Contributions to the Community
Since World War II, Jehovah’s Witnesses have organized relief efforts to help fellow members and others who suffer the effects of war, natural disasters, or other calamities. Our experience in organizing and managing large numbers of people at our Kingdom Hall building projects and annual conventions contributes to their success in this regard. Often we are the first relief agency to appear on the scene.
On May 2, 2008, Cyclone Nargis hit Myanmar with devastating force. Almost 140,000 people were reported dead or missing after a massive storm surge engulfed the Irrawaddy Delta region.
In one area of Yangon, Myanmar, Jehovah’s Witnesses helped many people find refuge in the Kingdom Halls during the cyclone. For example, at the Kingdom Hall in Dala, a Witness couple took in 20 distraught neighbors who had fled there for safety. In the morning, those families were hungry, but they had no homes to return to. The husband found someone selling rice and bought enough to feed all the people.
Initially, the cyclone left the branch office completely cut off because large trees had fallen and blocked the roads nearby. Just a few hours after the storm subsided, more than 30 members of the branch staff joined in clearing the trees by hand. As they worked, other local residents watched. Within a short time, a group of Witness women arrived with cold drinks and fresh fruit for the workers as well as for the neighbors, who could not believe what they were seeing. When a journalist observed the activity, he asked, “Who are these people who are working so efficiently?” After being told, he remarked, “I wish more people showed such true community spirit as Jehovah’s Witnesses do!”
In August 2005, Hurricane Katrina, one of the costliest and deadliest hurricanes in the history of the United States, slammed into the Gulf Coast with New Orleans absorbing the most severe loss of life and property damage. Thousands of Jehovah’s Witnesses from around the country donated their time and construction skills to the massive rebuilding effort. “They came with tools, talent and a will to help. They left behind a trail of grateful, newfound friends . . . throughout the New Orleans area,” stated an article in The Times Picayune. In a Gulf Coast village in Mississippi, a resident couple was grateful for the help of five Jehovah’s Witnesses who showed up, chain saws in hand, to clear away fallen trees. “I can’t thank these guys enough. They did it for free, unbelievable,” said the wife as reported by the Tennessean.com. A sign that read, “Jehovah’s Witnesses – Do Not Call,” hung from the door of a local New Orleans resident. However, after she observed the warm, friendly spirit of the Witness volunteers as they restored damaged homes in her area she said, “It is obvious that I have misjudged you people.” The sign came down and she invited the Witnesses for a visit.
In June 2001, Tropical Storm Allison dropped nearly three feet of water on the city of Houston, Texas, USA, in a single 24-hour period. Jehovah’s Witnesses quickly organized relief efforts that included developing a database to track the work, locating warehouse and administrative facilities, purchasing materials and organizing thousands of volunteers from all over the country. Within days, teams were trained by professionals on how to tear out carpeting and walls, and how to clean and disinfect homes. “This is something we felt we needed to do. We knew they were in dire straits, so we came to help them out,” said one volunteer who traveled nearly 500 miles on the weekends to assist. “While most of the victims are fellow Witnesses, the repair effort has spread to include some families and neighbors of church members hit by Houston’s most costly natural disaster,” stated an article in the Houston Chronicle.
On September 11, 2001, after the shocking attack on the World Trade Center buildings in New York City, thousands of people exited Manhattan by way of the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges. The international headquarters of Jehovah’s Witnesses is located on the Brooklyn side of those bridges. Many people were welcomed into the Witnesses’ office and factory buildings, where hospitality was extended and basic first aid was rendered as needed. Additionally, equipment was supplied to the fire department for use in the rescue work taking place in the days following the attack. The greatest relief provided, however, was during the days, weeks and months that followed, in the form of comforting Bible texts that were shared with relief workers at what came to be called Ground Zero. Groups of ministers from local Manhattan congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses were allowed into the area to talk to and comfort the workers. “The men had tears in their eyes as we shared scriptures with them,” the ministers related. “[They] were looking so lost, with their heads bowed, just not able to cope with what they had seen. We sat down with them and shared texts from the Bible. The men thanked us so much for coming, saying that they really needed this comfort.” During the days after the tragedy, about 900,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses in the United States made a determined effort nationwide in their ministry to offer comfort to those who were grieving.
Jesus said: “By this all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love among yourselves.” (John 13:35) And the disciple James emphasized that true faith is accompanied by good deeds. (James 2:14-17) We take those words to heart and endeavor to show such love by helping and supporting those in need. We donate needed materials and volunteer our services without pay. We do so in response to the Bible’s commands to love our neighbor and to have intense love for one another.—Matthew 22:39; 1 Peter 4:8.
For decades we have organized literacy programs throughout the world for people who have had little or no opportunity to receive formal schooling.
In Brazil, Sirley, a middle-aged teacher and one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, made it a weekly practice to convert her living room into a classroom. At about 2 o’clock, Amélia, an 82-year-old student arrives. Already she is reading better than many youngsters in high school.
Amélia is following in the steps of the more than 60 senior citizens who have graduated from the free literacy classes that Sirley is conducting in her hometown. Sirley’s volunteer work was featured in the Brazilian newspaper Jornal do Sudoeste. After noting that she has made “a huge contribution to community life,” the newspaper article said that Sirley’s method of teaching the elderly is so effective that “after just 120 hours of classes, they are writing letters, reading newspapers, and coping with numbers and other day-to-day tasks.” Literacy classes conducted in hundreds of Kingdom Halls throughout Brazil have already helped more than 22,000 adults in that country to learn to read and write.
Similar programs of Jehovah’s Witnesses have yielded success in other parts of the world. In the African country of Burundi, for example, the National Office for Adult Literacy (a department of the Ministry of Education) was so pleased with the results of the Witnesses’ literacy program that it gave an award to four of the program’s teachers for “the hard work put into teaching others to read.” Government officials are especially impressed that 75 percent of those who learned to read and write were adult women—a group that usually shies away from attending such programs.
On November 17, 2000, the Association of Congolese and African Journalists for the Development (AJOCAD) in the Democratic Republic of Congo presented the Certificate of Excellence to Jehovah’s Witnesses for “their contribution to the development of the Congolese individual [through] the education and the teaching contained in their publications.” In commenting on the award, the Kinshasa newspaper Le Phare said: “It is difficult to find a Congolese in whose hands the Watchtower and Awake! magazines or other publications published by Jehovah’s Witnesses have not passed.” As noted by AJOCAD, the publications of Jehovah’s Witnesses have proved beneficial to a large portion of the Congolese population.
Evidence shows that learning and following the Bible’s counsel is a good way to combat many social ills and to become better equipped to deal with the problems and pressures of life. For example, as a result of Bible education, many people have been helped to overcome such physically damaging practices as smoking, overdrinking, misuse of drugs, gambling, and sexual promiscuity. Similarly, through Bible education, family members learn mutual respect and effective communication—factors that lower the rates of divorce and juvenile delinquency.
One schoolteacher from Brazil commented, “I would like to congratulate the editors of Awake! [published by Jehovah’s Witnesses] Your cultural magazine is an important contribution to a rounded-out education. My fellow teachers and I use the excellent articles as a basis for classroom discussions on moral values and social issues. Awake! is character-forming and improves our students’ quality of life by helping them to make informed decisions.”
The German newspaper Lausitzer Rundschau reported: “Such moral terms as honesty, moderation, and love of neighbor are rated very highly in the faith of the Witnesses.”