Put Me On A Trip: The 35th Annual Witnesses Now For Jesus Conference
In 1995, just prior to beginning a study with Jehovah’s Witnesses, I committed my life to God with these words, “God, put me on a trip.” I had no vision of travel; it was just my way of expressing a willingness to be directed wherever God chose. At the time, I thought He chose the Watchtower for me. What a long, strange trip it’s been. I’m still on it.
In October, I made my third trip to the Blue Mountain Christian Retreat Center for the annual Witnesses Now For Jesus conference in New Ringgold, PA. I had offered to speak about the class that my friend Becky and I had taught at our church, but the closer we got to the conference; I wondered what I really had to offer.
Does my part matter? If you’ve ever felt insignificant in your small role in comparison to a giant problem, the illustration of a drop of water in a vast ocean may well fit the description. But remember, a rising tide is comprised of many small drops of water. As we gathered that first morning in attendance for the 35th annual conference, Erich Grieshaber reminded us how one drop joins the river that flows into the vast ocean and together we are a rising tide affecting the Watchtower. We do well to recognize our own role then, for it is God who directs the river.
The king’s heart is like channels of water in the hand of the Lord; He turns it wherever He wishes. (Proverbs 21:1)
That thought set the pace for the 3 days of refreshment we were about to experience through each attendee’s contribution. It reassured me that my friends and I had prepared the right message for our shared presentation on Saturday afternoon in which we highlighted the importance of being faithful in our individual roles.
In our message “Stirring up the church to reach out to Jehovah’s Witnesses” we showed how a seed of compassion God planted in my friend Becky connected us to Melissa Bramer and carried the fruit to Melissa Dougherty as the EVIDENCE that the church can be stirred up to reach out to Jehovah’s Witnesses because in less than 2 years of contacting 4jehovah.org and being equipped through many of the ministries represented at the conference, she’s now reaching out to Jehovah’s Witnesses in her home and also teaching her church to do the same.
Along the way we discovered that when God asks us to obey the role we have, He has more in mind than just a ministry; because we have grown to become true sisters in Christ. We’ve labored together in prayer and encouraged one another in our roles. When I joined the Watchtower in 1996, I was told I was making friends that would last forever but I lost every one of them when I was disfellowshiped in 2004. God has been so faithful in restoring what each of us lost and much of that has come through walking out our individual roles in obeying God’s compassion toward Jehovah’s Witnesses. After our presentation, Erich whispered to Becky and I that he intends to translate our talk into Italian to encourage the church in Italy to reach out to Jehovah’s Witnesses. This was a surprising blessing to Becky because she’s been praying for several Witnesses in Italy for many years now because it was there that she first came into contact with Jehovah’s Witnesses. Praise God, her prayers were being answered through the loyalty she showed in her part by stirring up the church in her home state first. None of us ever considered that being faithful in our roles had anything to do with those prayers.
There seemed to be a theme going this year too on equipping the churches; from Wilbur Lingle’s talk “How to reach one million Jehovah’s Witnesses” to Brian Garcia’s video and stirring sermon “Can I get a witness?” And with each testimony and fine-tuned teaching in between, I sensed God had planned the speakers for this 35th year. What a thrill to be invited into His plan!
A new addition to the conference was the breakout sessions on Saturday afternoon. Bob Anderson taught on “apologetics in a secular society,” Erich Greishaber emphasized “holding the harvest” in his message on how to disciple new converts, and “finding a good church” was the topic presented by Bob Gray. Breakout sessions will likely continue for next year’s convention with the possibility of focusing on some women’s issues.
