As an outsider doing research of a sort, my readings of yearbooks has not been extensive. But I studied 1928 and 1934 very carefully - and then picked up the yearbook for 2011 on line. The first two told me a lot of things about the organization's early days, the thinking of its leader, how books, pamphlets and Bibles were produced and distributed - and a lot about a very simple dualistic faith in the near term, terrifying end.
Then I encountered the 2011 Yearbook which seemed like a collection of anecdotes about mission work in remote parts of the world. As the negative guy I have become, I didn't know what to make of it, at first. But then again...
A lot of the work to spread the word is done very selectively. But where to start to discuss this?
One thing about the "missions" discussion throughout. The focus is international. But to the outsider there is an unexpected surprise. To illustrate, for 1934 the distribution (1933) in Great Britain was as follows.
ACTIVITY IN BRITAIN - Yearbook 1934
The number of service units is 368, of which an average of 342 have regularly engaged in the service work month by month and reported to this office. There are 5,403 company workers who hold the Society’s permit, and of these, 3,897, on an average, have engaged in the work monthly, representing 72.1 percent; this is an increase of 12.1 percent as compared with last year. The hours reported reach a total of 486,608, a decrease of 37,108; nevertheless, a total of 1,206,617 pieces of literature was placed, consisting of 117,632 bound books and1,085,449 booklets, and including 3,536 Bibles. In placing this literature the brethren gave 4,793,892 testimonies, and 966,163 members of the public took literature from us, which represents an average of 1 book or booklet placed after giving 4.9 testimonies…
Take a look at the ratio of bound books or booklets to Bibles. The assumption here has to be that people are already reading their own Bibles and they are doing it incorrectly. They need the Society's help or they are doomed. While the argument goes that this dissemination is fulfilling a Biblical direction described in Matthew, Christianity had yet to confront the issue: to whom was the message addressed? Jews who read Scripture or Gentiles who did not? But I digress.
In countries where the 1934 Yearbook tallies similar but smaller statistics ( China, Japan, Brazil, Syria), it is clear as well that they are dealing with either small ex-patriate Christian communities or the legacy of someone else's proselytizing and converting. For example, 16th century Jesuits. Usually the tribulations reported back via Joseph Rutherford recounting were conflicts with the local resident Christian authorities - in say, Nagasaki. No explanation of how these communities is formed save other than an evil influence of the Catholic church.
And from time to time I am reminded of their activities. Whether it is from a high school friend who sent crates of his 6th volume of Biology to our former high school teacher for use in his classes at a mission in Uganda. Or the recent French film, "Of Gods and Men" (2010 - des hommes et des dieux) about the fate of a community of French Trapppist monks; or an interview this morning on public radio with a Pakistani novelist who writes of a Catholic charity hospital in his country based on events in his youth...
As for the film, it won the Cannes Grand Prix and went on to a box office success in France. The monks, who interacted with the Islamic community as physicians died amid the Algerian civil war in 1996. They had made a conscious decision and vote to stay.
Now, let us look at the Yearbook for 2011 which announces "Preaching and Teaching Earth Wide".
I cannot find the country Algeria. There are no population statistics or ratio of publishers to population. Is this what happens when one divides by zero?
Well, how about Morocco where the movie was filmed? Same thing.
Pakistan, the country of the Mohammed Hanif and author of "Our Lady of Alice Bhatti", it is noted that it has a population of 177,276,594 and 967 pulbishers. Ireland, a population of 6,245,700 has 58,333 publishers for a ratio of 1 to 1071 inhabitants. I guess the publishers there are going to free the Irish of child abuse.
There were other countries that I was unable to locate in the 2011 document which figured in the so-called Arab Spring.
Libya, Tunisia, Egypt, Syria ( though it was in the earlier yearbooks), Iran, Iraq, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain.
I am not a missionary, minister, publisher or much of anything else save for now a chronic complainer. But I should add that when my someone left to become one, I noticed that she left her passport behind.