[A personal account, contributed by Jim Mac]

I suppose it must have been the late summer of 1962, Telstar by the Tornadoes had been playing on the radio. I spent the summer days on the idyllic Island of Bute on Scotland’s west coast. We had a rural cabin. It had no running water or electricity. My job was to fill up the water containers from the communal well. Cows would cautiously approach and stare. The smaller calves would shuffle through for front-row viewing.

In the evenings, we sat by kerosine lamps and listened to stories and ate freshly made pancakes that were washed down with small glasses of sweet stout. The lamps caused a sibilant sound and gave rise to sleepiness. I lay there in my bed watching the stars cascading through the window; every one of them and I was filled with a sense of awe in my heart as the universe entered my room.

Childhood memories like that visited me often and reminded me of my spiritual awareness from a young age, albeit in my own childish way.

I had an ache to know who created the stars, the moon, and the beautiful island that was so distant from Glasgow’s Clydeside where idle men lingered on street corners like characters from a Loury painting. Where post-war tenements blocked natural light. Where unkempt dogs salvaged through bins for scraps. Where it always seemed, there was better places to be raised. But, we learn to deal with the hand life hands us.

Sad to say, my father closed his eyes when I reached twelve years old; a difficult time for an adolescent growing up without the presence of a loving, but firm hand. My mother became an alcoholic, so in many respects, I was alone.

One Sunday afternoon years later, I was sitting reading some book by a Tibetan monk — I guess it was my naïve way of searching for life’s purpose. There was a knock on the door. I do not recall the man’s introduction, but he read 2 Timothy 3:1-5 with a painful speech impediment. I respected his courage as he cradled back and forth like a rabbi reading the Mishnah as he groped to get the words out. I asked him to return the following week as I was preparing for exams.

However, those words he read rang in my ears throughout the week. Someone once asked me if there was a character in literature, I would compare myself to?  Prince Myshkin from Dostoevsky’s The Idiot, I replied.  Myshkin, Dostoevsky’s protagonist, felt alienated from his nineteenth century selfish world and was misunderstood and alone.

So, when I heard the words of 2 Timothy 3, the God of this universe answered a question I had been groping with, namely, why is the world this way?

The following week the brother brought along one of the elders, the presiding overseer. A study was started in The Truth That Leads to Eternal Life. Two weeks later, the presiding overseer brought along a circuit overseer who was called Bob, former missionary. I recall that afternoon in every detail. Bob grabbed a dining-table chair and sat it back to front, put his arms on the backrest and said, ‘Well, do you have any questions about what you’ve learned so far?’

‘Actually, there is one that puzzles me. If Adam had everlasting life, what if he tripped and fell over a cliff?’

‘Let’s look at Psalm 91:10-12,’ Bob replied.

“For he will command His angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways.

They will lift you in their hands, so that you may not strike your foot against a stone.”

Bob continued by saying this was a prophecy concerning Jesus but reasoned that it could apply to Adam and, by extension, the whole human family that attained paradise.

Later, a brother told me someone asked Bob an unusual question: ‘If Armageddon came, what about the astronauts in space?’

Bob answered with Obadiah verse 4,

            “Though you soar like the eagle and make your nest in the stars,

            from there I will bring you down, declares the Lord.”

The way the Bible could answer these questions impressed me. I was sold into the organisation. I got baptised nine months later in September 1979.

You can ask questions, but not question the answers

However, six months or so later, something troubled me. We had a few ‘anointed’ ones around, and I wondered why they never contributed to the ‘spiritual food’ we were receiving. All the material we read had nothing to do with these members of the so-called Faithful Slave Class.  I raised this with one of the elders. He never gave me a satisfying answer, just that sometimes those of that group occasionally send in questions and contribute to articles at times. I felt this never fitted in with the pattern Jesus spoke of. These ones should have been to the fore rather than the ‘occasional’ article. But I never made it an issue. Nonetheless, a week later, I found myself being marked.

The message was clear, get into line. What could I do? This organisation had the sayings of everlasting life, or so it seemed. The marking was cruel and unjustified. I’m not sure what hurt most, the marking or that I looked upon this older brother as a trusted father figure. I was alone again.

Nonetheless, I dusted myself down and determined in my heart to make progress to ministerial servant and eventually an elder. When my children grew up and left school, I pioneered.

