Meeting the Challenge of Inflation
Fulfilling our commission to preach “this good news of the kingdom” despite the economic crisis
1 When the disciples were sent out in the first century to preach the electrifying message, “The kingdom of the heavens has drawn near,” they were given some specific instructions concerning financial support of their work. “Do not procure gold or silver or copper for your girdle purses,” Jesus said, “or a food pouch for the trip, or two undergarments, or sandals or a staff.” (Matt. 10:7-10) Their undistracted attention was to focus on spiritual matters, the giving of a thorough witness concerning God’s kingdom. If they put Kingdom interests first in their lives, their material needs would be provided. “The worker is worthy of his wages.”—Matt. 6:32, 33; Luke 10:4, 7.
2 In modern times it has been the same with Jehovah’s people, as the history of the last 100 years shows. Rather than soliciting funds or sponsoring money-making schemes for the building of great cathedrals and ornate palaces for a clergy class, Jehovah’s people have put the emphasis on comforting depressed mankind with the glorious message of God’s kingdom by Christ Jesus—the only hope of the world. (Matt. 12:21) This Scriptural viewpoint of priorities was clearly set out in the second issue (August 1879) of the Society’s official publication. There it was stated: “‘Zion’s Watch Tower’ has, we believe, JEHOVAH for its backer, and while this is the case it will never beg nor petition men for support. When He who says: ‘All the gold and silver of the mountains are mine,’ fails to provide necessary funds, we will understand it to be time to suspend the publication.”
3 This policy has served well as our guideline ever since. “Seats Free—No Collections” has always been the slogan wherever we have held our meetings, and Jehovah has added his blessing. In modern times, as in the first century, our preaching work has been supported in large measure by unsolicited and wholly voluntary contributions. (Rom. 15:26; 2 Cor. 9:13) In this respect Brother Russell himself took the lead. He closed out his partnership with his father and spent his personal fortune of a quarter-million dollars in the Kingdom work. Many other faithful ones with similar devotion to Jehovah followed this example.
PUBLICITY OF THE KINGDOM BY PRINTED PAGE
4 Early Christians were not content just with telling others the “good news” by word of mouth. They set about to duplicate copies of the Scriptures and to distribute them far and wide. More than just making copies of conventional scrolls, those early Christians are credited with producing the Scriptures in codex form, books, if you please, with individual pages for easy reading as opposed to the older and more cumbersome scrolls. Yes, in a figurative sense ‘Christianity went to press’ back there in the first century.
5 So, too, in the 1800’s, when the Kingdom-preaching work got started, it was not surprising that the brothers began distributing great quantities of the “good news” in printed form. Millions of copies of The Object and Manner of the Lord’s Return and other tracts were widely distributed. By 1884 over a million copies of Food for Thinking Christians had been placed with the people, free of charge. The first volume (356 pages) of the “Millennial Dawn” series (later known as Studies in the Scriptures) was published in 1886. After that, during the next 40 years, six million copies of these volumes were put out in a number of languages.
6 As the work increased it became necessary to obtain larger quarters in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (in 1889). This building was known as the “Bible House” and it served as the Society’s headquarters for the next 20 years.
7 An important feature of the work back there, and one that contributed to the expansion of the Kingdom preaching, was sending out a large number of colporteurs and evangelists with financial support. These are known today as “pioneers.” Then in 1897 the “pilgrim” work began. Those traveling representatives visited the ever-growing number of congregations on a regular basis in order to build up and strengthen their brothers spiritually. Today the same work is accomplished by the nearly three thousand circuit and district overseers, supported, in part, by the Society.
8 Around the turn of the century foreign branches began to be established in Great Britain, Germany, Australia, and so forth. It seemed advisable with this overseas expansion of the work to move the headquarters of the Society to a seaport city. So in 1909 property was purchased in Brooklyn, New York, and the headquarters were moved there from Pittsburgh.
9 A history-making venture in sound/motion pictures got underway in 1912. From January 1914 halls were packed out and crowds were turned away as the completed “Photo-Drama of Creation” began to be shown without charge throughout the world in a number of languages.
