Sarah - Survivor
My name is Sarah. I grew up in Whittier, California, a small town southeast of downtown Los Angeles. My first few years of life seemed normal enough. My father was a carpenter and my mother stayed at home with me and my younger brother. We moved in with my Dad’s parents when I was a baby because my Dad couldn’t get work and we lived with them until I was 5, which I loved because my grandparents were so dear to me. We later moved out when we were financially able. I loved my parents very much. I remember that I could not wait for my Dad to get home from work so I could spend time with him. My mother belonged to a strict religious community (which I’ll call “The Cult”) and my brother and I were born into it. We knew no other life.
The Cult grew out of a small Bible study group, where my parents had met before they were married. A narcissistic teacher, who I’ll call “Haman”, led it. Haman was knowledgeable about many subjects, including Bible history. He demanded allegiance from the members through manipulation and deceit, and subjugated them, forcing them to isolate themselves even from their own family members. The Cult misled the community by representing itself as a legitimate church and a private school for the church members’ children. My Dad left The Cult after I was born, but he still lived with us and he and my mother stayed married to each other.
When I was about 8 years old, trouble came into our lives when my father was arrested and sent away to prison. My mother must have felt abandoned because she became angry and embittered towards my father. She didn’t have a paying job so my father’s loving parents provided for us while my Dad was in prison. I am sure it was tough living like a single parent and so she sought counsel from Haman. He counseled her a great deal through that time but in actuality he was speaking against my father and undermining his authority. I hated it when my mother spoke badly about my Dad, which sadly I heard her doing without any regard of my presence. She said that he was going to hell, which made me very sad! I missed my Dad so much that year and wanted so badly to see him and be with him. I remember staying up at night in my bed and praying and begging God to save him and to bring him back home to us.
My mother became more involved at The Cult by taking my brother and me to many more church meetings after school and late into the evenings. She began working as an assistant to Haman, which demanded more of her time, and devotion to this man. My mother told me that Haman was a better role model for us, as he was well respected and could do no wrong. Haman became a father figure to my brother and me, and the members of The Cult became our peers and family, too. The Cult often disciplined me for the pettiest of matters. It seemed the rules became stricter and stricter every day as well as the consequences for breaking them. I was always being yelled at, made an example of, and sometimes physically disciplined in a brutal manner that was beyond necessary even to the extent of crossing a moral line by Haman and other members. This treatment was not only for me but also for all who were there.
Once my Dad was released, he came back to live with us. He and my mother were arguing a lot. She did not respect him and spoke down to him with disgust and condescension. I am pretty sure that she had already begun having an affair with Haman by this time. I never saw her look at my Dad with love the way that she looked at Haman.
As I entered into my teens, my discontent grew. I desperately longed for my true family and wanted to spend time with my aunts, uncles, cousins whom I only saw on rare occasions. I desired to be able to see all of my grandparents more than I was allowed to and I so wanted to be normal, like other girls my age: dressing up, going on dates, being a groupie, having a boyfriend. I couldn’t do any of those things because The Cult wouldn’t allow it and I wasn’t given very much freedom to do so. I had to pursue my desires secretly for fear that somebody would turn me in and I’d be shamed by The Cult. When my relationship with a boy (also in The Cult) not much older than myself was found out, I felt the crushing guilt of their disapproving judgment and felt as though I had been branded as a “slut.” In that awful place, it was guilt by association so I was very lonely. I was a disappointment to my mother who seemed to love other kids more, especially Haman’s daughter, and my father was not there to comfort or guide me. I was sick of being the “bad girl” and sorely wanted to be the type of person that pleased Haman, my mother and my peers. However, it was never a possibility to leave because I was brainwashed like the rest of them. I was told and believed that to leave The Cult was to leave God and send my soul to eternal damnation. The Cult was effectively undoing everything that Christ accomplished on the cross. Since Christ died for our sins then there is no need for some other prerequisite to get to go to Heaven. I did not understand this as I was taught otherwise from birth.
When I was 13, my mother explained the “birds and the bees” to me. I had many questions about sex and relationships. My mother deferred my personal questions to Haman. I was used to receiving counsel from him on behavioral issues, but now, he began giving me answers to my questions about sex and explaining sexual topics to me. He was removing boundaries that should never have been removed. He was purposefully working at gaining my trust because he was priming me for his evil perversions.
