Seeking Survivors

by Delila H.

During the second world war, many individuals were displaced, hauled away to concentration camps, left orphaned or unable to find their kin when the war ended. My grandmother was one of these people. I am lucky to have her still alive. I cherish her stories; they help me to understand my own experiences.

I left the assembly in Canada about ten years ago. I had the unique experience of living in all three locations (Estevan, Ottawa and Calgary) going to all three assemblies over the course of seven years. This morning my sister phoned and got me out of bed. She told me to get on a search engine and check out what was online about George Geftakys and his ministry (God’s ministry - or so we too believed, once). I checked out several websites and then phoned another former assembly member, to whom I hadn’t spoken in years. And to my surprise, I cried, for hours. Why? I left! Was I sad that the assembly had been shattered? Not at all, and yet, absolutely, yes. But heartbroken too.

I knew when I left fellowship that people who leave the assembly walk into darkness. I knew, because I’d been taught that. I knew, because I believed. I’d embraced those labels George knitted feverishly and circulated (we now know, to save himself) - apostate, fallen, disobedient, lost - they were called, those people who left the assembly. For years since I left the assembly, I’ve gone back and forth with my confidence in anything having to do with faith. I was totally screwed up: confusion - that’s what George predicted.

To read the accounts of others who too have experienced what I did of the political wrangling - abuse, manipulation - in Ottawa at least - was both validating and painful. I am still healing but I think mostly because I was in ‘fellowship’ from the beginning to justify my existence as a human being. I had a very unhealthy self concept to begin with, very low self esteem. I was a total zero (according to my mother who continues to suffer from mental illness and never has been able to show me acceptance). If God’s people told me I had lots to learn, that I was deceitful or lazy or unfaithful with what God had given me or accused me wrongfully of anything, their accusations only confirmed that I was nothing.

People like me abounded in the assembly, especially among those who stayed a long time. We were products of abusive, often alcoholic parents, people who had never belonged, never felt accepted. We were easy followers because we were looking to be something and how George tempted you with that lure. If you were really broken, if you were really humble, if you were really a beggar before God, then He could make something out of you. With the wiggle out of the worm God can thrash mountains, George would always say. And it was those kind of people that He was going to make into Workers - and those few got invited to the worker’s seminar and well - wasn’t that what every Christian wanted - to part of the inner circle, not outside, not left out?

There are things I could say, names of people I could mention, for example, who had me under their thumb for my own good, of course, only for my good. They went over and over my schedule on a regular basis trying to train me, though my health couldn’t take it, to stuff all the meetings, a part time job, full time studies and campus outreach into the daylight hours. Still, it was pots and pots of coffee that got me through my school work and my health suffered dearly.

I’ve been lied to by at least one itinerant brother who, I read is still in the work. You never check the story you’ve been told with anyone. You never seek to justify yourself, especially as a woman. You just try to forget. You swallow and you hope you’ll be accepted. God alone is your justification and if His servants have accused you, even wrongly, then you bow your head and suck it up.

Darrell and I got totally different stories when we counseled with that itinerant brother separately. There is some very clever mind behind the construction of such a communal mind. Someone clever, but not of God. This clever mind counts on the fact that you, the well meaning, desperate Christian, will humble yourself. As in any abusive relationship, you, the well meaning, do what you must to survive because you don’t want the relationship to end. Until it must. Until you know that if you don’t, you’ll will die, or go nuts. Because you hate yourself so much - as a Christian, you can’t live with yourself anymore. Because you’re so demoralized you’ll do anything for validation and now you’ve done it. You’re less than you were before you became a Christain. Now you’re less than nothing. So you disappear.

I was fifteen when I found the assembly. I was in my early twenties when I left. Initially I left Estevan to move to Ottawa and learn what the Lord had to teach me there, to be ‘broken’ as a leading sister told everyone she prayed God would do to her. I didn’t attend my own sister’s wedding because I got counsel first and well, how could I rejoice at a wedding that was not approved by the assembly, in other words, by God? My sister had left the assembly and therefore, the Lord as well. She was marrying an unbeliever. If I attended her wedding I was not being faithful to God, I was told. My sister just got used to my rejection as it was an assembly trait.

A couple years after I left fellowship I got up the guts to phone this leading sister. “You’ve changed... sister” she said to me, sounding frightened. There’s that saying: what goes around comes around. Another: it all comes out in the wash. I never thought I’d be thankful for the Internet - I mean, what trash most of it is. I set my mailbox filter on high and don’t open any Forward Forward messages. Still, here I am, submitting this article and saying, how thankful I am that wounded people, like myself, can finally speak.

