I was a third generation Jehovah’s Witness (JW). My grandmother was the first one and my father became one after he married my mother. Mom was not much of a Witness. I always think of her as a “hummer.” Many times I wondered how she could be humming all the time when my father, an alcoholic, was so abusive. Through the doubts of my childhood and the peace of my later years, I realized that God was there all the time.
I began going door to door with my grandmother when I was 5 years old. She lived with us and she said if I was old enough to go to school, I was old enough to serve Jehovah God. She trained me over the next several years to speak at the doors. There was a woman who opened her door to us one morning and she was wearing a large cross and hand a beautiful smile. I never forgot her because she said she did not believe the way we believed, but she would say prayers for us. I felt so good when she said that because no one had ever said they would pray for me before. The good feeling was cut short when my grandmother told the woman to keep her prayers to herself, because we did not want them and as she was pushing me off the porch, I turned around and looked at the woman who was still looking and smiling at me. That incident was the first of many that caused me to doubt Jehovah’s Witnesses beliefs.
Doubts plagued me throughout my school years. I was upset when a boy from a neighboring Kingdom Hall died after an auto accident. My father said his parents did not give the boy blood transfusions and he bled to death. When I questioned this, my dad turned to Leviticus 17 and began reading about the animal sacrifice ritual that was required of the Israelites for atonement of their sins. They were told to not drink of the blood from the slain animals. I did not get the connection.
I did not get the teaching against birthdays and against Christmas. I learned in school what those celebrations were about and I knew no one was committing idolatry as the Witnesses said they were. No one was worshipping anyone but God.
When I was about 10, my grandmother showed me the palatial house she wanted to live in after Armageddon. We were going door-to-door in the west end of town where wealthy people were building new homes. She pointed to a large beautiful house sitting on a knoll. It had been landscaped to perfection and looked like a picture from a magazine. She said, “That is the house I am going to live in after Armageddon.” I said, “But Grammy, how can you afford that house? You can’t even afford your own apartment.” She said the people living there are not Jehovah’s Witnesses and they will die at Armageddon and then she can move into the house without needing to pay anything. A cold chill went through me. I wondered how many children lived in that house and why did they all need to die at Armageddon, which was coming soon. I had serious doubts about the teachings.
When I was 12 in 1950, Grammy was putting pressure on me to be baptized because there was no life or hope outside of the Watchtower Society. I was baptized when I was 14 and by the time I was 15, I was afraid to live and afraid to die. When I said I wanted to go to college, I was laughed at and told the Witnesses do not go to college. This was devastating to me. I was told that Armageddon would be here before I graduated from high school because it was “so close.”
The day I graduated from high school in 1956 was the worse day of my life. I felt so hopeless and unhappy. I had been deceived and lied to about Armageddon. My grandmother protected the Watchtower Society and said it was what she had anticipated. I still was not allowed to go to college. That evening, the boy I was dating from the Kingdom Hall presented me with an engagement ring and asked me to marry him. I accepted the ring, but was told that we could not get married until he was a baptized Witness. I began putting pressure on him to get baptized and he began putting pressure on me for something else. Within one year, I was disfellowshipped, married, had a child and was reinstated. It was a terrible experience and a terrible way for anyone to begin their adult life. However, we tried to be good Witnesses.
Several years later, I had two sons, a daughter on the way, a marriage that was falling apart and my grandmother died. I wanted to die. She was poorly prepared for death because she thought she was going live through Armageddon into the New World. I felt like someone who had been beating their head against a brick wall and no longer had the strength to continue. Within a few months, we were not attending meetings or going door-to-door anymore and my husband deserted me with 3 small children to support by myself. I was hired for a second shift job at a large company and made enough money to support myself and the children, bit it was very hard to make it from paycheck to paycheck.
My neighbors realized I was alone and they came to me with offers of help. One gave me clothing that her children had outgrown and another offered to stay with the children while I worked my second shift job and she wanted very little pay. When Mother’s Day came, a neighbor called my children to come over to her house in the morning and they came home with a card and Mother’s Day cake for me. It was our first holiday celebration. I was speechless that these people where so good to me and I had barely spoken to them when I was so busy being a Witness. They were church-going Christians, but they never talked to me about religion. They knew I was a Jehovah’s Witness.
