Do you remember growing up? Your first days at school, making friends, hanging out at the neighbor’s house, going to the zoo, eating cotton candy at carnivals, having sleep-overs, participating in all kinds of group activities: sports, scouts, weekend hobbies, choir, band … the list goes on. Remember the times with your family? Thanksgiving dinner, Christmas morning, Easter egg hunts, valentine’s cards, birthday parties, and fourth of July parades. You’ve probably got a myriad of precious memories of those sweet and innocent days. Then, of course, there was the agony of junior high, struggling to fit in and be cool and the high school whirlwind of firsts: dating, driving, dances, pep rallies, football games, dreaming about college and your future and wondering what life would be like on your own. Those are great memories…
…Unless you grew up a Jehovah’s Witness. My three older brothers and I don’t have those memories. Our memories are different. At school we sat with our heads down when everyone else stood to say the pledge of allegiance. We sat on the floor out in the hallway when everyone else was in the classroom drawing pictures of Thanksgiving turkeys. We stayed in the library when everyone else went to see The Nutcracker. We walked home when everyone else went to the school carnival. When we weren’t going door to door handing out Watchtower and Awake! magazines, we played by ourselves at home, since we weren’t allowed to play sports, be in scouts, or have friends outside the organization, not even neighbors. We didn’t go anywhere – no zoo, no parades, no parties. We didn’t celebrate anything – no holidays, no birthdays, no presents, not even New Year’s Eve – and although we were at the Kingdom Hall all the time, we certainly never celebrated anything related to Jesus. We were fearfully awaiting Armageddon every night. Those are our childhood memories, cloaked in the throat-choking hold of the Watchtower Bible & Tract Society.
Looking back, I escaped so much more than my older brothers did, and it still hurts deeply to recall the extent of the suffering they went through. The Lord Himself had mercy on me, and there are no words adequate to describe my joy in claiming John 10:3 “… He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.” My journey out began when the world didn’t end in 1975 as The Watchtower had prophesied. I like to think my parents saw the gaping holes in “the truth,” although they still don’t talk about those times with me. My dad was an elder and an important part of the local “overseer group.” I was only seven in 1975, and my parents had never owned a house, never gone to college, never made plans to do anything more important than pioneering, the Jehovah’s Witness term for missionary work. My dad was born into the cult, and my mom grew up in it from age six. They met at a convention and were married in Layton, Utah – where ironically, my mother and her parents were missionaries to the Mormons. Just imagine: my family, Jehovah’s Witnesses converting Mormons … and my husband wonders where I get my strong will and fearlessness.
So when the world didn’t end, my parents got on with their lives. I remember the circuit overseers, and the elders, and the other women in the church who came to our house repeatedly for months with graven faces and threats – which I certainly didn’t understand – but knew it was bad by the way my parents reacted. Then one day it stopped. All of it. We never saw our friends again. We never heard from our grandparents or extended family again. We never went back to the Kingdom Hall. We never did another family Bible study. It was as if we had been sucked into a black void of nothingness. And no one in our family said a word about it. Everything was different, but nothing had changed. Our parents still held us to the standards of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, but we now had no friends or support group at all. My parents threw themselves into work to make a better life for us financially, while our spiritual lives were left completely to whither and die.
To me this was a gift. I was young and it opened doors for me that my older brothers never had. I could hear God calling me from my earliest memories, and though I had no idea who Christ was, I sought him relentlessly. When I was old enough to drive I went to church with anyone who would take me, while at the same time becoming deeply consumed by sin, taking part in things that horrify me to think of today. Then God got my attention: tragedy struck. When I was 16, my youngest brother was killed. His death was followed just a few months later by the death of my oldest brother’s wife. As sad as these events seem, I truly believe their deaths were – as all things are – part of God’s most awesome plan. A plan than included shaking my parents lives so dramatically they moved out of the town we had grown up in, to a place where a friend’s little, old grandma cornered me one day in her living room, looked me in the eyes and asked me if I was saved. I had no idea what she meant, but I knew that all I wanted was to be saved.
So I kept going to church with anyone who would take me, and I watched all the late night preachers on television, and repeated the sinner’s prayer over and over and over. Although I believe Christ heard my prayers and saved me at that time, the iron grip of the cult environment of my past allowed me no peace at all. I knew there had to be other things I had to accomplish to prove my worth. I didn’t remember any of them from my childhood, but I knew there were things to do. It would be years before I could bask in the glorious peace of Christ’s unconditional love and grace.
But the basking has come. Jesus is God. The Holy Spirit lives within me. I am saved, living an eternal life, and will praise Christ in heaven. God called me, met me, and now leads me every day. My husband and I are blessed beyond all human comprehension. There also is an eternal hell. Witnesses don’t believe in hell. But my parents and my brothers are still not saved, and I don’t know if they ever will be. They are understandably bitter about the religious experience they had and I pray that God will heal them and call them to Christ, as He did me. But God has already provided the message. Jesus reminds us in the story of the rich man’s plea from hell in Luke 16:28
“’For I have five brothers, and I want him to warn them about this place of torment so they won’t have to come here when they die.’But Abraham said, `Moses and the prophets have warned them. Your brothers can read their writings anytime they want to.’”
Please pray unceasingly for those innocently trapped by Satan’s deceit. If they leave the cult, but can’t find Christ, he still wins.