My earliest memories of YWAM were from the age of six. Our church hosted a special presentation, a drama, called Toymaker and Son. I was in awe of the dancing and drama and the beautiful costumes and make-up. I have always been drawn to the “artsy” side of life. I spoke with one of the YWAMers in the troupe and told her I wanted to do the same thing when I grew up.

The church I was raised in regularly accommodated YWAM teams over the years, so I was was very accustomed to the way and teachings of YWAM. Afterall, YWAM’s teachings mirrored what my home church taught.

I began to go on mission trips with YWAM at the age of eleven. In the beginning, everything was a wonderful experience and I truly felt that I was making a difference. When I was 15, I attended a Summer of Service and Training (SST) with the YWAM Tyler base. This was the base I was most familiar with and many young people from my church had attended a DTS at Tyler.

The SST took place in Atlanta, GA during the 1996 Summer Olympic games. I went with two friends from my church youth group. We were picked up from the airport and taken to the “church” we would be living at for the next month while we ministered. The church, however, was really a burned-out, rodent-infested, rainsoaked (roof was caving in) warehouse. Really, it was shocking, and I had worked in the cardboard villages in Mexico, but this was worse. There were definite safety concerns and my female teammate called home immediately and begged her parents to fly her back home. Within a day, she was gone and her parents were enraged by the conditions YWAM was allowing 12-21 year olds to live in for a month.

I toughed it out, but I was scared to death, as I had to tread through ankle deep water (full of who knows what with hundreds of people tracking through it all day) just to get to the bathroom. Within a couple of days, out SST leaders called a meeting and said that Satan was attacking our ministry in Atlanta. Apparently, the media found that about 500 teenagers were living in a burned-out, condemned warehouse and the media swarmed the YWAM encampment. Our leaders told us we had to be relocated to another church, but in order to leave, we had to sneak out the back so the media wouldn’t see us. In fact, our leaders said that they didn’t want city officials to know 500 youth were staying in the warehouse….definitely something illegal was going on. I wanted to leave, but I felt I had to ‘prove’ my worthiness of being a missionary, and I was convinced all of the media hype was a demonic attack on YWAM. I couldn’t bring myself to thing YWAM might do something underhanded or illegal.

All 500 of us were relocated to a church gymnasium in a suburb of Atlanta. We began to have intense teaching and small group sessions. SST was considered a mini-DTS and this was the first time I was introduced to the popular Third Wave teachings of C. Peter Wagner, Winkie Pratney, George Otis Jr., and the Moral Government Theology. Our worship times many times lasted hours, while there were many “manifestations” of charismatic/pentecostal “gifts”. Speaking in tongues, dancing wildly, screaming, etc. were common-place and at times, scary. Although I came from a charismatic/pentecostal church, disorder was not encouraged, however at YWAM, disorder was the mainstay.

When it came time for the 500 of us to be put into ministry teams, I went forward to volunteer for the music ministry since I had a lot of experience in music and drama ministry. The leaders in charge refused to allow me to be in music ministry, even though I had the ability and gifting to do so. I was confused. Later, I realized why I hadn’t been picked. The leaders paraded the chosen musical youth on stage and the reason was so obvious. The girls chosen were tall, slender, model-esque and well, sexy. I was short, a bit chubby, nonetheless cute, but not sexy as the girls chosen. This was one side of YWAM that I have found throughout. -The “beautiful people” are preferred and chosen for key leadership, although the talent may not back the looks.

The culmination of my SST in Atlanta was a YWAM-wide meeting in a rented out ballroom. Thousands of YWAMers crowded into the ballroom and we awaited out speaker. We had already heard from Winkie Pratney, Leland Paris, and many other big names. This time, we were to hear from Loren Cunningham himself. The crowd was in a frenzy. When Loren Cunningham took the stage, the awe from the group was palatable. I personally was in shock. I took over 30 pictures of him. Now, looking back as an adult, I see that I had placed Loren Cunningham on a pedestal, but also most of the YWAMers in the ballroom did as well.

For years I was in denial that YWAM could possibly be a cult. I just couldn’t bring myself to think that YWAM could in any way be corrupt, but after opening my mind, using the reasoning abilities God gave me, and doing a lot of research, I see that there is so much wrong.

I know many sincere people in YWAM, many kind people in the organization, but there is definitely something wrong with the organization as a whole.

I write this not to bash YWAM, but I write this as a beacon of hope to those who may stuck in an abusive group, whether it’s YWAM or another group. There is a way out, but thinking outside the box of what you were taught is extremely painful. It can be disillusioning. Thankfully, God has brought me and my family out of our recent experience with YWAM (I will write on that in a future post), and I hope others will find their way out of spiritually abusive organizations.

