At its peak the British Empire spanned the world. In the days of Queen Victoria (1837-1901), it was said that “the sun never set” on its realm. During the 20th century, however, that great empire came to be replaced by the Commonwealth of Nations.
How extensive is the Commonwealth? It covers about one fourth of the land surface of the earth and includes about one fourth of its population. Although politically independent, the 53 members of the Commonwealth acknowledge Britain’s Queen as the symbolic head of their cultural and economic association.
During the past 50 years, immigrants from these countries and others have transformed Britain itself. It has become a cosmopolitan society of some 58 million inhabitants.
On June 22, 1948, the Empire Windrush, a converted troopship, docked at Tilbury, near London, and 492 Jamaicans stepped ashore—the first of a quarter of a million Caribbean immigrants. These happy, lively West Indians had heartfelt respect for the Bible. But they were shocked to discover that many of the British no longer professed a deep faith in God. What had brought about the change? People were sickened by religion’s involvement in the senseless slaughter during the two world wars. In addition, faith in the Bible had been seriously undermined by critics who held that science and religion were incompatible.
Since the 1960’s, Indians, Pakistanis and, more recently, people from Bangladesh have thronged to Britain’s shores. The 1970’s saw many Asians who had been living in East Africa seek a haven here. From outside the Commonwealth, Greek and Turkish Cypriots arrived, also Poles and Ukrainians. Following the 1956 revolution in Hungary, 20,000 refugees fled from there to Britain. More recently, Vietnamese, Kurds, Chinese, Eritreans, Iraqis, Iranians, Brazilians, and Colombians, among others, have taken up residence here. By the mid-1990’s, 6 out of every 100 residents of Britain belonged to an ethnic minority.
Nowhere is this more evident than in London, the capital of Britain. Visitors who walk the streets, travel on the double-decker buses, or ride trains in the underground tube, or subway, quickly notice the multiracial mix of the city’s residents. Indeed, nearly one quarter of the population of London has come from overseas. Reflecting this diversity, schools now offer children education that accommodates various religious preferences—among them, Christian, Muslim, and Hindu. This does not mean that Britain is especially religious. To the contrary, at this point in history, the vast majority of Britain’s population takes a largely secular, materialistic view of life.
In contrast, there are more than 126,000 of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Britain. They too come from diverse backgrounds. However, they firmly believe in God—not a nameless deity, but Jehovah, who warmly invites people of all national backgrounds to walk in his ways and benefit themselves by applying his loving counsel. (Ex. 34:6; Isa. 48:17, 18; Acts 10:34, 35; Rev. 7:9, 10) Jehovah’s Witnesses recognize the Bible to be God’s inspired Word. They have deep faith in God’s provision for salvation through Jesus Christ. Their hopes for the future are built around God’s Kingdom and the Bible’s teaching that God’s purpose is for the earth to become Paradise. (Gen. 1:28; 2:8, 9; Matt. 6:10; Luke 23:43) They zealously proclaim this good news to others. Their earnest desire is to “do all things for the sake of the good news” so that they might share it with others.—1 Cor. 9:23; Matt. 24:14.
How did the activity of Jehovah’s Witnesses get started in this part of the world?
Sharing With Others
During the last two decades of the 19th century, Britain was in the throes of urbanization. From the villages of rural England, Scotland, and Wales, people flocked to towns and cities. The traditional craftsmen were joined by many unskilled and semiskilled laborers. After 1870, compulsory school education heralded an age in which knowledge would be readily available to more people.
In 1881, J. C. Sunderlin and J. J. Bender—two close associates of Charles T. Russell, who was then taking the lead in the work of the Watch Tower Society—arrived from the United States of America. They brought a message that has changed the lives of thousands in Britain for the better. One starting in Scotland and the other in England, they distributed the heart-stirring publication Food for Thinking Christians. In London, a railroad shunter, Tom Hart, accepted a copy on his way home from work early one morning. What he read awoke his interest and led to many discussions about Christ’s return. Impelled by what he had learned, Tom enthusiastically shared his newfound knowledge with his wife and his workmates. Soon this small group, who became known as Bible Students, began distributing tracts to passersby in their neighborhood. Similar groups sprang up in other cities throughout Britain. All of these were keen to spread Bible truths.
By 1891, when C. T. Russell personally made his first visit to Britain, interest in the Bible’s message moved about 150 persons in London and a similar number in Liverpool to attend a lecture on the subject “Come Out of Her, My People”—that is, come out of religions that bear the imprint of ancient Babylon. (Rev. 18:4, King James Version) “England, Ireland and Scotland are fields ready and waiting to be harvested,” Brother Russell reported. The work of sharing the good news with others proved fruitful, and by the turn of the century, ten small Christian congregations had been formed. To make spiritual food in the form of Bible publications more readily available to them, the Watch Tower Society established an office in London.
First Branch Office
In 1900, E. C. Henninges, another close associate of C. T. Russell, arrived at the port of Liverpool, in the northwest of England, and traveled to London in search of premises to lease for use as a literature depot. On April 23 he secured property at 131 Gipsy Lane, Forest Gate, in the east of London. There the first branch office of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society began operating. Now, a century later, there are more than 100 of such branch offices in strategic locations throughout the world.
On June 30, 1914, a new legal servant for Jehovah’s organization in Britain—the International Bible Students Association—was incorporated in London. At that time the Britain branch cared for the Kingdom work throughout the British Isles, including Ireland. Since 1966, however, the whole of Ireland has been supervised by a separate branch located first in Dublin and now to the south of it.
The interest of the brothers in Britain was not limited to the British field. They knew that Jesus Christ had foretold that the good news of God’s Kingdom would be preached in all the inhabited earth before the end would come. (Matt. 24:14) During the 1920’s and early 1930’s, many brothers from Britain sought to expand their field of preaching by taking up missionary work in other lands. It was a big move, and Jehovah blessed their self-sacrificing spirit.
In 1926, Edwin Skinner left Sheffield, in the northern part of England, to serve in India. His humility helped him to persevere in that assignment for 64 years, until his death in 1990. Unforgettable and loving William Dey from Scotland, an inspector of taxes and quite a wealthy man, gave up both his position and his pension to become branch manager of the Society’s new Northern European Office, based in Copenhagen, Denmark. Soon afterward, Fred Gabler accepted Brother Dey’s invitation and traveled to Lithuania, there to be joined by Percy Dunham, who later went on to serve in Latvia. Wallace Baxter took oversight of the work in Estonia. Claude Goodman, Ron Tippin, Randall Hopley, Gerald Garrard, Clarence Taylor, and a host of others from Britain pioneered the work in Asia. Another Scot, George Phillips, served for many years in South Africa. Robert and George Nisbet, also from Scotland, pioneered in East and South Africa.
Stalwarts Help on the Continent
In the 1930’s, many British pioneers answered a call for assistance in publishing the good news in Belgium, France, Spain, and Portugal. John and Eric Cooke were among these.
Arthur and Annie Cregeen recall their activity where there were no congregations in the south of France. They met up with Polish brothers who manifested great zeal and hospitality. Annie remembers the time when they invited the brothers to their accommodation at Le Grand Hôtel de l’Europe, in the town of Albi. “The building may have been grand in Napoleon’s day,” she later wrote, but its glory had faded. She continued: “The group arrived Sunday afternoon, and we had a fascinating study of The Watchtower. Five different nationalities, each with the magazine in its own language, and the common means of communication was ‘Pidgin French.’ We read the paragraph in our own magazine in turn and explained in our broken French what we’d read. But what a good time we all had!”
Sadly, such happy times in foreign service did not last. John Cooke, then in southern France, stayed as long as he could. He finally cycled out and was evacuated to England just before German tanks rolled in. The outbreak of World War II, on September 1, 1939, had led to conflict between Britain and Germany, with serious repercussions for Jehovah’s Witnesses in Britain and elsewhere.
As the nations plunged into all-out war against one another, Jehovah’s Witnesses took a firm stand as Christian neutrals. They clearly understood that obedience to God ought to take priority in a person’s life. (Acts 5:29) Since they sincerely prayed for God’s Kingdom to come and knew what Jesus Christ said about the identity of the ruler of the world, they firmly believed that it would be wrong for them to favor one side or the other in a conflict between factions of the world. (Matt. 6:10; John 14:30; 17:14) Jehovah’s Witnesses personally took to heart what the Bible says about ‘not learning war anymore.’ (Isa. 2:2-4) At first, some of them in Britain were exempted as conscientious objectors to war. Later, however, both judges and the media claimed that people became Witnesses in order to avoid joining the armed forces. As a result, some 4,300 were thrown into prison. This number included many sisters who refused to do work that supported the war effort. Following the war, however, the Witnesses continued to demonstrate that what motivated them was the desire to please God and to advertise his Kingdom as the only hope for humankind. (More details regarding the activity of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Britain during those early days can be found in the 1973 Yearbook.)
A Two-Language Convention in England
Through the years, conventions have been a highlight in the lives of Jehovah’s people. On one occasion, key convention discourses delivered by the president of the Watch Tower Society were conveyed by radio to many other lands from a convention in London. Delegates from more than 50 foreign lands attended conventions in London during the 1950’s and 1960’s. But everything on the program was in English. That changed in 1971.
Preparations were well in hand for the “Divine Name” District Assembly to be held at Twickenham, London, that year. In Europe the Witnesses were preparing to attend conventions with the same theme. Although the Kingdom work was still under ban in Portugal, thousands there prepared to travel through Spain to Toulouse, France. Their spirits were high. Then news came of a cholera outbreak in Spain. Only those vaccinated against cholera could travel through that country. However, there was insufficient vaccine available for all from Portugal who wanted to attend the convention. When a case of suspected cholera was discovered in Toulouse itself, the authorities issued a firm cancellation order. What were the Portuguese brothers to do now? One brother said: “Well, there is always London.”
W. J. (Bill) Bull, Twickenham convention overseer, a brother known for his calm, friendly attitude, recalls what happened. “Some 800 to 900 made their way to Britain, 112 arriving by plane and the rest by coach. We had less than a week to prepare for this influx. Brothers traveled to Dover to welcome the Portuguese delegates who arrived by ferry, most of whom spoke little or no English.” Accommodations were found for them all, mainly in the homes of the London brothers. One of the large cafeteria marquees was transformed into a suitable venue for Portuguese sessions, and the Portuguese happily joined their British brothers to view such convention dramas as Jehovah Blesses the Loyal Ones and Make Jehovah’s Purpose Your Way of Life and to listen to other portions of the program. A local newspaper, the Middlesex Chronicle, reported on August 13, 1971: “Their arrival made this the first bilingual Witness convention ever held in this country.”
The Portuguese brothers gave delightful reports on the progress of the Kingdom work in their land, after which a brother overseeing the work in Portugal addressed the convention to thank the British brothers for their hospitality. “You have given us so much,” he said, “your time, your home, your attention, your kindness, your tender care in this gigantic city and, most of all, your love. Be assured, brothers, London will always bring back the most pleasant memories.” When the Portuguese brothers expressed their thanks in song, there was hardly a dry eye anywhere in the audience, so touched were all present by the expressions of heartfelt gratitude.
Introducing Them to Jehovah’s Loving Family
It was not only at convention time that attention was needed by people whose native tongue was not English. The immigrant population in Britain was growing. This presented a challenge in connection with the preaching of the good news. What could be done?
English-speaking publishers were eager to help those who had come from other nations and who spoke other languages. Where possible, the Witness would endeavor to offer the householder something to read in his own language. But communication was a problem. However, among those who came from abroad were some of Jehovah’s Witnesses, and this helped to bridge the gap.
In the 1960’s, Greek-speaking Witnesses who had come from Cyprus were busy sharing the truth with others in England who spoke Greek. Italian Witnesses were sharing Bible truth with their fellow countrymen who had moved to London.
A young German Witness named Franziska arrived in England in the spring of 1968 to work as an au pair, a girl who does domestic work in return for room and board and the opportunity to learn the family’s language. After attending the “Good News for All Nations” District Assembly that year, she enthusiastically enlarged her share in the field ministry and presented the newly released book The Truth That Leads to Eternal Life to other au pair girls living nearby. As a result, she started four Bible studies. One of these students was a Swiss girl with whom Franziska studied in German. When the girl began to attend the meetings of the congregation, she could see for herself the love in Jehovah’s household. (John 13:35) By the following year, this interested girl had made such good progress that she dedicated her life to Jehovah and got baptized. She later became a pioneer and even helped her own mother to accept the truth. But this was only the start of Franziska’s efforts to witness to au pair girls.
