New Haven Jehovah’s Witnesses spread word of little understood faith
NEW HAVEN >> The Lee family is beyond excited.
Next weekend, the five Lees will be heading to MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., for an international convention about something very dear to their hearts.
It’s a gathering of 60,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses, a faith that is little understood by many. The idea of being surrounded by fellow believers is kind of astounding.
Conventions are held all the time, but international conventions not so often, and not usually so close that a family like the Lees can attend together.
“This one is special because it’s international, because we’ll have brothers and sisters from other countries,” such as Austria, Greece and Malaysia, said Jeffrey Lee Sr., father of the Fairfield Street family that includes his wife, Martha, Jeffrey Jr., 19, Juliet, 15, and Allison, 13. The younger Jeffrey is graduating from Hillhouse High School later this month.
The events will include two dramas in full costume and a “sound drama,” as well as a mass full-immersion baptism of hundreds of people. “I’m looking forward to the dramas,” said Martha. “To meet brothers and sisters from other countries [who] have the same faith.” The last time she and her husband were able to attend an international convention was in 2009 in Japan, but this will be the first one for the children.
Jeffrey St. described the sound drama: “Usually it’s a brother, it’s a talk that he gives, previously recorded.”
There are actually two week-long conventions, the first in English, the second in Spanish, each drawing 60,000 people, according to Fred Gill, a Witness spokesman.
New literature is on hand at the conventions, which is vital to the Witnesses’ missionary work.
“We get new releases, which are Bible-based publications,” said Allison. They might address school problems or personal issues. Everything they believe is based on Scripture, according to the senior Jeffrey, which is why they don’t celebrate birthdays or holidays, refuse to serve in the military or give blood transfusions, because none of those are in the Bible.
“From our study of the Bible … it just goes to show the beliefs or practices that people engaged in were not found in the Bible,” said Jeffrey Sr.
One of the most important commands of Jesus was to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them.”
But while Witnesses believe Jesus was divine, they do not believe he was God’s son, separating them from most Christians who believe in the Trinity of three persons in one God.
One of the biggest myths they encounter, said Martha, is “that we don’t believe in Jesus,” which is not true. In fact they follow Jesus’ commands: “Jesus told his disciples to go preach in the kingdom.”
Allison describes Jesus as an “active force, his power; it’s not a person.’
Among their most visible activities is going door to door, handing out The Watchtower magazine and other literature such as an invitation to an event provocatively titled “A World Government: Why do we need one? Is it possible? Who is qualified to rule?”
Do they get nervous before they head out knocking on doors? Of course. “What makes it easier is we prepare before we go” with prayer, said Juliet.
“Sometimes we’ll have a real busy day,” says Jeffrey Jr., with six out of 10 responding positively to their presentation. “On other days you won’t get anybody.” They’ll return later in the day to talk to those who seemed interested.
Jeffrey Sr. says, “We’ll kind of tailor our literature … to families” in a neighborhood where a lot of families live. “All of us want to have strong families so that will be that message that morning.”
In another area, where there are economic problems, they’ll pass out “tailored literature that will allow us to find a common ground,” said Jeffrey Sr.
They meet on Sundays in Kingdom Halls, so-called to distinguish their worship space from most Christians’ churches. The first was built in Hawaii in 1950; many are prefabricated and go up in days.
While they do work and go to school with non-Witnesses, the Lees tend to spend time with fellow members of their religion.
Allison, who goes to Elm City College Preparatory School, said, “I’m not ostracized because they respect the way I act and in a good way.” Juliet reported a similar experience.
Besides their belief in the Bible and obedience to God’s will, what seems to energize the Lees is their sense of brotherhood with other Witnesses.
“We consider ourselves an international brotherhood … It’s unique,” said Martha.
“I’m looking forward to meeting my brothers and sisters from all the different places,” said Juliet.
“We stay in contact with our brothers and sisters. It’s a real brotherhood,” said Jeffrey Sr.