.February 5, 1998
Dear Dr. Juedes,
God bless you, and may I first of all commend you on an excellent website and updated information on the Way International (TWI). I particularly enjoyed your questionnaire "you have been taught to think for yourself."
After reading Russ Mahan's ltter on your site, my husband and I can testify that it was a very accurate account of the inner workings of TWI. We were in fact "Branch Coordinators" until we left in May last year. I too would like to stand on the mountain top and scream at the top of my lungs "Let the buyer beware!! The Way International is a cult!!" My husband and I were involved for over 14 years. Thankfully we were able to escape before our lives were completely destroyed, at the age of 37.
I recently read a book which Russ recommended to me and thought it gave great insight into why TWI is indeed a cult and thought it would be helpful to show some parallels since we too never would accept that it was in fact a cult that we were a part of. The book is called "Cults in Our Midst" by Margaret Thaler Singer.
On page 39 she describes the differences between a commune and cult which include that:
"Cults are established by strong or charismatic leaders who control power hierarchies and material resources." "Cults possess some revealed "word" in the form of book, manifesto, or
doctrine and cults create fortified boundaries, confining membership in various ways and attacking those who would leave as defectors, deserters, or traitors; they recruit new members with ruthless energy and raise enormous sums of money; and they tend to view that outside world with increasing hostility and distrust as the organization ossifies."
Obviously TWI's founder, V.P.Wierwille was a very strong, charismatic leader and has been since replaced by the even more profound L.Craig Martindale.
From the onset we were taken in by the Word of God that was taught "like never before since the first century church." No one else had "the rightly divided Word that had been revealed to V.P.W..
Within weeks of getting involved I began to take on a new identity (as described in the book on page 77) I was almost convinced to destroy all associations of my past - my photo albums, diaries etc. Any former friends I had were disassociated if they did not want to be involved. They were considered chaff. My husband and I were so besotted that we signed up for the W.O.W. Ambassador program before our first wedding anniversary. It was also to be our apprentice year in the Way Corps (W.C.- TWI's leadership training program). There were indeed many boundaries but we were made aware of them before we signed. The other boundaries that we were not made aware of came later. We entered the W. C. training facility in Gartmore, Scotland, which was being overseen by Chris Geer (see the No Way Out site for a review of the Passing of the Patriarch extravaganza!). This was in fact the year that this was read to all the in-residence W.C. It was a shaky time in the ministry and we were exterminated from Gartmore with our tails between our legs because we dared to question the leadership concerning some of the goings on in the ministry. We "fled" to California and spent three years in disarray. I, personally was very distraught that we had lost our dream. We had already severely alienated the majority of our family and friends (as stated in Singer's book on pages 64, 319), and we were still convinced (in our zealousness and youthfulness) that TWI was The Way and it had just taken a turn for the worse with Geer being at the center. Consequently when we heard that Martindale had taken a stand against Geer we jumped right back in with both feet and started running a Twig fellowship and signed up for the W.C. again!
We graduated in 1993, the year of our 10th wedding anniversary, and were assigned to Rockville, Md. We were part of a W.C. "household" of over thirty in the Washington D.C. Limb" when we arrived and gradually we saw the numbers diminish until we were the only active full time W.C. left besides our Limb/Region coordinators, in the Limb.
In April of 1995, Martindale announced that all the W.C. would be placed on full time salary that September. We had put up with a lot of garbage up to this point but this is when it really got nasty. Our lives became the sole property of TWI. We had indeed "signed the line" when we applied for the W.C. and it was taken to every extreme. The local leadership were ruthless and vicious. We were totally at their beck and call, 24 hours a day. We had two very young children but they showed no mercy when it came to the work of the ministry. There were many times that we would be on a private call and our room mates would come holding their phone and knocking on our door saying the leader was on the phone. In one instance my husband was yelled at because he asked him to please hold on while he handled the other call. How dare he ask the leader to hold when he was the most important thing in his life right now! We hardly ever had a day off. If we had the audacity to take one we were usually sought out. At one point we had pagers on and we were obliged to call the leadership after we had driven a mere 40 minutes away from our home on our day off to go shopping. We were yelled at for going out of the area without permission!
We could tell countless stories as many others could also, but the main purpose of this letter is to alert the public to the sly and subtle manner of TWI and warn them to not get involved. It will seem wonderful at the outset. You will feel loved and special and privileged but it is all a ploy to get you more deeply involved. Now the W.C. is told how many children they are allowed to have (no more than two) and how old you have to be to have them without permission. For some time now it has been forbidden for W.C. to marry outside the W.C. household lest they lose their W.C. status. They are not allowed to accept any free will gift from anyone ("not even a paper clip -Martindale's words exactly), lest it be a bribe. I was cross examined because I had given and received second hand baby clothes etc.! If some one wants to give W.C. something they are to be instructed to put more money in the "horn of plenty" so it can be sent to Headquarters! Even the Twig coordinators, who are not even W.C. have to be debt-free, including home ownership, and any singles in the fellowship are strictly watched concerning any personal relationships they wish to embark upon - and their sex lives are definitely observed and confronted!
In Dr. Singers book, she has a whole section on recovery after you get out of a cult. One section struck home big time, and I quote,
"Upon leaving the group, a person usually discovers that the group practices shown toward outsiders are now turned on him or her---that is, he or she is scorned and ostracized. Also, there is no hope of retaining cult friendships because cult members have been trained to hate defectors, and because members may try to pull the former member back in. In addition, the former member may not easily resume relationships with former friends and family because of the harsh way these relationships were most likely broken off when he or she joined the cult.
Leaving is a final door slam: the past is behind, and the exciting cult member is heading forward - but alone - toward an uncharted future in which the former member has to start all over at creating a friendship network."
This is absolutely true. The "mark and avoid" term is used by TWI and they forbid anyone except the appointed leadership to have a conversation of any length with any such persons! People we had known and loved for years, and with whom we had shared so much would no longer talk to us! We were even locked out of our home ("the Way Home") before the end of the month in which we had paid rent because we were considered to be a threat. Thankfully we had been aware of the inner workings for a while and had anticipated such abuse.
One other point I feel needs to be made, especially for the benefit of TWI defectors. On page 395 Dr. Singer states, "Those of us helping ex-cult members advise caution about joining any new uplift group and suggest, instead, purely social, work, or school-related activities, at least for the time being, until the person is more fully distanced from the cult experience and better understands the recruitment phenomenon."
And on page 398 she talks about a phase of the recovery that I believe is very much overlooked. That of "recapturing your history and family connection, part of the recovery work is to remember and review life experiences before you joined the cult and to compare them with the
specific attitudes and contents inculcated by the cult. Working actively to ascertain what was real before, during, and after cult life, and thinking how to reestablish family connections is crucial work for most former members."
My point here is that so many ex-Wayers (including myself) try to remember and "re-incarnate" their former selves which was when they first got involved with TWI! It needs to go a step further. So many ex-Wayers latch onto another off shoot which teaches and acts the same as the old Way that they first knew, but has the love factor as apposed to the authoritarian factor. Now I'm sure they are not all bad, but you have to realize that V.P. Wierwille was still the initiator of this cult and was not a saint by any means!
Well thanks for letting me speak. It sure was my pleasure. If my husband or I can help in anyway to get this truth out so that others can be spared the grief and destruction that we encountered we are glad.
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