I was a third-generation B&R, raised in the Seattle area. My father’s parents had both been workers, and I didn’t care for them much (they were VERY strict and sober), but I knew that I had a great “heritage.” My grandfather helped to “bring the gospel” to this country from Ireland (no, I didn’t know at the time that he professed through Edward Cooney). My father was socially and emotionally stunted by his severe upbringing. He wasn’t allowed to attend school past the 8th grade (but he is very bright). They had a radio (but kept it hidden in the closet), and his mom was known as one of the “Black Stocking Gang.”
My father educated himself and obtained good jobs and provided well for his family. It is hard to explain what my childhood was like. I felt as though I had a “split personality” as I was growing up and I lived much of the time in a fantasy world. Half of me was very, very good and loved the workers and the meetings. The other half of me missed all that my friends had, and secretly read movie magazines, listened to rock and roll, and even practiced the “twist” (in my dark basement). I had lots of energy and dreamed of “dancing.” I also felt that God had a “split personality”–sometimes he was loving and kind and other times I was afraid he was going to send some terrible calamity upon me.
My earliest memories are of “playing meeting”, lining up the chairs and putting my siblings in them, and then preaching to them. I remember being told when I was very small (short enough to stand under the breadboard)–that I was destined to become a worker. Part of me accepted that and was thrilled to be “chosen”–and I was being “groomed” for the work. But part of me was terribly depressed. I cried frequently because I knew I could never have a boyfriend, never get married, and never have children.
How was I “groomed”? I was given music lessons so that I could learn to sing well and play the piano for meetings (which I did from age 10 on). I formed close associations with many workers, writing and visiting often. I was invited to stay up at Milltown convention, the month prior to convention–working, studying and living with the workers, to see what it was like. Yes, I got to stay in the “Big House”, and play the piano to entertain the workers at night. I felt SO privileged–I couldn’t have been happier if I had been in the White House! I also was connected with several workers who were in or had been in Korea, as that was the field I was to go to. I began taking Korean language studies and learning their culture.
All of our social life, all of our friends revolved around the “truth.” The highlight of every year was always convention. No question–that was the best time of my whole young life. Even though my folks knew about the “beginnings”, and a lot of the conflicts (George Walker was often in my dad’s home)–I was sheltered from all of this. I was never told how my grandpa came to know the “truth”, nor whom my grandma professed through. I believe they felt that if I knew too much, I would begin to piece things together! I was sheltered from every hint of any trouble or scandal. I never knew anyone left the “truth” (except maybe a rebellious kid here and there)–certainly never any workers. The “truth” really was “perfect” to my young mind.
As a senior in high school, I was counseled by the workers to receive an education in something that I could fall back on if I became ill, or it didn’t work out for me in the work. My choices were secretary, nurse or teacher. My folks didn’t believe in education and were afraid that “the world” would get hold of me if I left home, so they were opposed to further education. I only had a few hundred dollars in babysitting money. Without my knowledge, my high school teachers had gotten together and discussed my situation. One of them finally came to me and told me that they thought I was so bright and had so much potential. They thought I would really “blossom” and learn to think for myself if they could get me out from under my parent’s thumb! So, they devised a way for me to get away from home. They chipped together enough money (from their own pockets) to completely pay for my first quarter away at college–room and board and everything. After that, they gave me instructions on how to get further financial aid, which they said would be no problem once I had proven myself to be a good student.
So off to college, I went. I was SO excited. I had never been away from my parents. I had never spent a night anywhere without them (except at convention). I had never dated (that wasn’t allowed since I was to become a worker.) I was as homely as a rug, with my long hair, freckles, awful clothes that aged me 20 years at least, and my bad teeth (my sister got her teeth fixed because she had to date and find a husband, but my folks felt that being homely was an advantage to a worker…..)
I did splendidly at college and loved learning everything I could about people and things. The first class I enrolled in was in computers (this was back in 1965), and I had to learn Fortran programming language–it was SO exciting to be on the cutting edge of the computer revolution. I met so many interesting people. My roommates were SO wild, I couldn’t believe it! I really got an eyeful quickly.
