During her first year of single life, Mariuca requested “shepherding visits.” This is a JW process phenomenon designed to encourage and pump up members in the early stages of losing their faith or struggling with a loss. (It is a poor attempt at giving members therapy by Jehovah’s Witness “wannabe therapists” who have no training in counseling. If you are a “good JW,” getting advice from a licensed psychologist is considered a “no-no.”)
The person in need requests a meeting. If granted, one or two elders are assigned to be “shepherds.” During the meeting the problem is identified and followed with a pep talk. The “shepherds” cherry-pick scriptures to make it feel like Jehovah is there working His magic.
Mariuca had three shepherding visits after the divorce. At the time she thought they were helpful, due in large part because the elders she met with were compassionate and caring. But not one of the shepherds was properly educated to evaluate Mariuca’s mental state. While their efforts were well-intentioned, they were actually setting her up for a major breakdown. It was only a matter of time.
However, the best therapy for Mariuca was work, rubbing shoulders every day with a hundred men in the Bethel Pressroom. Her brother, Randy, was one of them. During lunch time the two of them loved to play cards, in particular Bid Whist. They also partnered up and played Whist in the evening, which gave her the opportunity to meet interesting single men in a relaxed environment. While she didn’t pursue anyone, she soon became the pursued. The man’s name was Lewis.
When it became obvious that Lewis wanted a boy-girl relationship, Mariuca didn’t like it. She recalls a conversation with her brother Randy. “Guess who had the NERVE to call me after a card game, trying to sweet talk me?” After she reported who it was, they both laughed. Lewis was six years younger than Mariuca, and from the neck up he was “one homely dude,” as an outspoken aunt once described him. Lewis also did not know how to make small talk with women.
But not all was negative about Lewis. He was an excellent public speaker. Physically, from the neck down, he could have passed for a male model and he was tall. In fact, he was much taller than Mariuca, which she liked.
After rejecting several of his initial requests for a date, she finally gave in and said “yes.” As it turned out, Lewis liked doing fun things and was not a “stick-in-the-mud” that Charley was most of the time. He instinctively knew how to make Mariuca laugh and he loved to play Whist. When they went roller skating, she felt like she was dancing with a star.
A New Love
Suddenly, it was not about his outward appearance. Lewis doted on her, dining and spending time with her whenever he could. She found him fun to be around. When he finally asked her to go steady and told her that he wanted to marry her – she was ready. When a friend teased her about his looks, saying that if they ever got married that it would be the “Beauty & the Beast,” Mariuca no longer cared.
When single Bethelites start dating, it’s protocol to report this to the elders of the congregation they attend. In the winter of 1996 Lewis met with two elders at his assigned Kingdom Hall. He informed them that he was dating Mariuca and that they were talking about getting married in the spring. He told them that he was impressed that she had stayed at Bethel while going through a divorce and had overcome much adversity. While he had a low opinion of Mariuca’s ex-husband, he made sure the elders knew Mariuca had never said a bad word about him.
Lewis was convinced they would make a good couple because he had worked closely with her in the same department for several years. For him this was not a “fly-by-night” fling.
Both elders listened carefully and offered their best wishes. However, one of the elders, Marshall Macon, a man who saw himself as a “very big brother”, asked if they could speak privately. When they were alone, Marshall let Lewis know that he was very disappointed, that Lewis should have confided in him before he started dating Mariuca. He felt she was not a good match, Lewis was too naïve about women and should have investigated what went wrong with her first marriage. Marshall told Lewis not to worry; he planned to talk with Mariuca to see what he could glean about the breakup. Because Marshall fancied himself to be a spy for a good cause, she would not have a clue what precipitated the conversation.
Marshall called Mariuca and scheduled a meeting. In hindsight she realizes that agreeing to meet with him was a bad decision. As they talked alone for two hours, she soon realized that she was being interrogated and that Marshall was trolling for reasons why Charley was unfaithful and why she and Lewis would not be a good match.
Marshall had several conversations with Lewis after he talked with Mariuca, repeatedly telling him that he was making a huge mistake. He never told Mariuca about these conversations. In fact, Marshall even suggested that Lewis should talk with Charley to get his side of the story.
Marshall’s efforts appeared to have zero impact. Mariuca and Lewis were married on April 5, 1997.
A Heartbreaking Discovery
However, the marriage was not even three weeks old when Lewis started playing the “I’m not going to talk to you” game. The first two times it lasted for only a day. But on the third try, he held out for three days without saying a word to her.
