I Escaped Religious Deception
I REMEMBER the first “miracle” I saw. I was six and a half years old. My mother and I were at this Pentecostal meeting held in a house. The preacher was singing, and he got the spirit, the way Pentecostals do when they sing. It was winter, and there was a big round stove in the middle of the room. I saw him reach into the stove, still singing and giving little shouts, and he took out this big chunk of coal that had burned down to a red-hot cinder. He held it up with both hands, carrying it around the room and giving those little triumphant shouts and singing too. All this time the others were singing and shouting and dancing around him. After the meeting, everybody kept looking at his hands to see if they were burned. There wasn’t a mark on them!
And this was only one of the signs of this Pentecostal church in Kentucky that my mother went to. They believed in the 16th chapter of Mark, beginning with the 17th verse Mr 16:17, where it talked about speaking in tongues, healing the sick, taking up serpents, and drinking poison. (These verses Mr 16:17-20 are spurious, that is, they are not in the oldest manuscripts of the Bible.) Not all Pentecostal churches believe in these things. But when you see them happen, it makes you feel like, well, God has to be in a church that can perform these signs and people not be hurt.
We then moved to Indiana. I was baptized when I was 12, in 1953. I learned to play the guitar and accompany groups singing at the meetings. I felt that it was part of my serving God—it is by this singing that Pentecostals get the spirit. When I got the spirit and spoke in tongues, I didn’t know what I was saying, but it was a good feeling.
I never handled snakes myself, but I remember one weekend I visited the church in Kentucky where I used to attend. A visiting preacher got the spirit and pulled a big rattlesnake out of the snake box he had brought with him. He twirled it around his hand and was crying out. I was on the stage behind him with the singers, and I remember seeing blood start oozing out from between his fingers. Then the preacher that I had seen handling fire years earlier got the spirit, and he came up and took the snake out of the other preacher’s hand and put it back in the box. But the man who got bit never got sick. I do remember, however, three people I knew that were bitten by snakes and died. My father-in-law was one of them.
When I was 19, I married a young man who was supposed to have been saved. But he was not a strong Pentecostal. I saw him handle snakes once, yet he didn’t have a spirit that corresponded with mine. He would do good as a Pentecostal for a while, then he’d quit, start smoking, do other things we didn’t believe in. This matter of spirits, however, was one thing that troubled me. When Pentecostals got the spirit, the spirits were not always the same. Some were stronger, some were not compatible, and some even clashed with others.
I never could understand this. It caused me to wonder why there were so many different spirits. I remember praying all through the time that I was a Pentecostal: “This is the only religion that I know of, God, that can be right. But if I’m not serving you in a way that’s pleasing you, God, I want to know it. If this isn’t the right religion, please show me the one that is.” I prayed that prayer many times.
It was during this first marriage that I saw the Watchtower and Awake! magazines. We had moved to Cincinnati in 1962, and Jehovah’s Witnesses came to our door. My husband liked to talk with them, but I never would. I stayed in the kitchen when they came. My husband subscribed to the magazines, yet never read them. But I did. I knew I shouldn’t, felt guilty when I did, but couldn’t stand anything around without reading it. I would even throw the magazines in the garbage and later go and get them out and read them!
I learned from The Watchtower and Awake! about the earth continuing on forever—an earthly paradise filled with righteous people. It was the biggest thing I’d ever heard. It hit me hard because we Pentecostals didn’t believe that about the earth. I remember reading about this Paradise earth that was to abide forever, and I’d think, ‘This is not right!’ But I loved to read it. A war was going on within me. I prayed about it. Finally, I asked my husband to stop taking the magazines, and he did.
My husband became involved with other women, and after seven years of marriage, we were divorced. My two sons and I went to live with Olene, a longtime friend who had married my uncle. She was an excellent singer, and we went to Pentecostal meetings together and sang in different churches. Olene was also the daughter of the preacher who had handled the fire.
Twice I was “healed.” First was when I had had a miscarriage and was hemorrhaging. In spite of this, I went to the Pentecostal meeting. I was so weak I was afraid I was going to have to leave. Then I heard Olene and her father start to sing. They got the spirit. They got ahold of each other’s shoulders. They came and laid their hands on me. I immediately became unconscious. When I came to, I felt fine! No more hemorrhaging!
The second time was when I had a gum disease. I’d worn false teeth since I was 15. Now, years later, my mouth started swelling under my upper plate. I went about three months without my teeth and was on liquid food. I became desperate and went to a medical doctor. He looked at my mouth. “You don’t need me; you need an oral surgeon.” He named the disease, papillomatosis, and recommended a dentist.
I never went. Olene and I were on our way to the church in Kentucky. Later that night I was singing, getting very deep into the spirit. Olene laid her hands on me, I blacked out, and I sank to the floor. After I came to, I spit out pieces of what seemed like dry, chewed-up meat. By the time I got home, I could put my false teeth in. I’ve never had any trouble since.
