I was taken to Sunday School at the Congregational church in my small Iowa hometown as soon as I was old enough to sing “Jesus Loves Me”. I went to Sunday School and church year after year, and fondly remember my mom holding my hand in church and pressing her thumb against mine. I sang in Junior Choir, and was baptized by sprinkling when I was nine years old.
One Sunday our seventh and eighth grade Sunday school teacher was away, and a college student was her substitute. She raised disturbing questions. “How many of you believe Moses really parted the waters?” she asked. As we looked around the room at each other, not one hand went up. But I believed it! Then she destroyed my belief in that, with a scientific explanation of a shallow passage that later filled in with the incoming tide. “And how many of you believe that God provided manna to the Israelites in the desert?” Again no hands, and again she rationally tore down my belief in that. She said some plant grew there that produced a bread-like fruit. It didn’t take long before my childish faith was destroyed. I put God on the same category as Santa Claus. He was incapable, inept, and of no further use to me. I became an atheist.
But I was a determined atheist! When my grades and extracurricular activities in high school made me eligible to become a part of the National Honor Society, I proved my determination to hold fast to my beliefs. My mother, who worked at the school, tried to get me to go back to church by threatening to make sure I didn’t get this recognition that I craved. I told her to go ahead and do what she felt she had to do. I fully expected to be passed over when the names were called. But they did call my name.
I held to my beliefs throughout my high school and university years. Then my husband and I headed out on the road for our first job interviews in Hutchinson, Kansas and in San Antonio, Texas. We were within 50 miles of our first interview, cruising along at 60 miles per hour, when an elderly pharmacist and his wife pulled out from a gravel road on my left. He froze in the center of the road, and then started to move forward. I slammed on my brakes and steered for the ditch on my right. We collided, and the two cars bounced along side by side, with breaking glass and scraping metal. Both cars traveled through the ditch and came to a rest in a farmer’s field. Amazingly enough, there were no injuries. Only the lady’s wig had flown off. As we waited for the police to arrive, I railed at God: “Why don’t you just leave me alone?.” Being a logician by nature, I was immediately struck by my own irrational complaint to a Being I didn’t believe existed.
We were able to pry the fenders up out of the wheel wells, and put plastic over the broken driver’s side window. We canceled our Texas interviews. We interviewed and accepted positions with Hutchinson Community College. I became a computer programmer there, in a small department with only a director and a secretary. But what a secretary! She was a sweet Mennonite girl, preparing for her wedding and a mission trip to Africa. I was intrigued by her gentle nature, and occasionally asked her questions about God.
About a year later, I was reading “The Liberation of Planet Earth”, by Hal Lindsay, when suddenly I was overcome with the enormity of my sins, and desperately wanted the freedom that he spoke of in his book. I kneeled down and prayed for forgiveness, and asked Jesus to come into my heart. Immediately I burst into tears, tears of joy, as years of denying God His rightful place in my life came to an end. I was free! I was justified before God (Justified: Just-as-if-I never sinned!) because Jesus had taken my sins to the cross, and he proved by his resurrection that he had the power to forgive sin.
I could hardly wait to tell anyone who would listen about Jesus. I wanted to join a church. I wasn’t picky, so long as they loved Jesus as I now loved Him. I had a tape recording of our wedding which had taken place in the Congregational Church several years prior (Now UCC), and with ears longing to hear my Savior’s name, I found no mention of Him. My husband had been raised Lutheran, and so off to the Lutheran church in town we went. We were welcomed with open arms. Within a few weeks, we asked to join the church.
On a Sunday night they had a supper at the church for all new members. They also had a speaker that night named
Virginia, whose daughter had been deprogrammed from The Divine Light Mission, a religious cult. We sat in the front row to hear her speak. We found it ludicrous that anyone would join such a cult, where the drainage from your nose was called nectar, and was to be considered a delicacy. We could not imagine that anyone we knew would be vulnerable to such ideas.
