Friday, May 28, 2010

Friday Fiction: Invitation to the Mountain

: People often wonder how so many young college students and kids in that general age group (even many of them from strong Christian homes and backgrounds) end up getting involved in cults. Bear wrote this fiction piece some years ago, after studying cults, and learning some of their recruitment techniques. Although this is a fictional piece, many of the elements common to some of the cults recruiting on college campuses (and in malls and coffee shops and elsewhere) are portrayed here. (Bear used the characters from her novel here, and edited it as a stand alone piece for today's Friday Fiction.)

Invitation to the Mountain

It was advertised as a student-led "revival service," to be held Saturday afternoon at the college by a visiting ministry group. Wanda and Debbie were bored because Castle High's Volleyball game had been canceled. (The damage from the tree crashing into the gym's roof during the last storm still hadn't been completely repaired.) So at noon they'd driven over to the college to check out the revival.

It was now midnight and Debbie was worried. They'd been in the overheated cafeteria for twelve hours straight, and Wanda, her eyes bright with excitement, kept ignoring Debbie's suggestions to call it a night.

Debbie leaned across the table and tapped Wanda's wrist. "C'mon. Let's go!" She had to almost shout to be heard over the music of the six member praise band performing in the cleared area at the front of the cafeteria. Dozens of students were still singing along, many with hands lifted in worship. "My Mom's gonna freak if she happens to wake up and finds out I'm not home."

The young woman they'd come to know as Joyce cut in quickly. "Nonsense! Weren't you even listening during the sermons? Don't you get it? Think! Who's most important in your life -- Christ or your parents?"

Joyce wore a light blue cotton tunic over faded blue jeans, her blond hair pulled back into a short pony tail like all the other women in the group. Debbie yawned, wondering why only a few people wore blue tops. The rest of the group's tops were white.

"Haven't you read Matthew 10:35?" Joyce continued, pointing at Debbie. "'For I have come to turn a man against his father, a daughter against her mother...' And what about 10:37?" She smacked her palm on the tabletop. "'Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me... "

"... and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me,' " finished Sunny, another of the three who had been with them all evening. Then, ignoring Debbie, she leaned forward and stared into Wanda's eyes, the flowing white cuffs of her sleeves brushing the edge of the table as she reached for her hand. "Who is your real Lord, Wanda?"

"I don't think staying out after midnight without even calling home is what the Lord was talking about," Debbie said, feeling her face heating. She hated the way she blushed so easily. "Obeying your parents is one of the ten commandments, you know."

But Sunny kept Wanda's eyes, clasping her hand. "Wanda, we're talking a real commitment to the Lord here, not just the panty-waist blah blah Christian stuff you get in your traditional churches. When're you truly gonna forsake the world and really follow Jesus? Haven't you felt the Holy Spirit working in your heart tonight? Are you really satisfied walking out of here, going back to your old way of life?"

Esther, the third of the group at their table, shoved a plate of chocolate chip cookies towards Debbie, and waved at one of the guys roaming the floor, signaling him to bring another coke. "You just need a bit of sugar to liven you up, Debbie girl. How could you even think of leaving in the middle of worship? Tell the truth. When's the last time you've really had such an intense experience with the Lord, huh? Can't you feel Him here tonight?"

Debbie closed her eyes, trying to block the mesmerizing effect of the constantly flickering strobe lights. But even through her eyelids, the patterns continued. She was so tired that her mind was starting to blur. It was hard to think anymore. And she knew she'd eaten way too much sugar for her diet. Even Wanda had taken in more than Debbie had ever seen her eat. There was always someone nearby pushing it on you... She did want to give more of her life to Jesus though. She never felt she really was yielding to Him enough, and her heart always longed for a deeper commitment...

But something seemed off here, somehow -- nagged at her. If she could only think... Her brain felt full of cotton, even though she was used to being up late. Weird... "


Her eyes flew open, startled, as Esther continued snapping her fingers right in front of her face. "Wake up, love! Wake up! The night's young, yet."

Debbie glared at her, then looked over at Wanda. She was still in deep conversation with Sunny, and seemed dazed too, her chin propped on her hand, elbow braced against the table for support. But she was smiling as she listened, eyes still aglow, even so.

