Jehovah’s Witness convention is expected to draw 10,000

Jehovah’s Witness convention is expected to draw 10,000
By SUSAN ORR

Juin 24, 2006

Photo by Justin Rumbach
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Sequoia Harris, 8, gets in close with her grandmother, Anna Tyler, to share her songbook during a recent Jehovah’s Witness meeting at the congregation’s Kingdom Hall.

Photo by Justin Rumbach
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On Thursday nights at the Kingdom Hall, Evansville’s Southeast Congregation learns ways to be effective with their message and how to relay it to the public. Bethany Parrish, left, plays a doubtful college student as Christy Ferguson, right, explains the validity of the Bible

Photo by Justin Rumbach
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An elder at the church speaks to the congregation about the coming convention at Roberts Stadium.
If the Jehovah’s Witnesses haven’t knocked on your door recently, expect a visit soon. That’s because the believers are gearing up for an annual district convention that will attract more than 10,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses – and, they hope, lots of interested visitors – to Evansville’s Roberts Stadium.

The convention is one of 266 identical events being held in 73 cities nationwide from now through September. The local gathering will draw Jehovah’s Witnesses from Indiana, Kentucky and Illinois and who will attend Friday through July 2 or July 7-9. Two separate conventions are taking place here because Evansville does not have a venue large enough to accommodate the entire group at once.

In recent weeks, local Jehovah’s Witnesses have been making special efforts to visit all residents and invite them to the convention.

Evangelism is at the core of the faith.

“Our goal is to preach the good news of God’s kingdom,” said Ira Parrish, an elder with the Southeast Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses which meets at a Kingdom Hall on Burdette Avenue. Jehovah’s Witnesses use the term “Kingdom Hall” rather than “church” to refer to their gathering places.

“When you become one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, that is it – the public ministry.”

The Southeast Congregation meets in one of Evansville’s four Kingdom Halls. Jehovah’s Witnesses keep their congregations to no more than 100 or 150 members, and sometimes different congregations share a Kingdom Hall by using the facility at different times. In all, Evansville has six separate Jehovah’s Witnesses congregations, one of them Spanish-speaking.

Because evangelism is such a key part of the faith, Jehovah’s Witnesses spend a lot of time preparing for this activity.

On Thursday evenings, Parrish and other members of his congregation meet for Theocratic Ministry School – essentially, public speaking training. The school’s curriculum covers dozens of topics, including poise, naturalness, voice quality, being tactful yet firm.

During a recent meeting, some members role-played different scenarios. In one, a woman played the role of a skeptical college student, while another woman played the role of the “publisher,” or Jehovah’s Witness, who convinced her that the Bible is still relevant.

Another scenario demonstrated how publishers should approach people to invite them to the convention.

“With a quick, simple presentation, we can get to many doors pretty quick,” Theocratic Ministry School conductor Marty Welch told the congregation.

Everything is geared toward making members more effective evangelists.

Before a Jehovah’s Witness can begin evangelizing, he must take a Bible study course, become baptized into the faith and participate in the ministry school.

Each congregation concentrates its door-to-door evangelism within a geographic territory assigned to it by the Jehovah’s Witness headquarters in New York.

But even with the training and structure, evangelism can be a daunting task for newcomers.

“If you talk to a lot of us, most of us were afraid to do it,” Parrish said.

Shirley Bard, a Jehovah’s Witness since 1974, recalled her early experiences of going door to door with another woman. Bard would resolve to speak, but once she rang the doorbell she’d change her mind and make her partner talk.

“I would back out every time because I was afraid,” Bard said.

Bard said her partner eventually started waiting in the car while Bard approached each house alone.

“Once I did it, I was OK, but the initial visit was hard at first,” she said.

During the recent meeting, members were asked to share their experiences of inviting people to the convention.

“We just went berserk the first week, so we’re sort of paying the price this week, … We’re suffering, but it’s a good suffering,” member Ernestine Howard told the group.

Most members’ stories focused on positive interactions with the people they had met, but not every story was uplifting.

“We didn’t get everybody to listen,” one woman said.

But the woman, along with Parrish, said they expect to encounter some rejection because the Bible predicts this.

“Jesus was the greatest teacher who ever lived, but there were no mass conversions,” Parrish said.

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