell of tobacco smoke. Where possible, the brothers would rent an unused store or upstairs room that would be used exclusively by the congregation. But, in time, in many places high rents and unavailability of suitable places made it necessary to work out other arrangements. In some instances buildings were purchased and renovated.
Before World War II, there were a few congregations that built meeting places specially designed for their use. Even as early as 1890, a group of Bible Students in the United States at Mount Lookout, West Virginia, built their own meeting place.a Widespread building of Kingdom Halls, however, did not get under way until the 1950’s.
The name Kingdom Hall was suggested in 1935 by J. F. Rutherford, who was then president of the Watch Tower Society. In connection with the Society’s branch facilities in Honolulu, Hawaii, he arranged for the brothers to construct a hall where meetings could be held. When James Harrub asked what Brother Rutherford was going to call the building, he replied: “Don’t you think we should call it ‘Kingdom Hall,’ since that is what we are doing, preaching the good news of the Kingdom?” Thereafter, where possible, halls regularly being used by the Witnesses gradually began to be identified by signs that said “Kingdom Hall.” Thus, when the London Tabernacle was renovated in 1937-38, it was renamed Kingdom Hall. In time, the principal local meeting place of congregations worldwide came to be known as the Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
More Than One Way to Do It
Decisions about whether to rent or to build Kingdom Halls are made locally by the individual congregations. They also shoulder any construction and maintenance expenses. In order to conserve funds, the vast majority of congregations have endeavored to do as much of the building work as possible without resorting to commercial contractors.
The halls themselves may be built of brick, stone, wood, or other materials, depending upon cost as well as what is available in the area. In Katima Mulilo, Namibia, long grass was used for a thatched roof, and mud from anthills (which sets very hard) was molded for walls and floor. Witnesses in Segovia, Colombia, made their own cement building blocks. Unhewn lava from Mount Lassen was used in Colfax, California.
With meeting attendance often exceeding 200 in 1972, the congregation at Maseru, Lesotho, knew that they needed to build a suitable Kingdom Hall. Everyone helped with the project. Elderly brothers walked up to 20 miles [32 km] in order to have a share. Children rolled drums of water to the site. The sisters provided meals. They also used their feet to pound the ground, compacting it in preparation for the pouring of the concrete floor slab, all the while singing Kingdom songs and stamping to the rhythm of the music. Sandstone, available from nearby mountains at the cost of fetching it, was used for the walls. The result was a Kingdom Hall that could seat about 250.
At times, Witnesses from nearby congregations assisted with the building work. Thus, in 1985, when Jehovah’s Witnesses at Imbali, a black township in South Africa, built a hall that would comfortably seat 400, fellow Witnesses from nearby Pietermaritzburg and Durban came to help. Can you imagine how amazed the neighbors were when, during those days of racial unrest in South Africa, they saw scores of white, Colored, and Indian Witnesses pouring into the township and working shoulder to shoulder with their black African brothers? As the local mayor declared: “It can only be done with love.”
No matter how willing the spirit, congregations found that local circumstances limited what the brothers could do. Men in the congregations had families to support and could ordinarily work on such a project only on weekends and perhaps a little in the evenings. Many congregations had few, if any, who were skilled in the building trades. Nevertheless, a relatively simple, somewhat open structure suitable to the tropics might be put up in a few days or perhaps a few weeks. With the help of Witnesses in surrounding congregations, more substantial buildings might be completed in five or six months. In other cases it might require a year or two.
Yet, as they moved into the 1970’s, Jehovah’s Witnesses worldwide were increasing at a rate of two to three new congregations per day. By the early 1990’s, the rate of increase was up to nine congregations per day. Could their compelling need for new Kingdom Halls be met?
Developing Quick-Construction Techniques
Early in the 1970’s, in the United States, over 50 Witnesses from nearby congregations pitched in to help construct a new Kingdom Hall in Carterville, Missouri, for the group that had been meeting in Webb City. On one weekend they erected the main framework and did considerable work on the roof. There was still much to be done, and it took months to complete the job; but an important part of it had been completed in a very short period.
During the next decade, as the brothers worked together on about 60 halls, obstacles were overcome, and more efficient methods were developed. In time, they realized that after work on the foundation was done, they might almost be able to complete an entire Kingdom Hall in a single weekend.
