15th February 2017: Day 27 - Awake!
Today, for the first time, I accepted and read a copy of Awake the publication produced and distributed by Jehovah’s Witnesses. I tended to stay away from them. My experience in the past was mainly of people like a hairdresser with a home business who more or less held me captive in the chair as she tried to convince me that she was headed to heaven and I was be consigned to hell and damnation because I wasn’t a Jehovah’s Witness. There were a couple of other experiences like that and I would usually say very little (whether I agreed with them or not), then thank them for their concern for my soul and move on. In latter years though, I have come across people that practice that form of faith more and more, in fact I coached in an organisation where almost all the young people worshipped at Kingdom Hall. What I have found is a more relaxed and easy way of relating to people around them. I can’t remember the last time I was in receipt of the old style, unsolicited evangelising designed to convert me to their way of thinking. Instead their beliefs come out organically, any questions are answered and then we move on.
My past encounters stopped me from ever accepting a copy of their magazine, Awake - I don’t know what I expected but I didn’t want to read it. And today I was pleasantly surprised. The front cover, instead of what I remember as abstract images that I couldn’t relate to announcing the coming of the end of the world, had a photograph of an unhappy looking young woman with a title of Teen Depression Why? What can help?
The article was very sensitively written; it explained what it can be like, possible causes, What parents can do. It recommended seeking the appropriate medical help and described spiritual activity as an ‘as well as,’ not ‘instead of. This surprised me which left me feeling a bit ashamed because that surprise came from a prejudice based on a few encounters a couple of decades ago. Their thinking and approach has evolved, my prejudice hadn’t.
There was also an article on abortion which was very clear about where they stand on abortion (human life is sacred) but noting that if a woman has an abortion and is contrite then she is forgiven in the eyes of God, a short article on the power of a smile, on their work in Nepal following the earthquake in 2015 and finally, an article of the importance of showing appreciation for your spouse. It isn’t a big magazine, a mere 15 pages, but all the articles were of interest.
Jehovah’s Witnesses used to be seen by some as figures of fun, walking down the street in dark clothes, - usually in twos or threes, handing out copies of Awake or knocking on people’s doors – usually on a Saturday morning. But over the last couple of years I’ve noticed that on every busy thoroughfare you will find at least a couple of Witnesses with their trolleys loaded with copies of Awake and another little book standing waiting for anyone who wants to engage with them, ready to hand them material or tell them a little bit more about their beliefs. There isn’t that sense of imposition, there isn’t the fear of catching their eye, because all they will do is smile at you, maybe offer you a copy and if you say ‘no thank you’ they continue to wait for the person who is ready to hear what they have to say.
Each time I see them I wonder at the passion and commitment that they must have to want to spend hours in the cold (or wet) distributing pamphlets and books and maybe subjecting themselves to ridicule. And I have to say I feel a certain admiration. My teacher, Blair Singer frequently quotes Mack Newton as saying “discipline is the ability to do what needs to be done, when it needs to be done, whether you like it or not” and I think the Jehovah’s Witnesses show that this can be and is possible if you have a passion for what you do, and you have a strong ‘why you do it.’