Witnessing to People of All Languages and Religions
1 Christians in the first century gave a zealous witness to people who spoke other languages and who professed different religions. As a result, “by the year 100 probably every province that bordered the Mediterranean had a Christian community within it.”—History of the Middle Ages.
2 Here in the United States, many people speak languages other than English. There are cities and towns now that have foreign communities of considerable size because of the movement of refugees. Multitudes who practice various non-Christian religions have immigrated here, including hundreds of thousands of Buddhists, Hindus, Jews, and Muslims. Because of this diversity of languages and religions, it is quite a challenge to know how to converse with and witness to all such people when we meet them. In effect, we may have missionary territory in our own locality. How can we follow Jesus’ orders “to preach to the people and to give a thorough witness” to people of all languages and religions?—Acts 10:42.
Witnessing to People Who Speak Another Language
3 A great increase in new publishers is coming from among the foreign-speaking population in the 48 states in our branch territory. Congregations have been established in 17 foreign languages, and groups are functioning in 7 additional languages. However, more can yet be accomplished where there are no foreign-language congregations already working the territory.
4 Hurdling the Language Barrier: There is no doubt that many people learn much more quickly and with deeper understanding when they are taught in their mother tongue. “For the sake of the good news” and in order that they ‘may become sharers of it with others,’ many brothers and sisters have learned another language. (1 Cor. 9:23) Although a Chinese-speaking woman had been on an English-speaking sister’s magazine route for years, the woman declined offers of a Bible study until another sister, who was learning Chinese, offered her a book in that language. It was readily accepted along with a study. What made all the difference was the second sister’s effort to speak a few words in the woman’s own language.—Compare Acts 22:2.
5 For good reason the November 1, 1992, Watchtower makes this comment: “Learning a foreign language . . . will not only develop the mental capacity of young people but also make them more useful to Jehovah’s organization.” Many members of the Bethel family have undertaken the task of learning a new language. In this way, brothers have been particularly helpful in congregations where they are needed to take the lead. If you know another language or if you are willing to learn, you too may be able to render assistance to a foreign-language congregation or group.—Matt. 9:37, 38.
6 A brother in Florida who learned Vietnamese prior to coming into the truth now finds great joy in sharing the good news with Vietnamese-speaking people. To make himself more available to use his knowledge of that language for witnessing, he moved his family cross-country to where the need is greater in the Vietnamese field. Since making the move, he is having good success in studying the Bible with many people from Vietnam.
7 A pioneer sister in California met several deaf people in her territory. She prayed for Jehovah’s help to find someone who could teach her sign language so that she could teach them the truth. One day while shopping in the neighborhood supermarket, she was approached by a young deaf woman who wrote a note asking for help to find a product. After assisting her to find it, the pioneer wrote a note expressing her desire to learn sign language so as to help the deaf in the area. Then the deaf woman wrote, asking, “Why do you want to help deaf people?” The sister wrote back: “I am one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, and I want to help the deaf understand the Bible. I will be happy to teach you the Bible if you will teach me sign language.” The sister says: “You cannot imagine my joy when she said ‘OK.’” The sister went to the woman’s home every evening for six weeks. She learned sign language, and the deaf woman learned the truth and was baptized! That happened over 30 years ago, and the pioneer sister is still witnessing to the deaf and is now associating with a sign-language congregation.
8 If you are fluent in another language and have the desire and are able to move to where the need is greater in that field, why not discuss the matter with the elders in the congregation. If they feel you qualify for such a move, ask the circuit overseer if there is an area where you can serve nearby. If there is not, you can write to the Society, provided that the elders send along a covering letter with their observations about your qualifications and language skills.—See the August 15, 1988, Watchtower, pages 21-3.
9 Using the Tools That Are Provided: Our literature is available in many foreign languages. It would be good to carry tracts—or if no foreign-language congregation is working the same territory, the Require brochure—in the languages that are spoken in your territory. If it is obvious that English is not a person’s first language, ask him what languages he reads. This may increase your options as to what literature you can offer. For example, a person who speaks Urdu may also be able to read Arabic.
