The House-to-House Challenge
HE WAS one of Jehovah’s Witnesses in his mid-70’s. As he went from door to door he hobbled quite a bit; but no wonder, for he was getting around on two wooden legs. Upon his knocking on one door, a woman came out. Pointing a finger at him, she asked in an angry tone of voice: ‘Are you one of Jehovah’s Witnesses?’
He paused for a moment and then, looking the woman straight in the eye, said: ‘I tell you, ma’am, I try to be. It isn’t easy. I’m working at it. It’s a difficult assignment. Can you imagine what it means to be a witness of the Most High, Jehovah, the Sovereign of the universe? That’s a real assignment. I’ll tell you, ma’am, I’m working at it.’
What did the woman say in reply? Not a word. What could she say?
There is no gainsaying it. Going from house to house with the good news of Jehovah God’s kingdom presents a real challenge. Doubtless that is why this form of evangelism is unique with the Witnesses. No other religious group stresses or expects this kind of activity on the part of all its members. And it is indeed of interest that those who so severely criticize the teachings of Jehovah’s Witnesses do not accuse them of carrying on a work for which there is no Scriptural precedent. Far from charging that the Witnesses do not have a Scriptural basis for their activity, time and again these critics have in print acknowledged the Scripturalness of this type of evangelism. Some even lament the fact that their own particular denomination does not expect the same from its members.
It is not that the Witnesses would have no reasons for going from door to door even if there were no direct or explicit commands and precedents found in God’s Word for their doing so. Love of God and of neighbor impels them to witness to all they can, telling others the good news of God’s kingdom and warning them about the “great tribulation” just ahead—and to do so by every effective means. In apostolic times the apostle Paul and others visited synagogues and were able to preach the “good news” to those assembled. (Matt. 24:14, 21; Acts 13:14-16; 14:1; 17:1, 2, 10, 17; 18:4, 19, 26; 19:8) Of course, today Witnesses rarely have the opportunity to address audiences in synagogues or other religious edifices. But the fact that present-day Witnesses cannot imitate this kind of activity does not mean that they should not imitate other kinds of apostolic evangelism that are available to them.
Why, the very fact that house-to-house evangelizing meets with so much opposition is testimony to its effectiveness! When a government becomes totalitarian, one of the first things it invariably does is ban the house-to-house preaching work of the Witnesses. Many religious leaders, particularly in times past, have influenced even democratic governmental authorities to interfere with this kind of evangelism, either by misapplying laws to them or by having laws passed for the specific purpose of stopping their house-to-house work. To establish their legal right to preach from door to door, the Witnesses have time and again carried legal battles into the higher courts, including the Supreme Court of the United States. Almost invariably that court has decided in their favor, which decisions testified not only to the legal right of the Witnesses to carry on this work but also to the effectiveness of it. Typical is the following verdict:
“The hand distribution of religious tracts is an age-old form of missionary evangelism—as old as the history of printing presses. It has been a potent force in various religious movements down through the years. This form of evangelism is utilized today, on a large scale by various religious sects whose colporteurs carry the Gospel to thousands upon thousands of homes and seek through personal visitations to win adherents to their faith. . . . This form of religious activity occupies the same high estate under the First Ammendment as do worship in the churches and preaching from the pulpits.”
Let us face it: to begin going from house to house with a Bible message is one of the hardest things for the average modest person, male or female, young or old, to do. In fact, occasionally Witnesses who have spent decades preaching full time have confessed that after all those years it so goes against their natural inclinations that it takes real effort to get started each morning. There is always the uncertainty of what kind of reception one may get at the door. Without question, not a few persons are offended when an individual comes to their door with a Bible message, and no one enjoys offending people. The initial reaction of many a truth-lover who was studying the Bible with one of the Witnesses has been, ‘I could never go from house to house.’ How difficult it may seem can be seen from the experience of a New York City fireman. Accompanying his Bible teacher in going from house to house for the first time, he exclaimed: “Why, this is worse than going into a burning building!” But before long he, too, was enjoying house-to-house preaching.
Of course, the average churchgoer has little to motivate him to go from house to house. What would he tell the householders? Most likely he does not have a good knowledge of what his own church teaches; merely a lot of generalities based on the creeds of his church. More than that, by and large, religion is presented as primarily a selfish matter. Its chief concern is saving one’s own soul; church services are not structured to train and motivate the listeners to become active evangelizers. So it is no wonder that the house-to-house activity is a challenge rarely met by others than Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Challenge though it is, the house-to-house activity is not above the capabilities of even the most humble Christian. Thus, once a Mexican Witness from the rurals, dressed in very simple country garb, knocked at the door of a palatial mansion. A man in a silken bathrobe responded and asked what he wanted. The Witness said: “If a mule should come to your door with two bags of gold, would you accept it?” Annoyed, the householder replied: “I do not understand what you are telling me. I am a famous engineer.” The Witness then asked him: “What do you understand about prophecies?” The man admitted he did not know anything about them. Then the Witness said: “That is what I want to speak to you about. . . . I am that mule that came to your door, and the two bags of gold are these magazines, The Watchtower and Awake!” The man was impressed by the presentation of this humble Witness and took the two magazines. All of this calls to mind the incident recorded at Acts 4:8-13.
THE CHALLENGE OF PERSEVERING
Time and again Jehovah’s servants have had to meet challenges by persevering and enduring. A notable example is that of Jeremiah who, for upward of 40 years, kept proclaiming Jehovah God’s message under the most unfavorable circumstances. No wonder that he at one time felt like quitting! But he could not keep quiet; he just had to speak, to witness about his God Jehovah and against the wayward Jews of his time.—Jer. 20:9.
