Fran's Story: Part V
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.
As a child, fear is mostly about being afraid of what’s hiding under the bed or closet.Or even being afraid of monsters from a movie you weren’t supposed to see, but did without your parents knowing. At least that’s what it was for me. As an adult, I feared getting my heart broken, losing my job, and sometimes, being harmed by someone with evil intentions. My mom did a really great job at raising me to have a respect for fear: let it be what keeps you aware of your surroundings, but don’t let it cripple you.
After leaving the Farm, fear doesn’t have the same meaning anymore. I haven’t admitted this to many people until now. In counseling, this part was the hardest for me to process through and I’m finally ready to open up about the fear I felt/experienced while I was away in Missouri. Fear ignited a paranoia in me that I have never experienced in my life. It turned me into someone very docile, yet calculated. All of my “doings” during my time there, including conversations, were very thought out. The residents on the Farm would paint a different me, calling me, “calm, collected, and a peaceful presence”. But on my insides, I was barely holding on to sanity to get me through. I have questioned my own experience. Did I really go through this? In counseling and through hearing similar stories of people escaping cults, I learned that just because my experience was different doesn’t mean it wasn’t real for me. Just because there are women there who “seem” joyful and wanting to never leave, doesn’t disqualify the fact that Rhonda is doing damage to both His Kingdom and the women who choose to find healing there.
Many of the women I met on the Farm had been living there from months to years. They all used the same language, prayed very similarly and repeated the same phrases over again. It was difficult for me to conform. I referred to Jesus as such, and I prayed and worshipped my way. I had no intention of changing how I related to the Lord because that wasn’t why I went to the Farm, so automatically, this made me feel like the outsider. As I got to know the women more, I began to notice a trend: most of them came as young, uneducated, and extremely vulnerable women due to serious trauma. Some of them came from extreme abuse, abandonment, and addictions. Some of them never really went to college or appeared to have much education. While others who did, had walked through some serious woundings, which made them vulnerable. Now, this doesn’t mean that I was superior or felt that way with them nor does it mean that an educated person can’t fall victim to a cult, but I think some sort of education helps you question things. I love the women on the farm, but especially the younger women. As a previous high school teacher, one of my giftings is connecting with young people, so I immediately connected with the younger women. They were vibrant, full of life, and so dang talented. My conversations with them often involved me asking about their dreams and hoping I’d be able to give them a “push” to pursue those dreams. I saw so many of them trapped on the Farm because of fear and I wanted them to know it would be OK to leave, but I also had to be careful.
My first and only interaction with Rhonda involved her questioning me, wanting me to tell her about myself while she stared at a computer. While I gave her my short response, I included the fact that I had been an educator for many years. I do know many extreme Christian cults view education as a threat. They think education is filled with some sort of “liberal agenda” and for a cult such as this, it would make me a threat to everything that has been built. I think the only reason why Rhonda never pursued getting to know me was because she picked up very quickly that I wouldn’t and couldn’t be controlled. I didn’t run to her every time she showed up in the room nor did my eyes light up when she walked in. In the weeks that I lived there, she avoided me like the plague, but this scared me. It scared me because people on the Farm loved, respected, and oftentimes worshipped her. The belief was that whatever she spoke was gold and untouchable, therefore, her theology shouldn’t be questioned. Because I had no relationship with Rhonda, I didn’t know what was being shared to the leadership behind my back. This woman, who owns this supposed healing farm, had no interaction with me publicly. For all I knew, she could’ve told folks to keep an eye on me or that she is “sensing” from God that I am a witch (because every questionable person was a witch) or possessed by some evil spirit and needed saving. Rhonda did have private meetings and conversations with some of my housemates and other women on the Farm. How did I know she wasn’t filling their minds up with “something God told her” about me? Telling them they can’t trust me for whatever reason or to even report back to her about me? Maybe I was being paranoid, actually, I know I was being paranoid, but what if Rhonda did, in fact, create the space that made me feel like an outcast? What if how I felt was exactly how anyone in my shoes would have felt too? The Farm was proud to be known as this welcoming and inviting location for those hurting, yearning for healing, yet, Rhonda never made me feel welcomed.
