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

Islam

Hawai'i's Governor Linda Lingle


Ghala


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


Hummingbird


Anthuriums


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.








Photography


Bromeliad


Royal Hawaiian

Gold Tree


Manoa Falls

Frangipani Moonrise