Escape from Lombard (Alcatraz)
Great and Not-So-Great Beginnings
My name is Garth. My life with Jesus Christ began when I was at the St. Louis College of Pharmacy. A friend named Bruce N. witnessed to me and I received Jesus Christ as my savior. This was in 1986. Bruce also witnessed to my girlfriend Sue and we were both saved on almost the same day. Bruce was a young believer and really had an honest heart before God. Formerly, Bruce and I were buddies linked through the party life. But Bruce’s life had radically changed and I was greatly affected by that.
Bruce was attending the Assembly in St. Louis. Sue and I visited that Assembly and consequently received follow-up calls, visits, and letters. All the attention made us feel good.
Now that Sue and I were Christians, I believed that we should get married. I formerly wanted no part of marriage because of what my family went through after my parents divorced. God had worked in my heart. For some reason, the folks at the Assembly did not agree with my proposal. We heard the following type of comments….. "You know, you shouldn’t rush into this. A man named Tim Geftakys is coming into town in a week and maybe you should talk to him about it."
I was really mad at all the resistance. I had no idea who this Tim guy was, but we talked to him anyway. Tim asked a lot of very personal questions and my girlfriend was in tears. He thought that we should not get married. We left that meeting and I told Sue that we would find a place that would marry us. Well, we did. Sue was from the Chicago area, and her Mom had heard of a nice church called Christian Hills in Orland Park.
Chicago, My Kind of Town
To expedite the story, we got married and began our happy life as a Christian family. All the while, we were being contacted by the Assembly members in St Louis and now the Assembly members in Chicago. Since the marriage issue was over, we thought we might check out the Assembly in Chicago.
Gary and Valerie Mau immediately greeted us as we visited. They were so friendly and hospitable to us. We began what I thought would be an endless friendship. Unfortunately, within a few weeks, Valerie and my wife were not so friendly towards each other. It seems that Sue was not the typical wall-flower that the Assembly expected.
The result being, that Valerie would try to correct my wife. Sue didn’t like being talked to like she was a child. To add to all this, Gary would constantly entreat me about my wife, for any number of reasons. This added major strife to my marriage. Sue really loved me, and was willing to follow my lead, but she would not tolerate others butting into our personal affairs. I was too stupid to know better.
Gary and I continued to be friends. At least that is how I saw it then. As I would do the things he liked, he would sort of "congratulate" me. But when I didn’t do what he thought was best, like stay home from a meeting, he would "entreat" me. This method is what I call "performance-based acceptance". It is a great cult-like way of getting folks to perform for you.
I began to rise as an up-and-coming star Assembly performer. This really made Gary look good. Not to mention, he was always a favorite of George for whatever reason. Gary was then promoted to "Leading Brother". I was very happy for him, as though it were a promotion or something.
But soon, our relationship changed. He was no longer a close "buddy". He was onto more important things, which I had no idea what they were. Soon thereafter, Gary and Val became "Workers". Wow! Now I am really impressed. As I was saying, our relationship grew further apart. Of course everyone now knows that they have moved on to Madison, Wisconsin where a "great work" is happening! Or at least that’s what we were told. (I suspect it is an unhealthy place.)
Interesting…but I now look back and see that I never really had one REAL friend in the Assembly. Gary had used me as a stepping-stone to his own glory. I was his "trophy". Well, I guess I have failed him. What a bummer. The funny thing is that I had always had good friends when I was growing up. When I joined the Assembly, I basically told all my old buddies to jump in the lake. I lost in every way!
Sometimes a Shepherd Must Leave
While in the Assembly, my wife and I spent a lot of time with an elder and his family. His name was Ken L. Ken was as close as I got to having a real friend in the Assembly. He was kind, though a strong leader, and he was the best preacher in the Chicago Assembly.
Well, he started coming out less and less. He had a child who was very sick and it seemed that he got little help from the group. I could tell that he was being run to the ground by the burden he carried and by the demands on his family because of his eldership and being a worker.
One day a leading brother approached me and told me that Ken and family had "left fellowship". What does that mean? At the next prayer meeting, Roger Grant got up and read part of one letter that Ken had written to the Assembly explaining why he had left. Apparently there was another letter that they refused to share. Roger then proceeded to produce an assault upon Ken from the scriptures. I believe this is one of the passages:
"Woe to the idol shepherd that leaveth the flock! the sword shall be upon his arm, and upon his right eye: his arm shall be clean dried up, and his right eye shall be utterly darkened." Zech 11:17
I left that meeting thinking that Ken and family were in danger of hellfire and that they were obviously "in sin". We were also told to not contact them, which I honored. I found out many more things later that I cannot tell in order to keep confidence. Let me just say this, Ken and Mary were done wrong and they were NOT in sin! I look back at that in righteous anger.