10 Even if you do not speak the language of the person you meet in your witnessing activity, you may still be able to present the good news to him. How? By using the booklet Good News for All Nations. It contains a brief printed message in 59 languages. As the instructions on page 2 of the booklet explain, after you have determined the householder’s language, let him read the printed information on the appropriate page in the booklet. After he reads it, show him a publication in his language. If you do not have one, show him the publication in English. Indicate that you will try to return with a copy in his language. Ask his name, and write it down along with the address. Perhaps you can pass the information on to the nearest congregation or group for that language, using the Foreign Language Follow-Up Slip (S-70a). For further instructions on how to forward such information to the appropriate brothers, see page 7 of the October 1993 Our Kingdom Ministry. If no one who speaks the language is available to take the call, you may be able to accept the challenge, perhaps even studying with the person by following along in an English publication.—1 Cor. 9:19-23.
Witnessing to People of Non-Christian Religions
11 Having some knowledge of a person’s religious background helps us to give an effective witness about God’s Kingdom. The book Mankind’s Search for God gives us insight into the world’s major religions so that we can understand people’s beliefs well enough to help them come to a knowledge of the truth.
12 The box on the last page of this insert gives a current list of publications that Jehovah’s organization has provided for use in witnessing to non-Christian people. By reading these publications, we understand how to approach people with the good news. Not to be forgotten as a helpful tool is the Reasoning book. Pages 21-4 of that book provide practical suggestions on how to respond to Buddhists, Hindus, Jews, and Muslims.
13 Being Careful What You Say: We should be careful not to stereotype people of a certain religion by concluding that their personal beliefs are necessarily the same as those of others of that faith. Instead, endeavor to understand how the individual you are speaking with thinks. (Acts 10:24-35) As a Muslim, Salimoon was brought up to believe that the Koran is God’s word. But he could never fully accept the Muslim teaching that an all-merciful God would torture people in a burning hell. One day, Jehovah’s Witnesses invited him to a meeting. Recognizing the truth at once, he now serves happily as an elder in the Christian congregation.
14 When witnessing to those of non-Christian beliefs, we need to be careful that our approach does not cost us the opportunity to converse with them about the good news. (Acts 24:16) Adherents of some religions are very sensitive about any attempts to convert them from their faith. So be alert to find points on which to build a common ground so as to attract them to the whole truth of God’s Word. Sheeplike ones will respond to a kindly approach and a clear presentation of the truth.
15 Our word choice is also an important consideration, lest we unnecessarily alienate people from our message. For example, if you immediately identify yourself as a Christian, your listener might automatically associate you with Christendom’s churches, which could raise a barrier. It may also be advantageous to refer to the Bible as “the Scriptures” or “the holy writings.”—Matt. 21:42; 2 Tim. 3:15.
16 If you meet a person of a non-Christian religion and feel ill-equipped to offer a witness on the spot, use the opportunity just to get acquainted, leave a tract, and exchange names. Then return in a day or two, after you have adequately prepared to give a witness.—1 Tim. 4:16; 2 Tim. 3:17.
17 Witnessing to Buddhists: (See chapter 6 in Mankind’s Search for God.) Buddhist beliefs vary greatly from one adherent to another. Rather than advocate the existence of a personal Creator, Buddhism holds the Indian man Buddha Gautama, of the sixth century B.C.E., as a religious ideal. When he first saw a sick man, an old man, and a dead man, Gautama agonized over the meaning of life. ‘Were men born just to suffer, grow old, and die?’ he wondered. Of course, we can answer those questions for sincere Buddhists who want to know the answers.
18 When speaking to Buddhists, stick to the positive message and clear truths that are found in the greatest of all holy books, the Bible. Like most other people, Buddhists are keenly interested in peace, morality, and family life, and they often welcome discussion on these topics. This can lead to your highlighting the Kingdom as the real solution to mankind’s problems.
19 In some metropolitan areas in this country, there has been a large influx of Chinese people who hold to Buddhism and other Oriental philosophies. Many are students attending universities in the United States. When a sister in Montana saw a Chinese man in a grocery store, she handed him a tract in his language and offered him a Bible study. He said: “Do you mean the Holy Bible? I have been searching for this my whole life!” He started studying that week and began attending all the meetings.
20 For over a decade, a pioneer sister in Nevada has been teaching the truth to Chinese students. When working one building with eight apartments occupied by these students, she prayed for Jehovah to help her start a study in each apartment. Within two weeks she was studying with at least one student in each apartment. An approach that works well for her is to say that she has found a common concern among students—they all want peace and happiness. Then she asks if that is their concern too. They always agree. She directs their attention to the brochure Lasting Peace and Happiness—How to Find Them, which is designed for Chinese people. After having just five study sessions, one student told her he had been searching for the truth for a long time and has now found it.
