Former Jehovah’s Witnesses Testify – Program 3

By: Dr. John Ankerberg, Bill Cetnar, Joan Cetnar, Helen Ortega, Ken Oakley, Debbie Oakley; ©1982
What is it like to be disfellowshiped from the Watchtower Society? Why would someone want to leave, given what they will have to face?


Bill Cetnar. For more than 25 years he was a Jehovah’s Witness. He rose in the Brooklyn Headquarters of the Watchtower Society until he was given the responsibility to answer all questions submitted by people south of the Mason-Dixon line. He worked with the president of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. He looked into doctrinal questions. He found out how the Jehovah’s Witnesses New World Translation of the Bible was really put together and who the unnamed translators were. He will explain what evidence made him come to believe that he had been deceived.
Joan Cetnar. One of the heirs to the S. S. Kresge family. Joan worked in the Brooklyn Headquarters where she observed first-hand the president and other leaders of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. She will tell why she became disillusioned and what convinced her to believe Jesus is God. Her conviction cost her an inheritance which would have made her a millionaire.
Helen Ortega. Helen was raised in a Jehovah’s Witness home. She married a Jehovah’s Witness. She conducted 13 Bible studies each week and still had time to go door to door telling people about her faith. Helen came to believe that she was one of the “special” 144,000 chosen elect and publicly announced this to her Kingdom Hall. Then one day she read something in her Bible that changed her whole life. She will be sharing that information and the events that followed.
Debbie & Ken Oakley. Debbie grew up in the Ortega home where she was taught the beliefs of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. She listened to her mother testify of her conviction that she was one of the 144,000 elect. Debbie and Ken married, and Ken became an elder in the local Jehovah’s Witness Kingdom Hall. But then one day Debbie found out that the Watchtower Society leaders had told her husband that he was to disfellowship her mother from the Jehovah’s Witnesses Society. Why and what happened is what Ken and Debbie will tell us as well as what convinced them that all their lives they had been deceived about Jesus.

Program 3: Former Jehovah’s Witnesses Testify
What Happens to Someone Who Leaves the Watchtower Society?

Ankerberg: Welcome. We have five people on the platform that have over 120 years experience of living as Jehovah’s Witnesses among them. And Joan, I would like to come to you first of all. People say, “Well, you came out of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, you just wanted to do that for some ego trip or something else.” Tell us a little bit about what it cost you to come out and actually disagree with the Watchtower Society.
Joan Cetnar: Well, I was raised as a Jehovah’s Witness. It was in my family for four generations. My great grandmother was S. S. Kresge’s mother. He was never a Jehovah’s Witness, but his two sisters were, one of whom was my grandmother. And so it was passed down through our family until I grew up knowing nothing else but the teachings of the Watchtower Society. My mother and father were very, very zealous by that time and had really caught hold in our family. And so, by the time that I was old enough to understand, at the age 13 I dedicated my life to Jehovah. And to me, serving the organization, I was taught similarly to Bill; the Bible is God’s Word. I believed that with all my heart. And I also believed that the Watchtower organization was God’s prophet. It was His spokesman. What was said in the Watchtower to me should agree with what the Bible says. And up until I went to the Watchtower headquarters in 1954, I had no doubt about that.
Ankerberg: So all your life you grew up and you are an heir of the Kresges, still are, in essence, if you wanted to be
Joan Cetnar: Yes.
Ankerberg: And you went to Brooklyn, the headquarters.
Joan Cetnar: I worked for $14 a month.
Ankerberg: You worked for $14. Is that really true, they still work for $14?
Joan Cetnar: We got a raise.
Bill Cetnar: Worse now, it is $20.
Ankerberg: $20, every worker works, how in the world do they do that?
Joan Cetnar: Well, they receive their room and board, but I don’t know how they do it.
Bill Cetnar: The president is the greatest inflation fighter on earth. He receives $20, has two Cadillacs, travels around the world, stays in the best hotels, has a suite of rooms, has a servant, has sides of beef hanging in his own personal refrigerator, and he does this on $20 a month.
Ankerberg: Hey, that’s a slick trick. So, in other words it is not exactly even is what you are saying.
Bill Cetnar: They tell you it’s even, but that is not true.
Ankerberg: As you have observed. And is this what you are saying, that when you actually got to Brooklyn and you saw the leaders in the Society…?
