Daily Intelligencer: Dear God, Please give me back my son!

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Dear God, Please give me back my son!

The Daily Intelligencer/1977-01-24

By Sandra Bauers
Intelligencer Staff Writer

Dr. L. Richard Schumacher crouched on the steps across the street from the house where his son Neil, for all practical purposes, was a prisoner. The Doylestown internist, weary from lack of sleep, watched intently as the Children of God, who had lured Neil into their cult, came and went. And as Dr. Schumacher and a team of family and friends kept up the vigil, waiting for a glimpse of Neil, the doctor prayed. He had heard of the cult before, of its brainwashing techniques, and he knew of two girls who had essentially "disappeared" within another group, the "Moonies."

"Dear God. please give me back my son," he pleaded over and over. "Dear God, please give me back my son." Suddenly, "I realized I was saying the wrong thing." So Dr. Schumacher instead prayed, "Dear God, he's your son. Do with him what you will. Just let me know he is here." At that moment, the doctor had a "vision" of Neil in the same clothes the 19-year-old youth would be wearing when he met his father later that day.

The drama had begun when Neil and a friend from New Britain. Michael Lutz, went to Montreal to watch the Olympic bicycle races last summer. They had cycled to Neil's uncle's house in Vermont and then, leaving their bicycles there, had traveled to Montreal.

After a day viewing the races, the two youths were walking down the main boulevard looking for a place to eat. "We ran into a guy passing out literature," said Neil, now a student at Pembrook Junior College in Coopersburg.

"I kept walking, but Mike stopped "He gave the guy two dollars, which was a lot of money from my standpoint, so I turned around and asked the guy what he was doing." The youth passing out literature was a member of the Children of God, a group started by self proclaimed messiah Moses David Berg.

He told Neil and Mike about the group "and it sounded like a Christian group. When I asked, he said it was, "That intrigued me." said Neil. "My attitude at the time was . . . I thought everyone was insincere in church. Just before I left for Montreal I had told my mother Christianity was not possible in the world because of the sin of the world. "This guy said the Children of God had dropped out of the world. That appealed to me." While the three were talking, a short girl approached who was also a member of the group. "I noticed her eyes were lit up. I asked if she was on drugs, and she said she wasn't."

This was the same characteristic Neil noticed about all the COGs, as the Children of God are called. He explained they were "high" on the emotional fervor of their group. Michael and Neil took the two COGs to dinner. "Their names were Barnabas and Rebecca . . . I think . . . hey? I've forgotten her name! Isn't that great?"

During the meal, the four youths continued to discuss the cult. Barnabas and Rebecca repeatedly referred to the idea that those joining the group would have to live with the group to be a Christian. Neil said he realized if he joined he would have to move out of his parents' home, but he didn't catch on right away to the idea that he would have to forsake and renounce his family.

He thought the group would ask him to forsake his family in the figurative sense, as the Bible refers to a bridegroom in Genesis 2:24. "Therefore a man leaves his falher and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh."

After a visit to the house where the Children of God lived, Michael returned to the campground alone. Neil chose to stay with the group. That night he dreamed he was running from something terrible. He ran through two doors and woke up. Those two doors were the two he had gone through to get to the room in which he was sleeping. "They said it was a message from God," said Neil.

So Neil joined the group. He had been convinced by the bright eyes, the singing and praying, the love members of the group showed one another. Here, he thought, he had found true Christianity. "I grew up in the church and I thought I was doing the right thing," Neil said. "I thought these were people living the Christian faith. I never once thought I was doing the wrong thing."

Neil was living the group's emotional high. "I didn't want to think (about the illogical and confusing arguments the group presented). I wasn't an individual when I was in the cult." The next day, Neil was on the streets helping the group pass out literature. "I really thought I was serving God," he said.

It is evidence of how innocent the group seemed that Michael was unconcerned aboul his friend. He simply decided to return home and, in stopping to get his bicycle in Vermont, he explained to Neil's uncle that the youth had joined the Children of God.

It was his uncle's neighbor who had "lost two daughters to the Moonies," as Dr Schumacher phrased it. The uncle immediately called his brother in Doylestown and "we immediately started to mobilize." Dr. Schumacher, also on the staff of Doylestown Hospiial and the school physician at Delaware Valley College of Science and Agriculture, immediately cancelled all appointments and flew to Montreal. His wife began telephoning for help. At the same time, there were about 2,000 young Chrisiians in Montreal helping out with the Olympics. They woke up one of their members to meet Dr. Schumacher at the airport. It just so happened he was a student writing his thesis on the Children of God.

