"She wasn't permanently lost, but my aunt joined the Children of God in the 1970s. She was down in Texas doing student teaching, and one day her roommate called my grandparents to say she hadn't seen her in a couple days and was pretty sure some people took her to Mexico.
My grandparents immediately drove down to Mexico, hired a cult deprogrammer, and rented a house near the cult compound. They basically blew as much money as they could afford, but never saw her before they had to give up and go back home.
A little while later, my aunt called home to tell her parents she was getting married. They told her to wait until spring break, and that they would come down for the wedding, but she said she couldn't. A few months after that, she brought her new husband to the US to meet the family and she and her husband (who is originally from Mexico) moved back to the States with their first two kids in the early '80s once they finally left the cult.
They're still married today, and I just learned about the whole thing 6 months ago. She always seemed pretty normal, though she's way into a lot of MLM and pseudoscience stuff. I kind of heard vague things about a cult or something over the past decade or two and kind of wondered how she met my uncle.
My younger aunt who told me the story also mentioned my aunt and uncle going by biblical names rather than their given names when they first came back to meet my family."
"My aunt became a born-again Christian and joined this crazy fundamentalist church. Within a few months, she had married a man she met there and pulled her kids out of public school to enroll them at the church's tiny private school.
The church doesn't allow women to cut their hair, so she quit her job as a hairstylist. She started wearing ankle length skirts and made my cousin do the same. My cousin wasn't allowed to wear normal clothes. When we went on our annual beach vacation, my cousin couldn't wear a bathing suit, she had to wear knee length board shorts and a tee shirt.
Joining that church completely changed my aunt's personality. She used to be a really cool person, she would take me and my cousins to do all kinds of fun stuff when we were kids. I remember her being my 'fun aunt.' She was also a talented painter and extremely creative.
She doesn't paint at all now. She became completely submissive to her new husband, who is super manipulative and a compulsive liar. I don't think she's being physically abused, but she's not allowed to leave the house alone. She can only go places with her adult son or her husband.
My mom tried to convince her to leave, and now she is banned from talking to my mom on the phone unless her husband supervises the conversation. He works from home, so he is literally always around micromanaging her life.
Joining that church also changed my cousin's life. She was probably about 12 or 13 when this all happened. They wouldn't let her see her old friends, she was only allowed to associate with people from church. We lived in different states, but we were extremely close and she used to come visit my family several times a year. Those trips stopped.
I could only see her when we drove out to where they lived, and even then she wasn't allowed to be unsupervised with my mom (who was deemed a bad influence because she called my aunt and her husband out on their fake ways).
It was really hard on my cousin. She ended up legally emancipating herself at 16 and moving in with our grandparents. It was an ordeal, the church 'school' she had been going to was unaccredited and essentially useless, so she had to repeat a lot of high school online.
The happy news is that my cousin finished high school, went to college, and now she's happily married to a great guy. She's totally normal and super cool. My aunt is still in the church, but honestly now that my cousin is free from all that mess, I could give a hoot.
I kind of hate her for what she put her daughter through. It definitely really hurts my mom though. She was super close to my aunt their entire lives until she joined this church. Now they basically have no relationship.
Their phone calls and visits are supervised by her husband. All she ever wants to talk to my mom about is converting her and saving us from going to the underworld, even though my mom is a Christian and goes to a normal church every Sunday.
It's really sad, and I feel bad for my mom. Ever since their other sister passed away unexpectedly a couple years ago, my mom has been pretty lonely. She tells me sometimes that she feels like she's lost both her sisters."
"A family friend was a prominent young chess player who, at a stressful crossroads in life, had a nervous breakdown at a tournament in Budapest. He went outside, came in contact with a cult, and joined.
He's been there for a few years, and within a couple weeks he withdrew all the money from his bank account and asked his family to not contact him. Apparently, they later were allowed to and he spoke broken English and was more comfortable in a Hungarian language.
I don't know the name of the cult or what they believe in, which has been part of the weirdness of the whole situation for me. I'm not in the area where the family lives anymore and haven't been in direct contact with them in a little bit.
I'm frustrated because I've always wanted to do something to help the family, but I don't know enough about the cult. From what I understand, they were a Christianity based cult.
When his family talked to him, it was in person in a public space in Budapest with a translator with him. They said that he didn't seem to remember American slang that he used to use, and his general body language and demeanor didn't seem like himself.
He was at a really stressful time of his life. He definitely had the deal where he was exhausted by the thing he was super good at (chess) because of how much time he'd put in. That, coupled with expectations from family and uncertainties about religion put him in a precarious mental state. I think they just got to him at the wrong time and brainwashed him. It's obviously very manipulative, and I don't know what can be done about it."
