My Long, Hard Fight to Find True Faith
I always feared I would go to hell, I knew I wasn’t good enough to go to heaven. I felt I’d be fortunate to make it to purgatory, so I prayed fervently and lighted candles to escape landing in hell.
AS MY car’s tires slipped and slid on the icy roads of a mountain pass in Oregon, U.S.A., I wondered what I had got myself into. This was my first experience driving in snow, and here I was in the middle of a blizzard on unfamiliar roads, with plunging ravines off to each side, barely able to see past the hood. I knew it was all over, so I prayed to God to spare my passenger and me and that I would repay him by returning to church.
Well, we did make it, and I lived up to my vow of returning to church. I found a local church in Seattle by looking in the yellow pages and went the next Sunday. It gave me the same empty feeling that I had experienced before. The church stressed the same thing as my former church, money. The basket was passed three times! I can remember telling God that I was going to have to find another way to worship him.
As a child, I was raised a strict Catholic in a military home. I attended a Catholic school. I can remember being in catechism class and asking the nun: “Why don’t we ever use the Bible?” I was told that I was weak in faith, and more than once my parents were informed of my weakness.
I was raised with an ever-present fear of God. I had an unclear concept of him. He was a God who deserved to be worshiped but tormented you if you didn’t worship him correctly. By the time I was 17, I told my parents that I would not go to church anymore. I felt closer to God anywhere other than in church. I used to walk on the beach, and if something was bothering me, I would talk to God about it. I apologized to him for talking to him without the use of a priest, informing him that I just had to tell him what was on my mind. I also became disillusioned because of everything I saw happening in the world. It was the hippie era, and my friends were involved with anything-goes sex and drugs. I saw the sad consequences of unwanted pregnancies, abortions, drug overdose—I wanted no part of that!
The Search Begins
Becky, a close friend, and I decided to leave college in search of something better. There had to be something better! We decided to visit her mother in Washington State. I told my parents that I needed to get away, to try to clear my mind of the problems that were bothering me. That’s when we drove into the snowstorm in Oregon. After leaving the church in disgust that Sunday in Seattle, I went home and spoke to Becky’s mother, Edna, about my feelings. She told me that she knew someone who could answer my questions. She called Jehovah’s Witnesses at the Kingdom Hall.
I remember waiting for them to come. It took three days. But when they came, I thought they were the most Christian looking people I had ever seen in my life. It was Clarence and Edith Meunier. Clarence was a graduate of the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead and was obviously well-versed in the Scriptures. I was immediately impressed when they explained that God had a name—Jehovah. I felt as though a light had switched on in my head. The first study lasted three hours, and they came back two days later for another one.
I was so excited. I soon telephoned my parents and told them I had found the truth. I told them that God had a name, Jehovah, and that Jehovah’s Witnesses were teaching the truth of the Bible. I knew that they had never heard of Jehovah’s Witnesses and would be just as excited to learn what I had learned. However, they had heard of Jehovah’s Witnesses and were quite upset. They came to take me back to California.
When I got home, I knew that I needed to get in touch with the congregation right away. I located the Kingdom Hall and went to the next meeting and sat down. A sister looked over at me and smiled, so I asked her if she would study with me. She almost fell off her chair and quickly accepted. I was so glad to get back with the congregation because I had started feeling cut off. I needed association.—Hebrews 10:24, 25.
Persecution From Family Begins
My parents were still very opposed to my new religion and sent me to a psychiatrist. When my parents asked for a report, he told them I was rebelling. I told them I wasn’t rebelling. It was the first time in my life that I had found something that gave me answers, that gave me a reason for living.
After this, when I went to the Kingdom Hall, my parents were very angry. They told me that I could go to any college I wanted, pursue any field I wanted, and they would pay for it, but I was to have nothing to do with Jehovah’s Witnesses. What made this especially difficult to endure was the love I had for my family. One particularly unpleasant day my mother told me that she would rather see me a prostitute than one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. I could be anything, but not one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. My parents told me that I had to leave home. Psalm 27:10 came to mind: “In case my own father and my own mother did leave me, even Jehovah himself would take me up.” A sister in the congregation had a home that was empty, and she turned it over to me.
