I was an easy target for indoctrination into the Watchtower Bible and Tract
Society.  Though I grew up going to church often in New York, I was never
grounded in any Christian religion.  My family belonged to an array of
denominations.  Originally like many Caribbean and Latin American families,
they started out as Catholics.  Most of my extended family on both sides is
Catholic.  My father, however, received his early religious training in the
Moravian Church.  My mother’s maternal family left Catholicism and joined the
Church of God.  By the time, my mother was growing up the family had joined
the Seventh-Day Adventist Church. My mother was baptized in the Seventh-Day
Adventist Church, having to repent and get baptized repeatedly.  She finally
decided to abandon all churches, and was turned off by organized religion.

My parents were married in an Episcopal church.  My brother and I were baptized
there at birth.  My mother said that everyone needed to be baptized in Jesus
Christ for salvation, and she wanted us to have that protection from the
beginning.  I never knew why my parents stopped going to the Episcopal
church.  Growing up, church worship as a family was not part of our routine.
Christianity, however, was still alive in our household.  We prayed at bedtime
and mealtimes, and read the Bible together as a family.

My father, along with my brother and me, went to a Lutheran, Presbyterian,
Methodist or Moravian Church every Easter Sunday and most holidays.  With the
exception of weddings and funerals, my mother hardly ever set in foot in
church.  She did speak about her Christian faith and prayer life often.  She still
believed some tenets of the Seventh-Day Adventist faith, including their dietary
restrictions, interpretations of Bible prophecy about the “last days,” and why the
Catholic Church was not the “true religion.”    My siblings and I would sometimes
attended the Seventh-Day Adventist Church on Saturday (where I was baptized
again), as well as any other non-Catholic church on Sunday.  Sometimes I’d
accompany my grand-aunt or cousins to the Catholic Church on weekends
during the summer months.

A few times I went to the Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses with my parents
on Sundays. A Witness family would baby sit my brother and me after school.  
Some nights when my parents worked late, we’d go to the kingdom hall’s
evening meetings or attend a Book Study meeting at their home.  I discovered
that my mother and father had actually studied with the Witnesses who babysat
us.  Though they admired how they carried themselves, they disagreed with the
doctrine about blood transfusions.  In fact, after studying my mother’s disdain for
organized religion was only reinforced after she learned about the Witnesses
judicial procedure when handling sin.

As a teenager I suddenly became interested in finding “the true religion.”  By
then my parents said I had to go to any church as long as it wasn’t Catholic.  I
was a very academically oriented intellectual girl.  I learned to read when I was
three and was a consistent honor student all through school.  I was an avid
reader, and read my Bible regularly.  In the ninth grade I was learning about the
Protestant Reformation which only solidified my family’s anti-Catholic
sentiments. I concluded the Seventh-Day Adventists were not the “true faith.”
They said in the 1800’s Mrs. Ellen G. White, by Holy Spirit, suddenly received
“the message” that “lost” Christians had to return to celebrating the Sabbath.  
She also said that they should look for Christ’s imminent Second Coming. I also
didn’t agree with getting baptized again every time one sinned.

So, I set out to find where “the truth” was.  I’d spend time reading about different
Protestant denominations at the library, and would visit whatever church I
profiled the following Sunday.  Through my journey I attended services at the
Baptist, Presbyterian, Methodist, Lutheran, Episcopal, Assemblies of God,
Church of God in Christ, Congregationalist, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and other
sects.  

One day when I was looking up religions in the set of home encyclopedias.  The
line that stood out under Jehovah’s Witnesses was (paraphrase), “all their
doctrine is based on the Bible.”  That fundamentalist concept impressed me.  At
that point, my search basically became comparing Witnesses to other Protestant
faiths.  I found many of the Protestant denominations could not answer my
questions. What really is the trinity? How can Jesus be God?  Are holidays
scriptural?   What are your prophecies for the “last days”?

