“We cannot stop speaking about the things we have seen and heard.”—ACTS 4:19, 20.
SONG 122 Be Steadfast, Immovable!
1-2. (a) Why should a ban on our worship not surprise us? (b) What will we consider in this article?
IN 2018, more than 223,000 publishers of the good news lived in lands where our spiritual activities were banned or severely restricted. This is not surprising. As we learned in the preceding article, true Christians expect to be persecuted. (2 Tim. 3:12) No matter where we live, secular authorities may suddenly and unexpectedly ban us from worshipping our loving God, Jehovah.
2 If the government where you live decides to ban the worship of Jehovah, you may ask yourself such questions as these: ‘Does persecution mean that we have lost God’s favor? Will a ban end our worship of Jehovah? Should I move to a land where I can worship God freely?’ In this article, we will discuss those questions. We will also consider how we can continue to worship Jehovah when our work is under ban and what traps we must avoid.
DOES PERSECUTION MEAN THAT WE HAVE LOST GOD’S FAVOR?
3. According to 2 Corinthians 11:23-27, what persecution did the faithful apostle Paul experience, and what do we learn from his example?
3 If a government bans our worship, we might wrongly conclude that we do not have God’s blessing. But remember, persecution does not mean that Jehovah is unhappy with us. Take, for example, the apostle Paul. He certainly had God’s approval. He had the privilege of writing 14 letters of the Christian Greek Scriptures, and he was an apostle to the nations. Yet, he faced intense persecution. (Read 2 Corinthians 11:23-27.) We learn from the apostle Paul’s experience that Jehovah allows his faithful servants to be persecuted.
4. Why are we hated by the world?
4 Jesus explained why we should expect opposition. He said that we would be hated because we are no part of the world. (John 15:18, 19) Persecution is not a sign that we lack Jehovah’s blessing. Instead, it indicates that we are doing what is right!
WILL A BAN END OUR WORSHIP OF JEHOVAH?
5. Can mere humans end the worship of Jehovah? Explain.
5 Mere human opposers cannot stamp out the worship of the almighty God, Jehovah. Many have tried and failed. Consider what happened during World War II. At that time, governments in many countries intensely persecuted God’s people. The work of Jehovah’s Witnesses was banned not only by the Nazi party in Germany but also by governments in Australia, Canada, and other lands. Yet, note what took place. In 1939 when the war began, there were 72,475 publishers worldwide. Reports showed that by the end of the war in 1945, with Jehovah’s blessing, there were 156,299 publishers. The number of publishers had more than doubled!
6. Rather than intimidate us, what can opposition do? Give an example.
6 Rather than intimidate us, opposition can motivate us to serve Jehovah more fully. For example, one couple who had a young child lived in a country where the government decided to ban our worship. Instead of shrinking back in fear, the couple began regular pioneering. The wife even quit her well-paying job to do so. The husband said that the ban made many people curious about Jehovah’s Witnesses. As a result, he found it easier to start Bible studies. The ban had a positive effect on others as well. An elder in the same country commented that many who had stopped serving Jehovah began to attend meetings and were reactivated.
7. (a) What do we learn from Leviticus 26:36, 37? (b) What will you do when under ban?
7 When our enemies ban our worship, they hope to make us afraid to serve Jehovah. In addition to the ban, they may circulate false stories, send officials to search our homes, drag us to court, or even imprison some of us. They hope that we will be terrified because they managed to put a small number of us in prison. If we were to allow them to instill fear in our heart, we might even begin to “ban” our own worship. We would not want to become like those described at Leviticus 26:36, 37. (Read.) We will not allow fear to cause us to reduce or to stop our spiritual activities. We trust completely in Jehovah and refuse to panic. (Isa. 28:16) We prayerfully seek Jehovah’s guidance. We know that with his backing, not even the most powerful human government can prevent us from faithfully worshipping our God.—Heb. 13:6.
SHOULD I MOVE TO ANOTHER LAND?
8-9. (a) What personal decision will each family head or individual need to make? (b) What will help a person to make a sound decision?
8 If the government where you live bans our worship, you may wonder if you should move to a country where you can serve Jehovah freely. This is a personal decision that no one else can make for you. Some might find it helpful to consider what Christians in the first century did when they were persecuted. After enemies stoned Stephen to death, the disciples in Jerusalem moved throughout Judea and Samaria and even as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch. (Matt. 10:23; Acts 8:1; 11:19) However, others might note that after another wave of persecution afflicted the first-century Christians, the apostle Paul decided not to move away from areas where the preaching work was opposed. Instead, he risked his safety to spread the good news and to strengthen the brothers in cities that were suffering intense persecution.—Acts 14:19-23.
9 What do we learn from these accounts? Each family head must make a personal decision about moving. Before deciding, he should prayerfully and carefully consider his family’s circumstances and the positive and negative effects a move might have on them. In this matter, each Christian must “carry his own load.” (Gal. 6:5) We should not judge others for the decision that they make.
HOW WILL WE WORSHIP WHEN UNDER BAN?
10. What direction will the branch office and the elders give?
10 How can you continue to worship Jehovah while under ban? The branch office will give the local elders instructions and practical suggestions about how to receive spiritual food, how to meet together for worship, and how to preach the good news. If the branch office cannot contact the elders, then the elders will help you and all in the congregation to continue your worship of Jehovah. They will give direction in harmony with the guidance found in the Bible and in our Christian publications.—Matt. 28:19, 20; Acts 5:29; Heb. 10:24, 25.
