Jul 4, 2016

Who are the Jehovah's Witnesses who live among us?

Who are the Jehovah’s Witnesses who live among us?



Boston Globe

By Hattie Bernstein GLOBE CORRESPONDENT  JUNE 29, 2016


“You need to hold the cover up. Fit the tube to the frame,” Chuck Ramsay says calmly, even though the plastic swimming pool that he and five other men are holding is about to collapse. “Three on each end. Shawn and I stay here, and you come to this side.”

One worker joins Ramsay. The others stay put. Then six pairs of hands — black, white, black, white, black, white — steady the 8 by 16 foot tub that will become a baptismal pool.

It’s Thursday morning at the Tsongas Center in Lowell, the day before a Jehovah’s Witnesses convention. “Remain Loyal to Jehovah” was held in May and June and will be repeated twice more this month inside the 6,400-seat stadium, where musicians as diverse as Bob Dylan and Megadeth have played and UMass Lowell fans routinely sit on the edges of their seats screaming blue murder.

But over the next three days, almost 4,000 Witnesses will converge in the arena. Men, women, and children, old, young, and in between, white, brown, and black, spiritual siblings, Brothers and Sisters.

Witnesses are neighbors, classmates, and colleagues at work. They’re celebrities like the late musician Prince, and the graphic designers, cabinet makers, and health care workers who live among us.

All of the workers on Ramsay’s Thursday crew are volunteers, part of a group of roughly 200 who have traveled from Natick, Foxborough, Holbrook, Newton, Auburn, and Norwood — and from Rhode Island and southern New Hampshire — to prepare the arena for the weekend convention.

In the course of a day, they will demonstrate their faith with actions that speak louder than words. Every disinfected chair, every speck of gum scraped off the floor, and every dustpan full of dirt will become a metaphor for what brings them here.

Ramsay, 63, is an elder in his Woonsocket, R.I., congregation. His mother was baptized in 1955 in a pond in Worcester; his children and grandchildren were born into the faith.

“We all work together, following directions,” he says of the convention preparation.

The bleachers are empty, the stage is a construction site, and the volunteers, who tomorrow will be dressed to the nines, wear neon-bright T-shirts, reflective safety vests, and white hard hats.

“This will be a Kingdom Hall for us for the next few days,” says Dean Johnson, an elder in the Lowell Highlands Congregation. “We want it to be neat and clean.”

Talks, videos, and dramas presented during the three-day event will provide spiritual encouragement and practical information, helping people to stay the course in their everyday lives.

The religion dates back to the early 1870s, when it was organized by Charles Taze Russell, who grew up in a Presbyterian family in Pittsburgh. He became fascinated with Adventist ideas and started Bible study groups and a religious publishing company. In 1884, according to a report by the BBC, the group was incorporated with Russell as president and followers called Bible Students. By the 1890s, the faith had spread to Europe. It became the Jehovah’s Witnesses in 1931.

They worship in Kingdom Halls, not churches. They don’t pay dues or tithe. And there are no clergy, only elders, older men in the various congregations who serve as spiritual guides.

Theirs is the kingdom to come, a government in heaven, a real political body they believe will replace human governments. They don’t vote or serve in the military; they don’t celebrate birthdays, Halloween, or Christmas because they’re not in the Bible; and because they believe that all Christians are teachers and preachers, every few weeks they go door to door, distributing tracts and spreading the word.

“If your neighbor’s home was on fire and you didn’t tell them, what kind of a neighbor would you be?” says Johnson, explaining what motivates Witnesses to keep returning to people’s homes no matter how often they are turned away.

On Thursday morning, before the work begins, the volunteers gather to pray. From the balcony, they are specks of color, points of light, energy about to be unharnessed.

And then, they awake, scurrying to their assignments.

“Like ants at a picnic,” somebody says.

On the stage, men are hoisting screens and looping cables. Nearby, several women, as attentive as homemakers readying a table for guests, double-check their inventory.

“We work together. We all have jobs,” says Jason Pelletier Sr., an elder in his Manchester, N.H., congregation. “We took time off from work to be here. We want to be here.”

On Friday morning, the arena is a different place. Video screens hang like chandeliers over the stage. The chairs are spotless. The floors gleam. And thousands of Jehovah’s Witnesses fill the bleachers that rise toward the roof.

But it’s not just the stadium that’s been transformed.

The men have traded their work pants and T-shirts for suits and silk neckties. The women wear colorful dresses, high heels, and makeup. The children, scrubbed to squeaky cleanliness, sport their Sunday best.

A speaker appearing in a video, visible from every seat in the house, thunders a passage from Exodus. Witnesses follow on tablets, smartphones, and Bibles held on laps. A teenage boy is texting. A woman with a walker shuffles to a folding seat in a section marked “Elderly.”

And overhead, a tiny bird flits across the hall and disappears.

What makes Jehovah’s Witnesses different from other Christians?

Jehovah’s Witnesses follow the model of “first-century” Christians, subscribing to Bible principles in the old and new Testaments that guide every aspect of their lives. They believe that God’s kingdom is coming soon and will bring peace on earth.

They don’t vote or serve in the military. They don’t celebrate birthdays, Halloween, or Christmas, finding no evidence of these observances in the Bible.

What is the meaning of baptism?

Baptism is a choice Witnesses make — as adults — to dedicate their lives to God. According to the faith, spiritual protection is granted to those who “live in harmony” with their dedication.

How many are there in the world? How many in the United States?

There are 8.2 million worldwide, 118,016 congregations, and 9.7 million free home Bible courses being conducted. There are 1.2 million in the US.

Why do they go door-to-door distributing religious tracts and talking about God’s kingdom?

Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that all Christians are teachers and preachers and are following the example of early Christians who went house to house to share their faith.

What are their core beliefs?

Witnesses view the old and new Testaments as “God’s inspired message to humans.” But they don’t take every word literally. Instead they believe that parts of the Bible are written in “figurative or symbolic language.”

Witnesses follow the teachings and example of Jesus Christ and honor him as their savior and the son of God. But they believe that Jesus is not God and that there is no scriptural basis for the trinity doctrine.

When Witnesses talk of “The Kingdom of God,” they are referring to “a real government in heaven, not a condition” in the hearts of Christians.” They believe that the kingdom will replace human governments very soon.

SOURCE: jw.org




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