Natalia Koretskaya was one of Jehovah’s Witnesses for many years. She was called as a legal witness by the Russian Ministry of Justice during the court hearings held in Moscow earlier this year to ban the Witnesses. Her fascinating journey in life was originally posted on JWForum. name in Russian. It is translated and posted here in English with permission.
How I became a Jehovah’s Witness
It was from my mother that I first heard about Jehovah’s Witnesses. She enthusiastically told me about what she heard from her colleague: all suffering on earth is a temporary phenomenon; that soon the wold will change for the better; and that everything that is prophesied in the bible will be fulfilled. We greedily grabbed the new knowledge. We visited Jehovah’s Witnesses and we begun to study the “Live Forever” book. My little brother joined my mother and me. My father didn’t share our interest in the bible. He considered himself Orthodox.
The study was sometimes interesting; others times not so much. My brother and I often left the study and went out and played in the street. To sit at home an extra minute was sometimes just to unbearable. Although, I appreciated and remembered the knowledge I gained during the study. Over time, my mother would study alone and would manage to persuade me to join her. I succumbed. My brother, on the other hand, never returned to studying the bible with the Witnesses.
Because Jehovah’s Witnesses did not see my mother making any spiritual progress, they ended the study with her. I, on the otherhand, made progress. I got involved, made new friends, became a publisher and over time, I was baptized. I got baptized just after finishing school. In general, my mother approved of my choice, but she could not change her life so as to become a Witness. My life began to pass through all theocratic laws.
Life in the Organization
I now understand that the reason for me staying within the JWs for many years was directly related to the fact that I was actively involved in all spheres of the “Christian Life”, as the Witnesses believe it to be. On reflection, there was no other way to think. Witnesses only speak about this in their publications.
After baptism, I became an auxiliary pioneer (part-time preacher) almost immediately. Then I became a regular pioneer (full-time preacher). I participated in the construction of the Kingdom Hall. I even managed to volunteer for the construction of the “Holy of Holies” – the branch of the Watch Tower Society in the village of Solnechnoe, near St. Petersburg. In addition, I made visits to unassigned territory, assisted in regions where the need was greater … many things!
After several years serving as a regular pioneer, my mother was injured and I took care of her for several months. My “spiritual well-being” changed. I had to stop regular pioneering. I was less frequent at meetings at the Kingdom Hall. After all, this “spiritual” employment was imposed on me. It was imposed as the only possible life path. Finally, I felt that it became much easier to breathe. This was the case even though I was fully absorbed in caring for my mother. Now I didn’t want to part from this new sensation of life. It turned out that life is beautiful outside the “spiritual paradise” as depicted by Jehovah’s Witnesses. This served as the first decision bell. The rest of the picture about the Organization only brought new details and confirmed all of my worst fears.
What kept me within the JWs in recent years?
Eventually I got a full-time job. I was provided with an opportunity to get a free education from work. I flatly refused. But the employees, who literally treated me like I treat my own child, persuaded me with tears in their eyes. I yielded to their persuasion. In the meantime, my “theocratic” life continued to flat line.
I went and got a new job and my career was on the up. When posts were opened up, I joyfully invited my Witness friends to take up positions. Thus, I was surrounded by fellow believers in the office and in remote locations. And I became their boss.
Due to the fact that we were all from different backgrounds, their control of me was minimal, but they understood that my beliefs were already far removed from the “one true” religion. I appreciated our human communication more than any concern of having a common faith. With friends, I spent a lot of time: meetings, holidays & trips. But I wanted to get away from “spiritual affairs”. I did not attend meetings often. I knew that I would leave very soon. But it lacked the last drop or something … On occasion, I had to do my best to pretend that all this religious activity is interesting to me.
What prompted me to draw definitive conclusions
Unfortunately, big personal problems can make some kind of shake-up, putting everything in its place. That’s how it happened for me.
My dad fell seriously ill. And since I had a lot of time to give to the whole family, I actively shared in the care of my dad with my mother. He had a series of operations. He went through a preparatory period and then adaptation. In addition, it became necessary to obtain disability, and many other things.
Years of alienation while I was an active and fanatical Witness did not do us any good. But the time spent with my dad, when he fell ill, made it possible for us to establish friendly relations again. Sometimes it does not help to lose heart. The unsurpassed sense of humor of our dad has already become legend in our family!
Coinciding with these events were the appointment of a new elder at the Kingdom Hall meeting. It was Brother N*, who recently got invited to work in the Service Department at the Branch Society. Earlier, his brother served as a district overseer for several years. Everyone just adored him! He could not not use it for the benefit of the Society. And I was not ignored! He came up and reminded me of his own “pioneer” past. He encouraged me to make up my mind. To my response that my father was very ill, his response was very much in the spirit of, “Your parents are adults, and they can take care of themselves”. It was very strange to hear from a man who himself left his elderly parents for “the good news of the Kingdom”. In general, the dialogue was had was difficultly pleasant.
