Building and Planting in France
SOME criticize Jehovah’s Witnesses for ‘tearing down’ false doctrines long taught by the world’s great religions. The Witnesses have indeed been pioneers in combating such religious falsehoods as hellfire, the Trinity and infant baptism—dogmas that some of Christendom’s theologians themselves now question.
However, like God’s prophet Jeremiah, the witnesses are also planters and builders. (Jer. 1:10) They have planted God’s Word in many hearts and have built up in them strong faith in Jehovah God, in his Son Jesus Christ and in his Kingdom promises. To that end, Jehovah’s Christian witnesses distribute Bibles and Scripture-based books, booklets and magazines. The production and distribution of this literature requires printing and shipping facilities, and increasing demands often necessitate the construction of new buildings.
FIRST BETHEL ANNEX
“Bethel,” meaning “house of God,” is the name given to the buildings that house the office, the printing and shipping staffs of Jehovah’s Witnesses in each country. Until 1972, a small building in Boulogne Billancourt, on the western outskirts of Paris, was sufficient to accommodate the entire French Bethel family. But in that year land was bought in Louviers, a picturesque little town in Normandy conveniently situated midway between Paris and the seaport of Le Havre, where literature printed at the Watch Tower Society’s Brooklyn factory was shipped for distribution in France.
A two-story prefabricated building measuring 57 by 21 meters (187 by 69 feet) was quickly erected, and, on June 9, 1973, it was dedicated. It contained sufficient space to house both the printing and the shipping departments, as well as a kitchen, a dining room, a laundry, bedrooms and a library for the staff. But the expansion of the spiritual building and planting work soon necessitated more literal building.
Therefore, in January 1974, a plot of land was bought in Incarville, a village just outside Louviers. The original plans called for a small building containing a Kingdom Hall for the growing Louviers congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses, as well as storage space for literature. But before a building permit had been granted, the 22-year-long ban on the Watchtower magazine had been lifted (in December 1974) and the decision had been made to truck our magazines from Germany into France, where they would be sent out to the individual subscribers. This meant setting up a new magazine department with increased manpower to handle the extra work.
SECOND BETHEL ANNEX
So the original plans were drastically modified to provide for a much larger building. The building permit was not granted until April 1976. French Witnesses had decided to do all the building work themselves, and a Witness with experience in the building trade kindly offered to coordinate the work as part of a building committee supervised by the branch committee and the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses. A drafting office was set up near Paris, workers’ huts were erected at the building site, apartments were rented and furnished for the building crew, and a field kitchen and canteen were organized on the spot.
Ground was broken in May 1976. As work progressed, workshops were set up for metalworking, carpentry, plumbing, electrical work and painting. A secondhand job crane was bought, repaired and set up on a 35-meter (115-foot) runway situated in the center of the building, enabling the 25-meter (82-foot) jib to sweep across the whole site. A 500-liter (132-gallon) concrete mixer was kept busy, for, not only were 5,300 tons of concrete poured (up to 110 tons in one day), but the Witness builders also made all the reinforced concrete posts, beams and slabs.
Representatives of building firms and many individual workers stopped by to offer their services. A fine witness was given to these men, who were greatly impressed when they learned that all the workers were volunteers. Witness congregations all over France hired buses, and on weekends hundreds of volunteer workers came to lend a helping hand. For some skilled trades, loving help was provided by a few voluntary workers from Belgium and Germany.
A BIG UNDERTAKING
Erecting this whole building was a tremendous undertaking. There were various problems and moments of discouragement. But May 24, 1977, will long be remembered by the volunteer builders, for on that day Frederick W. Franz, a member of the Governing Body, visited the Incarville building site. He gave a fine Biblical talk, encouraging the assembled workers to stay on the job and get it finished, as the builders of Jerusalem and its temple had done in ancient times.
Various changes made in the original plans lengthened the time needed to finish the building. For instance, the growth of the spiritual building and planting work in France prompted the Governing Body to suggest using the attic for 10 additional rooms. Later, the decision was made to transfer the dining room, kitchen, cold-storage rooms, laundry and library from the Louviers annex to the new Incarville building, for the greater convenience of the Bethel family, most of whom would be living in the second annex. This also meant a great deal of extra work.
Finally, after much toil and sweat, the building was completed. Measuring 61 by 26 meters (200 by 85 feet), it offers 2,873 square meters (over 30,000 square feet) of floor space. On the ground floor there are offices, a kitchen and cold-storage facilities, a dining room that can seat 150 people, the laundry, a library, a recreation room and space for the shipping department that sends out Bibles and Biblical literature to 1,192 congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses in France, and to many countries overseas.
The second floor contains a spacious Kingdom Hall (that can seat 200 people) and 24 rooms providing pleasant living quarters for members of the Bethel family. All these rooms look out onto the beautiful Normandy countryside. There are 10 additional rooms, as well as storage space, on the third floor.
On Saturday, May 13, 1978, a chartered bus left the Boulogne Bethel at 7:15 a.m. and headed for Normandy. It carried the Boulogne part of the Bethel family, reuniting them with the staff of the Louviers annex. After visiting the new Incarville building, they sat down to an early meal prepared by the Bethel cooks.
After a program retracing the two years of efforts required to put up the new building, several recorded messages from Witnesses in other French-speaking lands were heard. Then Raymond Franz, a member of the Governing Body, gave the dedication talk. He highlighted the importance of serving Jehovah with joy. (Neh. 8:10) The vanity of human efforts and ephemeral glory (such as that of Caesar and Napoleon) were contrasted with the joyful work of preaching the good news of Jehovah’s kingdom. (Eccl. 1:3-7, 11) It was shown that if Christians continue finding joy in Jehovah’s service, awaiting his due time for destroying wickedness, they will end up by being convinced that everything has worked out perfectly, with “nothing to add” and “nothing to subtract.”—Eccl. 3:11, 14.
The dedication of this new Bethel annex was a very happy occasion indeed. And the continued evidences of divine blessing fill us with determination to carry on faithfully in the spiritual building and planting work in France.
[Picture on page 9]
New Bethel annex at Incarville, France, at time of dedication