Thursday, April 10, 2014

Coming to Peace and Freedom by Loli Poppelreiter

I was born in the USA, and was raised in Brazil by a Catholic mother and an Episcopalian father, both of whom never enforced any religion on me.  Because my mother's family and all my friends were Catholic, I asked to be baptized in the Church at the age of twelve. Plans were made, I attended Catechism classes and soon was a full- fledged Catholic.

By 1947, I had graduated college with a B.A. and had come back to the USA. Interestingly, when I first came back, I stayed with some family members in Brooklyn (the Salihs), who were Jehovah's Witnesses.  They took me all through the Watchtower Printing building at 25 Columbia Heights and conducted the usual tour with me.    
I had returned to be married and was married in 1948.  By 1949 my oldest son, Walter, was born.  When he was five years old, I placed him in religious studies in school.  I told him not to speak about it when his grandmother was visiting, because she was a Jehovah's Witness.  She had inundated me with the magazines and Bibles, which I would quickly put in the trash.  After all, I was a Catholic and I wore Catholicism as a protective garment against her and her Jehovah's Witness insistence.  One thing that had turned me off against Jehovah's Witnesses was their refusal to allow their members to have blood transfusions and the deaths of children, due to their insistence that taking a transfusion was a sin.

One day while my mother-in-law was visiting, Walter came running from the school bus yelling “Mommy, Mommy, I got a gold star in my Catechism class!”  Oh, he was so excited and I was cringing in my boots, waiting to hear how the mother-in-law was going to attack me.  For a change, the lady was smart and waited until after we had dinner and washed the dishes.  Then she attacked, but very kindly saying, “It seems that you now have an interest in allowing Walter to learn about the Bible, so how would it be if I get someone to come and teach the Bible to him?”  Whew!  I was off the hook.  There would be no preaching at me and because, either I was caught off guard or in order to stop her haranguing, I agreed.

It happened that the lady she brought over for that study was very pleasant and easy to like, as most of them are.  My own interest in biblical matters had been raised, after seeing the movie “The Ten Commandments” and having never been taught anything about it before.  Plus, I wanted to hear what she was going to teach my son.

Soon I became caught up by the teaching of a Paradise earth, no pain, sorrow or death, no hell fire, and by 1956 I was baptized at a local convention. Thus started my climb toward wasting the next 30+ years of my life and being enveloped by the "love bombing" so prevalent toward new converts.  
Contributed by Christian Sparlock Freedom

I was needy, therefore vulnerable.  I was not in a good marriage and missed my family in Brazil.  In 1957, I went to two conventions in New York, attending Yankee Stadium and Candlestick Park.  The lady I went to New York with could hardly believe it when I looked up at the Watchtower building and said to her, “I’ve been here before.  I know this building."  It was buried in the recesses of my mind since so many things were new to me in this country and I had been tasting a lot of it when I first arrived.  The conventions were quite an experience.

After the New York convention experiences, I came back to San Jose, CA. where I was living, and immediately the elders began using me at the next assembly as one of the first Jehovah's Witness women allowed on stage.  We could not do anything that may have seemed like we were teaching brothers, but two of us ladies would direct our attention to each other for a presentation of how to conduct Bible studies or go effectively door to door.   I was good at it and as a result, gave many talks, eventually being used in many convention demonstrations.  I vacation pioneered and full time pioneered.  A pioneer is the special title given to someone who devotes up to 100 or more hours in the preaching work going from door to door and conducting home bible studies.

At a second hand store, I purchased many of the older publications, including the seven volumes of Pastor Russell's “Studies in the Scriptures."  Reading them made me begin to wonder and question the changes brought about under the guise of "new light."  I had also begun reading many other older publications and so much of it was causing me to question what I had been learning vs. what I was reading.  Many things were not ringing true, nor were they compatible with what the Jehovah's Witnesses were teaching.  Strange!
Contributed by Christian Sparlock Freedom
In time, my husband, also a Walter, had become an elder.  After some years, I guess he got tired of me and my constancy with the organization and left me.  He was a handsome and charming young man, a great dancer and a womanizer.  His behavior soon became common knowledge in our congregation and he was disfellowshipped. Today he has a great wife for him and we are good friends.

