Highlights of the Past Year
The annual conventions of Jehovah’s Witnesses are among the outstanding events of the year. The series of district conventions that began in mid-1999 featured the theme “God’s Prophetic Word.” The program emphasized the value of daily Bible reading and reinforced this with a drama involving the account about Jacob and Esau. Talks included an overview of prophecies found in the book of Daniel and a detailed discussion of the book of Habakkuk. The program highlighted the nearness of the end of the old system. In addition to discussing the work of witnessing now being done, it focused our thoughts on the exciting prospects that are embraced in Jehovah’s heartwarming promise to ‘make all things new.’—Rev. 21:5.
The conventioners were delighted to receive, in 47 languages, the new book, Pay Attention to Daniel’s Prophecy! In Korea there was added joy—yes, overwhelming enthusiasm—upon receiving the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures in Korean.
Amazingly, although war had raged for months, in Yugoslavia it was possible to release the New World Translation of the Christian Greek Scriptures in Serbian. As a result of close international cooperation, the Christian Greek Scriptures was also being released in Croatian and Macedonian in adjoining lands. These publications were greeted with tears of joy.
There was special reason for joy in Yugoslavia. Through the month of March, the country had prepared for a war. Bombardment of Belgrade would mean that telephone connections would become unreliable, and there would be difficulties in forwarding material from the translators in Belgrade to the printery in Germany. On Tuesday, March 23, it became so certain that air attacks would begin that the brothers who were preparing for this convention release in Belgrade determined to work all night. By the next morning, the necessary electronic files were on their way. A few hours later, the bombing began. Despite being forced into bomb shelters, the translation team was happy!
Their joy was made complete when the printed Bible was released amid great enthusiasm four months later at the Belgrade convention. When everyone had obtained his personal copy, the convention site quickly emptied. The brothers were going to their accommodations to read the Bible! Surrounded as they are by a world in which ethnic and religious divisions have resulted in murder and seething hatred, they were convinced that they could have received no finer gift.
The following weekend, the first in a series of eight conventions was held in Indonesia, a major country in the Orient that has also been plagued by violence from religious and political factions. At the convention in Jakarta, there were 15,666 on hand from many parts of the country. For the first time, the baptism was held right at the convention site, and there was great enthusiasm as the audience watched on large TV screens while 430 were baptized. Excitement reached its peak, however, when the announcement was made that the complete New World Translation in Indonesian had already been printed and, hopefully, would soon be available for distribution.
Pursuing God’s Way of Life
Of course, the 1999 service year began back in September 1998. During the opening months of the service year, the “God’s Way of Life” International Conventions continued. Many had already been held in the United States and Europe. But from September to January, 13 more of these international conventions were held in Africa, Asia, Australia, and Latin America.
The first of these in the 1999 service year was held in São Paulo, Brazil, from September 18 to 20, 1998. Conventions were in progress simultaneously in 16 other locations, including the mammoth Maracanã Stadium, in Rio de Janeiro. Thousands of delegates came from 15 lands. Included among them were 54 missionaries, 23 of whom had gone from Brazil to serve in Mozambique. On Sunday when a resolution was presented declaring that God’s way is the very best way of life, an amazing total of 516,333 at these 17 locations adopted it by responding with a thunderous Sim (Aye)!
On the same weekend, 63,886 more delegates packed the Olympic Stadium in Seoul, Korea. During the days prior to the convention, 3,046 overseas delegates were welcomed at the airport by hundreds of Korean Witnesses, including sisters in colorful traditional garb. Following the final talk, as the foreign delegates headed to their buses, thousands of conventioners formed what some described as a corridor of love, and as the delegates passed through it, the Korean Witnesses called out to their visitors, “See you in Paradise!” and, “We love you!” Tears of joy welled up in the eyes of many.
