25 Years After Bethel - Friends Reunited

It is always good to hear from someone you haven't heard from or seen in 25 years. Especially if they were a Witness in your congregation and are now out! I will call her "Joy" as she wishes to remain anonymous for now, but this is the dialogue I've had with her over the last week. Notice the typical aspects that often accompany those that leave the organization, such as elders covering things up, stalking issues, shunning, little income due to pioneering or Bethel life, finding better friends and moving on with your life, but not wanting to remember a lot of it.

Joy writes:

P.S. - I used to be in Linwood Cong. in Brooklyn the same time you were there.  I'm no longer a Witness.  I've checked out your website and it's good to see that you are doing well after all these years.   There is life after leaving the JWs.

Randy responds:

WOW! Joy, I remember you! The only "white" girl in the Linwood Congregation! Oh my God, it's good to hear from you!
You'll have to tell me more about your story, your life in the last 25 years, and what you are doing nowadays. Mine is pretty much on the internet:
The website reflects my journeys along the way! Please tell me more about how you are doing, did you ever hear from the people at Linwood again, etc.

Joy responds:

Hi Randy,

Yes, I guess you could say I was the only " white" girl in Linwood. LOL! That was a long time ago and I was a different person then. Well, after you left I stayed in Linwood and continued to "pioneer" there until about 1984 when I moved to the mountains of North Carolina in order to "serve where the need was greater" and continued pioneering until 1994.

Several things happened along the way that started to chip away at my faith and conviction. But it wasn't until my dad became seriously ill and had to be hospitalized and was on life support that I finally took the time to face certain issues and doubts that I had for a long time. I stayed in the hospital in N.Y. in the evenings in my dad's room for almost three months since he was on a respirator and couldn't communicate when he needed help - my brother and I were his only advocates. That gave me the time I needed to really think about things and I found myself doing a lot of journaling. It's something how as a Witness you are kept so busy that you really don't have time to think about what you're doing or even question it.

I finally faced the fact that I was living in a state of denial and I was not happy with my life as a pioneer and I was not happy being part of the organization. So after my dad was released from the hospital, I went back to North Carolina and quit pioneering and started helping out a congregation in another town about an hour away from where I lived that was reaching out to Spanish speaking persons, primarily Mexican and some from Latin America who came here to work the farms and in factories searching for a better life. My being Puerto Rican and bi-lingual came in handy and I helped out in forming the first Spanish congregation there. I thought that by still serving it would help get rid of my doubts, concerns and depression. I gave it my best shot for about 2 more years.

During that time I was also being stalked by some guy and I didn't know who it was. It started with obscene phone calls being left on my answering machine (I did not recognize the voice) and all sorts of property damage to the house I was renting as well as my landlady's home which was on the same piece of land. Anyway, without going into much detail - I finally had to move to another town since this person wouldn't stop and I wanted to feel safe again.

 A few weeks after moving one of the elders in the congregation I left called me to inform me that they knew who my stalker was and it turned out to be a brother who was a ministerial servant in that congregation which I attended. In fact I had him and his roommate and sister and mom over my place for meals numerous times. I knew them ever since I moved to N.C. I had no idea. It was so weird. It was the police that identified who he was and told the elders and the elders did not allow me to press charges. They told the police that they would handle the situation within the congregation. He was originally just going to be privately reproved, but some of the elders wives who liked me and were sympathetic to my situation raised a stink with their husbands along with the fact that he was known in the small town we lived and many in the community heard about what happened. Since that was going to bring "reproach to Jah's name and to the congregation" then he was publicly reproved. I had found out that the elders knew for a longtime while I was still living there that it was him, but wanted to keep it hush-hush. Apparently the appearance of the congregation was more important than my safety.

Although I was already on my way out of the organization, that was the last straw. Once I no longer felt safe and protected and really part of a spiritual "family" there was no need for me to stay in. I just became inactive - and have been out for about seven years now. I'm grateful for the fact that my mom and brother, sister-in-law and cousin that live in N.Y. are not Witnesses and they have always loved me no matter what and I didn't really appreciate it until I left the organization. I came to see how conditional the so-called love of those in the organization is - once I stopped going to the hall, those that I thought of as true friends and family acted as if I never existed, and I didn't even do anything wrong to deserve being treated that way. I just stopped going to the Hall and there's a stigma attached to that. You're considered "bad association" when you don't go on a regular basis. I guess putting a label on someone serves to justify not having to care for them anymore.

I'm sure you've heard more than your share of similar stories so I hope I'm not boring you. At this point in my life I'm in a period of transition. I quit my job in March of this year and have been living on savings until I figure out what to do next. I'm considering going back to school at the local community college. Since I was working part-time and pioneering for so many year, I really don't have any retirement savings, therefore Ill be working the rest of my life. I might as well find something I enjoy doing.  I love art (even though it's hard to make a decent living at it) and have recently been painting simple designs on river rocks (I sell a few of them once in a while) until I'm inspired to paint on canvas again. I was in college studying Art when I started studying with the Witnesses and quit school as a result of it, so I never got my degree.

As for the friends in Linwood, I haven't communicated with any of them since I became inactive. But I can tell you what happened to some of them while we were still communicating. I'll start with the ones I recognized in the photos you posted on your website. Ken H. married a sister named Ingrid in Linwood and she joined him in Bethel. After living there for several years, she got pregnant and they moved to Charlotte, NC and had two children and he works in the computer field (I used to run into them at conventions). I noticed you have Eula H. in one of the photos - I used to love hanging out at her house and even went to California one year with her - she got a lot of criticism from some jealous, petty sisters for always opening up her home to Bethelites. She was just very kind, warm and hospitable to all of us. She and her husband moved to New Jersey and I visited her and stayed at their home one year when I went up to visit my family. She was still the same kind-hearted and loving Eula. I miss her.

I see that Beverly G. is in the photo too. The last time I saw her she was still living at home with her mom and working and I remember she always had a great sense of humor. Do you remember Martin B., the Jamaican brother and Margaret W.? Martin and his wife Diane had another daughter - that made two daughters and when I last saw them they were so grown up (talk about feeling old!) And he was still as big as could be and full of stories. He did come visit me at my mom's when my dad was first hospitalized and then a couple of years later when he died, I was up there for the funeral.  He came with Margaret to see us and we really appreciated it. I really think he sincerely cares about people. Margaret pioneered for many, many years and she ended up leaving Linwood and goes to another congregation in Brooklyn. Once I became inactive, she tried to convince me to go back to the hall and she finally gave up and told me she no longer was going to associate with me until I came back - that broke my heart, I thought of her as a real sister.

Whatever happened to Robert Sullivan? I know he left the same time you did. How did his life turn out? Remember Victor D.? He used to pioneer with Margaret and I. He made the human mistake of losing his temper in the kingdom hall and as a result, was removed as a pioneer and ministerial servant. He became depressed and was criticizing the elders and ended up being disfellowshipped because they claimed he was being disrespectful and disobedient to the body. He called me to say goodbye and I never heard from him since. What I did hear through the grapevine is that he eventually married and was still living in Brooklyn, he never came back to the organization.

That's about all I can think of at this time.

Randy responds:

Thank you for taking the time to write back, Joy. While your story has some dark issues, like the stalker, it reveals you still have such a good heart for people and I know you always will. I wonder if I could share your story with others (sans names), anonymously if you like. It is a testimony to how the elders keep things hush-hush often, and to the fact that there are many good people in the organization anyway. What do you think? You could even add more if you like. It is a pleasure to have known you and even spent time with you.

Robert Sullivan knew even while I was at Bethel that I was on my way out. I knew the inner circle of Ray Franz' associates, and went down into the Bethel library to research all the old Watchtowers from 1879 to 1979 to see what they had really taught all those years, and why the changes were really political to keep the old cronies going as "God's organization." But I just wanted to leave Bethel because of the Governing Body. So while on vacation to California in 1980 I knew I didn't want to go back, and called Daniel Sydlik (GB member) and asked if I could stay to take care of my parents (I wanted to get my mom and sister and brother-in-law out of the organization, because I got them all into it.), and he said yes, and my Bethel roommate Rob Sullivan packed up all my stuff and sent it out here. I am still renting the same large house as when I moved out here, and Rob moved out to be with me in 1981 or so. There are three others of us as well, big house on the beach but falling apart. :-))

I started going to a local congregation (Airport congregation) for a few months after I left Bethel, they re-appointed me an elder, but my heart was not in it, so I turned in a letter of resignation: http://www.freeminds.org/history/gbletter.htm.

We (Rob and I ) have both dated girls on and off but I guess we will always be bachelors at this point. Rob would like to be married but he is too finicky, I just don't care anymore. I'm happy with all the neighbors and surfers and party people around here, it's a unique little community called El Porto, near LAX.

Thanks for the news about the friends from Linwood. I loved them all, thank you.

Peace, Randy

Joy responds:

It's funny how in communicating with you and looking at your story online has brought back a flood of memories of my years in Linwood.

I'm happy to know that you and Rob are doing well and are thriving. I've seen too many who have left the organization go into self-destruct mode. I do remember that when you guys left, those of us that were in full-time service at Linwood were under intense scrutiny by the body of elders for quite some time. Anytime we questioned something they were there to "readjust our thinking." It's a shame that none of us were allowed to even consider your side of the story. They didn't put the "fear of God" in us, it was more the "fear of Randy and Rob" - lol. Oh well, that was a lifetime ago.

Yes, you can share my story with others and I'd appreciate it being done anonymously for now. There are more details to my story, but I'd rather not share them at the moment because after I wrote you my last email I found myself getting depressed and drained. Even though I think I've got it all together and have overcome all the Witness stuff and am moving forward in my life, I still haven't completely gotten over it all. I've visited enough discussion boards to see that what I'm going through is very common. One thing I did learn from my experiences is the importance of self-empowerment and doing what I can to protect and care for myself and not leave it up to others to know what's best for me.

I've never gotten married either. I've dated several brothers and have been asked, but my instincts always guided me to say no. And it's only years later that I've seen that my instincts were right about them. The whole wifely submission thing didn't make marriage all that appealing to me anyway. I do have someone in my life who is an ex-JW (he's been out for about 3 years now - used to be an elder and he has his share of stories to tell) and we've been seeing each other for about 2 years. He is originally from New Jersey - isn't it something that I move down South only to fall in love with a Jersey guy!!! We do have a lot of fun together.

Well, that's about it for now. Take care, Joy

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