Friday, March 21, 2014

My Trip to Moscow with Bill Gothard

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Dear Friend,

Lately I've been writing about the cult which influenced me during my youth. Recent events have prompted me to sift through my memories and decipher to what degree my heart was manipulated during my teen years. You can read my previous posts on this topic here and here.

Do I still carry remnants of the teachings within me? How much of it is good and true? What parts are harmful? I need clarity, so I'm turning to my blog for therapy. It's taking me some time to piece everything together. Today I'll focus on my first ministry excursion.

In the Spring of 1993, when I was sixteen, I spent two months in Moscow, Russia with a team of students who were enrolled in Bill Gothard’s homeschool program, the Advanced Training Institute (ATI). We had been invited by Russian President Boris Yeltzin and Galina Venidictova, a senior member of Moscow's Ministry of Education. We were authorized to implement Gothard's Basic Life Principals program in 2,000 Moscow public schools.

View from the stern of the Nikolai Bauman
When I reflect upon my trip to Moscow I feel a broad spectrum of emotions. I see the faces of Russian children. I smooth my hands over some of their gifts to me -- elaborate drawings of butterflies, tiny plastic trinkets, postcards of icons. The memories of their beaming smiles still fills me with joy.
A performance of Russian school children in Moscow, 1993.

Why was I given this privilege? Was I special in some way? Our invitation to Moscow was historic. I'm mentioned on US Congressional Record as one of 501 "outstanding individuals who have filled a significant role as citizen-ambassadors in developing Russian-American public relations."

I was only sixteen. You might think I was a brilliant scholar -- a promising academic! But Gothard taught that higher learning was a spiritual "high place" to be avoided. Better to be ignorant and humble; better to be pliable. You might think my parents were well-known Institute benefactors with "pull." But no -- my dad worked in a can factory; my mom was a homemaker. When my invitation came in the mail, we were all as astonished as if I had been invited to a royal ball.

I can only think of one reason I received that invite: In the summer of 1992 I made a commitment to "courtship" at the ATI conference in Knoxville, TN. I was urged my Mr. Gothard to sign my name on a courtship commitment card. During a prayerful moment (with every head bowed and every eye closed), I resolutely placed the card in a basket that was passed down the row. Ushers delivered the names of prospective pawns directly to Mr. Gothard.

So in essence, I won the lottery! I had dreamed of traveling to Europe since I first saw it on a map in grade school. Mr. Gothard was going to take me there.

Trying my best to communicate on the street in Moscow.

I've kept all the gifts which were given to me by my Russian friends -- even the icons, though we were instructed not to keep them. When I first arrived at the Nikolai Bauman, our floating home on the Moskva River, I found a list of guidelines in my room.

Rule # 14: Many times you will receive gifts such as pictures of icons. (Accept these graciously, but please do not keep them.) Give them to your team leader to dispose of. Do not throw them away in the garbage can in your room, as this might offend some of the Russian crew members who clean the rooms.

I'm have a post card icon next to my laptop right now. It is "The Savior Wearing a Crown of Thorns"  by Vassili Poznanzky, 1682.

There's writing on the back: "To my dear dear Adriana -- Thank you for being my friend and sister in Christ. I Love you. Your, Helen."

How could I ever hand that over for a team leader to dispose of?

I wonder what Father Gleb Yakunin, Deputy Chairman of the Supreme Soviet Standing Committee on Freedom of Religion and Conscience, would have thought of the command to destroy icons. He had been instrumental in getting us in the door. Would Bill Gothard have been sent packing?

Russian Christians were weary from years of persecution. There were an estimated 12-20 million victims of Soviet state atheist policies in the years preceding our visit. I had no idea how grave the situation had been. I passed toppled statues of Vladimir Lenin on the streets. What did it all mean?  I was naive. I can only imagine how precious religious icons were to Russian Christians during the dark years. For many, printing icons on postcards was their first taste of religious freedom! -- So precious they gave them as gifts.

Perhaps the moment I tucked the icon inside my suitcase was the moment I began to drift from Gothard's fold.

Hope you are enjoying these first days of spring!
Next time I'll attempt to explain the whole "courtship" thing as I understood it at the time. Also I'll tell you about my one private face to face encounter with Bill Gothard.



Thursday, March 20, 2014

I Want to See You Be Brave

Dear Friend,

I've only got a moment, but I want to share a song with you that my friend Krista Bjorn (another former ATI student) shared with me.

We all have portions of our lives that are hard to discuss publicly. This isn't always because of some dark personal wound (though often it is). Sometimes it's simply hard to admit that we've come to see things differently from people we love. By speaking up, we risk ostracizing ourselves from vital ties we need to thrive.

But what if your voice could help free another person whose pain is far deeper than your own?

The moment you realize your life experience may help another soul find freedom its time to rise up and speak out.

I feel a special kinship with all my friends who were once a part of the Advanced Training Institute. Each of our post- ATI journeys looks different, but our support for one another is strong!

My heart is with the Recovering Grace team and all who have been hurt by Bill Gothard's ministry.

Love and prayers!

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

My Experience with Bill Gothard's Cult

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Dear Friend,

I feel lighter after mentioning the cult I was brought up with in yesterday's post. I've known for a while I would start discussing it in the blogosphere eventually -- but as the saying goes, "The dread is worse than the doing." 

Half way through writing that post I thought, "It's time. Spit it out now!" 

It matters to me how I phrase things. I've tried to say, "I was raised in a cult," and that's not right. I was raised in a home -- a loving home. My spirit and creativity was mostly encouraged. I was rarely depressed as a young person. I was protected. My parents were not abusive. For the most part they used Bill Gothard's material as a tool. Whenever we had disagreements, we would come together and try to find the "root cause" of our conflicts as Gothard had showed us to do. None of this was harmful.