We were always spending a lot of time at Haman’s house, because that’s where a lot of the night meetings were held. I was there more than that because of my mother’s position in The Cult as his secretary or personal assistant. As I had become a young woman, Haman began flirting with me. However, I dismissed it as being nice or sweetly flattering me because in my mind, he could have no impure thought or evil motive according to what I was taught. Slowly but surely, Haman began seeking a physical aspect in our relationship. I was opposed but through continuous verbal badgering he wore me down. I was pressured over months, days and many, many hours. This man had a mental hold over me and I gave in feeling incredibly guilty and knowing that if I told anyone, nobody would believe me because Haman controlled their minds too. After all, I was living it and could barely believe it myself. I was afraid to report it to authorities because The Cult was basically a ticket into heaven and for me to report any issue regarding anyone in The Cult especially Haman, the leader, would not leave me in good standings with the assembly as a whole. So it continued for a little over 3 years. I felt like a sex slave. Haman would coerce me further and further through his perversions and I would try to mentally block out what was happening. At that time, I entertained thoughts of killing myself, but, thankfully, never went through with it. I remember laying down on my bed, calling out to God and asking Him to deliver me from the terrible predicament I was in. I still believed I needed to be there to be saved so I didn’t think it was even possible for God to remove me from the situation. I felt trapped.
In college, I had a certain degree of freedom during the day when I was not under the watchful eye of my peers from The Cult who attended the university with me. In one of my classes, I met a young man named Patrick. I could tell he was interested in me, but I turned down all his invites to go out or do anything with him. After all, it could never work out: The Cult would never approve of my relationship with an outsider. I would be cordial to Patrick but always firm that we could never be together. What I began to recognize and like about Patrick was that he was a real friend to me, looking out for my best interest, despite my continual rejections. He became my best and only friend.
Through our talks, Patrick could ascertain that I was fully dedicated to my “church.” He liked that about me. He thought that I was a strong believer in a Christian community, and he expressed that he wanted to visit my church. This was a shock to me and I didn’t know what to say. I consulted with Haman on this matter without disclosing our interest in each other, and over the next several weeks, I acted as a liaison between Patrick and Haman, regarding Patrick’s desire to visit The Cult. Finally, Patrick was able to meet with Haman one-on-one to discuss his questions in person. Then, he even came to one meeting or gathering. I called Patrick the next day, and he was very discouraged as he discovered many of The Cult’s core beliefs did not line up with basic Christian beliefs. He was asking many questions about the behaviors of the people there and the way things were handled. He was asking why I didn’t believe that Jesus was God during His time on Earth. I was surprised to hear what Haman described as our beliefs because I didn’t agree with all of them and felt they opposed what the Bible stated. In addition, I couldn’t answer his questions because I had the same questions but was not allowed to voice them. Patrick said to me, “For someone who has attended this church for the past 20 years, you should have a lot more answers than you do!” His words were true and they hurt. It dawned on me that I didn’t even understand what my church taught. My illusions of The Cult were already crumbling but this realization accelerated that process at an alarming rate.
I never planned on leaving that place but one night, which can only be described as God’s hand upon me, I finally did. Haman was angry that I was not actively engaged in what he was saying to the group and as punishment for it, he sent me home and therefore kicked me out of the meeting. I had not even done anything wrong other than not laugh at one of his jokes. I had had enough and could not play the game anymore. I was tired of pampering this evil man who acted like a big baby. I left with no desire to return. Over that week, I was confused and conflicted in trying to stay in good standings with the group. I confessed to them about my relationship with Patrick, which was going on for a few months. I didn’t want to give up my salvation but on the other hand, everything inside of me was crying out how wrong everything was within The Cult. I had a lot of thinking to do. Haman informed me that I would need to quit college and turn my car keys and cell phone in “because you used those things to betray us” and I was never to speak to Patrick again if I hoped to ever be reinstated. Haman wanted a complete and public confession and admittance to all the wrong I was accused of and for me to declare my devotion and that I was turning away from the offenses I had committed. I was also not allowed to mention Haman’s offenses to me. My name would be hated and smeared if I did not comply 100% with his directives, or if I did, he would make my name great within The Cult. I was considering for a week.
