Keeping Our Eye “Simple” in Kingdom Work
THE German Democratic Republic (G.D.R.), or what was known as East Germany, barely reached middle age. Forty-one years of existence ended on October 3, 1990, when its territory, roughly the size of Liberia or the state of Tennessee in the United States, was integrated into the Federal Republic of Germany, which had been called West Germany.
Reunification of the two Germanys has meant an immense package of reforms. What had separated the two countries was, not just a physical border, but a frontier of ideologies. What did all of this mean for the people there, and how has life changed for Jehovah’s Witnesses?
The Wende, the revolution in November 1989 that made reunification possible, came hard on the heels of four decades of rigid socialism. During that period, the activities of Jehovah’s Witnesses were banned, and the persecution of them was at times intense.a When freedom came to the G.D.R., euphoria swept through the population. But as the elation waned, many became disoriented, disappointed, even disillusioned. The task of integrating the two Germanys into one social, political, and economic entity is proving to be formidable.
According to the special report “162 Tage Deutsche Geschichte” (162 Days of German History) in Der Spiegel, following reunification there was widespread fear of unemployment, inflation, and increasing rents. “Will I have enough pension?” asked many in the former G.D.R. What about housing? “All over the G.D.R., old buildings are falling into decay, whole streets becoming uninhabitable.” Pollution reached horrific levels.
Faced with such social and economic turmoil, how have Jehovah’s Witnesses in the former G.D.R. managed?
Keeping the Eye Properly Focused
Jehovah’s Witnesses have no ideological frontiers. Their Bible-based faith is the same, whether in East or West. With their social environment in transition, most Witnesses maintain spiritual balance by keeping their eyes riveted on the prime goal of serving Jehovah. Why is this imperative?
Because “the scene of this world is changing.” (1 Corinthians 7:31) One Christian elder remarks that preaching under ban prior to the Wende required courage; it taught the Witnesses to rely on Jehovah and trained them in handling the Bible. Now, however, “we have to be more careful not to be sidetracked by materialism and the anxieties of life.”
Freedom and progress are often measured in material terms. Many people in this region feel a need to make up for lost time or maybe lost pleasures. This becomes clear when one is driving along the cobblestone roads in the towns and villages of Thuringia and Saxony in the south. The roads may be in need of repair, the dwellings modest, but what a plethora there is of television satellite dishes! It is easy for a person to be duped into believing that security and happiness result from having everything the eye sees. What a dangerous trap that is!
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus spoke about the dangers of paying undue attention to material things and to the anxieties of life. “Stop storing up for yourselves treasures upon the earth,” he cautioned. He added: “The lamp of the body is the eye. If, then, your eye is simple, your whole body will be bright.” (Matthew 6:19, 22) What did he mean? A simple eye is one that is in focus and that transmits clear images to the mind. A spiritual eye that is simple keeps the image of God’s Kingdom clear. So a Christian’s resolve to keep his eye simple, clearly focused on the Kingdom of God, and to relegate anxieties to the background helps to keep him spiritually balanced.
This can be illustrated by the experience of a couple from Zwickau, Saxony, who showed interest in the Bible at the time of the Wende. Their business was very time-consuming, yet they put spiritual interests first, attending all Christian meetings. “From the point of view of our business, we cannot afford the time,” they admitted, “but spiritually we need it.” What a wise decision!
Consider, too, a family in Plauen, also in Saxony. The husband was a watchmaker, a master craftsman with his own business. Following the Wende, the rent for his premises increased sharply. What should he do? “It would cost a lot of money, and I learned the truth to live for the truth.” So he moved into premises less well-situated but with a lower rent. Yes, the watchmaker learned very quickly about keeping his eye simple.
A few, though, learned too late. One Christian elder, reasoning that the newly introduced free-market economy was full of promise, went into business. A traveling overseer kindly urged him not to let business commitments crowd out spirituality. Yet, sadly, that is what happened. Some months later the brother resigned as an elder. He later wrote: “Based on my own experience, I would advise any brother who is reaching out for service privileges not to go into business on his own.” This does not mean that being self-employed is wrong for a Christian. But whether we have our own business or not, paying too much attention to economic anxieties can make us involuntary slaves of wealth. Jesus showed the outcome: “No one can slave for two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will stick to the one and despise the other.” (Matthew 6:24) The German poet Goethe stated: “None are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe they are free.”
Being caught in a literal storm may require us to squint or cup our hands around our eyes to keep our goal in sight. When surrounded by political, economic, or social turmoil, concentration is necessary to keep our spiritual goal in view. What are some Christians doing to keep their eye simple in Kingdom work?
