What Did You Get Out of Your “Good News” Assembly?
JEHOVAH’S WITNESSES, old and young, enjoy gathering together at assemblies, even as commanded at Hebrews 10:24, 25. That is why hundreds of thousands traveled many miles to attend one of the “Good News for All Nations” District Assemblies. These were held in more than 120 cities in upward of twenty-five lands in the northern hemisphere during July and August of this year. And in what crowds they came! In nearly every land the attendance was from 10 to 30 percent above that of the previous year, for a total of 928,756.
Witnesses not free to assemble in large numbers in their own lands traveled to lands where they could so meet. Some 5,000 traveled from Spain to Toulouse, France, as also did more than 600 Portuguese Witnesses. More than 2,000 from Yugoslavia were at the assembly in Villach, Austria, and upward of 500 from Greece enjoyed an assembly in Ulm, Germany. Of course, all these assemblies were held in their own native tongues.
How well the young folks were represented at these assemblies! Time and again the public press commented on this fact and noted that there was no ‘generation gap’ among the Witnesses. Thus B.T. (one of Denmark’s largest dailies), published an interview with a number of youthful Witnesses, giving their outlook on the Bible, morals, marriage, dress and other things. In its introductory remarks it stated:
“This is not an old people’s affair—there are many younger married couples and single young people, youths, teen-agers and children. All listen attentively and confidently to the talks and Biblical explanations given by their elders. There is no youth rebellion among Jehovah’s witnesses. That which holds them united could be expressed in one word: truth. But what kind of truth is so strong that it completely overpowers the young, changes their entire attitude to life completely and gets them to follow a way of life that in almost every way separates them from all others of their same age?”
That these young folks appreciated these assemblies could also be seen by the parts they themselves had on the programs and by the way they pitched in and helped out in the various departments, such as refreshments, cafeteria and cleaning. And they showed it by the efforts they put forth to get to the assemblies, not all parents being able to stand the added cost of bringing their whole families. Thus in Ireland, two little boys, seven and eight years of age, chopped sticks into kindling wood and then sold it so as to have the means to get to the assembly. Out in the state of Washington youngsters gathered “night crawlers,” large worms used by fishermen, by the tens of thousands, selling them at a penny apiece, so as to be able to get to the assembly. In the Bronx, New York, teen-age girls did domestic work after school, baby-sitting in the evenings, and a boy took on a newspaper route so that they could get to the Washington, D.C., assembly.
SPIRITUAL BLESSINGS WITH “FRINGE BENEFITS”
Without a doubt all who attended the assemblies received many minor blessings that might be termed “fringe benefits.” They enjoyed sharing meals and visiting with their brothers, meeting old friends and making new ones, and having a part in the singing of songs. But it would have been a mistake to have contented oneself with such in view of the larger, more important spiritual blessings available. How much did those in attendance get from the assembly program itself? How much did you get from it?
The various features of the assembly program were exceedingly well thought out, and much preparation went into them. A report from Ireland stated regarding them: “Never has a district assembly program had such an impact; never has interest been so easily maintained throughout all four days; never have our hearts been so stirred to apply Jehovah’s principles to our everyday lives and ministry. . . . This was an assembly to be remembered for its potent influence on our spirituality and for its provision of a superb instrument to assist us as ministers of the good news.”
However, a number were not able to attend these assemblies. Then again, some who attended were busy with operating the convention organization and so missed portions of the program. And it is likely that many a strong point was lost to listeners because of distractions that are difficult to avoid with large crowds. So it seems well to review briefly the program day by day and note the highlights.
THE FIRST DAY
These assemblies opened with the address of welcome: “The ‘Good News’ Has Brought Us Together.” “Where would you be if it were not for the ‘good news’?” the speaker asked, and then added, “Some of you might not even be alive.” ‘This good news has changed our lives, given us peace of mind and security; it has given us something to live for. By your concentrating on the concentrated spiritual food presented at this assembly it may well be a milestone in your Christian life.’
Next came the chairman’s talk, “Appreciating What God Has Done for Us.” Among other things the speaker pointed to the many marvels of creation, such as the human hand, without which no human production from tiny transistor to mighty ocean liner could be possible, and to the human eyes, two beautifully formed tiny spherelike motion-picture cameras. He also took note of the many spiritual blessings, chief of which has been the gift of God’s Son as mankind’s Ransomer. This talk was a masterpiece for increasing appreciation for what God has done, and it served as a fine start.