"I lost an aunt and cousin to Weight Down Ministries. It's run by this woman named Gwen Shamblin, a real nut job. She lives in Franklin, Tennessee, in this huge mansion where she broadcasts live church webinars multiple times a week.
People all over join in and host these 'church gatherings' at their homes. They get you in by introducing it as a weight loss program. Lose the weight quick and easy and never gain it back, eat what you want. So you go wow, this sounds great!
Then they slowly introduce the Bible, and she'll preach to you through online videos. Then you get recruited to a church in someone's home near you where the service lasts for FOUR hours.
You attend little private home-based churches while you are losing the weight, and while they are in the brainwashing phase. Once you show interest, they invite you to come visit the church in Tennessee and make it into a huge deal. Then, after so many visits, they convince you to move down to be closer to the 'saints.'
My cousin and aunt got sucked in, and now they moved away to live in Franklin where they worship every breath this Gwen Shamblin woman takes. Everyone that joins ends up marrying someone else inside the cult. My cousin's sister wasn't allowed in her wedding because she wasn't part of the cult.
It's pretty scary."
"Around the time I was born, my grandmother ran off and joined a Buddhist cult. My aunt almost failed out of college that semester, my mom was devastated and my grandfather was completely lost.
She had to cut all emotional ties and attachment to physical possessions. Because of that, she refused to see me or any of her other grandchildren for the two decades she was in the cult.
That being said, while she was there, she ended up caring for two other children roughly my age and became very attached to them. This further emotionally devastated my mother, and continued to strain the little contact we had from her over those years.
After 20 years, she realized that she had had enough and actually came back to my grandfather. Being the wonderful person that he is, he took her back with open arms. After being officially divorced for nearly two decades, they got remarried.
For 10 years, they had a wonderful time together and she slowly began coming back into the family. I had never known her before, but the older members of the family noted she had changed significantly in her time away. She just wanted to talk all the time and connect with people as if trying to make up for lost time, but she wasn't particularly good at listening because she was completely deaf in one ear.
Unbeknownst to the rest of us, in that 10 year period back with us, she put her master's degree in English to work and chronicled her entire experience. She talked about struggling to find purpose, and her husband not really being able to relate as a PhD candidate who felt he knew his purpose.
She went on to talking about finding someone else who seemed to understand. This man offered her a solution, and they slowly became much closer. It was written almost as a love story, which tore at my grandfather.
Then the story talks about her deciding to take the plunge, to trust this other man and to divorce my grandfather and join the group. She lived in squalor with several other people where the toilet didn't work, the electricity was intermittent, plaster was peeling off the walls, and she wasn't allowed to leave. The others spoke Mandarin, but they never spoke it to my grandmother, despite her having a rudimentary grasp of the language.
She also talks about working 15-hour shifts in a convenience store for the 'good of the cult,' for years on end. After 20 years, she realized it was time to admit that it wasn't the correct choice for helping her find purpose.
She seemed to really enjoy her time back with the family, but after just a decade of being home she had a nocturnal stroke and was hospitalized with brain damage severe enough that there was no chance of recovery or further mental function.
Because of her very clear personal wishes, we took her off life support. She stubbornly stayed alive after that, which gave everyone in the entire extended family time to come say goodbye before she passed an astounding two weeks later."
"My father's side of the family is part of 'The Message' cult. My grandmother, aunts, and most of my cousins believe that a man named William Branham was a prophet that spoke to God and could perform miracles.
Branham was part of the post-WWII healing revivals. Apparently, he also had some role in the Jonestown massacre. Branham died in the '60s, but his followers do some crazy stuff. I've gone to my grandma's church, and the service is usually them listening to a tape recording of one of Branham's sermons. It's weird.
Women are not permitted to wear pants, cut their hair, wear makeup, or practice birth control. Women are encouraged to stay at home and care for children. It's seen as shameful if a woman has to work outside of the home.
Other rules include: no adult beverages, men cannot wear shorts, no secular music, and no playing card games. People are encouraged to 'date within their own race.' Many strict families won't own a television or computer. Reading books is not encouraged.
Most children are homeschooled and discouraged to attend college or learn on their own. Young men often learn a skilled trade, usually taught by a father, uncle, or family friend.
My father is not a believer and is only tolerated because he helps provide for his mother (my grandmother). Even though they're only a phone call away, the church pressures them not to engage with non-believers.