After that episode Mariuca was very concerned. Every time it happened, she’d beg Lewis to tell her what was wrong and she received zero response. But, she happened to notice that he wrote something in a notebook after the last time she asked, “What’s wrong?”
Later that day, while putting the laundry away, she noticed his notebook sitting on top of his shirts in the chest of drawers. Lewis wasn’t in the room at the time, so she decided to see what he had written. She opened the notebook and read his last entry, “I have made a huge mistake. I should have never gotten married.”
Mariuca dropped the notebook on the floor and gasped. Her head was spinning, now feeling very nauseous.
When Mariuca saw Lewis later in the day, she confronted him. After learning she had read his notebook, he went into a tizzy fit, shouting that she had no business reading something so personal. She responded with, “But you wrote in it, right in front of me, when I tried to get you to talk with me this morning. What are you trying to say?”
That’s when he confessed his true feelings. The marriage was a big mistake. He should have listened to Marshall. He wasn’t ready for marriage and Mariuca was not a good match for him. “Getting married to you was a bad idea. I wish I’d listened to Marshall’s advice.”
Mariuca was devastated with the news and for days she could not get it out of her mind. She began to think of herself as being unlovable – just a big fool. She felt that her decision-making skills were flawed – as was the chemistry between her and her husband. And it all happened so quickly. Why hadn’t she waited and dated more guys?
She was depressed and distraught, feeling that her life wasn’t worth living. Suicide appeared to be only way out – not a rational response – as Mariuca confesses today. Her world was crumbling. She felt so alone – an outcast – a woman no man could possibly love. And yet there was no one she could talk to – except Lewis.
In June, Mariuca actually went through the motions, thinking she would end her life in a large tub located in the laundry room. But she couldn’t make it happen. Sick with guilt, she told Lewis about her failed suicide attempt. He suggested she talk with the Bethel doctor, which she did on several occasions. It helped, but her depression didn’t go away.
Several months later, Lewis was asked to meet with the Bethel Factory Overseer, Homer Myway. After he heard about Mariuca’s suicide attempt, he said that Mariuca and Lewis were no longer welcome at Bethel. But Lewis knew that framing it this way to Mariuca was not a good idea, as it might make things even worse for her. Instead, Lewis told Mariuca the best way to salvage their marriage was to leave Bethel and move closer to family in Detroit, which they did in October 1997.
Back home in Detroit, both Mariuca and Lewis started working full-time. The money was good, but their relationship only worsened. On June 15, 1999, Mariuca penned in her diary, “Last Sunday I was browsing in a bookstore looking for a good book to read, something non-fiction, maybe something about relationships about Venus and Mars, something to help me to understand the whys and hows of relationships, and particularly my relationship…
“My life has taken some very unexpected twists and turns, partly I think because I seem to have less than the best judgment when it comes to choosing men. I am easily swayed by the things they say to me, and I fail to notice if what they say and what they do matches. However, in my current relationship there were many warning signs that came during the courtship. I only wish that I had the good sense to heed them. Now I’m in the awful position where I have to, or I feel that I have to, get out of the relationship to save my heart and soul. Or just stay and take my chances in a situation I’m not emotionally equipped to handle.
“I don’t have the strength to stay. I don’t have the strength to leave. What can I do? I have tried to end my life. I have tried to act as if nothing is wrong. I feel very vulnerable to other men who give me attention. I am so starved for attention. It isn’t fair.
“My family is very self-absorbed. When I was in a psychiatric ward last year after my second suicide attempt, I was there for two weeks. My husband came to see me four times. My parents didn’t come.”
A Judicial Split Decision
A year after Mariuca wrote those thoughts in her diary, she discovered that Lewis was involved in a extramarital affair. When Mariuca confronted him, he apologized and agreed to meet with JW elders at a judicial meeting to confess. He was sorry and assured everyone that it wouldn’t happen again. Because Mariuca decided to forgive him, Lewis was not disfellowshipped. But two months later Lewis moved out of the house and said he wasn’t coming back. They were divorced in October 2001.
This created a big problem for Mariuca. Because she had accepted him back after he had been unfaithful to her, per JW doctrine, she was not “scripturally free” to date again. Mariuca located Lewis and asked him to write a confession letter. She wanted him to state that he had “committed adultery.” He graciously agreed to her request.
