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.

Advertisements

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

Long time, no post.
This blog has taken on a life of its own, facilitating a necessary  outlet for those who are or have been in YWAM, as well as their family members.

I would love to hear stories from former YWAMers:

How did you leave?

Were you kicked out?

 

Open discussion is welcome. Let the healing begin.

How are you connected?

August 6, 2011

A time for everything

August 5, 2011

I’m back…again.

There’s a time and a season for everything and for the last year and a half, I left this blog in order to attend to family concerns. I would check the blog occasionally, finding that it had taken on a life of its own without any maintenance. I discovered the posts and comments were cathartic to many, many individuals; a site for connection and reassurance.

It had become something I had wished had existed for me when I first realized the damage done to me by spiritual leaders…yet I could not find a site for former YWAMers like me.

I’m so happy that my venture into sharing my experiences with YWAM were able to foster hope, communication, and discussion and ultimately healing to so many. I pray it continues.

Be blessed,

Jen

Shiny happy people

January 27, 2010

Groupthink

8 main symptoms of groupthink:

1. Illusion of Invulnerability: Members ignore obvious danger, take extreme risk, and are overly optimistic.

2. Collective Rationalization: Members discredit and explain away warning contrary to group thinking.

3. Illusion of Morality: Members believe their decisions are morally correct, ignoring the ethical consequences of their decisions.

4. Excessive Stereotyping:The group constructs negative sterotypes of rivals outside the group.

5. Pressure for Conformity: Members pressure any in the group who express arguments against the group’s stereotypes, illusions, or commitments, viewing such opposition as disloyalty.

6. Self-Censorship: Members withhold their dissenting views and counter-arguments.

7. Illusion of Unanimity: Members perceive falsely that everyone agrees with the group’s decision; silence is seen as consent.

8. Mindguards: Some members appoint themselves to the role of protecting the group from adverse information that might threaten group complacency.

 

In my time within YWAM and a spiritually abusive church, I encountered all of these put forth by Irving Janis in  Decision making: A psychological analysis of conflict, choice, and commitment.

Any thoughts?

Shunned

June 23, 2009

j0433155

Have you ever been shunned?

In my earlier posts, I related some of the spiritual abuse my family and I received in YWAM and I would like to use some other incidents in YWAM on the subject of shunning. (If you have not read my previous posts, I suggest you read them here and here to catch up.)

Within a few weeks of my husband’s DTS, it became apparent that the base leaders considered us ‘troublemakers’ because we questioned unbiblical teachings. My husband was counseled to be more “teachable” and to not voice his opinions and for the most part, he tried to respect the leaders of the base by keeping quiet.

After our outreach was completed, the love feast was over, and the screaming from the female base leader subsided, my husband and I decided that we wanted to remain in Hong Kong and make a home for our family there. My husband is very well educated and had job leads from a V.P. of a major US company in Hong Kong, so he decided it was time to go to a tailor and have a suit made for future interviews. All this time we were still living at the base and my husband worked every day, all day doing hard physical labor so that we could stay at the base for just a short while after his DTS. (This was on top of the astronomical fees we were paying to stay there)

On a Saturday, his day off, we made our way to a tailor for my husband to be fitted for a business suit. A few days later, my husband was to pick up his suit after his work duties were finished. When the base leaders found out that my husband planned on getting a job in Hong Kong, they flew off the handle and forbid him to do so. They said they heard from G-d and that it wasn’t His will “thus saith the L-rd”. Just a few days later, we were told to vacate the apartment we had been paying for and my husband had been slaving for with only 2 days to get out.

We were terrified, yet we knew G-d would take care of us and our two small children. We asked a YWAM staff member who was a native Hong Konger if she would translate for us when we enquired about an apartment one evening. We made sure our meeting with a local landlady would not infringe on our YWAMer friend’s ‘duties’, and it was to take place on her own free time.

Our meeting time came and went and there was no sign of our Cantonese-speaking YWAM friend. We then went to the base to find here and we were met by the male base leader. He stopped us from going further into the base and he said that he would not allow our translator friend to help us because she did not ask the leadership’s permission! We both defended her and said she was helping us as a friend on her own personal time, but he would not listen. He said that he did not want us living in the same village as them because we “would give them a bad name”. The base leader looked at us with a wild, paranoid look in his eyes and threw us out of the base. The YWAM leadership told their staff to shun us, because we were ‘evil’.

We cried, we were freaked out by the encounter with the base leader who not only treated us badly, but caused our Chinese YWAMer friend to lose face. We DID find a translator, and the very next day, met with the local landlady. The local landlady asked if we were with the YWAM base, because she did not want to have anything to do with the YWAMers in the village. She thought they were strange, rude and not to be trusted because of her own dealings with YWAM in the village.