I had many Biblical questions about the book of Revelations.  The Jehovah’s
Witnesses were the only religion that offered me a home Bible study.  I started
my study on the condition that we only could use my Bible (a King James
Version) and I wanted it to include the study of Revelations.  As my studies
progressed, I became alarmed that only 144,000 were going to heaven.  There
were a lot more people in New York City alone.  Next, they then told me about
“the great crowd” who would live on earth.   They also pointed to scriptures that
proved God’s name was Jehovah, why the trinity doctrine was false, and how
1914 was the start of the Gentile Times.  I continued to visit other churches who
failed to explain the scriptures as well as the Witnesses from my adolescent
estimation.  

By the time I went away to college in Philadelphia, I was now accepting Jehovah’
s Witness literature and using a New World Translation of the Bible.  This was a
result of meeting a good friend, Roxanne, whose family had just converted to
Jehovah’s Witnesses.  She would often witness me and I accepted my first
Witness literature from her.  Roxanne would write me while I was at college
about “the truth,” and I attended her wedding and visited her kingdom hall in
New York.

When I was away at college I decided I’d start going kingdom hall, and no longer
visit other churches.  I met a few persons who were either studying with the
Witnesses or whose parents were Witnesses.  My college friend, Brenda, lived
outside of Washington, DC. She played a pivotal role in encouraging me.  Her
mother and sisters were recently baptized.  I even visited her kingdom hall in
suburban Maryland and she’d accompany me to the local kingdom hall.  We’d
also visit other kingdom halls in the area and attend gatherings.  We progressed
and were baptized at the same time during the fall of our sophomore year at the
assembly hall in Buckingham, Pennsylvania.  This was my third baptism!

Everyone told me it took five years “to be grounded in the truth.”  I realized I still
had a lot of learn.  Sometimes I wished I had waited to be baptized since some
things I really didn’t know. Perhaps if I had done so I would not have gotten
baptized as a Witness at all.  Though I could answer all the baptismal questions, I
really didn’t understand many Witness doctrines or the history of the
organization.  I knew nothing of Charles Taze Russell and the pyramid
connection, and how he was affiliated with the early Adventist movement.  I had
never been out in the field service except for a couple of times I accompanied
the sister who studied with me; I was an observer.  I accepted the trinity doctrine
was false and devoured all the prophecy books where “the light got brighter and
brighter.” Yet, I didn’t grasp the whole concept the devotion to the organization,
originally founded by Russell.   I just considered myself a Bible student.

Consequently, I was shocked when for the first time I heard that the Bible had
been written for only the “anointed” and not for the “other sheep.”  When I heard
about Russell being among the “anointed” that started organization in the 1800’s
after being led by Holy Spirit, it started sounded like the Seventh-Day
Adventists.  In fact, some of the Witnesses would tell me the Seventh-Day
Adventists “broke off from the Witnesses,” while my Seventh-Day Adventist
relatives told me the Witnesses “broke off from the Seventh-Day Adventists.”  
      
I had a hard time understanding who the “anointed” were, how all of
Christendom went “apostate” in the first century, how there was only a
“remnant” of the “anointed” until the 1800’s when Russell started his Bible study
group, and they alone were “spiritual Israel.” Something didn’t ring true for me,
but initially I thought I had more to learn.  I tried to share my concerns with
Brenda, but she said though she had the same ones, it was the truth since they
didn’t believe the trinity.  She said I should not mention this to anyone else since
they’d call me an “apostate.”  
      
I attended my first district convention after my baptism. There was a lot of talk
about “apostates.”  This whole thing about being an “apostate” scared me.  They
were the ones outside the stadium distributing literature from the “evil slave
class.”  I wanted to read it, but those I went with warned me that I could be
disfellowshipped if I did so.  I was curious, but I knew I didn’t want to be
disfellowshipped, so I bypassed it.  In the meantime, my family, especially my
mother, was trying to get to leave the Witnesses.  My mother tried to give me
“apostate” literature.  I looked at this as Christian persecution.  So, I distanced
myself from my family especially during the holiday seasons.  I could not,
however, become close friends with the Witnesses since they were clannish,
gossipy and obsessed by what the Society said; many resented that I was a
college student and often made ignorant comments, like I’d stop believing
creation by becoming educated.   Even Brenda had dropped out of college “to
serve where the need was greater” in New England.  So I still had my non-
Witness college friends and I became more into college extracurricular activities
and studying for school.
      
