Years ago, when I finally put my last name on the front door bell of my home in Amsterdam, I began getting visits from Jehovah’s witnesses. Not just any run-of-the-mill witness, but Portuguese and Brazilians who noticed my last name and figured – here’s a guy we can talk to!
Sure enough, each time they rang, I would come out to greet them. Usually it was the kindest elderly Portuguese couple that reminded me of all my favorite relatives. Other times I would chat with two middle aged Brazilian ladies who were always smiling and pleasant. In either case a long tradition began, the word was out: some Portuguese guy lives in that house and he’ll talk to you, he’ll even invite you in for tea sometimes.
Why would I, a person who has no religion and no desire for one, spend so much time chatting with people who are constantly asking me if I believe in all these religious names and writings? My simple answer is- I live far from the Portuguese environment I grew up in back in New Jersey, I miss the daily contact and the language that brings me right back to my childhood and my family somehow. I’ll watch a copies of the newsletter pile up in my recycling bin; I’ll never turn one down. I’ll even dodge the question of whether or not I read the last one, so as not to hurt their feelings.
There is another reason I speak with Jehovah’s witnesses- the journalist in me is fascinated by people and their life missions. I obviously have mine, right here on this website. And I know how hard it can be, to carry on, to be heard, and to keep your faith (in my case, faith in my own abilities). I imagine my gentle Portuguese couple, walking the cold streets of Amsterdam, and getting doors slammed in their face. It makes me sad and want to boost their spirits, by preparing the tea and asking questions about their home towns and their families. Sure, they can ask me a few questions about god in exchange, it is a fair trade I suppose.
People probably think Jehovah’s Witnesses are weird. Part of me does. But if I think longer about it, about all the beauty in a warm greeting and friendly conversation over tea, I’m reminded of all the other missions people have in this world that are deemed understandable. People dedicated to making money. People dedicated to their partners or children. People dedicated to their art. These things are not all the same, but I see a certain similarity between everyone and their personal missions. Even those who’s mission is religions, one of my least favorite topics.
Not surprisingly, while I was visiting New Jersey in late 2012, I answered the door at my parents’ house. There, standing before me, were two Brazilian Jehovah’s Witnesses asking for my father by name like he was an old friend. “Is your father home? We normally chat with him and he always accepts our literature.”