Speaking With the Evangelical

I met a born-again Christian yesterday while making a return visit. It was the young man’s dad. I actually hadn’t expected to meet my return visit because I knew he just stopped in there from time to time and lived somewhere else, but the initial conversation had been very fine and we were just driving by the house.

Our track record of pleasant conversations with evangelicals is not good. Usually we feel obliged to pick out something that they are doing wrong and start a fight over it—not with that goal, of course, but usually with that result. And if we don’t do it to them, then they do it to us. Start rattling on about the paradise and they will cut you short with a line or two about the rapture.

I used to fall into this pattern as much as anyone, but in recent years, after decades of life—in other words, it’s about time!—I have come across a new way. In this new way, I do not try to find something of his to poke holes in, and since I didn’t, he did. You know, getting all squirrelly-like, as though to say, “Oh, no, we are not the same. Don’t try to pretend that we are.”

As soon as I saw it going that way, I did what I was so very slow to learn to do. He was not an unfriendly guy, and I had already responded to his announcement that he was a born-again Christian: “That almost makes it better—it means we speak the same language. You have regard for the Bible and probably know it as well as me.”

It starts things out on a good foot, but still he feels obliged to point out how no way are we the same. I beat him to it. “Look, we are both trying to follow the Word, but we are doing it differently. You think we are doing it wrong and we think you are doing it wrong. But we are both doing it—that’s the point—and we live in a world where most people aren’t doing it at all.” Instantly we were on the same side. There was a little chat about keeping the faith amidst a world that rejects it.

I asked him if he was one of those persons  who believed in the rapture and he said that he was. Yes, I know where that verse comes from, I told him. We see it a little differently, and I referred to the Lord’s Prayer that I knew he knew so well but nobody else does today. ‘Yes, God has it all together up in heaven. I mean,  I suppose he does (glancing upwards) but it sure isn’t that way on earth, and it won’t be until—he joined me in saying the last words—“thy kingdom comes.” So we look forward to living forever on the earth, most of us, sort of like that camping trip you took and you relaxed so much that you said “I wish this would never end” only in this case it won’t.

That’s about all you can do on a single call and I have no plans to come back unless the spirit impromptu grabs me when I am driving right by again and it probably won’t. I count it successful. Hear each other out, be mutually respectful, and maybe either party will think the other guy’s hope intriguing enough to investigate more. In this case, there was no sign of that. We talked about his front porch awning—my companion brought that up—it was a sturdy piece that had served him well over the years and it was just the ticket during hot summer days of blazing sun. There were some people who bought the screens and other attachments that came with it, he allowed, but he was content just with the awning itself. 

His son, while very conversant, had not struck me as particularly religious, I recalled of him, and I did not say it so as to rub his nose in, “but mine is!” No, I said mine isn’t either—it’s not a slam-dunk that kids will follow the faith. Of course, he loves his son, as I do mine, and he observed that ‘it is so strange—children raised in the same house with same parents and same values, yet some take to it and others do not.’ Now you take his daughter, he pointed out, who had latched right on, and I said that was true of my daughter as well.

So we built a bridge. Who knows if he will cross over it someday, my companion and I chatted afterwards, or, from his point of view, If I will cross it his way. One thing that is clear—he will respect us for our ministry—maybe even compare it to whatever he is or is not doing himself. “Preach the good news in all the inhabited earth—go and make disciples” is not a mission statement that will register approval with everyone, but I know it will with him.

Of course, you don’t say that unless he is trying to put you down for it, and this fellow certainly was not. You don’t give any appearance of boasting or being full of yourself. There was even a recommendation once that seemed to step over the line on this. Our website had reached a certain milestone in number of languages translated into—it is over 1000 now—we were sort of proud of it at the time and the recommendation was to bring that up along with the question: “Do you know why we do it?” I never liked the approach and I never tried it. 

I accompanied someone who did, though. “Do you know why we do it?” he asked. His return visit said: “What! Do you think I’m a trained chimp? Of course I do! You want to reach people!” That’s why I never used it.

