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My breakdown and recovery

I became a Christian at 19 and I was 100% all in for Jesus from the first second. Once I was saved, all I wanted to do was learn about God and serve Him with my life. In the first few years of my Christianity, I heard about revivals happening around the country. I decided to visit Smithton and ended up visiting a lot. It was really exciting and I loved what I experienced there. The people were kind, powerful, energetic, and seemed like a type of super-Christians that I wanted to be and nothing like the Christians I had ever known. I had no major responsibilities yet like a family and a house, and my whole life ahead of me so I quit my job and decided to move there permanently to be a part of what was happening. I was very young and I thought it would be a great training ground for me to know how to serve God and enter ministry for the rest of my life.

Moving there was exciting for so many reasons. I was young and free and now I had a big group of new friends who loved God like I did, and everything was fresh and new. I had big dreams and I thought this was a step toward achieving them.

The first thing that I vividly remember after moving there was a couple of female members telling me that now that I moved there I would be facing strong spiritual warfare and they told me, “Don’t listen to the voices.” I understood that they meant spiritual voices, not people talking to me and this obviously really disturbed me. These were strong and faithful church members and that scared me. Steve preaches a lot about not listening to the voices, and the chatter of the enemy who will make you want to leave their church. It is very insidious and it makes you afraid. What he really means by voices are any thoughts or feelings or urges contrary to his will and what he tells you is the truth. Those voices could actually be your own internal voice trying to tell you that something is very wrong. But I will get into more of this later. Soon after I moved there, those ladies who warned me and their families left the church permanently along with a lot of other families. I surmised that the voices got to them and that freaked me out.

At this point I was just getting started in my new church home and the first thing I was made to understand was that those families had blasphemed the Holy Spirit by leaving and they were doomed to hell forever. What they had done was the unpardonable sin and there was not even room for them to repent. I cannot clearly enough state how much this was preached in creative but veiled ways and how much it TERRIFIED me. I moved there in 1997 and from that time, I resolved in myself that I would never leave that place or risk rejecting the Holy Spirit – and I would do whatever I could not to listen to those voices. This solidified my resolve to learn the ropes in this new life and do whatever was expected of me.

Now, you would think that if I moved from another state to be a member of their church (not a mega church but just a small community church) that the Pastors would want to get to know me, have lunch with me, or at the very least, invite me into their office for a few minutes just to say hello. With Steve and Kathy it was never that way. In all those years in that place, not one moment did I have a conversation with either of them.

Immediately upon moving there, my indoctrination started. A lot of the indoctrination was implicit. Things were very different, but I attributed that to God doing something special. When you see or feel something might not be right, but everyone else around you is doing it, and they are all way more spiritual and experienced than you – you don’t listen to those “voices.” You stuff it down and you conform. That happened constantly. Group think. And Steve and Kathy lived in an ethereal plane where they sought God and we were the soldiers on the outside. We served and did as we were told. There was no need to get to know us, or love us, or have an interest in our past, our dreams, our gifts. We came there and we were molded to their vision and we did our jobs. And we were grateful to do them.

But also the indoctrination was explicit too – the group think was called, “The Power of All.” This was a spiritual way to create mind control of the masses. No individuality. No autonomy. Complete conformity to the group think. Or rather to the Steve think. It was all done in the name of Unity. We were explicitly taught what to do and how to act, and then it was explicitly and implicitly enforced. You didn’t show up for church for one night out of 5 per week? You get your privilege of serving God taken away from you. And the group begins to remind you of the rules. If you still don’t comply, you’re out of the clique. And this is the God clique. You will lose your position, your acceptance from leadership and worst of all – God Himself. So – who is going to rebel? I certainly was going to do whatever I was told.

Now, what did that entail? First of all, it entailed being at church five days a week. Sunday of course, then Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday night. Come by 530 or 6 and stay till midnight. Give at least 20% of your income, plus offerings. Be humble and servant-hearted. Serve God and be a part of the group. Work in the nursery, the yard, the parking lot, the bathrooms. And do it for Jesus because you are furthering revival.

This insane schedule went on for YEARS. I was in my early 20s so I could handle working full time and then church for 30 hours per week. I did fall asleep driving one night but for the most part I was okay. But I cannot imagine how people in their 40s with children and stressful jobs and houses to maintain – ever kept this schedule. The worst part of all is thinking about how they felt like God demanded it of them. It truly makes me sad.