It was followed by “What Are You Doing with Your Life?” a dramatic presentation that accomplished a number of things. It showed how Christians can have a spiritually profitable time when they come together on social occasions by reading a certain portion of the Bible, a few verses at a time, and then discussing them. It also showed how Esau’s despising his birthright can serve as a warning to Christians today who may lack in appreciation of their inheritance. (Matt. 25:34) And further, the drama served to make Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Esau live as never before in the minds of those who heard it. The touching portrayal of Abraham’s offering up Isaac brought tears to many an eye.
The evening’s program opened up with interesting experiences and fine remarks by young folks in the full-time pioneer ministry. Typical were such expressions as: “I found it took more than just wanting to pioneer. It took determination to pioneer.” “The pioneer work offers the most of the thrill of helping people come to dedication.” At more than one assembly high school graduates told of turning down college scholarships in order to pioneer.
After these expressions came the two-hour drama “What Young Folks Are Doing in the Ministry.” With a cast of some thirty characters, all of whom spoke their lines, it frankly and dramatically portrayed the problems facing Christian youths in the ministry, such as the snare of materialism and the temptation to commit fornication, and how these can be met successfully. Based largely on true-life incidents, the drama stressed what parents can do to help their children. Forcefully parents were told: “It is not enough that your children attend meetings and go out in the service; do you know why they do? Do you know just what their viewpoints and aspirations are? Do you know where their real interests lie?” In conclusion parents were told: “Your children are clay in your hands. You can help Jehovah to mold them as vessels for an honorable use, or . . . abandon them to this system’s molding of them as vessels for a dishonorable use. The choice is yours!”
THE SECOND DAY
Friday, the second day of the assembly, featured a morning immersion service, “Baptism in Response to the ‘Good News.’” Among other things it showed that dedication is required to gain a good conscience; it is the wise thing to do, as it leads to everlasting life, and it is the loving thing to do out of gratitude for all that God has done for us. It is no bargaining agreement, however, but rather an unconditional surrender, based on trust in God. At 119 assemblies, 17,613 were baptized.
After interesting experiences related by some who had just been baptized, Friday afternoon’s program continued with a talk based on Matthew 11:28-30. It showed that the world’s yoke and load are harsh and heavy by reason of widespread selfishness and wickedness. Heavy also is the burden of guilt because of one’s sins. But the yoke and load of dedication are gentle and light because Jehovah God and Jesus Christ are loving and reasonable Masters. Faith, obedience, a right outlook and association with Christian brothers further contribute to making one’s load light.
Then immediately followed the discourse “Are You Training Now for the Trials Ahead?” How can you? By learning to control your thoughts, by good study habits, by victoriously meeting present trials, such as those caused by nationalism, sexual immorality, materialism and increased indifference to the Kingdom message. Important also is being selective in your entertainment. The audience was urged: “Cut out what weakens you spiritually, such as excessive TV viewing.”
Next came the talk telling “Where More Preachers of the ‘Good News’ Are Needed.” The Macedonian call is still being heard, for there are many lands where there is but one Kingdom preacher to 5,000 of the population, and in one land the ratio is one to 840,000. Many blessings await you if you can heed this call, but prudent planning is essential. If you are unable to move far away, within your own country there may be places where the need is greater. (Acts 16:9, 10) It was followed by the powerful keynote speech, “The ‘Good News’ of a World Without False Religion,” the entire text of which appears in this issue of The Watchtower.
At its conclusion a new Bible-study aid, The Truth That Leads to Eternal Life, was released. Consisting of 192 pages, it is pocket size. As for its contents, a letter of appreciation from Denmark, in part, stated:
“It engages the reader or student almost from the beginning, and involves him in the consideration. It is a treatment of both the subject material presented along with the reader’s attitude toward it. It appeals to the making of many decisions as the material is presented, and that will help him come into the truth. After all, coming into the truth is not just one decision made after studying the book through, but the result of many decisions made as knowledge increases . . . This book and the study plan seem to be one of the most timely we have ever received.”
The Watchtower, February 15, 1968, in announcing these assemblies had stated: “On Friday something is planned that will not only delight you but also no doubt surprise you, for it will have considerable influence on the work that we will be doing during the years to come.” The “surprise” included more than the new book. It also involved a six-month Bible-study program! Because of the way the new book involves the student at every turn, it will doubtless make him want to take some action by the time he has completed it, which should be in about six months. No more are such studies to run on year after year without the student’s acting upon the knowledge he gains!
