Gathering “the Desirable Things” in Poland
POLAND is said to be a Catholic country. According to official statistics, 93 percent of the population belong to the Catholic Church. The recent political and social changes occurring there, however, have had a remarkable impact on the people and on their religious life. Surveys indicate that only about 50 percent of those polled consider themselves to be practicing Catholics.
In May 1989, Jehovah’s Witnesses were legally recognized as a religious organization in Poland. Since then, some 11,000 new ones have joined their ranks as publishers of the good news of the Kingdom. Now more than 102,000 Kingdom publishers are associated with over 1,300 congregations, and 200,422 persons attended the 1991 observance of the Memorial of Christ’s death. Thus, the foretold gathering of ‘the desirable things of the nations’ is taking place in Poland. (Haggai 2:7) Recently, headline-making international conventions of Jehovah’s Witnesses were held in Poland. But a look at some of the smaller towns in the country will especially show how the gathering work is proceeding in that land.
Pioneers Open the Way
Sztum is a town of about 10,000 situated near the point where the Vistula River empties into the Baltic Sea. This town has long been considered rocky territory as far as the preaching work is concerned. In 1987 there were only eight publishers in the area. However, things began to change when pioneers, or full-time Kingdom proclaimers, arrived. At the fifth meeting, held in a movie theater, 100 interested people were in attendance! A congregation was formed after two years of diligent effort. Now the 90 publishers have their own Kingdom Hall, and 150 persons attend their meetings regularly.
As expected, opposition soon came from the Catholic Church. A “specialist” nun gave some defamatory speeches about the Witnesses, accusing them of teaching false doctrines. But as so often happens, this boomeranged. Her lectures only made people want to find out the facts. Many of them have learned the truth and are now regular pioneers! They say: ‘While learning the truth, we thought everybody wanting to be a Witness had to be like his teacher, which meant becoming a pioneer.’ So the pioneer spirit pervades the whole congregation.
As a result, some 180 home Bible studies are being conducted in the area. By means of the book You Can Live Forever in Paradise on Earth, some have even been taught to read. At the same time, they have learned the truth. Regular ten-minute Bible studies are being conducted with a group of local prison inmates when they come out to clean the streets. One of them came to the defense of a Witness when a woman passing by started to abuse her. He ran up to the sister, took the Live Forever book from her hands, held it up, and asked the abusive woman: “Can’t you read? What’s written here? You can live forever in Paradise on earth! Have you ever heard of such a thing? Why in the world are you insulting God and his worshipers?”
Talk of the Town
Kruszwica, Poland’s onetime legendary capital, is a Catholic stronghold. Even by the middle of 1990, there were only a few Witnesses among its 9,300 inhabitants. But Jehovah’s rich blessing was upon the efforts of the Kingdom proclaimers.
Noticing the hypocrisy of their spiritual leaders, more and more people—especially young ones—turned to the Witnesses for answers. In a very short time, 20 home Bible studies were started. The parish priest gave some vicious sermons about Jehovah’s Witnesses, but this did not discourage sincere people from attending their meetings. The Witnesses became the main topic of conversation in the shops and parks and even in the church. Half a year later, two large book-study groups were formed. Kruszwica now has a very active congregation of some 35 worshipers of Jehovah. They are conducting 75 home Bible studies and are busily bringing in “the desirable things” that were once held captive by false religion.
Among these was 23-year-old Bogdan, a member of a staunchly Catholic family. He recalls: “I used to drink, smoke, and live an immoral life. I was known as a punk and an anarchist, and no one seemed to care. When I began to study the Bible, however, my mother threatened to poison herself. Not being able to stand the pressure, I cut off all contact with the Witnesses. Later, with the loving help of special pioneers, I was able to break free from all the bad practices. Having been baptized at the 1991 ‘Lovers of Freedom’ District Convention, I have chosen the full-time ministry as my goal in life and have been auxiliary pioneering since then.”
Twenty-one-year-old Sławomir was entangled in spiritism and Satanism, which he rejected once he saw that the Bible condemns such practices. “But Satan persisted,” he says. “One night the record player began playing without being switched on, and I heard satanic music, although I had removed from the house everything related to Devil worship. I prayed to Jehovah, and he helped me regain spiritual balance. A psychiatrist I used to consult at the urgings of my parents recognized radical improvements in my condition and concluded that I was healthy. He wrote on my chart: ‘Cured by Jehovah’s Witnesses.’”
Resisting the Worldly Spirit
Southwest of Kruszwica is Środa Śląska. “The desirable things” are also making their appearance in this little town of 9,000 people. Four years ago, there was only one of our spiritual sisters living there. Now, however, the number of Kingdom publishers has climbed to 47. Like most of the town’s residents, many of the Witnesses were once trapped in the snares of spiritism, drug addiction, and immorality. They feel that this was largely due to the spiritual vacuum existing in a church that is only able to condemn people spiritually, not help them. The Witnesses are offering real relief.
The young ones in the congregation have made school their personal territory for the preaching work. “My schoolmates often say to me: ‘You are wasting your youth,’” reports 18-year-old Kasia. “But I have avoided many troubles, and my life has become meaningful. I conduct several Bible studies at school and neglect neither my homework nor my personal study. Girls who say I am ‘wasting my youth’ are already mothers, grappling with loads of problems.”
