Witnessing faith: Local Jehovah's Witnesses travel to district convention to renew faith

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Attending the recent District Convention of the Jehovah's Witnesses in St. Charles, Mo., was part of a long-standing tradition for Cheryl Cox of Cape Girardeau. She's been going to them all her life.

"I went to my first one when I was 2 weeks old," she said.

In early July she and her husband Gerald were among the local Witnesses who made up part of the 12,454 who gathered at the St. Charles Family Arena for a three-day convention that focused on what Witnesses say is mankind's vital need: guidance from God provided through his holy spirit.

Through seminars and drama, the attendees learned that the issues Christians face today are the same as the ones early Christians faced, although circumstances may be different.

A costumed drama featuring attitudes and situations first-century Christians faced brought home to the Coxes that early Christians faced peer pressure and temptations much the same way modern individuals do, perhaps with more dire consequences. Early Christians might have been tempted to follow non-Christians to an arena, but in those days they didn't go to hear modern music. At that time, Christians were apt to be the entertainment that often resulted in their death.

"Some horrible things went on that if Christians wanted to avoid they had to live a different lifestyle," Gerald Cox said.

The Coxes said they came away with a deeper knowledge of how so many answers to life's problems can be found in the Bible.

"So many young people face challenges in school, peer pressure, family issues," Gerald Cox said. "The Bible addresses modern issues they may see on a day-to-day basis. The Bible helps them make good decisions."

Cheryl Cox added that parents who attended the convention learned Biblical sources to help them help their children through life's problems as well.

Michael Hargrove, one of the convention's organizers, said all who attended were inspired by the theme "Guided by God's Spirit."

"Today, most individuals are looking for direction," Hargrove said. "The entire convention program emphasized that our creator truly cares about those striving to serve him and can be successfully guided by his word and spirit."

The entire convention was orchestrated by volunteers, from those who helped park cars — including Gerald Cox — to those who cleaned the bathrooms at the convention center afterward, set up and put away chairs, and those who presented the dramatic lessons. That's the way the Jehovah's Witnesses organization is run, said local Witness Tom Kelsey. Everyone is a volunteer; no one is paid at any level of the faith. Even the publishers of the books and tracts the Witnesses share as part of their field mission are volunteers who pay publishing costs with donations. Indeed, no one budgets at any level, Kelsey said. Kingdom Hall members do not tithe or pledge, but donate anonymously, and all work together to build Kingdom Halls and recruit new members.

One of the highlights of the convention was the baptism of 67 individuals who joined the Jehovah's Witnesses, a group Kelsey said is one of the fastest-growing in the country, with more than 2 million members worldwide.

Another highlight of the weekend convention was meeting friends and making new ones, Cheryl Cox said.

"People would look at our badges and see where we were from and they would say 'I was down there and helped build your Kingdom Hall,'" she said. "Then we could say thanks for coming" to help.

The new Cape Girardeau Kingdom Hall was built last November near the Career and Technology Center.

Witnesses from across the country volunteer to build Kingdom Halls, putting the buildings up professionally and quickly, using volunteers on a round-the-clock basis. It's hard to know who to thank for helping, Kelsey said, because so many people may have worked an overnight shift and missed meeting the local members.

Jehovah's Witnesses see their mission as bringing God's word to people on a one-on-one basis. They witness in person, through a telephone ministry and have a website, www.watchtower.org.

"If you see someone walking down the sidewalk carrying a book bag, all dressed up, on a Saturday morning, it's probably a Jehovah's Witness doing volunteer work," Kelsey said. "We are the ones knocking on your door with a big smile on our face."

lredeffer@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 160

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