IMMOKALEE — On April 3, hundreds of Immokalee residents filled the Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses with cheerful chatter and joyful singing, as congregants met for the first time in their new Kingdom Hall. “Oh, that’s just amazing! It’s amazing,” said 81-year-old Teresa Terry. “I didn’t think I’d ever be able to get in here. It’s been two years.”
Although the occupancy permit was issued in April 2020, due to the pandemic the house of worship sat idle for two years as the Spanish, English and Haitian Creole congregations met virtually instead of in person. According to local spokesman Ivan Fernandez, the decision to close Kingdom Halls and meet online for two years was difficult, but the organization felt that, “respect for life and safety of the community trumps our personal preference.”
The original Immokalee Kingdom Hall, what Jehovah’s Witnesses call their house of worship, was built in 1965. “I was 12 years old when we laid the foundation,” said long-time Immokalee resident Howard Moody. He said everyone had a special love of their Kingdom Hall. “It was like home; we were very attached.”
But the old building eventually had to go to make room for the increase in those now attending. In 1965, Moody said, about 35-38 people attended meetings at the Kingdom Hall. Now, he said, the average attendance of the English, Spanish and Haitian Creole congregations is more than 400.
To build the new Kingdom Hall, construction volunteers came from as far away as northern Minnesota, North Carolina, Oklahoma and throughout Florida and completed construction in March 2020. Then suddenly, the pandemic swept around the world, including Immokalee.
Not meeting in person was a difficult transition for many, like 89-year-old Elease Maxwell who attended congregation meetings at their old Kingdom Hall for five decades. “When they told me that the meetings were down for now, I cried. I cried like a baby.”
Now though, the Witnesses are crying tears of joy to finally be able to meet in person inside their beautiful new Kingdom Hall. “We have great emotions,” said Adan Quintanilla, whose family attends one of the Spanish congregations, “because to be able to come back to the meetings and see our brothers in person, give them a big hug and really enjoy… all together under one roof.”
Teresa Terry is also happy to finally be able to meet in person. “I enjoy Zoom, but I love seeing my brothers and sisters again in person, getting hugs and kisses and all that.”
“When we have this privilege of getting together again with our brothers and sisters, it makes our hearts very happy,” agreed Exantus Smith, who attends the Haitian Creole Congregation. “We know that we were a little bit nervous about coming back to the Kingdom Hall, because we have our little girl now, and this is the first time she is attending. But when we saw the happiness that was in the hearts of our brothers and sisters, we are happy that we are all able to get together and serve Jehovah unitedly.”
“This Kingdom Hall is the most beautiful building in Immokalee now,” said Moody, who was quoted earlier. “After just one meeting, it is home.”
The public is invited to attend their meetings at 1511 6th Ave. Immokalee, and no collections are taken. Meeting times for the Immokalee Kingdom Hall and other Kingdom Halls around Florida are available at jw.org.