My brother and I have discussed our later teenage years, and we both feel that we were specially protected because we could have gotten into some TERRIBLE fixes because we were totally ignorant and knew nothing about sex, drinking or drugs. We thank God every day that we came through that time of life without any scars. I had no moral foundation. All I knew were the rules, and they didn’t seem to apply to life “on the outside”. So I walked into several situations, not knowing what I was getting myself into, but then something made me very afraid and cautious–and I believe it was the Holy Spirit protecting me, taking over where my knowledge and experience left off.
While in college, as I said, I met many interesting people. One of them was a teacher who was to become my mentor and a good friend. He was older than my parents. He was so old, that he couldn’t have been a “hippie”, he was more of a “beatnik” (if anyone remembers those!) He was SO intriguing to me. I could listen to him talk for hours and hours. He didn’t drink or do drugs, and because he was a teacher, I felt safe with him. He was so fascinating because he had really LIVED. He was a veteran (I had never known one personally) and he was an artist (I’d never known one of those, either). He was a sculptor by trade–could create marvelous works from bronze mostly, but also did some in marble. He was a fabulous painter–could recreate anything in just minutes, a great photographer and jewelry maker. Very talented. He introduced me to hiking, backpacking, and the great mountains in our area (which to this day I love very much).
The 2×2 grapevine works very well in our area. It wasn’t very long before the workers found out about my friend. Yes, he was truly just a friend (I don’t know what exactly the stories were!) Because of how alarmed the workers and my folks were, I believe they assumed we were having an affair. AN AFFAIR!! I couldn’t believe it. I had never had a date and never even been kissed! I was mortified and insulted and VERY MAD.
I was told in no uncertain terms that unless I stopped seeing this man, I could no longer go to meetings, I could never come home again, I could never see my family again, and I could have no contact with my brother or sister, ever again (my influence was too horrible).
When I was in high school I had nagging questions in the back of my mind. How did such “heathens” write such beautiful hymns such as Amazing Grace, I Don’t Know About Tomorrow, How Great Thou Art, etc.? What about Fanny Crosby??? My teachers, who were so kind and gracious to me, even sending me to college…they went to church and thought they were Christians. They lived what I thought Christianity really was–how could they be so wrong? Would they go to Hell just because they happened to be raised in the wrong religion? What about Billy Graham, Dr. David Livingstone and other missionaries and evangelists who spent their life dedicated to what they thought was the Lord’s work. I believed they were honest and sincere. Would God say all that effort was for nothing and cast them away, too? I couldn’t believe that a loving, just God would do something like that. What about the billions of people the world over who never had heard the “gospel”? (Yes, I remember being told that EVERYONE had at least one chance in their life, but I know how big the world is and I didn’t believe that one!)
So when I was slammed in the face with their scathing judgment of me and my friend, I was shocked. I had never been criticized or threatened by the workers or my parents before. I’d always “towed the line” faithfully–at least on the outside! When I was given a choice “it’s us or him”, I stepped back and tried to look at the situation rationally. As I hesitated, the workers and friends began a barrage of letters, calls, unexpected visits, etc. I was constantly in fear because workers would pop out from behind the pillars or trees on the campus and begin harassing me, “How could you do such a thing, how could you shame your folks, this is such a terrible waste, you have such a wonderful future ahead of you–on and on and on.” They even tried to threaten me with death. YES, I was told by many different people, horrible stories of what happened to this friend, their brother, this acquaintance–as soon as they left the “truth”. My mom even told me that she was having a nervous breakdown and that she knew I would be dead within 5 years if I didn’t leave college and come to my senses and come home immediately.
As a child, I was very much loved and treasured–by the workers more than anyone else. I believed that God loved me as these older workers loved me. I truly believe that these ones that I loved so much, were sincere and trying to follow the Lord as best they knew how. Yes, I believe they were deceived, but I believe that most of them were totally ignorant of many of the abuses that were going on in the name of their religion. I often sing, “’til we meet, ’til we meet, ’til we meet at Jesus’ feet…” And I truly believe that we will be sitting at Jesus’ feet in Heaven together, as I once sat at their feet listening to Bible stories, learning about why Jesus came to earth, memorizing the names of the books, Bible verses, etc.