The tears of the delegates in Seoul had scarcely dried when Hurricane Georges hit Puerto Rico. The next international convention was due to start in Puerto Rico the following Friday. Would that be possible? As a result of the storm, it was expected that the whole island would be without electricity for weeks. The water supply was cut off; the San Juan airport was closed; the homes of the local brothers who were intending to accommodate hundreds of delegates from overseas were affected. Because of the disaster, only one of the four planned assembly sites, the Hiram Bithorn Stadium, remained available for our use. Surprisingly, however, each problem was dealt with one after another. The attendance at that convention reached a peak of 15,065!
Over a month later, from October 30 to November 1, three international conventions were held in Australia (in Brisbane, Melbourne, and Sydney). John Barr, Milton Henschel, Lloyd Barry, and Theodore Jaracz, of the Governing Body, attended those conventions. The latter two once served in Australia. Many zealous missionaries who had been sent out from Australia were also present.
Toward the end of 1998, further international conventions were held in Africa. In Nairobi, Kenya, brothers from 16 different lands rejoiced to be numbered among the 24,502 who gathered at the Moi International Sports Centre in December.
The following week four international conventions were held in South Africa (in Cape Town, Durban, Johannesburg, and Pretoria), with a total attendance of 83,858, and 1,626 got baptized. The international conventions were followed up by a series of 18 district conventions. These were attended by 53,901, and a further 1,065 were baptized. At this time the complete New World Translation was released in Tsonga. The love and unity evident among all these conventioners was tangible evidence that they truly fit the description given by Jesus when he said: “By this all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love among yourselves.”—John 13:35.
On the same weekend at the end of December, a convention was held in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, West Africa. The program was in French, English, and Twi. While there are only about 6,000 publishers in the country—and perhaps 500 who came from outside the country—the attendance reached an amazing 16,009 who wanted to learn about God’s way of life!
Finally, to conclude this worldwide series of 32 international conventions, the more than 19,000 publishers in Costa Rica were delighted to have 34,431 gather there during the first three days of 1999. At the airport some 4,000 local Witnesses shared in welcoming delegates who arrived on 42 international flights. They formed a corridor of Witnesses applauding and greeting the arriving delegates with “Bienvenidos, hermanos!” (Welcome, brothers!) The affection expressed by the brothers even moved a vendor at the airport to request a home Bible study!
The series of international conventions had a positive effect on many non-Witnesses who observed the love shown among the delegates. It also strengthened the international ties among Jehovah’s Witnesses themselves. It was visible evidence that Jehovah is, in fact, gathering “a great crowd . . . out of all nations and tribes and peoples and tongues”—people who look to Jehovah and to his Son, Jesus Christ, for salvation—with a view to their preservation into His new world of righteousness.—Rev. 7:9, 10.
Loving “in Deed and Truth”
The love shown by Jehovah’s Witnesses for one another goes beyond smiles and handshakes at their Kingdom Halls. It involves more than extending hospitality to convention delegates from other lands. As students of the Bible, Jehovah’s Witnesses well know what is written at 1 John 3:17, 18: “Whoever has this world’s means for supporting life and beholds his brother having need and yet shuts the door of his tender compassions upon him, in what way does the love of God remain in him? Little children, let us love . . . in deed and truth.” Violent storms, droughts, and civil wars during the past year have forced many of Jehovah’s people into such circumstances of need. How has the international brotherhood responded?
In September 1998, floods ravaged Chiapas State in Mexico. A few weeks later, Hurricane Georges ripped through St. Kitts, Nevis, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, and Haiti and then hit the southern part of the United States. About a month after that, Hurricane Mitch, with winds of 180 miles per hour [290 km/hr], slammed into Honduras, inundated portions of Nicaragua, and then tore a swath through El Salvador and Guatemala before it subsided in Mexico. In addition to 50 Kingdom Halls and 2 Assembly Halls, more than 1,800 homes of Jehovah’s Witnesses were either demolished or severely damaged. Crops were destroyed. Personal possessions were ruined. In some places, entire congregations had to be evacuated.
