Is YWAM a Cult? Revisited

December 11, 2017

ywamTen years ago on December 13, 2007 while living in Hong Kong, I wrote a blog posting entitled Is YWAM a Cult?

Ten years ago I was wounded, unable to really process the pain from years of abuse my family and I had endured. I wrote as a way to process my feelings and thoughts…and I thought maybe there were others who had experienced something similar. Turns out there were thousands of people Googling the terms “is ywam a cult” or “ywam cult”.

Confirmation I was not alone in my suspicions about the organization that had played such an important role in my life since I could remember.

I had abandoned this blog, neglected posting for years at a time because I had moved on. I had a life to live (and in some cases just survive), but I would check on the blog maybe once a year or so. What I found was astounding traffic coming from the exact same Google searches. People are still concerned about YWAM and their own or their loved one’s involvement.

Over the years I have received pleas of help from concerned parents, aunts, uncles, siblings and friends asking me to help get their family member/friend out of YWAM. Multiple people contacted me concerned because their family member was not allowed to speak to their family whilst attending DTS (Discipleship Training School).

Let me repeat that: YWAM forbade their DTS students from talking to their own family. Think about that. I had a similar experience with YWAM. This is not an isolated occurrence within this organization.

I hadn’t looked at my stats for awhile what searches people used to land on my site, so I looked today and I was astounded and my heart ached that people have been so despondent in some of their searches.

The top search is still “ywam cult”, but there are so many others that have to make one think about the impact this organization has had on so many people.

“YWAM abuse, YWAM bad experience, YWAM Tyler cult, YWAM brainwashing, YWAM dangerous”

Thousands of searches, thousands of people.

The shooting at the Arvada, Colorado YWAM  in December 2007 spurred me to write about YWAM possibly being a cult. It took a tragedy to make me step out and ask a question about how YWAM works as an organization. A close look at how they treat people who do not conform to their rules.

Read this quote from an article (regarding the shooter at YWAM Arvada) in The Nation, The Nightmare of Christianity, from Max Blumenthal’s book Republican Gommorah: Inside the Movement That Shattered the Party:

“But as soon as Murray enrolled at YWAM’s training center in nearby Arvada in 2002, he found himself trapped in an authoritarian culture even more restrictive than home. He realized that, as another student of YWAM bluntly put it, the school’s training methods resembled “cult mind-controlling techniques.” Murray became paranoid, speaking aloud to voices only he could hear, according to a former roommate. He complained that six of his male peers had made a gay sex video and that others routinely abused drugs. Hypocrisy seemed to be all around him, or at least dark mirages of it. A week before Murray was scheduled to embark on his first mission, YWAM dismissed him from the program for unspecified “health reasons.” “They admitted that I hadn’t done anything wrong, just that they had prayed and felt I wasn’t popular/’connected’ and talkative enough,” he recalled.
Two years later, Murray raged at two YWAM administrators during a Pentecostal conference his mother had dragged him to attend. The shocked staffers promptly warned Loretta Murray that her son “wasn’t walking with the Lord and could be planning violence.” Within days, an ornery local pastor was allowed to burst into the young Murray’s room, rifle through his belongings, and leave with a satchel full of secular DVDs and CDs–apparent evidence of his depravity. Murray’s mother searched his room for satanic material every day afterward for three months, stripping him of his privacy and whatever was left of his love for her. After the trauma-inducing raids, in which Murray estimated his mother and her friends destroyed $900 worth of his property, he concluded, “Christianity is one big lie.”
Let’s review the structure of YWAM:
  • Love-bombing: this phrase was actually created by the Moonies. Love-bombing consists of showering of praise, immediate acceptance and friendship, superficial compliments and gifts.
  • Confession. This is used as emotional blackmail and used to degrade members so that they realize they are nothing outside of the group.
  • Authoritarian rule. God speaks only to the leaders and they decide who is “worthy” and who is not. Arbitrary and controlling rules regarding dating, eating, socializing, entertaining and use of computers.
  • No communication with “outsiders”. This includes family, who are not on the same level as a member of the group; they are not ‘enlightened’.
  • “Don’t touch God’s anointed”. The Scripture 1 Chronicles 16:22 is used to suppress dissent or questioning of theology or their rules. They are special and hear from God. You do not.
  • It’s all about the $. You must raise money regularly to pay “staff fees” and your basic living expenses. This resembles a pyramid scheme, where the lowest person in the pyramid must give the most, work the most, but receives little to nothing in return. This is “dying to self”. You will often see the head leaders of bases, district leaders and national leaders living very privileged lives.
  • Community living. Unmarried members must live in cramped, sometimes unsanitary dorms. No privacy whatsoever.
  • Slave labor. Work duties are one thing, but if you are seen as being ‘troublesome’, you will work more than your fair share. No accommodation for disabilities or physical or emotional pain. You pay money to live within YWAM, but if you’re a low level student or staff member, you will literally be a slave. This is where their “dying to self” and “giving up your rights” doctrine come into play.
  • Rejection, shunning, isolation, etc. If you are not obeying every command given to you or you question too much, you will be cut off from the group and thrown out.

