Jehovah’s Witnesses, known for home visits, hold conventions here
In 1979, Sherman Walker was 28, a U.S. Army captain stationed in Germany. He was a young man searching for happiness.
One day Walker was watering the grass at the Berlin home he shared with his wife, Gladys, and the couple’s two daughters. An older German woman stopped by and asked Walker to study the Bible with her.
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“Unbeknownst to me, she had been sharing Bible verses and magazines with my wife,” Walker said. “She came back that evening and started studying the Bible with me. She made the effort to show me God’s way.”
That set Walker and his wife on their way to longed-for happiness.
After three years of Bible study and a move back to the Richmond area, the Walkers were baptized as Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Now it’s payback time for the couple. They go door-to-door sharing the happiness they found in studying the Bible.
“That German lady made an effort to show us God’s way. She was really following Jesus’ example of going and preaching the gospel. We get a lot of joy by telling others about the Bible,” said Sherman Walker, now retired and living in eastern Henrico County with his wife.
Jehovah’s Witnesses, known for their door-to-door visits to deliver God’s message, are holding the third of four district conventions at the Richmond Coliseum this weekend. About 8,000 Witnesses from Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina, West Virginia and Washington are attending the convention, which began yesterday and ends tomorrow. A total of more than 30,000 people will attend the four conventions.
The weekend sessions include sermons, information, baptisms, speakers, dramas and programs around the theme “Walk With God.” All convention sessions are free and open to the public.
The annual conventions are the highlight of the year, said Jeff Johnson, a Midlothian resident who hasn’t missed a convention since his baptism 10 years ago.
“No way would I miss it. It’s so faith-strengthening and encouraging,” said Johnson, who attends the convention with his wife and two teenagers. “There’s so much going on in the world and it’s difficult for kids. They also get encouraged in not using bad language and [not] wearing sloppy clothes.”
Sherman and Gladys Walker look forward to going to next weekend’s convention. They say it’s good to talk with people from other areas and they enjoy the educational aspect of the conventions.
Three mornings a week, the couple, toting Bibles and Jehovah’s Witnesses publications, go knocking on doors spreading “the word.” In the afternoon, they meet individually with people who want to study the Bible.
The Walkers’ area includes four city public housing projects – Creighton, Whitcomb, Fairfield and Mosby courts – that are home to almost 6,000 people. The couple also conduct Bible studies at the Richmond City Jail.
Like all Jehovah’s Witnesses who do door-to-door ministry, the Walkers are cautious. But they say they have never felt afraid. “Usually, there are four of us in a car. Two of us go in one direction and two in the other direction. But we are usually in view of each other,” Sherman Walker said.
“We pray to Jehovah before we go out, during the ministry and after the ministry. We do that anywhere we go,” he added.
Yesterday the Walkers sat in the living room of Laquisha Gay’s Whitcomb Court apartment and talked with the young mother about what the Bible says about growing old and death.
Gay, 21, said she has studied with Jehovah’s Witnesses off and on since she was 9. She began studying again about three months ago and wants to be baptized.
She said she has learned “more about what God wants us to do. Some of the things I used to do were wrong and I’ve stopped doing them.”
Donovan Greer, who attends the Witnesses’ Clover Hill Congregation in Chesterfield, said: “It takes six months to a year or more of study to prepare for baptism. We have to explain what other religions believe; then [students] are in the best position to decide if they want to be a Jehovah’s Witness.”
It takes love for your fellow man to be motivated to go knocking on doors and leading Bible studies, he said. “What I like about it is that you are not looking to get anything in return. There is nothing more rewarding than watching someone progress through Bible study to baptism.”
The Walkers’ work for their religion is volunteer, and they pay their own expenses. “We lead a simple life so that we can enjoy this form of ministry together,” Gladys Walker said.
There is a question the couple is often asked, especially by parents living in the projects. “Does God really care about me and my children?”
For the answer, Sherman Walker turns to Scripture, such as Isaiah 49:15.
“It is about a mother’s love for her child. God’s love is even greater than that. God loves everybody. Through studying Scripture, people see that God really does care.”
Sidebar: A fast-growing denomination
Jehovah’s Witnesses are a fast-growing denomination with more than 6.4 million members worldwide. They are organized into more than 95,000 congregations, all of which work under the direction of a central governing body in New York City.
– Jehovah’s Witnesses: An Overview
Witnesses believe in one God, whose name is Jehovah, creator of the heavens and Earth. They also believe the Bible is God’s word and that we are living in the end times. Jehovah’s Witnesses go door to door to show love for their neighbors and to follow Jesus’ example of spreading God’s word.
Their place of worship is called a Kingdom Hall, and they have no paid clergy. The Kingdom Halls are built with volunteer labor.
Two positions that often bring attention to Jehovah’s Witnesses are the refusal to take blood transfusions and the refusal to salute the flag. The Book of Acts says to “abstain from . . . blood,” according to Witness literature. Also, Witnesses respect the flag, but they believe that saluting or pledging allegiance to the flag is an act of worship due only to Jehovah.
Witnesses publish their own translation of the Bible, called the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures, which closely follows the Greek and Hebrew manuscripts. Other literature includes “The Watchtower,” a Bible study aid, and “Awake!,” a newsmagazine with a religious slant.
The faith grew out of a Bible-study group led by Charles Taze Russell of Pennsylvania, who began writing his views in pamphlets in the 1870s. By the 1880s he and his followers had published a magazine and formed a society. Congregations began forming across the nation, and in 1931, Russell’s followers took the name Jehovah’s Witnesses.