Not quite so crazy was The Way International. That very night, they had sent an “ambassador” named Luke to my younger sister’s house to invite her and her roommate to a Bible study. They had moved from our small hometown to
Cedar Rapids, IA, a much larger city, and they were lonely. He was cute, and they thought “Why not?” By the time I heard of this, they had attended a few meetings, and my sister was in love with him. I called my dad, and asked him to help me convince Rose Anne to come visit me in Kansas. I told him that the Way was a cult, and backed that up with what I was able to learn from the speaker who had visited our church. He wanted to take a baseball bat to the young man! I calmed him down, and he helped me convince Rose Anne to come for a visit. I hadn’t planned on Luke coming with her, though.
My new friend, Virginia, told me not to worry. She would come to my house with her husband and with another couple whose daughter had been deprogrammed from the Moonies. Between the four of them, they believed they could handle the situation. The plan was for the women to all go to Virginia’s house, and for the men to be left to discuss The Way with Luke. This was accomplished, and the women proceeded to educate Rose Anne on the disturbing activities in which the Way was involved, including weapons training at Emporia, Kansas, and illegal adoptions in Ohio. They did not try to discredit the religious beliefs of the Way. My sister was alarmed at what she was hearing. She was also angry with me for not being “up front” about my purposes for requesting her visit. As we returned to my house, the women told Rose Anne that Luke would want to leave immediately, to go to the Way College in Emporia, to have reinforcement for his beliefs, and to try to convince her that what she had just learned was untrue. Luke met us at the door, and immediately left with my sister. The men sadly told us that Luke did not want to hear anything they had to say.
I was discouraged. The next day I called my dad to let him know I had failed miserably. Luke had plans to go out as a WOW (Word Over the World) ambassador for the Way, and had begun selling off his car, his hang glider, and all he had of value to finance his own “mission trip”. Rose Anne was planning to go with him. But as I was hanging up the phone, the doorbell rang. It was Luke and Rose Anne! He had wanted to leave for Emporia the previous night, but my sister refused to go.
“I don’t know why you think the Way is a cult, Gail”, Luke told me. “I’m a Christian, just like you!”, he said. I felt my heart sink. He wanted to discuss the beliefs of The Way, which he had been studying for months, and I had nothing to counter with. He had The Way doctrinal book with him, “Understanding the holy spirit today”. He began quoting scripture. “I don’t know my Bible like you do, Luke”, I said. I saw my sister sitting on my couch near him, and as it was clear that he could out-debate me, I saw her move closer to him, and he put his arm around her. I reluctantly got out my Bible. The only thing I was certain of was that all cults deny the deity of Christ. If they call him a god, it is just that: small god, not God. This allows the cult leader to have complete authority over the interpretation of scripture. I opened my Bible, and immediately it opened to the book of John. Immediately I saw Jesus” words: “I am in the Father, and the Father is in Me”. “I and the Father are one”, and “He who has seen me has seen the Father”. As I eagerly read these verses aloud, I saw my sister pull away from Luke’s arm. “Do you have another Bible?” she asked. I went and found my husband’s Bible. She, too, without prior knowledge of where to look, found verses to support the deity of Christ. The tide turned! Luke began to look perplexed, although he wasn’t ready to concede defeat.
They returned to Iowa. Within a few days this intelligent young man began making phone calls to find out if the allegations of illegal adoptions and weapons training were true. He found out enough to convince him that it truly was a cult. He attended another meeting or two of The Way, and shared his new found knowledge. Others began to share their doubts about the strictly controlled Emporia campus they had visited. Within a short time the entire cell had dissolved.
My brother, who was living in Illinois at the time, was aware that my sister was involved with the cult, and he tried to help as soon as he knew, but to no avail. Then some Charismatic Lutheran friends invited him to go pray with him one evening at church, and he went along, although he had never done anything that spontaneous in his Lutheran faith before. When I called him to tell him our sister was free from the cult, he told me “I know”. When I asked him who told him, he said that as he was praying for our sister at the church, alongside these friends, he had a feeling come over him that he described as “greater than when his daughter was born”, and he heard a voice (not out loud!) saying, “It is done! It is done! It is done!”
The last verse in the book of John says “But there are also many other things which Jesus did; were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.” I KNOW that this is true! All that I have shared happened before I was 26 years old, and I could fill a book with all that He has done for me in the second half of my life. Imagine if all of us wrote down just what we know He has done for us, how many books that would be!