In my stupor, I accidentally dialed Patrick’s number, then quickly hung up before he could pick up. Patrick ended up calling me back at my work number and when I picked up, he encouraged me to seek God first, even if it meant going back to The Cult; and then he hung up. I couldn’t believe that Patrick would be so selfless as to suggest a life without him, even if it meant his unhappiness. I was so impressed with his response and his care of my walk with God. However, when I reported to Haman as I was supposed to that Patrick had called, he didn’t skip a breath in yelling at me and calling me names for not hanging up on Patrick; and then after yelling “SCUM!” at me for taking Patrick’s call, Haman hung up on me. That was it: I was done with The Cult! I was still confused but one thing I knew for sure was that I could not and did not want to be there anymore. Haman tried calling me back 30 something times, but I never picked up again.
I should have been filled with joy, but instead realized that I just lost everything. I felt that I left my only friends and family when I left The Cult. My mother and brother would never be allowed to talk to me again. I didn’t have any core beliefs that were real. How should I live? Did I just lose my salvation? I still had many secrets that I hadn’t told Patrick. Should I tell The Cult’s secrets? Would Patrick even want me anymore? What happens now? I had many questions, and so many doubts. I felt condemned.
I remember one day sitting with my Dad. I was contemplating whether it was true that I could no longer be saved as a result of my choice to leave. I said to my father, “Jesus died for everyone’s sins, right?” “Yes”, he replied. “Then, that means that he died for the worst sinner you can imagine. And, if He died for the worst sinner, then why would He forgive the worst sinner but not forgive me or allow me to go to Heaven simply because I left The Cult?” My Dad nodded in agreement and I continued, “That means, that I can be saved outside of The Cult!” It was a powerful realization but at that time, this truth I only knew with my mind, not my heart.
One day in March of 2007, Patrick and I were on our way to a wedding when we got into a very serious car accident. Patrick was badly injured and after surgery, he was confined to a wheelchair for a couple of months. My car was totaled and there were legal issues as a result of the accident. Neither of us could work at that point, and Patrick and I moved in with his parents for those months while I tried to take care of him in his limited state. We both agreed that God spared our lives and that we needed to take the opportunity to grow closer to God. I remember Patrick saying, “If we don’t use this to grow closer to God, then we have wasted it.” We were determined not to let that happen. We had a great time talking with each other and spending hours reading the Bible together. When Patrick was able to walk again, he asked me to marry him. He already had a ring and was waiting until he could physically kneel.
We were married in September of 2007. As I contemplated my future with my new husband, I worried that our happiness wouldn’t last as each of our parents didn’t have the best marriage. I wondered if anybody stays happy in their marriage and what the secret to making it “happily ever after” was. Then, I had a thought: What does the Bible say about marriage? I already wanted to read through the Bible to sort out all the truth and lies I had been exposed to and to figure out what exactly I believed on theological issues. It was now the time for me to do it with the extra motivation of learning how to be a good wife. I started from the very beginning: Genesis Chapter 1. I read and read and read, and began to know God through His Word. I saw everything through new eyes. It was very sobering to finally know and understand the correct teachings from the Bible. I fell in love with God and His Word! By faith, I put my trust in Jesus to forgive all of my sins and to no longer be condemned by my past. It was truly amazing! The Bible gave me assurance that God gave me eternal life. The Lord became my teacher and I could now provide reasons for the hope that was in me.
I recently celebrated my 11th anniversary of God’s deliverance of me from a hopeless and evil situation. I realize every day that this great evil caused much pain, and broke and destroyed many families. I purposefully reflect on it so as to not take my freedom for granted. It was a HUGE thing to overcome, and I didn’t overcome it because I’m so amazing. It’s just not about me and I can’t keep quiet about my story, because of what people might think of me. The point is GOD’s love and I am living proof of it. I feel like I’ll explode if I don’t announce that He is my deliverer and He has done a mighty work in me!! I am SO thankful to God for His mercy, faithfulness and graciousness in taking me from ashes, and blessing me abundantly with much, bringing beauty to my life. God has blessed me with a beautiful family: we have two daughters! While my mother is still with The Cult (and is not allowed to communicate with my family), my brother left The Cult and our relationship was restored! My Dad is in my life! I do not for one moment regret what I went through, as I would not have learned the things I did. God used it all for good! To Him be the glory!!
Would you like to make Jesus the Lord of your life too?
If so, you can pray this prayer - Lord Jesus, I believe you are the Son of God. Thank you for dying on the cross for my sins and rising again. Please forgive my sins and give me the gift of eternal life. I ask you into my life and heart as my Lord and Savior. Please help me grow in you and live for you. Thank you for coming into my heart.
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