8,000 Wit­nesses ex­pected in Fort Smith

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - RELIGION - FRAN­CISCA JONES

More than 8,000 Je­ho­vah’s Wit­nesses will gather this month in Fort Smith for three re­gional con­ven­tions de­voted to ed­u­cat­ing oth­ers about per­sis­tence and build­ing re­silience through Scrip­ture.

Je­ho­vah’s Wit­nesses from around the na­tion and from as far away as Canada and Africa have at­tended the an­nual gath­er­ing at the Fort Smith Con­ven­tion Cen­ter in past years, ac­cord­ing to Rich Lawrence, spokesman for the de­nom­i­na­tion.

The ma­jor­ity of at­ten­dees, he said, come from North­west and western Ar­kan­sas, along with eastern Ok­la­homa — ar­eas where Je­ho­vah’s Wit­nesses have gone door-to-door over the past sev­eral weeks to let peo­ple know about the con­ven­tions.

There are more than 8 mil­lion Je­ho­vah’s Wit­nesses world­wide, ac­cord­ing to Lawrence, 3.2 mil­lion of whom live in the United States. Ar­kan­sas has 43 English-speak­ing con­gre­ga­tions and 29 Span­ish-speak­ing con­gre­ga­tions, ac­cord­ing to the de­nom­i­na­tion’s web­site.

Je­ho­vah’s Wit­nesses have held re­gional con­ven­tions for 120 years, Lawrence said, and the con­ven­tion cen­ter in Fort Smith has hosted the de­nom­i­na­tion’s an­nual gath­er­ings since 2009.

The gath­er­ings are part of a yearly cy­cle of con­ven­tions the group holds world­wide be­gin­ning

each year in May and end­ing in April of the next year. This year’s theme — “Don’t Give Up!” — will be the theme for ev­ery con­ven­tion dur­ing this cy­cle, and its pro­gram, with var­ied speak­ers, will be iden­ti­cal. The con­ven­tion in Fort Smith is a re­gional gath­er­ing held in con­junc­tion with con­ven­tions in Lit­tle Rock, Spring­field, Mo., and Tulsa.

Lawrence said the pur­pose of the con­ven­tions is to ed­u­cate and guide through scrip­ture, while also ad­dress­ing con­cerns of con­gre­gants world­wide and the de­nom­i­na­tion’s pur­pose — to travel, knock on doors and en­cour­age other peo­ple to read their Bi­bles.

“Some folks, they get alien­ated from the Bi­ble and its ba­sic mes­sage. They lose the prac­ti­cal value of it,” Lawrence said. “But if you lived [ac­cord­ing to] the ba­sic tenets that Je­sus puts out … the world would be a bet­ter place.”

The theme of each year’s con­ven­tion is de­cided upon by the Je­ho­vah’s Wit­nesses gov­ern­ing body in New York after con­sid­er­ing feed­back “from the pub­lic min­istry,” Lawrence said. Eco­nom­ics, health and ag­ing are among the most com­mon chal­lenges talked about in the past year, he said.

“We built a theme around: How do you build en­durance and re­silience?” Lawrence said. “The fo­cus is to get peo­ple to turn to their Bi­bles.”

The goal of the con­ven­tions, Lawrence said, is to find prac­ti­cal an­swers to the chal­lenges seen to­day.

Faith, virtue, knowl­edge and self-con­trol are the four themes of a talk on each Sun­day, which is ti­tled “Never Give Up Hope.”

The talk is the cen­ter point of the con­ven­tion, Lawrence said, and builds on the pre­vi­ous two days of learn­ing. This year the talk will fo­cus on pas­sages that ad­dress re­silience and en­durance to help give peo­ple hope, said Lawrence.

“You see some peo­ple to­day who just give up … and it’s sad,” he said. “There is a ba­sis for hope, and that’s what the talk is built on — to build up and get peo­ple back to their Bi­bles re­gard­less of re­li­gious back­ground.”

The Bi­ble-based dis­course is not a doc­trine, but rather a way to tell peo­ple there is hope.

Work­ing with the Fort Smith Cham­ber of Com­merce and busi­nesses over the years has been a

great ex­pe­ri­ence, Lawrence said.

“You have hard­work­ing peo­ple there who pull the whole com­mu­nity to­gether,” he said. “You have 8,000 to

10,000 peo­ple come in at a time — and that could over­whelm some com­mu­ni­ties — and [Fort Smith] has or­ches­trated the way they do it, so we’re just grate­ful for how they sup­port our be­ing there.”

The re­gional con­ven­tion in Fort Smith will be held three times this month: July

9, July 14-16 and July 21-23. The first gath­er­ing will be in English, and the other two will be car­ried out in Span­ish.

All events are open to all peo­ple, Lawrence said, and all con­ven­tion events are free.

“Re­gard­less of re­li­gious back­ground, the Bi­ble has

prac­ti­cal wis­dom and that’s what we try to em­pha­size that,” he said. “Peo­ple want to know, how do you en­dure, how do you build a re­silience, a men­tal at­ti­tude to not give up, and we just want peo­ple to know that the Bi­ble has those an­swers.

“It’s not an out­dated book.”

COURTESY PHOTO

Ally Huck­ins (left), and her par­ents, Andy and Melodie Huck­ins, at­tend a pre­vi­ous re­gional con­ven­tion of Je­ho­vah’s Wit­nesses at the Fort Smith Con­ven­tion Cen­ter. This year’s con­ven­tions run July 9, July 14-16 and July 21-23.

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