Highlights of the Past Year
“COME to me, . . . and I will refresh you.” Those words of Jesus Christ, found at Matthew 11:28, served as our yeartext for 2002. During the past service year, many did come
In the pages that follow, you will read how Jehovah continues to bless abundantly his people throughout the earth. Let us now consider some significant theocratic developments from the 2002 service year.
District Conventions Promote Zeal
As is their custom, Jehovah’s Witnesses gathered at hundreds of locations worldwide to attend their annual district convention. The 2002/03 convention theme was “Zealous Kingdom Proclaimers.” The keynote address pointed out that God’s people today imitate the zeal and courage of Jesus Christ in carrying out their ministry. Other talks explained that zeal is cultivated through a study of God’s Word and is displayed through the doing of good and especially by the enthusiastic proclamation of God’s Kingdom.
A full-costume drama entitled “Stand Firm in Troublesome Times” focused on the prophet Jeremiah. He, like Jesus, displayed outstanding zeal and endurance despite difficulties. Jeremiah trusted in Jehovah and fearlessly proclaimed God’s message. What a fine example for Christians today!
Two books were released at this convention. On Friday delegates received Worship the Only True God. This 192-page book will be used as a second Bible study aid to sound the truth of God’s Word down into the hearts of Bible students. We are confident that this publication will help new ones to grow spiritually and to walk the narrow road leading to life in God’s righteous new world.
The book Draw Close to Jehovah was released on Saturday. It is divided into sections that discuss Jehovah’s four cardinal attributes: power, justice, wisdom, and love. Its purpose is set out in the prologue: “May this book help you draw ever closer to Jehovah God, to forge a bond with him that will never be broken, so that you may live to praise him forever.” The convention program, together with these new publications, will help honesthearted ones everywhere to grow in their love for our Creator.
Coping With “Critical Times”
The apostle Paul wrote to Timothy that “the last days” would be marked by “critical times hard to deal with.” (2 Tim. 3:1) Disasters, both natural and otherwise, bring challenges and difficulties. Yet, they also afford Christians opportunities to display the love they have for one another. There were many disasters during the past service year. Here we focus on two of them.
The World Trade Center Disaster: The graduation of the 111th class of the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead was held on Saturday, September 8, 2001. Three days later, on September 11, graduates and their families were touring New York City, in the United States. That day began warm and beautiful with clear, blue skies. Then, at 8:46 a.m., a commercial jet crashed into the World Trade Center north tower in lower Manhattan. Minutes later another commercial jet slammed into the south tower.
At 9:59 a.m., the south tower collapsed, sending a dense cloud of dust and debris throughout lower Manhattan. After that, the north tower collapsed. Nearly three thousand people died. Each tower, completed in 1973, was 110 stories high. Thick dust from the collapse of both buildings was carried on the wind and reached Brooklyn Bethel, less than two miles [less than three kilometers] away.
Brothers at the United States branch office immediately began to find out which Witnesses had been affected by this terrible tragedy and what assistance might be needed. By Tuesday evening, September 11, the Bethel family members from all three Bethel complexes
Survivors related their experiences. Cynthia Tucker, a regular pioneer, worked in the World Financial Center across the street from the World Trade Center. She was on the 37th floor when she saw the first jet crash into the tower. Believing this to be a terrible accident, she went outside and looked up at the building that the plane had hit. Debris was everywhere. Then another plane flew overhead, very low. Sister Tucker said: “The plane was huge. I realized that it was going to crash into the building. I wanted to run, but I just froze
In the months that followed, the brothers in the New York area took the Bible’s message of comfort and hope to those in the community. Several brothers were allowed to minister at Ground Zero, the site where the Twin Towers collapsed. One of these brothers was Roy Klingsporn, a pioneer. He said: “With appreciation, an air force sergeant who was involved with the relief work said: ‘Everyone brings us food, hot coffee, and dry clothes, but you are the first to read a scripture. We need God at a time like this.’”