The Potemkin Village

Whilst many doctrinal issues continued to bother me, one aspect of the organisation that caused me the most trouble was, and is, the lack of love. It was not always the big, dramatic issues, but the everyday matters like gossip, slander and elders breaking confidences by indulging in pillow-talk with their wives. There were details of judicial matters that should have been restricted to the committees but became public. I would often think of the impact these ‘imperfections’ would have on the victims of such carelessness. I recall attending a convention in Europe and speaking to a sister. Afterwards, a brother approached and said, ‘that sister you spoke to use to be a prostitute.’ I didn’t need to know that. Perhaps she was trying to live the past down.

At elders’ meetings there were power struggles, flying egos, constant disputing, and no respect for God’s Spirit that was sought at the meeting’s beginning.

It also concerned me that young ones would be encouraged to get baptised as young as thirteen years old and then decide later to go and sow their wild oats and find themselves disfellowshipped, then, sit up the back whilst waiting on reinstatement. This was a far cry from the Parable of the Prodigal Son whose father saw him ‘afar off’ and arranged to celebrate and dignify his repentant son.

And yet, as an organisation, we waxed lyrical about the unique love we had. It was all a Potemkin village that never reflected the true nature of what was happening.

I believe many are brought to their senses when faced with personal trauma and I was no exception. In 2009, I was giving a public talk in a congregation nearby. When my wife exited the hall, she felt like falling.

‘Let’s go to the hospital,’ I said.

‘No, don’t worry, I just need to lay down.’

‘No, please, let’s go,’ I insisted.

After a thorough examination, the young doctor sent her for a CT scan, and he returned with the results. He confirmed my worst fear. It was a brain tumour. In fact, after further investigation, she had several tumours, including cancer in the lymph gland.

One evening when visiting her in hospital, it became obvious that she was deteriorating. After the visit, I jumped in the car to inform her mother. There was a heavy snow fall in Scotland that week, I was the only driver on the motorway. Suddenly, the car lost power. I ran out of fuel. I called the relay company, and the girl informed me they don’t attend fuel issues. I called a relative for help.

A few minutes later a man pulled up behind me and said, ‘I saw you from the other side, do you need help?’ My eyes filled with tears due to the kindness of this stranger. He had done a 12-kilometre round trip to come to assist. There are moments in life that dance in our heads. Strangers we meet, albeit momentarily, yet we never forget them. A few nights after this encounter, my wife passed away. It was February 2010.

Although I was a pioneer elder leading a busy life, I found the loneliness of the evenings crushing. I would drive 30 minutes to the nearest mall and sit with a coffee and return home. One time, I took a cheap flight to Bratislava and wondered why I did it after arriving. I just felt as lonely as an empty pocket.

That summer, I never attended my usual District Convention, I feared the sympathy of the brothers would be too overwhelming. I recalled a DVD the society published about international conventions. It featured the Philippines including a dance called tinkling. I guess it was the child inside me, but I watched this DVD over and over. I also met many Filipino brothers and sisters in Rome when I travelled there, and I was often moved by their hospitality. So, with an English convention in November in Manila that year, I decided to go.

On the first day, I met a sister from the north of the Philippines and after the convention we had dinner together. We kept in touch, and I travelled several times to visit her. At the time, the UK government was passing legislation that would restrict immigration and restrict UK citizenship for ten years; we had to move quick if this sister was to become my wife. And so, on December 25, 2012, my new wife arrived and was granted UK citizenship soon after.

It should have been a happy time, but we soon discovered the opposite. Many Witnesses would ignore us, particularly me. Despite the Awake featuring an article at the time supporting the fact that men marry quicker than women after bereavement, it never helped. It became discouraging to attend meetings and one evening whilst my wife was getting ready for the Thursday meeting, I told her I was not going back. She agreed and left also.

Exit Strategy

We decided to read The Gospels and The Book of Acts and systematically asked ourselves, what does God and Jesus require of us? This brought a great sense of freedom. For the last three decades, I had been spinning around like a whirling Dervish and never thinking of getting off. There would be guilt trips if I sat and watched a movie or went away for a day’s leisure. With no shepherding or talks and items to prepare, I had time to read God’s word independently without outside influence. It felt refreshing.

But meanwhile, rumours spread that I was an apostate. That I married out the truth. That I met my wife on a Russian bride’s website and so on. When someone leaves the Witnesses, especially when it’s an elder or a brother who they considered to be spiritual, a dichotomy kicks in. They either begin to question their own beliefs or find a way to justify in their heads why the brother left. The latter they do by using othering expressions such as inactive, weak, unspiritual, or apostate. It’s their way of securing their precarious foundations.