So when this experience happened to me at college, it contradicted everything I had ever known before about the “truth”. It contradicted everything I felt about God. Their actions did not seem “Christian” in any way, shape or form. They totally trashed and criticized my friend, and in essence wanted him doomed to Hell, the faster the better–and this is Christlike??? Do you have to practice devious manipulation and use threats of death to keep people in the “true way?” I didn’t believe it then and I don’t believe it now. I always believed that God drew people by love. Love is the only thing that can get through hard hearts and even harder heads! Love is decent, pure and kind and always believes the BEST! (I KNEW my scripture!)
I was in a terrible dilemma. Did I want to lose my family? Could I give up the meetings? What if I never got to go to convention again? Could I go it by myself? Did I feel I was right strongly enough to risk everything?
Well, the “rebel” half of me won out. The side that wanted to be “normal”—the side that wanted to be married and have a family. So….there I was at 19 with nothing but a small suitcase of belongings. Very few friends (just the few I’d made at college), no relatives, no folks, and (worst of all) no church and no one to talk to.
I was very despondent and back in those days, we didn’t have counselors. My roommate hauled me down to talk to her priest who was very kind and caring. He assured me that God loved me even if everyone else were to leave me–He’d always be there and He could comfort me in this hard time. The priest was always there and the church was always open, and I felt safe there. I knew (and didn’t want to know) nothing about their doctrine. That began a lifelong connection with the Catholic church. To this day, I still work part-time for the Sisters of Providence. I get along very well with the sisters and the fathers. And I will always be grateful for their help.
My artist friend, knowing that my friendship with him had cost me almost everything, felt terrible about the circumstances. I didn’t even have a winter coat, and he purchased me one. I was practically the only student left on campus during the holidays (everyone else had a home to go to), so he took me under his wing and introduced me to his friends, and I was kept occupied. To make a long story short, I eventually married this friend–I was 19 and he was 46. We moved all the way across the United States to New Hampshire (he had relatives there)–all because I had to get away from the 2x2s that I kept bumping into. They either shunned me or lectured me, and I was a basket case over the situation. I couldn’t talk to them because I didn’t *know* anything (theologically) to reason with them–I just had feelings and intuition.
Back East we had two children and were very active in the First Baptist Church. It was a small town, so all protestants went to this church. They welcomed all people, of any faith, as Christians. I never heard any doctrine from them, either. They were there to be of service and help in any way that we wished, and I made many wonderful friends there. We had a lot of good, fun times as well as worship. After the kids were born the pastor asked me if I wanted the kids baptized. Well, I had never heard of anyone baptizing little kids–so the pastor asked if I wanted them dedicated and explained that it was more of a ceremony where the parents promise to raise the children to know and love the Lord and introduce them to Jesus at an early age. Well, THAT I believed in (even though I had never heard of “dedicating” children, either!)
We attended the Baptist church for quite a few years and I enjoyed playing the piano and the organ for the services. I wanted to be useful! Many of the hymns we sang there were the same ones I had learned in meetings. It felt quite strange, singing them in a “church”. I was very happy. I had the family I had dreamed of. I had wanted lots of kids, but at 50 my husband was not anxious to have any more. So I was content. I grew stronger and more confident in myself. Eventually, we moved back to Washington so I could finish college. By that time, the 2x2ers had forgotten about me, and they didn’t bother me anymore. WHEW!
When I was doing my student teaching, one of my students was a real “live wire” and was continually talking about how good the Lord was and what wonderful things he was doing. I was very impressed by his boldness–and the fact that he was still well-liked by his peers! He invited me to his church where they just happened to be on the tail end of a revival. BOY, that was an eye-opener for me. I had never seen such enthusiasm, such joy, and people so open about loving and worshipping the Lord. I was on the pastor’s doorstep the next morning with a TON of questions about what went on in that service. At the end of the service, the pastor asked, “Do you know for sure that you are saved?” Well, I hadn’t thought of it quite that way before. I assumed I was, but I wasn’t really sure just what he meant–so that was when I made absolutely sure–I didn’t want any question about that issue. That began my long association with a charismatic church.
