I was born into a family that was involved in an extreme Christian sect, and even though I lived a fairly happy family life, things took a turn for the worse when I was in my teens. I want to stress that even though I had plenty of arguments with my folks, my disagreements were between myself and the sect leadership. I honestly think that my family were effectively blackmailed into kicking me out of home – they really had no choice.
It had never occurred to me to try to escape and go somewhere. I never really had close friends at school – even though they kind of knew what was going on, I was never close enough to any of them to the point where something like an escape plan was a consideration.
I remember coming home from school. I went into the room where I had been staying and immediately saw that all my stuff had been packed up for me and moved out.
My dad had arranged for me to live in a small flat in an old house down the road. He took me there and gave me the key. They continued to bring a hot meal around most evenings, and provided some other groceries when I needed it, and did some laundry for me.
At this stage I was in my 2nd last year of school studies.
The flat was horrible – it was stinking hot in summer and freezing cold in winter. The floor was awfully unstable – the whole place should have been condemned. Other families lived there and it was really noisy.
There was an old oven and cook top and an old style water heater over the bathtub for a shower. The bed was horrible – I got a very sore back and had to go to a chiropractor for months as a result.
My main memories of this time was loneliness and isolation. I went to church for a while and got to know some families who looked out for me and provided comfort, advice and friendship. I mainly went to the local library to borrow books (evil novels!) to read. I went to the local cinema as often as I could. I tried going to pubs but I was very shy and didn’t like the noise and drunks so I avoided these places.
I loved music! I would go to people’s places and ask to watch TV or listen to music. I think I became a bit of a pain doing this a bit too much. People took pity on me and were very understanding
During my final year at school I was given approval to move to a flat in a council-run retirement unit. It was much more modern and I could catch the bus to school. By this time I was not getting as much support from my parents. They still paid the rent and gave me an allowance for food so I cooked my own meals. I got a part time job on weekends which helped a lot. At the end of secondary school I was offered a spot in a course at university.
While I was at University I joined the Army Reserves – I think this was the best thing I ever did. It gave me something to look forward to on the weekends, put me in an environment I’d never experienced before and I made plenty of friends and learnt lots of life skills too.
By the end of university, I was pretty much self-sufficient. I was comfortable with living by myself. I knew I was lonely and a loner, but I was always uncomfortable in making friends. It would take a long time for me to get to know people and trust them.
Some years later, I helped another person escape. I knew nothing about the plans until I got home one day and found a message on my phone. I let them stay at my place for a while but I encouraged them to find their own place and get ajob and work out how to live independently as quickly as possible. While this was really hard to do, I think it was essential for them to get the skills needed to be able to survive.
I believed (and I still do) that this really is the best thing to do. If you become too reliant on others then you will never be able to stand on your own two feet and you will not survive.
At sixteen years of age I had my bags packed - ready to leave the religious cult I had been born into. It was not an easy decision. I knew that by leaving I would be breaking links (maybe forever) with my parents and my brother. But I was sick and tired of being given 'priestly visits' by the Hierarchy. Their interrogation was demeaning, disgusting and intrusive. I had always been a questioning, inquisitive and slightly rebellious individual and after one especially demeaning visit (they asked me to explain in detail where and how I was touched by a boy), I knew I had to leave. The problem was where would I go? I thought a cousin who was a so called 'naughty lad' would help me as he had links to the outside world. But he was a little hesitant to offer too much or indeed anything when he saw my intent was serious: I was sixteen, still at school, had no money and didn't know a soul outside of the Cults four walls. However, I was determined. I was going to leave.
Priests organised a service where I would have to publicly apologise to Cult members for being wayward - I had climbed out a window and gone to a party with a boy who had subsequently touched an area of my anatomy he shouldn't have. The night of my apology - after I had done what I was told and had pleaded for forgiveness - I was ready. I walked out of the Hall revengeful. My mother followed sobbing. She had thought because I had apologised to the congregation I would be a soft, pliable and submissive daughter. It was now clear to her, that I was anything but. As her grief escalated I felt bad, and started sobbing myself. Five minutes later I was wrapping my arms around her, saying sorry! I might have thought I was ready to leave the cult but I was not ready to leave my mother. I was not equipped mentally or physically.
