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GEORGIA | 1991-1997

Caring Shepherds Provide Training

Caring Shepherds Provide Training

Joni Shalamberidze with Tamazi Biblaia in the early 1990’s

In the early 1990’s, most congregations in Georgia had only one elder or ministerial servant. Typically, congregations were made up of various groups meeting separately, since publishers were scattered over a vast territory that included several towns or villages.

Joni Shalamberidze and Pavle Abdushelishvili—who had both already served in remote territories—were assigned to provide help in Telavi, a city located in the Kakheti region. The congregation there had 300 publishers, but not even one elder. It consisted of 13 groups that met in different locations.

Pavle Abdushelishvili

Joni and Pavle soon noticed a major obstacle to spiritual advancement among the brothers. Joni explains: “Many brothers owned large fields and vineyards. Since it is customary in rural areas for neighbors to help one another with their farmwork, our brothers spent much time with unbelievers.”1 Cor. 15:33.

Joni and Pavle suggested that the brothers ask for help from fellow Witnesses to get their crops in. By doing so, they would benefit from good association while doing their farmwork. (Eccl. 4:9, 10) Joni notes, “The bonds of brotherly love in the congregation became stronger.” When Joni and Pavle left the Kakheti region three years later, there were 5 local elders and 12 ministerial servants.

Meetings Improve Preaching Skills

Because our work was under restriction until the early 1990’s, the Witnesses met in small groups and only for the Congregation Book Study and the Watchtower Study. These meetings, though encouraging, were not designed to train publishers for the ministry.

This changed when the Communist regime fell. Now Jehovah’s organization directed congregations to hold the Theocratic Ministry School and the Service Meeting as part of their weekly meetings.

Naili Khutsishvili and her sister Lali Alekperova have fond memories of attending those meetings. Lali recalls: “It was a very exciting time. Everyone was so thrilled that sisters could now participate in the program.”

“In one demonstration,” recounts Naili, “the householder was reading a newspaper on the platform when she heard a knock at the door. When invited in, two sisters entered the meeting place through the main door and stepped up to the platform!” Lali adds, “As unusual as those meetings sometimes were, they helped us to improve our preaching skills.”

The Need for Spiritual Food Increases

For many years, a few brothers reproduced Bible literature at home, using hand-operated duplicators. To meet the increasing demand for publications, the brothers now turned to commercial printing companies that could print our magazines at a reasonable price.

To prepare the master Georgian copies of our magazines for printing, the brothers cut letters from newspapers and glued them onto the original English cover page

The brothers were resourceful when preparing a master copy for the printers. The translated Georgian text was neatly typed according to the layout of the original English magazine. The brothers then cut out illustrations from the original magazine and pasted them onto the typewritten document. Finally, they cut out characters from newspapers that used attractive fonts and glued them onto the cover page. The master copy was now ready to go to press!

Early locally printed issues of the magazines in Georgian

When personal computers became available, two young brothers, Levani Kopaliani and Leri Mirzashvili, attended courses to learn how best to use them. Leri recalls: “We lacked experience, and things did not always run smoothly. But with Jehovah’s help, we were soon typing and composing our magazines.”

Despite the obstacles, congregations throughout Georgia started to receive locally printed, four-color magazines. In time, however, it became difficult to keep up with the growing demand. Just at the right time, Jehovah’s servants in Georgia received loving guidance from Jehovah’s organization.

A Turning Point

The 1992 international convention in St. Petersburg, Russia, provided an opportunity for brothers from Georgia to meet with branch representatives from Germany. “They explained how the translation work is usually done,” relates Genadi Gudadze. “They told us that in time we would receive a visit that would help us with the translation work.”

Printing Bible publications in Georgian was far from simple. Since this language has a unique script, the organization’s Multilanguage Electronic Publishing System (MEPS) did not yet support the Georgian alphabet. Consequently, a new font had to be designed for photocomposition and printing operations.

