A Blessing and a Responsibility

by Lela Howard

As of November 2006: How blessed I am, is the first thought that comes to mind when reflecting on my initial contact with this website and seeing auntie’s face for the first time in nearly 28 years.

On that day in late September 2006, I turned on my computer at the exact time when God wanted me to. All that was supposed to happen, began. And yes, I say God wanted me to because all the glory goes to him, our creator and maker of good and comforter in bad. If it was not for faith, none of the good that has come from logging on the website and meeting the people from Peoples Temple would have been discovered. This goodness has begun a form of closure, but more so a sense of purpose and outlet for my pain and thankfully an understanding about auntie.

The lines of communication have opened within my family, who before rarely spoke of her, not out of shame but because of fear from facing the pain about her death. Understanding Peoples Temple to me has been the most fulfilling, because until now, that name has always created anger, pain and sadness. But now I understand there is another meaning to that name. I no longer shiver or feel the need to whisper the name. Yes, now I am blessed to understand that most of the “people” with Peoples Temple was not about evil, it was about love, equality and peace of mind. I say this even while accepting its demise or wrongs, but stronger still was its intent and why Aunt Pearl became a member. Now I understand why she felt so strongly about protecting the utopia being created in Guyana. Saying this helps to understand the commitment of those who had a pure heart and only wanted the best for themselves and others. Their purpose was to help those thrown away, shamed, ridiculed, the hopeless and fallen. And it did. The outcasts of society were welcomed and given an opportunity to flourish. Equality was given when the world said “no rights”; civil and human rights were the norm. Yes, this was the beginning of change for those within and an example for those on the outside looking in. Rehabilitation really existed.

The cloak of shame and fear that previously existed has been folded and put in the trash, burned in the incinerator of truth. My mind has been educated and no longer do I feel The Boogey Man will get me if the name Peoples Temple is spoken.

The goodness of having a platform and an outlet that exist through the website, has led to getting to know the people my auntie lived and loved with. Love has replaced anger. I will not mention names, because you know who you are. You will forever have my friendship, because I now understand the message and beauty that once existed.

On November 18, 2006, I visited the California Historical Society for the first time. It was more than I could have ever imagined. Looking at the photos, I wonder how anyone could see evil. There was so much happiness in the faces of those who wanted more in life. And happiness reigned at CHS that day. It was filled with laughter, love exuded from each hug given, stories were shared about children, parents, the people within Peoples Temple who are no longer with us.

That was also the day I realized my family was not the only one affected. How families are coping with the tragedies, never before had those thoughts existed. While growing up, I thought there was no one else who could relate, no one who understood. But there I sat in a room filled with others who did understand. At that moment it was all clear, this is where I was supposed to be at that exact moment and with the people in the room, listening to them, looking at the pictures and information about Peoples Temple, educating myself and most importantly introducing my son to her.

November 18th will always be a painful day, because my lovely auntie left this earth on that day, to be honest November 16-18th are difficult too, on those days I wish to travel back in time and find a way to stop the 18th.

Was this fate? Possibly, but what I believe is that God has a purpose for every single person on this earth. I believe at the right time he gives us a task, and it is our choice to fulfill it, to give of ourselves and hopefully be a testimony or help to others. As I am blessed to be auntie’s niece, so am I blessed to fulfill the mission she and God have given to me.

(Lela Howard is the niece of Jonestown victim Mary Pearl Willis. Her complete collection of writings for the jonestown report may be found here. She can be reached at lelavhoward@gmail.com.)

Last modified on October 4th, 2018.
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