1,278 Attended the “Be Courageous”! Convention of Jehovah’s Witnesses Presented in ASL from August 10 to 12, 2018
Over the weekend, a crowd of over 1,200 Deaf, Hard-of-Hearing, Deaf/Blind together with hearing persons gathered near Denton, Texas, at the Assembly Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Why? To attend a three-day “Be Courageous” themed Convention of Jehovah’s Witnesses presented in American Sign Language. The gathering included a variety of races and ages from cities in Texas as far away as Brownsville and El Paso as well as seven other states, including Oklahoma, Louisiana, Arkansas, Missouri, Kansas, Mississippi and Tennessee.
Karina Tapia, a 25-year-old deaf attendee from Austin, Texas, said the convention was “…so enjoyable that it definitely makes it worth the travel!” She related, “I know that young people have struggles and life can be hard, but after going to the convention and seeing the good encouragement that specifically pertains to them, they can be confident about expressing themselves.”
For three days, attendees enjoyed presentations and interviews on the theme “Be Courageous”. Throughout each day, various short videos depicting real-life scenarios demonstrated how the Bible helps us face present and future challenges with courage. During the opening presentation on Friday, attendees watched a short video on the true-life story of one of Jehovah’s Witnesses from the Netherlands who, during the holocaust, exhibited courage before his untimely death in a concentration camp. Another highlight came on Saturday, when beautiful video clips of animals in nature such as lions, mongooses, hummingbirds and elephants were used as teaching examples about courage. On Sunday afternoon, a feature film with on-screen interpreting expertly portrayed the Bible story of Jonah as a lesson in courage and mercy.
Ron Lowe from Little Rock, Arkansas, helped on the organizing committee supporting departments at the convention. When asked about attending conventions, he reflected on his youth, attending conventions in English with no interpreter and little understanding. Eventually, ASL interpreters were used and this attracted more individuals who are deaf. However, the language barrier still made it difficult to interact with hearing attendees. Now he says, “How amazing it is that we now have conventions such as this! Everyone here, no matter if they are deaf or hearing, use sign language to greet each other and enjoy chatting.” He went on “I really enjoy the association with people, many of whom aren’t Jehovah’s Witnesses. Many first-time attendees are surprised and overjoyed seeing everyone, both hearing and deaf using sign language. Seeing talks and the Bible presented on the large screens in ASL, which is their language, they are definitely glad they came!”
Since 2015, Librado Vera has been making the annual 8-hour drive from Laredo, TX, with his wife, Maria, and 18-year-old daughter, Vicky, to attend the conventions in Denton. Librado reflected, “We have gone to Spanish conventions since Vicky was born, but I understood nothing. It all went over my head since I can’t hear. Now coming to conventions in ASL, I can understand the convention so much better!”
When asked about learning sign language Vicky said, “I really like it! At first, I didn’t want to move to a sign language congregation. But when I saw how much my dad understood and how much easier it became to communicate with my dad, I began enjoying sign language more. It helped unite the family.”
Maria added, “We have been married for 20 years, but I never understood my husband as a deaf person. All those years he came with us, but I never understood what it was like for him. Before, we had so many problems common with families. It would be frustrating and sometimes even funny when we would try to communicate on some serious issues. But now, thanks to Jehovah, we don’t have those communication problems.”
Librado concluded, “I’m happy having the family together at the conventions. I can meet different ones and communicate with them all. I’m definitely happy to have my family together at the convention.”
See what a convention of Jehovah’s Witnesses in sign language looks like: JW Sign Language Convention