I stayed in that Cult for another thirty years. In that time I married and had six beautiful children. Life wasn't easy, and many times I was driven to desperation but I thought that if I left I would burn in Hell. I had been told that so many times I didn't doubt that it wasn't true. Any besides, I had made vows to my husband that I would stay with him till I died.
At forty-five years of age, it was quite apparent that I would die if I stayed with him. After four attempts to leave, I finally managed to run outside the backdoor of our house with a backpack. I have never run or disappeared faster into the community. I took every backstreet, and alleyway I knew of to escape my husband. I knew that within minutes he would be hunting me down. My destination? A block of toilets in the roughest area of town. I knew that would be the only place he and Cult members would not look for me. And when all was said and done, what other option did I have? I had no friends or connections outside of the Cult.
The rest of my story can be read in my memoirs 'Breaking Links' which is awaiting publication.
But, let me tell you, I didn't have to live on the streets. And today I am free. Free to be me. But sadly without the support or affection of my six children and ten grandchildren. They are still in the cult.
I was born in Christchurch, and my family shifted to Miramar in Wellington when I was four and a half. I grew up in a family with my Dad and Mum and three brothers. I was second eldest. My childhood was more or less “normal” until I was about ten years old. Things changed radically at that point, because, you see, my family was entrenched in a religious cult. Around 1960 the church really went totally “off the rails” and followed a man so utterly and completely; a man who, together with his successors was to wield enormous power and influence over the lives of the church’s adherents. We began to have meetings every weeknight, Saturday mornings, and all day Sunday beginning with communion at 6 am.
Despite the restrictions imposed upon followers in the late 1950’s/early 1960’s I was relatively happy. I accepted that I was “different”; I wasn’t permitted to attend “Religious Instructions” – the forerunner of today’s “Bible in Schools” - with the booklets to colour in at primary school; and I wasn’t allowed to eat with people who didn’t belong to the same religious cult.. No more parties with my school friends, and in fact, friendships were really discouraged. We had no TV, radios, record players, but were allowed to have cassette players, provided we only played tapes recorded by cult members.
Despite all that, I believe that I accepted Jesus as my Saviour when I heard a gospel message on “who do men say that I the Son of man am?” I really felt a conviction that day; I was about 13 years old.
At secondary school things became even “tighter” – we weren’t even allowed to eat our lunch at school. We all had to go down the road to cult members’ homes to have our lunch. We weren’t permitted to attend school assembly with its Bible reading and prayer, but had to walk in after that part was over, along with Christadelphians and Jews. We weren’t permitted to go to the College Christmas Church service, but stayed behind with a teacher, who one year made us write a story on the life of Ruth!
Although I did “question” things in my mind over the years, especially at my first job, where the boss was a lay preacher in the Presbyterian Church, and his deputy a lay preacher in the Methodist. They used to challenge me, but I stood firm to the ways in which I had been indoctrinated.
It was not until early 1977 when I was 26 years old, that I began to feel that things were not right. I made excuses not to go out to meetings, and spent a lot of time pondering. In March that year I went out to the airport on a Monday morning, with my boss, to see off an American couple, I’ll call them Sam and Eliza (not their true names), who had been in New Zealand for a year, working on the power station site in the Hawke’s Bay. Those were the days before emails and even faxes. We relied on telex contact with the wider world, and the engineering firm for whom I worked were the NZ agents for the company supplying the turbines being installed at the power station. I was the “office girl” between the site and the company, and each day would ring through to Napier the telexed messages from Hartford, Connecticut, USA, and sent the appropriate replies. Sam and Eliza were two very special people, who had made frequent trips to our offices. When I was asked if I wanted to go along and see them off after their last visit to Wellington, I had no hesitation in accepting the invitation. I went attired in my headscarf like all good cult women; in my mind I was doing nothing wrong. When we arrived at the airport there was a large group of Mormon young men passing the check-in counters. Eliza who was a vivacious, outgoing person, and also a staunch Mormon, rushed up to the group saying “Hi, you guys, where are you from, what stake do you belong to?” I was standing there with a grin a mile wide, as I found this very amusing. Just before Sam and Eliza boarded their flight, I remember hugging them goodbye. I had never eaten a meal with them, or even had morning or afternoon tea with them, although they had asked me to on many occasions. I had strictly abided by the cult’s code of separation.
