The Former Things Have Passed Away: ‘Baptism & Conversion’

I stood on the assembly hall stage, rocking back and forth, side to side like a rocking horse.
And now we have little Sister Cabrera who will recite the first thirty-nine books of the Bible, all from memory.
Rocking had always made me feel better.
Genesis Exodus Leviticus Numbers…
Deuteronomy Joshua Judges Ruth…
When not on stage, I had the habit of rocking back and forth, sometimes side to side, sometimes back and forth.
First Samuel Second Samuel…
First Kings Second Kings…
First Chronicles second Chronicles…
On my bed while reading a book…
Ezra Nehemiah Esther…
Job Psalms Proverbs…
Song of Solomon Isaiah Jeremiah…
At the dinner table…
Ezekiel Daniel Hosea
Joel Amos Obadiah
Jonah Micah Na-hum…
At my desk at school…
Ha-ba-kkuk…(emphasis on “kkuk,” giggles from audience at mispronunciation)
Zephaniah Haggai…
Zechariah Malachi…
Rocking made everything better.
Wow Sister Cabrera, that’s marvelous.
Do you want me to do the Greek Scriptures too?
I must have been six or seven years old. I had a couple of teeth missing in the front, and in between a series of names I licked the empty spaces in my gums. It tasted like blood.
I liked to rock. I liked doing Oompa Loompa with Dyna too in the bedroom with pink-painted walls that we shared. It was my idea and though she was three years older than me, she followed. We’d say, “Oompa Loompa” and then bounce our faces on the beds and giggle. Before this, we’d pull down our pants and panties, quickly rub our butts on the same beds, and pull them back up before anybody could catch us. It was our secret little dirty game.
Brother Elder patted me on the head after my recitation, and said to Mama and Papa, “She’s the smartest little sister we have in Otay Mesa Congregation.” They nodded and smiled. They agreed.

By the time I was six years old, I could recite all 66 books of the Bible by heart. I raised my hand to answer questions in discussions at both the weekly Book Study and Watchtower study. I read my answers to questions straight from the book, such as The Truth that Leads to Eternal Life, for example, or from the issue of the Watchtower being covered that Sunday. Ten years later, my answers had graduated to maturity. I would answer at the very least once per Sunday meeting, but usually more than once. If I didn’t it was either because I wasn’t feeling well or was unprepared. If I didn’t for just one meeting, I felt a sense of guilt, and un-spiritual.
My answers reflected thorough personal study and research. Not only did I highlight the answers in the Watchtower ahead of time, but I also looked up every unquoted scripture, wrote notes in the margins, and then elaborated extensively on how the scripture fit into the paragraph. Sometimes I would even write out the answer to a question in full sentences on a separate sheet of paper. But with practice, there was no longer any need for that. I could answer impromptu, straight into the microphone with intelligent erudition. Here is an example:
Question, as phrased directly from the Watchtower: “Why is Jehovah determined to destroy this system of things?”
Answer, as quoted directly from the Watchtower: “Because Jehovah truly loves those who serve him, he will wipe out all those who cause them distress. (Psalm 37:9-11, 29)”
My extended, well-researched answer: “Well, we are all familiar with King David’s words at Psalm 37:9-11, that the evildoers will be cut off, and that only those hoping in Jehovah – the meek – will possess the earth. If we ponder upon this more closely, Jehovah only helps those who have faith in him, truly love him, such as King David. The context here was that wicked ones and evildoers surrounded David, and so Jehovah took revenge upon such ones for David’s sake, because they were causing him great distress. Likewise, he will do the same for his present-day people and wipe out such ones who cause them distress, those evildoers around us who make up this wicked system of things. (Note: Quotes taken from The Watchtower-September 1, 1997 issue, pg. 22, par. 18.)
By the time I was a young adult, I no longer read directly from the publications. I used my thinking processes and was proud of the results.
Brother Elder often said, “Why Tina, you could be an elder-ette!”
APRIL 16, 1983
Today was and will be the most memorable in my whole life. I symbolized my dedication to Jehovah. I also realized that many of my brothers and sisters are so loving. Dyna gave me a card with the congratulations of many brothers and sisters. Della gave me a perfume, and Mama gave me a comb and mirror case. I didn’t expect it! I was so nervous. But yet I feel good because I belong to Jehovah God now, and will serve him the rest of my life. May I never forget this day and never forget that I belong to him now. This is truly a memorable day!
The day of my baptism, Jay – the Filipino boy I had had a crush on when I was eight years old and he was twelve – said, “So, you’re getting baptized,” scratching the back of his neck, and his eyebrows raised like a question mark. Today I was fourteen and he was eighteen.
“Really? Why?”
When I was eight and he was twelve, he knew I had a crush on him. One of my older sisters had spilled the beans to his older sister. Word got back to me that he said I was too skinny. I laughed and said, “So is he.” I was indeed skinny, rail thin so that the kids at school called me toothpick and Olive Oil. He was tall and skinny too, but while I had smooth, unblemished fair skin, taking after my mom’s Spanish heritage, he had dark, scaly dry skin. I had large eyes while he had small ones. He wasn’t good looking, but he was funny and made me laugh and I liked him. The day of my baptism I didn’t like Jay anymore. Still, when he asked me why I was getting baptized, his question bothered me and made me feel exposed. I blushed. I felt like I did the day I wrote a little love note to him.
I had planned to give him the note at the Kingdom Hall, but held it facing forward by accident so that one of the brothers looked down at me and smiled. I held the little folded letter in my hand with the words exposed, “To Jay,” written in red marker ink on the envelope. I smiled shyly, but said nothing, and then I blushed; the brother’s eyes had infiltrated my secret. And his teasing smile jolted me into realization of what I was about to do – expose my inner feelings to Jay, a part of myself that rightfully belonged only to me.
Jay’s simple question, “Why?” probed into the secret between Jehovah and myself, feelings I couldn’t quite express into words, and which were no one else’s business. I was about to give myself over to Jehovah to do with me as he pleased. And here I was about to make this agreement public.
I shrugged my shoulders at Jay, and he walked away.
The baptismal candidates were seated in the first two rows of the middle section of the Escondido Assembly Hall, with the four-foot pool to the left of the stage, built specifically for baptisms. There were about fifteen of us, echoing our answers in unison to the two baptismal questions asked by the elder through the microphone on the stage.
Question #1: Have you repented of your sins and turned around, recognizing yourself before Jehovah God as a condemned sinner who needs salvation, and have you acknowledged to him that this salvation proceeds from him, the Father
through his son Jesus Christ?
Question #2: On the basis of this faith in God and in his provision for salvation,
have you dedicated yourself unreservedly to God to do his will henceforth as
he reveals it to you through Jesus Christ and through the Bible under the
enlightening power of the holy spirit?
I think these were the questions. Or this:
On the basis of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, have you repented of your sins and
dedicated yourself to Jehovah to do his will?
Do you understand that your dedication and baptism identify you as one of
Jehovah’s Witnesses in association with God’s spirit-directed organization?
We were asked two questions that we had to answer aloud to complete our dedication. I understood that I was officially becoming a Jehovah’s Witness even though I had always felt like one since I could remember, and that this organization I belonged to was the only one directed and guided by Jehovah God – the only one with the Truth.
After answering in the affirmative, we sang the song, “Dedicated to Jehovah.” While the audience sang the last of four verses, we were directed to the back door next to the stage, which led to the changing rooms. The males were escorted into one changing room and females into another.
The carpeted room was narrow and the lighting dim, with one bathroom. There were a couple of electrical outlets to plug in our blow dryers or curling irons. There were about five small changing rooms set to one side, like fitting rooms in a department store, each with a swinging door and hook to keep it shut. Two sisters were assigned to assist us. They asked if any of us needed help, and then knocked to check when we were done. I nervously changed into my green bathing suit, a green two-toned number, and then pulled my Arizona Sonora t-shirt over that. I shivered in the air-conditioned room, and then fell into the line of about four females and several males in the tiled corridor, which was even dimmer in its dull orange light. A brother stood near the entrance of the pool with a clipboard.
Name please?
Tina V. Cabrera.
Have you ever in the past been baptized in symbol of your dedication as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses?
The purpose of this question was to identify anyone who was getting re-baptized.
Some did because of having been disfellowshipped at some time in the past.
As I stepped into the shallow, tiled pool, I looked around at the faces surrounding the rod-iron gate. I spotted Mama waving at me through the crowd, Mandel looking awkward in his red and yellow shirt, bowl haircut, and yanking at her hand. I searched for my best friend Della, but could not spot her. Everyone else became a blur as the brother carrying out the baptisms rested his hand on my back. I took a deep breath and pinched my nose with my right hand, and held onto him with my left. He immersed me in the warm water completely, and before he even lifted me back up, I could hear loud clapping and applause. As I stepped out of the water, I was handed my towel, and as I dried off my face, I paused on the steps, turned to the crowd and was blinded by the snaps of cameras. The older sister said, “Congratulations sister.” Thank you I said, as I wrapped the towel around my body and headed back to the changing room.
I smelled chlorine. Wet hair-spay dripping from my coarse hair. My eyes burned, and I shivered and hugged myself back in my private little changing room. I sat for a few moments on the small wooden bench, wrapped in my towel. It was not a beginning really, but a continuation of what I had already been for as long as I could remember. And yet I felt as if something profound had just happened, the clapping still resounding in my ears. The flashes. The moment was imprinted on Polaroids and negatives. I would record my thoughts in my diary when I went home. There would be no turning back.

