Building to Last Forever
SOMEONE was overheard saying: “Our building will last forever.” But what kind of building could he possibly have meant—the sort of building that would last forever?
To find out, we must go back to a public announcement made on Sunday, July 30, 1978, to some 50,000 persons in Düsseldorf, Germany, and to an equally surprised crowd of almost 60,000 in Munich’s Olympic Stadium. The Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses had decided to purchase property in the Federal Republic of Germany upon which a completely new branch complex could be erected.
Why Was It Necessary?
In the late 1970’s the Watch Tower Society began changing its printing method to include computerized photocomposition and typesetting. The German branch, instructed to follow suit, realized that this changeover would entail buying new equipment and providing more work space.
There was also a growing discernment that expanded facilities would be needed to take care of an unprecedented increase in the preaching work. Jehovah’s promise that “the little one himself will become a thousand, and the small one a mighty nation” would not go unfulfilled. Indeed, it could not, for Jehovah had promised: “I myself, Jehovah, shall speed it up in its own time.”—Isaiah 60:22.
Back in 1947 the Society had purchased property in Wiesbaden for its branch office, and these facilities had repeatedly been enlarged to keep up with literature demands. But the number of languages in which literature was being printed and the number of publishers that needed to be supplied with literature continued to grow. Further expansion was once again necessary. Any such possibilities at the Wiesbaden facilities, however, had been totally exhausted. A new location was needed. The question was, Where?
“Jehovah already knows where the new Bethel should be built,” Martin Poetzinger, a member of the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses, reminded the members of the German branch committee. “The site already exists, but he will test your persistency in looking for it.” So the search began—a search that, before it was over, would involve inspecting 123 sites in over 70 different communities.
Site number 99 was viewed with guarded enthusiasm by some on the branch committee. Since others were less impressed, however, the search continued. Just as another site was about to be chosen, the branch committee was obviously guided by Jehovah to take another look at site number 99. This time all of them were convinced that this was, indeed, the site Jehovah had chosen. Without hesitation, arrangements were made to purchase 65 individual pieces of property, thereby forming one large plot of 30 hectares (74 a.).
A Most Appropriate Site
Right from the beginning, Jehovah’s Witnesses planned to do all designing and construction work themselves. Several hundred persons would be used to form the nucleus of a construction crew, or “family,” that would vary in size as others joined it for shorter periods of time—perhaps for a week or two, or perhaps just on weekends.
What proved to be most helpful were the three apartment houses already located on the property. Only partially occupied, they provided space that could immediately be used for housing part of the construction crew. Additional rooms became available as, one by one, the original occupants vacated some 30 apartments.
The site proved to be most appropriate in other ways too. It was located in the small community of Selters/Taunus at the western edge of the Taunus Mountains, it was near major traffic arteries and cities, and yet it was still largely rural in nature. Selters is a household word in Germany—and not unknown even in other parts of the world—because of the mineral water known as Selters water, or Seltzer water, that comes from there. And now from this center would go forth the even more healthful and refreshing spiritual waters of truth. How appropriate!
The building site was on a hill overlooking Selters. It had been named Am Steinfels, meaning in English “at the rock.” And, in fact, on one side the hill is a rocky precipice. This combination of rock and water may remind Bible students of how Jehovah God provided for his people, the Israelites, while they wandered through the wilderness on their way to the Promised Land. Isaiah 48:21 describes what once happened, saying: “They did not get thirsty when he was making them walk even through devastated places. Water out of the rock he caused to flow forth for them, and he proceeded to split a rock that the water might stream forth.” Now, in a symbolic way, Jehovah would provide for tens of thousands of honest-hearted persons by allowing waters of truth, in the form of Bibles and explanatory Bible-based material, to flow forth from Selters’ Steinfels in order to quench their spiritual thirst. How appropriate!
To Last Forever?
No building lasts forever. So it would be presumptuous to think that the buildings constructed at Selters would be an exception. But one thing is certain. These buildings have already contributed, and will continue to contribute, to another kind of building, the effects of which will last forever. You may wonder what kind of building this could be.
First of all, Bible literature printed here will build up the faith of unknown multitudes, conveying to them an accurate knowledge of God’s purposes. This, in turn, will lead them to dedicate their lives to Jehovah and to put themselves in line for everlasting life in his new system of things. The effects of this spiritual building will last forever.
Then there is the matter of building friendships. About one out of every seven Witnesses in the Federal Republic of Germany shared at Selters in actual construction work, either for several days, weeks or months, or on weekends. This included one almost 90-year-old Witness who showed up uninvited. When told he should have made application first and then waited for an invitation, he answered with a twinkle in his eye: “Now you really don’t believe you would have invited me at my age to come and help had I applied beforehand, do you?” What a precious privilege building friendships with Christians of that kind of willing and determined spirit! Some of these friendships are bound to last forever.
