Why I Talk to Jehovah’s Witnesses

WitnessesYears 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.”  



  1. March 27, 2013

    What a beautiful text, made me see Jehovah’s Witnesses under a new light. And it is indeed amazing how a language creates bonds between people and makes one feel right at home. I have the same feeling people whenever I get to chat in Portuguese with someone here.

    • bicyclemark
      March 27, 2013

      Hi Débora! pleasure to find you here in the comments and now Im browsing your projects 🙂 I guess it helps that we’re further away from the main places for our language. From what I know of both Berlin and Amsterdam, the Portuguese communities are smaller and more fragmented then say, Paris or Brussels. It makes it harder to just go to one neighborhood or street for the interactions and the familiar. Even if there are places and community centers, I think both our cities have this in common.

  2. March 27, 2013

    I first encountered the Witnesses in the wild about 40 years ago when I moved into an intentional community out in the woods. There are about 100 homes here and for a time, there was an active community of Witnesses living just down the road. They liked coming to see us. Some folks value privacy and wanted them stopped at the front entrance. Others though it was OK to have them here as long as they walked from house to house and didn’t tear up our new dirt roads.

    I’ve had many interesting encounters with the Witnesses, but never more so than the Saturday we were putting up cabinets in the kitchen. A whole family showed up in their Saturday best. We invited them in to come and be part of the cabinet confusion. As it often does on such visits, the topic came around to the Watchtower and how they’ed like to leave us a copy and take a small donation.

    We had just stated a volunteer fire department in the neighborhood and were actively raising money to buy our first firetruck. My wife turned the situation around and started testifying to the Witnesses about the fire department. When they left, we had a $20 donation for the truck fund.

    • bicyclemark
      March 27, 2013

      Ha! Im not surprised! MLC is a special place and you would be the place that manages to flip things around! excellent!

  3. Holly
    March 27, 2013

    I love this post. Listening and learning never hurt anyone! You’ll be surprised to know that my father, of all people, does this as well. I never asked him why. Enjoying your blog as always! 🙂

    • bicyclemark
      March 27, 2013

      Holly! I knew that, though it wouldn’t be political, your father and I would have some kind of common thing. At last.. we’ve found it! Big hug from your boy in AMS.

  4. Thanks for sharing.
    My issue with Jehovah’s Witnesses is that their entire doctrinal superstructure rest squarely on the ‘invisible’ second coming of Jesus October 1914.There is no way they can evade this patently false dogma.
    Jesus specifically forewarned about false prophets who would say,”look he is here in the wilderness,or see he is here in the Temple”.Jesus further warned to “not go after them”.
    (Matthew 7:15)

    Danny Haszard Bangor Maine FMI dannyhaszard(dot)com (Info on JW)

    • bicyclemark
      March 27, 2013

      Danny I hate to disappoint but I did kind of black out after the first mention of jesus. That said, Im glad you feel compelled to comment and to air your grievences. Plus, I once emergency landed in Bangor, Maine, so Im forever greatful to your town.

  5. Tom (@lhommedunord)
    March 27, 2013

    Had a similar experience the other day. I was at home spending too much of my Saturday working while my wife and daughter were out. The doorbell went and there was a chilly looking (it’s cold in the UK at the moment) chap outside. He didn’t want to stop as it was too cold, though left me a leaflet. Had we both had more time, I’d have asked him in, if only to offer a hot drink. I’m confident in my immunity to evangelism, but kindness to strangers should always transcend religious differences.

    • bicyclemark
      March 27, 2013

      Right on Tom. MAybe these kindnesses help balance the world somehow.

  6. March 27, 2013

    This is a really lovely post. I immediately get impatient with people who knock on my door. Nice to think of another perspective.

    It’s strangely surprising to me to think of you doubting your abilities as a journalist/blogger/podcaster. I think of you as the original and current bad-ass of these internets. 🙂

    • bicyclemark
      March 28, 2013

      Thank you mikey! To hear that from you, a trusted friend and talented individual, that means a lot. I will do my best to remain a bad-ass. But the funding struggles lead to periods of doubt and frustration. And that is the sometimes sad truth. But hey.. comments the way they came in today take me in a whole different direction.

  7. April 2, 2013

    Have they never invited you to their meetings or conventions?

    • bicyclemark
      April 5, 2013

      uh yes.

