Escape from the Cult
By Janis Hutchinson
The cult leader burst through the door of the small room where he held me prisoner.
"Are you ready to repent, and denounce the Jesus you found in that Christian church?" he shouted, his face red with anger. "Are you ready to come into our meeting and admit you were worshipping at the altar of Baal?"
I fell back on my bed, and emotionally cringed at the thought of another encounter. After nine months of his tirades, charges of being a traitor to God, disillusionment over beloved doctrines, and believing I’d never see my family again—I didn’t care if I lived or died.
Sick and fighting waves of nausea, I had no strength to reason with this man…a man whom I once believed held special favor with God.
"All I want to do now is die," I said weakly.
"No way!" he yelled. He moved closer, his body towering over me. "Wouldn’t you just love to have something happen to you, so the police would come in? There’s no way you’re going to bring a murder charge down on me! You're going to stay alive, so you can repent!"
He stormed out of the room, still yelling. His footsteps echoed through the empty building as he walked away. I then heard the front door slam shut. I was completely alone… in silence.
I lay on the bed, and stared up at the bare light bulb dangling from the hole in the ceiling. To look continuously at bleak, unfinished walls day after day in a small, eight by ten room for nine months, was almost more than I could bear.
I suffered through mental and emotional agonies, unanswered questions, depression, and failing health. I lost all incentive to live. Little did I know, however, that within a week my death would nearly become a reality.
I retraced the steps of how I had landed in such a frightful situation. Restless in the mainline Mormon Church after thirty-four years, and spurred on by their teaching to strive for perfection, I was hungry for an additional opportunity to draw closer to God by finding deeper truths.
"Lead, me," I prayed.
I soon learned about a radical offshoot group called "Mormon Fundamentalism." They advocated living communally in a United Order, having all things in common. Surely, I thought, this will be a great test to see if I can unselfishly share everything I have with others, and draw closer to God!
With stars in my eyes, I took off with a heavily loaded U-Haul for a farm in Montana.
At first, they showered me with love and attention, but my lifestyle soon grew progressively worse, with stricter rules and robot obedience to the leader's priesthood authority. Further, the sharp tongue of the leader's wife continually left me in tears.
Although they curtailed my freedom to come and go, I received special permission to drive to Flathead Lake on Sunday mornings.
Once there, I poured my heart out to God, asking Him to lift my depression. I prayed for humility so I would be more submissive to the leader—for charity, so I could become immune to his wife's verbal abuse.
Winter soon arrived, and the snow became too deep to reach the lake. Determined not to give up my Sunday mornings, I pretended to go to the lake, but instead, drove aimlessly. Surprisingly, I came across a Christian church in the middle of nowhere. For lack of something to do, I went in, realizing that I needed to keep it a secret from the leader. I quietly slipped into the back row.
The atmosphere immediately lifted my spirits. For the first time, I shockingly learned that my works would never get me into heaven; and contrary to Mormon teaching, I was a sinner¾not a divine and literal offspring of my Heavenly Father and one of His celestial wives!
I returned to the farm. I eagerly looked forward to the following Sunday. However, after four visits, my worst fears materialized—someone followed me! A member from the cult tailed me and reported my activity to the leadership. When I returned, the leader confronted me.
"Have you been attending that Christian church?" he asked, shouting
"Yes," I replied, timidly. "But, let me tell you about Jesus…" I got no further.
"Didn't you know you were worshipping at the Altar of Baal?" he screamed. "Attending that Christian church now makes you guilty of spiritual adultery!"
"Why are you treating me this way?" I cried. "Don't we believe in Jesus?"
"Of course," he said, in a caustic retort, "but you found him in a Christian church instead of through me!"
He demanded the keys to my car. He confined me to a large, two-story building at the back of the farm in an unfinished 8 x 10 room that contained a bed, a dresser, and a small window. There was no running water or toilet facility¾only a thunder bucket. I would remain there until I agreed to denounce the Christian Jesus in a public meeting.
To keep from going crazy, I occupied my mind by reading early Mormon books the leader had given me, supposedly containing God’s "deeper truths."
I discovered shocking doctrines regarding Joseph Smith; strange temple rituals that I had never heard of, and teachings about women having plural husbands! How could I belong to something that believed in these things? Although the Mormon Church practices none of it today, this surely couldn’t be what it was founded upon! I was shattered, and suspected that other doctrines I believed in for so long might also be unbiblical.
The leader periodically came into my room.
"Repent!" he yelled. I refused.
My health deteriorated. I grew thinner, and my thinking processes became sluggish. I slipped in and out of deep depression¾sometimes so deep, that I was on the verge of suicide. I had no thoughts of escaping, because the leader’s words kept echoing through my mind, "God doesn't like a covenant breaker!"
