Jehovah’s Witnesses gather at Convo for annual convention
DEKALB – A knock on the door, an unexpected encounter on the street, a free Bible; all are common ways to have interactions with a Jehovah’s Witness.
But there is much more to the often misunderstood Christian denomination, said Thomas Leberman, a coordinator for the 2012 “Safeguard Your Heart!” District Convention of Jehovah’s Witnesses at the NIU Convocation Center.
The annual gathering of area Witnesses brings people from southern Wisconsin, Indiana and northern Illinois together for seven straight weekends that started June 8 and ends Aug. 12. Each weekend attracts roughly 7,000 people and more than 50,000 are expected to attend over the seven separate weekends, Leberman said.
Leberman said the convention also offers a chance for nonmembers of Jehovah’s Witnesses to get a better understanding of the teachings and people that make up the religion.
“We’re very integrated into the community,” he said. “There’s not a particular cultural or ethnic separation and that’s something we really put a lot of stock in. Life is hard enough now of days. We want to be welcoming.”
Jehovah’s Witnesses have grown in numbers throughout the years, now totaling roughly 7.6 million members in 236 countries with more than 109,000 organizations. The conventions play a large role in bringing some of those members together as there are 385 conventions in 103 different cities in the United States from mid-May through mid-September.
Leberman said the conventions are a good time to refocus on the religion as some people tend to get distracted throughout the year or lose focus on what is really important.
“Hopefully this motivates us to spread the word of God,” Leberman said. “The focus is to build up your heart’s appreciation for God.”
Hence the theme “Safeguard Your Heart!,” which deals with ways to enhance the quality of life and preserve prospects for future life, Leberman said.
Each set of conventions has a theme, Leberman said, and this year the messages will focus on passages that explain ways to nurture and protect the figurative heart. Leberman said the concept of the heart is important in the Bible as it is mentioned nearly 1,000 times.
Some messages, such as David Roberts’ Sunday sermon, focus on individuals in the Bible who demonstrated their devotion to God from the heart. Other messages focus on how the heart influences one’s worship and behavior and some target the spiritual afflictions that attack the heart.
Leberman said each day has something for everyone.
Joseph Mazacek, a district overseer who works with 360 regional congregations, said the convention theme is one of the most important aspects of the weekends and helps members tackle relevant, real-world problems.
“We want to focus on how families are truly united,” Mazacek said. “To be a strong family you have to look to the Bible for guidance and ways to grow your spiritual heart.”
Convention sessions begin at 9:20 a.m. every Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Afternoon sessions begin at 1:50 p.m. on Friday, 1:35 p.m. on Saturday and 1:25 p.m. Sunday. All sessions are free to the public.
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