That night, after the Prayer Meeting, Dad called me into the lounge. He asked if I had been out at the airport that morning. I said I had. He asked me what I was doing there, and I told him Sam and Eliza were returning to the States. He told me I should have dropped them at the door, and gone straight back to work. I never told him I had just gone along for the ride!! That may have caused me to be “shut up” – confined at home to consider the error of my ways. My unmarried brother (who was still living at home) would have left home, and my parents would have been “shut up” with me, but I wouldn’t have been permitted to talk to them or eat with them. Another cult member had apparently seen me that day at the airport, watching the Mormons and talking with Elsa. The cult member who saw me, never came and spoke to me at the airport, just brooded about it and left it to the “heads of the households” to deal with.
That really set me thinking hard. What was wrong with what I had done? Why was the cult so set on being so separate? The more I looked into this and really read the Gospels, and talked with folk from other churches, the more I began to think that the cult had “lost the plot” big time. I began to withdraw into myself, and spend long periods just thinking and pondering. I had a lot of “headaches”, and when I was allowed to stay home from a meeting, I used to ring people up from various churches and ask questions about Christian things and Christian ways. I needed to find out if it was true that if I “turned my back on the only way to salvation” that I would be eternally lost. Did the cult have the monopoly on salvation? Was there no other way? I also was loaned the very first Scripture in Song tapes “Prepare Ye the Way” Parts I and II. I was blown away; I had never heard anything like them. I had a huge decision to make. I knew if I left, I would be totally cut off from everyone, including my family; I would have to leave my home, and I would be considered evil. But, I reasoned, I would be free from what was becoming a very oppressive way of life.
I knew I had to step out of my comfort zone if I was to leave. I started looking for a flat – the costs in respectable areas were prohibitive. I was offered a place in a house where there were three other Christian young women – I was too apprehensive to even go and see it – I didn’t know how Christian people lived. A former workmate, with whom I had kept a secret friendship, Wendy talked to me most days to encourage me. She said, “Why don’t you ask your auntie?” She was referring to my father’s older sister. Auntie Gwen used to work with Wendy’s mother in the Treasury Department before they both retired. I told Wendy I could not ask her, as I had shunned her on the street, and treated her badly since she had left the cult a number of years earlier. Wendy said she would ask her. She did and phoned me back within minutes, saying that Auntie would expect me out that night. She had married a lovely old gentleman, 30 years older than herself, and was as happy as a sand girl. She lived out in Petone. That gave me a place to go. It was Monday 27 June 1977.
I rang home and said I needed to work until 6 pm – dinner in our house was always 5.30 pm, and I felt I would choke if I ate. I had the use of my boss’ car as he was overseas, so I arrived home about 6.20 pm. I went through to the dining room where Dad and Mum were sitting by the fire; Mum was knitting. As I came through the door Dad told me I should avoid working late; that it was not good enough; that I should be home at the normal time for the evening meal. Knowing that what I had to say would devastate my parents, I knew there was no easy way, and that it would hurt them as much as it hurt me. I told them I had something to tell them. I said I could not go on in the meeting; that I was going to leave home that night. I can still see their stunned white faces. I had given no real signs of being on the point of break out, although looking back they would probably realize I had missed a lot of meetings in the recent past. I told them I was going to stay with Auntie Gwen, thinking they would be glad I was going to be safe, but that was terrible. She was under “assembly discipline” and as such was considered an evil person. I said I was going to my room to get some things that I wanted to take that night. I told them I would have to come back on Saturday for the rest, as I owned everything in my bedroom. I left the room, and started taking boxes (pre-packed in the wardrobe) out to the car. I knew they would ring some other exclusives the moment I left the room.
