I have often said that my childhood was golden. I have idyllic memories, set in the Amish country of Ohio. Because my father was drawn to the “Tape Listeners” group of “Message” believers, we spent no time under the authority of a “Message” pastor, though we did spend some time listening to “Message” preachers. Instead, most of the “church services” of my youth consisted of my mom playing the piano and my dad “pressing play” on a tape recording of William Branham.
Probably the biggest problem I faced growing up as a “Message” believer in Amish country in Ohio was the lack of a community of like-minded families for fellowship. I can count the number of “Message” families we knew in our area on one hand, or two if I include all the years before I turned twenty-one.
As many “Message” families do, my family decided public school was not a good idea for us because of the peer pressure to dress like typical modern children instead of follow William Branham’s dress code, or to watch television in our home, which was not allowed according to my family’s understanding of William Branham’s teachings. Because this was the nineteen seventies and early eighties, homeschooling was practically unheard of, so my parents decided to send me to an Amish school. A neighbor felt this was underhanded, so my dad notified local school authorities, who in turn notified the prosecutor, who took our case as high as the Ohio state supreme court. Even though we weren’t Amish, we were awarded the right to continue attending the Amish school because the court system at the time was annoyed with the Ohio legislature for continuing to make it too difficult for small Christian church schools to operate in the state of Ohio.
Like other former members, I do have a few childhood memories which highlight the unhealthy nature of the “Message” belief system. My youngest negative memory is the day I was no longer considered young enough to hang from my knees on the trapeze bar attached to our swing set. Looking back, I realize that coincided with the visit from an Amish family to our home just before I enrolled in the Amish school. At the time I was disappointed and confused. I had been so proud to accomplish the ability to “skin the cat” and swing upside down.
I also shared a common phobia which I have since learned plagued many “Message” believing youngsters. Any time my parents were absent, I would fear the Rapture had come and I had been “left behind.” This fear grew until one day at around ten or eleven, when my mother was late returning from an errand, I saw a red glow on the horizon and fantasized that Soviet soldiers were taking over the country. What if they had captured my mother? I collapsed in sobs, much to the confusion and annoyance of my dad. He started a conversation with a customary offer to give me a reason to cry (which would be a spanking), but once I explained my fears, he hugged and comforted me instead.
The last of my negative memories was the powerless feeling that I could not choose any career path I desired. I remember being very jealous of my brothers and wondering why they didn’t pursue an ambitious path to be an astronaut or President of the United States. As a young woman, it was maddening to be taught that women should never have been allowed to vote, and that any place “outside of the kitchen” was not my place. Since there were very few young men I could consider, I often worried I was doomed to be an old maid.
One of the best things that happened during my childhood was my conversion. I remember praying sincerely, and knowing that my prayers were answered. Jesus had died for MY sins, and He loved ME! I was a child of the King. There was a little “Message” baptism in the creek bordering our property.
Once I reached high school, I began to homeschool because Amish schools in Ohio end at grade eight. During my tenth grade year, my mom and I worked at the Amish school as teachers. I taught grades one through four and she taught grades five through eight. This gave me my sense of purpose and freedom from the thought that I would be worthless unless a husband came along. I even graduated a year early so I could return to teaching the Amish school the year I turned eighteen.
The year I turned twenty-one, my family finally sold our house and moved to the Jeffersonville, Indiana area to be part of the congregation at the Branham Tabernacle. We had been commuting semi-monthly to Sunday morning service and communion services at night. Moving to Jeffersonville seemed like a dream come true, since finally I could be part of a group of young people (and possibly get a boyfriend!) It also gave me the opportunity to follow my dreams of teaching to the university and begin to earn a degree in Elementary Education.
The boyfriend did finally come along when I was twenty-four. I had nearly given up hope, but John Collins seemed to be my knight in shining armor. We settled in to a happy but busy time of working full time and attending university together as newlyweds. In a number of years (five to be exact), our first son was born. My life as a married “Message” believer was very different from the one I had growing up. My husband’s family didn’t forbid Christmas trees or televisions. We even went bowling and took in an occasional movie. Since I was used to the dress code and happy as a homeschooling mom, nothing about my life was uncomfortable. Little did I know that the “Message” would still wreak havoc in my life.
The greatest pain in my life stemming from the “Message”, surprisingly, came AFTER we realized it was a false religion. We researched zealously, and I tried with all my might to prove the critics were wrong and ignorant of what William Branham had said. Instead, the contradictions and outright lies I found in my research sent me running away from the “Message” as fast as I could go. Any doubt that I might ever return was squashed when my former pastor compared my husband and me to Ananias and Sapphira in the book of Acts who were struck dead after lying to the Holy Ghost. This man and his wife pretended to have donated all the proceeds of a land sale to Peter and the apostles in the book of Acts. To my horror, I lost a large number of “Message” friends and family members as a result. Those who didn’t physically shun me became very distant emotionally, and our relationships have never been the same.
Thankfully, God is faithful. He gave me a peace that passes all understanding during the time that we were leaving the “Message”, a process that I have described as more difficult that pulling one’s own wisdom teeth out sans anesthesia. He continues to walk with me, giving me strength and joy each day as I do my best to follow Him and be a faithful servant.
The biggest change I can see in my life has been the number of opportunities God gives to serve Him by serving others. Because I am no longer looking only at other “Message” believers as my Christian brothers and sisters, but I see every person as someone God loved enough to send His Son to give His life for them; opportunities to be the hands and feet of Jesus abound. “Message” believers might look at me and think the biggest change has been my wardrobe or hairstyle (though those didn’t change in the slightest until twelve months after we opened our eyes and followed Jesus away from the “Message”). If they could only see inside my heart, and see the growth and the work of the Holy Spirit, they would desire to have that change for themselves.
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