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In a small east Texas town, a little girl sat crying on a stump in the woods. She had just been to the local Methodist church and found out that if she’s not a good girl, she will burn forever in a Lake of Fire. She looked up to heaven in anguished disbelief and cried out, “God, if you are real, I want to know why you would ever burn people in hell?” Years passed and the little girl grew up, fell in love and got engaged. She was introduced to her soon to be father-in-law whose first words to her were, “Young lady, do you know that God has a name and it is ‘Jehovah’?” Then, he told her what she wanted to hear—that hell was not hot. These were the answers she had been looking for so many years ago on when she sat on that stump in the woods.
This was my mother and this is how she became the unwitting victim of cult mind control. She was baptized into the Watchtower organization when I was barely 2 years old. My dad was soon to follow. He served the Watchtower as an accounts servant until they began the elder arrangement. My father was appointed as an elder and remained an elder until the year 1999 when a dispute between he and other elders concerning his grandson (my son) led to his “stepping down.” Publicly he said he was stepping down in order to devote more time to pioneering (spending an average of 90 hours a month in the door-to-door discipleship work). He was a full-time pioneer at the time, and as far as I know, still is.
Jehovah’s Witnesses obey a group of men known as “The Governing Body.” These men claim to be God’s channel of communication to people on earth. They believe only they can interpret the Word of God accurately and only 144,000 of their most elite are eligible for heavenly life. Questioning the authority of the “Governing Body” is simply unforgivable.
In my 30’s, I began to pioneer. I was a religious zealot and looked scornfully at anyone too lazy to pursue the “Truth,” as we called it, in the same manner I did. I had to judge others pretty severely in order to feel good about myself. Something in me always knew my hard work was never good enough, but in the moments I spent comparing myself to others, I would feel a tiny reprieve from the constant guilt. I wanted to believe I was doing all I could to please God and obliging Him to protect me through the battle of Armageddon. Still, the very best I could hope for was to die while in the door-to-door ministry or in the process of refusing a blood transfusion. That’s the closest any Witness gets to a guarantee of getting into the “new world,” the paradise earth. This is the hope most Jehovah’s Witnesses look forward to since heaven only has room for 144,000. Once you make it to the “new world,” then you have to go without any major sin for 1,000 years and then you have to be tested again to see if you deserve eternal life. Even if you pass all the tests, there is no hope of lasting security. If you pass the test, you will only win “perfection” which is supposed to greatly reduce your risk of sinning again and being permanently destroyed.
My faith started to wane when I had a miscarriage and I could never reconcile that my baby would have no resurrection according to Jehovah’s Witness beliefs. Also, I did not see it as outright rebellion at the time, but I secretly rejected the Jehovah’s Witness idea that Jesus was not my Mediator. I also remember a prayer just before the time of Memorial when I was really searching for the love of God and I distinctly remember standing in my kitchen and begging God to help me understand what kind of love would allow Him to give up His Son as a sacrifice for people who didn’t even know Him.
I remember feeling truly sorry for the people who refused to embrace this hope of mine. I considered my way of life far superior to theirs. I never believed it when people at the door told me they had a personal relationship with Jesus. I wrote them off as poor deluded fools. I wanted them to embrace the good news that they could live forever in a paradise earth with no sickness, pain or death if only they would study the Bible with me for 6 to 12 months, read all the Jehovah’s Witness literature, average 10 hours a month in the door-to-door ministry, attend 5 meetings a week and live by the Watchtower tenants which included no smoking, voting, blood transfusions, participation in worldly holidays nor military service.
I was persuasive enough to lead 5 people to the point of baptism. I reported a monthly average of 10 Bible studies and placed 100’s of pieces of literature. I read and studied the organization’s material to an extent that I was able to argue the doctrine better than any elder I knew, and this by their own admission. I gave “talks” and “demonstrations” at nearly every ministry school and service meeting; so much so that I suffered nervous stomach aches nearly every Tuesday night. But I had a gift for argumentation and had been used on the stage frequently since the age of seven. My own son began in the ministry school when he was only five. I guess you could say I was one of the chief Jehovah’s Witness among Jehovah’s Witnesses and our family the “exemplary Jehovah’s Witness family,” but despite all my hard work, I was desperately lonely, empty and longing for something, but I didn’t know what. My mother sensed this in me and used to say; “Girl, why are you so driven?” As a Jehovah’s Witness, I received a “conditional” kind of love and acceptance. It is no surprise that this is the kind of love I brought to my marriage, and it is no surprise that my marriage fell apart after 20 years.