Olene did a lot of Bible reading. Shortly after I moved in with her, she called me into the room where she was reading. She had a question. She read Ecclesiastes 1:4: “One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh: but the earth abideth for ever.” (King James Version) Then she said: “I want you to explain this scripture to me. We don’t believe this. So what’s it talking about?” I got real upset.
“I want to know,” she demanded, “why you are so upset about this scripture. It’s in the Bible, and we need to know what it means!” So I explained: “I read about that in The Watchtower and Awake!, and I didn’t want to let you know that I’d read those magazines put out by Jehovah’s Witnesses.” She immediately wanted to hunt down the Witnesses.
“Don’t bother,” I said. “If we live here very long, they’ll be at our door. They always find you.” Two weeks later when I came in from work, she was at the door waiting for me, all smiles. “Guess who was here today?” I had no idea. “Jehovah’s Witnesses! I set up a Bible study for both of us!” I was dumbfounded. I didn’t want to study with them. I was afraid of them.
But we did study. They invited us to the meetings. Olene didn’t like going, but I did. My youngest son was about three at this time, and we went to the Kingdom Hall. By the time we finished the Truth book in the home Bible study, both Olene and I realized that the Pentecostal church was wrong. Nevertheless, Olene quit the study, so I also stopped.
That was in 1972. In 1974 I got a call from Olene—we were no longer living together by then. She asked me if I would marry her father—the man I had seen handle fire when I was six and a half years old. Well, my marriage to my first husband had ended over seven years previously, so I married Olene’s father in January 1975.
He lived in Kentucky, near the same Pentecostal church that I went to as a child. When I married him, I told him that I would never go back to the Pentecostals, that if I ever got involved with any religion again, it would be with Jehovah’s Witnesses. He agreed to this. But we had been married only a few months when he wanted me to go to his Pentecostal meeting. I went once. I couldn’t sit through it. The demons’ presence was overwhelming!
By this time I had learned that Satan, his demons, and his ministers here on earth could perform signs and wonders and that the Christian’s warfare was against such demonic forces in heavenly places. (Exodus 7:11, 22; 8:7, 18, 19; 2 Corinthians 11:13-15; Ephesians 6:11, 12) Also, I had learned that the miraculous gifts of the early Christian church were for the establishing of it in its infancy and that later, with the passing of the apostles, such gifts would pass away. Concerning the gift of speaking in tongues, for example, it is written: “Whether there are tongues, they will cease.” Love, faith, and hope are now the mainstays of the mature Christian church.—1 Corinthians 13:8-13.
What my husband was trying to do was to get me to go to the Pentecostals again and sing with him and play the guitar. Instead, I started going back to the Kingdom Hall. When he would come in from a weekend of preaching at Pentecostal churches, he’d flash a billfold full of money received from the collections the Pentecostals had taken up for him. He would laugh because people would give him all this money, and he hadn’t done a thing to deserve it.
Ultimately, my younger son went to the meetings with me and became an active Witness. My husband would be very upset if I got home late from the meetings. One night I got home about ten o’clock, and my husband locked me out of the house. My son and I had to spend the night in the car. This happened several times. He carried a gun in his car, and when he found me reading or studying, he’d get his gun and shoot underneath my chair four or five times. If I carried soft drink bottles out on the patio, he would shoot the bottles out of the carton. He wasn’t trying to kill me; he was trying to make me mad. But I prayed to Jehovah and stayed calm, and that made him mad.
One day I was getting ready to go to the meeting, and he asked: “Are you really going to become one of Jehovah’s Witnesses? Are you really going to be traipsing around from door to door preaching?” And I said, “Yes, I’m going to do that.” “Well,” he said, “I’ll give you two weeks to get out of the house.” So my son and I moved out. We moved into a little house that hadn’t been lived in for years. No running water, very little furniture, and no money.
But it was so nice to have the freedom to go to a meeting and not worry about being locked out of the house or shot at and to be able to serve Jehovah by preaching from door to door. (Acts 20:20) When I met Pentecostals at the door, I often felt the presence of the demons. Then I’d say: “Jehovah, I know that you’re stronger than the demons. I know you have the power to help me, and I need your help. I need your holy spirit to cope with this.” And he would always help.
I was baptized in September 1976. My son was baptized in July 1977. My sister is a dedicated Witness. My mother studied and began preaching from door to door. So I’ve had lots of encouragement from my family and lots of help from Jehovah and his people. Jehovah has been so patient with me. May he also be long-suffering with the millions of others whom ‘the kindly quality of God is trying to lead to repentance.’ (Romans 2:4)—As told by Ireta Clemons.
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Three people I knew were bitten by snakes and died
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By this time I had learned that Satan, his demons, and his ministers here on earth could perform signs and wonders
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Ireta Clemons, now a Witness