Several congregation overseers—all from the midwestern United States—began to work toward that goal. When congregations asked for help with their Kingdom Hall construction, one or more of these brothers would discuss the project with them and provide details concerning the preparation that had to be cared for locally before the job could be done. Among other things, construction permits had to be obtained, the foundation and the concrete floor slab had to be poured, electrical service had to be operational, underground plumbing had to be in place, and dependable arrangements had to be made for delivery of building materials. Then a date could be set for putting up the Kingdom Hall itself. The building was not going to be prefabricated; it would be built from the ground up right on the site.
Who would do the actual construction work? To the extent possible, it was done with voluntary, unpaid labor. Entire families often shared. Those organizing the project would contact Witnesses who were tradesmen and who had expressed a willingness to participate in these projects. Many of them eagerly looked forward to each new building project. Other Witnesses who learned about the projects wanted to have a part; hundreds from the surrounding area—and from more distant places—flocked to the building sites, anxious to offer their services in whatever way they could. Most of them were not professional builders, but they certainly gave evidence that they fit the description of those who would be supporters of Jehovah’s Messianic King as set out at Psalm 110:3, which says: “Your people will offer themselves willingly.”
On Thursday evening before the big push was to begin, those supervising the project met to work out final details. The next evening, workers were shown a slide presentation on procedure so that they would understand how the work was going to be done. Emphasis was placed on the importance of godly qualities. The brothers were encouraged to work together in love, to be kind, to show patience and consideration. Everyone was encouraged to work at a steady pace but not to rush and not to hesitate to take a few minutes to share an upbuilding experience with someone. Early the next morning, construction began.
At an appointed time early on Saturday morning, everyone would stop what he was doing to listen to a discussion of the Scripture text for the day. Prayer was offered, for it was well appreciated that success of the entire undertaking depended on Jehovah’s blessing.—Ps. 127:1.
When the work began, it moved swiftly. In an hour the walls were up. Roof trusses followed. Sheeting for the walls was nailed into place. The electricians began running wires. Air-conditioning and heating ducts were installed. Cabinets were built and put into position. Sometimes it rained all weekend, or the weather turned bitterly cold or was excessively hot, but the work went on. There was no competition, no rivalry among the tradesmen.
Frequently, before sundown on the second day, the Kingdom Hall was completed—nicely decorated inside, perhaps even landscaped on the outside. When it was more practical, jobs were scheduled to extend over three days, or perhaps two weekends. At the end of the project, many of the workers would remain, tired but very happy, to enjoy the first regular congregation meeting, a study of The Watchtower.
Doubtful that quality work could be done so fast, several people in Guymon, Oklahoma, U.S.A., called the city inspector. “I told them that if they wanted to see something done right, they ought to visit the hall!” said the inspector when later relating the incident to the Witnesses. “You people are even doing correctly what will be hidden and not seen!”
As the need for Kingdom Halls increased, the brothers who had developed many of the quick-construction methods trained others. Reports of what was being done spread to other lands. Could such construction methods be employed there too?
Quick Construction Goes International
Kingdom Hall building in Canada was lagging far behind the needs of the congregations. The Witnesses in Canada invited those who were organizing quick-construction projects in the United States to explain how they handled it. At first, the Canadians were rather doubtful that it could be done in Canada, but they decided to try. The first Kingdom Hall built in this manner in Canada went up at Elmira, Ontario, in 1982. By 1992, there were 306 Kingdom Halls in Canada that had been put up in this way.
The Witnesses in Northampton, England, thought they could do it too. Their project, in 1983, was the first in Europe. Brothers experienced in this type of construction traveled from the United States and Canada to oversee the project and to help local Witnesses learn how to do it. Other volunteers were on hand from as far afield as Japan, India, France, and Germany. They were there as volunteers, not for pay. How was it all possible? As the overseer of a team of Irish Witnesses that worked on such a project said, ‘It is successful because all the brothers and sisters pull together under the influence of Jehovah’s spirit.’
Even when local building regulations seem to make such projects impossible, the Witnesses have found that, frequently, when details are outlined for city officials, they are glad to cooperate.
After a quick-construction project in Norway, north of the Arctic Circle, the newspaper Finnmarken exclaimed: “Just fantastic. That is the only expression we can find that describes what Jehovah’s Witnesses did last weekend.” Similarly, when Witnesses on New Zealand’s North Island put up an attractive Kingdom Hall in two and a half days, the front-page headline on the local newspaper declared: “Project Close to a Miracle.” The article added: “Perhaps the most mind-boggling aspect of the exercise was the organisation and sheer quiet of the operation.”
