My Tragic Love Story, Part 2

Men and women could not, under any circumstances, develop a romantic relationship in the ministry group that I was in. So even though Tool and I liked each other, we could not date.

I was on staff at a ministry training school in a small, bayou-surrounded Louisiana town.  At that time, I had been serving with the same pastors for around five years. Our entire staff and some students had moved from Austin, Texas in 2003 to begin a new school at the church in Louisiana.

In 2004, I met “Tool” (the guy who claimed he was in love with me). Our friendship was a love-hate relationship from the beginning. He had a real problem with women and I was his superior in the hierarchy that was our church. I later learned that the Tool had plenty of childhood and family issues that made him the jerk that he was. After our friendship developed for a year, I started developing feelings for the Tool and he fell for me.

Men and women could not, under any circumstances, develop a romantic relationship in the ministry group that I was in. So even though Tool and I liked each other, we could not date. I was 24 years old and he was around 23 years old at the time.

The steps we had to take to date were lengthy and involved male-initiated leadership. It was taught by our pastors that the man in the relationship had to initiate everything relating to a dating relationship or courtship. That man also had to ask our pastor permission to date the girl of his dreams.

And that pastor had to approve.

For Tool, these were not easy steps.

Is Master’s Commission a Cult?

Another forum post that can be found here: In order to comment on the forum, or take the quiz, you must register as a user.

Do a quick google search for “Master’s Commission Cult” and you produce 31,700 URLS linking you to the subject. There have been forum discussions before this one about Master’s Commission being a cult, but most of them were in random forums without a larger Master’s Commission or ex-Master’s Commission readership.

I hope that this forum will be a more centralized location for people to gather together and spread the word about, because there’s nothing like feeling ALONE after leaving one of those groups. It’s so liberating to find out that there are hundreds, if not thousands of people who left and feel exactly like you and I do!

Welcome to the discussion,
Lisa

Forgiveness

A few months ago, someone shared with me that my blog was missing a section. He shared that some people might find it helpful to see how I’d recovered from this group. What spiritual journey had I taken? he asked. How had I dealt with depression? How had I forgiven? He said you guys would want to know.

I didn’t want to push any of my personal beliefs onto anyone or “preach,” so I haven’t written about this until now. I realize that sharing my own journey doesn’t mean I’m pushing my beliefs onto you, nor does it mean I want you to agree with me. In fact, sharing my journey is perhaps the most vulnerable thing I could do. I don’t trust all my readers. Some, inevitably, are out to get me. Others of you are deeply wounded, like I am and have been for years. We need to stand together and know that we can get through this together. I need this to be a safe place, and so do you.

I’d like to share with you some valuable lessons I’ve learned, from my heart, and some resources that have helped me. Perhaps they’ll offer you some guidance, like they have to me. Perhaps it will just be nice to see that we’re all getting “there,” wherever that may be.

I share a bit of my journey that began in a Religious Studies class here: http://www.mycultlife.com/?p=332. What I learned over the next few years from my professor, Dr. Campagna-Pinto, was to become invaluable to me.

In Dr. CP’s classes, there were such meaningful convicting lessons, such as: “To create change you can’t have hatred in your heart. You have to re-humanize the people who torture you.”

We read A Human Being Died That Night: A South African Woman Confronts the Legacy of Apartheid by Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela. I studied the chapter, I Have No Hatred in My Heart, and learned such truths as “When the perpetrator begins to show remorse, to seek some way to ask forgiveness, the victim becomes the gatekeeper to what the outcast desires—readmission into the human community.” (Gobodo-Madikizela, 117)

What I’d become was an outcast to Master’s Commission and to Our Savior’s Church. They no longer accepted me, as most cults no longer accept outsiders, because I chose to leave their “authority” and “promised land.”

My perpetrator never showed remorse. I had to live with that.

It was a difficult thing for me to face. My perpetrator never showed remorse. Nor did he ever plan to. In fact, his own son said that he looked at people like me as less than nothing.

