Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Califa: Jewel of the Favela

Turning 50 the first of October, I felt I should make plans for something I’d look forward to, rather than dread as the date grew nearer. I had enough frequent flyer miles for a ticket to Europe or South America. After two wonderful trips to Brazil, I decided on a two-week adventure in Rio de Janeiro.

As I started making plans, I thought I would like to do something different this trip. Being an artist myself, somehow I wanted to make contact with an artist who lived in a favela (slum). My desire was to meet the artist at his home, and talk to him about his art and his life. I had no idea how to make this happen, and even Brazilian friends would tell me I was crazy to even think of going to a favela due to the violence. My determination did not allow me to waver from this goal.

I started posting ads on travel related websites to see if anyone knew of an artist who lived in a favela, but usually only got suggestions to go on an organized favela tour, while others told me the tours were a waste of time and money. I thought it sounded demeaning to the residents for their neighborhood to be a tourist attraction because of their poverty.

Several weeks later, I received a response from a young lady in Rio named Roberta Tavares. Reading her first e-mail, she seemed as excited about my quest as I was. Roberta told me about a man named Califa who lived in a favela known as Ramos who sounded like a good candidate. Not only was he an artisan as both a maker of jewelry and sculpture, but also a philosopher. In retrospect, I see Roberta as a literal answer to prayer.

After the 30-hour trip from Honolulu, leaving Brazilian immigration, I saw my friend Fabrizio who kindly offered to pick me up at the airport. As I was riding with him on the highway towards my Copacabana apartment, I saw policemen with bullet proof vests and machine guns at every intersection. This was “in case there was any trouble”, according to Fabrizio. I suddenly thought of my mother’s words of warning the morning her phone call woke me up a week before my departure. “They are killing white people in Brazil”, she said with a tone of panic in her voice! “I think you should cancel your trip, even if you lose money.” Though I checked out several news websites as well as the U.S. State Department’s, I saw nothing viable to take such drastic action.

Rio is one of the world's most violent cities, with an annual homicide rate of about 50 killed per 100,000 inhabitants. (Less than three weeks after returning to Honolulu, I read a news report that 12 had been killed in two Rio favelas during a drug raid. One of the casualties was a 4 year old boy.)

Ten days after my arrival in Rio, and meeting Roberta once for drinks, coconut shrimp, and a decadent chocolate dessert, I met her near my apartment so we could travel together to visit Califa in a distant favela. There is no way I would have been able to find where to go without Roberta’s help, even if I were fluent in Portuguese. We travelled about 45 minutes in a crowded van to get to our destination. There were no bus stops. If people needed a ride, they would simply wave down the driver to get on the van, or let the driver know when they had reached their destination.

All of a sudden, Roberta informed me that we had arrived at Ramos favela. We were at the bottom of a hill that began the way to Califa’s home. A grocery store was across the street. Since Roberta had told me that there was no running water in their home (it was delivered by truck once a month), I thought we should at least bring the family some bottled water. Prices were much cheaper than in Copacabana or Ipanema. We also bought them some chicken, beef, lunchmeat, cheese, olives (I think Roberta thought that was strange, but they are a favorite of mine.), and bread. I especially wanted to bring them this gift since they had graciously offered to have us come in time for lunch.

As we started up the hill, I could not believe that this dream I’d had for months was suddenly turning into reality. There was an old woman by her upstairs window looking down at us. I called out to her, “Boa tarde.” (Good afternoon.). The woman looked at her watch and remarked, “Sim (yes), boa tarde! I thought it was still “bom dia” (good morning).

We did not have to ascend as far as I feared until we were at Califa’s vine-covered home in the heart of the favela. Califa came to the door wearing a big smile on his face and a Rastafarian-looking hat that once covered long dreadlocks. There had been a tumor on his brain on which he had recently had surgery. He was now undergoing chemotherapy and other cancer treatments.

Once inside, we met his wife Marcia and son Kauam. It was obvious as soon as we arrived that there was much love in their home as well as abundant hospitality. As we walked up the stairs to the next floor, there was a window with a panoramic view of the harbor, and a guava tree so close I could have picked one off the tree by reaching out of the window. There were marks on the concrete walls where stray bullets had landed as a result of battles between drug lords of neighboring favelas. We got comfortable on the two couches they had and began our visit. Califa spoke some English, but to make it easier and not be misunderstood, Roberta was able to interpret for us.

It did not take long to be absorbed in the world of Califa and his family. Kauam greeted me in English. He had no money for proper English lessons, but would learn from books on his own. Each time Roberta would visit, he would try out a few new English words on her. Kauam proudly showed me the numerous medals he had won in copeira (a cross between fighting and dance).

It was obvious that Califa had a heart for his friends and neighbors. He felt that due to the poverty that was prevalent there, its residents had a small world perspective. There was no incentive for the children to learn English, for they could never imagine themselves in a situation that would warrant using it. The government gave them no motivation to learn, and the people simply accepted their lot in life. Califa realized that to learn English meant to get ahead in life. That is why he encouraged his son to gain knowledge of English. He remarked that, “Children need to be shown direction while they are young and pliable before they are older and set in their ways”.

