I'm A Survivor

By Careyann Z.

The purpose of this story is not to tarnish anyone’s reputation but to bring to light how damaging the effects of a cult-mindset are. The people in this story have also been victims of the cult-mentality and were brainwashed into acting the way they did. Until the day I was set free, I consistently asked God why He allowed all the traumatic things that happened to my mother and I to continue and often pleaded with him to just take me home. 

My father came from an abusive family. Through becoming a “Message” minister and missionary, he found a purpose and a way to feel accepted. He believed his interpretation or revelation of the “Message” would lead the bride into the rapture. My mother came from a strict Roman Catholic family. When my parents met, my father told my mother, “God told me you’re my wife.” My mother said it felt like a supernatural presence overtook her when my father asked her to marry him which forced her to marry him against her will. A week and a half later, they were married. My father was a very good manipulator. There were numerous healings that took place in my father’s ministry, and some of the things he prophesied took place. I chalk those up to luck. There were also many things that did not come to pass. Fear of God’s wrath effectively controlled his entire family and drove us to do everything he wished. When we went against his wishes, he would prophesy to us, staring deeply into our eyes as his countenance changed and his entire body shook. My father treated my mother like an object, and she just took it faithfully, helping him in all his businesses like a good slave. Once when she was 9 months pregnant and nauseous, she was up on a ladder painting a house. When she climbed down due to the nausea, he yelled at her to get back up on the ladder and finish painting.  Whenever she questioned him or he disagreed with something she did, my father would speak in tongues and prophesy against her saying, “This is God speaking,” or “God is going to strike you dead.”

I ended up raising myself as neither my father nor my mother knew how to be a parent. Both had psychologically damaging childhoods themselves. I did everything for myself from as far back as I can recall. I grew up extremely lonely. My family was the furthest thing from what a family should be. My mother rarely played with me, saying she didn’t know how to play dolls since her mother never played with her. I was the only daughter, and my brothers never included me in anything they did. I was not allowed to hang out with unbelievers either. When I did hang out with neighboring girls, I would get spanked because my mother said I’d picked up a snobby spirit from them. I always felt left out of everything and often wished that I hadn’t been born a girl; at least then I would have been included and would have had a friend to confide in.

When I was 4 years old, my father said God told him to go to the Philippines. He gave away almost everything we owned, moved us to a third world country, and devoted our lives to the “Message.” My father said since the rapture was going to happen soon, he didn’t need to work-we’d be gone soon anyway. We were extremely poor, moved often, and relied on the charity of others for shelter. When we first moved to the Philippines in 1989, my mother and I came down with typhoid fever. She nearly died. My father was too pre-occupied with his missionary work to take care of us, and my older brothers were both too busy playing with their friends to care about helping my mother. I ended up caring for us both. My father gave all his money away to the Filipinos and built churches with it, forgetting he had a family to feed. I was fortunate to have a hill next to our house full of guava trees so that I could have some food to eat. I was still malnourished, though, with my stomach bulging out. My father always treated me unfairly since I was a girl and the youngest. I always got the least, as he said I didn’t need as much as the boys. While I was given 1 peso for lunch each day, Ben, my middle brother, was given 2 pesos, and Josh, the oldest, was given 5 Pesos. Ben and Josh spent all their money on video games, while I spent the little money I received on food. I often owed money to the lunch lady at school. I lived on santol, which was a tropical fruit, jicama, and mango. They cost 2 pesos each. That was all I could afford, and I would go hungry one day to be able to afford it the next. In first grade, my teacher sent me to the corner shack to buy her a coke, and I took a sip of it. When I got it back to her, she noticed a few sips missing. She said, “I thought Americans had money,” and told me I should be able to afford to buy my own food.

Despite several dangerous encounters where my mother and I were threatened at knife-point, my father yelled at my mother for wanting to walk me to school. Starting at age four, I had to walk myself to school every day. I was molested by a group of Filipino kids who wanted to see what an American looked like. They lifted up my dress, pulled my underwear down, and touched me inappropriately. There were numerous occasions where people at school tried to lift my dress, so I had to wear shorts under my uniform.