Joan Cetnar: Well, my experience was that I experienced a great deal of love. I was a happy Jehovah’s Witness girl. I had no qualms with the organization until I got to headquarters and I saw where I felt the love should be the most concentrated because this is where God’s Spirit comes down upon these men that write the Watchtower. I did not see that. I saw the men of authority misusing the authority and mistreating men, and some of those stories are told in our book. I began to question, is this really God’s organization? If it is, why are they not showing love? And then blood transfusion came up and by this time I met this guy. And he was questioning the same thing.
Ankerberg: Who was one of those chiefs in…
Joan Cetnar: Who was making decisions.
Ankerberg: …making decisions.
Joan Cetnar: There was a decision making department, yes.
Ankerberg: For every Jehovah’s Witness and anybody that asked a question south of the Mason-Dixon lLine in America, he answered the questions and wrote the doctrine and it became God’s law.
Joan Cetnar: Now, this was not easy to question God’s organization because it was like questioning God.
Ankerberg: Was it easier just to question him?
Helen Ortega: Privately!
Joan Cetnar: I was having difficulty aligning what the Watchtower said with what the Bible said. And to me this was the last word. And I thank God for that.
Ankerberg: But you realized that guys like the guy you were dating, that you finally married, were speaking for God, which is in essence when they came up for the doctrine…
Joan Cetnar: I never looked at him like that.
Ankerberg: I mean in essence when he would say something about the fact that you can’t have a blood transfusion and according to what you said last week, what is it, 1,100 people a week can die of the Jehovah’s Witnesses just because they believe that? I mean how…
Bill Cetnar: What else is interesting John, if I can cut in for a minute, the man who is the editor of the Awake magazine, his name is Colin Quackenbush, agreed with me that we are wrong on blood transfusions and was writing articles against blood transfusions telling you not to take one – and he did. He left the Watchtower 90 days after I did and now he is back at the Watchtower headquarters in the same department writing again.
Ankerberg: Okay, Joan continue.
Joan Cetnar: Okay, there was just one other thing that allowed me to question a little bit and that was the fact that I already lived through one false teaching and that was the vaccination thing, where they said that it was against God’s law to have a vaccination and then they changed. I felt that if that was going to be true of blood transfusion, I did not want to be responsible for somebody else because I taught them. Okay, you don’t question God and you don’t question God’s organization and that led to our being disfellowshipped.
Ankerberg: In other words, the two are synonymous, if you question the Watchtower Society, you are questioning God. And what is disfellowshipping? What does this word mean?
Joan Cetnar: Well, just what it says. You are not allowed from that point on, no one I should say, is allowed to have fellowship with you who is a Jehovah’s Witness. You are not allowed in their home. They are not even allowed to say, “Hello” to you should they see you on the street. This was extended to my own family to the point where they asked us to leave the home that we were living in which belonged to them. Bill was asked to leave his job, and we had three small children at the time. And we thank his brother for being very merciful to us. He gave my husband a job. We moved to California and that is where some Christians finally reached us with the real gospel of who Jesus is. And we accepted that.
Ankerberg: Because you became a Christian and left the Watchtower Society, did it mean the fact that you gave up being a millionaire?
Joan Cetnar: Well, I am not a member of my family any longer, my parents family, so I…
Ankerberg: If you were to go back to your family, would you be reinstated?
Joan Cetnar: As a member of the family, yes. If I would go back to the organization it was made clear then that I would receive all of the recognition as a member of the family again. But not until I go back to God’s organization, the Watchtower Society.
Ankerberg: Let’s also qualify there are some Kresges that are solid Christians.
Bill Cetnar: Absolutely. They are born again Christians. They have nothing to do with Jehovah’s Witnesses. It was the mother, great grandmother of Joan. I am married to a could-be millionaire.
Joan Cetnar: Can I just tell a brief quick story. In 1914 the end of the world was supposed to come.
Ankerberg: According to the Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Joan Cetnar: Right. My grandmother, S.S. Kresge’s mother was a Witness. She said it is going to happen in 1914. He didn’t believe it. He built a house for her in 1914 and it still stands in testimony of the fact that the end of the world did not come.
Ankerberg: Quite a sense of humor!
Joan Cetnar: She died in 1940, still living in that home.
