Uchenna’s story: “Two years of freedom”
It has been two years since I left the ICC and my memories still haunt me. Sometimes when I am walking down the street, I see someone who looks like on of the member’s and I cringe and halt only to remember that I have moved cross country away from those that put me through hell.
My story began in College Park Maryland, I had recently moved from Africa to the USA to study. My grades in school were great when I started and a degree in Chemical Engineering was eminent. But I was lonely, not having too many friends and constantly swamped with school work. As fate would have it, one morning as I was rushing to print a paper that was past due, I ran into printing problems (my account wasn’t working) and this lady by the printer offered to let me use her account. I was grateful and as I sped off to class she invited me to church. Not wanting to sound ungrateful, after all she just bailed me out of a difficult situation, I accepted. I finally made it out to church and was very unimpressed by the whole atmosphere. My first instinct was, ” What a pretentious bunch of people.” And after coming out to church several other times and attending several meetings, I withdrew from the group. I bumped into a couple of the members around campus and they ignored me for the most part.
Several months later, after a rather challenging holiday in California, I returned to Maryland with a mission to make peace with God. What I found was another sweet talking member of the ICC. This time, my quest to find God overpowered my sanity and before I knew it I was being baptized and I was now a member of the church. Of the series of lectures or meetings (study sessions that you have before you are baptized), I forget their terminology for it, the one I remember the most was The Cross. I remember Mary telling me that I was responsible for my parents salvation and that if didn’t get baptized and join the group then my family was all going to hell. I was mortified with fear and suddenly there was this urgency to get baptized so I could “save” my family.
It was all downhill from here. The complaints kept pouring in, I wasn’t fruitful, I wasn’t humble, I wasn’t giving, I wasn’t spending enough time with the group, I wasn’t giving enough tithes to the church. I moved in with some church members and my discipler was my roommate. And the complaints kept coming in, “My quiet time wasn’t long enough,” I wasn’t being a servant. One of my roommate, Teishla, was extremely messy and she would cook and leave her mess everywhere and I was rebuked for not cleaning up after her because she was a leader and had important things to do and had little time to clean. Mind you most of her afternoons, like the other leaders were spent on “retreats” which includes laser shows, weekends at a farm, or at some resort, lunch at the malls. And all of this was justified because they were leaders. I remember the trips to places all around the world, to South Africa to the Caribbean, to Australia, name it, our tithes paid for this trips and as far as they were concerned, we weren’t giving enough. In fact my roommate was an intern so my tithe went towards paying her rent, ha.
Anyway, I was bounced from one discipler to the other, no one wanted me because I wasn’t humble enough. No matter how hard I tried, I wasn’t good enough and I was constantly put down and belittled.
For months I put up with the mental abuse, I had to believe that this was going to take me to heaven, I had to believe that this was my salvation. But I couldn’t continue to live like this.
I made friends with others who were downtrodden like me, many who left the church disillusioned and without hope. Tori was one of those, I loved Tori, a bright girl with so much ahead of her till she joined the group. Tori was constantly rebuked for not being humble and she too was bounced from discipler to discipler because she was not a servant. She left after a while and I lost contact with her. Wherever you are Tori, I love you and will always have you in my heart.
Another was Jennifer. I remember the day Jennifer left, some lady had come from India to preach, I remember her sermon that day was about some other lady who had left the church in India and died just a couple of days after that, the implication here being, if you leave the church you die both spiritually and physically. Jennifer’s discipler walked up to her after the sermon and told her that would happen to her if she left the group. She broke down, shivering in fear (I had never seen anyone that afraid before). But she stood her ground and left the group and moved back home to Philadelphia.
There are so many more that I have seen come and go and with each one I was more determined to stick it through.
About March of 1996, my faith in the church had become nonexistent. After being taken of the membership roll because I didn’t give enough money to the church during our annual money gathering fete, I started to plot to leave the group. I knew I wasn’t bold enough to and I needed a reason to believe that the church I thought was the Kingdom of God here on earth was far from that.