The remoteness of location where the Kingdom Hall is needed does not prove to be an insurmountable barrier. In Belize a quick-construction project was done, even though it meant transporting every piece of material to an island 36 miles [60 km] from Belize City. When an air-conditioned Kingdom Hall was put up in Port Hedland, Western Australia, one weekend, it was with materials and a work force that practically all came from 1,000 miles [1,600 km] or more away. Travel expenses came out of the workers’ own pockets. Most of those who had a part in the project did not personally know the Witnesses in the Port Hedland Congregation, and very few of them would ever attend meetings there. But that did not deter them from expressing their love in this way.
Even where the number of Witnesses is small, this has not prevented the use of such methods for building halls. Some 800 Witnesses from Trinidad volunteered to travel to Tobago to help their 84 Christian brothers and sisters there to build a hall in Scarborough in 1985. The 17 Witnesses (most of them women and children) in Goose Bay, Labrador, definitely needed help if they were ever going to have a Kingdom Hall of their own. In 1985, Witnesses from other parts of Canada chartered three planes to take 450 of them to Goose Bay to do the job. After two days of hard work, they had a dedication program in the completed hall on Sunday evening.
This does not mean that all Kingdom Halls are now being put up with quick-construction methods, but ever-growing numbers of them are.
Regional Building Committees
By mid-1986 the rate at which new Kingdom Halls were needed had greatly accelerated. During the preceding year, 2,461 new congregations had been formed worldwide; 207 of these were in the United States. Some Kingdom Halls were being used by three, four, or even five congregations. As the Scriptures had foretold, Jehovah was truly speeding up the work of ingathering.—Isa. 60:22.
To assure the best possible use of personnel and to enable all who were building Kingdom Halls to benefit from experience that had been gained, the Society began to coordinate their activity. As a start, in 1987 the United States was divided up among 60 Regional Building Committees. There was plenty for all of them to do; some of them soon had projects lined up for a year or more. Those appointed to serve on these committees were men who, first of all, were spiritually qualified, elders in the congregations, exemplary in their exercise of the fruitage of God’s spirit. (Gal. 5:22, 23) Many of them also had experience in real estate, engineering, construction, business management, safety, and related fields.
Congregations were encouraged to consult with the Regional Building Committee before choosing a site for a new Kingdom Hall. Where there was more than one congregation in a city, they were also urged to consult with the circuit overseer(s), the city overseer, and elders from nearby congregations. Congregations that were planning major renovation or the building of a new Kingdom Hall were advised to benefit from the experience of the brothers on the Regional Building Committee for their area and from the guidelines that the Society had furnished them. Through that committee, arrangements would be coordinated for assembling the needed skilled personnel from among brothers and sisters in some 65 trades who had already volunteered to help on such projects.
As procedures were refined, it was possible to reduce the number of workers involved in any one project. Instead of having thousands at the construction site either watching or offering their services, there were seldom more than 200 on site at any given time. Instead of spending an entire weekend there, workers were on hand only when their particular skills were needed. Thus they had more time to spend with their families and for activity with their home congregations. When local brothers could do certain types of work in a reasonable time, it was often found to be more practical to bring in the quick-construction group only for those aspects of the work for which they were more urgently needed.
Although the entire operation moved at amazing speed, this was not the primary consideration. Of greater importance was the providing of quality construction of modest Kingdom Halls designed to meet local needs. Careful planning was done so as to accomplish this while keeping expenses to a minimum. Measures were taken to see that safety was given high priority—the safety of workers, neighbors, passersby, and future occupants of the Kingdom Hall.
As reports concerning this arrangement for building Kingdom Halls reached other lands, the branch offices of the Society that believed it would be advantageous in their areas were provided with needed details. By 1992, Regional Building Committees appointed by the Society were helping with Kingdom Hall construction in such countries as Argentina, Australia, Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, Mexico, South Africa, and Spain. Building methods were adapted to local circumstances. When assistance from another branch was needed for Kingdom Hall construction, this was arranged through the Society’s headquarters office. In some parts of the world, new halls were being put up in days; elsewhere, in weeks or perhaps in a few months. With careful planning and coordinated effort, the time required to provide a new Kingdom Hall was definitely being reduced.
The building activities of Jehovah’s Witnesses have not been limited to Kingdom Halls. Larger facilities are needed when groups of congregations meet for annual circuit assemblies and special assembly days.
Filling the Need for Assembly Halls
Over the years, facilities of many kinds have been used for circuit assemblies. Jehovah’s Witnesses have rented such places as civic auditoriums, schools, theaters, armories, sports arenas, and fairgrounds. In a few localities, very fine facilities were available at a reasonable price. More often, much time and effort was required to clean the place, set up sound equipment, erect a platform, and truck in chairs. Sometimes there were last-minute cancellations. As the number of congregations grew, it became more and more difficult to find enough suitable places. What could be done?