These situations I personally experienced over my years with YWAM and many others have experienced the same. Hindsight is 20/20, but during my time within YWAM, all of these beliefs seemed normal. It was like being in an abusive relationship because that’s exactly what it was.

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Oh, you’re just negative…

December 10, 2017

Have you ever been told, “you’re just being negative” by someone in regards to your experiences in church or religious organizations? It seems that people in general want to sweep under the rug problems and concerns of those who have been abused or maligned in religious circles. Most people do not want to think about unpleasant things.

So what do you do when you’re treated this way? What do you do when people you thought you could trust discount or do not believe your experiences? This is a crossroad, a path for diverging from your current trajectory. You have to make a very difficult and possibly life-changing decision. Either stay and continue dismissive abuse or leave and start a new, scary path.

I am completely over my time in YWAM and the horrid and traumatizing time spent with them. It took a while and I had to remove people from my life, which was heartbreaking and disorienting, but now I’m free!

butterflies

I’m free!

Now the subject of church and religious people (the ones who do not demonstrate Christ), I admit a sore spot. It’s a half-way healed wound that keeps getting ripped open pretty regularly.

Let me explain: long story short, I lost everything, everyone and went from being well-off financially to being one step from homelessness. My entire family died within a six month span in 2015 and I was left without a support system. Widowed and orphaned.

I reached out to my church friends (had been reaching out and supporting them through their own trials for many years before my own losses). I was met with no empathy, compassion or familial support. My church friends and I had grown up together. We were a family of sorts, a chosen family, but they all decided I was an apostate for leaving the church that abused me, but also had abused them as well.

They felt that allegiance to a cult of personality was more important than real people. Again, shunned.

So again I ask: “where do I go from here”?

Here is my advice to myself and to you, dear reader if you are in a similar situation.

  1. Pray. Depending on your own spiritual path: pray, meditate, listen to encouraging music, write out your thoughts and ask for guidance on your life.
  2. Re-evaluate your needs, wants and must-haves. What do you need right now? Will simplifying your life help you?
  3. Reach out to others who can understand the pain of rejection and spiritual abuse. There are a lot of groups online for survivors of spiritual manipulation.
  4. Establish boundaries in your relationships. Protect your heart and mind from further unhealthy interference. This can be especially painful if you are co-dependent.
  5. Move. Maybe a change of scenery and opportunities to meet new people would be positive. I personally found that leaving the town I was raised in helped me move past a lot of hurt. There’s a big world out there and it can be like starting a whole new life by moving your home-base.
  6. Retreat. If moving is not financially or otherwise feasible, go on a retreat. It could be up to the mountains, the beach, take a walk around your neighborhood- time alone can be helpful when seeking enlightenment (especially for introverts).

In closing, I will leave you with this thought. Being a truth-seeker and truth-speaker is powerful. Disrupting powerful abusers (spiritual or otherwise) can cause a domino-effect. You may be ostracized for speaking out, but your voice can cause change. Your insistence on revealing truth might just help someone else who otherwise would have remained silent in their own abusive situation.

