Because my dad did not go, we did have a TV. It was discouraged, but we were allowed to date outsiders and play sports. I was aware of what the workers thought. I think my mother was embarrassed at times about us. I believe she thought she was letting the workers down by giving us such freedoms.
So, my home life was different than others that went to meetings. It was also different than worldly people. Middle of the road I guess. Along with my mother, we went to every meeting, gospel meeting, and convention. Growing up, I learned that the truth was “the only way” to heaven, and all people that went to other churches were blind, misguided souls destined for hell. I knew those that had “lost out”, “lost their way”, or were “slipping”. I learned that if we were faithful enough at the end of our lives, we might have a chance at heaven. I learned that “the way” had started from Jesus and workers had went out 2×2 from that time until now. I was a faithful believer in all that came from the platform.
My earliest memory of having knowledge of anything spiritual was about the age of 7. I remember going into my parents’ bedroom crying because I didn’t want to go to hell. I just knew that I was destined for hell if I died. I can’t remember what prompted me to believe that I was going to “fry”, but it was very real for me at the time. Whatever my mother told me didn’t help me with this fear. I don’t blame her. I’m sure she gave the standard “we have to try our best” response.
As early as I can remember, we always had the workers over. I never knew different. Unlike some others, I had positive experiences with the workers. I may have been too young to know any better and also really naïve as I grew older. Maybe it was because it was just me and my brother, and there was never any pressure on our dress or outward appearance. We really didn’t have a lot of money, but we did have a nice (larger than normal) home. And, in SE Oklahoma, it was at the time a larger one among the friends. My mother stayed at home and was more than happy to cook and care for workers that would stay with us. Although, we had the big TV right in the middle of the living room, we must have been much appreciated.
I was always the “cut-up” when workers came over. My earliest memory was a worker feeding me because I was being difficult at the table. We would play Scrabble and I would put up some “borderline” word (for example, hooker), and we would all laugh. If a younger brother worker was over, we’d toss the football or some outside activity. My favorite was probably Margaret Skilbred. She was very personable and normal. She was around a lot. We had a lot over the 15+ years that I remember. Edgar Asplund and Roy Dietzel were in our field for a while. My grandparents heard the truth from them in the ‘50s. So, it was nice to hear stories of back then. I should have paid more attention because I can’t recall any of those.
I don’t remember any of the workers being overbearing or contrary. However, I do remember the friends altering their activities when the workers were around. For the summer, some friends from Kansas would come down and stay on Broken Bow Lake at a cabin they owned. After Sunday meeting, we’d go up there and go swimming. But, whenever Grace Young (an elder sister worker) was around, the parents would not let us swim on Sunday. I remember being told that Grace would not approve. That was my first experience with a parent bowing to a worker. It didn’t make sense that we would not go just because a worker was around.
Growing up I always felt like I didn’t fit in. I didn’t fit in at school. All the kids would talk about vacation Bible school or church camp. All I could do was leave so I wouldn’t be asked about my church activities over the summer. I felt like I didn’t fit in with the professing kids. I felt like I wasn’t as godly as them. They were around each other all the time as they were from the OKC metro area, and here I was from SE Oklahoma. We only saw them two or three times a year. Of course, we had friends stay at our house during special meeting time. Any of the kids would always camp in front of our TV and wouldn’t want to do anything else.
So needless to say, by the time I was a teenager, I was nothing but a lousy sinner who was going to hell with no real place to fit in or find answers. I developed a co-dependent condition. (I wasn’t aware of this until a few years ago.) I was shameful in how I lived. (I was a dirty sinner going to hell.) I felt like everyone looked down on me. I didn’t fit in anywhere. Becoming co-dependent took the focus off of me and put it on something outside. As long as I had something else to focus on, I didn’t have to think about myself. You basically get an addiction to something other than yourself. Eventually, you don’t know how to think or feel for yourself. I didn’t know who I was. I needed someone else to show me how to think or feel. However they thought, I thought. However, they felt, I felt. [When you are in a state of co-dependency, you do not realize it.] You have to be aware of the other person’s thoughts and actions in order to know how to think or feel. I couldn’t make a decision for myself. Co-dependency is very debilitating.
