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?


Defending Jehovah’s Witnesses with style from attacks... in Russia, with the book ‘I Don’t Know Why We Persecute Jehovah’s Witnesses—Searching for the Why’ (free).... and in the West, with the book, 'In the Last of the Last Days: Faith in the Age of Dysfunction'

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
Defending Jehovah’s Witnesses with style from attacks... in Russia, with the book ‘I Don’t Know Why We Persecute Jehovah’s Witnesses—Searching for the Why’ (free).... and in the West, with the book, 'In the Last of the Last Days: Faith in the Age of Dysfunction'

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.

Defending Jehovah’s Witnesses with style from attacks... in Russia, with the book ‘I Don’t Know Why We Persecute Jehovah’s Witnesses—Searching for the Why’ (free).... and in the West, with the book, 'In the Last of the Last Days: Faith in the Age of Dysfunction'

One Fine Day in the Ministry

“Oh, you are NOT going to tell me that Jehovah's Witnesses aren't fundamentalists. Please don't tell me that.” But I did tell him that, right between the eyes. We're not fundamentalists. Alright, so we have some attributes in common with fundamentalists, but we also have attributes in common with the liberal churches, and some with the science rationalist types. We're all over the board and not easy to pigeonhole.
My daughter - I was working with her that day, which is a rare occurrence since we attend different congregations - she would have said 'yes,' she told me, she thought we fit the fundamentalist tag. But now I have my hands on the Aug 2010 Awake magazine, just released, and the Awake says no, we don't:
Page 5, an FAQ page: “Are Jehovah's Witnesses Protestants, Fundamentalists, or a sect?”
“Jehovah's Witnesses are Christians, but they are not Protestants for the same reason that they are not Catholics – they recognize certain teachings of those religions as unscriptural. For example, the Bible does not teach that God – the very personification of love – tortures people forever in a fiery hell. Nor does it teach that humans have an immortal soul or that Christians should meddle in politics. (Ezek 18:4, John 15:19; 17:14, Romans 6:23).......Some Fundamentalist organizations “have adopted social and political positions based on a literal use of biblical texts. [I swear there are people to whom you'll say “stop beating around the bush” and they'll start looking for the bush.] That definition does not fit Jehovah's Witnesses.”

The chief lesson to be learned here is that Papa's always right. Always. Even if he has to stretch the point nearly to snapping, does whatever it takes. Conversations I've had with Mrs. Sheepandgoats, for instance:
“Have I ever let you down?” I ask rhetorically. “Yes!” she answers immediately. (So much for rhetorical questions)
“No,” she admits. “All right, then!” I crow.
Men are an interesting species, don't you know.  Every bit as interesting, in their own way, as women.
But we've strayed from our householder - a lapsed Catholic, he told me.  I fear it won't be the last time we stray from him.
This fellow lives in a territory I used to work all the time. Southeast Rochester. It's an eclectic area. At one door you find a Buddhist. At the next a nudist. One stately, well-off, single family home - the next house just as stately but carved into four or five apartments. Lots of gays in the neighborhood, too, and you gotta admit, where there are gays there are usually the arts, music, bistros, restored homes, gardens, and so forth. (why is that?) They can be somewhat hostile if you approach them in the wrong way, and almost any way is the wrong way, since they're apt to assume you'll be intolerant, and they like tolerance, but I sometimes can converse with them by telling them about my gay roommate in college. I didn't know he was gay, of course, he hadn't yet 'come out,' but I got along with him well. He was an organ major, as I recall, and he scored some minor film project I made. know how they say most gays are outwardly just like anyone else and you can never spot them by appearance alone? Well, this fellow you could; he filled every stereotype to a tee, but I just never pay attention to those things (though passing years have made me more observant). Anyhow, after summer recess one year, he says he has some big announcement to make, and we meet at the local snack joint. He's gay, he tells me, he always has been, and now he's come out of the closet, and how does that affect the way I'm going to look at him? Um....well....hmmm....I don't really know why it should make any difference, and so forth....he's still the same person, after all – all this happened long before I became a Witness. But whatever the lukewarm answer I might have given, he was conscious of a new status between us, and gradually withdrew. In time, I didn't see him anymore.

