Broward County

Jehovah’s Witnesses rally at BB&T Center in Sunrise to spread the word

In place of the ice rink where the Florida Panthers play hockey, rows and rows of chairs were filled with worshipers.

Where a rock idol would perform to a sold-out crowd, a revolving line-up of people spoke about God’s kingdom.

The Convention of Jehovah’s Witnesses, at BB&T Center in Sunrise earlier this month, was part of a summer-long series expected to draw thousands from across the state. Dubbed “Keep Seeking First God’s Kingdom,” the conventions will be held in English from July 18-20 and in Spanish June 27-29 and Aug. 1-3.

“It is about seeking first our spirituality,” group spokesman Randy Tobie said. “Our objective is to help people see God’s promises as set forth in the Bible.”

Tobie said people often get caught up in the stress of everyday life. Jehovah’s Witnesses avoid materialism and use the Bible’s guidance to manage stressful situations.

“The information in the Bible applies to all walks of life,” he said. “It is practical for the 21st century.”

Over the June 6-8 weekend, about 13,000 people came each day for inspiration. Filling the arena, people heard from local spiritual leaders, watched performances about family and learned about the religion.

“It helps us to deal with challenges of our own life,” said Daniel Denis, who came from Naples with his wife, Tia, and two daughters. “We learn to appreciate God’s kingdom.”

The Rootes family of Davie said they had been looking forward to the convention all year. Rhys Rootes and wife Melody were both raised as Jehovah’s Witnesses, and they have raised both their children as Witnesses as well.

“You are surrounded by all of your brothers and sisters here,” said Kiana Rootes, 20. “It is a loving community.”

Over the last few months, local Jehovah’s Witnesses canvassed South Florida handing out thousands of invitations to the free convention. The idea is to share information that can be “beneficial to everyone,” spokesman Mario Beltrami said.

“They are not revivals,” he said. “Our conventions are just another opportunity for us to learn more about how the Bible relates to the modern world.”

Beltrami said the goal is simple: Spread the word of Jehovah.

“We are not there to force our religion,” he said. “We are there to help them understand their own Bible. Jesus said to go and be a witness. A witness tells people what they know.”

Beltrami said that in South Florida there are more than 350 congregations in Spanish and English, with about 45,000 active witnesses. There also are dozens of congregations in other languages including French, Japanese and Korean, he said.

During the first weekend, 10 other conventions in cities across the country were held at the same time.

Technology linked the conferences, allowing everyone to hear the same thing at the same time.

“This is the first time we have been tied to other conventions,” Rhys Rootes said. “It really makes you feel like we are all together for one cause.”