We synchronized our watches. At exactly 1:50 the evangelism team would be at their posts handing out million-dollar bill Gospel tracts to every Jehovah’s Witness coming back from their lunch break to continue another session at their Annual Convention. It was a secret mission; we were spies in enemy territory hoping to blend in with the faithful. From the start we stood out from the crowd, and it wasn’t because of the Shikinah Glory emanating from our countenances. All the men wore suits and ties and the women were dressed elegantly, like they were heading uptown—and we were straight out California Casual. That was just the beginning of the near-disaster that was to come…
I felt like Patton. The troops were gathered for prayer and a pep talk before the incursion. “We’ve never done anything like this before,” I reminded. “I can’t guarantee what will happen. We are promised from Scripture that we will be persecuted—even killed—for our faith in Christ.” No one budged. “If you feel that you can’t do this, it’s okay to back out now—no shame. But if you come, please trust in the Lord. If you are going to whine or complain it might be best that you stay behind. You are welcome to join us next week when we go to the fair.” Eyes were focused on me, everyone attentive. I cleared my throat, “If you think you might get a tummy ache, then stay behind. If you are fearful, do your business with God now; don’t scare the others who are with us for the very first time.” The only new guy was Jim Johnson, a big man about six-foot four and a solid 240 pounds—and he wasn’t scared. “We have no reconnaissance, no contacts, very little information except that lunch starts at noon. Let’s get going!” With that, sixteen fearless evangelists piled into their cars for the short trip to Long Beach. The seventeenth, Howard, would meet us down there. Braddock rode his motorcycle down alone and would give us a preliminary report via cell-phone.
This wasn’t some silly thrill or act of whimsy or even an opportunity to show how courageous we could be. We were on a covert assignment to seek and save those who are lost in an evil religion.
A friend had handed me a JW flyer a few weeks back that was left on her doorknob welcoming all to the “Deliverance at Hand” conference.
It was an open invitation to those who had inquiring minds and a spiritual hunger. I saw this as a great opportunity to go inside the enemy camp, and hand out our flyers that talk about Heaven, Hell, Judgment Day, and Jesus the Son of God—all subjects that the JW’s don’t believe in. We have a clear mandate from the Bible to “…snatch others from the fire and save them.” Peter writes that “…there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them—bringing swift destruction on themselves… Their condemnation has long been hanging over them, and their destruction has not been sleeping.” If just one JW read our tracts, God could work in their hearts. You might say it was a Witness Protection program; we wanted to protect them from Hell. We were Special Forces in a war against the devil, hoping to rescue ignorant POW’s held captive by the cage of a cult.
Braddock phoned in his report: 10,000 JW’s were attending; hundreds upon hundreds of elders stood watch from every corner; lunch ended at 2pm; there was free parking. “Ten-Four.”
Our van arrived early. We had time to case the joint and formulate a strategy. Look at all the people! And they are all dressed so formally! We entered without incident, greeted by friendly men wearing warm Jim Jones smiles. Every few feet and at every doorway stood elders keeping a watchful eye on the flock. Men with steely gazes and purplish badges stood attentively holding cell-phones and walkie-talkies. I wondered how we would hand out our bills undetected. Ahh…an escalator! Hundreds were rushing upwards to the second floor. This was ideal. I love standing at the top of a full escalator; people take the tracts with grinning, grateful faces. Oh, nooo. Another elder was stationed there, smiling and giving people the once-over. We moved to the second floor and decided that we would position ourselves around the entire perimeter of the convention center. We walked back to the van.
Everyone was accounted for except for Howard. Where was Howard? We stuffed millions in our pockets and entered separately. We did not acknowledge one another. This felt like a sanctified version of the game, “Last Man Standing.” Poor Dale Hadley, he is a very large man, towering over everyone at six-foot-six, 312 pounds—a good substitute for a World Wrestling Federation contender. He wore, much to our chagrin, a loud, red Hawaiian print shirt and shorts. I warned our crew to stay far away from this Redwood.
1:40pm; time to enter.
Where was Howard? We never met up with him. Was he in? Amy and Andy, the college kids were missing too. And Craig “The Animal” DeLisle was AWOL. I sure hope they waited to go in otherwise our cover will be blown.