That’s when AH entered the picture. He and his family moved to Oklahoma, and we were instant friends. We ended up being best friends. Our parents took a liking to each other. I quickly became dependent on him for my being. What he did, we did. Looking back now, it really wasn’t a healthy relationship. He was my addiction. I couldn’t let him out of my sight for an hour. (This was because I wouldn’t know how to think or feel.)
I can’t say for sure whether “the way” had anything to do with my condition. But, what I can say is that it offered no help whatsoever. There is always an underlying premise that no one is measuring up. You sit in meetings and hear all these people you look up to tell how they have failed. You feel like if they are failing then there is no way you can come close. The whole thing was a big downer.
I professed in 1986 at Bradley, Oklahoma convention. Did God touch my heart? Did he mold me into a yielding servant? I don’t know. What I did know was that, “I have to profess and get baptized or go to hell.” So in an attempt to keep my soul from a fiery eternity, I stood up. Oh, let’s not forget that my good friend AH stood up about 5 seconds before I did. Also, it was pleasing to see everyone hug my mother with such approval.
I scrambled on Wed. and Sun. to throw a testimony together that I felt was totally inadequate and infantile. I always wondered why Wed. night was called Bible study when we really didn’t study much. However, what I do remember is all the verses that were stated over and over that justify “the way”. “Two by two”. “Chief cornerstone”. “How blessed are the feet of those who preach…” It’s amazing how easy it was to recite these and show them to others. I prayed, gave a testimony, and acted like all the rest. And I actually thought that I was sanctified/justified/saved because what I was doing was “the way”. I KNEW that I did not want to go to hell. I knew my heart wasn’t in it, but if it would get me to heaven, I would suffer for the kingdom’s sake. What was two hours out of the week? A small price for salvation.
I knew at the time that I didn’t know anything. I didn’t think it mattered. I now know why I knew nothing. See, if you sit in meetings and hear people’s testimonies, what you hear is a thought about a verse or two. Even in Bible study, it was rare if someone summed up the whole chapter. At convention, a worker would speak for 30-45 minutes on a THEME and not a Chapter. So there was no expository teaching of the Bible. Think about this. A worker will offer a theme (faith, sacrifice, the way, etc.) and give you the verses that back up their conclusion or idea. Often these verses are scattered throughout the Bible and are referenced to support the theme.
This type of teaching can be dangerous. Why? Because you can really create any theme and give supporting verses. It is easy to take verses out of context. Also, you can imply that they are verses to be taken literally or spiritually. This is easy to do when you speak out of context. So when you read I Tim 2, you can easily point out v.9 “In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with broided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array.” (KJV). Then you can totally ignore v.11-12 “Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.” (KJV) I asked a worker about these verses. The response was, “When Jesus sent out the seventy, it doesn’t say they were all men.” Also, they conveniently ignore the part in v.9 about braided hair. That’s OK. THEME PREACHING is very easy to get by with and it is very hard to pin down the doctrine of what is preached. This is how “the way” has survived. The saints remain ignorant of what the Bible actually says. If you hear something preached for years, it gets programmed into your brain. When you then read the Bible, you key on those things you’ve heard preached, and everything else is lowered to an “it really doesn’t matter” status.
The workers were fun and nice until…In 1990, I was talking to CS, a girl from convention. I had been dating outsiders. The workers stated more than once that we shouldn’t “give in” to the world. So, with my mother’s help, I set up a date weekend with a professing girl (CS) to go to prom with me. She was to spend Friday and Saturday night at our house and go home Sunday after meeting. Her parents agreed. My parents agreed. The prom dress was purchased and fitted. Two days before all this was to happen, LaRon Branson, a Kansas brother worker, put the kibosh on the whole thing. CS quit going to meetings. I was so confused. I was going to make my mother and workers happy by dating a professing girl, and a worker says, “No”. I really didn’t think the workers had that much pull, but I quickly learned the place of a “friend”.
