After completing a rigorous five-month course of Bible study, the 136th class of Gilead graduated on Saturday, March 8, 2014. In this school, experienced ministers of Jehovah’s Witnesses learn to be more productive in their ministry and to strengthen the faith of fellow Witnesses. A total of 11,548 attended the program, either in person at the educational center of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Patterson, New York, or via video tie-in at locations in Canada, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, and the United States.
“Keep This Mental Attitude in You.” David Splane, a member of the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses and chairman of the program, based his opening remarks on Philippians 2:5-7: “Keep this mental attitude in you that was also in Christ Jesus.” When he was on earth, Jesus was not position-conscious, but humbly expended himself in God’s work.
For example, Jesus rejected each of the Devil’s temptations with the words “It is written,” quoting from a talk that Moses had given to the nation of Israel. (Matthew 4:4, 7, 10; Deuteronomy 6:13, 16; 8:3) Even though Jesus could have spoken on his own authority as the anointed Son of God, he humbly showed appreciation for the work of Moses. Likewise, we should acknowledge the abilities of others and be generous in commending them.
Brother Splane also highlighted how Jesus showed the right mental attitude at the end of his training period on earth. In prayer, Jesus said: “I have glorified you on the earth, having finished the work you have given me to do. So now, Father, glorify me at your side with the glory that I had alongside you before the world was.” (John 17:4, 5) Jesus did not seek additional privileges. His only request was that he be restored to his former position, or ‘have his old job back,’ when he returned to heaven. Similarly, the Gilead graduates should imitate Jesus by focusing on work rather than on position, being content even if they do not receive additional privileges when they return to their assignments.
“Sacrifice Without Regret.” William Malenfant, a helper to the Teaching Committee of the Governing Body, encouraged the students to follow the self-sacrificing example of the apostle Paul. Rather than looking back at what he had given up for God’s service, Paul said: “I leave the past behind and with hands outstretched to whatever lies ahead I go straight for the goal.”—Philippians 3:13, 14, Phillips.
By making their sacrifices without regret, the students will imitate God’s faithful servants from both ancient and modern times. Brother Malenfant quoted Clara Gerber Moyer, who began serving Jehovah in childhood. She wrote: “What a privilege to look back over 80 years of dedicated service to God—with no regrets! If I could live my life again, I would live it the same way.”
“Preaching the Kingdom With Angels and as Angels.” Gerrit Lösch, a member of the Governing Body, helped the students appreciate two special privileges that those who preach enjoy. First, they serve as God’s angels when they deliver his message of the good news of the Kingdom, for the Hebrew and Greek words used in the Bible for “angel” can also be translated “messenger.” Second, the students preach the good news under the direction of angelic spirit creatures, just as the disciple Philip did.—Acts 8:26-35.
Brother Lösch then related several experiences that Jehovah’s Witnesses have had in their Kingdom-preaching activity. For example, a Witness in Mexico named Gabino, who normally knocks on a door only once or twice, knocked on a particular door four times. The man who answered told Gabino that he had been about to take his own life. “When you knocked the fourth time,” the man said, “I had the noose around my neck. But I took it off to answer the door. Thank you for persisting. If you had not, I would have hung myself.”
Although experiences like this may at times be coincidental, we know that many are not. Instead, they give evidence that God’s angels are guiding the worldwide preaching work.—Revelation 14:6.
“The Honorable One Will Be Blessed.” Michael Burnett, a Gilead instructor, developed this theme using the example of Jabez, a descendant of Judah, who was “more honorable than his brothers.” Jabez prayed to God: “O that you would bless me and enlarge my territory and let your hand be with me and preserve me from calamity!”—1 Chronicles 4:9, 10.
The students can imitate the honorable example of Jabez by being specific in their prayers, especially by asking God to help them fulfill the purpose of their Gilead training. They can also rightly ask God to preserve them from calamity, not by shielding them from its effects entirely, but by helping them to avoid being overwhelmed with grief or the effects of evil. God answered the prayer of Jabez, and He will do the same for the Gilead students.