It was almost 1:50, drop-dead time. I saw Tina Brown at her station then glanced away. Her husband “Bulldog” was at the next position. Okay God, here we go…
“Did you get one of these?” I asked in my most friendly, exceedingly gracious and caring manner, stretching out my hand, offering the Gospel tracts to unsuspecting JW’s. No response. A lady walked away. Another said, “No.” Others: “No.” “What is this? No.” “No.” One person took a bill. “What is this?” he said with extreme concern. “It’s a phony million-dollar bill,” I replied. He handed it back. “You cannot hand-out propaganda here,” he scolded. I turned and hurriedly walked away. I handed out one or two to some little kids, then bolted down the stairs.
What is going on? Why aren’t these people taking the tracts? Have they been warned about taking things from strangers?
Six young people were standing at a rail looking over the crowd. “Did you get one of these?” Four of the young men took them, but number five asked what I was doing. “You can’t do that here,” he said in the toughest, sternest voice a twenty-year-old Witness could muster. “You must leave the premises!”
I turned on my heels and walked down one flight with Young Jehovah on my tail. I lost him in the throng on the ground floor, but picked up a Security Elder. “So what are you doing?” he asked, unsmiling. “Are you handing out propaganda?”
I stammered, “Uh…not anymore.” I offered a warm smile.
He was not amused. “I’m going to have to follow you, to make sure that you don’t hand them out anymore.” He brushed against my shoulder for emphasis.
“Okay,” I answered cheerfully. I started to walk—quickly. Down the long aisle way we strode. I turned quickly into another aisle. He did too. Into the bathroom I went and back out the exit. He did too. I ran up a flight of stairs, then another; his footsteps echoed mine. I couldn’t lose him. The walls of the convention center are solid, with no alcoves or closets to duck into. Mr. Witness had not asked me to leave and I was flattered that he was now my personal escort, still, I work better alone.
“Would you like to sit with me?” he asked in a not-so-sincere tone.
I thought about it for half a second. “Oh, no thanks.”
He talked into his phone and suddenly three more elders joined the party. I was done. I gave up. We stopped between flights and I gave each of the Security Elders a million-dollar bill. They declined. Then I asked the million-dollar question, “You guys, if you were to die today, would you go to Heaven or Hell?”
“Into the ground,” Number One answered.
“The Bible talks about a real Heaven and a real Hell. Which place will you go to?” Silence. “Have you ever lied?”
“Yes,” Number One said. “Everyone has.”
“What does that make you?”
“If you lie habitually, then you are a liar.”
“What if you lie only once?”
“You’re not a liar… I’m not going to answer any more of your questions. Let’s go.”
I decided to preach softly to them as we walked. I was a captive and they were a captive audience. I walked slooowly down the stairs. “If you lie one time, God sees you as a liar, if you’ve stolen one thing, you’re a thief…”
“Watch your step,” Number One interrupted. “You might get hurt!”
I kept talking. “Jesus said that if you even look at a woman with lust then you have committed adultery with her in your heart…”
“Be very careful…” Number One cautioned.
“So on Judgment Day,” I continued, “you will be found guilty for being lying, thieving, adulterers at heart. What will happen to you then?”
I detected a slight irritation in the Elder’s voice as he warned once again, “The steps are steep; be careful that you don’t fall. You can get very hurt.”
Ignoring his counsel I concluded my sermonette, “And if you are guilty of being a liar, a thief and an adulterer, then you will have to pay the penalty for all eternity in Hell. Doesn’t that concern you?” We reached the bottom of the stairs and I was now standing on solid ground. “What will you do with your sin? I don’t want you to go to Hell.”
“Why are you even here?” he asked.
“You invited me!” I said with glee. “And I am concerned for you.” With that, I shook their hands, thanked them for their kindness and left the premises.
Team member Doreen Jackson was outside shortly afterward. “I went to the end of the hall on the third floor and there you were,” she explained. “I saw one of the head guys approach you, and at that point I knew that you were being told that you could not pass out the bills. I then stayed where I was and listened to what the Head Witness was saying. He asked another Elder, ‘Who is this guy?’ He was then on a mission to alert the others. As I followed from a distance, he grabbed million-dollar bills away from the people who had received them earlier. I sensed that the area I was in was already notified as to what was going on so I decided it was time to go to our pre-arranged post-meeting place. I started handing out the bills to the JW’s outside the building. I was able to share with two young women, but they were not receptive to the truth.”