“Whenever I call from house to house and meet an au pair girl,” Franziska relates enthusiastically, “I tell her that I was an au pair girl once. Immediately, we have a common bond. What I always emphasize is that when I came to England, I didn’t know anybody apart from one sister. Nevertheless, I was made to feel welcome in the congregation. So I always try to get them quickly involved with the congregation so that they can see that we are one big family.”
In 1974, Franziska married Philip Harris, and together they now serve at London Bethel and with the Northwood Congregation. Franziska has been visiting one house in that territory for over 13 years. She explains: “Bethel received a letter from a French au pair girl asking for a Witness to call. Witnesses in France had given her the book You Can Live Forever in Paradise on Earth, and she wanted to know more. Although her English was still limited, I could see that Nathalie was thirsting for the truth. She made good progress and soon attended meetings.” Before returning to France, Nathalie became a Kingdom publisher, and now she and her husband serve as pioneers in the Arabic field there.
The family who employed these au pair girls had a system. Before one au pair girl left, the next one would arrive. For a few days, the former au pair girl taught the new employee the jobs to be done in the home. When Nathalie was about to leave, Franziska advised: “Before you return to France, tell the next au pair girl how the Bible study has really helped you, and see if she’s interested.” The next au pair girl was Isabelle, also from France, and, yes, she was interested. Franziska studied with her too. Isabelle was followed by a second Nathalie, who soon began to attend meetings. When she returned to France, she got baptized as well.
Another girl, Gabriela, came from Poland. She had never had any meaningful contact with Jehovah’s Witnesses, and she told Franziska that she did not like Germans because of the bad reputation they had in Poland. Franziska explained that Jehovah’s Witnesses never engaged in warfare. “During World War II, you would never have found any of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the army,” she reasoned. “Did you know that we were persecuted? We were in concentration camps because we refused to heil Hitler and to support the Nazi regime.” Gabriela expressed amazement, and her anti-German feelings soon disappeared. Following a regular Bible study with Franziska, Gabriela became an unbaptized publisher and later symbolized her dedication to Jehovah at a convention in Twickenham. Over the years, Franziska has conducted Bible studies with 25 au pair girls from ten different countries and has had the joy of introducing them to Jehovah’s loving family.
Meetings in Their Own Language
Of course, not everyone could make rapid progress in the truth by studying the Bible in English or by attending meetings in what to him might be a foreign language. What could be done?
When Greek-speaking Witnesses from Cyprus began to find interest among their fellow countrymen in England, arrangements were made in London for some meetings to be held in Greek. By 1966 they began to benefit from a regular Congregation Book Study in their language; then a monthly public talk was added. In 1967 the first Greek congregation in London was formed, and another Greek group began to hold meetings in Birmingham.
The Italians began with a public talk and a Watchtower Study at the Islington Kingdom Hall in London in 1967. This was followed by more Italian meetings in other locations. Here is an example of how things developed: Vera (Vee) Young started to study the Bible with an Italian lady in Enfield, north London. As her appreciation grew, she commented: “It’s a pity that there isn’t something in Italian for some of my friends.” This prompted Vee’s husband, Geoff, to speak to a circuit overseer. Together they found a Greek-speaking brother who had served as a pioneer in Italy. “I gave the talk in English,” Geoff relates, “and the Greek brother interpreted it into Italian.” About 30 persons attended, and some of them made good spiritual progress. In time the Italian-speaking Witnesses were ready to form a congregation. Since then, on an average, a new Italian congregation has been added every five years.
Growth continued in the Greek field. In 1975, arrangements were made for them to enjoy an assembly. At that time Geoff and Vee Young were pioneers in their late 40’s. Their two children were grown, and both had married “in the Lord.” (1 Cor. 7:39) Since Geoff and Vee no longer had elderly parents to care for, they were in a position to accept other privileges of service. To Geoff’s surprise, he received an assignment to organize an assembly for all the Greek-speaking brothers living in Britain. “I didn’t know what to expect,” Geoff recalls. “When I arrived at the assembly site, to my untrained eye, it appeared that there was a civil war going on!” Perhaps it was just a conservative Briton observing Greek exuberance. The Greek brothers were simply explaining to one another the best way to go about the work. Over 400 attended that assembly.
Other language groups also developed. In 1975 a Spanish congregation began to function. In London, the first public talk in Gujarati was given in 1977. Two years later, a small Gujarati assembly was held. At about the same time, a Punjabi circuit assembly was held, with an attendance of some 250.
“A Fine Body of People”
During the early years, the larger conventions were often held in London. By the 1960’s, annual conventions were being held in cities of various sizes throughout the country. Sometimes, there were just four; other years, smaller facilities were used, and the number of conventions ran up to 17. Soccer stadiums, auditoriums, and an ice rink were rented. In 1975, an effort was made to hold a convention at Cardiff Arms Park, in Wales.
Though the fine reputation of Jehovah’s Witnesses is known in most of Britain, officials who are responsible for sports stadiums and who have not experienced firsthand such large gatherings of the Witnesses may at first be wary of renting their facilities to them. That was true in the case of Cardiff Arms Park. Negotiations started with the Rugby Union Board in Wales. Lord Wakefield, then chairman of Rugby Union Football for the whole of Britain, had kindly told our brothers that if they experienced any difficulties in their negotiations at the board meeting in Cardiff, they should ask the board members to telephone him. How grateful the brothers were to have such help! As the negotiations reached a critical point, a telephone call to Lord Wakefield succeeded in breaking the impasse. Jehovah’s Witnesses had been holding conventions at Twickenham, in London, since 1955, and Lord Wakefield explained to his colleagues in Wales how much he and his board had appreciated having the Witnesses use the Twickenham facilities each summer. He assured them that they had nothing to worry about, adding: “What a fine body of people the Witnesses are!” A deal was quickly concluded, and for many years the Witnesses have used Cardiff Arms Park as a regular convention venue in Wales.
Assembly Halls of Our Own
In addition to annual conventions, we also hold smaller assemblies during the year. In 1969 the number of Kingdom proclaimers in Britain was 55,876, but within four years those sharing the good news with others increased to 65,348. Up till then, halls had been hired to accommodate our circuit assemblies, but it was becoming more and more difficult to find suitable locations at reasonable prices.
By the 1970’s, it was obvious that we needed our own assembly halls. Meetings of responsible brothers were held, and the search for suitable sites got under way. At first they planned in terms of renovating existing buildings. Early in 1975 they negotiated the purchase of a vacant movie theater in Manchester, in northern England. After months of renovation, the first Assembly Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses in England was dedicated on August 31. It was ready just in time for the new program of circuit assemblies starting in September.
Two years before this, in the southeastern part of the country, assembly overseers had met to consider how they could obtain a hall in London. Denis Cave, a member of the committee assigned to locate a suitable building, remembers the shock he felt when the assembled brothers unanimously agreed to look for not one but two halls—one north of the River Thames and the other south of the river—and this despite the high cost of property in the area!
An unused cinema in the town of Dorking, 20 miles [30 km] south of London, seemed a good possibility. But real estate speculators moved in and offered a high price for the building. At first disheartened, Denis received a surprise when the town’s chief executive phoned him and requested that he and another Witness attend a meeting. In addition to lifting planning restrictions so that the building could be used for worship, the authorities agreed to purchase the cinema and then offer it to the brothers on an indefinite lease renewable every three years.
That hall served well for over a decade, until the town decided to make other use of the building. To replace it, the brothers obtained a 28-acre [11 ha] site not far from London’s Gatwick Airport. It included buildings that could be incorporated into a fine Assembly Hall structure. Local controversy arose over access to the new building by means of some narrow country lanes. Understandably, nearby residents wished to protect their privacy and remain as undisturbed as possible. Would the Witnesses respect directions to follow carefully designated routes and speeds when they traveled to the Assembly Hall? A news report of the local Planning Committee meeting stated: “In normal cases, the committee felt, it would be impossible to enforce such conditions. But the Jehovah’s Witnesses were different.” The Committee chairman added: “Many other groups or organisations would like to say that their members will comply in this way. But this is the way this organisation operates.” This new Surrey Assembly Hall at Hays Bridge opened with a circuit assembly on May 17 and 18, 1986, exactly one year after the site had been acquired.
Simultaneous with the work on the Dorking Assembly Hall in 1975, the Witnesses in north London refurbished the former Ritz Cinema in New Southgate. This mid-1930’s building had closed as a cinema in the spring of 1974. For a short while, it was a synagogue. When the Witnesses acquired it, the building was in an “acute state of disrepair,” according to Roger Dixon, an architect. “The structure was basically sound but not waterproof,” he recalls. “To disguise the dilapidated condition, the interior of the auditorium had been painted black!” The task of renovating it proved daunting at first. Nevertheless, some 2,000 skilled and semiskilled volunteers completed the job in just four and a half months.
At the same time, work was under way on an Assembly Hall in the West Midlands. In 1974 the brothers had managed to purchase a former movie theater in Dudley. Renovation of this facility took longer, but by September 1976 it too was ready for use.
Building New Assembly Halls
The increase in Kingdom publishers continued, from 71,944 in 1974 to 92,616 in 1984. Many were located in the heavily industrialized urban areas in the north of England. Plans were made to build a hall in South Yorkshire.
Construction began in September 1985 on what has come to be known as the East Pennine Assembly Hall. It is a steel-frame structure seating 1,642 persons, with a 350-seat Kingdom Hall for the local congregation. The building was designed with a roof that has a 42-meter [138 foot] span, making it most attractive. The magazine The Structural Engineer dubbed this unusual design “the octagonal solution.” Rotherham Borough Council awarded the Assembly Hall their top design prize.
Noble Bower, a member of the project committee, worked on the site from the beginning and later served as the hall’s first overseer. His jovial but no-nonsense demeanor encouraged the more than 12,500 brothers and sisters who helped during the 14-month construction period. To make it possible for the work to continue through freezing fog, subzero temperatures, and snow, the brothers erected a scaffold frame around the area to support a protective plastic sheet. Into this, industrial heaters blew hot air. Nothing stopped the work on this important project. Brothers from far afield came to encourage the volunteer workers.
For Noble and his wife Louie, the most unforgettable day was when the Assembly Hall was dedicated to Jehovah, on November 15, 1986, during a visit by Theodore Jaracz, a member of the Governing Body.
With Assembly Halls in the north of England, the Midlands, and the southeast, what could be provided to accommodate the brothers in the western part of England and Wales? In October 1987 a suitable piece of land was located at Almondsbury, north of the city of Bristol. But the needed zoning permits were not obtained easily. Repeated efforts were required until permission was finally granted in February 1993.
Construction then moved ahead in earnest. What a joy it was when, on August 5, 1995, the time arrived for the dedication of this, the sixth Assembly Hall in England! John Barr of the Governing Body spoke on the theme “Filling the Earth With the Knowledge of Jehovah.” All present appreciated his kindly reminder: “Never forget that your territory forms just a small part of Jehovah’s footstool. He is just as interested in your part of the earth as in any other, so keep in mind the worldwide scope of the Kingdom work.”
The very next week, Brother Barr spoke at the dedication of a new Kingdom Hall complex at Edgware, north London. Here the brothers had built a fine structure comprising three Kingdom Halls with dividing walls that would fold away to open the whole area into an Assembly Hall that could be used by the foreign-language congregations. By this time the response in the foreign-language field had added a significant dimension to Kingdom preaching in Britain.
“Always Wanted to Do More”
For some Witnesses, sharing the good news with others has included looking for ways to expand their ministry. Commendably, many British brothers and sisters have taken steps to reach out and serve where there is a greater need. As was true of many zealous pioneers in the 1920’s and 1930’s, this has often meant moving to another land. Moving abroad has enabled these brothers and sisters to produce Kingdom fruitage in their new home and at the same time encourage the local brothers. Throughout the 1970’s and 1980’s, families from Britain moved to Central and South America, Africa, and Asia.
At the age of 57, Vera Bull, whose two daughters were grown and married, sold her home on the Isle of Wight and went to Colombia with a group of young pioneers from the Ealing Congregation in London. She quickly learned Spanish and soon was conducting 18 Bible studies. Some 30 years later, she is still serving there, surrounded by many spiritual children.
Tom and Ann Cooke, together with their daughters, Sara and Rachel, had already served in Uganda for a number of years when conditions there made necessary their return to England in 1974. The following year they were on the move again—this time to Papua New Guinea. There Sara married a special pioneer. Later the family transferred to Australia, where Rachel married a fellow Witness. In 1991, Tom and Ann took up a new assignment in the Solomon Islands, where Tom serves as Branch Committee coordinator.
For others, their move abroad has been for a more limited period. Nevertheless, whatever experience they gained from life overseas has proved invaluable to them. Barry and Jeanette Rushby are two of these.
“Ever since I’ve been in the truth, I’ve always wanted to do more,” said Barry. When he married Jeanette, a pioneer sister, the two of them responded to an appeal in Our Kingdom Service for brothers to serve in Papua New Guinea. “It was an answer to our prayers,” they both acknowledged. The brothers at the branch in Port Moresby wanted them to serve in Goroka, in the center of the country, but Barry’s work permit was valid only for the island of Bougainville. On their arrival in Papua New Guinea, how delighted they were to learn that the authorities had changed Barry’s work permit and assigned him to Goroka!
Barry took up his post as a schoolteacher, and Jeanette pioneered with the congregation of 18 publishers. “One of the things I learned,” Barry recalls, “was that when it was time to attend the congregation meetings, nothing distracted the brothers, not even the extreme weather of the rainy season. They had no vehicles, and they often walked one or two hours to the meetings, entering the Kingdom Hall absolutely drenched! But they were always there.”
After Barry and Jeanette had spent six happy years serving in Papua New Guinea, conditions changed for foreigners. Barry decided that it would be wise for them to return to Britain. However, with their experiences abroad, they were determined that now both of them would be in full-time service. But where? They wanted to serve where there was a special need. After consulting with the Society and their circuit overseer, they moved to Boston in Lincolnshire. They quickly found a place to live, but Barry could not find part-time work that would allow him to pioneer with Jeanette. Nevertheless, with faith in the promise of Jehovah’s help if they put the Kingdom first, they decided to start pioneering on September 1—whether Barry had a job or not! On September 1, they had their overcoats on and were about to leave for field service when the telephone rang. A Post Office official asked: “Would you like a part-time job?” Barry replied: “Wonderful! When would you like me to start?” The man answered: “How about tomorrow?” Jehovah had blessed their efforts to put his service first. (Matt. 6:33) Four years later, another unexpected call came for Barry and Jeanette—an assignment to care for the operation of the East Pennine Assembly Hall.
Offering Themselves Willingly
The spirit of willingness to serve is characteristic of Jehovah’s people. King David of ancient Israel sang to Jehovah: “Your people will offer themselves willingly on the day of your military force. . . . You have your company of young men just like dewdrops.” (Ps. 110:3) That willing spirit is demonstrated by many in Britain who have made themselves available to share fully in promoting the interests of true worship.
All who were giving of themselves in full-time service, both young and old, were greatly encouraged by an announcement made at the “Joyful Workers” District Assemblies, in 1977. At the seven convention locations throughout England, Scotland, and Wales, a total of 110,000 persons applauded with delight when the speaker announced the arrangements for the Pioneer Service School, which offers a two-week course of Bible study coupled with opportunities for application in the field ministry. It provides advanced training for those who already have at least one year of experience in the pioneer service. After receiving this training, some of these pioneers are able to help open up territories where little or no witnessing has been done.
The school was launched in Britain in March 1978 in the northern city of Leeds. Ann Hardy, one of the pioneers attending that first class, remembers what a happy time it was. “We were so built up spiritually,” she recalls. “The school certainly gave us new insight into the need to take a real interest in the people we meet in our field ministry.” With her husband, she now serves as a member of the Bethel family. Andrea Biggs, a mother of four who attended the school in Pontypridd, Wales, exclaims: “If that is a taste of things to come, then Jehovah has a real treat in store for us, and now I long for that new system as never before!” Some 740 classes have been held to date, and the 20,000 pioneers who have attended agree with those sentiments. Not a few, after attending the school, determined to make the pioneer service their career.
After gaining experience in pioneer service, hundreds have volunteered to serve at the Britain branch as members of the Bethel family. There are currently 393 in this Bethel family, and 38 of these have been serving at Bethel for 20 years or more.
Among those serving at Bethel is Christopher Hill. Why did he apply for this service? He answers: “I started to pioneer in 1989. But I wanted to prove to Jehovah and to myself that I was in full-time service because I loved him and not simply because my mother and father were pioneers. I wanted the truth to be my whole life, not just a part of it. I knew that Bethel service, while being a challenge, would enable me to do that.”
Geraint Watkin is also a member of the Bethel family. In the early 1980’s, he turned down a university education in favor of pioneer service. He supported himself with part-time work on his father’s farm. He enjoyed the pioneer work and hoped that someday he might become a missionary. So why did he apply for Bethel service? An article in The Watchtower in 1989 deeply influenced him. There he read the life story of Max Larson, a member of the Bethel family in the United States. Brother Larson said: “I firmly believe that Bethel is the best place on earth this side of the coming earthly Paradise.” Geraint noticed that, after requesting an application for Bethel service, Brother Larson had kept the matter before Jehovah in prayer. Geraint promptly followed that example. About ten days later, he received a phone call inviting him to become a member of the Bethel family in Britain. In Bethel service, he uses experience he gained on his father’s farm to care for a farm that supplies food for the Bethel family in London. At one time farming was simply a means for him to support himself in the pioneer work. He views the farming he now does as his “Bethel assignment from Jehovah.”
Theocratic construction projects attracted other Witnesses. While Denise (Teddy) McNeil pioneered, her husband, Gary, did secular work to provide for the household. Then in 1987 they both volunteered to help with Bethel construction in London. Though they did not receive an invitation at that time, in 1989 they were invited to become members of the Bethel family. With the circuit overseer’s counsel, “Never turn down an assignment from Jehovah,” ringing in their ears, they accepted. There Gary’s electronic skills and Teddy’s background as a dental nurse have proved most valuable. They have also shared in developing interest in the Polish- and Bengali-speaking fields in the London area.
Willie and Betty Stewart, as well as others, offered to help with construction as international volunteers. Willie, a plumber and a heating engineer, took an early retirement at 55 years of age. The Stewarts then shared in construction projects in Greece, and later in Spain, Zimbabwe, and Malta. Betty helped with housekeeping, laundry, and even some plumbing. They worked hard, and they felt richly rewarded spiritually. Says Willie: “We have made friends all over the world and from all age groups.”
Special Training for Qualified Brothers
Another door to enlarged service opportunities opened in 1990 with the inauguration of the Ministerial Training School in Britain. Here was a further opportunity for single brothers who were serving as elders or ministerial servants to receive specialized schooling, with a view to serving wherever they might be needed in the global field. The eight-week school course nicely balances instruction in Bible teachings and organizational matters. The first class in Britain was held at the East Pennine Assembly Hall. Two district overseers from the United States, James Hinderer and Randall Davis, served as the instructors. Three experienced circuit overseers from Britain—Peter Nicholls, Ray Pople, and Michael Spurr—were also in the class, to receive training for teaching future classes. Addressing the graduating class on June 17, 1990, Albert D. Schroeder, of the Governing Body, said to those of the students who were being assigned to serve in Britain: “You fine young men are needed to develop the work here. This will be a real shot in the arm for the British field.”
Among the graduates of the Ministerial Training School is Bharat Ram, who came from a Hindu family. He is now married and serves with his wife in the northwest of England, where there are many Gujarati-speaking people for them to help. John Williams, from Wales, was surprised to be assigned to work at the branch in Zambia, where skills that he had were needed, and later to missionary service in Kitwe, Zambia.
Gordon Sarkodie, who was born in Ghana, moved to England with his family when he was 12 years old. While he was still a teenager, his interest in Bible truth was aroused by a Witness who delivered The Watchtower and Awake! to Gordon’s father. A Bible study led to his baptism in 1985. As an auxiliary pioneer, he was conducting so many Bible studies that his pioneer friends suggested that he enroll as a regular pioneer. When he attended the Pioneer Service School at the end of his first year of full-time service, the circuit overseer encouraged him to apply for the Ministerial Training School. Moved by a desire to be better able to assist young ones in the congregation, Gordon did apply. He attended the seventh class of the school in Britain. After graduation he served in London for two years. Then he was assigned to be a missionary in Zambia. He was willing to make himself available for whatever use Jehovah directed, so Gordon’s training progressively led to added privileges. After 12 weeks of training in Cibemba, one of the local languages, Gordon was appointed to be a circuit overseer in the Copperbelt Province. He has also had the privilege of training others for the circuit work.
British-born Richard Frudd was brought up by Witness parents. Having dedicated his life to Jehovah, he felt that he was in no position to lay down conditions on how far that dedication would go. He made himself available. In 1982 he enrolled as a pioneer. He applied for the Ministerial Training School and graduated in 1990. He too was assigned to Zambia. After studying Cibemba and gaining some experience in his new assignment, he was appointed to be a circuit overseer, and he has also served as an instructor in the Ministerial Training School held at the Zambia branch.
To date, 433 students have graduated from 19 classes of the Ministerial Training School in Britain. Of this number, 79 are at present serving abroad, 4 are serving as circuit overseers, 12 as Bethelites, and 308 are sharing the benefits of their training by serving as pioneers in Britain.
Moving Into Missionary Fields
Among the pioneers in Britain, hundreds have offered to serve wherever they may be needed in the world field. Many of them have been trained at the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead, in New York. Altogether, 524 from Britain have graduated from Gilead. They have served in 64 lands, in all parts of the earth.
Some British pioneers had already shared in foreign service before being invited to Gilead. That was true of John and Eric Cooke, who had served in France and Spain. After attending Gilead, Eric was sent to Africa, and John served first in Spain and Portugal, then in Africa. It was also true of Robert and George Nisbet, who had served in South Africa for 15 or more years before attending Gilead and thereafter served in Mauritius and later back on the African continent. Claude Goodman had already served for 20 years in India, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), Burma (now Myanmar), Thailand, and Malaya (now included in Malaysia) before he attended Gilead; then he was sent to Pakistan. Edwin Skinner had pioneered in India for 20 years before attending Gilead, and then he continued to serve in India for another 43 years until he finished his earthly course in 1990.
Others got a preliminary taste of foreign service by sharing as international volunteers on construction projects. That was true of Richard and Lusia Palmer, who had served for various periods in Greece, Tahiti, Spain, and Sri Lanka between 1989 and 1994 and then had stayed in Sri Lanka to pioneer for over three years until they were invited to Gilead.
Applicants for Gilead have been encouraged to view the missionary service as their life’s work. Most of them take up their assignments with that outlook, and some have set fine examples in this regard. At least 45 who went out from Britain and who are still in missionary assignments have been there for 20 years or more. Of these, 9 are in Central and South America, 11 in Asian lands, another 11 in Africa, 4 in Europe, and 10 more on various islands.
Included among the longtime missionaries is Anthony Attwood, who served for 49 years in Nigeria. He was transferred to London Bethel in 1997 because of certain immigration regulations, but his heart is still in Nigeria. He says: “Serving in Nigeria was a wonderful privilege. Those were years well spent. I encourage all young people who have been blessed with the truth to grasp every privilege that is placed before them. Jehovah will never let you down. I know that from experience.” Olive Springate, sent to Brazil in 1951 as a missionary, was joined by her sister Sonia in 1959. Denton Hopkinson and Raymond Leach arrived in the Philippines as missionaries in the early 1950’s, and that continues to be their home. Malcolm Vigo, who began his missionary service in Malawi and stayed there for ten years until deported, now serves in Nigeria with his wife. Many more could also be mentioned, and each one has had a life rich with blessings from Jehovah.