From that time on, I began to look from the outside at everything that happened in the Organization. I began to realize that I was in an absolutely unnatural environment. Every minute in it was becoming a burden. Everything around me screamed that it was time for me to leave.
Unfortunately, after 2 – 3 years of struggle, my father’s life sadly ended. He was beaten in an alleyway. And since he was disabled, his injuries were incompatible with life and so we lost him. Now that the years have passed, the pain of loss is not felt so sharply. But I clearly remember what it was like him not being with me. I would rather not have been born than see him in a coffin …
Despite the fact that for many years I attended the same meeting, and I was very well known, no one supported me at the funeral. Not even my closest friend. I asked her to help me, to escort me, nothing more. In response she said that she just about tolerates a funeral. Instead, she had agreed with someone to a “service” (preaching) appointment and did not want to cancel. I will not indulge in unnecessary detail but this situation put the final, fiercest point in communication with the Witnesses. There were calls, requests to forgive from several people including the elders. What for? I had already made my conclusions about this organization that were sufficient for me to break with all this. It only remained for me to “get” the status of ex-JW.
How I ceased being a Witness
For some time after losing my father, I still attended meetings, but only very rarely. And it turned into torture for me. Kingdom songs rose up in my throat. Moreover, I didn’t want to see anyone else. Any attempts by “fellow believers” to somehow smooth out the situation were just ridiculous. After all, the conclusions had already been made. At work everything proceeded in the usual way except that I would exaggerate stories from time to time about how the meetings were going well.
I deliberately began avoiding even friendly communication with Witnesses because of how they were unpleasant to me (though there were a few exceptions). Since I always had a circle of friends who were not Jehovah’s Witnesses, it was easy to make the “switch”. Soon I had a friend of the opposite sex. Friend in the sense of a relationship between a man and a woman. I did not hide it. After all my life was going on as usual and sooner or later I would rid myself of the JWs and forget everything like a bad dream. As you can guess, the Kingdom Hall elders found out about it. It is an interesting topic in its own right. You can read it here.
Then came the shepherding visit. I did not refuse the visit or the judicial committee. I wanted to pay my last tribute to the organization in which I spent many years. Although, now it all seems stupid and unnecessary to me. Since both elders who came to my house knew me for many years, they tried to put pressure on all the “pedals”. They said that the children in the congregation need an example of someone who “served Jehovah” for so many years. Do I not feel sorry for the years spent? Am I ready to give up everything? And stuff and stuff. All of the above only strengthened me in my decision. One thought was spinning in my head: “I would rather end this nightmare and have then behind me already once and for all!”. I was emotionally exhausted so I did not say a word that I did not consider JWs to be “God’s organization”. There was no point in such a dispute as they make no sense to me and they will not change my decision.
The judicial committee meeting would have been rather routine if not for one circumstance. Since the purpose of the judicial committee was to help me remain in the JWs, and I flatly refused to repent of any atrocity and refused to be corrected, the elders decided to make me an interesting proposal. It consisted of me just repenting and promising not do do it anymore; I didn’t have to read the publications or go to the meetings or participate in meeting activities. Those. In other words, they invited me to BE a Jehovah’s Witness. I didn’t know what to make of such a proposal. It seemed to me as something unreal, unthinkable and impossible. I came to the judicial meeting to rid myself of JWs and here were the elders trying to “pull me by the ears”. I left.
How to deal with colleagues – Jehovah’s Witnesses?
And now the most interesting. How do you work in a team where your boss is devoid of communication? Or how do you work with a subordinate if they refuse to talk with you?
This is one of the worst stretches of my life in the Jehovah’s Witness. More precisely, I left them but my life still has not let go. It is easier for those Witnesses who work at a remote office and they rarely have to face me. It is more difficult to work with them in one room. Today they still smiled and greetings me. And for tomorrow “the face is a brick”. It was hard for me and the Witnesses to endure this. It became ridiculous. There were questions that only I could resolve with a particular Witness. Not wanting to speak to me directly, the Witness confers with another subordinate on the subject, all in my presence. Naturally in the end they had to say to me, “I do not want to do it.” There were many other cases. In the minds of “secular” colleagues, they couldn’t understand this at all.
The funny thing is that I’m working in an international company with colleagues from my previous job. And in charge of our company is one of my previous subordinates – a Witness. Occasionally, he greets me when he doesn’t recognize me from the back. I wonder sometimes if I will ever get rid of Jehovah’s Witnesses!
My Attitude to the experience gained by being a Witness
At different stages in my life, I’ve reacted differently to my life as a JW. I’ve had anger and resentment for my time spent there and then sympathy for the good people left there. By and large, I wouldn’t want my worst enemy to experience that I have. Tell me, what is this experience – distributing kilograms of waste paper which has no practical value for the ordinary person whose view is smothered by strangers imposing constant repetitious values?
I look forward to making new acquaintances with people that have left the Organization. It is very joyful when these expectations are rewarded!