But, once again, returning to our householder:

He was using a weedwhacker or something in his side yard, whacking weeds. Now, I used to hate when people were whacking weeds or doing anything outdoors, because it was painfully obvious you were interrupting them. Most Witnesses prefer people to be behind their doors where they belong. But over time I began to realize that they're doing things indoors as well, only you don't see it, so you assume they're just sitting on their hands. In fact, they may be doing things more sacred to them than any activity outside, such as watching TV.  So it really doesn't matter to me anymore whether they're inside or out, although, it must be admitted, groups of people outside remain a challenge, and usually the game is lost before you begin. They see you coming afar off, and even if this or that one might be up to conversing one-on-one, fat chance they'll want to do so in front of their peers. Best to say something a little outrageous, like “you look like guys that want to talk about the Bible.“ Sometimes that buys you a little space you can cling to with your fingernails, but even if not, it generally leaves everyone in reasonably good humor.
The all-time awkward situation I encountered was when working with Andy Laguna, the Circuit Overseer. We were working a city residential territory and there was a bar on the corner, so he walks right in and starts witnessing to the bartender amidst a few half-tanked patrons. Andy's friendly and persistent, unafraid and non-threatening, and it went well for a time, but eventually conversation veered south – some of the patrons got a little surly (this was many years ago). “I dunno why you're telling this to us! (Andy had been speaking of good government, integrity, honesty, etc, with a view towards 'we need the Kingdom') What you should do is go into city hall and tell all those dirty rotten politicians – yeah, tell them – they're the ones who need to hear it!”  one fellow blurted out, getting worked up. “Oh, we do...we do,” Andy replied placidly. “And you know what they tell us? That we should go into the saloons!”
But back to the lapsed Catholic whacking weeds, as I approached him, hesitatingly, I said: “I wonder if I can get away with interrupting you for a couple minutes.” “Try,” he responded encouragingly, so I did. I was working with that Habakkuk presentation, made appropriate remarks about not staying forever, and so forth. But he brought up a few things - he was an educated man. I liked the fellow. "Well - I said I was just going to stay a couple of minutes, but now you've brought up a whole new topic. If we go there, it's on your dime, not mine" We may have visited twenty minutes or so. It's well to end your remarks with something gracious: "I appreciate your time. We come without appointment; people are doing things. You certainly have no obligation to speak with us, yet you did anyway. Thanks for your time. Take care, now."
Oh – and by the way, I think it was from Andy that I learned a not-bad way of handling aggressive evangelicals. It doesn't happen too often, but every once in a while, you'll find one of them eagerly awaiting us, with a stack of anti-JW literature and non-stop rhetoric to match. But it was Andy who said “look, if I came to visit you, it must be because I felt I had something to offer. Now, I might entertain what you want to tell me, but it would have to be at a time when you drop by my place.” “Where do you live...where do you live...where do you live?” the other would rapid-fire reply.  “No, no,” Andy would respond, “you'll just run into me eventually in the course of your normal door to door ministry.”
Oh, and back to the lapsed know, I kind of forget what else we spoke about. But we had a pleasant conversation, I remember was a fine day in the ministry, low 60's, and the sun was out.


Tom Irregardless and Me             No Fake News but Plenty of Hogwash

Defending Jehovah’s Witnesses with style from attacks... in Russia, with the book ‘I Don’t Know Why We Persecute Jehovah’s Witnesses—Searching for the Why’ (free).... and in the West, with the book, 'In the Last of the Last Days: Faith in the Age of Dysfunction'

An Habakkuk Presentation

That day the stock market plunged 1000 points in an hour, only to regain all but 300 at day's end, you could make mention of it in your ministry. But you could only do it for a short time. People's memories are short. After a few days, most crises are swept off center stage by a new crisis. But then you can simply substitute the new calamity in your remarks.

You don't harp on these things, of course, as if the purpose of your visit is to rub people's noses in disaster. After introducing myself and anyone I might be with, it usually went well to mention a "backdrop of anxiety" that most are aware of.  Even if our own immediate home and family circumstances are just fine (an important possibility to acknowledge when working among the la-de-da homes) there's always an oil spill somewhere, or an economy collapsing, or population rioting - all of which make people uneasy about the future. "You like to think, if only for the sake of the children and grandchildren, that you'll pass the world on to them in better shape than you found it - are they really asking too much to expect that of us? But these days people aren't too sure that's going to happen. Any thoughts on that yourself?"

I worked with this presentation for awhile. Not word for word, of course, but as if speaking from an outline, playing with the general themes. Tweaking it to fit the individual. If speaking to someone young, for instance, you might set them up as the recipient of the passed on world, rather than the one who passes it. It's a bit of a challenge, the door-to-door ministry. You strive to register signs, words, or impressions of the householder so as to mold a sensible response. You never know who you'll be speaking with or what their demeanor may be. Calling without appointment adds another degree of challenge; if your householder is any sort of productive person, invariably you'll be interrupting something. Not to mention that the last thing your person expected was to be confronted with a door-to-door minister. So your best chance is to be relaxed, friendly, non-threatening, and coherent.

It's usually good to weave a scripture into whatever presentation you're giving. Lately, I've been using Hab 3:17-18:

Although [the] fig tree itself may not blossom, and there may be no yield on the vines; the work of [the] olive tree may actually turn out a failure, and the terraces themselves may actually produce no food; [the] flock may actually be severed from [the] pen, and there may be no herd in the enclosures;

Yet, as for me, I will exult in Jehovah himself; I will be joyful in the God of my salvation.

pointing out that Habakkuk's response (vs 18) isn't really what one would expect from the conditions he'd expect him to complain and whine. It's the more human response; most people would do that. We're told that Diagoras, the world's first atheist, went that course after "an [unspecified] incident that happened against him went unpunished by the gods." So did Habakkuk know something that Diagoras didn't? It's a good lead-in for a subject like "Why Has God Permit Suffering," chapter 11 of the book What Does the Bible Really Teach.

Transitioning into your scripture isn't so hard as you might think, but you don't want to be clumsy about it. You don't ask, for example, "is it okay if I read a scripture?" Of course it isn't; the very question indicates you think it is a big deal...a major escalation. Who's not going to balk at that?  Instead, ask yourself why should it surprise anyone if a minister of the Bible wants to read a scripture? Would you be shocked if a mechanic pulled out a wrench? You'd be disappointed if he didn't.

And you might think that when inviting your householder to comment on world conditions, he has to give the "right" answer, such as "everything's going to hell in a handbasket," and if he doesn't, you're stymied. Instead, your person may say something like "the world is what we make it," or "I guess we just have to be optimistic," or even "seems to me that things are getting better." It doesn't matter. Acknowledge whatever comment he makes, and then say "the reason I bring it up is because...." and go into Habukkuk. Plenty of people give the "wrong" answer, yet become real attentive when you reach the scripture. You can't expect people to pour out their hearts speaking to a complete stranger. Even when people think the world is going to hell in a handbasket, they're not likely to say it to you...for fear you'll perceive them a crybaby. No, "we have to just carry on best we can regardless of what comes down the pipe," they may reason. In fact, they're only listening to you with half an ear, anyway. They're also thinking "who is this guy? What does he want? Religion? Right here at my door? Isn't that a little strange?" So just go to your verse with a "the reason I bring it up is because...." You can use it regardless of what the householder says, unless he hurls epithets at you.

And somewhere along the line, it's good to add a "let me get your thoughts on this, and then I'll be on my probably have things to do." Your householder's likely worried that you mean to stay all have to defuse that concern (and then stick to your promise). I've had people raise questions or bring in other matters, and I'll remind them how I said I was going to just be a few minutes, but now they've brought up this or that concern.....if we go that way, I'll say, it's on their dime, not mine.

Now, if you're transitioning into an offer of the Bible Teach book, why not describe how we use it as an outline for a Bible study program? An hour a week, a week or two per chapter, at a time and place of the householder's choosing, and in six months they'll have a working knowledge of the entire Bible. Hand the book to them with table of contents opened...."do any of these chapters strike you as interesting?" Frequently they'll latch onto an entirely different subject, one more attuned to their needs. I had one college kid recently who chose to confide, at this point, that his sister had died as an infant...and why would God do that? It had always bothered him.

That happens a lot. While you're rattling on, people 'take your measure' and may conclude you're someone with whom they can discuss spiritual concerns, same way businesspeople used to conclude Mac was someone with whom they could speak; after all, there's not many people with whom you can do that. After that, they'll bring up all kinds of things, and that's what you respond to, setting aside your prepared remarks (which calls for a certain nimbleness). Starting at whatever point most suits the householder, I like to offer to show how we use the book as a study guide. And by the way, why offer to study the Bible with them then and there? Offer to show how we study the Bible; it's the same thing, and sounds a lot less time-consuming.

Most often, even when their interest is genuinely piqued, they'll pass. They'll want to look it over, think about it, make sure they're not being hoodwinked somehow. After all, they were doing other things before you ambled along out of nowhere to offer them a Bible study. All of that's okay. Frankly, if I see persons unknown walking up my driveway, my first instinct  - and often my 2nd, 3rd and 4th instinct - is to get rid of them! Offer to stop again when they've had some time to think it over. And then, at least monthly, you can drop by with the latest copy of the magazines. This way no one ever thinks that your purpose is to distribute magazines; rather the magazines are a means of keeping spiritual things on the radar until interest and circumstances lend themselves to a more substantial Bible study.

It works for me. In time, it will grow stale - funny how presentations do that - or I'll grow bored with it and devise something new, maybe to come back to it later. It won't work in every part of the world, probably; it's tailored to those in my neck of the woods. And it's tailored to my personality, which isn't (thank God, you may say) the same as yours.