The need for food, water, clothing, and medicine was great. Witnesses in areas not affected by the storms quickly responded. In some places, as soon as they heard about the damage, Witnesses began to show up at the branch office with food, clothing, and money to help their Christian brothers. Where brothers could not get through to disaster areas with cars or trucks to bring relief supplies, they used canoes, bicycles, and backpacks. Local elders did what they could to help get roofs back onto the brothers’ homes. Doctors who are Witnesses made their services available.
The Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses coordinated the providing of financial help as well as the shipping of urgently needed food, clothing, and building supplies from nearby countries. Shipments were made by chartered plane, by ship, and by truck. Brothers and sisters in the disaster areas expressed again and again their deep appreciation for the love shown by the worldwide brotherhood.
Regional Building Committees, which are designed to help with Kingdom Hall construction, were mobilized to help clean up and repair homes. Seven groups of about 30 volunteers each from the United States traveled at their own expense to spend a week repairing homes of fellow Witnesses in St. Kitts and Nevis. Another 600 volunteers flew down to Puerto Rico to help with repair and reconstruction there. In harmony with the Bible’s guideline at Galatians 6:10, they put principal emphasis on helping their spiritual brothers and sisters. But they also repaired the roof of a school and repaired homes for some elderly neighbors who had no children to assist them. In the Dominican Republic, local Witnesses cleaned up the area around a hospital.
In Puerto Rico a group of brothers traveled to the mountain town of Yabucoa to help reconstruct a house where a Witness lives with her non-Witness husband. The neighbors had ridiculed her when she had said that she knew that her Christian brothers would come to help. When the brothers arrived, she was overjoyed. In a few hours, some 200 onlookers had gathered across the street. All day long they watched while the crew of brothers worked. After hanging the front door, the brothers presented our sister with a bouquet of flowers and the keys to her rebuilt home. When the lights were turned on, the neighbors applauded. As a result of what they saw that day, many on that street who formerly had avoided the Witnesses were now willing to listen to the Kingdom message.
Meanwhile, in Europe severe flooding in western Ukraine in November and in South America an earthquake in Colombia in January caused further disaster. And the same sort of loving help was given by Jehovah’s people.
When civil war in Angola escalated once again during 1999, this resulted in more than 1,700,000 refugees. The brothers have worked diligently to help fellow Witnesses who became refugees, along with many others, to have the basic necessities of life. The 34 tons of food and clothing that were sent from the Italy, Portugal, and South Africa branches were distributed to those who had to abandon both their homes and their cities. It was even possible to get some of these supplies into war zones where bombing has continued for months.
As the service year began, the Congo (Kinshasa) branch notified the Governing Body that in the aftermath of civil war, the branch was in need of relief supplies to assist over 200,000 people. Immediate arrangements were made for the branches in Britain, Belgium, France, Switzerland, and South Africa to ship food and provide funds for purchasing additional supplies in other African countries. More than 75 tons of humanitarian aid were gathered and sent by air from Jehovah’s Witnesses in Europe.
But the fighting in Congo was not over. New crises developed. On February 7, 1999, the following announcement regarding the situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo was made to the Bethel family at the world headquarters in New York: “Due to the civil war, 30,000 publishers in the East of the country are dependent on relief. The branch office in Kinshasa is unable to contact these brothers due to the war. However, the Governing Body has approved for Belgium to bring relief by air. The first flight is during this week and a second mission will start on February 20. With the second mission a medical team will be sent.” The brothers from Europe worked along with 11 officially appointed relief committees made up of Jehovah’s Witnesses in East Congo.
