EARLY DOUBTS by Celeste
From as early as I can remember I was told that Heaven was where all our dreams would come true. Everything we did, every sacrifice we had to make, everyone we had to give up and leave behind, like my mum and brother and sister, was for God –who spoke through Mo, God’s prophet. It was His plan –and He would reward us for our submission to His Will in the afterlife. This hope is what I clung to in my darkest moments, though at times my faith would waver.
I was barely six years old when I first questioned what I was taught to believe. I woke up from an afternoon nap with a burning feeling in my chest. I had dreamt that I had died and gone to Heaven. Amongst the clouds stood a tall, white statue. It was God—only he wasn’t real, he was just a lump of stone and a sense of disillusionment and anger overwhelmed me. The dream impacted me deeply and for the first time the thought entered my mind, What if God doesn’t really exist? What if everything I’ve been told isn’t true? What if all this is just for nothing in the end?
GYPSY NIGHTS by Juliana
‘Gypsy nights’ in the commune were quite common. Everyone would ‘dress up’ as gypsies and there would be dancing, singing gypsy songs, and eventually everyone would pair up for ‘gypsy loving’.
The Family identified heavily with the gypsies after their leader ‘Mo’ claimed he had received a vision that he had a spirit guide named Abrahim, a Bulgarian Gypsy king who lived in the 1200’s. Once my class of three to four-year-olds were given the special treat of having a gypsy nap supervised by our teacher and mum. It involved dressing up as gypsies in transparent scarves and being paired off with a partner. Our bunk beds were draped with sheets to make them look like tents. We crawled into these “tents” as a Music With Meaning cassette tape dramatising the story of the Abrahim and his gypsies played.
This was just one of the ways in which we were encouraged to behave in a sexual manner. Mo said that even young children are sexual beings; sex and nudity was natural and children should be encouraged to engage in sexual play.
Inside the gypsy tent my partner, David, climbed on top of me. David liked me and often tried to jump on me for sex during nap times. I did not like him, and usually pushed him away. Today, however, we were paired up together and I did not have a choice. I turned my head and saw Mum and my teacher peeking through the sheets, giggling at our antics.
The shame that washed over me at that moment was unbearable and I started to cry in embarrassment. ‘Mummy, stop looking! Why are you laughing at me?’ Pushing David off me I ran to my own bed and curled up in humiliation. I refused to join in the gypsy party any longer, though mum pleaded and promised not to watch. I felt dirty and ashamed, though I did not understand why.
Quite often our teachers or caretakers would arrange "date naps", where we were paired off with each other to "make love". But just as often, they would sit there and watch us for amusement, and I always felt humiliated when they did this.
I remember watching the women making dance videos for Mo. We younger children were allowed to watch if we stayed very quiet. The older girls like my sister Celeste and the adult women would take turns coming out to perform a strip dance in front of the cameras. I liked to watch them move with their pretty coloured shawls. The material was much nicer than the boring, though equally revealing, sarongs they usually wore around their waists during the day. The younger children like myself just walked around in underpants.
THE STORY OF THE TELEPHONE BOOTH by Juliana
One anecdote Dad liked to tell me shows up the cult paranoia in a rather humorous light.
MY FIRST PIGGY BANK by Celeste
My earliest memory was When I was about three and a half. I briefly attended a private nursery during the day, run by a Christian couple. They allowed me to attend for free while my father worked on his radio show, Music With Meaning. We each had our own desk and chair, and I learned the alphabet song and how to read my ABC’s on a big chart posted on the wall. At the end of the day we played with Playdoh as we waited for our parents to pick us up.
My desk was positioned by the window and I would look through the shutters, waiting for a glimpse of my dad, who would sometimes bring me a little treat or surprise at the end of the day, perhaps a small bangle or some crayons.
At the end of that year we had a Christmas party at the nursery. When Santa Claus came in, I was quick to blow his cover. The big white beard and rounded belly hadn’t fooled me.
‘There’s no Santa Claus,’ I shouted out loudly, ‘it’s our teacher.’
I had been told that Santa was just a silly story and Christmas was Jesus’ birthday, and I proudly told everyone so. One of the staff came over to me and tried to get me to play along.
‘It IS Santa. He gives out candy to all the kids,’ she smiled.
‘That’s not true,’ I replied.
‘Ho, ho, ho,’ Santa bellowed, and handed me a candy cane.