Today, also, the servants of Jehovah must persevere, yes, even persist, in carrying out their God-given assignment. And there are many reasons for their doing so. Each time they call on a householder they endeavor to leave a few grains of truth, a few drops of spiritual water, as it were, either orally or by means of the printed page. Time and again these have had a cumulative effect, eventually bearing fruit, even as the apostle Paul noted when he said: “I planted, Apollos watered, but God kept making it grow.”—1 Cor. 3:6.
And there are more reasons for Jehovah’s Witnesses to persevere, to persist in their house-to-house ministry. As The Watchtower once so well expressed it:
“Lives are involved. (2 Tim. 4:5) That means making repeated calls. For one thing, circumstances keep changing. Today a man may not be at home, next time he may be. Today he may be too busy to listen, but the next time he may not be. Today one member of the family answers the door, the next time another member does; . . . Often families are divided as to religion, . . . Besides, people keep moving . . .
“Not only do the circumstances change, but the people themselves change. . . . For just some trifle a man may have been out of sorts and not at all willing to discuss religion or anything else no matter who came to his door, but it does not at all follow that he will be of that mental attitude at another time. Or, just because a man was not at all interested in discussing religion last month does not mean he might not be this month. Since the last time a Witness called this man may have had a soul-harrowing experience or in some other way learned something that made him humble instead of proud, hungry and conscious of his spiritual need instead of self-satisfied.”
Truly many are the reasons for calling on people time and again, persevering, searching for sheeplike ones.—Matt. 25:31-33.
Foremost among the things accomplished by the Witnesses going from house to house is that the name of Jehovah is being made known. That they are making people aware of this distinctive name of the Creator is apparent from the cartoon that was once published by a popular New York City magazine. It showed a man praying alongside his bed and the Germanic god Wotan standing on the other side of his bed. The cartoon quoted the man praying as saying: “I’m sorry that I inconvenienced you, Wotan. You see, I just naturally thought that when I said God, I would get, you know, Jehovah.”
Further, as can be seen from the foregoing, preaching from house to house enables Jehovah’s Witnesses to help lovers of truth and righteousness to get on the road leading to life. Also, by proclaiming the day of Jehovah’s vengeance, the Witnesses serve lovingly to warn all who are not lovers of truth and righteousness, but lovers of pleasures. (2 Tim. 3:1-5) And many, indeed, are the benefits that accrue to the Witnesses themselves, for the Bible proverb is true: “A generous man will prosper; he who refreshes others will himself be refreshed.”—Prov. 11:25, New International Version.
Thus a Witness elder who once spent nine years in a German concentration camp once stated that there was nothing like the house-to-house method of evangelizing to help one to cultivate the fruits of God’s holy spirit. There is no doubt about it. By persevering in this activity one learns to exercise unselfish love, to be joyful, peaceably inclined, patient and long-suffering, to put one’s faith to work and to manifest mildness, kindness, goodness and self-control.—Gal. 5:22, 23.
Going from house to house with the good news of the Kingdom also helps one to cultivate the virtue of humility. A proud person is sensitive, acts independently, is not concerned with pleasing others. But for a Witness to be effective he must, like the apostle Paul, “become all things to people of all sorts” so that he might win some.—1 Cor. 9:19-23.
Still another blessing that comes to those who keep meeting the house-to-house challenge is that it tends to make one more sympathetic, more empathetic. On the one hand, one learns to feel for persons who have been blinded spiritually by false shepherds, and on the other hand, one learns to commiserate with people as they tell of their problems: poverty, unemployment, sickness, domestic discord, juvenile delinquency, and so forth. Even as was true in Jesus’ day, the people today are “skinned and thrown about like sheep without a shepherd.” They need Jehovah’s kingdom. Jesus’ words to his disciples of the first century are even more meaningful in these “last days,” namely, “The harvest is great, but the workers are few.” While praying for more workers to be sent out into the harvest, are we ourselves sharing zealously in Kingdom work, successfully meeting the house-to-house challenge?—Matt. 9:36-38.
The house-to-house activity serves also as a protection from the world. Concerning it the apostle John warns: “Do not be loving either the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him; because everything in the world—the desire of the flesh and the desire of the eyes and the showy display of one’s means of life—does not originate with the Father, but originates with the world.” These worldly things tend to tempt the Christian witness of Jehovah, but his keeping active by preaching will tend to minimize this temptation.—1 John 2:15, 16.
Making this point is an old Jewish legend or parable. It tells about a certain righteous man who came to the wicked city of Sodom and kept on preaching although no one paid any attention to him. One day, a native noticing this asked him why he kept on preaching when no one was paying any attention to him. What was his reply? ‘So that the people of Sodom do not change me.’ Well has it been said that ‘the best defense is an offense.’ So long as the Witnesses are trying hard to change people of the world, the world will not succeed in changing them.
Nor is that all. By their obeying God’s commands to witness to his name and kingdom, they are doing good to others and actually are laying up treasures in heaven, even as Jesus urged in his Sermon on the Mount. (Matt. 6:19-21) Yes, by using their time, their energies and their means in such unselfish ways, they are making friends for themselves of Jehovah God and Jesus Christ. Then when this wicked system of things comes to its end they can hope to survive it to enter into a post-Armageddon new system of things, even as Noah and his family survived the Deluge to enter into a new system of things.—Luke 16:9.
There is no question about it. Representing the Most High God Jehovah is a great honor and presents a real challenge. It has a sound Scriptural precedent and is within the capabilities of just about every dedicated Christian regardless of secular education. Those who successfully meet the challenge of house-to-house witnessing are able to do much good to their fellowmen and receive blessings from Jehovah God for it.