Local Jehovah’s Witnesses welcomed delegates to the largest convention event in the history of Miami – South Florida style. They made colorful signs adorned with palm trees and messages of welcome and appreciation. They made a joyful noise by hitting metal with mallets, beating drums and shaking tambourines.
What’s remarkable is that the delegates are hosted almost entirely by volunteers. The volunteers have one main attitude in common: a desire to serve God and others. The volunteers come from all walks of life – bankers, lawyers, students – taking assignments to make the convention that served about 60,000, including regional conventions tied in electronically, successfully at Marlins Stadium. On social media, many joked that the more than 20,000 guests every day during the convention were the most patrons the stadium has ever hosted.
“This might be the most profound display of love to a large group of foreign visitors that the city has ever seen,” said Ivan Fernandez, local spokesman for Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Jehovah’s Witnesses from South Florida have been camping out in hotel lobbies and airport terminals, preparing food, making thousands of airport runs, rehearsing entertainment, hosting excursions, and caring for the needs of people they have never met before in their lives. Delegates typically stay in the city for as long as nine days, even though the actual convention runs three days.
The international conventions of Jehovah’s Witnesses, held every four or five years, are being staged across the globe. Under the theme scripture, “Love Never Fails,” from 1 Corinthians 13:8, the convention series spans six continents, 200+ countries and is given 400 languages.
Miami hosted two, one in Spanish on May 24-26, and the other in English and Mandarin Chinese July 5-7, both at Marlins Stadium. Delegates from more than 30 different countries spent up to nine days between Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties. On Saturday, the witnesses welcomed 181 congregants who they call brothers and sisters, after they were baptized.
More than 10,000 volunteers cared for the delegates. Others turned Marlin’s Park into a house of worship for the convention. On Tuesday, the entire stadium was power-washed in preparation for move-in on Wednesday and Thursday. Trucks then brought equipment to erect a stage and build video screens. Volunteer departments were scattered throughout the stadium.
Miami Mayor Francis Suarez said the conventions have been good for the city.
“I love the fact that the message is ‘Love never fails’ and it is a congregation of people that are coming here to celebrate their faith in a city that wants to promote faith as a means of … harmony amongst our people.
“It’s interesting, the Marlins organization has extolled the virtues of all the volunteers that have come and helped put this event together. And they have actually used it as a model to teach their employees how to take care of the stadium because one of your mottos is to leave it better than the way you have found it,” said Suarez to the witnesses Sunday morning, the final day of the convention. “Any event that brings people from across the world to experience your city creates the kind of economic impact and brings it around messages of positivity … religious congregation, I think is nothing but good for any major city in the United States or around the world.”
The Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau estimates the economic impact at more than $100 million. Bureau President Bill Talbert said the conventions put many Miamians to work during the summer, typically the slow season. The conventions represent the largest convention event in the city’s history. Sunday, 28,000 people attended.
“If you called this a modern-day miracle, you would be right,” said Robert Hendriks, U.S. spokesman for Jehovah’s Witnesses. “This international spiritual family has no boundaries based on nation, race, ethnicity, or tongue. There is nothing like it in the world!”
The Convention By The Numbers
Total Volunteers - 10,000+
- Hotels: 1,400+ volunteers staffing 29 hotels from 6 a.m. to midnight providing assistance to delegates (4,000 shifts of 6 hours each.)
- Airports: 3,300+ volunteers staffed airports 24 hours a day while arrivals were happening.
- Transportation: 450+ volunteers working 24 hours to transport delegates from airport to hotels. 70 buses running More than 96 routes each day
- Scheduling: 1,250+ volunteers to maintain all of the delegates schedules from activities to transportation and to provide security
- Activities: 2,000+ volunteers to greet and assist delegates at all 5 activities. 300 cast volunteers for the evening gathering.
Let’s meet three of volunteers:
Ray Davis, who attends the Miami Gardens congregation, is the coordinator of 1,000 greeters, traffic and seating directors, elevator operators and overall safety keepers, known attendants. Davis has been volunteering with Jehovah’s Witnesses for 40 years, from helping with building places of worship called Kingdom Halls to participating in the orchestra.
He volunteers because of the satisfaction it gives as well as it provides him a closeup look at witnesses from other parts of the world.
Patrick Cousins volunteers in the custodial department. Cousins serves a “God of plentifulness and cleanness,” he said.
“We have a history of being clean and I know people are intrigued to see if we live up to it,” he said. Cousins, who is an attorney, said his custodial job isn’t difficult because the congregants are already clean people. He deals with mostly coffee spills and the occasional cleanup of vomit.
Jimmy Rosier said he can’t recall not volunteering. Rosier points out that anyone can be a successful volunteer. It just takes a willing spirit.
“You can fulfill the mission; you can do it. You are not on your own,” said Rosier. “You can do it. Just do it; don’t think about it.”
Rosier said attendants sometimes give the first impression of a convention, whether to visitors or congregants.
“I have been an attendant a few times and I have seen the importance of it,” Rosier said. “We are the first they see. They could be a single parent struggling to get their children to the meeting; or it could be someone who is not doing spiritually strong and they see smiles and hear, ‘how are you?’"