10 Several months after it began showing, World War I broke out in Europe on July 28, 1914. What would this mean for the work of Jehovah’s people? For 40 years the Kingdom message had been preached at a tremendous expense in time and money on the part of Jehovah’s dedicated people. Around 10,000,000 books and booklets and many millions of tracts had been distributed. So the question was, Would this work now wind down and come to an end? The answer was ‘No.’ In fact, the following year, in 1915, during a question-and-answer session in Vancouver, Canada, Brother Russell said: “There is a great work to be done, and it will take thousands of brethren and millions in money to do it. Where these will come from I don’t know—the Lord knows his own business.”
11 How prophetic his words proved to be—‘a great work yet to be done that will take thousands of brothers and millions of dollars’! And how true his words, “the Lord knows his own business”! For the Lord Jehovah did provide both the thousands of brothers and the dollars—in his due time, of course.
12 But first, World War I would need to run its course. And in its course fanatical opposition against Jehovah’s people was generated. (Rev. 12:12-14) This resulted in an almost complete halt in the Kingdom-preaching work when the Society’s officers were imprisoned on false charges in a federal penitentiary in 1918.—Matt. 24:9-12.
REVIVAL OF THE WORK AFTER WORLD WAR I
13 Following the liberation and exoneration of the imprisoned officers of the Society in 1919, the preaching work was quickly resumed. Again, the financial policies that had served Jehovah’s people so well as guidelines for more than 40 years were adopted. The attitude was: ‘Since Jehovah is the backer, he will supply the funds for what he wishes to be done now.’
14 Up until then the Society had only small job presses of its own. The magazines and books were produced by outside printers. Now it seemed to be Jehovah’s will that a rotary magazine press be obtained so that we ourselves could do the printing of The Watch Tower. With the purchase of that first rotary press, a companion magazine of The Watch Tower, the Golden Age (known today as Awake!), started publication. The first issue was dated October 1, 1919. After the transfer of the factory to 18 Concord Street, Brooklyn, on March 1, 1922, a second rotary press, a M.A.N. press for printing bound books, was purchased. In the years that followed, with the ever-greater cry for more books and booklets, the Society bought many, many more rotary presses. This in turn meant the building of bigger printing plants. Also larger housing facilities had to be constructed to accommodate the enlarged Bethel families as more manpower was needed to keep up with the increased demand from the field for literature.
15 Looking back, the unfolding of the slogan ‘Advertise! Advertise! Advertise! the King and the Kingdom,’ at the 1922 Cedar Point, Ohio, convention appears to have been the signal for the Kingdom-preaching work to gain added momentum. Soon the regular house-to-house work by congregation publishers was more fully organized.
16 About the same time the radio began to be used quite extensively to broadcast the Kingdom message. In 1927 Jehovah’s people arranged with the National Broadcasting Company for a chain of 53 stations to broadcast a lecture entitled “Freedom for the Peoples.” That was the largest single hookup up to that time. This expense was covered, as the many other expenses of the Society, by voluntary contributions on the part of dedicated Witnesses. The next year another history-making event took place when Jehovah’s people hooked up 107 radio stations for a single broadcast independent of any radio network. That lecture was entitled “Ruler for the People.”
17 At this time the pioneer work was encouraged and literature provided at a low cost to enable them to be full-time ministers. Are we not glad that now more than 125,000 are in this field?
18 Another milestone in the expansion of the proclamation of the “good news” occurred in 1937 with the start of the special pioneer service. These brothers and sisters are given assistance with a small allowance. Beginning with a few hundred, the ranks of special pioneers have grown until today there are more than 14,000 throughout the world. (Ps. 110:3; Heb. 13:15) The support of these special pioneers is borne by the Society. But when the results of their faithful efforts and self-sacrificing devotion are taken into account, when the lives of thousands of people whom they are able to help toward dedication are weighed, it is worth every penny of the contributed dollars that has to be spent to keep these special pioneer ministers in the field!
19 It was in the midst of World War II, in 1943, when Jehovah put it into the minds of his servants to open up the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead. Since then more than 5,800 missionaries have been trained and sent out to the ends of the earth. These missionary ministers entered many lands where there were few, or even no, Witnesses. Now there are many thousands of our brothers and sisters in those places. These faithful missionaries have had a very large part in gathering together a “great crowd” of more than 2,000,000 persons, speaking some 170 languages and living in more than 200 countries around the world. Here is evidence indeed that Jehovah has blessed the contributions given by our brothers. By this means, the Society has been able to support these faithful brothers and sisters.
WHERE DOES THE MONEY COME FROM?