In 2002, the elders at the Kingdom Hall she attended were asked to review the confession letter. Mariuca needed their agreement that Lewis’ letter was legitimate so she could start dating again. Unfortunately, it was a split decision. Two of the elders approved it, while a third elder decided Mariuca had forged the letter. Because they could not reach an agreement one way or the other, the matter was turned over to men higher up in the pecking order at Bethel.
After a year with no communication about her appeal, Mariuca was finally given the green light to date again. For her it was a shallow victory because by then she realized that she was allowing ridiculous and arbitrary rules from old men, not God, to guide her life.
A Complete Physical Breakdown
Starting in February 2003 and for a month after, Mariuca started feeling very ill. Muscles in her shoulders, upper legs and pelvic area began to ache – the pain gradually getting worse every day. When the elders came to see her, wondering why she hadn’t been attending all the meetings and going door-to-door, she told them about her poor health. She was also extremely exhausted, depressed and unhappy with her life. Instead of recommending a good doctor, they said she “was precious in God’s eyes.” They recommended that she immerse herself in helping others find the truth, read more Watchtower literature, and go to all the meetings.
When Mariuca could no longer walk, dress, or shower on her own, she was taken to a doctor, and diagnosed as having “polymyositis” — a chronic inflammation of the muscles extending from her shoulders down to her upper legs. On April 15, 2003, she was finally hospitalized as she was unable to take care of herself – an invalid for nearly a year at age thirty-eight.
While no one knows for sure, Mariuca’s doctors suspected her polymyositis was caused by stress. When she was finally able to leave the hospital, she went to live with her parents for three months. But they were too busy to take proper care of her. For them going to meetings and pioneering took precedence. Mariuca was transported back and forth in a wheelchair between an aunt and her parents.
It took seven months before she could take care of herself and work full-time. Being gravely ill and feeling totally dependent on others became the lowest point in her life. At the same time it taught her something about her real worth to most of her family and friends: for them her needs clearly came in a distant second to their field service and meeting attendance.
While Mariuca was sick, she requested several “shepherding visits.” After she started attending a new congregation, those visits became her lifeline. An elder “shepherd” who helped her most often was a man named Carl Wilson. He was actually one of the elders who met with her in 2002 to decide if she was free to remarry. He clearly remembered what went on in his mind before, during and after he participated in that judicial hearing.
Carl Shares His Account of Events
Carl’s eye-witness account, which follows, is a sobering reminder of how bad Mariuca had been treated by an organization of men who took no responsibility for their unjust policies and decisions.
In Carl’s own words, “I thought the poor girl was a horrible victim. I could not believe what had happened to her at Bethel. The powers-that-be decided her fate, scammed by her first husband. Their interest in her was very superficial, like ‘JW shepherding calls’ are going to help someone who should be talking to a qualified psychologist. Then, she chooses a flake for a second husband, who you don’t want to know about. He could not make decisions on his own, relying on an egomaniacal Bethel elder who felt the need to meddle in people’s private lives. Now, here she is again getting ready to be victimized by another group of men, who don’t know her from a hole in the wall. I formed my opinion based on Watchtower articles that the choice to remarry was hers. She would be answerable to Jehovah. The congregation should stay out of it. I shared my research with the presiding overseer and he concurred. We were the two elders appointed by the body of elders to look into the matter.”
When I asked Carl how it happened that there was a split decision, he said, “As a courtesy to the other elders, we shared our findings. That’s when all hell broke loose. Gunther Bemis, a real piece of work if ever there was one, inserts himself into the case, raising questions about the confession’s authenticity. Bemis, a tall, white-haired, generous donor to the Hall, and twice disfellowshipped, had real issues with women, thinking it was quite all right to slap his wife with an open hand. Mariuca was present when he said this while conducting a congregation book study meeting. Other women were in attendance, and they simply looked at each other realizing there wasn’t anything they could do about it. Well, Bemis gets this burr up his butt and asks how we know it’s the real deal, she probably forged the letter. He starts telling us all about Jehovah’s love, how we have to earn it and what women will do when they are desperate. Total nonsense, but this guy is a rogue elder, lots of them in the organization. The love of power is more important to them than the power of love. So because we had one dissenting vote, the matter was turned over to elders at Bethel.
“What made the Bemis story even more galling is that the man fancied himself to be a hand-writing expert, carefully inspecting several documents written by Mariuca and the Lewis confession. I suspect that he had watched too much CSI and so rendered the following verdict, ‘She is conning the congregation.’”
