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"Deb's" Story

Unfiltered In 1987 I was an 18 year old college student living far away from a very disfunctional home for the first time. I was ideal prey for any cult. The fact that I was recently married meant they could get two for the price of one. What made us even better prey was the fact that my new husband had come into considerable money. We were like big fat mice in a barn of starving cats when we first encountered The Way International.

Believe it or not, I first became involved with TWI by a phone call. "Mitzi" had been given my number by a mutual aquaintance who knew I'd been church hopping. She decided to witness to me on the phone and managed to convince me that God had been "heavily laying it on her heart to call me." Mitzi seemed nice, close to my age and married so I was excited about meeting her. Before I even went to my first twig [local church] meeting I was told that TWI was a cult and I started to back out. Mitzi called again, she was so nice, we met for coffee. When we talked she talked all about me, my needs and desires, she made my dreams seem important and possible. Possible with God's help through TWI. Mitzi was my friend and talk of cults was irrelevant. When I went to the meetings, I gained an instant family that accepted me, wanted me there, and cared deeply for me.

At first my husband and I went to meetings together, we took the Power for Abundant Living (PFAL) class together when it was over $200 each. My husband wasn't as impressed with the class as I was. He said it was repetitive and overly emotional. When it came to the final part where you speak in tongues, I did it and he refused to try. Shortly thereafter he refused to tithe a mimimum of 10% to The Way and the others became convinced that he was possessed. This is when fear crept into my honeymoon with The Way. All of a sudden anything that didn't go their way was attributed to devil spirits. Now that I had the knowledge of "the rightly divided Word of God" I was responsible to do things their way or I was with the devil. There was no in between.

One midnight, six months after I'd been to my first twig, I was folding clothes on the couch and watching TV while my husband was sleeping. I was startled to hear a knock on the door and even more startled to find out it was 4 people from the twig I had been attending. They told me God sent them because my husband was possessed with a legion of devil spirits and would do anything to stop me from continuing to walk with God. Frightened out of my wits I left my home, security, college, career, and husband that very moment. He never even woke up.

I moved into a house of six people, one was the [TWI] branch coordinator of the city we were in and she helped me to get a lawyer and instructed me on taking my husband for everything I could get. I did, eventually she ended up with most of it. In the first few days it became apparant to her that I sometimes missed my husband and doubted my decision so she arranged for the best-looking guy she could find to ask me out and instructed him to do whatever it took to make me forget my husband.

At the same time that the branch coordinator was dealing with me she also was dealing with Mitzi and her husband. Mitzi happened to be a somewhat jealous wife and her husband was flirtatious. The branch coordinator's cure was to have her husband share a bed with me while we were all away on a seminar at a hotel. We were in a two bedded hotel room and I slept with Mitzi's husband while Mitzi slept with the branch coordinator. The branch coordinator also insisted on showering with Mitzi to "loosen her up" because she was too uptight. This branch coordinator had recently been living with Dr. Wierwille in his bus for a year's time. I felt uncomfortable with these types of things but I figured anyone who was personal friends with Dr. Wierwille was on a higher spiritual plane than I was and if I had questions it was due to my spiritual immaturity.

In The Way every August there is a big blow out called The Rock of Ages (ROA). When I was involved that meant several thousand people would converge upon a farm in Ohio where the headquarters were located and camp out in tents and RVs for two weeks. There would be huge tent meetings every night and throughout the day. The next nine years of my life revolved around the ROA. Each time I went, I went with everything I owned (which was considerably lighter each year). Each time I left I went to live in a different location with different people. With each year I grew more and more distant towards my "earthly" family, who seemed like people from another life to me. With the exception of one brother that I had dragged into The Way with me.

My time between the ROA's was spent taking classes, running classes, and witnessing to get people in classes. I lived in rented houses with groups of between 4 and 8 other Way people. I cleaned houses, washed windows, or waitressed to support myself. I always tithed over 10% because that was bare minimum, and of course I spent tons on classes, classes, and more classes...not to mention the people I sponsored in The Way Corps. No matter how much I did though it was never quite enough. There was always something keeping me from that perfect connection with God. Occasionally He would get me a parking spot near a door or heal me of a cold but I sometimes wondered if that happened to other people too. At least I wasn't one of the unbelievers (i.e., anyone not in The Way) who suffered life as a living hell and didn't know what joy they were missing out on by following The Way. They might have thought they had some happiness but that was only the devil trying to keep them from the PFAL class and TRUE joy.

After kissing a lot of toads (believe me, there is no shortage of kissing going on amongst members of The Way.....or toads for that matter)I finally met the man of my dreams and we married just before my 4th ROA, he had been involved since 1977. We were Word over the World ambassadors the first year of our marriage, the second time for both of us. After our WOW year we went straight into the 13th Way Corps. In my opinion the Way Corps was every grueling thing you would ever imagine cult life to be. Long hard working days, short nights punctuated with occasional stints of security (bless) patrol duties, bad food, classes, classes, and more classes. It was expensive to be in the corps and we didn't work. We lived on what ever we could beg from other believers or anyone we could convince to give us money.

During our time in the corps we had to hitchhike from Kansas to New Mexico with $10 on us and we were supposed to return with $10 or we weren't really good believers. Between the hitchhikes were 2 weeks, no baths, of hiking and climbing mountains and being yelled at and belittled by a staff who obviously resented the namby-pambys who were sent to them. We also went on witnessing blitzes where we would go to a city and stay with believers there and witness from dawn till midnight in malls, on the street, and in bars. If we didn't pull a class together we weren't good believers. Actually though, life on the campus was so intense that these occasional jaunts out into the world were like freedom to us.

Finally, after 8 years in The Way, the time came when my husband and I started entertaining doubts. We were on our interim year in the Corps, we were finally in a leadership position ourselves, and stuff began hitting the fan for TWI. Dr. Wierwille had died, they lost their tax exempt status, and there was infighting among key leaders. On the personal side, my brother had left The Way and rather than becoming a homosexual dog wallering in vomit as I had been led to expect, his life was going quite well. He paid me a visit and shared with me about some of the doubts that caused him to leave....the same doubts and questions I struggled to suppress. Also, I had been married 5 years now, was 26 and was secretly longing for a baby.

Not far enough along in our doubts to quit, my husband and I used a secretly longed for pregnancy as an excuse to postpone our final year in The Way Corps. Despite advice to get an abortion we took a leave of absence. We moved in with my old branch coordinator, the one that used to live with Dr. Wierwille. She had told us she desprately needed leaders in her city but after we got there somehow the need had disappeared. My husband got his first real job with opportunities for advancement. After we found out we were being charged far more than our fair share of the rent (the main reason being it was her furniture...that had come from my earlier divorce) we found an excuse and moved out against her advice. A very bold move for us.

After that our twig attendance dwindled as my husband, already nearly 30, worked on establishing a career for himself. I happily took care of our baby and eventually had another one. One night, late in the evening, while my husband was at work I received a phone call from the old branch coordinator telling me my husband was possessed and I needed to move immediatly with her. I hung up. It wasn't a sudden break like some people have but that was the final break.

We were luckier than the vast majority who leave The Way. Our marriage stayed in tact and we rarely mention those Way days now. My husband now has worked his way into a great job that is usually held by college graduates. I went back to college and am close to getting my master's degree in education. Our children are healthy and terrific. Sometimes they ask why we don't go to church....I never quite know what to say.

Copyright 1997, the author

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