Witnesses assemble for annual convention
SULLIVAN ARENA: Three-day meeting in Anchorage is one of 266 taking place across the country.
By KATE CHENEY DAVIDSON
Anchorage Daily News
It’s all about the book.
“What we do is study the Bible,” said Anchorage Jehovah’s Witness Maria Dykstra, “from Genesis to Revelations.” According to Witnesses, the Bible represents the word of God. Of Jehovah. Of Truth.
Today, approximately 3,000 people from Alaska and the Yukon are gathering at Sullivan Arena for three days of Bible study and scriptural discussions. This year’s convention stresses the deliverance God offers from earthly sins on the day of reckoning.
It’s not just happening in Anchorage. Across the world, millions of people will convene in similar venues to discuss the Bible’s “good news.” In the U.S. alone, 266 conventions are being held with an expected attendance of 1.5 million. Anchorage has played host to the annual meeting since 1948.
You probably got a flier.
Witnesses have been busy blanketing door mats with brightly colored invitations to join them at the big event. It’s free and open to anyone. And available in Spanish.
For Benjamin Schiller, an Anchorage civil engineer, the convention is a highlight of his year. “I like the fact it’s all practical counsel,” said Schiller. “It’s things you can apply in your life.” Schiller became a Jehovah’s Witness 17 years ago.
“I’m not an emotional person. I’m not attracted to religion to fulfill an emotional need. It always goes back to the Bible. It answers the questions I’m looking for in a logical way I can understand. It makes a lot of sense.”
Dykstra looks forward to conventions, too. “I’ve never missed one,” she said.
Raised with mainstream religions, Dykstra discovered Jehovah’s Witnesses when she was in college. Ask her about being a Witness — be prepared for a Bble reading.
“This is our textbook,” said Dykstra, holding a Bible before her at one of Anchorage’s four meeting facilities, called Kingdom Halls. “You might say it’s also my vocation. Sharing this with others.”
For Dykstra, knocking on strangers’ doors to talk about the Bible, a volunteer activity for many Witnesses, is exciting.
“I look at it like a treasure chest,” she said. “You never know who’s going to be behind the door.”
Her beliefs help her deal with the violence in the world, she said. She said she feels “so sad for people” who watch the news and don’t realize “it’s never going to be any different” until heaven and earth are reconciled.
Knowledge of the coming reconciliation “gives me peace,” she said.
Jehovah’s Witnesses, a worldwide religion with more than 6 million members in 230 countries, is a young faith, rooted in an 1870s Bible study group in Pennsylvania. The group attracted new members through the publication of its Watchtower magazine, a Bible study tool. Today, the religion’s headquarters are based in Brooklyn, New York,
Jehovah’s Witnesses are nothing if not welcoming. From their unexpected house calls to their seemingly never ending supply of rainbow colored pamphlets, Witnesses are always at the ready, the book in hand.
Over their history, believers have been persecuted, often for refusing to serve in the military or rejecting blood transfusions on biblical grounds. In many cities, Kingdom Halls resemble strongholds. But the Witness meeting place in East Anchorage sits on a quiet wooded lot, surrounded by manicured lawns and flowering plants. A sign out front welcomes visitors and posts meeting times.
They even give tours.
From inside, floor to ceiling windows look out on towering spruce.
“Isn’t it beautiful?” said Dykstra, who volunteers her time as a guide and administrative assistant. “In the winter when it’s snowing, it’s feels like we’re inside a snow globe.”
At a glance
WHAT: Convention of Jehovah’s Witnesses
WHEN: today to Sunday, 9:30 a.m.
WHERE: Sullivan Arena