Ankerberg: Okay, that’s one story. We’ve got another one that is just as dynamic. Helen, there are many, many Jehovah’s Witnesses listening to our program. I have talked with them and they have asked questions and we have answered those questions and I said I would love to send more literature, and they will not let me even in a plain envelope send to them one bit of information because they are scared. What are they scared about?
Helen Ortega: They are afraid that the society will find out about it and then the elders will come to them and say, “How come you have done this thing, questioning God’s organization? You don’t ask questions anywhere except from the New World Society which is the Society Headquarters.”
Ankerberg: But wait a minute, don’t the Jehovah’s Witnesses say that this whole thing works on love and didn’t even some of you folks say that when you first came into the Witnesses that they opened their arms wide and really loved you? What is the difference there?
Helen Ortega: It is conditional love. It’s when you accept the Society wholeheartedly with no questions they will love you. And when you start questioning, they back away. And when you really make definite statements, then they will end up disfellowshipping you, like they did us.
Ankerberg: You were so sincere as a Jehovah’s Witness. How many Bible studies did you have a week?
Helen Ortega: I had 13 Bible studies every week.
Ankerberg: Every week?
Helen Ortega: Every week.
Ankerberg: And then you went door to door besides?
Helen Ortega: Oh, yes.
Ankerberg: How many days a week did you go door to door?
Helen Ortega: Just as much as I could. I’d have probably a couple of days. I had put my little girl into a nursery school so I could go.
Ankerberg: And then you started to have such a close relationship with Jesus that you came to the astounding conclusion that you were what?
Helen Ortega: One of the 144,000.
Ankerberg: What in the world are the 144,000?
Helen Ortega: According to the Society they are those that are going to go to heaven and be with Jesus.
Ankerberg: Okay, Bill, for a quick comment. Why is it that that 144,000 is so special, and why is it that you as an official, when you heard that this lady down here in the South said that she was one of the 144,000, you could kind of make an offhand laughing remark?
Bill Cetnar: The Watchtower reads Revelation 7 and 14, there it tells us about 144,000 that are going to be redeemed from the earth. The Watchtower Society doctrine is that is says that these people begin with the ones whom Jesus converted, whom the apostles converted, and they were supposed to all go to heaven in 1914. When this failed Jehovah’s Witnesses continued to grow and by 1935 they had more than 144,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses, so somebody can’t go. So the president, being brilliant, figured out that something has to be done. Only 144,000 seats in heaven and 145,000 here to fill them. Somebody can’t go. So his ruling was that anybody who was a Jehovah’s Witness before 1935 goes to heaven. Anybody who became a Jehovah’s Witness after 1935 can’t go. Now, you get people coming into the Watchtower who are like this individual, who all at once thinks in 1962 that she is one of those up there at the 144,000. Well, instead of turning her off by telling her she can’t go, he’ll say, “Well, you can go, somebody must have lost his crown.” So, she thought somebody lost his crown and she took over.
Helen Ortega: That’s what they told us.
Ankerberg: Okay, and actually when you declared that, even among the Jehovah’s Witnesses that’s not something you want to declare. Why?
Helen Ortega: No. Because, you know, they will look at you and think, well, what do you think you have that we don’t have?
Ankerberg: Something special!!
Helen Ortega: Yeah, you think you are really something!
Ankerberg: Debbie, what did you think when Mama came out and says, “Hey, folks, I am one of the 144,000”? Do you remember? What did you think?
Debbie Oakley: I didn’t like it at all. And I remember when it happened. I was asleep, I was about 7 or 8 years old, and I remember waking up and hearing her telling my dad that she didn’t know how she was going to tell me. And I was crying and I cried out.
Ankerberg: Why were you crying? I mean she is going to go to Heaven and rule with Jesus.
Debbie Oakley: Mainly because it meant that I would never see her again.
Ankerberg: Why would you never see her again?
Debbie Oakley: Because I was one of the “other sheep” and I had to stay on the earth.
Ankerberg: The other sheep are the ones that are the Jehovah’s Witnesses that rule faithfully and they are going to inherit the earth, but they won’t go to heaven. So mom would be separated from daughter. So you didn’t like Mama becoming one of the 144,000.
Debbie Oakley: No, and I didn’t care much for Jesus then either, when He took her, thinking that He would take her.
Ankerberg: So, what did you tell her?
Helen Ortega: I just told her that I had no choice. The Lord called me and that was it. And it was very hard for her and it was hard for my other daughter, too.