We don’t live in a communist country do we? And yet we’ve lived that existence, haven’t we? We know what it’s like to tell our consciences, and our intuition, and our very own good common sense, to shut up and take a back seat to the wisdom of a stranger claiming spiritual leadership. We know what it’s like to live with the knowledge that we too gave the same words of rebuke to others who left the assembly ten or twenty times before we ourselves heard the words in our own ears, in our own heads, and then had to start from scratch to learn again the good common sense that God had given us.

Are we bitter? I’m not. I’m grateful. I’m free and I know what my freedom means. I know that I am not a zero, not ‘just a sinner’ but a worthwhile human being with gifts and appetites and feelings and joys and thoughts that need not be suppressed or endorsed by spiritual superiors in order to enjoy them myself.

Seven years is nothing now that it’s passed and still, I cried. “It’s like somebody died.” I said crying, when I heard that many assemblies in the US and Canada had closed their doors. Why? Because there was something in me, no matter what I experienced, that wanted it to be true - being in the centre of God’s will in the assembly. It brought back the memories of that far away dream, of being married to a leading brother somewhere, of raising godly children and knowing the ‘protection’ of the assembly against the evil of the last days.

I remember too, fully expecting to be struck dead by lightning when I left the Lord, to find my end in a brutal accident or go stark raving mad. But it didn’t happen. None of it: fears or dreams. I didn’t go nuts. I got a life. I started dealing with those low self esteem issues, finding out that worse fates could have befallen me than a controlling religious group - notice how I try really hard not to say cult. And I’m still healing, like I said.

Strange as it may seem, my children are my best teachers when it comes to love and acceptance. It seems that they were born knowing they were loved, that they are precious. And through loving them, and watching them thrive in my loving hands, I’ve learned what a loving, worthwhile and important person I am. In contrast, that the assembly either employed leaders that hid abuse or else brutally abused their wives and children does not surprise me in the least. A regime cannot hold the control of thought that this one did over its members without also having a reason for that control to exist - something to hide, secrets to protect. The most ‘godly sister’ I knew never dealt with me in kindness. She very carefully scared me to death. Before her, I always felt hopeless.

I applaud the courage of Bill and Joyce, of Judy and Rachel. Though I’ve never met you, I know you. You’re not different from me. I stand with you and validate your experience and your stories with my own: amen. It’s true Joyce. What you say is true. Good for you, Rachel and Judy, you didn’t let the enemy crush you. You stood up for the oppressed and the broken: yourself. That’s got to be worth something. That’s got to let you sleep at night, no matter how your conscience is riddled with scars and regrets.

And still I am left, very much like my grandmother at the end of the second world war, looking for her kin. I wonder about the missing, those I’ve lost contact with over the years: Flora Campbell, who was totally abandoned by the saints in Ottawa and to whom the Ottawa saints owe so much more. Of all people, Flora served and was honest and humble and thoughtful to those she knew. Still, she was the least considered by those in leadership. The last time I saw Flora she didn’t look like she’d live long.

What’s become of Darrel Bright - the man with whom I was hauled up on the rug before the leading brothers and shamed again and again because we talked on the phone too much. Because he passed me a note once in a meeting. Though we never even touched once, I felt like such a whore when the brothers were done with us. I thought I’d die. Darrel - have you found the girl of your dreams yet? I wish you well.

Where are Nancy and Bill (?) from Omaha?

Mary and Chris B. who, like many, had to flee to be married and whose wedding invitation was never read to the saints in Ottawa. People in Ottawa were ill-treated when they didn’t conform to George’s plan. We lost touch, Mary, where and how are you?

Rose D., who married a brother from the U.S. - and of whom one brother said, "That sister has a lot to learn." Rose, have you quit trying to measure up to his standards? Eileen, her little sister who once exhorted me until I collapsed against a wall - I forgive you - do you know yet that you need my forgiveness? What has happened to all of these people? Where are you? Are you well? Have you learned to separate George’s talk from your own? Have you learned to think with the good sense God gave you? Somehow, when we parted ways, leaving the assembly, the saints forgot we were people. We were a label to be shunned until we repented.

To everyone who’s still surviving the pain - however well intentioned - that we inflicted on one another in George’s cause: forgive yourself. Enjoy your freedom. The war may not be over, but there is freedom. Cry if you need to, rejoice if you can. Hug yourself if there’s no one there to do that for you. I send my love.