LAGOS: News about this year’s convention of the Jehovah’s Witnesses rekindled my personal encounter with this group of Christians who are largely ridiculed by other Christian denominations because of their distinct beliefs and conduct from mainstream Christianity. The beliefs, it must be clarified, didn’t emanate from outside what is written in the Holy Bible but its interpretation. The Word of God is so deep that one needs the Holy Spirit to fathom it. Only the Holy Spirit can reveal the meanings of the Word. Let me talk about the convention.
The 2018 convention is billed to run from Friday August 3, to Sunday, December 23 in 34 locations across Nigeria, with the theme, “Be Courageous.” In the Lagos-Ogun area, the convention will begin from August 31 at the Assembly Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses along Idiroko Road, Ota; Daluwon along Mowe-Ofada Road; Lekki at Ajibona Village; and Badagry, at 5, Assembly Road, Itoga, opposite Limca bus stop.”
According to the spokesman of Jehovah’s Witnesses, George Ijeh, the convention will help attendees to face the daunting challenges individuals, families and the society at large face today with God-given courage. He said you can clearly see that people of all ages are dealing with more anxieties and fears than ever before. It takes courage to face these pressures. He explained that the three-day programme consists of 54 presentations, including talks, audio dramas, interviews and short videos. No doubt, the theme of the convention is apt for the hard times Nigerians are facing. Suicides are commonplace. One needs courage and endurance to hang on.
My encounter with members of Jehovah’s Witness in far away Japan in 1987 made a lasting impression on me. I was invited to Japan by a university to participate in a scientific conference where I was to present a commissioned research project I did for them on acid rain in Nigeria’s Niger Delta. It was a very exciting trip flying for hours to the Far East. Everything went fine. The Japanese are very friendly with visitors. You are challenged to try some exotic delicacies that form their daily menu.
As a practice, anywhere I travelled, the first thing I would ask in my hotel is where the nearest church is located where I can worship. That was the question I ask at my hotel and they directed me to a nearby Roman Catholic Church. With the map given to me, I was able to reach the parish house. I went in and saw a man whom I told that I would like to see the parish priest. He said the priest was having siesta but that he could call another priest from town for me.
Immediately, he called a priest, who happened to be a Belgian priest. Within minutes, he drove in and met me in the visitor’s sitting room. I introduced myself and told him my mission in Japan and asked if I could be assisted to stay for a while after my assignment with the university. He said no that I should return back to Nigeria as soon as I finished my assignment. He gave me a ride back to my hotel and left.
Back to the hotel, I phoned a pastor of the Baptist Mission in Tokyo, a woman, who gave me invitation prior to my departure to visit them while in Japan. She said I could come and stay in their guest house. When I finished with the university, I informed her and she agreed to wait for me at a train station. I met her at the station on arrival. The first question she asked me was whether I have enough money to take care of myself. I said yes, because I was “loaded” having been paid enough money by the university. My intention was to have some time to look around the beautiful city. She took me to the guest house where I lodged. The following Sunday, she came and picked me and we went to their Baptist church service. The people were excited to see me – the only black man in the congregation. After the church service, the pastors had a brief chat with me and advised me to return to Nigeria as soon as possible.
I left the guest house and went for a live-in with a family I contacted who have lived in Kenya and know Africa. They welcomed me well and treated me so nicely.One day, I was alone in the compound and behold two members of Jehovah’s Witnesses on evangelism were passing by. They saw me and came in to talk with me. Having been used to reading the Awake magazine and discussing the Bible with Witnesses in Nigeria, I welcomed the duo as we sat down to talk the Bible. I brought out my Bible as we discussed. We talked for a short while and they got to know who I am and my mission. The Witnesses were so friendly. They encouraged me and assured me of their support. The point is that, out of the three Christians I encountered – the priest, pastor and Witnesses, it was the Witnesses that received me and showed me true love. That registered in my psyche.
As children, we were brainwashed to mock and deride members of Jehovah’s Witnesses each time they passed or came over to our home for their trademark evangelism. Growing up from the Catholic background, Jehovah’s Witnesses were derided as Ndi ama ugha Jehovah or “Jehovah’s False Witnesses,” simply because they shared a distinct belief based on their interpretation of the Bible.
But the most interesting thing about this interesting group is that they are law abiding. Whereas Nigeria is generally a lawless society where people brazenly break the laws with impunity, hardly would you hear or come across a member of Jehovah’s Witnesses caught breaking the law as others routinely do. I have never heard of a Jehovah’s Witness involved in any of the numerous criminalities that pervade Nigeria – stealing, armed robbery, rape, adultery, bribery, corruption or driving against the traffic, ritualism, name it.
This group silently engages in their chosen careers with utmost gentleness and Christian conduct. I am not saying that Jehovah’s Witnesses are saints. Certainly, not. But I can boldly say without equivocation that if every citizen behaves like members of Jehovah’s Witnesses, there will be peace in the country. I wish the brothers and sisters a very successful and fruitful convention.