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  1. Our dear sister lshe is happy to see her mom and dad getting baptized at the Regional Convention, this makes her faith grow.
  2. ROSENBERG - The NFL quarterback drawing fire for not standing for the Star-Spangled Banner is, in one way, in a league with the thousands of people descending on Rosenberg for a regional convention that wraps up Sunday. Jehovah's Witnesses have long refused to recite the Pledge of Allegiance or participate in other patriotic ceremonies. They also don't celebrate birthdays, get blood transfusions, vote or join the military because of their religious beliefs. Jehovah's Witnesses count 8.2 million members worldwide and may be among the world's faster-growing religions. "I tell people if you read this, it is like winning the lottery," said a woman who shared a copy of The Watchtower, the group's perennial publication that began in the late 1800s, outside a Whataburger near the Fort Bend County hall, one of the largest gathering points for the religion in Texas. They have stood at the forefront of multiple successful Supreme Court fights, fortifying the type of free speech rights that enable San Francisco 49ers Colin Kaepernick to take a knee at the start of football games in protest of what he sees as racial oppression. Jehovah's Witnesses know they may seem unusual to some outsiders as they canvas neighborhoods, preaching the benefits of a life dedicated to their lord and warning of a coming doomsday to those they encounter. A few blocks from the Rosenberg restaurant, the immaculate 130,000-square-foot Assembly Hall of Jehovah's Witnesses, was already filled with more than 2,000 members. Among the youngest attendees here was an 11-week-old girl named Madeley, from The Woodlands, who was cradled in her mother's arms. Among the oldest was Dr. Kenneth Riggle, who turns 101 this year. Another was Jon Beck, 61, a church elder and fifth- generation Jehovah's Witness, who was delivered into this world as newborn by Riggle at a long-gone Montrose clinic. "He is one of those doctors where you have to listen because he must be doing something right," Beck said admiringly of the centenarian. Beck, a spokesman for the gathering in Rosenberg, said that all of the religion's teachings were drawn from the Bible. "We do respect the flag and others' right to salute it, but like Jesus Christ, our beliefs follow his example of remaining neutral politically and nationally," he said. The Rosenberg hall, which was built by more than 13,000 volunteers two decades ago, might seem off-kilter for some Christians. There is no priest or pastor leading a service, nor is there a cross or crucifix front and center. Members took notes and followed along with various speakers on their tablets and old-school Bibles. One participant told of the double-edged sword of the Internet and how it could be used for good and bad. There also were cautions against being alone with a member of the opposite sex to whom you are not married and advice for how to deal with a spouse who does not believe in the church. The church clearly defines what members should and should not do and offers speakers who tell of their own ordeals, decisions and consequences. One young woman told her story of deciding not to attend a university, as she agreed with church cautions that it could cause temptation. An older woman recalled how she faced the challenge but later found strength in following a church policy of no longer communicating with members - in this case her own daughters - who decide to no longer be Jehovah's Witnesses. "It would have been easier to lose them in death," she said, adding that her daughters later again embraced the church. Philip Jenkins, a history professor at Baylor University's Program on Historical Studies of Religion, said Jehovah's Witnesses have a distinctive way of interpreting the Bible and practicing their religion. "They are very cut off from the world; they work with each other and believe pretty much that the rest of the world is in the hands of the devil," said Jenkins, noting their reputation as a group seems to differ from how they are one-on-one. "In theory, you can deal with them as these rock-hard cult folks, but when you actually deal with them on the streets, they are very funny, regular, ordinary people." Around town, Rosenberg residents repeatedly gave good marks to the conventiongoers, part of a series of conventions that have gone on here throughout the summer and serves as an economic engine for a rural pocket in the fast-growing county. "I can tell they are very generous people," said James Cross, as he worked the register at the Whataburger. He noted that the restaurant already had taken in at least 60 donations, mostly from churchgoers, at part of a campaign to support the Houston Food Bank. "It is more of an atmosphere, a positive attitude," he said. "It can be contagious, even for the people working here." Marina Sebesta at a nearby Comfort Inn described them as considerate, "definitely kind" and respectful of others. "It is never an issue where they are trying to shove religion down your throat," she said.
