The drama’s all about faith at the Jehovah’s Witnesses convention
MOBILE, Alabama – Backstage at the Jehovah’s Witnesses convention, Tommie and Keisha Anderson describe the roles they’ll play in this year’s drama, a main feature of the faith’s annual gatherings, including the one this weekend at the Mitchell Center.
“We’re the negative influence,” said Tommie Anderson of his character, Bill. “The drama is based on the story of Job and applied to modern-day life.”
The Andersons play Bill and Mary Jane, a less-than-encouraging couple who are friends with the main character, Ethan, and his wife, Amy, who lose their 12-year-old daughter and her father in a car crash. The Andersons are part of a cast and crew of about 40 who took part in the 30-minute drama Friday at the annual district convention, which is expected to draw up to 7,000 people daily through Sunday.
The theme for this year’s conventions worldwide is “God’s Word is Truth,” based on John 17:17. It’s estimated that in a given year, 19 million people attend meetings or conventions of Jehovah’s Witnesses, probably most known for their door-to-door evangelism.
Next Friday, the cast will perform the drama again, but for a new audience. That’s when a second group of Jehovah’s Witnesses and their visitors will convene at the Mitchell Center with the same agenda. Both crowds hail from parts of four states: Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida.
“We hope people will see that God meets our needs. He will comfort us in His time,” said Michael J. Washington of the drama, which depicts a couple’s struggle to keep their faith while being tested through suffering, similar to the Old Testament story of Job.
Washington, who is with the Northwest Mobile congregation, has been working with dramas for four years. This is the second year for the Andersons, who are with the Overlook congregation, located near the University of South Alabama. Some of the dramas include elaborate Bible-era costumes, but Friday’s performance needed only modern-day clothing and two dark blue uniforms borrowed from the Mobile Police Department’s costume office.
The main characters, who are believers, are devastated to learn that a car crash has killed her father and their 12-year-old daughter. Then one by one, neighbors, fellow believers and co-workers visit to offer misguided advice or wisdom. Ethan winds up fired from his job, but the couple arrives at the conclusion that there are constants in life — but not from this world.
“Some things are guaranteed,” Ethan concludes. “Jehovah guarantees to safeguard us spiritually.”
Starting 21 days ago, the cast gathered on Saturdays for two to three hours to rehearse, Washington said. During the actual performance, the voices are piped in, so the trick is to keep pace with the recording, including set changes.
“It’s a privilege to be of encouragement to our brothers and sisters,” said Keisha Anderson.
She said she learned “the truth” about Jehovah and the Bible through her aunt who lives in Birmingham. “She explained some things from the Bible,” she said, adding: “I’ve always respected the Bible.”
Keisha Anderson said she dedicated her life to Jehovah and was baptized in 1990. Then she led her future husband to the faith in 2003.
Tommie Anderson said he had been searching for a while for a religion in which to participate, particularly after college, which “makes you question things about life.”
“I talked to 100 people,” he said. “It wasn’t until I met my future wife, and she knew she had the correct religion. That caught my attention.”
During the Symposium portion of the program Friday, moderators and Witnesses from across the region shared their stories about bad habits, hopelessness and bad associates from which Jehovah had freed them.
“The human solution to our problems is like putting a Band-Aid on a gunshot wound,” said Clint Douglas, speaking of hope and hopelessness. “Resting on our hope on man is futile.”
As speakers introduced Bible verses, convention attendees flipped through their own leather-bound volumes or swiped screens on their iPads.
Jerry Geneste cited Proverbs 12:20 in the New World Translation, published by the Jehovah’s Witnesses, which says, “He that is walking with wise persons will become wise, but he that is having dealings with the stupid ones will fare badly.”
“So often, people do what they have no intention of doing at all because of peer pressure,” Geneste said. “Young or old, if we do not choose friends and associates wisely … we can expect that we will fare badly.”