The pandemic has forced many people today to make changes that they would never have imagined they would make otherwise. For example: some have transitioned their workplace to their home, or students have transitioned the classroom to virtual learning at home.
But there is one group that people tend to forget. Their work is something that has become a part of what used to be our normal life. What is it? The knock on Saturday morning from one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. For one year now, thousands of Jehovah’s Witnesses in our community have adjusted their ministry to something other than their staple approach of knocking on doors.
People in our community who happen to be one of Jehovah’s Witnesses have gone one year without knocking on a single door in their ministry. What are they are doing now? Has their ministry ended? What was the motive of the change?
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, going from ringing doorbells and knocking on doors to making phone calls and writing letters expanded and invigorated their ministry.
Change has not dampened the zeal of many Witnesses who are now advanced in years including one such resident of Lee County, Florida. Now in her 70s, Esther Rodriguez has been one of Jehovah’s Witnesses since 1975 and involved in the full-time volunteer work of educating others about the Bible since 1990.
Even though the pandemic has made visiting people at their homes impossible, Esther has found a silver lining. “This is an advantage,” says Esther, “I never got my driver’s license and I always had to call someone to provide me with transportation to go out and knock on people’s doors.” She continues, “Now I speak with many people by means of letters and telephone from my own home.” When asked how many letters she can write and how many phone calls she is able to make, Esther humbly replied, “One letter and one or two calls a day.”
Although Esther misses talking with people face to face, she has adapted to this new normal and always counts her blessings, “Jehovah’s people are so organized with this,” she says, referring to the Bible teaching work. “Without technology, I couldn’t go out!” she says with a chuckle in her voice. Yes, with the help of smartphones, videoconferencing and good old-fashioned letter writing, Esther is fully accomplishing her ministry by reaching out to others with “good news of something better.”
In March 2020, 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 bitterly cold winters of Arden Hills, Minnesota, Terri Whitmore normally bundles up for the door-to-door ministry in a long down coat and snow boots—sometimes with removable cleats to help navigate icy sidewalks.
Now she sits at her dining room table, sips on hot tea, and calls people on her cell phone to share the same message. In December, she conducted more than twice as many Bible studies than in any prior month. “I’m having a blast,” she said. “After a nice phone call, it energizes you. You can’t wait to make the next call.”
Her “go-to” topics for conversation with her neighbors are COVID-19, civil unrest, and government. “Some people feel like they have nothing secure to hold on to,” she said. “The power of God’s word is amazing. You can just share a scripture and you feel like they’re settling down.”
According to Hendriks, 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. 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 the rural areas of Salina, Kansas, where the wheat and corn fields stretch for acres, the Milbradt family sometimes drives 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 childrens’ book authors, local police, and hospital workers. Sometimes the boys even include with the letters 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 Milbradt.
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.
“Former Bible students have started studying again,” said Tony Fowler, who helps organize the ministry in the northern portion of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula.
“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 and Castano both report 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 jw.org, with content available in over 1,000 languages.