They are known for going door to door, knocking enthusiastically, and sharing the Word, but the novel coronavirus pandemic had forced them to bench that approach to ministry in 2020. Like the rest of the world, Jehovah’s Witnesses resorted to technology, sending out e-mails, WhatsApp messages, and making phone calls as they were adamant that, though they were masked, they would not be muted.
But now the population of over 12,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses in the 152 congregations across Jamaica will be louder and more relentless than ever as they return to the streets, streaming through various communities to evangelise after the first-ever disturbance of their work in over a century.
“For many Jehovah’s Witnesses living in Jamaica, a day well spent in the ministry includes sharing in the public ministry. They can often be seen with smiling faces, making use of colourful carts featuring a positive message and free Bible-based literature. Then came the pandemic and their public ministry was suspended. Now, some 24 months later, Jehovah’s Witnesses in Jamaica and around the world have recommenced their public preaching work,” Mordecai Tulloch, public communications representative, told the Jamaica Observer last Monday.
“Now I look forward with all my heart to meeting face to face with the seekers of truth to keep doing what we are known for worldwide — going from house to house,” Tulloch added, excitedly.
Morale Morant, a regular volunteer at the Sunset Beach location in Montego Bay, related her excitement at the return to regular operations.
“I missed seeing people face to face,” Morant said. “We are able to talk one on one. I’m very happy,” she continued.
Tamoy Traille, who will be joining her husband to knock on doors in the coming weeks, said she missed reaching neighbours when they were more relaxed.
“With street witnessing, people are always on the go, so I miss just sitting in a relaxed setting and talking with persons. I’m excited and can’t wait! For me, the house-to-house ministry has a special place in my heart. It is the most preferred form of ministry for me,” she related.
But even as they look forward to street ministry, Tulloch said that, in a sense, the pandemic has done wonders worldwide for the Jehovah’s Witness community on the virtual scene.
“The pandemic forced Jehovah’s Witnesses to quickly pivot to virtual meetings and conventions while conducting their ministry exclusively through letters, phone calls, and virtual Bible studies. This has led to growth in meeting attendance and the number of congregants, with more than 400,000 newly baptised witnesses joining the ranks of 120,000 congregations globally, in just the first two years of the pandemic,” Tulloch said.
In March 2021, Elder Peter Scudamore, a Jehovah’s Witness leader, told the Observer they had to rethink ways of reaching people, in line with the COVID-19-influenced realities.
Just over a year later, on April 1, houses of worship, called kingdom halls, were reopened, witnessing in public places resumed on May 31, and in-person conventions are again being planned for 2023.
Tulloch told the Sunday Observer that being away from the in-person ministry had allowed him to make better use of technology to carry out the vital work of preaching.
“One of my Bible students studies the Bible at nights via WhatsApp before he goes off to work the night shift. That is a privilege I would not have had under normal circumstances,” he said.
Robert Hendriks, branch-wide spokesman for Jehovah’s Witnesses, said, “While we understand that the pandemic is not over, we are entering into a phase of learning to live with COVID. That means we need to find more ways to personally interact with our neighbours. Being out in the community and having conversations with our neighbours is accomplishing that goal.”
Behind the scenes, Scudamore related that they are busier than ever in their Bible educational work, while at the same time adhering to COVID-19 protocols.
He recalled that, at the outset of the pandemic, they had suspended their public ministries, worship meetings at their kingdom halls, and larger assemblies before the Government announced gathering restrictions.
“The suspension of the public ministry was a proactive response by the organisation to keep communities and congregants safe. The move was also unprecedented. Jehovah’s Witnesses had been preaching from house to house without interruption for more than 100 years — through an economic depression, two world wars and global unrest — but COVID-19 demanded a different response,” Tulloch pointed out.
Elaine Scudamore, who is a regular volunteer in Montego Bay, argued that the public ministry “helps people to see we truly care for them”.
“We take the time to share the hope of a better future with them. They find comfort and it helps them cope with present issues,” she said.
Tulloch added that, in response to the global decision, scores of congregations in Jamaica have now reopened their cart locations where people had become accustomed to seeing them.
“The local congregations will also resume free in-person Bible studies along with personal visits to those who have invited them back to their homes. This comes two months after the organisation began gathering at their kingdom halls once again for in-person meetings,” he told the Sunday Observer.
“Mobile displays of Bible-based literature have been part of Jehovah’s Witnesses’ public ministry in Jamaica for a little over five years, starting with its first location at a shopping centre in Spanish Town, St Catherine. Since then, cart witnessing has spread to a number of areas all across the island, including many rural communities with just a small public square.”