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Amid troubles, Jehovah’s Witnesses wait for God to punish evil


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Estella Steffenhagen,6, reads a passage in the Bible with her mother, Kristina Steffenhagen, while the family joined others at a Jehova's Witness convention in Amherst. CAROL LOLLIS—Gazette Staff/ Carol Lollis

AMHERST – Outside, the world was raging. But inside, they were safe.

Outside, there were wars, known and unknown. There were men with guns and hearts full of hate. There were trials and temptations, liars and blasphemers. There were squabbles over earthly things — money, oil and power — that brought nations to their knees.

Inside, they had peace and unity. They had their iPads with their verses and their books of scripture. They had their shared songs and stories. They had their Brothers and Sisters. They had each other and the love of Jehovah.

Kristina and Nathan Steffenhagen, along with their daughters Estella and Sienna, were among more than 5,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses to join in Amherst this weekend for the regional New England convention. The gathering at the Mullins Center overlapped with a terrorist attack in France, a military overthrow in Turkey and a shooting of police in Louisiana — events in a recent string of violence and turbulence.

But while the world reeled, the Jehovah’s Witnesses steadied themselves with scripture. They took these tragedies as signs, confirmation of what their faith foretold: the end is approaching.

 

2 Timothy 3: 1: But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days.

 

“We view it as a sign of the times that we are living in,” Kristina said. “We believe in the near future God will step in and rid the world of evil.”

There are more than 8 million Jehovah’s Witnesses worldwide. They practice Christianity, adhering directly to biblical principles as they believe were taught by Jesus. According JW.org, they believe they are living in the last days of earth, and that very soon the earth will be returned to a paradise as it was in the time of Adam and Eve, where they will have perfect health and everlasting life.

Throughout the convention, members gave speeches about how to remain loyal to Jehovah, even in challenging times.

“The world is very disloyal and disjointed, but Jehovah’s people stand out as different,” Brother Jason Langston of Connecticut said in a speech, one of many throughout the weekend shown on screens positioned around the cavernous Mullins Center. “Jehovah sees what percolates our hearts and keeps us from being one thing on the inside and another on the outside.”

Like many in the crowd, Kristina, 33, took detailed notes on a legal pad. Beside her, Estella, 7, tried to follow along in the convention children’s workbook. She doodled pictures of herself holding hands with the new friends she hoped to make that day and tried to copy her name, upside down, off her nametag. The family lives in Holyoke and worships at a Kingdom Hall in Northampton.

Kristina was raised in a household with two religions: her father was Catholic, and her mother was a Jehovah’s Witness. Growing up, Kristina oscillated between Catholic Mass and trips to Kingdom Hall, the place of worship for Jehovah’s Witnesses. She found herself drawn to Jehovah’s Witnesses because she felt encouraged to ask questions and learn for herself, and also appreciated that every element of worship came directly from the Bible.

After spending much time researching the teachings of Jehovah’s Witnesses and intensely studying the Bible, Kristina was baptized at 17.

“I had been lingering and talking to God. I saw he’d been there was I was little, and I had loved him then,” Kristina said. “I hoped I could grow and love him forever.”

Kristina and Nathan met at a Kingdom Hall through mutual friends, going to dinner and movies together. They married young and built a life together, with their faith informing every facet.

“This isn’t a part of our life. This is our life,” Kristina said. “Everything else is just a part of it.”

 

Matthew 7:13-14: Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road broad that leads to destruction, and those who enter through it are many.14 How narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life. And those who find it are few.

 

Symposiums during the convention explored ways Jehovah’s Witnesses must work to be loyal to their god, and how that loyalty might be challenged. Speakers encouraged members to act with love and kindness, and keep their distance from anything that might pull them away from Jehovah: impure thoughts and sometimes, other people.

 

Proverbs 13:20: Walk with the wise and you become wise, but the companion of fools fares badly.

 

“Association with nonbelievers could cause us to gradually begin to absorb the disloyal attitudes of this world,” said Brother Christopher Perez of Amherst. “There is just no escaping the fact that we will adopt their attitudes, standards and personality. We will become just like them.”

Jehovah’s Witnesses view themselves as being “in the world, but not of the world.” While they are out in the world — working, going to school, interacting with others — they feel separated because they live differently than other people, striving to live as perfectly and biblically as possible.

