What Is It Like Being a Door-to-Door Proselytizer?
I discovered Quora a few years back, an online platform where questions can be asked, and where anyone with the know-how is able to tender an informed answer. It’s kinda like Google, but tailor-made. The first-hand information I’ve learnt there has generally been refreshing; it’s like living in a neighborhood where someone, somewhere, in it, has been there, seen that, and done that. All you need do to be apprised is knock on their door and “holler.”
While rummaging through this platform, I came across a question: “What’s it like being a Door-to-Door Proselytizer, as with the Jehovah’s Witnesses?” Some of the earlier answers presented were from Mormons, who gave their particular take of what it was like while serving their Missions. Some hilarious anecdotes you read there, stories of butt-naked women opening the door and inviting the Mormon boys in for some (verbal) intercourse. Hallelujah. [laughing] A similar thing happened to me once. The strange doors I done knocked on, yo. But we’ll save those revelations for another day.
So, anyways, I saw this question as an opportunity to share my experience with what I believed was a genuinely curious world out there. Not only was it an interesting question, but it seemed fair, so I got to typing. In fact, I still remember the enthusiasm with which I wrote that article, punching words onto that keyboard like a ninja on Red Bull; this, not to mention, being a much welcomed reprieve from the ubiquitous door-to-door march.
Of course, I knew that I’d most likely have to present the answer under anonymity; too much potential drama, too much uncertainty, so I opted to err on the side of caution.
Reading that article now, it occurs to me that I was indeed a “rare” breed of a Witness – not special, just… different. Even those who subsequently replied echoed the same sentiment, of someone who had promise; vestiges, perhaps, of a lost generation of thinking Witnesses vouchsafed with “common sense” and a sense of wonder.
The original article (here lightly formatted), presented the following response:
I’m one of Jehovah’s Witnesses (JWs) and have been affiliated as one for the past 10 years or so. Five of those years have been spent serving as a “Regular Pioneer” (RP), which basically means, on average, I was devoting 70 hours a month preaching from door-to-door (well, door-to-door is just one of the many ways). And no! JWs don’t get paid for that.
Yep, you heard me, I kid you not, it’s all volunteer work (which is why it amuses somewhat, every time I hear that some hotshot celebrity got ‘punished’ with, I don’t know, 100 hours of community service, which they have to complete in the next, say, 6 months or whatever. That’s ‘punishment‘? Anyways… I digress). But honestly, and personally speaking, those have been some of the ‘richest’ years of my life.
So, what’s it like proselytizing from door-to-door? Depends. I’ve preached in various neighbourhoods in South Africa, from the affluent suburban doors of Northcliff where householders snack on cheese and wine, to the most indigent doors of Vrededorp where abject poverty is the staple; from the spectrum of those who can distinguish a bottle of ‘Château Haut-Brion’ Cabernet Sauvignon from a bottle of Merlot, all the way to those whose circumstances in life don’t allow them to care to know the difference in taste between a cup of tea and a cup of coffee.
I’ve spoken to vagrants, big businessmen, university professors, priests, most of the popular Christian denominations, charismatic churches, Mormons, Seventh Day Adventists, Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus, Atheists, Agnostics, Sangomas (Spirit Healers), Philosophers, Addicts, Gangsters, and the list goes on.
If I could arrange a casual sitting with the Pope, the Dalai Lama, Barack Obama, Will Smith, Bill Gates or the Queen of England, I would; but, alas! that’s not likely to happen. A [wo]man can dream.
This one time we were preaching in business territory, my partner that day was a Greek woman old enough to be my mother. Being the intrepid preacher that I am, we walked into a small Hustler store (my partner being oblivious to this). We got in, spoke to the young[ish] Afrikaans lady behind the counter, I doing most of the talking. At some point during the conversation, my partner got this “OMG” look on her face; I knew then that the penny had dropped. She had suddenly become aware of her surrounding! I could have dropped in laughter right there and then, but I postponed it for later.
I suppose there’s this fear/concern that, you know, “What are people gonna think?” Well, Jesus spoke to all kinds of people. What is more, we had a rather pleasant bible discussion with the woman behind the counter; she mentioned that she’s a Christian herself and goes to the ‘NG Kerk‘ (church).
So there you are, leave no stone unturned. Don’t write people off. Door-to-door. Store-to-store.
