Our Savior’s Church Pastor Minimalized a Family Death

How Pastor Jacob Aranza, Senior Pastor of Our Savior’s Church in Lafayette, Louisiana, treated me as his staff member when my grandmother died, was beyond terrible.

The story of how Master’s Commission treated it’s staff members in relation to family and vacation was terrible and there is much more to it than what I’ve started to write. How Pastor Daniel Jones, Senior Pastor of Our Savior’s Church in Lafayette, Louisiana, treated me as his staff member when my grandmother died, was beyond terrible.

After a long summer of depression, burn-out from overwork and little sleep, and suicidal thoughts, I contemplated quitting Master’s Commission for good and heading back to California to live near my family. I found it difficult to view my life outside of Master’s Commission: I had no degree, no career, little professional skills, and no assets or savings. I also had little identity outside the group.

Pastor Daniel Jones got a hold of me after that summer and offered me a job with him. I’d be his wife’s personal ministry assistant, and would have nothing to do with Master’s Commission. He was appalled when he found out Nathan was only paying me $150 a month, and he offered me $500 a month. He said it’d be mostly part-time and I could do any ministry I wanted.

It was a dream come true for me, at the time. I had wanted to be a missionary for years, and had liked working with the women’s ministry.

None of what he promised came true, except that I made $500 a month and that I was his wife’s assistant. The $500 a month wasn’t fair compensation for the full-time hours I pulled at his house, and for being on call every weekend day and night of the week. I was his wife’s assistant, but what I mainly did was home-school their middle son, clean their house, do laundry, and clean their entire house after every major dinner or holiday party they had at their house. So, I was a live-in slave, as I affectionately call it.

Fast forward to October of 2004. My mom’s mother got really sick and ended up in the ICU. My parents paid for my flight home (of course, my paycheck couldn’t cover even part of a flight home) and I grabbed the next one (after asking permission, to which I want to throw up over how stupid I was to do that).

I spent the next day or two at the ICU with my mom, dad, brother and sister. I was filled with a terrible amount of guilt, because I’d rarely seen my grandma over the past few years. I worked in a cult. I wasn’t allowed much time off for the holidays to see my family and never a vacation.

My grandma passed away that weekend. It was awful. I was so sad, and my mother just lost her own mother. We had a funeral to plan, and after that was done, we had to take care of bills, her condo, and all the other paperwork type of stuff that you just don’t think of (when you’re young) and don’t realize you have to do so suddenly after a sudden death.

To top it all off, we’re a very close family and I just felt terrible that my mom was grieving. All I wanted to do was to be there for her, but after the funeral, there was this looming feeling that I had to call Pastor Daniel  to see when I had to come back.

I called.

I explained that I needed to help my mom take care of my grandma’s condo, deal with her mail and bills, and all the other stuff I had no idea was such a big job. I told him Daniel Jones that I couldn’t leave my mom alone here without my help while she was grieving over her mom. I had to help her. I was a grown woman, and it was just right for me to stay to help her. I wanted a week there to stay with my mom.

After that week, I also wanted to go to a long-time friend’s wedding. It was on a weekend in nearby Texas. He had been in Master’s Commission with me, and we had developed such a great friendship. Actually, he was the kind of person everyone loved. He was always laughing and joking and making people feel great about themselves.

Pastor Daniel  said no to me staying to help my mom and he said no to me attending the wedding of a long-time friend.

Like a robot, I headed back to the airport. I was heartbroken. I felt like a horrible daughter. I felt trapped.

My years of friendships and everything my life was all about was in Louisiana. I couldn’t just tell the senior pastor to eff off and stay in California and jeopardize every friendship and relationship I’d come to love. I knew what happened to those kind of people. I knew what awful things were said about them. I knew the Scarlet Letter they wore for life after they did something like that.

Looking back, of course I feel disgusted with myself. I should’ve been stronger. I should’ve left Our Savior’s Church at that moment. I should’ve woken up from the brainwashing. I should’ve shooken off the pixy dust that was covering my eyes making me walk under Daniel Jones’s spell.

I should’ve put my mother first, and I should’ve put my friend’s wedding first.