Once again, the solution was for Jehovah’s Witnesses to have places of their own. This would involve renovating suitable structures and building new ones. The first of such Assembly Halls in the United States was a theater in Long Island City, New York, renovated and put to use by Jehovah’s Witnesses late in 1965.
At about the same time, Witnesses on the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe were designing an Assembly Hall to meet their needs. They felt that it would be advantageous if they could have their circuit assemblies in many different locations. But most of the towns did not have facilities that were large enough. So the Witnesses built a portable structure made of steel pipes and aluminum roofing, something that would be adequate for 700 people and that could be erected wherever there was an available plot of land that was relatively flat. They had to enlarge the hall again and again, until it reached a capacity of 5,000. Just imagine moving, setting up, and dismantling 30 tons of material for every assembly! That Assembly Hall was built and taken down several times a year for 13 years, until land for the portable hall became hard to find and it was necessary to purchase land and erect a permanent Assembly Hall, which now serves for circuit assemblies and district conventions.
In quite a few places, Assembly Hall projects made use of existing buildings. In England, at Hays Bridge, Surrey, a 50-year-old school complex was purchased and renovated. It is nestled in 28 acres [11 ha] of beautiful countryside. Former movie theaters and an industrial warehouse were remodeled and put to use in Spain; an unused textile factory in Australia; a dance hall in Quebec, Canada; a bowling alley in Japan; a warehouse in the Republic of Korea. All of these were made over into attractive Assembly Halls that could serve well as large centers for Bible education.
Other Assembly Halls were completely new, having been constructed from the ground up. The unique octagonal design of the hall at Hellaby, South Yorkshire, England, along with the fact that much of the work was done with volunteer labor gave rise to an article in the journal of the Institution of Structural Engineers. The Assembly Hall at Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, in Canada, was designed to seat 1,200; but when interior walls are pulled into place, the structure can be used as four side-by-side Kingdom Halls. Haiti’s Assembly Hall (prefabricated and shipped from the United States) was open on two sides so that those seated inside would constantly be cooled by the prevailing winds—a welcome relief from the hot Haitian sun. The hall in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, was designed in such a way that sections of the walls could be opened like doors in order to accommodate crowds larger than would fit inside.
The decision to build an Assembly Hall is not made by a small group of overseers who then expect everyone else to support it. Before any new Assembly Hall is built, the Society sees to it that a careful analysis is made as to the need for it and the amount of use that it will have. Consideration is given not just to local enthusiasm for the project but also to the overall needs of the field. It is discussed with all the congregations that will be involved, in order to ascertain the desire and ability of the brothers to support it.
Thus, when the work gets under way, Jehovah’s Witnesses in the area are wholeheartedly behind it. Each project is financed by the Witnesses themselves. The financial needs are explained, but contributions are voluntary and anonymous. Careful planning is done in advance, and the project benefits from experience already gained in building Kingdom Halls and, frequently, from Assembly Hall projects in other places. Where necessary, some aspects of the work may be let out to commercial contractors, but most of it is usually done by enthusiastic Witnesses. This may cut the cost in half.
With a work force made up of skilled professionals and others who volunteer their time and talents, the entire project usually moves along quickly. Some projects may require more than a year. But on Vancouver Island in Canada, in 1985, some 4,500 volunteers completed a 25,000-square-foot [2,300 sq m] Assembly Hall in just nine days. The structure also includes a 200-seat Kingdom Hall for use by local congregations. In New Caledonia, a curfew was imposed by the government in 1984 because of political unrest, yet up to 400 volunteers worked on the Assembly Hall at a time, and it was completed in just four months. Near Stockholm, Sweden, a beautiful, practical Assembly Hall, with 900 padded oak chairs, was built in seven months.
Sometimes persistent efforts in the courts have been necessary in order to obtain permits to build these Assembly Halls. That was true in Canada at Surrey, British Columbia. When the land was purchased, the zoning requirements allowed for the building of such a place of worship. But after building plans were submitted, in 1974, the Council for the District of Surrey passed a bylaw stipulating that churches and assembly halls could be built only in Zone P-3—a zone that did not exist! Yet, 79 churches had previously been built in the municipality without any trouble. The matter was taken to court. Repeated rulings were given in favor of Jehovah’s Witnesses. When hindrance of prejudiced officials was at last cleared aside, the volunteer workers pursued the project with such enthusiasm that they completed it in about seven months. As was true of Nehemiah in his efforts to rebuild the walls of ancient Jerusalem, they felt that the ‘hand of God was upon them’ to accomplish the work.—Neh. 2:18.
