I first met Jehovah's Witnesses (JW) in March 1971, I would be 20 the following month. I had always had an interest in the Bible, not that my parents had been religious in any sense. But I wanted to know why this particular book had such an influence on people. But really had no idea what to do about it and where to learn. My friends and I at the time used to have long discussions about religion, meaning of life etc. Sometimes when we where in a local bar, we would have everyone in the room involved. One of these friends worked with a man who was a JW (actually he was just having a study with the JW's at the time and was baptised later) and he used to come back and tell me about it. It sounded interesting and I asked to meet him. The JW arranged for me to meet another one who was more experienced. The way in which this JW answered my questions impressed me. The answers were clear, concise and logical. He used the Bible to answer questions. A regular study was arranged using the book "The Truth that Leads to Eternal Life" which is no longer used. I also started to attend the meetings at the local Kingdom Hall. I knew a few of those who were there as I worked in a local shop and they were customers.
In time I became convinced that this was the "truth" and was baptised on January 6th.1972. I was a fairly shy person and found the door-to-door preaching work hard going. But as what you were going to say was usually set out for you it wasn't to bad. Eventually I joined the Theocratic Ministry School in the congregation where you where taught to speak, give talks etc. If there is anything that I am grateful for to the JW's is that they did teach me how to get up in front of an audience and speak. By the time I left I was able to give talks, handle items on the platform ranging from 5 minutes to 45 minutes, in front of 100+ people.
One thing I must say at this point is that though this was the early 1970's and the well known year of 1975 was coming up. I can honestly say that in the congregation I was in it was never put over as a big thing, in fact it was rarely mentioned. Yet from what I have read recently other congregations took to it in a big way. In fact through the years I noticed how congregations did vary in some ways from each other.
In 1974 I got married to a JW sister. In the due course of time between 1975 to 1989 we had seven children. Of course our life centred on being JW's, attending meeting, field ministry, going to conventions etc. I became a Ministerial Servant in 1988. All in all we had a fairly good life, I didn't have a well paid job but we managed.
Through the years as a JW I never really questioned any teachings, except for the way in which Jesus Christ was sort of given a secondary role, when the Scriptures clearly stated that He was the only means if being saved. Everything was "Jehovah" centred, we must use the name of Jehovah, Jehovah did this or that, be part of Jehovah's organisation to be saved. Yet when reading the Greek scriptures, the whole emphasis is on Jesus being the only means of salvation. Every writer, Paul, James, John, Peter, Jude all spoke about Jesus with no mention of Jehovah. When asking any Elder about this I would get a vague answer, "Jehovah's the only one" or "Those scriptures are only for the 144,000". I now know that according to the Watchtower organisation the ordinary JW, (those not of the 144,000 or one of the 8,000 plus of that group left on Earth.) have no relationship with Christ, because according to the Watchtower, Christ is only mediator between Jehovah and the "anointed" 144,000. The only way an ordinary JW can approach God is through the fact that the Watchtower is the only channel.
But I digress, lets get back to where I am now. In 1989 we moved to a bigger house. This meant extra expense, 5 bedroomed house, 7 children you can imagine. Also I wanted my children to have what I could give them, I wanted a family life that a JW should have. Bills kept coming in and I started to use credit cards to pay them, you can imagine what was going to happen, I took out a loan to try and pay everything off. I kept all this hidden from my wife, because I knew she wouldn't approve and also that as a JW you weren't suppose to get yourself into debt. I suppose also being from a upbringing where the man was considered the breadwinner, I felt I was letting everyone down. I am not proud of how I got into that state. If I had turned round and said "we can't afford it" it might have been different. Its with great sorrow that I feel I betrayed the trust of my wife and family. As a husband and father I wanted the best for my family and that sometimes clouds your judgement and I must carry that side of it with me. By the beginning of 1996 the pressure of all this became too much and by April I had a breakdown. I won't go in to details over what I did, but basically I walked out of the house one morning never intending to return, planning to commit suicide. I ended up in the Lake District.
One night I decided the time had come, so I took about 30 or so paracetmol tablets, some aspirin and drank a bottle of brandy. This was while sitting on a hill overlooking a valley, it was beautiful. But I felt I had lost everything, wife, family and my God. I gradually fell unconscious, only to wake up the next morning, still on the hill, feeling awful. I went back to the guesthouse, spent the day in bed, taking even more tablets. I was still here the next day, for some reason, and so decided to head back home. Eventually I got to a hospital and told them what I had done. They put me on a drip, next day they said considering what I had taken there was hardly any trace of anything in my blood. My wife had been contacted, we had a tearful reunion. Subsequently, I was due to spend about 4 weeks in a psychiatric hospital. I was diagnosed as having acute clinical depression and that I had probably had it for about three years or more and that this was the culmination of it. I was given ECT treatment. One aside was that whenever any of the medical staff found out I was a JW. They would sort of say "Well, that explains it", one of the psychiatrists said that depression was very common amongst JW and I was the fourth one that year.
