Back at the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg after pandemic pause

Jehovah’s Witnesses resume public ministry at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg for the first time in three years.

ST. PETERSBURG — With the worst of the pandemic in the rearview mirror, the 2023 Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg roared back into “the Burg” to thrill more than 100,000 fans last weekend.

On your way to see the 700 hp engines race at speeds of more than 200 mph, you may have noticed another pre-pandemic fixture back on the sidewalks outside entry gates: smiling faces standing next to colorful carts featuring a positive message and free Bible-based literature.

“We love this opportunity to share the Bible’s message with others,” said Steve Salvato, who is helping to coordinate this initiative of the Witnesses. “We enjoy helping them see our message doesn’t have borders. It is a global message that brings hope and comfort to all sorts of people.”

Before the pandemic, Jehovah’s Witnesses in St. Petersburg volunteered to offer a selection of free Bible literature at these carts during the Grand Prix. But in 2020, the Christian organization suspended all in-person forms of their volunteer work worldwide out of concern for the health and safety of the community.

A little over 24 months later, Witnesses worldwide recommenced their public preaching work.

“We believe that the early decision to shut down all in-person activities for more than two years has saved many lives,” said Robert Hendriks, U.S. spokesperson for Jehovah’s Witnesses. “We’re now ready and eager to reconnect with our neighbors once again – person-to-person, face-to-face. It’s not the only way we preach, but it has historically been the most effective way to deliver our message of comfort and hope.”

In response to the global decision, more than 100 Jehovah’s Witnesses from congregations across Hillsborough, Pinellas and four other counties are volunteering with three cart locations set up by public sidewalks near entry points.

“Not only are there many locals at the races, but we have guests in St. Pete from all over the country and world,” said Salvato. “Many can identify our witnessing carts in their hometown and while traveling. Being able to offer a message of hope and peace is something that I personally benefit from and that I really enjoy being able to share with people.”

Mobile displays of Bible-based literature have been part of Jehovah’s Witnesses’ public ministry in the U.S. since 2011. While “cart witnessing” began in large metropolitan areas worldwide, the practice quickly spread to the tens of thousands of smaller communities, becoming a fixture in rail and bus stations, airports, harbors and main streets – and in St. Petersburg.

To learn more about Jehovah’s Witnesses, their history, beliefs, and activities, visit their official website, featuring content in more than 1,000 languages.

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