The evening program began with experiences of success with Bible studies. A most unusual “success story” was related at the Lewiston, Maine, assembly. Two special pioneers told how, in a comparatively short time, they had been able to assist ten young adults, together with the parents of some of them, to take their stand for God’s truth, largely as the result of a chain reaction, as it were. Ten of them came to the platform, one at a time, and it was reported that twelve had been baptized within the past eight months.
Then the program highlighted the many fine features of the new Bible-study aid and how it could be presented to the public: It is filled with easy-to-understand discussions of subjects most persons need to know or are most interested in. It is kind but firm, fast-moving and has a note of urgency about it. It gives counsel on Christian conduct, family life and presents the Scriptural view of such practices as abortion and spiritism.
Especially of interest to all those with unbelieving mates was “Uniting the Divided Household,” which came next. In a kind and understanding way it spelled out the Scriptural twofold obligation to keep integrity and help the unbeliever to become a believer. Examples showed the value of loving consideration and tact and refusing to compromise. “Better take abuse than give it,” such were counseled, and, “Being submissive is just as much a requirement for the Christian wife as preaching the good news of God’s kingdom.” How can divided households be avoided in the first place? By drawing both mates into the Bible discussions from the very start and by ‘marrying only in the Lord.’
THE THIRD DAY
First heard on the Saturday-afternoon program were experiences in which overseers told how they were able to increase their meeting attendance, some to well over 100 percent of the number of publishers. They accomplished this by having well-rehearsed meetings that applied instructions to local conditions, by stressing meeting attendance at book study groups, by having meetings at times most convenient to the greatest number, and so forth.
These experiences were followed by the earnest talk “More than All Else, Safeguard Your Heart.” Even as a sound physical heart is essential to physical health, so a sound spiritual heart, the seat of emotion, motive and desire, is essential to sound spiritual health. How we take in knowledge and submit to discipline determines to a large degree what desires we develop and their intensity. Proper desires can be satisfied in moderation, but improper desires must be eliminated or kept under strict control. Wrong desires begin in the heart and that in an early age with “I want, I want, I want” this, that or the other thing. All not having sound hearts will be destroyed at Armageddon.
Fine counsel was next given in the feature “Trained to Distinguish Both Right and Wrong.” Christians must be certain as to what is right and what is wrong, and that requires both a good knowledge of Bible principles and sound reasoning. By a number of interesting discussions this program showed that Christians are to view marriage engagements most seriously, smoking tobacco as something unclean, gambling as selfishness, and so forth. The Saturday-afternoon program concluded with the fine address “The Happiness of the ‘Nation Whose God Is Jehovah,’” which reviewed the reasons that Jehovah’s people have for being so happy. It will appear in its entirety in the next issue of The Watchtower.
Those relating experiences Saturday evening were parents who had made a success of rearing children. Regularly they studied the Bible with their children, prayed together, took them to all the meetings and assemblies, played Bible games together, and, above all, set before them the goal of the full-time ministry. A striking example was that of a farmer at the Rennes, France, assembly. He told that, of six sons, two were family men and overseers; of his four unmarried sons, one is serving at the French branch office of the Watch Tower Society, another is in the circuit work, another is a special pioneer and the other a regular pioneer minister. Of his three daughters, one had been a special pioneer and now is the wife of a fine overseer; the teen-ager vacation pioneers, and the youngest has her own Bible study.
After these fine experiences the two-hour absorbing drama, “Jehovah’s Way the Way of Victory,” was presented. It showed how Jephthah, first banned, was then chosen to be Israel’s judge and how he succeeded in freeing Israel from the Ammonite yoke after they returned to the worship of Jehovah. It also related the modern counterpart to these events. It showed how the present-day Ammonites, the political rulers, oppressed Jehovah’s people, how these chose “Jephthah” in that they embraced theocratic rule under Jesus Christ and how Jehovah then granted them the victory. It gave tense and gripping examples of the fearlessness of Jehovah’s people in the face of Nazi persecution in Germany and Catholic Action in the United States. In a number of assemblies this drama was presented twice so that all could see it, and in many others it was relayed by closed-circuit television to overflow halls.
