Photo: Phelda Brown and her two children celebrate her baptism and official acceptance as a Jehova’s Witness at the annual convention. /Photo by Sarah Longoria
Religions are frequently used for the punch line of a joke or the subject of late night comedy sketches, often because of misinformation. Jehovah’s Witnesses know this all too well. But with a shrug and smile, Roy Allen explained why it doesn’t bother him.
“The theme of the convention this week is ‘Imitate Jesus,’ and we as an organization, that’s our goal; to imitate Jesus in the way we live our lives, to be good people, to be good neighbors, good classmates, colleagues,” Allen said.
Thousands of Jehovah’s Witnesses attended their annual convention on July 24 – 26 at the Irving Convention Center. The organization, boasting 8 million members, gathered to further share and explore their faith.
“This convention is really kind of an interesting event that takes place globally. People from all over the world are engaging in these conventions, over 400 in the United States alone,” Allen said.
In the DFW area alone, there are 17 conventions in English, Spanish, Korean, American Sign Language, and the first Swahili convention in North America will be taking place at the end of August in Denton.
“We appeal to all languages. It’s an organization focused on helping people live better quality lives today; to understand the times we’re living in and the future of mankind,” Allen said.
Each one of the convention’s speakers represented one of the 20 congregations attending the regional convention.
“The convention involves people from all over the area who come in: women children, families, and young people,” Allen said. “And we have programs. There are talks given and there are demonstrations.
“This year, we’re using a lot more video and digital, because it’s so effective, particularly with the children. It’s an effective tool to train and to teach.”
Phil Harris, also a Jehovah’s Witness, agrees that using digital technology is important.
“Only this year and last year have we had video presentations at our convention, and I think the videos have really touched me,” Harris said. “They’re very well produced, and a couple of them even made me cry.
“They really touch people. When the videos play, all the little guys stand in their chairs so they can see, and then of course they’re back to doing whatever it is they were doing.
“People ask me at the door, ‘what’s the difference between Jehovah’s Witnesses and every other religion?’ and I think its God’s Kingdom. It’s the reason we live our lives the way we do, and it’s the one thing Jesus spoke the most about,” he said.
Like Allen, Harris does not worry about common misconceptions, due in large part to how active Jehovah’s Witnesses are in their faith.
“Since we’re out there all the time talking to people, I feel we have a good opportunity to correct those things; we can help people understand,” Harris said.
Allen’s approach to criticism is the same.
“We understand that from our preaching standpoint and our activity that we do stand out as being different,” Allen said. “We’re one of the few organizations today with globally active members knocking on doors, and missionaries, so sometimes people do say silly things about us.”
Regardless of faith, a community of people who want to help improve others’ lives is a powerful thing for those in need of support.
“I grew up in the street, and about the time I was in high school I left and was out in the world,” said Phelda Brown, a recently baptized Jehovah’s Witness.
“I had my son, and I was in a bad emotional relationship with my daughter’s father. Everything was okay it seemed, until I got pregnant with her, and then things became emotionally abusive.
“In my mind I thought I was dying, and I would cry out to Jehovah. Why is this happening to me? I don’t want to be in this situation,” she said.
When her daughter was only three weeks old, the father threw Brown and her two children out of the house. She lived out of her car until a pregnancy counselor set her up with a program and an apartment.
“Right around the corner was a Kingdom Hall,” Brown said. “I was like, this can’t be happening, like this is Jehovah speaking to me, telling me ‘I’m right here, I’m here to help you.’ So I went to the Kingdom Hall.
“A sister followed me to the baby’s room and asked me if I want to study, so I said yes, I would take a Bible study.”
On Saturday, Brown was baptized and officially accepted as a Jehovah’s Witness, a moment she worked hard to reach.
“About two and half years later, here I am, I’m baptized,” she said. “I looked at the calendar and said there’s a convention coming up. I planned out the days I was going to study and get myself together, and today I did it.
“I feel great. I feel like today is never going to end. I’m extremely happy. You read a lot of the encouragement stories, and I used my own story for encouragement, because I feel like I was at a very low place, I cried out to Jehovah and I did what he says to do. I feel like he truly answered me,” Brown said.
Several members of the convention admired the Irving Convention Center and its staff.
“The staff here have been incredibly good to work with,” Allen said. “I mean just really nice people.
“It’s good for people in Irving to know that their tax dollars are paying for this building, but that these people are really taking good care of it. They really care for the building, and it’s very nice. We’re just really pleased to have been able to use this venue.”