The getaway

The Sunday Mail (Australia), Aug. 3, 2003

They call it End Time Education – and from the age of seven Julie was taught to prepare for the fiery end of her life on Earth.

Together with her brothers and sisters and the children of other parishioners at a church in Brisbane’s south, Julie would be seated in an austere hall and shown – over and over – video footage of burning bodies and Nazi atrocities.

If they watched and understood, the children were told, they would be among the lucky few guaranteed entry to heaven. If they rebelled and refused, they must be under the influence of demons which had to be exorcised so they could be “healed”.

More than 30 years after she was introduced to the Christian Outreach Centre church by her devout mother, Julie still carries the scars of End Time training and much more.

Six years ago after a lifetime spent within the movement that she would also unwillingly allow her own children to endure, Julie escaped.

But she still struggles to overcome the years of “training” and abuse she suffered. “I don’t think de-programming ever really finishes,” Julie says, despite years of intense counselling.

“You find yourself slipping back . . . I remember hearing about a famous person’s death a few years after I got out and the first thing I thought was, ‘I hope she was saved’.

“It’s one thing to believe in God. But to surrender your life to a church and its teachings which are based on the interpretation of one man is absolute insanity.”

Julie and her siblings spent their formative years in the Christian Outreach movement, a now-international church which had humble beginnings in Brisbane.

According to the group’s website, the first Christian Outreach meeting was held in 1974 in a Brisbane lounge room.

The church is now established in 31 nations, with almost 1000 centres.

The site’s introductory information says: “Some may call us radical, however, we believe that the mighty Holy Spirit is present in the world and in the hearts of born-again believers, having been sent by Jesus Christ himself.

“Because of this, church is the most exciting place in town! Our only enemy is the devil, sin and hypocrisy.

“We hate sin because it separates people from God. God has called us to be people of integrity and we believe that by the grace of God, we can live a blameless life.”

But Julie says the church has as its foundation a theory that any parishioner who does not surrender their soul, absolutely, to the movement is damned to burn at the so-called “End Time”.

“I was taught that my parents were to be beheaded for Christ. Because I was the oldest child in my family, I was to take my brothers and sisters and hide them in the mountains after Mum and Dad had their heads lopped off.

“I was supposed to shield them from the Government because the Government, for whatever reason, was out to mark them with the beast. To prepare you for this, they made me read up on the Holocaust.”

The church teaches its parishioners that anyone who does not adhere to its teachings is demonic and outcast.

Julie says a core aim of the church is to isolate its members from non-believers, fracturing families in the process.

But one of the movement’s more disturbing aspects is the weekly practice of “healing” during which children are exorcised of supposed demons and medical conditions.

“It was just a form of degradation,” Julie says. “I liken it now to a puppy taking slippers to its master . . . it does it because it wants to be patted.

“My mother would go to the church and tell them, ‘Julie’s filled with demons’ and I needed to be healed and the point of it was that the parents would be so proud.

“Parents are supposed to break their children’s will and instil the will of God.”

According to the American report Children and Cults by cult investigator Dr Michael Langone, children are actively exploited by church movements which dictate harsh physical discipline, use religious beliefs to justify their ideologies and often function as isolated societies.

The report says child protection authorities find it impossible to break through a church’s code of silence.

Julie’s says her rebellion was on-going but she was in her mid-30s – and married to a die-hard member of the church with whom she had five children – before she fled. A psychiatric report prepared after she fled says the church regarded her as having been “possessed by demons” since conception.

The report says the church adopted this view because one of Julie’s relatives had been “told by God . . . that (Julie) was a drug dealer and a thief”.

She says that many times during her childhood, she was kept from school and starved and beaten to exorcise demons.

“My brother had got into trouble at school for something minor and I found him crying in the gutter. It turned out he had to get Mum to sign a slip about this thing he’d done, so I just forged her signature.

“She found out, and the church decided we were drug addicts who were stealing from the neighbours.

“It was decided we’d have to stay home for three days and we were starved and held up by the back of our heads and shaken to get the demons out.”

She says ministers held the faces of children and contorted them to force them to speak in tongues. “I’d sit there with my face held so tight, there was no way I was going to speak this nonsense.

“Rebellion like that is called witchcraft. They concluded because of that, I was too evil.”

Julie says that after marrying a fellow church member while still a teenager, she had no option but to bring her children up as part of the faith.

“The church takes, takes, takes and gives so little in return.”

The church encourages its parishioners to give 10 per cent of their weekly income.

“They must have their 10 per cent at all costs,” Julie says. “It doesn’t matter if you can’t feed and clothe your children, the church comes first.

“You take your chequebook every Sunday. At times my husband was handing over whole pay packets.

“I remember one Sunday night meeting when they locked the church doors and the minister said no one was leaving until he had $20,000 pledged.

“He got his $20,000 but looking back now, I cannot believe that not one person who was at that meeting went straight to the police.”

Julie’s final break with the church came after a bizarre incident involving her daughter, then aged 10, who was attending the church school.

She says teachers and ministers locked the children in, refusing to allow them out until they could speak in tongues.

“That was it. I realised these people believed in what they were doing and they probably believed it was honourable but there was just this frenzy, this insanity piled on top of it all.

“It completely fractured my family, it fractures everyone’s family.

“The thing is it’s been years now and they still expect that one day I’ll come back. But I’d rather put a bullet in my head – and I’m in no way suicidal.”

In response to Julie’s complaints, COC Associate Pastor Brian Mulheran said: “Although we find it very difficult to understand the basis for many of the claims, our heart is concerned with the reality of what this lady is now feeling.

“We realise that although perceptions are not necessarily reality, they do often form our reality.

“One of our primary purposes as a church is to assist people through the difficult times of their lives.

“We sympathise that people sometimes cannot go back to the person or the organisation they feel hurt them.

“However, we do pray that she may be able to seek support for what she is feeling at present.”

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