Roberta pointed out the computer in the room which had been promised to Kauam for his twelfth birthday. Kauam’s parents sacrificed to buy him the computer as an investment in his future. This would help him to learn, succeed, and be able to earn more in life. Kauam would also make bracelets to sell, and he would save the money to help finance his education. Kauam’s goal was to be able to help his parents by studying hard for a job with better prospects.

Most of the residents of the favela only concentrated on their basic needs of food and clothing. They did not have the luxury of growing intellectually. Califa said, “I do not have a conflict in being poor. If you have a good soul, you can be happy. When the people want to buy the basic necessities in life and struggle at that, it causes not only depression, but a poor soul. As a result, those who are in a position to give them work can underpay them”. Even though the people know what is going on & that they should be better compensated, they simply accept it, as “at least they will have money for bread”.

I asked Califa what made him different. He said, “I am always looking to not be restrictive. I do not want to be a person who lives in a box. I always want to learn new things, and growing in wisdom is more important than money. I may have grown up poor, but that does not mean I grew up stupid. Wisdom gives stability and a relationship with God. There is something bigger than this life. Each day God gives us gives the opportunity for us to change what we can or live with what we must. You either have God in your heart, or fear, and I didn’t have space for fear.”

Califa had been crafting his jewelry and sculptures for 23 years. He acknowledges that it is a gift from God. For 14 years he had worked at polishing diamonds, but seeing that his boss was dishonest and would charge one price and then change quality diamonds for those of a lesser quality, he left that profession. It was his cousin in the state of Espirito Santo who recognized Califa’s gift as a craftsman and encouraged him in that direction.

Being a great admirer of God and nature, Califa likes to use things from nature in his work such as semi-precious stones, feathers, bamboo, and seeds from Brazil and Africa. He enjoyed finding shells on the beach, making them into a work of art, and bringing them back to life as an object of beauty. While creating, Califa would use that time as therapy. He would write poetry and contemplate things such as love and nature.

Califa and Marcia would take the products which had been created on mostly rainy days to sell them by walking 8-10 kilometers a day on the beaches of Ipanema and Copacabana.

Due to Califa’s battle with cancer, he was not as strong as he was which made it difficult for him to sell his crafts on the beaches of Rio as it was hard for him to walk. I was amazed at his attitude, and how positive he was. He said, “I thanked God for this trial, as most people do not get the chance to have a life-threatening illness to really evaluate their lives. Some are simply killed by a passing bus.” I saw no fear of death in his life, but an attitude of gratefulness, love and hope that there would be a future.

After talking for some time, lunch was ready. Marcia had prepared a delicious meal of pasta with cheese, hamburger, and ham in it with refreshing maracuj√° (passion fruit) juice to drink. While we were eating, Califa’s daughter Luciana came by with a beautiful smile. Luciana had given Califa a grandchild named Luca.

As we ate, Califa remarked that he was not a fan of organized religion. “If you’re the Pope, a man who drinks from a golden cup, you need to take care of your flock. How can the Pope say, `Brothers, I am with you` in a world of injustice and hunger and not do more?” I couldn’t help but notice from the streets of Ramos that there was a church that looked like a castle which rose up high in the distance.

After we ate, he said, “Let’s go for a walk.” As we walked the streets of a place most people only see as dwellings on a far-off hillside, I felt a sense of joy & appreciation for the gift God had given me in making this possible. Walking the often narrow paths through the favela, it reminded me of walking the narrow cobblestone streets of a medieval town in Italy.

We came upon a community center Califa told me was in danger of being closed. Since the government would offer no assistance in advancing the prospects of a better life for the people of the favela, 100 families there had pledged R$5. reais (US$2.75) a month to open a community center. The center offered legal assistance, beginning computer classes, and internet access. It also offered courses in mechanics, English lessons, tutoring in Portuguese, and math. A gynecologist would come to the center to offer medical and birth control information to the women of the area. It cost R$1,400. reais (US$750.) a month to keep the community center running, but there were only 60 of those initial 100 families who were still paying their small pledge (the cost of a few beers) each month, though the families of those who quit paying were still using its services.

Califa wanted to talk some more to the director of the community center, so he told Roberta and me that we could go look around and take photos in the neighborhood. He said we would be safe as there was not the crime of most favelas there since there were a couple policemen who lived in the neighborhood. He pointed to another favela across a highway and remarked, “That is where the shooting and violence takes place, where the drug lords are in control of the area.”

As Roberta and I walked through the narrow pathways, we saw a little girl about 11 sitting in a doorway wearing a T-shirt with a Brazilian flag on it. When Roberta asked if I could take a photo of her with the little girl, the girl said something in Portuguese to Roberta and left. When I asked what she had said, Roberta told me, “She said she needed to put some lipstick on.”

As Roberta and I walked, she mentioned to me that Califa would be turning 50 on October 9th, and that they were planning a surprise party for him since “turning 50 should be a special event in our lives.” I had not told Roberta that I would be turning 50 as well in a few days.