20 This is a question often asked by people of this materialistic world. It is no secret. Some of the printing and shipping costs are covered by the contributions received for the literature placed in the field. But monies from this source nowhere near cover the Society’s expenses in this inflationary age. These expenses are not just those involving presses and literature materials (paper, ink, cover stocks, shipping costs, and so forth) but they also include the allowances of the special pioneers, missionaries, members of Bethel families and circuit and district overseers. Also high costs are involved as new facilities, new equipment and improved technology are required to continue the expansion of Jehovah’s work. Were it not for the additional voluntary contributions made by Jehovah’s devoted Witnesses and other individuals it would be impossible to finance the forward movement of this mighty witness throughout the earth in these “last days.”—Matt. 24:14.
21 We are reminded of a time in the past when God’s devoted servants built in the wilderness the tabernacle around which the worship of Jehovah was centered. Jehovah’s people only had to be alerted to the need and they voluntarily contributed more than enough gold, silver, copper, precious stones and other valuables so that the project could be completed. There was no coercion, no raffles, no bingo games, no bazaars or other money-raising schemes employed. Rather, as the record at Exodus chapter 35 shows, the compelling force of Jehovah’s spirit acted on the dedicated minds and hearts of the people. The invitation was extended: “Let every willing-hearted one bring it as Jehovah’s contribution.” (Vs. 5) What was the response? The account tells us: “Then they came, everyone whose heart impelled him, and they brought, everyone whose spirit incited him, Jehovah’s contribution for the work of the tent of meeting and for all its service and for the holy garments.” (Vs. 21) “Every man and woman whose hearts incited them to bring something for all the work that Jehovah had commanded to make by means of Moses did so.”—Vs. 29.
22 Some 475 years later Jehovah put it in David’s heart to build a magnificent temple to Jehovah’s praise atop Mount Moriah. Again the invitation was given: “Who is there volunteering to fill his hand today with a gift for Jehovah?” In reply, “the people gave way to rejoicing over their making voluntary offerings, for it was with a complete heart that they made voluntary offerings to Jehovah.” The gold alone that was contributed by David himself and by the people would amount at today’s inflated prices to something over $7,000,000,000!—1 Chron. 29:5-9.
23 In giving such voluntary support, did the contributors take credit to themselves? Far from it! Note David’s praiseworthy attitude. He said: “Who am I and who are my people, that we should retain power to make voluntary offerings like this? For everything is from you [Jehovah], and out of your own hand we have given to you. . . . O Jehovah our God, all this abundance that we have prepared to build for you a house for your holy name, from your hand it is, and to you it all belongs. And I well know, O my God, that you are an examiner of the heart, . . . I, for my part, in the uprightness of my heart have voluntarily offered all these things, and now your people who are on hand here I have enjoyed seeing make offerings voluntarily to you.”—1 Chron. 29:14-17.
INFLATION—ECONOMIC PLAGUE ON THE WORLD
24 What is the economic situation as we enter the year 1981? Within a short period of time prices of all types of commodities have skyrocketed far beyond the gloomiest predictions of astute economists. The price of gold soared from a mere $35 a few years ago to as much as $800 an ounce. In the U.S.A. gasoline has gone from around 30 cents a gallon to $1.30, while in some countries it is $2, $3 or more a gallon. Air fares have doubled and quadrupled. A ride on the New York subway costs 12 times what it did 32 years ago, and soon may go higher.
25 This galloping inflation has affected practically everything that is needed in a material way to preach this good news of the Kingdom. A case in point: Paper that cost $35 a ton before World War II is now nearly $500 a ton. Postal charges for magazines, and shipping costs for books, are soaring higher and higher. Why, in many countries around the world the Society now runs its own trucking service to the congregations in order to keep magazine costs down within the reach of all classes of persons who so much need the Kingdom literature.
26 With this inflation, there must be some increase in allowances to assist the special pioneers and missionaries in their assignments. Similarly the allowances given to the thousands of members of the Bethel families around the world have been increased several times over the past 30 years to help them keep decently equipped and to care for their transportation to meetings and service.
HOW DOES INFLATION AFFECT OUR WORK?
27 How do we keep the preaching of the “good news” going to all nations? Where does the money come from in order to cover these rising costs of printing and distribution? Well, Jehovah has multiplied the number of his Witnesses many times over during the past 40 years, and with their increased inflationary wages many of them, in turn, increase their unsolicited and voluntary contributions. Jehovah’s people today have the same loving devotion and dedication to his worship and service that they had when the tabernacle in the wilderness and the temple on Mount Moriah were built. To be sure, not all are able to contribute the same amount, nor is there a tithing system in effect. Rather, as among first-century Christians, their contributions are “according to what a person has, not according to what a person does not have.” Yes, “if the readiness is there first, it is especially acceptable” in proportion to how Jehovah blesses each one.—2 Cor. 8:12.
