8,000 Witnesses expected in Fort Smith
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.”
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.