A Growing Paradise in Sweden
LOCATE Sweden on a globe and you will find that this northern European land is at the same latitude as Alaska and parts of Greenland. Seeing this, you may think of a rough and cold country where the wolves howl during the wintry nights and polar bears parade in snowy streets. But this is not a true picture. Thanks to the warm Gulf Stream, Sweden has a relatively favorable climate, offering its over 8,000,000 inhabitants a beautiful homeland having vast forests, sparkling lakes and rivers, mountains, lowlands and delightful archipelagoes with innumerable inlets and islands.
Due to rich natural resources, a highly developed industry and over one and a half centuries of peace, Sweden also is able to offer its inhabitants one of the highest standards of living in the world. This might seem like a paradise, and many people do enjoy life in Sweden. But, like other industrial countries, it has many problems, among them inflation, crime, a high divorce rate, suicides, pollution, alcohol abuse and narcotic addiction.
There is, however, a growing paradise in Sweden. It is the spiritual paradise enjoyed by more than 16,000 happy Jehovah’s Witnesses. There is approximately one Witness for every 500 Swedes. In keeping with their name, these Christians are busy witnessing about Jehovah and his coming literal paradise on earth.—Isa. 43:10-12.
THE “GOOD NEWS” REACHES SWEDEN
The first person to bear such witness in Sweden was a Dano-American. At the end of the last century, he came from neighboring Denmark to distribute the magazine Zion’s Watch Tower and other Bible aids. Soon this man was joined by a Swede, a young Salvation Army captain, who became interested in this message and left that religious group. In December 1899, these two began holding regular meetings in Stockholm, the capital of Sweden. The first meeting place was a joinery, or a woodworking shop, rented at a cost of 50 cents a night. Eight persons were present in 1900 at the first celebration of the Lord’s Evening Meal. From this modest beginning, the witnessing work has grown steadily until it now encompasses 305 congregations spread throughout the country.
NEW MEETING HALLS NEEDED
In fact, since 1967, the number of Swedish Witnesses has increased by over 60 percent. Accordingly, there has been a growing need for larger and better meeting places. Hence, Sweden’s Kingdom proclaimers have used their abilities, experience and material resources to obtain spacious halls of their own. New, beautiful Kingdom Halls have sprung up like mushrooms around the country. On an average, one new Kingdom Hall a month has been built or rented since the beginning of 1970.
Recently, about 6,000 Witnesses living in and around Stockholm saw the need for a large assembly hall. The first spade was put into the ground on April 20, 1976, on a plot of land about 1,500 meters (4,900 feet) from the Watch Tower Society’s branch office in Jakobsberg, outside Stockholm. Hundreds of Witnesses and interested persons helped with the construction work, free of charge. Their efforts even included making the 1,250 padded oak chairs. After seven months of hard work, a beautiful, practical assembly hall was ready for use. Sweden’s largest daily newspaper, Dagens Nyheter, called the structure “probably Scandinavia’s largest building that has been put up with voluntary, unpaid, mostly amateur labor.” The local building committee extended its congratulations, and a visiting bank director exclaimed: “It is impossible to do this kind of thing these days! But, despite that, the hall is standing there.”
GREAT EFFORTS TO REACH EVERYBODY
Jehovah’s Witnesses in Sweden have not spared any effort in reaching everybody. This country is long and narrow and has the fourth largest area in Europe. Despite this, again and again, every portion of it is systematically reached with the “good news.” The very north of Sweden, which reaches far above the Arctic Circle, consists of an inaccessible mountainous region regarded as Europe’s last wilderness. There the Lapps make their living by herding reindeer; and bears, wolverines, moose and Arctic foxes still roam about freely. But the “good news” has even reached these people, and often the results are very rewarding.
For instance, a Lapp living in the mountains heard the Kingdom message, accepted it and now is a baptized Witness. He travels 48 kilometers (30 miles) across five lakes—in winter by snow scooter and in summer by boat—to get to the nearest main road. There he is picked up by other Witnesses to travel the remaining 87 kilometers (54 miles) to the nearest congregational meeting place. This brother really appreciates the truth and comes as regularly as he can. When free Bible tracts were to be distributed, he used his snow scooter to visit isolated Lapps. And think of the effort he put forth. Why, it took him two whole days to deliver 20 tracts!
