By Tamas Mondovics
While taking a break from her classes, 24-year-old USF student Kerri Snell was eager to be back on campus this summer, but this time for a much different reason.
As one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, Snell has been anxiously awaiting the first of four three-day English language conventions that was scheduled by the Witnesses to be held the first weekend of July at the USF Sun Dome in Tampa.
Two Spanish language conventions were also scheduled for this summer; one held in late June at the Tampa Bay Times Forum, which saw close to 13,000 attendees, and another scheduled for the end of July at the Sun Dome, with an anticipated 8,000 in attendance.
“It was all worth the wait,” Snell said of the annual event. “I am happy to have had a chance to attend. Everyone was just so welcoming, and the talks were well-presented and scripturally insightful.”
Snell was just one of more than 7,000 that filled the Sun Dome during the first day of the free event, supported entirely by voluntary donations. The Witnesses have estimated to see more than 50,000 attend the annual Bible-based programs in the Tampa area, joining 193 conventions in 71 cities this summer throughout the United States. Worldwide, there are more than 7,900,000 Witnesses in 113,000 congregations.
By means of a special campaign, the Witnesses have been inviting and are continually extending an open invitation to all to attend the program, which they said examines Jesus’ words: “Keep on, then, seeking first the Kingdom.”
According Peter G. Bagwell, a spokesman for the Witnesses, the program draws attention to how Jesus’ advice given thousands of years ago can provide practical benefits in today’s world, such as reducing anxiety in one’s life, featured in the concluding part on Sunday afternoon, “‘Never Be Anxious’—Keep Seeking First God’s Kingdom.”
“People of many faiths pray for God’s Kingdom to come,” Bagwell said. “This convention explains what that Kingdom is and how it can be a positive influence in our lives.”
Bagwell also emphasized that the core belief of Jehovah’s Witnesses, based on Biblical and historical evidence, is that Jesus Christ began to rule as the King of God’s Kingdom in 1914.
“The convention program marks this year as the centennial of that event,” he said.
The program also examines how the words of Jesus can be of special interest to families. An example of this is in the program part featured on Friday afternoon entitled “Teach Your Children to Love God’s Kingdom!”
Interestingly, there is another reason why this year’s convention is special for the Witnesses. Thanks to the advancement of technology, portions of this event were connected to 24 other convention locations held simultaneously within the U.S., with all remaining conventions following suit.
Various talks were heard and seen on the Sun Dome’s center hung Jumbotron screen, including the convention’s final talk on Sunday, which reached an audience of more than 195,000.
Moved by the entire experience, Snell was sad to see the convention come to a close, a feeling that was heightened as the thousands of attendees applauded and were nowhere ready to leave the facility following the concluding talk and heart-warming prayer given by David Splane, a member of the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
“I have learned a lot and, my heart is full knowing I was at the right place,” Snell said. “It was wonderful to see the unity and the love displayed by everyone. I will cherish this experience forever.”
For more information about the remaining conventions scheduled for the Tampa Bay area and to learn about Jehovah’s Witnesses, visit www.JW.org or www.jw.org/en/jehovahs-witnesses/ conventions/.