One evening when I was five, my mother told me to move out. She said she couldn’t handle the kids anymore with everything she was going through with my father. She said I had to pack my things and leave right then while my brothers could leave in the morning. I begged her to let me stay until the morning, and when morning came, she changed her mind. By then, the damage had already been done. I felt unwanted, like I had to fend for myself. This led to me having psychological issues with rejection all my life.

My father was drawn to every preacher he heard of who had a healing ministry similar to William Branham. He believed he had a similar anointing himself. He listened to William Branham’s tapes, or other faith healers like Freddy Clark, day and night. When I was 6, he decided we should follow after Steven Shelly’s ministry in Alabama, so we moved back to America. We lived on canned food from the local flea market, having run out of money. My mother and I sold crafts out of the trunk of our vehicle in various store parking lots to be able to afford groceries. Steven Shelly allowed us to live in his bus in Columbus, GA until we were able to purchase a mobile home of our own. We moved onto his 60 acre property in Smith Station, Alabama. We were among the first few people to have lived on his property during the construction of his tabernacle and prayer chapels. They erected two small prayer chapels on the property that had bins full of ashes. We had to drape ourselves with a sackcloth cloak while we prayed, kneeling in the ashes and pouring them over our heads. He had numerous tent meetings with many signs and wonders, discernment, supernatural lights, etc. We left the compound after living there for 6 months because we found out Shelly’s life story was a complete fallacy; he had used religion, like William Branham, only to make money.

Upon leaving Alabama, we moved to Ray Carpenter’s church in Mesa, Arizona. They believed in the return ministry doctrine of William Branham rising from the dead to fulfill his own unfulfilled prophesies. I was enrolled in 3rd grade and thoroughly enjoyed American school. I learned to use an Apple computer for the first time. Since then, I developed a love for technology. Over the years, I taught myself skills for web and graphic design; however, I never got the chance to further my skills by attending college because education was frowned upon for women in the “Message.” One night after church, Ben was doing cartwheels and flips outside with a boy I had a crush on, and I joined in. My parents found out somehow, and my mother spanked me for it. She made me call the boy’s parents to apologize for acting inappropriate in front of their son. I didn’t think I was doing anything wrong by wanting to play with someone. I was publicly humiliated by my parents. Not long after that, we moved back to the Philippines.

After we returned to the Philippines, my father met a man named Willy Hosanna. The townspeople rumored that Willy was the leader of a cult and had relations with many of his women followers. My father was so devoted to the “Message” that he neglected his own family and wanted to take Willy back to America for missionary work. My father eventually split ways with Willy, and we stayed in the Philippines. By the third year we were there, we had to get rid of our truck because my father gave the last of our money away to help build a few churches. When he began to exhibit symptoms of chronic fatigue, my mother had to get a job to support us. All I remember of him from that time is how much he slept. He claimed God would supply our needs through his “prayers.” Unfortunately for my mother, God supplied our needs through her hard work, sweat, and tears due to my father’s lack of drive.

In order to survive and have food to eat, my mother and I made crafts that Josh sold in town. She never thought I was good enough or old enough to help. This led to my persistent nature and the need for constant validation and overachievement. When we first began making crafts, my mother refused to teach me how to make roses out of ribbon, assuming I was incapable. I ended up teaching myself how to make a rose, and it turned out much more beautiful than her roses. She was sorry she didn’t have faith in my ability to learn. I became the one who made all the crafts. Every day after school, I came home and made crafts. My mother paid me a little bit of money for making them, giving me an avenue to afford a full 5 peso lunch of fish and rice at school. Around the same time, Josh printed up envelopes with “Spirit and Life Assembly” printed on them so that we could ask for donations for our “missionary work.” We essentially begged for money from the Filipinos for the last few years we lived there.