Growth (or Mutation)
I had grown in Assembly responsibilities. I was now a doorkeeper (or dork-eeper, as one has said), and I was constantly giving ministry in the Assembly and on campus. My love of humor, my teddy-bear heart, and my burden to make the Bible teachings easy to understand made me one of the favorites amongst the preachers. I could never understand why George went on and on in his seminars only to bore everyone to death. I used to think to myself, "I could say in 15 minutes what he just said in 90 minutes!" I like people to get to the point and then shut-up.
Ha! I later discovered that is a tactic used by cults to brainwash their members. They would wear the people down physically with non-stop activity and then make them sit under long lectures. The trapped audience now has no strength to even think for themselves.
New Beginnings (or New Traps)
It was now 1994, and many were speaking of the burden to see an outreach spring up in the Western Suburbs of Chicago. I had a burden for this and I found out that Joe D. (a young leading brother) did also. Joe and I began to meet to pray and compare ideas. Sue and I were the first to buy a house out west in Lombard. Joe and his wife soon followed, along with our friend Dorothy D. I think it was about a year later that Mark and Connie L. moved to Lombard also. Lombard taught me many lessons that I will never forget!
The work began with joy and faith. We started a Bible study and had a few outreaches. Suddenly, we heard that a brother was coming from Fullerton. Don M. and family would be in Lombard in a very short time. This initially was good news. It was great to hear that we would have extra hands to share the burden.
When Don arrived, he, Joe, and I went out to breakfast. I was rejoicing and just couldn’t wait to talk about all that God would do. Before we went very far, Don started ripping us apart. "I didn’t come 3000 miles to do nothing! I don’t see that anything is going on here!" Blah! Blah! Blah! He ranted and raved for a good long time.
Well, no real man will sit back and get ripped on like that. I would then proceed to ask him to chill out and even shut-up. All our meetings would proceed like that. "We were not doing enough!" I honestly had never been so busy in my life! One time Don asked me to produce a log of all that I had done on the campus in order to prove that I was being faithful (I am dead serious!).
He then began to investigate my wife and Dorothy as to what they were doing with their time. Both Sue and Dorothy were very involved with the work. Dorothy, despite her teaching job that was absolutely demanding, was involved with teaching the kids in the Chicago Assembly (Chicago and Lombard were close by and things had not completely split off just yet).
Sue was encouraged to take a class at the College of DuPage in order to start up a Bible study. She was now a mother, wife, student, and she went to all kinds of out-reaches (She was by far the busiest woman in Lombard--but who is keeping track?).
I wanted Sue to work with the children on Sundays as Dorothy was, and Sue was happy to do so. That way, my daughter could also go with her to children’s time. This was "sin" in Don’s eyes. We all had to be doing the same things in Lombard ONLY or it was "sin". He raised such a fuss that the leading brothers finally agreed with him, and Dorothy and Sue could no longer work with the children on Sundays. In addition, none of the children in Lombard had any type of children’s ministry on Sundays.
That was brilliant!! Glad I didn’t think of it! The problem had nothing to do with serving Christ, it had to do with NOT serving Christ the way Darth Mader (whoops...Don) wanted them to! BEAM ME UP, SCOTTY!
What added further to the anomaly was the fact that Joe D. had achieved "Leading Brother" status after only a couple years in the Assembly. He was a mere novice. So I was stuck there between Jim Jones and this novice. Joe would say nothing at all. Joe saw no problem at all. Some leadership pal! Thanks for the memories. I would try to shut-up the fanatic and Joe would try to "listen to him" and "work things out".
After a while, most people would try to avoid Don. He would invite us over to his house every time we saw him. We would always say "no" because he was way too wacko. He would then try to put a guilt trip on us and tell us that REAL FELLOWSHIP means that we should eat dinner together. At one time I asked him when he would bring out the Kool-Aid (I was thinking of Jim Jones).
Now all this is fine if you can get rid of the guy or if leadership will stop him. But leadership supported him. As a matter of fact, Don was invited to the Workers Seminar that year. We were all dumbfounded! To add a bunch of gasoline to the fire, I was exhorted to not be so mean. If you don’t know me, just believe me when I tell you that I am a teddy bear. But don’t make me mad, I have blown gaskets from time to time. So, I was asked on more than one occasion to apologize. The thing that killed me, was that we all were perfectly happy and harmonious until that guy came along. He started the fights and would not relent, so guess who is the bad guy...ME! What a joke!
I Quit! (for at Least 2 Days)
After several years, I could take no more. I had talked to leadership, I had apologized, I had humbled myself over and over and there was no change. I was forced to have to continue in our leadership meetings with Sergeant Carter (Don) despite all the attempts to get help. By the way, I have only shared a small amount of what went on. I finally decided to leave the Work.
Soon after, Roger Grant wanted to meet with me, and I consented. There Roger listened patiently and promised to deal with the issues about Don. Finally someone would listen. So I decided to give it another shot. I had been gone from the Work about two days, but word had got around that we had left.
