The Story of Trevor Roberts

An Ex-Jehovah's Witness from South Africa exhorts JWs to keep their "worldly" friends

My mother became a Jehovah's Witness when I was about 6 years old. My father was a non-practising Catholic. My mother's new religion caused a huge uproar in the family. Nevertheless, despite this, myself, my brother (4) and my sister (2) were all taken to the meetings each week.

My father went looking for the JW who was studying with my mother to kill her, but my mother forgot where she lived. After a while, things settled down, with an occasional argument between my parents, and my mother and grandparents, who could not understand why we couldn't celebrate birthdays or Christmas. On one occasion, my aunt gave my brother and myself toy guns for our birthday. Our mother threw them away. After that, our relatives just gave us money, or articles of clothing, which we were allowed to keep.

At school, when the other children gathered inside the school hall for assembly where they would say the Lord's Prayer, we had to stand outside. We only came in during the announcements. Needless to say, we were ostracised by the other children. We were not allowed to play sports like rugby, or even cricket, because these were "too competitive."

We had no friends, because the other Witness families viewed us as "spiritually weak" and "worldly" since we came from a "divided home." Non-JW friends were taboo. Eventually, in Std. 4 (Grade 6) I made friends with a "worldly" guy, and we remained good friend for 12 years. (More about that later).

In my first year in High School, Std. 6 (Grade 8), our school was visited by the Gideons, and every Std. 6 pupil was given a Gideon's New Testament. My friend and I decided to see who could finish reading the gospels first. I don't remember who won, but I do remember being overawed by Jesus and what he did and accomplished in a mere 3 years or so. I immediately wanted to start walking around the world and preach to everyone I met. You could say that I believed I had been called.

I told my mother about how I felt, and she immediately arranged for me to study with an older JW who was studying at university (a no-no for JWs, but in his case his father had insisted all his children go to varsity or be thrown out and disinherited). Anyway, I became an avid student of the Bible and made friends with the chap who was studying with me.  I felt uneasy, however, and eventually started drifting away. My mother then spoke to the elders, and arranged for me to study with a second person, and then a third.

The third person to study with me was a staunch JW woman. Many believed that she had been directly "taught by Jehovah" as she had studied the Aid to Bible Understanding book (a JW concordance) with the "aid of Jehovah's spirit." She and my mother were and still are good friends.

By this time I was in my last year of high school, and received my call-up (conscription) into the 8th South African Infantry. I had already requested to be baptised, and gone through the first 2 sets of questions that the elders ask baptismal candidates. I only had one set to go when I opted out. I decided to follow my "worldly" friend into the South African Police. After writing the entrance examination and getting good results, I was told that I had left my application too late and would have to do my National Service in the Army first. So that's what I did.

While I was in the Army, my brother, then 18, was killed in a car accident. I was given 7 days compassionate leave and attended both funerals. (My mother requested a JW funeral and my father agreed. The rest of the family arranged a Catholic funeral, as all 3 of us children had been Christened as Catholics and my brother had always said that he wanted a Catholic funeral when he died).

With the death of my brother, I was overcome with guilt and felt I was being punished for disobeying Jehovah! I decided that when I got out of the Army, I would become a JW. I finished my National Service in July 1990, and started attending JW meetings in August. After about 2 months, the elders arranged for someone to study with me (a JW lawyer). In December of 1990, the lawyer offered me a job as a tracing agent/debt collector, based on my experience in the military as a Regimental Policeman. (He was himself an ex-officer in the South African Police).

I had inherited money from my grandfather, and the lawyer offered me a 35% partnership in one of his businesses. (He had 2 businesses. One was a legal firm, the other a debt collection and tracing  agency). As soon as I signed the agreement, he moved the bulk of the tracing agency/debt collection business across to his legal firm. Needless to say, I was disillusioned! I took the matter up with the elders.

Unfortunately I had misplaced my copy of the contract (I found it a few months later), and the lawyer who was also a Ministerial Servant was never asked to produce his copy. The case went his way, and after that I was "marked" as a troublemaker for a while. The lawyer paid my investment back in installments over a year (I had given him a lump sum). I used it to pay off debts I had accumulated while in business with him. (Although I was his partner I was expected to pay for all costs incurred by the business, and my 35% would come out of any profits if there were any). I then started a computer company.

The lawyer then went into partnership with an elder in the congregation. When he needed computer equipment or assistance, he would call on me as a fellow Christian, but I was to deal solely with his partner, the elder. This elder, who was a German immigrant, would then always argue with me over my fees, and ALWAYS gave me a check for what he thought was fair, and which was always much less than what I had billed them for. Since they were my main client (by this stage their company had secured several lucrative contracts and had grown into a national company), I found myself living from hand-to-mouth.

In the meantime I was called-up to do "camps." (White South Africans, on completing National Service were expected to do at least 30 days of additional service (called camps) every year until the age of 55) . I wrote a letter to the appropriate exemption board requesting exemption as a religious objector. I was instructed to report to Pretoria to appear before the board. In the interim I received prank calls from my call-up base, in which I was called a faggot and a "Kaffir-Boetie" (Nigger-Lover).