About this time, a friend of mine, the person who reintroduced me to the group left. Rumors had it that her parents had kidnapped her and hired a deprogrammer to brainwash her. This got me thinking, why would she need to be deprogrammed, what was she programmed with in the first place. This sparked my curiosity and I started to try to contact her but she would not return my calls.
After months of unsuccessfully trying to reach her, I saw her on the sidewalk one day waiting for a ride, I ran out of the car I was in and ran up to her, I hugged her and she returned my hug hesitantly. I told her I still had a stepper which she had loaned me that I wanted to return to her (I was lying – I really wanted to talk to her) and asked her why she left the group. She told me that I was not ready to hear the truth and I told her that I was as ready as I was ever going to be. I told her that for years I had only listened to one side of the story and I was ready to listen to the other side. We planned to have a secret meeting at her home. I waited in anticipation for that day and that day was the beginning of the end of my nightmare.
I meet with Susan at her home as scheduled and we went over tapes, interviews, news reports articles published in paper, tons and tons of articles, books and as night drew near, I knew that I could not go back to living the lie that I had been living. I knew that I had fallen for a sham that surpasses any I had heard of before. The shame, the guilt, the loneliness overwhelmed but most importantly was the fear that i could not leave. For the past couple of years all that I knew was the group I had alienated my family and all the friends that I knew because I believed in the group. I didn’t know who to turn to and to make matters worse, I lived with four other group members. How was I to get away, what was I to do.
Susan and I talked about me moving out of the apartment but I was already planning to move to Arizona and I barely had two months left at the place I was staying in. Two nights later, my discipler rebuked me for not being strong enough, she yelled at me from the top of her lungs while my other roommates ignored us and told me I was going to fall away and that I was going to go to hell.
The next day I called Marcy, she led the women’s ministry and she refused to return my calls. About a week later she finally returned my call and asked to meet her. When I did she told me that she knew all about what my discipler had done to me, that she had known for a while how I was being mistreated but chose not to do anything. Her words and I quote were, ” I would not live with Sandy myself, that place is not healthy for growth.” Still Sandy remained my discipler and the mental abuse went on.
Later in July, Kip McKean was going to visit New York and we were all expected to travel down there to hear him speak. Kip was revered and was referred to as God’s chosen one on earth he was the next in line after Saul turned Paul. The day I was to leave for New York my discipler still had to get in one more abusive word before she left and that was what did me in.
I called Susan and she came by and helped me pack up my things. I left the house in the midst of yells from my roommate of how I was going to hell and I was going to be punished severely by God for turning my back on him. As we drove away, I looked back gingerly at the place I had come to hate and the life I had come to despise. As we drove away, I couldn’t help but wonder if I was wrong but deep down my heart knew I had made the right choice. It hurt to leave those I had come to love deeply, Natalie, Michelle and few others. It hurt to know that they would turn their back on me, it hurt to know I was about to lose their friendships but it was either this or my life, I chose my life.
Someone reading this might wonder, what was so bad about the group. I wish I had scars on my skin to show the pain I endured then one might easily understand, I wish you could take a peek into my heart and see what is there today compared to what was there years ago. The hurt, the betrayal, the loved ones that were lost, a career that is broken, a heart that tries to move on but is weighed down with distrust, a fear that God turned his back on me. Though I know now that he would never turn his back on me. Since leaving the group, I have found it impossible to go to other churches and words like ‘discipler’, and ‘humble’ still haunt me, I find myself scrutinizing every preacher I hear and distrusting leaders of churches.
I am learning to heal from within, I am learning to love again. I now write poems and my thoughts down but each one seems more dreary than the next but I am learning to let go of the pain. After two years of freedom I am still learning to trust and to let people into my heart.
- In the midst of mayhem
In the realm of chaos
In betwixt two worlds, lies a chasm
A hole to hide in, a life to die
A wish for chances to be taken
A hope for bliss within
A hope to hope for
To everyone out there that still belongs to the group, I say, “Learn to love from within.”