Some of the refugees had fled to nearby countries. Thousands had gone into neighboring Zambia. There relief agencies provided much help; the Witnesses supplemented this with blankets, clothing, and cooking and farming utensils. When one aged brother received a blanket, he fainted. He had never before been given a new blanket that would be his own. As a circuit overseer headed for Zambia, he found a disabled brother under a tree. The circuit overseer loaded him onto his bicycle and pushed it. When the hills were too steep, the brother would get off, and with patches of tire tied to his knees and hands, he would exert himself to move forward on all fours until they got to the top. Eventually, they arrived safely in Kaputa, Zambia. There the branch supplied all with literature in Swahili to use at their congregation meetings. In April, at a meeting with more than 2,000 of these refugees, brothers from the branch office gave loving spiritual encouragement. And the refugees—both adults and children—most of them without songbooks, sang with all their hearts such songs as “Jehovah, Provider of Escape,” “Jehovah Is Our Refuge,” “We Thank You, Jehovah,” and “God’s Promise of Paradise.”
Zeal in Preaching the Good News
Even more noteworthy, however, is the love shown by Jehovah’s Witnesses in proclaiming the good news of God’s Kingdom. In response to the direction given by Jesus Christ, they endeavor to reach everyone possible with the good news. (Mark 13:10) In doing so, they give of themselves and their resources freely. During the past year, a peak of 5,912,492 shared in this activity, and they devoted 1,144,566,849 hours to this ministry. Many Witnesses arranged their affairs to serve as regular pioneers or as auxiliary pioneers.
These pioneers come from backgrounds of many sorts. Thousands are young people who have finished their secular schooling or who have arranged their schedule of classes so that they can pioneer while attending school. Others are housewives; some are men who also work to support their families. A Christian elder and family head in St. Lucia is able to pioneer because he is careful to ‘keep his eye simple.’ (Matt. 6:19-22) When recently offered a high-paying secular career opportunity, he turned it down because it would have meant putting in more hours of secular work, missing Christian meetings, being away from his family for six months, and giving up the pioneer ministry. He chose to seek first the Kingdom, confident that Jehovah would continue to bless his efforts to provide for his family.
A 95-year-old Witness in Antigua has enjoyed auxiliary pioneer service once or twice a year for as long as she can recall. Explaining why she continues to put forth this effort, she says: “Jehovah has given me extra mightiness and energy, and I view it as an opportunity to show my love for him.”
A sister in Denmark who is in her mid-60’s decided that she would be an auxiliary pioneer. Why? She explained: “I believe it was my Bible reading that prompted me. . . . I am convinced that just as you can be influenced badly by the television, for example, you can also become influenced for the good by reading Jehovah’s Word every day. That has given me strong motivation.”
Because of the increased pressure being felt by people everywhere in providing adequately for their physical needs, in January 1999 the Governing Body made an adjustment in the hour requirement for regular pioneers (reducing it from 90 to 70 hours per month) and for auxiliary pioneers (from 60 to 50). What a blessing that has proved to be! It has enabled many who were already pioneering to stay on the list, and thousands more have enrolled. To many, it was further evidence that “the Lord is kind.”—1 Pet. 2:3.
During the months following the adjustment, the branch in Australia saw an increase of more than 400 percent in the number who enrolled as regular pioneers. Colombia saw an increase of nearly 300 percent. In Ukraine the number of pioneers went up every month, and the report shows 42 percent more than there were last year. In Micronesia more than one pioneer, on an average, was added to every congregation. In Liberia, where most of the brothers live a hand-to-mouth existence, subsisting from day to day on what they earn from petty trading, eight consecutive peaks of regular pioneers followed the adjustment in the hour requirement.
The ranks of auxiliary pioneers also swelled. In Austria during the first three months of 1999, there were 56 percent more than the preceding year. During the same period, Malaysia reported 103 percent more auxiliary pioneers. Denmark experienced a 91-percent increase during the first six months of the year. In Korea, where January is a favorable month for added activity, 57 percent were in some form of pioneer service that month.
Meanwhile, the “Pioneers Assist Others” program continues to yield good results. A sister in the Filipino Congregation in Anchorage, Alaska, said: “I have been associated with the truth for 11 years. Field service was just a routine, as I went without any goals in mind.” But after working for a period with a local pioneer, field service became more meaningful for her. She appreciated the urgency of the work. She became more interested in the people and was able to start home Bible studies. In South Africa a pioneer sister helped another publisher to find greater satisfaction by talking to passersby and not simply waiting for people to answer the intercom. They would also sit down together and discuss various goals in the ministry. By the end of the six-month program, that publisher was a regular pioneer. Together with the one who assisted her, she is now finding more joy in the ministry than she ever had before.