Some who undertake missionary service have had to grapple with serious problems in order to continue. After several years in missionary service in Brazil, Eric and Chris Britten were forced to return to England for a time because of illness. Later in the same year, they accepted an assignment in Portugal, where the work was under ban. When expelled from Portugal after seven years because of their work of Bible education, they continued in full-time service in England. But then they wrote to the Society to ask about the possibility of another missionary assignment. Soon they were back in Brazil, where they engaged in both missionary work and circuit work. They served faithfully together in Brazil until Eric died in August 1999; Chris continues to serve there.
After some years, Scriptural obligations toward family members may require an adjustment in one’s activity. That was true of Mike and Barbara Pottage, who served in Zaire for 26 years and then returned to England in 1991 in order to help an aged parent who was living in distressing circumstances. But their hearts were in the full-time service, and they managed to serve as special pioneers while caring for family responsibilities. In 1996 they were able to return to the missionary field for three more years in what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo, and they are currently members of the Bethel family in Britain. Since they first took up service in Zaire, they have seen the number of proclaimers of God’s Kingdom in that part of the world grow from 4,243 to more than 108,000. They have vivid memories of the time, about a year after their arrival, when Jehovah’s Witnesses were granted legal recognition in the country. And the first convention the following year, held in Kinshasa, though attended by just 3,817, is still a highlight to them. What a joy it was when in 1998, in spite of the unsettled conditions in the country, 534,000 who had benefited from divine teaching gathered to celebrate the Lord’s Evening Meal!
Providing Suitable Kingdom Halls
As the number of congregations in Britain continued to grow, providing suitable Kingdom Halls became an ongoing challenge. Some congregations met in hired halls and other locations, not all of which were appropriate for groups of Christians who come together to worship our magnificent God, Jehovah. Suitable meeting places were badly needed.
Obtaining property for Kingdom Halls has not always been easy. At times opposition has been quite intense, especially where religious prejudice exists. Nevertheless, reliance on Jehovah and perseverance on the part of responsible brothers has brought success, much to the surprise of opposers.
In the early 1970’s, one of the congregations in Swansea, Wales, offered to buy an unused chapel for use as a Kingdom Hall. A deacon of the church that owned the building said that he would rather die than see it sold to the Witnesses. As a result, the chapel was sold to the Post Office for use as a temporary telephone exchange. However, in 1980, when they no longer needed the building, the Post Office put it up for auction. One of the congregation elders learned about this and discussed with his fellow elders how much they could bid. A surveyor estimated that the building together with the land on which it stood was worth £20,000 ($32,000, US). How delighted the brothers were when they succeeded with a bid of £15,000 ($24,000, US)! After suitable renovation, the building was dedicated to Jehovah.
When increase within the congregation in the southwest seaside town of Exmouth led to formation of another congregation, the brothers decided that a new location was needed for a larger Kingdom Hall. They discovered that the district council owned a site already zoned for religious purposes. The Witnesses negotiated to purchase it. Then the council made the unusual stipulation that contracts for the sale of the land could not be completed until the building was finished. Construction was finished in 1997. Happily, the council kept its side of the bargain. The congregations that use the hall see it as evidence of Jehovah’s blessing on their efforts to promote the expansion of true worship in their area.
A First in Europe
Even when property could be obtained, construction of a new Kingdom Hall often took years. Yet, in the ten-year period ending in 1982, the number of congregations in Britain had increased from 943 to 1,147. Something needed to be done so that the building work could keep pace with the growth.
In September 1983 a group of brothers from the United States and Canada who were experienced in construction work arrived in Northampton, 63 miles [101 km] north of London. They had been dealing with the need for rapid construction and came to share the practical solutions that had been developed. They worked alongside the local brothers to help them build a new Kingdom Hall economically and quickly. “A group of Jehovah’s Witnesses have recently achieved in four days what the normal contractor would take six months to do,” reported Building Design magazine the following month, “and they’ve done it at a quarter of the cost.” Jehovah blessed the construction of this quickly built Kingdom Hall, the first of its kind in Europe.
The next year, over 1,000 volunteers helped to build a Kingdom Hall in the Welsh town of Dolgellau. This time the project was completed in two days instead of four. The 33 local Witnesses were assisted by others from Wales, England, and the United States. Brothers from France and the Netherlands were also on hand to see how it was done, and on their return home, they began to teach others how to follow similar methods.
The assistance by brothers from abroad benefited Jehovah’s Witnesses in Britain, and they in turn offered to help others. Two congregations in King’s Lynn, Norfolk, did this in an unusual way. In 1986 the congregations were busy preparing to construct a new Kingdom Hall to replace the wooden building they had been using. When they heard that the Cobh Congregation, in Ireland, was holding meetings in a converted garage with 45 to 50 people present, they decided to help. They offered their old building with all its contents, including chairs and sound equipment, to the Witnesses in Cobh. When they found that the window frames needed replacing, local brothers donated enough to cover the cost. Nearby congregations contributed money for new roof trusses. On top of all of this, the Norfolk brothers paid all the shipping costs.
“The dismantling of the hall proved to be a formidable task,” recalls Peter Rose, a presiding overseer in King’s Lynn. “Each piece had to be removed without damage, individually numbered, and then reassembled like a giant jigsaw puzzle.” In May 1986, when they finished the dismantling, they packed all the pieces in a container and shipped them across the Irish Sea to Cobh. The brothers in Cobh planned to erect their new hall on the weekend of June 7 and 8—the very same time that the brothers in King’s Lynn were to build their new Kingdom Hall. Both Kingdom Halls were completed that weekend.
Providing Finances and Experienced Help
The British edition of Our Kingdom Ministry of April 1987 contained an insert that drew attention to the establishment of a Society Kingdom Hall Fund to “provide adequate low-cost financing” for both new construction and the purchase and remodeling of buildings. In this way an equalizing of resources was made possible. (2 Cor. 8:14) The article concluded: “Whilst recognizing the magnitude of the task at hand and appreciating the generous contributions congregations have made (and are making) to new Assembly Halls, we must fully trust in Jehovah to help us meet the present need for Kingdom Halls.—Prov. 3:5, 6.”
The following year, the Governing Body, through the branch office, arranged for committees of brothers to be available in various parts of the country to share their professional experience and to help organize the construction of Kingdom Halls. By 1998, sixteen Regional Building Committees had been appointed. These committees have already helped with construction and renovation of more than 700 Kingdom Halls in Britain.
The majority of the brothers who serve on these committees have families to care for. Some have been able to devote more time to this work; others, less. Michael Harvey, a father of five, with the cooperation of his wife, Jean, chose to put Kingdom Hall construction ahead of other things. Husband and wife have both learned the value of Jesus’ advice to keep the Kingdom first in their lives. (Matt. 6:33) “Jesus’ words have taken on a whole new meaning to us,” says Michael. “Jehovah has never ever let us down.” Jean agrees: “When Rachel, one of our daughters, was about nine years old, she was quickly growing out of her clothes. I didn’t have enough money to buy her anything new, so we were trying to make do by mending clothes and altering them to fit. Then, the day before our circuit assembly, Michael’s sister sent us two new outfits that she had bought on sale. They fitted Rachel perfectly—and it was perfect timing for the assembly!” While two of their sons share in the construction work, Jean and the girls keep house and care for some work connected with the building projects. “Our work on construction brings us together,” Michael explains. “Really, it’s a family project.”
For some Kingdom Halls built in the 1980’s, volunteers to do the work numbered in the hundreds, even thousands. With a view to simplifying the work, Brother Harvey traveled to Denmark to consult with brothers who were working on Kingdom Halls there. Further help came when the Society notified congregations that when new Kingdom Halls were needed, the Society could provide a selection of designs already prepared. As a result, fewer volunteers are needed, the amount of work has been greatly reduced, and modest but suitable Kingdom Halls have been built throughout Britain.
More Than a Good Story
The united effort to build a Kingdom Hall and the speed with which it is accomplished result in a fine witness to the public. Newspapers often report on what is done. In 1990, Victor Lagden, a photojournalist from the Evening Echo, a local newspaper, covered the three-day construction of a new hall on Canvey Island, on the north side of the Thames Estuary. When he arrived at the construction site on Friday morning, he found little more than building supplies. Pinned to the door of a trailer was a notice that read “Press Office.” “It was the only upright structure on the site at the time,” Victor recalls. “But what did make an impression on me were the construction workers—men and women, young and old, working together.” Victor took a photograph of the site and left. Then he asked his editor if he could return to the site at intervals over the weekend to see whether the Witnesses’ claim that they would build a hall within three days proved to be true. He and three other reporters covered the progress of the work.
On Sunday, Victor attended the very first meeting held in the new hall. As a result, a double-page spread graced his newspaper under the headline “Great Jehovah!” Later, one of the local elders visited Victor. A Bible study was started with him. “Within three weeks,” Victor relates, “I learned God’s name, and instead of simply pleading in my prayers, I was now giving thanks—thanks to Jehovah.” Victor is now a baptized Witness of Jehovah.
During the 1970’s and 1980’s, much witnessing was done among the immigrant population in Britain—most of it by Witnesses who were themselves immigrants and who spoke the various languages. But more help was needed.
By 1993 two million people of Asian background lived in Britain, 1 in 28 of the population. Many had come from the Indian subcontinent; others, from East Africa. There were already some 500 Punjabi-speaking and 150 Gujarati-speaking publishers associated with English congregations, and they were conducting over 500 Bible studies in those languages. But by no means were all the immigrants being given opportunity to benefit from the good news of God’s Kingdom.
Recognizing that a person who speaks only English may feel inadequate when trying to witness to people of a different language and culture, the branch office exhorted the local Witnesses to develop an expansive love for people of all races and a Christlike spirit in caring for the welfare of others. They were encouraged to “widen out.” (2 Cor. 6:11-13; Phil. 2:1-4) Our Kingdom Ministry explained: “We want the people in our territory to sense in us the warmth and interest that Jesus Christ expressed in his ministry.” The Witnesses in Britain were told: “A vast missionary field has in effect come to us!”
In showing concern for those speaking foreign languages, all the British Witnesses were encouraged to refer foreigners encountered in their territories to the appropriate foreign-language congregations. Thus whether individual Witnesses could speak another language or not, they all could share in caring for the vast missionary field that had moved into England. Actually, the territories for the foreign-language congregations are mainly made up of such referrals.
Consequently, in 1996, Grace Li visited the home of a lady from Vietnam who lives in Newcastle upon Tyne, in northeast England. The woman speaks Chinese. Grace received a warm welcome and an immediate invitation into the house. She learned that the woman was a refugee who had suffered much during the war in Vietnam. She had lived in England for some ten years but still spoke English poorly. She explained to Grace that she had been near to despair often and had no one to whom she could turn for help.
She also told Grace that four years previously she had received a book with many beautiful pictures but could not understand it because she did not read English. However, whenever she felt depressed, she would look at the pictures, as this helped to relieve her depression and fill her with hope. She took the book from the bookshelf, handed it to Grace, and asked if she would read it for her so that she could find out what it was about. It was the book You Can Live Forever in Paradise on Earth! Grace replied that she could do something better than read the English book to her. Grace reached into her bag and pulled out a copy of the same book in Chinese. The lady could hardly believe her eyes. At last, she could learn the Bible’s message! She immediately agreed to a Bible study.
As part of the ‘widening out,’ the branch office gave special attention to helping the ethnic groups grow spiritually and organizationally. Colin Seymour and his wife, Olive, had already served for 20 years in visiting congregations throughout Britain. Both demonstrated genuine interest in those they served, and this had become especially apparent during their visits to the congregations on the islands of Malta and Gozo, in the Mediterranean Sea. They even attempted to comment in Maltese during the congregation meetings, endearing themselves to the local brothers.
In September 1994, Colin was appointed to be the circuit overseer for the non-English-language groups and some of the foreign-language congregations throughout England. He carefully assessed each group’s development toward becoming a congregation and strengthened the congregations that were already functioning. Although at first this circuit was the smallest—only 12 congregations with about 750 publishers—it developed within three years to become the largest circuit, with 1,968 publishers, among whom 388 served as pioneers. Since then the number of foreign-language circuits has increased to three.