Our interest in reaching all the people in Sweden has resulted in our visiting thousands of the half million immigrants who have come to this country during recent decades. Much effort has been made to find them and preach to them in their own language. Witnesses who have immigrated to Sweden, as well as Swedish Witnesses who have learned a new language, have located these immigrants living all over the country and have visited them systematically. Hundreds of home Bible studies have been started in this way. As a result, 31 congregations and over 30 other groups for immigrants have been formed since 1970. Meetings are held in Finnish, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Serbo-Croatian, Greek, Polish, Arabic and Romanian. Also, circuit and district assemblies are held in some of these languages.
This work also has had effect outside Sweden’s borders. Immigrants who have become Witnesses since arriving in Sweden have spread the “good news” to relatives in their home countries. Others have moved back to their homelands, where the need for witnessing is greater.
For 12 years, a peace-loving man in Portugal studied to become a priest. He interrupted his career and became a Communist, as he thought that the priests were too militant. Later, he found that the Communists also were militant; so he abandoned Communism. When required to perform military service in Portugal, he fled the country and ended up in Paris. There he married a girl who was the daughter of a Swedish general. Tired of the brutality and violence in the world, both of these young persons decided to move to Sweden to study religion and philosophy at the university in Stockholm. Their objective? To search for a purpose in life. Hardly had they begun studying when a Witness came to their home. He told them about the Bible’s promise of everlasting peace on earth and started a Bible study with them. In time, they became witnesses of Jehovah. They have helped a number of Sweden’s Portuguese immigrants to learn the truth and have now moved back to Portugal to witness where the need is greater.
Even the thousands of vessels from around the world that call at Swedish ports are regarded as suitable territory for the evangelizing work. In 40 different harbor towns, Kingdom publishers having special identification cards visit the ships, talk to the crew and distribute Bible literature. Many of the crew members know Jehovah’s people in their home countries and are thus reminded that the Witnesses preach zealously in all parts of the earth.—Matt. 28:19, 20; Acts 1:8.
STANDING AS CHRISTIAN NEUTRALS
Although Sweden is politically neutral, it strives to maintain a strong military defense. Because of their stand as Christian neutrals for many years, Jehovah’s Witnesses have been sentenced to repeated prison terms of between one and six months. (Isa. 2:2-4; John 15:19) However, they have become known as very reliable prisoners, and the Correctional Administration once recommended that all the prisons in the country use Witnesses for responsible tasks.
As the Kingdom-preaching activity increased in Sweden, more and more Witnesses were put in prison. Finally, the Correctional Administration informed the government that Jehovah’s Witnesses “are not affected by being punished.” According to the Administration, this circumstance, “together with the fact that their breaking of the law is explained by a strongly convinced conscience and that they are in other respects orderly citizens, motivates that a system be tried that makes it possible for them to dispense with prison sentences.” After detailed consideration, the government asked Parliament for permission, following individual investigation, to free Jehovah’s Witnesses from any sort of conscription. This was approved by Parliament on May 25, 1966, and since that year Swedish Witnesses have enjoyed freedom from all kinds of conscription.
EFFORTS TO HINDER THE WORK
Generally, Swedes are indifferent toward religion and especially the established churches within the country. Most religious organizations are declining, and one after another now is being passed in numbers by Jehovah’s Witnesses. This increase has caused much surprise. Again and again, representatives of the Lutheran State Church and the so-called free churches in Sweden have stood up and protested: ‘No. It has gone too far now. We must do something to stop them.’ For example, early in 1976, 30 priests and laymen from the Uppsala diocese of the Swedish State Church met to “declare war on Jehovah’s Witnesses,” as a newspaper put it. Among other things, they agreed to prepare and publicly distribute an informative brochure about the Witnesses.