Right after my college graduation I married.  Since I was inactive and my then
husband had only studied with Witnesses briefly, we opted to wed in a church.  
Then my husband and I purchased a home.  I wasn’t sure I’d return to the hall.  
When Witnesses came by, I explained that I was inactive.  Two elders returned
and offered me a Bible study under a new program for “lost sheep.”  The next
time they visited they offered my husband a Bible study and he accepted.  I
began going to the hall and soon became active. I still had organizational
questions, but I was careful how I asked them since I didn’t want to be labeled an
“apostate.”  This time, I became more involved in Witness life attending all the
meetings, giving talks for the first time, finally going out in the ministry, and
making friends.  Since I was married, everyone invited us to gatherings.   My
husband got baptized the same year my eldest daughter was born.  

After I had given birth to my youngest daughter my husband was
disfellowshipped.  He left the family and we soon were divorced. I was
devastated, overwhelmed, and depressed.  I was a young single parent with an
infant and a two-year-old. The congregation did rally around me and the elders
suggested I become immersed in the field ministry to distract me.  The couple
invitations stopped, and many of the married couples I used to associate with
now avoided me.   I just drew closer to few friends, mostly new, irregular or
reinstated single parents, who seemed less nosy and judgmental towards me.  I
was a zealous Jehovah’s Witness and later a pioneer.  I was now loyal to the
organization despite the realization they treat women, especially attractive
single sisters, differently. I left all the unchristian behavior in Jehovah’s hands.  

When I had concerns or doubts, I’d ask for a shepherding call.  The elders tried to
answer my questions.  Most were very sincere.  One elder confided to me that
he, too, had many concerns but since all other churches believed in the trinity,
“Where would we go?”  He said it was that thought that kept him close to the
organization.

Soon I decided to surrender my doubts to Jehovah and changed kingdom halls. I
became a zealous Witness even re-entering the pioneer service.  In 1999, my
father died.  A year later, my mother died.  It was around this time I fell into
immorality for the first time.  I immediately confessed to the elders, just before
my mother’s funeral, since I followed organizational procedures.  What happened
next was revealing.  The entire judicial process, which took place right after my
mother’s funeral, was a farce.  They never prayed or used the Bible.  It was just
me in the room being interrogated in details and being sent out the room while
they discussed it.  

During one of my times when the elders left the room, I saw some publications
and letters in one of the elders’ briefcases.  It was about judicial matters.  What I
read shocked me.  It was about disfellowshiping even when one is repentant if
they felt one was not loyal to the organization.  Everything I read was about the
organization and not the Bible.  The information contradicted what it said in the
organization book we studied at the hall or the information in the Watchtowers.  It
started dawning on me that I was going to be disfellowshipped and it had nothing
to do with scriptures or Christian love; it was all about the organization.  My
original doubts about the organization had been right.

The brothers met with me three times.  Each time I was constantly being sent
out the room or they left the room.  They seemed very concerned that I shared
the judicial incident with my children and close friends in confidence.  They
chastised me for this, and seemed to then focus on that more than the issue that
brought me to confess my sin.  I knew I’d be disfellowshipped by this point. Not
disfellowshipped for sinning, but for not being loyal to the organizational
procedures I was unaware of.  In fact, at the conclusion, the presiding elder
called me “Judas” and warned me about discussing anything that went on in the
proceedings. He instructed that I let any Witness I come across know I was
disfellowshipped, or I’d never be let back in the congregation.

I appealed the decision.  I met with another committee in a couple of weeks, still
in March of 2001.  That judicial session was worse than the first ones.  The three
brothers again questioned me more about organizational procedure, whether I
was doing a news story on Witnesses, who I told about or knew of the matter,
and the like.  One brother told me though I had been faithful for all those years
that it was all out of the window now because I sinned.  They said I knew I wasn’t
to tell anyone about my sin except the elders. Again, they never prayed, read
the Bible or referred to scriptures.  It was all about the organization’s rules and
regulations.  The original body of elders who disfellowshipped me sat on a wall
silently.  So, with six elders in the room the decision was made to let the
disfellowshiping stand.  I knew this could not be right.  I was repentant.  How was
this possible?  I thought it was the fault of just these brothers.