The praise and worship session earlier in the afternoon had been more like a rock concert than what Debbie was used to at her church. Drums, electric guitars, and sweet smelling smoke billowing around the musicians while they played... People's emotions running wild. Students suddenly racing to the altar in tears. Dancing. Leaping up and down.

Every couple hours the preacher would cut the music, and talk for an hour or more, even yelling off and on. He paced back and forth across the width of the cafeteria as he spoke, often waving his arms and gesturing wildly. Sometimes he stopped abruptly and pointed at someone in the audience, prophesying over them.

When he'd pointed at Debbie, shouting that the Lord had brought her there to "give you one last chance to repent of your sinful, lukewarm, hypocritical lifestyle before He spews you out of His mouth," Debbie had wanted to dive under the folding chair out of embarrassment. But she knew he was probably right. And ended up at the altar when the next call came.

She and Wanda had finally relaxed more and joined fully into the worship too. But it had gone on and on and on...

By now, after twelve long hours of it all, it was beginning to feel almost like it was happening to someone else... Debbie felt like she was watching from a distance somehow. She chanted to herself silently, Think! I have to try and THINK... Then she grabbed her purse and leaped to her feet.

Esther put a hand on her arm, looking concerned. "Where you goin', Deb?"

"Got to go to the bathroom. Be right back."

"I'll go with you!" Esther stood, almost toppling the coke she'd been drinking, in her haste.

"To the bathroom?" asked Debbie, incredulous. "I really think I'm able to do that by myself, thank you very much."

"Hey!" Esther took on a pouting expression. "It'll give us a chance to, like, chat some more. I really love you, Deb. I want to get to know you more. Who knows when we'll next get a chance to see each other?"

Debbie rolled her eyes, but couldn't figure a way out. If it weren't for Wanda, she'd have left hours ago. But she didn't feel right, leaving Wanda there alone. "Whatever!" She nodded her head, but stopped the gesture quickly, feeling dizzy.

Esther joyfully slapped her on the shoulder, chattering non-stop, as they wove their way through all the students still singing with the band, and then headed out into the hallway.

Meanwhile, Sunny was saying to Wanda, "We can tell you have a real commitment and love for the Lord, Wanda. Much deeper than most in the so called church nowadays... so much more than your young friend's there, for example. They're the blind leading the blind -- following the traditions of men." She sighed dramatically as she watched Debbie disappearing around the corner with Esther. "The Lord gives them fair warning, you know... 'I will say on that Day, 'Depart from me... I never knew you.'"

"I never knew you." Joyce echoed significantly.

Sunny continued, "Now's your chance to fully give your life to the Lord. Twenty four seven. You could join our group. Never have to go back to the world again. You could be surrounded by people who've truly laid down their lives for Christ and have the strength and commitment to live separate from this evil and corrupt generation. Be part of our ministry, Wanda! Serve Him 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Think of the opportunity for Spiritual growth! Think of the fellowship and love, walking together with your brothers and sisters in the Lord. Think of it, Wanda! We study the Word half the day. Memorize the Scriptures. Learn to live and breathe and walk truly in Him. Worship services every evening. Ministry opportunities every afternoon. Great teaching and guidance from the prophet. Always knowing the Lord's Will. It's incredible--"

Joyce cut in, saying, "I tell you, I'm so thankful I took the step last year and joined up. Never once looked back. Don't hesitate, girl! It's your chance at life! We only come to the campus once a year. Then it's back to the mountain for us. Don't you remember where Jesus says in Luke chapter 9 'No one who puts His hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.'? You've put your hand to the plow tonight, Wanda, by joining in with us and listening to the truth we're talking about. You're listening. The Holy Spirit has given you 'ears to hear'. Not like your young friend. Don't blow it! Don't look back to the world you left behind when you walked in these doors. God brought you to us for a Divine Appointment. Remember Lot's wife? Why was she turned into a pillar of salt? Because she looked back. She wanted the things of Sodom more than the things of the Lord."