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Is YWAM a Cult?

December 13, 2007

My heart goes out to the families of those in Denver, both at New Life and YWAM Arvada. The shooter, Matthew Murray, was definitely mentally ill, however, it seems his treatment at YWAM exacerbated his illness.

There is a very large network of former YWAMers all over the globe who have received horrible spiritual and emotional abuse from YWAM, at numerous different bases. I also know many who have had good experiences in their DTS, but there are so many people coming out of the woodwork telling about how YWAM destroyed their lives. Sad, but true.

My husband and I can tell you firsthand of the twisted abuse we received in just this year. We are still trying to recover from the ordeal and God has been so good to us and taken care of us.

I have been trying to sort out all that we have experienced and I found a wealth of information for those who have been in YWAM and faced abuse. I found this list (and many books by former cult-members) and just reading this list gives me chills. This has been my experience with YWAM in every base I have worked with…

Eight Marks of a Mind-Control Cult

by Randall Watters

Brainwashing has become almost a household word in the last two decades or so. In 1961, Robert J. Lifton wrote the definitive book on the subject, Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism, after studying the effects of mind control on American prisoners of war under the Communist Chinese. Lifton outlines eight major factors that can be used to identify whether a group is a destructive cult or not. Any authoritarian religion should be held up to the light in order to determine just how destructive their influence is on their members. Judge for yourselves.

Milieu Control

“Milieu” is a French word meaning “surroundings; environment.” Cults are able to control the environment around their recruits in a number of ways, but almost always using a form of isolation. Recruits can be physically separated from society, or they can be warned under threat of punishment to stay away from the world’s educational media, especially when it might provoke critical thinking. Any books, movies or testimonies of ex-members of the group, or even anyone critical of the group in any way are to be avoided.

Information is carefully kept on each recruit by the mother organization. All are watched, lest they fall behind or get too far ahead of the thinking of the organization. Because it appears that the organization knows so much about everything and everyone, they appear omniscient in the eyes of the recruits.

Mystical Manipulation

In religious cults, God is ever-present in the workings of the organization. If a person leaves for any reason, accidents or ill-will that may befall them are always attributed to God’s punishment on them. For the faithful, the angels are always said to be working, and stories circulate about how God is truly doing marvelous things among them, because they are “the truth.” The organization is therefore given a certain “mystique” that is quite alluring to the new recruit.

Demand for Purity

The world is depicted as black and white, with little room for making personal decisions based on a trained conscience. One’s conduct is modeled after the ideology of the group, as taught in its literature. People and organizations are pictured as either good or evil, depending on their relationship to the cult.

Universal tendencies of guilt and shame are used to control individuals, even after they leave. There is great difficulty in understanding the complexities of human morality, since everything is polarized and oversimplified. All things classified as evil are to be avoided, and purity is attainable through immersion into the cult’s ideology.

The Cult of Confession

Serious sins (as defined by the organization) are to be confessed immediately. The members are to be reported if found walking contrary to the rules.

There is often a tendency to derive pleasure from self-degradation through confession. This occurs when all must confess their sins before each other regularly, creating an intense kind of “oneness” within the group. It also allows leaders from within to exercise authority over the weaker ones, using their “sins” as a whip to lead them on.

The “Sacred Science”

The cult’s ideology becomes the ultimate moral vision for the ordering of human existence. The ideology is too “sacred” to call into question, and a reverence is demanded for the leadership. The cult’s ideology makes an exaggerated claim for possessing airtight logic, making it appear as absolute truth with no contradictions. Such an attractive system offers security.

Loading the Language

Lifton explains the prolific use of “thought-terminating cliches,” expressions or words that are designed to end the conversation or controversy. We are all familiar with the use of the cliches “capitalist” and “imperialist,” as used by antiwar demonstrators in the 60’s. Such cliches are easily memorized and readily expressed. They are called the “language of non-thought,” since the discussion is terminated, not allowing further consideration.

In the Watchtower, for instance, expressions such as “the truth”, the “mother organization”, the “new system”, “apostates” and “worldly” carry with them a judgment on outsiders, leaving them unworthy of further consideration.

Doctrine Over Person

Human experience is subordinated to doctrine, no matter how profound or contradictory such experiences seem. The history of the cult is altered to fit their doctrinal logic. The person is only valuable insomuch as they conform to the role models of the cult. Commonsense perceptions are disregarded if they are hostile to the cult’s ideology.

Dispensing of Existence

The cult decides who has the “right” to exist and who does not. They decide who will perish in the final battle of good over evil. The leaders decide which history books are accurate and which are biased. Families can be cut off and outsiders can be deceived, for they are not fit to exist!

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