That being said, some people greet you with the most sincere beatific smile and welcome you in for some tea and biscuits (albeit very rare these days …very rare …the tea and biscuits, that is) while, on the other hand, some reject and vilify you with a passion akin to the KKK, which, in the beginning, can really hurt (and understandably so), but with time, such flagrant rejection becomes… tolerable, even a source of private amusement (beats being morose, I guess; you gotta be positive, forge ahead. I’m laughing even as I write this).
There’s never a shortage of interlocutors though. For those who have indulged me in conversation, we’ve had some pretty interesting dialogues. From my personal experience, if I were to sum up five of the most favourite (and controversial) topics people initiate with JWs (let’s call them the ‘Big Five’ since we’re in Africa), they would be:
1. “You guys predicted the end of the world in    etc.”
2. “You don’t accept Blood Transfusions.”
3. “You don’t believe in the Trinity.”
4. “You believe only a 144 000 go to heaven.”
5. “You guys have your own bible.” (And with the latest 2013 revision of the New World Translation [NWT], I anticipate hearing more ‘symphony’ on this).
I won’t endeavor to go into these at this time, it’s beyond the scope of this reply (but feel free to ask the next JW that pays you a visit, or, otherwise, visit Jehovah’s Witnesses official website: jw.org).
However, what I’ve noticed very often is that those who initiate these questions aren’t really looking for answers, they’ve already made up their minds, all they seem to want is to berate and impeach you.
The bible is kinda like an atom or a car, and, depending on who wields it, it can either be a fabulous thing or a formidable object. In the same way, really, that a man’s command of a specific language can make him as charming as Shakespeare or as devastating as Hitler.
I suppose I know my bible well enough to ‘weaponise’ it, but I try my utmost not to get into futile arguments with people. It just ain’t cool fighting about the bible. Better to take one’s leave. Respect is paramount. Although I must confess, sometimes, sometimes, the way some people talk, the utter belligerence, and antagonism, you almost want to ‘whack’ them with scriptures (metaphorically speaking) and read them the bible from Genesis to Revelation. Thankfully, though, common sense prevails.
Having said that, if genuine disinterest is (politely) articulated, JWs have no qualms going about their business.
So simply put, preaching from door-to-door has its ups and downs (like most things in life). You never really know what inspires people to do the things that they do. We cannot read hearts. That is the shortcoming of men. Thus, over the years, I’ve learnt the gift of taking it easy. Why? Because…
 “Rich” in the sense of experience.
 Nederduitse Gereformeerde Kerk (NGK), aka, Dutch Reformed Church.
 In my case, this was true. I was never one to shy away from controversy. I made relentless return visits and wrote mountains of letters, not purely rebuttals, but letters seeking opportunities to further the dialogue and hear what the fuss is all about, but, unfortunately, nobody ever accepted my invite, nobody sat me down, nobody ever broke it down for me. This had the effect of reinforcing my sense of correctness, I mean, why’s no one coming back to me? People would gladly castigate you but they would never sit down, you know, and talk. The few that tried to talk, didn’t know their bibles well enough to speak with authority; they couldn’t quote me a scripture or justify a belief beyond, you know, “my priest told me so.” And I suppose, if a person could quote a scripture here and there, I somehow always knew another scripture that could “undermine” the one quoted. For instances, you read me a scripture that seems to suggest that God is a trinity, I could read you another one that neutralises that suggestion. And, I suppose, this “debate” could escalate to a point where the only argument left would be: “You guys have your own bible!” [laughing]
I laugh because I realise now that the bible is a complex piece of literature with many trapdoors and hidden tunnels; if you know that bible well enough, you can make it say what you need it to say. Just a few weeks back, this one Korean from the World Mission Society Church of God (“Church of God”) came knocking on my door trying to “pitch” me this idea of God the Mother (yes, not “Mother of God,” as in, Mary the Mother of God in Catholicism, but God the Mother). He took scriptures that I knew very well, but he made them say something completely different. But the point is this, he did it so masterfully, like a magician, really. ABRACADABRA. With a flip of his fingers through the pages of that bible, he made unbelievable things happen.
It’s only when you start reading the back story, about their founders, Ahn Sahn-hong and Jang Gil-ja, that you start to see why they put so much stock on this peculiar doctrine – long story short: Ahn Sahn-hong is “God the Father” and Jang Gil-ja is “God the Mother.” Magnificent.
Yes, you can make the bible say what you need to say, it just takes imagination and a credible plot. The Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses have been doing this for years, this “New Light” of theirs. Brilliant, really, brilliant brilliant brilliant…