Regardless of faith
Report on Growing Up in Isolated Faith Communities
Save the children
Save the children
Hammersborg torg 3
Tlf: 22 99 09 00
Interview, processing and text:
The project was financed by:
All pictures are for illustration purposes and not of the people mentioned in the report.
REGARDLESS OF FAITH
A couple of years ago, Save the Children ran a project called "Go On", where young people who had broken out from isolated religious faith communities received offers of help. The project revealed that we in Norway had little knowledge about children growing up in this type of faith community. The report "Regardless of faith" is a continuation of this work thanks to which people who grew up in isolated faith communities were able to tell their stories.
All the stories are based on growing up in Christian free-church communities, communities which traditionally are part of the Norwegian cultural and religious reality. It is important for Save the Children to emphasise that their choice of the focus is not, in any way meant to criticise religion. We want to attract attention to the limitations and violations of the law which often characterise growing up when communities hinder free thought and opinion and withdraw from the natural environment. The independent right of children to freedom of speech and religion must be discussed and assessed against the freedom of parents to decide for them, and their rights and duty to accompany and set limits for their children. History tells us that these isolated environments greatly hinder the possibility of securing children’s rights regarding freedom of thought, belief and speech, as stated in the United Nations' Convention on the Rights of the Child, and in Norwegian law. For "Save the Children", an organisation which wishes to protect children’s rights, this is a reason for serious concern. The rights of children must also be considered in the light of the schooling available to children living and growing up in faith communities, schooling which is based on these communities’ biased view of the world.
We thank "Health and Rehabilitation" for their economic support of the project. We thank the witnesses for their clarity, honesty and courage. These case histories give us increased insight on childhood in isolated environments. This is important knowledge.
We hope that this report and the witnesses’ clear opinions and experience will create a basis for reflection and discussion.
Happy childhood memories? This was a difficult question. Yes, my grandmother listened to me all the time. She also belonged to the community, but she was not like all the others - she could play as anyone from the outside and this was not permitted. Only I knew about this.
There are large numbers of free-church communities in Norway. Some are small while others have many thousand of members. Some are quite new and locally based, others have existed for a long time and belong to a world movement. Some are in contact and dialogue with the society around them. Others are closed in and isolated.
How to grow up in a closed community is the subject of this brochure. We have interviewed youngsters and adults whose common link is that their parents had been members of a free-church community. Some report a safe childhood, others best remember insecurity, but all describe a childhood very different from all others. Independently of how they described their childhood, they had at a certain point, experienced the religious community as such a burden and its strictness as so depressing that they broke out. The price for this break was high.
There are no reliable statistics about the number of children and youngsters belonging to isolated faith communities. A reason among others is that the limits for defining a faith community as isolated are not easily established. In this project, we have included communities which limit the possibilities of their members' free forming of opinion, which impose restrictions on information exchange between members of the community and the rest of society, and where severe sanctions are applied to those leaving the community.
That faith communities are isolated does not mean that they are unidentified. The may be distinctly visible in the local society, and in some cases, individual leaders may participate in public debate. This visibility and participation may make it difficult to understand that the community is both isolated and closed.
Growing up inside a closed and isolated community often includes a childhood and youth where many of the rights of children and youths are violated. They have strong limitations with regard to the information available to them and what they are allowed to reveal. They are deprived of the right to have a personal opinion and they don't have the same choice as others with regards to school, friends and leisure.
Most of those born in a community may think that they will stay there forever. It is an impossible and forbidden thought that anything may be wrong with the community. When doubts appear, they look for the reason in their own shortcomings.
The walls built around the community make it as difficult for those outside to look in, as for those inside to look out. But even if the way these children grow up is hidden from the outside world, this does not mean that it should not concern us.
The right to rest and to enjoy leisure - among other things, to play and take part in activities adapted to a child's age.