When we got back to the house, Califa happily brought out the collection of jewelry he had created. I was impressed by the intricate design and color of his versatile creations. I bought several items for myself, family members, and friends, and still only spent R$50. (US$26.). Califa and Marcia seemed very grateful for my purchase, but I was the one who was grateful for being allowed into the lives of such precious and beautiful people, and for the honor of taking away, some of Califa’s attractive creations. He insisted that I take a bracelet I liked with the Brazilian flag on it as a gift of friendship. Roberta told me later that my small purchase would put food on their table for a week!

After talking some more and admiring Califa’s creations, Marcia offered us warm chocolate cake before they walked with us to where the road led back to where we were to catch a bus back to Rio. We hugged and Califa thanked me for taking the time to visit him and his family at their home, which he assured me was now my home as well.

It wasn’t long before Roberta and I were back in the other world of a modern Rio shopping center eating generous scoops of gelato as we spoke of the wonderful day we’d just had.

A few days later, Roberta translated an e-mail Califa had sent for me expressing his gratitude for my visit and our new friendship. He also remarked, “You could have chosen to go to the beach, but instead your option was to come here to experience another reality.” He also said they were waiting for my next visit and again reminded me that their home was my home.

I was happy that I had not allowed fear from others or even myself to keep me from making this wonderful trip to Brazil happen. Often times, unjustifiable fear holds us back from realizing dreams as well as experiencing richer things in life. I was also glad I had focused on my goal to do what I could to make the meeting of an artist in a favela reality. I was not deterred by not knowing how it would unfold or by those who would discourage me from this goal. It was ironic though, that a young man behind me on the flight out of Brazil was telling the person next to him, “I was mugged a couple of times while I was in Rio.”

The day after Califa wrote this e-mail, and just four days after our visit, I arrived back in Honolulu to an e-mail from Roberta telling me that Califa had died. I was shocked at this revelation, as I would have never guessed he was that close to death during our wonderful visit with him.

Now I felt even more blessed that I was able to spend time with this wonderful man and his family, and for the opportunity to photograph him, his family, and artistic creations. Looking at the expressions on Califa’s face in the photos I took of him hugging his daughter and wife, I see an expression of love and of savoring each moment as if it were his last.

A few days later, Roberta again wrote to tell me, “Tomorrow would have been Califa’s 50th birthday. As planned, we will have a party with a cake and songs that Califa would have liked. We will also have balloons to celebrate this man’s happiness. I know he would have preferred this.”

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Dreams of the Cult

I came across the above photo as I was surfing the internet yesterday. I immediately thought it was a good reflection of when I was back in the cult of YWAM (Youth With A Mission) Honolulu. Feeling naked (stripped of self esteem and of being an individual), alone & vulnerable & having to wear a mask of who they want you to be to survive.

Since I started this blog, announcing to the world of the spiritual abuse of YWAM Honolulu I had been having less frequent & less emotionally draining dreams of being back in the cult. Last night one re-surfaced. I dreamed of being back in my bedroom at YWAM Honolulu and one of the council members putting his desk where mine once was (There are no boundaries there. They simply do as they please if they are in power). As a result, I knew I had no place. I started walking to the main office, and in my mind thought that I was just killing time until I found a place to fit it in.

As I was walking towards the office, I remember seeing the base director & his wife. As I passed them, I told her that "I thought she kept looking younger rather than getting older". Once again, it was a reflection of what I thought they wanted to hear rather than the reality of life there.

I woke up feeling oppressive heaviness again, that often takes hours to lift.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Painting with Espresso

Moka Pot and Espresso Shot

Apple Pie with Coffee

Cafe Mocha and Biscotti

Cappuccino and Cinnamon

Almond Danish with Cappuccino

I had an idea recently to use espresso coffee rather than paint to do a watercolour. I Googled it & found I was not the first to try this, but started a painting anyway. I am happy with the results, so plan to do a series of them to try & market as cards or/and prints for a place like a coffee shop or kitchen. It is scary but fun to step out & try new things.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Koko Crater

1,106 steps to the Koko Crater summit! 1,206 foot elevation

Hanauma Bay

Hawai'i Kai

The lip of the crater and the sea beyond

I actually made it to the top!

I got a call the other morning from my friend Marc, who asked me if I wanted to go with him on a hike up Koko Crater in Hawai'i Kai. I love to hike & be outdoors, so was easily persuaded to join him. I did not realize what I was getting myself in for!

I felt exhausted just looking up the 1,106 steps to the top. Marc sounded enthusiastic as he remarked, “It doesn’t look so bad”. And so we began our ascent one step at a time. I often had to stop and rest as we climbed in elevation. Each time I rested, there were fewer steps before the next rest stop. We could hear the cracking of guns going off at the police shooting range in the distance. I got so exhausted that I secretly hoped one of the bullets would find me & put me out of my misery!

By the time I got about 30 paces from the top, I sat down & had never felt so exhausted in my life! I reminded Marc that “I was carrying 100 pounds more than he was with each step I took”. I honestly envisioned their having to use their cell phone to call for a helicopter to rescue me, as I looked down those 1,000 plus steps & felt nauseous at the thought of climbing back down them. After a short rest & drink from the bottled water my strength was renewed and I finished those last few steps upward.

