The Spanish Convention of Jehovah's Witnesses was held this past weekend at Northern Illinois University's Convocation Center. On this week's Friday Forum, WNIJ’s Jenna Dooley talks with Angel Martinez, one of the organizers of the gathering.
This year's theme was "¡Sea Valiente!" which means "be brave" or "be courageous." Martinez says it's a fitting theme given the challenges that all humans face in life in general -- be it in school, at work, or within the family.
There are more than eight million Jehovah's Witnesses around the world—and there's a growing number of Spanish-speaking members.
Assemblies like this have biblical beginnings. The book of Deuteronomy says males should gather three times a year before the Lord thy God in the place which he shall choose. Nowadays, that includes well-dressed families who watch speakers and videos around a common theme.
This regional brought in northern Illinois congregations as well as people from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and Green Bay, Wisconsin. A similar, English language regional was held in Rockford during the same weekend.
One of the films this year highlighted the story of Jonah.
"Anyone who has the chance to read the account of Jonah does not think about courage right away," Martinez explained. "We think more about someone who ran away from an assignment. The story of Jonah—a story of courage and hope—it shows us that Jonah was not any different than any of us. He was a human being and he was afraid at some point. It shows that he really had the favor of God. And that's what all Jehovah's Witnesses were looking for: To follow the practical advice we find in the Bible and also have his favor."
Martinez explains that growth seen among Spanish-speaking families is due to the needs of all people to feel more connected.
"We noticed that the lines of communication seem to be fading away in family," said Martinez. "Well, today we have the opportunity to sit together as family and friends and listen to what the Bible has to say."
Many faith groups are also grappling with how to attract millenials.
"That is a fact," Martinez admitted. "When we think about the Bible, we think about a big book with no pictures and sometimes people just don't have time for that. Others might think: it's an old book, it's history."
Jehovah’s Witnesses are known for their preaching work door-to-door. Martinez says that is still one of the best ways to share the message with people young or old.
"The reason we continue to go door to door is because we're following Jesus's example courageously," Martinez said. "That's what he did -- he went from town to town, village to village, home to home preaching the good word of the Kingdom. So we imitate that. Although we have our website available, we have publications available, nothing beats the opportunity to be welcome to someone's house who has questions about the Bible."
Martinez says there are some portrayals of Jehovah's Witnesses that don't paint the full picture.
"People sometimes have an idea of who Jehovah's Witnesses are," Martinez said. "Some have not had the opportunity to meet one of us. We don't isolate ourselves from anyone. Our children attend public school. We work in different places. We are part of the community. We do our very, very best to follow principles to be good citizens, good members of the community."