Calgary Herald: 'They are right from the pits of hell,' says ex-Child of God

From XFamily - Children of God

'They are right from the pits of hell,' says ex-Child of God

Calagary Herald/1980-03-26

In Calgary, only a few families of the Children of God remain.

They no longer live in communes, preferring instead to setup their own households within the community.

They don't even like being called Children of God.

"We are the Family of Love or just The Family," said Mario Bellavitti whose wife Shelley died in Holy Cross Hospital last week after refusing medical treatment for cancer.

The couple had three young children.

"We are a bigger family than ordinary people will ever understand" he added.

The following article by Herald staff writer Crosbie Cotton tells the story of a young woman who was once a follower of the Children of God.

Now living in Calgary and the mother of a young child, she asked that her real name not be used.

She says there at least three families of the cult in the city. Two families have five children and recently they switched husbands, the woman said in an interview.

Current members of the sect said they were interested in being interviewed when originally contacted by The Herald last week.

They later refused interviews, saying "people just won't understand."

The former member interviewed said the cult bans birth control, encouraging mothers to have as many children as possible to increase "the flock."

She sees cult members as human robots, willing to follow every order issued by Berg.

And she worries that some day Berg's followers may create another Jonestown — similar to when Jim Jones led more than 900 followers of the Peoples Temple to their death in Guyana in November 1978.

By Crosbie Cotton
Herald staff writer

Robin minces no words when she attacks the Children of God.

"They are right from the pits of hell," says the 23-year-old, the bitterness straining her voice.

"I know because I've been there and so has my husband. Even today, he's having trouble trying to cope.

"I never realized I was brainwashed until after I left, until after I was out. While I was in, everything I did seemed so right, so natural.

"Today, I realize I wasn't much more than a prostitute."

It has been more than three years since Robin and her husband broke from the religious sect headed by David Berg, known to his followers around the world as David Moses.

Those years have been tough, filled with pain, trauma and the haunting dreams that seldom disappear.

And although she hasn't needed psychiatric help, she knows of several people who have been hospitalized for psychaiatric treatment after leaving the sect.

This week, although she feared possible reprisals and harassment from other Children of God, Robin agreed to an interview with The Herald.

Nervous throughout, she did so because "I want people top see what is going on."

Internal scars have torn her apart

No external scars mark her body, but the ones inside have torn her apart. She says that only recently has she started to feel like a real person again.

She has slowly had to relearn how to be herself, to act herself, to think for herself.

Robin spent slightly more than a year in the sect. Her husband spent almost five.

She led a mysterious life, spending much of her time travelling in the United States and performing "sexual favors" for businessmen she seduced in God's name.

At one point, she also taught the children of cult leaders in California.

Sex played an integral role in raising funds for the Children of God, said the woman, who hustled middle-aged businessmen in such places as Vancouver, Victoria, Dallas, Houston and Kansas City.

In fact, when she wanted to leave the sect, it was one of those businessmen who paid for her airplane ticket from where she was libing in Texas to Winnipeg, where she could join herboyfriend.

In exchange, she had to pass through Vancouver on the way, "performing sexual favors for the businessman" for two weeks to cover the airfare cost.

A Vancouver native, she was recruited in Calgary after coming here to "strike it rich." She didn't.

"Life was going pretty crummy. I was a hippy type, a drifter, a dreamer.

"I got into drugs quite heavily and the things I was doing were mostly illegal.

"You know, I'd go to all the protests and things like that. Nothing was making me happy."

One day she ran into a group of Children of God on the street distributing literature and talking about the Bible and God. She joined the conversation and soon was invited to the cult's commune in Calgary.

"I went with a friend. They hugged us and said they really cared.

"I was like we walked into a whole pool of love. I was swept up in it." Sooon she began living in the commune and about two months later she went on a road trip to the commune in Vancouver.

In the beginning, the cult adhered to strict sexual mores but that was soon to change drastically she said. Only married couples were allowed sexual relationships and cult members lived from money begged while distributing Davis Moses literature ("Mo letters") on the streets.

