My upbringing was not particularly religious. My father was Church of England, though I never knew him go to church, but he did believe in God. My mother was in the Salvation Army and attended fairly regularly, I went occasionally. But no attempt was made to give me any religious teaching. My father had to give up work through ill health, so family life was a bit of a struggle back then in the early 1960’s. My mother died when I was 16. I had an older brother and sister but they lived away from home.
Because of the family situation, it just being my father and myself, as soon as I left school I had to get a job. so any plans for further education went out the window. I suppose I embarked on the usual things for a young man going out drinking etc, with friends. Strangely in our sessions in local pubs we often discussed God, why are we here, where are we going, the usual questions. I started to be drawn to the Bible wanting to know what it said about God, life and me. By the time I was 19 I was thinking of going into the ministry, I even contacted the Salvation Army about becoming an officer with them and the Church of England on becoming a minister. In fact the C of E wrote back to arrange a meeting to discuss it.
At this time a friend of mine was working with a Jehovah’s Witness and he used to tell what the Jehovah's Witness was telling him. I thought it sounded interesting, not really knowing anything about the Jehovah's Witnesses at the time. So a meeting was arranged with one of their Elders. The way that that Elder answered questions and used the Bible in what seemed a logical and concise way I was drawn in. This seemed to be what I wanted , to learn about the Bible and what it said. So I started a “Bible study” with them, in that they use a book with their doctrines in and use Bible verses to back them up. This was March 1971; I would be 20 in April. I studied two books over the next 9 months or so, and was baptised as a Jehovah's Witness on January 6th. 1972. I had already been going out on the door-to-door ministry that Jehovah's Witnesses are known for, very difficult to do when you are a shy person. I won’t go into what they do deeply just that you have to attended 5 meetings a week, 2 of which are 2 hours long, go on field ministry regularly and put a report in at the end of each month saying how many hours you had done and how many magazines (Watchtower and Awake) books etc you had placed with people. Records are kept on all the people you have spoken to so you can call back on them.
In July 1974 I got married to a Jehovah's Witness girl, by October 1975 we had a son, eventually we had 7 children. It was a very routine way of life. I was working, attending meetings etc everything centred around the Jehovah's Witness way of life. The Jehovah's Witness is centred on the organisation, by that I mean the “Watchtower Bible and Tract Society” which is the organisation that runs the Jehovah's Witnesses, also known as the Watchtower, of the Society. The view is that the Watchtower is “God’s only means of communication to man” the only true religion on earth, “God’s only means of salvation on earth” if you are not in the Watchtower then you will die at Armageddon! To question the organisation is to question Jehovah himself and no one did that or you where out.
In time I started to feel something feel something was wrong. At meetings when scripture was used I began to realise that many of them just did not fit what was being said from the platform. Scriptures taken out of context made to fit the Jehovah's Witness teaching. I would read the surrounding verses and realise that sometimes they were saying the opposite of what was being taught. Also the Jehovah's Witness teaching sidelines Jesus Christ, Jehovah's Witness teaching is that Jesus is the archangel Michael not part of a Trinity which they see as a pagan teaching. But in my reading of scripture all I saw was Jesus Christ by who we were saved and not being part of an organisation and doing the works it said we had to do to be saved. I discussed my feeling with a couple of the Elders, but was told to keep quiet about it, or I could be in trouble. So I put it to the back of my mind though I went through a period where I would literally shake with the thought of having to go to a meeting. I often wonder now if it was the Lord trying to tell me something. But fear kept me in the Jehovah's Witnesses.
By now 1990 I was also a ministerial servant (deacon) in the congregation. Giving talks from the platform, even 45-minute public talks on a Sunday. As well as items, ranging from 5- 20 minutes during other meetings. I was also in charge of literature, that is all the books, brochures, tracts, that are used on the field ministry. Through all this I was still having certain doubts, but never tempted to look elsewhere for information.
Now by 1995 I was struggling at home to make ends meet, having 7 children, a home and the expense of all that started to prove to much. My job was not paying all that much and looked like it may finish also. so I started using credit cards and a loan to pay for everything and got deeper and deeper into debt. By April 1996 I didn’t know where to turn and suffered a breakdown I just went off one day took some money from work. I went to the Lake District via Blackpool, spent about a week there just walking over the hills. Then decided to kill myself, so I took about 30 tablets, paracetemol, aspirin and drank a bottle of brandy. This was in the evening sitting on a hill overlooking the valley at Windermere, thinking how beautiful it was. I gradually lost consciousness, and then woke up next morning feeling awful. Then for some reason I staggered back to where I was staying, and stayed in bed all day. I decided to head for a hospital, but decided to head for one near home.
I arrived at the hospital in the evening. They put me on a drip to try to clear the drugs out of my system. They contacted an Elder who came the next morning, who later brought my wife. Because I had tried to commit suicide I was “sectioned” and sent to a psychiatric hospital. There I was diagnosed as having “acute clinical depression” and according to the doctors probably had it for a number of years but suppressed it and it came to a head in the breakdown I had. Also they said depression seems to be common amongst Jehovah’s Witnesses, I was the third or fourth one they had had that year. For a small group of people the ratio was quite high for depression.
