I Grew Up in an Apocalyptic Christian Cult
Photo Credit: Sean Bolt / Shutterstock.com/
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The following article first appeared in Narrative.ly.
“Miss Edwards, do you have another shirt in your locker?” my second period Spanish teacher, Mrs. Buck, asked me on my first day of high school, making sure the whole class could clearly hear my dilemma.
I looked down at my breasts, their little white mounds pushing up and slightly out of a shirt that was low-cut and tight-fitting, but not too provocative, at least I thought.
Mrs. Buck’s orders to return to class the next day only if I had appropriate clothing came as a shock for two reasons: Firstly, I didn’t own a lot of clothes. Secondly, I grew up in a community where boys and girls spent a lot of time naked together. I did not understand the proper rules of dress code. Showing a little cleavage was no big deal to my teenage mind.
All my life I had been taught that constantly moving was part of our family’s duty to God. I had lost count of how many places we had lived. I wanted to be normal, so I convinced my parents to let me enroll in Rowland High School, in Southern California’s San Gabriel Valley. Earlier that morning I had been thrilled to start classes. At 15 years old, it was my first day at any school, anywhere, ever.
On my way home I cried profusely for being ostracized for reasons I didn’t understand. I stopped at the local library, where I often went to read glossy women’s magazines. An issue of “Seventeen” caught my eye. I flipped through it. In a side bar, black bold letters read, "Did you grow up in a cult? Take this quiz and find out now."
I had heard the word “cult” when I was younger and had been trained to answer that, “No, I had not grown up in a cult” or “What’s a cult?” if anyone ever asked me.
Intrigued, I flipped to the story. In a sidebar black bold letters read, “Did You Grow Up in a Cult? Take this quiz and find out now.”
I stopped crying. Maybe there was a reason for my being ostracized. I turned to the quiz. I had to know the truth.
First question: “Did you grow up in a secluded environment?”
I thought about my early childhood in Thailand, before we moved back to the States. Every home I lived in there was required to have walls at least eight feet high, topped with loops of barbed wire or jagged glass sealed into the cement. The gates were boarded with plywood. I lived with my family and 30 to 40 other people. I was told they were my "family in the Lord.”
We called ourselves “The Children of God.” I wasn’t allowed to leave without permission. If I did, I would be banned from ever returning and doomed to eternal hell and condemnation in the afterlife. My parents and the other adults I lived with told me that I was allowed to leave, but if I did I’d be giving up my birthright as one of God’s 144,000 chosen and would forfeit my spot in heaven come the apocalypse in 1993.
“Were you under the influence of a charismatic leader?”
I thought about David Brandt Berg. He lived in hiding. My parents followed him but were never allowed to see him. I never knew what he looked like. In photos he would white out his face and draw a picture of a lion head. He called himself “Father David,” but we kids were required to call him “Grandpa.”