As a Jehovah’s Witness teenager I was always hoping that someday I would be found worthy enough to be accepted as either a missionary and go to Gilead school or become a Brooklyn Bethel volunteer. I knew being given such a privilege would make my parents proud and would forever seal my reputation as a “faithful Witness of Jehovah.” I also figured that when I returned home from those assignments I would likely be promoted to become an elder (called “servants” in those days).
Fortunately, neither of those opportunities came to me and in my mid-20s I was pretty much done with being a Jehovah’s Witnesses. That did not make my parents proud of me, but my life became a lot more enjoyable and productive. Reading Brock Talon’s new book made it clear to me that I made the right choices.
“Brock Talon” would be a great name for a fictional Marvel Comics’ superhero. But “Brock Talon” is actually a real person with a real story to tell. And now, after reading his story, he’s definitely a hero in my eyes.
I’d never met or even heard of Brock Talon until a couple of weeks ago. Until I received a pleasant email from him suggesting that I check out his new book, I didn’t know he existed. While I still haven’t met Brock (and maybe never will), I feel that I know him as well as my own brother.
His new book, Journey to God’s House, is exactly as the subtitle describes it: An inside story of life at the world headquarters of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the 1980s.
The subject of “life at Bethel” was not new to me. I’ve read the many stories written by Randy Watters (Freeminds.org) about his time and experiences at Bethel. I also know Richard E. Kelly personally and have read his books Growing up in Mama’s Club and Ghosts from Mama’s Club that also document his short time at Bethel and experiences there. I’ve had encounters with a score of other former Bethelites. I must admit that when I got an email asking me to check out this book I was a bit skeptical that I would learn anything more on this subject.
I ordered the paperback version and two days later received my copy in the late afternoon mail. As I do with all books, I sat down to “sample it.” Unlike most books involving Jehovah’s Witnesses that I glance at and then set aside, I instantly became involved in the story and couldn’t put it down. I even read some sample paragraphs to my wife (who doesn’t relate to JWs at all) and had her laughing. Finally she told me, “Enough, already! Let me read it when you are done.”
Brock Talon’s book is one of a kind, and the most enjoyable and entertaining book I’ve ever read about being a Jehovah’s Witness.
I’ve met many ex-Bethelites over the past 50 years. They all seem to have one thing in common, no matter what their job was or how long they spent there: Their memories are mostly painful and disturbing. Many do not want to talk about what happened or what they saw there – similar to soldiers returning home from World War 2 or Iraq. To go to “God’s House” and discover that Bethel would likely be the last place “God” would ever want to stay, has to be quite a shock to the system.
I’ve also noted that a high percentage of those who leave Bethel eventually leave the religion. A few who stay for any length of time end up like the “Hanger Man,” human shells with nowhere else to go – no money, no marketable skills, no retirement, no friends. Being too old to start over again, they’ve wasted the prime years of their lives taking orders, mopping floors, washing dishes, cleaning windows, or folding laundry. It’s worse for most of the women who volunteer to go there.
I found Brock’s writing to be lively and descriptive. His descriptions of the characters he meets along the way provide clear mental images that you can easily visualize. The chapters are short and cover the single incident or point he is trying to share with his readers – and then moves briskly on to the next. You never feel burdened reading his story or find yourself wondering “…and then what happened?” My only disappointment with the book was that there wasn’t more of it (224 pages).
If you never read another book related to the Jehovah’s Witnesses or the Watchtower Society, be sure to read Journey to God’s House. My guess is that you will tell all of your friends about it and share your copy with them. Be sure to get it back – because this is a book you will want to read again.
Times are changing for the Jehovah’s Witnesses. In recent months many of the buildings in Brooklyn where Brock’s story takes place have been sold for millions of dollars. Some will be torn down or modified for other uses. The Watchtower is moving all of their North American and International Management operations to midstate New York into small, mostly farming towns. They are building massive new complexes and printing facilities that have much improved living quarters for their Bethel volunteers. Unfortunately, while the living environment for workers may improve greatly, the Bethel atmosphere of complete control, long hours at very little pay, and a life with no realistic future for the volunteers all remain the same. My guess is that in a few years another Bethelite (like Brock) will leave Patterson, or Wallkill, or Warwick, New York and tell a similar story. My best guess is that it won’t be as funny, entertaining, and educational as the story Brock has shared with us.
Be sure to tell your current and former Jehovah’s Witness friends about this book. I’m sure they will find it as enjoyable as I have and you will.
YouTube intro for Brock Talon’s new book…
JWStruggle.com interview with Brock Talon…