The Langbroek Family Story
By Jan Langbroek
I became interested in the Jehovah’s Witnesses in the early 1950s. I was still at teachers’ college in the Netherlands and belonged to the Dutch Reformed Church. In the church I had asked several times about the trinity but never received a satisfactory answer. So when the JWs came with all the answers I was a “sitting duck.”
After I graduated in 1954 at age 22, I started a bible study with the JWs. At this time I was teaching at a Christian school and soon got into hot water because they discovered that I was associating with the witnesses. The headmaster called me in one morning and stated I either give up associating with the JWs or being fired. I chose the latter, but as The Netherlands still had compulsory military service and as there was a shortage of teachers, I was exempt from military service. However, since I now had lost my teaching position, I had to report immediately for military service and when I refused I was promptly imprisoned for one year and a half. At this stage I still was not baptized as a JW.
(Before I started to study with the Witnesses, I belonged to an organization called Militia Christi. Members of this organization refused military service on the grounds that they were part of Christ’s army. So when the JWs showed me how military service was against God’s will, I found it easy to accept their reasoning.)
After my prison sentence, I was baptized and became a pioneer and shortly after a special pioneer. I was then invited to Bethel (Amsterdam) where I worked as a translator. In 1958 I was invited to attend Gilead (32nd class) and after graduating in 1959, while waiting in New York for my ship to take me to my missionary assignment (Belgium) I met Anne at the Radio Music Hall. Ten days later she came to the ship to see me off and I asked her if I could write to her. My first letter was posted from Nova Scotia and after several more letters I proposed to her and she accepted.
Anne had been pioneering for years in New York City and also worked from time to time at Brooklyn Bethel tying strings to the calendars and working in rooming for the big conventions. I wrote to N. H. Knorr and asked if Anne could attend Gilead and then join me in Belgium at the missionary home. He agreed and she attended the 34th class.
After graduating she joined me in Europe exactly one year after she had bid me farewell me in New York. We got married in April 1960 and as she quickly became pregnant. We left the missionary work and went to The Netherlands where I started to teach at secondary schools. (It is interesting that whenever we met Knorr he would have nothing to do with us anymore. However, I must say that Schroeder, who had been one of our instructors, was kind enough to say that Jehovah had now given us “a new assignment.”)
A Move to Australia
Our son, John-Paul, was born in January 1961 and as he and Anne developed bronchial trouble because of the damp, cold climate, we decided to migrate to Australia, where I had some good friends (JWs of course). We arrived in Brisbane, Queensland, Australia early in 1962. The climate was warm and pleasant (sub tropical) and I was offered a teaching position at a school in the country, not too far away from the capital Brisbane.
The congregation consisted of mainly one family (three brothers, their wives and children). Their name was Harris and often JWs were called the “Harris religion.” There were a few other families but they hardly counted. They were mostly dairy farmers and were thrilled to have us join them. The brothers were friendly – but we never felt part of the community and were considerate interlopers.
In 1963 our daughter Catherine (Katie) was born. In 1965 we decided to leave Australia for the USA (New York). Anne’s mother was ill and we spent part of the summer (1965) with her. When the weather became cooler we decided to join Anne’s brother in Los Angeles, California.
Papua, New Guinea
In 1966 we returned to Australia where I taught until 1970. We wanted to serve where the “need was greater.” I became a headmaster in Papua New Guinea where I was posted to several locations. It was interesting to live among those primitive people. Some of their tribes had only been discovered in 1930. Although we lived in very comfortable homes and the government did everything for us and made our stay as comfortable as possible – we still had some hair-raising experiences.
After four years we returned to Australia (I was seconded to PNG by the Queensland Department of Education) and I started to teach in Brisbane. We could have stayed longer in PNG, but John Paul had to start secondary school. Although the government would have subsidized his boarding school fees, we decided that we rather have him with us. In any case PNG gained independence (home-rule) in 1970.
