A Missionary in China Loses Her Religion And Is Reborn
By BETH HARPAZ
Amber Scorah was a third-generation Jehovah’s Witness who married young and never went to college. She struggled at times to accept her religion’s strict rules as the only path to salvation from inevitable Armageddon.
But she was so caught up in the Jehovah’s Witness culture of proselytizing that she volunteered as a missionary in China. Preaching her faith there was prohibited, so converts had to be sought clandestinely.
Scorah recounts her odyssey and its unlikely ending in a new memoir, Leaving the Witness: Exiting a Religion and Finding a Life. The book’s final whirlwind chapters describe her rejecting her faith after a chance email exchange with a stranger, severing ties to friends and family, and moving to New York, where she somehow finds the strength to survive a heartbreaking personal tragedy. Yet this tumultuous journey also offers renewal as she finds love and becomes a mother, a student, and a writer. The message that we can shed our shackles and reinvent ourselves is a hopeful one.
In an email interview, Scorah reflected on the role that The City University of New York played in her unique story. She began taking classes in her 30s at CUNY, and is now halfway through earning her bachelor’s degree in an interdisciplinary program called CUNY Baccalaureate. She credits her classes with helping to inspire her writing, including an honors class on urban women with Hunter College Professor Sarah Chinn, and a religion class with Boon Lin Ngeo, a Hunter adjunct and Episcopal pastor. Scorah has also become an activist for expanding parental leave in the U.S. as essential to infants’ health and the well-being of families.
“CUNY has given me the flexibility and programs I need to make getting my degree attainable between working full-time, writing a book, giving birth to children, and doing advocacy work,” she said. “I came to college from a very unusual background … I was often the oldest student in my classes, but I never felt like I didn’t fit in.”
No one in her family had ever been to college, so she had “no understanding of how things worked,” but CUNY’s commitment to first-generation college students also helped her find her way. She is now a Thomas W. Smith Academic Fellow, and her studies include a concentration in the psychology of religion under the guidance of Professor Barbara Sproul at Hunter’s Program in Religion. She hopes to eventually specialize in helping people leave cults and highly-controlled groups.