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Part 2 of 5, Ex-Way follower turns to Internet for 'recovery'

The Wapakoneta Daily News
By: David Coehrs
When the bottom finally dropped out, Jim Martin had lost his family, his freinds, most of his income and his will to live. He decided to kill himself by stepping in front of a bus.

After years of devoting his time, passion, and money in return for promises of spiritual renewal and salvation, he found himself disillutioned, rejected and emotionally crippled.

Martin, 38, never found the courage to commit suicide. Instead, he found himself alone at a Christian shelter in San Francisco. That's where he began an exhaustive journey back from what he describes as a devastating four-year relationship with The Way International.

Seventeen years later, the powerful influence of Victor Paul Wierwille's ministry, headquartered in New Knoxville, still hangs palpably over every aspect of Martin's life. The owner of a Florida auto service, he won't reveal his exact location or permit the use of his second wife's name.

The absence from his life of two sons by a previous marriage to a Way follower still leaves him bitter. And he will openly admit, " Am I afraid of the Way ? Yeah."

Alone, 18 and vulnerable

Martin's relationship with The Way began in 1977. He was 18, alone and lonely in Norfolk, Va., during a Navy assignment. While visiting a local boat show he was approached by two attractive women whose frivolous conversation eventually shifted to the Bible. They invited him to accompany them to a Bible study meeting the following night.

"These women were model types, and they were paying attention to me,"Martin said." Now I can see what was happening, but back then I was feeling just overwhelmed."

Martin began to attend "twigs"-community Way meetings comprised of 10-15 followers -four times each week for about two months. He also socialized with followers and helped them find initiates.

"You were always with them," he said." You were doing whatever you could to recruit, they knocked on doors and went to malls."

He also attended the sect's Power For Abundant Living classes each night for two weeks. There followers received instruction in The Way's interpretation of the Bible. They were also taught to speak in tounges, a method Martin found misleading.

"They teach you basically how to hyperventilate to an extent," he said. "From there they tell you to make noise....and they consider that speaking in tongues. Most of the ex-members call it zoning out."

Martin said speaking in tounges was considered essential to completing the classes, and "generaly, by the time you get to this point you're exhausted; you're dead on your feet and you just accept it."

Martin said he routinely attended class in Virginia Beach in the evening following a 10 - hour military work day. The sleep deprivation eventually broke Martin physically and emotionally, leaving him especially vulnerable to the orginization.

He became more heavily involved in Way activities, even uniting in what he now considers an arranged marriage with another Way follower.

And he began to jeopardize his military duties in favor of Way activities. Martin said the Way condoned his disobedience of military regulations because he was "following God's rules."

By that time he was also tithing the majority of his military paycheck to the Way, a practice the orginization welcomed. "They encouraged me to give more, because the more you give the better in God's graces you are," he said.

The rational facade of The Way began to crumble for Martin in 1980 after an eye opening remark from his grandmother. While perusing some of the orginization's printed materials, she read a suggestion that followers bring firearms to certain outdoor events. She said, "'If you've got all this power, why the guns?' ," Martin recalled. "It just hit me upside the head."

Martin also began to notice that Way interpertations of some Bible passages didn't seem to mesh with the written word, but his questions were met with resistance. "(Twig leaders) would tell me I had to rely on faith. They said '(The Way interpreters) are men of God. Who are you to question what they write?'"

His questions about The Way teachings and practices persisted for over a year until, after several warnings, his twig leader told him, " You're just going to have to shut up or your going to have to leave until you get back in line with God."

"For me, that just sealed it," Martin said. He was dismissed from the orginization in 1981. As an ex-follower (there are no "members" say spokespersons for The Way ) Martin was summarily rejected by his leaders and friends within the Way. A few weeks later Martin returned home from work to find his wife and two sons gone. To this day he maintains Way leaders convinced her if she and the children didn't leave they would be condemned to hell.

When he confronted the leaders they told him, "You're with Satan now, and we're protecting your wife and kids."

Dejected, Martin escaped through a six month drinking binge that eventually led him to California. Rumors had circulated he could find his ex-wife and children there, but attempts to locate them were unsuccessful

He hasn't seen them since.

With his family and freinds gone, and his spiritual foundation crushed, Martin contemplated suicide. "Essentially, I had everything I knew and loved kicked out from under me," he said. "The organization that I had counted as my family left me and threw me out."

He traveled to San Francisco, where he planned to step in front of a bus. But he couldn't muster the courage and instead went to a Christian-affiliated shelter. There he was told he didn't belong on the street and would be directed to a halfway house " to help get your mind settled."

His road to recovery began when a women there arranged a meeting between Martin and Dr. Margaret Singer, a teacher at the Berkeley campus of the University of California. The author of Cults in Our Midst, Singer also counseled ex-cult members.

Singer, along with two ex-members of cult like organizations, helped Martin stabilize over the next several months. Eventually he found a therapist and a job, and earned a university degree in psychology.

He remarried in 1990.

Martin now considers himself a productive member of society, but said the spectre of The Way looms over nearly every facet of his life. "I am still very edgy about them," he said. "There have been 30 questionable deaths attributed to Way International; people who were looking to get out and made known that fact and ended up dead. "

He said that he has received several direct threats of bodily harm from current Way membership, and that such threats are commonplace among ex-members. "They tell you they are going to get you one way or the other," he said. Martin is attempting to find closure to his experiences through the most unlikley sources; The Internet. He considers his home page, devoted exclusivley to exposing what he terms "deceptive practices " by the Way an opportunity to cleanse himself of its residual effects and warn others of its emotional traps.

"They say they are a biblical research and teaching ministry-- that they are there to assist the Christian church in getting out the word of God," Martin said. "They have probably done more damage to Christianity than good."

Way members have told Martin his World Wide Web site, entitled "NoWay Out," is evil. " I get e-mail on the painful side," he lamented.

Still, Martin plans to continue his Internet crusade against the Way to expose what he believes are the orginization's deceptive, even dangerous practices. His wife understands his motives and offers support. "She knows I will not do anything that will endanger her," he said.

In the process, he also hopes to purge what ever demons still hold him from his days as a follower. "I'm concerned more than scared, " he said. " I've made a decision (that) I can't let these people hold this over me anymore."

*return to "Which Way Out?"

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