And I have to say there was quite a feminine presence at this year’s event. Much of that came from our Meetup group members who made ourselves known by our custom ordered purple T-shirts which read “The life is in the blood, not the Koolaid ~John 6:53” And though most of the teaching parts were taken by men, five of the testimonies were given by women this year. I praise God for ordaining that arrangement, because some of those sisters had to meet for mutual healing. During the customary Friday morning open mic style introductions, I noticed one woman sitting alone and wondered if she’d stay when the microphone got close to her. But she bravely stood up and tearfully shared her life with us all. The fellowship of women embraced her afterward and invited her to share lunch. She was welcomed by the “Operation Koolaid” crew with a new T-shirt and we watched Sharon come to life over the next two days. The Lord had already done a work in Sharon before the conference when she came to Christ through an excellent Christian counselor, but being understood by so many fellow ex-Jehovah’s Witnesses finally gave her the sense of belonging that others just couldn’t provide. That is the importance of this annual event. The testimonies and teachings can be heard through the uploaded videos on the Internet, but seeing one life come alive with joy because of the community of brothers and sisters who’ve been there and understand is something you can only experience “up on the Mountain” as we say, the Blue Mountain that is.
The hard part is coming down from that mountain and the intensity of the weekend. No matter how many times I share communion at my church back home, I doubt it will ever compare with the bond we sense on Sunday during the morning communion. Bob Gray did an excellent job honoring Christ through his sensitive care of this right to life that had been denied to us as Jehovah’s Witnesses. I could hear sobbing all around me from those who appreciate so much the sacrifice Christ made in our behalf — not just for a few chosen 144,000 but for us! What a joy to find out later that one of our Meetup members, David, shared communion for the very first time that Sunday and is now preparing to bring the gospel to Jehovah’s Witnesses in Africa. Praise God.
The blessings from that conference are spreading out to Italy and Africa, but even while waiting for our flight at the Allentown airport, Melissa and I were also able to briefly talk with a gentleman headed back to Wyoming. We left him with some web addresses plus a sheet about activism and assumed he had boarded his flight, but an hour later he found us elsewhere in the airport to thank us for the information. I called him by name and he was surprised I’d remembered it (so was I) and then he went on to share how his daughter and her husband are missionaries that go into churches in many countries, so I asked if he’d do us the favor of giving them some cards from 4witness.org so they could research the mission field at our front doors. “Absolutely!” He said and I believe those missionaries will take seriously the ministry to Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons as stated on those business cards. Praise God.
I personally had the best girlfriend get away weekend and spiritual retreat of the year with the perfect mixture of laughter, tears, encouragement given and received. Even a few practical jokes thrown in. I marvel at the fact that I survived on the little amount of sleep I did! One late night conversation put me to bed at 5 a.m and I was back up again at 8 a.m. I had such a blessed weekend. Naturally when I returned home, I couldn’t help but talk about it in my small group at church that Tuesday night. A woman began to relate how her son is married to an inactive Mormon. She’s concerned for her grandchild because even though they don’t attend the Mormon Church, the influence is there in what the wife does and says. We prayed for the family and I told her about the ex-Mormon ministry team at 4Mormon.org and came back the following week with some CDs for her and also enough “Emotional Deliverance” CDs by Val Acuff for the others who were curious about the issues facing people coming out of high control religious groups. Since viewing the materials, she said she’d like to learn more about how to defend her faith according to 1 Peter 3:15 and asked if I’d be doing a class on that.
“Does my part matter?” I’m beginning to see how just showing up at the right place and time does. At the start of this trip while waiting to board my flight to attend this conference, an old friend from the Kingdom Hall walked in with her husband waiting to board the same flight for their vacation. I had heard she was no longer attending meetings and discovered she was approachable and even allowed me to hug her. We chit chatted about our grown children who had once been friends at the Kingdom Hall while her husband shunned me doing his best to look away as I stood there talking with his wife. However, when she asked what my travel plans were and I told I was headed to Pennsylvania for an ex-Jehovah’s Witness convention, she sat down with him and the climate changed. I just said, “awkward moment huh?” and she nodded. I wished them well on their trip, smiled with a blessing and left. But! She now knows there’s an annual conference in Pennsylvania for ex-Jehovah’s Witnesses if she wants to Google it. That’s one drop of water. Praise God. Please pray that curiosity leads her to an ocean.
Keep yourself in God’s love, Julie