How I Survived Homeschooling in Bill Gothard’s Cult: Part Three

CC image courtesy of Flickr, Norbert Posselt.

HA Note: The following is reprinted with permission from Alexa Meyer’s blog Life of Grace and Peace. It was originally published on June 26, 2015 and has been slightly modified for HA.

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In this seriesPart One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four | Conclusion

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Part Three

My dad was on cloud nine that I had been invited personally by Bill to HQ, but I was never asked, only told it was a great privilege.

I asked not to go, that something about it wasn’t right.

My parents only replied that I “didn’t know what I was talking about and this would open doors of great opportunities for me.” So shortly after I turned 16 I headed off to Chicago via a plane ticket bought by Bill or IBLP, about mid-September, for a two month visit.

It was a little nerve racking flying alone not knowing what to expect when I got there. I stayed in the house directly across the street from the main building and worked in the kitchen below Bill’s and the administrative offices. In fact, as you step out the front door of the house, you’re facing Bill’s office windows. The girls seemed like most other girls I’d ever met – polite with that underlying bite that criticism and legalism breeds in people. I didn’t click with anyone there, but I didn’t expect to as my life experiences up to that point had taught me that it was better not to get too much involved with others since I wouldn’t be there long. I was shown around and introduced to my housemates, the house rules being explained to me first thing. Most of the rules were practical and made sense – pick up after yourself, do your chore rotation (dishes, bathroom, etc.), curfew. Then there were ones that I felt were silly and none of their business. Like when I was to have quiet time (Bible reading), the fact that quiet time was required, get up and do “Wisdom” Searches as a group (6am!!), what music I could listen to and when, was my wardrobe right ( I could only wear loose sweat pants in the house [but must run and hide if a male came to the door] and never jeans at any time [seriously?!], no dating (as if I even wanted to!).

After about a week and a half I put in my music from home (just church stuff), closed the bedroom door (my roommate was out) and played the music softly. After a bit the house mom, who was only about 4 years older than me, came in and told me I couldn’t listen to it, remember the house rules. I replied that yes, I knew the rules, but my parents okayed my music. Well, I was just going to have to turn it off, and she would take it from me if I did it again. I was reported to Bill and called into his office the next day. When I went in we were alone and he motioned me to sit on his couch, where he sat facing me, his knees close to mine. He told me I was called in about the music, and my house mom thought I didn’t respect her and the rules. I said I respected her position and had been following the rules, but that my parents were my authority and had approved my music.

He leaned toward me, his knee making contact with mine (I tried to scoot back from him), earnestly looking into my eyes, and told me that I misunderstood my position.

That while at HQ my parents had put me under his authority and I was to follow the rules and his guidance. He picked up my hands, which had been resting in my lap, and went on about the evils of music that used drums and beats of any sort. I needed to search my heart and root out any sin and evil influences, so that I would see the will of God. Still holding my hands, he told me to pray, ask for forgiveness and help in searching my heart. I was also to commit to not listen to any music with a beat of any kind. Since my father taught me well most of my life the “umbrella of protection” through the “chain of command”, this was normal for me. However chastened I felt, I was also confused by feeling dirty and guilty of something I couldn’t understand or explain. So after drying my tears (he loves to make you cry-shows real repentance evidently), he stands up pulling me to my feet and hugs me front to front. (I mention this because I never, even without my parents’ teaching, hugged a male that way- only from the side.) This made me feel uncomfortable.

Later, away from him, I was upset that he would dare to take the place of my dad and dictate what I could and couldn’t do. My parents never told me I was under Bill’s “authority”, only to be respectful and remember our family rules. I complied outwardly but secretly continued to live as I would have at home. Towards the end of my time there, I listened to my music whenever I wanted to. My thought was, what’s the worst they can do? Send me home? Great! I wished they would!

A few days later I was called into Bill’s office. He told me I was to go on the first ever trip to Russia in October. I said I wasn’t qualified to go, nor did my family have the money for it. He called my parents to give them the “good” news. He told them that he would pay to send me to Northwoods for the Medical Seminar training I needed, that they would have to raise the money for the trip to Russia. They thanked him and then asked to speak to me. When they asked me if I wanted to go, I answered, “I guess so, maybe. I don’t know.” I was certainly feeling pressure with Bill sitting there listening to every word I said. They thought it was a good opportunity for me and that I should go. My mom did say that they wouldn’t make me and the church might not support me with the money, so in the end I might not be able to go. So I said okay. My parents went to our church asking for help, which I hoped wouldn’t be enough. It almost wasn’t – I found out from Bill the money came through three days before the trip was scheduled to leave.

In the meantime, I worked in the kitchen. One night around 8:30pm or so about two weeks after arriving, Bill called me up to his office. I used the back staircase to get there, since it let out in an area right outside his door. I went in wondering what he could want at this late hour.

Once again he was alone.