I requested the local elders to assign someone to accompany me to Pretoria, as was customary in cases like mine, but each and every elder had an excuse why he couldn't accompany me. I appeared before the board alone, and my application was turned down. The main reasons were that (a) since no elder had accompanied me I was obviously not a genuine religious objector and (b) my business made it in my interest to "dodge" camps and this was unacceptable.

On returning to my congregation (my camp had been deferred so I could appear before the board) my mother, who knew the City Overseer personally, made arrangements for me to see him. We saw him together, and she requested a "special baptism" for me (I was still studying and was not yet baptised), as this would increase my chances of securing an exemption from further military service. He declined, but grew indignant when he heard no elder had accompanied me to Pretoria. (Shortly after this the South African Bethel sent a letter to all congregations in the Republic, stating that brothers applying for exemption on religious grounds MUST be accompanied by an elder!) A short while later I was baptised at a District Convention, and a month after this I was again called up for a camp, this time for 51 days (21 days more than normal as far as I am aware). This time, when I appeared before the board (this time in Bloemfontein), the congregation secretary accompanied me, along with another brother from another congregation, who also had been called up. I was granted an exemption, and as was expected of all JWs at the time, refused to do alternative service. I was therefore taken immediately to court (straight from the board offices) and sentenced to 50 days (one day less than the camp) of community service. The Judge said that he was being lenient in view of the fact that I had already done my initial National Service, and because I wanted to spend more time in the ministry. (At that time I had a genuine desire to pioneer.)

I completed my sentence working for the City Health Department of Durban in the dual roles of a clerk (in the afternoon) and as a Family Planning storeman (in the morning). As a clerk, I was given an endless supply of work, and in the mornings I had to hand out supplies to nurses from the different clinics operated by the city. Sometimes I had to move heavy boxes of supplies, and I also had to do stock-taking regularly. (This experience is not unique to myself; there are other JW brothers who had terrible experiences as a result of being religious objectors. I got off lightly, missing out on a six-year sentence).

(NOTE: Another young man in our congregation who was married was also called up for a camp. He reported for duty and completed his camp. The elders took no action since he was not baptised. I mentioned the incident to them, and they told me that since he was not baptised, he was entitled to make his own decisions in that regard.) After my sentence was over, I restarted my business and began dealing with the same 2 brothers I had dealt with formerly. It seemed to be their policy to underpay me. Once when I was sick, they phoned me and accused me of stealing their old computer components. (Most computer companies either disposed of old components or re-sold them when upgrading old equipment. I had given their old equipment to my father who in turn gave it to his work's computer section. (My father worked for the government)) Despite the fact that I was genuinely sick, they came to my house, entered my bedroom where I was in bed, and verbally assaulted me. They threatened to bring me before a judicial committee for theft.

I explained to them that what I had done was normal practice in the computer industry, and that old components were only retained by the customer if they requested it. If not the price quoted would be altered. I also explained that I was undeniably honest, being a Christian, and that if they insisted, I would replace the components. Once I had recovered from my illness (kidney trouble) I replaced the components. Nevertheless, they partner (the German) insisted that I be brought before a judicial committee for dishonesty. I then gave him further components, worth a few hundred Rands, and he subsequently dropped the matter.

The whole thing revolved around money, as they wished to acquire new computers and had learned that older 286 computers would work just as well for their purposes as new ones. Since the components I had replaced were 286 components, they reasoned that if they got them back from me, they would not have to spend a cent! I subsequently told the 2 elders I would no longer be doing business with them.

Shortly after this, I was placed in the German's book study group. He acted very friendly, but behind my back he spread rumors about me, including one that I would intentionally install a virus on someone's computer, possibly so I could charge them for its removal. After one book study, I took the matter up with him, and he denied everything. He then called me a liar and threatened to bring me before a judicial committee for lying and slander. The fact was that my mother had overheard him telling this story to a group of Witnesses at the Kingdom Hall. She was too scared to get involved and left me to my own devices.

In the meantime, I auxiliary pioneered for a least one month every year, and once, 3 months in a row. Every year I went on "isolated territory" where we traveled to a rural area and spoke to the African population in their huts and kraals. Conditions were difficult at best, and I often got ill on these weekend trips due to weak kidneys. I also helped out on several Kingdom Hall building projects, usually doing hard labor such as digging trenches. (I always seemed to get that task.) Amongst other projects I have worked on as a JW were the South African Bethel (headquarters), and a Kingdom Hall and missionary home in Lesotho.

In the meantime, I had been appointed as an assistant to the School Overseer, and was also responsible for timing the talks in the main hall. I also used to carry a microphone during the Watchtower Study on Sundays. And every now and then, I was assigned to say the closing prayer at the School and Service Meetings. Due to my Bible knowledge, I was told by several elders that I was "elder material." Apparently all that was holding me back was the fact that I was not putting in enough "regular" field service - even though my monthly average was above that of the congregation average. (This was mainly due to my auxiliary pioneering.) Since I was running a business, however, I did not always put in high hours every month, and I once became "irregular."