28 Because of this Bible principle we find that much of the financial support of the worldwide witness work has come from the brothers in the more affluent nations of the world. Yet, for the most part, the greatest increases in publishers are not in the financially prosperous nations but, rather, among the underprivileged peoples who have little material means.—1 Cor. 1:26-29.
29 Not surprisingly, it has become increasingly difficult to cover the increased cost of paper and shipping and other enormous inflationary costs just from voluntary contributions. Hence, the brothers as well as the public need to contribute more toward the cost of the literature. It is no longer possible to place our bound books on the contributions of former times. It has become necessary to increase these rates to offset to some extent the decreased purchasing power of money.
30 Other economic measures have also been taken by the Society in an effort to combat inflation. As much as we dislike using paper and other materials of lower quality, this has been necessary to some extent under the circumstances. Also the Society has recently purchased offset presses, which cut down on the percentage of waste paper due to their more efficient design. By converting to computerized phototypesetting we will also be able to cut both platemaking and manpower costs. These projects have been expensive initially, but in the long run they should prove economically sound investments.
31 Some branch homes and factories around the world are overcrowded and badly in need of being enlarged. Some building programs have gone ahead, but it has been necessary to postpone others because of soaring construction costs in the past few years. Similarly, money has not been available from the Society for building Kingdom Halls as previously, but it is hoped this will be only temporary.
WILL INFLATION STOP THE WITNESS WORK?
32 Should the long-standing financial policy of the Society be changed or abandoned in order to cope with the world’s economic crisis? We think not. We believe the policy is as sound today as when it was first published more than 100 years ago, namely: “When He who says: ‘All the gold and silver of the mountains are mine,’ fails to provide necessary funds, we will understand it to be time to suspend the publication” of our books and magazines. We are absolutely convinced that this is not the work of any man or group of men. Rather, it is Jehovah’s work under the direction of his beloved Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.
33 Inflation may call for adjustments but it will not hinder Jehovah’s work, so long as it is His will that “this good news of the kingdom” be preached. On the other hand, by viewing the short supply of money as a challenge, we are attempting to be realistic and to use practical wisdom in tackling the problem. (Prov. 3:21-23) We believe the Lord’s people should likewise view the problems of inflation that they are facing in their individual lives. They should not be unduly anxious as worldlings are who say, ‘What are we going to eat? Or what are we going to wear? Or where are we going to live?’ Never will Jehovah’s people have to beg for bread, if they seek first God’s kingdom and his righteousness. (Ps. 37:25; Matt. 6:31-34; Luke 21:28) At the same time they should be frugal with their money. They should see where they can cut down spending on unimportant things, avoiding always the spirit of the materialistic world, in order to have money for the necessities of life as well as for things pertaining to the Kingdom and a furthering of its interests.
34 As economic conditions continue to worsen around the earth, Jehovah’s people worldwide are indeed to be commended for their generosity and for their support of the Kingdom work, both by their loans and by their contributions. They contribute not only for the building and upkeep of their local Kingdom Halls (and in some areas their circuit assembly halls) but also for the construction of new branch buildings and the purchase of new printing presses and other equipment. More than that, they often contribute toward relief work when disasters such as earthquakes and hurricanes strike our brothers in various parts of the world. A recent example of generosity in behalf of distressed brothers was the assistance given in providing for and resettling some 3,000 brothers who came from Cuba to the U.S.A.
35 Though some contributions are very small, like the needy widow’s “two small coins of very little value,” yet in Jehovah’s eyes they are of great value. They add up like many drops in the proverbial bucket to fill it to overflowing to Jehovah’s praise.—Luke 21:1-4.
36 As economic conditions in the world continue to worsen in these “last days” we look to Jehovah for continued guidance and direction of the witness work yet to be accomplished. May He continue to supply all the funds necessary and may He give his faithful servants the wisdom from above in their discreet expenditure of the same. May this be to the praise and glory of Jehovah the God who can more than superabundantly supply all that is needed for completing his witness work within the allotted time!—Eph. 3:20, 21.