ANNUAL meetings of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania always generate excitement. How true that was of the 127th annual meeting, held on Saturday, October 1, 2011! Invited guests from all over the world gathered at the Assembly Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Jersey City, New Jersey, U.S.A.
Gerrit Lösch of the Governing Body welcomed the happy throng. He told the delegates from some 85 countries that they enjoy unique international unity. Such unity is a good witness and glorifies Jehovah. Actually, unity was a recurring theme of this meeting.
A GOOD REPORT FROM MEXICO
The first part on the program exemplified the unity of Jehovah’s people. Baltasar Perla interviewed three fellow members of the Mexico Bethel family regarding the merger of six Central American branch offices with the Mexico branch. Because of this merger, the Bethel family in Mexico has become more multicultural and international. The influx of fellow believers from different lands has resulted in an interchange of encouragement. It is as if God took a huge eraser and eliminated national borders.
One challenge the merger presented was that of helping publishers feel that they are not isolated from Jehovah’s organization even though branch offices no longer function in their countries. To that end, each congregation has a secure e-mail connection so that even those in isolated areas can communicate directly with the branch office.
AN UPDATE FROM JAPAN
James Linton from the Japan branch explained how our brothers were affected by the earthquake and tsunamis that struck that land in March 2011. Many Witnesses lost their loved ones as well as their belongings. Over 3,100 homes and hundreds of vehicles were offered by Witnesses outside the affected area. Volunteers associated with Regional Building Committees worked nonstop to repair brothers’ homes. More than 1,700 volunteered to serve wherever needed. A team of volunteers from the United States assisted with Kingdom Hall restoration, and 575 volunteers worked on this project.
Much attention has been given to the spiritual and emotional well-being of those affected. Over 400 elders have served where shepherding was needed. The Governing Body’s concern was evident when two zone overseers from world headquarters traveled to the disaster area to offer encouragement. Expressions of concern on the part of Witnesses worldwide have been a source of great comfort.
The audience paid rapt attention as Stephen Hardy from the Britain branch led a discussion of recent legal victories. For instance, the French government was demanding $82 million (U.S.) in taxes from the association we use in France. The issue was resolved when the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled in our favor, stating that the French government had violated Article 9 of the European Convention, which protects religious freedom. The wording of the decision shows that this case was not about money, for it read: “Refusing to recognize a religious association, bringing about its dissolution, the use of derogatory language toward a religious movement, are all examples of interference with the right guaranteed by Article 9 of the Convention.”
The ECHR also ruled in our favor in a case involving Armenia. Since 1965 the ECHR had held that the European Convention did not protect individuals from obligatory military service. The Grand Chamber—the highest level of the European Court—ruled that “opposition to military service, where it is motivated by a serious and insurmountable conflict,” ought to be guaranteed by the European Convention. This decision obligates Armenia and such countries as Azerbaijan and Turkey to recognize the same right.
Guy Pierce of the Governing Body spoke next and acknowledged that all present were curious about our construction projects in New York State. He introduced a video showing developments at Wallkill, Patterson, and recently acquired sites in Warwick and Tuxedo, New York. At Wallkill, a new residence due to be completed in 2014 will provide over 300 additional rooms.
There are plans to develop a 248-acre (100 ha) property at Warwick. “Although we are not yet certain of Jehovah’s will regarding Warwick,” said Brother Pierce, “we are proceeding to develop the site with the intention of relocating the world headquarters of Jehovah’s Witnesses there.” Plans are also being made to use a 50-acre (20 ha) parcel of land situated six miles (10 km) north of Warwick to facilitate the staging of machinery and building material. “Once construction is permitted, we hope to complete the entire project within four years,” said Brother Pierce. “Then our property in Brooklyn can be sold.”
“Has the Governing Body changed its mind about the closeness of the great tribulation?” asked Brother Pierce. “Not at all,” he answered. “If the great tribulation interrupts our plans, that will be wonderful, absolutely wonderful!”
BEWARE OF THE ROARING LION
Stephen Lett, another member of the Governing Body, next discussed 1 Peter 5:8: “Keep your senses, be watchful. Your adversary, the Devil, walks about like a roaring lion, seeking to devour someone.” Brother Lett stated that several characteristics of lions make Peter’s illustration an apt description of the Devil.