Bible Truth in Printed Form
Ever since the days of Moses, Jehovah has provided spiritual instruction in written form. This has always been reinforced with oral instruction. But the printed page has been an important factor in spreading the good news. Both the Bible and literature explaining it have been published in large quantities. This past year alone, 1,026,706,628 copies of The Watchtower and Awake! were printed; 41,579,805 books and 71,221,759 brochures and booklets along with large numbers of tracts were produced by Jehovah’s Witnesses. This is being done in 332 languages.
People in many places have benefited from this activity. The coral atolls making up Tuvalu have a population of just 9,403. The Watchtower is printed in their language, and 45 people there now worship Jehovah. Though the Central African Republic is remote from the industrialized world, The Watchtower and Awake! are widely distributed there—in Arabic, English, French, Lingala, Sango, and Zande. There are 2,305 Witnesses in that land, and well over five times that number came to the Memorial this past year. Angola is torn by civil war, and many people are destitute, but this past year The Watchtower began to appear monthly in Umbundu to benefit two circuits of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Angola and the many people whom they help spiritually. Over 26 million magazines were placed in Ukraine this past year. After looking for the true God for 20 years, one man was convinced that he had found the truth when he read a single issue of Awake! The 107,045 publishers in Ukraine were delighted to see another 12,320 baptized during the year.
In Colombia the tract What Hope for Dead Loved Ones? was put into the hands of a distressed woman. She had never been interested in religion, but her son had died in an earthquake, and this subject did interest her. It led to a home Bible study. In Lithuania a Witness handed a woman the brochure Does God Really Care About Us? The woman was desperately in need of the help that only God can give. She agreed to have a home Bible study and quickly progressed to dedication and baptism. Yes, the publications are appreciated by many and are valuable tools in making known the good news.
Taught by Jehovah
In many and varied ways, Jehovah continues to teach his servants, to equip them for work they are currently doing, and to prepare them for future activity. (Isa. 54:13) In addition to that, personal invitations are extended to people in more than 230 lands to benefit from Jehovah’s marvelous program of education. Millions who are “rightly disposed for everlasting life” have responded, and this past year 4,433,884 home Bible studies each month, on an average, were being conducted free of charge with such ones. (Acts 13:48) What blessings they received as they saw the Scriptures opened up to them in a manner that they could really understand!
The teaching provided by Jehovah through his organization also includes specialized training of various kinds. Again this year, thousands benefited from the Pioneer Service School when they completed their first year as regular pioneers. During the service year, 40 branches also hosted the Ministerial Training School. Qualified brothers attended from the Americas, Asia, Europe, Africa, and islands of the sea—89 lands in all. There were 2,174 who received this special schooling. Branch Committee members from 43 countries were brought to the Watchtower Educational Center at Patterson, New York, for a special two-month program of training. Students attending Gilead School, where they enjoyed a comprehensive five-month study of the Bible, were given assignments as preachers and teachers of God’s Word in 31 different lands.
Additionally, a new school for traveling overseers was initiated at the Watchtower Educational Center. The first class, with 48 members, enrolled in May for an eight-week course. In attendance were circuit and district overseers from the United States and Canada. The training they received was divided between classroom instruction and activity in the Service Department. Every aspect of their work was given attention, and this will be of great benefit to the many thousands of brothers and sisters in the congregations and circuits that they serve. The wives of the traveling overseers, who accompanied their husbands, divided their time at Patterson between a Bethel work assignment and field service with the surrounding congregations. Each week they also attended a school lecture that was specially beneficial for them as well as for the brothers.