The base of operations for the group of about 13 family members and friends, Dr. Schumacher mustered, was a "bunch of rooms rented in a second-rate motel that was sinking into a swamp" They began surveillance on three different houses in Montreal and then narrowed it down to the house Neil and Michael had visited. Sunday, a day when the COGs went light on recruiting and returned home to retire early. On Monday, six days after Neil had joined the COGs the surveillance group was back at the house.

It may seem they were overcautious about tracing Neil. It may seem they didn't have to go to that much trouble. But the family knew of the cult's reputation. They felt if the group suspected Neil's family was trying to get him back, they would whisk him to a different city. At the house they discovered a hole in a hedge where they could hide someone with a pair of binoculars. Others were posted in view of the doors and both ends of the alley around the house were blocked.

Sect members sent confusing 'decoys.' The group kept vigil all morning and it was close to noon when Dr Schumacher began to despair. He began praying. "Dear God. please give me back my son." and then, "Dear God, he's your son. Do with him what you will. Just let me know he is here."

At that moment Michael Lutz dashed out of the alley where he had been stationed and reported he had seen Neil taking out the garbage. Since he had been friendly with the group, Michael went in as if he were making a casual visit to make sure it was Neil and to see who else was in the house. He asked Neil to leave with him and Neil refused. Next, Dr. Schumacher saw a man leave the house and return with several suitcases. When a taxi cab arrived two COG members carrying the suitcases led a third, who resembled Neil, into the cab and drove off. He suspected it was a decoy.

Shortly thereafter, another COG left the building and walked to a candy store. He apparently sent out a small boy who approached a woman standing watch by alley and asked her. "Did you find your friend?"

"No." she answered, and he returned. The last move of the group occurred when a truck and a car pulled up to the front door. A group, which again included a person resembling Neil, boarded the vehicles and sped off

Neil's brother Craig, who was in the hedge with a telescope, indicated none of the group had been Neil, but a van was sent to follow the two vehicles anyway.

It was then that Dr. Schumacher decided to approach the house. Neil was sitting in the living room when he heard his uncle's booming voice. "Neil, come out here!"

Dr. Schumacher explained that if a person has been a member of the group long enough, he will obey orders withoul even thinking. It was his hope that Neil would respond immediately to his uncle's authoritative voice.

It didn't work. So Dr. Schumacher approached the door. When Neil saw his father, whom he said he had never lost respect for although he had seemingly forsaken his family, he requested permission from the COG leader to talk to him.

While Neil and his father talked. Neil's uncle blocked the doorway with his large frame and began talking with the COGs to distract them. Two Olympic wrestlers stood in the yard, prepared to add their brawn if a scuffle broke out "Will you come talk with me in the car?" Dr. Schumacher asked his son. and once there, "Let's go get a cup of coffee."

The purpose in not grabbing him immediately and forcing him to return to the motel where a hired "deprogrammer" waited was to keep Neil from resisting, to keep him positively oriented.

But the exhausted Dr. Schumacher was by that time having doubts. He saw the shine in Neil's eyes and wondered "Am I doing the right thing? Perhaps he should stay." They stopped at a telephone so Neil could call his mother in Doylestown and the two talked for 45 minutes.

When Dr. Schumacher heard his son's part of the conversation, he knew he had to get his son out of the cult. It was fortunate they had waited for Neil to come of his own free will. Back at the motel with the deprogrammer, Neil was open. He said, "You show me the truth, and I'll believe it." After four hours of arguments in logic and repeated references to the Bible, Neil was convinced. His father had said, "I'll take you back when you want," but Neil didn't want to go.

Two days later, the entire family had gathered in Montreal. Neil said he wanted to return to the house to retrieve his possessions and "tell them about love and God."

Once again, the family blocked both ends of the alley. They were afraid the group would, in effect, kidnap Neil again. The entire family, accompanied by the deprogrammer, entered the house "I told them that they said you can only experience God's love within the group. I said God's love can be experienced everywhere within you if you accept it. I wanted them to see that when they went home they wouldn't lose God's love. I also wanted to say the only word of God was the Bible, not Moses David letters."

But while Neil was talking, a few of the leaders stood blocking the exits to the room Another leader fetched a guitar and as soon as Neil said, "You don't need Mo (David Moses) letters," he strummed a chord and the group began to sing. Neil's father grabbed the guitar strings. The deprogrammer raised his arms and shouted. "Hold it! Hold it!"

The leaders seemed to acquiesce. "All right," one said, "You wait on the porch. Neil can get his things." They began pushing the family toward the door, but Dr. Schumacher grabbed his son ("I must have broken your arm") and ushered Neil out the door with him. While the COGs brought out Neil's belongings one by one, the family stood on the porch and prayed.

"It's hard to get out. You can't get out by yourself." Neil reflected recently. "The best advice I can give to parents whose child becomes involved with a group such as this is, don't delay!"

"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."