He asked me to make him a chocolate milkshake. So I head back down thinking I didn’t even know there was a milkshake maker, and I sure didn’t know how to make one. A couple of us kitchen staff were still there so I asked them about it. They showed me where everything was and how to use it. I told them I thought it strange that he asked me, why didn’t he ask the guy that was still there. They just shrugged their shoulders and said he’d asked for me. So I took it up. He asked what took me so long. I answered that it was my first milkshake. After he tried it, he smiled and told me it was one of the best he’d had in a while, I was from now on to make his milkshakes. I smiled and said okay. We chatted a little before I was dismissed. As I walked back to the kitchen all I could think was, really?!, now I’m stuck waiting on him every night! The whole thing seemed kooky to me, it was just a milkshake and anyone could make it, why me?

Soon it was time to head up to Northwoods for the “training” week I needed to qualify to go to Russia. I was surprised to find myself riding with Bill’s entourage and dismayed to be seated next to him on the bench seat behind the driver. He made small talk with me – was I enjoying my time at HQ, working in the kitchen, had I made any friends, etc. I answered politely and what I thought he wanted to hear. In general, I felt slightly uncomfortable and was annoyed that I had to ride with him. Why did I have to sit next to him?

It reminded me of how I would feel sitting next to my dad – I kept expecting Bill to put his hand on my knee at any moment.

At some point Bill took off his shoes and encouraged me to do the same. I gladly took them off, since I’m used to not wearing shoes whenever I can. Shortly after, I felt his foot on my ankle. I quickly pulled my feet away and to the side, looking over at him. He was smiling at me. I said “Pardon me”, and tried to put distance between us. Yuck was the word running through my head, and I couldn’t wait to get out of the van. A part of me wondered if I’d misunderstood – maybe his foot accidentally hit me. Even so, I made sure to keep my body as much to myself as possible. I was enormously relieved when we arrived.

I don’t remember very much about what was taught that week, except that it was more of the same stuff in the “Wisdom” Booklets. I learned how to play the bells, which I enjoyed. Occasionally Bill had me sit across or next to him when we gathered to eat. I learned quickly to sit with my feet tucked securely away from him and my chair moved away as far as possible. He would also sometimes stop me when we were passing and chat with me, doing the usual hand holding and looking into my eyes.

There was one incident that stands out to me particularly. At some point towards the end of the week, we had an afternoon session where we were instructed to examine ourselves and find any sin that would hinder us from helping others. We were told this sin could be unkind thoughts, lust of the eyes, too much “worldly” influence (i.e. music with a beat, wrong clothes, spending time with the wrong people-anyone outside the group or who lived life differently and wouldn’t accept “God’s truths” as taught by IBLP/ATIA), stepping outside of your father’s authority, etc. So after the soul searching time, I wrote down a few “sins” I thought qualified. I felt very repentant about them and talked with God about it.

Later that night, around 8pm or so, I was surprised to be summoned by Bill to his suite. He invited me to sit by him, which I did but kept some space between us. He asked how my day went, how did my time searching for hidden sins/distractions go, was I ready to confess, that he wanted to help me come clean. I shared a few of the “sins” (which I can’t even remember now) but he kept pushing for more. Finally I reluctantly shared a “sin” that I thought would stay between God and me. I didn’t think it was any of his business, but I had been well trained to submit to “authority”. After dragging as many details as he could get from me, he told me that he was going to call my parents so I could confess to them and ask forgiveness. So he calls them and sits there listening, as I embarrass and humiliate myself even more. My parents didn’t seem to find it strange, wrong, or humiliating that Bill was talking about this with me. They acted as though I was making “progress”.

I just felt guilty, ashamed, humiliated and somewhat violated over something that I felt was between God and me and didn’t hurt or involve anyone else.

I was made to feel dirty and sinful over something that I later found out in counseling (with a woman) was very common and nothing to be ashamed or feel dirty about – masturbation.

So my parents “forgive” me and, under Bill’s direction, I commit to staying clean. Really, I’m amazed that I emerged with any healthy, normal outlook on sexuality! After the call, I dried my tears and stood up to go. Bill hugs me, telling me I’ve done the right thing and I’ll be blessed for it. It felt awful, was what I thought. I wanted to go home and curl up into a ball and never show my face again. I felt hurt, confused, exhausted, etc. and wanted it all to go away. Shortly after, we headed back to HQ, and this time I made sure to sit in the back of the van!

The milkshake times continued to happen a few times per week until it was time for the Russia trip. On the planes I generally had a seat in the back, which suited me fine. At some point on the Russian plane (we called it Aroflop, it rattled so badly) Bill’s male assistant came to me and said Bill wanted me to come see him. Thinking “what is it this time?”, I walk up to where he was seated, smiled and said, “Sir, you wanted to see me for something?” He patted the empty seat next to him and said he wanted to check on me. I sat down and answered his questions – how was I doing, was I looking forward to ministering in Russia, etc. I stayed as shortly as I could, giving an excuse to go back to my seat. Frankly I was bored and didn’t appreciate being singled out. I couldn’t understand how any young lady could be jealous of a 56(+) year old’s attention. I don’t remember much else happening outside of the usual with him. I tried to draw as little attention as possible to myself.

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