The First Annual WNFJ Midwest Conference!
We came from Missouri, Indiana, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Florida, Georgia, California, Colorado, and Maine! Eleven states represented at one small Midwestern conference. I’d say that’s a pretty good start!
Charles and Donna Smith didn’t know what to expect when they agreed to organize and host the first ever Witnesses Now for Jesus Conference in Farmington, Missouri this past July but when they committed to do it, people came from all over. And what a blessing that gathering proved to be!
With the help and cooperation of area churches, the Smiths went forward in inviting former Jehovah’s Witnesses to share testimonies and established counter cult ministries to bring in their knowledge and experience to address the issues related to the religion of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
The Worship Team from First Baptist Church in Bismark, MO started off the praise music Friday morning followed by a session of getting acquainted by passing the microphone to all those in attendance.
Steve Lagoon of Religion Analysis Service based in Minnesota presented hard evidence to answer the question “Is the Watchtower God’s Sole Channel of Truth?” Steve quoted one claim of the Watchtower after another that proved their fraudulent position. If you’re looking for detailed evidence, Steve’s talk had it all laid out!
An opportunity to chat over a prepared lunch was offered through the First Free Will Baptist Church in walking distance from the conference. Old friends met as well as individuals recently out of the Watchtower needing support.
As we convened back at the Long Memorial Hall, Bradley Crum began our afternoon session. Brad’s story was fascinating going from his childhood exposure to the Baptist church and then thrust into the Jehovah’s Witness religion when his mother converted. Not satisfied with her religion, Brad made his own choice to become a Mormon! Finally, he concluded that ONLY JESUS is the truth!
With so many ExJW discussion groups now on the Internet, it was refreshing to hear Bob Gray’s presentation on “Maximizing Our Impact with the Internet.” Doc Bob’s blog has been up and running now for 22 years and therefore he has much experience and advice to share on the pitfalls of Internet addiction, digital hoarding, and not checking our sources before posting. But the Internet has become the tool to reach Jehovah’s Witnesses and offer support to those who’ve left. So he presented a list of suggested Facebook, Twitter, and Youtube sites as well as useful tools like BlueletterBible and Evernote.
Prior to the next testimony, a short demonstration was given on how to plant a seed at your door when one of Jehovah’s Witnesses drop by. More mock dialogues like this would be very helpful for those wanting to witness to this group! In less than 3 minutes, the audience was given a demonstration on how to use Matthew 28:18 to get the JW at their door to think about the authority Jesus Christ was given in the first century creating a question in their minds as to why the Watchtower teaches that it wasn’t until 1914 that Jesus would receive such authority.
And then Martha Kuderer took the stage to share her testimony of recovery from the Watchtower. After leaving “the truth” at age 18, Martha was only given one alternative: the world. So she plunged in and wandered aimlessly in it for 35 years. As she noted, “you can take the girl out of the Kingdom Hall, but not the Kingdom Hall out of the girl.” Martha’s story is one many are living out today. They physically leave the Watchtower but all the guilt, fear, and shame remain upon them. That is, until they encounter the third alternative which the Watchtower never mentioned. Martha discovered it was available to her learning that it’s not just a choice of the Watchtower or the world, the third choice is Jesus Christ. And with joyful conviction and exuberance, Martha shared how her life turned around as a result of meeting Jesus Christ as her Savior, Lord, and Friend.
But what Jesus did Martha meet that was different from the one presented to her in the Watchtower? The next two talks expertly explained that!
Martin Winslow did an excellent job in using a variety of Scriptures to expel the Watchtower’s false assumption that Jesus is merely the archangel Michael. After presenting his evidence, we broke for dinner and came back for one final talk titled “The Need for Apologetics in the Church” given by Rob Phillips. Rob engaged the audience by telling us about the 1961 film with Tony Curtis called “The Great Impostor.” In recognizing counterfeits of any kind, it’s important first to study the real deal and that is the message we as Christians need to hear. Jehovah’s Witnesses share a counterfeit Jesus and gospel to persuade others to join them, but are we as Christians prepared to recognize impostors and to share the truth? So Rob methodically broke down the verses in 2 Corinthians 11:3-4 about the different Jesus, gospel, and spirit that impostors present in contrast to the real deal.
