Connections in the kingdom
A vast translation program helps Jehovah's Witnesses spread the word in foreign and sign languages.
By WAVENEY ANN MOORE, Times Staff Writer
Published September 5, 2007
Sunday marked the close of the annual round of summer conventions held for most Jehovah's Witnesses around the country.
Locally, Pinellas County believers joined thousands from Tampa, Orlando, Sarasota and Bradenton for gatherings at the Silver Spurs Arena in Kissimmee, and at the Jehovah's Witnesses' facility in Plant City.
In what has become a growing trend, many were from non-English-speaking congregations.
"Nationally, these foreign language groups are growing rapidly," said Charles Wolfersberger, a spokesman who lives in Seminole.
"About 35 percent of us are now Spanish-speaking in Pinellas County. And in Tampa, the Spanish members are now outnumbering the English."
In Pinellas County, Spanish congregations meet in St. Petersburg, Clearwater, Dunedin and Tarpon Springs, said Wolfersberger, an elder in one of four English-speaking Largo congregations.
Spanish congregations share space with English-speaking congregations at Kingdom Halls, the name of Jehovah's Witnesses' placesof worship.
Wolfersberger said Jehovah's Witnesses - known for their door-to-door and street-side evangelizing - have been helped in their proselytizing among non-English speakers by their vast translation program.
"We probably have the largest translation committee there is in the world, he said, adding that the group translates Bibles and its literature, including its Awake and Watch Tower magazines, into more than 400 languages.
Besides Spanish, Pinellas County congregations also include those for speakers of Greek, Portuguese, Croatian and Polish, Wolfersberger said. There are also smaller groups of Vietnamese, Korean and Russian believers, he said.
The religious group also focuses on the hearing impaired. This year's conventions also presented a special sign language program for about 2,000 members from around the state.
Until 2003, area believers met annually at the Bayfront Center, which hosted the summertime gatherings for almost four decades before the facility's recent demolition and reconstruction.
This year, 63,000 Jehovah's Witnesses from 400 Central Florida congregations took turns attending seven three-day conventions. The theme of the gatherings was the need to imitate Jesus Christ in all matters of life. Joining believers were non-Witnesses who received special invitations to attend the annual meetings.
A highlight of the program was the baptism of 464 new members in a specially built 10-foot by 12-foot pool. Obadiah Henry, 25, who was born in St. Lucia and lives in Largo, was among them.
Brought up in a Jehovah's Witness family, Henry said he had not been ready to commit to the group until recently.
"It was the greatest day of my life," he said of his baptism last weekend. "First, I dedicated my life to Jehovah and that's the best thing any individual can do. For me, this is the beginning of my life. I have to maintain that integrity to the end."Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at (727) 892-2283 or firstname.lastname@example.org
By the numbers
Jehovah's Witnesses in Pinellas County
125 Pinellas Park sign language congregation
1-million Jehovah Witnesses in the United States
7-million Witnesses worldwide