It was just another typical morning, and I was standing at the bus stop like I always do, waiting for my transportation which signals the beginning of another day “at the grind”. As usual, I was passing time by browsing the internet on my cell phone and not paying any particular attention to my surroundings. In my peripheral vision, I became vaguely aware of another person joining our little group. Suddenly, a nicely dressed woman was standing directly in front of me holding out a large pamphlet and anxiously asking if I would like to have “some reading material today with messages from the Bible“. My automatic response was to smile politely and say “no, thank you“. To which she quickly responded “OK. Thank you so much for your time!” and turned away. I watched as she quickly approached the other two folks waiting for the bus, and the same exchange took place. Then she disappeared just as suddenly as she had appeared.
The entire event probably lasted less than two minutes.
Afterward, the young Asian man standing nearby, leaned toward me and remarked,
“Have you ever wondered why they do that? I mean, people who don’t have religion, don’t want it. And people who already have religion don’t need it, right?”
Emerging from my morning fog, I suddenly realized I was having one of those rare and unexpected “human interaction moments”.
Smiling, I responded, “Well, you make a good point. I imagine most people feel the same way.” After a moment, I added, “You know, to be fair, I do think it is admirable when someone feels so passionately about something they want to share it with others. I don’t really know that lady’s particular motivation, but she seemed sincere. I can only assume she is really happy with what she believes and she wants other people to be happy, too. From personal experience, I know it takes a lot of guts to approach total strangers like that“.
He nodded thoughtfully. After a few moments he chuckled and shrugged and said “Well, you make a good point, too“. We both smiled and returned to staring at our cell phones and waiting quietly for our bus.
I was alone with my thoughts. I noticed my conscience was bothering me. I felt disappointed in myself that I had been so quick to dismiss the eager woman. I gave her such a “robot response”. It wasn’t meant as a personal rejection of her, nor of what she was trying to share, I just went on auto pilot and deflected. [How often do we all do that?] She seemed in such a rush, like she was holding her breath, expecting to be rejected and wanting to get it over as fast as possible. I remember all too well feeling just like that as a young Latter-day Saint missionary years ago. I wondered what her motivation was this particular morning to approach people on the street? Was she in a hurry to work and saw an opportunity to witness? Was it an organized event to canvass the neighborhood? Or, was her rush simply motivated by the rain that was beginning to fall?
I tried to recall the limited things I knew about her beliefs and practices. Many years ago when we lived in a different city, a new Jehovah’s Witnesses Kingdom Hall (meeting house) was approved. The local paper told how members of several JW congregations from far and wide would be travelling to help build it, like an old-fashioned “barn raising”. They had a professional company pour the foundation for them, and then congregants used a special pre-fabricated kit to erect all the walls and roof, drywall, plaster and paint, etc. I imagine they would have had someone do the plumbing and electrical for them, of course. But, sure enough the structure seemed to appear practically overnight. Although it was small, it was a nice looking, sturdy building. I remember thinking at the time how admirable that was. I still do.
In truth, I’ve always reserved a soft spot in my heart for the “J-dubs” because aside from Mormon missionaries, I think they may be the only other religion that actively proselytes through street contacting and door-to-door. I served my Mormon mission in Wisconsin from 1987-89. It was a “tracting mission”, meaning my companion and I did a lot of walking and street talking and knocking on doors. On a few occasions we would meet and converse with a Jehovah’s Witness. Our conversations often felt frustrating, because although we both believed in the Holy Bible as God’s word, there were differing interpretations, and we left at an impasse.
But, there is a bright memory. When I was stationed in the Green Bay area, my companion and I met a family of Jehovah’s Witnesses who happened to have chosen the very same street we had chosen to “tract”. That memory always makes me chuckle. Just imagine being someone living on that street who happened to be home that day! First, the Mormons knock on your door, and just after you successfully tell them to go away, the JW’s come knocking. Not surprisingly, we had zero success being invited in or even chatting with any residents that afternoon. But, we did end up having a conversation with the other proselytizers. They could have passed for a typical Mormon family headed to church in their “Sunday best”. Clean cut, smiling, scriptures in hand. I don’t remember what we talked about, but I do remember they were very friendly and cordial. We felt a “kinship” of sorts, since we were all out in the hot sun “spreading the good news” together, so to speak. My companion and I politely took one of their pamphlets, and they politely took one of ours, and we went our separate ways.
Flash forward 25 years to a rainy bus stop and a missed opportunity. I am disappointed I didn’t take the time to chat with that woman. I could have shared my mission experience, or found out about her story, or just told her that I truly admire her desire to share with perfect strangers something that means a lot to her. I identify with that. Our beliefs might not be exactly the same, but we each share the desire to spread faith, good will and hope through Jesus Christ. In these troubled times of moral chaos, sadness, fear, tragedy and loneliness our world needs more people like that. We certainly need people who have morals, conviction, and purpose. We need more people who care enough to share.
So, wherever you are, sister JW, I’d like to say I’m sorry, and I salute you. - MoSop
While writing this post, I looked up the Jehovah’s Witnesses musical tradition. I’m pleased to see that music is an important part of their worship. I was interested in the Jehovah’s Witnesses hymns (songs). Would there be something found in a Latter-day Saint hymnal? Or, perhaps something I would recognize from the vast Christian lit.? Sadly, I did not see anything familiar on this list. But, it was interesting to learn they just released a new “Kingdom songbook” in 2009. Since there are a lot of Mormon musicians, bands and choirs, I am curious to know if Jehovah’s Witnesses have any popular mainstream performers, or professional choirs. Does anyone know? Meanwhile, in honor of my ‘bus stop moment’, here is Kingdom Song #3 “God Is Love“, found on YouTube. It has a pretty melody, and a lovely universal message.
- ABC News Clip about Jehovah’s Witnesses’ Move to Upstate New York (peaceandbeauty.wordpress.com)
- Jehovah’s Witnesses and God – KTC #3 (kneeltochrist.org)
- Legal status for Jehovah’s Witnesses further jeopardized in Azerbaijan (jwitness.wordpress.com)