In 1983 and 1984, Mariuca and Carl Wilson worked at the same Witness-owned company. This was before Mariuca went to Bethel. While working there, Mariuca remembers Carl coming through the back door after she finished off a rib dinner ordered from a nearby restaurant. She was nineteen and Carl was twenty-seven. His eyes twinkled and with a sly grin, he quipped, “Do you need a brush to dust those bones?” Mariuca looked at the skeletal remains and laughed, using that line many times herself at Bethel.
While Carl told me that he cannot remember telling Mariuca about “brushing those bones,” he conceded that it was a ditty he often used. But there are many details related to Mariuca’s confession that he will never forget. That information turned out to be life-changing for him. In Carl’s words, “I don’t think anyone ever understood how earth-shaking it was for me when I finally figured out what had really happened to Mariuca at Bethel. The ruling junta at Bethel chose to believe her first husband’s spin on why he was unfaithful, and essentially, he got away with murder. But I need to backtrack to tell the story properly.
“A few months before I was asked to evaluate the confession letter in 2002, I had just completed a wasted weekend in elder training. I hated those so-called special schools. We spent way too much time getting lectured on ‘rooting out evil’ in the congregation; especially in the form of the bad guys who schemed to do away with a marriage in order to acquire a new wife. It was made crystal clear that we would have to have ALL THE FACTS. We were instructed to always advise the branch of such cases. There would be no way a claim of repentance could be accepted if the offender left the innocent party and married his partner in crime.
“When Mariuca told me that she was not allowed to be present at the judicial meeting to cross-check her husband’s story, I suspected a cover-up – a cover-up that high-ranking Bethel elders knew about and chose to look the other way.
“This was the first time I had ever allowed myself to think that this was not the way God operates. Once that door was opened, it allowed me to acknowledge other faults in what I had, up until then, thought was the truth.
“Mariuca also had no idea that a letter was following her around to each congregation she attended, a letter that I had seen. It was a letter from the Canton, Michigan congregation, featuring her ex’s twisted version of events. Basically, it stated that Mariuca was fragile, emotionally unstable, and implied that she may have been frigid, and would require much shepherding. This letter greatly influenced the infamous Gunther Bemis.
“I considered the letter highly prejudicial – insulting at best and slanderous at worst. I was saddened that any well-meaning, unqualified-to-counsel, sexist elder would have access to this kind of information which could most likely complicate the poor girl’s life even more than it already was.
“It didn’t matter what Mariuca thought or said. The good old boys went in the back room and worked things out among themselves so that a ‘good man’ could keep serving Jehovah zealously, this time with a ‘more suitable partner.’
“That attitude made me think of a case I worked on in a downtown Detroit congregation. Kim, a pioneer sister, contacted her brother-in-law, and my fellow elder, Art Smack, telling us that she had been the victim of repeated physical and emotional abuse. Days earlier, her husband, Rankin, drop kicked her across the room. If you’ve ever watched professional wrestling or a martial arts movie you know this is no joke if it happens to you.
“Art and I called on the couple in their home. Rankin readily admitted that he physically abused his wife. But he became irate and emotional to the point of scaring me. This man was obviously unstable. He was crying and screaming at the top of his lungs. He called his wife every foul four letter word you could think of and constantly referred to her as ‘this b****’ or ‘this c***.’
“I was shocked to say the least. I never expected this good-looking couple who attended all the meetings at the Hall, a pioneer and ministerial servant, had this crazy mess going on in their home.
“Art, who took the lead in this shepherding call, finally tired of Rankin’s ranting and raving, and corrected him, saying ‘How dare you show disrespect to two elders in the congregation? How dare you disrespect Jehovah after we opened our discussion in prayer?’ Never mind that his wife was a human punching bag, whom he regularly slapped, kicked, and called her everything but her name.
“This is what I thought about when I first read Mariuca’s introductory letter to our congregation. I knew this attitude was prevalent among elders and most men in the congregation, and an attitude that would unjustly complicate Mariuca’s quest for happiness in life.
“I’m happy to say that believing her story, while it took me a few years, was my first step out of the cult and finding REAL truth.”
Editor’s note: This is Part 2 of a three part series written and reported by Richard Kelly. Mariuca’s story of her life as a Jehovah’s Witness is both typical and yet unique – like the lives of so many former Witnesses. Dick Kelly looks forward to your comments on this and future installments.