Ankerberg: So, talk about sincerity, that has got to be the epitome of sincerity that you announced to the congregation that would look at you and say, “Hey, you are something special.” The authorities in Brooklyn would say, “She is, you know, well, let her go.” And daughter says, “Mama, you are being separated from us eternally. You are going to heaven and we are only going to be the other sheep on earth.” Okay, and then, even as one of those 144,000 then, after you had told everybody and basically they accepted you, then you started to question, and then what happened?
Helen Ortega: Then I was called on the carpet, and they would ask me why.
Ankerberg: What was the first thing that you questioned?
Helen Ortega: The first thing I questioned was, I was at a Bible study and I questioned the fact that I was teaching and I questioned, just the Lord really. . .
Ankerberg: Right out of the Bible itself?
Helen Ortega: Right out of the Bible how Jerusalem would be surrounded in Armageddon’s end time. And then how the plague would fall, and the eyelids would rot out, and the horses’ eyes would rot out and so forth, and it was against all nations that went against Jerusalem. Now, the Society teaches that Jerusalem pictures Christendom, which is bad, and so then my question was well, why would God plague those that are going against Christendom in judgment? And then I realized this really is Jerusalem and this isn’t true. And I remember sitting there looking at this dear sweet girl, Toby, and wondering, “What should I tell her?” I knew I was telling her false. And I wouldn’t go on and I still, she was with me, I still don’t know how I ever ended that study. But I never conducted another study.
Ankerberg: And you never conducted another study but you told one of your girl friends, you wrote a letter to her. She felt she was one of the 144,000, and you thought you could trust her with your doubts.
Helen Ortega: Yes.
Ankerberg: You never told any of your family, you never told anybody in the Kingdom Hall. You told that other lady and you poured out your heart. You thought she would have an answer to straighten you out, but what did she do?
Helen Ortega: She gave it to another lady who gave it to a circuit servant who sent it right to Headquarters. And Ken, my dear son-in-law, was on the committee that they were going to put me out of the organization.
Ankerberg: Here we have daughter and the man she married, all zealous, sincere Jehovah’s Witnesses, and lo and behold the son-in-law gets a letter from the higher echelons that Mama is making a mistake and you have got to do something about it. Now, we want to find out what you did and how you told your wife what you were supposed to do. Ken, Mom writes a letter to one of her girlfriends who turns it over to the higher echelons of the Watchtower Society who wrote you back. What did they say?
Ken Oakley: You talk about pressure. It is hard to emphasize the feelings that go through you at a time like that. When I was told by Helen – I remember the day explicitly – her husband Joe and I were painting a fence. And Helen came out and says, “Ken, I am in trouble.” And at that time I was 17 or 18, the assistant overseer – what they call elders now – and was on a committee that would have to react to this letter. The letter that came from the Society basically said, “This is a trouble maker, get rid of her.”
Ankerberg: Did they know that it was your mother-in-law?
Ken Oakley: There was no indication if so. It was written to the congregation overseer.
Ankerberg: Which you happened to be?
Ken Oakley: I happened to be the assistant.
Ankerberg: The assistant to the overseer?
Ken Oakley: Yes. So he drew the body together, but first he called Helen and said that he had gotten a letter. So she says, “Ken, I am in trouble. What am I going to do?” And I said, “Don’t sweat it.”
Ankerberg: Why did you say, “Don’t sweat it?”
Ken Oakley: Well, I felt that I was in a position that she didn’t have to worry since I knew she was no more an “evil slave” than I was.
Ankerberg: What is an “evil slave?”
Ken Oakley: “Evil slave” is someone that verbally and openly disagrees with the Society. They call them “evil slaves.”
Ankerberg: Because you didn’t even know that she had written this letter to her friend until the letter came back to you saying she is a trouble maker.
Ken Oakley: Didn’t know, didn’t know.
Ankerberg: Okay, so now meantime your wife doesn’t know all this is going on, right? Did you tell your wife right away?
Ken Oakley: Did not tell her.
Ankerberg: Did you want to tell your wife right away?
Ken Oakley: Oh, this was very hard, because Debbie and her mother are like mother and daughter, you know. Very, very close to put it very mildly. And Debbie found out one day as we were in a motel attending a Jehovah’s Witness Assembly and I was out on some kind of meeting or something.
Ankerberg: How did you find out?
