Devastated, but not wanting to give up “the truth,” we determined to travel Europe for the summer, looking for a foreign language assignment. “Foreign language assignments” are those territories in various countries were pioneers are needed to speak to those in languages other than the local tongue. For example, in many places in the world there are large American or British communities of expatriates living in a foreign country but still largely speaking English. We sought such a territory and first went to Amsterdam, Holland, where we had contacts with an American couple who were Gilead graduates, George and Denise Weygan. They had served as missionaries in Guatemala.
We stayed at their home in posh Heemstede while they were away. So we had almost a month to work with the English-language congregation. Since I was not an appointed elder at the time I refrained from suggestions I give public talks. Despite the fact that I was not technically an elder among JWs, and knowing this full well, some elders, because I was one of the anointed and had a good reputation, still wanted me to give talks. I refrained and they accepted this.
We worked the English language territory which involved calling on gigantic apartments of Africans who spoke English but not Dutch. I handled several Bible studies in the absence of our American friends. Additionally, we were introduced to “working the freighters.” This became a particular joy to me. We would board great freighters at port in Amsterdam, meet the captain who must speak a degree of English, explain our work and ask permission to set up a table with some literature in the crews’ lounge. We were never turned down and often asked to lunch at the captain’s table.
Many were the good experiences had calling on freighters and tankers from all over the world: Russia, Japan, Africa, and South America. Hundreds of pieces of literature were placed and correspondence course Bible studies started. I was to develop enough studies just in this manner to keep me fully occupied. On occasion as many as a half dozen or more would agree to attend one of the meetings held in English. In just one month we had enormous response to this type of “field ministry.”
Unknown by anyone save my wife I was deep in personal study of the Bible. I had already prepared outlines of all the Bible books. This exposure had prepared my mind for what was to follow. In addition to these studies, I resorted to long periods of prayer and meditation. No one knew I was being tormented around the clock by Scriptural questions. What was the spark that began to open the “box”?
Let me explain this “box.” I came to view all religions as “boxes.” The JW “box” I was in permitted all kinds of thinking within that box, but not outside. Now, I hear the JW moans, “Not so!” I do not think there is anyone who knows this better than I do. This JW “box” allows an intelligent person to explore any number of areas within a certain framework. Let me illustrate: One may beat to death a Trinitarian but never ask: “Who, really, is the faithful and discreet slave?” Or, “Who is the Great Crowd?” These are considered “apostate” questions.
At one Kingdom Ministry School for elders, one of the most respected instructors held up a copy of a purple Bible, later to become blue. This was the Kingdom Interlinear version of the New World Translation. In the left column it has the Greek text with the literal meanings under the Greek words. On the right is a column of the New World Translation itself. The instructor strongly encouraged elders in the class to bring this particular version of the Bible to the local meetings and make the “friends” familiar with it. I took this seriously. Remember, when bed-ridden following my surgeries, I had compared the KIT with ten other versions and found it most beneficial. At the beginning there were very few of these interlinear types available to anyone anywhere. They became popular later, much, I suspect, because of the JW version.
I did exactly as the JW instructor had directed. The results were encouraging because more and more elders, ministerial servants, pioneers, and publishers would bring the purple Bible to the meetings in Idyllwild because they knew I would always incorporate points from it. However, what I might get away with, others could not. I listened to reports from elders and ministerial servants where this had been discouraged and looked down upon as almost “apostate.” One circuit overseer said it was unnecessary to study the Bible privately for this was already done for us at Bethel.
There was a certain peer pressure never to rise above the common denominator of the average publisher. Many times young men would approach me or write me about the criticisms they came in for because of doing exactly as this elder school instructor had taught. “Worldly” commentaries by scholars in “Christendom” were discouraged and spoken of with disdain. Individuals who made such studies outside the Watchtower publications were viewed suspiciously. This, despite the fact, that most desks in the Writing Department boast Barnes Notes or some other “worldly” reference. Indeed, Brooklyn World Headquarters has several very large libraries filled with almost every commentary available in print.
The spirit developing within the congregations was much different from that when I first was introduced to JWs in 1955. Back then there was considerably more freedom to express points from “worldly” sources, such as Bible dictionaries or commentaries. This has become radically restricted in recent years. Now, the voices of corporate executives will be raised here, “No so!” But, the actuality is something different. These men have not served for many years within the congregational framework as a normal publisher. When they come to congregations a very new face is put on so they will never see congregations as they really are. Reports from circuit overseers will not reflect the real state either as elders make changes during their visits.
The GB’s knowledge of the congregations is based mainly on circuit overseer’s reports. However, these do not always see the congregations as they really are. A silly story illustrates this: one congregation body of elders did not like wearing suit coats to meetings but when the traveling overseer visited they dutifully wore the required attire and immediately went back to their own habits after the visit was over. One elder thought this was hypocritical so he dressed as they all normally did. The CO noticed this and the “rebellious” brother stated he was only dressing as they all did when he was not around. A bright face is put on when they visit and returns to something entirely different after they leave.
Again, what was the spark that forced me, against my own conscience rooted in extreme loyalty, to make a really serious examination of what my own religion taught on various subjects. I had never had such a thought in 40 years. What was it?
Nazarene Commentary 2000©
Mark Heber Miller
©2000 All Rights Reserved