There was a lot of hypocrisy in my life, as there is in all Jehovah’s Witness lives, but my heart really ached for people when they refused to see the “truth” I was trying to give them. I would cry and desperately pray for them. I earnestly did not want them to die at Armageddon. I think in this way I was a little different than the other Jehovah’s Witnesses I knew. They were all just trying to make their “time” so they wouldn’t get into trouble or be looked down on. I did this too sometimes. We all did whatever we had to do to please the powers that be—not having a real relationship with God results in a lot of “man-pleasing” busy work. I could say a lot about the detrimental effects of the “busy work” which consumed our lives. We always sought relief, not even realizing we were running away, but all Jehovah’s Witnesses run away in their own way.
I took a secular job and began noticing Christian people who acted more like Christians than some of my Jehovah’s Witness’ acquaintances. I was impressed with how a woman brought her Bible to work and actually read it during her lunch hour. Another man showed me unusual kindness by inviting me to see his family perform in the Christmas pageant at his church, and giving me a Christmas present when I barely even knew him. I had never heard the expression, “Daily Devotional,” but another woman in the office asked if she could begin sending them to me. When I saw these were only verses from the Bible, I wondered why I had been warned all my life not to read other people’s religious materials. I observed these people’s lives, how they really lived what they believed, and I began to wonder why a God of love wanted to kill these people at Armageddon. Was God really so cruel, wanting to destroy these people who obviously love Him, just because they are not Jehovah’s Witnesses? This bothered me, but being so good at avoiding conflict, I shelved these disquieting thoughts until I met someone who forced me to take them off the shelf.
I began dating a Baptist man. After attending some of my meetings at the Kingdom Hall, he believed I was involved in a cult. He tried to convince me, but I would not listen. I threw away anything he brought me that spoke against the Witnesses. He tried to show me scriptures that disproved my beliefs, and when I could not refute them with my normal Jehovah’s Witnesses rhetoric, I became frustrated and angry with God for allowing other Bibles to exist with the wrong words in them, words that contradicted my trustworthy New World Translation Bible printed by the Watchtower Society.
During this time, I transferred to a job where I worked with a Baptist woman who was married to a Jehovah’s Witness. She invited me to a Bible study in someone’s house. I only accepted her invitation, so I could prove to her how wrong she was and hopefully get her to convert to Jehovah’s Witness like her husband. I was not prepared for what I encountered at that Bible study. I heard how God had been answering these women’s prayers. This was impossible since I “knew” God would only answer Witness prayers because Witnesses are the only ones who call God by his name “Jehovah.” Then, they watched a video where a description was given of a woman who one day knew she was secure in knowing where she would be for eternity and how the next day she wasn’t sure. This hit me so hard because it described my whole life. I cried all the way home and asked God that if there was a way I could “know” for sure that I would not die at Armageddon and if He would please reveal it to me.
Later, my boyfriend was invited to a church by one of his clients. He gave me the invitation card to the church and said he thought I should go see what it was like. I went once and thought I was going to be struck by lightning as soon as my foot entered the door. I had been told my whole life that the only reason churches exist is so preachers can extort money from people. I was also praying for forgiveness for walking into a place where demons live and asking God to protect me from the evil spirits. The sight of a cross was frightening because I was taught that the cross was a pagan symbol. I wanted to get out, but I felt I owed this one concession to my boyfriend.
The people smiled and acted friendly, but I was sure they had a secret agenda. They seemed like normal people, and they seemed to be sincere. I met the older couple who had invited my boyfriend to this church. They were kind, but I thought they could be faking it. I remember exuding warmth to new people who came to visit our Kingdom Hall. I knew my hidden agenda; I just wanted to help get them converted. How could everything I had been taught about these people be wrong? I followed the sermon in my own New World Translation and could find no point upon which to discredit the Pastor. There was a song they sang with the word “Trinity” in it, which I strongly disagreed with. This was enough to make me decide the whole thing was wrong, and I set out to prove it.
I had a plan to prove to my boyfriend that my religion was right and his was wrong. I was going to meet with the Pastor and get him to agree that I was right and he was wrong, and then my boyfriend would stop going there. I was extremely confident in my ability to do this. I met with Pastor Bruce who, after several rounds on the hell fire doctrine, refused to argue with me anymore. He said arguing over doctrine was a pointless endeavor. (What! Arguing doctrine was my life!) He said it all boils down to this one thing: “do” vs. “done.” He explained that if any of my works as a Jehovah’s Witness could earn me some kind of favor with God, then Christ’s work on the “cross” (Ouch! I winced at that word) was in some way deficient. He went on to explain that if I could add even one tiny bit to my own salvation, then Christ’s sacrifice just wasn’t good enough.
