This Fourth of July weekend was one of the few times that Marlins Park has been filled close to capacity in recent memory. Though the park was close to three-fourths of the way full for three days straight, nobody was purchasing the stadium beer, smoking cigarettes outside, or yelling out.
This was due to the nearly 27,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses who packed the park for their international convention that occurs every five years, titled ‘Love Never Fails!’ Nearly 5,000 delegates from 34 countries traveled, hundreds were baptized, and even more were instructed to spread their message to the world outside the stadium during their stay here.
“All of the delegates, all 5,000 of them, are involved in going out in some form of the ministry here in the Miami-South Florida area,” said Robert Hendriks, director of communications for the U.S. branch of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, on Friday. “There will be a heightened awareness of Jehovah’s Witnesses over this week’s period.”
Jimmy Holland, a 64-year-old Jehovah’s Witness who traveled for the convention from Cameroon, had already gone out to minister in the area before the convention started, hoping to make more converts in South Florida.
“This week I was out and we enjoyed the opportunity to visit some of our neighbors. It’s the same work everywhere of knocking on the doors. If we can find our neighbors home, we can share some good things with them,” Holland said. “We can have some pictures of beautiful Miami here and we know that’s going to be very encouraging to others [back home] to see, ‘Oh, that’s what life is like there. These are the problems they cope with.’”
The Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau estimated that this event and another Jehovah’s Witness convention focused on Latin America held last month were the largest ever held in Miami. The event was free and was translated into Mandarin for hundreds of Chinese audience members.
Hendriks commented that the area’s airports, hotels and transportation systems made for an ideal place for the convention. He added that the large Hispanic population of Jehovah’s Witnesses in South Florida served as volunteers for the event and even assisted with housing visitors.
The international delegates stayed at 30 hotels in the area and the faith organization said the convention purported to have a large economic impact on South Florida. The faith organization also worked with the Convention and Visitors Bureau to diminish the impact of the event on traffic congestion for the Fourth of July weekend.
As opposed to a Marlins vs. Mets game full of rivalry and trash talk, LaDene Raisier of Miami Gardens said this was a convention of unconditional love between strangers of an international faith community.
“We’re greeting each other with hugs and kisses,” said Raisier, who volunteered for the event. “You really see that among Jehovah’s people, that instant love, that ‘I don’t know who you are, I don’t know all the things you might have gone through to even get here, but I’m just so happy you’re here.’”
Juan Cáceres and his wife María came from Colombia and said they felt this welcoming love as foreigners at the convention.
“Though we were strangers and we had never seen each other, they received us like we were part of their family, and it has impacted and moved us,” Juan said.
María was glad to be back in Miami to see her siblings, but that wasn’t her priority.
“I’m happy, but I’m especially glad because on this occasion I’m visiting my spiritual brothers and sisters,” she said.
This global series of 24 conventions is to be held in 22 cities around the world, according to the Jehovah’s Witness U.S. spokesman. The first 2019 convention was held in Atlanta in May and the last will be in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in December.