Again, looking back, I see how this schedule really served to enforce the cult’s Mind Control in many ways:

  • No Critical Thinking: First of all you have no time to yourself for any critical thinking about anything. If you are constantly on the go, running from work to church and letting everything else fall by the wayside, when do you have time to rest and reflect on anything in your life or make good healthy choices or decisions? You don’t.
  • Indoctrination: You didn’t have time to hear “the voices,” because you were at church listening to Steve’s voice preaching, or his music, for six hours per day, 5 days per week, plus listening to his tapes of his previous messages while you’re in the car. This served to program you and indoctrinate you completely with his prescribed thoughts about sacrificing yourself for God. (Wait isn’t the gospel of Jesus something totally opposite to that?? Hmmmm…) It also allowed Steve to not-so-subtly verbally eviscerate you from the pulpit if you stepped out of line at all which was always deeply painful and humiliating even though he did it in an underhanded way. 
  • Sleep deprivation: This is a quote from an article called, Sleep Deprivation and Mind ControlSleep deprivation is an essential component of many brainwashing groups. From David Koresh to Adolf Hitler, long nocturnal rituals were the main techniques for mind control. It is not accidental that Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin worked mainly at night and had their most important meetings predominantly during the late-night hours. These times were considered optimal for compliance with some very unscrupulous ideas.” The sleep deprivation in Steve and Kathy’s ministry wasn’t an all-nighter once in a while. This was YEARS of sleep deprivation over time and is probably still going on now. Steve also liked to talk about how he never slept and how sleeping people are lazy and need to wake up. (Steve did not mention how he had no other full-time job on top of the church and he also had church full of servants to do his bidding so he probably wasn’t as tired as we were.)
  • Isolation: If you are at church during any and all times outside of your job, you are not associating with anyone outside of the church. You don’t socialize with your coworkers. You don’t have outside friends. You don’t even have time for your extended family. In fact, if you do skip church to go see a movie for instance, you can expect to get a home visit, a severe and terrifying guilt trip about your spiritual condition and then when you say you are deeply sorry and feel really guilty about it afterward – you are told that feeling guity is a sin too. (Yes, that really happened to someone). And don’t you DARE take a vacation. You might as well just buy a ticket to hell.
  • Group Think: We kind of covered this already, but just want to reiterate that if you are with the same group of people all the time and that is your only socialization, you begin to repeat and reinforce the group-think tropes on one another just further solidifying the full mind control.

Okay, I know this is getting long but I just want to give a full picture of why I, along with hundreds of others, fell prey to this abusive cult. Without the full context, it is hard to understand why people would allow themselves to be treated this way. Why did we? These were people from all walks of life: professionals, successful, educated, blue collar, white collar, young and old, strong families, attractive and intelligent. How could this happen? It’s because it’s subtle, and it’s clever and there is a formula for mind control – and sadly … it works.

When Steve preached it was entertaining, and scriptural, but slightly off.  It had a way of making you feel horrible about yourself, be petrified of God and to idolize Steve more. Then the altar call happened and the prayer you received from someone reinforced what a piece of crap you are and how you need to repent and cry and wail in order for God to change you. I was one of those receiving prayer every single night – hoping God would finally change me and take away all my shame. I eventually proved myself faithful enough to become a prayer warrior. I was considered super-spiritual and I conformed completely in order to become everything I was expected to be. But inside I felt absolutely HORRIBLE about myself and walked in a constant state of shame and guilt – not for what I did or didn’t do – but for who I was. 

Even though I was not drinking, smoking, cussing, having sex, (I didn’t even have a boyfriend) or doing anything that anyone would even consider sinful, I felt like I was a filthy, dirty, inherently bad person. Before becoming a Christian, I had a boyfriend and had already had sex. I was a typical American teenager and had done all of the typical things of my generation. When I was at Smithton and WRC, I felt like I was the only one who had ever sinned before. I wasn’t accepting the forgiveness and cleansing of the Cross, I was living in a religion that was invented by Steve Gray. This religion called “revival” required ME to sacrifice and DIE for God (my money, time, effort, dreams, my everything) so that I could please Him instead of the other way around. For this reason, my sin was constantly in my face screaming at me. No matter how much I cried, screamed, wailed, prayed, jumped up and down and worshipped – nothing would take that shame away. And it screamed in my ears CONSTANTLY. It was literal torment. I felt isolated in it and no matter what I did – it never stopped. Now I know that CHRIST died for ME and HE totally accepts me COMPLETELY and I have no more shame whatsoever. 