  8. DAVY
    April 7, 2013

    @ bicyclemark
    ( hope my english is not to bad..) :
    Really glad to hear your point of view on our ministry! Very kind for being so honest! Your greeting are much appreciated , i’m sure of that. It’s true that we do enjoy a nice cup of tea in a winter day , as everybody will love to be welcome on a cold day. Nevertheless , we would definitely prefer to see you more curious about how and why we believe in this and that. ( for instance that famous 1914 that a lot are discussing about on the internet..) . Our goal is not to ” make more Jehovah’s witnesses” as if it was something we have to do. In fact , Jesus himself , if you think about it , didn’t come to make disciples. He said , he came to tell the truth and to make his father’s name known. He came to report the false believes and then he said that anyone who want to follow him is welcome. He did prove to be sinless and been murdered for nothing. And just like if a stranger tomorrow will give his life to save yours because your were not looking at that truck coming over you as you were crossing the road ( for instance) , in the same way you will be thankful and you will get in touch with his family and get to know him…in the same way we do thank him, and Jehovah , by listening to his last command by telling others about what he said..about the days we’re living in , what is to come, the reason why there is so much pain…and why if God exist nothing seems to change..- There is so much to say about the bible!
    But anyway, you seem to understand by the fact that you too have a mission ( related to your journalism skills) , so just a big thank you for being realistic and not just repeating without knowing what others said. As a journalist you do know that the best thing to do, is do get the information directly from the source. I wonder if you ever had a look on our official website : http://www.jw.org
    I hope to hear from you soon, but if I don’t , let me thank you again for your good comment on our behalf.

  9. Cinzia
    April 12, 2013

    I was a Jehovah’s Witness until I turned 18. Then I came out, not without problems and psycho-dramas in family…JW are a sect, a very narrow-minded group, with a questionable way of educating children. Although, your article is beautiful. Warming, honest, clean. I think I appreciate your sense of kindness and curiosity because I’m a reporter too, and because those of Jehovah for me, luckily, are past times.

    • DAVY
      April 12, 2013

      I would love to know what are these questions about educating children

    • bicyclemark
      April 12, 2013

      You remind me of how much more complicated it can be than just that hello at the door and a cup of tea. Thanks for the comment Cinzia, Im glad to know you’re out there and you’re a reporter!

      • DAVY
        April 12, 2013

        You remind me to not believe reporters…

  10. Cinzia
    April 12, 2013

    @bicyclemark thank you too!
    @Davy You don’t have to believe reporters: reporting is not a faith, it’s just a tale of the world. Anyway, I love freedom and I would die for my family to let them believe anything they want, Jehovah too. I’m just afraid that it wouldnt’be the same for me, by those who believe that the truth is only of their own. As for educating children: faith is for adults, for those who study, reason, discuss and listen to other point of view when they are wise for. Children can believe anything: Santa Claus, ghosts, immortality…it’s immoral for me to make them believe such things, under the unconscious blackmail of love and acceptance (it counts for other religions, too). If you think that the way of educating children is different in Jehovah’s Witnesses groups, please tell me, because I saw just that way, and in many different situations.

    • DAVY
      April 15, 2013

      I’m happy to hear that you love your family that much !! 🙂
      What do you mean by being “afraid that it wouldn’t be the same for me”?
      To be honest with you and to tell you all the true , I am not born as a Jehovah’s witness. Someone came to my door 5 years ago and then by the bible study a became a JW. But you see , every week at our meetings, I can see the kids around me , and also teenagers receiving such good counsels on how to deal with problems they could face . Things that you might just never get anywhere else..Just one little example : where can we get such advises about how to court someone? and how to recognize that he or she will be such a good partner..? What about just the idea of waiting before having sex with someone..? I understand that Love does exist also out of the JW , of course!! But I grown up in this situation , looking for love around me, doing my best..but not only me , even those surrounding me! What kids get, and what marriage mates get are principles that the world haven’t got anymore and miss them so much! Today divorce is just such an easy thing..nearly no one is fighting to save his marriage , and what is so wrong in getting help from advises who proves themselves to be really helpful? I understand when you say that “faith is for adults, for those who study and reason , discuss and listen to other point of you” but isn’t what we do by not letting our children getting baptized before they rich that ” reason”? And what about the education that they get at school..? Letting them understand that they can do what ever they want in everything? Don’t you see kids swearing at the age of 5? Or playing violent game and finally reproducing it? Would you really say that they don’t get any education at school? You do love your family i am sure that you do , and that is why you give them what you thing is good. But unfortunately you are the only one educating them. It is not a bad thing if other, at school , would give exactly what you want, but this is not the case. When I read your text , it seem that definitely you didn’t get that attention that u needed or expected in your youth or you didn’t see it around you, but this are two different things : what we teach , and what the people do. What Jehovah’s witnesses are teaching are only good principles such as obey your parents, and for parents “do not be exasperating your children,+so that they do not become downhearted”
      JEHOVAH’S WITNESSES are well-known for enjoying a happy family life. Professor Bryan Wilson of Oxford University wrote: “The Witnesses offer a wide range of practical advice . . . on marital relations, moral issues, the rearing of children, and other practical matters. They have a great deal to offer by way of firm advice substantiated in Holy Writ and integrated into a coherent philosophy of life.” Undoubtedly, you have personally learned much from God’s Word about how to enjoy a wholesome family life but somehow somewhere something went wrong, but this will never mean that what we do is bad for kids..As i said, i see it every week , and I just wish that I had the same.
      And BTW , at the age of 18 , when you left the JW , do you thing you were an adult? Where you baptized?
      Once again I hope my English is correct enough, but if it not and i offended you by words, please , please , please, pardon me ! But this is not my attention at all! I don’t really know how to translate correctly what i think and it might not be the right word that i used.
      Hope you’re fine !

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