‘No, that’s made with white sugar,’ I blurted out. ‘It’s poison.’ He tried to offer it to me again, but I refused. I had been well trained by the Family rules and white sugar and most sweets – other than lassi, a kind of yoghurt drink that was usually made with white sugar, but we sweetened it with honey – were forbidden. I really believed white sugar was poison, just like my dad had told me.
‘Well, you can look inside this big bag here and choose whatever you like,’ Santa offered. I agreed with the exchange, and happily chose a little pink piggy bank, which I kept for many years.
When I showed it to Dad, he hugged me. ‘Honey, I’m so proud of you. You stood up for the truth and were rewarded with a better prize.’ I glowed under his praise. It felt good when my Dad was proud of me.
ADAPTING TO LIFE OUTSIDE by Juliana
The most common line The Family uses against the ex-members who try and pursue justice for the wrongs they have suffered is, ‘Why can't they just get over it and move on? They need to leave the past behind and look ahead to the future. Forgive and forget.’ Now at last on the other side, I understood the reality. You may be able to forgive, but you cannot just ‘forget’, nor erase a lifetime of memories. Unlike a computer memory, the mind has no ‘delete’ button.
Most of the time I pushed it to the back of my mind, a distant nagging memory, but the smallest incident would bring it all flooding back. The trigger could be something innocent like a person passing out literature on the street corner, or when a well-meaning stranger asked, ‘so, where did you say you grew up?’ And suddenly it would all hurtle back into my consciousness. My mind would go cold, and I wished I could just crawl into a safe place and hide from people, because it was obvious they would not understand; I was terrified of being looked upon as a freak.
I was guarded and kept to myself more and more when I was not working. I was only entirely comfortable in my own company. If I met a stranger who wanted to know about my past, what would I say? ‘I grew up in a sex cult. What about you?’
Pain, anger and sorrow were just shadows of a much deeper emotion. Some days this feeling would roll in like a heavy cloud smothering the sun and it took all my energy just to keep up a semblance of normality. Being around people felt like a relentless pounding inside my head, or fingernails being dragged down a chalkboard. Painful.
I did not want to leave my room. People around me seemed engaged in a slow, masked dance, leering grins painted on their faces like carnival masks. I did not have a mask and I felt naked and exposed. I was sure I had “cult victim” written all over me.
I had been four months out of the cult, and two months into my job, when I started to shut down. It was the same feeling I had when I was dragged down by anorexia; a deep, suffocating sadness; spiders. Swarms of them, shrivelling everything I touched under their putrid stench, snuffing out my dreams.
I became an insomniac; I lost my appetite. My cheekbones jutted out prominently and dark rings circled my eyes. For the first time since leaving the cult, I felt that I was floundering dangerously. I avoided even my closest friends because I did not want them to see me in that state. They had tried to help me and I felt I was failing them. The battle with my personal demons had to be conquered alone.
The only place I felt at peace was on the roof of the four-story apartment building where I lived. I would stand balanced on one foot at the edge of the pinnacle, not because I thought of jumping, but because it put all the madness back into perspective. The building was on a hill overlooking Kampala and the city lights glittered below me. I felt alive again. No one and nothing could touch me up there. It was the closest thing to flying. I had always wished to fly. When I was a child, I would imagine myself flying away with the birds. Now that I had broken free from my cage, the freedom frightened me.
All I loved was never real
LASHES OF LOVE
Because I missed dad, I tried to spend time with people who reminded me of him like Auntie Pearl who had lived with us in the Music with Meaning house. Sometimes, kids were allowed to go for special sleepover nights with their parents, so I asked Auntie Pearl if I could have a sleep over with her. She promised to ask my teacher, so I stayed with her daughter and we kept playing. For awhile, it felt like it used to when daddy and mommy were still around. I was happy. Another hour passed and I lay down on the bed to go to sleep when Auntie Pearl returned. She had forgotten to ask permission for me to stay, so I was told to go back to my group. Disappointed, I walked slowly back through the dark empty halls. If I could slink quietly into bed without the teacher noticing, perhaps everything would be alright.
Everybody was asleep and the lights were out, except for a single lamp where my teacher, Uncle Sunny, sat reading. He was furious; he told me to wait for him in the bathroom. I knew what that meant. He followed me in with the White Stick and told me to pull down my pants and lean over the counter.