Although he had never shown remorse, my perpetrator had committed crimes against humanity. Crimes of abuse. Crimes of manipulation for power and reputation. Several years of anger and grieving took me to the place where I’m beginning to feel sorry for my perpetrator. And I’m very thankful I’m not him.

At the same time I studied the South African Apartheid, I learned that there are different ways to think about forgiveness. I read The Sunflower: On the Possiblities and Limits of Forgiveness by Simon Wiesenthal. Simon tells the story of a dying Nazi soldier asking him forgiveness for his crimes against Jews. The dying soldier even told the horrific story of shoving Jews into a building and setting it on fire. His orders were to shoot anyone who tried to jump from the building. He shot.

After studying the Holocaust, and the amount of death and atrocity that Jewish people went through, I learned that forgiveness is a complex thing. Like Simon discusses in his book, there’s much more to forgiveness than a simplistic, “You’re forgiven.”

Through my studies, and through the years, I have come to believe that there’s a striking flaw in Christianity when it comes to forgiveness. Forgiveness in Christianity is simple: Jesus died on the cross to forgive you and I of our sins. Therefore, when you and I sin, we can “wash away our sins by the blood of Jesus.”

Right?

No. People need to be held accountable. They need to be responsible for their actions.

Thus the flaw in the Christian belief of forgiveness. When something devastating happens to a person, or a group of people, can you expect them to just “wash it away?” No. There are stages of grief that are normal and natural. I learned that Judaism takes seriously the act of forgiveness. During Yom Kippur they pray and fast, asking for forgiveness.

I began to respect Judaism for what I interpreted as a more realistic answer to the “forgiveness problem.” I knew that I had been wronged deeply. Not as deeply or as terribly as the Jews in Germany during the Holocaust, but I’d been wronged nonetheless.

I began to realize that I also felt forgiveness was a complex, serious matter and it was okay if I didn’t instantly grant forgiveness to someone.

In fact, it was more than okay.

It was perhaps responsible.

Rape Victim: Who Me?

I simply couldn’t believe the seven years of my life I’d devoted to God was actually devoted to a destructive group–a cult.

I sat on the couch across from my therapist during one session in 2005. She worked out of the California State University, Bakersfield campus Counseling Center and she was free, which was in my budget at the time.

I’d decided to see her after being referred to her by two professors: one professor witnessed me break down in front of a lecture class of over 100 students during my Freshman year when he asked me why I was attending college. He had no idea that for me, I was attending college fresh from a cult where I was brainwashed and taught that I was less of a human being because I was a woman. After my sob-fest in Freshman Shakespeare class, my professor kindly suggested I see a therapist. I took him up on his suggestion, and am happy I did.

I met with her once a week, on Thursdays. I went through about half her box of Kleenex and left with a runny nose and puffy, red eyes. One hour a week was enough to bring up enough pain to bring me into hysterical fits of crying. Sometimes I couldn’t even talk about my memories or pain.

Sitting across from her one day, she went to her desk and she pulled up the Counseling Center website. She gave me links to the resources to Cults that I have listed on this website. It was only the second time I’d ever heard anyone tell me that they thought my ministry experience sounded like a cult. I was shocked. I was horrified. I felt cheated. If this was true, then how could I have been so stupid? What about those people I loved? There was no way they’d run a cult!

I simply couldn’t believe the seven years of my life I’d devoted to God was actually devoted to a destructive group–a cult.

Years prior, a good friend of the family from our home church in Taft, CA had come to visit me on a motorcycle road trip through Texas. He stopped in our church in Austin and took me to lunch. He visited the offices of Master’s Commission there. When he went home, he told my parents, “I think the place Lisa is in is a cult.” This coming from a life-long church member and deacon shocked my parents and me.

The next thing my therapist told me was even more shocking, though. As if notifying me that she thought I’d been in a cult wasn’t shocking enough, she then told me, “I’ve counseled many, many rape victims and you sound exactly like a rape victim. You have many of the same symptoms. I don’t know if it’s possible to get spiritually or mentally raped, but that’s exactly what I think has happened.”