A few months later I saw CS at Texarkana, TX convention. We were still silly over each other. Maybe in defiance of the workers, we spent a few nights of that convention hanging out by the parked cars. We kept it pretty innocent. I skipped a baptism meeting to be with CS. My mother saw us out by the car, and she didn’t say much at the time. But, apparently she took it the wrong way, and there was a big scene that night in the woman’s quarters. Sue Bailey, a Texas sister worker, (the enforcer) found me the next morning and said, “We missed you at the baptism meeting last night, and we trust you weren’t doing anything bad.” So here I was again trying to “date” a professing girl and another worker steps in. Needless to say, that was the death knell to CS and me.
A week later, still having yet to be baptized, I attended the Georgetown Texas convention. William Lewis, the head worker, was to have a baptism meeting on Friday night. I suppose I couldn’t find a date for that night, so I attended the meeting. I was told, “Baptism is necessary. We can’t fully understand what it means until we completely know the truth of Jesus. Even if you still don’t understand what baptism means, you really just need to go ahead and get it done. None of us know how long we have.” So, throwing all doubts aside and not wanting to lose out, I got it done.
A few years later, a friend of mine wanted to get baptized. He was told he could not get baptized because he was dating a non-professing girl. The worker who refused to baptize him was the same LaRon Branson that told CS she couldn’t go to my house. LaRon told my friend that if someone is dating an outsider, they have not turned away from the world and are not ready for baptism.
Nothing changed much until 1995. While I was at college, I just quit going to meetings. I would still go on weekends that I went home or spent the night at one of the “friends’ ” house. Finally, I quit all together. My heart wasn’t in it. I still read my Bible some and prayed every night. However, I’m not too sure the Bible ever made sense to me.
From 1997–2001, my life was a mess. Unbeknownst to me, I became codependent on a girlfriend, and we started living together. I just felt too guilty to attend meetings. I still prayed most every night. I was too weak of a person to end it with her. But after, five years, in 2001, we broke up, and I immediately started going to meetings again. I caught myself watching local church sermons on TV. I really liked their lessons. They made sense, and they made the Bible make sense. I started talking to a friend about religion. What I quickly learned was that after years of going to meetings, I knew nothing about the Bible. I could not answer the most basic questions. All I could do was explain why “the truth” was the truth.
She asked me what I knew about other religions. I knew nothing. I knew they all were wrong, but I didn’t know why. I realized I had been told all my life that other religions were false without being given one ounce of proof as to why. Do you believe in the trinity? How are you saved? Why are other religions wrong? I could not answer these questions. So my answer was, “I’ll have to ask a worker”. My friend said, “You are in a cult!” I just laughed and thought of Jonestown. The people at Jonestown were in a cult. I was not.
It deeply embarrassed me that I sat in meetings for 20+ years, knew so very little about the Bible, and would go to heaven. And my friend who spoke from the heart and knew at least the basics would perish for her blindness. This did not compute.
I took her to a Sunday morning meeting. It was nice to see all the people I grew up with. I took part in the meeting. I just knew that as we sat in that meeting that my friend would notice something that was different, and it would appeal to her. Once we got alone, she said, “Why didn’t you tell me that they were very conservative?” What? She had worn a normal dress and coat with her normal amount of make-up. I thought she looked quite normal. She also stated that all the women in the meeting looked at her with full judgment and disdain. I didn’t want to believe it. Not the ones I grew up with. However, deep down I knew it was true. I had seen that look a thousand times. It was most prevalent at convention when a “worldly” couple would enter the meeting tent and sit in the back row. Every woman seeing the “worldly ones” would give the look. I knew it well.
When a professing boy would show up with his non-professing girl in tow, out would come the looks. I hated that for all those people. Why anyone would want to hang around and take that is beyond me. They usually didn’t. I knew I could never bring anyone to convention for that very reason. The woman I was living with went with me to a few conventions. We got the looks. Very few people knew we were living together. I really did not want her there. I also grimaced in introducing her as my girlfriend. I would have to admit to dating an outsider and witness the looks of disapproval. However, I knew this would not happen in the little meeting I grew up in. So I gladly brought my friend. Was I wrong.