Reflecting on whatever good experiences one might find in the ministry, a Witness of Jehovah might recall the verse immediately following Jesus' Sermon on the Mount:

Now when Jesus finished these sayings, the effect was that the crowds were astounded at his way of teaching; for he was teaching them as a person having authority, and not as their scribes.   (Matt 7:28-29)

The 'authority' (in your case) comes from putting the scriptures together, fitting the pieces so that anyone can see, not only do they make sense, but they address the deepest questions of life. The contrast could not be greater from instruction of "their scribes," who quoted each other, and who taught an elaborate structure of doctrine and tradition to the point where the original thoughts of God all but vanished.


Tom Irregardless and Me                   No Fake News but Plenty of Hogwash

Defending Jehovah’s Witnesses with style from attacks... in Russia, with the book ‘I Don’t Know Why We Persecute Jehovah’s Witnesses—Searching for the Why’ (free).... and in the West, with the book, 'In the Last of the Last Days: Faith in the Age of Dysfunction'

The Communist and the Kids

I called on a old fellow in the door to door ministry who said he was a Communist. He wasn't especially pleasant, but he was genuine, and unique. Didn't the fall of the Soviet Union and its satellites disprove Communism as a viable system? I asked. (It had only recently happened) No, because Communism was imposed by force upon a agrarian country. It wasn't the revolt of the proletariat, such as one might have foreseen in the U.S. at one time.

He had a house full of antique inventions, among them an Edison phonograph.

I homeschooled my daughter then. A few weeks later I had her out with me in the ministry. She was about 9 or 10. I stopped in on the Communist.

"So how's the discipling going?" he asked (or something similar). "Just fine," I replied. "I'm sorry to hear it," he said. Had I not left myself wide open?

"So what do you want?" he demanded, more gruff than even his prior gruffness. Just as gruff, I shot back "I came to show my daughter your antiques!" He opened the door, let us both in, gave us a tour, explained the different machines, and could not have been more pleasant! How often does a child get to see such old gadgets?

Kids are useful in the ministry. Of course, we don't "use" them. You don't bring them along unless they're ready to come, and you don't let them speak unless they want to. But in my experience, they usually want to. Joel Engardio, producer of the documentary Knocking was raised a Witness but left for a career in journalism. Nonetheless, he assures us, as a kid he was the designated doorbell-ringer, a "cool job for a 4 year old." As a teenager, he continues, "I gave presentations at doorsteps around town in hopes of becoming a "publisher," or minister, of the Bible. I found fulfillment in telling others - anyone who cared to listen -that all of mankind's plagues would be solved when God's kingdom arrived." So there is something to training children in the ministry, when (and if) they are ready.

My kids, as with Joel, wanted to speak at a quite young age, so I obliged. But it seemed that I ought to introduce them. After all, when I approached a house with a waist-high child, and it was the child that did the talking,  I always imagined the householder looking at me as if to say "you dumb lug....why don't you say something?" And frankly, you'd want to screen householders.  Not all are the warm fuzzy kind that you'd want to feed your kids. So I'd say something like: "Hi, I'm Tom Sheepandgoats. I've got my boy with me, Georgie. We take turns talking's his turn." That was my son's cue. As long as he was willing and able to handle matters, I would stay silent. The householder might listen to him, but answer me, and I'd say "'s his turn." All this within the bounds of common sense, of course. In most cases, towards the end, I would chime in somehow. As the kids got older and more capable, they got tired of being introduced, it became unnecessary, and I chimed in less and less.

My kids are grown and gone now. I just got done working with Jakie, a 6 year old. Someone else's son, it seems to me he was bashful at age 4. He sure isn't now. Distributing invitations for the upcoming district convention, he would have none of "being introduced." So I said he could introduce me! Either that, or just take the door himself. He did every door, except 3 or 4 that were a little awkward, and so I took them. In some cases I'd tell the householder "I'm far too bashful to talk to you right here at your door, so I brought my buddy here to speak for me!" He did just fine. Most youngsters do when they can go at their own pace.


"Is that your son?" the homeowner asked Dave McClure, our old circuit overseer, about a youngster he was working with. "Nope," he replied. "But if it was, I'd be proud of him."




Tom Irregardless and Me             No Fake News but Plenty of Hogwash

Defending Jehovah’s Witnesses with style from attacks... in Russia, with the book ‘I Don’t Know Why We Persecute Jehovah’s Witnesses—Searching for the Why’ (free).... and in the West, with the book, 'In the Last of the Last Days: Faith in the Age of Dysfunction'