Learning a New Language
In order to share life-giving Bible truths with immigrants who speak other languages, some British Witnesses have shown personal initiative in learning another language. Among these is Elisabeth Emmott, who has pioneered in various parts of England. First she tried to learn Punjabi to help people in her territory. Then in 1976, in a new assignment, she began working on Urdu. Next it was Gujarati. To help interested ones, she would also search out Indian and Pakistani publishers at conventions. In the case of Clifton and Amanda Banks, attending a convention in Russia in 1993 got them started. Back home, they obtained a Russian-language course from the local library, moved into an area where Russian-speaking people are located, and began pioneering with the Russian congregation there. But finding time for language study when a person is caring for secular responsibilities and a family, as well as a full program of activity in the congregation and in the field ministry, is not easy.
Because of the special need in England, encouragement was given to pioneers who wanted to broaden out their ministry in this way. Without relinquishing their pioneer service, they learned the rudiments of a language. In order to get needed instruction, some pioneers took a brief course in the basics of their new language—with interesting results.
Christine Flynn, who has been a pioneer for 21 years, along with seven other pioneers decided to enroll in a Gujarati language course in 1996/97. The teachers were an Indian married couple who were, to say the least, surprised when so many English-speaking students joined their course. “They altered many of the classes to assist us,” Christine relates. “They helped me prepare field service presentations and even attended some of our meetings.”
At about the same time, Christine started a new secular job. At her place of work, she met a young Gujarati-speaking woman. When Christine greeted her in Gujarati, the young woman expressed amazement and wanted to know why she was learning the language. Christine explained and gave a fine witness, to which the young woman responded: ‘No other religion would encourage its members to learn such a difficult language. You must really have something important to say.’
Pauline Duncan, also a pioneer, applied herself to learning Bengali in 1994. At first she found it very difficult. “Many times, I supplicated Jehovah with tears, telling him how hard this language is and that I felt like giving up,” she admits. “But with Jehovah’s holy spirit, as well as my determination and effort, I have passed the hard stage and am happy I did not give up because now I am having wonderful results.” Beverley Crook, another pioneer, says regarding the effect her learning Bengali has had on the people she visits: “Since I have learned the language, there has been a complete transformation in my ministry. The Bengali people know that we must love them because we have taken time to learn their language.”
Jennifer Charles, a pioneer in one of the French congregations where there are many refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo, says: “Learning a new language has helped me to understand how those in my territory feel when they come to a country where they are not able to speak the language.”
For a number of years, many pioneers, including single sisters who are able to serve where the need is greater, have been encouraged to speak to their circuit overseer about moving to nearby congregations where a need exists. Some have chosen to learn a new language in order to help out in the foreign-language field. In the Greater London area, over 100 pioneer sisters have done this. Their ministry among those who speak languages other than English has been fruitful. With their help many people have studied the Bible and attended Christian meetings.
When the Missionary Spirit Continues
For various reasons, some who were missionaries have found it necessary to return to Britain. Many of these have continued to do fine work.
After having been in missionary service for 14 years, Wilfred and Gwen Gooch transferred from Nigeria to the branch in London in 1964. This was not because they were discontented with service in Nigeria; they loved it. Rather, Wilfred had been assigned to care for oversight of the Britain branch. By their positive attitude, however, they were able to encourage many pioneers in England to make themselves available for service in whatever way Jehovah might direct through his organization. Wilfred would often say: “You’ll learn more in one year as a missionary than you would in 30 years as a pioneer.” What he meant was, not that you would learn more about the Scriptures, but that you would learn more about yourself and about life and about how to get on with your brothers and sisters.
John and Pat Barker, graduates of Gilead’s 45th class, returned to England when they were about to become parents. But they had worked hard to learn Mandarin so that they could witness to the Chinese in Taiwan. Back in England, they kept on the lookout for Chinese people with whom they could share the good news. After their children had grown up and married, they both enrolled as regular pioneers and they now enjoy a fruitful ministry with a congregation that includes a Mandarin-speaking group in the Midlands city of Birmingham. Several with whom they have studied have returned to China with a good knowledge of the truth.
David Shepherd, formerly a missionary in Ghana, now has a wife and three children. But David continues in full-time service. What has contributed to this? He explains: “When I saw how little the brothers in Ghana had, it helped me try to keep my own life as simple as possible.”
Facilities Adequate for the Work
Printed Bible literature has played an important part in spreading the Kingdom good news. In the early 1970’s, the branch in London fulfilled a strategic role in supplying such life-giving spiritual food to many other lands. Much of it went to countries in Africa; some, as far as Australia.
Gradually, other printing branches took over some of the magazine production, while the pressroom in London concentrated on English, Dutch, and Swahili. Nevertheless, the two MAN letterpresses in England still had a very full schedule. To meet it, in 1977, one of those presses also ran a night shift every third week.
It was time to enlarge the Society’s facilities in London. At Watch Tower House in Mill Hill, which had been in use since the late 1950’s, there was no longer enough space to care for the amount of printing that the branch was doing. Planning restrictions prevented development of more factory space at Watch Tower House, so the Governing Body agreed to relocate the factory and, at the same time, to enlarge the existing Bethel home to house the increasing number of brothers needed for the work.
Finally, 33,000 square feet [3,000 sq m] of factory space was located at Wembley, some eight miles [13 km] away. The two-floor building provided ample room for an enlarged factory as well as an apartment, a kitchen, a dining area, and reception facilities. Factory operations were moved to this location in 1980, existing equipment was supplemented with a new five-unit Harris offset press, and within two years the yearly production of magazines reached 38,328,000.
Meanwhile, work got under way on a new wing for Watch Tower House in Mill Hill, providing an additional 41 rooms for the Bethel family, as well as an enlarged dining room and kitchen. John Andrews, a district overseer who had an architectural background, was called to Bethel to work with the project team. Witnesses from many parts of the country volunteered to work on weekends. Despite heavy snow and extremely low temperatures during the winter of 1981/82, work continued apace. A number of non-Witness personnel were employed as subcontractors and worked alongside the brothers. In just over two years, the new wing of the building was ready to use. This was at about the same time as another outstanding event.
A Mammoth Undertaking
In June 1982 the Governing Body accepted an invitation from the Branch Committee to hold in Britain the 1983 annual meeting of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania. This event was to be doubly important because the branch planned to have the dedication of the new London Bethel extension on the same weekend that they would be hosting the annual meeting.
“About eight o’clock one morning, I received a phone call from Peter Ellis at Bethel,” recalls Dennis Loft. “He asked me to book the De Montfort Hall for October 1.” This had been the venue for a memorable assembly September 2-10, 1941, when the Children book was released. At that time, in the middle of World War II when our brothers had taken a courageous stand for Christian neutrality, Albert D. Schroeder, now a member of the Governing Body, was the branch servant in Britain. What a marvelous occasion this annual meeting was to be for surviving older ones to renew their acquaintance with loyal servants of Jehovah from earlier days!
The 1983 annual meeting was the first such meeting to be held outside North America. Plans got under way to link the program from Leicester with the Dudley Assembly Hall in the Midlands. In this way more brothers could enjoy the occasion. First to be invited were those who had served Jehovah for 40 or more years. Word was sent to branches throughout Europe, inviting members of the Bethel families for the weekend. It was quickly realized that there would not be enough room at London Bethel to accommodate all these European delegates. Plans were therefore made for a rooming operation to house all the visitors.
Meanwhile, Brother Loft had contacted the Leicester City Council, only to be informed that one of the city’s largest companies would be holding an annual dinner dance the very weekend that we wanted to book the hall. Inquiring further, Dennis learned that the event was actually going to be on September 30 but that because there was always so much cleaning to be done afterward, the hall was booked for the following day as well. “If we took on the responsibility of cleaning the place, could we book it for October 1?” Dennis asked. The administrator agreed, and Dennis sighed with relief, although at the time he little realized the enormity of the undertaking.
At midnight on September 30, organized in groups under captains, 400 brothers set to work to clean away the debris from the social occasion. They also replaced the tables with 3,000 chairs in readiness for the meeting. It was a daunting task to be accomplished in only eight hours. Dennis recalls: “The unique feature was that very few of these brothers had been invited to the annual meeting, and yet, just to be able to have a part in it, even just to prepare for it, is something that they talk about to this day.” The brothers carpeted the platform and banked it with flowers. At 8:00 a.m., the hall was immaculate. The hall staff stood by in amazement. The brothers recognized that this meeting had the potential for being something very special. They were not disappointed.
An Unforgettable Meeting
Among the 3,671 present for the spiritual feast at Leicester were 693 delegates from 37 other branches. Many of those in attendance were anointed brothers and sisters. Reg Kellond, from Telford, and Emma Burnell, from Paignton, both 99 years of age, were the oldest delegates from Britain. Janet Tait, from Glasgow, as well as Mary Grant, Edith Guiver, and Robert Warden, each in the ninth or tenth decade of life, had learned the truth before World War I. What a lifetime of experience each had had in Jehovah’s service! They shared in the witness work as the number of praisers of Jehovah in Britain increased from a few thousand to 92,320. They were eagerly awaiting the encouragement that members of the Governing Body were to offer.
Albert D. Schroeder spoke on the theme “Keep Hoping in Jehovah, That You Do Not Tire Out,” based on Isaiah 40:31. He also interviewed some faithful brothers: Robert Warden and Harold Rabson, both from Glasgow and baptized in 1913 and 1914 respectively; Robert Anderson, who had been a pioneer for 51 years; and Ernie Beavor, who had been a circuit overseer for 17 years and whose three children had been in missionary service. All of them spoke enthusiastically of their many years in Jehovah’s service. Daniel Sydlik, another member of the Governing Body, spoke on the theme “The Best Is Yet to Come.” It was a talk that the brothers remember to this day.
“When we received our invitation,” one brother wrote, “memories of that wonderful wartime assembly at the De Montfort Hall in 1941 flooded back. Surely, that convention, held as if by a miracle in the midst of war-torn Britain, was the best we had attended—but ‘the best was yet to come.’ We came away from this meeting with hearts overflowing with gratitude to Jehovah, determined to continue loyal to our Creator; to his King, Christ Jesus; and to the organization that He is so clearly using.”
After this event many of the delegates traveled to London to enjoy the dedication program for the Bethel extension. The sessions were tied in by telephone to the North London Assembly Hall, allowing many more the opportunity to listen to the dedication discourse presented by Frederick Franz, then president of the Society.
A Better Location for the Printery
The branch facilities were still not ideal. Watch Tower House was located in Mill Hill, but the factory was eight miles [13 km] away, in Wembley. Twenty-five to thirty Bethel brothers regularly traveled there for work.
Years earlier, N. H. Knorr, who was then president of the Society, had observed that a building belonging to the U.K. Optical company and located across the road from Watch Tower House would make ideal premises for a printery. At that time, however, it was not available. But in September 1986 at a meeting organized by the Post Office, Philip Harris, the overseer of our Shipping Department, heard that the U.K. Optical company would be vacating those premises at Bittacy Hill. Immediately, arrangements were made to acquire this five-acre [2 ha] property. Two months later the sale was completed, and at the same time, negotiations to sell the Wembley factory were successfully concluded. Then, construction on the new factory began in earnest.
First, old buildings at the rear of the Bittacy Hill site were demolished to make way for the new factory. As excavation progressed, the brothers discovered that this area had been used as a dump for industrial waste. By the time all the rubble had been removed, it was evident that a large basement could be added to the building plans. More than 5,000 volunteers, from both Britain and overseas, spent over half a million hours on the project. The result was a fine factory and garage that could serve for years to come.
The second phase of the construction involved the demolition of the old U.K. Optical office and factory block to make room for the new office building. To maintain an appearance similar to that of other buildings in the neighborhood, the local planning authority insisted that our new office block be built with bricks. This was achieved by using half bricks set into concrete panels. The IBSA House quickly took shape as its 157 brick-faced panels were lifted into place. The manager of one company who visited the site soon afterward asked how many bricklayers we had employed. “Surely at least fifty,” he mused. He shook his head in disbelief upon learning that only six women and two men had done it all!
In 1993 this new office and factory complex at the top of Bittacy Hill was ready for use. It was dedicated during a visit by Albert D. Schroeder of the Governing Body. By that time 127,395 were sharing in field service throughout the country—a cause for joy indeed!