“Keep Your Fire Burning.” Mark Noumair, a Gilead instructor and also a helper to the Teaching Committee, based his talk on 1 Thessalonians 5:16-19. Just as a literal fire needs fuel, oxygen, and heat to be sustained, the students can use three components to keep their enthusiasm for the ministry burning.
First, “always be rejoicing.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16) The students can gain joy—which will fuel their enthusiasm—by meditating on the blessing of being approved by Jehovah. Second, “pray constantly.” (1 Thessalonians 5:17) Prayer is like the oxygen that breathes life into a fire. We should lengthen our prayers, pouring out our heart to God. Third, “give thanks for everything.” (1 Thessalonians 5:18) A thankful heart warms our relationships with Jehovah and our brothers. “Maintain the warm feelings of appreciation,” said Brother Noumair, “as opposed to a cold spirit of criticism.”
“Praising Jehovah Along With the Skies.” Sam Roberson, a theocratic schools instructor, based his opening comments on expressions from the Bible showing that the sun, the moon, and the stars give praise to Jehovah. (Psalm 19:1; 89:37; 148:3) He said that the students have also had the privilege of praising Jehovah, and then he guided them through reenactments of experiences they had recently enjoyed in the field ministry. For example, a student thanked a man in a wheelchair for having shown gratitude after the student stopped the car he was driving to allow the man to cross the street. A conversation followed, and the man accepted the offer of a free Bible study. As the Gilead student conducted the study over the following weeks, he was able to witness to several people who visited the man. Ultimately, seven additional Bible studies were started as a result of that initial conversation.
“Grow Mightier Through Divine Education.” Donald Gordon, a helper to the Publishing Committee, interviewed two couples from the class. One of the brothers interviewed recalled that Ephesians 3:16-20 was highlighted throughout the school. This helped the students to “be made mighty” by being humble and approachable and by recognizing that Jehovah still has much work for each Witness to do. One of the sisters said that she appreciated how one Gilead instructor encouraged the students to be, not like a big fish in a small bowl of water with no room for growth, but like a small fish in a big ocean. She said: “The lesson I learned is that if I conduct myself as a lesser one in Jehovah’s organization, he will help me to grow spiritually.”
“May Jehovah Remember You Favorably.” Mark Sanderson, a member of the Governing Body, gave the principal talk of the graduation program, taking his theme from the prayer of Nehemiah: “Do remember me favorably, O my God.” (Nehemiah 5:19; 13:31) Nehemiah was not afraid that Jehovah would somehow forget him and his work in God’s service. Instead, he was asking God to remember him with affection and to bless him.
Likewise, the students can trust that Jehovah will remember them favorably if they apply the basic lessons they learned at Gilead. For instance, they should let their wholehearted love for Jehovah be the primary motive for their worship. (Mark 12:30) Abraham loved Jehovah with his whole heart, and God remembered him with affection. Even after Abraham had been dead for a thousand years, God referred to him as “my friend.”—Isaiah 41:8.
Brother Sanderson next reminded the students to love their neighbors, especially their Christian brothers and sisters. (Mark 12:31) Like the good Samaritan, who “made himself neighbor to the man who fell victim to the robbers,” they should take the initiative and reach out to those who need help. (Luke 10:36) To illustrate the point, he used the example of Nicholas Kovalak, a Gilead graduate who had served as a district overseer. Brother Kovalak was known for his warmth and love. He once exhorted a traveling overseer and his wife to be diligent in their ministry, using the expression, “Early in the day, early in the week, early in the month, early in the year.” After observing the sister for a few days, though, he said to her: “Forget what I told you. You’re already working too hard. Slow down, so that you can last.” His kind, compassionate counsel has helped that sister to continue in the full-time ministry for decades.
Finally, Brother Sanderson encouraged the students to fulfill the purpose of their schooling by teaching and training others. (2 Timothy 2:2) As they work in their assignments, they can thus strengthen and stabilize the brotherhood, assured that Jehovah will remember them favorably.—Psalm 20:1-5.
Conclusion. After the students received their diplomas, one of the graduates read a letter of appreciation from the class. Fifteen members of the class then concluded the program with an a cappella rendition of song number 123 from Sing to Jehovah, entitled “Shepherds—Gifts in Men.”