Jehovah's Witnesses believe they're following in the footsteps of Christ by performing their public ministry. The question I often got asked while knocking on people's doors was, "Why do you call so often?" Truth be told, it probably seemed often but JWs are lucky if they cover their territory every year. In some parts of the world, territory gets covered only after many years, and sometimes not at all. But in North America, with the number of JWs being higher than in other countries, it seems that they're in your face pretty frequently.
I'll give you the official JW spiel first. They believe they're in a life-saving work, attempting to get the "good news" out before the end of the world occurs. I recall the favourite illustration of the importance of the ministry was to compare it to rescuing people from a burning building, or a sinking ship; this 'miserable, Godless, steadily declining world' being the burning building/sinking ship of course.
The other reason for calling so often is, as we were told, "people's lives change". Life changes such as getting married, getting divorced, having a child, losing a loved one in death, illness, unemployment, poverty---these were all breeding ground for someone to be re-evaluating their life and possibly be open to the message the JW was bringing. They view it as seeking out the "meek" ones. Over time, I saw it as seeking out the desperate and the vulnerable.
When you call on people's homes, you meet all types of people. Often the people who are home when JWs call are the sick, the elderly, the depressed, the isolated, the uneducated and the impoverished. As I learned more about psychology and the human mind, I began to meet people in the JW ministry who needed a therapist more than they needed the "good news". I felt torn. I felt obligated to share with them the "hope" that I was indoctrinated to believe, but deep down I wanted to direct them to the nearest social services agency or health professional for assistance.
Nothing typifies this more than the stories JWs would give of how they came into "the Truth". (JWs call their religion the Truth with a capital "T". I'm sure if they could trademark it they would.) Over and over again, I heard of people who were drawn into the religion at a time when they were down and out. "I had just lost my job." "My husband had just died." "I was a drug addict." "I was an alcoholic." "I had little education." The older I got, the more it bothered me that people were making huge changes in belief at a time when they were most vulnerable. But I was so deeply ingrained in the belief that I was offering them a hope that they desperately needed. I felt I was adding to the quality of their life. I was deluded. And I, in turn, deluded others.
I sold hope. A hope based on wishful thinking and pipe dreams. And I wasn't the only one. Besides JWs there are people of many different faiths and religions selling hope every day. "Get saved and be with Jesus in heaven." "Be born again." "Live forever." "Become a martyr. There's 70 virgins waiting for you in heaven." Same baseless hope, different package.
I feel bad about my involvement in the selling of hope. I wish I could go back and tell those people how wrong I was. And with some I have done just that. I'm fortunate in that no one converted because of my preaching. But there are days where I wish I'd never been involved with any of it. Today is one of those days.