Sunny picked it up. "We love you, Wanda. We don't want to see what happens to you if you ignore the Lord's calling on your heart tonight and go back into the world, in disobedience. We want you with us. The ranch is such a beautiful place, Wanda. You'll love it."

"But I'd have to talk it over with my Mom and Dad...I couldn't just zoom off--"

Joyce threw up her hands "She's just not getting it! This is too sad!"

Sunny gripped Wanda's hand more tightly, shaking it slightly, getting eye contact again. "Wanda, you're an adult now. You're responsible to the Lord. What're you gonna tell Him on judgment day? 'Oh, sorry, Lord! I know you were calling me that night, but I decided not to go 'cause I wanted to check with Mummy and Dada.' "

Wanda blushed. "Well..."

Joyce got up, walked around the table, and kneeled next to Wanda, placing a hand on her other wrist. "Don't worry, Wanda. They'll be thrilled, once you explain it to 'em. You can call from the ranch tomorrow morning. The vans leave in half an hour, and we'll be there by five a.m. So you can call them right when they're waking up. They won't even miss you before then. And they'll be so pleased at your step of faith."

Wanda smiled widely. "Yeah! That does sound so good! And I know it's the Lord's Will, all right! Totally sold out to Him... It's what I've always wanted..."

By the time Debbie and Esther got back, Wanda's tiredness had apparently vanished. She turned to Debbie. "Come with us, Deb! You could come too!"

Debbie sat down slowly. "What? It's almost one in the morning. Where do you want to go now?"

As Wanda filled her in, her mouth dropped open in amazement. "You've gotta be kidding! You can't do that! Without even telling your Dad? Where's this ranch, anyway?"

"More cookies, Debbie?" Joyce shoved a new paper plate towards her, this one stacked high with saucer sized oatmeal cookies.

Debbie stared, dazed. Then stood, suddenly furious. "NO MORE COOKIES! I don't know who you are, but this has gone far enough! Wanda, you are NOT going anywhere tonight. We're getting out of here, NOW!"

Sunny slapped her forehead and groaned. "I knew it!" She leaned over and whispered to Wanda's ear, "It's the enemy. The Devil's gotten control of your friend, Wanda. Don't listen. Remember, 'Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.' Your friend's tired, and the enemy got the advantage over her and got in. It's not her fault. She'll be so embarrassed later. Just ignore her."

Wanda looked shocked. "Debbie's not the enemy," she hissed into Sunny's ear. "She loves the Lord too, only--"

Sunny cut her off, grabbing the back of her neck, pulling her closer. "Remember, Peter was one of the Lord's closest disciples. But there came a season when Satan got control of Peter for a time. And the Lord had to say to Peter, 'Get thee behind me, Satan.'"

Debbie put her hands on her hips. "What're you two whispering about?"

Sunny nudged Wanda, who looked guilty, but repeated weakly, "Get thee behind me, Satan."

Debbie's mouth dropped open. "WHAT?" She grabbed her purse, unzipping it, reaching for her cell phone. "That's it! I'm gonna call your parents right now. If you won't take me home in the car, I can get a ride with them. What time does this bus leave, anyway?"

Joyce caught the eye of one of the young men circulating through the crowd. His brown hair was in a crew cut, and his shoulders bulged underneath his tunic, stretching it tight. His dark eyebrows raised questioningly. She tilted her head towards Debbie.

He responded by whistling softly to several others.

Almost instantly, there were four of the men with Debbie, surrounding her. The one Joyce had signaled bowed before her and Sunny. "May we be of service, sisters?"

Debbie paled, dropping her purse, unnoticed, on the table. Even Wanda tensed. Sunny said in a soft voice, "Our friend Debbie here has some questions we think you could help her with, and needs to just chill for a while. Why don't you take her to the conference room and ease her mind? She's getting all upset and dramified over nothing."

Debbie crossed her arms, trembling but determined. "You're not taking me nowhere. I'll call the police if I have to. I've got a cell phone, you know."

