Community Papers

Jehovah's Witnesses to fill Chilliwack in July

Jehovah's Witnesses will be in Chilliwack for three weekends in July.
— image credit: Paul J. Henderson

For much of next month, Chilliwack residents will bear witness—in a very literal way.

The city is hosting four Jehovah’s Witnesses conventions at Prospera Centre this summer, the first of which took place last weekend (June 20 to 22).

Over the course of the series approximately 14,000 attendees will pass through the venue, and the community.

More than 3,000 attended last weekend.

The four local Jehovah’s Witnesses congregations are heavily involved in the program, participating in interviews, presentations and dramas.

It’s an important year for the program according to Barry Prokopetz, convention spokesman, who notes that 2014 is a centennial celebration for the religion.

“A core belief of Jehovah’s Witnesses . . . is that Jesus Christ began to rule as the King of God’s Kingdom in 1914,” said Prokopetz.

On the 100th anniversary of that believed occurrence, local Chilliwack businesses stand waiting to accommodate and benefit from the large influx of convention-goers.

And while the boost in regional commerce is a good thing for community pockets, some watchdog organizations see the cash injection as an obstacle, influencing stakeholders to ignore human rights violations by Witnesses.

The Advocates for Awareness of Watchtower Abuses (AAWA) is one of those groups.

“The Jehovah’s Witness leadership has never been totally truthful about what happens when a person becomes entangled with their group,” the AAWA said in a statement preceding the string of conventions.

The group said a strict doctrine of communication forbids Witnesses from contacting former members, even if they are family.

In addition, AAWA said Jehovah’s Witnesses use methods to handle crimes within their congregations where human rights abusers can end up protected.

The not-for-profit body encourages people in the community to rethink associating with the religious group or attending the conventions.

Prokopetz compares their accusations to criticizing a family without ever meeting the people.

“We all work; we’re your neighbours,” he said. “I’m the same guy cutting his lawn and paying his taxes.

“Go to the convention and find out for yourself if what’s being said is the truth or not.”

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