Master’s Commission Student Dies on Missions Trip

According to reports from the Canon City Daily Record, a Master’s Commission student, Daniel LaCroix, 19, reportedly died from carbon monoxide poisoning Wednesday while on a mission trip in Moldova, Europe. According to the report, “LaCroix left for the discipleship school, the Master’s Commission Amsterdam Noord, in August of 2011. Kettle said LaCroix came home for Christmas and returned to the school in January.”

The Master’s Commission Amsterdam Noord blog confirms the report with these comments:

MCAN has tragically lost one of our own, Daniel LaCroix, in an accident last night. To say that Daniel was an incredible man of God would be to understate his passion, integrity, fortitude, unwavering-faith, and beautiful heart for worship. During our missions trip last week in Moldova, the team was able to hear Daniel speak multiple times on his deeper level of intimacy with God in these past few months. Today, we know he is experiencing the deepest of that intimacy as he stands before the love of his life, Jesus Christ. Thank you all for your prayers as our team misses and mourns the loss of our dear friend, brother, and student.

Daniel’s European memorial service will be hosted by his MCAN family this Sunday at 10:30 here in Amsterdam at Pinkstergemeente Agape Church 58 Kometensingel

Our thoughts go out to the LaCroix family.

Suicidal Tendencies

It was the summer before my 24th birthday. The summer everything changed.

In nearby Lafayette parish, a Catholic priest had just been accused of molesting a young alter boy. The country wide scandal took several months to reach the Deep South, as most progressive things took longer to reach here, and the day it hit the news the pastor of our church preached an angry sermon on Catholics and how they were doing wrong not letting their priests marry. Our Pastor thought his church was the only one who did anything right, because he thought he was the only doing right in “the eyes of God” and that our church were the only Christians going to heaven. I think he was just trying to get members in his church, as Catholics were the largest religious majority in Louisiana, but that was neither here nor there. Pastor Daniel had a God-complex and a hideous ego. Although it was true that Catholic priests had been molesting young boys, and it was a scandal, no one found out about our church and our scandal that Pastor Daniel was leading. There were no physical marks of rape, no DNA evidence to make a case on, but there was plenty of psychological damage among those of us who left the cult before “they” said we could. We’d been mentally raped, brainwashed, made to “drink the Kool-aid” so to speak, and yet we didn’t have any physical markers to take to the courts, and technically we’d come there to the cult of our own free will.

None of us knew it was a cult when we went there, and few of us struck up the courage to leave. Those who did leave were made outsiders, and cut off from all their friends and all acquaintances. We were the “spawn of Satan” or “rebellious” if we left…if we disagreed with the Authority of God, our Pastors.

On the night I contemplated leaving, I replayed my dad’s words to leave. He called me a month after his trip to Louisiana to meet my boss, Pastor Daniel. My dad didn’t like Pastor Daniel. “Lisa, I don’t like the way he spoke to me about you—as if he’d assumed the role of father in your life. That’s just not right,” my dad’s anger could be heard through the phone line, “I mean, what right does that arrogant man have to tell me that he’s going to pick out my own daughter’s husband? He doesn’t have faith that you can meet someone decent on your own? I know I’ve never told you what to do in your life, but Lisa—you need to get out of there. Come home.”

My dad was right. Pastor Daniel just wasn’t right. But my life had become wrapped around these people, and saying good-bye prematurely meant ripping away seven years of my life’s history away and becoming invisible, or worse yet, rebellious and unfit.

I sat in the driver’s seat of my car, parked on the dirt road that was flanked with sugar cane and fireflies on either side of me. Tears poured down my cheeks as the thoughts ran through my mind. I knew I couldn’t get out of here, without my life falling apart, and I was afraid of the only other option—but it seemed like the only way out.

The frog-filled swamp stretched out long and ominous before me: calling my name, and beckoning me to enter. Just gun the car and drive into the swamp, the water spoke to me like an old friend who had my best intentions in mind. I reached for another Kleenex from the passenger seat, as my whole body shook violently with sobs and my head pounded with pain. I tried to search for any other options, but there just seemed to be no other way to escape.