Of course, the friendship most highly prized by Christians is the friendship they can develop with Jehovah. The building of the new branch facilities offered numerous opportunities to deepen this friendship and to follow this counsel given to the disciples by Jesus: “Make friends for yourselves by means of the unrighteous riches, so that, when such fail, they may receive you into the everlasting dwelling places.”—Luke 16:9.
Tens of thousands of Jehovah’s Witnesses—rich and poor, young and old—contributed millions of dollars to help pay for the new facilities. Due to their generosity, the entire project could be completed without the necessity of borrowing money from worldly agencies or of having to go into debt. He who makes proper use of “unrighteous riches” can be assured of the friendship of Jehovah and his Son Jesus Christ and of blessings that will last forever.
Everyone involved in any way with the building project was afforded an opportunity to build and to reinforce the fine Christian qualities of faith, endurance, hope and love. And because of imperfections, particularly under the pressures of hard work and of meeting deadlines, how often the Christian qualities of long-suffering, mercy, forgiveness and self-control were put to the test! The practical lessons of Christian living learned by those who lived and worked in Selters are lessons producing fine fruitage that will last forever.
The Big Day
From the announcement of plans to build until the dedication program was held on April 21, 1984, 2,091 days of zealous activity had rushed by. Of course, for Jehovah, with whom “a thousand years [are] as one day,” this had been no more than what would be eight minutes and five seconds to humans. (2 Peter 3:8) And for many, now that most of the construction work was over, it seemed scarcely longer, even as Psalm 90:4 says of Jehovah: “For a thousand years are in your eyes but as yesterday when it is past, and as a watch during the night.”
The dedication ceremonies were scheduled for a Saturday. On Thursday, a radio weather reporter said: “It appears as though Germany is headed for the finest weekend of the year.” He was right. It dawned clear and sunny. But for those in attendance at the dedication ceremonies, it would have been “the finest weekend of the year” even if it had rained or snowed.
Attendance at Selters was restricted to members of the Bethel family, to the current construction crew, to visiting members of other Bethel families—24 countries were represented—to traveling overseers and to long-time construction workers. Another loving provision was that invitations were extended to every Witness in Germany who had been baptized for 60 years or more. What a thrill that over 200 of them were able to come!
A special source of joy was the presence of virtually the entire Governing Body, each member of which delivered a short speech of encouragement. Brother F. W. Franz, the Society’s president, delivered the dedication discourse, reviewing the modern-day history of Jehovah’s Witnesses and showing how the new Bethel complex would play an important part in further expansion.
Actually, every Witness in Germany had, in one way or another, contributed to the successful construction of the new branch facilities—either physically, financially or by means of supportive prayers. Thus all were entitled to be in on the big day. That is why arrangements were made to transmit the complete program by telephone hookup to rented auditoriums in 11 cities throughout the country. So at Selters and at these 11 cities, 97,562 persons were able to enjoy the program. All received a souvenir copy of a tasteful and informative 16-page brochure, either in English or in German, complete with four-color photographs. Additional copies were made available for Witnesses unable to attend.
During the program all were reminded of the unique privilege Christians today have of working faithfully with Jehovah. (2 Corinthians 6:1, 2) This had been the theme for the day back at the 1978 convention when the new building project was announced. And now, after the unique privilege of faithfully working under Jehovah’s guidance and with the support of his holy spirit on a project dedicated to his praise, how appropriate to use this as the theme for the dedication program! But this unique privilege of faithfully working with Jehovah in connection with the new branch facilities was only a foretaste of the privilege God’s people will have in the future—being able to work with Jehovah forever!
Precisely at 5:42 p.m. the dedication program was over—all too soon! But for some the weekend of special theocratic activity was not over. On Sunday, members of the Governing Body scattered to address audiences totaling 14,248 at the seven filled-to-overflowing assembly halls of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Germany. The fine information these invited guests received was later passed on to their fellow Witnesses in their home congregations.
Monday morning dawned clear and sunny, as though “the finest weekend of the year” was unwilling to end. After these exhilarating days of activity, the Selters Bethel family was back at work in its new home and working-place on the Steinfels. They were happy and felt secure.
The new Bethel (meaning, “house of God”), perched upon its Steinfels, had been newly dedicated to the service of God, of whom David said: “Blessed be Jehovah my Rock.” (Psalm 144:1) It had truly had its foundations laid on rock, both literally and symbolically. Therefore, it will last—the literal buildings for as long as Jehovah himself will yet determine. But what of the more important spiritual building that these structures are meant to facilitate? Why, yes, that building will last forever!
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The Kingdom Hall
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The Bethel library