Speak in love and seek truth always,

Jen

Spiritual Abuse Pt. 1

November 19, 2007

No church is perfect, I know. No person is perfect, that’s for sure and I am the first to admit my own imperfections.

It has taken me many years to get to this point in my life to realize that I was not to blame for the wrongs done to me at the hands of my spiritual leaders. I know so many people who have experienced the same as I, so I feel that this all needs to be said. Maybe my experiences might help others.

Having said that, here is my first entry on the painful subject of spiritual abuse.

It was always an unspoken rule. -Those who left “CCC” were to never be spoken to again or considered truly ‘saved’. They had left the flock and gone astray, so snubbing a former member of “CCC” was second nature. I didn’t quite catch on to this so-called rule, but understood it fully. I would never be one of those who had ‘fallen away’.

I was the perfect child in church. As mentioned earlier, I began attending the adult services at “CCC” when my contemporaries were still attending children’s church. I was learned in the ways of the Lord, so I understood all that was taught. I sat quietly in service, paying attention as well as I could since the pastor was not always very concise or even interesting.

By the time I turned 12, I joined the adult choir. I had to try-out since the director didn’t know how a child could sing and I passed the test. I have always been talented in music, teaching myself how to read music and play piano. I was a full-fledge member and attended practice religiously. Always on time and willing to take direction, I absorbed every vocal technique our director taught. I soon began singing special music on Sunday nights and I faithfully tried out for solos.

Within a short time, the director saw that I was sensitive emotionally. (Hey, I’m artsy and I was so young) “E”, the director, began an attack on my psyche that nearly drove me to suicide.

It started out with bizarre ‘prayers’ with me while “E” was teaching me vocal exercises. She would say incredibly hurtful things to me, such as, “You have a good voice, but you’re not pretty”, or she would “prophesy” strange messages over me. This happened on a weekly basis for approximately 5 years. The recurring theme of her speeches to me were always about me not being pretty, or that I wasn’t that talented. -I knew I wasn’t the classic picture of beauty, but I knew I could really sing.

I was invited to many secular events to sing, because despite what “E” said, everyone else knew I had great talent.

By the time I was 16, I tried out for the worship team, because that was where my heart was. I hated to perform, but loved to worship God and point people to Him. Again, I was not beautiful enough. Just a side note: If I had been a hideous teenager, maybe I could accept the harsh and hurtful things constantly being said to me by “E”. However, I was not ugly. At the time, I did think I was ugly, but when I look back at my pictures, I see I was far from ugly. I was pretty, but not blonde, tall and skinny.

At the age of 18, I traveled to Hong Kong to attend a Discipleship Training School (DTS) with Youth With A Mission (YWAM). I lived in Hong Kong for 3 months and had a 2 month outreach to mainland China.

In the first 2 weeks of my DTS, I was asked to sing on the worship team. I was shocked. By this time, after years of continual abuse from “E”, I had convinced myself I was ugly and untalented. The staff at the DTS thought I was very, very talented. I was the first student allowed to help with leading worship. -So I was talented after all.

After my 5 months, I reluctantly returned to New Mexico and the abuse once more.

I was happy and for the first time in my life I had confidence in my talent and I felt on top of the world. I braved my fears and attended a choir rehearsal at “CCC”. I had no clue that I was going to become a lost sheep.

Practice was about to begin, and a member said a prayer. All of a sudden, “E” said she had a prophecy. My heart sank. I knew it was going to be directed toward me.

She began spewing hatred and cruelty in the name of God toward me. She continued her “prophecy” for 3 minutes or so and I couldn’t take the humiliation any longer. Although there were over 30 choir members in attendance, they let her continue her hurtful barrage. A friend helped me out of the sanctuary as I was sobbing.

I was in total disbelief that “E” could attack me under the guise of a “word” from the Lord. I was shocked that not one person had the nerve to stand up to her. But they were sheep….they were fearful to become lost sheep. Afraid to be shunned by the all-powerful leaders of “CCC”.

I left. I washed my hands of singing in the choir…

To be continued….

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