THE FINAL DAY
In the morning, after a discussion of the text for the day and prayer, came the heartwarming talk “Building One Another Up.” It underscored that “death and life are in the power of the tongue.” Used rightly, as exemplified by the apostle Paul, it can bring life to hearers; but used wrongly, as by the ten spies in ancient Israel, it can lead to death. Yes, with the tongue we can tear down or we can build up. Avoid kidding and complaining, for such things do not build up. Direct conversation into right channels. Whatever the subject, it can be made upbuilding by noting the Bible principles bearing on it. This is what Awake! does. Follow its example. Initiate upbuilding conversation. Sometimes only one word is needed, but that word needs to be said. Especially do family members have many opportunities to build one another up. Building one another up can also be done by deeds. When visiting the sick or handicapped, be alert to do more than give encouraging words. Is there something you can do? Can you wash the dishes, do the laundry, the shopping, the housecleaning? In time of need such things can also be spiritually upbuilding.
Very practical also was the talk that followed, “Pursue the Things Making for Peace.” Real peace is far more than pleasantness when things go the way we like to have them go. Continual contact with one another, imperfect as we are, produces pressures that tend to break the peace. When you see a quarrel developing, do you do all you can to head it off? Actually, our ability to pursue peace hinges upon how well we are pursuing peace with Jehovah. A good conscience, free from strain, helps us to put up with tensions caused by others’ imperfections. Undue self-esteem makes pursuit of peace difficult, so be humble for the sake of peace.
The next talk, “Pay More than the Usual Attention,” showed that our ability to pay attention needs to be properly channeled. By the way we use it we can demonstrate our love for God. Paying attention means stretching the mind. It is impossible to pay attention to things without being influenced by them. We must therefore be very selective as to what we pay attention to. While daily routine matters require a measure of our attention, it is to God’s Word that we must pay more than the usual attention. At meetings be like Lydia, who paid attention to Paul’s words.
The Bible drama in costume, “Do You Make Yourself Available?” concluded the morning session. It dealt with the willingness of the daughter of Judge Jephthah to submit to her father’s vow to serve as a virgin at the temple. This touching drama caused many in the audience to shed a tear. Its modern counterpart was also presented: The anointed “remnant,” Jephthah-like, dedicate the fruits of their victories, the great crowd of “other sheep,” to Jehovah’s service, even as Jephthah’s daughter was devoted to temple service. This drama ended with an appeal for youthful Christian ministers to make themselves available for the full-time ministry. This appeal was partly in the form of a lilting song, the first verse of which went like this:
“Make yourself available today
For full-time Kingdom service.
Should you not be going all the way,
And join the missionary ranks?
The fields are white for harvesting,
The call for laborers is clear.
Make yourself available,
If you can, then pioneer.”
The widely advertised public talk, the climax and chief feature of these assemblies, was given Sunday afternoon (after a fine musical program). It contained the good news that “Man’s Rule [Is] About to Give Way to God’s Rule,” and has been published fully in the previous issue of this journal. The total attendance was about 925,000.
After a brief intermission came another choice feature of the assembly, the “Closing Remarks.” This was given by the president of the Watch Tower Society, N. H. Knorr, at three of the United States assemblies. Conventioners learned that “the service year of 1968 has been tremendous!” Never before have so many shared in preaching the “good news,” April seeing a peak of 1,204,288, a 10-percent increase over last year’s average. And never before have so many magazines and bound books been placed; the distribution of the book Did Man Get Here by Evolution or by Creation? being truly extraordinary. Ever so many lands, such as Mexico, Brazil and Ecuador, had increases of more than 20 percent. Even the lands behind the Iron Curtain had a good increase, 4 1/2 percent.
Discussed also were the plans for international assemblies in 1969, six in the United States and Canada, (and now, for July 6-13, Toronto, Canada, has been included, to make it seven) others in Europe and around the world. Most of the missionaries in foreign assignments are to be brought to the assembly nearest their home, it was announced at the assembly in Washington, D.C. In conclusion it was noted that the big work for 1969 will be with the new book, The Truth That Leads to Eternal Life. The speaker said: “The time is short. It is important for us to conduct Bible studies to help people flee from Babylon the Great and for us to do personal study. Do not let it be crowded out of your life. The convention has illustrated how you should walk. Be of good courage and press on, making the days ahead days of praise to Jehovah’s name. In the words of Jesus, ‘Raise yourselves erect and lift your heads up, because your deliverance is getting near.’”—Luke 21:28.
Then with a grateful song of praise, “We Thank You, Jehovah,” and a prayer of petition and thanksgiving, the “Good News for All Nations” District Assembly came to a close. Truly these assemblies had a program filled with rich spiritual blessings. Without a question of doubt they deserved to have it again said: “The best ever!” (For more information on the assemblies, such as the publicity in connection with them, see Awake! November 8, 1968.)
[Picture on page 670]
Jephthah’s daughter learns of her father’s vow, as presented at assembly in Brussels