What Did November 18, 1978 Do To Me?

Edith Excell Cordell
Photo Courtesy of California
Historical Society, MSP 3800

I really cannot remember what I was doing on that day when the Guyana tragedy struck my family. I only know that my entire family was torn up by the losses of 22 family members who died that day. My Grandma Dee Dee (Edith) and my dad’s sister, Carol Ann, and her four children were the ones that I was the closest to.

I remember staying a week with my Aunt Carol and her husband and my four cousins not long before she left to go to California. My parents and we children were all surprised to see Carol leave Indiana. Her husband had a big family here, and we thought they would stay here too. I loved my cousins, and my Aunt Carol was a Super Mom to them. We could not believe that she would let anything like this ever happen to them. My uncle wanted her to come back to Indiana but she felt pulled to be there, because of her mom. I think she was just too torn to do the right thing. Those children were her reason to live.

I don’t like to accept the fact that they are all gone. It was hard on all of my family, my parents and siblings to have to bury my aunt and my dad’s mom. When the caskets arrived they were accompanied with death certificates that stated who was inside each sealed casket. We were not allowed to see them so it was sort of hard to accept that they were actually there. Even today, I still want to think that maybe those children and Carol could be somewhere here in hiding.

We were raised in church and actually went to Jimmy Jones’ church here in Indianapolis. My parents could tell that things were not right with the way Jim Jones would conduct his services. My dad tried to get my grandma and the rest of the family to see that Jones was preaching false doctrine. He would do things for my grandma, and she felt a pull to stay with him. My dad took us to another church here in Indianapolis.

After I got married, I did not go to church as I should have. When we are young, a lot of us think other things are more important, and we just don’t do the right thing.

I had two children and married my second husband just a year before this awful tragedy struck the family. My husband was in awe about this, as he didn’t go to church much as a child, and this sort of scared him from ever wanting to go to church. He could not understand how anyone would let a man lead them to all kill themselves. When I would go to church with my parents and my children sometimes, he was hesitant about me going. He never said much, but as we got older, things changed. He would ask me things about the Bible, and I would look up scriptures and discuss different things. Whenever anyone came to our door to witness about going to their church, my husband would tell them that I had family that was killed in the Jonestown Massacre and that I was of the Pentecost faith, and they would just leave. I don’t know if they were scared of us, or what really went through their minds.

It wasn’t until my husband was struck with cancer that he finally decided that we needed to go to church. My husband wanted to turn to Jesus for a miracle. We both went to several churches in Alabama where we lived. He repented for his sins and received the Holy Ghost one month before the Lord called him home.

I really had never realized what the Jonestown Massacre had done to my husband. When you are dragged down by an awful disease, you have to put some things behind you and go with what you know is right in your heart. He did, and I am so thankful that he did. My husband’s cancer was an opening up period, if you want to call it that. Tragedy seems to open people’s eyes. The 9-11 tragedy was during the end of my husband’s cancer, and it really affected all of us. It made him realize how much we both needed to be closer to our children and family.

I believe my husband and I both would have lived a different life if that awful event had never happened. We both probably would have been in church together with our children.

I now go to church myself, although now, alone. I realize how much the Lord has done for me and my family. I now live with in walking distance to my children and grandchildren. I also talk to my parents every day now.

If you ever go to a church where they try to control you, be wary of them. Read your Bible and put no man before Jesus.

(Donna Cordell Lawrence can be reached at IndyDo@aol.com.)