They told me I could appeal it to the Society.  I did write the letter, but the
kingdom hall was closed due to a snow storm.  One of the elders called me and
said I had to get it to the kingdom hall that night.  I told him my car was snowed
in the driveway.  I was unable to get it out.  I asked if someone could pick it up or
if I could get it there later.  He said he’d check.  He seemed disappointed when
he called me and said the presiding overseer said I had to get it either to the hall
or one of the brothers’ home that night or they couldn’t accept it.  He asked me
was there any way I could get my car out the driveway; I tried but could not. So, I
wrote the Society explaining the details and why I could not get another appeal
letter to them through the congregation.    I truly believed I would be vindicated
because they had the Holy Spirit.

One brother who read my letter called me.  He said he opened the incoming mail
at the worldwide headquarters, and when he read what happened to me he had
to call.  He said my case was not atypical.  He said that the brothers were feeling
like I was being disloyal to the organization.  They hoped I’d repent of my
disloyalty and return.  They really wanted to test my loyalty to the organization.  
What about the fact I’m repentant and came forward immediately?  He said they
were already looking for an excuse to disfellowship me.  He felt the brothers
would uphold what the elders did since that’s how it works. He said there was no
real appeal process, and even appealing was viewed with scrutiny that one was
disloyal to the organization by questioning the decision of the brothers.   He
expressed his disillusionment with the organization and said he didn’t know how
long he would stay.  He suggested I read “Crisis of Conscience” by Raymond
Franz.  I was shocked.  A Bethel brother was referring me to an “apostate” book!
      
He wished me well, and said I should not become too disheartened, because he
was seeing much worse at the headquarters.   I thanked him for the call, but I
was not ready for that.  I could not see myself reading “apostate” literature.  
While before I felt confident the Society would pray about my matter and reverse
the situation, a letter would not come for many months.  When it came they said
they found no error in either judicial committee, that I should review my loyalty
issues with the organization, and encouraged me to return to the hall to be
reinstated in the congregation.

A great period of disillusionment set it.  I was already grieving the deaths of my
parents and now this.  I felt overwhelmed and even suicidal at times especially
after the next summer when my brother died suddenly.  Many of my friends no
longer spoke to me, and those that did, did so clandestinely.  I was really lost
and alone.  Fortunately, my daughters were a great source of comfort to me and I
reconnected with some of my old college friends.  I knew, however, that this was
not “the true religion.”  

I was feeling like I needed to worship God in a way I never have.  The
information about the Society’s history was confusing.  How could true
Christianity disappear in an organized fashion until 1800’s when Russell, who
was not a theologian, came along?   I recall at my very last district convention,
they were reciting the baptismal questions that one was really getting baptized
into an organization and not “in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit” as
the Bible says. Even with this realization, I still did not believe in the trinity.

So, when I left I began exploring if there were any other Christian religions who
didn’t believe in the trinity.  I came across a few, like the Unitarians, but none
resonated for me.  I chose the local Baptist church because I went there
covering stories and my daughter had participated in their pre-college youth
workshops there.  They didn’t seem to be entrenched in a whole lot of
doctrines.  I felt I could be kind of anonymous there after all the over
involvement at the kingdom hall. I still wanted to worship God.  So I decided I’d
join a local Baptist church and just keep a low spiritual profile.

Before I took “the right hand of fellowship,” I had to attend membership classes.  
The instructors were very adept at explaining the trinity and pointing out
materials from the Early Church Fathers to show that they, too, believed the
trinity.  These were some of the same men Watchtower publications quoted to
support that the Ante-Nicene Fathers did not believe the trinity in their
publications.  I realized the Watchtower isolated quotes and misrepresented
these men.  So, I became convinced that the trinity was true.  I still, however,
believed in 1914 and related prophecies and would often refer to my Witness
literature when I was attending class.  Yet the church, though they sang and had
first Sunday communion, still didn’t feel like I was worshipping God.  The
sermons were shorter than at the kingdom hall and had no substance—less than
the membership classes.  

