I never thought it would happen to me, I mean I wasn’t interested in attending church, conversing with believers, or reading the Bible, but it happened one day I was saved, sanctified and Holy Ghost filled. I enjoyed attending that little church of less than 30 members, but I relocated and was in search of a church home, I found one alright, or should I say it found me.
The Church Invite
It was nearing the mother’s day holiday and a woman who I will name, Karen, invited me to bring along any mothers I knew to her church’s celebration of mothers. I didn’t have children at the time and thought that it would be nice to go with my own mother and grandmother. However, when they weren’t interested, I declined the offer. I saw Karen again; she was a very attractive woman. She had long straight hair that any woman who wanted long hair would envy and skin like Mariah Carey. If there was anyone who God anointed to draw both men and women who admired beauty to Him, she was the perfect pick. She was articulate, educated, and was always dressed professionally. I was instantly ready to hear what she had to say because she had reminded me of me at the time. She was young and considered by others successful.
The next time I saw her she invited me to her church again. This time she told me she would be more than happy to pick me up. I accepted the offer. That Sunday I was greeted by so many who were friendly and attractive just like her. The members sang acappella with not a single instrument in site. When offering time came, everyone was enthusiastic, it almost seemed scripted. They held there envelopes up and just about everyone I saw gave something including me. I wasn’t about to miss God’s blessing. They made me feel like I would be missing out if I didn’t!
After church, she had asked me simple questions about my job, whether I was dating, my upbringing, and other questions I had no problem answering. However, when the conversation turned on her she seemed to be somewhat vague. I had reasoned that she didn’t know me that well to share much, but I also felt like I was more open with her than I should. It could have been the way she asked me questions and the way she put me at ease that I didn’t mind telling her about my life.
Eventually, a couple of more church invites, she would open up to me about an engagement she had to a college sweetheart that turned sour. He had cheated on her and around the same time her grandmother had died. She had been invited to the church just as she had invited me, and it was there that she found her sense of peace. She had a zeal for God, had been a Christian for less than 5 years, and was determined to make her next relationship work by staying away from having sex out of wedlock. She didn’t get much more open then that with me in later weeks. She kept most of our conversations related to God thereafter.
The idea that I had an extended family was pleasing to me at that new church. I mean these people were going to take me under their wings and provide me with teachings that were created to deliver me from bondage and make me free in Christ. No longer would I have to worry over issues like rent, employment, bills, or relationships, because I had a faith and a wonderful circle of supportive friends who cared about me. My own family was impressed, but not enough to come with me to church or attend a weekly Bible study. Oh, how I wanted so much for them to experience the joy I was feeling and to meet these wonderful people! I had often prayed for their salvation.
The First Bible Study
Compromised of only a small group of seven, I was asked to tell my story of: how I came to know Christ, when did I believe I was a Disciple for Christ, when did I fall from grace, did my family discuss religion, and other personal questions that made me observe the way I lived my life then, and how I was to live my life in the future. I was saddened, nervous, and stressed at the meeting. I felt as if the women were interrogating me. I felt ashamed, but they encouraged me, told me “it was okay” that God was convicting me for my sins and invited me to come again.
The Pastor Looked at Me
It seemed as if the pastor knew everything about me. I raised my hands and thanked the Lord for all he had done for me. My sister standing to the right of me during service hugged me and I received hugs from more people than I could count. There was so much love all around me, yet I ached inside. How did pastor know so much about me? He even looked at me at one point like he knew me. Could my beloved sister who took me to the Bible study and those in the group talked to him about me? There were so many people there, why was I so special?
The Last Bible Study
Topics heated up during this Bible study which was conducted at someone else’s home this time. They asked me even more personal questions and challenged whether or not I was a believer, a disciple for Christ. I was humiliated. Although, I hadn’t been saved in their church, I was still considered a born again believer. How could they tell me anything different? I knew scriptures like they did. I shared the faith with others even more than most of them did in the room-- I owned a spiritual publication that was distributed to many people and organizations. I handed out tracks. They wanted to know: did I make friends with the strangers, follow-up with them, spend time with them, and more. How could these very loving, caring, “if you need any help” type of women treat me like I scum? They judged me, looked at me strangely at times, and seemed to scold me. They told me I wasn’t a Christian and that I needed to repent for things that I had long ago repented for already. At times they rolled their eyes, huffed, and sighed. I couldn’t very well walk out, I was in a strange house with someone who I relied on to drive me back home. I realized I was set up and I cried!
They twisted scripture picked out what they wanted to get me to do and say what they wanted. The goal: to break me down so that I would rely on them while making me agree to join their church. I didn’t say, yes or no and it frustrated them. I don’t know how long we had been in the master bedroom of someone who lived in that large two story home, but I tell you it was enough for me to have a dry mouth, perspire, and cause my behind to ache in that old chair they offered me.