I looked around for anyone in sight. To the south of the road where my car sat were the dorms where all the students slept. I was supposed to be asleep, as well, making sure there was someone responsible watching over them. My fellow staff members were there, tucked into their single beds and surrounded by the students in their bunks, peacefully resting, unaware of my desire to escape, and the misery staying here was causing me. I was the only one awake that piercing dark black night. I was the only one deliberating how I could rid myself from their negativity. I was the only one trying to get the hell out of there. I was also the only one sitting alone by the dense fields of sugar cane, under the dimly lit star-filled night sky, thinking about killing myself.

The term killing myself sounded so harsh, but I guess in reality it would be a harsh thing to do to my family and my friends, those I had left that is.  My family, however, lived in California and I lived in the blasted mosquito infested hellhole of the U.S. Swamps and gators; frog legs and crawfish. Yes, the Deep South. Louisiana. The only good about Louisiana was Tim, and he wasn’t allowed to speak to me anymore because Pastor Daniel felt he was unfit for me to date, unfit to be a pastor and Pastor Daniel said God spoke to him that I should be a pastor’s wife.

My story obviously didn’t end here…but the concept of it was true. While I was in the cult, I did want to kill myself. I had reached the end of my rope and I’d asked the directors of my ministry group for vacation time to gather myself together after serving selflessly for about seven years with hardly a break. I was burnt out and breaking down. I’d never felt so low, so depressed, and never before that point felt suicidal.

When I finally made it out of the cult and home, I told my dad that story and he hugged me so tightly and said he was so sorry he didn’t get me out of that cult before, and that he’s sorry he let me stay there so long.

It wasn’t my parents fault. I’d become so tightly connected to the director of my ministry training group that I felt they were my family, my life, my friends.

I was wrong…when I needed them most, they let me down. More than that, their brainwashing, mind-control, yelling, belittling and abuse left me with PTSD and after effects that I’m still working on recovering from to this day.

As a 17 year old girl who was a high school honor student, 10th in her graduating class, active in her church youth group, never smoked, drank, done drugs with a real future in front of her to a nearly thirty year old woman who has to see a therapist who specializes in cults for the anxiety, depression, and fear that rules her life due to the abuse done from the directors who mentored her for years…it was not the transition I thought would happen when I first left home to join the ministry.

 

 

No Dating is a Higher Calling: Master’s Commission and Westboro Baptist Church Members Agree

Master’s Commission has a “No Dating” policy for First Year students, which in many groups extends to Second Year Students and Staff Members (at the discretion of the pastor’s in charge). I’ve had current and former Master’s Commission students argue with me about this “No Dating” policy, which I see as controlling and cult-like.

Master’s Commission sees the “No Dating” policy as a way of a young person putting away distractions to fulfill a higher calling. They argue that you can’t fully focus on God if you’re focusing on fulfilling your Earthly desires, or better yet, ‘How can you get to know God if you’re selfishly getting to know someone else at the same time?’

Dating is a distraction–in their eyes.

Sound familiar, former MC’s (and others who’ve been recovering from cults)?

What’s eerily familiar is watching this video, where WBC members allowed a reporter an inside look at their compound. Take a particularly close look at the young women, who engage with the reporter about whether or not they have boyfriends. They state that they don’t and when asked, they say that “that’s not what we’re about in this life…we’re not about serving ourself” and “it’s a temptation that’s not needed and takes up time that we just don’t have.”

Sound familiar Master’s Commission? A horrific comparison, I know. Sadly, it’s true from my experience that many Master’s Commission students and Master’s Commission Directors speak just like these young women regarding dating.

Inside Westboro Baptist Church

Leaving Master’s Commission: Practical Advice

A major problem for people leaving intense discipleship programs like Master’s Commission or Teen Mania (or any of a half dozen such programs) is that when they leave—whether it is good, bad or indifferent—they don’t know what to do. These programs gear you up for life in the program.

 

What happens when you leave?