What a gorgeous view. There was a white bird that seemed to enjoy hovering in the updraft. How free that bird looked. The 180 degree view was spectacular. I was reminded of the verse in Psalms 14:1 “The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God.” It was well worth the exhausting climb. I’d even do it again; I’d just make more rest stops along the way.

Monday, March 19, 2007

The Iranian and the Saudi

Happy Norouz!

I received an e-mail from my friend Morteza in Iran today, wishing me a "Happy Norouz"! That is the Iranian New Year. I met "Mori" in a Yahoo, Persian chat room about 5 years ago. I do not know Persian, of course, but wanted to chat with someone from "The Evil Empire" of Iran. One of the first things that Mori asked me when we started to chat was "whether or not I thought all Iranians were terrorists"? He was serious! I told him that "I did not like how the Iranian government suppresses its own people, but I knew there are a lot of good, kind Iranians, just as there are evil & good Americans". I have chatted with other Iranians who asked me that same question the first thing.

Mori & I have gotten to be good friends over the years. He does not back the Iranian government & in fact has been part of student demonstrations against the government. He has done this in a country which imprisons or “makes disappear” those who are against it. Whenever I hear of student demonstrations & arrests in Iran, I wonder if Mori might be one of them & say a quick prayer of protection for him. He longs to be free, as most people do.

Mori has been fortunate to be able to work at a job that has recently allowed him to travel to other countries. He dreams of visiting the USA, but the US penalizes all Iranians because of their lack of relations with Iran and makes it next to impossible for someone from Iran to get a US visa. There is no US Embassy or Consulate in Tehran.

I told a friend I used to work with at YWAM Honolulu about my friend Mori. She used to work with some Iranians in India & had lost contact with them. She asked, if by some chance, he might be able to locate them. By some miracle of God, he actually found them & got them back in contact with one another!

After the horrible 2003 earthquake in Bam, Iran, a city over 2,000 years old, Mori volunteered to do what he could to help in the rescue effort. Over 25,000 people died in that city I’d never heard of before that day. Mori said, “He’d never be the same after witnessing the death, injuries & destruction first hand”.

Once I was chatting with Mori, he was all excited because he’d met a beautiful young Saudi woman. Her family was vacationing in Iran, which I found unusual as most Saudis are Sunni & Iranians are Shia Muslims. (My friend Ghalib in Saudi Arabia declared his “hate of all Iranians”.) Mori is atheist. Living in an Islamic theocracy, I can understand why he’d look at the Ayatollahs and the suppression that is forced on the Persian people and not want to believe in a god that reflects them.

For the most part, Saudis hate the Iranians, as do the Iranians the Saudis. Mori & the Saudi girl fell desperately in love in spite of this. It is not always easy to tell the heart with whom you should show affection. They stayed in touch through e-mail after she returned to the KSA (Kingdom of Saudi Arabia). Their love grew for one another despite that it was “haram” (forbidden). This girl’s parents did not approve of the relationship & quickly arranged a marriage for their daughter, which broke Mori & the Saudi girl’s hearts.

Before that, Mori heard that her family was going to go on a vacation to Lebanon (before the recent war), so he arranged to go there at the same time to be able to see her.

Mori also took the risk of visiting the girl in her native Saudi Arabia. A country where it is against the law for a woman to be with a man who is not a relative! Still, her friends helped arrange a meeting & they were able to meet without being caught. I wish I could say this story had a happy ending, but it seems she will have to go ahead with the arranged marriage to a man she does not know, much less love. A woman in Saudi Arabia is forbidden to leave the country without her father or husband’s written permission.

The above story reminds me of my time at YWAM Honolulu where there was a leadership that for the most part did not reflect the love and freedom of the Saviour. They also had rules against relationships. In the Discipleship Training School I was in, it was “haram” for a single man and woman to spend any time together alone. They could not even walk together if they happened to be walking to the shopping center at the same time no matter how old they were!

If a couple felt they wanted to pursue a possible love relationship once they were on staff, they had to submit the relationship to the leadership. Only if they had the blessing of The Council, could they go on to the next step and publicly announce “they had a special relationship”. Can you imagine Jesus treating his disciples this way? YWAM likes to treat people with suspicion, rather than dare trust them with the freedom to do that which is right. That is the way of a cult.

Mori and I have exchanged gifts of friendship. Because the USA has trade sanctions with Iran, there are very few things that are allowed to be sent to Iran. I was able to send him some Lion Coffee, which he loved (and asked for more). He sent me Iranian tea as well as saffron, which is produced in his area. Saffron, by weight is the most costly of all spices.

It’s ironic that one can live in the freedom of the USA, yet be in complete bondage in a cult like YWAM Honolulu. Was living on the base at YWAM much different than living in “The Evil Empire”? I will be the first to say that at least not all of those in YWAM are “spiritual terrorists”.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Streams in the Desert

"See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland." Isaiah 43:19

Jesus has made a way through the rock, which would otherwise be impossible. This rock formation was just outside the lodge where I stayed at Glen Eyrie.