“It Will Turn Out . . . for a Witness”
Jesus foretold that his followers would be “haled before kings and governors.” The extent to which this has occurred around the globe during the 20th century adds to the evidence that we are living in the last days. Why does this occur? It is not because Jehovah’s Witnesses are lawless. On the contrary, it is ‘on account of the name of Jesus Christ’—because they recognize Christ as heavenly King and because, like Jesus, they are “no part of the world.” Jesus also foretold that it would “turn out . . . for a witness.” (Luke 21:12, 13; Matt. 24:9; John 17:16) That has certainly proved true during the past service year. A witness was given to officials in many lands as earnest efforts were made to defend the right of Jehovah’s Witnesses to worship without hindrance.
In 1998 a case involving Jehovah’s Witnesses in Bulgaria was given attention by the European Court of Human Rights. What led up to it? The Bulgarian government had deprived Jehovah’s Witnesses, as well as some 20 other religious groups, of legal recognition. An appeal to the Bulgarian Supreme Court had been denied because, among other things, Jehovah’s Witnesses do not believe in the Trinity and in other non-Biblical doctrines of Christendom. This led to arrests, the breaking up of meetings for worship, and the confiscation of religious literature. The European Court urged Bulgaria to settle matters with Jehovah’s Witnesses on a friendly basis. As a result, in October 1998, Bulgaria again gave legal recognition to Jehovah’s Witnesses. This made it possible to send four missionaries from the 106th class of Gilead to Bulgaria to assist the local publishers in sharing the Kingdom good news with the people there.
Legal problems involving Jehovah’s Witnesses in France have also resulted in an extensive witness. The Witnesses have been publicly defamed. Anticult associations have fomented negative press reports about them. In 1996 a parliamentary report classified Jehovah’s Witnesses as a ‘dangerous cult,’ and in January 1999 the government imposed a 60-percent tax on all contributions received by them, though nothing like this had been done to any other religion. Jehovah’s Witnesses responded with a three-day campaign, starting on January 29, 1999, in which they distributed 12 million copies of a tract entitled People of France, You Are Being Deceived!
On the first day of the campaign, a press conference was held to explain what was being done. By midday, TV and radio stations were relaying the information. Over 60 national and regional newspapers and magazines reported on the activity, using such headlines as “Jehovah Takes France as a Witness” and “Operation ‘Truth’ by Jehovah’s Witnesses.”
On the opening day, tens of thousands of publishers distributed the tract outside train stations, factories, offices, shops, markets, and elsewhere. Few people refused it.
A brother preaching near a prison was approached by a guard. On being offered a tract, the guard said: “I’ll need more than that; there are a lot of people inside.” In another instance, some elderly people returning to their retirement home by coach expressed disappointment because they had not received the tract. The driver asked those who wanted a copy to raise their hands; then he drove to a spot where he had seen a Witness and requested the number needed.
On the other hand, at a market in the city of Grenoble, a woman who received the tract hurled abuse at the Witness who had given it to her. Our brother remained calm. However, stall holders and shoppers, drawn by the woman’s shouting, suddenly cried out: “Long live Jehovah!” At that, the opposer left.
What was the overall result? Congregations throughout France were galvanized by this activity. Hundreds who had become inactive felt their hearts impelling them to share in this special campaign. Publishers in all parts of the country expressed deep satisfaction at having the opportunity to defend their faith in this way. The branch office received thousands of phone calls and letters from the public. Some showed intolerance. Many expressed support. Throughout the weekend, people asked to be visited, and many home Bible studies were started.
And what about the tax imposed by the government? In response to the action taken, high officials have been confronted with extensive legal documentation about Jehovah’s Witnesses—a witness indeed! The tax ruling is being appealed and will be contested all the way to the European Court of Human Rights if necessary.