One day out in field service I told a young brother that I occasionally masturbated, and he told his mother, who reported me to the elders. The elders warned me to stop, quoted a few scriptures and left it at that. In the meantime, the young brother told all his friends, and his mother told her friends. The elders then approached me and told me that since the matter had become public knowledge, it would be appropriate if I considered "stepping down" from my responsibilities. I graciously did so. As a JW I think I was always humble. I always accepted council and reproof, and never argued or refused when given assignments.

I then began a part-time job together with another young brother (working for a sister) and at the same time we auxiliary pioneered. However the young brother, much to my shock, "padded" his hours at the end of each month, saying, "I'll make it up next month." He never did. Later we both applied for Bethel service. He was accepted and I was turned down.

After all this, and with my business, I began to suffer from stress and depression. I became suicidal and felt unworthy of calling myself a Christian. My mother sent me to a psychologist. My meeting attendance became irregular. Until then, I had remained faithful, preferring to be wronged for the sake of righteousness and trusting in Jehovah to resolve matters.

With my depression and suicidal tendencies I began to tire of waiting for Armageddon, and began to have doubts. I discussed these with a friendly elder (new to the congregation), discussed what I (and others) felt was a lack of love in the congregation (a few blamed the elder body as a cause of problems in the congregation), but he couldn't help, and didn't convince me with solid Biblical arguments. In the meantime, I ended up in the hospital and was diagnosed as being schizophrenic. (This is an illness in which the brain fails to process thoughts correctly, hallucinates, hears voices, and  is generally deemed to be out of touch with reality.) At this time, I began having problems with 3 young brothers in the congregation. I suspect one of them of having written a hate message on the window of my car after a book study one evening, but I have no proof.

Then the Society changed their position on the "generation that saw 1914" issue. I immediately began to doubt that this was God's organisation. This change in view was tantamount to admitting that Armageddon was never coming, at least not soon. (In my opinion anyway).

My best friend's mother heard I was suicidal and took me to see her minister (at the local Methodist Church). At the time, he was the World President of Life Line. He counseled me and I was invited to come to church. I attended a church service, and my mother reported me to the elders. Two elders immediately visited me. They told me that the meeting was not a hearing and warned me not to attend another church service. I went again, and was again reported to the elders. The Service Committee requested a meeting with me. I discussed it with the Methodist minister, and he suggested I meet them. I attended the meeting accompanied by my mother, and after about 20 minutes of discussion and questioning, I began to tire. I told them I didn't see a problem with attending another church occasionally. They then requested to speak to my mother alone. (I later found out that she told them I knew what I was doing.)

My mother then came out and told me the elders were conferring. After about half-an-hour they called my mother and myself in. They then asked me if I would like a week to think about what I was doing. I said no. They then told me that by my actions, I had disassociated myself. They then read me three scriptures and informed me that no JW would ever talk to me as long as I was disassociated as "required by scripture."

I walked out of the Kingdom Hall and felt pretty positive. After a few months, I was overcome with a deep feeling that I had done the wrong thing. I didn't know where to turn. I attended a meeting with my mother. At the entrance I was greeted by a brother. I then informed him that I was still disassociated and he said, "Oh, I don't know what that means. I'm not familiar with the procedure in these cases." He then entered the Kingdom Hall. Next a sister whose son I'd attempted to help saw me and greeted me enthusiastically.  I told her that I was still disassociated and she simply said "Oh!" and turned her back on me and entered the Hall. I entered and was told to sit at the back, which I did. Nobody talked to me or looked at me. Even the speaker who knew me made sure he avoided eye contact.

After the meeting, I left the Hall (the same Hall I'd helped build, and in whose parking lot I'd done security duty) and to-date I have never returned. I continued attending the Methodist Church for a while, and eventually left them, too. I have since been ordained as a Christian minister, and hope to start my own ministry to lead others to Christ if possible. (I am currently living with my parents and am on a State disability grant of US $75 a month). If I can help other JWs to leave or be there for ex-JWs, I would be only too pleased.

I doubt my story is exceptional. There are many sincere people who have been misled and mistreated by The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society and its minions. I only hope that more people come to their senses and leave before their lives are irreparably ruined.

FOOTNOTE: My best friend of 12 years died in a motorbike accident on 10th July, 1993. At the time, we had stopped talking to one another, as I felt that he was "bad association" since he was not a JW and was always inviting me to go to pubs and night clubs with him (something I later found out some of the younger brothers in my congregation did). Many JWs are conditioned to think this way. I appeal to everyone who reads this: If you are a JW - don't cut off your "worldly" friends, they may be your only support one day. If you are a friend of a JW - don't give up, your friend may need you. It is my firm belief that they are not thinking rationally if they give you the cold shoulder. As we said in the Army "Vasbyt!" (Hang in there!) Maybe one day they'll come to their senses, and you'll be there for them!

Trevor Roberts

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