It was a broad scope of races and ages — at least 82 409 people, united for a special program. The theme was about seeking God’s kingdom and putting that first in their life.
That international convention at the National Sports Stadium in Harare provided the template which government described as the model and urged religious organizations to follow the example in the foreseeable future.
The bumper crowd that converged at the NSS in Harare for all the three days was historic and about 1 568 candidates out of at least 74 000 in attendance, that Saturday, were baptized symbolizing their dedication to serving their Heavenly Father –Jehovah God. Attendance on the first day, on Friday was over 68 000 while the last day, on Sunday attendance totaled 82 409 people.
The theme of the August 22-24 inaugural Jehovah’s Witnesses international convention was “Keep Seeking First God’s Kingdom”.
Guest speaker and member of Jehovah’s Witnesses’ governing body, Jeffrey Jackson and his counterpart Isaac Murray said the historic event was attended by representatives from 30 other countries across the globe. Missionaries and fulltime servants from Zimbabwe also attended the inaugural event.
The crowd that included about 3600 delegates from United States, Germany, Brazil and other countries was treated to the various captivating talks urging the followers to strict adherence to Bible principles and teachings.
The convention was the first of its kind in the country and the only one in Africa this year.
In reference to the challenges facing the world, in particular the political, social and economic challenges, Jackson said: “People shouldn’t worry about the problems they are facing. They shouldn’t also be anxious about their future as this system of things is coming to an end. You must pray incessantly and put your worries to our Heavenly Father Jehovah.”
Convention committee chairman Effort Mugabe said Witnesses from Zimbabwe had benefitted from the spiritual feast during the three-day event.
“Never before had anything like this ever happened in Zimbabwe. History has been made. We are happy that the International Convention in Zimbabwe has been a success. We are grateful to everybody that assisted in its running, including government,” Mugabe said.
Indeed, they came, saw and conquered Zimbabwe. The 3600-strong foreign delegates clogged the hotels, car hires; game parks and airports. Does Zimbabwe now identify with Jehovah’s Witnesses – or was it a useful mix?
Tourism and Hospitality Industry minister Walter Mzembi spoke glowingly about the Witnesses while addressing the National Assembly last week.
Mzembi was responding to Makoni South MP Mandi Chimene (Zanu PF) to explain the country’s religious tourism policy after the inaugural Jehovah’s Witnesses international convention reportedly resulted in MPs failing to get accommodation during the period.
Chimene said while the Jehovah’s Witnesses convention had brought tourism, but robbed legislators of their usual hotel lodgings due to inadequate hotel facilities.
In response to the query, Mzembi said: “Thank you Mr. Speaker Sir, I thank the member for the question. We are now talking religious issues. Mr. Speaker, I am grateful for the question that has been posed by Hon. Chimene. Yes these are the results of religious tourism.
“I would want to vindicate this point by saying on Monday (September 8) I will be in Brooklyn in New York on government business. I am going to pass through the headquarters of the Jehovah’s Witnesses and I am going to thank them for a job well done for choosing our country (Zimbabwe) and for hosting such a large annual conference worldwide for the members of Jehovah’s Witnesses.”
He added: “I would like to inform this august House that we had delegates from local congregants and from abroad, but they converged at the National Sports Stadium.
“There were 80 000 plus and we had 3 600 that came from outside the country and this was a good example of religious tourism. The results of religious tourism (Jehovah’s Witnesses convention) resulted in all hotels being fully booked. I would like to take this opportunity through this august House to inform Zimbabweans at large that when they have their events at the National Sports Stadium, they should follow this example where all hotels are fully booked.
“They (Witnesses) went to Victoria Falls and other places and all the hotels were filled. I urge all the big churches of the prophets of today that when they have such functions, that they should have visitors filling the hotels so that our economy can improve. I thank you.”
On his twitter account, Mzembi on Wednesday boasted he had scheduled meetings at the Jehovah’s Witnesses headquarters in Brooklyn, New York and that he would return to the US soon.
The minister had intimated to the political establishment that Jehovah’s Witnesses were a peace-loving people whose focus was to worship their Heavenly Father, door-to-preaching and visiting the country’s nature parks.
Traffic clogged the Harare-Bulawayo highway and all feeder roads to the NSS from Friday through Sunday, largely due to the international convention. The three-day convention was truly an international affair.
It brought many to tears –seeing the thousands who thronged Harare wanting to worship Jehovah God. At the closing ceremony, both foreign and local delegates were overcome by emotion saying a spiritual paradise had manifested itself during the three-day international convention.
Although it was clogging local roadways, the international conference certainly stimulated the local economy. Officials say the event—the largest in the last decade generated millions of dollars in direct spending, including thousands of hotel rooms booked by attendees across the capital city.
Convention spokesperson John Hunguka said the Harare International Convention was indeed a resounding success, historical and memorable.
“This will be on the hearts, minds and lips of many for a very long time to come, within the organisation and outside. This was a result of volunteers’ good planning, training, hard work and teamwork,” he said.
Hunguka said through talks, demonstrations, interviews, dramas and accounts, families were affected in a positive way.
“Interestingly, international conventions are thrilling and festive occasions to attend, which the public enjoyed as the Witnesses gathered together as families and friends for what was an exceptional series of programmes.
“The programme highlighted a central theme of the Bible and two core beliefs of Jehovah’s Witnesses — that God’s Kingdom was established in 1914 and that Jesus Christ is the King of that Kingdom. Really, the convention marked the centennial of God’s Kingdom,” Hunguka said.
There are 42 000 Jehovah’s Witnesses in Zimbabwe and 7,9 million globally spread over 118 000 congregations. But over 50% of the more than 82 000 strong crowd were non-Jehovah’s Witnesses. Witnesses believe a better community and better world being with better individuals.