They outside and we inside - about isolation, solidarity of the group, renunciation and damnation
Children who grow up in isolated faith communities don't necessarily have the same type of education, but a common denominator in their education is that they are tied to the community. A whole spectrum of methods of education is used to achieve this. In some families, the basic element is the community and its activity, in other cases the predominating elements centre on punishment and fear or feelings of guilt and damnation:
Closed communities raise strong barriers against the outside world. What happens inside should not be known outside. They establish an understanding of "they" and "we". Not even close relatives are part of the "we" if they do not belong to the community. Children may therefore have aunts and uncles, grandparents or elder siblings with whom they have minimal contact. They do not meet normally. They celebrate nothing together, neither traditional family festivities like Christmas, Easter or 17th of May, because either the community does not celebrate these occasions or does celebrate them in its own way. Some reported a childhood which was characterised by deep despair because a grandmother, cousin or kindergarten playmate was "on the other side". The division could be so absolute that if somebody in the community died, relatives outside the community are prevented from coming to the funeral.
Grandfather was in the world. This was a heavy load to bear - he would go to hell. This was an obsession all the time; he must be saved and he must come with us.
COMMUNITY AND ACTIVITY
We made many trips. My father was a leading evangelist who travelled around and preached, and we children went with him. We had countless pleasant experiences and I have many happy memories. I can say that our father manipulated us, but with a positive approach. He understood that he should not press us, but must convince us that this was right. We lived in a large house - and father created a playground and a football field, so that we should stay there. Only exceptionally did I go to other homes or brought others home with me.
FEAR AND PUNISHMENT
I remember once that I was in the bath-tub. I was 4 or 5 years old. Suddenly it occurred to me that I was not good enough to be allowed to live. They said that I was damned and that I should not have been born. I became hard, especially externally. I learned to keep a face which it was difficult to see through.
It was very clear to us that we belonged to another world which was a much better world - even if it could be a very troublesome world…
The worldly world is described as a place where it is not good to be, and it is a pity for those who live there. The leaders in the community often use examples of individual fates from society around us to strengthen the imagination about the community’s superiority. Without any respect for those concerned, youngsters from school or the neighbourhood were criticized at meetings and during preaching: if they had difficulties at home, if they had drug problems or if a young girl becomes pregnant. Those people live "in the world" and the way they behave prove how it is on the outside.
It was clear to us that we had to remain in the community. This was the most important thing. We could not leave the community.... because we would not get the Lord's blessing. If we had worldly comrades then we could loose our footing and get lost in the worldly world.
Remember, all other children are lost!
If children went to school outside the community, there may be severe restrictions with regard to who they are allowed to be with in their leisure time and after school. If the community has its own kindergarten and school, then contacts will be further controlled. It may be said that comrades in the class and neighbour’s children are not good enough to be permitted to play with them, they are lost while they themselves belong to those who are the ones selected to be saved.
– We did not have permission to frequent other children after school. This was the reason why we had no idea of what the world was like. This is said in the scriptures.
But I did it so over and over again and I was beaten every time I did it. They could not tame me. It was so nice to meet others. They were friendly and happy and could get angry with each other and give their opinions. Therefore I did not understand what was supposed to be wrong with them, in relation to ourselves.
They kept us busy during the holidays and on weekends - yes, there they were smart, because they knew that at such times it was possible to make friends.
Whilst we were growing up, time and thoughts were focused on activities in the community. There were children's groups, meetings and instruction. By and by there would be house meetings, conferences, prayers and fasting, missions, help services and work. For many this means daily activities. During the holidays there were activities, group travel or staying in the community's own holiday resorts. Relationships were made within, sticking together was strengthened while all connections outside were loosened.
It was not permitted to have sweethearts. This was a rule. One should meet one person and this person one should marry.
As they grew into adolescence and as young grown ups it becomes apparent that they were different. This could be difficult to handle. They experienced isolation more directly and they began to understand that to be kept away from the worldly world was not just a protection, but also a loss.
In school, I was completely isolated. I had no friends in the class. I did not dare to make contact because I felt strange, different and inferior. I had no common interests with the others. I had no idea what they were talking about, when they talked about sweethearts and parties. This was something which did not concern me at all. This was a completely different world.
SENSE OF GUILT AND DAMNATION
I should be grateful to have come into a community which had the right opinion about God. If not, then I would have gone straight to hell. This made me scared to death. I saw a mountain of fire in front of me and could nearly hear the lamentations. I remember that I never felt safe. Damnation was threatening all the time – even when things were ok.