Josh learned how to manipulate just like my father at an early age. Josh consistently put Ben and I down to make himself look better. He was a very intelligent child and made us all feel as if we were not as smart as he was. If not for Josh, I would have rarely ever been spanked. He lied about me constantly to get himself out of trouble, and put the blame on Ben and I for things we did not do. I was spanked nearly 20 times whenever I was wrongly accused and refused to admit to something I didn’t do. My mother asked me to tell the truth every spanking. I proclaimed the truth of my innocence until I got tired of being spanked; then I just admitted to whatever I was accused of. In essence, Josh and my mother caused me to tell lies when honesty was always of the utmost importance to me.

When I was 10, we visited some people with a kingfish bird. We spent the night in their home and woke up to find the owner appalled that someone had injured his bird to the point of it needing to be put down. There were 15-20 children gathered together while the owner tried to find the culprit. Josh quickly seized the opportunity to say he saw me out there and blamed me for it. In reality, I was with my friend the whole time and never even saw the bird until the next day. My mother took me into the next room and spanked me as everyone waited outside the door to see if I would confess. I got 15-20 spankings as usual to my typical breaking point until I said I did it. Josh told her that until I stopped lying she should keep spanking me. Josh then found a microphone and forced me to talk into the microphone. He told me to tell everyone that I did it and apologize for lying about it. I was made to do that, which was utterly humiliating, especially since I had a crush on one of the boys that was there. I was absolutely livid, having been wrongly accused yet again. There was nothing I could do about it, however. I gritted my teeth on our way home, feeling so angry and wronged. On our way to get on the bus, my mother grabbed my wrist hard enough to leave a mark and said I wasn’t getting my allowance anymore.

When I was 12, I fell through the roof where we dried our laundry and landed on my right arm and hip. In falling two stories, I broke a bone in my wrist. They took me to an herbal “healer” woman who massaged my wrist and tried to put the bone back in place. I was in such agony that they finally decided to take me to the doctor. The doctor had to put me under, re-break the bone, and put it in a cast for two months so that it could properly heal. I couldn’t walk for three weeks due to the overwhelming pain in my hip from the fall. My father, as always, just told me I needed to have faith in God for my healing. He prayed over me and said I was healed, telling me that I didn’t need to go to the doctor, I just needed to have faith. I had extreme problems with pain in my back, hip, and neck up until the age of 29 following the birth of my first child. After that, the intensity and recurrence of my hip problems was greatly reduced.

When we moved back to America, my grandfather helped my father start up a successful gutter installation and cleaning business. My father immediately split profits between my two brothers, my mother, and himself. He cut me out of the business because I was a girl. He said my husband was supposed to support me, and he only paid me minimum wage. My brothers spent their money as fast as it came in, while I had nothing. My brothers went through several new ATV’s, street bikes, SUVs, trucks, a helicopter, airplane, Aston Martin and BMWs as well as numerous investment properties while all I asked for was a $500 go-cart my parents wouldn't buy me.

People sometimes poked fun at me in middle school and high school for how I dressed. My mother didn’t let me buy or wear anything except the same kind of baggy, ugly clothes that she wore. At least in the Philippines, everyone wore uniforms. Americans are prone to bullying for everything, so I was sometimes asked if I was Amish. A year after we moved to Florida, I heard about a chat program called Pirch98 where believers would get online to chat and fellowship. I had no “Message” friends where I lived, so I would go online and chat with my friends from different churches around the world. Having other people I could relate to, I finally found a bit of happiness. Of course, any tidbit of happiness I found was quickly squashed by Josh. He sometimes hid the mouse and keyboard and disconnected the computer so that I didn’t have access to it. I often cried because I felt as though he always tried to make my life a living hell.

