Submitted by Jehovah’s Witnesses Public Communication
It’s been one year since Jehovah’s Witnesses worldwide adjusted their hallmark methods of sharing comfort and hope from the scriptures due to the pandemic, including the efforts of the local congregation in Natchitoches.
For many, the change from ringing doorbells and knocking on doors to making phone calls and writing letters expanded and invigorated their ministry.
“Witnesses are adapting and finding joy in these trying times,” said Gerald Taylor, who reports a 30 percent increase in the Witnesses’ preaching activity in his region of central Louisiana. “Many have seized the opportunity and are able to do more despite the current circumstances.”
In March 2020, the some 1.3 million Witnesses in the United States suspended their door-to-door and face-to-face forms of public ministry and moved congregation meetings to videoconferencing.
“It has been a very deliberate decision based on two principles: our respect for life and love of neighbor,” said Robert Hendriks, U.S. spokesman for Jehovah’s Witnesses. “But we are still witnesses and, as such, we must testify about our faith. So it was inevitable that we would find a way to continue our work.”
In the humid central region of Louisiana, Sherry Whitelow, along with her husband Louis, normally drive to various neighborhoods, walking door-to-door in the parish.
Now she sits in her air-conditioned living room, sips on a cup of coffee and makes calls on her cellphone or writes letters to share the same message. Since this adjustment, she has been conducting twice as many Bible studies over the phone than she was able to do in person before the pandemic. “I’m loving it,” she said. “After a nice phone call, I feel excited. I can’t wait to make the next call.”
Her go-to topics for conversation with her neighbors are COVID-19, peace and government. “The responses I receive are wonderful,” she said. “Many look forward to receiving a phone call. I get to share a scripture and it brings joy to both the person I share it with and myself.”
Nearly 51,000 people in the United States last year made a request for a Witness to contact them, either through a local congregation or jw.org, the organization’s official website, according to Hendriks. Since the outbreak, the Witnesses have followed up on these requests via letters and phone calls instead of in- person visits.
“Our love for our neighbors is stronger than ever,” said Hendriks. “In fact, I think we have needed each other more than ever. We are finding that people are perplexed, stressed and feeling isolated. Our work has helped many regain a sense of footing, and even normalcy, at a very unsettled time.”
Harriet Polk has been engaged in the public preaching activity of Jehovah’s Witnesses for over 40 years. She could often spend a full day knocking on doors or standing with a cart displaying Bible-based literature at various locations throughout the city. Then health complications set in.
“It slowed down my ministry,” said Polk, 65, of New Orleans. But during the pandemic, she has regularly participated in virtual ministry groups, making many telephone calls and writing over 300 letters.
Polk is eager to return to her public ministry, but even then, she will continue writing letters. “We’ve been able to reach so many more people,” she said. “You never know who is opening up your letter and benefiting from a scriptural thought.”
The Milbradt family, who conduct their preaching work in rural areas of Kansas, sometimes drove miles from one house to the next to reach their neighbors. Now, instead of buying gasoline to fill up their vehicle for the ministry, they spend money on paper, envelopes, stamps, and crayons.
“We look for ways to add variety to our ministry,” said Zeb Milbradt. He and his wife, Jenny, help their boys (Colton, 8, and Benjamin, 6) write letters to children’s book authors, local police and hospital workers. Sometimes the boys even include hand-drawn pictures of the Bible’s promise of a global paradise.
“We’ve been able to get the message to people who we wouldn’t necessarily reach otherwise,” said Jenny.
A letter Benjamin sent to nurses at a regional health center included a quote from the Bible’s prophecy at Isaiah 33:24 of a coming time when no one will say, “I am sick.” The center’s marketing secretary replied to Benjamin, informing him that she scanned and emailed his letter to 2,000 employees. It “made so many people smile,” she said.
Witnesses have also made a concerted effort to check on distant friends and family—sometimes texting links to Bible-based articles on jw.org that cover timely topics, such as isolation, depression, and how to beat pandemic fatigue.
“Many have enjoyed hearing the encouragement from the Bible,” said Brian Lewis, who helps organize the ministry in Natchitoches and surrounding communities. “The pandemic has reignited the spiritually of some who had stopped associating with us.”
Taylor, mentioned earlier, has likewise made personal efforts to reach out to some who stopped associating with fellow Witnesses. “The pandemic helped them realize the need to refocus on their spirituality,” he said. “Those limited by age or disabilities are able to attend the virtual meetings with some sharing in phone witnessing and letter writing. “It’s very exciting to see the joy they are having.”
Taylor reports about a 15 percent increase in online meeting attendance. But perhaps the most significant growth is in an area that cannot be measured by numbers.
“We’ve seen the benefits of these other avenues of the ministry and we found positive responses from our neighbors in the community,” Taylor said. “We are excited to share what we know with others. It can do nothing but bring you joy.”
For more information on the activities of Jehovah’s Witnesses, visit their website jw.org, with content available in over 1,000 languages.