That’s not to say I don’t mention the website, though. On the contrary, I usually do (though not to this fellow—it didn’t occur to me) I usually mention the languages, too, only I supply the reason, rather than try to extract it from the householder. If you are serious about preaching the good news worldwide, of course you are going to have such a website as soon as the technology exists. It would almost be religious malpractice not to.



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Search for Those Who are Interested Without Putting into a Panic Those Who are Not

I worked with someone in field service recently who was—shall we say—in over-enthused mode. The householder, accordingly, was doing all he could to ensure that the brother did not lay a glove on him. He did not want a fire and he was trying for all he was worth to hose us down. He brought up how he believes each one has his own belief, and furthermore, each one has the obligation to respect the other person’s belief, and so forth. 

Did the brother take the hint? Not a bit of it. He remained convinced that just one more pointjust one more sentence from him would turn the whole situation around—and so he kept pressing, while the poor householder was practically working himself into a frenzy.

I interrupted. I rarely do. Contrary to those videos in which the two witnesses stand side-by-side in oddly choreographed behavior, or at least it seems that way to me, I usually hang well back and give the appearance that I am just barely paying attention—this is so it does not appear to be two ganging up against one. I especially do this if it is a woman that answers the door.

With the householder getting agitated—an entirely reasonable response given the brother’s full court press, I interjected: “Let me tell you how it works with Jehovah’s Witnesses.” They both paused. “We ARE going to ask you to convert,” I told him. “But it is not going to happen until the 100th call, and what are the chances anything will go that long? In the meantime, it’s just conversation.”

The tension instantly broke. The person visibly relaxed. “Oh—it is just conversation,” he reflected. Then he allowed that over the years JWs had already probably called upon him 100 times, but even so he (and the other brother’s) demeanor changed. We wrapped up without fuss and moved on. It is a method I heartily recommend, having seen it bear good fruit many times. Search for those who are interested without putting into a panic those who are not.

I probably also said something at the end about how we come without appointment—something that is almost unheard of today—so if someone is gracious to us—as he had been (for he was not at all unpleasant)—we truly appreciate it.

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The Wood-Sawing Contest—What a Way to End Field Service!

Joan is pushing ninety, alert, and she looks spry. The bevy of pills before her testifies that there may be more than meets the eye, however. Indeed, they just released her from the hospital after a three day stay. Her daughter sits kitty-corner at the table. She quit her job so as to be her mom’s full-time caregiver. That way mom will likely not go into a nursing home, and avoiding one is what she wants.

New York State wants it, too. It’s far cheaper on the social structure if Medicare/caid patients stay at home, and there is a program whereby a family member can be reimbursed by the state, which would otherwise send funds to far more pricey places.

I have come to visit the two, and they pour me some chamomile tea.

As usual on visits like this, talk turns to reminiscing of back in the day. Such as when daughter and mother and aunt worked the door-to-door ministry in a small town that had a wood-sawing contest going on. The mother—she was raised on a farm and is well accustomed to chores—gazed at the clumsy white men pretending to be pioneers—and said to her sister: “I think we can take them.”

“You’re in field service, Mom!” her daughter upbraids her, mortified at the spectacle she might make. But....these flabby young men, in their new store-bought flannel shirts—“it’s important to keep the saw moving so it doesn’t seize up,” the daughter told me, and some of these guys working out their affectation weren’t doing so hot as they struggled to tug the blade to and fro.

“I think we can take them,” Joan repeated to her sister. “Oh, sure! A couple of old ladies in dresses and carrying bookbags stuffed with Watchtowers! No, mom! Forget it!” the daughter rebuked them.

It would have happened on my watch! Forget service—I would have signed them up then and there! Nor do I think it would have been a bad witness. “Jehovah Witness Ladies Capture Wood-Cutting Crown, Beat Out Smallville’s Best”—what a witness that would have been! What! Do you think it would have been a greater witness to place a couple of magazines with someone on the topic: “What is the Purpose of Life?”

The purpose of life is to take wannabe roughing-it pioneers, and hand them their heads on a platter—and show them how REAL pioneers do it!

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“Oh, No. I Would Never Presume to Compare Myself With the Most High God!”