Volcano Eruption in East Africa: Many of our brothers in eastern Congo (Kinshasa) have experienced civil war, sickness, poverty, and unemployment. Some have been or still are refugees. Adding to these problems was the sudden eruption of Mount Nyiragongo, a volcano situated not far from the town of Goma. During the morning of January 17, 2002, the mountain began to eject smoke and fire. By evening, lava poured down from the volcano and advanced toward Goma. Thousands of frightened people fled toward the nearby town of Gisenyi, in Rwanda. The roads were choked with people carrying what few belongings they could. Gisenyi was also endangered, but the brothers there arranged for the Kingdom Hall to serve as a refugee camp for the brothers from Congo. Some brothers in Gisenyi immediately volunteered to open their homes to those fleeing the volcano.
A local elder said: “When we saw what was happening, some brothers and I went immediately to the main road linking Goma with Gisenyi. We had Watchtower and Awake! magazines in our hands and held them up. It was dark, but we went to places where it was possible to be seen. When our brothers saw the magazines, they recognized us as Witnesses, and we directed them to our Kingdom Hall, which was serving as a refugee camp. We stood along the road until the morning hours. In this way we imitated what the brothers in Goma had done for us some years ago. After the war in Rwanda, hundreds of thousands fled toward Goma. At that time Witnesses from Goma stood day and night along the roads holding up magazines to help us identify the brothers. They directed us to the refugee camps organized by the Witnesses.”
Most of those fleeing the volcano had to spend the night in the open. This included brothers who because of chaos or darkness had not seen those holding up the magazines. One elder commented: “Early the next morning, the brothers and sisters went out again with magazines in their hands. They went all over Gisenyi so that everyone could see them. In this way they found all the brothers from Goma who had not seen the Witnesses during the night before. Soon our Kingdom Hall was threatened by the lava, which was still advancing. We immediately arranged for five other Kingdom Halls to serve as refugee camps.” Some brothers from the 24 congregations in Goma fled toward the interior of Congo, but most
The branch office in Kigali, Rwanda, quickly purchased food, medicine, blankets, and plastic containers for water. These supplies were immediately sent to the camps. How happy the brothers from Goma were when only a day after the disaster, a truck arrived with relief supplies! Many favorable comments were heard from non-Witnesses. One brother overheard people say: “This is a good religion. They really love one another.”
About one third of Goma was destroyed. Many brothers and sisters lost everything. However, the Witnesses whose houses had remained intact volunteered to accommodate the families of the brothers whose houses had been destroyed. (Rom. 12:12, 13) Later, the Rwandan brothers arranged for the safe return of all refugees to Goma. Witnesses in Europe also helped by sending two planeloads of supplies from Belgium.
The eruption of Mount Nyiragongo was a disaster. It cost many their lives and destroyed much property, but true Christians identified themselves by the love that they showed to one another.
Kingdom Ministry School Emphasizes Spirituality
The Kingdom Ministry School began in 1959 as a one-month study course. It was held at South Lansing, in upstate New York, U.S.A. In other countries, it was held at locations arranged by the branch offices. Initially, the school enrolled congregation elders (then called congregation servants) and special pioneers. In 1966, however, the course was revised; it lasted just two weeks, and only elders attended. During 1977, arrangements were made for all elders to attend a 15-hour course. Since then, similar sessions of varying lengths have been arranged every few years. From 1984, ministerial servants have also been receiving training at the Kingdom Ministry School.
This year the school consisted of three classes. The first, held Tuesday through Thursday, was for traveling overseers; the second, held Friday and Saturday, was for congregation elders; and the third, held Sunday, was for ministerial servants. The sessions placed emphasis on maintaining spirituality. Long ago Moses prayed to Jehovah: “Make me know, please, your ways, that I may know you, in order that I may find favor in your eyes.” (Ex. 33:13) This prayer was uttered after Moses witnessed the Ten Plagues, experienced the parting of the Red Sea, communed with Jehovah for 40 days at Mount Sinai, and received the Ten Commandments. At 80 years of age and after being mightily used by Jehovah, Moses recognized his spiritual need. In harmony with this example, elders and ministerial servants were encouraged to continue progressing as spiritual men, no matter how long they had been serving Jehovah.
The course material was translated and used by branches around the globe. Letters of appreciation came from many countries. An elder from Guinea wrote: “I do not regret the sacrifices and the trip of 600 miles [1,000 km] that I made to attend the school.” Another wrote: “I cannot find the words to express my appreciation for this training. Thank you very much!”
