COG Experience: 1975-1978Independent from "Group Think"

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COG Experiences 1975-1978

What do I mean by "Independent of Group Think?"  There were a lot of people traveling in the late sixties and seventies.  Many people were seeking truth and adventure.  I met a lot of people I really liked and cared for but we became part of a group that gradually developed a very tbad reputation.  I want to tell a story about my travels, my encounters, people I met and with whom I became friends.  And, I want to tell it from my perspective.  I will leave it to someone else to chronicle the history of an organization.  When I first put the information up on this website, I had little idea of the activities of the group, "The Children of God" after March 1978.

More than thirty thousand people have been in and out of the group since it started in the late 1960s.  Each person can tell a different story.  They had a moment of decision, much like the convert in a modern church service, when they felt a call or a longing to serve God.  In these individual stories emerges something surprising...not like a pre-formed idea in the form of a news article or television exposé, but that of personal conviction and belief in serving God.  It was the collision course between the perceived understanding of the group's doctrine and the reality of the man behind the wheel of the organization that was on a collision course.  Depending what part of the four decade history a person entered or left, makes a big difference in the facts of the story.

How can a person be swooped up in the moment and lose their sense of reasoning?  It is complicated and the subject of many books.  This subject has been the topic of conversation from the origins of the Nazi regime through the brainwashing techniques of the North Koreans.  What stands true, in my mind, is the targeted recruit to such an organization falls victim to a systematic methods of attack on personal identity, community, belief systems, and family.  Once caught in the current of these powerful forces, the victim finds themselves at conflict with perception and reality and much like vertigo, have nothing hold them steady.  The experience is powerful and difficult to describe.  Within this complex net of control, there are pockets of time and location where the influence of the leaders misses full penetration.  There are moments of sanity and stories of human courage and compassion.

I spent three years on the road traveling to many countries, cultures, and places during that time.  I was from a small town and was thrust into the cultures of the world well before there were travel shows, travel guides, and internet.  We depended on the word of mouth of other travelers.  I didn't go by myself  I usually always had only one person with me during my travels.  When I lived in Italy, Greece, and India, I was part of a group.  Even though we were based in one city at a time, we often traveled two or more days per week overnight, and traveled up to 100 KM away from the city during the day, returning at night.  We usually had little or no money, were equipped with our Bibles, guitars, and literature from our group.  Many years have gone since I returned from the intense journey of travel.  When I got home, I was exhausted. Now, I have had some time to think about some of the experiences.

I have a collection of photographs I had from the 70s that either I took or someone I knew from that era took of the group. There are more to come.  The majority of them are of India and surrounding countries in the early days.  There are over 100 people featured in these photos.  If you happen to know someone in the photo or if you are in the photo, I would be pleased if you would make a comment on it. 

Some of the photos are from my experience traveling in northern Europe during the summer of 1975 with the Children of God high school.  Some are from Italy.  The better part of them are from India and surrounding countries.  I was in publications in India and Greece and had access to thousands of photos but these are what I took with me (again mostly from India).

My Experience with the Children of God

 I was thirteen when I first heard about the "Children of God."  My brother joined and stayed for more than a year.  He was one of seven people from our small town in New Mexico who joined in the early days when the group was only a few years old.  I joined the group in 1975 when was seventeen, spent three weeks New York, the summer traveling Europe and eventually settled down in Florence, Italy.  Later, I moved to India and Greece. From the beginning of June 1975 until the end of March 1978, I visited and lived in twenty-nine colony locations in twenty-one cities located in fourteen countries.  If you count traveling through a country while I was in the group, I was in twenty countries. Here is a video of the group in Paris.  When I was in Paris in the summer of 1975, I met many of the members of the French singing group seen here.  This is a flavor of the music that was being played at that time.

There is a nearly demolished cardboard box on the top shelf of my closet full of half-finished journals, black and white photographs, letters, and notes that I took home when I left the group.  The Mo letters are gone.  I burned them not long after I got home.  All that remains are memories-both good and bad.  I considered writing my story when I first got out but was reluctant to delve into the past and stir old emotions. There are still pockets of emotion  here and there that are strong, but for the most part, I think, I am past most of the raw feelings.   Time has  way of changing circumstances. This was probably far easier for me as I got out just before the new doctrine was ramping up in full force-what was called the RNR.

Like many in the original group, my worn out King James Bible is marked with handwritten notes and sets of memory scripture-including Psalms and full chapters of the Bible.  That is what I thought I was signing up to do. That is why I gave up a comfortable life.  I never intended to get sucked into the demented mind of a psychopath and his teachings.  I suppose no sane person would join a religious cult if they saw the complete truth laid out in front of them. That process comes slowly with deep truth intricately intertwined with false teachings. 

The early doctrines of the Children of God of salvation, witnessing, and reaching "lost" youth through dynamic music and unapologetic dedication, resonated with my feelings about established society.  At that time, there were millions of restless youth all over the world searching for a deeper meaning of life.  I was among millions of young travelers who crossed oceans and traveled to the furthest reach of the planet. Travelers, especially western travelers, took to the road in every possible country.   To the outside observer, it appeared that social construct in America and the "Western World" had disappeared. 