It’s funny how people are.
I ran into someone from pioneer school 30 years ago. Back then, students would learn techniques for the ministry, and would spend an afternoon field-testing them. So it was that I found myself working with a certain sister one afternoon long ago. I had barely seen her since.
She spoke so glowingly of me. Her memories of our working together were so appreciative. A householder had answered the door, as she recalled, and had asked, “Are you Jehovah?” ”Oh, no,” I had instantly answered, full of self-effacing humility, aghast at the very thought. “I would never presume to compare myself to the Most High God. No, I am just a lowly servant of His trying imperfectly to serve him. I would never, ever...” and so forth. The sister was so impressed at my humble manner. She had carried that memory around for who knows how many years.
It didn’t happen like that at all! I didn’t say any of that stuffl! Of COURSE I’m not God—I don’t have to explain why!
I remember the incident well. The friendly woman had been barely visible through the screen door that hot summer afternoon—she was way back there in the kitchen, and we were on the front doorstep. Interrupted and preoccupied, she had blurted out the first thing that had popped into her head: “Are you Jehovah?”
“Um....no....actually, I’m not,” was my hesitant reply. At which point, she realized what she had really said and she burst out laughing. Her gaffe served to make her still more friendly, as though she owed us, and we had a nice, if brief, conversation. I never said any of those silly things that my companion had for years attributed to me!
She was confusing, I am pretty sure, this experience with one in print from decades ago, of a lowly Mexican brother working in a fabulously wealthy territory—responding to the demand that he identify himself. Wasn’t he one of Jehovah’s Witnesses? a haughty fellow wanted to know. He had answered to the effect that he tries to be...he tries. It is not easy measuring up to the standards of the Most High God, and he would not presume to say that he does measure up....but he tries. The fellow peddled goods from a donkey cart, if I recall correctly. The householder was a leader of industry.
I didn’t even have a donkey cart that afternoon. I had left it at home. We had driven up in a car—just like that of the householder who asked me if I was God.
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Preaching Where it’s Not Allowed

I wasn’t 30 seconds into my presentation when the householder told me I wasn’t allowed to be there. Wasn’t I? There were no signs to that effect.

I seldom pay attention to whether I am allowed or not. Surely an offer to “read a scripture, you tell me what you think, and I’m gone”—should not trigger a response too ballistic—and this is what I mostly do. I have even observed, right before a “No Soliciting” sign*, that I did indeed notice it and “was a little concerned that you might think it applied to me. It doesn’t, but you might think that it does.” It is simply to clarify—no intent to argue.

You don’t stay where you’re not wanted. Of course, off I will go, but not with my tail between my legs, as though admitting that I had been up to no good. I am not up to no good. I am up to good, and I like when that is the impression that remains.

I can usually parry aside with good nature such remarks like not being allowed—but in this case the woman just got madder and madder. So I turned to go with my tail between my legs, when my companion said: “You do know that we’re Jehovah’s Witnesses, right?” I braced for the conflagration set by his pouring gas on the fire.

Companions don’t always behave like the silhouetted figures of the demonstrations, you know. There was even one companion, long ago, who would so reliably trip me up with completely irrelevant interjections—just about nail that point on the resurrection, and he would say: “What about that Trinity?”—that on approaching one return visit I said: “I don’t want you to say anything except: ‘I agree.’” Instantly I was filled with remorse, for he is on my team, after all, but I needn’t have feared. He took it as a great joke—he knows how he is—and throughout the afternoon he happily parroted: “I don’t want you to say anything except: ‘I agree.’”

My present companion then added for the irate householder’s benefit that “the U.S. Supreme Court has guaranteed our right to preach door to door,” and I braced for the nuclear detonation that he had set off. I mean, there is such a thing as a proper time and a place.

To my surprise, however, he had said exactly the right thing. It turned out that this person had nothing at all against Jehovah’s Witnesses—she admired them. What she was cranked up about was that she, too, wanted to go door to door in behalf of her church for some upcoming event and the neighborhood association had told her that she could not—it wasn’t “allowed.” She didn’t know why it should not be allowed. It should be, she thought, but it was not. Jehovah’s Witnesses do it, she said to the neighborhood chief, and the reply that they should not either. So that’s what she was upset with—that we were doing it, but she could not.