At the time, I read Nothing to Envy by Barbara Demick. She is a North Korean defector. The parallels between the North Korean regime and the society were cognate. She wrote about North Koreans having two conflicting thoughts in their heads: a cognitive bias like trains travelling on parallel lines. There was the official thought that Kim Jong Un is a god, but the lack of evidence to support the claim. If North Koreans spoke publicly about such contradictions, they would find themselves in a treacherous place. Sadly, the force of the regime, as with the society, is to isolate its own people completely. Take a few moments to read key quotes from Demick’s book on the Goodreads website at Nothing to Envy Quotes by Barbara Demick | Goodreads

I am often saddened when I see former Jehovah’s Witnesses falling into atheism and taking up the current Western world’s occupation towards secularism. God has given us the privilege of being free moral agents. It is not the wise choice to blame God for the way matters turned out. The Bible is full of cautions about trust in man. Despite leaving, we are all still subject to the issue that was raised by Satan. Is it loyalty to God and Christ, or the Satanic secular zeitgeist that is currently sweeping the West?

Refocusing is important when you leave. Now you are alone with the challenge of feeding yourself spiritually and forming a new identity. I volunteered in a UK charity which focused on calling older, housebound people and having a long chat with them. I also studied for a BA in Humanities (English Literature and Creative Writing). Also, when COVID arrived I did an MA in Creative Writing. Ironically, one of the last circuit assembly talks I delivered was on further education. I feel obliged to say ‘sorry’ to the young French sister I spoke to that day. There must have been a tremor in her heart when I asked her what she was doing in Scotland. She was studying at Glasgow University.

Now, I use the God-given writing skills I have gained to help people tune into their spiritual side by blogging. I’m also a hiker and hillwalker and I usually pray before exploring the landscape. Inevitably, God and Jesus send people my way. This all helps fill the vacuum that leaving the Watchtower visited upon me. With Jehovah and Christ in our lives, we never feel alone.

Thirteen years on, I have no qualms about leaving. I think of the Gideonites and Ninevites although not part of the Israelite organisation, they received God’s mercy and love. There was the man in Luke chapter 9 who cast out demons in Jesus’ name and the apostles objected because he was not part of their group.

‘Do not stop him,’ Jesus replied, ‘for he who is not against you is for you.’

Someone once said, that leaving the organisation was like leaving the Hotel California, you can make your exit, but never really leave. But I do not go along with that. There has been considerable reading and researching into false ideas that underpinned the organisation’s doctrines and policies. That took a while. The writings of Ray Franz and James Penton, alongside Barbara Anderson’s background on the organisation, proved to be most helpful. But most of all, just reading the New Testament releases one from the thought control that once dominated me. I believe the greatest loss is our identity. And like Myshkin, we find ourselves in an alien world. However, the Bible is full of characters who functioned in similar circumstances.

I am grateful for the brothers who drew my attention to the Scriptures. I also appreciate the rich life I have had. I gave talks in the Philippines, Rome, Sweden, Norway, Poland, Germany, London and the length and breadth of Scotland, including the islands on the west coast. I also enjoyed International Conventions in Edinburgh, Berlin, and Paris. But, when the curtain is raised and the true nature of the organisation is revealed, there is no living with the lie; it became stressful. But leaving is like an Atlantic storm, we feel shipwrecked, but wake up in a better place.

Now, my wife and I feel the comforting hand of God and Jesus in our lives. Recently, I went through some medical examinations. I had an appointment to see the consultant for the results. We read a scripture that morning as we do every morning. It was Psalm 91: 1,2:

‘He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High

Will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.’

I will say to the Lord, “You are my refuge and my fortress,

My God, in whom I trust.’

I said to my wife, ‘we are going to get bad news today.’ She agreed. God had often given us messages through the Scriptures that were specific. God continues to speak as he has always spoken, but at times, the right verse miraculously lands in our lap when needed.

And sure enough, cells in the prostate that served me faithfully, turned hostile and have created a rebellion in the pancreas and liver and who knows where else.

The consultant who revealed this, looked at me and said, ‘You are very bravado about this.’

I replied, ‘Well, it’s like this, there’s a young man inside me. He has followed me around all his life. His age, I do not know, but he is always there. He comforts me and his presence convinces me God has eternity in view for me,’ I replied. The truth is, God has ‘set eternity in our hearts.’ The presence of that younger me is convincing.

We came home that day and read the whole of Psalm 91 and felt a great sense of comfort. I have no sensation of what the Germans call torschlusspanik, that awareness that the doors are closing in on me. No, I wake with a miraculous feeling of peace that only comes from God and Christ.

[All verses quoted are from the Berean Standard Bible, BSB.]



Meleti Vivlon

Articles by Meleti Vivlon.
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