Genesis 28:19 says that the faithful patriarch of old, Jacob renamed a place to call it “Bethel”, in the New World Translation of the holy scriptures the footnote tells us the word Bethel means “House of God”. Now obviously the Creator of the universe cannot live in a house made by human hands, however as Jehovah’s Witnesses we do call our headquarters “Bethel”, because it is from those places, that the truth about God and all he promises is spread, those places shine like bright beacons in this dark world. And it is obvious that with the expansions, with the continued growth of Jehovah’s organisation and that the bethels still exist in many places around the world, although God does not live in them, his blessings surely are there. In all there are around 90 bethel branches around the world. South Africa branch office is based in Krugersdorp in Gauteng.
My second day in New York, we all met at the tour bus nice and early, and again we started the day with a discussion of the daily text. Then we headed for a long drive upstate to Patterson, NY to tour the Watchtower Educational Centre. The drive was lovely, getting to see the tree lined roads and the red barns sitting atop the hills was such a treat after being in the concrete jungle.
Paterson Bethel Complex
Arriving at Paterson was wonderful, the peaceful surroundings and the lovely buildings all in amongst beautiful gardens. The lobby area was bustling with visitors awaiting their tours. I could feel the excitement building up, this was why I had traveled half way around the world, to tour the bethel branches in the USA, where the world headquarters of Jehovah’s Witnesses is, spread out in three complexes. The half hour wait in the lobby was not such a long wait as we were able to walk around and admire some of the displays they had. From a “to scale” miniature model of the Temple in Jerusalem from the days Jesus walked the earth, to certain history displays showing how Jehovah’s Witnesses preached a hundred years ago. Even to the audio recordings of various talks and songs – it made me smile to introduce my new friends to an audio recording of a song being sung in Zulu (one of the vernacular languages of South Africa)
Within long though our tour group was called and away we went with our guide. I’ll be honest with you, it’s about two months since I did these tours, so I can’t remember it all clearly. But we went out of the lobby and were introduced to the main auditorium, the one where the Gilead graduations are held. If I recall correctly, it seats about 2000 people!
Patterrson is called the educational Center though because not only do they do the Bible school of Gilead, but the School for Branch Committee members and their wives too.
This is also where the Audio Visual Department is – where they make the Become Jehovah’s Friend animated series, and videos such as the Prodigal Son and What is True Love. Our dramatic bible readings, and the watchtower orchestra are all done here!
We even got a photo opportunity with going on field service with Caleb and Sophia 🙂
Of course, how are all these people, students, teachers, musicians, and other staff/volunteers (in case you didn’t know, those working at Bethel are volunteers and only get a small allowance each month to cover basic necessities, not a large salary) cared for? Well at each bethel there are support staff/volunteers who help to care for meals, housekeeping and laundry. Here at Patterson though is one of the largest laundry departments of Bethels, because not only do they do the laundry for the Patterson complex, but also it gets trucked in from Brooklyn, and the many volunteers who are doing the major construction of the new world headquarters at Warwick have their laundry done here. That’s literally thousands of people’s laundry. How does it not get mixed up? Well each person gets a barcode which is attached to the inside of all their clothing, this is then scanned and sorted into different peoples’ piles.
At the end of our tour in chatting to the tour guide a little bit, it turned out that she happened to have visited South Africa not too long ago, and stayed with a sister who I know 2 congregations away from my congregation. Have I ever mentioned that as witnesses, the world is really really small?
So some in the tour group knew friends in bethel and got invited to bethel for lunch. The rest of us went off to a nearby shopping centre with a few fast food outlets, and a supermarket. You’d think that after less then a week of being away from home, I wouldn’t have been that ecstatic about finding a supermarket, but oh boy I was delighted! Finding Normal, healthy food at somewhat decent prices made me very happy. New York City does not have a normal supermarket (nowhere I was anyway), they have little corner bodegas that charge way too much. So I bought fruits, and salad, and bread, and juice and I think water, I cant remember what else I picked up. But that was lunch, supper, and lunch the next day. And sharing ripe and sweet strawberries in the bus during the driving.
Wallkill Bethel Complex
After picking up the others from their lunch at bethel we took the drive up to Wallkill bethel complex. This is known as the printery and farm. Although Paterson has orchards, wallkill has the farms – with the three bethel complexes and the major building project of the new world headquarters in Warwick, there are around 5000 people that need feeding every day. Wallkill did remind me a lot of the South Africa bethel branch very much, with its red brick exterior, the lovely grassed lawns outside, the pond and of course the printing presses.
Again in the lobby area were some history displays of Jehovah’s Witnesses, this time more about the printing work though, of course because it is the printing press here.
The start of the tour took us first into an area to see how the printing used to be done many many moons ago, how they do Braille printing, and a couple of displays of how bible writers would have had “printed material” – see pictures at the bottom of the post.
Next our tour took us down into the printery itself, from seeing the way the printing plates themselves are made, to the way they laminate the covers of our softcover books, how they do the hard cover books, and how they package the books to go off to each congregation. We saw the embossing, guilding and the trimming of the bibles and that the hardcover 1984 New World Translation is still being printed because the 2013 revision has not been translated into Spanish yet.
Although Paterson bethel currently has most of the original paintings you find in the books and publications of Jehovah’s Witnesses, Wallkill has a few. One of the paintings they have is the well known one of Darius the Mede and his joint medo-Persian army walking in the almost dry river bed of the Euphrates, in order to invade Babylon. The tour guide reminded us of how much effort goes into each painting, he pointed out the Tower of Babel in the background of the painting and mentioned that when the artist painted this and took it to the brothers to use in the publications, someone said that there was no ways that they could have seen the tower from the river bed, the painting was inaccurate! So the artist went about getting as much archeological historical
facts as he could, he then build a “to scale” 3D model of the scene, and from where the painting is based to the tower put a string to see if it really was so that the tower would be within sigh. Only after all that effort to ensure that the painting was historically accurate did it get approved for being used in the publications. A couple of other things you may notice in the painting is the clothing and headgear of the soldiers, the two nations made an alliance, the one nation had a strong point of sword fighting, the other of archery, therefore the archers expected missiles from a of and wore helmets. Also, the Persians were the first recorded nation to wear trousers. So when you next pick up a watchtower or another publication made by Jehovah’s Witnesses, rest assured that any pictures or artwork is absolutely accurate.
A real roadhouse diner
So after Wallkill, we headed to a nearby gift shop called the Harvest Inn, which has things like field ministry bags and bible and other book covers. And had dinner across the road at an 1950/60 style all American road house, down to the chrome rounded metal outside and the leatherette racing striped booth chairs. I wasn’t too hungry, after eating all that wonderful fresh food I bought for lunch, so while everyone else was munching on burgers and fries, I was fending them off of my giant slice of triple chocolate cake. Yummy! And that was it for the day, a long drive back to the hotel, singing songs and chatting with friends.