I finally decided to tell some of my story, for whatever it is worth.
My parents became born again Christians when I was seven years old. Prior to that, my childhood was full of bad experiences of domestic violence and bullying from my older siblings (I was the fifth child of six). Things had been so bad right before they converted that both my parents were regularly attempting suicide. Both my mother and father would take the gun with them out behind the barn and tell us all they were going to end their lives and then fire the weapons so we would all be in tears. Then, thankfully, we would see them coming back to the house and we would hug them and thank them for staying alive. Whatever was going on inside their mentally ill minds, I guess they were coming to the end of their ropes, and then, the ANSWER presented itself.
A couple who were pastoring the Pentecostal church in a nearby town somehow became involved with my parents. I am unclear as to the details of what happened but one day, my parents sat me and my little brother down at the table to tell us the “good news”. They told me that Jesus died for them to have life and that he was coming back to rescue them in the air. They said that things were going to change for the better and that all things were new again. This was very good news indeed! My parents asked me if I wanted to accept Jesus into my heart and the answer was clearly YES! I remember praying and then my parents told me that now I too was going to be raptured with Jesus, and I felt a tremendous ecstatic relief that things were all new now and that I was saved.
We started going to the Pentecostal church in the nearby town every Sunday morning and night, and every Wednesday and also to any other weekly church special events and services. My first memory of that church was that there was a big note board at the front of the congregation for the early Sunday school part that had a tally of how many “fish” each person had brought in. It was a typical guilt session about how you had to get your friends and family into that church or else they were going to have to be left behind to face the tribulation. I was eager to learn all the details at that point and I quickly learned that after Jesus rescued the people who had accepted him into their hearts, he was leaving Earth and the devil was taking control and that he was going to torture everyone and cut off peoples’ heads. The ecstasy began to wear off and fear started to take over from then on.
It was the early ‘80s and the Pentecostal church was very strict about what sin was. My “new” life began to feel even more dreary than prior to my parents being born again. The mental issues with my parents started to surface again; however, this time after the tension built and there was a blowup, they would pray and ask forgiveness. This seemed to be progress at the time, and with all the church attendance, my parents were constantly surrounded by people and I guess that was a bit helpful for them. They were learning (or being convicted of, as it was called) many things about what they needed to do to stay on the list of who was going to be raptured. Having any friends who were not going to the Pentecostal church was a big no no.
My parents began evangelising all my relatives. Prior to that, I was allowed to spend time with my grandparents, but my parents had tried to convert them and my Grandparents said they were already Christians (they were Anglicans). I learned that this was far worse than just being a sinner. My Grandparents were deceived into a false sense of security and they were like the Pharisees. I remember my parents telling my Grandfather that it was wrong for him to watch “soaps”. I didn’t know what they meant but I put that on my bad list of new things not to do. My grandmother said Jesus wasn’t about judging others and my mother, highlighted bible in hand, quickly found the verse about Jesus coming to divide the daughter against her mother and read it to us all. After all the evangelism attempts, we were ostracised for a long time from extended family. There were no more Christmas parties with family from that point on.
At first I was certain of my salvation and that lasted well, a few months. But, as time went on, the sin list got longer and longer. Each week we would hear even more about what was wrong with this or that:
- No more going to the movies (which I had only been able to once in my life prior to that)
- No more listening to the radio or to records, no more dancing to the devil - only to the lord and only at church in the aisle and not if you were a kid.
- No more television, especially the smurfs! I learned at church that Smurfette was having orgies with all of them, but I didn’t know what the word orgie meant until my late teens. I just knew this was bad.
- No going to honky tonks! (I lived in rural Canada and we didn’t know what they were, but Jimmy Swaggart hated them and they were bad).
- No associating with any other children unless you are trying to fish them!
And then, no more toys. No cabbage patch dolls that I really wanted – they were demon possessed. And, no more Barbie dolls – she dressed like the devil wanted her to.
The list got longer and longer each week and my parents were taking it all at face value trying to do everything they could to stay on the rapture list. The end times were coming any day! Any day the trumpet was going to sound and we would meet him in the sky. We had to be ready to go, or else we would be left behind. My parents had shut out everyone that wasn’t part of their church. This had economic consequences for us as my father was a builder and got most of his business through a network of people he had already condemned for smoking, drinking and being bad. We were struggling to make ends meet and to give money to the church and to Jimmy.
I began to doubt my own salvation, not the concept because I thought it was all true, but my personal salvation. Was I really special enough to be one of his chosen few? The little self worth that I had began to deteriorate the more I questioned my worthiness. Why would Jesus choose me when he could look into my heart and know that I actually liked dancing to satan’s music and that I really liked the demonic toys? Even though I wasn’t allowed to have them, I knew he could see in my heart that I liked them and this made me scared. The only toys I was allowed to get were sold by a lady in the church. They were incredibly expensive for the times. One single doll would sell for $140, but it praised Jesus with a little plastic record inside of it. It was ugly and I hated when I got it and only it for Christmas. But why didn’t I like it better than the Cabbage patch kids? Why wasn’t god’s doll more appealing? I worried that I was one of the devil’s goats and not a sheep at all.
There was also the issue of speaking in tongues. Most people in my church believed that if you didn’t speak in tongues, you were not going to be raptured. Again, I was so terrified to be left behind because I had not experienced this in any real way. Yes, I tried many times to do it and prayed and asked for the spirit to take over, but every time I said ‘shundala mahundai’, I knew it was just me doing it.