About that time Mike Zach came through and he said that I need to stand up at the end of the prayer meeting and apologize and re-affirm my commitment to the Work. I didn’t feel good about this, but I did it anyway out of respect for Mike Zach. My wife was furious! She felt that we deserved an apology. She lost respect for me as she thought I was their "whipping boy". She was right! What a loser I was. I look back on that in shame at my bowing before those wicked men.
That weekend, Lombard met together with the Chicago Assembly. Mike Zach was preaching. Mike said something that appeared to be directed at my family. Remember, we had just that week left for a couple of days. He was speaking about families that left the Assembly. He pointed out that there was ALWAYS something wrong. He then said, "Did you ever think that maybe the Lord removed that family from fellowship in order to keep His Testimony pure?"
I was taken back at his insensitivity. I was so disturbed that I found out where he was staying and called him up to ask if he was referring to MY family. He denied it and said that was what God put on his heart. I was still not believing, but I tried to forget about it. I lost all respect for Mike Zach that week.
Nothing Changed (but the lights were on!)
So I gave it the old college try once again. Nothing changed. They spoke to Don, but we still had our "little" brother’s meeting with him. I finally told the boys that I didn’t want to meet with the leadership anymore as it was nothing but striving. Believe me, if Don had his way, we all would have been busy together every day of our lives. This was religious fanaticism.
I then began to make clearer discoveries about the Assembly. What’s strange is that people told me what a nice guy Don was before he went to Fullerton. Just what do they do out there in Fullerton? Don was only a symptom of the Assembly’s sickness. He was a control-freak. This was a part of the Assembly way to control and manipulate people.
Don’s problem was that he just wasn’t very couth at it. The reason that leaders kept sticking up for him was because they were like him. Another reason was to save face. We must display "unity". There can be no disagreements. We must cover up all trouble and if anyone speaks out, they are the trouble!!! How sick.
I also discovered that while many said they were seeking the Lord’s will, all they were really seeking was George’s affirmation. Autonomy was not present. I heard statements like, "Have any of the other assemblies done this?"
One time I tried to reach out to a brother on Sunday afternoon between the meetings because he seemed really discouraged. You would have thought I went out, got drunk, and chased women around! Oh no, God forbid we reach out to our brethren on Sunday afternoon.
There was a big discussion on what to do with Sunday between the meetings. I was told that we MUST go on outreach to the community. I asked the brothers to show me what the saints in the Bible did on Sunday afternoons. They were silent for a moment and then quickly changed the subject. "Brother George is coming to town soon and we’ll ask him what to do".
So much for autonomy. You see, they didn’t care about what the saints in the Bible did on Sunday afternoon and they didn’t care that a brother was discouraged either. All they really cared about was what did George think. That place was so full of light and love that not one visitor from the community stuck around more than a week or so. The light bulb was now turning on in my head.
Not too much later, my family went on vacation to Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. We always went into a Christian bookstore there and bought books. I stumbled across a book called "The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse" by Jeff VanVonderen and David Johnson.
I thought the book was probably a bunch of psychobabble, but I picked it up anyway for a laugh. As I began to read a few passages, I began to be captured and couldn’t put it down. It was describing in detail what I had experienced in the Assembly. Unwritten rules, control, mind games, shallow relationships, mindless following of super-spiritual leaders, etc. I thought about how many people in the Assembly were in poor health, discouraged, and basically unhappy. I thought about how a good shepherd would take care of his sheep. A good shepherd would feed, REST, and protect the little ones.
The book talked about all this. I read and then re-read that book. I was now facing a decision. I had previously felt that things were wrong with the Assembly, and now I knew it.
The last chapter of that book is designed to help you figure out if it is better to stay and fight for change or if it is beyond repair and your best option is to leave altogether. I weighed this out carefully. I had already been trying to fight for change. The problem was not just local. The problem started from the very top. There was no way that I could change the Assembly.
So, the next weekend, I visited an Evangelical Free church. The pastor preached the word so I wanted to meet with him. The next week I met with him and we had a very similar vision for ministry. Well, we camped out there and we are still following the Lord. It is great to be in a place of liberty. A place where others help you and don’t jump on you for petty things. I have some REAL friends once again and my wife and daughter are very happy people.
As I look back, I am ashamed for allowing religious fanatics to dominate my life and family. I feel sorry for those that are trapped within the system. Those that keep submitting because they are made to feel guilt and fear by the leaders.
I do not feel sorry for the leadership at all. I have noticed that many of them are simply out for a name for themselves. And they know that if they get in good with the big guy, then they will get their perks. Well, they have their reward. And a greater reward (unpleasant) awaits them unless they repent. Jesus had grave things to say about those that stumble a little one.
There are so many other things that I could have written about. These are the highlights of my experience. Note that I left the Assembly before all the trouble in SLO was exposed. I believe the "David trouble" has absolutely vindicated my decision to leave. Of course, I knew I was doing the right thing all along. A REAL OVERCOMER is one who will NOT bow to men.