The next morning we gathered again for praise and worship music performed by The Worship Team from First Baptist Church in Bismark, MO and I was ready to share what God put on my heart to present at this conference.
Rob’s talk the previous night was a perfect set up for my testimony titled “What Was I Thinking?” I shared how I had been presented a different Jesus and a different gospel and thus fell under the different spirit of the Watchtower.
I was very thankful to have pastors from the First Free Will Baptist Church in Farmington, MO and the Sonrise Baptist Church in Bonne Terre, MO in attendance as my message was geared to stirring up the Church. I commend these men for taking an interest in this conference because it really is the Church who is in position to reach out to Jehovah’s Witnesses as they go door-to-door sharing their different Jesus and different gospel with our neighbors. When I finished my testimony, some friends said it brought tears to their eyes (as well as my own). Charles said more pastors should’ve been present to hear it. And in humility, pastor Roger Hogan of First Free Will Baptist Church stood up to apologize on behalf of the Church with a commitment to continue to learn more about this ministry. I can’t thank him enough for his attendance and humble pledge. God put it on my heart to share what I was thinking as I chose the Kingdom Hall over the Church back in 1996 and I believe He used that testimony to stir up the church in Missouri.
Why had I never heard of Ed Havaich!? Wow. He came on like a firecracker reminding us that we’re the swat team in the body of Christ! Ed is full of passion and ideas and a gift for reasoning with JWs and others. He also has a desire to see the Church arise and shared examples from his street witnessing. In the tradition of “Onward Christian Soldier,” Ed shared a sad parody titled “Backward Christian Soldier” again relating to how we as the Church have settled into our pews and forgotten our calling to share the gospel. As an exJW I am over the fear of the Church that the Watchtower put on me, but now my fear is the complacency of which he spoke. I’m on board with Ed who said, “it’s against my RELATIONSHIP to have a RELIGION.” Amen to that!
After the lunch break Kay Meyer from Family Shield Ministries told us how her life changed in 1981 when she met her first Jehovah’s Witness and realized how unprepared she was to present the gospel. From that sprang personal research and a ministry. Kay offered some great suggestions in “How to Reach Loved Ones Who Are Jehovah’s Witnesses.” Always begin with consistent prayer, keep the lines of communication open, don’t go ahead of the Holy Spirit, and be grounded in God’s word. Amen to that Kay! After offering many examples from her ministry, Kay called us to pair up with one another to pray for at least one relative or friend who is currently in the Watchtower.
Again we were entertained by one more mock dialogue demonstrating within 3 minutes how we might get a JW at our door to think. Then Charles closed out the conference with one final talk titled “Why Don’t You Just Leave These Folks Alone?” defending his passion to peacefully confront active Jehovah’s Witnesses with painted signs as they exited their convention later that day. Charles compared it to warning a neighbor their house is on fire. A loving person wouldn’t leave that alone would they? The loving and neighborly thing to do would be to warn them their house is on fire. With that, several concerned Christians offered their time to travel to St. Louis with Charles in a peaceful demonstration holding signs which read “Follow Jesus, not the Watchtower” and mentioned websites like this one where curious JWs could find more information.
So that’s the line up and NOW the experiences!
First off, I held my Fifth Annual XJW Fest at my home on the river in Wisconsin the weekend prior to the conference. Along with other friends from Wisconsin and Minnesota, Martha and her family traveled up from Florida to spend the week camped out in my yard. From there we traveled to Missouri to camp there. We agreed that St. Joe’s State Park near the conference met our standards for next year!