21 Witnessing to Hindus: (See chapter 5 in Mankind’s Search for God.) Hinduism has no definite creed. Its philosophy is very complex. Hindus have a trinitarian concept of their major god Brahman (Brahma the Creator, Vishnu the Preserver, and Siva the Destroyer). Belief in an immortal soul is essential to their teaching of reincarnation, which tends to give Hindus a fatalistic view of life. (See the Reasoning book, pages 317-21, and The Watchtower, May 15, 1997, pages 3-8.) Hinduism teaches tolerance, that all religions lead to the same truth.
22 An approach to take in witnessing to a Hindu is to explain our Bible-based hope of living forever in human perfection on earth as well as the satisfying answers the Bible gives to the important questions that face all mankind.
23 Witnessing to Jews: (See chapter 9 in Mankind’s Search for God.) Unlike other non-Christian religions, Judaism is rooted in history, not in mythology. Through the inspired Hebrew Scriptures, an essential link is provided in mankind’s search for the true God. And yet, contrary to God’s Word, a basic teaching of modern Judaism is belief in an immortal human soul. A common ground can be established by confirming that we worship the God of Abraham and by acknowledging that we face the same difficulties in today’s world.
24 If you meet a Jew who lacks faith in God, asking whether he has always felt that way may help you discern what would best appeal to him. For example, he may never have heard a satisfying explanation as to why God permits suffering. Sincere Jews can be encouraged to reexamine the identity of Jesus as the Messiah, not through Christendom’s misrepresentations of him, but in the way Jewish writers of the Greek Scriptures present him.
25 Witnessing to Muslims: (See chapter 12 in Mankind’s Search for God.) Muslims (or, Moslems) are adherents of Islam (or, Muhammadanism), which includes belief in Allah as their sole deity and in Muhammad (570-632 C.E.) as his last and most important prophet. Because they do not believe that God had a son, Muslims recognize Jesus Christ as a lesser prophet of God, but nothing more. The Koran, which is less than 1,400 years old, cites both the Hebrew and the Greek Scriptures. Strong similarities exist between Islam and Catholicism. Both religions teach immortality of the human soul, a state of temporary torment, and the existence of a burning hell.
26 An obvious common ground is our belief that there is only one true God and that the Bible was inspired by him. A careful reader of the Koran has seen references to the Torah, the Psalms, and the Gospels as being God’s Word and has read that they should be recognized as such and obeyed. Hence, you can offer to study these with the individual.
27 This presentation might work with someone who identifies himself as a Muslim: “I have not spoken to many Muslims, but I have read something about a few teachings of your religion in this handbook. [Turn to page 24 in the Reasoning book.] It says you believe that Jesus was a prophet but that Muhammad was the last and most important prophet. Do you also believe that Moses was a true prophet? [Allow for response.] Could I show you what Moses learned from God about His personal name?” Then read Exodus 6:2, 3. On the return visit, you could discuss the subheading “One God, One Religion,” on page 13 in the booklet The Time for True Submission to God.
28 Today, many are acting in harmony with the words of Isaiah 55:6, which reads: “Search for Jehovah, you people, while he may be found. Call to him while he proves to be near.” This applies to all honesthearted ones, regardless of the language they speak or their religious background. We can be confident that Jehovah will bless our efforts as we endeavor to go and “make disciples of people of all the nations.”—Matt. 28:19.
[Box on page 6]
Literature Designed for Non-Christian Peoples
In Search of a Father (Booklet)
“Look! I Am Making All Things New” (Brochure)
Lasting Peace and Happiness—How to Find Them (Brochure)
From Kurukshetra to Armageddon—And Your Survival (Booklet)
Our Problems—Who Will Help Us Solve Them? (Brochure)
The Path of Divine Truth Leading to Liberation (Booklet)
Victory Over Death—Is It Possible for You? (Booklet)
Why Should We Worship God in Love and Truth? (Brochure)
A Peaceful New World—Will It Come? (Tract No. 17)
Jehovah’s Witnesses—What Do They Believe? (Tract No. 18)
Will There Ever Be a World Without War? (Brochure)
How to Find the Road to Paradise (Tract)
The Time for True Submission to God (Booklet)