When Jehovah’s Witnesses in the United States purchased the Stanley Theater in Jersey City, New Jersey, the building was on the state’s register of historic places. Although the theater was in a deplorable state of disrepair, it had excellent potential for use as an Assembly Hall. Yet, when the Witnesses wanted to do needed repair work, city officials refused permits. The mayor did not want Jehovah’s Witnesses in that area; he had other plans for the property. Court action was needed in order to restrain officials from the unlawful use of their authority. The court ruled in favor of the Witnesses. Soon after that, local residents voted the mayor out of office. Work on the hall moved ahead quickly. The result was a beautiful Assembly Hall that seated over 4,000. It is a place that businessmen and residents of the city alike are proud of.
During the past 27 years, in many parts of the globe, attractive and practical Assembly Halls have been built by Jehovah’s Witnesses to serve as centers for Bible education. Such halls are now found in ever-increasing numbers in North and South America, Europe, Africa, and the Orient, as well as on many islands. In some lands—for example, Nigeria, Italy, and Denmark—Jehovah’s Witnesses have even built larger, permanent, open-air facilities that can be used for their district conventions.
Yet, Assembly Halls and Kingdom Halls are not the only building projects in which Jehovah’s Witnesses are involved in order to further the proclamation of God’s Kingdom.
Offices, Printeries, and Bethel Homes Worldwide
Around the globe in 1992, there were 99 branch offices of the Watch Tower Society, each of which served to coordinate the activities of Jehovah’s Witnesses in its part of the world field. Over one half of these branches were doing printing of various kinds to further the work of Bible education. Those who work at the branches are housed, for the most part, as a large family in homes called Bethel, meaning “House of God.” Because of expansion in the number of Jehovah’s Witnesses and their preaching activity, it has been necessary to enlarge these facilities and to build new ones.
So rapid has been the growth of the organization that there have frequently been 20 to 40 of such branch-expansion programs in progress at a time. This has required a vast international construction program.
Because of the enormous amount of construction work being done worldwide, the Watch Tower Society has its own Engineering and Drafting Department at its New York headquarters. Engineers with many years of experience have left their secular work and volunteered to assist full-time with building projects that are directly connected with Kingdom activity. Additionally, those who have experience have trained other men and women in the work of engineering, design, and drafting. By coordinating work through this department, experience gained in branch construction in any part of the world can benefit those working on projects in other lands.
In time, the great amount of work being done made it beneficial to open a Regional Engineering Office in Japan to assist with construction blueprints for projects in the Orient. Other Regional Engineering Offices operate in Europe and Australia, with personnel drawn from a variety of lands. These work in close cooperation with the headquarters office, and their services, along with use of computer technology, cut down on the drafting personnel needed at any given construction site.
Some projects are relatively modest in size. That was true of the branch office built in Tahiti in 1983. This included office space, storerooms, and accommodations for eight volunteer workers. It was also true of the four-story branch building erected on the Caribbean island of Martinique during the years 1982 to 1984. These structures might not seem extraordinary to big-city dwellers in other lands, but they attracted public attention. The newspaper France-Antilles declared that the branch building in Martinique was “an architectural masterpiece” that reflected a “great love for work well done.”
In contrast from the standpoint of size, the buildings that were finished in Canada in 1981 included a printery, or factory, with upwards of 100,000 square feet [9,300 sq m] of floor space and a residence building for 250 volunteers. At Cesario Lange, in Brazil, the Watch Tower complex completed that same year included eight buildings, with nearly 500,000 square feet [46,000 sq m] of floor space. It required 10,000 truckloads of cement, stone, and sand, as well as enough concrete pilings to reach twice the height of Mount Everest! In 1991, when a large new printery was completed in the Philippines, it was also necessary to provide an 11-story residence building.
To meet the needs of the growing number of Kingdom proclaimers in Nigeria, a large building project got under way in Igieduma in 1984. This was to include a factory, a spacious office building, four connected residence buildings, and other needed facilities. Plans were laid to have the factory completely prefabricated and then shipped from the United States. But then the brothers were confronted with seemingly impossible import deadlines. When these deadlines were met and everything arrived safely at the construction site, the Witnesses did not take the credit but gave thanks to Jehovah for his blessing.