“Bulldog” was booted. Big man Dale “Hawaiian Redwood” Hadley was outside as well. “I didn’t even hand out one bill and they told me I had to leave. Before I exited out the door I pressed a million to the Elder’s chest. He took it, but said he would not read it.”
Tina Brown was chased by an angry woman after she handed out a few million. “Apostate! Apostate!” she yelled as Tina scurried away. “The woman in the white hat is an apostate!”
One by one, each member of the team met together. Inside the convention center, JW’s were swirling like a drunken tornado. Men with phones to ears— important looking guys with badges, all of them—peered out through the glass windows darkly, wondering who we were and what were we up to? We pulled out our video camera and filmed the men lined up on the stairwells inside the building, looking down on us.
Braddock the motorcyclist arrived next. He was smart. He went to the top rows of the convention center knowing that the nominal sit in the back rows—the half-hearted always sit the farthest away in every religion. He was able to hand out about fifty tracts before he too was discovered.
Ed “The Shark” Lee got evicted, but went right back in. Since he was only ten months in the Lord, he lacked the proper wisdom that more mature Christians have. His wife was next. No one ever saw Howard. Where was Howard? And where was Craig “The Animal” DeLisle, the man who hands out hundreds of tracts at a time? Did they kill him? Was he locked in a closet somewhere, million-dollar bills stuffed in his mouth to keep him from sharing his faith? There he is!
“When I went in there I realized I wasn’t going to get anywhere,” Craig explained, “there were too many elders; so I stopped and started praying for all of them. I was watching Amy and Andy who were outside by the fountain trying to hand out the bills, but no one was taking them. I turned around and an entire entourage on cell-phones surrounded me, checking me out, keeping a steady eye on me. I walked through the back door and bought some ice-cream from a vendor, then gave him a million-dollar bill. There were other JW’s around and they started asking me for some of the bills, so I handed them out to them too. I tried to expand out, but everyone refused to take them. ”
I tried to secure video interviews with some Witnesses, but no one—NO ONE—was talking. Then convention center Security hassled us and threatened to call the cops. We all gave up. Within ninety minutes every member of our team was caught and asked to leave. Everyone that is, except Howard. Where was Howard?
Before we left, Braddock snapped a picture of me standing next to an Elder. Chaos ensued. Seven guys ran over and grabbed Braddock’s Blackberry demanding that he erase the picture. He did. A friend later told us that JW’s live in constant fear of being kicked out of the fellowship and that being photographed with “apostates” was forbidden.
Who was the last man standing? It didn’t really matter; this was no game. These were real people, with real beliefs, lost in a real cult. Everyone was heartbroken by the control exerted over these poor people because there was no way out of this cult apart from a sovereign awakening from God. I wished that Hell was not real. I wanted Judgment Day to be a myth. Oh God, save them!
In the parking lot across from the meeting area, we stood next to our cars ready to go home. We looked into the convention through the glass walls that separated us from them. A little boy ran happily across the carpet. Nicely dressed men and women walked through the foyer. Friends laughed and shook one another’s hands. Hugs and kisses were exchanged. The evangelism team was silent as we observed life in a false religion. Together we stretched out our hands toward this great cloud of Witnesses. We prayed that God would remove the fog that shrouded their hearts, that He would open their eyes to the truth, and that our work this day would not be in vain.
Special thanks to the team: Ed & Gris Lee; Joseph & Sylvia Arenas; Amy & Andy Ross; Mike & Tina Brown; Braddock Whipple; Melissa Kronberger; Stephanie McCoulough; Dale Hadley; Craig DeLisle; Jim Johnson; Doreen Jackson AND Howard Wanke. Howard was there. He said that almost w/o exception he couldn’t give away any million $ bills. The line was: “We don’t accept literature!” Howard felt this was hypocritical, cause the 1st thing they do is give you a watchtower tract! (All photos were from the District Convention in Johnson City Tennessee, by M. Sprague, Jehovah’s Witness)