Everyone has a story to tell. The soldier returning from the middle east has a story – and so does his family. The disabled lady driving her motorized wheelchair with the large dog running beside her has a story. The old man who should be enjoying his retirement but has to work the counter at McDonald’s has his story. Those people may be surviving, but probably have stories we would consider as “tragic” or “unfortunate.”
As I’ve often said, “There, but for the grace of God, go I.”
I’m realizing that almost everyone who has been connected with Jehovah’s Witnesses has a story to tell. If you asked, most would tell you that their lives “are wonderful, full of close friends and family, and time well spent at Kingdom Halls, conventions, and in field service.” At least that’s what they would tell you.
On the other hand, if you knew them personally or dug a little deeper, you might find the opposite was true. For many raised as Jehovah’s Witnesses, life is no “paradise” at all and their real stories are far more tragic and complicated than (as JWs) they might want to admit.
Over the past five years I’ve received hundreds of emails from troubled or confused individuals connected in some way with Jehovah’s Witnesses looking for help. A majority of those with what I would consider the “most painful” stories to share were “born-in,” “married-in,” or “converted very young.” Some of them are very hard to read. Many are, quite frankly, hard to believe at first look, but then I get others that say basically tell the same tale.
I was a “converted very young” Jehovah’s Witness. Although I experienced some very unpleasant situations in my life and in relationships with my family, I do not consider myself to be someone with a tragic story to tell. I took my lumps, made my choices, learned to live with my situation, and carried on. Unfortunately, I am realizing that my life as a JW was something of an exception.
As I was cleaning out those old emails, I found two stories that I found particularly compelling. I want to share them with you. Some of you will immediately recognize, and maybe even identify with these stories as being similar to your own experiences. Both of these writers described their lives as “living a nightmare,” although as far as I know these individuals do not know each other. I’ll publish one of the emails in this post and the other in a week or two.
This is from an email received in August, 2010 from “Freddie.”
Thank you for providing that interesting website. I hope you don’t mind but I wanted you to know a little bit about my story. If I don’t share it with someone I think I will go crazy, but I hope you understand.
My daddy always wanted to be a preacher. His father was a preacher for many years in a small church in Texas. Daddy didn’t have the education or smart enough to be a real preacher, but he always admired Billy Graham and people like that. When the Jehovah’s Witnesses came to our door one Saturday my life was changed forever. Daddy saw his chance to become a preacher of God’s word and he didn’t even have to go to school. The two men who converted him told him that he would get all the training he needed at the Kingdom Hall. When he saw the brothers standing up on the stage and talking into the microphone he was hooked. And so were we. But against our will.
My mama was a Mexican lady Catholic. Daddy told her that she was going to have to be a Jehovah’s Witness now. Mama was very sad for a long time because she loved going to mass and saying her rosary, but Daddy told her that Catholics were all heathens and would be destroyed at Armageddon. So she had no choice. Me and my sister were told that we were now JWs and we better toe the line or we would die at Armageddon too. Of course, the very first thing we had to do was give up birthdays and Christmas. I couldn’t salute the flag and I would get beat up at school by the bigger boys who called me a “commie” even though I told them I didn’t hate America. We weren’t allowed to play with our neighbor kids. Daddy said they were “wicked little brats because they didn’t believe in Jehovah.” I got spanked really hard one time when he saw me talking to a little girl who lived down the street.
One day some boys were throwing a football in the street. They were trying to make up teams and wanted another player so they asked me. I was so happy to play football and even scored a touchdown. My daddy came home from work and saw me playing and I was so proud and I told him about scoring a touchdown. But then he made me go inside and gave me a really hard spanking. He said those other kids were wicked and worshiped the Devil and if I played football with them I would get destroyed at Armageddon. He told me that any sport was made by the Devil to keep us distracted from going door-to-door serving Jehovah. He said Jehovah doesn’t care about touchdowns or home runs only how many people we bring into the truth.
My sister and me were always being told that we were just asking to “get destroyed at Armageddon” anytime we misbehaved or complained. My mama never said anything and never stood up to us because she was afraid of what Daddy might do. She had a pretty strong Mexican accent, so when she tried to say some of the names of the apostles or Bible books she had a hard time. Daddy would yell at her and make her keep repeating the names over and over and over until she cried and just wanted to go to bed. I hated when Daddy called Mommy “you stupid bitch” because she couldn’t say a word just right.
We had to go door to door to place magazines every weekend. We asked for ten cents donation for the Watchtower and Awake. Daddy said that whatever we got that would be our allowance but we had to put it in the contribution box at the Kingdom Hall. I never had any money of my own until after I left home. I am ashamed to admit that sometimes I did not put the contribution money in the box but now I don’t care anymore.
Daddy was not a very good speaker. His public talks were very hard to listen to but he made it to elder and gave a lot of talks. Some of the brothers and sisters would not even come to the Kingdom Hall public talk if they knew he was going to give the talk. I really hated it when Daddy prayed at the Kingdom Hall. He went on and on and repeated himself but he loved being the star and used his chances to be in lead every time. He just wanted to be on the stage all the time to get his wish to be a preacher man.