Rapid Expansion Around the Globe
So rapid has been the growth of the work of Kingdom proclamation, however, that even after major expansion of branch facilities in a country, it has often been necessary to start building again within a relatively short time. Consider a few examples.
In Peru a fine new branch—with office space, 22 bedrooms as well as other basic facilities for Bethel family members, and a Kingdom Hall—was completed at the end of 1984. But response to the Kingdom message in that South American land was much greater than anticipated. Four years later it was necessary to duplicate the existing complex, this time using an antiseismic design.
A spacious new branch complex was completed in Colombia in 1979. It appeared that it would provide ample space for many years to come. However, within seven years the number of Witnesses in Colombia had nearly doubled, and the branch was now printing the magazines La Atalaya and ¡Despertad! not only for Colombia but also for four neighboring countries. They had to start building again in 1987—this time where there was more land for expansion.
During 1980, Jehovah’s Witnesses in Brazil devoted some 14,000,000 hours to public preaching of the Kingdom message. The figure soared to nearly 50,000,000 in 1989. More people were showing a desire to have their spiritual hunger satisfied. The extensive branch facilities dedicated in 1981 were no longer sufficient. Already by September 1988, excavation for a new factory was in progress. This one would provide 80 percent more floor space than there was in the existing factory, and of course, residence facilities to care for the enlarged Bethel family would also be needed.
At Selters/Taunus, Germany, the Watch Tower Society’s second-largest printing complex was dedicated in 1984. Five years later, because of increases in Germany as well as opportunities to expand the witness work in lands for which the branch there prints literature, plans were under way to enlarge the factory by over 85 percent and to add other support facilities.
The Japan branch had moved from Tokyo to large new facilities in Numazu in 1972. There was further major expansion in 1975. By 1978 another property had been obtained, at Ebina; and work on a factory more than three times as large as that at Numazu quickly got started. This was completed in 1982. It was still not enough; more buildings were added by 1989. Would it not have been possible to build just once and make it large enough? No. The number of Kingdom proclaimers in Japan had doubled again and again in a way that no human could have anticipated. From 14,199 in 1972, their ranks had soared to 137,941 in 1989, and a large proportion of them were devoting full time to the ministry.
A similar pattern is seen in other parts of the globe. Within a decade—and sometimes within a few years—after the building of large branches equipped for printing, it was necessary to undertake major expansion. That was true in Mexico, Canada, South Africa, and the Republic of Korea, among others.
Who does the actual construction work? How is it all accomplished?
Many Thousands Eager to Help
In Sweden, out of the 17,000 Witnesses in the country at the time of building their branch at Arboga, some 5,000 volunteered to help with the work. Most were simply willing helpers, but there were also enough highly skilled professionals to see that the work was done right. Their motivation? Love for Jehovah.
When an official at a surveyor’s office in Denmark heard that all the work on a new branch at Holbæk was going to be done by Jehovah’s Witnesses, he expressed misgivings. Nevertheless, among the Witnesses who volunteered to help, all the needed know-how was found. Yet, would they have been better off if commercial contractors had been hired to do the job? After the project was completed, experts from the town’s building department toured the premises and commented on the fine workmanship—something they rarely see on commercial jobs nowadays. As for the official who had earlier expressed misgivings, he smiled and said: “You see, at that time I didn’t know the kind of organization you people have.”
Population centers in Australia are widely scattered; so, most of the 3,000 who volunteered to work on the branch facilities at Ingleburn between 1978 and 1983 had to travel at least 1,000 miles [1,600 km]. However, bus travel for groups of volunteers was coordinated, and congregations en route hospitably offered to supply meals and association for the brothers at rest stops. Some of the brothers sold homes, closed businesses, took vacations, and made other sacrifices in order to share in the project. Teams of experienced tradesmen came in—some of them more than once—to pour concrete, hang ceilings, put up fences. Others donated materials.
The majority of volunteers on these projects were unskilled, but with a little training, some of them took on big responsibilities and did excellent work. They learned how to fabricate windows, operate tractors, mix concrete, and lay bricks. They enjoyed a definite advantage over non-Witnesses who do the same kind of work commercially. In what way? Those who were experienced were willing to share their knowledge. No one was afraid that someone else would take his job; there was plenty for everyone to do. And there was strong motivation to do high-quality work, because it was being done as an expression of love for God.
At all the construction sites, some Witnesses form the nucleus of the construction “family.” During work at Selters/Taunus, Germany, from 1979 to 1984, several hundred generally made up that nucleus of workers. Thousands of others joined them for varying periods of time, many on weekends. There was careful planning so that when volunteers arrived, there was plenty for them to do.