Like I said, I was there being a militant solder for God and doing it at 100% capacity. But I still had no relationship with the pastors and all I felt from them was disdain and rejection from the pulpit. I internalized the reason for that – it was because I was bad. I literally didn’t even feel worthy to stand within a few feet of Steve. I felt like he could probably see all the sin in me and it made me feel so terrible and ashamed.

This went on for years.

I had a roommate in Smithton who did a good job of indoctrinating me into the church’s ways from the beginning. She was a hot hot mess but I generally have a lot of patience and I used it to deal with her. When we moved to Kansas City I  became roommates with someone who is now on staff and high in leadership of the church. She is a wonderful pure person and I am sad to see her and her husband still there. I digress. Anyway, she got married and so I moved back in with my hot hot mess of a roommate.

Around this time we had just moved to KC the church was growing and everyone in the church was assigned a Care Pastor. I was assigned to one of the siblings of Pastor Steve. Even though he was related to Steve Gray, he was much more approachable. He was friendly with our group, especially my roommate, even going out to lunch with us and coming over to our apartment for after-church gatherings sometimes. Over time, I got to know him and his wife a lot better and that really meant a lot to me. The Pastor’s wife was extremely sweet and kind and she idolized her husband. I got invited to travel with them on ministry trips and minister with them. To be honest, I had the pastors on such a high pedestal that I felt honored and excited to be finally getting some attention from the ones that I looked up to so much. I felt like they were finally seeing me and not just accepting me, but actually liking who I was. And I wanted that more than anything.

Eventually the pastor started coming over to our apartment all the time -even when there were not others there, and even when his wife wasn’t with him. Then he started emailing a group of us, and then chatting online. (this was in 2001). Then chatting alone with me. Then phone calls to me.

I’d have to be lying if I said I wasn’t loving this. I was! I wasn’t even thinking about a romantic relationship with him. That never even crossed my mind. I just wanted to be cool and to be liked. I was 25 years old and he was at least 40 and had kids close to my age. His wife was lovely. I respected her and admired her. He was part of the elite. And he wanted to talk to me and spend time with me and listen to me! This was a dream come true! I told him my deep dark secrets, my history, my dreams, my thoughts but always with the idea that I wanted him to think I was awesome. Maybe this would be a key to me being able to do more for God, to minister, to learn from him about ministry.

One day as we were chatting on line, he said something funny and I said, “I love you!” It was like something I would have said to anyone – to my dad or my friend – when they do or say something funny and typical of themselves. Evidently he took it another way and stupid me should have known!! I didn’t think that this was a romantic relationship – flirtatious maybe ??– but I NEVER had that in mind. I already felt like a dirty, inherently bad, shameful woman so I would not ever want to do that. Plus, he was not attractive to me AT ALLLLLLL…! 

That night at church he came up to me and said something about what he had seen on the screen. I had no idea what he was talking about. I looked up at the big screen in the church. What?? He kept insinuating and saying that I had said something on the screen, and finally had to spell it out for me. I realized what I had said and how he took it and that he was interested in pursuing a romantic relationship with me. I didn’t know what to say or how to handle this. I felt guilty of course and instantly in my mind I made it my fault. This just reiterated the shame I constantly felt – I am an inherently bad, adulterous, promiscuous, filthy, Jezebel!!!! The worst of the worst!! I have reached the ultimate level of sin in that I am a horrible Jezebel who has inadvertently seduced my pastor who I love and revere and have betrayed his wife and children, and the entire church!!!! How could I do this to them?

And how do I refuse this man who I have been taught to obey and serve and die for with my everything – how do I tell him no?? And who can I tell this to?? Now I have this horrible secret and I cannot tell a soul for fear of them being tainted and deeply hurt by my inherent sinful nature!! It will devastate them to think their pastor has done this and it is all my fault! I had to keep this secret no matter what or risk hurting innocent people!