It wasn’t long before two “priests” (so called) arrived to try and talk to me, and help me see the error of my ways; that I was turning my back on the “only right way” and as such was forfeiting my salvation. But I had come to know better than that – it no longer freaked me out – and I refused to talk to them. I was actually quite rude, and kept taking stuff out to the car. Eventually, I told them to go off down to the prayer meeting and pray for me. I think my older brother went too, but my parents did not. My two younger brothers had married by then.
Wendy, her boyfriend and other friends, were on the street outside. Some of them attempted to help my carry my stuff, but my father would not allow any of them onto his property. I told Dad I would be back on Saturday to get the rest of my things; and when asked what time, told him about 11 am.
It was getting on for 10 pm when I got out to my Auntie’s home that Monday night. I was given a royal welcome. She organized some folk from her church to help with trailers the next Saturday and when we arrived at my parents’ home – my home of 22 years – all my possessions were on the street outside the gate. I was allowed to the front step only, where I talked to my father about the Morris 1100 which I jointly owned with my parents. Dad gave me a cheque for my share, and told me that I would need every penny as the “world would bleed me of my money.” Neither of them would hug me, or touch me. My Dad was totally shocked when my man-robe wouldn’t fit on the trailers, and David, Wendy’s boyfriend said very loudly, “Don’t worry, I’m sure we can stash it in the man of God’s carport next door”. He was referring to the local Baptist Pastor, but for the cult, the “man of God” was their international leader!
I was in a kind of shock I guess for a while. I watched TV for the first time, I saw MASH and other 1970’s programs. The company I worked for hugely understood, and sent me off for a few days in my boss’ car to the Hawke’s Bay to stay with Sam and Eliza’s replacement representatives. Ross and Jeannie had two small boys. I rang Jeannie to tell her what time I expected to arrive, and she said they were going out to the pictures that night. I was aghast. I rang Wendy. “What shall I do?” I asked her. She said, “Go, go and enjoy. With two small boys it will be a family movie and nothing to worry about, but go and have fun.” But picture theatres were evil places – weren’t they? I saw “Sasquatch” about the yeti in the Himalayas. It was great.
There were other firsts to cope with as well, and each new experience left me wondering what was so terribly evil about things like eating and drinking with friends, restaurants, beaches, motels, tapes, records, belonging to the AA, and so on.
I rang Sam and Eliza and told them I had left the cult. Sam cautioned me to check out other denominations before deciding what church to go to – and I was really encouraged with that counsel, as he could easily have tried to persuade me to become a Mormon.
Everyone who leaves a cult needs a safe haven to go to and the White Dove Refuge would be an awesome first stepping stone for any cult leaver in NZ.
Almost four years ago our family left the FLDS. The conditions there were horrible when we left, and they have only become progressively worse.
I'm sure that for those who still believed this is a hard day, and I'm sure many tears will be shed and many prayers offered - but at least they can be felt and expressed freely. I guarantee you that there have been floods of tears shed in secret as the people have suffered at the hands of evil men who have done great harm. They have torn families apart, robbed the poor of their very subsistence and dignity and kept them imprisoned.
I know all too well. I will never forget sitting in the 11 o'clock meeting where Lyle announced that those who were worthy to be members of the United Order could no longer be allowed to live among those who were unworthy. I will never forget hearing the uncontrolled sobs of women in the room as they realized their children were going to be taken from them. If I had been at all inclined to submit that announcement would have killed me.
Since that day I have looked forward to the day when I would see John Wayman and Lyle were arrested.
I have heard from people who have left as they tell of the horrific oppression, having children separated from them and then brainwashed into believing that their parents are evil. Parents who get their children back have a long battle on their hands. But, the advantage they have is that they can win their children back through LOVE.
Love has become all but outlawed for the people.
I know this is a tough time, but my sincerest hope is that this will shake the foundation of the prisons holding our families captive and they will be able to find out the truth. May they finally get out from under the oppression and find the freedom and happiness they deserve. May they now devote their monies, time and labors to their own benefit and to making good, safe lives.
The deliverance they have been praying for may have just come in a way they never imagined.