Two and a half years later
Cult ordeal has changed family's life
By SANDRA BAUERS
Intelligencer Staff Writer
It's been more than two and a half years since Dr. L. Richard Schumacher crouched on the steps across the street from a Montreal house and begged God for the release of his son Neil. The youth had been lured into the Children of God cult when he and a friend attended the summer of 1976 Olympics in that city. He was for all practical purposes, a prisoner.
His father, who had rushed to the city as soon as Neil's friend notified the family about the cult, kept a vigil outside the house, just hoping for a glimpse of his son. Other family members also participated in the "stake-out." It had been quite a bit of detective work in the first place to locate the house where the Children of God stayed. The family operated under strict secrecy. They knew if the Children of God suspected they were trying to rescue Neil, he would be whisked to a different city. And now, six days after Neil had joined the cult, his father, weary from lack of sleep, watched and prayed as the Children of God came and went. What followed was a series of bluffs by the cult, designed to make the family believe Neil had left the house. Then there were counter-maneuvers by the family. The action could have challenged the best suspense movie scene. But Neil, at last, was rescued. He agreed to be taken to a motel room where a deprogrammer was waiting, and he said. "You show me the truth and I'll believe it."
For Neil, it only took four hours of arguments in logic and repeated references to the Bible to convince him. Others have taken days to wear down. An ugly chapter in the youth's life had ended, and he concluded. "If my parents had delayed any more. I would not have wanted to talk to them. Then I would have been moved to another city, like Toronto, and they never would have seen me again."
Today, that experience has made a profound effect not only on Neil's life, but on the life of the entire Schumacher family. Schumacher, a former internist at Doylestown Hospital, now works for York Hospital as director of ambulatory services; he's in charge of clinics and the emergency department and he teaches medical students, residents and nurses in internal medicine. He said he took the new job primarily to give him more time to schedule speaking engagements, during which he relates his experience with the Children of God and tries to educate the public about what he feels are the dangers of that and several other cults.
Schumacher also remains active in a network of individuals working to "rescue" other youths from the cults. He has witnessed three other deprogrammings since Neil's, and he is constantly in touch by telephone with others seeking to either help their children or understand their actions with a cult.
The family itself is more open, said Schumacher. The members, formerly each on their own paths through life, are now better able to tell each other how they feel, better able to interrelate and give each other support. After that summer of 1976, Neil entered Pinebrook College, a small Christian school in Coopersburg. His had been a Christian deprogramming, and "since I was young in my faith. I needed to be around other Christians." He says he grew a lot at the school, but he preferred a larger campus, so at the end of the year he transferred to Harrington College in Barrington. R.I., a Christian liberal arts college. He is majoring in American history and participates in athletics and the choir. He is news editor of the campus newspaper and will graduate in May.
But even though Neil is at a Christian college, the Children of God are not far away. They have a residence and are soliciting contributions and members in Providence. R.I. A Hare Krishna group is also in that city. Neil said he tried to talk to them once, to reason with them and try to convince them to leave the cult, "but I knew what the answer would be -- they walked away." Neil says his future is somewhat undecided, but the one thing he is sure of is that he wants to continue working against cults. He has committed himself to increasing the awareness of parents and to helping other youths. "I have a burden," he said. "So many kid's lives are being wasted, and they're building up something that is false." Neil's desire to help others is not unusual. His father estimated that 80 percent of today's deprogrammers were once cult members themselves.
Both Neil and his father see a need for more Christian-oriented deprogramming. "When you take away the cult, you need something to fill that space." said Neil. The Schumachers see today's cults as a threat to all of America's freedoms. "They speak of freedom of religion, but the cult is a closed system - you can't leave." he said. "Most of religion is open. What is our definition of freedom? We may well lose our freedom in the interest of freedom of religion. "The more I see of it, the more horrifying it becomes." he said. One of the main things that concerns him, Schumacher said, is the "tremendous amount and wealth and power" the cults have.
Two "bishops" who recently left the Children of God revealed that they made $15 million giving out Mo (the leader, Moses David) letters. Schumacher said that the children of those who work against the cults often are targeted as people to try to get into the cult. A Senate subcommittee report on international relations concluded that Korean cult leader Sun Myung Moon has dreams of world domination.
Figures about cult membership, even though they are only estimates, show that the situation is not calming down. "Three years ago, there were anywhere from 50,000 to 1 million in cults. Today the estimate is 200,000 to 2 million. Schumacher said he would like Congress to start an investigation of the cults, especially in light of the Nov. 19 suicide of hundreds of cult members in Jonestown, Guyana.
But is there much hope? The Schumachers are not sure. "It (emotions over the Guyana incident) will die down." said Neil. "Then another tragedy will happen, and people will say. "Why did this happen?" Perhaps parents have to teach their children to be maybe a little less open. said Schumacher. "We have to tell them. 'Don't take candy from a stranger, don't take a ride from a stranger and don't take religion from a stranger."
The other prevention is to realize that ANYBODY can get caught up in a cult. Jonestown, Guyana, is the illustration par excellence, said Schumacher. There were people of all ages, all socio-economic levels, all backgrounds and all educational levels - "and they all took the Jonestown juice."
Another illustration is the Pueblo incident. The crew of that US ship was specially selected and trained to resist brainwashing. But within 48 hours of the ship's capture in the South China Sea by the Koreans, three of the crew members were on the radio broadcasting anti- American propaganda.
The Schumachers believe the cults practice a form of brainwashing to entice and keep their members, and it is a force so strong that perhaps not even Neil could resist it again. The youth said he thinks he can, that he has more active beliefs and is more firmly entrenched in Christianity than he was when he joined the cult, when he was looking for something else to believe in.
But Schumacher disagrees, "Any one of us is susceptible. For Neil, the approach would have to be more subtle. And it would have to be a different group" since he is already familiar with the tactics of the Children of God. But the physician said that just as with any other person, the possibility is always there.