After my husband left, I discovered that he also left behind the secret books given to elders, from the elder school they were encouraged to attend in New York.  I poured over the instructions in the books, obviously better than the “reigning” men of the time, the Body of Elders at our local Kingdom Hall.

Having been teenagers during the free love and flower children explosion, my two youngest children, Alan and James, got caught up in it and were disfellowshipped for smoking marijuana.  James was underage and Alan had married at age eighteen.  Soon all three, James, Alan and wife Eileen were disfellowshipped for smoking marijuana.

In view of the information in those books, I questioned one of the elders on their Judicial Committee as to how they could choose to disfellowship James, after he voluntarily came to confess the marijuana incident. Their answer was, “We didn’t feel he was sorry enough for his action when we asked him if he would do it again.  His answer was, 'I don’t know.'"  I argued that the elder books explained clearly that children under age were to be put under the auspices of their parent and I asked if they could read hearts. This was like waving a red flag in front of bulls.  They retorted, "Yes, but since you don’t have a man in the house, we didn’t feel you would be able to control the boy."  WOW!  That was the wrong thing to say to this strong-willed, independent woman.

I knew then that I would be working my way out of the Watchtower Society, but I gave it a last ditch effort by writing to the Watchtower Society headquarters about the case.  It felt as if I were writing to "parents" for permission to be me and to be correct.  What a load of B.S.(Bull$hit)!  

The Society contacted the local brothers and it went downhill from there.  Letters were going back and forth.  My letters suggesting the local elders had not been telling the society the correct account, because the elders wrote back to the society that they had been to my home several times, when my husband was still there, to counsel us on our children.  This, of course, while untrue, made me out to be the liar.  During that time my cousin (Natheer Salih, who was Fred Franz’s little golden boy) suggested that I stop writing to Watchtower Society headquarters in New York, because all I was doing was proving to them that I was a “troublesome” sister.  Again, WOW!  I was a woman and therefore, not qualified to defend myself.

The youngest of my children, James, passed away in 1991, and had been disfellowshipped for a time before he passed.  Seven months later, the husband to whom I was married at that time, Mark, also passed away after having been a great and kind help to me with James, when he could no longer work nor take care of himself and I brought him to my home. He died in his bed at our home, surrounded by his children, his divorced wife, friends, his brother and me. We had marvelous hospice care.  James had asked to have his older brother, Walter, come and see him before he passed away (he did love God and Jesus), but Walter, who is a Jehovah's Witness elder in the Sacramento, CA area, met with me and tearfully said he could not, because James was disfellowshipped and therefore, to be shunned. That was very painful and again, I knew I had to leave that organization. 
Contributed by Christian Sparlock Freedom

Shortly after this time, still needing to grieve, I charged full speed ahead, remarried, left one husband and married another.  With no scriptural grounds for divorce, I was tattled on by a gentleman who is now my best friend, due to the fact that his deceased wife (not a Jehovah's Witness) and I went together to Reno many times for shows, food and gambling.  They had been my first real estate clients in the bay area.  Not really knowing what I was doing, it took me almost a year to straighten things out and sell them another house, during which time we became friends.  Years later, after selling their home, they moved to Paradise, CA, where I was living. 

There was a Judicial Committee meeting with me, of course, but all the elders did was put me on private reproof, taking away my “privileges” to comment at the meetings and give talks during Theocratic school for a period of time.  Also, I could go door to door only if accompanied by another brother or sister.   However, they did not disfellowship me, nor did they have me shunned.  I gave them an Academy Award winning act throughout that committee hearing.   I knew what they wanted.  That experience, along with the fact that Alan wrote many letters asking to be reinstated and was given more and more things he had to do before he would be considered for reinstatement, became the crux of that which assured me that Jehovah or God was definitely never behind what the Jehovah's Witnesses consider to be the "truth," nor behind the organization.  According to their rules, I really should have been disfellowshipped, but they somehow liked me and put up with me, even after the argument I gave the “brothers” (ooooh that was really bad.)  I sure didn’t like them and being a little snooty didn’t have much respect for these poorly educated individuals with no psychological education, while having the power to govern and strangulate lives.
More time passed or maybe a short time passed, and I had buried a husband, divorced another and married a man that, three years ago, also passed away from strokes.  I should have been suffering from separation anxiety for many more losses that happened throughout my years.  Harry was a very lovely man that I dearly loved. Gratefully, my best friend, Lloyd, stayed with me to help with the care of Harry whose strokes had left him totally incontinent and had the beginning of dementia.  He would constantly get up from his chair and fall down.  Harry was a tall man and I could not help him up, so I really appreciated Lloyd's help and kindness.  Lloyd was always looking for a girlfriend and he now has one, but she knows I am his #1 friend.