Previously, at the end of the 1970’s, a Georgian family, the Datikashvilis, had emigrated to the United States, where one of their children, Marina, later learned the truth. Her help proved to be invaluable when brothers at Brooklyn Bethel began to draw each Georgian character in order to integrate the alphabet into the MEPS system. Soon, some tracts and the brochure “Look! I Am Making All Things New” were printed in Germany.

Help in Organizing the Translation Work

In 1993, Michael Fleckenstein and his wife, Silvia, arrived in Tbilisi from the Germany branch to set up a translation office. “I still had the St. Petersburg meeting on my mind,” says Michael. “On our arrival in Tbilisi 18 months later, we were surprised when we were introduced to a well-functioning translation team!”

Leri Mirzashvili, Paata Morbedadze, and Levani Kopaliani working in the Tbilisi translation office in 1993

Within a few months, a group of 11 full-time translators were working in an office located in a small apartment. Thanks to the valuable training provided by Jehovah’s organization, a steady supply of spiritual food started to be delivered to the congregations.

Delivering Spiritual Food in Times of Unrest

After the breakup of the Soviet Union, civil unrest and ethnic conflicts arose in many of the former republics, and Georgia was no exception. As a result, traveling—especially across state borders—became risky.

Brothers Zaza Jikurashvili and Aleko Gvritishvili (shown with their wives) delivered literature during the years of unrest

One day in November 1994, Aleko Gvritishvili was crossing a state border with two other brothers when a group of armed men stopped them and ordered them to get out of their car. “They became angry when they saw our Bible literature,” relates Aleko. “They lined us up as if they were going to execute us. We fervently prayed to Jehovah. After about two hours, one of them told us, ‘Take your literature and go—but if you come back, we’ll set your car on fire and finish you off.’”

Despite such intimidation, the brothers continued delivering spiritual food. Brother Zaza Jikurashvili, who made great sacrifices to bring Bible literature into Georgia, states: “We knew that our brothers needed spiritual food. Our dear wives gave us a lot of support.”

“Many of the brothers involved in transporting literature were family men,” remarks Aleko. What motivated them to carry on despite the danger? He continues: “Primarily, it was our deep gratitude toward Jehovah and our love for him. We also wanted to reflect Jehovah’s way of caring for our dear brothers and sisters.”

Thanks to the self-sacrificing spirit of such brothers, literature deliveries never stopped during the years of unrest. Later the brothers established safer routes between Germany and Georgia.

Timely Spiritual Encouragement

When the political situation stabilized in 1995, the Witnesses made arrangements to hold their first district convention. In the summer of 1996, some 6,000 delegates from all over Georgia attended district conventions in three locations: Gori, Marneuli, and Tsnori.

Witnesses attending the district convention near Gori in 1996

The convention near Gori was especially memorable for those in attendance. What a change from the time when the brothers were not sure whether they could fill the local auditorium for the Memorial! They now expected over two thousand to attend, but they could not find a location spacious enough to host the event. They decided to hold the convention outdoors, at a beautiful mountain camping area not far from the city.

Brother Kako Lomidze, who served on the Convention Committee, notes: “After the program, the brothers and sisters spent time together, singing songs and enjoying warm association. It became evident to all that God’s people were united by strong bonds of love.”John 13:35.

Loving Provisions Stimulate Growth

Starting in 1996, arrangements were made for traveling overseers to visit each congregation in the country for a full week. To meet this goal, new traveling overseers were appointed to join the brothers who had already been serving in western and eastern Georgia.

Undoubtedly, the “loving labor” and faithful service of these traveling overseers helped congregations to grow and follow theocratic instructions more closely. (1 Thess. 1:3) From 1990 to 1997, the increase was indeed extraordinary. While 904 publishers reported their activity in 1990, only seven years later, 11,082 were proclaiming the good news!

The spiritual growth that had started decades earlier was now evident and had spread throughout the country. But Jehovah had more blessings in store for his people in Georgia.