I told her that she should. After all, who was she going to listen to—the judge of the entire inhabited earth, or the street boss? If you truly do have what you think is good news, you don’t just sit on it, Jesus said. You put your lamp right up there on the lamp stand so that others can benefit from it—who cares if the street boss would take it down? A “No Trespassing” sign on someone’s own home is a sign to respect—you do not violate those—but not so with just the directive of a third party unless there is unmistakable evidence that the householder is in accord with it.

This particular neighborhood chief didn’t even care. She had told the woman: “Celeste, if I don’t know about it, then there is no problem.” She has enough things to do rather than enforce some stupid directive that she doesn’t care about anyway.

Our conversation became downright pleasant and extended much longer than I had ever intended. She was easily drawn out about her own principles, and she described in some detail how she put herself out on behalf of others—in the case of one alcoholic neighbor, seemingly whether that was desired or not—I mean, it was almost to the point of stalking. Nonetheless, she revealed a good motive. I told her that she was plainly a person with a good conscience, and that she should listen to it more—don’t be bullied into submission by some neighborhood boss who didn’t care anyway. But she said that her conscience told her she had to obey the rules. Sigh....and people say we are the ones unable to think for ourselves.

I’ll call back, this time with my wife. How will it turn out? Will it be a relationship to build upon or will she revert to saying that I am not allowed?


*Do not answer: “We’re not soliciting,” if accused of such. I mean, say it if you like, but don’t forget to wave the red flag before the bull. Half the time, you are wrong, anyway, because soliciting goes beyond dealing with money—if it was confined to that we’d be fine every time. Even asking for an opinion is technically soliciting, though not everyone has that in mind. It is one reason that I simply begin with the offer to read a scripture—I don’t know how anyone can get soliciting out of that. What you can say about soliciting is: “I’ll make sure not to do that.” Just don’t get in anyone’s face—why would anybody want to behave that way?


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Another Day on the “Recruiting” Trail - Sheesh

One college kid asked, when I proposed returning, “To what end?” It was a question  I’d not been asked before.

I explained that in my ideal scenario I would return 100 times and engage in 100 different conversations and on the 101st I would ask him if he wanted to be a Jehovah’s Witness like me and at that time he should say ‘No.’ 

I even asked him to rehearse. “Let me show you how it would work. I am going to ask you to become a Witness like me and I want you to say “No.” Would you do that? He agreed. 

“Would you like to become a Witness?” I asked. “No,” he said.

“You see? Nothing to worry about. It’s just conversation. You’ll learn your way around the Bible in the meantime, if that is something you want. The moment you tire of it, just let me know. No one is easier to get rid of than Tommy. You almost have to beg him to stay.”

The anticult people try to spin it as “recruiting.” That’s why the outrage some have over the recent letter expressing condolences over someone’s loss. If they just took it at face value, they’d be okay with it. We should not let those scoundrels define the game.

Are we “recruiting?” I suppose so, but in the most non-threatening way possible, so that only by really stretching the point could we be said to be doing it. And it is not an immediate goal—telling the good news of the kingdom is.

I always explain my motive: “And this good news of the Kingdom will be preached in all the inhabited earth for a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come,” says Matthew 24:14. Who should be expected to do that other than those who have come to believe it? And no, it is not the end of the earth. But it is the end of the present “system of things.” Earth divvied up into a couple hundred eternally squabbling nations is not God’s idea, and the time will come when “thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.” I mean, presumably it all runs pretty well up there and God’s will rules the day, but it sure isn’t the case here, is it? That’s not to say that “God’s will” loses out each and every time, but it can hardly be said to be the norm, can it?

Jehovah’s Witnesses are “indoctrinating?” College is far more indoctrinating than anything having to do with Jehovah’s Witnesses. The typical student is separated 24/7 from his or her previous stabilizing routine and people—a classic tool of brainwashing.

(I didn’t actually go through the rehearsal with this kid. Our best lines always occur to us too late. But that does not mean that I won’t do it when the situation is right.)


photo: Airman Magazine


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One Dud of a Hall Here Can Buy 100 There - the Kingdom Halls

The fellow was in a rush when I first contacted him, just about to leave to pick up the kids from school. He was apologetic about it, very nice, and allowed that I should visit some other time. When I did I told him it was to show a video that lasted exactly a minute (actually a minute and six seconds—I lied).

