Highlights of the Past Year
Outstanding among the exciting events of the past year were the “God’s Way of Life” International Conventions. These gave tangible evidence that worshipers of Jehovah have truly become “a great crowd . . . out of all nations and tribes and peoples and tongues” whom Jehovah is preparing for life in his new world. (Rev. 7:9, 10) After attending one of these conventions, a Witness from Guadeloupe said that now, for the first time, he could truly ‘appreciate in his heart’ the reality of it.
Never before have we had so many international conventioners on the move. Tens of thousands of delegates traveled to other countries, even to other continents, to attend conventions. As they did so, the fact that they are truly part of an international family was abundantly evident.
From the end of May through August, “God’s Way of Life” International Conventions were held in various cities in the United States, Canada, and Britain, followed by more in Germany and Greece. Members of the Governing Body spoke at each of these conventions, often doing so through interpreters. Simultaneously, hundreds of district conventions were held throughout North America and Europe.
When the first of the international conventions opened in San Diego, California, on May 22, the conventioners were pleased to have in their midst 45 missionaries from 14 countries. Two weeks later, Spanish-speaking Witnesses met in the same stadium. Of the 25,181 at this convention, well over 3,100 were delegates from abroad. As speakers from Argentina, Chile, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Mexico, Peru, Spain, and Uruguay shared in the program, the audience had to adjust to the distinctive accents. What a happy and enthusiastic audience they were!
The following week, in Pontiac, Michigan, the size of the convention audience increased to 42,763, and the number of countries represented mushroomed to at least 44. Delegations of more than 300 each were on hand from Britain, the Czech Republic, and South Africa. The conventioners had come from 14 countries in Europe, 8 in Africa, 20 in the Americas, and 2 in Asia. In some instances whole families, even entire congregations, assisted with expenses so that at least one from their midst could attend. The presence of so many delegates from other lands seemed to electrify the audience. And the talks given by members of the Governing Body—Brothers Schroeder, Barr, and Sydlik—deeply touched their hearts. What took place was, as one Witness said, ‘something that they would recount to future generations and probably to past generations too as they are resurrected!’—Compare Psalm 48:1, 12-14.
While the convention in Pontiac was in session, four others were being held in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. These were in French, Portuguese, Greek, and Arabic. The brothers were deeply moved by what was done by members of the Governing Body, some of whom are well up in years, to serve them all. The attendance reached 33,242, with 4,071 delegates from other lands. Large numbers had come from France and Brazil; many from Belgium, Guadeloupe, and Martinique. Thirteen African countries were represented. Among the delegates was a longtime pioneer from Mali, West Africa, who was there because of the kindness of a businesswoman to whom she regularly delivers magazines. Said a Brazilian couple who had sold their car to finance their trip: “It was the best investment we ever made.”
The next two weekends in June, two more conventions were held in Vancouver, on Canada’s west coast. Combined attendance was 22,273, with numerous delegates from places as far apart as Southeast Asia and Northern Europe. Simultaneously with the last convention in Vancouver, another was being held in Toronto, Ontario. Besides the Canadians, delegates had come from Germany, Poland, Finland, Austria, and many more lands in Europe and Africa. The attendance reached 41,381. All together, at the Canadian conventions, delegates were on hand from 52 foreign lands—truly an international throng!
Back in the United States, from July 3 to 5, seven simultaneous conventions were held near the Pacific waterfront in Long Beach, California. These were in Chinese (both Cantonese and Mandarin), English, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Tagalog, and Vietnamese—all held in various facilities at the extensive Long Beach Convention Center. Attendances ranged from 552 for the Vietnamese to 12,659 for the English. Large delegations from the Orient and Italy enjoyed fellowship with those who had come from the Americas, Eastern Europe, and Africa. Among them were some who had put forth extraordinary effort to be present. Between sessions, delegates in their native garb moved about from one language group to another, shaking hands, hugging one another, exchanging addresses, and taking pictures. A brother who was involved in the convention arrangements there wrote: “All conventions are good; they all have a ripple effect that is felt for months afterward. This convention was more like a tsunami. It was powerful, and it had an enormous impact on the hearts of the delegates.”
