What have I have learned forty years after Jonestown?
I was a teenager when I first met Jim Jones and joined Peoples Temple. Although I had been in church all my life, I was naive in my Christian faith, I didn’t know the Bible, and I did not understand what it means to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
Jim Jones was very intriguing and I was fascinated by him. I liked being around him. From the very beginning, I always went to him when I had questions. I told him I wanted to move to Redwood Valley: he told me to come for a visit to see if I would like it. At a meeting in San Francisco – a weekend that I had talked a cousin into going with me – he “healed” me of breast cancer that he said was too far for the doctors to reach. I ran up the steps to him on the podium to thank and hug him.
He drew people to himself, and as the church grew and my involvement increased, I stopped thinking about the churches I had previously attended and the messages that were preached there. Instead, I listened to the humanitarian messages Jim preached.
I thought bringing people of all colors together was good, and feeding and taking in homeless people was inspiring. It was like God had come down to earth. I think some people saw him that way, even before he began to see himself as God.
I wrote poems for and about him. I gave money to the group when I should have been giving it to my family. I did not discourage my family from going to Jonestown. I didn’t go – Jim never approved for me to go there – and I never knew why. I so desired to be there, because my mom and siblings were there.
I stayed in too long.
For five years I was with a false God, and because of him, I lost over half of my family in that jungle. My nieces and nephews never knew their grandparents or uncles or aunts. That is a tragedy, because they were wonderful people. I never get to say “I learned this from my mother” or “As my mother always used to say…”
I have missed a lot these past forty years with my family. I encourage people to spend time with family and loved ones, to tell everyone not to spend time fighting and holding grudges. Life is short. Forgive one another and love each other.
People are moving away from reading and studying the Bible. They are looking more to themselves or to leaders preaching feel-good messages, and not the word of God. If I had known the Bible, I would have known that God had not returned to earth yet. There is a day coming when the true Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will return, and every eye will see Him and every knee will bow.
You have to know what you believe and why you believe it. You have to be on guard against false teachers and their deception. Satan is crafty, and his lies are everywhere, even in religious institutions and the church. Many do not preach on hell, the Trinity, salvation, or prophecy. They are afraid to do so or are not knowledgeable to do so.
I ask you: will you be prepared to meet your God? He is good and loving and perfect, but He is also just and He will judge sin. You do not want to spend eternity in hell, it is a real place. Some people say they don’t care if they go there, since they say they will party with their friends. I tell you, according to the Bible, hell will be filled with utter darkness, fire and continual torment. There is a way to avoid spending eternity there.
I will share with you how you can know you will be with Jesus in heaven. When I left Peoples Temple, I was a mess. I searched for answers and love in all the wrong places. After being invited to a church by a friend, I had a visit from two ladies from the church. They shared the gospel from the Four Spiritual Laws with me. They asked me, which throne represented my life, the one with me on it or the one with Christ on it? I replied, the one with me on it. Then they asked, which one I wanted to represent my life, and I answered the one with Christ on it. I prayed and asked Jesus to come into my heart. Later on, I was baptized. I am secure in my faith, and the church that I attend preaches the word of God.
You have to admit your sins and agree with God that you are a sinner. Believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God; that He died on the cross, was buried and rose again from the grave. You have to repent and ask Jesus to forgive you of your sins and ask Him to come into your heart. He will do so; because the only prayer of a sinner that God hears is that of repentance. Then He will never leave you or forsake you.
I hope that my life reflects the Lord and that I share Him wherever I go. As the years go by, I believe His second coming is drawing near. I want my family and friends to be ready to meet Him and go with Him to heaven. There is one person who thinks I have given up on him, but I still pray for him.
Forty years is a long time. Many of them were filled with pain and sorrow, but that will not equate with eternity in heaven that will be filled with joy and happiness with our Heavenly Father, Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and the reunion with family and loved ones.
The Bible says, “Prepare to meet thy God.” Know that He has not returned yet. If someone says He is over here or over there, do not believe them. The clouds will behold His coming, and everyone will see and know at the same time.
I am not happy that my family is part of a historical tragedy and that I never got to know my younger siblings or spend time with my older sister and my mom, but by the grace of God, I am still here and have the opportunity to be a witness for Him.
This is my legacy. What I leave behind is my life in words, filled with regrets of getting my family involved in the group and an opportunity to share with you my testimony of where I have been and where I am going. I prayerfully hope one day you will join me as we praise and worship God in heaven around the throne.
God bless you!
(Hattie Newell’s complete collection of articles for this site appears here.)