Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Growing up as a Christian (Bible-based) "Cult Child": A Memoir by Vennie Kocsis


     When I met Vennie last year, she wore the blue ombre locks shown in the center picture displayed here, and I like the visual progression that these images display.  The Second Generation Adult (SGA) — a now-adult who grow up in a high demand group doesn't have the opportunity and often lacks the skills to choose their own path.  They (we!) are always adapting and growing to make up for the things that even the first generation members who join a group don't often consider.   ~ (CindyK)

Cult Child is available in paperback and Kindle, 
and you can ask for it at your local bookstore!

Also, don't miss her talk radio debut on Sunday, September 27th!

~ ~ ~ 

I Survived Sam Fife’s Move of God Cult
By Vennie Kocsis

I was around two years old when my mother was recruited into The Move of God, which is also sometimes known as The Move.  The Move was founded by a former Baptist preacher in the 1960's in Florida. As a minister, Sam Fife was a charismatic leader.  He emerged in a time when the United States was in conflict with boiling racial tension and an unpopular Vietnam War going on.  Sam offered his followers the idea of safety and a place where families could become a community away from the dissension of secular America and its impending war with the Communists.  

Through the 60’s and 70’s, Sam Fife began to gather his followers to go into remote areas in places like Alaska, Massachusetts, Mississippi, California, Canada and South America.   Purchasing a large amount of land and accompanying array of military equipment such as Quonset huts, military cots, bedding and ham radios, his followers built an empire utilizing systems of tithing and having members give all assets over to the communes.   By 1974, Sam Fife’s Move of God and his network of recruiters had rounded up to 40,000 followers from many differing walks of life.  Sam Fife’s messages are still upheld and revered by many associated non-profit religious institutions such as Bowens Mill Christian Center in Georgia, Living Word Ministry and Whitestone Farms in Delta Junction, Alaska. 

My siblings, seven and nine at the time, have quite a clear memory of my mother’s indoctrination into the Move by a woman named Emily Nerbonne, in the early 1970’s.  Emily’s husband, Leo, was my father’s naval friend.  As my father was working on special projects at the military base near San Diego, California, Emily was diligently instructing my mother, who was busy trying to raise three children alone, on more proper and Biblical ways of handling children. Emily introduced physical discipline into my family.  My siblings had never been spanked or hit before Emily began to indoctrinate my mother’s mind with religious based discipline. 

The more my father had to be gone, the more the recruiters whispered in my mother’s ears, creating doubts, such as suggesting to her that my father was actually not working, but probably spending time with other women.  My mother became so filled with confusion and questions in regards to her own marriage that soon she was giving my father the ultimatum of either joining The Move of God or getting a divorce.  My father refused to join.  What ensued was a very long and brutal divorce through which my mother depleted my father’s financial ability to continue fighting her in court for custody or even visitation of my siblings and me.  The Move of God cult funded all of my mother’s court costs, including flying in my uncle all the way from the South, to be a witness against my father.  My father never stood a chance to gain custody of us. It felt that in the blink of an eye, my mother, funded by The Move, had packed our lives into a U-Haul headed to Ware, MA.   We would not have a relationship with our father until we all became adults.  My mother convinced us throughout our young lives that our father did not want us and was an evil man.

The compound at Ware was classified as a Deliverance Farm.  Sam Fife taught that all negative behaviors, including pedophilia, were a product of possession by demons.  Sam’s doctrine included the belief that medical conditions, such as seizures, were the body being possessed by demons.   We were specifically sent to this farm because my mother was overweight, my older brother was considered to have behavioral problems, and I was loud.  I was loud and always have been loud because I have congenital deafness in my right ear.  My sister was very introverted, stayed quiet and often tried to protect me as best she could, usually without any success as she would end up also being punished.

Read the poem accompaniment to Vennie's artwork. 

I spent my years from 1973-1977 at Ware, until I turned seven.  Upon arrival at Ware, our family was split up and put into differing classification units. I was put with other children my age. Everything from our former life was sorted through, and anything that could be used for the commune was put into a community clothing bank.  The Ministry taught that this process served to rid us of our life before the cult, erasing all memories we might have of it.  It would allow our minds to be emptied of the poisonous influence of the secular world outside and re-filled with Sam Fife’s doctrines of purification for God. Physical, mental and sexual abuse was often a daily occurrence. 

As to the nature of the abuse, I don’t want to be too detailed here as not to trigger any trauma survivors who may be reading.  If you are interested in knowing the scope of the abuse that we children endured, I encourage you to visit my website cited below and purchase my memoir, “Cult Child”, where I detail the memories I have been able to piece together.