He shouted between each swat as he beat me. “You… Do… Not…Come…Back…Late…To your…Class…Eight o’ clock…is the time…To return…Do you understand?’
I was crying and put my hands on my bottom because I did not think it could take one more swat without falling off. But he just hit my hands instead, so I moved them out of the way and turned around. “I’m really sorry, Uncle Sunny.” I sobbed. “I’m sorry.” There was a big red streak across my hands where they had been hit.
“Did I say you could turn around? Hands on the counter!” He yelled, made me turn around again, and resumed beating me till he had worked off his anger; then I was allowed to go to bed. Luckily I slept on my stomach, because I would not have managed on my back. Sitting in class the next few days was agony.
I became well acquainted with the “spanking room”. It was thickly padded with mattress foam for sound-proofing and fitted out with a ledge over which we had to bend. If we made a sound, we were rewarded with added swats because Berg had written a letter called “Lashes of Love” saying that the time to stop beating the children is not when they are screaming, but when they stop screaming and beg for mercy. He said we were not to be “rescued prematurely until the job was done.”
A NEW KIND OF FLIRTY FISHING?
Raising the money to live in Africa was always a struggle. Our company, ‘RadioActive Productions’, produced music and radio shows for free because in a poor African country, nobody would pay for our programs.
Exodus to India-by Kristina
In April 1982, a couple of months before my sixth birthday, we went to Heathrow airport to catch a flight to Bombay. At the check in counter we saw a young Italian couple with their little boy. A small child’s guitar was clearly visible in their hand luggage. There was something familiar about this couple that led us to think they might be Family members. Mom struck up a conversation with them and found that they were, and that they were booked onto the same flight as us.
We had to change planes at Copenhagen, and while sitting in the airport lounge we were amazed to see several familiar faces. There were a whole slew of Family members with their young children, all on their way to the mission field of India.
After a long flight we took a taxi to a nearby hotel. We arrived at the hotel exhausted and after showering, went straight to sleep. Joshua and Jonny woke up before us and went down to the restaurant to eat. When the rest of us woke up hungry, mum felt too afraid to ask Joshua for money so that we could eat at the restaurant.
Instead, she asked him to go out and buy bread, cucumbers and eggs – which she boiled in a metal cup with a heating coil. Mum said that from now on we could only drink boiled water, otherwise we could get very sick. We used the coil to boil all our water for drinking.
Living in a Third World country meant we had to make many adjustments. We were never without a bottle of Dettol and cloth. We were taught not to touch walls, doorknobs, railings or even the toilet flush handles because of the germs. Because we could not drink un-boiled water, we had to refuse when we were offered rose water, but we could drink soda water and the coconut milk that was sold on the street corners. The vender would crack a hole in the top with a machete and we would drink the milk fresh through a straw. We were impressed whenever we saw a man nimbly climb up the towering trees to retrieve the coconuts.
We stayed at the hotel for a few days, and my mother tells me that a Family man from a nearby home came over to visit with Simona my half-Indian sister, and that we played together - although I have no recollection of this.
It was not long before we were on our way to the Reception Home in Poona, a four-hour journey inland by rail. As a result of Berg’s prediction that a nuclear war was imminent, which would destroy the Western world, thousands of Family members were flocking to Asia to escape the holocaust. Special communes called ‘Reception Homes’ were opened up in order to receive this massive influx of new missionaries.
The train station in Bombay was very noisy and crowded. Coolies scrambled towards us as soon as we stepped out of the taxi, hoping that we would hire them to transport our luggage to the platform. Joshua picked a couple of them, and we were amazed to see how many suitcases they could carry on their heads. There were beggars everywhere with pleading faces and outstretched hands. I felt awful that we had nothing to give them. When we arrived at the train station in Poona, more coolies descended upon us as we disembarked off the train, and again Joshua hired a couple to carry our luggage to the taxi rank.
We spent the first night at a hotel before moving into the Reception Home the next day. Life in the commune was tightly scheduled. Everyone, including the children, had to help with the cooking, cleaning and dish washing. The food served to us was plain and simple, but healthy. There was porridge for breakfast, usually made of cracked wheat or semolina, as oats were far too expensive. Sometimes there was boiled eggs and dry bread, as butter was costly. Lunch would usually be lentils and rice, and dinner, a stew of buffalo meat and vegetables.