When the children were young, I was very involved in Sunday School. I really got into learning the material, so I would know how to teach the youngsters. I learned right along with the kids. I had A LOT to learn. My knowledge of doctrine was extremely weak. I also continued to enjoy playing the piano and the organ occasionally, and for a while, I even had the church choir. That was lots of fun, putting on Easter Cantatas, etc. It was a lot of work, too. (I’m not nearly so involved now!) I also learned to reach out into the community and share some of the wonderful things I had been blessed with and I was often ministering at the nursing homes or one of the missions.
One of the first things I did after I left was to get a new Bible. I needed a different version, one that didn’t have so many “memories.” I did a lot of very serious Bible study for many years, to get my spiritual “feet” under me. I studied, learned, questioned, and checked out everything that bothered or worried me. I had some wonderful teachers, from many different denominations. In all this time, I had no contact with my parents. In 1971 the Lord gave me a new set of “adopted” parents–I don’t know if I adopted them, or they adopted me. But I had no parents and they had always wanted a daughter. Barbara and Ray have watched faithfully after me ever since and made all the hard times a lot easier to bear. I went through some very difficult times in my 20s. I had never been a “teenager”–and there were lots of things I wanted to explore and try. This didn’t please them very often. But I will never forget, after giving me some much-needed advice Barbara said, “I know you are going to do what you want to do, but remember this, we will ALWAYS love you no matter what.” That was the first time in my life I had ever experienced unconditional love. I was overwhelmed and couldn’t believe that someone would still be your friend, much less love you, if you did something very bad or something they disapproved of.
As you can see I was growing and changing and getting lots of self-confidence and building lots of self-esteem. My husband (who still thought of me as his child) was not thrilled with my growth. He wanted his “little girl” back–the little girl who needed him desperately, who had no one else, who took in every word he said, who did everything he told her to do. But I was anxious to get on with LIVING, and he was an old man and he didn’t want to do anything that was young, fun or popular! I felt like I was back living with my folks again. As I began to try my wings, he began to abuse me physically. As the kids began to get older and also a little “argumentative” or wanting to do things their own way, he began to abuse them as well. He was what they call a “super control freak.” It didn’t matter if it was sewing, cleaning the kitchen, or peeling an apple–it had to be done exactly as he said. I was never allowed to do it my way, or any other way. He even called the pastor into the house once and said, “Please tell my wife that she has to obey me.” I was SO afraid of what he was going to say, but I was so pleased when he launched into a large lecture to my husband, of what the duties and responsibilities of the husband were–and that if he really loved me and was a good husband, I would be delighted to be a good wife (it wasn’t something you could force someone into.)
The time finally came when the abuse got so bad, all 3 of us feared for our lives. I regret it now, but at the time I did not want family counseling, I just wanted out. I wanted to be free and to do some “living.”
The years passed quickly. I had my “teenage” years when I was nearly 30. I married again, to a much younger, “funner” guy–but an even worse husband. I had never had any experience with drinking, and certainly never with drugs. I got into a REAL mess. I was SO naive and so DUMB. He got abusive before we even got married, but I excused it all away. It was a TERRIBLE, horrible 10 years. If there is “hell on earth”, I experienced it then. Fortunately, after that bad experience, I could see that *I* had some problems myself–why did I keep choosing this kind of guy? And I went into therapy. That was a great eye-opener. I saw that I was raised in a very dysfunctional family and that was what contributed to my picking that kind of partner. I started to see the light! (I suffered so much emotional, physical and spiritual abuse–I still regularly work with a Christian therapist who has experience with the effects of cults.)
Best of all, I found a kind, supportive friend who had also been through some hurtful times. I made sure that he was NOT aggressive. My husband has never hunted or fished (couldn’t kill a thing!), and he’s never hit anyone–not even his kids. He also was very wise and made sure that my first husband was welcome in our house and was included in all the activities of the children (birthday parties, graduations, etc.) I was able to have several good talks with my first husband and thank him for all that he did for me. He really did a great deal (even though I was awfully mad at him for a long time!) I thanked him for rescuing me, helping build my self-esteem, and for introducing me to the great outdoors. (He is the “tall bearded stranger” in my Freedom poem.) He died shortly after that, and I am so thankful that I had the opportunity to make things right and that he understood, accepted what I had done, and forgave me.
