These are just some of the conditions those who fall for a Jehovah's Witness must adhere to. Members of the sect in Germany prefer to pair off their children within the faith community, and regional congresses make for prime matchmaking territory. Her hair is delicately pinned up, arranged in bud-like clusters. Like thousands of others, she has come to Dortmund with her family -- all of them strict believers, all of them dressed up for the special day -- for the annual North Rhine-Westfalia convention of Jehovah's Witnesses.
Having doubts about his faith, the oldest son stayed home. It's a blow to the parents but the enthusiasm of their younger children compensates for the one son's lack of faith. They arrive in caravans, bringing Tupperware, coolers, blankets and, most importantly, their Bibles.
Here they can pray among peers, feeling a sense of community instead of isolation. And since the family must expand, "many Witnesses naturally meet their future spouses here," says Uwe Langhals, another spokesman, who has been a Jehovah's Witness since he was Once decried as a cult, the Jehovah's Witnesses have managed to successfully fight for the title of "statutory public body" in 12 of the 16 German states. This gives them the same legal status as, for example, the Protestant church.
Though they occupy enormous venues, the public hardly notices their presence. Dortmund is home to the largest district convention of Jehovah's Witnesses in the country. The majority of those following the faith in Germany hail from the Ruhr region, which is densely populated and has relatively high unemployment.
Some 40, Witnesses are expected to attend the event on each of the three days it will last. Now they are standing in the Westfalen Stadium, embracing fellow brothers and sisters. Melanie is busy catching up with a friend. There are many young people, among them young straight-backed men in suits. The girls exchange secretive looks and giggle. At first glance, it could be a wedding party. The girls' skirts might be a little longer and the children might look a bit more nicely coiffed, but it would be difficult to assign this group of people to any particular faith community.
It's only their purple plastic nametags that give them away: Written above the name is the phrase "Let God's Kingdom Come! They have been married for 12 years. Both have been Jehovah's Witnesses since they were young. They spend 40 hours per week doing missionary work, preferably side-by-side. They are nice, peaceful people. They offer strangers licorice and apple slices, spread out wool blankets against the cold and help old people up the stairs. They listen quietly to the speaker on the lawn below.
They sit close together, still and pious in the seats usually occupied by cheering, swearing fans of the Borussia Dortmund football club. They hold their Bible in front of them like a silver tray: Their entire life is in this Bible. There are passages explaining why nicotine is forbidden but a glass of wine at the end of the day permitted, why blood transfusions are to be avoided and why non-believers must be converted.
At least, they claim that's what the Bible says. They don't mention that the Protestant church has described the translation of the Bible used by Jehovah's Witnesses as inaccurate and uncritical. Throughout the meeting, Bible passages are discussed at length and hymns are sung. Every so often, there is an interview with a Jehovah's Witness.
These always follow the same format: Asked to tell about his missionary work, the interviewee enthuses about the experience -- it's wonderful. There are some , Jehovah's Witnesses in Germany.
The number of children and youths among them is not recorded. Yet many of them are victims of this community, which promises paradise -- but for many, becomes a hell on earth. It's a community that presumes to have a say in who its young people marry. Markus, a student who left the Jehovah's Witnesses, says: He was bullied at school for being a Witness.
And when he brought his first girlfriend home, his father promptly sent her packing. At age 18, he moved out and hasn't been back since.
Because he chose freedom and his current girlfriend, he is "essentially parentless," he says. The pamphlet, Melanie says, contains a lot of information on topics she is familiar with: Like a faith-based dating manual, it includes tips on how to "get to know" the other person. Why are year-olds spending their time in Bible Study, instead of meeting with their friends? What impact does it have on young people, when they are not allowed to try anything, are never permitted to be unreasonable, and when they see homosexuality as an aberration that needs to be treated with therapy?
Witnesses Beget Witnesses "I fell in love with a non-believer once but it didn't work," says Melanie. It's easier to be with someone who shares the same values. There are fewer fights and less conflict -- just more silent obedience to Jehovah. Melanie hopes to find a fellow Jehovah's Witness for a husband. Her mother told her that marriages with nonbelievers often end in divorce.
She points to a Bible passage for support: The community has simplified this to three simple words: The annual regional congresses play an important match-making role. Children typically don't find husbands at the weekly local meetings because these are kept small and, of the 70 to persons who attend, most are adults. In addition to the larger meetings, there is also the option of finding a partner on the Internet, though Jehovah's Witnesses are skeptical about the Web.
But their two girls are a consolation: At 17 and 12, both are baptized and firm believers. They are good girls and faithful Witnesses. They sit in the Westfalen Stadium and pray.