During this time, in 2002 I became very interested with Christian television.  First
I watched a new station, Daystar, on Channel 8 in Philadelphia since I didn’t have
cable television at the time.  I would purchase books and tapes from Charles
Stanley, Joyce Meyer, Bishop T. D. Jakes, Paula White, Rod Parsley, Andrew
Wommack, and Perry Stone.  I loved the new information.  I’d play the tapes
when I was in the car or carry one of the books with me to the beauty or nail
salon.  Now that I accepted the trinity I felt that I was getting closer to God and
Jesus and the Holy Spirit.  

Then I started noticing different doctrines coming up from the TV shows that I
had questions about, especially that all had to “talking in tongues” and “be fire
baptized in the Holy Ghost.”   From being a Witness, I knew that at Pentecost
“talking in tongues” was to help them speak different languages to teach the
gospel.   This was even reiterated in my Baptist membership classes, although
acknowledging it could be a gift for some.  

By 2005, TBN had purchased local channel 48 in Philadelphia, and I started
watching their shows too.  They were talking about Azusa Centennial in 2006.  
When I looked up information on it I realized that most of these programs I had
been watching on both stations were primarily Pentecostal ministers, and they
all believed in some spiritual outpouring on in Los Angeles in 1906.  

So I started looking up information about it on the internet.  It started sounding
like Mrs. E. G. White and the Seventh-Day Adventist Church with the Sabbath,
Charles Taze Russell and the Witnesses, and some of those 1800 awakenings
that stressed one gift, Christ’s Second Coming, the “rapture” or Millennium to
me.  I noticed there were a slew of religions that were all offshoots of offshoots
or as former governing body elder Raymond Franz calls Witnesses “victims of
victims, followers of followers.”  They all had a reformation, awakening, or
enlightenment.  Basically they were offshoots of offshoots of the Catholic
Church.

Around this time, Pope John Paul II had just died in 2005 and I was reading about
him.  I learned how he reformed the Catholic Church and apologized for its past
sins.  I started to subscribe to the local Catholic Standard & Times to read more
about him.  So simultaneously I started to read about the Catholic Church along
with other churches.  

I finally seriously read Witness history on the internet, without feeling I was
being an “apostate.”  That’s when I began to realize the false prophecies.  When I
started to study and was baptized it was after the whole 1975 “last days”
prophecy failed and many left the Watchtower organization.  The Society said
many were overeager and hoped the world would end in 1975, but as I read the
publications on line and commentaries I realized the Watchtower Society had
strongly alluded to it.  They were pointing to that year as they had pointed to
many other years (and still are). So all the prophetic teachings were deceptive!  I
wondered how I never saw that before.
      
Also, I came across information the Watchtower Society’s NGO membership in
the United Nations.  I even read the Society’s resignation letter from it online
after many of the Witnesses became alarmed.  It was hypocritical.  How could
they join the very international organization that they referred to as the “image
of Satan’s organization”?

My research resulted in a chart.  There was a Protestant Reformation column.  
Then, there was a “Second Awakening” or Adventist movement and its offshoot,
like the Seventh-Day Adventist Church.  Offshoots from the offshoots were non-
Trinitarians like Witnesses.  Then there was what I called the “Third Awakening”
all these Pentecostal denominations with the Azusa Street Centennial.  There
were more offshoots of all these variations.  All charts led back to the Catholic
Church, which I put at the top of the chart.

The Holy Spirit led me to watch a mass on EWTN.  I started noticing how close it
reminded me of a synagogue and a little like the Episcopal services. The year
before I got a music teaching job at an Episcopal school so I had to learn children’
s musical liturgy and I played piano for their weekly services.  Over the years as
a freelance reporter, I sometimes covered stories at synagogues.  I never
attended actual services, but programs and they would have some worship in
there.  On the mass program I realized they were really worshipping.  It started
to dawn on me that this must be how Jesus worshipped.  He was Jewish.  He
went to the synagogue.  He would have heard a homily.  The priests would have
worn robes and burned incense.  His early followers would have followed the
same format only then they would follow it with the Lord’s Evening Meal, which
was originally done in homes.  Original Christians had to have a mass similar to
what I was watching.

