I went to SEP in Orr, Minnesota. That was the true eye opener for me and changed my view of this supposed “church” for good. Since the WCG paid my way, it was made clear to me by many members that I was “oh so lucky to get to go, and I better make the most of it.” So I was excited to “get” to go to this awesome place.
Now we got there a week early because the session that ended had a few chosen ones that were headed home. So guess what?? We got the privilege of cleaning the campgrounds. Picking up sticks and brush, trash, or whatever. We were embedded with the desire to please and we did it gladly. Pure guilt drove us to do things we didn’t want to do, and to smile while doing it.
The camp people knew of my situation with panic attacks, and probably a whole lot more. The infirmary cabin kept my medication. I could only get to it when it was absolutely called for. I was supposed to have it daily, but I couldn’t have it unless they felt it necessary. Apparently, I was bad enough that I got it.
There were many awesome people I met there from Canada, New York, California, and all points in between. But I learned quickly that camp life sucked. We were woke up at 5 a.m. Someone in the group was told to pray for the day. Somehow I was never picked throughout the session. But every morning and evening, I sweated it. Then after the prayer we double-checked our living quarters. We were taught how to properly make our beds–45-degree corners, 4-inch fold back. And it better be so tight that a quarter could be bounced off of it. Everywhere we went it was in a military double file line. And of course we had to chant happy, joyful, encouraging chants to match our fake attitudes. We would eat breakfast and then off to the full day of activities.
The first day we got a tour from the head camp guy. Some old guy who was marveled at and worshipped the way Herbert Armstrong was. By the end of the day, I wanted to slap this holier than thou, demeaning person. Here we are, made to feel that this guy is to be held in the same regard as HWA, and all he did was strut around to show his superiority. For example, during a croquet game between a camp kid and his mighty self, he of course won. The kid had a chance to tap his ball so it could be knocked away. But who would dare do that to this guy? No one. But, this guy rolled his ball up and tapped the camp kids. So what did he do? He reared back and knocked this kid’s ball 50 yards off into the woods, then went on to easily win. In softball, he perfected a way to pitch the ball thirty feet in the air and hit the home plate. No one could hit a ball coming in at that angle. He just smiled about it. Made him feel good I guess. The day went on like this. How boring and self-serving. My attitude still remained cult oriented, though. I was into it full force.
One day it was swimming lesson day. We all dreaded it. We had heard all the stories of the leeches in that lake and we were all concerned about it. Now picture this. Our dorm and a girls dorm stood around this lake on the catwalk that bordered it. Some of us dipped our toes in, and the water was freezing! It was an overcast day anyway, maybe 60 degrees. The counselor then got real agitated because we were all supposed to jump in. No one did. Between the leeches and the freezing water, we wanted nothing to do with it. So then comes the big guilt trip. We were “rotten and disobedient.” How dare we deny a direct order from a high and mighty AC student. So after the tongue lashing, we started to slowly, one by one, jump in. Being a sarcastic type, I back flipped in. And yeah, that didn’t go over well. We all dealt with the freezing water and fear of leeches and got through it. After all, it was our duty to please our elders.
We had a variety of activities: Water-skiing, all types of sports, TV news casting, radio broadcasting, and, yes, a Bible study class. That was my least favorite. I didn’t come all that way to have to sit through even more lecturing. But I did it, smiling all the way. One of my favorite activities was dance class. We had to get all fancied up and we’d meet up with the girls dorm and have an hour for dance lessons. This was our only opportunity to lay a hand on a girl without being attacked by an elder. We all loved dance class.
All of this was fine and dandy. Every thing was going swell–until the canoe trip. That was my absolute defining moment in my cult life. It was a four-day trip on the border waters. Absolutely stunning scenery, crystal clear water, camping at night, totally secluded from the world. This was supposed to be the crowning moment of camp. It was three other guys, four girls, three counselors/guides, and me. We were issued a backpack. When loaded it was around fifty pounds or so.
We loaded a bus and headed north. At the launch site, we split up into one of two canoes. These canoes we were told were around 250 pounds each. All wooden and solid. I was chosen to ride up front of the canoe I was in. The guy up front was responsible for the safety of the canoe. If the canoe was heading toward a rock that could cause damage, it was my job to jump out of the canoe, into the freezing water, and throw myself in between the canoe and the obstacle. And I gladly did this ignorant thing. Wouldn’t it make more sense to properly steel the canoe? The AC jerk in charge of my canoe could care less. He was a definite egomaniac. I speak harshly of him, but I should thank him. It was his ugly self that opened my eyes. I’ll get to that.
At camp, again we were randomly picked to pray for the start of the day, as well as mealtime. I escaped this until Sabbath lunch. I was picked. My heart pounded, I was beat red as I sweated horribly. I knew they wanted some big spiel about the Sabbath, and safety, and the food, and all this stuff that I couldn’t even think of. I stood there, shaking as I began. You have to understand. I never prayed in front of anyone in my life. This horrified me. So I babbled out some two second deal about the food and amen. The kids snickered and I got this nasty look from the counselor from my canoe. The other counselor was from Australia. He was very calm and an absolute joy to be around. The girls’ counselor was nice too. I had no problem with her. I think this prayer thing sparked the attack later.
In between the lakes were portages. These were trails that connected the lakes. This particular one was around one solid mile. Through the woods, creek beds, over fallen logs, etc. This guy and I from New York carried our canoe and our packs. The yokes on this canoe really dug into my shoulders. About halfway through I couldn’t take it anymore. I had to stop and set the canoe down. The counselors hated this and let us know. So instead of these big strong men helping out, they just yelled at us to get going again. This happened a couple more times. So this New York kid and me started singing Paul Revere from the Beastie Boys. Not exactly cult approved. Finally, we reached the next lake. I was exhausted. I dropped the canoe and fell down and all but collapsed. This pissed off the counselor from our canoe. He came running over (he could still run because he wasn’t hauling 300 pounds) and started yelling to get up and help load the canoe. I gave him my best “go to hell” look and pulled myself up. I started throwing everything in. Then we were ready to shove off.
I yanked that canoe out into the water, and that’s when this AC thug attacks me. He grabs me by my shirt up around my neck and shakes me around. This look in his eye of such intense anger scared me. I froze and just followed his violent lead. We fell into the water and he yanked me up and continued with whatever he was saying. I honestly don’t remember anything he said. It had something to do with my attitude I guess. No one stepped in to help me.
Apparently I was getting what I deserved in their eyes. So after this nut was done making his own self feel good and superior, we all got in the canoe and set out. It was deafeningly quiet. I steamed away, throwing my oar in the water like a raving lunatic. And I guess I was splashing the others behind me. So again I got a good yelling at by my friend, who only cared for my soul and was trying to help me. As it ended up, I got to ride in the Aussie’s canoe. That made things more enjoyable. But the damage was done. Well, it was good damage. Eye opening for sure. I could not wait to get back and go home. This AC guy just opened my eyes to how fake and abusive this cult was. I understood now. Thank you AC guy, and by the way, I forgive you.