- In The Beginning
- The Bible Studies
- The Early Days
- Being a Family Group Leader
- Starting to Fall
- My Falling Away
- Life After
My name is Pierce Watson. The year was 1993 in early October. I was a student at Long Beach City College. Early one morning as I was leaving the book store, a guy by the name of Matt Wirgler came up to me and started talking to me. I can’t remember how the whole story went, but I remember him asking me if I went to church and if I would be interested in studying the Bible.
I remember feeling alone at school; I was just starting back at the age of 22 and didn’t have many friends. Matt made me feel very welcome. Later in the conversation we exchanged phone numbers and set a date to go to a Bible study that Saturday.
That Friday night I received a phone call — we were to meet at a local restaurant the next morning. When I told Tanya where I was going, she was shocked that I would go to study the Bible. I told her, “I am just going to check it out. I’ve always wanted to learn about the Bible.”
I got to the restaurant a little early and had one last cigarette before the meeting. I felt really nervous for some reason. The Bible was all new to me –sure, I went to church as a child, but I never read the Bible. Matt showed up with another guy named Matt and we had breakfast. During breakfast we started studying the Bible.
I felt so stupid because I knew nothing about it. By the end of breakfast I admitted that I wasn’t a disciple, and that I was not a fisher of men. That Scripture always stayed in my head.
After the study we walked back to Matt’s house. I thought it was odd to find out that all his roommates also belonged to the same church. Matt invited me to church that Sunday at Cal State Long Beach and then drove me home.
Matt picked me up that Sunday and off to church we went. I thought it was the greatest church I had ever attended, of course not knowing the details. Everyone was hugging each other and filled with lots of joy. I really felt a part of something great. After church everyone was asking me if I like it. Man, I loved it, but still felt nervous.
Matt and myself then set up another study, that Tuesday I believe. It was on this day I met Doug Wens. He and Matt Wirgler conducted the rest of my studies together, except for the last one, which was conducted by a guy named Steve.
During these next few weeks I studied the Bible constantly. These studies were the hardest times I have ever faced besides leaving. I had to quit smoking before getting baptized. That wasn’t a problem for me I wanted so much to be a part. The hard part was telling Tanya, who had been my girlfriend for three years, that I had to move out. It was so sudden. She wanted to know what I was doing, so I took her to church the following week. She was a little more hesitant to the whole thing than I was, but did agree to study. I then move out and finished my studies.
I was baptized on October 18, 1993. My dad was there. Tanya was there, and it was 2 days after my birthday. We sang songs, people shared, and then I was baptized. I asked my father what he thought. He was a real skeptic.
The early days were hard for me. I missed Tanya badly. Then she was baptized, and I felt everything was great. People were telling me how great it was to be fruitful already; it felt good.
Then came the bad news. I was instructed that in order to grow spiritually I had to break up with Tanya. One night — actually, before she and I were baptized — we met and agreed to break up. We felt certain that we would get back together when we were stronger spiritually, but it still hurt, and we both cried. One evening I got so upset and left a get-together because I wasn’t allowed to talk with Tanya. My discipler felt I was spending too much time talking to her.
During the first three months all I could think about was the ICC, learning the Bible, and longing to move up and lead.
In December 93, a new campus leader was appointed for city college. His name was Marshall. I had heard about him from Matt and Tanya. Tanya knew him from state college, but I had only met him once. Matt had told me and I heard rumors of how they were raising me up to become a leader. It was during a party that December when Marshall told me I was to lead a Bible talk.
Marshall and I instantly hit it off. That week we had our first meeting, (our disciple time). He was my discipler, and we met once a week for one hour to discuss my spirituality. We prayed together and had quite time that day. We had a great time.
A few months had passed, and I felt I was growing tremendously. I wanted so much to get back with Tanya, but was told I wasn’t ready. I couldn’t understand that. I felt spiritual. It was just another way of controlling my life. It was hard dating others and knowing she was as well. We both felt like it was a waste of time because we would be back together anyway. Why weren’t we allowed to?
