Marcus Gubanyi, a graduate student from Seward, Neb., opened his door in a KU Buddy System T-shirt and athletic shorts.
“Good morning,” said Crystal Hartley, a 22-year-old from Lawrence. “How are you doing this morning? My name’s Crystal. I’m one of Jehovah’s Witnesses.”
Jehovah’s Witnesses is an evangelical Christian denomination. The two congregations in Lawrence have about 150 members who go door-to-door spreading the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ message. They split the city into territories and divide up so every door is knocked on at least once a year.
At 9:30 a.m. on a Friday at Chase Court apartments near 19th and Iowa Streets, most knocks go unanswered. Most of the people who are home, like Gubanyi, are KU students barefoot in pajamas.
Hartley asked if Gubanyi watched the news and proceeded to say there’s always a lot of bad news in the world. Gubanyi nodded and said OK as Hartley read him Jeremiah 29:11: “ ‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’ ”
Hartley’s parents were Jehovah’s Witnesses too; she was baptized at 15. She’s supported by her husband, and volunteers 70 hours a month to go door-to-door with Jehovah’s Witnesses. She said spreading the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ message is important and can really help people.
“If you’re in a building and the building is on fire, you don’t just get out,” Hartley said. “You help other people get out too.”
She wore modest business attire, sandals with orange flowers over the toes, a gray skirt past her knees, and a striped cardigan past her elbows. She held a Bible, some pamphlets, brochures and recent magazines, protected in a plastic folder from the drizzling rain.
Gubanyi thanked her as he closed the door.
“I let them say their thing to satisfy what they need,” he said.
Gubanyi is Lutheran and he said there is a zero percent chance of him converting to Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Hartley smiled as she started a note in her Galaxy HTC One. When someone is nice and seems interested, she notes their first name and makes plans to come back in a couple of weeks to see if there was anything they might want to know more about.
“Great,” Gubanyi said later.
Hartley then met Alison McCourt, a third-year law student from Onaga. She answered the door of her apartment with her hair half straightened and half in a clip.
Hartley read her the Jeremiah verse.
“So that’s a nice thought,” Hartley said.
“Yeah,” McCourt said. “It is.”
McCourt wasn’t running late that morning and she said there’s no reason to be rude, especially not to someone who looked around her age.
Hartley had a message and McCourt wanted to let her to get it out.
After Hartley left, McCourt threw the pamphlet away as she walked to the bathroom to finish straightening her hair. Someone going door-to-door wouldn’t persuade her on something big like seeking out a different religion, she said.
That’s fine with Leonard Blanton, a 67-year-old Jehovah’s Witness. Not everybody who takes a pamphlet is going to respond, but he said God may move some people to ask for more information.
“The more information you have on something, the better decisions you make,” he said.
Blanton has been going door-to-door since he was baptized when he was nine; his parents were Jehovah’s Witnesses too. Jehovah’s Witnesses recognize people don’t have a lot of time to talk so instead of reading three or more scripture verses, he hands out a pamphlet referring people to JW.org, which is available in 500 different languages.
“How you doing this morning?” he said as each door opened. “My name is Leonard. We’re on a worldwide campaign to give answers to the big questions and we’re just stopping briefly.”
Matt Cooper, a third-year KU law student from Lenexa, peeked out his head behind the cracked door of his apartment. He had just gotten back from a trip and didn’t want Hartley to see the unpacked clothes strewn across his living room.
Cooper said it was like someone trying to sell a magazine subscription.
“They have to know everybody’s going to say no thanks,” he said. “It’s an effort of futility.”
Hartley says she doesn’t let a negative response get to her.
“It’s not us they’re rejecting, it’s our message” she said. “And that’s their personal choice.”