Caring for the Master’s Belongings
1 In Bible times a steward held a position of great trust. Abraham gave his steward the task of finding a wife for his son, Isaac. (Gen. 24:1-4) In effect, the steward was responsible to ensure the continuance of Abraham’s line. What a responsibility! No wonder the apostle Paul said: “What is looked for in stewards is for a man to be found faithful”!—1 Cor. 4:2.
2 Some aspects of the Christian ministry are described in the Bible as stewardships. For example, the apostle Paul spoke to the Ephesians of “the stewardship of the undeserved kindness of God that was given me with you in view.” (Eph. 3:2; Col. 1:25) He viewed his commission to carry the good news to the nations as a stewardship that he had to handle faithfully. (Acts 9:15; 22:21) The apostle Peter wrote to his anointed brothers: “Be hospitable to one another without grumbling. In proportion as each one has received a gift, use it in ministering to one another as fine stewards of God’s undeserved kindness expressed in various ways.” (1 Pet. 4:9, 10; Heb. 13:16) Whatever those first-century Christians possessed in a material way was a result of Jehovah’s undeserved kindness. They were, therefore, stewards of those things and needed to use them in a Christian way.
3 Today, Jehovah’s Witnesses have a similar view of matters. They have dedicated themselves to Jehovah God and view all they have—their lives, their physical strength, their material belongings—as fruits of “God’s undeserved kindness expressed in various ways.” As fine stewards, they feel accountable to Jehovah God for the way they use these things. In addition, they have been given a knowledge of the good news. This too is a trust that they desire to use in the finest way possible: to magnify Jehovah’s name and to help others come to a knowledge of the truth.—Matt. 28:19, 20; 1 Tim. 2:3, 4; 2 Tim. 1:13, 14.
4 How are Jehovah’s Witnesses discharging their responsibilities as stewards? The annual report shows that last year alone, worldwide they spent more than one billion hours preaching the “good news of the kingdom” and conducted more than 4,500,000 home Bible studies with interested persons. (Matt. 24:14) Their faithfulness as Jehovah’s stewards was also shown by their generous contributions toward the worldwide work and in support of local Kingdom Halls, by their hospitality to traveling overseers and others, and by their extraordinary kindness to those in great need—such as victims of armed conflicts. As a group, true Christians are caring well for the Master’s belongings.
“The Faithful Steward, the Discreet One”
5 Stewardship exists not only on an individual but also on an organizational level. Jesus called the anointed Christian congregation on earth “the faithful steward, the discreet one.” (Luke 12:42) The responsibility of this “faithful steward” is to provide “food supplies” and to take the lead in the international preaching of the good news. (Rev. 12:17) Related to this, the faithful steward class, represented by the Governing Body, has a God-given responsibility to manage properly its material and spiritual “talents.” (Matt. 25:15) In harmony with ‘the faithful steward’s’ example, individual branch corporations make every effort to use all financial contributions in a responsible manner, to further Kingdom interests. All such donations are made on trust, and “the faithful steward, the discreet one” is responsible to ensure that they are used for the purpose intended and that they are handled wisely, economically, and to good effect.
6 An example of the wise use of contributed funds is seen in the growth of the printing activity of Jehovah’s Witnesses during the 20th century. Distribution of Bibles as well as Bible literature—magazines, books, brochures, booklets, tracts, and Kingdom News—has played a major role in the spreading of “the good news” during these “last days.” (Mark 13:10; 2 Tim. 3:1) And the Watchtower magazine has been a major instrument in supplying “food at the proper time” to “the household of God” and their companions, the “great crowd” of “other sheep.”—Matt. 24:45; Eph. 2:19; Rev. 7:9; John 10:16.
7 Initially, all the literature of Jehovah’s Witnesses was produced by commercial printers. But during the 1920’s, it was decided that it would be more efficient and spiritually beneficial if Jehovah’s servants did their own printing. Starting in a small way in 1920, the printing work gradually grew in Brooklyn, New York, until it became very large. By 1967 the printing facilities covered four city blocks. Printing had also been undertaken in other lands, but in most of them, it had been interrupted by World War II.
8 However much the printing operation in the United States grew, it was never big enough to supply the whole world. Therefore, in the years following the war, printing operations were set up or were already under way in many other countries, including Canada, Denmark, England, Greece, South Africa, Switzerland, and West Germany. By the early 1970’s, Australia, Brazil, Finland, Ghana, Japan, Nigeria, and the Philippines had been added to the list. Some of these countries also produced bound books. Also in the early 1970’s, Gilead missionaries were trained in printing skills and sent to some of these lands to help the local brothers with the printing work.
9 During the 1980’s, the number of countries in which magazines were printed reached a peak of 51.a What a fine use of the Master’s belongings all of this turned out to be! What strong evidence of the growth of the Kingdom work! And what a powerful testimony to the generous support of millions of individual Witnesses of Jehovah who ‘honored Jehovah with their valuable things’! (Prov. 3:9) Thus, they proved themselves to be fine stewards of what Jehovah had blessed them with in various ways.
A Change in Focus
10 During the 1970’s and early 1980’s, great advances were made in printing technology, and Jehovah’s Witnesses adopted newer printing techniques. Previously, they had used the traditional letterpress style of printing. This gradually changed as they began to adopt the more modern offset printing. As a result, beautiful publications are being produced with full-color illustrations, instead of the two-color pictures (black plus one other color) that were possible on the old letterpresses. Further, computer technology changed the whole prepress operation (preparation for printing). Jehovah’s Witnesses developed a Multilanguage Electronic Phototypesetting System (MEPS), a computerized system that now supports printing in more than 370 different languages. No commercial program matches MEPS in its capacity to function in so many languages.
