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.
For many, the change from ringing doorbells and knocking on doors to making phone calls and writing letters expanded and invigorated their ministry.
“Witnesses have embraced this shift, finding the good in these trying times,” said Joseph Castano, who reports a 30 percent increase in the Witnesses’ preaching activity in his region. “In fact, I hear many saying, ‘I’m able to do more now.’”
In March 2020, the 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.”
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 – even normalcy – at a very unsettled time.”
In 1972, Carl Briscoe, 78, of Utah, was baptized as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. He has kept his vow to do the Lord’s work for almost 50 years. The last 25 years he has included a prison ministry to help inmates learn about the Bible. Briscoe had plans to visit the Central Utah Correctional Facility in Gunnison. “I had gone in for orientation to go as a volunteer worker to do [Bible studies].”
The pandemic changed everything, Briscoe recalls, “When this hit they shut that right down.” He immediately adjusted his strategy to strictly letter writing with good results. “I have had a number of responses in appreciation.” Despite being limited to written communication, Briscoe says for the prisoners, learning about the Bible is “meaningful, it’s something they treasure,” especially in the face of increased isolation during the pandemic.
Briscoe, says his activity has given him a “new degree of empathy. You can’t help but be affected.” Once the pandemic is over, he plans to pick up where he left off. When asked how he would feel about going into the prison for the first time he responded, “I’d be excited, really overwhelmed.”
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.
“Former Bible students have started studying again,” said Tony Fowler, who helps organize the ministry in his area.
“Colleagues at work have now started to show interest. Some have started Bible studies with family members who showed very little interest before the pandemic.”
Castano has been reaching out to Witnesses who had long ago stopped associating with fellow Witnesses. “The pandemic has reignited their spirituality,” he said, adding that many are attending virtual meetings with some sharing in telephone witnessing and letter writing even after decades of inactivity. “It’s been pretty outstanding,” he said.
Fowler reports about a 20 percent increase in online meeting attendance. But perhaps the most significant growth is in an area that cannot be measured by numbers.
“I think we’ve grown as a people,” Fowler said. “We’ve grown in appreciation for other avenues of the ministry, our love for our neighbor, and love for one another. We’re a stronger people because of all of this, and that’s a beautiful thing to see.”
For more information on the activities of Jehovah’s Witnesses, visit their website http://jw.org with content available in over 1,000 languages.
A brief VNR has been created to go along with the story at the following link: https://vimeo.com/541122877