The multiconvention weekend at Long Beach was followed by another Spanish convention—this one in Houston, Texas. The attendance of 34,257 included 2,820 delegates from 14 foreign lands, who were accommodated in 1,217 homes where local Witnesses hospitably opened their hearts to these visitors.
One of the most profound impressions on the delegates was the warm reception they received—the brotherly love showered on them by fellow Christians whom they had never met before. They had read about the international brotherhood. They knew that Jehovah teaches his people to show such love. (Heb. 13:1, 2; 3 John 5-8) But now they were personally experiencing it in ways that they never had before. At the airports, delegates were given an enthusiastic welcome by brothers and sisters, young and elderly. Arrangements had also been made for delegates from other lands to be housed with Witness hosts. What a blessing this proved to be!
In Texas, hundreds of busloads of delegates from abroad were taken to the Rosenberg Assembly Hall to meet their hosts. There, a throng of some 500 Witnesses cheered and applauded as the delegates arrived. At Belleville, Michigan, at all hours of the day and night, hundreds of Witnesses were on hand to welcome busloads of weary delegates. As the delegates entered the Assembly Hall, they were welcomed by many voices singing “Myriads of Brothers” and “We Are Jehovah’s Witnesses!” At the Mira Loma Assembly Hall in California, many were bilingual, so in English and Spanish, they sang alternate verses of “We Thank You, Jehovah.” It was a beautiful sight, and it was hard to find dry faces because of the tears of joy!
In Michigan, twice as many accommodations were offered by the Witnesses as were needed. Many phoned to beg for the privilege of caring for some of the visiting brothers. Those who were not able to house delegates helped with food and transportation. Some delegates found that besides welcoming them into their homes, their hosts were giving them their own beds while the hosts slept on the floor. In the evenings and after the conventions, groups of Witness families, even whole congregations, got together for a meal or a picnic with the delegates. They sang, took part in folk dances, and related experiences. It was truly a fiesta! Though many delegates could not speak the language of the host family—or could speak only a few words at most—they found ways to communicate. When it came time for them to part, it was more than difference of language that made communication difficult. They were choked with emotion. A foundation had been laid for lifelong friendships.
The visiting delegates were not the only ones who benefited from the homestay arrangement. A couple in Canada who opened their home to delegates wrote: “We all wondered what it would be like to have people that we didn’t know stay with us for a whole week. We found out that it wasn’t long enough!” A single parent wrote: “I had the grand privilege of hosting a couple from France, and for my children and myself, it was most enriching. I can only say that it was a wonderful, delightful, and unforgettable experience.” Another family, who had a guest from Togo, wrote: “We cannot describe the joy and the love that we shared . . . What a treasure! Jehovah gave us all we could wish for.”
For delegates from 87 countries, their tour routes also took them to the world headquarters of Jehovah’s visible organization, with major sections of its operations in New York State at Brooklyn, at Wallkill (90 miles [144 km] from Brooklyn), and at Patterson (70 miles [112 km] from Brooklyn). From May 28 through July 20, they came—more than 14,500 in all! It was, as so many said, “a dream come true.” Expressing how they felt, a tour group visiting the Watchtower Educational Center at Patterson arranged themselves in the dining room after the noon meal and sang in beautiful four-part harmony song number 42, “This Is the Way.” Deeply moved by what they saw and by the love and hospitality they experienced, many had tears in their eyes as they thanked the brothers and sisters who served as guides. It was not only the visitors whose emotions were stirred. Members of the Bethel family too said that those are days they would never forget!
The crowds that attended the international conventions in Europe shared similar feelings. During July, delegates began to arrive in Britain. From July 24 to 26, conventions there were held simultaneously in nine cities. Whether in English, French, Spanish, or Punjabi, they all had the same program. For talks given by members of the Governing Body, the convention sites were tied together electronically. Delegates from more than 60 lands had flocked together.