Now, I had started attending some family functions and seeing my folks a few times. They never knew their grandkids, but I think that (under the circumstances) that was for the best. I did not want them indoctrinated or taken to meetings! I gave them a solid, Biblical foundation–and now they won’t be swayed into anything strange or cultish. Now we are 30 years after I left the meetings. In all of this time, I had never talked to a “truther” (other than my folks and sister).
Ten years after I left I attended one more Milltown convention. This was just before I decided to cut my hair off. I wanted to sit through an entire convention. If I could do this and not be overcome with guilt or tempted to “profess” again–I knew I really was free. It just happened that my folks were off on a cruise and my sister was in Alaska. I stayed on the grounds (looking back, that was so brave of me). I took in the WHOLE convention. Most people didn’t know who I was and the few I spoke with didn’t seem to know I had left (or they didn’t say anything). For most of the time, I was just all by myself. Just thinking and remembering and weighing my decision. Well, I made it through with flying colors, not one tear and not one regret. And the next week, off came the hair! I took my new “mom” to another convention–just because she was SO curious about the group I was raised in. (No one knew us there, or paid any attention to us–even though by this time we both looked like total outsiders!)
Here’s the part about how I found this list and got in contact with other “exes”….Just over two years ago my father suffered a nervous breakdown. He tried to commit suicide three times. He was placed in a mental hospital in Seattle. None of the friends ever visited him. None of the workers came. The rest of the family was busy, or didn’t like the “hospital.” I took a motel room near the hospital and spent the days with my dad. I ate with him, saw the social worker, went to therapy, and just spent quiet time. After a couple of days, my dad looked at me strangely and said, “How come, after all we put you through, you are here now–and no one else is?” I told him that the past was gone, all we have are our “tomorrows” and the answer to why I was there was just one word, “Grace.” That began the gradual mending of bridges to bring our family back together. It began a journey that is still ongoing–showing my folks what real “Christianity” is like.
So how did this lead to me finding this List??? I asked my sister what she thought caused Dad’s breakdown and she told me it was all the news coming out about abuse by the workers, and other attacks on the “truth”–plus, “There’s this group on the Internet that are spreading lies and calling us a Secret Sect.” WHOA….That set off my alarms. I didn’t say anything, but within a few hours I was on the Internet and searching for anything about a “Secret Sect.” Sure enough, I found the VOT site and wrote Sandi asking her if there was anyone in the Pacific Northwest that had left the “truth” that I could write to. I was SO surprised when she forwarded my letter to about a dozen people who turned around and wrote to me promptly. I was SO thrilled! She also told me how to get on the List. There were about 70 people on the 2×2-church Listserve when I joined.
I had never heard of any of the books (how could I, if I had no contact with any of the other exers?) So I ordered all the books and jumped right in reading all the information. That information has really helped me in my discussions with my folks and sister–plus it finally laid to rest once and for all that nagging worry. What if the Way of the Friends and Workers is really the only one true way to Heaven??? Even though I had been to church for 30 years and read my Bible many times, and was reasonably content and satisfied–still….that doubt that was planted in my head from the time I was a tiny baby was still there.
Now, I’ve made some wonderful friends. Gotten in contact with a boy I used to go to Sunday morning meeting with. Had communion served to me, by another fellow “exer”. I’ve talked to an ex-worker who knew my father as a small child, and could explain the conditions under which he grew up. Most special of all, I’ve gotten a hug and “you’ve done SO well”–approval from a worker that I loved so much as a child (who is also out now, too). After 30 years, I now can talk freely to the friends and workers whenever I come in contact with them. I don’t run from them anymore–in fact, I love the challenge of sharing my faith with them! Power and information make communication effective.
I think you can see now why I appreciate all of you folks so much–your life experiences and your help and advice have changed my life around. You’ve made all the pieces come together and helped me to make sense out of all that I’ve gone through. I wouldn’t be here today, and I wouldn’t be able to help others if I hadn’t been through those experiences. I have a lot to be thankful for….I never realized it before!
Love to Everyone,
By Rosalie (Millar) Burrell