For years the Borough of Oradell, New Jersey, U.S.A., had interfered with the preaching of the good news. The borough took the position that Jehovah’s Witnesses could not conduct their public ministry unless they first obtained a permit and wore a distinct badge. Repeated efforts to convince the mayor and the borough council of the unconstitutional nature of these requirements were unsuccessful. Finally, to contest the local law, a lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Federal Court in the District of New Jersey. This was the first time that such action to enforce our right to engage in the public ministry had been taken in the United States in the past 50 years. In our complaint to the court, it was appropriate to explain the nature of our activity and its Scriptural basis; thus a fine witness was given.
On March 8, 1999, the Federal District Magistrate Judge met with representatives of our Legal Department and the Borough of Oradell and directed the borough to change its laws. On March 16, at their borough council meeting, the council and the mayor passed a resolution exempting religious organizations from the permit and badge requirements. The good news can once again be preached without unconstitutional restraints in Oradell!
Any time that Jehovah’s name or his name people are mentioned in court, during a parliamentary session, or in a congressional hearing, individuals “in high station” who may not often hear the Kingdom message are given a witness. (1 Tim. 2:2) But at times, the opportunity to witness is much more direct and extensive. That has been true in Russia.
In a cramped courtroom in Moscow, Russia, a determined effort was made from September 1998 to March 1999 to ban the religious activity of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Moscow. However, far from silencing Jehovah’s Witnesses, this courtroom provided a unique setting for a powerful witness to be given.
The Moscow Prosecutor’s Office, later joined by the Moscow Department of Justice, in conjunction with an antisect organization with connections to the Russian Orthodox Church filed unfounded charges seeking the liquidation of the Moscow Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Normally, a court handling a civil law case would view critical analysis of religious teachings and beliefs in a courtroom as inappropriate. However, the charges involve the beliefs and practices of Jehovah’s Witnesses, so these became the focus of the trial.
In court, the prosecuting attorney argued that our literature incites religious enmity. How? We teach that we have the true religion. At that, a defense attorney, one of Jehovah’s Witnesses himself, provided copies of the Bible to the judge and to the prosecutor and then read Ephesians 4:5: “[There is] one Lord, one faith, one baptism.” Continuing with his Scriptural defense, our Russian brother refuted other accusations contained in the prosecutor’s complaint by citing such scriptures as James 1:27, John 17:16, and Revelation 18:1-4, which show the need to be ‘separate from the world.’ The prosecutor countered with the argument that the last scripture, dealing with Babylon the Great, insults other people’s religion when it is applied to them. Later, however, a professor of philosophy and university lecturer commented: “When the experts accuse Jehovah’s Witnesses for their teachings, they do not realize that they are actually making accusations against the Bible.”
The trial afforded opportunity to read to the court from the publications of Jehovah’s Witnesses that the prosecution had included in its complaint. This time, however, quotes were read in context so that our beliefs were correctly presented, thus dispelling any basis for legitimate accusations of wrongdoing. No fewer than five scientific studies were presented by leading Russian professionals refuting the prosecutor’s claims. Emphasis was also given to international court decisions and treaties requiring respect for freedom of religion.
How would Jesus have fared under the 1997 Russian law that provided a basis for the prosecutor’s legal action? During the trial, a Canadian attorney on the defense team, also one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, dealt with this. He stated to the court: ‘It is true that Jesus criticized religious leaders of his day, applying to them the words found at John 8:44, 45: “You are from your father the Devil.” As shown at Matthew 15:2-9, Jesus condemned traditions that were contrary to God’s Word. By what he said at Matthew 10:34-37, was Jesus trying to destroy families? No, he was simply stating an inevitable result because of the way humans react. Also, Luke 18:15, 16 points out that Jesus invited young children to come to him. Was he thus luring teenagers and minor children into Christianity? And why did religious opposers want to stop Jesus from preaching? John 11:47, 48 shows that it was because many were following Jesus, and the Jewish clergy felt that they were losing members. We might see some similarities in that today.’ It was obvious that if Jesus Christ were preaching in Moscow, the charges that are being lodged against Jehovah’s Witnesses in this case could also be lodged against him. But who is in error? Obviously, the ones making the accusations, for Jesus “committed no sin.”−1 Pet. 2:22.