I thought about it.  If John Paul II and actually Vatican II cleared up many of the
reasons Martin Luther put his edicts on the Catholic Church leading to the
Reformation, if the church apologized for its past sins, then what was the point of
having all these offshoot religions now?  The Catholic Church even
acknowledges Protestant baptisms and participates in ecumenical worship at
times.  Then I remembered my anti-Catholic upbringing—Catholics worship
Mary, the Pope and idols. How could this be? I thought.  Isn’t the Catholic Church
“Babylon the great” like the Protestants say or the major part of it as the
Witnesses taught?  I prayed for guidance, and yet I felt a real draw to
Catholicism.  

One Thursday during Lent, the Holy Spirit drew me to attend a local mass at the
Catholic Church around the corner from where I live.  I was passing by in my car
around noon and noticed cars in the driveway.  I figured they must be having
services, so I went in. I sat quietly in the back and only observed.  The next
week I took the opportunity to cover a story about a college glee club at the
church.  I sat around some of the most Spirit-filled Catholics I ever met.  They
were from other Catholic churches visiting for the concert.  I arrived a half-hour
early so I had some interesting conversations.  The Catholics explaining their
faith, the Peter Claver group, Opus Dei, the church reforms, and the importance
of the Eucharist.  

The next week, I attended mass and the priest was happy to see me since they
had the article displayed all over the church.  He invited me to come up to the
altar for a blessing, explaining only members could take communion.  There I felt
the transcendental worship experience for the first time in my life. I felt that
Jesus was there.  I felt the Holy Spirit inside of me.  Just being around the
Eucharist filled my longtime spiritual void.  This was the worship experience I
longed for.

Soon, the priest saw I was coming to many weekday masses.  He said he wanted
to meet with me to answer any questions I may have.  I did.  I explained my
spiritual journey.  He was perceptive (though legally blind) and to my surprise
filled in many of the spaces accurately.  He explained that Catholics do not
worship Mary, the Pope, or idols.  He also explained Catholic confession, which
is nothing like the judicial process among Witnesses. He said he felt my
sincerity.  I felt at home with the session.  He laid out a plan for me.  He
encouraged me to join their Bible study group and attend church programs and
functions for fellowship—to even bring my children, and to start attending
Sunday masses.  He recommended some books on Catholicism.  He invited me
to make an appointment to ask any more questions I had.  I also began watching
“Journey Home” and “Life on the Rock” on EWTN which are encouraging.  I now
attend mass nearly every day, and I regularly attend the weekly Bible study
group.  

I guess the hardest part of my journey is realizing how many years I was
brainwashed by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society.  I was really deluded by
the pictures of living in a paradise earth, being part of a worldwide loving
international brotherhood, and being among God’s chosen people.  I cannot
believe I studied all those prophecies and believed them.  I ignored anyone who
tried to tell me about the trinity, the history of the organization, or failed
prophecies.  I definitely was never open to the possibility joining the Catholic
Church.  

So, I am a late spiritual bloomer.  Maybe it was a journey I had to take. Now I am
in a position to help others not to get involved in the Watchtower organization or
maybe I’ll help some make the transition out of it.  Certainly, associating with
Witnesses for two decades had some benefits since I studied the Bible and how
to teach it to others. I can give more thoughtful Biblical comments and know
where to find scriptures.   I, however, am still learning since I have to still erase
some of the false doctrines I believed and the New World Translation of the Bible
scriptures I’ve memorized.   Fortunately, I do have a strong basic foundation and
I am a fast learner.

I feel sincerely blessed to be making the Catholic journey now that I still feel
young, healthy, and energetic.  Recently, I finally read “Crisis of Conscience” by
Raymond Franz.  He said he left the organization when he was 57 and wished he
could’ve left at 47 since he felt 10 years earlier would have made the transition
easier.  Then again, he would not have had the nine years of experience on the
governing body at the helm of the Watchtower organization to share. So I left
when I was around 40--at least I have an earlier start than he did.  In any case, I
can now have a fresh start in all areas of my life.  I am truly excited about my
new spiritual journey into the Catholic Church and finally learning “the truth that
sets you free.”
“MY CATHOLIC JOURNEY”
by Arlene Edmonds
© Arlene Edmonds, 2006