Cult pictures of innocence
Press » Nottingham Evening Post » 2007-08-16
A grainy black and white photograph shows a young girl dressed in a silk scarf, beads hanging around her bare shoulders.
Aged no more than five, she dances for the camera with an innocent smile on her face.
But the picture is a stark reminder to Kristina Jones, who now lives in Nottingham, of the perverted world into which she was born.
Her parents were members of the Children Of God - an international religious cult whose followers practiced prostitution and child abuse, and made pornography.
Kristina and her sisters, Celeste Jones and Juliana Buhring, were among many young girls corrupted, betrayed and violated by adult cult members.
Naked photos and videos of them and other children were sent to cult leader David Berg by adults desperate to gain his approval.
Berg's policy of sexual liberation and shared love gave his followers licence to abuse the cult's children.
In the many letters he issued to his disciples from his secret hiding places, he declared that all children, from newborn babies, were sexual beings.
"I was abused - sexually, physically, mentally, and emotionally," said Kristina.
She escaped the clutches of the Children Of God - also known as the Family - 18 years ago, aged 12.
Until she returned to the outside world, Kristina thought she would not live beyond her teens.
Told that the world would end when Christ returned to Earth, she believed her mission was to save as many souls as possible by converting them to the Family.
"My childhood was basically going out on the streets giving out leaflets, posters and books for the Family," she said.
"I learned how to read and write but I did not have any schooling. Berg said education was ungodly.
"He told us that Jesus was going to come back to earth in 1993 so we were all just trying to make every minute count and get the message out before that time.
"We did not think we would live to be adults."
Kristina, now 30, was born in India after her parents joined the cult in England in the 1970s.
A group of guitar-playing hippies had visited the Christian Union at the school where her mother was a pupil.
They gradually pressurised Kristina's mother, then only 16, to join the cult or risk being punished by God.
Kristina's father joined the same commune on the same day and they quickly got married before having their first daughter, Celeste.
David Berg had begun the Children Of God movement in California years earlier, capitalising on the American youth attraction to the idea of free love and spiritual freedom.
But his sect attracted unwanted attention when the families of its members became concerned about dramatic personality changes and apparent brainwashing.
Berg - who also called himself David Moses - ordered all the communes that followed his word to flee the West and set up homes in the Far East.
It was shortly after Kristina's birth that Berg introduced his One Wife theory - that everyone was married to each other and there was no such thing as monogamy or marriage.
Her parents' relationship was torn apart by her father's extra-marital affairs and the family split up.
During her childhood, Kristina moved continuously between England and India at the whim of adult cult members.
Celeste lived in more than 15 countries around the world, including Sri Lanka, Hong Kong and India. Their sister Juliana's life followed a similar pattern. Regularly separated for years at a time, the children were torn from each other and their parents under the cult's belief that children belonged to every Family member.
There were teen and pre-teen training camps designed to break the spirits of young cult members who questioned its beliefs.
"Even in the group you didn't know where your own children or your own parents were," Kristina said.
"They lived on such a high security basis. They could be living in your town in a commune and you wouldn't know because of the measures they took to stay secret."
Cult members were not allowed to read books or newspapers, or listen to music or radio programmes from the outside world.
"Berg controlled everything about the cult," Kristina said.
"Anything that you read had to be written by him. We were not allowed to read newspapers, magazines or books. His interpretation of the bible was what people were supposed to put their faith into.
"He made new recruits forsake all their friends and family."
The cult did not believe in the use of contraception, and did not allow its members to seek medical help.
When Kristina's mother became violently ill during her seventh pregnancy, cult leaders saw her affliction as weakness of faith.
She was sent back to England with her youngest children under a cloud of shame. She had no choice but to return to her parents' home when there was no room at a Family commune.
"For the first time she was out on her own and when you take a member out, their own personality begins to emerge," Kristina said.
"She went to a Christian book store to buy a new bible and saw a book about cults written by David Berg's daughter.
"In it she exposed her father as a fraud. It contained all the information that cult members did not know and my mother realised she had been following a false prophet and a pervert.
"It was heartbreaking for her. She felt she had been completely duped. She had four children still in the group and she did not know where they were.
"If she'd said anything about the book to anyone in the group then she would never have seen any of us again."
When Kristina, then 12, and her two younger brothers visited London to renew their visas, their mother arranged to see them.
She took them to a library and showed them the book she had read, explaining that she wanted them to leave the Family there and then.
"I said yes straight away," Kristina said.
"We missed her and wanted to support her. We lived in a women's refuge for a few months before finally moving into our own home.
"I started reading up on things I didn't know about, especially about cults.
"I wanted to understand what had happened to myself and to my family."
A long search began to find Celeste and Juliana and bring them safely out of the cult.
Celeste finally gained her freedom six years after Kristina when her mother began court proceedings to get her back.
Juliana, who shared the same father but a different mother to Kristina and Celeste, left the cult three years ago.
Since then they have shared their three different but intertwined stories in the book, Not Without My Sister.
They have also set up RISE International CIC, a charity which works to protect children born into cults and to raise awareness of their situation.
"I've taken the positive from my childhood and tried to turn the bad into something good," Kristina said.
"Everyone is born with their own past and this just happens to be mine. If it hadn't happened I wouldn't be the same person I am today."
Not Without My Sister is out now, published by Harper Element, £12.99
Kristina, Celeste and Juliana will be talking about their lives and signing copies of the book at Waterstones in Bridlesmith Gate tonight from 7pm to 8.30pm.