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July 7, 2003

Jehovah's Witnesses reach out to deaf

From: New Jersey Journal, NJ - Jul 7, 2003

By Michaelangelo Conte
Journal staff writer

More than 2,000 deaf Jehovah's Witnesses from 20 states and 14 countries gathered at the Stanley Theater in Jersey City yesterday for a district convention given in American Sign Language.

The theme of the three-day convention is "Give God Glory," said David Donahue, the convention's spokesman.

"Jesus said that we will be witnesses of him throughout earth and the good news of God's kingdom will be preached to all mankind," Donahue said. "Just because deaf people don't speak our language, they should not be discriminated against."

Yesterday was the last day of the convention, which drew attendants from Miami to Montreal and from New York to Iowa City for three days of events including prayer, music, lectures and religious videos dramas acted completely in sign language.

About 20 Jehovah's Witnesses attending the convention were both deaf and blind, and those congregants also were included by interpreters holding their hands so they could follow as the words and images were put into sign language.

Donahue said the convention's aim was to "focus on practical things we can do in our lives and daily conduct to honor and glorify the God we worship."

Katie Wu, 34, of Chicago, said she thought the convention was very helpful for deaf people like herself.

"Some people have language limitations, but Jehovah's Witnesses works with those groups, using a language of their own that appeals to all education levels in the deaf community," Wu said through sign language.

There will be 200 Jehovah's Witnesses district conventions in 60 cities across the United States this year. Conventions for the deaf have been held since 1995 but are rare, with only two held in America this year, he said.

Donahue said the Jehovah's Witnesses' literature and Bible are translated into more than 300 languages, including 20 different sign languages.

Donahue said the large number of deaf people in Hudson County is prompting Jehovah's Witnesses officials to move a deaf congregation from Nutley to Jersey City, at a new assembly hall to be built at Palisade and New York avenues.

Former Downtown Jersey City resident Victor Ortiz, 35, is a member of the Nutley congregation and yesterday he gave the plans to move his congregation the thumbs up, literally.

"The move is wonderful. There are so many deaf people in this county and we really need to try to reach some of them," Ortiz said through sign language.

There are about 6.3 million Jehovah's Witnesses worldwide, and the religion gains about 260,000 new members each year, Donahue said.

Convention spokesman Jesse Gornealt said there are several key distinctions between the Jehovah's Witnesses religion and many Christian religions.

"We take the Bible as God's inspired word and accept everything written therein," Gornealt said.

Gornealt said many religions do not accept the Bible as a whole, and that in many religions, church doctrine supersedes the Bible. He also said that Jehovah's Witnesses do not believe that Jesus is God, but that Jehovah alone is God and creator.

For Jehovah's Witnesses, preaching and trying to attract new members is an important occupation.

"We imitate his son, Jesus Christ, following the model Christ left to preach and teach the good news of God's Kingdom to all and anyone," Gornealt said.

The Jehovah's Witnesses bought and renovated the palatial Stanley Theater on Journal Square in 1983 for about $4.3 million, and used volunteers to do most of the work.

The theater is used on about 45 weekends each year for large Jehovah's Witnesses gatherings, and more than 50,000 tourists visit it each year, Donahue said.

Michaelangelo Conte can be reached at

Copyright 2003 The Jersey Journal.