It's hard to visit them sometimes. I'm a short-haired lesbian who wears mostly cargo pants. While nobody ever says it, I feel judged and excluded. My uncle thinks I'm possessed by a demon. When my grandmother opens photo albums, there's a lot of faces I can't recognize, family I never get to know. I know one day I'll be asked not to come to Christmas dinner or weddings. It hurts."
"My older brother joined a cult. He had a huge drinking problem most of his life, and substance problems in high school. He joined the Coast Guard after school, but he was getting into trouble at work, coming in hungover all the time, and not really caring about his job.
Despite the trouble at work, one of his superiors really cared about him and wanted to help him. He recommended that my brother start going to church. So he did, and it really turned things around for the better. My family and I were all so proud of him, and he was really happy for the first time in a long time.
Then it just progressed from there. What first seemed helpful started to get out of control. The cult that he's in he found online. Obviously they don't outright say they're a cult, my brother saw it as an online community that supported his religion, and made him feel like he had others to talk to.
At first we just thought he was taking the whole religion thing too seriously, but then he went AWOL for one of their meetups. He ended up getting discharged from the military, and then he began calling my parents less and less.
He moved to the city where the cult is based and got some job using connections from the church. He and I were still close, and we called/emailed a few times a week. Starting before his discharge from the Coast Guard, in just about every conversation he would bring up doomsday and punishment.
Eventually, he began telling me that God told him that he can't change me, and that unless I decide to accept Jesus as my savior, he could no longer contact me.
We haven't talked in years, and I was the last one he cut off. However, he still talks to our biological dad once every few months. My brother told my dad that God spoke to him through prayer, and told him he's still got a chance to save my dad.
I honestly think he's just too afraid to completely let go of his old life and entire family, and that's why he still keeps contact with my dad. He gets updates on me through him, but I've come to terms with the possibility of never seeing my brother again.
After his discharge from the military, he met a girl from the cult and they have three lovely children. Seriously, they are adorable! My dad sends me pictures. While I don't agree with his beliefs, and being cut out of his life hurt a lot, I am happy that he's content and has found somewhere he feels he belongs. He seems like a great father."
"My uncle had been traveling around India, and I guess that's how he found his 'meditation centre.' He became weird, and stopped wanting to hang around the family when he joined Brahma Kumaris.
When he finished traveling, he was a bit odd, but we just thought it was him settling back in. Some time goes by, and my grandparents tell him he has mail that he needs to come collect. He waits until my grandparents are out at a specific time, and then goes and gets his mail and takes all his belongings.
We haven't seen him for a while, and he has been taken out of the will, as the 'church' requires you to donate all you have to it. You have to do stuff like let members stay in your home or use your car if they don't have their own
Recently we tried to email him to see how he's doing, and he replied asking us to not contact him anymore because it's an invasion of his privacy.
We looked up the meditation centre he goes to near us, and all the photos have 1 guy and about 15 women with him. They seem great and just peaceful at first, but then you dive in and find out their manipulating ways."
"My sister's husband was a youth pastor and an all-around super cool guy. I looked up to him a lot. He was athletic, musical, had good looks, and was just overall an extremely bright and talented dude.
He met some people who run a restaurant called the Yellow Deli in Chattanooga, Tennessee. They're part of a cult called the Twelve Tribes. Some of their beliefs are super whacked out, and they believe that they're the only ones getting into heaven while everyone else isn't.
After he met with them and learned about their culture and mentality, he left my sister and their newborn a couple weeks later. He wanted my sister and their newborn to come with him into the cult, but in order to do so, you have to leave everything behind and work for the cult full time.
Any hobbies or passions you had outside of the cult were banned. Your life had to be completely dedicated to the cult. My brother-in-law would not negotiate and would not come back. Either my sister and their newborn joined, or he was leaving them.
Obviously, my sister saw through the ridiculousness and decided not to go with him. It was devastating though, and they separated. It took a big toll on our families. Imagine a having a close brother-like figure, and all of a sudden he becomes someone totally different.
Fortunately, since then, my sister has remarried to an outstanding guy and they're a happy family. My niece is now 8, and she's so big and beautiful with loving parents. That's all I care about. To my sister's previous husband: don't ever come back. Otherwise, you'll have a lot of angry uncles to the little newborn princess you left who would love to kick your butt."
"My mother grew up in the exclusive brethren (also known as the Plymouth brethren). If you haven't heard of them before, they can't communicate with anyone who's not in the religion, no radios or TVs, extremely strict rules, women with long hair, skirts and scarves, etc.
Since she would never have been able to go to university, my grandpa decided to get them shut up (basically ostracized from the community whilst also being in it), then excommunicated entirely.