Now this is where my faith was shaken. I now thought that being in “Jehovah’s loving organisation” I would get help to overcome the depression. Boy! Was I wrong? Though spending 6 weeks in hospital no Elder would spend time with me. They may bring my wife but did not want to stay and talk., but I saw the ministers of other patients visiting them. Eventually I was put on anti-depressants and sent home. This is now May 1996. I was very rarely visited by anyone except Elders, the rest of the congregation would be “advised” to stay away, I was a danger. I had to appear before a judicial committee of three elders, where I was “privately reproved.” Their answer to my problem consisted of I should going out on the door-to-door work more and attending the meetings. People I had known for years stopped speaking to me. My wife was more concerned about her standing in the congregation. She stopped sleeping with me; she would sleep on the sofa downstairs. I do not know how this was affecting my children at the time because it all seemed so surreal to me what was happening in “Jehovah’s loving organisation”. I managed to get a job anyway, but it was shift work so it meant I would miss some meetings. Which seemed to upset people more.
Then in December 1996 my wife asked me to leave home, just what someone who has depression needs! Later I found out this was under the influence of the Elders I was considered “a spiritual danger to the family” so had to go. My wife even found me a bedsit to live in, in the next town so that we would not attend the same congregation. I started attending the congregation but had that feeling that they were weary of me. The Elders here, where no better, not one of them asked if they could visit me and have a chat.
Not long after moving out, my eldest son, a Jehovah's Witness, came to live with me. He having not agreed with what was going on with me. So we moved to a bigger place. We both continued attending the Jehovah's Witness meetings. Then my second son came to live with me. He was not a Jehovah's Witness but because he would not accept and become one his mother was making it awkward for him at home. This meant I had to get a bigger place. Then sometime later my second daughter came as well, she was a Jehovah's Witness. This was because of something that occurred at home. During this time I had started looking into the teachings and history of Jehovah’s Witnesses. What I found shook me I learnt about the false way in which they portrayed Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and had twisted scripture to suit their views. Plus the history of false prophecies, changes in teachings and doctrine over the years, showed it was nothing more than a man-made organisation. I stopped going to meetings in August 1999, my son and daughter who lived me had already done so. In fact in September 1999 they both “disassociated” themselves from the Jehovah’s Witnesses. This means that no Jehovah's Witness could speak to them of have anything to do with them, even their own mother.
I still wanted to worship God but didn’t know where to go or what to do. As a Jehovah's Witness you are taught that all other religions are apostate, satanic, demonic etc. One of the books about the Jehovah's Witnesses I had read was published by the Reachout Trust, which help people in my situation. So I wrote to them asking for help and they put me in touch with their representative who happen to live not far away. He came to see me and help me see the “Christian” view of things. He took me to a couple of meetings he was attending but they didn’t feel right to me. Then he took in March 2000 to a meeting at a place called the Narrowgate centre. It was here that I gave myself to Christ. But it was a bit far for me to get to so I thought of going to the main church which was the Wirral Christian Centre, Birkenhead an Elim Pentecostal church. I tried to go one Sunday evening but couldn’t pluck the courage to go in. Then the next day the assistant Pastor rang up and said he had been given my name, could he come to see me? He came and we had a chat and I told him about nearly going in to the church. So he said he would come next Sunday and pick me up, which he did. I was a bit apprehensive it was like the other end of the scale compared to a Jehovah's Witness meeting. But the place was so alive and everyone so friendly. The singing was marvellous such joy in the songs and the congregation singing them. Though the shouts of “Hallelujah and Amen” and speaking in tongues was a bit unnerving at first. I couldn’t believe the amount of prayer also, but it was so heartfelt with feeling. The sermon by Pastor Paul Epton bowled me over. I thought “Yes that’s how the word of God should be spoken” its alive!
By December 2000 I had been attending the church about 9 months. My eldest son decided to come with me one Sunday evening just to see what I was getting into. He ended up giving himself to Christ! When the subject of baptism came up and they announced the next baptism would be on January 7th 2001. I jumped when I heard this, and said I wanted to be baptised. This would be exactly 29 years from when I was baptised as a Jehovah's Witness.
During this time I was still seeing my children who lived with my wife, three daughters and a son. In September 2001 while at work two Jehovah's Witness elders called at the house, to see me. My son answered the door; they said they would call back. Considering that I had not been to a Jehovah's Witness meeting for two years this was the first time they had called in two years. Also one of the Elders only lived a 5-minute walk away and in that time had not bothered to call. I knew the only reason they where calling was because instructions had gone out from Watchtower HQ to try and get those Jehovah's Witnesses who had become inactive, left, disfellowshipped to return because they where dropping in numbers. Anyway I wrote to them saying that I was disassociating myself and that I was now a Christian. This meant that my wife, two daughters who were Jehovah's Witnesses could not have anything to do with me. Though my wife had not spoken to me since August 1999 anyway. The only children I now see are my two youngest a son (14) and daughter (13) they have to come to me as I am not allowed to their house. So a wife and mother, sisters and brothers, are forbidden to speak to us because a man-made organisation says so. Based on their interpretation of scripture.
So where are we now? Well my son and myself are still attending the Wirral Christian Centre. We have had our ups and downs. I get the occasional bout of depression but now I no longer feel alone, now that I have Christ. I still have financial problems that need sorting but I no longer let them dominate my life. I find that the prayer and support are there from others also. The Lord through the Pastor has told me not to worry about the rest of the family He will deal with them in time. Also that I will have a two year period of ups and downs but will everything will eventually sort itself out, all I have to do is stay close to Him.
One thing that has happened is that my daughter who lived with me for a while, she is now 20, last Sunday evening gave herself to Christ. The Lord will work everything out in His own time; I just have to wait on him. It is the difference between relying on a man-made organisation and relying on our Saviour Jesus Christ, who dwells in us.
by Gordon Cook