He said we should go into the darkened garage where a video would be easier to see. It is the short video ‘Would You Like Good News?’ and it points to a brochure of similar name. That brochure’s table of contents lists about a dozen questions people have raised about God. ‘Ask if there are any that grab their interest,’ the C.O. had suggested. If there are, there is a basis for short conversation. If there are not, off you go, nice as you please. I even thank them for their time. After all, people are busy, we call without appointment, which is pretty much unheard of today, and there is no obligation for them to speak with us at all. The fact that a given person does is reason to thank them for their time, in my view.

‘That says it all as to what we do,’ I told the fellow after the video. My instincts had not been wrong that here was a decent guy with an interest in spiritual things. “How people can not believe in God?—all you have to do is look around,” he had said unbidden. I even tried to stick up for “those people” with the observation that a lot of bad things happen today and some feel that if there is a God, surely he would have fixed them. He didn’t buy it.

Your building is right up there on route such-and-such, he said. But I told him that we had sold that one, and I gave him the party line—it was because of our great growth—(whereas if anyone else had done it, it would mean they are going belly-up). Well—it can be spun that way and so I do. The Halls aren’t all where they should be, so if you combine some groups here, you can sell off an underutilized one there and build one where you need it. This especially works when the ones needed are in developing lands. One underperforming dud of a Hall here can finance 100 over there—aiding ones who could ill afford it on their own—a significant advantage of organization.

It’s all valid to explain it that way. It works. It’s true enough. Having said that, that was not the intent when the Hall was built in the first place. The intent was to fill it to the rafters. Ah, well. With admittedly some hyperbole, Witnesses can put up and dispose of Kingdom Halls as readily as the greater world puts up and disposes of Coleman tents—they are very handy people—so it makes sense to do it this way. The arrangement that I thought could never be improved upon has been significantly improved upon—streamlined for overall efficiency—again, something that shows the advantage of organization.

This guy lives way out there, where I don’t get too often. It’s why I like the website, and specifically the online series of Bible study courses. They are self-guided, I explained, and you can take a day or a year to go through them all, building a foundation of basic Bible knowledge. In fact, I am looking forward to saying—the timing and circumstances will have to be just right—I would never do it with this fellow: “I don’t want to study the Bible with you. Do it yourself!” You don’t have to spoon-feed everyone elementary verse by elementary verse. People are smart. They can do it themselves, in most cases. I even think that keeps some of us babes ourselves—if we eternally are striving to present the basics.


photo: First Solids, by Squiggle



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Inviting to the Assembly Hall - We Sure Weren't Prophets About That, Were We?

In field service I found myself working directly across the road from the Assembly Hall during an assembly. What are the chances?

Now, I am always on the lookout for something quirky to say so as the break the ice. An idea occurred to me as I approached a man in his garage. I thumbed behind me and said: “Man, the talks are so boring in there I just had to take a break and come talk to you - you know how religion is!”

Of course, I didn’t leave it there. I registered the impression made and soon added that I just threw that in for his sake – I didn’t really believe it. Though in SOME cases…. Well, no – not usually in the Assembly Hall. It can be the case in a Kingdom Hall, but not usually at the larger gatherings and practically never at the Regionals.

There is a chance – one must always consider – that a householder will quickly close the door and thereafter repeat to others your final and only words – “he said his meetings are dull.” No matter. This fellow will say bad things about us, anyway. Might as well give him an accurate statement to relate.

It is the season of the Memorial invitations, which are very brief. Big event – we’re inviting people – Memorial of Christ’s death – we do it every year. In closing I mention I have a cool video that explains everything in just over a minute, or I can explain it myself and that will take 45 minutes and which works best for him? But I don’t twist arms and it is always clear there is a third option, to pass on both, which most people take.

Our Assembly Hall is unusual in that it is on a residential road, which has only become more so since we built it. Moreover, though it is a network of roads, it is essentially a cul-de-sac. So there has long been a certain tension simply because of the traffic generated.