Glen Eyrie

In my last post, the focus was on my 12 years at the YWAM Honolulu cult. This post will be about how I got out of it & the healing that took place to give me the strength to do it. I will also share the catalyst that provoked change and a new beginning. People do not realize the hold a cult can have on you. In the midst of my being involved at YWAM Honolulu, for so many years I had no voice & my self-esteem had been compromised down to nothing. I felt thoroughly brainwashed & did not feel I could actually survive outside the boundaries of the cult. I wondered what was wrong with me, even though that still, small voice spoke to me that it was the leadership at the YWAM Honolulu base which was dysfunctional and broken.

During my years in the Cult, I often experienced chronic fatigue. For usually a week or more, my body felt tired, achy & weak & I would run a low fever. I now realize that this was a physical manifestation of the inward effects of the cult as I felt impotent to change my situation. Since I left, there have been fewer & fewer episodes of chronic fatigue, for which I praise God.

I have kept a daily journal since January 1, 1970. Because of this, I can go back and re-read my entries for every day that I was in YWAM Honolulu the twelve years I was there. This post is not just coming from twelve year old memories, but from a lot of those entries.

I had prayed for years and years for God to provide a way out for me from YWAM Honolulu, yet those prayers seemed to fall on deaf ears. I questioned God’s love in having me put up with so much abuse for so many years. Years can often go by while you are crying out to God, but when He decides to move showers of blessing will finally fall on the parched ground to produce fruit & freedom.

I was told by the base “Council” (Abusers) that I must attend a retreat in Colorado Springs called Rapha (which in Hebrew means Healing). It is now called “Healing for the Nations” and is based in Georgia. They would pay the $1,000. plus for me to go, though I paid for my plane ticket. Before I left, I was told that “When you get there, you need to sign something saying that they can share anything you say or goes on while you are there since we are paying for it”. It was then I knew I would need to keep my mouth shut- but I had had over a decade worth of practice of doing just that!

I had no idea what to expect, I did not want to go at all, but like many things in YWAM, I had no choice or voice. At that time no one from the Honolulu base had been there. I decided to spend three days in Arizona on the way to Colorado Springs, as I had been there as a child & remembered how impressed I was with the desert. I wanted to drive to the Saguaro National Park near Tucson. People seem to love or hate the desert. I find the desolate expanse to be one of beauty and awe. I took the above photo of the cacti.

When I arrived at the Colorado Springs airport, it was cold & snowing. It was a long ride to Glen Eyrie where the Rapha retreat would take place. As I entered the grounds, I could sense it was a special place. There were beautiful rock formations & wild animals, such as rabbits, deer, big horned sheep and eagles on the grounds. It was like they sensed it was a place of safety.

One of the first things I shared with one of the ladies on staff was what I was told before I left, “that I must give permission for them to share all I say & do while at the retreat”. She assured me that they would NEVER divulge anything that happened there with me or anyone else. I asked what they would do if they called & asked how I was doing. She said, “We'd say something like, He’s working so hard and doing so well”.

There were about 20 there from various backgrounds from the around the world, all hurting & broken for various reasons. The lack of joy was evident on everyone’s face at the beginning of our week. It did not take long to realize I was in a safe place & was for the FIRST time in my life saw the body of Christ act in a way that was a reflection of the Saviour. There was no condemnation, no manipulation, no guilt trips, but instead, a true servant’s heart that I had never seen in YWAM leadership, as well as unconditional love.

One time I got to a gathering early & started to help set up the chairs with one of the founders of Rapha. He told me, “Don’t do that! That is what we are here for- to serve you”. One of the other staff heard me say I liked red licorice & Dr. Pepper. The next day, she brought me both. So much of the teaching there was what YWAM had drifted so far from. That was the preaching of the cross of Christ & its significance, as well as servanthood and unconditional love.

After my first night at Rapha, I woke up to a fresh blanket of snow. I was beginning to feel a small seed of hope. As I walked amongst the fresh-fallen snow & natural red dirt of the area, seeing the contrast, I felt the Lord remind me "Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow." Isaiah. 1:18. I now knew that God had brought me to this place.

Later that day, I shared with one of those on staff what I was going through under my years of oppression at YWAM Honolulu & he assured me thatYWAM was a sick environment for me, and that the leadership is dysfunctional. I had thought that the leadership would automatically stand up with the leadership at YWAM Honolulu when instead, they stood up for what was right! We also had an excellent teaching on “Shame” and how shame is not of God, as it does not draw us to Himself but makes us feel unworthy of his love & forgiveness. YWAM often shames people to think & act how they want you to. Christ is the difference between Hope and Hopelessness.

We had name tags to wear, but I had lost mine in the wind. I decided to go for a hike by myself on the beautiful grounds. As I searched for my name tag in the long grass & gullies, I was reminded that Jesus looks for His lost sheep.

I then came upon a gate with wooden posts but no door. It reminded me as I was walking through the Gate, I was coming home in finding myself & my relationship with the Lord that had been so lost in those years at YWAM Honolulu.