I tried going to every youth camp and special meeting that I heard of after we moved to Florida from the Philippines. I was in search of a church and a husband who could save me from my family and take me away from my stressful life. I thought being in a good church and getting married would solve all my problems by giving me a friend and confidant I could share my life with, while also rescuing me from my crazy life. I moved out of the house several times after the age of 17, but I kept returning home to Florida because of various circumstances. I started dating, too. My dad once told me it was okay to sleep with one of my boyfriends because God showed him that I would marry him anyway. I didn’t end up marrying him, or the next one that was also supposedly my husband.

When I met my husband Adam, I was consumed with bitterness and anger, blaming the state I was in on my family. My father prophesied about two months into my relationship with Adam that he was not my husband and that I needed to wait on the Lord for my husband who was already in the “Message.” I went through intense stress as a result of that “prophecy”, being repeatedly reprimanded about wanting to marry him. Adam and I moved to California when he was offered a job by a friend. We found a small “Message” church to attend, and Adam was baptized that year. We decided to just get married since we were living under the same roof. I bought a dress on a credit card and that weekend my grandfather walked me down the aisle with my aunt, uncle, and some of the church members in attendance.

We later started attending another “Message” church, where a self-proclaimed prophet named Raul Meza controlled the congregation through fear and false prophesies. He had prophesied to two different women with cancer that they were “going to live and thus saith the Lord they were healed.” Both women died. He also prophesied about presidential elections and told people where they should live and who they should marry. Raul became very involved in our lives, prophesying over our jobs to benefit the ministry financially.

The church leaders recruited Adam to help record all their prophecies and put them on a website. I sent Raul’s sister some quotes on GMO food being banned in Russia; she responded with a snarky email. Raul told my husband he had a word from the Lord for me and brought the pastor to our home to talk with us. He told us he had a vision of me chained to a toilet by the devil and all kinds of other things. I sat and listened to them berate me while my husband accused me of having a bad spirit on me because I tried defending myself. That Sunday after church they had their gift room gathering between services, and I went to the corner store with the pastor’s sister. As I walked back into the church, I overheard Raul begin to speak in tongues. I stopped and put my ear to the door to hear what was being said. He started rambling on about the headship of the home and not allowing man-made interpretations to come through a woman taking quotes out of context. He said a seducing spirit came into our home through me and we needed to repent. He told my husband to repeat it to me. Well, there was no need for him to repeat to me a prophecy I already clearly heard myself. I was livid. I knew the guy was a false prophet and began calling everyone I knew who had said anything about him prophesying false things in an effort to get my husband to see the same. With me being pregnant, I was not going to raise my son in that environment and decided we needed to move back to Ohio to live near Adam’s family. When my husband told him we were moving, Raul told Adam he had a dream about me three weeks earlier. In the dream, I was excited to go back to Egypt, and the move was being influenced by a woman. He said it was an Abraham and Lot decision. We had already rented the moving van, and Adam was contemplating canceling our move. I called another brother from Roy Carpenter’s church who they tried to get to move to their church since he had a “gift.” Within days of our move, he was able to convince Adam that Raul was a false prophet and to not fear him. This led us to continue on with our plans to move to Ohio.

The year we moved to Ohio was by far the most difficult and trying year of my life. I had no support from my husband or anyone else, and he had completely put a wall up towards me due to the church continuing their contact with him. Being a new mother in a new place with no one to confide in was extremely trying. For the first two years of his life, Isaiah, our son, woke up every two to three hours crying because he was colicky. My journey out of the “Message” began when I was prophesied against by Raul. I turned to William Branham’s messages to find quotes to prove Raul false. I did an in-depth study and copied into a word document every quote containing their major doctrines: Michael the Archangel and Melchizedek, the tent vision, and all the quotes on prophecy and false prophets. I found myself deleting many quotes that were contradicting each other and keeping only those in line with my belief on the subject. In spite of the contradictions, I continued on with my goal of finding quotes to prove to my husband and the pastor that Raul was false.