Help on an International Scale
The Society’s branch in Germany stepped in to help print English magazines during the transfer of our printing operations from Wembley to the new location at IBSA House. Soon, however, the printing operations were resumed in London, and tens of millions of magazines setting out life-giving truths were streaming from the presses in our new factory.
Although far from East Africa, the London printery has long produced a regular supply of magazines for that part of the world. Both English and Swahili editions of the magazines are regularly shipped there. The islands of the Caribbean likewise receive their supplies from Britain. For many years ships carrying bananas have taken cargo from the West Indies to the west coast of Britain. They return with freight for the islands, and this regularly includes magazine shipments transported free of charge because of the Society’s charitable status.
When outgoing containers are being prepared for export by the Shipping Department, empty space is utilized to send a variety of needed supplies to brothers in areas where economic circumstances are difficult. Tens of thousands of surplus chairs from Kingdom Halls throughout the country have thus been transported to such countries as Liberia, Mozambique, Senegal, Tanzania, and Zambia. There they are put to use by congregations that are now bursting at the seams with interested persons eager to learn the good news of God’s Kingdom.
When war conditions in Bosnia in 1994 necessitated relief operations for our brothers there, the branch in Austria gladly provided food, clothing, and other supplies. But when authorities in Bosnia decreed that future shipments must be sent to a legally registered organization, the branch in Britain was asked to help. Legal papers were prepared in English and Croatian, notarized, and dispatched by courier. The relief convoy had already left Vienna when the papers arrived. Traveling by automobile, brothers caught up with the convoy at the border and handed over the legal papers, just in time for the relief shipment to go through!
In August 1998 when arrangements were being made to move printing operations from France to England, 50 members of the Bethel family in Louviers were transferred to the London Bethel to help with the added work load. After extensive negotiations, it also became possible in 1999 to move the large web-offset press and other printing equipment from Louviers to London. While the French Bethelites endeavored to learn English and the British Bethelites tried out some French expressions, all were united in speaking the “pure language” of Bible truth and thus were able to work shoulder to shoulder to accomplish tasks that honor Jehovah.—Zeph. 3:9.
Reaching Out to the Islands
Over the years, the Britain branch has looked after the preaching work in a number of islands in various locations. Some of these are included in the British Isles. The Isle of Wight, off the south coast, has seven thriving congregations. The Isle of Man, in the Irish Sea, has a prosperous congregation of 190 publishers. The Hebrides, off the west coast of Scotland, are home to over 60 publishers, who regularly witness in the remote hamlets. The Orkney and the Shetland islands, off Scotland’s northeastern tip, both have growing congregations that give a thorough witness to those isolated from the mainland. Indeed, the pioneers in the Shetland Islands extend their territory out into the North Sea as they visit the fishing boats and preach to the sailors on board.
The two congregations on Guernsey, one of the Channel Islands, care for witnessing on the smaller islands of Alderney and Sark. This has required considerable effort. As an example, a regular witness has been given to the inhabitants of Sark—now 575 in number—since the early 1980’s. A pioneer from Guernsey who preached on Sark met a young man whose mother was a Witness elsewhere in the British Isles. At first the young man did not show interest, but after further discussions, a Witness couple started a study with him and his girlfriend—a study that was conducted largely through the mail. Congregations from both Guernsey and Jersey shared the expense of sending a pioneer to Sark and Alderney once a month. With such personal help and studies by mail, both the young man and his girlfriend gradually made spiritual progress. To provide further help, an elder conducted a study by telephone, using the book United in Worship of the Only True God. In April 1994, both the young man and the young woman, now his wife, were ready for baptism. At present they benefit from and share in congregation meetings by a telephone hookup when weather conditions do not permit them to make the sea crossing to Guernsey. Truly, an earnest effort is made to help everyone to benefit from the good news.
Three congregations are thriving on the nearby island of Jersey. These congregations take turns with the ones on Guernsey in hosting an annual district convention attended by some 500 local Witnesses and about 1,000 visitors from other parts of Britain. Additionally, since many Portuguese-speaking seasonal workers come to this island, some local publishers have studied Portuguese in order to be able to share the Kingdom message with them more effectively.
Much farther away are the Falkland Islands. Many of the islands’ 2,200 inhabitants have their roots in the Shetland Islands and other parts of Scotland. Arthur Nutter and his wife, along with their children, moved to the Falkland Islands from England in 1980 to share in giving a witness. Two years later, because of developments in world affairs, it seemed wise for the Britain branch to give general supervision to the preaching work there. Although the Falkland Islands are some 8,000 miles [13,000 km] from London, visits were made to serve the small congregation. That arrangement of supervision from Britain continued for 15 years.
As it has for most of the past 50 years, the Britain branch also supervises the activity of Jehovah’s people in Malta, in the heart of the Mediterranean Sea. There on Malta the apostle Paul was shipwrecked on his way to Rome in about 58 C.E. (Acts 28:1) Nearby is Gozo, a smaller and dependent sister island. Today, both are home to thriving congregations of Jehovah’s people.
Although some witnessing had been reported from Malta since 1936, it was not until the 1970’s that the Kingdom work became well established among the Maltese population. Repeated efforts were made to share the good news with people there, but the Roman Catholic Church held a firm grip on both government and private life.
Gesualda Lima was a girl of 13 when she first heard her mother explain to the family what she had been told by a neighbor who was one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. That was in 1970. “When I heard the name Jehovah, to me it was something special,” Gesualda recalls. (Ps. 83:18) Later her parents opposed her interest in the Bible’s message. Undeterred, she continued to study the Bible, began attending meetings, dedicated her life to Jehovah, and was baptized. In 1981 she married Ignazio, a lively Italian with irrepressible zeal. Together they have been privileged to serve as full-time ministers in Malta, and they have helped about 100 others to learn the truth. The majority of these are Maltese.
Joe Axiak, a watchmaker by trade, is a largehearted, kindly Maltese man who first heard about the truth from his uncle’s family. But being then of an independent nature, Joe left home and traveled to Australia. When he began to associate with Jehovah’s Witnesses there, one of his brothers warned him: “If our mother hears that you are going to be one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, she will die, and I’ll burn this hall if you go there again.” However, Joe persisted, and it paid off. Now he and seven of his brothers and sisters, including the brother who threatened him, are serving Jehovah.
After Joe returned to Malta, he got married, and he and his wife, Jane, decided to give special attention to the territory on the island of Gozo. Every weekend, they traveled there by ferry. But after their son, David, was born, the traveling was too much, so they decided to settle in Gozo. What a joy it was to them when in 1984 a congregation was established! Now there are 27 publishers on Gozo. They meet in their own Kingdom Hall and regularly preach the good news to others.
If Only It Was in Maltese
Expressing Bible truths in their own language, Maltese, has helped more of these island folk to make progress in gaining an accurate knowledge of Jehovah and his ways.—Col. 1:9, 10.
Helen Massa, one of Gesualda Lima’s Bible students, remembers when all the meetings were held in English. Although it was sometimes a struggle to understand what was being said, Helen treasures memories of the fine instruction given. She often speaks of the patient teaching by an English brother, Norman Rutherford, who served in Malta in the late ’60’s and early ’70’s. Norman and his wife, Isabel, graduates of Gilead’s 11th class, always acted cautiously because they were foreigners. Their desire was to stay and support the local brothers and sisters, who took a courageous stand in the face of religious and family opposition.
In the early 1970’s, Joe Micallef, a journalist who was fluent in English, was delighted when Norman Rutherford agreed to study the Bible with him. He remembers: “I would ask a question, and I would have been happy with yes or no.” But Norman realized that there was more to teaching than simply answering questions. “He would go into detail, explaining why it is yes or why it is no.” This strengthened Joe’s faith.
Although the first meetings Joe attended were in English, after a while some in attendance were assigned to summarize in Maltese the main points of paragraphs from The Watchtower. That was not always an easy thing to do. Joe’s brother, Ray, decided he would write down his summary but found it easier to translate the whole paragraph. “When Peter Ellis, who visited Malta as a traveling overseer, saw what was happening,” Joe continues, “he suggested that we purchase a duplicating machine.” Thus, in 1977 the first typewritten copy of the Maltese Watchtower appeared. When the brothers needed help with making or correcting the stencils they typed, who better to ask than someone involved in the printing business—journalist Joe! “Look,” exclaimed Joe, “somebody has to take on the responsibility for getting this job done!” The brothers replied: “Well, whom do you suggest?” to which Joe answered: “I don’t know, but I’m willing to try.” Thus began Joe’s involvement with the translating of Maltese publications. Of course, today arrangements to translate publications are made through the Writing Committee and are not undertaken independently.
In 1979 the first printed issue of the Maltese Watchtower appeared. A team of translators gradually took over the work, and presently The Watchtower appears semimonthly and Awake! is published monthly in Maltese. Further progress came in January 1998 during the visit of a zone overseer, Douglas Guest, when the new translation offices, missionary home, and Kingdom Hall at I.B.S.A. House in the town of Mosta were dedicated. The next day 631 gathered to hear reports on the progress of the Kingdom work in Malta.
Trained to Provide Loving Oversight
Showing loving concern for his people, Jehovah foretold through the prophet Jeremiah: “I will raise up over them shepherds who will actually shepherd them.” (Jer. 23:4) To that end Jehovah has not only provided elders among his people but also given them instruction and training so that they are able to provide the sort of loving oversight that he wants for his sheep.
Since 1960, qualified brothers in Britain, as in other lands, have benefited from training received at the Kingdom Ministry School. This arrangement started as a four-week course, which was later reduced to two weeks. Traveling overseers as well as those having oversight in the congregations were invited. Classes were conducted at London Bethel. Then, to make the instruction more readily available, the school went on the road, with class sessions in various parts of the country. The congregations and, in turn, the whole organization benefited.
During 1977 a further 15-hour course was held for all elders. Similar sessions of varying lengths have been held since then. Careful attention has been given to such subjects as how to imitate Jehovah as loving shepherds of the flock, how to teach at congregation meetings, how to carry out the evangelizing work within each congregation, and how to uphold Jehovah’s righteous standards. For the sessions of the Kingdom Ministry School in Britain in 1997, invitations were extended to 11,453 elders and 10,106 ministerial servants.
They Make Themselves Available
In addition to the elders who serve in the congregations, other qualified men serve as traveling overseers, caring for groups of congregations that make up a circuit and groups of circuits that make up a district. There are 77 of such traveling overseers caring for the 1,455 congregations and 70 circuits throughout Britain at present. These are men who, in addition to meeting the spiritual qualifications, made adjustments in their lives so that they would be available for such service.
Back in the early 1970’s, a traveling overseer encouraged David Hudson to pursue a theocratic career. But at the time, David was heavily committed to his secular job as divisional manager with a reprographics company. Then suddenly the company decided that his job was no longer needed. Now he appreciated the comment by Lyman Swingle, a member of the Governing Body, at a meeting in Cardiff, Wales, in 1984. Brother Swingle had compared careers in the world to ‘polishing the brass on a sinking ship.’ David and his wife, Eileen, began to adjust their affairs so that they could pioneer. They gave up their comfortable home with stables and horses, and they built their lives more fully around their relationship with Jehovah. Since 1994, David, accompanied by his wife, has been caring for responsibilities as a circuit overseer. Both of them agree that the joy of serving Jehovah far outweighs anything of a material nature that they have given up.
When Ray Baldwin was learning the truth in the mid-1970’s, he became firmly convinced that the preaching of the good news deserved all the time that he could give it. As a result, even before his baptism, when offered a promotion at his secular work on the condition that he move to another town, he declined and requested part-time work instead. After he got baptized, he promptly enrolled as an auxiliary pioneer. Not long after he married, he and his wife, Linda, laid plans to get into the regular pioneer service. To make himself more available for theocratic activities, Ray next quit his job with a supermarket and took up window cleaning. Since September 1997 he too has been serving as a circuit overseer.
Other brothers have been willing to take on responsibility in connection with Hospital Liaison Committees, which provide loving support to Witnesses who are faced with medical emergencies. This has involved time for training—and that is only the beginning. In October 1990 three representatives from Hospital Information Services in Brooklyn arrived to conduct a seminar in Birmingham, England. One hundred and fifty-two brothers from Belgium, Britain, Ireland, Israel, Malta, and the Netherlands received fine instruction on how to help medical authorities understand our position on the blood issue. The visitors from Brooklyn shared in training the delegates to present the reasons for our stand to hospital authorities in both London and other major centers.
