Life on Earth came full circle iná a weekend convention of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
At the annual district convention, which began last Friday in DeKalb and drew in nearly 6,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses, the beginning of the world and the end of the world tied around one common theme.
That theme was “Keep on the Watch!” and referred to text in the Bible that describes the world’s end as a “great tribulation” that has not occurred since the world’s beginning and will not occur again, according to the Gospel of Matthew.
While many people and religions offer different views about the end of the world, Witnesses feel that what the Bible teaches is that it’s a time of enlightenment and joy, said Gary L. West, a Poplar Grove resident who attended the convention with his wife, Jean.
“We’re not worried or frightened, but we are alert,” West said.
Unlike the popular belief that the end of the world is the end of time, or Judgment Day, Witnesses believe it will be an event similar to the floods that destroyed humankind-turned-evil, save Noah and his ark.
“It’s talking about the world as alienated from God,” West said.
West said that Witnesses approach the subject not in a fanatical way, but by using careful judgment in everyday life. “Spiritual dangers” – like drug use and gambling – should be avoided, and the Bible should be studied in order to stay alert.
Along with spiritual gains, he added that avoiding negative behaviors has very real benefits: money can be spent in better ways and a greater focus can be on family, for instance.
“People are being barraged all the time by different viewpoints of morality, different concerns for the economy,” West said. “We know by trusting God that we can cope with the most difficult situations in life and it gives us a positive hope in him.”
By lunchtime on Friday, the thousands of Witnesses and others who packed the Convocation Center, Northern Illinois University’s sports arena, had just finished listening to the keynote speaker. Darien Hanson called on the group to be “watchdogs” and to be alert to the signs of Jesus’ presence. A slackening of Christian expectations, he said, is detrimental to this.
Hanson also announced a very exciting offer: A DVD on creationism was being released that weekend, and each family in the audience could take home a copy. This is what Jean West was most excited about, as it would help illustrate God as a creator, she said.
“It tells us we have a maker who’s intelligent,” her husband added.
Though the Bible teaches that God both created the world and will someday end the world, neither the 24th chapter of Matthew nor Jehovah’s Witnesses know when that will be.
“We feel that there is going to be this change,” West said.
As written in Matthew, Jesus tells his disciples that preceding this time will be wars, famine, false prophets and the like. This makes the 2009 district convention theme very “timely,” West said, noting how much has changed since the onset of World War I.
“They have developed things that could destroy life, animals and land,” he said. “Things are not what they used to be.”
Family is a major component of Witnesses’ value system. At the yearly conventions, Friday afternoons are focused on the family unit “to assist the family to be close together, to be vigilant, to be a source of encouragement and actually helping families to know that their homes become a haven of peace and security,” said Peter Arthurs, a spokesman for the nearby Cherry Valley congregation.
Conventions will continue the next three weekends and are free and open to the public. On Saturday, 50 people were baptized as Jehovah’s Witnesses, again bringing the weekend’s theme full circle as they began a new vow to “keep on the watch” for the great tribulation.
If you go
Jehovah’s Witness District Conventions continue this weekend, Friday through Sunday, and the following two weekends, Aug. 7-9 and Aug. 14-16, at the NIU Convocation Center. Program sessions begin at 9:20 a.m. each day. They are open to the public and no collections are ever taken.