My experience and research in California began the breakdown of my shelf of questions. I found out while living in California that Willard Collins, Billy Paul, and Joseph Branham all believed and propagated the return ministry and literal tent doctrines. When I called Willard Collins about the tent vision, he was adamant that it had to happen because it was “thus saith the Lord.” I always avoided any anti-message websites, so I had to find the truth the hard way.

When we moved to Ohio, we began attending a “Message” church the complete opposite of the one in California. This was a breath of fresh air after the overwhelming stress I’d gone through with those people. My time at the church in California actually led to me having complex post-traumatic stress disorder from being told I was the Antichrist and Jezebel, to getting texts from the elders in the church telling me I needed to put a lid on my mouth. They were determined to turn my husband against me and didn’t stop contacting him until I told them to stop calling him as they were going to cause a divorce. Slowly, over the course of the next three years, I began to see things that just didn’t line up in the “Message” with what the scriptures said. I began listening to preaching from sermonaudio.com. This was vastly different from listening to William Branham’s tapes for me, as I felt like for the first time I wasn’t hearing half a sermon about a man’s life and all his miraculous stories but was instead actually learning about the Bible. George Smith recommended that I start listening to other ministers such as Chuck Swindoll with Insight for Living. He said William Branham himself sat under many different preachers regularly. I came across a video one day on the inconsistencies in William Branham’s stories. It left me a bit puzzled because I’d never thought about questioning any of William Branham’s stories. I came across a website that tried to explain away his extreme exaggeration of seemingly every story he told that was written by someone in the 7-Thunders sub-cult group. They chalked it up to it just being part of his personality. My father happened to also be an extreme exaggerator when telling stories, which I’d personally call lying, but I dismissed it until I came across the website by searchingforvindication.com. I briefly looked at their timeline and clicked off the page, not wanting to look at anything anti-Branham. I sent it to my pastor, asking him about it, and he said I needed to stay off those websites. At that point, I was ready to do some serious digging. Their timeline of actual documentation and facts versus William Branham’s claims just didn’t match up, and I wanted to know the truth. A visiting minister came to our church with a supposed deliverance ministry that weekend. Everyone raved about him, and his sermon revolved around staying off those anti-Message websites. Referring to the Searching for Vindication website, he said he didn’t care about any bridge and didn’t need any vindication for anything William Branham preached since God vindicated him by bringing him to the “Message.” What happened that night scared me enough to make me stop questioning and keep me in the “Message” for another six months.

We then decided to switch churches because I had been studying some things, and when I brought them to the pastor’s attention, he had no interest in seeking truth. My driving motivation for finding truth was intense, as I did not want to teach my sons any lies. I was not quite prepared for the magnitude of truth I found. From then on, I spent every waking hour of the next three months studying everything I could find from an open and unbiased standpoint about the Word, the “Message” contradictions, church history, and unlearning all the lies I had been taught growing up. There were so many contradictions in all of Branham’s stories that I eventually gave up trying to find them all. It was exhausting just trying to find one thing he said that had consistency to it.

When I started posting my research and findings online, all the friends I grew up with and went to church with began dropping like flies. They either blocked me or just cut me off completely. I can count on one hand the number of “Message” believers who did not unfriend me but still stopped talking to me. I had to find an entirely new circle of friends when I left. When I finally reached my breaking point, I had so much stress and heartache in my life from my past that I developed chronic fatigue and just shut down. I began researching everything I possibly could online about what could give me my life back. I came across EFT Tapping, among various other nervous system supporting modalities that helped ease the fatigue. It was rooted in repressed emotions. Once I began releasing the trapped emotions in my body, my depression and fatigue began to improve.

My entire life has been transformed since leaving the “Message”, and I've never been in a better state mentally, physically, and spiritually than I am now. Through all my pain and trauma, I finally found the peace I'd searched for my entire life. I lost my old life and gained a beautiful new life and perspective of life from the ashes of the old. My future plans involve being a life coach and therapist so I can share the amazing gift I've been given by the source of life to help heal and transform the lives of others.