After my experience with shame, only a few days after arriving on the Farm, I kept my head low. I did my job, my chores, and stayed to myself as much as possible. In moments of discomfort, I’d pray or retreat to my room. Not only had my only interaction with Rhonda been strange, but I had chosen to not participate in some ritualistic dance when asked to. I was the outsider. My fear and paranoia only grew when Rhonda preached on Friday nights. All of her sermons were filled with shame. I remember one of her first sermons involved talking about comparing our small sins to dog poop. She used the analogy that when we use the word crap or darn to substitute for “shit” and “damn”, it’s as if we were baking a delicious batch of brownies and were slowly sprinkling bits of dog poop in it, thus contaminating it. Rhonda went even as far to admit that she had actually baked a batch of brownies for her daughter that in fact had dog poop in it to teach her this very lesson. She made sure to note that her daughter didn’t eat any of it. Her point being, when we try to “substitute” for our sin, we are still sinning, therefore, separating ourselves from God. Someone should tell her that we are all sinners and that’s why we needed and still need saving on a daily basis. None of us are sinless and all we can do is our best to be more like Jesus and ask for repentance. His grace is enough and His mercies are endless.
She also would often remind us that “unholy” speech will, again, separate us from God. Talking about things that aren’t holy will lead us astray. I have mentioned that Liz and I grew close during our time at the Farm together and we’d often joke with each other. I could laugh with that girl about anything and everything. If you ever walked in on us, you’d probably catch us chuckling about something ridiculous. We would often joke about farts because why not? And we’d immediately get scolded for “speaking” of unholy things. I like to envision my God sitting right near Liz and I and laughing along with us because I do believe God has a sense of humor. He created emotion. On other occasions, my other housemate, Bianca, and I would reminisce on old hip-hop songs we listened to as kids, but she’d immediately catch herself and snap out of her nostalgia yelling “Red X that!” Red X was a term used frequently on the Farm to rebuke whatever subject we were talking about that wasn’t “holy”. The color red signifies Jesus’ blood so when we yell “Red X” at something or someone, we’re proclaiming His blood to be poured over. My life was consumed with watching women shout at birds, yelling Red X at every single thing, and casting out legions of demons. Everyone shared the same fear: having the flames in our soul to die, because when it dies, God will leave us all. Ironically, I had never felt closer to God than when I was on the Farm.
Each week, it felt as if Rhonda was preaching at, to, and about me, which obviously, increased my fear. By the time her training event came to be, I had a running list of fears and general things I wanted to discuss with the women I knew in attendance. I couldn’t wait to share my experiences and have someone truly know what I was walking through. During the “God Encounter Training”, I tried sharing with one of the women I knew, who is someone very close to me, that I had been publicly shamed. She didn’t even blink in confusion. In fact, she suggested I pull Rhonda to the side and let her know how I felt because Rhonda “would never do something like that”. Time after time, I tried dropping hints that I didn’t feel safe and it was as if she had wool pulled over her eyes. I tried telling her about my roommate Crystal and how I didn’t feel safe around her and nothing was penetrating. These were the most frustrating, desperate, and discouraging moments of my life. To have someone there who you love and trust not see through the bullshit and want to bring you home.
Crystal and I had a hard time getting along. Not because I didn’t want to love her well, but because she was hard to get close to. You just never knew the version of her you’d get and she was known to be rude and unkind to us housemates. We’d keep our conversations short with her and do our best to walk on eggshells. She was the youngest of all of us and was struggling with darkness including some mental health stuff that required medication, which as I’ve mentioned before, she wasn’t getting. I don’t know if all her ailments were true or created, but either way, it was evident to see there was a side to her she wasn’t being honest with. I felt sympathy for her, always. One night, as I dozed off into deep sleep, I was abruptly awakened by the feeling that someone was watching me. It was then that I looked toward the bathroom door and Crystal was standing there, motionless, staring at all of us sleeping. I can still feel the deep chill that ran along my spine that night. I remember, in the pitch black, trying to find her hands with my eyes, searching for a weapon of any kind, all the while trying to stay motionless as well. I didn’t know if she was having an episode or sleepwalking, but either way, I was afraid of her at that moment and felt in danger.