If someone gets kicked out there are many feelings of guilt, inadequacies and failure that a person faces because they couldn’t “cut it.” They are often made to feel like an evil person, someone who had to be removed as a stain on the program. Many of these people have a difficult time adjusting to a normal life because of the sense that there is a stigma about them. If someone leaves at the end of the year and graduates, there are whole different sets of challenges that are faced.

 

The root of these roadblocks is that the programs are ill-equipped to equip people for life in the real world.

 

Too many leave to wander around trying to figure out what to do with the information they have learned and the experience of such an intense time frame. These programs often lead people to go in the opposite direction after they leave because it is impossible to replicate the same level of commitment in everyday life that is demanded of a person during the year.

 

So how does a person adjust to life and still maintain a relationship with God?

Establish Personal Convictions

First, establish personal convictions. This seems simple enough, however many of the “convictions” people have while in a program are not their own. Oftentimes, the rules of a program are adopted based on the relationship the director has with God. Because he wants to instill in his students the same ardent commitment to God that he has he projects these same convictions on to his students and expects them to adopt without question. These could be anything from types of movies or music to more serious life decisions. But most students don’t agree with everything. In fact some could argue that no student agrees with everything.

 

Our relationships with God are personal because God is personal. He approaches each person differently because he made each of us differently.  1 Corinthians 10:23, “Everything is permissible – but not everything is beneficial. Everything is permissible but not everything is constructive.”  Also in verse 29, “…For why should my freedom be judged by another’s conscience?” The freedom we have in Christ is total. The choices that are made are between the person and God and no one else.

 

Seasons of Life

Secondly, know that there are many seasons to life and not all of them will be like the one that was just left. Look at the history of any person and their life has peaks and valleys. The apostle Paul did many great things for God, but he was also thrown in prison and executed. No one does the same thing his or her whole life without some change. Praying for an hour everyday before you go to work may not be realistic if you have to be at work at four in the morning. The best way to have devotional time is when you are sharpest and most focused. The important thing to know is that God will not smite you if you only pray for 20 minutes one day and fall asleep reading your Bible. There may be another season in life with the opportunity to have the same or more of a devotional life is possible. When that happens jump on it. Just know that a continued relationship is one of commitment of heart and soul.

 

Marketable Skills

Finally, learn a marketable skill! This is something no discipleship program will teach. You cannot pay your bills or feed your family by doing human video’s and cool skits. A friend sent a text message the other day asking for prayer for him to find a job. He did not go to college, but spent years in Masters Commission and ministry. The funny thing about ministry is that it often fails to pay those who do it. That is why Paul made tents. This man is married with children and has to feed them, clothe them and keep the lights on. He was led to believe that if he stayed wholly devoted to God ministry would work out as his only occupation. This is not the case. The numbers of young people who enter a discipleship program with delusions of being employed full time in the ministry are grossly inordinate. Learning a trade, or getting an education is more important to future stability than is spending many years in a discipleship program. Some would say that this is a lack of faith. But 1 Timothy 5:8 says, “If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family he has denied the faith.”

 

Life outside of an intense discipleship program is not easy. But most of us will spend longer out of it than in it. If having a relationship with God is important to you then developing your own convictions, embracing new seasons and learning how to provide for a family are vital.

 

Soldiers for Christ

I’ve been speaking to a friend of mine almost nightly about some deep topics–you know, letting someone into some of those secret caverns people haven’t really gone in awhile. He spent years in the military and after I’d explained some of my feelings to him about my cult experience (and yes, cried, which I haven’t actually done in awhile), he shared some of his military experiences. It was sort of comforting to know that we related so well.

He spoke to me in particular about some intense combat training he received in order to keep him and his team hyped and going, running on adreneline and getting revved up easily. He said it served a purpose in combat situations because they’d be up for days at a time, operating on little to no sleep. What happened when he left the military and resumed civilian life was that he realized he could easily get really amped up over something and it was hard to mellow himself out or not find himself reactionary.

I could certainly relate. On a much smaller, less intense scale, there are similarities to my cult experience and some aspects of military life.

