SALT LAKE CITY — Nick Winkel spends about 20 hours a week spreading Bible messages to people he has never met.
From the time he was in a stroller, he joined his parents in their ministry. They encouraged him as a child to stretch to reach a doorbell or hand out materials.
Winkel, 18, is a Jehovah's Witness and after his sophomore year of high school decided to home-school in order to dedicate more time to his door-to-door ministry. He and his mother, Carol, log 70 hours a month reaching out to Utah residents.
"Really the best part of my week or my ministry is when I can tell somebody something and they understand it and they grasp it and they appreciate it," he said. "I've never had that feeling from anything else, and that's really why I do it."
A summer Saturday morning found him going door to door with his parents and sister in pairs to deliver invitations to the annual regional Jehovah's Witnesses convention at the Dee Events Center in Ogden, which began on Friday, and continues today and Sunday. A Spanish convention was held a week earlier in the same location, and an additional English convention will begin on July 25.
More than 6,400 people attended the Spanish-speaking convention in Ogden that attracted non-Witnesses interested in learning about the Bible as well as Witnesses from 10 states. During the convention, 133 people were baptized into the faith. An additional 13,000 attendees and a combined 100 baptisms are estimated in the two conventions this month in Ogden.
Members of the faith see baptism as a symbol of commitment to God; it also marks one's ordination as a minister in the faith. People can be baptized only after showing that they live their life in accordance with principles embraced by Jehovah's Witnesses.
"They don't go from zero to 60," said Jeff Tackett, a convention spokesman.
Elders from local congregations are chosen to perform the baptisms. A man can be an elder when he meets criteria laid out in the New Testament books of 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 2. Jehovah's Witnesses do not have paid clergy and are led by a Governing Body headquartered in New York.
Believers said the Governing Body is modeled after a similar group described in the book of Acts in the New Testament who "take the lead in studying the scriptures and how those should be applied in our lives," Tackett said.
They worship Jehovah God as their creator. They consider themselves to be Christians, acknowledge Jesus' crucifixion and resurrection and believe that he is the instrument for salvation. They do not, however, worship him as a god because Jesus said in the Bible, "The Father is greater than I."
Witnesses believe in a literal kingdom of Jehovah God on earth and in a heavenly government that will eventually be ruled by 144,000 individuals and Jesus Christ. These leaders will have charge over the millions of righteous believers in God who will live on Earth once the wicked are eradicated.
An informational video on the jw.org website gives an overview of the group's beliefs.
Conventions are seminal events for Witnesses worldwide. Those in the United States are invited to "Keep Seeking First God's Kingdom," this year's theme, during 193 conventions held in 71 cities. This year is the first for regional conventions to connect with international conventions via satellite.
It also marks a centennial celebration for those of the faith who believe that Jesus Christ began his reign as King of God's Kingdom in 1914.
As witnesses of Jehovah, "we take the witness part as being very literal. We have an obligation to speak," Tackett said.
Families like the Winkels spend the weeks before the event distributing convention invitations.