Re: The Living Word Fellowship, The Walk, John Robert Stevens
Date: December 03, 2018 07:14AM
I was born into and raised in the Church of the Living Word fellowship. We spent a few years in California, but most of my life I attended church at Shiloh. I'm curious to know how many that are following this thread have been groomed for years and then sexually abused by elders, deacons or shepherds other than Rick Holbrook or Tony Flores.
On the Church of the Living Word fellowship survivor Facebook page, I have read a few accounts of sexual abuse by leadership, but it seems that most accounts are primarily in regard to financial, emotional and spiritual abuse. Each of these abuses are real, unacceptable, and heartbreaking. I experienced each of these and more.
I believe it's very likely that there are many with stories like mine, that involve the addition of sexual abuse. This carries with it a heavy sense of shame, which is to say, a sense not only that I've done something wrong but that I AM something wrong, that I never should have even been. It feels very vulnerable to talk about what happened, to put this out there. Intellectually, I've known for decades that it was not my fault, but to actually embody this belief in my innocence, I am telling this story of terrifying abuse as a gift to the little girl who suffered them. I'm telling the story and I am naming names.
My parents were very trusting of the church. In fact, JRS told my parents to get married, and to have 10 children. My father is gay, and my mother didn't want to have children. Both had very traumatic childhoods. My parents could have chosen not to marry. Anyone with experience in this cult understands why they were put together and why they followed JRS' directives (except they had 4 kids instead of 10, thankfully!) They had no healthy family connections, very little education, deep emotional wounds from their families of origin, and they were desperate for meaning and hope.
My parents went along with the church protocol of having no close relationships with friends or blood relatives outside of the church, except of course to evangelize. It's not hard to live this way when you aren't (and don't want to be) close to your family anyway. What they didn't know was that around age 11 or 12 the leadership began encouraging us not to trust our parents. The leadership considered them contaminated by the adamic nature, and so we were to only listen to guidance from the church leadership. As young adults, we were also forbidden to date or even entertain a crush. We were chosen to be sons of God, and the lusts of the flesh would have been a distraction.
I have dozens of journals from that time; journaling was the only safe place where I could express myself. Last weekend, having recently found a box of journals in my mother's attic, I read an entry where I had written down what was said during a phone conversation with my shepherds at the time, Scott and Joyce McDonald. I took notes to keep the message fresh, to be able to revisit this "holy" conversation later.
"You don't have best friends. That is the soul level; you are of the spirit. Those are soul level bonds, we free you from that! You are ours, come to us with everything. We will tell you how to think about things. You are beautiful and we love you."
At the time I felt so special, chosen, and loved from this kind of conversation. I felt so very lucky to have this close relationship with "Christ in the earth", as they called themselves. Now I realize what a set up it was for loneliness, dependency, and ultimately for abuse. And with no close friends or family, there was no one to turn to when my underdeveloped intuition (one might say intentionally stunted intuition) was telling me things were getting weird.
Starting at age 12 we moved closer to Shiloh and since I could walk to and from, I started spending a lot of time there. I was often told how mature I was for my age. I took great pride in this, not wanting to be considered just a child.
There were many comments made about my appearance. What started as fairly innocent, "hey, looks like you got some back-to-school clothes!" gradually changed into more specific comments from male leadership such as, "wow your new jeans sure make you look grown up, lookin' hot!"
Statements like this at first felt and powering, people were noticing that I was growing up. But it also began to make me feel uncomfortable. Most importantly, there was no one to tell that I was uncomfortable. It wasn't okay for me to say something like that. I would have been ridiculed for being childish, for misunderstanding.
Once when I was 14 or so, I was babysitting one of the elder's children in their apartment. The elder's name was Gary Wallen. He came in while I was bathing his child. He was just a couple feet away, sitting on the toilet seat lid, staring at me, looking me up and down, and then said, "you're going to be a real heartbreaker, you and your sister both."
On another occasion, I think I was 15 or 16, Gary was lamenting his frustration after a getaway with his wife. I asked what was wrong, and he said, "of course my wife forgot her diaphragm". I was young enough, I wasn't entirely sure what a diaphragm was, but I knew it had to do with sex, and I felt very uncomfortable that a grown man was talking to me this way. I thought that if I were more mature, I would not have been offended by this strange boundary violation. I felt like there was something wrong with ME. I know now that this is a common form of grooming that perpetrators of sexual abuse will use to test the waters and see if their victims will stop them or play along.
The grooming continued with physical touch. Hugs and a casual back rub were not unusual in the church. If you were at a get-together of some kind sitting around, a friend might give a brief shoulder massage before sitting down to hang out. But the kind of back rubs that he gave me did not feel okay. I was always trying to act mature about it, to pretend I was above interpreting things "the wrong way." I reasoned that he was married, and he was a man of God, he was entrusted with the offering baskets during church services and was in charge of the entire construction department at Shiloh and so I must have been misinterpreting things.