After a second seminar, at Nottingham in February 1991, Hospital Liaison Committees went into operation throughout the country. The following year 16 more committees were appointed, and these brothers received training at a seminar in Stoke-on-Trent. To extend the cooperation between Witnesses and the authorities, yet another seminar, held at the Surrey Assembly Hall in June 1994, offered training on how to approach judges, providers of social services, and pediatricians. This laid the basis for much greater cooperation with the medical profession. After personal contacts had been made, it was possible to list over 3,690 doctors in Britain who had expressed their willingness to respect the Witnesses’ views on blood and medical treatment.
The chairman of the Hospital Liaison Committee in the Luton area, north of London, readily admits that when he started to work on this committee, he did not realize all that would be required of him physically and emotionally. He is grateful for the loving support of his wife, who also deeply loves Jehovah and her Christian brothers and sisters. Gradually, he has built up a fine working relationship with both the medical and the administrative staff at a major hospital in his area. “When our brothers face medical emergencies, we have to be constantly ready to give support,” he observes. The spirit in which this service is rendered has opened the way to give a fine witness on many occasions.
Taking Up Service at World Headquarters
From among the brothers whose theocratic careers began in Britain, some have been invited to serve in Brooklyn, New York, at the world headquarters of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
John E. Barr, born in Scotland in 1913, learned the truth from his parents. Though shyness during his teen years made it very difficult for him to converse with people at their homes in the house-to-house work, with Jehovah’s help he overcame that obstacle. In 1939 he accepted an invitation to take up Bethel service in London. During the difficult World War II period, he served for several years as a traveling overseer, until he was asked to return to London Bethel in 1946. Twenty-one years after first becoming a member of the Bethel family, he married Mildred Willett, a zealous sister who was a graduate of Gilead School’s 11th class and who then joined him in Bethel service. In 1977 he was invited to become a member of the Governing Body. When he told Mildred, she at first thought he must be joking, but he was not. And so it was that the following year, the two of them transferred to the world headquarters in Brooklyn, New York. They continue to serve happily there.
Others too were invited to become members of the headquarters staff. Among them was Allan Boyle, who was born in Liverpool and had taken up service at London Bethel. To make fuller use of his abilities as an artist, the Society invited him to transfer to Brooklyn in 1979. Eric Beveridge was living in Birmingham when he got baptized in 1949. After 21 years of missionary service in Portugal and Spain, he and his wife, Hazel, became members of the Brooklyn Bethel family in 1981. Robert Pevy, born in Sandwich, Kent, in the south of England, had served in Ireland for nine years and then had been in missionary service with his wife, Patricia, in the Philippines for nine more years when they too took up service at the world headquarters in 1981.
Changes in Branch Oversight
Over the years a number of spiritually qualified men have taken a lead in shouldering responsibility in the Britain branch. After Albert D. Schroeder was forced to leave England during World War II, A. Pryce Hughes was appointed to be overseer of the branch—and that at a time when he was still serving a prison term because of his Christian neutrality! Brother Hughes’ adherence to the principle of Christian neutrality had been thoroughly tested. He had been imprisoned over this issue during World War I and twice more during World War II. With genuine appreciation for Jehovah’s direction of His organization, Brother Hughes continued to care for oversight of the branch for more than 20 years. Those who served with him still remember his kindly manner as well as the fact that regardless of what responsibilities he carried, his love for the field ministry remained strong.
When the arrangement to have a committee—instead of an individual—supervise the work in each branch was instituted in 1976, Wilfred Gooch was appointed as coordinator, and with him were John Barr, Pryce Hughes, Philip Rees, and John Wynn. Several of that original group have died. Other brothers have been added to the Branch Committee, which currently includes John Andrews, Jack Dowson, Ron Drage, Dennis Dutton, Peter Ellis, Stephen Hardy, Bevan Vigo, and John Wynn.
The Joy of International Conventions
Jehovah’s Witnesses are a global brotherhood. Thus, when it became possible to meet together freely in lands in Eastern Europe after decades of harsh repression, there was great joy among the Witnesses worldwide. What an appropriate time to hold international conventions in lands where for so long this had not been possible! This would result in spiritual upbuilding as well as a fine public witness. Jehovah’s Witnesses in Britain have been pleased to have a share in this.
In 1989, when three large “Godly Devotion” Conventions were arranged for Poland, delegates from at least 37 lands flocked together for those historic occasions. Included among them were 721 from Britain. Regarding the spirit shown at the convention in Poznan, Poland, David and Lynne Sibrey recall: “It was extraordinary!” They add: “We had never experienced an atmosphere like it. What a joy to mingle freely with thousands of our brothers from Russia and Eastern Europe who had previously met only in small groups! Some, we learned, had attended even at risk to their lives. It was overwhelming for them—and for us!” The following year, after border controls were lifted between East Germany and West Germany, 584 from Britain were among the enthusiastic audience in Berlin at a convention that was truly a victory celebration. In 1991, when 74,587 crowded into Strahov Stadium in Prague, in what is now the Czech Republic, 299 from Britain were delighted to be there. That same year, Britain was also well represented among the Witnesses from 35 lands that assembled in Budapest, Hungary. In 1993 there were 770 delegates from Britain at the convention in Moscow, Russia, and 283 attended at Kiev, Ukraine. Those were all historic occasions, never to be forgotten.
Further international conventions attended by British delegates have been held in Africa, Latin America, North America, and the Orient. As the Witnesses enjoy close fellowship on such occasions, bonds of Christian love are strengthened. Here is tangible evidence that as foretold in God’s Word, they come from “all nations and tribes and peoples and tongues.”—Rev. 7:9, 10.
From Varied Backgrounds
Those who have responded to the Bible’s message and become Jehovah’s Witnesses in the British Isles come from various backgrounds. Because of their love for Jehovah, many have made significant changes in their lives so that they can serve him fully.
Donald Davies, a Jamaican-born professional jazz drummer, came to England in 1960. Though he received some Bible literature in 1969, it was not until 13 years later, when two Witnesses talked to him about the importance of God’s name, that he took a real interest in the Bible. (Ezek. 38:23; Joel 2:32) Later that year he and a musician friend attended a nearby district convention. He soon began to apply what he was learning. Without discussing the matter with anyone, Donald realized that he would have difficulty pursuing his career in music and at the same time serving Jehovah. So he sold his musical instruments and commenced pioneering in 1984, a privilege he still enjoys.
Tony Langmead was an officer in the Royal Air Force when his wife began to study the Bible with Jehovah’s Witnesses. Her conduct on becoming a Christian won him over “without a word.” (1 Pet. 3:1, 2) He left the air force in order to pursue a life of peace as a servant of Jehovah.—Isa. 2:3, 4.
Frank Cowell was raised in the Anglican faith, but in time he began to search elsewhere for the truth. A visit to a Kingdom Hall led to a study of the Bible with Jehovah’s Witnesses. He now works as a professor of economics in London, but when his college schedules seminars on evenings that congregation meetings are held, his decisions show that he is first of all one of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Susannah was a member of the Royal Ballet when a chance meeting with a former school friend led to a Bible study for her. As a baptized Witness, she decided to curtail ballet performances and become a dance instructor in order to buy out time for a new career as a pioneer, thus building her life around her ministry. Now married, she and her husband, Kevin Gow, are learning Mandarin in order to share the good news with the growing number of Chinese in Liverpool.
Rene’s sister Christina was a Witness, but Rene thought that religion did not make sense, so she refused to listen. Later, however, when working in London, she frequently visited the British Museum. On one visit she became fascinated with the explanation given by a tour guide on the connection between the Bible and various museum displays. She remembered some of the things her sister had tried to tell her. Soon Rene Deerfield became a Witness too.
Andrew Meredith was serving a prison term when he began to study the Bible. This led to major changes in his way of life. After his release, he married a Punjabi Witness, and together they carry on their ministry among the Punjabi-speaking people in east London.
Daksha Patel was born in Kenya to Hindu parents, and she herself was a devout Hindu. But when she studied the Bible with Witnesses in Wolverhampton, England, she realized that she was learning the truth. When old enough to make her own decisions in life, she got baptized and then became a pioneer. She and her husband, Ashok, now serve as members of the London Bethel family. In connection with that service, they have traveled to India, Nepal, and Pakistan to help with translation of Bible literature.
They Keep On Giving a Witness
Jehovah’s Witnesses rejoice as they see many more embrace the worship of Jehovah each year. Since 1972, the number of active Witnesses in Britain has nearly doubled, now totaling 126,535.
Are those who now show interest in the Bible’s message people who have never before met Jehovah’s Witnesses? A few are, and they are being found as the Witnesses step up their work in places of business and on the streets. One Witness, preaching in business territory for the first time, contacted a company receptionist who showed much interest. A return visit two days later quickly led to a Bible study, which gave her an opportunity to decide whether she would walk in Jehovah’s way. The woman had never before met Jehovah’s Witnesses because she worked all week and was usually out of her house on the weekend.
More often, those who listen are people whose circumstances in life have changed—perhaps as a result of getting married, having children, growing older, or suddenly becoming ill. Now they long for answers to questions that in the past were simply put aside.
Thus, in August 1995 an 85-year-old woman who had been raised as a Baptist willingly accepted the brochure Does God Really Care About Us? She had many times asked that question but had not received a satisfactory answer. She agreed to study the Bible. As she learned God’s requirements and became impressed with his loving care, she realized that she needed to make changes in her life. She stopped smoking—a habit of some 60 years. She began to attend the local congregation meetings, and in September 1997, Catherine May was ready for Christian baptism. While getting ready to go into the water at a circuit assembly, she noticed another baptism candidate, an elderly lady like herself. What a surprise! It was her own fleshly sister, Evelyn, who lived in another town. Neither had known that the other was studying. Tears of joy flowed as these dear elderly ones, united through dedication to Jehovah, now became spiritual sisters.
Some who welcome the Witnesses have been deeply disturbed by recent developments in their own church. Maurice Haskins had first received literature from Jehovah’s Witnesses in 1939. But he was a staunch supporter of the Church of England and a member of the local church council. Some 56 years later, a Witness going from house to house spoke with Maurice’s sister-in-law. She requested that the Witness return to see Maurice, who, according to her, had questions about the Bible. When visited, Maurice immediately asked the Witness to show him scriptures that explain the Bible’s view of homosexuality and of the ordination of women. Later he agreed to a Bible study using the book Knowledge That Leads to Everlasting Life. Changes did not come immediately. But later, at a meeting with the bishop, what he had learned moved him to take a firm stand on the issue of appointing a woman as vicar. (1 Tim. 2:12) Soon he resigned from the Anglican Church, began attending meetings at the Kingdom Hall and, at the age of 84, was ready for baptism.
Other people are helped by Witnesses who show discernment and persistence. When one woman identified herself as “an atheist and a humanist,” Jacqueline Gamble politely inquired what the woman believed in. The reply was: “In people and life.” The woman was busy, so our sister left a tract and promised to return. Accompanied by her husband, Martyn, Jacqueline visited the home again and referred back to the comment about “people and life.” When they learned that the householder’s husband, Gus, had similar views and was a social worker, they arranged to meet him. Christine, the wife, started to study the Bible and progressed to the point of baptism. But Gus refused to visit the Kingdom Hall. He did notice, though, that since Christine had begun studying with the Witnesses, his children were growing up to be very respectful, in a way that was not characteristic of many other young people.
The turning point for Gus came in 1978. During an international convention in Edinburgh, Scotland, his wife hospitably offered coffee to a group of publishers who were witnessing in her area. Among them were certain members of the Governing Body. Before they left the house, they washed the dishes they had used. When Gus returned home that evening, Christine excitedly told him of her unexpected visitors. “I cannot imagine a cardinal visiting us and washing the dishes!” Gus observed. A little later, when on vacation in France, Gus went with his family to a Kingdom Hall. He was overwhelmed by the welcome they received and the love shown. He soon realized that he would find such love only among the true disciples of Christ Jesus. (John 13:35) Back in Edinburgh, he soon began to study, got satisfying answers to questions that had bothered him, and dedicated his life to Jehovah.