Then, Jimmy Swaggart came to Toronto and my whole family went down to see him at Maple Leaf Gardens. Normally, that was a place of the devil as all stadiums, sporting events and music concerts were strictly banned by God, but Jimmy needed a huge venue. There was to be a pouring out of the spirit there and the whole sermon was about getting baptised in tongues of fire. The altar call was about getting filled with this and securing your place in the rapture, so I left my seat way up in the stadium to go down to get Jimmy to finally do it right for me. Unfortunately I got stuck behind everyone trying to cram themselves down the stairways and I missed the prayer. I couldn’t even hear it really. I was full of panic and I began screaming and going mental. My parents were asking me what was so wrong and I told them about wanting to be baptised in the spirit and not getting to. They said I would get another chance and to trust God’s timing, but I wasn’t so sure. They didn’t know about my salvation doubts.
The fear of being left behind began to take over everything. My parents were doing everything they could to stay saved. They were renting the town hall to sponsor travelling evangelists. They were setting up tract booths at local fairs at their own expense and making us kids stand in them to give them out and help lead people to say the sinner’s prayer. No one ever reacted with interest like they did in the roll playing sessions that my church had. Instead, they ridiculed us, laughed and called us names. I felt embarrassed and stupid. Other kids were having fun at the fair and I was in a long dress stuck behind a booth. I hated it and I wished I wasn’t doing it but my parents loved it. I knew that Jesus knew I hated it.
At church, I was a Crusader. This was a children's group ministry at the Pentecostal church. Imagine, a children's ministry in the 80’s named after the crusades! We had to march like soldiers and have our uniforms really neat. It was based on the verse about putting on the full armour of God and using the sword of the spirit. This was the church’s answer to Brownies and Beavers, which were considered demonic. I had been a Brownie when I was younger and I did remember dancing around some owl or something with mushrooms and frogs. But, ceramic owls, mushrooms and frogs were considered demonic at the time and so I had to quit. Both my sisters had become Girl Guides when they were younger and my Grandmother was involved, but it was considered bad so I was a Crusader instead.
Any adult attending church could volunteer to take over a children's’ group and there were no police checks or anything at that time. In retrospect, it was usually people with major problems who would volunteer. Sometimes they would roughhouse us too much or be extremely strict about uniforms and crap. Looking back, most of them would never be allowed to work with children by today’s standards. I remember kids being physically disciplined but thankfully I wasn’t one of them.
At Crusaders, they would make us testify to people on the street and go door-to-door. We would knock, then say our opening line, “if you died tonight, do you know where you would spend eternity?” Most people would say that we were rude and tell us to f#&* off. No one ever said, “tell me more about the good news”. When I was embarrassed, my nasty, teenage sister-in-law who volunteered (my oldest brother was a lot older than me... and her) would corner me and say “are you embarrassed of the Lord? Because if you are, the bible says that after you’re dead, you’ll be begging Jesus to say he knew you and he’ll tell the demons to take you to hell because he never knew you.
At around age 9, after seeing A Thief In The Night, I became dysfunctionally fearful. I was certain that Jesus had seen things in me he didn’t like and even though I had begged his forgiveness, I didn’t feel forgiven because the thoughts and feelings would again surface just the same. I felt I wasn’t really as sorry as I should be and I concluded that I mustn’t be as saved as the other people in my church. Even if I was saved, I wasn’t rapture ready and would have to go through the tribulation and get my head cut off to show Jesus I was for real. That meant that any day now, my parents were going to be gone in the twinkling of an eye and I was going to be left with no one to care for me through the 7 years. I began to hoard cans of soup and beans from the pantry. I had a stash of cans in my bedroom. I spent nearly all my spare time obsessing and drawing diagrams of underground holes with air pipes where I could hide from the antichrist. I scouted for locations all over our farm where I could dig my underground hole to hide, but I stopped short at actually digging it. The panic was continuous for a while because he was coming. At one point I heard a big rig horn from the highway nearby and thought it was the trump. My heart practically exploded.
Our church began to up the fear factor more and more before the end (1988). We were clearly living in end times. The world was going to be so bad soon. The church would put on a Heavens Gates – Hells Flames drama each year and more and more people were joining, at least temporarily, the church. It was time to build a gymnasium or something.
By the time I hit adolescence, I KNEW I was not going to be raptured or even saved. The youth group I attended sole emphasis was on sex and preserving your virginity. Because of my crappy childhood, I wasn’t able to choose to preserve something I didn’t have. I was damaged goods in terms of Pentecostalism and what the Lord wanted. I constantly cried to Jesus and God, why didn’t they let me be a virgin so I could be preserved and be valuable? I didn’t even get to decide and now I was worthless and unfit to get married and have children (the only way a woman could be saved). Know wonder why I felt like I really wasn’t saved all these years, I hadn’t been!
After years of lamenting, I stopped going and became ‘of the devil’. After that, the youth group had some sort of revirginizing ceremony or something where you could become a virgin again, but I was already gone. I was listening to the radio, and sinning. I had even tried smoking cigarettes by then. My mother would guilt trip me constantly. Why was I doing this to HER? It was relentless drama for many years.
My so called rebellion was in full effect and the church had lost me forever, until... well that is another story. I am almost 40 now, and an atheist. I wish I could say that I left the church at 15 and never looked back but that isn’t what happened. I got re-infected with the virus when I was in my late20’s after years of my mother guilt tripping me into feeling that all my problems were because I had turned my back on Jesus. My parents are in their mid 70’s and they still fight. They’ve had the worst relationship without any intimacy for decades (gross to think about that) and they are still living in mental torment and anguish over the past. So much for Jesus washing it all away.
Thank you for reading, I know it was long.
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