At this point, I sarcastically asked about an expression I had heard church people say. I asked “what is this whole ‘getting saved’ thing and how was that suppose to work?” He must have sensed that I imagined the term “getting saved” to be some kind of hollow, emotionally driven human formula, devoid of any real merit with God. He knew my “works” driven mentality had reduced the sinner’s prayer to a lazy person’s way out. After all, my whole life had been about works and I was not going to let my works go this easily. The whole thing seemed very naïve to me— that I could just pray this little prayer and be forever safe from the wrath of God. I was no dummy; I knew works had to be in there somewhere.
In very simple terms Pastor Bruce laid out to me the way to go to Jesus, confess my sin, ask for forgiveness and for Christ to come and live inside my heart. He said the experience is different for everyone. Sometimes it’s emotional and sometimes not. He didn’t think I was paying attention, but without realizing it, he gave me something “to do.” I told myself, “Tammie, just do it. What if on the off chance there might be something to this?” I went to be by myself, and I prayed the way Pastor Bruce told me. I didn’t believe it would make any difference, but just in case. . . and of course, I was careful to ask for forgiveness for praying to “Jesus” who I thought was not God, but a created angel.
About a week later, my friend at work who had invited me to her Bible study gave me a phone number of someone from her church named Omar. Omar told my friend he “had” to talk to me. I didn’t know what to do. He might be an apostate. I was afraid to call him. With some encouragement, I finally called him and agreed to meet with him and his wife. Omar had been deeply involved with the Jehovah’s Witnesses in the past and knew all their doctrine inside out. He showed me enough Scripture that I could begin to see alternative answers to what I had been raised to believe. I was intrigued but not totally convinced. In the meantime, I got on the Internet and found an ex-Jehovah’s Witness who generously sent me lots of books and videos about the failed prophesies and wrong doctrine of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. My eyes were being opened, but I was filled with fear. My attachment to the Jehovah’s Witnesses was becoming less Scriptural and more emotional.
I ended up attending a Christian women’s conference with my friend at work and all the ladies from her Bible class. I had never heard people pray like these women did in our hotel room that night. I could tell they had a real relationship with God. At the conference, I heard so many wonderful things, all backed up by the Bible. I was attentive and excited about everything I was hearing. It was not like the ultra boring assemblies and conventions I had attended as a Jehovah’s Witness. As an act of spiritual freedom, I purchased my first non-Jehovah’s Witness Bible at the conference. A woman who was a speaker at the conference saw me with tears in my eyes and asked me if I was okay. I told her about how I was battling to decide what to do about my religion, and she insisted on taking my name and address and promised to be praying for me. I was taken aback with such genuine concern from a complete stranger. The event included a song with the name “Jehovah” in it. My heart nearly burst through my chest as I sensed this song was God’s gift to me, to set me free from all the lies I had been told about these people. These precious people really do know my God. They even sing songs to glorify his Name! God had spoken to me in a big way.
The days which followed were some of the most difficult I have ever known. I was torn up inside, so fearful of making a mistake. My parents were pleading and pulling one way and my heart was pulling the opposite way. At one point, I thought maybe I was imagining all this. Perhaps I was going crazy. I called my dad crying and I begged him to come quickly and re-indoctrinate me. He was so confident of my “knowledge,” my astute abilities as a highly trained, highly motivated Jehovah’s Witness that he refused to come. He said, “Baby, you don’t need me to tell ‘you’ anything. You know the Truth.”
I wish I could describe the fear associated with coming out of a cult. It is a painful effort to begin thinking for oneself. I had depended on the organization to do that for me my whole life. The organization had been everything to me, my mother, my father, my friend, my life. I could not envision life apart from it. I was certain to be alienated from everyone I knew if I stopped believing like them. At one point, I considered suicide over the pain of disappointing my parents by leaving the Jehovah’s Witnesses.
1 John 2:27 says that I don’t need another teacher because the Holy Spirit will be my teacher. I believed this enough to stop reading The Watchtower, but allowing the Spirit to lead me and explain Bible truth to me was completely new. Could I trust my new understanding or was this some colossal deception, some trick of the enemy to lead me away from my old religion? I prayed one day very hard for an answer. I asked God for a “Road to Damascus” experience because I had to be absolutely certain how He wanted me to believe. After praying my heart out all day, I got an email from my friend at work with the devotional that day. It was 1 John 4:1, “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.” I said “No God! This does not help me at all. This is not the answer I need because I don’t know who is or who isn’t a false prophet!” Then the Spirit dawned on me. God gives a test to know how to judge a false prophet at Deuteronomy 18:22, “If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the LORD does not take place or come true, that is a message the LORD has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptuously. Do not be afraid of him.” This was it! The Witnesses have claimed to be God’s true prophet for over 100 years and their failed prophesies are infamous. My prayer was answered!