Daddy wanted me to become a pioneer. He said what do I want to be when I grow up. I told him a fireman. He said that is the wrong answer. When I said I wanted to be a racing car driver and he said that is the wrong answer. He said you are going to grow up and be a missionary in Africa. I said that I was afraid to go to Africa because there were lions and cheetahs and African tribes that were cannibals. Daddy said you are going to Africa and if you get eaten or killed then Jehovah will put you in the New World. I had nightmares all the time about being eaten by a lion or cooked in a pot by natives. Daddy just called me a stupid coward and told me I was going anyway. One time I said can I go somewhere else beside Africa. He said they need missionaries in China and Russia. I said that I was scared that they would arrest me as a spy and hang me. He said they don’t hang you they shoot you in the head you won’t feel a thing. Next minute you will wake up in the new world. I had nightmares about being a missionary but Daddy insisted that I was going no matter what.
I hated my life. I hated going to the Kingdom Hall. I liked going to the big conventions because I could meet a lot of new friends. But my daddy would say why do you waste your time making friends. You should be listening to talks or studying between sessions, not making friends.
I thought my life was so bad I would often cry at night. But it was nothing like what was going to happen. An older brother who was like 60 came over to our house. My parents were going out of town to Mexico to visit a sick aunt and they asked him to please stay with me and my sister while they were gone. He came over and that first night he slept in my sister’s room in her bed with her in it. I could hear her cry. She finally got up and came to my room and crawled in with me and stayed there all night. The next night, he came and said he was going to sleep in my room. I said why don’t you sleep on the couch or in my parents room and he said because he didn’t want to get the sheets dirty. He didn’t wear pajamas just his underwear and all night kept wrapping his arms around me and touching me all over. I still remember that like it was yesterday. And he smelled bad too. He never took a bath while he was there. We were so glad when my parents came home. Daddy called me a liar when I tried to tell him what the elder did. “I don’t see any bruises. Did he hurt you anywhere?” I told him no, but he had his hands all over me and scared my sister. Daddy made it clear that I was to never speak of that to anyone. A few years later that elder had to move away because someone said he molested their child and they would kill him if he didn’t get out of town so he did.
I tried to be a good JW, but it just wasn’t in me. I was not a good speaker and had a hard time convincing anyone at the door to give up ten cents for two magazines. If someone asked me a question I couldn’t really answer the questions because we never studied the Bible at home and the meetings were a joke. I thought we were supposed to be Bible students, but we really didn’t know anything like that. When I would ask my father, even when he was an elder, he would tell me to look it up in the Watchtower. Go look it up in the bound volumes. Keep looking until you find it.
When I was 18 my daddy told me to study real hard and pioneer so that I could go to Bethel. He told me that if I went to Bethel I could become a Circuit Servant or speak at the assemblies and make him proud. When I told him that I wanted to go to junior college he told me that I was wicked and should be destroyed. I asked why can’t I go to school and learn to be a carpenter or car mechanic. He said you will be a missionary or else you are out of this house. My nightmares about Africa came back and I broke out in blisters. My sister ran away from home and then got a job at a bank and then got married. She had to get married because she was PG. Daddy told Mommy and me that we could never see my sister again and she was dead to us. I remember my sister would come by and they wouldn’t let her in the door even when she was carrying her baby and it was cold outside. One time I let her in and when my daddy came home he threw her out in the cold and told her to never come back. After my sister’s baby died she became an alcoholic and killed herself. She was a good sister and I miss her. I blame Daddy for doing it to her.
I never could get a recommendation to go to Bethel and didn’t want to be a JW any more. My mom never did become a good JW because her heart wasn’t in it and with her accent she had a hard time trying to preach door-to-door. She finally told daddy she wasn’t going any more and wanted to become a Catholic again. He threw her out of the house and divorced her even though he was an elder they said nothing.
I am miserable. I’m hardly thirty and have no skills. I work at Taco Bell and sometimes at the gas station pumping gas. I see my mom sometimes but not often. My sister is dead and so is her baby. My daddy won’t ever talk to me. I still go to the Kingdom Hall sometimes, but it does no good. My dad says I only do it to try to get in good with him and he knows I’m a worthless liar. He told me that he hopes that when I die at Armageddon that it is very painful for me and my mom because we are worthless apostates owned by the devil.
Have you figured out why I wrote you and why my life is so bad? Is there anyone I can talk to about this? Someone told me that I should sue the JWs for what they did to me, but I spoke to an attorney and he said no, I had no case and it would cost me a lot of money but no judge would stand up for me and it would cost me a lot of money for nothing.
I can’t think of anyway to describe my whole life as being anything but a living nightmare. It’s still like that. I don’t know what I can do to fix it. I’ve thought about going back to the Kingdom Hall and trying to start over, but I don’t think that will work. My daddy and friends of that elder that slept in my bed are there and I know they don’t want me. I think my daddy and the other elders would rather see me burned up at Armageddon than ever to come back again.
I don’t like living like this and hope my life is short and that I just die in my sleep. And yes I have thought of killing myself but I am afraid to die. I have no answers. Can you help me some way. I don’t want money I just want to know some answers. Thank you for reading this and your website too.
I know I sent him some advice and suggestions, but I don’t see that I ever got an answer back from him. I don’t know if my response helped him or not.
What would you have suggested for this young man? Where would you have sent him for help?
Have you ever met or personally known someone who lived like this? Have you known elders who have treated their own families like this? Do you know elders now that act like this?
Please feel free to comment and share your own stories.
I will soon publish an email I received from a young woman who was also raised in a Jehovah’s Witness family.
Compared to her – “Freddie” had it easy…
If you haven’t read this amazing story about Bo Juel Jensen, please do so. It’s truly an amazing story about an amazing man hoping to make a difference.
And if you think “Freddie’s” story is unique – please watch these videos: