131st Gilead Graduation

“Bring a Smile to Jehovah’s Face”

FAMILY, friends, and well-wishers gathered on September 10, 2011, to attend the graduation of the 131st class of the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead. At the start of the day, nerves knotted the stomachs of both speakers and students. By the end of the program, though, all 9,063 present were relaxed and smiling, having enjoyed the talks, demonstrations, and interviews.

Stephen Lett, a member of the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses and chairman for the program, delivered the opening talk. He examined Bible verses that refer to Jehovah God as having a figurative body and focused on passages that discuss how Jehovah uses his figurative eyes, ears, hands, and arms.

First, the speaker considered 2 Chronicles 16:9, which says that Jehovah’s “eyes are roving about through all the earth to show his strength in behalf of those whose heart is complete toward him.” The students were encouraged to maintain a heart that is completely devoted to Jehovah. They were told that they could imitate God by looking for the good in people. Next, Brother Lett considered 1 Peter 3:12, which says that Jehovah’s ears are toward the righteous ones’ supplication. He urged the students to keep the lines of communication open, remembering that Jehovah really does want to hear their prayers.

The speaker also examined Isaiah 41:13, in which Jehovah makes this promise: “I, Jehovah your God, am grasping your right hand, the One saying to you, ‘Do not be afraid. I myself will help you.’” With warm sincerity, Brother Lett said: “Notice this very touching expression of Jehovah. He reaches out his hand to take hold of our hand.” He then told the students always to allow Jehovah to help them and never to resist his help. He also said that the students could imitate Jehovah by reaching out their hands to help others.

Finally, Brother Lett read Isaiah 40:11. He invited the audience to visualize the tender affection conveyed by that scripture. “Jehovah gathers us with his arms,” said Brother Lett. “He carries us in his bosom.” How should we respond? The students were admonished to remain soft and gentle like a little lamb so that Jehovah will want to carry them in his bosom.

“We Have This Treasure in Earthen Vessels”

David Splane of the Governing Body examined that Scriptural theme. (2 Corinthians 4:7) What is the treasure? Is it knowledge or wisdom? “No,” answered the speaker. “The treasure that the apostle Paul spoke of is ‘this ministry’ of ‘making the truth manifest.’” (2 Corinthians 4:1, 2, 5) Brother Splane reminded the students that the five months they had spent studying was in preparation for a special assignment in the ministry. That assignment is something to be highly esteemed.

The speaker explained that the “earthen vessels” refer to our fleshly bodies. He contrasted a vessel made of earth with one made of gold. Vessels of gold are not used often. Vessels made of earth, on the other hand, are meant for work. If we placed a treasure in a vessel of gold, we might focus as much on the vessel as on the treasure it contains. “You students  don’t want to draw attention to yourselves,” said Brother Splane. “As missionaries, you want to direct people to Jehovah. You are modest earthen vessels.”

Continuing the analogy, the speaker said that in Bible times some earthen vessels were fire-resistant, and some had a tough glaze that prevented the vessel from chipping. The point? During the first months in their assignment, the missionaries will no doubt form a tough glaze. They will become less sensitive to criticism, less inclined to take offense. “You will discover that you are tougher than you think you are,” said Brother Splane. Jehovah has entrusted this treasure of the ministry, not to angels, but to earthen vessels. “That shows that Jehovah has confidence in you,” concluded the speaker.

“With Footmen You Have Run . . . Can You Run a Race With Horses?”

“How long and how fast can you run?” asked Samuel Herd of the Governing Body. Why raise that question with the students? The speaker drew a comparison between the experiences of the students and those of the prophet Jeremiah. That faithful man had a difficult time dealing with the challenges he was facing. But he had bigger trials ahead. So Jehovah asked him: “Because with footmen you have run, and they would tire you out, how, then, can you run a race with horses?”​—Jeremiah 12:5.

Applying this point to the students, Brother Herd said: “You may feel that you have been running with horses because of all the exams you’ve had. But you have really been running with footmen, not with horses. In your assignments you will be racing with horses, or facing bigger challenges than you can imagine today. How will you fare? Gilead training has prepared you to run with horses and not tire out.” He encouraged the students to keep training themselves spiritually, to maintain a good routine of Bible study and prayer.

Brother Herd acknowledged that in the future some of those sent out as missionaries will face discouragement or apathy. Others will be troubled by sickness or feelings of personal inadequacy. But he reassured the students that they have a source of strength that will help them to outrun any bad situation and not tire out. “Whether you run against footmen or horses,” said the speaker, “trust that God’s mighty hand can sweep you past the finish line. You will then be successful missionaries to Jehovah’s honor and praise.”

Other Highlights of the Program

“Do Not Hold Yourself to a Few.” John Ekrann, a member of the United States Branch Committee, discussed the account involving the prophet Elisha and a widow who was about to have her sons taken from her and sold as slaves. (2 Kings 4:1-7) The widow had only a small jar for oil. Elisha instructed her to collect other jars from her neighbors, saying: “Do not hold yourself to a few.” Through Elisha, Jehovah miraculously filled with oil all the jars that the widow collected. The widow then sold the oil and received enough income to pay her debts and support her family for a time.

What lessons could the future missionaries learn from this account? When the widow collected the extra vessels, she was not likely to have been picky. “She would have gathered any vessel that would hold oil,” said the speaker, “and probably the bigger the better.” Brother Ekrann then urged the students to take any and every assignment, big or small. “Don’t be picky,” he said. He also reminded the students that the amount of blessings the widow received was directly related to how much attention she paid to Elisha’s instructions. His point? The amount of blessings we  receive is directly related to the amount of zeal and faith we demonstrate. “Don’t be self-sparing,” said the speaker.

“They Are Bread to Us.” William Samuelson, overseer of the Theocratic Schools Department, developed this theme, taken from Numbers 14:9. He highlighted the good example set by Joshua and Caleb. The term “bread” as used in this case signified that the inhabitants of Canaan could easily be conquered and that the experience would sustain and strengthen Israel. What is the lesson for the students? “In your future spiritual activities,” said the speaker, “view challenges as something that will strengthen and sustain you.”

“Will Their Ship of Faith Be Anchored Solid in the Storms Ahead?” Sam Roberson, one of the instructors, discussed the apostle Paul’s warning that some had “experienced shipwreck concerning their faith.” (1 Timothy 1:19) He urged the students to build in others a faith that is solidly anchored in Jehovah God. “Your work,” he said, “could be likened to that of a blacksmith.” In what way? A blacksmith welds together the links of a chain that can safely anchor a ship. Likewise, missionaries help Bible students build spiritual qualities needed for salvation.

The speaker associated the links in a chain with the eight qualities recorded at 2 Peter 1:5-8. Brother Roberson said that if missionaries help their Bible students to see how Jehovah displays those qualities, those students are likely to develop an unbreakable attachment to Jehovah. They will weather any storm of adversity that might test their faith.

Experiences and Interviews

Michael Burnett, another of the instructors, asked the Gilead students to relate and reenact some of the preaching experiences they had recently enjoyed. The audience was delighted to hear how the students were able to preach to people at a shopping mall, at an airport, in the door-to-door ministry, and even over the phone to a person who called the wrong number.

Michael Hansen of the United States Bethel Family then interviewed three men who have had years of experience as missionaries​—Stephen McDowell in Panama, Mark Noumair in Kenya, and William Yasovsky in Paraguay. Their expressions highlighted the theme of the part, “Finding Delight in Doing Jehovah’s Will.” (Psalm 40:8) Mark Noumair, for example, mentioned specific causes for delight that he and his wife had found as they served in their assignment. The friendships they forged with the local Witnesses brought the couple great satisfaction. Other reasons for joy included seeing the brothers follow instructions, observing them make big changes in their lives, and noting how Jehovah blessed their efforts. He assured the students that their greatest joys are in the future.

After a member of the 131st class read a letter that beautifully expressed the appreciation of the students, Brother Lett concluded the program by encouraging the graduates to act wisely. If they did, he said, they would “bring a smile to Jehovah’s face.” These missionaries are bound to make Jehovah smile as they faithfully serve him in their assignments.​—Isaiah 65:19.

 [Chart/​Map on page 31]


10 countries represented

34.7 average age

19.0 average years since baptism

13.5 average years in full-time ministry


(For fully formatted text, see publication)

Class assigned to the countries shown below


























[Picture on page 30]

Gilead students reenact one of their preaching experiences

[Picture on page 31]

131st Graduating Class of the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead

In the list below, rows are numbered from front to back, and names are listed from left to right in each row.

(1) Lesch, C.; Lesch, N.; Shakarjian, P.; Shakarjian, T.; Budden, R.; Budden, K.; Nash, T.; Nash, L.

(2) Tremblay, E.; Tremblay, C.; Garvey, D.; Garvey, G.; Gaunt, R.; Gaunt, P.; Lau, J.; Lau, J.

(3) Davis, S.; Davis, S.; Sargeant, J.; Sargeant, J.; Fonseca, C.; Fonseca, S.; Thenard, E.; Thenard, A.

(4) Petratyotin, A.; Petratyotin, R.; Reyes, N.; Reyes, N.; Eisiminger, B.; Eisiminger, S.; Hacker, J.; Hacker, C.

(5) Hartman, E.; Hartman, T.; Goolia, W.; Goolia, K.; Thomas, J.; Thomas, E.; Okazaki, N.; Okazaki, M.

(6) Mills, C.; Mills, A.; Benning, L.; Benning, T.; Sobiecki, S.; Sobiecki, T.; Gagnon, L.; Gagnon, E.

(7) Hansen, B.; Hansen, M.; Fahie, A.; Fahie, M.; Dalgaard, J.; Dalgaard, J.; Andersson, M.; Andersson, R.