Looking back now, it is a wonder that any outsiders ever could endure such treatment. Well, if you think about it, not many did. I can only think of one outsider that I know of who was converted. Everyone else was born in or married in.
Well, we got married later that year. I guess I knew we wouldn’t be going to meetings, so we went to the local Baptist church. I had been in only one other worldly church in my life. Now, this was a difficult time for me. This Baptist church was so foreign to me. I may as well been in a mosque. The only part of it I liked was the pastor’s sermon. That part was familiar to me. What he preached was encouraging. Different. Joyful almost. We went to that church for three years. I did notice something. There were people there who really shined. They had a light from them. I couldn’t believe it. I was seeing people who loved the Lord. These were worldly outsiders, but they loved God.
We moved and are now in a different Baptist church. It is in a small town, and we love our church family. However, in the seven years we’ve been married, I have struggled with every one of them. Most of the time I didn’t want to go to church. I had this nagging guilt. I felt I could do nothing but go to hell because I had “lost out”. On the other hand, I felt like I was right where God wanted me to be. What a paradox! I prayed and prayed about getting married. I felt like I had God’s blessing. I prayed and prayed about going to a Baptist church. I felt like I was supposed to. It was as if God wanted me to see something.
I had heard the gospel from a worker, so did that mean I was saved although I was in a Baptist church. Was I saved? I thought surely since I heard the “truth” from a worker and had been baptized by a worker, surely I was saved. But, I wasn’t sure. When I was going to meetings, I didn’t feel saved. The Bible says that we can have confidence in our salvation. But did I? I prayed and prayed and prayed. I asked God to show me what I’m supposed to do. I needed to know where I was supposed to be, how I was to live, and what he wanted me to do. I prayed and prayed. Then I prayed some more. I prayed for guidance over and over. Why wasn’t God showing me?
On April 24, 2009, I sat in a revival meeting at church. Revival meetings usually on go from Sunday to Wednesday, but this time our pastor thought we should continue them until the next Sunday. So, there I was on a Friday night at a Baptist church revival service. The pastor invited all to come to the front and pray for the salvation of loved ones or people that were not there. So, down I went. My dad hadn’t set foot in church in years. He needed my prayer. Other members of my family came to mind. They got a prayer also. My prayer ended like this, “Oh yeah! And one more thing, God I don’t know if I’m saved or not, and if I’m not, I need Jesus to save me. Here I am Lord. I need you. I don’t know what else to do. I need you to save me because I know can’t do anything to save myself…” At that instant, I felt a calm and peace that I had never had before.
I realized something that night. That was the night I was saved. For years I prayed that God would show me what to do. And for years He ignored me. He needed me to realize something. There was nothing that I needed to do for salvation. There was nothing I could do. It was already done. He wanted me to come before him helpless and broken and put ALL my faith and trust in Him. And when I did, He answered my prayers.
I learned that a man wasn’t necessary for salvation. Jesus is the only way. He is the only one that can bring us to God. Our intercessor had already paid the price. His sacrifice was sufficient. From that moment, I realized the “truth” was not the only way. Two nights later, God confirmed this for me. That was the first time I had heard of the VOT or TTT websites. That was the first time I heard the real truth. All that information confirmed what I already settled in my heart. I wondered why God waited years to answer my prayers. I now know it took that long to change my heart and to get rid of what my brain had learned the first 20+ years of my life.
I thank God every day for showing me the truth and accepting me for who I am. I now have a love for the Lord like never before. I now enjoy reading my Bible and going to church. I enjoy the fellowship I can have with those at my church and with those from other religions. It totally makes sense now.
A few weeks later, I realized I needed to make it known publicly that I was saved. So during invitation time, I did so. I also realized that I was never truly saved before. So on May 24, 2009, I was baptized. I invited my mother, father, and brother, but none attended.
By Jano Mitchell
2009, Revised June 23, 2011