All was (somewhat) well until my grandpa died, then my grandma went back into the religion. They went around a couple of their rules so we could see her now and then, but before she died I hadn't seen her for years.
Somebody higher up sent us an invitation to the funeral, and my mom and I went. It was a singularly bizarre experience, but I was grateful for the chance to see her one final time. She loved me a lot, once, and it really hurt when she chose the church over us."
"I had two cousins who went to Jonestown. I was born 2 years after their deaths, so everything I know is a kind of family lore. They were my Dad's best friends, and he rarely talked about them, but my mom was pretty open about it.
They joined in San Francisco. It began as a utopian community, which followed the teachings of Christ. They gave literally everything they had away: blankets, food, whatever the group had, they would give away. At the time, communes were common, so what they were doing (moving in with a bunch of like-minded people) didn't seem that odd. To their family, it seemed like an idealistic hippy community.
Then they started asking for money. Always under the guise of feeding the poor, or something like that. Their parents sent all the money they had, but my cousins just kept asking for more. This was how the cult leaders isolated members from their families. If the family kept giving money, then the members could keep in touch. If the money dried up, the family was blamed, and the members were cut off from contacting them.
My parents were living in Seal Beach at the time. My mom says the first time they noticed the cousins acting a bit strange was when they were on a mission trip with Jones. I believe he was preaching at the Crystal Cathedral, and he brought a bus of his followers down.
It rained. Like one of these rare downpours in southern California. The bus didn't have a windshield, so everyone was just getting soaked. So Jones walked up to the front of the bus, held out his hands and said, 'Storm, stop!' and the rained stopped.
After my cousins related that story to my parents, it was the first sign they had been brainwashed. I asked my mom what her response was, and she said, 'We just laughed. It was so ridiculous. We had no idea what was coming, because no one had heard of a cult.'
By the time they left for Jonestown, my dad says he knew he'd never see them again. But at the same time, he was shocked when it happened. We have letters from their time in the church all the way up to in Jonestown, so you can read their progression into brainwashing. In the end, one freely took the Kool-aid, and the other was injected with cyanide. Their deaths have been ever-present in my family."
"I had a bizarre experience with my good friend from college. I thought he was sort of strange at first, but I realized quickly that he was just trying to be friendly, and so we formed a fast friendship.
We had similar taste in music and are both musicians, so we would occasionally play or listen to music together. We'd often go on walks and help each other out through rough times, and we'd have a blast together when things were going well.
There was this girl he had fallen hard for, and he dedicated a lot of his time trying to win her over, but she had a boyfriend back in her hometown. When it was time for her to go back for the summer, they parted ways and it broke his heart. I believe this was the catalyst for him joining a cult: the Hare Krishnas.
Shortly thereafter, I transferred to a school back in my hometown, but my friend and I would stay in contact pretty regularly. One day, he brought up Krishna, and being a generally open-minded person talking with a close friend, I was all ears.
I listened to him talk about it, and congratulated him on finding something he was so interested in outside of music. I guessed his heart was still broken, so I figured anything was better than wallowing in pain.
As the days went on, our talks grew more and more focused on Krishna and the Hare Krishna group, and less diverse. He insisted on sending me a book about Hare Krishna, and I agreed. He also sent me some beads they use to pray. Again, I was happy my friend had found something he was enjoying so much, but it was beginning to dawn on me that this might not be just a hobby.
More weeks went by, and now he directed every topic to Hare Krishna. He was laser-focused on it, he wanted me to read the Hare Krishna book with him over the phone, and he wanted me to give my thoughts on it.
Whenever I brought up the fact that it reminded me of Buddhism or anything else, he would claim that Krishna was, in fact, the true God, and that Buddha and Jesus were creations of his. I wasn't upset (I'm agnostic atheist myself), so I just sort of shrugged it off and said 'Ok, man.' It was getting a little tiresome at that point.
Then he started suggesting I join the Hare Krishna group. I explained to him I only had a few years left in university and I wanted to finish what I started. His response was, 'Well, you like music, and you would be playing so much music as a Hare Krishna.' 'Yeah, thanks man, but I really just want to finish my degree.'
This went on for some time until he realized I wasn't budging, and then I stopped hearing from him for about a year. I couldn't even get ahold of him.
Sometime after that, I got a text from his mom, and she explained that he had given her my number and that he had been detained while trying to book passage to India. He was sleep deprived in the airport, and not wearing any pants.
He had taken it quite literally when he was told people really didn't need more than a couple of hours of sleep per day, or more than a few grains of rice. She asked me to call him, and she explained that he had been cutting off contact with his friends and family and that all he ever wanted to talk about was, you guessed it, Hare Krishna.