Watch Tower publications have become very popular in the local schools. For example, a teacher of Polish told her students to follow the plain language of our journal Awake! as a model in writing their essays. Auxiliary pioneer Ewa finds the brochure School and Jehovah’s Witnesses very useful. “I really appreciate this publication. My teachers are well acquainted with it. I’ve never had any problem in getting permission to be excused from classes in order to attend large conventions.” Such a fine attitude on the part of young people makes Jehovah’s heart rejoice.—Proverbs 27:11.
Hardened Convicts Changed
To the east of Środa Śląska is Strzelce Opolskie, where there are two prisons. One is a high-security prison for incorrigible offenders. The Witnesses regularly visit these two penal institutions to bring the truth to the prisoners, many of whom were also captives of Babylon the Great, the world empire of false religion.—Revelation 18:1-5.
The Witnesses study the Bible with individual inmates and small groups of prisoners, some of whom have been baptized. Although they must serve their sentences, they are actively preaching the good news to other inmates. One prisoner preparing for baptism made such remarkable changes that the prison authorities allowed him to go home once a week. Others have written to their families expressing their determination to leave prison, not as criminals, but as Jehovah’s Witnesses.
The chief officer of one of the prisons complained that Catholic priests used to come but accomplished nothing. He asked the Witnesses: “What enables you to change and rehabilitate these people?” A letter from a prisoner to his family answers: “Here in prison, Jehovah’s Witnesses have told me about God’s wonderful promise concerning the new government, Jehovah’s Kingdom, that is soon to rule over the earth. Here I have had time to analyze my previous way of life in the light of the Bible. Having drawn bitter conclusions, I have been seized with the desire to become a free man and to find myself a subject of God’s Kingdom. Today I am a baptized Witness of Jehovah.”
In the other prison, many are serving 25-year terms for murder. A regular Bible study is being conducted with 12 men. One of them dedicated his life to Jehovah and was baptized, and others are planning to take these steps. Appreciating the good results of the educational methods used by Jehovah’s Witnesses, the chief prison officer said: “I don’t have 12 convicts. I have 600. Please help me rehabilitate them. I will supply you with everything you need, but please prepare the program. Take care of them!”
That was exactly what the brothers did. They presented a Bible program dealing with the purpose of life, the hope for the future, and the importance of giving up wrong practices. They also related experiences of a former prisoner who became one of Jehovah’s Witnesses and in time was appointed a congregation elder. The Witnesses also gave highlights from the life stories of a diamond thief and a drug abuser who have learned the truth.* The 20 prisoners present found the program most interesting and asked many questions, some even requesting Bible studies.
Faith and Endurance Tested
Lubaczów is a small town of 12,000 people near the border of Ukraine. The evangelizing work there gained impetus in 1988 when pioneers moved in to help the 12 local publishers. Now there are 72 active Kingdom publishers, and 150 persons attended the 1991 Memorial observance in the newly built Kingdom Hall.
In June 1991, Pope John Paul II visited Lubaczów. But that did nothing to bolster genuine faith among the people. Many of them are assailed with doubts and questions about the purpose of life and the hope for the future. When they are unable to get satisfying answers from the clergy, they turn to Jehovah’s Witnesses. Though the people may at first have pangs of conscience for turning their backs on their religion, the Bible truth they learn helps them to see that they have made the right decision.
Typical is the experience of Honorata, now a regular pioneer. About a year ago, she asked the priest at confession what God’s name was. “God is love—that’s his most beautiful name,” answered the priest. After a while, he added: “You are like a bucket of crystal-clear water into which someone has dropped ink. The effects are irreversible.” She thus got her answer. “I decided then that I would become one of Jehovah’s Witnesses,” says Honorata. “That too is irreversible.”
Nearly everyone who learned the truth in Lubaczów had to endure strong, even fanatic, opposition. But that did not deter them from embracing Bible truth and taking their stand for Jehovah.
Elżbieta relates: “At first they beat me at home. Then my family burst into the Kingdom Hall. . . . They took me home and began ‘administering justice’ with a knotty stick. I was beaten and kicked from head to toe just because of associating with the Witnesses. I was beaten so hard that I needed urgent medical treatment and was sent to the hospital. Jehovah helped me, and I recovered. My family rejected me. When I mentioned this to the priest, he belittled me, saying: ‘You’ve come to complain just because of a few slaps?’”
Another sister recalls: “Every year I used to go to Częstochowa to walk the Way of the Cross, which I considered a duty for every sincere Catholic. I still have scars on my knees.” At 18 she learned the truth and told the priest and her family that she was not going to return to church. She was severely beaten—“so badly that I had a brain concussion,” she reports. “But in the hospital I recovered sufficiently to attend the ‘Lovers of Freedom’ District Convention. I wept for joy when I saw true unity and love among people without fanaticism—things I never saw in Częstochowa. How happy I am that I have experienced Jehovah’s goodness and have learned to trust him.” Jehovah strengthens and upholds those who throw their burdens upon him.—Psalm 55:22.
Many captives of Babylon the Great are now heeding the call to “get out of her” in this Catholic country, even as they are elsewhere. If it is Jehovah’s will, his fearless people will continue to gather in yet more of “the desirable things” scattered throughout Poland. Surely, many will yet respond to the call: “‘Come!’ And let anyone thirsting come; let anyone that wishes take life’s water free.”—Revelation 18:4; 22:17.
[Map on page 24]
(For fully formatted text, see publication.)
[Picture on page 26]
Preaching the Kingdom message in Kruszwica, Poland