For example, when we joined we went through a few intense weeks where we were emotionally stripped of certain barriers and rights, and we were checked into dorms with a strict set of rules and guidelines to live by each day. Then, each day was regimented as if we lived in barracks (they were dorms) and we had dorm leaders coming in each morning and night making sure we were in bed and out of bed on time (on the dot), dressed in something suitable (our uniforms), in prayer (on the dot), at breakfast, cleaning up (to perfection), and so forth to a specific schedule.

Our training was not combat, but it was all about hype and getting prepped emotionally for a “spiritual battle.” We were soldiers for Christ and we trained like such. When a conference would come up, we’d spend a month prior to the conference fasting and praying intensely, on top of studying, marketing, networking, planning and rehearsing our performances. Our rehearsals were labor intensive, because we were putting on an entire production–a creative representation of Christ–and those productions could last for hours, but typically the conference success or failure landed on us so we were hyper aware of every detail from the sound equipment and microphones to the lighting set up and placement. At any moment, I was on call with the speaker information, his or her whereabouts, their car and hotel information and their personal assistant on the line, if needed.

We’d stay up for days on end before the conference getting ready for “spritual battle” and by the time the actual event rolled around, we’d be operating on very little to no sleep. Coffee and energy drinks became our constant companion, and so did the smiley-happy-hyped up Christian sales persona that we were known to be. We had to pull the smiles out because we believed what we were pushing onto these teens. We believed it intently. We believed we were at war for their souls.

You Can’t Please Everyone, So You’ve Got to Please Yourself…

Years ago, when I left the cult, the words of one song stayed with me and played over and over. The song might have been something my dad or mom told me about, as they often have a good way of referring to song lyrics to tell me why things worked out the way they did or to make me feel better. Either way, these few lines seemed really profound:

But it’s all right now, I learned my lesson well.

You see, ya can’t please everyone, so ya got to please yourself

I spent so many years pleasing the pastors and directors of the ministry school I was in. I did anything they asked. I worked in the office for over forty hours a week, came to their home and nannied their children, washed their dishes, scrubbed their toilets, folded their laundry, and stayed up all night with their infants when they were sick with earaches, etc. I wore baggy jeans so guys “wouldn’t stumble,” wore an undershirt to cover up any remote chance of cleavage showing, and monitored any dress or shirt or skirt I wore to make sure it wasn’t too tight or form-fitting. I sacrificed my dreams of being a missionary, to the pastors dreams of me being an Administrative girl and a pastors wife. I took their children to tennis practice, homeschooled them, made them snacks, and watched cartoons with them. I grocery shopped for the pastors.

When I left that cult, I was lost and confused. How was I supposed to live and operate my own life now after it had been controlled for several years, right down to the smallest decision? Was I capable of making decisions on my own without “checking in with someone else?” Did I have to pray about everything and check my heart and my motives over everything, as I’d learned in the cult?

In other words, did I have to be manipulated by the guilt even though I was free from it?

The answer I found within myself on my own journey was….NO. The bottom line is that life comes down to it being about YOU. Of course, we’re a community of human beings, so we have to be fair and just to one another. But what I’m saying is that no one can make decisions for you, or dictate your life. You are smart, and capable. And the bottom line is you can’t please everyone. You can’t please those pastors: I know when I left, I didn’t. They would have people spy on my myspace and facebook and report back to them about how I was doing. Since I wasn’t living in their group, running by their dictates, they were unhappy. But, I decided that I was the one who had to take responsibility for my own life, actions, and thoughts and I was not going to please everyone.

In fact, I was going to piss a lot of people off. And I have pissed a lot of people off.

But, my journey is not your journey. You have to please yourself. And you have to realize that “it’s alright now…you can’t please everyone so you’ve got to please yourself.” Forge your own path, your own beliefs and your own ethics. Don’t let them be dictated to you. And when people come against you for how you’ve changed or what they don’t like about you, just tell yourself that, “it’s alright now…you can’t please everyone so you’ve got to please yourself.” And if that doesn’t help, realize that remember that there is good in the world and there is good in your soul. In the words of Allen Ginsberg, “Holy the supernatural extra brilliant intelligent kindness of the soul!”


 

 

 

Ricky Nelson–Garden Party