A highlight of the program was the interviews of missionaries and international servants. They were present from 45 lands. They shared with the audience the joys and the challenges of foreign service. Susan Snaith, from West Africa, acknowledged: “Especially during the first few months after you move to a new assignment, you can feel very homesick, so to know that your parents are behind you and encouraging you can really help you stay in your assignment.” Doreen Kilgour, a longtime missionary in South Africa, said: “The thing is, you must love the people. And if you really love people and help them to love Jehovah and also to walk in Jehovah’s way, this is what helps you to stay in your assignment.” Myrna Simms, from Ecuador, added: “Do not concentrate on the things that you have left behind, but concentrate on the work at hand. Do not look at the negative things. Look beyond those, and remember that we have a work to do!” And Anne Crudass, from war-torn Liberia, said: “We are supposed to encourage the local brothers and sisters, but actually, we have been greatly encouraged by them. We have seen their zeal, their faith, and their bravery during the war, their taking care of one another and risking their lives for one another. . . . We have experienced the love and the care of the brothers toward us personally. We have now been evacuated four times from our assignments, . . . and when we have been refugees, our brothers have been so concerned about our feelings and our spirituality that they have written us beautiful, upbuilding letters. . . . All these blessings have made it easy for us to return to Liberia, even when conditions there have been unstable.”
Within days after the conventions in Britain had ended, others began in Germany. Witnesses in the host cities extended invitations to the public. This afforded opportunity to explain to people that the international conventions, five of which were scheduled for Germany, are a feature of our global program of Bible education. The entire program was put on in 13 languages. For key portions of the program, all five convention cities (Berlin, Nuremberg, Munich, Dortmund, and Stuttgart) were tied together. Peak attendance was an outstanding 217,472, some 45,000 of these having come from abroad. Many were there from Eastern Europe. At least 150 missionaries, international servants, and Bethelites working in foreign assignments were included among the conventioners.
From August 21 to 23, before the service year ended, yet another history-making international convention was held, in Athens, Greece. In spite of angry objections by the clergy of the Greek Orthodox Church, 39,324 conventioners from 21 lands assembled. Wherever the delegates went, in Athens as well as other places throughout the country, a marvelous witness was given—by their conduct, by their dress and grooming, as well as by their preaching and by literature placed. The openhearted hospitality extended by the Greek Witnesses was such that, even though Jehovah’s people are accustomed to experiencing Christian love, many became choked up with emotion and gave way to tears of joy. And to see Greeks and Turks hugging and kissing one another with tears in their eyes and offering and accepting hospitality—well, this is a miracle that only Jehovah can perform!
Now we are in a new service year, and more international conventions are being held—in Africa, Latin America, Korea, and Australia.
Distribution of Kingdom News
Our field ministry is, of course, one of our foremost activities. It is a work assigned to us by Jehovah through his Son. And the message that we declare is what people desperately need. (Isa. 43:10-12; Matt. 24:14) During the past year, 5,888,650 shared in that work, devoting 1,186,666,708 hours to the field ministry. What a fine heap of witness! An exciting aspect of that ministry during the past service year was the distribution of Kingdom News No. 35, which featured the question “Will All People Ever Love One Another?” How appropriate to appeal to people on the basis of their desire to be loved, a desire that God implanted in humankind! The message was powerful, and many sincere people responded favorably to it.
Nearly 400,000,000 copies of that tract were printed in 166 languages. Of those languages, 27 were distributed in Russia, and in 10 of those languages, we had never had literature before. Many branches, recognizing the ethnic diversity of their territory, arranged for distribution of the tract in 10, 20, or even 30 languages.
When a Witness in Ghana was distributing the Kingdom News from farm to farm, she came across a man and his wife engaged in a bitter quarrel. The Witness flashed Kingdom News No. 35 before their eyes, with its captivating title “Will All People Ever Love One Another?” Immediately the couple calmed down. Our sister took time to discuss the tract with them, using her Bible to show them the reasons for strife and what God’s Kingdom will do for humankind. At the end of the discussion, the man said: “Certainly it was God who sent you here with this pamphlet.” They both eagerly accepted the offer of a home Bible study. Another 1,850 mailed to the Ghana branch their request for a free home Bible study. In Malawi, 1,900 of such reader requests were received; 2,717 in Zimbabwe; 1,346 in Poland; 2,525 in the United States. In Russia, 7,100 wrote to the branch to ask for someone to conduct a Bible study with them.
The attractive cover, the thought-provoking title, and the warmth of the information in the tract was just what was needed in war-torn Sri Lanka. Hundreds of coupons were sent to the branch, requesting a brochure, and a large proportion included a request for a home Bible study. Many of these who asked for a study are now publishers of the good news; some have even been baptized.
Thirty publishers in Cameroon hired a bus in order to distribute the tracts in a territory about 45 miles [70 km] from their Kingdom Hall in Garoua. During the morning they covered the territory with tracts, and in the afternoon they showed the video Jehovah’s Witnesses—The Organization Behind the Name to an audience of 182 persons. At the conclusion, many wanted more literature. A number of home Bible studies were started, and the congregation sent a pioneer to look after the interest.
When Kingdom News No. 35 was distributed in the Democratic Republic of Congo, many people accepted it eagerly; others, numbed by the hardships of life, accepted it reluctantly. Upon making a return visit on one of the latter, the publishers found that the woman was very sick and had no money to buy needed medicine. The publishers obtained the medicine for her. This touched her heart and led to a study with her and her four children. In another instance, a young man who received the tract thought that the Witnesses were boasting about themselves. Later he was on a bus that was attacked by highwaymen. Left at night without money in an area where he knew nobody, he went along with a Witness who had also been on the bus and who had also been robbed. They found a Witness home, where they were welcomed, housed overnight, and helped on their way the next morning. Back home, the young man told the story to his friends and said: “Jehovah’s Witnesses are not proud. True love is at work in among them, and they love their neighbor.” The same day, a Bible study was started with him.
A congregation in northern Chile encouraged the publishers to give the tract to everyone, everywhere. One publisher visited the local radio station. The announcer was so impressed with the message that he stopped the morning program and read the entire message of Kingdom News No. 35 to the radio audience.
In Italy, placing the Kingdom News with a nun waiting for a bus led to daily 10- to 15-minute Bible studies at the bus stop. After a month and a half, the nun’s appreciation for Bible truth moved her to leave the convent. She was grateful to learn that by means of God’s Kingdom, the earth will become a place where people will truly love one another, without racial or linguistic barriers. She returned to Guatemala, her home country, where she continued her study with her fleshly sister, who was already one of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Watchtower Educational Center
The Watchtower Educational Center in Patterson, New York, plays a significant role in the global work of witnessing about God’s Kingdom.
By 1994, construction work at Patterson had reached the point where it was possible to begin moving certain major operations of the Society into the Watchtower Educational Center. Over a period of months, a portion of the Engineering Department, the Service Department, the correspondence division of the Writing Department, Translation Services (which currently works with translation teams in 116 lands), the Legal Department (which deals with legal needs in support of the activity of Jehovah’s Witnesses worldwide), and the Art Department (which works out details for the visual appearance of books, magazines, brochures, and so forth), along with all the necessary support services, were transferred.
In March 1995, Gilead School was moved from Wallkill to the new facilities at Patterson. Since then, graduates of Gilead School have been sent out to 51 lands—into Central and South America, Africa, Eastern Europe, the Orient, and islands of the sea. Additionally, the school for Branch Committee members has provided specialized training for 336 brothers who came from and returned to the Society’s branches in 106 lands.
Now a new building equipped with audio/video facilities has been completed at the Watchtower Educational Center in Patterson. The moving of offices and equipment into this fine new facility began on April 20, 1998. The facilities that have been prepared will enable us to make more effective use of the potential in the audiovisual field.
Of course, the opening of this building does not represent the beginning of the Society’s work in this field. In addition to what is done at the world headquarters, about 30 of the branches already do some recording for audiocassettes. These may involve the Bible or local-language magazines, brochures, and convention dramas. Various audiocassettes are now available in 61 languages. In a few languages, the tape recordings are given world distribution. Compact discs (CDs) that contain various arrangements of our Kingdom songs are also produced, and in nine languages there are CDs that contain research material (Watchtower Library).
Video programs are produced in 41 languages. The scripts originate at the world headquarters, and a library of more than 2,100 video source-tapes has been accumulated from which material can be drawn. Actual video recording is done not only at Patterson but also in many other parts of the world. Editing of the original master videotapes and the English edition is now being done in the Society’s new audio/video facilities at Patterson. At the Society’s studio in the Netherlands, non-English programs are prepared for duplication. Recording of the narration is done in a number of audio-recording branches, and then this is sent to the Netherlands to be mixed with the program’s music and sound effects and to have needed visual text added, thus completing the video duplication master for each language. Japan does some of this work for the Orient.
