“WE have been blessed with a beautiful day. The sun is bright. The sky is blue. The grass is green. Birds are singing. We have the setting for a beautiful day, and we are not going to be disappointed. Jehovah is not a God of disappointment. He is a God of blessings.”
With those remarks, Brother Samuel Herd, a member of the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses, began the graduation program of the 117th class of the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead. That was on September 11, 2004. The fine program included upbuilding Bible-based counsel as well as local experiences and experiences from the missionary field. Yes, it was a beautiful day for all 6,974 attending at the Watchtower Educational Center in Patterson, New York, and at complexes in Brooklyn and Wallkill, linked by audio and video.
Encouraging Words for the Students
John Kikot, who is a member of the United States Branch Committee, offered encouraging words on the theme “Maintain Joy as a Missionary.” He pointed out that Gilead students are known for their joy, as was evident at this graduation. The instruction from the Scriptures during the school term brought the students joy, and they were now in a position to help others experience similar joy. How? By giving of themselves in their ministry as missionaries. Jesus said: “There is more happiness in giving than there is in receiving.” (Acts 20:35) As they imitate Jehovah God, the generous “happy God,” who provides the truth to others, the new missionaries will be able to maintain their own joy.
Next on the program was another member of the Governing Body, David Splane, whose theme was “How Are You Going to Get Along?” There is no doubt that it is good and pleasant to dwell in unity, though this may require becoming “all things to people of all sorts.” (1 Corinthians 9:22; Psalm 133:1) Brother Splane mentioned that the graduating students would be dealing with many others in the missionary work
Next, Gilead instructor Lawrence Bowen asked, “What Do You Think?” He reminded the students that those who ‘judged from the outward appearance’ did not accept Jesus as the Messiah. (John 7:24) As imperfect humans, all need to be on guard against ‘thinking the thoughts of men’ rather than “God’s thoughts.” (Matthew 16:22, 23) Even spiritual people must continue to adjust their thinking. As with a ship at sea, adjustments now can mean the difference between reaching the goal and suffering spiritual shipwreck. Continual study of the Bible in its context helps us think “God’s thoughts.”
Wallace Liverance, another instructor in Gilead School, concluded this part of the program. Based on Isaiah 55:1, his theme was “What Will You Buy?” He encouraged the students to “buy” the refreshment, joy, and sustenance that come from God’s prophetic message for our day. Isaiah’s prophecy likened this word of God to water, wine, and milk. How can it be bought “without money and without price”? Brother Liverance explained that it is by paying attention to Bible prophecy and exchanging unspiritual thoughts and ways for God’s thoughts and ways. (Isaiah 55:2, 3, 6, 7) By doing this, the new missionaries can be sustained in their foreign assignments. Imperfect men often think that happiness depends on striving for material comfort. “Don’t buy that,” the speaker urged. “Don’t buy into that thinking. Make sure to set aside time for meaningful study of God’s prophetic Word. It can refresh you, strengthen you, and bring you joy in your missionary assignment.”
Delightful Student Experiences and Interviews
The students had a regular share in the preaching activity. Under the direction of Mark Noumair, another Gilead instructor, several from the class reenacted experiences that highlighted the theme “Not Ashamed of the Good News.” (Romans 1:16) The audience enjoyed listening to how these seasoned ministers witnessed from house to house, on the street, and in shopping centers. Students who knew other languages took the initiative in their congregation’s territory to reach people speaking those languages. Others put to good use the Bible-based publications provided by Jehovah’s Witnesses, using such on return visits and when starting home Bible studies. They were “not ashamed” to preach the good news.
Brother William Nonkes, who is assigned to the Service Department, conducted interviews with experienced missionaries from Burkina Faso, Latvia, and Russia. They shared practical advice centered on the theme “Jehovah Lovingly Rewards Faithful Ones.” One of the brothers interviewed encouraged the students to remember Gideon’s army of 300 soldiers. Each soldier had an assignment that contributed to the success of Gideon’s campaign. (Judges 7:19-21) Similarly, missionaries who remain in their assignments are rewarded.
“Become All Things to People of All Sorts” was the theme highlighted in the interviews conducted next by Samuel Roberson, who is an instructor at Patterson. He interviewed four Branch Committee members, from Senegal, Guam, Liberia, and Madagascar. A total of 170 missionaries serve in these lands. The graduating students learned from the comments how Branch Committees help new missionaries to adapt to their assignments. That often means learning customs that might seem unusual by Western standards. For example, in some lands it is very common to see men, including those in the Christian congregation, holding hands as friends while they walk together. In some places under the Guam branch, unusual foods are served. But others have adapted, and the new missionaries can too.
Guy Pierce, a member of the Governing Body, developed the subject “Remain Loyal to ‘the Kingdom of Our Lord.’” He reminded the audience: “Jehovah created with a purpose. He had something in mind for his creation. His purpose for this globe has not changed. It moves irresistibly toward its completion. Nothing can alter that.” (Genesis 1:28) Brother Pierce encouraged all to submit loyally to God’s sovereignty despite the difficulties that have arisen because of the sin of the first man, Adam. “We are living in the hour of judgment. We have little time left to reach honesthearted ones to help them know the truth. Use the time well to reach others with the good news of the Kingdom,” urged Brother Pierce. Those loyally supporting God’s Kingdom can count on his backing.
In the closing part, the chairman read greetings and expressions of good wishes from branches around the globe. Then he presented diplomas to the graduating students, one of whom read a letter from the class, expressing heartfelt appreciation for the training received. It was a fitting conclusion to a most beautiful day that will long be remembered by all in attendance.
[Box on page 23]
Number of countries represented: 11
Number of countries assigned to: 22
Number of students: 48
Average age: 34.8
Average years in truth: 18.3
Average years in full-time ministry: 13.4
[Picture on page 24]
117th Graduating Class of the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead
In the list below, rows are numbered from front to back, and names are listed from left to right in each row.
(1) Thompson, E.; Norvell, G.; Powell, T.; Kozza, M.; McIntyre, T. (2) Reilly, A.; Clayton, C.; Allan, J.; Blanco, A.; Muñoz, L.; Rustad, N. (3) Guerrero, Z.; Garcia, K.; McKerlie, D.; Ishikawa, T.; Blanco, G. (4) McIntyre, S.; Cruz, E.; Guerrero, J.; Ritchie, O.; Avellaneda, L.; Garcia, R. (5) Powell, G.; Fiskå, H.; Muñoz, V.; Baumann, D.; Shaw, S.; Brown, K.; Brown, L. (6) Shaw, C.; Reilly, A.; Peloquin, C.; Münch, N.; McKerlie, D.; Ishikawa, K. (7) Münch, M.; Peloquin, J.; Kozza, T.; Avellaneda, M.; Allan, K.; Ritchie, E.; Norvell, T. (8) Cruz, J.; Baumann, H.; Clayton, Z.; Fiskå, E.; Thompson, M.; Rustad, J.