Of course, where people in the territory show little or no interest, it takes endurance and a positive attitude for Jehovah’s Witnesses to keep calling on them. It would be easy to become discouraged after experiencing hours of rebuffs and apathy. How do the Witnesses handle this? “Apathy is a difficult and challenging problem,” acknowledges Eric Hickling, from Louth in Lincolnshire. Meditating on examples from the past helps him persevere. “I pray hard and often. I think of Moses, Jeremiah, Paul and, of course, Jesus.”
Faithful perseverance and Jehovah’s blessing are two of the most important factors contributing to the increase that has been experienced. Thirty-nine years ago, Frank and Rose Macgregor took up an assignment in a town where people were very religious and did not welcome Jehovah’s Witnesses. How did they view that assignment? Frank recalls: “I was very shy and felt totally inadequate. But my wife and I looked on it as an assignment from Jehovah.” This helped them to maintain a positive attitude. “We prayed that local people would accept the truth.” As a result of such faithful service, there is now a congregation of 74 publishers, two thirds of whom have learned the truth in that very town. The Macgregors do not boast about this; they are simply grateful that they could be used by Jehovah.—2 Cor. 4:7.
Geoff Young, a longtime Witness who continues to have some share in making visits to congregations, explains: “I often ask the brothers how they fared in their ministry that day.” If some reply negatively, he asks them to think of the many positive things they have accomplished. He reminds them: “We took Jehovah’s side. We lived up to our dedication. We cooperated with the ‘angel flying in midheaven.’ We shared in encouraging others to get to know Jehovah. We gave a witness as a warning.” Then he reasons that if they have accomplished all of this, how can they say that they have had a bad time? “People react according to their circumstances and what is in their hearts,” Geoff continues. “What counts is our faithfulness in giving the witness and telling the good news.”—Rev. 14:6; 1 Cor. 4:2.
Rejoicing in “the Blessing of Jehovah”
Many in Britain have been active Witnesses of Jehovah for 20, 40, 50 years, or more. How do they feel about what they are doing? At Proverbs 10:22, the Bible says: “The blessing of Jehovah—that is what makes rich, and he adds no pain with it.” Tens of thousands of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Britain can personally testify to the truthfulness of that statement.
“The greatest privilege entrusted to us humans.” That is how Cornelius Hope of Basingstoke, now in his mid-70’s, describes the Christian ministry after sharing in it for half a century. Anne Gillam, who was baptized nearly 50 years ago and whose husband is a circuit overseer, speaks of her ministry as her “way of showing love for Jehovah and his Son.”
Dennis Matthews, baptized in 1942, explains: “I find the ministry like food—spiritually strengthening. There is satisfaction in doing God’s will whether people listen or not.” His wife, Mavis, adds: “Having served Jehovah from my youth onward, I feel that no better life is possible.”
How do longtime Witnesses feel about the people and their response? After more than 40 years in Jehovah’s service, Muriel Tavener says: “People need us more than ever because they do not get true spiritual help from any other source.” And what happens when they accept that help? Her husband, Anthony, puts it this way: “To see people accept the truth and make changes in their lives is to watch a miracle as Jehovah’s spirit draws people to worship him.”
There is satisfaction in sharing with others the hope that only God’s Word can give. When Fred James, city overseer of Plymouth, Devon, and his wife look back over their years of service, they count more than 100 persons whom they have helped progress to baptism. Many of these now serve as elders, ministerial servants, and pioneers. All three of their sons shared in pioneer service when they left school and now serve as elders. One of them, David, a Gilead graduate, serves as a missionary and a member of the Pakistan Branch Committee. What a richly rewarding life Brother and Sister James have had!
Years of faithful service have allowed many Witnesses in Britain to see fine results from their ministry. Richard and Hazel Jessop have been serving Jehovah for half a century or more, most of it in full-time service. They have helped many to see the privilege of dedicating themselves to Jehovah, all of whom are precious to the Jessops. However, their study with Jack and Lyn Dowson continues to be especially memorable. It began with a friendly visit between people of similar background. (Hazel and Jack are both from northeast England.) Soon it became a Bible study. However, at one point Jack said that they ought to stop the study for a while. Richard replied: “No, you can’t do that. You’ve got to finish the book first, and then you can leave it if you wish.” Well, they did not “leave it.” Instead, they dedicated themselves to Jehovah, got into the pioneer work, and became members of the Bethel family. Jack now serves on the Branch Committee.
The way in which some young ones have responded to Bible truth has brought special pleasure to others. Robina Owler and her husband, Sydney, who are pioneers in the Dundee area of Scotland, have found special pleasure in the progress made by Paul Kearns, who began to come to their home for Bible studies when he was 12 years old. The truth quickly took hold in his heart, but because his father forbade further studies, Paul waited until he was older and was attending college in Aberdeen before he continued his Bible study. He made rapid progress. After baptism, he set pioneering as a goal. In 1992 he attended the Ministerial Training School. While serving as an elder in Sheffield, he applied himself to learn Spanish, and in 1998 he was assigned to missionary service in Panama.
Over 10,000 in Britain are in the pioneer service. The blessings that go with this service are treasured by them. As an example, Bill and June Thompstone had been married for over eight years and were pioneering when their first child was born. In time, they had three girls. They endeavored to keep pioneer service prominent in their family life. The schedule was full, but doing things together as a family helped them succeed. “We always made time for the girls,” Bill explains. “When they became teenagers, it did not change. When they wanted to go ice skating, bowling, swimming, or to play ball games, we went too.” Now the three girls are married and serve as regular pioneers. They all enjoy what Bill calls “the finest way of life.”
Today, 77 brothers (most of whom are married) serve as traveling overseers in Britain. This is a life that involves an intense schedule, week after week, year after year. Geoff Young shared in this service until advancing years and health problems made an adjustment necessary. He and his wife, Vee, lived out of a suitcase and stayed in a different home each week. How does Vee feel about that sort of life? “It wasn’t very difficult,” she answers, “because we added to our Christian family each time we visited a congregation. We felt the warmth of the brotherhood wherever we went. Whatever assignment Jehovah gives us can only enrich our lives.” While enjoying the present, they keenly anticipate what the future holds. Geoff explains: “This system is finished now. It’s as good as over. After that we’re going to have the wonderful prospect of having a share in the restoration of this earth to paradise conditions. The Bible studies that there will be once the resurrection starts—what a tremendous work to be accomplished!” His wife adds: “It’s a marvelous feeling to know that there’s nothing that can oppose Jehovah successfully.”
Advocating “God’s Way of Life”
It was an exciting occasion, in July of 1998, when nine international conventions featuring the theme “God’s Way of Life” were held simultaneously in Britain—in Edinburgh, Leeds, Manchester, Wolverhampton, Dudley, Norwich, London, Bristol, and Plymouth. Delegates from more than 60 lands were present. The full program was presented not only in English but also in French, Spanish, and Punjabi. The following weekend the convention was held in Greek.
Four members of the Governing Body—John Barr, Theodore Jaracz, Albert D. Schroeder, and Daniel Sydlik—were in attendance at the British conventions, and when they spoke, the convention sites were all linked together electronically. An added thrill was the presence of missionaries who were currently serving in foreign fields. Of the hundreds from Britain who have been sent into missionary service, 110 were in attendance at these conventions. Their zeal and spirit of self-sacrifice were inspiring to all who heard them interviewed on the program.
What was seen and heard at these conventions deeply touched the hearts of those who were present, even young ones. The resolution that was adopted during the final session of the convention spelled out the godly way of life in which all were determined to walk. After the program, the four-year-old son of a Witness couple from Darlington said: “Mummy, I really love Jehovah. I love you and Daddy so, so much, but I love Jehovah more.” When asked why, he explained that Jehovah gave us the hope of Paradise and he sent his Son to die for us, “so I need to love him more.”
At the conclusion of the program in both Edinburgh and London, the delegates from various lands waved handkerchiefs to one another and then burst into prolonged applause. Even after the program was over, many continued singing Kingdom songs, thus giving heartfelt praise to Jehovah.
The Witness That Has Been Given
An extensive witness has been given in Britain. It got under way in 1881 when hundreds of thousands of Bible tracts were distributed in the principal cities during a period of just a few weeks. Some of the seeds sown then began to bear fruit. In a six-month period in 1914, the “Photo-Drama of Creation” was exhibited in 98 cities to a total audience of 1,226,650. When World War I broke out, there were 182 congregations in Britain. During the 1920’s and 1930’s, the witness was intensified as increased numbers of those associated with the congregations shared in the house-to-house ministry, giving a personal witness to householders. Since World War II, a further 650,746,716 hours have been devoted to the ministry in Britain, 297,294,732 return visits have been made on interested people, and 74,105,130 books and booklets in addition to 567,471,431 magazines have been placed with the public. On an average, Jehovah’s Witnesses in Britain call on people in their homes two to three times a year.
Jehovah’s Witnesses are so well-known for their door-to-door evangelism that on opening their doors and seeing well-dressed people, many householders immediately ask: “Jehovah’s Witnesses?”
Earth Filled With the Knowledge of Jehovah
In 1891 as C. T. Russell viewed the British field, he saw it as being “ready and waiting to be harvested.” The harvesting that is being done during the conclusion of this system of things is obviously near its end. And what a magnificent harvest it is proving to be! In the year 1900, there were just 138 Bible Students (as Jehovah’s Witnesses were then known), mostly spirit-anointed Christians, in Britain. Now the number is 910 times that. Back then the legal agency used by the Bible Students was opening its first branch office outside the United States. Now there are 109 branches around the globe. On the mainland in the Americas, there are 24 branches. Another 25 are located in Europe. There are 19 on the African continent. In Asia and on islands in various parts of the globe, there are another 41 branches. Working in cooperation with these, 5.9 million Witnesses share in magnifying Jehovah’s name and making known the good news of his Kingdom in the hands of Jesus Christ. And they are determined to keep on giving a witness until God says that it is enough.
Life-giving waters already flow abundantly from the heavenly throne of Jehovah God and of his Son, Jesus Christ. With intensity the invitation is being given: “Let anyone thirsting come; let anyone that wishes take life’s water free.” (Rev. 22:1, 17) During the Thousand Year Reign of Jesus Christ when the dead are raised, no doubt billions more will have opportunity to avail themselves of this loving provision, which can make everlasting life possible for them. The program of divine education that has been carried out thus far is just a beginning. Before us, in God’s new system of things, lies the time when in full measure “the earth will certainly be filled with the knowledge of Jehovah as the waters are covering the very sea.”—Isa. 11:9.
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Assembly Halls conveniently located throughout the country: (1) Manchester, (2) North London, (3) Dudley, (4) Surrey, (5) East Pennine, (6) Bristol, (7) Edgware
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[Pictures on page 70]
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The Society’s first branch office
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The facilities currently in use
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They moved out to serve in foreign fields: (1) Claude Goodman, (2) Robert Nisbet, (3) Edwin Skinner, (4) John Cooke, (5) Eric Cooke, (6) George Phillips, (7) George Nisbet. Background: Colporteurs traveling to East Africa
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Franziska Harris shows special interest in au pair girls
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Vera Bull, serving in Colombia
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Barry and Jeanette Rushby—“always wanted to do more”
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Pioneer Service School at Dudley Assembly Hall
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Britain Bethel family at morning worship
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Graduation of the first class of Ministerial Training School in Britain
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First quickly built Kingdom Hall in Britain (Weston Favell, Northampton)
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Michael and Jean Harvey
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Pioneers who chose to serve with foreign-language congregations
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A. D. Schroeder interviewing old-timers at annual meeting in Leicester in 1983
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Pioneers from the Shetlands approaching a fishing boat in their offshore territory
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John and Mildred Barr
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Branch Committee (left to right). Seated: Peter Ellis, John Wynn. Standing: Bevan Vigo, Stephen Hardy, John Andrews, Ron Drage, Jack Dowson, Dennis Dutton
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The work of witnessing is not yet completed
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Some who look back on many years of faithful service: (1) Sydney and Robina Owler, (2) Anthony and Muriel Tavener, (3) Richard and Anne Gillam, (4) Geoff and Vee Young, (5) Fred and Rose James, (6) Cornelius and Riky Hope, (7) Dennis and Mavis Matthews, (8) Richard and Hazel Jessop