LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — The COVID-19 pandemic has forced many large conventions to reimagine their events in a digital space.
Jehovah’s Witnesses around the world did just that, taking their religious conventions online in more than 240 lands. They will present this digital program on their official website jw.org for a total of 6 weekends.
Jehovah’s Witnesses suspended public meetings and their public ministry in mid-March.
These global online conventions began the weekend of July 11 and the entire program will run through the final weekend of August 29.
They say the same principles guiding them to preach from door-to-door, “the sanctity of life and love of neighbors,” are the same principles that motivated them to suspend all global conventions in early April when government authorities announced restrictions on large gatherings.
Many organizations and businesses have postponed large gatherings, and as coronavirus cases increase, rescheduled events are now being further delayed.
Cancellation of Jehovah’s Witness conventions around the world affected not only millions of Witnesses but also convention host cities already hard hit economically by the pandemic.
In the US alone, 688 conventions are held from May to September, according to Robert Hendriks, US Spokesman for Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Part of the joy of these conventions though is being able to associate with one another, so they set out to safely accomplish this.
Hendriks acknowledged the decision to go virtual was not easy but said it was very important that something replaced the public conventions due to the significance they held for many.
MOVING EVENTS ONLINE
Jehovah’s Witnesses were able to utilize technology to seamlessly pivot a global audience to a digital platform in a short period of time.
“To make a convention of this scale possible, recordings of the convention program also needed to be extensively translated,” added Hendriks.
Producing a 3-day program for worldwide distribution involved translating more than 53 discourses in whole or in part into 100 languages in the US and 511 worldwide – all then made available on a self-managed online platform.
“Despite their isolation from other members of their translation team, they could collaborate sufficiently to translate and record the talks, dramas, and songs in over 500 languages,” said Nicholas Ahladis, JW Translation Services.
HOW CONGREGATIONS WILL MOVE FORWARD
Congregations have planned to continue to gather solely on videoconferencing platforms to safely self-isolate and reduce the spread of the virus, according to Jamie Dunjey, a local spokesman for Jehovah’s Witnesses.
A hallmark of every annual convention of Jehovah’s Witnesses has always been the baptism. This year though, Jehovahs’ Witnesses will not be able to enjoy the large public baptisms of the past in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Although the convention is being presented online, the Saturday morning session of this year’s program will still conclude with a baptismal discourse for candidates and all viewing the program.
To maintain the safety of all involved, hundreds of thousands throughout the world will be baptized in private locations this weekend.
“During a regular year, we would normally see upwards of 300,000 baptized worldwide. This year will be different; rather than baptisms in large stadiums, we will see baptisms in backyard pools, lakes, and other appropriate locations,” said Jamie Dunjey, local spokesman for Jehovah’s Witnesses.
FEATURE FILM PRODUCTION
If you are missing the theater, a full-length feature Bible film titled Nehemiah: “The Joy of Jehovah Is Your Stronghold,” is being made available during the convention program.
This weekend, the 76-minute film will be watched by virtual audiences around the world from the comfort of their own home.
“These Bible movies keep my family on the edge of our seats,” said Jamie Dunjey, local spokesman for Jehovah’s Witnesses. “It’s a chance to see Bible accounts brought to life in cinematic reality.”
The film’s synopsis centers on Jewish Bible character Nehemiah, who wanted to rebuild Jerusalem’s damaged walls and city gate, but the walls were not the only things that were broken. Based on the Bible book of the same name, the movie is presented from the viewpoint of Nehemiah, who served the King of Persia far from home in Israel. He faces extreme opposition in his efforts to rebuild the city walls of ancient Jerusalem and his people’s spirituality.
“It’s a great example of how ordinary men can accomplish extraordinary tasks with God’s help,” added Dunjey.
The movie took 70,000 man-hours to complete, using an all-volunteer cast and crew.
Created before the COVID-19 pandemic and the requirement for social distancing, movie sets were built inside the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ studio facility in New York. To give the film a historically accurate appearance, volunteers constructed lightweight set pieces designed to mimic the walls of ancient Jerusalem.
Developed in English, the film is now available in over 500 languages.
Such a translation project would normally take more than a year to produce, but the work was completed in less than four months despite translators being under lockdown and isolated from other members of their production team.
The entire film is available for download on jw.org or by accessing the JW Broadcasting streaming channel.
Suitable for viewing by the entire family, the movie shows how Jehovah God, through Nehemiah, teaches his people what true joy is.
Jehovah’s Witnesses worldwide hope this virtual convention has a positive impact on their members and the community during the pandemic.
To view the “Always Rejoice” online convention for free, please visit jw.org.