This whole period of my life was like a page from Dante’s Inferno, all of it during my exodus from the strangulation I felt as a member of that Jehovah's Witness cult and on.  Alan, the more difficult of my children, was reinstated three weeks after being disfellowshipped and later told the elders that he no longer wanted to be considered a Jehovah's Witness. They disfellowhipped him for smoking after he had quit for health reasons. The elders asked him why he stopped smoking and were not satisfied with his answer, so they lowered the ax, which was what he wanted.  

And Alan now?  Yes, he is the one who, through the grace of God along with his wife, have put their life upside down to sell both our homes in order to buy one where they could have me living with them. They wanted to do this before it became necessary for me to not live alone and they wanted to be able to share some quality life with me.   Isn’t that wonderful?

This son is responsible for the three of us joining the local Seventh Day Adventist Church (SDA).  Before my husband passed away, Alan had been suffering from terrible anxiety and depression bouts.  He had called his older Jehovah's Witness Elder brother for some help at a time when he could no longer live with the anxiety and was very depressed, but Walter said he wasn’t sure if he could talk with Alan and had to consult with other Elders.  When he called back, it was to tell Alan to go to the local Kingdom Hall and get some Watchtower book and that was it. Very loving, don’t you think?   

Alan decided he was going to commit suicide by throwing himself against a propped up knife, but he planned to go to the local hospital first to say goodbye to his wife, who is a nurse there.   He passed by the chapel at the hospital (a SDA Hospital) and said that something called him in there but no one was available.  He then walked up to his wife’s boss and asked if there was a pastor available to talk with him. At that very instance, the door behind his wife's boss opened and a voice called out, saying, “I am getting ready to leave.  Could there still be someone that needs a Chaplin?"  So it began.  

This Chaplin spent three weeks in very close communication with Alan, encouraged him to see a therapist who helped Alan to identify his problem.  As it turned out, part of it was the fear he had that Jehovah was going to kill him due to the life he had lived after leaving the organization and also post-anxiety before marriage, due to the stopping of drug ingestion.  

During this time, the doctor, who had been giving Alan epidural injections for pain, called him and invited him and his wife to attend a play at the Seventh Day Adventists Church, depicting the life of Jesus.  Alan said he would have to think about it and immediately called me and asked if he should go (the old Watchtower Society scare tactic that other religions and churches are demonized).  I replied, “Of course you should go."  Alan then said, “Well, Mother, will you go as well?”  I gave him a positive answer and my husband, who had been raised in the  religion, but was no longer attending, popped up and said “I will go as well, to back up Alan”. That started our journey into the SDA Church and while we attend there and have been baptized, we do not consider ourselves Seventh Day Adventists.  We just consider ourselves Christian who attend the SDA Church.

Due to my baptism and a conversation with a visiting Jehovah's Witness elder, I have now been branded as an “apostate” and a letter has been read throughout the San Jose, California congregations and here where I now live so that my few Jehovah's Witness “friends” no longer will speak with me and neither will my son, Walter and his family, my grand and great-grandchildren (15 + years).  Walter, my oldest son also spoke with the local elders and gave information about my baptism at the SDA church and about my having a Xmas tree, which helped the Judicial Committee nail me with the apostate label.  Nice hum?   You remember the old Jehovah's Witness rule, "If you know and don’t report you are just as guilty."
Contributed by Noel Parsons

I now have many friends and a family that loves me without any “ifs,” along with James’ widow, and other children and their children and my lovely great grandchildren.  

Oh yes, throughout the time I was planning my freedom from the Watchtower Society of Jehovah's Witnesses, I spent some time with Ray Franz and his wife in the bay area.  He was such a kind friend and helped me in my chosen course.  For almost fifteen years, along with my very best friend, who moved here to Northern California after I did and passed away seven years ago, we would read the bible together trying to remove the Jehovah's Witness's indoctrination from our minds and wondering where Jesus of the Bible had been, during all the years we spent as Jehovah's Witnesses.  I am grateful that He has found me.