Increased Kingdom Activity
All over the former G.D.R., Witnesses are devoting more time to preaching than ever before. In the last two years, the average time spent in field service rose by 21 percent. The result is a dramatic 34-percent increase in home Bible studies. Furthermore, the number of regular pioneers is currently four times as high as it was just two years ago! While others worry and complain, more than 23,000 Christians in what was hitherto the G.D.R. are coping with the situation by keeping their eye simple. This has contributed to the astonishing increase in Kingdom activity.—Compare Joshua 6:15.
The expanded activity means that the territory is being well cared for in the south, where the majority of Witnesses live. Many of the place-names have a historic ring. If you are fond of fine china, you will recognize the town of Meissen, near Dresden, as the origin of some of the world’s most delicate porcelain. Meissen is now the home of some 130 Kingdom publishers. Or consider Weimar, “the classical capital of Germany.” The Goethe-Schiller Memorial in the town center testifies to Weimar’s dignified connections with those two writers and is a source of pride for many there. Today Weimar can be proud of its over 150 publishers of the good news.
In the north, however, things are very different, with fewer publishers and greater distances between congregations. Particularly are jobs scarce. Many who have work are under pressure to stay overtime so as to keep their job. One brother serving as a full-time preacher in the north explains: “Under ban each brother needed Jehovah’s protection in field service, but finding a job was not difficult. Now it’s the other way around. We have freedom to preach, but we need his guidance with regard to employment. Such a change takes quite some getting used to.”
Are the publishers pleased to be able to preach more often? Wolfgang’s view is: “It is far better for the same publisher to work the same territory over and over again. People grow to trust him and are more open.” Apart from that, householders are “no longer embarrassed to talk about religion at the door, even when passersby are within hearing distance. Religion is not a taboo subject anymore.” Ralf and Martina agree. “We enjoy working our territory more frequently. We can get to know people personally and are also thrilled about the wide variety of literature available.”
Appreciation for Our Literature
Ralf and Martina especially appreciate the book Life—How Did It Get Here? By Evolution or by Creation? For the many who embraced atheism in the former G.D.R., this book is proving to be a wonderful Bible study aid. They also wished for a shorter publication containing similar material. “How excited we were at the release of the brochure Does God Really Care About Us? at the 1992 ‘Light Bearers’ District Convention in Dresden. It was an answer to our prayers.”
Many non-Witnesses have come to admire the Watch Tower publications. In July 1992 a lecturer in social education wrote to express her “highest respect and warmest thanks” for the publications, which she uses to prepare lectures. In January 1992 a lady in Rostock accepted a copy of the book You Can Live Forever in Paradise on Earth from two Witnesses who came to her door. She wrote to the Germany branch office: “I belong to the Lutheran Church. I have the highest regard for the activities of the organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses. They state resolutely that man can no longer exist without God’s guidance.”
How much spiritual guidance have Christendom’s churches given their members? The prestigious newspaper Die Zeit commented in December 1991 that whereas the Lutheran Church had “basked in glory for a short time as mother of the peaceful revolution, its public rating seems to be sinking rapidly.” Indeed, a representative of the Lutheran Church lamented: “People confused life in the free-market system with paradise.” A church member in Magdeburg wrote requesting information. Why? “After years of smiling in disbelief,” wrote the gentleman, “I am now firmly convinced that this world is at its relative end and that we shall encounter great troubles in the near future.”—2 Timothy 3:1-5.
Building for Expansion
Prior to the Wende, Kingdom Halls were not allowed in the G.D.R. Now they are urgently needed; building them is being given priority. This is another aspect of true worship that has undergone remarkable transition. The experience of one brother illustrates just how rapid this change has been.
In March 1990, just hours after Jehovah’s Witnesses received legal recognition in the G.D.R., a brother was invited to address a group of Witnesses, using a microphone for the first time in his life. Two and a half years later, the congregation he associates with dedicated a brand-new Kingdom Hall. By the end of 1992, seven Kingdom Halls had been constructed for 16 congregations. Over 30 others, as well as an attractive Assembly Hall, are in the planning stage.
Eye Fixed on God’s Kingdom
“Shortly after the Wende,” remarks a Christian elder, “many people rejected the Bible. They placed their hope in the new government, which held out a promise of better conditions at last.” Was their hope fulfilled? “Within two years they changed their minds. People now agree with us that human governments can never bring about peace and righteousness.”
Multitudes rejoiced at the eclipse of rigid socialism in the G.D.R., heralding what they considered to be a golden dawn of Western ideology. But they were disappointed. Regardless of what government is in power, Jehovah’s Witnesses keep their eye simple and firmly fixed on God’s Kingdom, which shines like a star in the heavens. Such hope will never lead to disappointment.—Romans 5:5.
a See “Jehovah Cared for Us Under Ban,” Parts 1-3, in The Watchtower issues of April 15, May 1, and May 15, 1992.
[Pictures on page 26]
Witnesses in Germany are using their freedom to get more and more involved in Kingdom activity