Our Family’s Story
For me, Christine, my whole life has been spent in legalism and spiritual abuse. But I wasn’t aware of the extent of it or even the depth of the damage to my heart until about two years ago. By then we had been GFA staff for six years.
There is no doubt in our minds that God called us to GFA. It was part of our journey towards grace. And in spite of all the pain it has taken to get where we are….if this was God’s will for us…we wouldn’t have it any other way.
My Grandfather was my father figure. An abusive, “Christian” man who had us live by a “list a mile long” and in order to be accepted and “loved” you played by his rules. When I married at 18, he cut fellowship with me. I wasn’t playing the game right. Round one of rejection.
My, Geoff, (a God-send) was a Gospel Haller. I became one too. And here I entered into my second 18 years of trying to live up to the standards of another very legalistic group of people. I was considered an outsider at first since I didn’t grow up in the Gospel Hall. But I am a friendly person by nature and I worked real hard to fit in and be accepted, and since my childhood rules had been similar (and even stricter) I was able to adapt and before long was “loved” by all. Well, I thought it was love….until we felt God calling us into missions. The church agreed that we were called….but when we specifically felt it was a calling to GFA…..they wouldn’t have it, or us. GFA wasn’t part of them, they would have no part of us. We were shunned for the second time.
To this day I am not sure why God choose GFA as the way out of the closed, restricted circle of the Gospel Hall. Maybe the ‘Three Strikes You’re OUT!”
We no sooner arrived then the Canadian office went through an upheaval. Over half of the staff left. We were stunned! But consoled ourselves with the verse “For such a time as this”. God must have brought us here to help get everyone through this rough patch.
Our first two years weren’t quite up, when I realized I was in the same set-up as I had been in my previous two “rounds”. We were expected to “play the game, submit, not ask questions, forget about our talents, smile and nod, say “Yes, Sir!, No Sir!”, when asked to jump ask, “How high?”
I would sit through the ministry portion of the prayer meetings and listen horrified Tuesday night after Tuesday night as scripture was taken out of context or stretched to fit the message which was usually Submit. Don’t look for or want rest. Soldiers don’t rest. Don’t fellowship outside of the GFA staff. Focus on your calling …which really meant do what we tell you to do. Read this. Listen to that. Do this. Be here. Rules. Lists of rules. And all of it wrapped up with Bible verses.
I would often rant to Geoff about all the scripture stretching and the control and manipulation I was hearing…didn’t he notice? Not usually. How could he not? He confessed to me…..he has a special mechanism….he can turn off his “listening device”. Since he found the messages difficult to follow or irrelevant to him, he wouldn’t listen. AGH! Why couldn’t I do that?!
But every time we would end it all by saying…”Did God call us here?” Yes. “Would leadership be perfect any where else? ” No. “Would we be perfect leaders?” No. So we kept hanging on.
By year four I was pretty sure I couldn’t take it any more. Not only did the leadership have control issues , we were being told that we could not fellowship with the staff as they were leaving. (It seemed staff were often leaving and the reasons very often vague.) I realized that we were with yet ANOTHER group that would “spit us out” when they were done with us. It was inevitable….we were going to be rejected again.
I wanted out and told Geoff as much. But Geoff is a faithful worker. A Rock. Not easily shaken. (I married him for that reason.) He couldn’t leave the ministry in the lurch. If we were to go he said I needed to pray for someone to replace him. I tried to pray for that. I couldn’t. For four more years I couldn’t pray for a replacement. I thought maybe it was the Lord stopping me and that it wasn’t His will ….but near the end I realized that I couldn’t ask for another person/family to be brought into this spiritually abusive environment.
But the rejection of the past, the threat of another shunning. The rules that I couldn’t follow wholeheartedly. The demands on my family and our time. The required meetings. etc etc etc (even the guilt I was feeling about writing a “Spirit-led” email that encouraged others to join staff and now here they were hopefully not suffering as much as I was)….it was taking it’s toll on me.
My health finally gave way. I thought it was a physical problem. Went to the doctor’s expecting a pill would solve it all. The blood work came back. I was a healthy as a horse. Hum. But I have so much wrong with me? The Doctor asked…..”Could it be stress?” I knew the answer to that.
Geoff and I prayed about it. It was a hard decision to make. We did so want our lives to count for eternity. I did so love many of the staff. But GFA is an all or nothing place. I couldn’t take some and leave some. Would Geoff lose his job if his wife “quit”? It was very likely. And we were sure if they could have done without Geoff …..they would have let him go. As it was, he shouldered a lot…he had some job security for awhile.
The week we put together and sent my letter…..”I’m taking a break because of my health, that the similarities of GFA too closely resembled my past and I couldn’t take it any more” most of my physical symptoms went away!
The staff were told that I requested to be left alone. Of, course I did not request that!! GFA had been my sole “family” for the last seven years. The rejection was no surprise, but it still hurt. Of course, everyone was friendly and greeted me when they did see me….but I knew for some I was seen as someone who was no longer following her calling. The rest were probably full of questions, but the thing about living and working in that type of environment….you don’t ask questions and you often feel like you are alone with your concerns.
Honestly I am not sure how all the rest came down. We limped along for another year. I think I was pretty broken. I went from being able to pull off a meal for a crowd to not being sure what to feed my family of five. Cried almost every day. I thought I was going crazy. Doctor, pastor and therapist all said I wasn’t. But I was so damaged by the 43 years of legalism and consequent rejection that I wasn’t doing so well.
Guess Geoff started to take note. He said one day, “It’s time for me to look for a surveyor job again”.
When he spotted one posted in Barrie (a few hours north of Hamilton), he prayed about it for a few days. Applied on-line after a Tuesday night prayer meeting. Had the job Saturday. Gave a three week notice . (They took only two.) Put our house on the market, it sold in a week. God was making it very clear. He was moving us on.
Our exit wasn’t as bad as others. I am pretty sure leadership was happy to see us go. We were setting a bad-example. Plus, we hadn’t tried too hard to explain ourselves, or attempt to make changes. We weren’t strangers to the “Pharisee game”. Just bow out and go as quietly as possible.
Here we are four months later. I still cry almost everyday. But slowly I am feeling less broken. God has brought us to a place of resting for awhile. Our winter was one of almost complete seclusion. I fought it at first, but God wanted to tell me some things.
I had always taken my identity from what others thought of me, how well was I adding up to the present list, my worth was always tied into my ability to “do”. Now I’m learning the “am’s” part.
I AM worthy because of Christ. I AM cherished. I AM wanted. I AM secure. I AM loved. I AM gifted and God has a plan for me.
I AM a child of a gracious God.
Yes, healing requires a lot of tears. But more of the days, I cry because I am so loved and less of the days it’s about being broken because of rejection and disappointment.
Is GFA all bad? No, of course not! Is God using GFA? Yes, He’s good that way. He manages to use all of us, flawed like we are.
It is my prayer and hope that each of us, ex-staff and current staff alike would have as our foremost desire…to love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind and soul. And to love our neighbours (and brothers and sisters) as much as we love ourselves.
And I yearn for eternity when all this…the past, the present and the muddle of all of us trying to serve God will be put to rights and complete and loving fellowship will be enjoyed by us all.
Much love and God’s blessings,
Christine (on behalf of us both)