Recently, I had the opportunity to work with a group of middle school children at a Christian summer camp. I was so grateful for this opportunity to serve. However, I have had to really try and understand some of the very strong emotions that came to me later while comparing this Christian camp with my experiences at S.E.P. (Summer Education Program) as a child.
The experiences I had talking and laughing with these children were so joyful. The staff were all Christians who shared their faith and love for Jesus with children who have learned of Christ’s teachings all of their lives and also to children who have never been exposed to the love of Jesus. I felt this camp worked on the principle of bringing children to Christ in such a loving and sincere manner. By contrast, when I attended S.E.P. as a teen no one ever talked to us about Christ as our personal Savior.
At S.E.P. I felt like I had to measure up to a standard of what a Y.O.U. kid should be. There was a “correct attitude” that was expected of the kids. At this camp it was all about celebrating the differences in people and talking about Jesus and meeting them at whatever their level or experience was at.
The youth pastor who directed the Christian camp has given me such a wonderful gift. He has allowed me to see that pastors can be kind, friendly, open and fun–something I never saw from any Worldwide Church of God minister. I feel so happy to not be afraid of a pastor for once in my life. I feel like God has allowed me to be closer to someone who teaches about Him on a level that I can understand. I’ve known for awhile that my level of knowledge about Jesus as my Savior and His love for us has been sorely lacking. Those things were not what I was taught growing up in the WCG. I can honestly say that in all the years I was a part of WCG that I learned nothing of the strong, loving and comforting Jesus of the Bible.
Another eye-opener in watching this youth pastor daily was seeing that it wasn’t important to him to put on airs and be “correct” in his behavior, as it was with WCG ministers. He was not out to prove he was an authority over the staff or campers. He was not out to stifle the freedom of the staff by censuring their creativity and teaching. He was not interested in being placed on a higher plan than others and expecting others to submit to his authority. That was such a humbling experience for me because in WCG I only remember seeing ministers behave rigidly and harshly by using heavy handed authority to force submission and conformity. What an amazing and free world it is outside of the influence of the Worldwide Church of God. I finally saw a pastor teach the freedom that we can find in Jesus, rather than the restrictive rules WCG found in their false god. It is such a miserable existence to live in fear of our Creator, rather than feel the immeasurable love that He has for us.
Another amazing and different thing that I saw at this Christian camp was how the married men (pastors and lay people) treated their wives as equal partners in their marriage and in their ministries. They displayed an open love and respect for their spouses and served God as a team. They treated their own children and the campers with love and offered them gentle guidance and showed respect for their struggles. I have seen and experienced so much heartache as a child in WCG. I certainly do not ever feel that any minister in the WCG showed me respect and love. They interfered in how my parents raised me and they showed not the least bit of interest in my struggles or my beliefs. I am sure that God wants the little children to come to Him and I am certain that He doesn’t want them beaten into submission according to the child-rearing practices of an abusive heretic like Herbert W. Armstrong.
I have compared over and over in my mind the differences between S.E.P. and a true Christian camp. What is striking to me is the freedom experienced by the campers that I saw. They had many activities, but there was also plenty of opportunity for them to roam around and do as they wished without someone keeping an eye on them. They could spend time with whomever they chose, they could choose many of their own activities and they could dine with any friends they wanted. This was so different than the regulation of hours and activities at S.E.P. Another noticeable different was that we attended meetings or Bible studies at this Christian camp in comfortable, casual clothes of our choice, unlike at S.E.P. where I and other teens had to sweat miserably in suits, ties, dresses and panty hose–the required dress for the WCG’s Sabbath services.
With the whole religious focus being on HWA while I was at S.E.P., they denied me God by teaching me that He was abusive. That makes me feel robbed and betrayed. I was never told about Jesus’ love and it is heartbreaking sometimes. I was taught to worship a false god–Herbert W. Armstrong. They taught me to deny my whole spiritual self and concentrate only on them and their authority. I don’t ever in my life want to be under the authority of another group of people. There is no justification on this earth why anyone should have power over people’s minds and personal lives like WCG did. I know how it feels. It feels like a living death to live under their thumbs. I felt loved at this Christian camp from people who were just simple, regular and loving. They didn’t preach or condemn. They only wanted to witness by letting you know the joy they have found in Jesus.