In response to questions raised by the prosecution regarding teachings of Jehovah’s Witnesses, a Russian attorney who is our brother read from the Bible at Daniel 2:44, 45 and 2 Timothy 3:1-5. Later that afternoon testimony was presented by a third-generation Witness whose life history demonstrates that Jehovah’s Witnesses have been in Russia for decades. His testimony was also a reminder of the suffering that Jehovah’s Witnesses endured during their exile to Siberia and as a result of other acts of oppression during the years of ban by the Soviet regime.—See Awake!, April 22, 1999, pages 20-5.
A third defense attorney also represented Jehovah’s Witnesses. She is not one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, but she is very fair-minded and is experienced in defending human rights issues. Even she had opportunity to open the Bible and direct the court to various passages. After pointing to Revelation 14:1; 16:16; 20:6; and Psalm 37:9, 10, she challenged the prosecutor’s religious “expert” to show where Jehovah’s Witnesses are wrong. He was unable to do so.
Interestingly, on April 29, 1999, the national Russian Ministry of Justice reregistered Jehovah’s Witnesses as a religious organization. However, that did not result in dismissal of the case in Moscow nor in a court ruling in favor of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Rather, the trial court is awaiting an analysis of the literature of Jehovah’s Witnesses by an “expert” panel appointed by the judge. Whatever conclusion is reached, we can be assured that “it will turn out . . . for a witness.”—Matt. 10:18.
In addition to the witness given to officials in the courtroom, news regarding the trial was carried throughout Russia in newspapers and on TV networks. Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia also made daily coverage of the trial available to the press and the public. Full quotes were provided from Watch Tower publications that were being misrepresented by the prosecution, and much background history was given regarding the Witnesses. At least seven prominent international news services had representatives on hand at various times during the trial. Keen interest in the proceedings was shown by embassies of other nations and by human rights organizations. On March 11, the European Parliament passed a resolution calling on Russian officials at all levels to guarantee freedom of religion and thus to live up to the international agreements to which their government is a party. The following month, 11 members of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe signed a further document expressing concern over developments in the court case in Moscow.
Meanwhile, the brothers in Moscow and throughout Russia are well aware that they are “objects of hatred” by opposers of the Kingdom message. There was a gas bombing of a congregation meeting in St. Petersburg. An opposer attacked an elderly sister with a weapon when she was out in the field service. And cancellation of rental contracts deprived 2,000 Witnesses in Moscow of their meeting places, forcing them to search elsewhere. Then in August when Jehovah’s Witnesses held a convention in Moscow despite efforts to prevent it, the stadium had to be vacated on Saturday afternoon because of a bomb threat. Nevertheless, 600 were baptized at that convention, and over 15,100 people returned on Sunday to hear the rest of the program.
In view of the many and diverse pressures brought against Jehovah’s Witnesses worldwide as they carry out their ministry, it was appropriate that responsible brothers met during April 1999 to discuss current needs in ‘defending and legally establishing the good news.’—Phil. 1:7.
Jehovah’s Witnesses are firmly convinced that as the Bible says, no weapon that is formed against “the servants of Jehovah” will succeed. (Isa. 54:17) And at Jeremiah 1:19, the promise is made: “They will be certain to fight against you, but they will not prevail against you, for ‘I am with you,’ is the utterance of Jehovah, ‘to deliver you.’”
[Picture on page 6]
Daniel Sydlik releasing “Pay Attention to Daniel’s Prophecy!” in English
[Picture on page 6]
Chong-il Park releasing the “New World Translation” in Korean
[Pictures on page 12, 13]
Nairobi, Kenya—one of 32 international conventions
[Pictures on page 14]
Upper left: Relief supplies being loaded in Belgium for shipment to Africa. Bottom: Refugees from Congo receive instruction and join in singing heartfelt praises to Jehovah
[Pictures on page 20, 21]
Literature being prepared for shipping from the world headquarters