‘Guided by God’s Spirit’: Thousands of Jehovah’s Witnesses gathering in Jackson

‘Guided by God’s Spirit’: Thousands
of Jehovah’s Witnesses gathering in Jackson

photo

 Jehovah’s Witnesses Eric Dixon (left),
daughters Kennedi and Aijah and Michael Richardson
go door-to-door through a Brandon neighborhood on
Saturday sharing their faith.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
It’s Saturday morning and some visitors knock on your door.

The men wear suits and ties. Women dress in skirts that fall below the knee. Children sport
their neatly pressed Sunday best.

Before they utter a word, you recognize the strangers as Jehovah’s Witnesses, whose active
proselytizing have made them one of the world’s fastest growing religions.

“We feel that’s our commission,” said Herb Jarman of Petal. “All of our ministers go door-to-door.”

The result of the faith group’s persistent evangelism will be evident this weekend and next as
the region’s Jehovah’s Witnesses gather at the Mississippi Coliseum in Jackson for two conventions.
More than 12,000 delegates from Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama and Tennessee are expected to
attend the weekend events. The local Jehovah’s Witnesses conventions have
become the largest religious group gathering held in the Jackson metro area.

 


photo

Joe Ellis/The Clarion-Ledger

Above: Colby Watson preps members of the Brandon
Jehovah’s Witness Kingdom Hall before they head out
into the community offering religious literature and
in-home Bible studies.

 

 

In a sign of the faith group’s growth, the event will include baptism of new believers.

Adherents grew by more than 3 percent from 2006 to 2007, and now number close to 7 million
worldwide.

There are 2,000 believers in the metro area spread among 14 congregations, which includes one
Spanish-speaking group, said Derrick Qualls, a local Jehovah’s Witnesses spokesman.

“Each congregation has about 75 to 100 baptized members,” Qualls said. “One of the reasons for
keeping them small is at that size it helps when individuals have problems we can give them the
assistance they need.”

Familiar territory

Though Jehovah’s Witnesses in the United States make up less than one percent of the population – or 1 million people – few Americans go through their lives without a visit from a believer.

“Pretty much they know who we are,” said Jarman, who works as a mail carrier for the U.S. Postal
Service. “But occasionally we’re mixed up with Mormons.”

Jarman, 55, has been going door-to-door to share his beliefs since he was a child, when his parents
converted to the faith.


photo

As Jehovah’s Witnesses (from left) Lexie  Holifield, 7, Angela Scales, Lexie’s mother Nikisha Holifield and brother Cameron Holifield, 6, are taught to go door-to-door regularly to share their
faith.

 

 

 

Like most Jehovah Witnesses, Jarman spends from 10 to 15 hours a month knocking on doors handing out religious literature and offering to lead in-home Bible studies.

Some believers, called pioneers, devote up to 30 hours a week to evangelism, Jarman said.

“That’s basically their vocation,” he said.

Though he’s knocked on more doors than he can count, Jarman admits the work remains challenging.

“I couldn’t do this without God spiritually behind me giving me the courage to do it,” he said.
“I still get nervous.”

Over the years he’s been threatened with a gun, rounded up by the police and has heard more than his share of “no thanks.”

Historical look

Jehovah’s Witnesses got their modern-day start in the 1870s, and have faced persecution for their
beliefs from the beginning.

They don’t believe in the Trinity, which most Christian groups regard as fundamental. They
consider God’s kingdom an actual government. As such, they don’t vote, won’t salute a nation’s flag
and refuse to serve in the military.

Despite the rigors of the faith – Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t celebrate birthdays, Christmas and
Easter because none are mentioned in the Bible – it continues to flourish.

Young convert

Roynold Mitchell, an elder in a Jackson Jehovah’s Witnesses congregation and a retired steel
fabrication company owner, converted to the faith with his family at age 11.

Though his family had a long tradition of worshipping in the African Methodist Episcopal
church, his parents were receptive to the Jehovah’s Witnesses who knocked on their door.

“I don’t really know what it was that caused them to pay attention,” Mitchell, 61, said. “Early on we
were taught to stay away from Jehovah’s Witnesses.”

But after studying the Bible with the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mitchell and his brother became so
enthusiastic about the faith they volunteered to give up birthdays, Christmas and Easter.

“It was us boys who were eager to tell my mom and dad that we didn’t want to celebrate these
holidays,” he said. “In 1959 we had our last celebration of Christmas.”

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