There was a sign that there was a canyon lookout 1/3 mile from where I was. As I walked up hill, I got so tired and out of breath. I was reminded that it is okay to stop & rest along the way on our journey of life. I was thirsty & there was a bank of fresh, white snow to quench my thirst. I kept walking, sometimes on a slippery path, but when I reached the destination, there was a beautiful vista of the canyon. And yes, I found my name tag at the beginning of the hike.

Another day in a Rapha session, I read the verse Ecclesiastes 4:1 “Again, I observed all the oppression that takes place under the sun. I saw the tears of the oppressed, with no one to comfort them. The oppressors have great power, and their victims are helpless. (NLT)” I openly wept, as I was reminded there was no comforter at the YWAM Honolulu base, only oppression. As Christians, we need others to walk beside us to help lift up & encourage us. At YWAM we learned quickly that our needs do not matter. We were told “we could not use the base cars for personal use- even to go to the doctor”!

The week at Rapha flew so fast. At the beginning of the week, it was cold & snowy. At the end of the week, it was spring-like and 60f. At the beginning, the faces of the attendees were sad & without joy. By the end of the week, there was a song in our hearts & the radiant joy of the Lord on our faces. How I wanted to stay & not allow that joy to be crushed.

I brought some cards of my watercolors that had been published with me to the retreat in case I met anyone I wanted to give some to. When I showed them to one of the leaders, she, who had a degree in art and psychology, told me “I needed to be doing my art full time, as it is a gift God has given me”. I was also encouraged to leave YWAM Honolulu and live in a safe environment where it was possible to have boundaries.

When I arrived at Rapha, my “cup” only had the stains of where the joy of the Living Water had been in my life. By the time I left, my cup overflowed with joy. I actually looked forward to sharing all I learned with those back at the YWAM base and was deluded in thinking they would hear what I had to say, repent and act upon it.

A few months after I returned from the retreat (still praying for the way of escape), we had a speaker come through named Denny Gunderson who was a kind & knowledgeable man of God. His message was on The Arts and how overlooked they are in Youth With A Mission. It was as if he were speaking to me alone. He then asked people who felt called to the various arts to stand for prayer, when he got to the Visual Arts, I could take it no more. My heart grieved & I quickly left & walked through the University of Hawai’i campus to cry out to the Lord & weep. I grieved because of the lack of support I had gotten all those years at YWAM with my art & almost felt ashamed when I painted, as if it were not spiritual.

That summer, the most abusive of the base elders was in charge while the rest were off island for various reasons. He used this time to further intimidate & bully the “flock”. Once he got in my face & said, “I suppose my name is “MUD” up there at the single male staff house”. All I could do is remain silent, as I had no advocate.

When the base leader returned several weeks later, I went to him and another council member & shared all the abuse examples that had happened during their absence. The next day, I would confront the abuser with the other two council members. One of the other council member’s wives who had also experienced the abuse from the main council member encouraged me & others to go forward & expose his abuse but cowardly said “she would say nothing because she felt she could do more good that way”.

August 15, 1995 I confronted the Abuser with several other council members. I was able to look him in the face the entire time, and for the first time, he sat there speechless. I reminded him of the time he remarked that “his name was probably mud at the house where I lived”. I then asked him, “Why would your name be “Mud” if you were treating people in a kind, loving, and Christ-like way”? He said nothing. The next few days, a few more people who had been abused by this man & his wife came forth to expose them. Rather than discipline them, it was not long thereafter where the Abuser was made Base Director!

The Lord, in His mercy got me out of there before then. I had mentioned to a friend that if he heard of a place to rent, to let me know. It was not longer than a week or two that he told me about a place close by, still in Manoa valley where there was a room for rent.

When I told my new, Christian roommates about my experience at YWAM Honolulu, one remarked, “You are like a Phoenix, rising from the ashes”. I am still learning how to use my wings.

“Free at last, free at last. Thank God Almighty, I’m free at last”.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

The CULT of YWAM Honolulu

Unfortunately, cults are subtle and mix truth with error.

Emotions experienced during my 12 years in the cult.

I always thought that people who ended up in religious cults were mindless to begin with, or they would not be sucked into the organization. I found from experience that this is not the case.

Life is not always “fixed” by a prayer, spiritual formula or a pat answer. One can know the Lord, but after a horrific experience in a cult, be forever emotionally & spiritually scarred. I do not know why God allowed me to get involved with Youth With A Mission (YWAM) Honolulu for 12 years, but I think one reason is to warn others. I forgive those who wronged me, but that does not mean that the leadership at YWAM HNL (most of who are no longer there) should not be held accountable for their ungodly, unethical and unbiblical behavior which was forced on others.

The message of what life is like under a theocratic dictatorship needs to be shouted to the world, so it might save others who have a heart after God from getting involved with such a group. People who go into YWAM wanting to serve the Lord soon find that they must be puppets in what they say & do in what the leadership wants to hear in order to survive! If one questions a policy or action, rather than discussing it as adults, you are met with "Are you questioning MY authority?" or "GOD has placed ME in this leadership position". One also hears comments such as “God wanted me to tell you…”.