A few months had passed and we where finally able to reunite, but before we could I decide it would be best if I admit to her that while we were in the “world” I had cheated on her. I met with her campus minister and mine and told them what I was going to do. One night I went over to her minister’s house were she was and we talked. We shared some secrets — things we had done wrong to one another — and cried. It felt good. We hugged and forgave. It was so scary for me I could have lost her forever.
Later that week we got back together.
The leaders decided to have all city college and state college students live with others in the same ministry, so I had to move. I moved into a house with Bryan King. We instantly became best of friends. A friend of mine named Jon who was my friend in the “world” also moved in. There was four of us to start.
It felt great Bryan and I used to sit up talking all night about the ICC, Tanya, and Charlotte (his girlfriend). We were having so much fun. Everyone really pampered me in the beginning. It was here where I met and started progressing as a Christian. It later became my downfall.
I met two “baby Christians” here who were very special to me. One was Richard — he was one of the first people I discipled. He was constantly reading and learning the scriptures and listened to advice well we had a lot of fun during our discipleship times. We used to rollerblade all the time. The other person was Calvin Kwan. When he first came into the church he was considered a good catch. He was running for ASB pres. We also instantly hit it off. I never understood why he would always come to me for advice but he made me feel good by doing that. We talked all the time. I always called him to take me to church we became such good friends.
Some of the older Christians I would like to mention are Spencer and Russell; these two I also considered dear to my heart.
The first time family groups were put into effect, I did not make it. I immediately started questioning my faith and spirituality. Why wasn’t I chosen? It was the first time things had not gone according to plan for me. I felt hurt. I spoke to Marshall and he assured me that in time I would lead a Family group and to pray about it.
Marshall was the leader of our Family Group, which consisted of my Bible talk and his. I became like his right hand man. He made me feel like I was the family group leader. I became the person who would take all the contributions to the sector administrators house.
A short time had passed and I became the fourth family group leader. Things were good again at the start. A family group job is to be responsible for his Bible talk and one or two others. I had to keep track of the stats in my family group on how many people we brought to church, how many studies we had, and who paid and who didn’t.
It was here that I started to understand how much emphasis was on money and control. We had a family group leaders meeting once or twice a week. In these meetings we would talk about our stats [statistics — how many visitors, how much contribution, etc.] and who didn’t pay [didn’t give their full expected contribution]. We were require to tell the Bible Talk leaders under us to collect the money from those who hadn’t paid. I hated have to tell people who were struggling financially that they were not right with God, but I did it anyway.
It was during this period that I started to come out of my denial about how controlling the church was. It was consuming my life. It controlled my future.
It all began to fall apart right before Bryan was moved to the singles ministry. The brothers in the household where not paying there share of the bills, and Bryan and I had to cover for them. It became a real burden.
After Bryan left and went to the singles ministry, I became head of the house. The problems there just got worse. I ended up having to pick up a second job to pay the bills, and my grades were starting to slip. Things were rough. When I spoke to Marshall about it, he said that I was the leader of the house and it up to me to fix the problem, but that I could not kick the others out.
He treated them like babies. He told me to knock on neighbors doors and offer to wash their cars to pay rent and contribution. I had already sold all my CD’s and some comics to pay bills. I refused to knock on doors, and told him that they should do it. Then I suggested that the church help out. They help a little once but that was it.
I really felt like the others should have been asked to move back home, but I was told no, even though it was my place. I was told they would struggle, even though the Bible teaches us to not be a burden.
Things just kept getting worse. Later in the summer of ’94 a good friend named Matt Suttcliff began struggling. We were friends from the beginning and were raised up [promoted into leadership] together. Things were hard for him and he was taken out of leadership. I was told to go and talk to him. I remember that night we talked. We cried together. I told him the routine that would happen to him if he left. I was so afraid for him. I still believed, even though I was questioning myself.
He later left. I felt like upper leadership did not help like they should have, but I told myself that I would never leave.
Things later changed for me. It was the beginning of September when I began to struggle more and more, but I had one more book in the Bible to finish. I told myself I would not come to a conclusion until I read the entire Bible.