From Korea, a brother wrote: “The school helped me think seriously about whether I am a spiritual person or not.”
The El Salvador branch office wrote: “There was particular interest shown in the new arrangements for the Congregation Book Study. We feel that this will help us to provide better and closer personal attention to those in each group.”
From Germany, a body of elders wrote: “The suggestions and instructions are realistic and can be applied to the benefit of those entrusted to us.”
The Switzerland branch had this to say: “The school helped to provide the needed encouragement to fight off spiritual apathy.”
ARMENIA: The court case involving Lyova Margaryan received international attention. Criminal charges were filed against Brother Margaryan for his activity as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. The allegations included “preaching an unregistered religion.” On September 18, 2001, the trial court acquitted Brother Margaryan of all charges. The case was appealed, and the appeals court upheld the not-guilty verdict, stating that his religious teaching as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses is not criminal and is protected by the Constitution of Armenia. Prosecutors then appealed their case to the country’s highest appeals court, the Court of Cassation. On April 19, 2002, the six-member panel of the Court upheld both not-guilty verdicts. While we rejoice in this victory, young brothers of military age continue to be arrested and imprisoned in Armenia for refusing on religious grounds to perform military service.
GEORGIA: A brutal cycle of unpunished violence continues against Jehovah’s Witnesses in the country of Georgia. Since October 1999, there have been over 80 documented violent attacks involving more than 1,000 victims
On July 23, 2002, Jehovah’s Witnesses filed another legal application with the ECHR. This application details 30 cases in which Witnesses in Georgia were attacked by religious extremists, Orthodox clerics, and policemen. Pertinent to one of the cases is a significant document. The document sets out the plan, carried out by nearly 100 policemen, to shut down a peaceful convention of Jehovah’s Witnesses in September 2000. This document was approved and signed by high officials of the Ministry of Interior of the western city of Zugdidi.
RUSSIA: The trial to ban Jehovah’s Witnesses in Moscow resumed on February 12, 2002. This is the seventh time that Jehovah’s Witnesses have had to defend themselves against the same baseless charges. On April 4, 2002, after a two-month reexamination of the application from the prosecutor’s office, the Court issued a ruling appointing expert studies of both the religious literature of Jehovah’s Witnesses and their internal correspondence. The Court made this decision even though the prosecutor presented no specific evidence to prove that Jehovah’s Witnesses incite religious discord, break up families, or infringe upon citizens’ rights and freedoms. The trial was adjourned pending the results of the expert study.
SOUTH KOREA: By the end of December 2001, the number of Jehovah’s Witnesses in South Korea serving prison sentences for their conscientious objection to military service had reached 1,640. The number grows steadily each year. The Military Service Law stipulates that those who refuse to carry arms may be sentenced to terms of up to three years. South Korea does not recognize exemptions from military service for ministers of religion or for conscientious objectors. Since the 1950’s, more than 7,000 Witnesses in South Korea have been imprisoned for refusing to bear arms. On January 29, 2002, in an unprecedented case, Senior Judge Si-hwan Park of the Seoul District Court sent the case of Kyung-soo Lee to the Constitutional Court. Judge Park requested an opinion on Brother Lee’s claims that the failure to recognize the right of the conscientious objector violated his right to freedom of religion and conscience. Upon filing the request with the court, Judge Park suspended the trial and released Brother Lee on bail. The trial proceedings will resume only after the Constitutional Court rules on the constitutionality of the disputed clause.
UNITED STATES: On June 17, 2002, the Supreme Court of the United States rendered a historic decision in Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc. v. Village of Stratton. This case arose from the village’s insistence that Jehovah’s Witnesses obtain a permit from the mayor before engaging in their door-to-door ministry. The Court stated: “[Jehovah’s Witnesses] explained at trial that they did not apply for a permit because they derive their authority to preach from Scripture. [The Witnesses said:] ‘For us to seek a permit from a municipality to preach we feel would almost be an insult to God.’” In striking down the ordinance, the Court held that the permit ordinance “is offensive
The Court also commented favorably on the tremendous effect that Jehovah’s Witnesses have had in establishing U.S. constitutional law. The Court said: “For over 50 years, the Court has invalidated restrictions on door-to-door canvassing and pamphleteering. It is more than historical accident that most of these cases involved First Amendment challenges brought by Jehovah’s Witnesses, because door-to-door canvassing is mandated by their religion.” As the Court noted, these “cases demonstrate that efforts of the Jehovah’s Witnesses to resist speech regulation have not been a struggle for their rights alone.”
In addition, on July 1, 2002, the South Carolina Supreme Court upheld the right of one of Jehovah’s Witnesses to refuse blood transfusions. (Acts 15:28, 29) Charles Harvey sued his doctor to recover damages resulting from his doctor’s deliberate disregard of his refusal to take blood. Before surgery, Brother Harvey had clearly informed his doctor of his Bible-based stand. However, to administer blood when complications arose after surgery while Brother Harvey was unconscious, the doctor obtained consent from Brother Harvey’s non-Witness mother. In rejecting the mother’s consent, the South Carolina Supreme Court said that “a patient’s wishes against medical treatment or intervention, when made known to a physician prior to surgery, must be followed by the attending physician.” Thus, the court ruled that Brother Harvey had the right to have a jury decide whether the doctor had breached his agreement to treat Brother Harvey without blood and whether the doctor had committed medical malpractice by transfusing Brother Harvey without his consent.
In Remembrance of Their Steadfastness
For more than 30 years, the Buchenwald Memorial, at the former Nazi concentration camp, made no mention of Jehovah’s Witnesses. The Witnesses simply did not fit into the concept that the East German authorities had of victims and opposers of the Nazi regime. Even today many people in Germany find it hard to acknowledge the Witnesses’ unique record of steadfastness. Therefore, May 9, 2002, was a particularly meaningful day. A plaque commemorating the Witnesses who suffered in Buchenwald was unveiled by Mr. R. Lüttgenau, the deputy director of the Buchenwald and Mittelbau-Dora Memorials Foundation.
The weather that day was warm and beautiful. The former camp, situated on a wooded hill overlooking a picturesque countryside, was adorned by the refreshing green of springtime. Yet, this place used to be called the green hell of Buchenwald. Most visitors nowadays find it almost impossible to imagine the despair of camp inmates who at roll call looked beyond their barracks at the same beautiful landscape but with no hope of ever enjoying it again in freedom.
Jehovah’s Witnesses, however, had a hope based on the Bible and complete trust in Jehovah. This enabled them to keep their integrity and courageously to follow the example of the apostles, who said: “We must obey God as ruler rather than men.” (Acts 5:29) For their conviction, at least 38 Witnesses died inside the camp or outside, on one of the camp’s work crews. The scripture from Acts is quoted on the memorial plaque, followed by the inscription: “In Remembrance of Jehovah’s Witnesses Who Suffered and Died Here, Persecuted Because of Their Religious Beliefs.”
About 800 inmates identified as Bibelforscher (Bible Students) by a purple triangle sown on their garments made up part of the more than 250,000 imprisoned in the camp over the years by the Nazis. Some of the Witnesses were there in 1937 and were forced to help construct the camp. In 1945, when the surviving prisoners were liberated, the Witnesses who were freed praised Jehovah for their deliverance. Throughout most of its existence as a Nazi camp, there were always between 300 and 450 Witnesses in Buchenwald.
The plaque gives prisoners who wore the purple triangle their due place among the victims of the Nazi regime. It also reminds visitors of the steadfastness of the Witnesses. “The plaque,” said Mr. Lüttgenau, “shows that in today’s society the fate of Jehovah’s Witnesses has been seen and acknowledged.”
On Thursday, March 7, 2002, officials in the town of Körmend in the western part of Hungary unveiled a memorial plaque for three of Jehovah’s Witnesses who had died as martyrs. They were Bertalan Szabó, Antal Hőnisch, and Ján Žondor. All three refused military service during World War II and were publicly executed. The plaque reads: ‘In memory of Christians who were executed as conscientious objectors in March 1945.’ The branch reports that to share in the memorial event when the plaque was unveiled, over 500 people walked across town to the building where the brothers had been executed.