The right to express one’s opinions and the child's own points of view have a different importance according to age and maturity
The aspect of justice - about disciplining and censorship in the community
In Norway, as in several other countries, freedom of religion is seen as one of the most fundamental human rights. Many parents, community leaders and others think that religious freedom includes the unlimited right of parents to decide on their children's religious education. But children have independent rights granted both by Norwegian law and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Precisely in this field of tension between the freedom of parents to decide about their children, and the independent rights of children, we will now discuss on how children grow up in isolated faith communities.
In some communities, there are restrictions related to contacts with the outside, and censorship related to impressions and information from the outside. The censorship limits the usage of TV, radio, books, magazines, newspapers, movies and computers. The isolation and the compactness may be nearly total at some places.
To grow up means to change. If children and youngsters acquire new attitudes, opinions and knowledge, they try them out in discussions with others. This is not permitted in isolated faith communities. "You are even not allowed to have free thoughts", was a statement made by several persons. The result is a climate of growing up without any possibility for normal opinion forming.
It is unbelievable how much power one can have over people. Especially if one uses the notion of God.
The Convention on the Rights of the Child has rules related to forming of opinion and freedom of thought.
These are important prerequisites to participate in a democratic society. Article 12 talks about the right of children and youngsters to express their own views, article 13 states the right of freedom of expression including freedom to seek, receive and impart information, article 14 stresses the right of freedom of thought, conscience and religion. Children growing up without respect of these rights, do not only lose fundamental rights, but are also less protected and may more easily become victims of abuse of power and control by others.
Right to private life, honour and reputation - also with respect to parents’
rights and duties
ASPECT OF JUSTICE
Article 16 of the Rights of the Child Convention states the right of children and youths to have a private life.
Adolescence and young adulthood in particular is a period of testing, becoming independent and seeking one’s identity. Sometimes one may surprise, disturb and disappoint oneself. At this stage it is important not to feel that one is being watched all the time, like being an exhibit t- x-rayed and unprotected.
It is the pastor and a small group around him who generate opinions which the rest of the community shall defend. They see themselves as administrators of the true teachings, nearly without exception they are men and they have absolute authority, given them by God. If a simple member wishes to correct the leader, it may be seen as revolution, not only against the community, but against God.
The manipulation is very subtle
It is difficult to tell exactly what it is, but it is present anyway. If those who have broken out look back to their growing-up, they discover that disciplining was a continuous process throughout their entire childhood and youth. They use words like manipulation, thought control and brain washing when they describe what mechanisms were at work. Afterwards, they are surprised that they did not see it earlier and more clearly. But they realize at the same time that, as they were right in the midst of it and did not have anything to compare with it, it was nearly impossible to detect.
The rules of the community are your thoughts. If you don't manage, you have no place there.
Life in the community challenges the right to a private life. A ten year old girl and her friend plaiting each other’s hair were asked to stop. This could stir emotions! The community's need to control increases along with the youngster's need for a private life. To have a deviating opinion about music, clothes and education is seen as opposition. To have secrets, new interests or to friends outside the community is seen as provocation. A strategy used by the community was to continually watch the group of youngsters. A boy admitted that at the time he would have liked to follow the community’s commands, but the result instead was that he felt completely exposed and as if the control over his life was taken away from him. "X-rayed and unprotected" were his own words about what he had to cope with.
We had to set our personal goals and, with all the others, had to try to reach them. At the next meeting, we had to report if we had managed. First we had intensive prayer, then sang in praise and spoke in tongues. Then we had to introduce ourselves to all our friends and leaders and tell them what we had done during the past month - whatever it has been. It was like being judged in court: if we had prayed one hour every day, if we had saved somebody, if we had witnessed happenings for anybody and possibly for whom and how many times, whom we had recruited into the community. In other words: "how we had managed".
Right to be protected against failure of care and abuse
The Convention of the Rights of the Child also lays down rules which should secure the children's and protect them against abuse.
The most important article in this context is article 19 which treats of the children's and youngsters’ right to be protected against physical and mental abuse, and article 24 dealing with the right to health and treatment of illness.
It is not justice that counts, but subjection.
