Jehovah’s witnesses still going door-to-door in a closed-door world bad gas 6 weeks pregnant


It’s rarely that simple these days for the salvation peddlers at the Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses. It’s not that there isn’t bad news anymore; it’s just that people have a new way of processing bad news — or not processing it. The Witnesses fully acknowledge they are the last of a thinning breed: door-to-door, face-to-face salesmen, shoe-leather agents in a guarded age when technology, social media and cyber-dependence are making more and more transactions devoid of human contact.

"People have more personal boundaries these days, more than in the past," says Keith Heatly, 42, who is getting ready to lead his 10-person crew into the Crescent Heights neighborhood. "I don’t even think neighbors really know each other that much anymore. And Jehovah’s Witnesses get caught up in that. Maybe back in the day life was simpler, safer. Maybe it’s not us; maybe it’s a sign of the times."

Jonathan Burns is sweating on the sidewalk. It’s August-hot in April, giving this otherwise leafy street in Crescent Heights a thick doomed air, rugged conditions for door-to-door salesmanship, especially when you’re lugging around a heavy satchel full of Watchtower pamphlets.

There is no "quota" when you’re preaching the Truth as a Jehovah’s Witness. This isn’t Glengarry Glen Ross, salvation in lieu of steak knives. Jonathan admits "it would be nice" if people he met going door-to-door joined their church. But really, he says, he just wants you to read the Bible: "What they do with the education is up to them."

The Witnesses usually go out in big groups, often couples or families, then split up into pairs to go house-to-house; neighborhoods are assigned to the closest Kingdom Hall. "When you look out your window, you don’t want to see a dozen Jehovah’s Witnesses at your door," smiles Heatly. "We’re not there to disturb a community."

Today there are 10 Witnesses hitting up Crescent Heights together. This includes the Mitchell family and its two youngest members, son Devin, 9, and daughter Mya, 7. Mya, who is paired with mom Angela, says she gets a lot out of public ministry. Like what? "I get treats at the end of the day. I get slushies."

Heatly and his door-to-door partner, Izudin Banjanovic, are greeted with darkly comic hostility. "I’m not dressed, and I’m busy!" one woman shrieks before slamming the door on them. Heatly tries to keep his composure, saying to the closed door: "Understandable, ma’am. We’ll stop by another time."

They have refused to change their business plan when basically everyone else has. "We see Mormons out there from time to time," says Heatly. "But it’s mostly us." Heck, their business model is in their name; public ministry — that is, knocking on your door to spread the good word — is an act of "witnessing." Vacuum-cleaner salesmen and Avon ladies had options after door-to-door sales became more regulated in the ’70s and ’80s; the Witnesses don’t have a choice.

Witnesses have always been routinely maligned for their public ministry, a door-to-door doctrine that is ingrained in their worship — that is, coming to your door, calmly asking you about happiness, possibly even skeeving you out. Their rights are protected by the First Amendment; their feelings are not. And yet their persistence in the year 2015 is quaint, old-school, even rather charming depending on your tolerance.

James Graham, Sharon’s 82-year-old husband, says even our more personal searches for meaning are plugged in and Wi-Fi-ready these days, and that works against his core sales pitch: "A lot of people go straight to the Internet for answers. We want them to go to the Bible."

But first those potential clients have to open the front door, make contact with another human. And that, too, is becoming a rarity. "When we knock on that door, we can hear the conversations inside," says James with a chuckle. "You can hear them say, ‘Don’t you open that door!’ "

Jonathan and Mary Burns, both 37 and owners of an auto-interior company, approach a finely landscaped house, a two-story dwelling that sits proud and brick-built on a street corner. Jonathan rings the doorbell, running a quick thumb across his wet forehead.

A young, blond woman answers, swinging the door open wide; she’s holding a small, docile dog that may or may not know, and may not even care, that it’s wearing a shock collar. Jonathan and Mary introduce themselves. "If my voice sounds funny," he says, "it’s the pollen from all these oak trees."

The homeowner, who we’ll later find out is named Michele, smiles, clears her throat, waits. The dog, who we’ll later find out is named Lola, eyes the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Jonathan starts his pitch: "We’d like to talk to you today about happiness. What do you think is the biggest hindrance to happiness these days?"