To several I explained before I left: “Actually, just so you know – I really do go there, and – it is a standard announcement at every meeting that “we have neighbors and they have kids, so make sure to observe the 30MPH speed limit” so whatever speeders there are are the neighbors and not us. One woman was very gracious and said ‘I’m sure that’s true.’

They are only going to get more neighbors. At the end of their cul-de-sac network is a new tract of over 100 homes being built. That is in addition to the Ryan homes on the right before one reaches the Assembly Hall. That was cornfield when we moved in, and later we found out that Kodak bought it as a buffer to their property so we thought we would never see anything but corn or landscaping.

We turned out to be false prophets on that one, didn’t we?


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Help Me Out on a Call

A sister placed magazines with a college kid, conversed a while, and he said she could call back. His father, however, would not likely be welcoming, he said.
She gave the call to me. I made it. He was not home. His father was, and the son had been right. The father was not welcoming. Neither did he tell me to get lost. Well – he did, but it was not in the ordering sort of tone, and I said I had not been looking for him anyway, but his son. He was the family head, and I told him I would not try to sneak around him, but did he mind if I called again on his son? The kid was smart, I told the old man, and that must mean his parents are smart. He said his son was his own person, and if he wanted to speak with me again, that was up to him.
I called again. The son, of course, was not home. The unwelcoming dad was. He was in a wheelchair, as he had been the first time. One bumper sticker on the family car read “Born right the first time.” The other said: “There are death squads in America; they’re called insurance companies.” I think we overdo our advice to take cues from bumper stickers, but this time the Ten Commandments could not have told me more. All that remains is to fill in a few blanks.
Sometimes I open with Job 34:10 – “it is unthinkable for the true God to act wickedly.” I like the verse, I told him, because some people think he does act wickedly. And some see all the nasty things going down and say: “I don’t think there is a true God.” It plays into the theme of why there is suffering, I told the fellow.
He wasn’t nice. I made clear that the instant he told me to go away, I would. We were conversing through the storm door, which added a measure of challenge. I almost reached to open it, for it was awkward for him to do so, but I decided it would be a bit much. He laughed derisively at my Bible verse. “You’re here because you want to tell me about suffering?” he shot back from his wheelchair. I answered: “No. I want you to tell me. I don’t have to talk at all. I want you to invite me in and tell me.”
I said: “Look – everyone has a story, but no one wants to hear it. So I will,. I've got the time.” He’ll never see me again anyway – what does he have to lose? I told him. He answered sarcastically that he could never get over the Christians’ “need” to “save” people. Look, he said, he was one of the 5% who are atheist. “Yeah – I’m here to change that,” I answered. This is far more blunt than I would ever be ordinarily, but I decided I would answer him in kind. It was not even true, really, or at least it was not a goal I realistically held. I also told him that he was right – we are Christian, and it is a bit much that we should appear out of thin air, but that Jehovah’s Witnesses are in a league of their own.
He responded by saying his number one man from his working days had been a Witness, and that he had been the nicest, most reliable fellow in the world. “Yeah, we’re all nice,” I said. “You think I’m nice? Wait to you get a load of Clyde,” I motioned to the brother behind me, who could barely make out through the door what the man was saying. His praise for the brother he once supervised at work didn’t yield me as much ground as might be expected. After two or three more minutes maneuvering, I told him that while I would like to know more, one can only go far, and we would take our leave. He didn’t cry over the prospect, but had never taken the bait of saying I should go.
I am not sure what to do. I will let it go, probably. One more call in a few months to see if anything has moved, and then I am done. Maybe before, but I have no plans at the present. Any advice?
photo: castle-greyeres-wheelchair
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A Field Service Experience

Years ago I called on a man and placed a set of magazines. I called on him again and placed another.

But then I called back and he said he no longer wanted them. His wife was allergic to newsprint.

“Look, just tell me you don’t like them,” I thought. “Lots of people don’t. I can live with that. “Allergic to newsprint! What a stupid excuse! Now I’ve heard them all.” Image

The man and his wife moved away. But some time after that I met them at a District Convention. By then, Bethel had switched to a higher-grade paper and he and his wife had made rapid progress.

They’re probably in the circuit work now that Bethel has gone digital, the last obstacle having been removed.

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