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  3. For the first time in over 20 years the Northern Ontario Convention of Jehovah's Witnesses was held in the Sault this weekend and a couple of special gift-givers were in attendance. Elijah Turcott from Lakewood prays with around 2300 other faith-followers during the Northern Ontario 2016 Convention of Jehovah's Witnesses held in Sault Ste. Marie. Photo by Jeff Klassen for SooToday Colleen Cyrenne says her 24 year-old son Jacques Vaillancourt has been able to accomplish amazing things thanks to being involved in the Jehovah’s Witnesses. The mother and son came up from Sheguiandah on Manitoulin Island this weekend to gather with around 2300 other religious followers at the Essar Centre for the 2016 Northern Ontario Convention of Jehovah’s Witnesses. 36 congregations from as far west as Thunder Bay and as east as North Bay came to attend the regions biggest annual gathering of Jehovah's Witnesses. It was the first time in over twenty years the conference was held in Sault Ste. Marie. Cyrenne described her son as being severely autistic but that the structure of their religious faith - going to conventions, studying the bible, doing 70 hours of faith work a month, etc. - has allowed him to excel in many ways. Autism, or Autism Spectrum Disorder, is a mental illness with a set of symptoms that hurt the individual’s ability to function socially, at school or work, or other areas of life. How profoundly that individual is affected by those symptoms dictates how severe the disorder is in that individual. At the weekend convention, Vaillancourt handed out 225 cut-out, hand-drawn pictures of “good-example Bible figures” and his mother handed out hundreds of fabric and plastic flowers attached to clips, so many she lost count. The figures Vaillancourt drew are meant to help remind people of the many good teachings in the bible and Cyrenne's flowers are a loving gift. “I just make them until I can’t make them anymore,” said Cyrenne, who has been doing it for so many years she doesn’t know how long.The young man, who's disorder is obvious through conversation, goes door-to-door, often on his own, spreading the religion’s message and even conducts bible study groups with young children. Cyrenne said her son has the incredible gift of being able to remember and recite a large number of biblical information verbatim with incredible accuracy. Vaillancourt can recite large parts of a 2500 page, two-volume biblical encyclopedia called 'Insight on the Scriptures' and he’s completely memorized, word-for-word, every story in a 300-page, 116 story filled book called 'My Book of Bible Stories'. “If you ask him to recite any story he can do it without the book. Let me show you,” said his mother, demonstrating. “Jacques, what’s story number 89?” “89, Jesus cleans out the Temple,” replied Vaillancourt, correctly. “Now if I tell him the title, he’ll tell me the number of the story. And then if you want him to tell the story, he can do that. For example, Jacques, what’s the first sentence in that story?” “Jesus Cleans out the Temple. (The first sentence is) Jesus looks really angry doesn’t he?“ said Jacques, nailing it. Cyrenne said her son is less nervous than her when going door-to-door preaching the word of Jehovah. She said that actually many people don’t realize that he’s autistic unless they get into a deeper conversation with him. Cyrenne, in her 50s, has been involved in the Jehovah’s Witnesses her whole life and she said going to conventions with her parents over the years personally inspired her to be giving to others and considerate of the elderly. Her father used to donate vegetables to the convention kitchen while her mother struggled with general old-age health issues that mean she would struggle to sit through the long seminars. Cyrenne, teared-up discussing her and her son’s gift giving. “I wanted to give the brothers and sisters gifts because I don’t get to see them very much. Some of the brothers and sisters are crippled and they have to sit in a chair (throughout the long weekend convention) and I know for some of them it’s really hard,” she said. But the gift-giver wanted to emphasize that what she does is not special in the faith and that others spread love in their own way be it by giving out blankets, hugs, or just donating their time. The three-day event included 49 presentations structured around the theme of “remaining loyal to Jehovah”, delivered through a multimedia presentation that included live speakers, videos, a baptism, and ways that the audience could interact with the presentation on their tablet computers. The convention is open to the public and presentations continue at the Essar Centre all day Sunday.
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