Over the years, representatives of different churches have published many books and brochures for the purpose of “exposing” Jehovah’s Witnesses as heretics. These publications have been examined by a researcher, who summarizes his impressions as follows: “As a researcher in religion, I have over the years more and more found evidence to support my views that those who are quickest in calling another a ‘heretic’ or ‘false prophet’ are themselves most deserving of such a remark. I feel that it is time to blacklist this type of books which, with a Christian cover, gives a false picture of, for example, Jehovah’s Witnesses.” (Religion och Kultur, No. 4, 1976) Naturally, we are not afraid of this kind of publicity, because we know that it serves to awaken the curiosity of many honest persons.
The same thing happened with a series of three radio programs broadcast in October 1976. Although we ourselves are not allowed to produce religious radio programs in this country, a Radio Sweden official took the initiative for three programs about us. At first, it appeared that he was not attached to any religious organization and would therefore produce impartial programs. Later, it was discovered that he was a priest in the Liberal Catholic Church, which has 400 members in Sweden. The programs were to be based on recorded parts of our congregational meetings and on interviews with different Witnesses. But, when the recordings were made, it became obvious that the programs would be an attack on us. The brothers interviewed were showered with provocative questions. However, they did not let themselves be provoked. Instead, they answered calmly and factually. After the recordings were made, the tapes were cut and edited by the official so that the programs would give the worst possible impression of us and of our Scriptural views.
What was the result? Personnel at the Watch Tower Society’s branch office received many letters and telephone calls from listeners throughout the country. These people said that they noticed the difference in spirit between the Witnesses and their attackers and remarked that the ring of truth was on our side. Consequently, in a number of cases, previously opposed relatives of Jehovah’s people have become interested in the Kingdom message. One newspaper writer stated: “The persecution of the Witnesses disturbs me. It makes my heart really sorrowful.” But we ourselves find that persecution is strengthening and that it helps to spread the witness about God’s kingdom. (Acts 8:1-4) Incidentally, in November 1976, the month after the radio programs, Jehovah’s Witnesses in Sweden noted a new peak of 16,693 proclaimers of the “good news”!
OBJECT OF RESEARCH
The unprecedented progress of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Sweden really has caused amazement, especially among students and researchers who analyze religious denominations. As a result of their studies, some “researchers” have even become Witnesses themselves. One young psychology student accompanied his teacher to a Kingdom Hall in order to “study” Jehovah’s Witnesses. Later, he complained and said that the audience should have been more critical. He meant that they were indoctrinated. Soon afterward, a Bible study was started with his sister, and he wanted to attend it to “rescue” her. The young man was invited to be present and began to ask a series of questions that he thought would soon “knock out” the Witnesses. Instead, he found the answers interesting and admitted that whatever could be said about our beliefs, “at least, [we] are not brainwashed.” A study was started with him, and now both he and his sister are baptized Christians.
An institute for the study of the sociology of religion has been set up in Stockholm. Its purpose is to investigate and catalogue religious denominations. This institute has investigated us and recently has published a research report entitled “Jehovah’s Witnesses on the March.” In an effort to explain why people in Sweden become interested in our teachings, this report concludes: “A future and a hope are offered at the door of your own home, directly in agreement with prophecy in the Bible, but also in equally good agreement with your personal needs. The future is no longer a threat, but a promise.”
The same report notes that at one of the 1976 district assemblies in Sweden the majority of the baptismal candidates were between 18 and 25 years of age. This trend of a high proportion of young people is the opposite of what other religions experience in Sweden today. The reason for this is obvious to us, for we find that many young people are disappointed in the religion in which they have been reared. Moreover, the younger generation in Sweden has tasted most of what a very high standard of living can offer them. Despite such materially paradise-like conditions, many feel that the future is frustrating, and they resign themselves to that eventuality. So, they try to escape from reality by yielding to alcohol abuse, narcotic addiction and moral depravity. But when visited by Jehovah’s Witnesses, some of these young people do find that, as the aforementioned report correctly said, “a future and a hope are offered at the door.” This helps them to realize that “the future is no longer a threat, but a promise.” Then they leave their wayward course to take up a new way of life in the far more satisfying spiritual paradise.
This is what so many persons, both old and young, are doing here in Sweden. With godly people of all nations, Swedish Christians are enjoying the blessings of a spiritual paradise while awaiting the establishment of a physical paradise here on earth.