Jehovah's Witnesses Fuel Latino Interest
Vida en el Valle, News Feature, Juan Esparza Loera Posted: Aug 13, 2007
Editor’s Note: The Jehovah’s Witnesses scheduled 288 three-day conventions nationwide, with some dates offered in other languages. More than 10,000 Latinos attended the July 2007 “Follow the Christ!” Convention of Jehovah's Witnesses, which was held in Spanish in Bakersfield, Calif.
BAKERSFIELD, Calif. -- Alfonso Muchacho led the great life, or so he thought, as he was making good money in business, had parties to go to just about every day, and rubbed elbows with other people just like him.
While some may see it as an ideal life, Muchacho labels it "una vida loca" (a crazy life).
Thanks to his baptism as a Jehovah's Witness when he was 22 years old, Muchacho figures he has regained control of his life.
"My mother was a Jehovah's Witness, but my father wasn't. And he was the one who had all the influence on me with business," said Muchacho, a Venezuelan who now helps his wife, Rubi, run a family-owned housecleaning business in Fresno.
The couple, along with their children, Kira and Kian, are among the estimated 6,729 residents from Mojave to Madera who attended the three day “Follow the Christ!” 2007 Convention of Jehovah's Witnesses at Rabobank Arena.
Officials said 5,759 attended on July 27, and about 7,908 on July 29. Those figures broke last year's record numbers when approximately 6,000 people attended.
On July 28, there were 126 who were baptized in a portable swimming pool near the stage on the floor of the arena. Participants varied in age 7 to 70.
Latinos like the Muchacho family have helped fuel a growth spurt for Jehovah's Witnesses. The majority of the convention was conducted in Spanish.
"My parents were Catholic," said Moisés Irizarry, a 33-year-old court interpreter who was baptized in 1990. "They learned the truth and taught me the Bible after that. I was more or less raised as a Jehovah's Witness."
Muchacho believes Latinos, especially recently arrived immigrants, are more open to becoming Jehovah's Witnesses because they have a strong faith.
"The Latino community is more religious and closer to God," said Muchacho. "And they are a bit more conservative, and have a very strong religious spirit. They want to learn more about the Bible."
Muchacho has seen the growth of Jehovah's Witnesses in the Latino community. When he first arrived in Fresno, there were seven Latino congregations (each congregation has about 100 people). Today, there are between 14 and 16 congregations devoted to Spanish speakers in Fresno.
Jehovah's Witnesses, which counts almost 7 million adherents worldwide, bases its religion on the Bible and rejects most of modern, mainstream Christianity. Its followers are known mostly for knocking on doors in hopes of sharing information and its publications “The Watchtower” and “Awake!” with potential adherents.
The current growth in the Latino community, said Muchacho, can also be traced to a complex lifestyle that may not be for everyone.
"If one begins to analyze the life we are living, with crime and the breaking up of families, people don't have a life of joy. They have no future," said Muchacho. "The principles (of Jehovah's Witnesses) teach them about a better future. They learn to live in harmony and happiness."
Muchacho said the key is in the Bible. Many people today are too busy with their work or lives to take the time to read the Bible, he said.
"They are dedicated to their work and their home. There is no time to spend on other things," said Muchacho. "And work is excessive. They have no interest in the Bible."
Muchacho said some Catholics are turning toward his religion because of their church's highly publicized molestation cases.
Irizarry said outreach to Latino immigrants helps the organization as well as the community.
"We're so proud of the outcome in the Hispanic community because we see people coming into the country to work, and a lot of them come and don't know anybody and feel disoriented in this country," said Irizarry, an elder in the Fresno congregations. "We offer free Bible studies at people's homes, and they get to know other people. We help them become better citizens."
The Bakersfield convention, he said, also helped fuel an economic boom. Many people rented hotel rooms for the three-day conference, and spent money on meals and transportation.
Irizarry said he and his fellow adherents will continue to reach out to the community with their teachings. "As long as we can find someone who will listen to us," he said.
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