As long as people are imperfect, there will be problems, but those who work on these projects try to resolve these on the basis of Bible principles. They know that doing things in a Christian manner is more important than efficiency. As a reminder, at the construction site in Ebina, Japan, there were large signs with pictures of workers in hard hats, and on each of the hard hats was inscribed in Japanese characters one of the fruits of God’s spirit: love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faith, mildness, self-control. (Gal. 5:22, 23) Those who visit the job sites can see and hear the difference. Expressing his own observations, a news reporter who toured the branch construction site in Brazil said: “There are no disorders or lack of cooperation . . . This Christian atmosphere makes it different here from that customarily seen in Brazilian civil construction.”
Constant Growth at World Headquarters
While the Watch Tower Society’s branches have been growing, it has also been necessary to expand the facilities of the world headquarters. There have been major additions to its factory and office quarters in Brooklyn and in other locations in New York State more than ten times since World War II. To house personnel, it has been necessary to build or purchase and renovate numerous buildings, both large and small. Further major expansion in Brooklyn was announced in August 1990 and in January 1991—even while north of New York City construction begun in 1989 was continuing on the extensive Watchtower Educational Center, designed to accommodate 1,200 persons, including resident staff and students.
Since 1972, there has been no letup in construction work at the world headquarters in Brooklyn and its closely associated facilities in other parts of New York and in New Jersey. In time, it became obvious that even though they numbered in the hundreds, the regular construction workers were unable to keep up with the work. So, in 1984 an ongoing temporary-worker program was instituted. Letters were sent out to the then 8,000 congregations in the United States to invite qualified brothers to come for a week or more to help out. (A similar program had already worked well in some of the branches, including Australia, where those able to stay two weeks were invited to volunteer.) Workers would be provided lodging and meals but would pay their own travel expenses and would receive no wages. Who would respond?
By 1992, well over 24,000 applications had been processed! At least 3,900 of these were for persons who were coming back for a 2nd or 3rd, even a 10th or 20th, time. Most of them were elders, ministerial servants, or pioneers—persons with fine spiritual qualifications. All of them were volunteering to do whatever was needed, whether it called for them to use their trade or not. The work was often heavy and dirty. But they counted it a privilege to contribute in this way to the advancement of Kingdom interests. Some felt that it helped them to better appreciate the spirit of self-sacrifice that characterizes the work done at the world headquarters. All of them felt richly rewarded as a result of being present for the Bethel family’s program of morning worship and weekly family Watchtower study.
As the need for rapid expansion grew, an arrangement for international volunteers was initiated in 1985. It was by no means the start of international cooperation in building, but the arrangement was now carefully coordinated from headquarters. All who share are Witnesses who volunteer to help with construction work outside their own country. They are skilled workers, as well as marriage mates who go with their husbands to help in whatever way they can. Most of them pay for their own travel expenses; none get wages for what they do. Some of them go on a short-term basis, usually staying from two weeks to three months. Others are long-term volunteers, remaining for a year or more, perhaps until the project is completed. Over 3,000 of Jehovah’s Witnesses from 30 different countries had part in this during the first five years, and more were eager to share as their skills were needed. They count it a privilege to give of themselves and their means to advance the interests of God’s Kingdom in this way.
The international volunteers are provided with a place to stay and meals to eat. Comforts are often minimal. The local Witnesses greatly appreciate what their visiting brothers are doing, and where possible, they welcome them to share their homes, however humble these may be. Meals are most often eaten at the work site.
The brothers from abroad are not there to do the whole job. Their aim is to work along with the local construction team. And hundreds, even thousands, of others in the country may also come to help on weekends or for a week or more at a time. In Argentina, 259 volunteers from other countries worked along with several thousand local brothers, some of whom were on the job every day, others for a few weeks, and many more on weekends. In Colombia, over 830 international volunteers helped for varying periods of time. There were also upwards of 200 local volunteers who shared in the project full-time and, each weekend, another 250 or more who helped. A total of more than 3,600 different individuals took part.
Difference of language can present problems, but it does not prevent the international groups from working together. Sign language, facial expressions, a good sense of humor, and a desire to accomplish a job that will honor Jehovah help to get the work done.
Outstanding growth in the organization—consequently the need for larger branch facilities—is sometimes experienced in lands where the number of people who are skilled in the building trades is limited. But this is no hindrance among Jehovah’s Witnesses, who gladly help one another. They work together as part of a global family that is not divided by nationality, skin color, or language.
