By Tamas Mondovics
For thousands of Jehovah’s Witnesses living in the Riverview, Apollo Beach, Brandon and surrounding area communities, the long commute to attend their annual three-day District Convention was one less thing to worry about this summer, thanks to a warm welcome by the University of South Florida’s Sun Dome.
“It’s been 30 years since we had our convention held in Tampa and this has been a nice change for us,” said spokesperson, Joe Lavore, as he talked about securing the facility for a series of five conventions (three English, two Spanish) from early June to mid-August. “The USF staff has been very accommodating and the facility is proving to be an excellent venue for the event.”
For many years, the witnesses flocked to St. Petersburg’s Bayfront Center arena in droves, but had to change location after it was torn down more than 10 years ago. Since then, the witnesses had to travel to attend their annual conventions held at the Silver Spurs arena in Kissimmee.
Lavore emphasized that the change of venue brings more than 6,000 worshipers from as far North as Crystal River and southward as far as Sarasota to each event totaling approximately 30,000 witnesses from 40 congregations by summer’s end. The series of district assemblies translate into thousands of hotel room nights while bringing millions into Tampa’s economy.
“This is great for the economy and a great exposure for the university,” Lavore said. “We are thankful for the USF administration’s kind and cooperative spirit welcoming us here in Tampa.”
It is noteworthy that from mid-May through mid-September, Jehovah’s Witnesses will hold a total of 385 conventions in 103 cities throughout the United States. Across the country, the program will be held in English and in Spanish. In certain locations, the entire program will be presented in American Sign Language, Arabic, Armenian, Chinese (Mandarin/Cantonese), French, Greek, Haitian Creole, Hindi, Iloko, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Persian, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Tagalog, and Vietnamese. The total projected attendance for the United States is over 1,700,000.
While pleased with the new location, Lavore’s main goal along with thousands of fellow witnesses was clearly on worshiping their God, Jehovah, during the free public event, which includes studying God’s word, the Bible, as well as an interchange of encouragement led by the program with “God’s Word Is Truth” as its theme, based on the Bible verse at John 17:17.
Ahead of each convention, thousands of invitations were hand-delivered and distributed from door-to-door by the witnesses throughout Riverview and area neighborhoods urging residents to attend the event and learn the Bible’s practical viewpoint for dealing with daily issues such as unemployment, family breakups and the struggles of single-parent households.
The first convention at the Sun Dome saw 25 people from ages 12-91 publicly demonstrate their faith and get baptized as a special feature that repeatedly played out for the delight of all in attendance.
Through moving discourses, dramatic Bible readings, practical demonstrations as well as two live dramatic plays, program parts are designed to bring to life how God’s Word of truth can benefit individuals and families.
Riverview resident, Cheri Calvo, who in the past along with her husband and six children had to travel the necessary distance to attend the summer conventions, was grateful for the new location as well as the multi-day, spiritually uplifting program.
“The Sun Dome was close to our home, comfortable and a great facility, which was a nice change especially for our family,” Calvo said. “What really stood out for us though at this convention was the way each discourse was delivered and easily understood by both young and old, which was very helpful for my children.”
The summer’s final English district convention in Tampa is scheduled to be held on Friday-Sunday, August 16-18, and welcomes all who are interested in understanding the Bible.
The witnesses are organized into more than 111,700 congregations, all of which work under the direction of a central Governing Body located in Brooklyn, New York.
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More information is available at www.jw.org/news.