I did that except for the Song of Songs, which I was saving until I got married. I was really wanted to get married, but was told I was not ready. I felt I was and was told I was prideful. I could never understand that. I told Marshall how we had dates for three years before the ICC and he dismissed that, saying it didn’t count because we were not saved then.
During the month of September I really struggled. I started looking back at the year and thinking of all the people that hurt me and all the wrong I had done to my family. I forgot my dad’s birthday because I was so consumed that year. I began reading over some Scriptures on tithing and came to the conclusion that the ICC was teaching it the wrong way. The Bible teaches us to give with our hearts, not out of fear. They also teach from the Old Testament laws given to the priest in Malachi. In Hebrews the Bible gives a better understanding on how to give.
I also started thinking about my family and how they were going to hell. I started to doubt that whole concept that we were the only ones going to heaven. I thought, “You mean to tell me that everyone from then until the 1970s are going to hell?” I felt there were too many good people in the world to believe this.
I spoke with God all day one day at the park. I was angry. I asked him that if this was true, why play a game like this? Why have us here on earth and not in heaven now? I wept that day. It was the first time I truly had a real conversation with God and not the same old quiet time talk. I poured my guts out to him. Question after question. It was that day that I knew I had to leave. I cried even harder because I knew if I leave I have a good chance of losing Tanya.
I had a plan — my dad was leaving and had asked me to watch the house. I had to get permission, and Marshall OK’d it because I needed sometime away from the house. The day I moved out my dad was there. I met with him earlier and told him my plan. Everyone thought I was going for two weeks. As I was taking the last of my things out I broke the news to them. We all cried and I left. It was the hardest thing I ever did. We drove past Tanya’s and I left her a note. That was the first time I ever missed a church service.
I was edgy. I didn’t know what to do with myself. That week I met with Marshall. Tanya had given him my number. She had called also. I explained to her why I left and that she has to leave for her own reasons not for me. I did not try to sway her to leave.
During my meeting with Marshall he persuaded me to come to a rally we were having to help parents get shots for their kids. Everyone was surprised to see me they all hugged me. I felt pain like I had never felt before. It came straight from my heart. It hurt so bad. The rally was fun, and by the end of the day I felt great and felt like I could return. I went to Church the next day. It was hard I felt like everyone was judging me and talking about me. I was so emotional during service I had to leave for a while. They made me feel dirty.
Afterwards Spencer wanted to speak with me. We went off to talk. We went behind a building and shared to each other about our concerns. He felt the same as me, but could not leave. It was then I decided I had to leave for good.
Later that week I met with The Sector leader and Marshall to discuss my issues. They agreed that some people in the Church were not teaching correctly. And that man should not make me leave God. I told them that I have nothing against the church — I just disagreed with some of their theology and control. I told them that I would not come back until things change. We parted and that was our last meeting.
I saw some friends on campus. Some talked to me; others ignored me. It was hard. I remember talking to Calvin; he was crying. I told him this is something I had to do, and that I didn’t hate the ICC members — I just disagreed with them. I told him to keep in touch, knowing that he would not be able to. I felt like he was one of the only ones who listened and cared.
Tanya later left the ICC, and we got back together. The first year was very hard, especially the first month — I was very depressed. But things get better. Tanya and I married and had a beautiful son, contrary to the rumors. We later moved to South Carolina, bought a house, and are doing well. The things that I miss most is that I wanted so much to be a minister and preach, and help others. That was ripped away from me.
I miss Matt Wirgler, Spencer, Marshall, Charlotte, a dear friend, and the only one I hear from. Bryan King who is no longer a member. There are so many others. I especially missed Calvin Kwan. Recently we got back in touch after being apart for 4 years. He has the biggest heart I have ever seen. He also helped me understand that you can have a relationship with God after the ICC. For the past 4 years I have struggled with that, but you can still attend church and have a relationship. God gives us incredible gifts and friends like Calvin.
©1999 by Pierce Watson <[email protected]>. All rights reserved.
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