Now during all this I thought that "Jehovah's loving organisation" would help me recover. Boy! Was I wrong. While in the hospital my wife would visit, as it was some distance she usually got a lift, most times from an Elder of the congregation. You would think they would try and give me some encouragement, but they usually came and said hello then waited outside. I saw other patients visited by their ministers who spent time talking to them.
When I was allowed home I had visits from those concerned with my "case". They did not seem to be able to deal with it. The main concern was how soon can we have a "judicial committee" , they seem to spend more time talking to my wife than me. Also I got the feeling my wife was more concerned with the shame that it brought on her and what her standing in the congregation was, from the time I came home we never slept together again.
At this point I want to say thanks to one JW who helped me. Remember I still had the debts. He put me in touch with a person who deals with such things to see if they could come up with a solution, but eventually I had to be declared bankrupt. That brother paid for that person to help. Even though I had not seen him for a long time, of them all, he was the only one to give any practical help and I will always be grateful to him.
I was eventually brought before a "judicial committee" and was "privately reproved". Their whole answer to my problem was "go on the preaching work, attend meetings". To anyone who has depression the last thing you want to do is knock on doors and talk to strangers. This is when I started getting the feeling that it was not the "loving organisation" I thought it was. Over the following weeks I got the impression that I was "persona non grata".
Then one day my wife told me she wanted me to leave the home, she even found me a bedsit and paid the deposit. Later on I was told that she had been told to do this by the Elders as I was considered a "spiritual danger" to the family. I moved to another town as my wife didn't want me to attend the same congregation. My new congregation was not interested in me either. In the three years I had been there I had one visit from an Elder and that was to ask why I wasn't going on the ministry. One sister there said that in the twenty years she had been there she has never had an Elder visit her. While attending a circuit assembly an Elder from another congregation I knew came up to me and said how sorry he was to hear about what happened, he seemed to know it all, I asked how he knew, he said "There are some brothers who can't keep their mouth shut" when he was going he said "They'll get rid of you, they don't know how to deal with you, you're an embarrassment to them". Up till now I still believed the Watchtower to be God's organisation, but doubts where beginning to appear. Then one day, just over a year ago in the local library, I came across the book "Awake to the Watchtower" by Doug Harris and Bill Browning by the Reachout Trust. I picked it up and thought "another of those books against JW's" and sat down to see what lies were being said. I sat and practically read the whole book. I saw Scripture in a new light (to use a JW saying).
I felt something lift from me especially when I read about Christ being the only way to salvation, it brought back what I had thought years ago. It also brought attention to the Watchtower not being God's organisation and much more.
But I had to have more evidence, the library had recently had a computer section installed where for a fee you could use them. I decided to look on the Internet to see if there was anything. Boy! what stuff did I find! Being of a cautious nature I checked and double checked what I was finding. It was all clear evidence that for the past 28 years it had all been a lie. The Watchtower Society started to condemn the Internet, virtually saying it was Satan's tool and only apostates used it and put lies on it. I got the feeling they were scared of what it contained because they couldn't control it. I started to amass a huge amount of information, from how the WT had changed doctrine to false prophecy. I spoke to various ones over the phone, ex-JW's who had been in it for 20, 30, 40 or more years and then found out the truth. Because of learning all this I was at a meeting at the Kingdom Hall in August 1999, listening to the speaker I realised it was the same old thing "do more hours, place more books this is the only way to get spiritual and be close to God". That was my last meeting. I have never had a visit from the Elders, not even to see if I was coming to the Memorial, which is what I had decided was my cut off point, if they didn't contact me then for such an important event then they didn't care about me, so I finished with them.
I now realised that I needed to talk to someone about it. So I got in touch with the Reachout Trust and they put me in contact with one of their representatives Vince McCann, who I am grateful to for putting up with me over the last few months and giving me some spiritual support. A couple of weeks ago he took me to a Christian meeting, where we watched a film about Christ. It was a simple meeting nothing special, the person in charge, not a minister or Elder, just an ordinary man who is a Christian, gave a short talk and asked a prayer. He asked if anyone wanted to give themselves to Christ to raise their hand. I did! Now I need to learn more about Christ. There is probably a lot more I could have put in this story, but some of them are still hurtful to me.
Email Gordon at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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