I was influenced by a cult leader for many of my formative years -- I'll put it that way.

You might think of the Duggar family when you read about ATI homeschooling, but that wasn't us. I was the oldest of four. We dressed in our long skirts for the big Knoxville conference in the early 90s, but at home I was allowed to wear pants. Rock music and most movies were not allowed, but I had plenty of aunts and uncles who occasionally let me break a few rules when I visited their homes. I wasn't completely culturally illiterate! 

Classical music was allowed, though my parents and siblings didn't have a taste for it. Oddly, I turned to our local classical radio station as a way to assert my independence. Beethoven, Mozart, and Chopin were my teenage heartthrobs! Even now I have to be in the mood for music with a back beat. It's not my native sound.

Though my parents attended Gothard's seminars 13 times, I was only homeschooled for the last three years of high school. Before that I attended public grade school and a private middle school. Once we started homeschooling, most of my education became self-directed. I went to one Basic Seminar. I never attended an Advanced Seminar.

The real danger for me was how I was indoctrinated by Gothard's ideology when I was old enough to leave my family and go away for short jaunts to serve in his ministry. I was coaxed into making commitments I didn't fully understand. I took his teachings to heart and became quite prideful about what I considered to be my superior spiritual understanding. 

So that's where I'll try to pick up next time -- my first trip abroad with 100 other students and Bill Gothard.

Hope you are well!


Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Can We Talk While I Make Soup?

Dear Friend, 

A couple weeks ago I stood in the produce section of the grocery store with cotton balls in my throbbing ears. 

What meals will I make?  I scanned the room, then meandered over to the organic section and began to analyze the offerings. 

Soup. Just soup until I feel like eating something else!

I selected ingredients for five batches of my current favorites: Borscht, Seafood Chowder, Bean with Bacon, Beef and Barley, and Thai Chicken with Rice.

I love the entire soup-making process. You could say it's my thing. I usually listen to an audio book while I chop vegetables. Sometimes I let my little ones help me with the peeling. 

Last time I wrote a post I believe I promised you an update on my ear issue -- I'm feeling much better and I can hear! I honestly didn't mind having the volume turned down a bit for a little while, but the ear infection was pesky, painful and persistent. I had to go to the doctor five times! I'm grateful to have that behind me.

A couple of my friends are on my heart right now  -- Heidi lost her eleven year old son recently; Tracey has Adult Respiratory Distress Syndrome and is fighting for her life in ICU. Now and then as I'm going about my normal daily tasks, I suddenly feel a jab of sorrow and pray: God, help my friends! 

Seafood Chowder
I finished the House of Mirth by Edith Wharton a few days ago. I was relieved to be done with it. I found the main character, Lily Bart, nearly as exasperating as Flaubert's Madame Bovary. If anything moved me about the book it was Lily's vision on her deathbed of an infant sleeping beside her. All five of my babies slept with me until they were weaned. Nothing I've experienced in life has been sweeter. In fact, most of what I understand about God and love and worship came to me while nursing my little ones during those quiet night hours.

Bean with Bacon
I once saw Edith Wharton's signature in the guest book at Biltmore House.  That's the only thing I knew about Wharton until I read her book. 

Something else has been on my mind, something hard for me to spit out. Maybe I'll just bury it here in this unassuming post until I know how to say more . . .

I've recently come to the startling realization that for most of my formative years I was influenced by a cult leader.

This information feels both painful and liberating. It's taking me some time to sort things out.

I used to be so sure about every facet of life: what I should and should not wear, listen to, say, believe, be, do. Looking back I can see that gradually through the years I've shed many things -- like a reptile shedding scales. Some ideas have dropped off almost without my notice, others have been painfully removed, as if a scale has been ripped out leaving a raw bleeding spot in its place.

Up until recent news made me face the full reality, I viewed the cult leader as a distant grandfather figure -- someone I didn't agree with on every point, but someone safe and well-meaning -- certainly not what he was. Like many people, I didn't see the obvious. 

Beef and Barley
My Mimi was right about the cult leader's way of life when she said, "It's not for everybody."

Now I'd even go so far to say it's not for anybody!

I keep having this sensation like I'm skydiving. It's both exhilarating and terrifying at the same time.

"The more I learn, the more I realize how much I don't know." 
~Albert Einstein 

Thai Chicken with Rice

Ann Voskamp's blog has been helping me a lot lately.

This post by Keri Wyatt Kent has also helped. I love the line she has said to her kids through the years: "I love the person you are becoming." I've made a point of saying that to each of my kids lately. It's good for them and cathartic for me. I don't have to be afraid; I don't have to micromanage your soul. I love the person you are becoming!
These words imply that the future is bright—that I have great hope that they will grow into themselves. It says: you haven’t arrived yet, but I’m trusting the process. It reminds them that they are growing up and they are not you—that crucial process of differentiation that is essential for maturity. It also tells them that they don’t have to be just like mom or dad, or just like their older sibling. It simply says, You are becoming your own person, and that’s a good thing. It’s a way of telling them, “I believe in you!” without sounding quite so cheesy. I think it’s a phrase that instills confidence. And makes me feel more confident as a parent–even when it’s hard to let go.
Well now, I've got a lot off my chest today, haven't I!
Thanks for being there to help me process stuff. 



Friday, March 14, 2014

Testing 1-2-3

Hi, Everyone!

I just got my computer out of the shop and I'm learning about some new features. Hope to update the blog soon!