I never thought about people in leadership positions using the word of God and twisting it around to benefit their bank accounts, personal goals, sexual desires or anything else they wanted! You see I was like some of you, you heard about Jesus as a child, but you fell by the wayside, and then came back around again. However, when you did come back as an adult, you didn’t think about being taken advantage of by those who prayed with you, counseled you or even volunteered to help you get out of some crisis in your life. All you were concerned about was being back on track with God!
I Met a New Christian Like Me
I had a secret weapon I just didn’t know it yet. I had met a woman at one of their church services who was a new Christian like me. She too had backslidden in the faith and was determined to get right with God like me. We had exchanged numbers. She said she would love to talk to me about the church. One day I took her up on her offer and let her speak first about her experience at the church and at the Bible studies, and boy was I shocked! The same thing happened to her, she felt mistreated, angry, and she too cried! We were on the phone for hours. As we talked more and more, we exchanged information that we had learned about this so-called family of followers of Christ. She wasn’t close to her family like me at the time so she was open to the idea of having an extended family of believers. Like me, she was introduced to the church by a friend who was all too eager to drive her to Sunday service just as my sister in Christ had done for me. This new Christian was on fire for the Lord, but also on fire for knowing more about this church.
After a few days since our first phone call, I heard from my new friend. She had information about the church and it wasn’t good. She gave me a list of websites and told me to read about the church. She provided no further explanation. It turned out that they were a cult and there were specific complaints about similar churches in the area! People had complained about being at meetings where they felt they were being dissected, attending church services where the pastor and his staff knew everything about them, and being told they would have to later recruit others to the church once they completed training. They were also required to have relationships only within the denomination and they were never to be alone with their partners. Group dating was encouraged. Engagements had to be approved by the church and all parties involved. Couples counseling was mandatory and issues between newlyweds seemed to have legs of their own. Nothing was considered confidential except of course the process by which they got us to attend the Bible studies, church gatherings and get money and service from us.
The members of the church were very generous so much in fact they would help one another with whatever their needs were from weddings to bills needing to be paid, there was only one problem, you were indebted to them. You would have to be available to help whenever called upon. Quotas were to be met when recruiting people to the church, and there were pages and pages of other requirements. People were known to be shunned when they didn’t meet their obligations.
I was hurt.
I decided to take what I learned and discuss it with the one who invited me to attend the church. She wasn’t too happy with me bringing this information to her. Now, it was her turn to cry, “The church was there for me when my grandmother died…” she argued. This zealot disciple wasn’t about to turn her back on the people who picked her up when she was down. I mentioned that I felt there was some brainwashing going on at those bible studies and to that this attractive woman’s face seemed to have disfigured right before my eyes, into a rattle snake ready to bite! I looked down quickly slightly fearing what I saw.
The leadership and members of the church had her emotionally, physically, and monetarily too! She couldn’t see that she had been targeted like I was, not only because she was vulnerable, but because she was single, with no children, no spouse and a good job. What a perfect recruit! Someone who wouldn’t be obligated to anyone but herself and her church! A walking bank, that had plenty of money available to help support the church’s goals, and not to mention a beautiful, articulate speaking African American woman (more like bi-racial like President Obama) who could reach certain members of her community like herself! I’m sure she had plenty of experience and knew that blacks were some of the most spiritual people and the easiest to recruit to a church, for they were a disadvantaged people with a long history of slavery, if anyone needed God they did!
I recalled several times during those church visits and Bible study meetings, I saw her pulling out her wallet writing checks to the church and to one of those leader’s in the Bible study group. She had an answer for everything, and of course brought up the scriptures about the tithe. After my meeting with her, she told the others in the Bible study groups most likely what I said, because soon after, I received all sorts of messages inviting me to amusement parks, concerts, even night clubs for almost a month! When I asked my former friend, turned recruiter in my eyes, about the invite to the night club, she told me, “As long as we don’t drink the pastor says, ‘it’s okay.’” Thanks, but no thanks, I declined the offer.
Needless to say I never heard from her again; however, I did see her quite a few times riding different women in her car presumably taking them to those infamous Bible studies, I noticed a weird expression on her face I hadn’t seen before, it was as if she was saying, “Not again!” I avoided returning phone calls from those other women in the Bible study group, and prayed often that they never drop by my home. As for the angel that did the research on the church and shared it with me, I heard from her once, she was attending a different church and she was much happier. As for me, I now only attend nondenominational churches as God leads and even then I sit back and observe. I wasn’t about to let this one experience deter me from Christ.
By Nicholl McGuire