Brief History of the Early Children of God

David Berg (The Children of God), David Koresh (Waco), and Jim Jones (Guyana Massacre), are but a few of the names one may think of when they hear the word "cult," but the larger question might be, "How on earth do sane people ever believe their teachings, let alone join forces with them?___________________________________________________________________________________________________________

The Children of God, began in the late 1960s with a handful of hippies at Huntington Beach and an unconventional preacher named David Berg.  He started a small church and ultimately made the decision to challenge the group to go on the road, live communally, demanded strict discipline, and encouraged evangelistic activity.  He demanded members memorize vast amounts of scripture, "live by faith," and reach the untouchables that were rejects from the "system" that the church was too complacent or indifferent to help.  He accused the church of being dead, stale, lazy, complacent and pounded the fact that in scripture, citing Acts, that the disciples of Jesus were, in contrast to the church, "on fire," fearless, dedicated, disciplined, and movers and shakers.

How could a person argue with that?  I reasoned.  That has been and likely always will be a good description of the church body as a whole.  Adding scripture to his message, he convinced the early group to "forsake all" and devote their lives to this ministry.  The group grew and found fertile ground in the discontented youth of that era, and the radical change in social construct and reached them with scripture based rock music, rock operas, and demonstrations of faith like dressing in sackcloth and ashes as the prophets of the old testament did.  One need only to look video, listen to the music, or talk to people who grew up in the 60s, or watch documentary films about that era in history to understand the discontent by youth toward the "establishment."  The "Children of God" grew and expanded to many countries and so did the influence of one man.

David Berg, named himself, "Moses David" and he encouraged all of the followers to take new "Bible” names to symbolize their new life "in Christ."  This was familiar to me, as I was raised in the Catholic Church.  When I was confirmed at age twelve, I was given a new name symbolizing my turning away from childhood and becoming a man.  Nothing in my church training nor in many of our upbringings within the church prepared us to defend our minds and hearts from people such as Berg.

With the new influence, "Moses David" decided that his sermons should be written down and become required reading.  He called them "Mo Letters."  The early "Mo Letters" were essentially sermons and similar to what a person might expect from a protestant evangelist.  He never showed his image during the time I was involved with the group.  Only a handful of people knew what he looked like or where he lived.

"Moses David" declared himself a prophet and started writing letters with quotations directly from his "prophecy" and selling it as the "new wine" or new "Word of God."  Early on, Berg expected the members of the group to have read and memorized vast amounts of scriptures and exptected loyalty and dedication. 

The term "new wine" is from Mathew 9:17, Mark 2:22, and Luke 5:37 "And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the new wine will burst the skins and will be spilled, and the skins will be destroyed. But new wine must be put into fresh wineskins. And no one after drinking old wine desires new wine, but says, “The old is good.” (NRSV). The members of the group who resisted the "changes" declared by the new "prophet" were made to feel uncomfortable and labeled "old bottles."

We were told that we were "free" to leave anytime.  This may have been true, but when a member of a high mind control group has the members depening on the truth and reality from the leader, it is difficult to break away from "group think" and swim against the current. 

What remained were thousands of disillusioned followers when his "prophecies" proved false.  Fortunately, for many who were in the group, they kept their deep love and conviction for their Christian faith.  Maybe it was the pureness of heart they had when they entered, maybe the good teaching from home, perhaps good scripture foundation, but many have and many are returning to their faith roots.  May God bless the journey and struggle of many people trying to make sense out of an experience that was intended to serve God and wound up going in the opposite direction.  It will only be on the judgement throne when God looks deeply within the heart and soul of every man and woman, that we will ever know the true measure of our efforts to serve God.  Here are some words from a song by Mike Reed called "Walk by Faith" that have encouraging to me.

We have come to this place in our lives

Where faith must be stronger that fear

For if true love is our destination

The quickest way to get there from here

Is to walk of faith

Trust in love

Just keep putting one foot down

In front of the other

When the valley is so wide

And we stumble in stride

When everything inside is telling you to give up

Walk by faith

(Mike Reed)

God Bless you!


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COG High School:  Florence, Italy 1975 (formed in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Moved to NY, On the road in Europe from June to September 1975.  Began remodeling a very large farm house in a vinyard, overlooking Firenze, Chianti Hills, in Antella, Italy 1976 while living in Firenze apartment.  Just as class was about to begin, it was disbanded by David Berg in March 1976 after "Mo Ed" letter came out.  Below are: Isaiah,Cephas, Phoebe, Shelumial (last three teachers).  Shelumial and Phoebe were high school teachers before joining the group (He was English and Literature and she was Home Economics)  Front Row is Pace (Paz), Jerimiah, Tabitha, Michael.  Other students not listed were Titus, Rebecca, Sumaria, Hosea, and Italian teachers Stefano and Naomi.  This photo was taken in Firenze in late 1975 or early 1976.  Photo was taken by Eli Mountan.


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