When I first walked through the door on Friday morning, I was met by someone who had only recently left the Watchtower. As she shared her story with me I asked where she lived. When she mentioned the town and state I queried if she knew a friend of mine who’s been active in witnessing to Jehovah’s Witnesses on Facebook. She had not heard of Sara or her blog A Twist In Translation which has been featured on this website. She was agreeable to getting connected with Sara and it turns out they live within 5 blocks of one another! In fact, now I am considering taking a trip out there to meet up with both of these ladies!
Another experience was in meeting Julie. There were in fact 3 Julie’s at this small conference and we jokingly referred to it as The Julie Conference because of it. I had emailed with a Julie last April but had never seen what she looked like. In our last correspondence she said she wasn’t planning on traveling so I wasn’t expecting her. But as this person behind me stood up on Friday morning and introduced herself, I realized this was that Julie! At lunch she shared with me how attending a Christian Clown event changed her thinking. She began mentioning names of clowns whom I knew because I’m a graduate of La Crosse, Wisconsin’s Clown Camp! Julie and I had never discussed that fact that I am a clown, we had only emailed about our history with Jehovah’s Witnesses. So I began to share that side of my testimony of how clowning was part of my healing as God arranged for me to be at Clown Camp 6 months after my disfellowshipping. He knew I was not ready to dissect the Bible and my faith just yet, I simply needed a vacation filled with laughter! And at that stage in my journey I was not able to admit to a stranger that I had once been one of Jehovah’s Witnesses or ask for prayer or help from a Christian, but in His own sense of humor, who did God arrange for me to room with while at camp? I was blessed to be included in the prayers of Twinkles the Clown from Taylorville, Ill every night as we rested up for another day of Clown Camp. Now Julie not only knows she has an ExJW friend in Wisconsin, but can attend Clown Camp a half hour away from me as well. When I returned home, I sent her the link to my Jubilee! story of how God gave me my clown name.
These are two examples of what connecting personally at a conference is like. We need those casual conversations at lunch and the hugs at the end of the day. But I also love to watch how God uses the connections to MULTIPLY! Be encouraged to read the message Martha left on our Meetup after returning home from this event.
This conference was amazing! Many leaders from the surrounding churches attended, and a new mission was born; a mission that is right on our doorstep! It became apparent to me that God is calling out many ex-JWs to join this mission to spread the true gospel throughout the WT society; God wants to save them, and He is inspiring the churches, the body of Christ, to join us in this mission. Don’t be surprised if their is another WNFJ conference in the Southeast region of the US soon! Join us in this mission by supporting those who are taking the lead! I send out much love and thanks for all who put this conference together and to all the spiritual leaders who attended and were inspired to join in this mission. God is truly amazing! ~Martha Kuderer
Sounds like Martha is ready to start up a Witnesses Now for Jesus Conference in her home state of Florida! And I know there are plenty of residents from that area that would gladly welcome it!
And if you ever wondered if your story matters, listen to how my testimony affected this person.
Morning!!! I was listening again to some of your testimonial and I can’t tell you enough How you searched for God all your life like i Did and Didn’t get the Answers you seeked and then we both end up a JW!! You have inspired me to talk to The Churches around here. I actually Talked to Two of the Church leaders already this past Spring. But Now i am going to talk to the people at the Church i have been visiting off and on. More people need to know who the witnesses and Mormon’s really are behind the scenes.
Wow. This blessed me so much. I didn’t want to just share my story again, I wanted to TEACH! Relying on prayer, God extracted the elements from my experience to assemble them together for this testimony. When we leave ourselves open to be His vessel to work through, He raises up the ones ready to respond. He has been faithful in using my story to teach and stir up His Church. What a blessing to be part of this movement!
Don’t Forget, there’s a conference coming up October 6-8 in Pennsylvania! Since 1979 ExJWs and ministries to them have gathered “up on the Mountain” for this same purpose of sharing testimonies and teachings of interest to those seeking help for their JW loved ones and healing from the Watchtower. Click on this link for more information!
Keep yourself in God’s love,