In 1977, we were relocated to Alaska.  Coincidentally, many compounds were built in Alaska, including Delta Junction, Haines, Hoonah and Sapa North just a few years before Alaska was to begin giving its citizens a yearly dividend from the gas pipeline.  For Sam Fife’s the Move, hundreds of checks equaling almost $1000 apiece was quite a substantial yearly financial income as all members of his cult were required to give over all child support monies, dividends and any other income that might come into the compound’s membership.

In Alaska the sexual abuse continued, as The Move of God still created a safe haven for pedophiles, believing they could deliver the demon of pedophilia out of a person or worse, not acknowledging it even existed.  Many times when an adult was caught with a child, the child was blamed for the act, being accused of demons of sensuality, lust and seduction.  I, along with other children, still experienced child labor, withholding of food as discipline and severe mental and physical abuse.  Though Elders and their children seemed somewhat protected from the treatment I endured, I have since learned from survivors that some Elder’s children were not exempt from abuse within their family unit.

The compound was monitored 24 hours a day with armed men and we were held to strict rules such as females being only allowed to wear skirts, men keeping their hair short and face absent of facial hair and members needing Elder permission to work certain jobs or marry. My mother, sister and I were ex-communicated from the cult when I was fourteen; reasons I won’t detail here as not to spoil the story for those who plan to read “Cult Child”.  We moved to Martin, Tennessee, where my grandmother lived.

Life in society outside of The Move of God was severe culture shock for me. My mother had been molded into a narcissistic, stone cold woman who operated as if our past had never existed. I lived my life as a chameleon.  I had never watched television or even had electricity.  As a family, we wore a thick mask of functionality over severe dysfunction such as alcoholism, drug use and intra-family hatred and lashing out.   Not only was I unfamiliar with the culture of my peers, but I also faced severe poverty since The Move sent us away with nothing but the clothes on our back and very few belongings.   As a teenager, I struggled to fit in, finding my way as I could and going where I was accepted.  This led me down a very dark and long path, a story I am detailing now as I write the sequel to “Cult Child”. 

After my mother passed away in 2007, I decided that I was ready to tell my story without having to fear her backlash.  I felt that using a character outside of myself would allow me the safety net of separating myself from the many layers of my abuse in order to be able to tell my story.  So I wrote “Cult Child” through the eyes of a little girl named Sila Caprin.

I naively convinced myself that I would fly through this story, setting a very short deadline for myself.  It would be a very long seven years traveling into my past experiences.  I could never have predicted what was going to emerge when I finally decided to dive in.  I suffered from deep night terrors, dreams that I could not speak of for days, unable to even turn on the light in a room.  I lost my job.  I avoided writing sometimes for months.  I spent days weeping and grieving experiences I had never allowed myself to face.  I wrote an album of songs and lullabies for Sila, as we travelled together into the dark recesses of the torture I had experienced.

Poetry has been an incredible outlet for my emotions.  I published my first poetry collection, “Dusted Shelves” in 2013, available in both paperback and audio spoken version.  As a child I was disallowed a voice, an identity or any forms of authenticity.  Our artistic endeavors, when noticed, were quickly stifled.  In adulthood creativity became my rite of passage.

A major change came when I discovered the power of my gratitude. When I began to focus on gratitude in my lowest moments, sometimes the pain didn’t overtake me as severely.  I found myself creating my own system of utilizing my senses and went on to create and publish an interactive journal, “Becoming Gratitude”, available for purchase through my website as well.  

Much of my recovery from mind control I did on my own grasping at information as I could find it.  The internet opened a library of information that helped me understand how my experiences had resulted in certain behaviors I carried.  I eventually found a counselor who further helped me define my experiences, giving me a language by which I could communicate what was happening in my head, the way I viewed the world and why.  I found my way back to my critical thinking. I came to understand that although I am diagnosed, the true mental illness lays in the minds of my abusers.

The journey out of cult survival is a rocky one.  My experiences changed me forever.   I have learned acceptance.  I have learned self-soothing and most importantly, I have learned and am constantly re-defining my boundaries based on what makes me feel in a safe and loving space.  I encourage all abuse survivors to support one another in this journey of recovery.  We need our voices continually being heard until no child is harmed again.


About the Author:  
Vennie Kocsis is an author, poet, painter and songwriter residing in the Pacific Northwest.  Her work can be explored in depth at her website, http://venniekocsis.com. Vennie also blogs about varying aspects of her post cult life at her blog, http://venniewrites.com