The daily schedule we followed was rigid. After breakfast and dishes, we would all meet for devotions, which started with a time of singing called “inspiration.” This was followed by a short Bible reading from the ‘Daily Light’ and then from a book of compiled Mo quotes called the ‘Daily Might’. After devotions, the parents gave their own children two hours of schooling. After lunch and washing up the stacks of dishes, we had two hours of nap and personal study time.
Before ‘Get Out’ we had a light snack. ‘Get Out’ was the term used for physical exercise time. We usually went for a communal walk around the local area; then back for a shower, dinner and inspiration before our bedtime. The adults could then sit around and talk together or take personal “word time”.
There was little privacy in the home and we had to share our bedroom with the Italian couple we had travelled with from London. I struggled to get used to the heat and developed a severe heat rash.
One day in the yard, I had a terrible nosebleed. I was distressed when it wouldn’t stop. By the time a kind auntie came to help me, my dress was soaked in blood. She cleaned me up and said a prayer with me. “Praise you Lord, thank you Jesus. Help Nina to not be frightened, Jesus. Help her to be strong. We rebuke the devil, in Jesus Name.” “Amen.” I said.
Double standards-by Kristina
We moved at least three times before Mum discovered she was pregnant for the seventh time. She was bedridden once again, unable to keep down food or water.
Mary, the shepherdess, was also pregnant and had bought for herself cheese and fresh tomatoes. Her favourite snack was grilled cheese and tomato on toast.
Mum had barely eaten anything for weeks, so one day, as I made Mary her grilled sandwich in the kitchen, I remembered mum had said earlier that morning that she felt like eating again. This time I made two portions, one for Mary and one for mum.
Mary came into the kitchen and caught me. “You’re not allowed to have cheese toast,” she scolded.
“No, one is for mum,” I explained.
She started shouting that I was a liar and accused me of stealing—the cheese and tomatoes were hers. I could not believe that someone could be so unfair and had what amounted to a temper tantrum.
Another time Mary started screaming at mum for not thinking of the poor servant girl when mum took a few baby clothes from the ‘forsake all’ closet. Mary said she had planned to give these items to the maid, but I knew that she was just being spiteful as the ‘forsake all’ was supposed to be for home members.
New beginnings-By Kristina
I was enrolled in school just months after turning twelve but the challenges I faced there were different from anything the cult had prepared me for. There was so much to learn and as a child who was born into a cult I had no past reference and mom helped me with the many gaps in my knowledge.
I spoke English with an American accent and my vocabulary was completely different to that of my school mates; I knew words they didn’t know, could quote the Bible backwards but there were hundreds of things they said which made no sense to me. I felt stupid and they thought me odd.
My teachers did not know my background and some of them blamed me for being slow or getting the simplest things wrong. I had no idea what a Bunsen burner was, or who Madonna or the Prime Minister were. I became a target for the school’s bullies.
In my first week a gang of girls came up to me; their leader said, “Nice satchel!”
“Thanks”, I said, “my auntie gave it to me.”
“I have a party to go to on Friday and that would be perfect,” she said.” Can I borrow it?”
I was a bit perplexed about why she would want an old satchel, but I was used to sharing my things. I said, “Of course.”
They all roared with laughter. “You stupid or something? What the fuck would I want with that old thing,” she mocked.
Humiliated, I walked away thinking that at least my satchel was better than a plastic bag.
Next, a boy in chemistry grabbed my glasses from my face and stamped on them. Another girl kept on telling me her friend was going to kick the shit out of me.
What on earth for, I wondered.
When the bell rang at the end of the day, I found out. A group of kids were waiting for me in the car park.
“What football team do you support?” The girl gave me two options. I had never heard of either team and couldn’t think of an answer that would placate her. The crowd closed in yelling, “Scrap! Scrap! “
I felt I had to say something but I chose the “wrong” team. The main bully snarled “Wrong answer,’ pulled my hair and punched me in the face.
I wasn’t having that, so I shoved her, turned around and walked away. I couldn’t look back and prayed none of them followed me. It was a brisk walk home.
But most of the kids were not bullies. In the long dinner queue I met Jaz whose parents had immigrated from India; she was intrigued that I had lived there and we connected. I had just come from a world where we were forced to conform and be indentical robots and I wasn’t about to let anyone else do that to me. I started on my path of identifying what made me me.
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