11. Why can you be certain that you will have spiritual food, and what can you do to protect that supply of food?
11 Jehovah has promised that his servants will be well-fed spiritually. (Isa. 65:13, 14; Luke 12:42-44) So you can be certain that his organization will do everything possible to provide the spiritual encouragement you need. What can you do? When under ban, find a good place to hide your Bible and any other spiritual food you might have. Be careful never to leave such precious material—whether it is in printed or electronic form—in a location where it could easily be discovered. Each of us must take practical steps to remain spiritually strong.
12. How can the elders organize meetings so as not to attract attention?
12 What about weekly meetings for worship? The elders will arrange for you to attend meetings in a way that will not attract unwanted attention. They may direct you to meet in small groups, and they will likely change the meeting times and locations frequently. You can help keep everyone who attends safe by speaking quietly when coming to or leaving the meetings. You may also need to dress in a way that does not attract attention.
13. What can we learn from our brothers in the former Soviet Union?
13 Regarding the preaching work, circumstances will vary from one location to another. But we love Jehovah and enjoy telling others about his Kingdom, so we will find a way to preach. (Luke 8:1; Acts 4:29) Commenting on the preaching of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the former Soviet Union, historian Emily B. Baran said: “When the state told believers that they could not evangelize their faith to others, Witnesses chatted [with] their neighbors, coworkers, and friends. When these actions landed them in labor camps, Witnesses sought out converts among their fellow prisoners.” Despite the ban, our brothers in the former Soviet Union did not stop preaching. If ever the preaching work is banned where you live, may you have that same determination!
TRAPS TO AVOID
14. Psalm 39:1 can help us to avoid what trap?
14 Be cautious about sharing information. During a ban, we must recognize when it is “time to be silent.” (Eccl. 3:7) We must safeguard sensitive information, such as the names of our brothers and sisters, the locations where we meet, how we carry out our ministry, and how we receive spiritual food. We would not reveal these facts to the secular authorities; nor would we share them with well-meaning friends or relatives in our country or in other countries. If we did fall into this trap, we would put the safety of our brothers at risk.—Read Psalm 39:1.
15. What will Satan try to do to us, and how can we avoid his trap?
15 Do not allow minor issues to divide us. Satan knows that a divided house cannot stand. (Mark 3:24, 25) He will constantly try to cause divisions among us. In that way, he hopes that we will start fighting one another instead of fighting him.
16. What fine example did Sister Gertrud Poetzinger set?
16 Even mature Christians need to be on guard not to fall into this trap. Consider the example of two anointed sisters, Gertrud Poetzinger and Elfriede Löhr. They were imprisoned together with other Christian sisters in a Nazi concentration camp. Gertrud became jealous when Elfriede gave encouraging talks to the other sisters in the camp. Later, Gertrud felt ashamed and pleaded with Jehovah for help. She wrote: “We have to learn to accept it when others have greater abilities or are more highly favored.” How did she overcome her jealousy? Gertrud focused on Elfriede’s good qualities and pleasant disposition. In this way, she regained her good relationship with Elfriede. Both survived the concentration camp and served Jehovah faithfully until they finished their earthly course. If we work hard to overcome differences with our brothers, we will avoid the trap of disunity.—Col. 3:13, 14.
17. Why must we avoid being presumptuous?
17 Avoid being presumptuous. If we heed the direction we receive from trusted, responsible brothers, we will avoid problems. (1 Pet. 5:5) For example, in a land where the work is under ban, the responsible brothers had directed that the publishers not leave printed literature in the ministry. Yet, a pioneer brother in that location felt that he knew better and distributed literature. What was the result? Shortly after he and some others finished a period of informal witnessing, they were questioned by the police. Apparently, officials had followed them and were able to retrieve the literature they had distributed. What do we learn from this experience? We need to follow direction even if we feel that we know better. Jehovah always blesses us when we cooperate with the brothers whom he has appointed to take the lead among us.—Heb. 13:7, 17.
18. Why must we avoid making unnecessary rules?
18 Do not make unnecessary rules. If elders make unnecessary rules, they will create a burden for others. Brother Juraj Kaminský recalled what took place during the ban in former Czechoslovakia: “After the responsible brothers and many elders were arrested, some of those taking the lead in congregations and circuits began prescribing rules of conduct for the publishers, making lists of dos and don’ts.” Jehovah has not given us authority to make personal decisions for others. Someone who makes needless rules is not protecting his brother’s safety—he is trying to become the master of his brother’s faith.—2 Cor. 1:24.
NEVER STOP WORSHIPPING JEHOVAH
19. Despite Satan’s efforts, what reason for confidence does 2 Chronicles 32:7, 8 provide?
19 Our chief adversary, Satan the Devil, will not stop trying to persecute Jehovah’s faithful servants. (1 Pet. 5:8; Rev. 2:10) Satan and his agents will try to ban our worship of Jehovah. However, there is no reason for us to be paralyzed by fear! (Deut. 7:21) Jehovah is on our side, and he will continue to support us even if our work is banned.—Read 2 Chronicles 32:7, 8.
20. What is your resolve?
20 May we have the same resolve as did our first-century brothers, who told the rulers of their day: “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, judge for yourselves. But as for us, we cannot stop speaking about the things we have seen and heard.”—Acts 4:19, 20.
SONG 73 Grant Us Boldness
^ par. 5 What should we do if the government bans our worship of Jehovah? This article will provide practical suggestions on what to do and what to avoid so that we will never have to stop worshipping our God!
^ par. 59 PICTURE DESCRIPTION: All images depict Witnesses serving in lands where our work is restricted. In this image a small group gathers for a meeting in a brother’s storeroom.
^ par. 61 PICTURE DESCRIPTION: A Christian sister (on the left) who is casually conversing with a woman looks for an opportunity to discuss spiritual things.
^ par. 63 PICTURE DESCRIPTION: A brother who is being interrogated by police refuses to reveal information about his congregation.