On September 14, 2013, an audience of some 10,500 gathered for the graduation of the 135th class of the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead at the educational center of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Patterson, New York. This school trains experienced ministers of Jehovah’s Witnesses to be even more effective in their assignments.
Guy Pierce, a member of the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses and chairman of the program, based his opening comments on Matthew 28:19, 20: “Go therefore and make disciples of people of all the nations, . . . teaching them to observe all the things I have commanded you.”
Brother Pierce pointed out that those words of Jesus started a chain reaction that continues down to our day. As we make disciples, we teach people to act on all that Jesus commanded. Of course, this includes his command to preach “this good news of the kingdom.” (Matthew 24:14) In this way, each new disciple becomes a preacher and teacher of the Kingdom. What has been the effect of this cycle? “The population [of the world] has grown,” said Brother Pierce, “but so have God’s people.”
“They Gave Beyond Their Actual Ability.” Thomas Cheiky, a member of the United States Branch Committee, developed his theme based on 2 Corinthians 8:1-4. Despite their deep poverty, the first-century congregations of Macedonia begged to donate in behalf of the brothers in Jerusalem who were in need. The Gilead students have shown the same spirit of generosity and self-sacrifice.
At the same time, we can trust that the Macedonians were prudent, not giving so much that they harmed their family or their personal worship of God. Brother Cheiky advised the students to imitate the Macedonians by maintaining balance in their spirit of giving.
“The School Has Ended.” Samuel Herd of the Governing Body highlighted why the students should remember their experience at Gilead School. Like a pleasant melody heard in the morning that stays with a person throughout the day, the precious memories of Gilead can help sustain the students long after the school has ended.
Brother Herd reminded the students that God’s memory is limitless. He has named each of the billions upon billions of stars in the universe, and he will never forget any of the stars. (Psalm 147:4) How much more will he remember the effort that the students put into their Gilead training! They have amassed “treasures in heaven,” and no one can steal the precious thoughts about those students that Jehovah has stored up in his memory.—Matthew 6:20.
Since God remembers the students’ work and their love for him, the students can rightly cherish their recollections of Gilead. “When warm memories of this school brighten your day,” said Brother Herd, “do not forget to thank the One responsible for your joy—Jehovah. Don’t tire of remembering things. The benefits just may be unforgettable.”
“Take Comfort in Jehovah’s Indescribable Power.” Gilead instructor Sam Roberson encouraged the students to draw on Jehovah’s power rather than to meet new challenges in their own strength. Ephesians 3:20 says that God can “do more than superabundantly beyond all the things we ask or conceive.” His power exceeds our comprehension to such an extent that even the expression ‘superabundantly beyond what we can imagine’ falls short of describing it, for the verse says that he can do “more” than that.
Jehovah offers his indescribable power to each Christian. He is like “a terrible mighty one,” or “a terrifying warrior,” in the face of great difficulty. (Jeremiah 20:11; God’s Word Bible) Brother Roberson reminded the students that Jehovah will help them overcome any problem or difficulty they face.
“Maintain Your Dignity in Kingdom Service.” William Samuelson, also a Gilead instructor, explained that the Gilead students have gained dignity in Kingdom service in two respects. They have proved worthy of esteem by their work both before and during the class, and they also continue to acquire honor and respect by representing the highest government in the universe—God’s Kingdom.
How can the students maintain their dignity? Brother Samuelson encouraged them to ascribe honor to Jehovah and to show respect for others, just as Jesus dignified those around him even when he had to correct or counsel them. What will result? Like the apostle Paul, the students will add to their dignity, glorifying their ministry rather than pursuing self-glorification.—Romans 11:13.
“The Authority of the Horses Is in Their Mouths.” Michael Burnett, another Gilead instructor, showed how we work in harmony with the fulfillment of Revelation 9:19 when we use what we learn at Christian meetings to speak with authority in our witnessing. He then joined in discussion with the students as they related or reenacted experiences that they had enjoyed in the ministry while at Gilead. For instance, a student aroused the interest of a gas station attendant by using the question, “When did the appointed times of the nations start and end?” (Luke 21:24) On a later visit, he helped the man answer the question using Daniel chapter 4, along with the appendix in the book What Does the Bible Really Teach?
“Their Hearts Have Been Given Firmness.” Adrian Fernandez, a member of the United States Branch Committee, interviewed two of the graduating couples. Brother Helge Schumi related that since the Bible record shows that some of God’s servants have at times become haughty after receiving a special privilege, the Gilead course often included counsel on remaining humble. (2 Chronicles 26:16) Similarly, Brother Peter Canning recalled this wise advice from a Gilead lecture about learning the local language: “Don’t be proud. Be willing to make a fool of yourself.” All four graduates expressed gratitude for the way the course has strengthened them for the work ahead, giving their hearts firmness.—Hebrews 13:9.
“Rejoice Because Your Names Have Been Inscribed in the Heavens.” (Luke 10:20) Geoffrey Jackson of the Governing Body delivered the principal talk of the program. Unlike those who attended Gilead in the past, most of today’s graduates will not receive trailblazing assignments or have some of the exciting experiences that come with preaching in untouched territories. How should they react?
When the 70 disciples whom Jesus sent out returned from their preaching campaign, they reported the thrilling news that they had expelled demons in Jesus’ name. (Luke 10:1, 17) Jesus acknowledged that those results were indeed exciting, but he said: “Nevertheless, do not rejoice over this, that the spirits are made subject to you, but rejoice because your names have been inscribed in the heavens.” (Luke 10:20) He thus showed that they would not have such exciting experiences every day. They should focus, not on their results, but on their faithfulness to Jehovah and on having their names “inscribed in the heavens.”
“What Jesus taught the 70 disciples applies to us as well,” said Brother Jackson. We should not let the results of our ministry serve as the sole basis of our joy or the primary measure of our faithfulness. Instead, we gain joy and prove our faithfulness by maintaining a strong relationship with Jehovah and working diligently in his service.
Even Jesus faced situations that could have been discouraging. For example, after he miraculously fed thousands of people, they began following him. (John 6:10-14, 22-24) Yet, many of them soon stumbled at Jesus’ teaching, so that the exciting influx of disciples quickly turned into a mass exodus. (John 6:48-56, 60, 61, 66) In contrast, the loyal apostles were determined to stick with Jesus. They set a good example by focusing not merely on results but on their faithfulness and their relationship with Jehovah.—John 6:67-69.
Conclusion. The students received their diplomas, after which one of the graduates read a letter of appreciation from the class. Brother Pierce concluded by noting that God’s people, including the Gilead graduates, do not stand out to the world as being special. (Acts 4:13; 1 Corinthians 1:27-31) Yet, Jehovah accepts our dedication and gives us his holy spirit. And while Jehovah may not be impressed with our education, Brother Pierce said, “He is impressed with our loyalty, our faithfulness, and our devotion to him.”