So you’ve done your hardest door, which is your own front door – in other words, getting out of your comfortable home and into the cold, cruel world of field service. You’re standing on someone’s doorstep, and you knock. You hear the thump, thump of someone advancing toward the door, and then it swings open. You never know who you’re going to get.
Worst case is some smart-aleck who wants to mock you or a fundamentalist who wants to trip you up. Only slightly better is when a child opens the door and you hear the mother in the background shouting, “Who is that?” The kid will usually either say, “Some people,” or won’t say anything. Then the mother will appear at the door totally annoyed as though we tricked her child into opening the door to strangers (I can’t even count the number of times the kid opened the screen door and invited us in and I pulled the door closed). Best case is usually a sweet little old lady who thinks that anyone who carries a Bible must be doing the Lord’s work. Most people fall somewhere in the middle.
My worst fear, especially as a teenager, was that some man would come to the door clad only in his pants. It would embarrass me horribly and throw my mind completely off track. Usually what I’d do is say, “Oh, I see we’ve come at an inconvenient time. We’ll come back again later,” and beat a hasty retreat. I mean, there’s no scripture in the Bible where Jesus dispatches his disciples to preach to the shirtless.
Someone has answered the door. Now you stumble through your presentation, or in my case, have to get the whole thing out in one breath because I’m so nervous my diaphragm is paralyzed. Then comes the awkward moment where you have to ask for a donation.
In the U.S. Jehovah’s Witnesses’ literature used to have a fixed price. Back in the ‘70s magazines (Watchtower and Awake) were a nickel a piece or 10 cents for a set. Books were 25 cents for the 192-pagers and 50 cents for the larger ones. Prices went up over the course of time, but not by much.
Then in the 1990s there was some brouhaha about taxing the literature (see elsewhere for a discussion of this issue) and JWs were told not to state a price for the literature. Instead, we were to say that the publications were provided for free, but if one wished they could make a donation toward the world-wide work.
Well, holy cow, make it harder, why don’t you? It’s bad enough that we’ve dragged this poor person away from whatever they were doing and tried to shove a bizarre belief system down their throat. Now you want us to beg for money too?
Occasionally I’d actually get up the courage to do it, but most of the time I just couldn’t, not wanting to jeopardize my magazine placement (which will look good on my field service report) by bringing up the subject of money.
That hurdle either cleared (or avoided), you were supposed to ask for a name so that you could follow up with that particular person on a return visit. The objective of the return visit was to start a Bible study with them with the goal of conversion.
In all my years as a JW I had only one Bible study that was started in the field, and the circumstances were punishing.
To call the house “ramshackle” was undeserved praise. The place was practically falling down. The yard was full of lobster traps with the dirty bait bags still hanging in them, so the smell on a warm day was enough to make me barf. The kitchen ceiling had long since fallen in, and nobody had repaired it. Tufts of insulation and “dust” would occasionally drop from the rafters. The bare wood floors were covered with dirt, gravel, and dog hair. There was no central heating, only a wood stove in the basement, so the place was usually freezing in the winter.
The living room contained two couches, both covered with soiled throws. There were 2 children living there, a little girl of 3 who did not talk, and a baby of about a year. There was also a decrepit dog that stank to high heaven and a poor little kitten that was learning tough lessons about how rough children can be on a pet.
The woman I was studying with had some sort of learning disability. She wasn’t stupid, but every concept we considered had to be explained to her in at least 3 different ways before she could grasp it, which was exhausting. I became very good at producing analogies. And yet, sometimes she would look at me with an expression that seemed mocking. A couple of times I suggested we stop the study since she wasn’t able to understand what I was teaching her, but she insisted on continuing.
While I was there, the children would crawl all over me, and I mean both of them at the same time, the baby liberally dribbling the contents of his bottle all over my clothes (I wore old clothes to this place). The dog would drool all over my lap, and I’d come away feeling like I needed a haz-mat crew.
This study came to be notorious in the congregation, and it got to the point where nobody would come with me, so I went alone. I finally ended it after well over a year’s time as she wasn’t progressing toward baptism and I was about used up.
Of course, I never met the JW goal of “bringing someone into the Truth,” and now I am eternally thankful that I don’t have such a horror on my conscience.
Next week: “Pioneering,” an oxymoron