11 Thanks to MEPS computer technology and use of such other innovations as electronic mail, another great advance was made in producing food at the proper time. Previously, using the older technology, non-English-language magazines contained information months or even a year after the English. Now, The Watchtower appears simultaneously in 115 different languages, and Awake! in 62. This means that worldwide over 95 percent of those attending the weekly Watchtower Study of Jehovah’s Witnesses consider the same material at the same time. What a blessing this is! It was surely a fine use of the Master’s belongings to invest in all of that new technology!
Different Organizational Needs
12 These new systems changed the organizational needs of the worldwide printing operations of Jehovah’s Witnesses. The web offset presses are much faster than the old letterpresses, but they are also much more expensive. Computer systems that support related work, such as writing, translation, art, and graphics, while offering far more possibilities than the old systems, are also more costly. It soon became apparent that it was no longer cost-effective to print magazines in 51 different countries. Hence, in the 1990’s, “the faithful steward” took another look at things. What was the conclusion?
13 Studies indicated that the “valuable things” contributed by Jehovah’s Witnesses and their friends would be better spent if the printing work was consolidated. So the number of printing branches was gradually reduced. Germany has taken over the printing of magazines and literature for many lands in Eastern and Western Europe, including some that had previously handled their own printing. Italy supplies magazines and literature to parts of Africa and southeastern Europe, including Greece and Albania. In Africa, magazine printing has been limited to Nigeria and South Africa. Similar consolidation occurred around the world.
Factors to Weigh
14 By July 1998, printing of magazines will have been discontinued in a number of European countries, including Austria, Denmark, France, Greece, the Netherlands, and Switzerland. The burden of printing in Europe will be carried by Britain, Finland, Germany, Italy, Spain, and Sweden. In this way, unnecessary expenses will be avoided and contributions used in a better way for the worldwide work. How was it decided which countries would continue as printing locations and which would cease to print? In keeping with its mandate to care wisely for the Master’s belongings, “the faithful steward” carefully evaluated the practicality of printing in each location.
15 The overwhelming reason why printing was discontinued in some countries and consolidated in others was practicality. To have one country print literature for several other lands is more convenient and is a better use of expensive equipment. Printing is now being done where the costs are lower, materials are available, and shipping facilities are good. Thus, the Master’s belongings are being properly used. Of course, ceasing to print in a country does not mean that the preaching work there will stop. There will still be an abundant supply of printed matter available, and the hundreds of thousands of Witnesses of Jehovah in those lands will keep on zealously telling their neighbors “the good news of peace.” (Eph. 2:17) Moreover, this reorganization has resulted in other benefits.
16 To cite one benefit, most of the modern presses from Denmark, Greece, the Netherlands, and Switzerland were sent to Nigeria and the Philippines. Skilled operators from the European countries accepted the invitation to go with the presses and train the local operators in their use. Hence, those countries are now getting the same high-quality magazines that other lands have had.
17 Consider another benefit: The cost of printing magazines is now borne in the few lands where printing continues. As a result, in lands where printing has been discontinued, resources are now available for other purposes, such as building Kingdom Halls and helping to care for the needs of our brothers in poorer lands. Thus, careful use of the Master’s belongings means that Paul’s words to the Corinthians can be applied more effectively on an international scale: “I do not mean for it to be easy for others, but hard on you; but that by means of an equalizing your surplus just now might offset their deficiency . . . that an equalizing might take place.”—2 Cor. 8:13, 14.
18 As a result of this consolidation, Jehovah’s Witnesses around the world are linked together more closely than ever before. It is not a problem for the Witnesses in Denmark to have their magazines printed in Germany, although they used to print their own. They are grateful for the service of their German brothers. Do Jehovah’s Witnesses in Germany resent the fact that their contributions are being used to provide Bible literature for Denmark—or for Russia, Ukraine, and other lands? Of course not! They are happy to know that the contributions of their brothers in those lands can now be used for other necessary purposes.
Caring for the Belongings
19 In every Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses around the world, there is a contribution box marked “Contributions for the Society’s Worldwide Work—Matthew 24:14.” Unsolicited contributions placed in those boxes are available for use wherever there is a need. How the contributions are used is decided by “the faithful steward” and individual branch corporations. Hence, where permitted by law, money placed in a contribution box in one country might support the activities of Jehovah’s Witnesses in another country thousands of miles away. Contributions have been used in some lands to provide emergency aid for fellow believers suffering because of such things as hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, and civil wars. And such donations are being used to support missionaries in well over 200 lands.
20 In the congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses, as a general rule, financial matters are mentioned just once a month—and only for a few minutes. No collection plates are passed in Kingdom Halls or at assemblies. No solicitations for funds are sent to individuals. No fund-raisers are hired. Normally, The Watchtower has just one article a year explaining how those who so desire can make contributions to the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society in order to support the worldwide work. There is no regular mention of Society finances in Awake! How, then, has the enormous worldwide work of preaching the good news, building necessary Kingdom Halls, caring for those in special full-time service, and giving aid to Christians in need been accomplished? Jehovah has blessed his people in a wonderful way with a spirit of generosity. (2 Cor. 8:2) We take this opportunity to thank all who have had a share in ‘honoring Jehovah with their valuable things.’ They can be sure that “the faithful steward” will continue to watch over the Master’s belongings. And we pray that Jehovah will continue to bless all the arrangements made for the expansion of the worldwide work.
a In seven of these lands, the printing was done by commercial firms.