Sunny grabbed Wanda's arm. "Come on, Wanda. Bad scene. They'll help her understand. We don't have time to stay and talk. We've gotta get you ready for the trip. You're gonna need some clothes and gear. It's colder in the mountains where the ranch is, and street clothes aren't allowed. We'll have you try on some clothes and coats we always bring along for people. They're in the vans. You'll need some warm boots too. And we need to fill you in more on the ranch, so you know what to expect. Remember, don't look back! It's time to leave the world behind... "

Debbie stared in shock after Wanda and Sunny, as they walked slowly away into the crowd. Joyce followed a few steps behind, happily singing, "I have decided to follow Jesus. I have decided to follow Jesus. The world behind me, the cross before me. No turning back. No turning back!"

Wanda sent a quick look to Debbie over her shoulder, shouting, "Don't worry, Deb! It's cool! I'll call you in the morning!"

Debbie stared after her numbly, not noticing Esther slowly sliding her purse across the table. Neither did she see the purse being handed off to still another young man passing by. Nor the wink he gave Esther.

But she felt the men's hands, suddenly strong as steel, on her shoulders and arms, as they slowly led her across the cafeteria in the other direction. She tried to resist, but found herself weak, her muscles limp and unresponsive. It was then she realized there had been something more than sugar in the cookies... then that she closed her eyes and began desperately to pray.

Joanne over at An Open Book is hosting Fiction Friday this week. So be sure and drop over there as well, to find links to the whole selection of entries by Christian writers, and/or to add a link of your own and join in the fun! We all welcome comments and discussion!
Bear's news and free multi-media Christian resources: Bear's Writing Den


Denise said...

Very powerful, bless you.

Karen said...

Very good , Bear...

Rita's Random Ramblings said...

Enlightening and powerful! Blessings to you, Rita

Karlene said...

Wait, I want MORE. This is quite powerful and is reminiscent of a time when I was in college. They didn't use cookies or drugs, but their persuasive speech certainly knocked me off my feet for a couple months. Thankfully, God pulled me out of it when I crashed my bike near their preaching spot. I had been asking questions and they were told by their leader I was BAD sheep, to have no association with me. So they refused to help when I was splayed on the ground and half of Michigan State U. in my face.

Bear said...

Actually, Bear had debated whether or not to put the drugged cookies into the story, and thinks it might have been a mistake to do so. She may take it out on next rewrite. Although some cults DO use drugs while recruiting, many, many do not. And the combination of the other methods Bear wove into the story can be just as powerful as drugs in confusing the person's mind and making them vulnerable to recruitment... intense peer pressure, Scriptures out of context with certain key passages used in ways to tap into vulnerable points and emotions, an atmosphere of hyper love and instant friendship/acceptance, usually lots of excitement and utopia type pictures painted, one strong leader who is idolized (and who often is emotionally or even physically abusive to members who don't follow his line of thinking PERFECTLY), allow people no chance to be alone (even to go to the bathroom) or to think or question (people are made guilty if they do so, and being a "bad sheep" is a very common accusation), keeping people so busy with activities and the group they never have time to think, depriving people of sleep, giving them lots of sugar while playing on emotions, strong manipulations within the group (people acting as a UNIT under PLANNED direction when it SEEMS you're only dealing with one member initially), etc, etc. Concentrating on dividing the person mentally/emotionally from any authority figure or structure, and labeling all attempts at interference as being satanic or "of the enemy". Most cults don't sit down and plan out brainwashing techniques when they try to recruit people, and may even be unaware of what they're doing in some cases. But it all comes out pretty similar, even so. Because the nature of a cult in itself is so controlling and manipulative and depends so much on many of the above techniques on a daily basis -- it's natural for them to use the same methods when "reaching out" to others. Plus, a lot of the individuals in cults who are out recruiting are told there will be eternal consequences to pay if they don't get results -- so they naturally put a lot of energy and intensity into their "outreach"...

Joanne Sher said...

Very very powerful. I was totally engaged,and this was eye-opening to me. Wow

Mari said...

I found anger rising in me while I read this. So very sadly true and accurate. Well written piece of non-fiction fiction.

Sara Harricharan @ Fiction Fusion said...

Oh my. Poor girls! You did very well on the atmosphere of this. I could feel the pressure and I really wanted them to get out of there. Wow. Good piece, thanks for sharing.

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