Martin, a Ph.D. and Ohio-licensed psychologist, started the nonprofit rehabilitation facility 20 years ago with his wife, after having been involved in an abusive organization for eight years. Shaw also had a cult experience before joining Wellspring’s staff.
The first time Martin and Shaw heard about the Apostolic Faith Church, Body of Jesus Christ of the Newborn Assembly in Jefferson Township, was October 1999.
Ruth Chestnut, now of Virginia, asked the center’s help in removing her daughter and grandchildren from the Jefferson Township church. Chestnut left the church in 1996, worried about her grandchildren’s safety and welfare, according to an Oct. 26, 1999, report she filled out at Wellspring.
“My grandchildren are being forced to work at the church’s scrapyard after school and (are) being physically abused,” Chestnut reported. Chestnut also accused church leaders of brainwashing members.
Shaw said copies of the report were sent to Ashtabula County Children Services, the Governor’s Office and the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupation Safety and Health Administration.
Essentially, though, no actions were taken.
“For six years, we’ve been trying to warn people about this group,” Shaw said. “It has every hallmark of a cult.”
Shaw should know. To date, psychologists and counselors at the Wellspring facility have treated 900 former members of abusive cults.
Just what is a cult?
In simple terms, Shaw said, those who come from abusive groups who have no control over their lives. She said there are other signs too, including severe consequences for violations of the group leader’s rules. Those who don’t obey the group’s rules can be shouted at, threatened and even beaten, she said.
“The leaders are very powerful because they believe they have God behind them and that they are above the law.”
Shaw said cults can be any type of organization and do not necessarily have to be a church.
“But psychopaths — very sick people — lead them,” she said. “The followers seem to be unable to make logical decisions for themselves.”
Leaders of such organizations, Shaw said, institute their own rules and exert control by convincing followers they have control over any given person’s eternal salvation.
“They say, ‘You’ll go to hell and stay in hell, if you disobey me,’” Shaw said. “They effectively brainwash someone this way. It’s called mystical manipulation.”
Many times, the stories that emerge from these groups can be so spectacular and strange that they defy belief, so it’s difficult to get authorities to believe victims’ stories.
“We’ve been trying to get this information (about Apostolic Faith Church) taken seriously,” Shaw said. “We find out about cults all the time, and, believe me, the criminal authorities must take action.”
Shaw said, of the 900 people that Wellspring has treated over the years, fewer than 1 percent have returned to a cult.
Anyone who needs a place to go can call Wellspring Retreat and Resource Center (740 698-6277) or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Anyone who needs help leaving the area can call Victims of Crime (576-3223).
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