The Shunned Speak Out
Location: Miami, Fl
Years Out: 12
Besides his recollection of the warm weather, Karama Sadaka has no happy memories of growing up in New Orleans. He didn’t go to parades or dress up for Mardi Gras or eat king cake on Three Kings Day.
By the time Karama was five years old, his mother, a recently converted Jehovah’s Witness, was becoming more deeply involved with the organization. The resurrection teaching of Jehovah’s Witnesses, which states that deceased righteous people will be resurrected to life on earth, drew her. The teaching was especially profound after her husband, Karama’s father, was murdered. She told Karama that if he followed the rules, he would see the earth transformed into a lush paradise and his father would be resurrected. There would be lions, tigers, and panda bears docile enough for Karama and his new baby brother to play with. Best of all, everyone would be immortal. Karama had gone to the meetings at the Kingdom Hall with her before the murder, but when his father was killed, he began to believe that seeing his father again depended on his being a good Jehovah’s Witness.
For the next 25 years, Karama did just that. He became devout, doing door-to-door preaching, giving congregation talks, and climbing the ranks in the congregation. He eventually got married to another Witness and had two daughters.
Door-to-door ministry takes precedence over higher education, so young Witnesses are discouraged from pursuing long-term education plans. Because of this, 63 percent of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the U.S. only have a high school diploma. Like many Jehovah’s Witnesses, Karama ignored his natural academic gifts and opted out of college.
After Karama got married and started his own family, an uncle who wasn’t a Witness, began asking Karama questions that challenged his faith. One day, his uncle asked whether Karama would allow a blood transfusion-- forbidden by Jehovah’s Witnesses—for his eldest child if it were necessary. Karama couldn’t say no.
Soon his uncle’s questions drove Karama to websites documenting accounts of former members, prohibited by the organization.
After doing research online, Karama came to believe he and his family were involved in a dangerous cult. He confided in his wife, but she wasn’t convinced.
Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005 when Karama Sadaka was 30 years old. Completely disoriented, he feared that he was on the wrong side of Armageddon, the war he been raised to believe would end the world. His mother, his wife, his brother, his daughters, and the only community he had ever known stopped speaking to him. He wandered around New Orleans until FEMA relocated him to Nashville. Away from New Orleans, he saw an opportunity to start fresh.
"There were so many things I had to learn about the world. Sometimes I feel like I’m a baby,"said Karama, on starting his life over after he left the organization.
After a stint in Nashville, he moved to New York City, where he eventually got involved in an ex-Jehovah’s Witness recovery group on Facebook founded by Ruben Ortiz, a former Witness from the Bronx, who has grown the group to over 10,000 members.
Karama remembers the comfort he got from the promise of seeing his father again in paradise, but he’s worked hard to reprogram his thoughts. He still deals with anger, but he’s channeled his emotions into helping free people from what he calls "the mind control of the Witnesses.
"The biggest deal for me at that moment was, I'm going to have to let go of the hope that I'm going to see my daddy again." - Karama Sadaka
He has salvaged a relationship with his daughters and is working hard to put his eldest through college.