He kept calling. Dropping by our apartment. Lingering around. Letting me know he couldn’t stop thinking about me.

For days I did not sleep.

For weeks I didn’t eat. He still pursued me and I went further into mental breakdown.

I so drastically dropped weight – probably weighed less than 90 lbs – that some of the elders became concerned.

I was losing my mind and living on pure adrenaline. I became more and more erratic and strange. I went home and covered the mirrors in my room. I couldn’t stand to look at myself. I could not sit still. I cried, I got prayer, I paced all day and night, I cried more.

Finally I gave in and told the elders who had been concerned about me what happened – that he was trying to pursue an inappropriate relationship with me and I didn’t know what to do. I felt like I couldn’t get out of it. I needed help! They seemed as though they were not surprised that he would do this. And it surprised me that they were compassionate toward me because I completely blamed myself. Even though literally nothing sexual or physical had happened, I felt as thought I had committed the biggest sin in the world! They told me that I had to tell the Pastors Diana and Tom Trout, who would help me to get out of this situation and they would handle it. I wondered why they didn’t tell them for me but they didn’t.

I had never really talked to Diana Trout before except for a few interactions that I can definitely describe as icy. Those previous times, I remember looking into her eyes and thinking that she seemed to be completely lacking in any type of love for me in any capacity. It shocked me that she could be a pastor when she seemed so full of hate. I got the feeling that even if I dropped dead – she would probably be glad. Regardless of my observations of her, I ignored my own thoughts and experiences and did what I was told. I told Diana I needed to talk with her and Pastor Tom privately about something.

When I got to her office for our appointment she was alone. I thought Tom would be there but he wasn’t. I just point blank told her, “I feel like Pastor so and so is pursuing an inappropriate relationship with me and I am not interested in that. I really feel terrible this has happened and I want it to stop.”

I am not sure I even knew what I expected but this is what Diana calmly said to me,

“You brought this on yourself, didn’t you.”

And how did I reply? I simply nodded yes in complete and total agreement.  

Just as I had felt this whole time, she confirmed it. I was dirty, bad, single, Jezebel adulterous woman. I brought this on myself!

I asked her if she could pray with me. I prayed aloud, begging God to forgive me, and to make this stop, to break the inappropriate bond and to make this stop. I was so so sorry! 

She smiled as I prayed and encouraged me. “This is very good.”

As I left, I remember there were doors open and Steve was hanging around the background. He was eavesdropping and I could see his usual cold, dead, expressionless face in the distance. No one talked to me. No one prayed for me or apologized to me or asked if I was okay or encouraged me.

I left. I felt no better and no relief. Nothing had changed. I felt dead and even more alone.

Later than night I got a call from the Pastor. He was so distraught. His wife was in the background crying. He couldn’t even talk to me he was so betrayed.  His wife grabbed the phone and said, “How could you have done this to him?” They were upset that I lied to their superiors about something he had never done! How could I get him in trouble like this?

This opened up to me a whole world of dynamics in their family relationships I had no idea about and was even more unprepared to handle and it was at this point that I literally had a complete and total nervous breakdown.

I did not sleep for weeks on end for fear that if I slept I would die and go to hell.

I still could not eat.

I called people literally 30x per day asking them to pray for me and to tell me if I was saved or not and if I was going to go to hell.

I reread the Revival Handbook trying to find a way to start again and to go back to the basics so I could retain my salvation.

I spun further and further and further into a psychosis.

I cried, a wailed, a paced, I laid on the floor repenting for hours and talking to God trying to reason with Him on why He should forgive me and not send me to hell. I got nowhere.

I quit my job at a PR firm downtown. I told them I had a family emergency and I just could not work anymore. 

I could not sit still and I could not rest because of the fear that at any moment I was going to die and go to hell forever. I had somehow committed the unpardonable sin and I couldn’t accept my fate –but I couldn’t find a way out of it either.

My friends knew I was losing my mind and I am sure it was scaring them, but my roommate was completely insane herself so it did not seem to phase her. I didn’t tell anyone what had happened. I didn’t want to hurt them! I would write things and type things on paper for hours – scribbling and writing and babbling incoherent things trying to figure out how to be forgiven by God.

I don’t know how long this went on, but it felt like forever. Bobbie King was assigned to help me. She took me to a hospital emergency room. I don’t remember the details but I think she was probably trying to get me admitted to a psych ward. She did not tell me that but looking back that is probably what it was. No one called my family.

Steve’s other sister came to town from Aurora. I was informed that I would be traveling with her and her husband back to Illinois to live with them. I would live with their assistant and go to their church and everything would be A O K. Of course I complied. I left all my things and packed one bag. (Side note: I never got any of those things back including mementoes, photos, family heirlooms)

The poor girl I had to live with in Illinois thought it would be fine I’m sure. She had no idea what she was in for! I remember telling her when I met her that I knew that if I fell asleep that night that I would die and go to hell. The next day she congratulated me sincerely and celebrated that I was not dead and that I was not going to die! I didn’t believe her.

This went on for a few weeks. I was not taken to get help. I was not counseled. I was not talked to about what had happened. I just was expected to go to church and God would fix it – I assume. I stayed there for a while – probably a few weeks at the most – I honestly don’t remember much except the Pastor there (Steve’s other sister) yelling at me that I was being ridiculous. But I was out of my mind and I couldn’t snap out of it. 

I finally called my parents and they sent a limosine to pick me up and drive me to the airport. I tried to get the limo driver saved. I figured that even if I was going to hell, at least he didn’t have to. I flew home to my parents’ house. 

I seemed okay at first and I started to get a bit better. One day I was at home with my Grandma in the house and I was out by the pool in the backyard starting to feel like myself again. My parents were at work. My old cuckoo roommate decided to call me. She informed me that the little girl the church was praying for had died, but she chose Jesus and revival so she went to heaven. She said it in a snotty way so I knew what she meant. I had left so I was going to hell where I belonged. This triggered the psychosis again. I started screaming and crying and wailing and pacing. I scared my Grandmother so much she called my dad. He came home and they drove me to the emergency room. I kept pacing and crying and shaking. But, when the doctor came in he asked to see me alone. He asked me what I was feeling and I told him I was very anxious and scared about spiritual things.

He said, “Do you find yourself frequently thinking about death and dying?” 

“No.” I lied through my teeth. I was terrified of being put into a mental hospital but truth be told I probably needed to be in one. He gave me some Xanax and sent me home. The Xanax helped a lot.

But, I continued to have frequent breakdowns and episodes of terror and panic and fear of dying. At one point I feel like I even disassociated and cut my hair and wanted to be called by a different name. I honestly think my brain was under so much duress that I fragmented. Around this time 9-11 happened. Sadly, I was so out of my mind that it didn’t even register with me and I was not even impacted by it. I was already living in my own state of terror.

Eventually believe it or not I started going to a church where the Pastor had dealt with a very similar situation and made it out of it. He had been severely abused and then rejected by a church which triggered psychosis in him. God sent me to his church because he knew exactly what I was dealing with and I started to get better. I also began reading a book called The Ragamuffin Gospel and it radically saved me! For at least a year I would have to make sure I was saved before I fell asleep each night. I spent days and hours just letting God love me unconditionally and teaching me the TRUE gospel of His Salvation which saves me and loves me no matter what. 

I tried to get a job everywhere. But because it was 9/11 no one was hiring. The only place I could get hired was at a ministry where my new pastor’s wife worked. I DID NOT want to work for a ministry! That was the last thing I wanted. But, God had other plans because I did go there and get the job. It was actually a huge part of my healing process because through it I saw people who truly loved people and served them instead of using them – and I also did the same – I served Jesus – not a man and I knew I already had His acceptance and love no matter what.

I won’t go into my resume in order to tell you my success. Let’s just say that I’m successful in every area of my life and I haven’t thought about this place for many years until recently. I never wanted to think about it or process this story until now. I just wanted to move on. I still deeply love a lot of the people I was with there – and I still hold them in my heart even though we don’t really talk any more I always will. 

PS: My loony tunes ex-roommate called me once more way back then. She told me that the pastor had left his sweet wife for another woman in the church and now everyone knew that it wasn’t my fault. The other woman turned out to be her. They still live happily ever after.

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