My name is Olivia and I was born into the Worldwide Church of God in New Zealand. My story begins before my birth with my parents, both recently divorced single parents. I have no idea why my father joined, but to be honest I have no clue why Dad does any of the things he does. Mum joined after the death of her youngest child with the encouragement of her mother— already a member but who had never been right after a car accident and serious head trauma. My parents were encouraged to marry soon after being “introduced” despite mum’s later claims she thought he was ugly and uninteresting. Of course they did marry, they were poor and my brother and I were conceived in the late ’80s. I didn’t realise my church was different until after I left. We met on Saturdays in a primary school hall, I played on a blanket (quietly) on the floor only standing to sing hymns. Occasionally us children were taken off in groups for bible study. I learned about God the Father, God the son and the Holy Ghost, unclean animals/seafood, to believe that Christ would save me (from what I don’t know) and that it was fun to place money in the collection basket. In my congregation nobody was baptised and I had never heard the name Herbert Armstrong nor Joseph Tkach. I don’t remember the YOU program or YES program. My dad read the Plain Truth, baked unleavened bread for a week every year and took us on holiday for the Feast during what I now know was Christmas. Unsurprisingly my parents separated when I was four, their custody arrangement meant I spent weekends with dad so I attended church with him. Mum turned up less and less over the years as I believe other members began to blame her for the marriage breakdown because she “disobeyed” her husband. Little did they realise how abusive and manipulative my father was and how obviously wrongly matched they were.
When I was about five, dad took me into a back room of the church with the minister and told me God was going to take my asthma away. (Being as I lived between two homes my parents mostly left me to carry my own inhalers so they didn’t have to and because I needed them so often.) The minister knelt with me for some time praying and anointing my forehead, afterwards I was so happy knowing I wouldn’t be sick anymore. I threw out the aforementioned inhalers. On returning me to mums house Sunday night you think dad might mention “by the way our daughter has been cured,” knowing that mum was absent from church that week, but he didn’t. Needless to say within a couple of days I was struggling to breathe at a neighbour’s birthday party trying to explain between gasps why I wasn’t asthmatic anymore, to a group of concerned non church-goers.
The year I turned seven I spent the first half of the summer holidays with dad. On the last night, one family from the congregation had a party we attended— they lived on a farm an hour away— and at the end of the night instead of taking us home ready for mum to collect us the next day, Dad left me and my younger brother there. He told us we were not allowed to see or call mum again that she was trying to take us away from the rest of the family, I had no clue when he was planning to come back for us. I remember the phone being unplugged from the wall and going to sleep on that family’s couch. I was awoken by yelling and then mum appeared and told us to get in the car, someone at church had blabbed dad’s plan and mum had rounded up some friends to fend off the congregation members while she grabbed us. We drove all night and spent weeks living in different motels, it was during that time both my parents were officially asked never to attend church again— and neither have I. I have moved around a lot since then and have never met another person who had heard of WCG until today, that person gave me her psychologist’s number in case I want to talk about my “life in a cult.” I was surprised to say the least. I am now 28, living in Australia and 100% atheist. I don’t celebrate Christmas in a big way because it feels a little strange and there is too much emphasis on the commercial side. I have recently started to experiment eating seafood and bacon but it is a slow process. I think growing up watching my dad make poor decisions that affected the whole family has made me become more of a feminist and more vocal with my opinions when I believe I’m right. I guess I am lucky I got out early.