In Papua New Guinea, the volunteers who came from Australia and New Zealand each trained a Papua New Guinean in his trade, in harmony with the request of the Government Labour Department. In this way, while giving of themselves, local Witnesses learned trades that could help them to care for the needs of themselves and their families.
When a new branch was needed in El Salvador, the local brothers were joined by 326 volunteers from abroad. For the project in Ecuador, 270 Witnesses from 14 lands worked alongside their Ecuadoran brothers and sisters. Some international volunteers helped on several projects that were under way at the same time. They rotated between construction sites in Europe and Africa, according to the need for their trade skills.
By 1992, international volunteers had been sent out to 49 branch locations to assist the local building crews. In some instances those who received help from this program were able, in turn, to provide assistance to others. Thus, having benefited from the labors of about 60 long-term international servants who helped with the branch building project in the Philippines, as well as over 230 volunteers from abroad who helped for shorter periods, some of the Filipinos made themselves available to help build facilities in other parts of Southeast Asia.
Building work is being done by Jehovah’s Witnesses because of needs that exist now in connection with preaching the good news. With the help of Jehovah’s spirit, they want to give the greatest witness possible during the time that remains before Armageddon. They are convinced that God’s new world is very close at hand, and they have faith that they will survive as an organized people into that new world, under the rule of God’s Messianic Kingdom. It is also their hope that perhaps many of the fine facilities that they have built and dedicated to Jehovah will continue to be used after Armageddon as centers from which knowledge of the only true God can be diffused until it truly fills the earth.—Isa. 11:9.
a It was known as the “New Light” Church because those who associated there felt that as a result of reading Watch Tower publications, they had new light on the Bible.
[Blurb on page 322]
Witnesses from nearby congregations helped with the work
[Blurb on page 323]
Construction work was done with voluntary, unpaid labor
[Blurb on page 324]
Emphasis was placed on spiritual qualities
[Blurb on page 326]
Quality construction, safety, minimum cost, speed
[Blurb on page 328]
A portable Assembly Hall!
[Blurb on page 331]
Resorting to the courts
[Blurb on page 332]
Large-scale international expansion
[Blurb on page 333]
Workers gave credit to Jehovah, not to themselves
[Blurb on page 334]
Growth at a rate that no human could have predicted
[Blurb on page 336]
They counted it a privilege to help with construction at headquarters
[Blurb on page 339]
They work as a global family, not divided by nationality, skin color, or language
[Box/Pictures on page 320, 321]
Working Together to Build Kingdom Halls Quickly
Thousands of new congregations are formed each year. In most instances, new Kingdom Halls are built by the Witnesses themselves. These pictures were taken during the building of a Kingdom Hall in Connecticut, U.S.A., in 1991
Friday, 7:40 a.m.
Friday, 12 noon
Saturday, 7:41 p.m.
Major work completed, Sunday, 6:10 p.m.
They look to Jehovah for his blessing, and they take time out to discuss counsel from his Word
All unpaid volunteers, glad to work side by side
[Box/Pictures on page 327]
Kingdom Halls in Various Lands
The meeting places used by Jehovah’s Witnesses are usually modest. They are clean, comfortable, attractive in their surroundings
Republic of Korea
Papua New Guinea
[Box/Pictures on page 330]
Assembly Halls of Jehovah’s Witnesses
In order to accommodate their periodic assemblies, Jehovah’s Witnesses in some areas have found it practical to build their own Assembly Halls. Much of the construction work is done by local Witnesses. Here are just a few of these halls in use in the early 1990’s
[Box/Pictures on page 338]
International Construction Program Fills Urgent Needs
Rapid growth of the organization has required ongoing expansion of offices, factories, and Bethel homes around the globe
International volunteers give assistance to local Witnesses
Construction methods used make it possible for many volunteers with limited experience to do valuable work
Skilled workers gladly make their services available
Use of durable materials helps to keep long-term maintenance costs down
High-quality work results from personal interest on the part of those who do it; this is an expression of their love for Jehovah
These projects are enjoyable occasions; many lasting friendships are made
Sign in Japan reminded workers of safety measures, also of the need to show the fruits of God’s spirit
[Picture on page 318]
The first building that was called Kingdom Hall, in Hawaii
[Pictures on page 319]
Many early Kingdom Halls were rented buildings or were simply rooms above stores; a few were built by the Witnesses
[Pictures on page 329]
Two of the first Assembly Halls
New York City
[Pictures on page 337]
Newly arrived temporary construction workers at the world headquarters in New York
Each group is reminded that being a spiritual person and doing quality work take priority over doing the job fast