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.

Blessings,

Adriana


11 comments:

  1. Adriana, the way you describe keeping the icons as a turning point for you is so moving. At the risk of overstating it, I can't help thinking of that Scripture verse from Isaiah (it's been on my mind lately), "Woe to those who call evil good and good evil."

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    1. I've been pondering your comment, Jeannie, and I don't think you are overstating it at all! The icon ban was one example of Gothard's fear-based motivation. The next time I visit Mom & Dad's farm I'll try to find Gothard's seminar text books. (My parents no longer have Institute ties, but they never throw out a book.) I vaguely recall a teaching that sparked a great deal of fear in early seminar attendees. It had to do with demons -- how they attach themselves to objects. We were told to cleanse our homes of anything which cold have an evil link. Pretty much any objects from Africa were off limits for a "godly family." I assume icons were view with similar suspicion. Strict Christian fundamentalists are particularly vulnerable to these teachings from what I've seen. The church of my childhood (which became a "Gothard church" when I was about 5yrs old) started from a church split. There was a disagreement among elders about whether or not puppets depicting Bible characters should be used in Sunday School. Today most fundamentalists will put out a nativity scene at Christmas time, but in my infancy it was not so.

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  2. They had a list of rules that went at least to #14? How many more were there? It's legalism by the numbers, Adriana. Glad you saw it for the foolishness it was and kept the gift!

    Looking forward to the next installment.

    Tim

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    1. There were 18 guidelines. Some of them were practical: "Carry a copy of your passport and the ship's phone number with you at all times." But there were a few more bizarre rules like the one I mentioned in the post above. (However, nowhere does it say anything about the obligatory fast every Sunday. That one caught me by surprise.)

      I wish I could say I saw it as foolishness, but I wasn't as rational as that, Tim. It just FELT wrong. Part of me wondered if I was the foolish one. Maybe this is why I like Huck Finn so -- "All right, then, I'll go to hell."

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  3. What a precious gift and beautiful memory. I'm glad you still have it

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    1. Me too, Jennifer. I'm grateful to have it! ♥

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  4. wow! what an experience it must have been! :) I mean going to another country.

    I can relate so much with the icons because i am Catholic. Philippines is a heavily catholic nation and i see a lot of conversion to other christian religion. And the first thing they do is destroy all those beautiful icons or statues they have at home, which breaks my heart. Others see them as idols or judged us worshiping idols (which we don't) Sometimes people don't understand that. :(
    Icons for me are like pictures of your family in your pocket which you can look when your missing home.

    I am so glad you kept the gift!! :) It's beautiful. And you keeping it is even more beautiful.

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    1. "Icons for me are like pictures of your family in your pocket which you can look when you' re missing home." Thank you for that explanation, Sheena. I love the purity in that statement.

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    2. I think that's perfect too, Sheena; thanks for that simple, sensible analogy.

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  5. I'm so glad you kept your gifts, Adriana. I kept mine too and treasure them to this day. XO You were such a bright spot to me on that trip, and I'll always be glad that we met. :-) I'm so sad to be reminded of the judgmental attitudes towards those who were different, especially because their hearts were so kind and generous and loving. I'm so glad we're away from such judgments now, free to love and be loved. XO

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    1. Your friendship was a bright spot for me as well, Krista. You kept your gifts too! I could have guessed. I will never forget the kindness and generosity of the Russian people toward us. I'd love to return to Moscow someday. It would be interesting to see how things have changed. And next time I'll visit the Bolshoi! :-)

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Blessings,

Adriana