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31 Jan

They spend 40 hours per week doing missionary work, preferably side-by-side. 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.

Like a faith-based dating manual, it includes tips on how to "get to know" the other person.

1) "Discuss something from the Bible together" 2) "Observe how the other person participates in meetings and sermons" 3) "Help clean the Kingdom Hall (a place of worship used by Jehova's witnesses) and with construction projects" How many German youths would rather sweep the floors of the Kingdom Hall than spend their summer days flirting at the swimming pool?

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. 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.

Every so often, there is an interview with a Jehovah's Witness.

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Now they are standing in the Westfalen Stadium, embracing fellow brothers and sisters. There are many young people, among them young straight-backed men in suits. " 'It's Great' Andreas and Stefanie Georg, 33 and 34, are among those sitting on the rows of seats in the Westfalen Stadium. Both have been Jehovah's Witnesses since they were young. They offer strangers licorice and apple slices, spread out wool blankets against the cold and help old people up the stairs.

"This is our big family reunion," says Michael Krenzer, a spokesman for the Jehovah's Witnesses in Dortmund.

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 15.

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. " Melanie, 17, was baptized as a Jehovah's Witness at 14.

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.