Fran's Story: Part IV
Disclaimer: The information presented and opinions expressed are solely the author's. Names have been changed to protect identities. The only names kept true are leadership.
It was evident early on that the belief system on the farm was very different from mine. I like to believe that I’m pretty open-minded when it comes to other beliefs and open to hearing other sides, so when I realized the Farm was much more charismatic than what I am familiar with, I came to accept the difference. I thought our beliefs could coexist as long as we were believing in the same God. But it turned out that their teachings were oppressive and shame-filled, not filled with the teaching of the God I know in the Bible.
When meeting other residents, they all used the same greeting, “we’re so glad you’re here.” It was almost monotonous and robotic. After a few of those, I wondered if this was something we were taught to tell new members. I was too consumed with my emotional state of missing home, that I let these little nuances slide. I let slide the fact that a couple of residents immediately let me know that people always thought the farm was a cult followed by a chuckle. I never fully processed those words until 6 days into my stay at the farm.
At the end of the first week, I had dealt with my emotions and the feeling terribly homesick had ceased. I still missed home, but I had had the chance to speak to my husband and parents, so I felt better. I was starting to get comfortable with the schedule and my different roles on the Farm. I was also getting close to some of my housemates. The Monday after I arrived looked different. We were only working the first half of the day and the second half would be held in the Refuge building where church (or corporate gathering, as they called it) was held. For the last three Mondays they had had a guest speaker on the farm who was also someone “gifted” in prophecy. On this particular Monday, it was her last and it was a “treat” for me to get to hear her teach.
After lunch, the entire farm, including elders, gathered in the sanctuary, located on the top level. Danny went up on stage and cracked a few jokes, and introduced our guest speaker. She shared a couple of stories and memories with Rhonda. She spoke about some visions she previously had and then out of nowhere, Rhonda began laughing hysterically and audibly. At first, I thought maybe she had been engaged in a side conversation. When I saw this wasn’t the case, my next thought was the possibility of her laughing at something our guest speaker said, but that reason hadn’t fully clicked for me since I didn’t remember the speaker saying anything funny. So, we all chuckled along with her in some capacity and then the guest speaker continued with her story. Rhonda continued laughing, now interrupting. No one twitched. I was embarrassed for the speaker, but she didn’t seem to mind. I was confused. Finally, Rhonda broke into a final belly-aching laugh, attempting to catch her breath a few times. I sat there, shocked, stunned, and even more confused. The speaker finally explained that the laughter means there was spiritual warfare happening in the room. Rhonda eventually dropped to her knees, then laid on her belly laughing until she went silent. I was convinced she had fallen asleep.
The guest speaker proceeded with prophesying over some of the women. Some of the elders walked around praying for some of us residents. It was a sweet, tender moment, although I did feel uncomfortable with all the wailing in the background, but I continued to remind myself why I was there. Finally, one of the men on the farm, Kelly's husband, took the microphone. He was filled with the spirit and then for whatever reason, felt the need to do the Haka dance, which originated in New Zealand. For those unfamiliar with this, the Haka dance was traditionally used to prepare for battle. So, in support of his point that we must be unashamed to follow Jesus, he began doing the Haka. He invited the residents to join in and they did. Then everyone proceeded to circle the room stomping and chanting. They would stop every 5th step and yell Jesus’ (Yeshua’s) name in the center. I chose to stay seated because I was uncomfortable, thought it was voluntary, and was still getting to know the “procedures” of the Farm. As I observed, I clapped along and laughed with some of the residents who made silly faces at me. I was a little embarrassed that I was the only resident who stayed back along with all the elders, but I didn’t force myself to do something that made me uncomfortable.
Finally, the marching and chanting stopped and Danny got up along with Kelly and they stood by Kelly’s husband in the circle. They all were looking in my direction. All of the residents I sat with had been marching in the circle, so it is important for you to know that no one else was sitting near me when all of this was happening. A Bible appeared and Danny began speaking. He spoke about how sinful it is to be afraid to look silly or “dumb” for Jesus. He continued to say that we must be completely unafraid to break out in dance or even yell whether in public or private for Jesus. Danny continued with his rant on being foolish for the Lord then used pieces of scripture where certain men in the Bible ripped their cloaks and danced foolishly for the Lord. What Danny didn’t include was the entire context as to why these biblical figures did such things.
Following this “lesson”, he flipped his Bible to Hebrews 13:17 that reads: “Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account…” My cheeks felt hot, my heart dropped, and I froze with intense embarrassment. I felt ashamed. Danny looked over in my direction as he read the bible verse, again, taken out of context, but I knew it was being used to reprimand my decision of staying seated. The leaders continued to speak in my direction. Kelly grabbed the mic and continued on the point of obeying leaders. She stated that if they tell you to stand, you stand. I pretended to write notes because I was too embarrassed to face the fact that I was being shamed publicly.
"…this all feels legalistic and in parts, condemning. I didn’t want to do a march and all the leaders spoke and it felt shame-filled. I don’t trust that Rhonda and Danny are teaching these [residents] about their freedom in Christ. I think they’re keeping them entrapped by using fear as a tactic. I will be agreeable and I will comply for the sake of my time here, but I will not let them manipulate my faith for their own gain… "(9/16/2019)
We closed out in prayer where many women were found wailing and casting out demons, while I sat, tears filling my eyes –wanting to go home. I knew this interaction with leadership had placed more of a target on my back. I was still in disbelief, did I just sign myself up for a cult? I was angry. I was confused. I was also convinced that I would be booking a flight home by the end of that week. But this thought hit me even harder: if I go home, I am going home to the same trauma and pain that brought me here. I knew that if I went home, I’d be getting a divorce. I didn’t want that. I wanted to fight. At that very moment, a very stern, still voice uttered: Stay with Me. Stay for Me. This is all noise, ignore it, and let Me heal you. I will protect you. I knew I was feeling this assurance from God and that even in chaos, in the midst of a cult, God could still do the healing work He intended to do.
As the weeks went on, the teachings grew weirder and the belief system that encapsulated the Farm became more problematic for me. But I stayed the course. I committed to staying for myself and ignoring all the things that made me uncomfortable. Our weekly schedules not only consisted of long hours of labor on the Farm, but we had Corporate Prayer on Friday nights after work. We’d all have to rush home from work, eat dinner, shower, and head over to the sanctuary where we were discouraged from being tardy. We’d have about half an hour to get settled and chat with some of the members on the Farm. There were other members from the community (women/families) who had close ties with the Farm, who were invited to attend these corporate gatherings. These gatherings were where Rhonda took the spotlight. As per usual, Danny was the first to speak, but unlike other public situations, the first half hour to hour was spent asking members of the “community” to speak on how they’ve been blessed that week. People would share their uplifting stories or sometimes even sing because they felt led to sing. Finally, we’d get a five-minute break and then Rhonda would come up to teach. Her teachings were interesting. Rhonda wasn’t a theologian or a pastor who’s completed the educational piece. Her teachings were based on what she felt God wanted her to teach. There would be times where she’d be standing at the pulpit teaching a prepared sermon and then suddenly grow silent and say, “God wants me to teach this…” or “God wants me to stop here and do this.”
Rhonda's teachings were based on half truths. She used pieces of scripture to support her claims and ideas about God and was never used in it’s complete context. All of Rhonda's teachings had shame and guilt sprinkled in the mix rather than grace and love. I was able to ignore as much as I could, but to be honest, some days were harder than others and I fell victim to the shame. Liz, as I mentioned in Part III, experienced a number of panic attacks from feeling ashamed and guilty for the sins she had committed in her past. Rhonda didn’t teach freedom from our past, but rather focused her teachings on fear of recommitting those sins. Liz would cry on a constant basis, doubt her goodness, and even express the feeling of being judged on the Farm. Rhonda's teachings didn’t give life, they kept you trapped in a mud pit filled with your past sins and mistakes.
My other housemate, Crystal, had struggled with homosexuality, and I knew it from the moment I met her. She always seemed angry and on occasion, would lash out at all of us who lived with her. I loved her, but avoided her often because I didn’t know which Crystal I’d get. She did struggle with other disorders that she wasn’t being medicated for (because the Farm believed in God as the ultimate healer, not medication). I knew she wasn’t living authentically. Rhonda preached a lot about homosexuality and how sinful it is. She blamed Christians for its spread around the Earth; for not stopping it, as if it was our job to do that. As if it were our job to tell people how to live and/or use the free will given to them, because it isn’t. During these “teachings”, my heart ached for Crystal. She didn’t hear about how much God loved her, because He does. She didn’t hear that she is worthy, because she is.
I didn’t see Crystal live her true self. She pretended to have crushes on boys, while dressing like one. It always seemed forced. I wanted to tell her that she didn’t need to hide, but didn’t know how to approach her. For her birthday, the Farm threw her a tea party where she was asked to wear the pinkest dress she could find, paired with fancy shoes, hair done, along with a full face of makeup. It was all so hard to watch. It made me cringe how much the leaders glowed as if they had “healed” her of her struggle with being gay. Among the many teachings that were questionable in my book, a few stood out the most. Three things were constantly talked about: witchcraft, birds and insects/snakes, and finally unclean spirits.
Rhonda often feared that her leadership role would be taken away, as most cult leaders do. She preached a lot about certain women living on the farm who she claimed were witches and trying to infiltrate by befriending leaders and residents. On one of the weeks, Rhonda led a conference and a woman arrived hours before the agreed upon time and leadership had her kicked out because Rhonda felt she was a witch. This woman seemed like a very kind woman who had made a mistake with her schedule. I remember leaving the Refuge building and noticed her in the distance, reading a book in the King’s garden –completely harmless. The next thing I knew, they kicked her off the farm because of what Rhonda told everyone, all because she had arrived early. My initial thought was, this is absolutely crazy. But then I thought, if this is a so-called Christian farm, wouldn’t you want to invite this so-called witch in? Wouldn’t Jesus invite a conversation with her? Didn’t He come and dine with sinners? If they believe in God’s protection, what do they have to fear?
According to Rhonda, birds had a deep connection to witches. The Farm believed and taught that witches would enter into a bird through witchcraft and use its ability to fly to fly over the farm and observe things like location, procedures, and the amount of people who lived on the Farm. Owls were absolutely unwelcome because they were the ultimate figure for witches (I am assuming Rhonda is basing this from Harry Potter — more on that later). It always amazed me that someone who had such a deep connection with the Lord and believed in His protection, feared being harmed by the evils of this world.
Birds & Insects
Rhonda taught the members on the Farm that birds were immediately connected to witches so they must be rebuked and prayed away the moment they fly over the Farm. On many occasions I’d be walking from one destination on the Farm to another, enjoying a conversation with someone and all of a sudden: “IN THE NAME OF YESHUA AND BY THE AUTHORITY GIVEN TO ME AS A PRIEST OF THE MOST HIGH GOD, I COMMAND YOU TO LEAVE THIS FARM IMMEDIATELY AND CANCEL ALL OF YOUR PLANS TO HARM.” This was a constant thing that you’d hear on the Farm and always made me feel the same way: uncomfortable. I’d put my head down and just keep walking. I never engaged in these chants nor did I ever want to. Many birds appear in the Bible from sparrows to eagles and there’s even a verse, Psalm 50:11, that says, “I know every bird in the mountains, and the insects in the fields are mine.” Let’s also note that God Himself appeared as a bird, specifically a dove, when Jesus was being baptized. Birds were unwelcome on the Farm and the women and staff were often paranoid at the appearance of one. It’s comical that the Farm taught everyone to rebuke birds, yet they owned goats. They cared for, raised, and loved these beautiful goats, yet, if we’re using their same belief system, wouldn’t they want to get rid of said goats since they’re the symbol for satanic religions? Just a thought to ponder on and further proving the ridiculousness of they’re teachings.
Spiders and snakes were associated with the occult as well, according to the Farm. Apparently they weren’t created by God (i.e. Psalm 50:11) nor have a purpose on Earth. I witnessed the killing of many garden spiders. I’ll be the first to admit, I hate spiders with a passion, but I do believe every animal has a purpose for its creation, so as much as possible, I try to respect creation. I have never seen such beautiful wolf spiders as I did on the Farm, and that’s the truth. They were stunning and I enjoyed watching them frolic through the leaves in the garden. I quickly learned that letting anyone know I had found a spider would result in the immediate killing of that spider. I am not a fan of snakes either, but think they deserve to roam freely in open land as long as they are not a nuisance. I stumbled upon a snake nest with eggs. I picked one up, attempting to secretly move it to a safe area and one of my housemates saw it in my hand. She snatched it and stomped on the eggs exposing the dead baby snakes inside. I was able to save a few eggs and quickly moved them to a safe space without anyone catching me. The paranoia over these creatures drove me crazy. The stories of their killing of snakes for just crossing the road horrified me. It never made sense that a place claiming to be a place of peace and healing would go out of their way to kill creatures just for existing. It was a dark side that I truly wish I hadn’t witnessed.
I could write an entire book of the skewed version of the Bible that Rhonda and the Farm teaches, but one of the beliefs that simply baffled me was this concept of “unclean spirits”. I heard this phrase very early on in my time at the Farm. Before I continue, I want to state that the actual words: unclean spirits, are mentioned in the Bible several times, both in the Old and New Testament. I also researched as much as I could on this and I continued to be pointed to scripture that mentions possessions of unclean spirits. The argument here isn’t that they don’t exist, I believe evil lures our world and that there is a spiritual realm we don’t get to see, but the teachings on the Farm are dark and unlike anything I have found. There’s not a lot of theology, if any, that backs Rhonda's teachings. And if we, for a moment, think, OK, what if Rhonda has figured it out? What if her teachings are the truth? My rebuttal is, how come no respectable pastor of our time has taught anything close to this? Where their career has consisted of studying the Bible? Throughout these “unclean spirits” teachings, I struggled with the fascination every one had for Rhonda, and I just couldn’t shake the thought that if all of this were true, why aren’t theologians and pastors teaching this? Or why aren’t they running to Rhonda to gain wisdom on this subject matter?
So what are unclean spirits? Buckle up, because this one is a doozy. In sum, an unclean spirit is an unsaved ghost of someone who has died, but has gone to neither heaven nor hell; they are living in purgatory. These “spirits” roam the Earth trying to find a way to fulfill their desires they had on Earth, such as drugs, alcohol, sexual gratification, etc. Because they’re not physically in the real world, they’re tormented in this “purgatory”, desperately trying to fulfill these desires. But alas, there is a way they can fill their needs. They just need to wait for an opening. How do they stumble upon such an opening, you ask? Well, one way is our sins, the ones you and I make, create an immediate opening for these unclean spirits to enter. For example, if I am passed out drunk, a sort of “portal” (they called them doorways at the Farm) becomes available and open to any and all spirits who want in. Once I am possessed by this spirit, they control my thoughts, emotions, and actions. If I become addicted to something, it isn’t my free will and choice granted by God that is causing me to stumble, it’s this unclean spirit. But wait, this isn’t the only way to have a doorway accessible to an unclean spirit. Surgery, blood work, anything involving needles, and not being in constant prayer for God’s protection is a way to invite a spirit. Not allowing the “fire of God” to die within you is a great way to protect your doorways and not allow them to be accessible to the unclean spirits.
Now, you don’t have to live this way forever. You just need help casting out this spirit. That’s where Rhonda or someone who has been “trained” in this can help (there is even a manual Rhonda wrote that serves as a guide). There is one important rule when dealing with an unclean spirit and that is, one must not invite an unclean spirit into a conversation unless you’ve been trained or have had your “doorways” prayed over. The trained person will lead you into prayer to cast out this spirit. But, it should be noted here that this unclean spirit can also be saved and sent to heaven. So, the person casting out the demon/unclean spirit is working with you to cast them out, while also preaching to the unclean spirit and helping them get saved. Lastly, this unclean spirit might have a demon or legion of demons attached to them, creating more steps in the casting out process. If this is the case, the steps are:
Command the demon to leave.
Try to communicate with the unclean spirit and “save” them from purgatory.
Cast them all out and you’re free (sort of).
For some victims of this, it takes a lifetime to fully cast out all of the things possessing them, meaning a lifetime of not living in full freedom.
All of this goes against everything I believe, not because I don’t believe in possessions and what not, but because I believe that when you’ve been saved by grace and are protected by the blood of Jesus. God’s protection isn’t transactional. If I don’t openly pray about God’s protection over me every minute, it doesn’t just go away. Instead of seeing God as this merciful, loving figure, who desires so badly to be with us, He is seen as this figure who demands prayer and our time on the Farm. He demands to be worshipped and the moment we stop giving Him the things he demands of us, He’ll abandon us, and hand us over to the evils of this world. Everything I know and have read about God in the Bible contradicts every bit of this. All of the women who live on the Farm “know” Jesus and, yet, are always fearful He’ll abandon them, so, they force themselves to press-in even more, not because they have this wonderful relationship with Him, but because they’re terrified. These women have all been saved by grace, yet, they are constantly “possessed” and in fear of having an unclean spirit invade their spaces. The God I know is all forgiving, just, kind, and loving. The Farm’s version of God is not one I am familiar with nor one I would worship because he sounds exhausting. It saddens me to think that these women aren’t living in His freedom and love.
Another way Rhonda says these spirits can attack and insert themselves are through worldly things. What you listen to, watch, and/or say can create an easy opening. I do believe that as Christians, we should be mindful of what we do, but the Farm took it to another extreme calling things like Disney and Harry Potter “satanic”. Watching or partaking in anything related to these would allow unclean spirits to penetrate us. We didn’t watch TV at all on the Farm and only had select “farm-approved” (i.e. Rhonda approved) movies and CD’s to listen to. I listened to the same music every week and watched about two movies while I was there. I didn’t necessarily mind the no TV rule since it gave me more time to be intentional with my time and healing, but I didn’t like my down time to be controlled and needing approval.
I lost count of the many “deliverances” of unclean spirits/demons I witnessed. Same goes for the rebuking of birds and killing of spiders/snakes. At times, I’d feel afraid to join in on prayer with residents because I knew what it would eventually lead to. After each session with my pastoral counselors, I’d get asked how many unclean spirits were inside of me or how many did they remove. And my answer would always be the same: none. I was OK with being agreeable and comply with things forced upon us on the Farm, but I would not enable a belief that is unbiblical. I think some of my housemates suspected that I didn’t believe in unclean spirits or knew I questioned some of Rhonda's teachings. They’d sometimes ask for my thoughts on a certain teaching and I’d be too scared to finish my thought. I, too, became paranoid. Paranoia became my friend; Paranoid that someone would reprimand me, or worse, turn me in to Rhonda and kick me off the Farm with nowhere to go.