On another similar note, for being a place of peace, the way the Farm killed its own chickens shocked me. I couldn’t comprehend how a place that loved God so much didn’t respect His creation enough to kill them humanely. I won’t go into details because it’s making me sick to my stomach thinking about it. This detail and catching Crystal watching us sleep increased my paranoia that I’d often be awakened from deep sleep, worrying that someone was hovering over me, ready to harm me. What if Rhonda convinced these girls enough that I was a threat or dangerous? Could they be capable of harming me or putting me out to fend for myself in the middle of night? If I am honest, probably not, but the fear and paranoia consumed me enough to believe that it was an actual possibility that I might never go home. Towards the middle of my time on the Farm, I prayed a very serious prayer to God. It was so clear that I still remember it fully. I prayed:
Abba, if it’s your will for me to never come home because something happened to me here, so be it. But please, Father, I beg you, let Adam know what happened to me some way. Don’t let me be just a disappearance.
Death. I really did come to believe that I could actually die on the Farm. Now, don’t get me wrong, there was no evidence of this anywhere, but all the signs pointed that this could’ve been a possibility for any of us and no one would know. Our families wouldn’t know. Crystal, obviously, never harmed any one of us, but her episodes continued. She would lock herself up in our closet for hours and we’d fear that she’d harmed herself. She did watch us sleep a couple more times, from what I remember, but Bianca caught her once and yelled at her. Mental illness isn’t something to be taken lightly and I stand by my belief that the Farm didn’t offer appropriate services for someone like Crystal and it infuriated me to the core.
On my last week at the Farm, I was able to hear one final teaching from Rhonda and it didn’t disappoint. We had been studying Exodus when I arrived, but she would constantly deviate from this to deliver messages she had been receiving right then and there from the Lord, where again, were full of shame. On this final (for me) teaching, she said she had received something from the Lord that day and decided to completely move away from the norm and talk about the “Delilah Spirit”. For those unfamiliar with Delilah in the Bible, she was Samson’s final love story in the Old Testament. In short, she coaxes Samson to reveal his secret for his immense power and then betrays him. She is the epitome of lust, temptation, and living with the consequences for going after the wrong things. Eventually, Samson’s story was redeemed at his death –but that’s not what Rhonda preached on.
Rhonda had written an entire page (not double spaced) front and back about the Delilah spirit and the qualities she possessed that made her dangerous. It was full of grammatical errors, poorly written, and clearly written in haste. Anyway, this spirit could possess anyone (just like any other evil spirit) and alter the course of that victim’s journey. The biggest standouts from her lengthy list of traits were that the Delilah spirit (so the person possessed with her spirit) wanted power. They desired for all the knowledge and power and the way they went about acquiring this power was befriending everyone around him/her, allowing them to feel heard, safe, and cared for. This person will then slowly start asking questions about leadership, questions about how things are run in whatever institution, in an attempt to find a weakness or a hole in the hierarchy. With this knowledge, this person possessed with this spirit can take full control; some sort of coup, perhaps. Rhonda shared a story about a woman who has stayed on the Farm some time prior to my arrival. She said this woman possessed this spirit and befriended everyone, making them feel safe with her. She then began to ask questions, desire meetings with Rhonda, and tried to get leadership to go against Rhonda (supposedly). According to Rhonda, this woman wanted all the power and was eventually kicked off the Farm by a sheriff (she supposedly refused to leave when asked to by leadership). It was hard for me to not connect with this and take offense. I was the new girl who wasn’t “conforming” or being easily controlled. I was participating, minimally. I was befriending the young women and asking questions (for my own knowledge and understanding). I could have easily been accused of having the Delilah spirit and have everyone I grew to care for, genuinely, turn against me. It would always be my word against Rhonda.