So, I called my friend up and tried asking him what happened, but he wouldn't explain anything. Instead, he asked me to get the book he had sent me, and he told me to read passages of it to him. I read a few, and then attempted to ask him more about what was happening. It didn't work. That was years ago, and I haven't heard from him since. I still miss him and the times we had."
"I have a bunch of friends in a Korean Christian cult. I hung out with their group for about a year before I stopped going. There are actually a bunch of cults out of Korea. The one I was with is called Shincheonji, Church of Jesus Christ, the Temple of the Tabernacle of the Testimony.
It was a slow process that happened over the course of a year. They spent that year slowly teaching a new way of looking at the Bible. I found it all quite convincing, but I just didn't care. The goal of each student is that they desire to be one of the 144,000 found in Revelations who are sealed with the word of God.
My personal philosophy is that if there are a limited number of spaces for someone to be saved, I'll let someone else take the seat and I'll look for another path. There are little benchmarks to be able to qualify as being sealed, and that involves a 100 question test.
They call it a test, but they give you the answers and it's the students' responsibility to repeat the answer word for word. I don't think that's a good test, because a test that measures concepts is more valuable than a test of rote memorization.
When you become a member, you cannot question the teachings, only accept them because they were given to Man Hee Lee by Jesus. To question MHL is to question Jesus, so shut up and accept everything you are told. Pretty basic indoctrination. My friends bought into it, and they've been in for a few years now, so they are pretty much set.
They teach classes on how to approach different scenarios: how to introduce/invite people to SCJ and how to respond to being told that SCJ is a cult. I assume there is a class on how to talk to someone like me who was in the church but left.
It takes a few hours for them to respond to my texts, because before they say anything they have to clear it with one of the higher ups at the church. So many questions while I was in were answered with, 'We should ask teacher about that.' Now that I'm out, I can guarantee that our whole conversation is screened and monitored.
The funny thing about the lessons is that everyone was acting like their mind was being blown every time. About 1/2 to 2/3 of the class are maintainers, or members of the church acting like they are new students. They're terrible actors.
Many of your interactions in SCJ will be with 3 people: the one who invited you, the teacher of your small group, and a maintainer. Your maintainer will typically have similar interests to you. They aren't picked at random.
If you find yourself in a bible study where everything is in Korean and they don't attach themselves to another church, it is a cult. There are quite a few Korean cults, so it doesn't necessarily mean they are Shincheonji.
It is important to note that nobody is held their against their will. I left with no issues. They all genuinely want to be there, so if you're in you can just stop going. They're not gonna chase you down, at least in my experience."
"My grandpa was 16 years old in 1941 Germany when he was forced to join the army. One day government officials came to his school, and he and his friends were told they would have to go to war.
They were all deployed in the east, which meant he had to fight the Red Army. He talked very little about it, but it must have been really horrible there. I remember him talking about how friends were losing limbs left and right.
He ended up in Stalingrad, which is called Volgograd today. It was one of the largest battle in World War II, with over a million casualties. I don't know the details, but after the Nazis got control of the city, they were cut off by the Red Army in Operation Uranus.
Stalingrad was surrounded, and Hitler ordered that they accrue supplies by air and be freed from the outside, neither of which happened. My grandpa got sick with jaundice and was on the last medical train that was allowed to leave the city before they shut everything down and started the siege.
He came home and eventually recovered, but every single one of his friends died in Stalingrad or was captured by the Red Army because they had no food or ammunition left.
After all this happened and Nazi-Germany was finally defeated in 1945, he went on living his life. He finished school, met my grandma, married her, and made a small fortune in the post-war economic boom powered by the US.
Some years pass by, and one day Jehovah's Witnesses show up at his door. All these years he was thankful that he escaped out of that city, and wasn't really sure whom to thank. Somehow these people convinced him that it was Jehovah, he visited some ceremonies, and eventually became a witness.
My grandparents had three kids, one of which is my mother, and over time it gets worse and worse with everything JW related. They don't have Christmas, and none of the kids are allowed to celebrate his or her birthday.
When he started telling them to drop out of school to learn craftsmanship because the world was going to end soon and they'll need people to build paradise on earth, my grandma had had enough. They split up, and she took the kids and raised them on her own. He eventually remarried someone of the JW community.
All my life it was very hard to deal with my grandpa because he wanted us all to be JW. I remember many fights between my mother and him when he started talking to us kids about it. He was a smart man once, and I don't blame him for making the wrong decision because I don't can't even imagine what he went through in the war."