On the verge of homelessness (we were kicked out on the eve of the anniversary of Hong Kong’s return to the PRC, with no hotel rooms available), our non-Christian local landlady showed us great kindness. She allowed us to spend the night in our newly acquired apartment even though we were not to begin renting for 2 days, in fact, she did not charge us for the 2 extra days. We quickly moved from the YWAM apartment to our new home-sweet-home. When our landlady saw we had no furniture, she immediately carried up a table with four chairs, and 3 bed mattresses. We were overwhelmed by the kindness of a stranger, when we had been treated so cruelly by a YWAM.

godsend Our “godsend” apartment after being mistreated by YWAM.

I would be very interested to hear from other YWAMers about what they think of the base leadership shunning us. Also, I’d like to hear what people think of the huge control the base leaders have over staff members. I have heard many stories from other YWAMers being micromanaged by their leadership in many bases around the world.


I’m back

June 23, 2009

I apologize for my long hiatus from blogging. I’m beginning to feel the weight of truth-telling and at times it can be overwhelming. At times I considered closing up the blog altogether, but I cannot with a clear conscience do so after the many thousands, yes thousands of individuals who have reached out for help in their transition from YWAM to real life.

When I first set out to blog about my personal experiences with YWAM and spiritual abuse while growing up, I was warned by a very wise person that I may be opening a can of worms which cannot be put back. He told me that chances are that my husband and I will be ostracized from Christians, especially YWAMers. After months of contemplation, I made my first posting and it all snowballed from there. Overall the response has been encouraging with so many joining in a chorus of the voices of the those who have been trampled by spiritual abuse. On the other hand, there have been the vicious ones who have cursed me for speaking truth. So be it. I have allowed 99% of all comments on my blog and have only censored the ones who were revolting. I know I am just an anonymous voice on the vast Internet, but I am a human; sensitive to hurtful words at times. To say these horrid comments haven’t hurt me would be a lie, but I am determined to keep up this blog.

I feel that it is time for me to ask for input from others who have been abused in YWAM and survived. There are so many people coming to my blog because they are walking wounded from their time with YWAM.

If you have come out the other side from YWAM mistreatment, would you be brave enought to tell your story to help another?

If you do not want your name or base printed, that is perfectly fine. I understand firsthand that there can be a great out-lash at those who speak up. You will find this a safe medium to tell your story.

If so, please send your story to:

chasing.truth@yahoo.com

I pray that those who have been abused can find hope through this blog.

Jen

Whether you are leaving YWAM because of a painful experience and seeking a place of refuge on the ‘outside’, or leaving to join the world again, it is a painful transition.

Many of my friends who have left YWAM over the years found the journey back into regular society harder than expected, fraught with false starts and unfinished plans. The sheer culture shock can be overwhelming to the point that many, including myself, find it difficult to find a place in the world sans YWAM.

Discipleship Training school (DTS) is often called a “honeymoon with God” and that YWAMers who complete the DTS are “ruined for the ordinary”. Being ruined for the so-called ordinary can truly ruin what one can and cannot accomplish outside of YWAM. –Over the years, I have kept in contact with my YWAM friends and have been able to see how their YWAM experience affected how they viewed the world and how they made their way into non-communal life. My closest friends in YWAM were so negatively affected by their time in the organization that to this day- nearly 10 years after DTS- they do not know who they are or what they are ‘meant’ to do. College was not attended, plans were not followed through, floundering around was the mainstay. I found this to be true for myself as well.

My time in YWAM permanently burned an image in my mind of who I should be; I was told that the only reason for being was to know God and to make Him known. If I were not involved in missions, my life was worthless, because being a missionary –especially a destitute one- was a holy calling. Leaving YWAM was the most painful emotional time in my life. Although my time in YWAM was filled with tremendous spiritual abuse, I was utterly lost, no direction, no idea of what to do next.

Most YWAM bases have a debriefing at the end of DTS for those going back to their lives, and I went through this debriefing after my DTS as well. When I returned home, I found that I had changes, whereas my friends, church and pastor had remained the same. It was difficult for my friends to adjust to the ‘new’ me and I was on such a spiritual high after DTS, I had problems relating to them. I thought, “Why aren’t they winning souls? Reaching out to the lost?” Remember, my whole reason for being was to be a missionary, so I could not understand why everyone else didn’t drop everything to go.

I did what many after DTS do. I applied to yet another YWAM school, because that was what I was encouraged to do. I applied for a School of Frontier Missions (SOFM) and I was accepted, however, the financial support never came through. People promised money for my career as a destitute, un-college educated missionary, but they never came through. I was absolutely devastated. What was I to do? All my self-worth was in missions.

Eventually I found a job, but I floundered for years, not knowing what to do with my time in YWAM. I worked off and on with short term YWAM projects, but always felt that something was lacking. I attempted college, but failed at that. All I could think of was going back to YWAM – being a missionary.

My friends from YWAM had a similar path over the last 9 years. I’ve talked to many others who served with YWAM who felt lost as well. What does one do after YWAM?

Thankfully, after my latest brush with YWAM, I was able to make a clean break and remove the doctrine I learned in DTS from my mind. Finally, I can separate myself from what I learned in YWAM and find myself, reconnect with family and friends and belong in the ‘real’ world. It took time and a lot of painful growth, relearning of who I am and what I am truly meant to do.

%d bloggers like this: