As I was preparing to leave my house on Saturday, I was approached in my driveway by two Jehovah's Witnesses. They were both middle-aged women, wearing coats and holding armfuls of Wake Up! magazines. It was an unseasonably warm day for January but there was still a chill in the air, and I immediately felt bad for them. Here they were, wasting half of their weekend, going door to door in a strange neighborhood.
One was older, with white hair and she did all the talking. I tried to be as friendly as possible.
JW: Have you ever seen our magazine before?
Ned: Sure, I've seen a lot of them, but I'm not really interested today.
JW: Would you like to have a magazine?
I would have accepted but I suspected that they might come back if I took a magazine, kind of how as a missionary we would always return to visit the people who accepted a Book of Mormon from us.
Ned: No, thanks. But thank you very much.
JW: How about just this pamphlet?
Ned: Sure. Thanks a lot. Have a great day.
JW: You too. Goodbye.
They went across the street to knock on my neighbor's door and I left, with a JW pamphlet on the floor of my car. It's still there.
This incident depressed me for several reasons. JWs depress me more than Mormon missionaries. I think both groups are probably equally futile or equally effective, depending on your point of view. Both groups recruit those without social networks and plug them into a ready-made community, which can be a very positive thing, especially for those on the fringes of society. However, in the long run, both groups are having only incremental success in spreading their message.
The reason JWs depress me more is because (and correct me if I'm wrong here) every member has to go out and knock on doors. Mormons squeeze all the proselyting into a two-year rite of passage. You're young, away from people you know in real life, and you have a definite end in sight. JWs that proselyte are working in their own towns, while holding down their regular jobs, and probably have to do this for as long as they are JWs.
I didn't want these older ladies to be walking around in the cold. I wanted them to be sipping hot chocolate, enjoying the weekend before they had to go back to work on Monday. As missionaries, we used to rationalize our failures in tracting, saying we were planting seeds. Being on the other side now, I realize that there are no seeds, just crumpled, unread literature.
I wanted to shout, "Stop wasting your life, and start enjoying it!" They wouldn't have listened. Missionary Ned wouldn't have listened to this advice either. We all have to find our own path to happiness. For all I know, their path includes being cold on Saturdays.