How Work Wins Praise in Moscow

IN 1998 a civil suit calling for a ban on the activity of Jehovah’s Witnesses was brought before a municipal court in the Golovinsky district of Moscow. You may find it ironic, therefore, that the Witnesses were recently praised by local officials in the Golovinsky District Administration.

Why did the Witnesses receive praise from Moscow officials when, at the same time, attempts were being made by some people to eliminate them from the city? A brief review of the activity of the Witnesses there will provide answers.

The Witnesses in Moscow

In the mid-1950’s, Moscow was one of the few capital cities of the world where not one of Jehovah’s Witnesses lived. The reason? Because the Witnesses in Moscow had been deported, even as thousands of others in the Soviet Union had also been. Where to? Most were taken to Siberian slave-labor camps.

As years went by, a few Muscovites began to study the Bible with the aid of Witness publications, which at the time were banned in Russia. In the mid-1970’s, the few who had by then become Witnesses were meeting for Bible study in the Moscow apartment of Murat Shakirov. In the 1980’s, the members of this small group were able to interest many others in Bible study.

 When the activity of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the Soviet Union was legalized in March 1991, a large congregation of Witnesses in Moscow began functioning openly. Thousands of people were eager to learn why the Witnesses had been persecuted. And they wanted to know what the Bible really teaches. So when a convention was held in Kiev, Ukraine, in August 1991, more than 2,000 from Moscow traveled about 550 miles [890 km] to attend. Many of these were among the 1,843 who were baptized there.

When in 1993 a large international convention of Jehovah’s Witnesses was held in Moscow’s Locomotive Stadium, 23,743 persons from over 30 countries were in attendance. By the end of that year, the number of congregations in the Moscow metropolitan area had increased to 21. Today, some eight years later, there are 104 congregations in the same area.

During June and July of this year, 18,292 persons attended four district conventions of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Moscow, and 546 were baptized. The dramatic growth in the number of those joining the Witnesses in Bible study has caused leaders of the Russian Orthodox Church to try to influence Moscow officials to ban their activity.

In the early part of 1998, the court case seeking to ban the Witnesses came before the Golovinsky court. Finally, on February 23, 2001, the judge ruled that the Witnesses were innocent of the charges leveled against them. However, when the prosecution appealed the case to a higher Moscow court, it was remanded for reconsideration by the original court.

Yet, why, despite attempts by some people to ban the Witnesses, did local city officials of Moscow’s Golovinsky District Administration praise the Witnesses?

New Meeting Place Involved

In December 1998, the Witnesses purchased a large, two-story building adjacent to Mikhalkovsky Park. It had previously served as a cultural center. Some time ago Witness workers began renovating this large facility. It includes five Kingdom Halls, or meeting places, for 22 congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses.

 This past April 15, one administrator of the Golovinsky district requested that on April 21 the Witnesses clean up Mikhalkovsky Park. In Russia it is common for residents and community groups to share in communal spring cleaning of parks and highways. On April 17, the Witnesses met to plan for the work. At the meeting it was decided that about 700 workers would be needed.

Accomplishing the Work

On April 18 when the Witnesses notified the Golovinsky district officials as to how many rakes and other tools would be needed, the officials did not believe that anywhere near 700 workers would respond. Yet, by 9:30 a.m., April 21, when administration employees arrived at the park, hundreds of Witnesses were already on hand, but there were only 200 garden tools for them to use. In time, some 200 additional rakes were obtained for use. Those without tools worked with their hands to collect garbage and put it into plastic bags. Witnesses even brought high fishing boots and a boat for cleaning out the large pond.

Administration representatives were amazed at the work being done. They noted that the people labored as if they were cleaning their own property, doing the job with joy and enthusiasm. Altogether, about a thousand of Jehovah’s Witnesses shared in the work at Mikhalkovsky Park, and more than 250 tons of garbage was removed. Those living in the area said that they had not seen the park so clean in a very long time.

As noted at the outset, the officials were impressed by what was done and were very appreciative. One official in the Golovinsky district wrote: “The Golovinsky  District Administration of the North Administrative Region of Moscow thanks the religious community of Jehovah’s Witnesses for their participation in the cleanup of the Mikhalkovsky Park.” An associate official expressed similar words of appreciation, concluding: “This noble and necessary work brings benefit and joy to all park visitors.”

Although Jehovah’s Witnesses are pleased to beautify areas around their properties—and to engage in such projects as here described—their principal work today is sharing with people the good news of God’s Kingdom, the government that will bring Paradise conditions earth wide. (Matthew 24:14) As they were cleaning up Mikhalkovsky Park, some were heard to remark that what they were doing was good training for the post-Armageddon work of beautifying the whole earth.—Revelation 16:14, 16.

Indeed, all lovers of the Bible look forward to the time when the entire earth will be a parklike place of beauty, even as God intended it to be when he created the first human pair.—Genesis 1:28; 2:8, 9, 15; Revelation 21:3, 4.

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A reunion of those who met in Murat Shakirov’s apartment in the mid-1970’s

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Four conventions held in Moscow this year had a total attendance of 18,292

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This former cultural center was renovated to accommodate five Kingdom Halls

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Over 250 tons of garbage was removed