As a child, the rental property next door had many different tenants. For a large chunk of my Primary School years, it was occupied by a very nice family called Robinson, who had children my age and younger. The first memory I have of them is the girl, Sarah, asking me over the fence one day if I was a “Jehovah’s Witness”.
I would have been around 5 years old, and had never heard the term before, but instinctively shook my head. From that point on, I found it fascinating every time the subject came up: no birthday parties, no Christmas presents. I felt awfully sorry for the poor children, but they never seemed to mind their plight, or even notice it. A happier family I have rarely seen.
I remember a game with the youngest boy when I was about 7 and he was about 4. We were pointing at various things in his Dad’s shed and saying “who made that?” The answer was invariably
“Daddy made that” with a few “Mummy made that” or “Uncle Jack made that”
thrown in as well.
Then I pointed to a tree outside the shed and said
“Who made that?“
Without missing a beat, he said
“Jehovah made that!”
Who made the sun? Jehovah made that! Who made the grass? Jehovah made that! Then one of our parents came along and bundled us away before the conversation could get any more conspicuous.
When I was almost 10, my uncle, who had been living with us since I was born, passed away. Among the stream of relatives who brought packages of food into our house, our next door neighbour, Mrs Robinson, brought in a plate as well. I remember talking to my mother about it a few days later. What are these people? What is a Jehovah’s Witness? Who is this Jehovah?
My mother explained to me that these people were in a “sect”, that their God was not our God, that they believed in a different God, named Jehovah. But does that mean they are not Christian? Well, yes, she explained, but they are still nice people. See, when Mrs Robinson brought that banana cake in when Uncle Colin died, she was being a Christian then. But in essence, no they were not Christian, and they would not be going to Heaven. It was all very confusing.
Another confusing moment in my childhood came at my home-away-from-home, Bankstown, in Western Sydney. My father’s sister lived there, and every second school holidays were spent at Aunty Betty’s house. I played with the children who lived next door to her, who happened to be Muslim.
I never heard the word during this time, and their religion was never spoken of. All I knew was that at certain times of the day they had to go home to pray. I guess I just thought they were very good Christians, who liked to pray together during the day instead of reciting their prayers at night, like my silver picture frame compelled me to do. Only two things struck me as “different” about this family: one, the little girl (there were six boys and one girl, and she was around five years younger than me), wasn’t allowed to play with certain toys and dolls that I was allowed to, and one day when I was playing with nail polish and suggested putting some on her, her older brother whisked her home, saying that their mother would be furious if she found her wearing that.
The second thing was the boys. As we grew up, and each boy turned 18, he disappeared for a year, and when he returned, he would not speak to me. He said hello to Uncle Tom and nodded to my father, but the friends I grew up with were all of a sudden, one by one, strangers. One day I asked my Uncle Tom where the boys went for their year away. He said they had to go back to Lebanon, to serve a year in the army. I just guessed that after spending a year in the Lebanese army they were no longer interested in playing with some young Australian girl.
In school, I always had trouble making friends. In any given year there would only be two or three people I would count as good friends, and these usually changed from grade to grade. But in Year 4, there had been one girl whom I had gotten along famously with, and when she moved away in Year 5, we had become pen friends. We had stayed in touch up until we were both 16, when, unbeknownst to each other, we had both run away from home and started our own lives, me with a husband, and her with a boyfriend, which changed into another boyfriend and city, followed by another. When we were 18 and I was in Year 12, she had come back to town and reconciled with her parents, but at the time I had not yet reconciled with mine.
Genevieve’s father was a Baptist minister and her mother lead Bible study groups and was very active in the local Baptist Church. When we were children, I saw her do many “strange” things at school: pray before she ate lunch, tell other children off for using bad language, and once a girl came up to her and asked her to pray over her broken arm. It all looked very odd to me, but I chose not to focus on it, and largely ignored that part of her life. My parents thought she was a polite little girl but believed that her parents belonged to a “sect”. I remember one day when I was in a jewellery shop with my mother and i admired a silver cross on a necklace, my mother mocked me by saying
“Genevieve’s converting you is she?”
I felt a strong urge to say “No! Of course not!” and drop the cross like it was on fire.
Her parents’ strictness was what had lead a 16-year-old Genevieve to rebel against her home life and run away to create her own rules. So when she had come back home, her parents kept her under strict lock and key. I first heard of her return from a girl in my class at school, who came up and said “You used to be friends with Genevieve Taylor didn’t you? Did you know she’s back in town?” I was quite shocked and eager to see my old friend again. However Rebecca, the girl in my class, warned me that her parents were not allowing her to socialise with anyone who was not a part of their church. She invited me to go along one Sunday to “see what it was like”.
A few Sundays later, I took her up on her offer. My curiosity grew when my husband (at the time) informed me that his parents also went to that church. So we both went along for the Sunday service.
My ex-husband instantly hated the whole concept of church. He thought it was all stupid and didn’t want to go back any more, not even with his parents. However, my experience was worlds apart: after getting over the excitement of seeing Genevieve again, her mother invited me to sit with their family for the services, and she explained it all to me as it was happening. She told me about how Jesus Christ had come down from Heaven to take the punishment for our sins, as there was no other way for us to be forgiven for them. She explained that since He had done that, we were now forgiven and children of God, and free to go to Heaven and spend eternity with Him. It sounded wonderful to me, like a dream. And then, she told me that my Year 7 history teacher had told me a vicious lie: Adam and Eve were created as beautiful human beings, not as apes. We did not evolve from green slime. The Bible was the Truth, and Evolution was a lie.
That was all I needed to hear. I gladly accepted Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and Saviour, and dug out my now old and mouldy Gideons New Testament, and signed my name on that last page. The date was August 18th, 1998.
The next couple of years flew by in a haze of Bible classes and worship services. I signed up to do a correspondence course with one of the major Bible colleges in Sydney, and attended classes three or four days a week. I learned that the next step in my Christian walk was to get baptised, and Genevieve’s mother offered to be my sponsor.
Part Three can be read by clicking HERE.