Come what may, I would not be guilty of breaking a covenant I made with God! I would be faithful to the promise I made, to share all that I had.
Seven months passed…eight…
One day, the leader came by for one of his abusive visits.
"Why don’t you just let me die?" I asked.
"No way!" he shouted. "The law’s not coming down on me. You’re staying alive!"
I wondered how long it would take for me to actually die—my answer came sooner than I expected.
One afternoon, the leader’s young son snuck into the building to visit me and found me unconscious on the floor. He ran to get help, (as I was told to me later).
Soon after, the leader and his cronies rushed into my room. They lifted me back upon my bed, and feverishly anointed me with oil, calling upon their Holy Melchizedek priesthood to raise the dead. After all, if I died, the law would move in!
I have no idea how long I was unconscious, but when I finally did come to, my body felt horrible, so much so, that I was barely able to raise my arm to look at it. When I finally did, I was shocked.
I had never before seen anything so grotesque! There was no pink color to my skin at all—every bit of my flesh was a solid fusion of black, gray, and purple. My other arm looked the same—I assumed my whole body had to be in the same condition.
Seeing I had begun to rally, the leader and his followers left. Afterwards, much to my relief, the leader quit coming to my room, but made sure that his wife brought better food to me.
During the next two months, I regained a degree of strength, but my health problems continued. Crippling pain spasms shot through my neck and back. I had a completely paralyzed colon (diagnosed later), as well as other complications that needed surgery.
One day, I knelt by my bed and prayed aloud—I entertained no thoughts about escaping. In the middle of a sentence, I was interrupted by these words:
"I shall deliver you."
Stunned, I couldn’t move. Then, elation filled me.
Why, this means God won’t consider me a covenant-breaker if I leave!
My thoughts immediately turned to my furniture stored on the floor above me. I didn't want to leave without it¾my house in California had not sold, so I would need furnishings. Suddenly, I began to form my plan of escape.
I watched out the small window of my room. After the leader and members drove into town, I left my room and exited the building. With my heart in my throat, I crossed the yard, grateful for what strength I had, and managed to reach the farmhouse.
I slipped through the back door and into the kitchen. I fumbled through the telephone directory, and reached for the phone. I dialed the Mayflower Moving Company, and arranged for them to come the following week. I then scurried out of the house and across the yard, back to my room in the unfinished building.
The night before the van was to arrive; I waited until dark, and crept out of the building. I skulked toward the main house. Once inside, I quickly grabbed my car keys from off a nail beside the back door, and ran back.
The pre-arranged morning arrived, and the Mayflower truck pulled into the driveway. I hurried out of the building, and motioned to the driver.
The leader and other members heard the sound of the huge truck, and came rushing outside.
They can't stop me now, I thought, not with strangers present!
I directed the driver and his helper to where everything was stored—then stuck to them like glue. The leader and his followers kept their distance, silently fuming.
When the driver finished, he asked, "Is everything all right?"
"Yes," I said. I sensed he knew I was in some kind of tense situation.
"But," I added, "Before you drive out, will you let me pull out in front of you?" He knowingly nodded.
Nervous, I walked to my car and climbed in. Suddenly, in the side-view mirror I saw the leader coming towards me. I panicked.
Turning the key, I slammed my foot against the accelerator, and gunned it. I raced in my car down the long driveway, and finally made it to the open highway.
Free at last!
As I drove, I began to cry. First, I cried out of relief. Then, I cried because my body felt so sick. Next, I cried because my Mormon beliefs had been destroyed. Lastly, I cried because my dream of finding a community sanctioned by God, with everyone wanting to live, love, and share, had been a delusion.
But now, it was over—or so I thought. The emotional aftereffects would be the most soul-wrenching, excruciating, experiences of my life¾not to mention anxiety attacks for fear the leader would find and kill me, based on the doctrine of "Blood Atonement." This is a common belief held by all Mormon Fundamentalist groups. In addition, I would later deal with health issues of neck and back problems, a hemorrhage, which would require six blood transfusions, and surgery.
However, at that moment, all I knew was that thanks to God’s intervention during my prayer, I escaped. I made it out of the cult alive, and I was going home--home to my new life as a Christian.
Janis Hutchinson is author of "Out of the Cults and Into the Church," and "The Mormon Missionaries," (Kregel Publishing). Her award-winning articles and short stories have appeared in national and international magazines, and translated into Russian and Spanish. She speaks at churches, Bible colleges, and on Christian radio talk shows concerning cults. She graduated Suma Cum Laude, holds a Masters Degree in Theology, and presently serves as a mentor for the Institute of Religious Research, counseling both Mormons and ex-Mormons. You may contact Janis through the Letters page of this magazine.
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