When I returned, Daniel  didn’t feel any remorse for telling me to leave my mom behind grieving. There was barely a word spoken about it. In fact, we just went back to work and every day I laundered his dirty underwear and washed his dirty coffee cups, I began to resent the fact that I’d come back for something so unimportant and something that I was over-qualified to do.

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.

Red Flags and Warning Signs

what are the warning signs of a controlling group or a manipulative pastor (or discipler) according to your experiences?

Hello readers! I’m in the process of compiling a list of specific red flags and warning signs about OUR experiences in a destructive discipleship program and/or a church that teaches unbiblical doctrine. Most specifically, what are the warning signs of a controlling group or a manipulative pastor (or discipler) according to your experiences?

For example, some Master’s Commission’s applications to enter as a student ask very specific questions about a person’s sexual life (i.e., Do you masturbate? Have you ever had an abortion? Have you had a bisexual experience? Do you use pornography and when was the last time you did?). Other groups take students into a room for a meeting and forbid them to have sexual thoughts, to masturbate, or look at pornography. Other groups tell men and women what to wear, and make women change their clothing or burn it if it’s too tight fitting or revealing. Group and individual confessionals are frequently required.

These are ALL red flags of a controlling group.

in retrospect, what are some warning signs YOU may have seen BEFORE joining a group like this or a church like this?

After your experiences in a church or group like this, what warning signs and red flags can you IDENTIFY now?

Master’s Commission International Network Using Unaccredited College

According to the MCIN (Master’s Commission International Network, www.mcin.org), they’re partnering up with West Coast Bible College and Seminary:

“Master’s Commission International Network recently signed an articulation agreement with West Coast Bible College & Seminary to partner together in the training of ministers worldwide!!! Its been a few years in the making but it is finally done. Can you imagine that while attending any Master’s Commission in the world, students will be able to complete a bachelors degree…….. well now its possible and for only $1,250 per person (plus application fee & books).
However, closer inspection shows that West Coast Bible College and Seminary is not accredited through a typical accrediting program. The Transworld Accrediting Commission is NOT affiliated with the Department of Education in the United States. This information is taken from their website (http://www.westcoastbible.org/accreditation,%20Affiliations,%20and%20Credibility.html):

Transworld Accrediting Commission is in discussions with the U.S. Department of Education regarding becoming a governmentally recognized accrediting agency with a specific focus on theological schools.

What does this mean for students of Master’s Commission? They can spend money on a degree that is not recognizable in the United States to the Department of Education. When they attempt to get their Master’s Degree, they won’t be able to do so without retaking their courses for their Bachelor’s Degree.

Wonder what courses at West Coast Bible College and Seminary are like? They’re not like a typical college class! Take a look: http://www.westcoastbible.org/academics.html

At WCBCS, we are committed to providing our students with the best in academic quality, while focusing on the key principles that will be most used in their chosen field.  Students are required to complete any classes started within a six month time frame.  If a class is not completed in the given time frame, the student will receive an “I” on their transcript.  A student will not be allowed to graduate with an “I” or “F” on their transcript.

Modules – Student requirements for every level include:

1) Read one textbook and write down one personal key truth learned from each chapter and how you can implement it in ministry (our belief is that if everyone can learn one practical truth that will stay with them for life, then the reading exercise has been successful) (Read and write down a personal key truth??? This isn’t college coursework! Not even Bible College coursework. This is less qualified to be “Academic” than homeschooling from a DVD)

2) Listen to two 30-45 lectures or watch an online video and fill in the blanks of the lecture notes.

3) Complete an open book exam – (the student can complete the open book exam with reading – each exam will consist of 20 to 25 questions – however, students MAY NOT collaborate with other students to complete this exercise)

4) Find magazines articles or internet articles discussing the subject and write a summary of each article. (each article must be properly identified with the title, author, and web link noted) (Wow…really? This isn’t college level coursework!)

5) Write a final paper discussing how the subject matter is relevant to your personal ministry and what you will implement.

Students are required to purchase a 2 inch notebook to keep all assignments organized.