When the Lord finally freed me from the clutches of this "Christian CULT" I felt emotionally & spiritually dead. After being away from YWAM for a few months, I realized that even though I was in my 30s, I was never allowed to be an adult! I even felt the need to "protect" the true reality of YWAM when I first left, afraid to even whisper that "I had been involved in a manipulating cult". God, in his mercy has healed me a lot since then, but I still retain the emotional & spiritual scars & do not trust those in a position of "spiritual authority".

One time, I volunteered to lead a prayer time and felt we should pray for Russia. I was told by one of the leaders, “We can’t pray for Russia when so many of the bases we have sent long-term workers to need prayer”! (A year or 2 later, a team from YWAM HNL was sent to Russia on a mission!)

Families are “worshipped”, as are those who have gone to third world countries long term in YWAM. It’s ironic that the families do less on the base than a person who is single. Most of the wives were "mothers" & did nothing to contribute to the group, yet were the first to take whatever might be donated to the base. Singles were chastised for not willingly offering to baby-sit the children of the families! What if God calls you as a single to serve Him in a first-world country? Is that not just as "spiritual"? Students were made to feel guilty if they wanted to leave YWAM after they finished their course to go to university, being told “there was no higher call than to go to the mission field”. Ironically, I heard complaints from those who were long-term in places like India because of being sent workers with no skills.

Of course a mother with small children should have the freedom to spend 100% of her time caring for her children. I am referring to those with school age children who did nothing to contribute. The base director's wife would always say that "she would be involved on base once her kids were in school". Once her kids were in school, she was made a council member (conflict of interest to have both a husband & wife with votes on the council) but did almost nothing for the good of the base!

What was also noticed is that for the most part, the children on base would be unsupervised, undisciplined & would run all over the base, as if it were some large day care center.

Why was it that one mother with young babies could be so involved in the base while other base moms with fewer & older children would do nothing to contribute. Moms should not be expected to be Super Moms like one of the council member's wife was (even though she, like all of us had her faults), but she was an example of what a mom could accomplish on base whilst raising her children. That was the family that was asked to leave!!! They also had a ministry to Mormons, and since that was "not the calling of YWAM Honolulu", were told they did not want them involved in evangelizing Mormons (though the wife of the council member was saved from Mormonism)!

God gives us in life the gifts he intends for us to use and our “mission field” may be at a secular job. He has not called all to go serve Him in India or to die as a martyr. To use the gifts he has given us is a form of worshipping Him, as we are simply being who He has called us to be. Those who were not like the YWAMer that fit the mold would quickly be ostracized as having an "independent spirit" or looked down upon, such as those who did not speak in tongues. (It’s funny how the charismatics during times of worship came across as so spiritual, but in day to day life, were no different or more spiritual than anyone else.) The charismatics were constantly trying to attain an emotional experience rather than living simply by faith & the Word. Non-charismatics were told that “they were not “Spirit-filled”, yet if one does not have the Spirit living within them, they do not know the Lord.

There was an ugly power struggle within the leadership while I was there that sent away a godly family, when the focus should have been on how to glorify Jesus, not a man or group of leaders. The YWAM base is like a family. The leaders are the head of that family. When the head of that family is dysfunctional, the entire family becomes dysfunctional. One quickly learns not to feel, see or discuss the dysfunction one sees daily.

I was involved in an evangelistic crusade in Tahiti where a well known evangelist in charismatic circles came to do some healing services. The services were advertised as such, with flyers saying the evangelist had even "raised the dead". (Of course this happened years ago on a remote island in Indonesia, and can not be verified.) Many were promised their healing at the crusade “if they had the faith”. People came in wheelchairs, crutches, or with missing limbs. ALL left the way they came & were told that if they were not healed, it was because of their lack of faith. In so doing, not only did these precious ones have to suffer physically, but were given a guilt trip of not being good or spiritual enough. Even in the midst of that, many YWAMers would say, "Wasn't that a great crusade?” I was appalled & ashamed to be part of such a horrible scam. Many of those attending could have been turned off by God, rather than the man claiming to be his messenger.

I was good friends with the secretary of the base leader. She told me how disgusted she was to type up his Christmas newsletter, making his family sound so poor and asking for financial support. She saw how much money would come in through individuals, as well as organizations & groups he would speak at throughout the world. I have been away from YWAM for 12 years now, yet at least three times a week, I continue to have emotionally suffocating dreams that I am back in the YWAM HNL cult. Many, many times, I continue to forgive those who wronged me & others, but must live with the emotional & spiritual scars that were forced upon me while raping me & others of their individuality and self-esteem.

After leaving this cult, I ran across the base leader’s wife at a grocery store. I had just gotten out of hospital with pneumonia & looked & felt very weak. She asked how I was doing & I told her. She replied, “Oh, you poor thing, having to go get groceries by yourself & not have anyone to help you”. Then she simply walked away… One hears a lot of good teaching and words coming from the mouths of those at YWAM HNL. The message of their lives is a different message. I was told by a trusted priest that “I will probably always have these re-occurring nightmares due to the impact my time at YWAM HNL had had on me”. I was also told by a counselor that on a stress scale of 1-10, 10 being the most severe, my time under YWAM HNL was a 12!