Use of videocassettes for sign languages has mushroomed. This has resulted, in part, from appreciation for the fact that sign languages are distinct and are not merely visual presentations of spoken languages. When they began to receive sign-language videos, some who are deaf saw them as evidence that Jehovah had not forgotten them but that he cares for deaf people too. The Society produces videos that superimpose sign-language interpretation on already existing audiovisual presentations. There are also videos that provide complete visual translation of the contents of existing printed Watch Tower publications. In most cases, these are used to conduct home Bible studies with people who are deaf, so the videos include study questions, which makes interactive use of such videos possible. Additionally, singing has been videotaped in sign language, and this is used to lead an audience in giving expression to the songs. The Society will be providing support for video recording of sign-language projects from its facilities in the United States, Mexico, Brazil, Japan, Denmark, and the Netherlands. In most of these branches, editing of the sign-language programs will also be done.
Witnessing in sign language has greatly increased in recent years. There are 17 sign-language congregations in Korea, where special attention has been given to this need for a number of years. Nineteen of such congregations function in the United States. Russia has one congregation and 43 smaller groups. Other places also show good response to the attention given to the unique needs of deaf people. Worldwide, there are about 80 of such congregations and many more smaller groups. As is true of Jehovah’s servants who speak audible languages, their deaf brothers and sisters look forward eagerly to the time when differences in language, whether audible or visual, will no longer be a barrier to free communication. But even now, using many languages, we all speak the “pure language” and thus have the privilege of unitedly making known the goodness of Jehovah.—Zeph. 3:9.
Eyewitnesses of Fine Works
The zeal of Jehovah’s servants as they share the good news of the Kingdom with others makes Jehovah’s heart rejoice. On the other hand, their exemplary conduct and fine works often go unnoticed by others and, sadly, are at times misunderstood. Are there effective ways to inform and educate reasonable but misinformed individuals about these things?—1 Pet. 2:12.
Working under the direction of the Writing Committee, the Public Affairs Office endeavors to dispel misinformation about God’s servants so that people will be more receptive to the Kingdom message. To that end, this office endeavors to promote understanding of Jehovah’s Witnesses on the part of the public by providing positive information that can be sent to the media, educators, and other professionals.
Raging ethnic and sectarian violence presents a staggering problem to the world community. In order to help young people reject prejudice and violent behavior, educators are seeking ways to teach their students ethical values. What can Jehovah’s Witnesses share with them? A Witness in Sweden sent the video Jehovah’s Witnesses Stand Firm Against Nazi Assault to a prominent official. As a result, government representatives invited the Witnesses to share in a nationwide Holocaust information project called Living History. They wanted our brothers to inform school children and people in general about Jehovah’s Witnesses during the Nazi era. Thereafter, teachers were encouraged to invite Jehovah’s Witnesses to give classroom lectures on ethics and morals, based on experiences during the Holocaust.
Elsewhere, use of the video Jehovah’s Witnesses—The Organization Behind the Name has proved effective. In Côte d’Ivoire, after it was shown on national television, many people showed increased appreciation for Jehovah’s Witnesses and their organization.
Some opposers have attempted to use misconceptions about medical use of blood as an excuse to restrict our activity in Russia. (Acts 15:28, 29) The Russian health system itself suffers from problems with its blood supply and would benefit from information about alternative treatment. Many doctors who would be willing to treat patients without the use of blood want more knowledge and training in this field. Because of adhering to Bible standards regarding life and blood, Jehovah’s Witnesses have been able to provide information in the fields of science, medicine, and patients’ rights that is of value to the medical community and the public in general.
The Public Affairs Office together with Hospital Information Services planned a series of short presentations at St. Petersburg and Moscow hospitals. Prominent doctors from the United States and Europe who cooperate with Jehovah’s Witnesses in their decision to refrain from using blood were invited to speak at events in the spring of 1998. The chief of the Department of Anesthesiology and Critical Care Medicine at one U.S. hospital that provides a bloodless center explained: “Our experience shows that bloodless surgery reduces health-care costs while improving patient care.” He told a group of 400 Russian physicians: “Blood transfusion has been viewed as lifesaving, but more and more we are seeing some of its most devastating effects on patients.” The importance of these symposiums was well publicized in the press. Prominent Russian specialists as well as representatives of the Health Ministry and health committees were present. Shortly afterward, reports by the media quoted statements from well-respected people in the medical community about the danger associated with blood use and acknowledging that a decision to refuse a blood transfusion should not be viewed as unreasonable.