This Tract Will Save Your Soul

Back in the days of Master’s Commission of Austin, we used to pass out these tracts by Chick Publications. You know the ones–they’re plainly designed cartoon tracts.

We had this big production called Hells Alternative, where I played this girl who chose a life without God and I entered Hell after the rapture. My friends Sean and Jeremy played two demons who dragged me to hell and tortured me, while my friend Brent played Satan. Satan captured my soul and I screamed bloody murder, “Hell is real…Hell is real…” as I was sucked into Hell’s gates.

At the end of this production, we’d scared a few dozen people into accepting Christ, and we’d often pass out these tracts or have something like this available. When we ministered on the streets of Austin, we had a pack of these tracts available to share with people.

Tonight, I stumbled upon this website for Active Hate Groups in the United States. Many of them are Neo-Nazi groups, others are like the Westboro Baptist Church. I wandered through some of the names to see if any of the ministries I knew or had worked with would be on the list. Oddly enough, Chick Publications (the makers of Chick Tracts), is registered as a General Hate group.

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center: “These groups espouse a variety of rather unique hateful doctrines and beliefs…This list includes a “Jewish” group that is rabidly anti-Arab, a “Christian” group that is anti-Catholic and a polygamous “Mormon” breakaway sect that is racist. Many of the groups are vendors that sell a miscellany of hate materials from several different sectors of the white supremacist movement.”

More information can be found here.

My Tragic Love Story, The Final Chapter

The steps the pastor required for a man to date a woman in the discipleship training program was like a maze. These weren’t easy for the Tool, but I saw this jerk-for-a-boy turn into a vulnerable, trusting man as he tried to do what was required of him. It wasn’t his fault that these insurmountable rules had been set up before him, preventing him from dating. It also wasn’t his fault that I was extremely hot and intelligent—so much so that his own best friend wanted to date me, too.

The pastor that Tool had to approach was egotistical and had a huge God-complex. It was either his way or the highway. That was not something he learned from God—it was just something he flaunted due to his own insecurities. Tool didn’t know that the pastor didn’t respect him at all and constantly told me that he wasn’t good enough for me. He’d list the reasons one-by-one, and sadly, some of them were true: he wasn’t from a good home, he probably wouldn’t make a good pastor, he was rebellious, and he didn’t treat women well.

What pissed me off was not that Tool was right or wrong for me, but that someone ELSE was interfering in my love life at the age of 24 years old! Not only was this pastor making suggestions, he was out-right making my decisions for me. He was attempting to think for me, and teach me that his way of thinking was right and that there were no other options but how he thought.

Where Do I Stand? by Aaron Gates

 

Where do I stand?

A Guest Post by Aaron Gates 

After leaving a church group that I had been “professionally” affiliated with for five years I had a lot of questions to ask myself. I had to ask myself where to go to church; who my real friends were. Everyone I associated with on a regular basis I went to church with. When the dam finally broke I was engaged and about to start pre-marital counseling with the pastor. I was living with a family from the church. Two of the teenagers I worked closely with in the youth group lived in that house. It was a Thursday afternoon when I had finished up my extremely heated conversation with my pastor by telling him I was going to find somewhere else to go to church. When I got home I told the guys that I had a disagreement with Pastor S. and would not be going to church with them any more. When their Grandmother got home a little later I gave her the same vague description of why I was leaving. She said something very interesting to me. She said, and I quote, “You know what really happened is going to come out so you might as well tell me.” She was right and I knew it. So I responded, “You’re probably right but you aren’t going to hear it from me.” I promised myself I would not bad mouth the pastor to any of the church members or anyone affiliated with the church.

To this day I have not.

I have had more opportunities than I can count to tell people how badly I was treated. How violated I felt by people I trusted. I could have told the truth. I did not. Unfortunately I was not afforded the same courtesy.

The people at the church had always talked about our relationship as if we were family. So when I stopped attending that church I did not know what to expect.

Would they continue to treat me like family, or was I only family when I attended church with them?

So I was hurt when I realized that I was only a family member when I was a church member. I felt like I was mourning the death of myself; like part of who I was died, because part of me did. A huge part of my life was over, and I felt empty. I was stressed out by trying to live up to the expectations and standards that were set for me from the time I was 18. Then I felt broken and lost.