I know of several, who like me left YWAM irreparably hurt & wounded, but who left God behind as well. One young woman, after having been to the same retreat in Colorado that I had been to also had the strength to get out. She remarked to me, “I feel like under the leadership at YWAM Honolulu, I was spiritually gang-banged”! I thought her remarked summed it up quite well. I praise God that I know that HE is my Rock & that my time at YWAM Honolulu was in no way, a reflection of His character or desire. I realize that there are still good people at YWAM bases & there may be other bases that live by godly principles & character. I am sure that these people do lift up Jesus & do well in the world. I just pray that God will separate the wheat from the chaff and purify this group.

I walked past the base the other day as part of my healing & again, prayed forgiveness for those who were far from a reflection of Christ during my time there.

Another horrid example is when a dear woman of God in her mid-60's who'd gone long term to Papua New Guinea returned to Honolulu for a hysterectomy. She had no family in Honolulu when she was hospitalized, or after she had been discharged. After she returned to the YWAM HNL base from hospital, she asked the woman in charge of "hospitality" (whose husband was the most abusive of the base elders) if she could use a comfortable chair from the guest house while she recovered. They actually told her "NO"! She is with the Lord now & I can't even imagine what kind of chair the Father provided for her when she returned Home.

I think a lot of people who have been involved in a cult try to ignore that inner voice that tells them something is awry. They also fear bringing it to light for fear of having been made a fool of, being ostracized by the group or even letting God down.

The only time the Base Leader got in contact with me after having served 12 years on the base, was to inform me that Loren Cunningham (YWAM’s founder) would be speaking at a Friday night service & "wanted to make sure there was a full house" (I have never gone back to a single meeting since I left, though I live about 2 miles from there now). After having served at the base for 12 years, I was not given so much as a doughnut hole in honour of my years of service.

People in authoritative positions at YWAM HNL will pray for you, and often as they "talk to God", they are really saying the things they want YOU to hear in order to manipulate and control you. I once had a base elder say to me, "It is your responsibility to obey us, who have been placed in authority over you-even if you feel what we ask is wrong. We will be held accountable to God for that".

The most important thing is to know what and why you believe as you do. Know what the Bible says, so when false doctrine and attitudes come forth, they will be recognized as not from God.

Many who read this blog who have had anything to do with YWAM will probably jump to the conclusion that I am clinging to a bunch of anger, bitter & unforgiveness. It is just that though one can forgive, one still bears the scars of years of spiritual abuse. Just like one who is scarred from a severe burn, the pain may be gone, but the scar remains.

It's funny how I mostly have non-Christian friends now & how much more real they are than most Christians. I try & share the Gospel when I am able, but do not force feed it to them. So often in the church (or YWAM base), people are afraid to show their humanity & want to show instead, the mask of having it all together. There are very few people I have met and churches I have attended that are truly transparent & on a regular basis, are a reflection of the Jesus of the Bible. As we grow closer to the Saviour, we will naturally show this transparency & Christ-likeness. I have a long way to go.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007


Hawai'i's Governor Linda Lingle


Mosque in Rome, Italy from a photo I took & then photoshopped.

Since 9/11 I have done a lot of studying on Islam & what it teaches. I have read several books & visited numerous websites, both pro & anti. I went into some Islam chat rooms on Yahoo & have met & had dialog with several Muslims. I have made friends with several Muslims in the Mideast. One, Ghalib I met from Saudi Arabia. Actually, both he & his parents were born in Saudi, but his grandparents were born in Yemen. Because of this, the Saudi government looks upon the ancestors of those who came from Yemen as Yemeni citizens-even though they have not even been to Yemen in generations.

It is so much more rewarding to learn about the every day life of a Muslim & what they believe by getting to know some rather than just hearing about it in the news.

I have known Ghalib now over 4 years, so feel I know him very well, as well as a Muslim from Kashmir, India and some from Iran. Ghalib was married a little over a year ago in an arranged marriage & recently, his wife gave birth to their daughter Ghala. I sent her a little baby gift & he sent a photo (from his phone) of the baby wearing one of the outfits I sent. She is a third generation Yemeni born in Saudi. Yemeni citizens do not have the "rights" that Saudis enjoy.

Ghalib was surprised to discover that polygamy was not legal in the USA. For a time he was mad & would not talk to me unless I denounced all Jews, as well as Israel. I reminded him that there were good & bad people in all countries & all religions. I made it a point to attend Israel Independence Day in Honolulu last year. I even saw our Jewish Governor there. Over the years, I have learned which topics I must tread lightly upon.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

My First Entry

Regent Parrot



I have lived in Honolulu now for close to 24 years. During that time, I have painted numerous watercolors that reflect the tropical landscape. I have made a number of trips to Australia during that time, as well as Brazil, which has also influenced my work. I have also grown to love photography, so I will share some of my better photographs as well.