"One day the doctrine changed. The new one was called FF-ing or flirty fishing," said Robin. "The sexual attitudes became so loose but we accepted them because we were following the Mo letters."

The night of the the new doctrine, members gathered at the Vancouver commune and decided who they wanted to spend the night with, she daid. After that, people choose daily, switching frequently, she added.

Part of the new doctrine, according to Robin, was being a "flirty fish" with people outside the cult. She described a startling scenario that she staged in cities across North America. We would distribute literature during the day and then we would run home to get dressed up all sexy like you know with see through blouses. The leaders really pushed the sexy part.

"We'd go to the most exclusive nightclub, usually four girls and one guy. We'd look for middle-aged men who looked well off and lonely, somebody who was probably a businessman or a salesman.

"Then we'd try to make eye contact, sort of a weak form of bedroom eyes. Then we'd go ask the fish to dance. He'd like that. You can imagine an 18-year-old sexy girl and a 50-year-old married man who is lonely.

"While dancing, you'd tell him that the Lord wanted you to love him, to take care of his needs and ask if he had some place private where he'd like to go.

"That's when you knew you had him hooked. You'd go with him and have sex, always saying you were a missionary for the Lord. You didn't mention donations but instead you'd tell him that what you are doing is in the name of the Lord," although money often changed hands.

When she arrived home afterwards, Robin would fill out an "FF report", writing down the man's name and everything else she had found out about him, including his position, salary, where he came from, details about his family, what forms of sex she had performed and what he liked.

'FF reports' and money sent to headquarters

The report, and any money collected, was sent to cult headquarters, she said.

Robin said the cult members are encouraged to become girlfriends after the first encounter. They are told to keep in touch with the men, go out on dates, to bring them into the communue and hopefully, to get the men to either join or contribute substantially to the cult, she said.

"What we said really had a nice appeal. He felt you were loving him, taking care of him because Jesus wanted you to."

She used the example of her Vancouver "fish."

I had him twisted around my little finger. He went deeply into debt for me. He would do anything I wanted," said Robin, who had no idea how much money she collected for Children of God.

But she expects the amount was in the thousands of dollars, if not the tens of thousands.

"After I was out, I wrote him a letter apologizing for what I had done to him."

After Vancouver, she taught the children of cult leaders in California. She said the children weren't allowed to associate with other children in the community or to attend regular schools.

Her teachings came frm books of "Mo letters" and little else. She remembers that one child, an eight-year-old girl, was contsantly told she had to grow up to be a flirty fish.

"The eight-year-old had a real obsession with sex. She was always grabbing at me and I was encouraged to have showers with her," Robin said.

She said couples, even if they had children, frequently changed mates. Birth control was also banned because leaders wanted to create as many children as possible.

While in Calgary, Robin had met a "really neat guy" in the commune. He was the person who would give her the reason to break from the Children of God.

During the time she was away, they wrote to each other

"One day he called me up in Texas and told me that he loved me and asked if I would come to him," she said.

"1 was pretty disillusioned about the sex because it seemed to be just like prostitution, so I went "

When she arrived in Winnipeg, where he was the leader of a commune, she found him in a state of depression, living only on bread.

Members of the commune had left and he was alone, with no money to pay the rent and the landlord banging on the door.

The man, now her husband, was under tremendous pressure from cult headquarters because he wasn't forwarding any money. The last straw came when he was threatened with ex-communication unless the money and FF reports were sent within 10 days.

'We were like a couple of scared rabbits'

"We were like a couple of scared rabbits holed up in the house," she said.

They abandoned the commune, hitch-hiked with no money to visit his parents in Eastern Canada, and started the long road "back to reality."

Robin credits friends who left the Children ol God for helping her. The couple lived with ex-cult members in several cities, learning from the trials the others had already gone through.

She has since joined a regular church and says she "has finally found ths real God."

Children of God, she says, took Bible verses out at context and used them for their own means. "It really sounded convincing but now I realize what a fool I was." she said.