Branch Committee Established in the United States
On Friday, February 9, 2001, the Governing Body made an announcement to the United States Bethel family that effective April 1, 2001, a Branch Committee would begin functioning in the United States. During the 2002 service year, the Branch Committee continued progressively to shoulder their responsibilities. The United States branch oversees the Kingdom-preaching work in the contiguous United States as well as Bermuda and the Turks and Caicos islands. There are over one million publishers in the United States, of which 215,000 are associated with Spanish-speaking congregations. Of the over 11,700 congregations, some 2,600 are Spanish-speaking. This past service year, 210 new congregations were formed. Of these, 123 are Spanish-speaking, 63 are English-speaking, and 24 are in other languages.
Within the United States, there are now congregations or groups in 37 languages besides English and Spanish. In many Spanish and other foreign-language congregations, attendances for the Public Meeting often exceed 200 percent. Some congregations report more Bible studies than publishers. English-speaking brothers and sisters are learning other languages to help in this fast-growing field.
The United States branch is unique in that the Bethel facilities are situated at three locations
There are currently 109 branches worldwide. The arrangement to have Branch Committees care for the spiritual needs of brothers living in various lands has been functioning since 1976. These committees follow the Scriptural direction and lead given by the Governing Body. Branch Committees have the responsibility to oversee the preaching of the good news in the territory assigned to the branch. The committee gives the necessary supervision to Christian congregations, missionaries, and pioneers. It also organizes the congregations into circuits and districts and makes recommendations to the Governing Body for the appointment of circuit and district overseers, Bethel family members, and students for Gilead School. Besides having general oversight of the service in the field, the Branch Committee cares for organizing the work at Bethel. There is no doubt that Jehovah’s rich blessing has been on this arrangement.
Translating to Meet Many Needs
In recent years, a flood of publications has become available in an ever-growing number of languages. Behind the scenes, hundreds of hardworking translators strive to produce publications that are accurate, understandable, and a joy to read.
A basic need of God’s people is a faithful Bible translation. To this end, the New World Translation has now been released in 44 languages. Of those, 29 are complete editions. During the past service year, the Christian Greek Scriptures were completed in three African languages
Recently released editions of the Bible are greatly appreciated. A report from Europe stated: “Brothers working in the Chinese field especially expressed appreciation for the Bible in their language, saying that it is considered a ‘super translation.’” Some interested Chinese students in Canada exclaimed: “This Bible must have been translated by Chinese! We can easily understand it!” In South Africa a Xhosa householder asked: “Where did you get this Bible that reads so well?” In Albania a brother simply said: “The way the New World Translation puts things makes Jehovah’s thoughts reach the heart.” A publisher in Croatia wrote: “I can visualize things much better, and it feels as if I am speaking those words. The new translation sounds so simple, so natural, and yet so wise. Now I can more fully understand how beautiful Jehovah’s message and instructions for us are.”
Basic publications are still needed in order to spread the Kingdom good news to “all nations and tribes and peoples and tongues.” (Rev. 7:9) In recent years, brochures in the Lahu language, spoken by people of the hill tribes of northern Thailand and nearby lands, are having a good effect. One missionary wrote: “The Require brochure definitely is the number one tool in Lahu. It has gone out far and wide.” The result? “We have invitations to many villages, but because of the distances and road conditions, we have not been able to get to all of them. Matthew 9:37 is very true in our case. For example, we learned that in one remote village about 100 miles [160 km] north of Chiang Mai, an interested woman has regularly been teaching the Require brochure on her own to a group of orphans.”
In the United States, many Native Americans are receiving a witness in their own tongue. Several publications are now available in the Navajo language, including audiocassettes of the brochure What Does God Require of Us? One publisher wrote: “At Navajo Mountain, in the farthest corner of our territory, there is a former sheepherder in his eighties who can no longer see well. His granddaughter asked him if he would like to hear a tape about the Bible, in the Navajo language. He said yes. He got out of his sickbed and went to the couch to listen. If only you could have seen the look on his face as he listened to scriptures from the Bible in his own language. It brings tears to my eyes to relate it. Then he said, ‘Nizhoni,’ which means ‘beautiful.’”