I met a sister in the Kingdom Hall who, like me, was brand new. Her name was Chris Kemp, and we became very good friends and started rooming together. We were baptized on July 18, 1969, at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles.
At the congregation meetings, we would watch a full-time pioneer sister, Dana Wolff. She was very spiritual. We found out that she needed a place to live, so we gained a wonderful roommate.
I remember my first part on the meeting. I had a demonstration, and I had gone over it repeatedly. It was a demonstration on presenting a book, and I knew it by heart. However, at the last minute, I wrote it out and put it in my pocket. I got on stage and went blank. I said: “Hello . . . Hello . . . Hello.” I said hello about five times. I couldn’t remember anything. So then I looked at the audience and said: “I don’t usually do this at doors.” I then pulled out my crumpled notebook paper and read word-for-word what I was supposed to say. When I was through, I went to my seat and cried.
The brother who had asked me to give the part asked the audience: “What did we learn from this presentation?” The hall was quiet. I then stood up, faced the audience, and said: “How could they learn anything? I was terrible! Of course they didn’t learn anything!” and I sat back down and resumed my crying. I know my parts are a little better now—they couldn’t be any worse.
Not long after that, Dana started talking about wanting to find someone who would move where the need was greater and pioneer with her. That night Chris and I went in our room and talked about it. We came back the next day and asked Dana: “What about us?” Dana about fell over. We were new; we weren’t baptized long enough to be regular pioneers yet! We were not at all what she had in mind for partners. But she wrote the Watchtower Society anyway, and they assigned all three of us to Middlesborough, Kentucky.
My Family’s Opposition Fails
We were packing our things to leave when my parents called to tell me I would not be able to take my car out of the state of California. They were cosigners of my car and told me they would call the police if I tried to take the car out of state. We then decided to take the bus. At a going-away party for us, a brother I had met one time came up and said: “I understand that you owe $3,000 on your car.” I said yes. He said he wanted to pay it. I said I couldn’t allow him to do that. He made arrangements for me to meet with the brothers in our congregation. They said: “If he wants to, let him do it. Don’t fight Jehovah’s spirit.” So the car was paid off. My parents were very upset yet amazed that someone would do that. We left for Kentucky the next day.
When we got to Middlesborough, we were given an apartment to live in that was in the back of an old Kingdom Hall. There was no insulation. It got very cold in the winter. It was even cold in the summer, but we were glad to have it because we couldn’t afford rent. We had only one little space heater. In the winter we dressed in layers, even to go to bed. In the morning sometimes there would be a sheet of ice across the entire floor, and our socks would stick to it. In the bathroom we always had a hammer to break the ice on the toilet water because it would freeze over at night.
Chris and I had only been full-time ministers for five months, but we were already conducting a lot of good Bible studies, and it was exciting to be there. We were so happy that we all averaged well over 150 hours a month during those first few months of pioneering. Dana wanted to be a temporary special pioneer for the summer so she decided to go to the Witnesses’ headquarters in New York. We had never been there, so we decided to make the trip with her. While we were there, Dana went to the Service Department, and we went with her. To our surprise they assigned all three of us to be special full-time pioneers.
My Father Breaks His Word, Misapplies Scripture
The very month I started special pioneering, Satan increased his efforts to wear me down. I received an itemized bill from the bank stating that I had to start paying $32.80 a month for my college education. This came out of the blue, for my parents had always told me that they would pay for my college education if I maintained an A average, which I had done. I wrote my father and asked him not to view me as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses in this but to view me as his daughter. I reminded him in a loving way of the agreement that we had made regarding my education, that if I maintained the grades he demanded, he would always pay for my education. I asked that he please not put this burden on me because it would be very difficult for me to maintain these payments, since I was only making $50 a month, which is what I lived on. Paying $32.80 a month would leave me with only $17.20 to live on.
