Witnesses gather for convention
Published: Thursday, June 1, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, May 31, 2006 at 10:41 a.m.
At the culmination of the district convention of Jehovah's Witnesses, about 8,000 people from North Florida and South Georgia filled the O'Connell Center Sunday to hear the message that deliverance by God's kingdom is near.
Witnesses and others of different ages and races shared Bibles, lifted their voices in song, fellowshipped, and were encouraged to "submit to Jehovah's will" and avoid independent thinking at the convention, which ran from Friday-Sunday.
Jonathan Catanzaro delivered an enthusiastic message of deliverance to a sea of attentive listeners, many of whom took notes, during the main address in the afternoon session of the convention
"When we listen and obey the son of God, we are listening and obeying the kingdom. It is the kingdom of God which is the means of delivery," said Catanzaro, who described God's kingdom as a heavenly government.
Deliverance means there will be vast changes taking place very soon, he said.
"That leaves us with one question. When, when, will we be delivered by God?" Catanzaro asked as he lifted his left hand to emphasize his words.
"Well, gladly we can be sure it is near," he assured the audience.
This year was the second in a row that the district convention was held at the O'Connell Center, and this year's theme was "Deliverance at Hand!"
During the morning session, Ralph Cohn Sr. gave the speech entitled "Accept Jehovah's Authority - Reject an Independent Spirit."
"Satan wants believers to indulge in independent thinking," said Cohn, who talked about how thinking independently from Jehovah's thinking negatively affects marriages and children.
Other key points of Cohn's talk were about avoiding materialism, self-serving lifestyles and egotism.
Susan Rowe, 40, and her husband Jonathan Rowe, 47, of Fernandina Beach, listened to Cohn's address along with their three children, Thaxton, 14, Aubrie, 10 and Michaela, 6.
"We constantly have to be reminded not to have an independent attitude. We constantly have to put Jehovah first, and that's what we're trying to teach our children," she said.
Susan said her children are the fifth generation of Jehovah's Witnesses in her family, since her great-grandmother left Poland and became a Jehovah's Witness in New England in the 1920s.
Jonathan, who is a University of Florida alumnus, said the family arrived in Gainesville on Saturday for the convention. He said his children are the fourth generation of Jehovah's Witnesses in his family.
"As a kid, my parents sold everything and went to Spain in the late '60s and mid-70s. We witnessed there for about five years because it was considered virgin territory," Jonathan said. The number of Jehovah's Witnesses in Spain has increased from about 10,000 in the '70s to about 120,000 today, he said.
The Rowe family also enjoyed the dramatization, "To Whose Authority Do You Submit?," which was a highlight of the convention's last day.
The drama, which was in a biblical setting, held the attentions of children and adults with its humor, but it also delivered two serious messages to Jehovah's Witnesses: 1) changing the laws Jehovah established is going on an independent course, and 2) believers shouldn't adjust Jehovah's law for convenience, but should simplify their lives.
Promise Toby, 13, of the Ocala Central Congregation, attended the convention all three days and said the drama was his favorite part.
"Normally, I enjoy the drama the best because of the example it shows. The drama shows you exactly what your parents try to tell you," said Promise, who plans to attend Forest High School next school year.
"Deliverance is for everyone. We do have a chance, and we shouldn't try to do everything the world does today," he said.
Promise said conventions are a good way to meet people who share the same values. He said he made two friends at a Jacksonville convention whom he e-mails about school and spiritual subjects.
Yonnah Johnson, 17, a senior at Vanguard High School in Ocala, attended the convention with five of her friends and said she enjoyed the message about independent attitudes.
"As a young person, Satan is on our backs every day, trying to destroy our relationship with Jehovah," Johnson said.
Conventions also help build you up spiritually and help you draw closer to God, she said.
"There's a lot of peer pressure with teens these days about sex and drugs," Johnson said. "And that can get you to have an independent attitude. You can start thinking you don't need a relationship with God. But you need Jehovah."
Herbert Gay, 70, of Beverly Hills, also said it is important to have a close relationship with Jehovah.
"The benefit of knowing the creator is you know how the creator wants you to conduct your life," said Gay, who has been a Jehovah's Witness since 1975.
He added that the conventions can help you maintain a relationship with Jehovah.
"It just fortifies your truth to be around your brothers and sisters," he said.
Berry Bozeman, director of the district convention for the second year in a row, said the conventions are organized to emphasize certain things that go on in the world.
"We give people hope and help them cope with pressures of the world," he said.
Bozeman said that 273 conventions are held worldwide and draw people of various races and cultures.
"Religion is a divisive force unless you really apply the teachings of the Bible and Jesus," he said. "It should be a unifying force."
Another convention is scheduled for June 30-July 2.
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