In Mozambique, publications have been produced in five of that country’s languages. To help readers benefit, the brochure Apply Yourself to Reading and Writing was produced in these languages, and an extensive literacy campaign is under way. This so impressed President Chissano of Mozambique that he expressed his wholehearted support for our Bible education and literacy work.
The Watchtower and Awake! magazines are now available in 146 and 87 languages respectively
There is no doubt that Jehovah equips his people to do the work he has assigned them to do. Throughout the earth, that work is being accomplished in a multitude of languages.
During the 2002 service year, a branch dedication took place on the beautiful Caribbean island of Trinidad. Branch facilities there were dedicated to Jehovah in 1985, but since then Trinidad has had a 94-percent increase in publishers. Consequently, the branch facilities had to be extensively renovated and an addition constructed that doubled the floor space. The branch now enjoys new residences, offices, a library, a reception lobby, a dining room, and a kitchen. The adjoining Kingdom Hall was also renovated and enlarged. This project was accomplished entirely by local volunteers.
On September 29, 2001, some 220 delegates from 14 lands as well as 695 local brothers and sisters assembled for the dedication. They listened to stimulating reports on the theocratic history of the work, including the roles played by Evander J. Coward and William R. Brown. Several foreign missionaries, including one 88-year-old sister who is still in the regular pioneer service, related some touching experiences concerning their assignments in Trinidad more than 50 years ago.
Stephen Lett of the Governing Body gave the dedication discourse. In developing the theme “Appreciating Jehovah’s Past and Present Houses of Worship,” he emphasized that people, not buildings, worship Jehovah. Consequently, Brother Lett lovingly encouraged the brothers to be appreciative worshipers by their obedience and conduct.
The following day a special meeting was held in the city of Port of Spain for those who could not be accommodated at the dedication program itself. More than 13,000 attended. On the neighboring island of Tobago, over 300 brothers listened to the program by means of a telephone hookup. Brother Lett delivered the talk “Safeguard Your Relationship With Jehovah by Cultivating Humility.” All in attendance were “nothing but joyful” over the dedication of these expanded branch facilities.
Recently, there has also been branch expansion in the Czech Republic. Samuel F. Herd of the Governing Body traveled there to dedicate a Bethel building, an annex, and two Assembly Halls. The dedication program took place on Saturday, May 4, 2002, and 2,125 were in attendance to hear Brother Herd’s talk. The following day a special meeting took place, and 5,286 enjoyed Brother Herd’s upbuilding talk entitled “Regaining Power
Worldwide, a total of 19,823 ordained ministers staff such branch facilities. All are members of the Worldwide Order of Special Full-Time Servants of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
[Chart/Pictures on page 12, 13]
SOME EVENTS OF THE 2002 SERVICE YEAR
September 1, 2001
September 11: Destruction of the World Trade Center.
September 29: Trinidad branch dedication.
November 20: Kingdom Ministry Schools begin.
January 1, 2002
January 17: Volcano erupts in Congo.
April 4: Moscow trial to ban Jehovah’s Witnesses adjourned.
May 1, 2002
May 4: Czech Republic branch dedication.
May 9: Plaque unveiled in remembrance of Witnesses who suffered in former Nazi concentration camp.
June 17: U.S. Supreme Court upholds right to preach from door to door without first obtaining a permit to do so.
August 31, 2002
August 31: 6,304,645 publishers in 234 lands.
[Pictures on page 11]
Top: In the face of disasters like these, our brothers and sisters display Christlike love
[Picture on page 11]
Below: This Kingdom Hall in Rwanda served as a refugee camp
[Picture on page 22]
The newly established United States Branch Committee, from left to right: (seated) John Kikot, Max Larson, George Couch, Maxwell Lloyd; (standing) Baltasar Perla, Harold Corkern, Leon Weaver, William Van De Wall, John Larson, and Ralph Walls
[Picture on page 26]
The “New World Translation” in Afrikaans
[Picture on page 27]
“What Does God Require of Us?” in the Navajo language
[Pictures on page 28, 29]
Delegates from 14 lands joined local brothers and sisters for the dedication of the Trinidad branch
[Pictures on page 29]
Brothers in the Czech Republic rejoiced at the dedication of a new Bethel building, an annex, and two Assembly Halls