Debbie Oakley: I did something that a good servant’s wife should not do and I believe that it was the Lord. I saw this letter laying on his briefcase and I read it. And it was about my mother. And when he got back to the motel room, I almost had a heart attack right there on the floor, and a divorce, and a nervous breakdown all at once. And I said, “Why didn’t you tell me.” And Ken says, “I didn’t know how to tell you, Debbie. I didn’t know how to tell you, but now you know.” And I said, “Well, what’s going to happen to her.” And he says, “I don’t know.”
Ankerberg: Okay, so then what happened? You had to finally bring Mama before the group?
Ken Oakley: Yes, and I had asked that at this point that, knowing the feelings of the circuit servant – and I will say it out loud, the circuit servant said, “She has got to go” – and I would have no part of it, and asked to be taken off the committee that made that decision.
Ankerberg: So you were taken off the committee, and they went ahead and brought you in, Helen. What did they ask you when they brought you in?
Helen Ortega: They asked me if I didn’t agree with everything the Society said, and I said, “No.” And they wanted to know if I had influenced other people, and I said, “No.” And they accused me of influencing a girl that had come to me visiting, and she asked me what I disagreed with, because by that time I wasn’t attending meetings or anything. And I said, “I cannot tell you, because I have nothing to offer you.” And then later on they accused me of weakening her faith.
Ankerberg: Which you never did.
Helen Ortega: I never did. And after I was disfellowshipped, about a month later, I got a letter from the elder, the head of the congregation there, that said this girl wanted me to know that I had not weakened her faith and the elder that wrote the letter was the one that accused me of this, and it was one of the reasons why I was disfellowshipped.
Ankerberg: Okay, when you got the letter that you were disfellowshipped after 20 years, after declaring yourself to be one of the 144,000 special elect, how did you feel?
Helen Ortega: I felt the whole world had dropped out, the bottom, I didn’t know what to do, I didn’t know where to go. All my life all I wanted to do was to serve God. And I didn’t understand, I just didn’t understand.
Ankerberg: And then what happened?
Helen Ortega: Well, less than a month later my other daughter died on her 17th birthday.
Ankerberg: Seventeen. And she was good friends, and you guys were buddies?
Helen Ortega: Oh, we were buddies.
Ankerberg: Okay, but when you were disfellowshipped, that meant that you couldn’t even talk to your own daughter.
Helen Ortega: She could not talk to me at all.
Ankerberg: And you couldn’t go to see your own sister?
Debbie Oakley: Well, what happened is my dad and my sister would come to visit us. I could not go to their house, no. So they would come to visit us without my mother.
Ankerberg: Okay, and then this tragedy, asthma, 17 years of age, all of a sudden she dies. The friends that were in the Kingdom Hall all of your life, how did they treat you when you had this tragedy?
Helen Ortega: Well, my husband or my daughter were not disfellowshipped, and they never sent one sympathy card, nothing except one of Becky’s sent a card.
Ankerberg: So a month after you are kicked out of the Society that you have given 20 years to, your daughter tragically dies, you have the funeral and not one of your friends for 20 years…
Helen Ortega: Neither calls or attends or sends flowers. But the kids did, her friends did. And neighbors did. Christian neighbors that I didn’t even know, because we weren’t allowed to fellowship.
Ankerberg: Okay, Joe?
Joe Ortega: Well, Becky was not disfellowshipped. She was a baptized Witness. And we are not talking about one congregation. You talked about the fear, we loved the Jehovah’s Witnesses, we attended six or seven congregations here, and we didn’t receive one, nothing, one note, one card.
Ankerberg: The daughter that died, Becky, was not disfellowshipped.
Helen Ortega: That’s right.
Ankerberg: And, Joe, you weren’t either?
Helen Ortega: That’s right.
Ankerberg: And nobody even came over?
Helen Ortega: That’s right.
Bill Cetnar: Do you see the superstition of her being kicked out?
Ankerberg: Why didn’t they come over?
Helen Ortega: Because they were afraid. They were afraid they would get disfellowshipped. The only ones that came were those that were disfellowshipped along with me.
Ankerberg: What would you say to the people that are out there that are Jehovah’s Witnesses that maybe are going through something like what you are going through? What pulled you through all of that?
Helen Ortega: Jesus, I would say turn to Jesus.
Ankerberg: God bless you. We’ll see you next week.

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