Jehovah, Sovereign Lord,
my confidence in my youth;
Almighty God above,
my strength in my young days.
When my heart is vexed,
you show me a way;
Inexperienced though I am,
your word makes me wise.
Your word of truth,
how my soul delights;
Upon you I wait,
to refresh my hunger.
At times I doubt,
through my weakened flesh;
A lack of faith,
in my treacherous heart.
Why do you show me mercy?
when it’s not deserved?
You let me live,
though I’m worthy of death
because you draw close,
to those who draw close to you;
You see that my desire –
I desire to please you.
Your name is like a river,
a calming to my soul;
It flows continually
in abundant peace
What shall I repay to you,
for all your benefits to me?
How can I reward you,
with what you’ve rewarded me?
I will try to be wise,
to make your heart rejoice;
Your word I will apply
that you may be praised.
I will use my youth,
in the wisest course;
An example I will become
to your faithful ones.
Guide me please,
in the path of life;
May I decide,
to depend on you.
My anxieties subdue,
with the doing of your will;
Fill my spirit,
with the joy of serving you.

4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. DIane Pepin
    Sep 19, 2017 @ 16:22:27

    I love your writing. It’s such a joy to read. The flow is impeccable. My mother is one of Jehovah’s Witnesses so I relate to a lot of the things you write about. I was never baptized. Neither were my two older brothers. My mother was baptized as a JW when we were 13,15, and 17 respectively. She basically basically forced us to study the bible and attend meetings (against my Catholic father’s wishes). We soon all grew and moved away to start new lives (university, jobs, etc.), and never looked back. Are you still a practicing JW? If not, do you write about that?


  2. DIane Pepin
    Sep 19, 2017 @ 16:25:41

    I love your writing. It’s such a joy to read. The flow is impeccable. My mother is one of Jehovah’s Witnesses so I relate to a lot of the things you write about. I was never baptized. Neither were my two older brothers. My mother was baptized as a JW when we were 13,15, and 17 respectively. She basically forced us to study the bible and attend meetings (against my Catholic father’s wishes). We soon all grew and moved away to start new lives (university, jobs, etc.), and never looked back. Are you still a practicing JW? If not, do you write about that? When did you know definitively, “Something’s not right here?” and how did you disconnect? Or did you?


    • Tina V. Cabrera
      Sep 21, 2017 @ 06:52:20

      Hi Diane! Thank you for your kind remarks about my writing. I’m glad it touched you. No, I am not a JW anymore and haven’t been for about 17 years. My novel, The Former Things Have Passed Away, primarily focuses on my experience growing up as one and what led me to finally leave. If you’d like to read it, it’s available at Amazon and Create Space. I can give you more details for how to get a hold of it.


      • DIane Pepin
        Sep 21, 2017 @ 09:48:01

        Hi Tina! Thanks for getting back to me. I’ll order the book soon and let you know what I think. Have an amazing day.

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