More than I feared for my life or well-being, Rhonda feared for the loss of her role/power on the Farm, and it was evident with every sermon she preached. This last one solidified all of my beliefs about her. Her sermon’s always had shame or guilt embedded and they always seemed to warn residents of a “stranger” coming in and disrupting things. It was clear, Rhonda was threatened by my presence or the presence of people like this: the non-conformists. Continuing these teachings would make everyone else paranoia and create a barrier between them and her. She knew what she was doing. There was even a time where the woman responsible for my acceptance on the Farm had told Rhonda that I had just completed a curriculum on healing and I’d be a great resource. Rhonda promised to speak with me and yet, she never did. In fact, I’d enter the room, and she’d go the other way. I don’t know why the Farm eventually let me in since it was clear Rhonda wasn’t a fan of me, but I will make sure that it wasn’t for nothing. These posts are a start to expose the lies of the Farm that hide the fact that they’re a cult, by promoting “healing” and keeping their captive oppressed.
When I decided to leave the farm, I had to let leadership know. To be honest, there was a little bit of fear involved in communicating this decision. I thought that leadership would hold a big meeting (as they did with other residents’) and make a decision for me, but my decision was approved almost instantly. As I prepared for leaving, I answered the question, “Why are you leaving?” many times. And quite frankly my answer went from because I feel like the Lord has done His work to I have a husband waiting for me. I think the only reason why leadership didn’t fight me further about my decision to leave was because I did have someone waiting for me who’d come looking if I didn’t come home.
My last few days on the Farm were full of chaos and fear. I was pressured and given a short time limit to purchase my plane ticket home. I wasn’t allowed to have a computer to myself to do this and my house mom couldn’t be my supervisor during this process. I literally was at the mercy of other leadership and their schedule to purchase my ticket. While I was planning my departure and purchasing my ticket, I was filled with anxiety for the girls I’d be leaving behind, especially Liz. I was worried that I’d never speak to her again or get to remind her of God’s goodness since the Farm had filled her with so much doubt. I wondered if any of the other girls would leave and pursue their purpose outside of the Farm.
As my day of my departure grew closer, Liz came home hysterically crying. They had pulled her out of work and into a room with all of the leadership, including Rhonda. I anxiously waited for her to return home and when she did, my heart dropped. She sobbed in Betty’s arms and then skipped over to me and whispered her relief. She was being kicked off the Farm. You could literally feel the weight of her shoulders be released. I won’t go into the details of the “why”, but I can tell you, this was not handled in care. She was having a hard time with the Farm not letting her go home for the holidays for the time she wanted and she had been homesick for months. She finally got her wish, although not as she planned, but she would be going home, the same day as me. We secretly wished we had planned a trip to St. Louis or something to explore Missouri a little more together, but I was just grateful to be going home and that she would be leaving, too.
While I tearfully watched Liz drive away in her own car, I didn’t know who my ride would be. I hugged all the girls goodbye and bit my tongue to stop me from crying. I’d miss them. While they all left for work, I stayed at my house, waiting for my ride to the airport. The Farm hadn’t been clear with me or even informed me who I’d be riding with. They kept telling me, “don’t worry, you’ll have a ride”. As my time to leave came and went, I sat in my house alone, anxious, and afraid I wouldn’t go home. I had been given my phone back (hardly had service), and the thought that I was going to run, entered my mind. Nothing in my suitcase mattered. I was ready to run until my feet bled and then run more. I wouldn’t be left on the Farm a day longer. And just as the thought entered, my ride arrived and I quickly ran to the car and we drove off the Farm. As I waved to the women working in the garden, still holding back tears, I knew I’d never be back.