Since lions are stronger and faster than humans, we should not try to fight or outrun Satan in our own strength. We need Jehovah’s help. (Isa. 40:31) A lion hunts stealthily, so we must avoid the spiritual darkness in which Satan seeks his prey. Just as a lion kills a harmless antelope or a sleeping baby zebra, so Satan is merciless and would love to kill us. And after a lion has satisfied its hunger, the victims are often unrecognizable, just as “the final conditions” of Satan’s spiritual victims “become worse for them than the first.” (2 Pet. 2:20) So we need to take our stand against Satan and hold firmly to the Bible principles we have learned.—1 Pet. 5:9.
APPRECIATE YOUR PLACE IN JEHOVAH’S HOUSE
“We all have a place in Jehovah’s house,” said the next speaker, Samuel Herd of the Governing Body. All Christians have a place in God’s “house”—his spiritual temple—the arrangement to worship him on the basis of Jesus’ ransom sacrifice. It is a place to be cherished as a precious privilege. Like David, we desire to “dwell in the house of Jehovah all the days of [our] life.”—Ps. 27:4.
Brother Herd referred to Psalm 92:12-14 and asked, “How does Jehovah enable us to flourish?” He answered: “In the spiritual paradise, God keeps us warm, protects us, and gives us refreshing waters of truth. Let us thank him for that.” Brother Herd then urged the audience: “Let us be content to stay in Jehovah’s house—not just for a short while but forever.”
CHRISTIANS RESPECT GOD’S WORD
David Splane, also of the Governing Body, explained in the next talk that true Christians have always respected God’s Word. In the first century, they relied on it to settle the circumcision issue. (Acts 15:16, 17) But some nominal second-century Christians who had been trained in Greek philosophy began to put their intellectual satisfaction ahead of the Scriptures. Later, others replaced Bible teachings with the opinions of the so-called Church Fathers and Roman emperors, spawning many false doctrines.
Brother Splane pointed out that in an illustration, Jesus indicated that there would continue to be genuine anointed Christians on earth to defend the truth. (Matt. 13:24-30) We cannot say for sure who they were. Through the centuries, however, many have denounced unscriptural beliefs and practices. Some of these were Archbishop Agobard of Lyons in the 9th century, Peter of Bruys, Henry of Lausanne, and Valdès (or, Waldo) in the 12th century, John Wycliffe in the 14th century, William Tyndale in the 16th century, and Henry Grew and George Storrs in the 19th century. Jehovah’s Witnesses today continue to uphold Scriptural standards and recognize the Bible as the foundation of truth. That is why the Governing Body has chosen as our 2012 yeartext John 17:17: “Your word is truth.”
THRILLING ADJUSTMENTS FOR TRAINING AND SERVICE
An announcement made by Anthony Morris of the Governing Body outlined adjustments for missionaries and special pioneers. As of September 2012, classes of the Bible School for Christian Couples will be held in selected countries. The focus of Gilead School has been changed. Starting last October, all those trained at Gilead will already have been in some form of special full-time service—as missionaries who have not been to Gilead, special pioneers, traveling overseers, or Bethelites. Graduates will be used to strengthen and stabilize God’s people either from branch offices, in the traveling work, or in densely populated areas where they can encourage congregations in the preaching work.
Additional special pioneers will open up territories in remote and isolated areas. As of January 1, 2012, some graduates of the Bible School for Single Brothers and the Bible School for Christian Couples were to be assigned as temporary special pioneers and used to open up and expand the work in remote areas. They were to have special pioneer assignments one year at a time for up to three years. Those proving effective may receive permanent assignments.
The 2011 annual meeting was a time of joy. We look to Jehovah to bless the new arrangements to intensify our preaching activity and further unify the brotherhood—all to his glory and praise.
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GETTING BETTER ACQUAINTED
The program also featured an interview with five of the nine surviving widows of Governing Body members. Sisters Marina Sydlik, Edith Suiter, Melita Jaracz, Melba Barry, and Sydney Barber told how they learned the truth and entered the full-time service. Each one shared with the audience treasured memories, thoughts about her husband, and the blessings they enjoyed together. As a moving conclusion to these interviews, the audience sang song number 86, entitled “Faithful Women, Christian Sisters.”
(Top) Daniel and Marina Sydlik; Grant and Edith Suiter; Theodore and Melita Jaracz
(Bottom) Lloyd and Melba Barry; Carey and Sydney Barber
[Map on page 16]
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Six branches were combined under the direction of the Mexico branch
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Prospective design of world headquarters of Jehovah’s Witnesses at Warwick, New York