My father replied with a scripture in a letter. He wrote: “Since you are always using the Bible, what about this scripture: ‘Him that doesn’t work, neither let him eat.’ You’re not using your education for anything beneficial, so you are to make these payments to the bank.”—2 Thessalonians 3:10.
When I received the short, curt message, it hurt me very much. I got in my car, went somewhere by myself, and cried because I did not know what to do. Then I stopped crying and got angry. I recognized that it wasn’t my parents against me but Satan. I shouted out to Satan to get away from me, that he was not going to win, that he was not going to succeed in making me quit pioneering.
Many Hardships, Many Blessings
I got a part-time job working 20 hours a week—11 hours one day and 9 the next—and I continued special pioneering. I learned quickly how to take advantage of thrift shops. My winter wardrobe was four skirts for a dollar. My winter coat was $1.50. I worked scrubbing floors to be able to buy a pair of $20 boots. All of us had to struggle. To try to save money, I opened a savings account. Sometimes I would deposit 25 cents and then withdraw it for gas. I think the bank tellers hated to see me come in. They eventually closed my account—it always had so little money in it. I would pull into a full-service gas station and get 25 cents worth of gas. After a while I think the attendants let out a heavy sigh whenever I pulled in. There were times we didn’t have any money for gas. Many times we would get in the car, knowing that we were low on fuel but knowing also that we had a Bible study to get to. Sometimes when we would go to the post office, in our mail we would find a dollar from someone—just enough to help us get by. Through all the troubles, we could see Jehovah’s hand in our life. It was so touching.
I can remember collecting discarded bottles just to put stamps on letters. I saved three months for a pair of $8 shoes. Then the most personal thing happened to me. I was literally down to two pairs of underwear. I prayed to Jehovah and told him that I felt this wasn’t something really appropriate to pray for but that I didn’t know what I was going to do. Two weeks later, I received a package with 17 pairs of panties, a slip, a blouse, and other items! All from someone I hadn’t heard from for a year.
One of the main problems in the area was bootlegging. Because of their illegal practices, people in certain territories were very clannish and suspicious of strangers. Nevertheless, I had many studies, and I ended up working in field service approximately 25 hours a week by myself. I never felt closer to Jehovah than I did at that time because I had to rely totally upon him. You learn that it is not the things you have but your relationship with Jehovah that counts. You learn that material things do not make you happy; it’s Jehovah who makes you happy.—Luke 12:15.
I Gain a New Loving Family
The very month that I finished paying off my bill for my college education was the month that I met my future husband and best friend, Jeff Malone. He was at Bethel, and one year later we were married. When I married Jeff, I not only married him but gained his mom, sister, and uncle, whom I love very much. Our common love for Jehovah unites us more than any other tie. Jeff and I were given an assignment in Union City, Tennessee, as special pioneers. We were only there four months when we applied for Bethel and were accepted.
We left Bethel in 1980, and our daughter, Megan, was born later that year. Our son, J. T., was born in 1983. Jeff and I are both currently serving as regular pioneers with the Forest Hill Congregation in Fort Worth, Texas.
We decided that we would do everything possible to raise our children to love Jehovah. Even though Jeff serves as an elder, he has always put our family’s spiritual interests first. We have followed the Society’s suggestions about regularly attending meetings, reading to the children, participating in field service, discussing the daily text, and going to Kingdom Hall construction projects. Both of us would often spend over an hour putting the children to bed—singing songs to them, reading Bible stories to them, saying prayers with each one separately. Our family goal is for all of us to be in the full-time service together. One thing we have always felt very strongly about through the years—sticking together as a family, doing things as a family, both in work and in play.
Looking back, I can confirm that David had it right when he said: “What shall I repay to Jehovah for all his benefits to me?” (Psalm 116:12) There is nothing that Satan has been able to do that Jehovah hasn’t been able to undo. I have a close, loving family with Jeff and Megan and J. T., all united in serving Jehovah; and in addition to that, I have gained a wonderful worldwide family because of being part of Jehovah’s organization. It is something for which I’ll be forever grateful.—As told by Karen Malone.
[Picture on page 23]
Karen with her husband and two children