They don’t celebrate Christian holidays like Christmas and Easter, because they consider them of pagan origin. Instead, Nathan and Kristina have “parties for no reason,” celebrating days they deem special as a family. Recently, Kristina threw a flower party for Estella and Sienna, getting special vases and flowers and letting the girls arrange their own bouquets. They have pool parties with other families, and carve out time to study the Bible together.

Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t vote and try to keep their distance from politics, because they believe that God, not man, reigns over men.

 

Daniel 2:44: In the time of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people. It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will itself endure forever.

 

“We don’t participate in government and elections, but in some ways it’s kind of hard to ignore,” Nathan said. “Human governments and kingdoms have never carried out any successful change in this world. We don’t put our hope in man.”

Still, Nathan and Kristina try to stay informed, remaining vigilant for signs that the world is changing as they’ve been told it will.

“Many people may turn on the news and think, ‘What is this world coming to?’” said Brother Brian Edwards. “But we know. What is this world coming to? It’s coming to its foretold end.”

With the end drawing closer, speakers said it was more important than ever for Jehovah’s Witnesses to spread their love and light to others, sharing the word of God before it’s too late. In their ministry work, witnesses try to meet people where they are — train stations, bus stops, grocery stores and sidewalks. Kristina said she keeps in mind how she felt when she was first learning about Jehovah’s Witnesses when she approaches people.

“I know we’re coming unexpected, and that what we have to say might be confusing,” Kristina said. “That’s why I try to always be warm and explain things as quickly as possible, because I myself would have had all those same thoughts.”

Nathan and Kristina go out of their way to help people whenever possible — friends and strangers alike. They teach their daughters the importance of helping people in concrete ways, like caring for the sick or providing comfort for people in dark moments, even when it’s challenging.

“Maybe some people might give a Witness a hard time,” Nathan said. “I guess that’s to be expected. We stand out as so different because we might not live the same way or follow the same traditions as somebody else.”

Psalm 37: 10-11: Wait a little, and the wicked will be no more;  look for them and they will not be there. 11 But the poor will inherit the earth, will delight in great prosperity.

 

Video clips on giant screens throughout the convention center depicted Jehovah’s Witnesses enduring “The Great Tribulation,” when the world as it has been known will end. In the video, witnesses hid in a basement and shared stories about their faith. They winced at the sound of shattering glass and men shouting and stomping on the floorboards above their heads. “Where are the witnesses?” the men shouted. “Have you seen them?”

Eventually, the door to the basement gave way. Black-clad men in bulletproof vests stormed through the threshold. The clip ended with the witnesses standing their ground before the armed men, fierce but calm, defying persecution, and surrounded by light.

 

1 Corinthians 6:9: Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God?

 

At one point, members from different congregations read lines of scripture and discussed issues from the most recent edition of The Watchtower, a magazine by and for Jehovah’s Witnesses. Nathan had been selected to share scripture.

Estella pointed a cellphone at one of the giant screens, waiting patiently for a chance to snap her father’s picture. Sienna grinned and looked back and forth between her mother beside her, and the stage where her father stood reading.

“When the Lord saw how great the wickedness of human beings was on earth, and how every desire that their heart conceived was always nothing but evil,” Nathan read. “The Lord regretted making human beings on the earth, and his heart was grieved.”

Estella and Sienna sat in their matching dresses, beaming at their father. When he returned to his seat, they hugged him. “Good job, Daddy!”

The Steffenhagens unpacked their lunches — sandwiches, peaches left over from the peach crisp they’d made the night before, Birthday Cake Oreos and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and mini Hershey bars.

Estella and Sienna waved and smiled at a tiny girl in a white dress in the row in front of them. Nathan and Kristina joked with their daughters and chatted with friends who passed by, enjoying the break before the day’s events resumed.

For the Steffenhagens, the convention was a chance to refresh. A way to feed their spirits and fill themselves with love and knowledge they could use in their everyday life. A time to be surrounded by people who lived as they lived and knew what they knew.

Because outside, the world was raging.

http://www.gazettenet.com/Jehovah-s-Witness-convention-in-Amherst-draws-many-3471785

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