 

The conflict at the root of everything was that my relationship with God was founded on what I had been taught and told and made to experience. My relationship with God had been corralled in a direction that a pastor wanted me to go. I had a need to find out what I believed and needed to reconcile that with all that I had been taught for the past ten or so years.

I had to decide for myself where I stood.

What do I believe? That is a scary question.

I wanted to know if believing in God was even worth it. It took me a very long time to work everything out.

I wrote that like I have it all worked out. That’s funny. I don’t!

However, there are some things I know. I know that God loves me and He sent His Son to the world for that reason. I know that I chose to live for God before I went to Masters or to the church. I know that my relationship with Him is based on our mutual experience with each other. I believe that He is the way the truth and the life and no one can go to the Father except through Him. I also know that everyone has a different reaction to difficult situations and I don’t expect everyone to believe that. I know that in the church that God wants to see in the world there is room for everyone and room for different opinions and different convictions.

Some will say that there is only one way to be a Christian. I know that God made every person on earth different. Based on that, there are roughly six billion ways to have a relationship with God and it is not my place or anyone else’s to determine what that should look like for anyone. I also know that I lost sight of God because I was more concerned with what a group of people thought about me than what God thought about me. I know that I will never be in ministry in any capacity again, by choice.

But most importantly, I know God.

 

My name is Aaron Gates I live in Gulfport, MS with my wife Jenny and brand new daughter Rebecca. I have been blogging about my experience as a Christian and a new dad since August 2010. If anyone wants to contact me to talk about your experience in Master’s Commission, ministry, or anything else, I’d love to hear from you: aaron.p.gates@gmail.com.

Check out my blog.

No Years Resolutions

Welcome to 2011, my dear friends. A few years ago, I stopped making new year’s resolutions. Maybe it was in rebellion to all that I felt Master’s Commission was. In Master’s Commission, I grew to look at myself more as a project who needed work. I always felt guilty for the thoughts I had, even if they were good. I always thought I should change-be something or someone else. Rather than viewing myself as a unique person who had some great qualities, I constantly dogged on myself for the faults I saw in myself.

And New Year’s was just another time for us to focus on “changing” and “better ourselves” and “working harder” at our self-control and discipline.

So, I decided to stop all that nonsense. I also decided to stop looking at myself in a negative light, as someone who had to be changed, and to look at myself as someone who was pretty amazing, creative and individual. In order to do that, I decided to stop making New Year’s Resolutions temporarily and just practice appreciating the person I was.

I also used to spend hours on end in Master’s Commisson being “encouraged” to always improve my time management, so I could squeeze more projects into one day. We read all those business and self-improvement books that are filled with ways to finish your entire to-do list in a day. Most of the time, then, my to-do list wasn’t even stuff I wanted to get done. It was something I wasn’t getting paid to do for someone else. Now, I do things for myself, and then help others. I simplify my time. I spend a good amount of time saying no to needless responsibilities (that sometimes others are just too lazy to do) and tasks that I didn’t choose, but someone may have pushed onto me. I relax more. I realize that I’m ambitious enough throughout the day that some relaxing at night isn’t going to hurt me. And if the to-do list doesn’t get done, there’s always tomorrow, or next week. Eventually, if it’s important enough, I’ll find time for it. If not, I’m not bothered by some unimportant things not getting done.

I don’t force myself to read more, exercise more, do more, be more of something else. I just don’t mind going through a new year at the same pace as the last one, and being the same person as I was last year.

For many of us, who’ve been recovering from the teachings of Master’s Commission, it’s helpful to take a moment and strip away the guilt, the self-criticism, and stop beating ourselves up. Recognize that you’re a good person, who’s worthy of love, who is great, and has a good heart.

Lastly, I’m by no means not telling you to make a New Year’s Resolution. In fact, I’m probably going to start getting back into the “resolutions” game this year with my own new set of goals. However, I’m going to do so knowing that it’s in my best interest (and not the interest of someone else), and not because someone encouraged me to do so, but that it’ll make me happier as a person.