I began trying to avoid the unwanted attention, started avoiding social events. He would find out my scheduled shifts (I later realized his wife was also scheduled for front desk, switchboard, kitchen or housekeeping so she had a copy of the schedules). Gary would seek me out, find me vacuuming in an upstairs hallway alone or putting sheet sets into a dorm room and tell me things like, "you are sure leaning into the Father's family, we're so lucky to have you here." And then give me one of those terrible lingering hugs.
He began leaving "love" notes on my car, in the Shiloh parking lots, and even when I would be out in the community at a store or the bank. I felt panicky, like I was being stalked.
As his behaviors escalated I was graduating from high school and just beginning to attend college classes. One night after class, I went to see some live music and I saw a professor I recognized. He was very drunk, and he hit on me, putting his arms around me, rubbing up against me and saying I should go back to his apartment with him. It frightened me at first, but because he was so drunk it was easy to ditch him in the crowd. When I told my sister and her roommate Leilani, what had happened, Leilani asked what I expected sleazing around like that. As if going to a public music event and dancing was begging to be groped. Circumstances like this, where my character was never trusted, let me know I would not have a safe place to tell what was happening to me.
It was not long after this that Gary sexually assaulted me. Afterward, he would tell me not to tell anyone about what happened, that the grace of God would cover our sins. I was absolutely furious that he would think I would need to be forgiven by God for having been assaulted. I knew I had NOT wanted what was happening, but I was so confused about how to make it stop, why it was happening, and where I could go for help.
So I redoubled my efforts to avoid. When I was in the community at a store, I began parking my car around the block so my car was harder to find. Or I would shop in a nearby town instead. When I was at Shiloh, I would use a side or back door to avoid being seen by him. I would go up or down a floor to avoid a hallway he was likely to use. I hid in stairways, in a closet or dorm room while he passed by. He often whistled a song while he walked which helped me know when he was coming by.
I began skipping meals or taking food and hiding in stairways or even eating in a bathroom stall quickly, to avoid having to see him or eat with him. I remember once hearing him whistling, and ducking into a mechanical room closet. My heart was beating so loudly I was sure he could hear it, and I held my breath as he passed by.
But even with trying to avoid him, he would slip into a room before I could get the door shut or "happen" to be on his way to the water tower when I was starting my car. So the assaults continued until I was living with a level of anxiety that I could no longer tolerate.
Ironically, he need never have worried about me telling my story. Because even after I got up the courage to tell Scott, Bob and Sarah about what he had done, they never helped me anyway. That was another gem I found tucked into one of my journals last week, a copy of a letter I had given to Scott, Bob, and Sarah where I told them about one of the assaults and asked them for help. How wonderful and horrible it was to read the words of my 19 year old self, and realize that Scott, Bob and Sarah were absolutely responsible for letting this bullshit stand. Not one of them supported or protected me.
When I told my parents all about this, and even showed them the letters that Gary had written, all they did was go to talk with Bob and Sarah. Bob told my parents that I had brought it on myself by my seductive spirit.
Nobody came back to offer me support, nobody contacted police authorities about the sexual assaults. My parents did not pursue any form of restitution for their own child being groomed and sexually assaulted for years. They had the "love letters" in hand, and all the details from my personal accounts. And they did nothing to keep me or other children and young adults safe from this perpetrator.
I am writing this now, because I am nauseated by the thought that the only story the public has been given is that Rick Holbrook and Tony Flores are the only sexual predators who preyed on the congregations. The environment was ripe for opportunists, and our silence about what they have done has given protection to these predators. I refuse to continue the legacy of the cult to protect the abusers by being silent!
As I said, this post is a gift to my child self. I'm acknowledging what happened to her. I am in awe of her courage to leave this cult at age 20, to step away from everything and everyone she had ever known and build a new life out of virtually nothing. There were times she wanted to give up, wanted to disappear, to die, but she did not. I am in awe of her strength and her self love, which was stronger than the shame, stronger than the lies, stronger even than the love her parents should have shown her. This post is a safe hug for the little girl crying in the stairway hiding from sexual abuse. This post is her getaway car to her future, into my present moment, where I am safe and loved and whole.
That "chosen" status I once believed in was born from fear and fueled by the fear of falling from that pretend status. Finally, I'm home in my own skin and filled with gratitude to be one of many in this world of humans, alive and present, healing and honoring our beautiful hearts.
We can reframe how we view what happened to us, because we are still breathing. And the flame of self love that helped guide us out of the shit show can be fanned to spread into the lives we now lead where we can finally have healthy relationships, speak our hearts and hold one another as we heal.
For anyone who lived a story like mine, you are not alone. Even if we've never spoken and never will, you who have survived are my kin. Continue to be courageous, continue to be strong when you feel like giving up, and believe in that beautiful Self that survived all this, the Self that was carved out with sorrow so deeply that we can now hold the entire world within this well of compassion.