Additionally, during the past year, concerted efforts were made in selected countries to contact individuals and organizations that are especially concerned about the breakdown of the family. They were offered the book The Secret of Family Happiness. What was the response?
At an elite Catholic school in Madrid, Spain, the director ordered 90 Family Happiness books, one for each member of the school staff. The director of a home for problem youths in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, requested a book for every unit leader in the home, since he thought that they could use the information to help the youths. In Ukraine, newspapers, radio, and TV reported on the campaign being conducted by Jehovah’s Witnesses to strengthen families. The directors of 256 organizations and institutions have invited the Witnesses to give lectures to their workers about strengthening families. (Eph. 5:22–6:4) As a result of the campaign, some teachers have begun to attend congregation meetings.
Another issue targeted during the year was the role of women. The April 8, 1998, issue of Awake! featured the cover series “Women—What Does the Future Hold for Them?” It discussed the discrimination that women face, the value their work has in society, and the positive outlook the Bible holds out for them. (Prov. 31:10-31; 1 Tim. 5:1, 2) A special effort was made to distribute this information to groups and organizations that are concerned with issues affecting women. Who but Jehovah’s people can provide such information and in more than 230 lands?
The brothers in the Japan branch sent a covering letter, a press release, and a copy of Awake! to more than 3,000 women’s organizations. In Puerto Rico interested people, including some social workers and a university professor, called the branch to request copies of the special Awake! issue. A member of the House of Representatives of the legislature read the magazine and was so impressed with the worldwide educational program of Jehovah’s Witnesses and their genuine interest in the community that she invited the Witnesses to her office. In one city the executive assistant to the mayor was so interested in the material that he requested 100 copies for five departments of the municipal government.
We cannot change the negative view that many people in this world have about us. But we believe that Jehovah will continue to bless activities that result in sanctifying his great name. As a result of being made eyewitnesses of our fine works, those “rightly disposed for everlasting life” see reasons to be among those who glorify God.—Acts 13:48.
‘Lengthening the Tent Cords’
Long ago, Jehovah prophetically said to his organization: “Make the place of your tent more spacious. . . . Do not hold back. Lengthen out your tent cords, and make those tent pins of yours strong.” (Isa. 54:2) Now, in fulfillment of Revelation 7:9, millions who eagerly look forward to life on earth under the Messianic Kingdom are coming into association with the theocratic organization. Room is needed for them too.
In order to provide suitable places for Bible instruction, the building of Kingdom Halls is a high priority in many lands. In Ghana a survey showed that there are at present 237 Kingdom Halls and that another 275 are under construction. Ukraine reports that 84 Kingdom Halls have been completed and 61 others are being built. In South Africa brothers working with a Regional Building Committee help local brothers lay the foundation for their Kingdom Hall, then they leave a block-making machine with them. Local Witnesses, mostly sisters, make the blocks and stack them to dry. When the blocks are ready, volunteers working with the Regional Building Committee return and quickly erect the hall. This system enables them to build good halls at minimal cost.
Having suitable Kingdom Halls helps to speed up the ingathering work. A Kingdom Hall was built in Madagascar to care for two congregations. Within a few months, two more congregations were formed in the same area, and there are prospects for another. But a country in Africa that reports over 28,000 publishers has only one Kingdom Hall for every 10 congregations; another, with over 38,000 publishers, has one Kingdom Hall for every 26 congregations. A branch office in Eastern Europe that reports over 100,000 publishers says that they have just one Kingdom Hall for every 13 congregations. Some countries show a deficit of over 1,000—even 2,500—Kingdom Halls. So, as the service year ended, arrangements were being set in motion for international volunteers to help with erecting an additional 8,000 or more urgently needed Kingdom Halls in specified lands where the brothers locally do not have sufficient building skills and material resources to provide meeting places for the many who are flocking into Jehovah’s organization.
As the number of publishers increases—and 316,092 more were baptized this past year—additional branch facilities are also required. At present, 17,781 in Bethel families around the earth render service as members of the Order of Special Full-Time Servants.