In Brisbane we settled into a new congregation where I served in several capacities. We were fairly critical of the organization, but always ended up saying, “Jehovah knows and He will rectify things.” John-Paul occasionally chastised us about our critical attitude as he was a very serious and sincere young man. (He became a ministerial servant.)
Subject to Criticism
Both children attended university after their secondary schooling. Although some in the congregation did not like it, it was never brought up with us personally or with me by the other elders. When I started studying for my master’s degree, only one sister approached us and asked if we did not believe that Armageddon was very close. It was Anne that said “even if Armageddon comes tomorrow, what difference does it make if Jan is studying?” Almost 30 years have passed since then.
On our frequent visits to Bethel we were often invited to lunch, mainly by John Wischuk.
John-Paul especially was very much impressed and as he was now studying to be a dentist, he expressed interest in serving as a dentist at Brooklyn Bethel. He was told that after graduating he would be able to serve there. When he graduated in 1983, and after we visited Bethel again, he was told that they did not need him now. This, of course, was a great disappointment to him, especially as a promise had been broken. He decided to go to London, England where he worked several years as a dentist, before returning to Australia. His treatment at Bethel did not help, but I doubt if he would have remained a JW had he gone to Bethel, as he already was disengaging himself.
Our “Crisis of Conscience”
Meanwhile our daughter, Katie, graduated as a journalist and had left home. Once in a while she would join us at a Watchtower study but that was only to please us as she was afraid to hurt us. It was not long afterwards that Anne received Crisis of Conscience. (It was sent anonymously from the USA.) I did not know that she had received the book, nor that she was reading it and crying herself to sleep every evening. After a week or so she gave the book to me with the words, “I think you ought to read this.” Although we’d had misgivings about the organization for a considerable time, to actually read about their misdeeds, conspiracies and falsehoods was a different matter.
Almost immediately we stopped witnessing. I resigned as an elder and we left the congregation. Occasionally we would attend the Sunday meeting at a different congregation, just to put them off the track, as we did not want to be disfellowshipped because of my relatives in The Netherlands, who were fanatic JWs.
In the meantime we had shared the book with a young elder, who often visited us and had the same thoughts as us. However, his wife discovered the book and promptly went to the elders. This resulted in a visit by an elder plus the circuit overseer.
After a lot of small talk, towards the end of the visit the circuit overseer asked, “How well do you know Ray Franz?” We replied that we had never met him. We said that we knew his uncle Fred quite well and that we always met up with him when visiting Bethel. “But you read Ray Franz’s book, didn’t you?” the CO said.
I replied, “Who told you that?”
“Well,” he said, “if you tell me that you read the book, I’ll tell you who told me.”
“Yes,” I said, “we have read the book.” But when I asked who had told him, he said he could not reveal that.
They left shortly after and soon we had to appear before the committee. We agreed on one condition that this CO would not be present because he had lied to us. When we arrived at the hearing, the CO was there. We immediately went to our car to go home, indicating that we would not be meeting with this liar.
It was then decided that the meeting would take place without the CO present. We were warned not to read apostate literature but were not disciplined or disfellowshipped.
A little while later when in a different congregation, we shared some information with a brother we thought we could trust. He betrayed us to the district overseer who was visiting. Again we were called into a meeting. This time a DO, a CO (not the same one as before), and the local committee were present. The DO and the CO wanted to disfellowship us, but the local brothers decided to only discipline us. I was not to pray, give talks, or comment during the meetings. Anne was not allowed to comment. Strangely enough we were allowed to go into field service (which we did not do anyway).
Some time later we moved from Brisbane to Melbourne where I was offered a position at a private Christian College. Years before, Katie had moved to Melbourne. Thus we did not hesitate to take the position. It was then that we decided to start attending the Christian Reformed Church. As I had belonged to the Dutch Reformed Church when I grew up, we found the services – and especially the singing – very appealing. We made many new friends, who were mostly genuine Christians.
Although we do not believe that there is a “perfect” church, we are happy and content to be part of a Christian community.
Jan and Anne Langbroek