After being alone for 2 years, I obtained a divorce on grounds of desertion and abandonment. I began dating a man I met at work and married him. We moved an hour away and a county away from my Witness family. I was beginning to feel a freedom that I had never known before and not one person in my new neighborhood associated me with the Witnesses.
Our new neighbors came to visit and gave us an invitation to visit their church. My sons came home with registration forms for Vacation Bible School (VBS). I thought we would all die at Armageddon anyway, so I signed and they went to VBS. Each day they brought home papers about Jesus. I thought, “What is wrong with this church? Why don’t they teach anything about Jehovah?” The boys wanted to join Cub Scouts. I signed the papers because we were all going to die at Armageddon anyway, so I might as well let them have some fun. The Scout leader called and asked me to be a Den Leader. Now I was excited! As a JW child, I wanted to join the Girl Scouts ands was not allowed.
The Scout Leader was a good Christian man. He came by to visit us and brought a friend named Frank along. Frank was a local businessman, but he should have been an evangelist. He explained things from the Bible about Jesus. My husband was baptized and confirmed in the Catholic Church as a child, but then his whole family stopped going to church, so he never practiced his faith. When Frank asked us if we would like to accept Jesus as our Savior, we backed away and said we would need to think and talk about that. It was hard to believe that Jesus died for me as an individual.
Frank asked what will happen to me when I die and I said I would be buried in the ground. He said, “Then what?” and I said, “What do you mean by then what? I’m dead!” He said, “Do you have any religious background at all?” I said I was raised a Jehovah’s Witness. His eyes got very big and he almost fell off the chair. He said, “Jehovah’s Witnesses do not let their children join Boy Scouts!” I told Frank that I had strayed away from the Witnesses and he said he was going to pray for me.
Frank continued to visit now and then for a few years and always encouraged us to read the Bible and find a church to attend. Finally, he said, “I’m not going to visit your family anymore. I don’t understand why you do not want Jesus in your life; that is up to you, but do me a favor. If you ever need someone to talk to, start talking to Jesus. He is waiting to hear from you.”
A few months later I was very sick with a head and chest cold. I lit a cigarette and almost choked to death. I wanted to stop smoking and remembered what Frank said, so I said, “Jesus, I’m putting away the ashtrays and cigarettes. I don’t know if what Frank told me about you is true, but if you can hear me, please help me. I want to believe everything he told me. I want to believe that you love me and died for my sins, but it is so hard to believe that you love me.”
Each time I wanted a cigarette, I talked to Jesus and the desire subsided. I talked to Him for two days. The third day, my cold was much better and I began cleaning and doing laundry. While going down the stairs, a thought came to me, “Would you like a cigarette?” and I was stunned. I stopped on the steps and said, “What is a cigarette?” The desire for a cigarette was totally gone. It was like I had never smoked a cigarette in my life. I went to my bedroom and got down on my knees. I asked Jesus into my heart and my life. I thanked Him, praised Him and confessed my sins to Him. Three hours later, I got off my knees when I heard my children come home from school. I began attending a local Baptist Church and was baptized on Easter morning, 1974. I joined the church and my family began going with me.
My Dad found out that we were attending church. He was very angry and began condemning all the churches and the people in them. I told him that he should not talk that way about something he has never looked into and does not know anything about. He became furious and that was the last day he spoke to me. My JW brothers and sisters stopped speaking to me too.
My mother had a heart attack not long after that. My pastor went to visit her in the hospital and discovered that she had accepted Jesus and been baptized when she was 12 at a Methodist tent meeting many years ago. She had been humming gospel songs all of her life and it gave her the courage to live with my JW father.
After being an active Baptist for 30 years, I began watching the Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN) on cable television. I never thought I could fall in love with the Catholic Church, but I did. My husband began watching it with me. After 2 years, I asked him how he felt about taking Rite of Christian Initiation (RCIA) classes at the local Catholic Church and he said that he had been thinking the same thing. We called the Saint Jude Church office and registered. We partook of the Eucharist at Easter Vigil, in the Year of the Eucharist, and joined the Catholic Church.
He Was There All The Time- The Conversion Story of Arlene McGinley