KENYA: New branch facilities were dedicated in Kenya on October 25, 1997. Milton Henschel, of the Governing Body, was present; so were others who had shared in the work in Kenya in earlier days. From all over East Africa, enthusiastic Witnesses came—some on foot—to attend the special program arranged for that weekend.
This branch has oversight of the preaching and disciple-making work in an area in East Africa where a total of more than 29,000 publishers are active. Intrepid pioneers from South Africa first began witnessing in Kenya back in the early 1930’s. Not until 1949, however, with the arrival of the newly baptized Mary Whittington, from England, was a continuous witness given. The first Gilead-trained missionaries, William and Muriel Nisbet, arrived in 1956. Brother Nisbet’s brothers Robert and George were among the early pioneers who had given a witness in Kenya back in the 1930’s. Many other missionaries, special pioneers from Zambia and Tanzania, and other brothers serving where the need is greater have also played a major role in the development of the work in Kenya. It took 41 years to reach the 1,000-publisher mark in Kenya. Now, well over 1,000 are baptized each year!
FRANCE: On the weekend of November 15-16, 1997, Jehovah’s Witnesses in France dedicated new branch facilities 65 miles [100 km] west of Paris, in Louviers. Brothers and sisters from 42 branches were present for the dedication program, which featured talks by Lloyd Barry and Daniel Sydlik, of the Governing Body. And how thrilling it was, the following day, to see a crowd of 95,888 for the special program held at the Villepinte Exhibition Center, north of Paris! This was the largest gathering of Jehovah’s Witnesses ever in France.
The 50-percent increase in the number of publishers during the 1980’s had resulted in an urgent need for more space at Bethel. Ten years, however, were needed to bring this project to fruition. Initial attempts to build in the vicinity of our existing buildings met with fierce opposition. Opponents continue to try to interfere with the activity of Jehovah’s Witnesses in France. Nevertheless, the 121,000 Witnesses in France do not let up in their publishing of the good news of God’s Kingdom, confident that many more of the 100 million French-speaking people worldwide will gratefully accept the invitation to “take life’s water free.”—Rev. 22:17.
SPAIN: In this land, too, many honesthearted people are responding favorably to the good news of God’s Kingdom. Since the branch complex outside Madrid was dedicated in 1983, the number of Witnesses in Spain has increased from 53,000 to more than 103,000. Printing of Watchtower and Awake! magazines for Spain and Portugal has also burgeoned, from 6,500,000 copies yearly to nearly 23,000,000. “With 150 Bethel workers living several miles away, we had a dire shortage of accommodations,” explains John Heidelberg, the home overseer, “as well as an acute need for adequate literature storage and shipping facilities.”
The dedication of enlarged branch facilities, on March 28, 1998, was the culmination of five years of hard work in which over 25,000 volunteers—mostly from Spain, some from abroad—had collaborated. William Malenfant and Gerrit Lösch, both of the Brooklyn headquarters staff, shared in the dedication program. Though space was limited for that program, the following day 65,775 assembled in Madrid and Barcelona to enjoy another excellent program.
ROMANIA: For well over 80 years, Jehovah’s Witnesses have been carrying on their public ministry in Romania. In 1990 when a 43-year ban on their activity was lifted, there were about 19,000 publishers. Now there are over 37,000, and more than 82,000 attended the Memorial in 1998. A suitable branch office was needed in Romania. Thus, one of the highlights of the year was the dedication of their new branch on May 2, 1998. Brothers from 19 countries, including Gerrit Lösch, of the Governing Body, were present to share with them in that happy occasion.
As the 1998 service year was ending, there were 397 experienced international servants and 150 international volunteers who were working along with local Witnesses on various construction projects. These involved major construction in 38 countries and smaller projects in 23 other lands. Thousands of Kingdom Halls will now be added to their construction agenda. Truly, in many ways much is being done to make the figurative tent “more spacious” and to ‘lengthen the tent cords.’
[Pictures on page 6]
Members of the Governing Body spoke at each international convention
[Pictures on page 11]
Reports from missionaries were a highlight
[Pictures on page 12-14]
Outstanding love and joy were manifested by conventioners
[Pictures on page 21]
Audio/video facilities at Patterson
[Pictures on page 29]
Branch facilities dedicated: (1) Spain, (2) Kenya, (3) France