Image of five-year-old Sofia Avendano at a Jehovah’s Witness convention in Texas
*Name changed for privacy purposes
If I’m being honest, I’ve wanted to work on a Jehovah’s Witness story for a while. I never knew exactly what shape I wanted it to take since I was still struggling to come to my own conclusion about how I felt about the subject. One thing I knew for sure was that even though my childhood with the Jehovah’s Witnesses seemed murky, it was still present in the back of my mind. Although my mom hadn’t gone to the meetings in years, I know she still holds some of those beliefs to herself. This made it hard to tell her that I was writing a story about the Witnesses and that based on my initial conversation with Nadia, it wouldn’t be entirely positive.
I found Nadia Alexandra out of sheer luck. Finding sources for journalism stories is difficult and it’s even more difficult when it’s a subject that you’re not entirely sure someone wants to talk about. Nadia came up on a random Google search sometime in the early hours of a morning. I think it was based on the proximity; her play “Hello, My Name is Nadia” which focused on her experience growing up as a Jehovah’s Witness youth, played at The Annoyance Theater. Just a couple streets down from where I live. Hearing her story was something I won’t forget, partly because we felt so much in common but also because I could hear the difficulty in her voice as she struggled to explain the abuse she endured without going into too much detail. My biggest flaw as a journalist is that I don’t like to push people too much during a hard subject. It’s something in my inner being that won’t let me pry until they’re ready.
Nadia led me to her friend Jake*, who decided to stay anonymous for the story. I didn’t know what to expect from a man since many issues that Nadia and myself had faced in the religion stemmed from being women. Jake was really pleasant to talk to because he was able to put into words what I couldn’t; that essentially it’s a crazy religion but it’s full of kind people. I think that’s what makes this so difficult and why it’s stopped me from talking about it before. The beliefs themselves I want no part of but the kindness of many of the people that I grew up with is hard to ignore. They were genuine friends, people who asked about your day and cared when it wasn’t a good one. Doors would slam in their faces and they would just turn around with a shrug and a small smile saying “let’s go on to the next one!”
When I messaged Nadia for a follow-up interview she was wary. She hadn’t expected how hard it would be to open up about her past which was understandable. A lot of the time I convince myself that I’ve moved on when in truth, I still get the fear that I’m doing something wrong with my life, that maybe I do need to go back or else I’m doomed in some way. I left the Witnesses when I was 16 and it’s taken me until now, at age 22, to finally speak out. In a sense, this story is about comfort. Creating enough comfort that you can talk about your life without giving an apologetic smile.