The Early Days
The witnessing work took hold in Finland in 1909 when Emil Österman and Kaarlo Harteva, who were young and energetic, made the truth their own. Without sparing themselves, they started preaching the good news in this northern land. Within the next year, they published literature in Finnish. In 1911, the first office was opened, and in 1912 the brothers started publishing The Watch Tower magazine.
In 1912, Charles T. Russell, and in 1913, Joseph F. Rutherford, visited Finland and encouraged the small group of brothers. Those visits were successful. Although in 1912 there were only about 40 publishers in Finland, over a thousand people showed up for Brother Russell’s talk.
Under Ban During World War II
During World War II, the nationalistic spirit increased and the activity of Jehovah's Witnesses was banned in Finland. Many brothers who refused to join the military were arrested and confined to prison, penitentiary, or house arrest. Some mock trials resulting in death sentences were arranged. However, these death sentences were never carried out. They were solely a means of intimidation and an attempt to get our brothers to compromise their faith.
Despite the ban, the brothers forged ahead, and in 1940 they rented the Helsinki Olympic Stadium for a public talk. The brothers distributed some 78,000 handbills to advertise the talk.
However, the authorities forbade the lecture just before it was to begin. Therefore, the brothers delivered the manuscript to the largest daily newspapers in the country, and more than a million people—almost a third of the population of the country at the time—were able to read it in print!
Brothers worked hard in placing our literature, although it was under ban, and had been confiscated from the branch. The main articles from The Watchtower were mimeographed. Many sisters acted as couriers and transported the copies throughout the country. Until 1987, male Witnesses were sentenced to jail because of their neutral stand. In the early 1960's, the average jail sentence was 27 months. The brothers considered that time as “spiritual higher education.”
Vigorous Witnessing After the War
In 1945, soon after the war had ended, the Religious Association of Jehovah's Witnesses was registered. This resulted in a vigorous public preaching work that could be seen and heard everywhere. The Olympic Stadium was again rented for a public talk. The talk was widely advertised by a placard-carrying procession of Witnesses that stretched a quarter of a mile. The procession was followed by a cavalcade of sound cars announcing the Kingdom message. Leading the procession was a brother on a big brown horse, waving a banner with the words: “Jehovah’s Witnesses.” What a sight! Altogether 12,000 arrived at the stadium to listen. Shortly after that, The Watchtower started to be published again in Finnish. The brothers were so eager to present the subscription that they received a record number of new subscriptions: 40,038! That was almost 30 subscriptions per publisher.
The "Photo-Drama of Creation" arrived to Finland in 1914 on the very last merchant ship from Germany before World War I halted all ship traffic. By the end of the year, the "Photo-Drama" had been seen by 80,500 people.
The Watch Tower Society’s president, Nathan H. Knorr, visited Finland on his journey to war-ravaged Europe. He and his companions arrived on December 18, 1945, by boat from Sweden. This is how their diary of travel reads: “About seventeen hours from the time it left Stockholm the Bore V entered the waters of the Finnish bay near Turku and seemed almost glad it had weathered the trip and could be in its home waters, there to push about the six-inch slabs of ice that filled the harbor.”
During his visit, Brother Knorr related the exciting news about the recent opening of the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead for missionary training.
Just a few months later, four brothers were the first of more than 100 in Finland to receive their invitations to Gilead.
In 1911, Brother Harteva rented the premises for the first branch office in Finland. In 1931, Finland received their first printing press. The branch office was moved quite a few times because of the need for larger facilities. Bethel moved into its present location in 1962. The Finland branch was the first to start four-color printing for all of its magazines and printed literature in a total of 144 languages. Printing continued in Finland for 83 years before the printing was regionalized in the Central Europe branch.
In the early 1990's the work was registered in the neighboring country of Russia and in the Baltic countries of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. After that, the Finland branch was assigned to assist in organizing the Kingdom work, including construction in the Baltic States and the branch construction project in Russia. Since 1992, about 1,000 volunteers have assisted on approximately 70 building projects in Russia and in the Baltics. In addition, a number of publishers and pioneers have helped with the preaching work in this region. In 2013, the branches in the Baltic region and in Finland were merged. Now the Bethel family is truly a happy international family.
The first convention in Finland was held in 1912, with an attendance of about 60 people. Some had traveled almost 480 kilometers (300 mi) in order to attend the convention. International conventions have been held in Helsinki in 1965, 1973, 1978, and 1983. In 2016, the Helsinki special convention will return to the same exhibition center previously used in 1983—after 33 years.
Picture credits: Helsinki City Museum/Kannisto Väinö