About a week later, I received a phone call from Omar. He insisted on leading me through the prayer of salvation right there on the phone while I was driving down highway 9. However, I could still not agree to pray to Jesus. He asked if it would be okay to pray to the “God of the Bible” and I said “yes.” Something big happened that day. I didn’t understand about the angels rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents but that must have been what happened. I remember saying later, “I got saved today,” the words still so foreign to my lips and not really understanding everything it means to be “saved.” Still there was a peace in me that had never been there before. The wrestling match was over and a victory was won. That was May 2001.
When I told my parents that I had accepted Christ as my Savior, my mother cried and said she would never speak to me again. My new beliefs are “foolishness” to them. They believe Satan has blinded my mind so I can’t see the Truth anymore. They believe they are “in” the Truth and I am an apostate for leaving the “Truth.” I have discovered that the Truth is not an organization or a religion; it’s a person, it’s Jesus Christ. Jesus is the Way, THE TRUTH and the Life (John 14:6). My mother and father and sister have all forsaken me, but Jesus has never abandoned me. I have the blessing of many more mothers, fathers and sisters just as He promised me at Luke 18:29-30, “I tell you the truth, …no one who has left home or …brothers or parents …for the sake of the kingdom of God will fail to receive many times as much in this age and, in the age to come, eternal life.”
Today, I not only have a real relationship with Jesus, but I am proud to hail Him as He rightfully is—my Lord and my God (John 20:28).
They are all there for me!
“I had Jehovah’s Witnesses visiting for six years. … The sad thing is now I have their beliefs in my head. So I put myself into God’s hands and asked for direction. …Well, the feeling of freedom is amazing. I am like a child, learning again for the first time. The reason I had to write to you was the Karen and Cindy conversations. Instead of me asking for help, one question at a time, they are all there for me!! It seems as if ‘Karen’ could read my mind.It’s so lovely for things to fall into place, mainly that ‘What happens when we die?’ This was a very big issue for me. I was scared while I did not understand even the tiny bit I do now. It’s such a joy. Instead of feeling unworthy(were all sinners I know) and feeling I would never be saved or go to Heaven. So, please thank God and Jesus with me for such help.”
I have to tell you how your website saved my life.
“I have been a baptized Witness since 1995, and I have to tell you how you have saved my life. Every couple of years I get this gnawing sense that this is not quite right, that I am not 100% vested in what the Watchtower Society says. …Lately, I have stopped attending meetings and my daughter, 13, has begged me not to make her go back. So I have been praying and chatting with friends outside the organization……I can’t tell you my sense of relief when I stumbled upon your site and started to read the articles. I want to cry, but I’m at work. I can’t wait to get home because I am so excited I can barely stand it! Please, please, how can I meet others who feel this way? I sure could use the fellowship. Again, thanks for the work you do.”
God bless you for the difference you are making.
“My brother and I were raised by a Jehovah's Witness mother. I am 52 years old now and still haven't been able to shake the stigma of the experience. My brother wasn't as lucky as me and ended up taking his own life at 17. I have been through everything ... I can't express how much I appreciate what you are doing... God bless for the difference you are making.”
I do not feel so alone!
“Thank you for creating this website. After reading stories of former Jehovah's Witnesses, I do not feel so alone. My resolve to stay out of that religion has also strengthened. I have also come to realize that my depression, anxiety, and many other emotional scars inflicted by the organization and those in the ‘truth’ will take time to heal. But your website has also come to help me ... Thank you.”
Just as I was about to enter the Jehovah’s Witnesses again, God led me to your website.
“Hi…I am an Ex-Jehovah’s Witness from South Africa. ...I left the Jehovah’s Witnesses not because I did not agree with their beliefs, but because my wife could not handle it with me being a Jehovah’s Witness and she not. I became an anti-religious person. Then, just as I was about to enter the Jehovah’s Witnesses again, God led me to your website… Today, I prayed to Jesus for salvation after I read your article on your website…”
I’m so glad that I have run across this site.
“After reading the article that David Reed wrote on your site, I’ve looked at things in ‘a new light’ so-to-speak. ...I’m so glad that I have run across this site. I’m sure that it was the Holy Spirit that directed me to all of you!”
Your website is a great source for truth
“Your website is a great source for those seriously seeking the truth.… The Jehovah’s Witness elders shun me. I’ve known these guys for 30 years... Well, when I walk into the Hall they turn their backs to me. I have not seen my Jehovah’s Witness ex-wife, or daughter for two years. ...They hide my family from me. When I go to their homes, they smile with arms folded and say nothing.
The stories I read at your website were loud and clear - conditional love by the ‘brothers’! I have learned more in the Christian Church about unconditional love than 30 years as a Witness. When I accepted Christ, who He really is, the Holy Spirit opened my eyes to see both sides clearly. ...Without the Holy Spirit it is impossible to know the real TRUTH! Keep up your good work.”