One-sided influence may be a psychological abuse in itself. There are, however, more explicit methods of disciplining. Within the same community, humiliation, lock-out from the community or loss of attractive tasks may be used simultaneously with strategies which include insistence but unwanted exposure through song of praise, prayer and speaking in tongues.
Behind the shouts of "hallelujah" there is fear. Behind the smiles and devoutness there is depression and discouragement.
In some communities, public critic is a frequently used means of sanction. Often this means that one is mentioned from the preacher’s chair. The accusation may be made, as in the example below, but the person mentioned, in this example a young boy, cannot contradict, explain or correct that which is said. The only thing the person can do is to show shame:
He had done something very very serious. He had committed a big infraction. I don't wish to say what it was. And you don't want to know what it was, it is that serious! He has been deprived all his tasks. I don't want anybody to speculate about what it was - and nobody should ask what it was. He should only come to the meetings and build himself up again.
Those who talk about abuse will be excluded. Not the abusers.
Some people have been submitted to physical punishment, violence or abuse in the name of the faith and the community. Much effort is used to keep such matters hidden, but it happens anyway that they become known in the community. If the matters are not admitted immediately, experience shows that too little is done in the community to disclose the facts. If the circumstances are admitted, the community often acts as plaintiff, defender and judge simultaneously. The case finds an internal "solution" without the victim necessarily finding help, protection and rehabilitation.
They knew about this in the community. That is quite certain. They did not confess that it was ok, but I heard afterwards that when mother was at the meetings and he was at home with me, they thought: "What is he doing with her now?" When he tried to rape my friend’s little sister, he was discovered. Then he had to present himself before the community and confess and repent.
In this they have tradition: to confess and to repent and to continue!
Those who had not experience physical punishment may have the feeling that they were punished. This may become a permanent feeling not to be good enough - not to be worthy. Or it may be fear and uncertainty, connected to the experience of loneliness, without anyone "who wants to be with me". Among those whose experience was partly good when growing up, there were many who reported a childhood full of sadness which they did not manage to overcome.
It is regarded as a serious failure to tell the neighbours about circumstances at home or in the community which could bring criticism. To go to the police was totally excluded, and to seek help from social services was unacceptable.
If you really have to grow, then you grow inside the community. You will not grow in the worldly world.
The right to be educated has strong support in Norway. We don't need the Child Convention to be reminded about the rights of children and youngsters in that area. However, those who broke out reported that education was neglected in such a way that it was not known by outside society.
All that mattered was to be in the community and to serve God. In spite of this, if someone decided to educate himself he was asked to do so quickly so that it did not take too much of the time which he really should use his life for. Only exceptionally was it considered that education could further the call one had from God. Many parents used important parts of their free time for the community. This may be practical work, fundraising, mission or management. Service in the community is service for God. The children accompanied their parents to this work when they were still very small. Thus, for many children, little time remained for fun, play or rest.
One of the reasons why one had to work so much was to stop other thoughts from entering one’s mind.
As seen above, the Convention of the Rights of the Child has rules to secure the children's right to education, health and treatment and protection against abuse. (article 19, article 24, see page 8). The right to be educated also implies that the education shall develop the child's personality and talents. In article 2, it is also said that education shall prepare the child for a responsible life in a free society in a spirit of understanding, peace and tolerance. Article 31 reminds us that a child has the right to rest, to leisure and play.
Right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion
Remain or break out? – about doubts, faith and loneliness
Most people born into a community think that they should remain there forever. If doubts arise, it is natural to try to chase them away. At first, it is an impossible and forbidden thought that there could be anything wrong with the community.
To admit doubts is the same as to admit the horror scenarios that growing up has been filled with: damnation and isolation. Quite early in childhood they had the knowledge and the fear that they could loose somebody totally. They know a break-out in many cases will mean to be totally cut off from contact with the family and others in the community. Those breaking out will in many places be regarded as no longer Christians, they will be despised and they will completely loose heir previous foothold. Despite this, doubts will strike roots at some. Either because the world outside "intrudes"; they wish to participate, experience and discover. Or the doubts find nourishment in a permanently increasing unrest related to circumstances inside the community.
The only people I thought I could address here were those with more spiritual notion in the community. I was totally open. Then I was told I was not spiritual enough. If I wanted to become spiritual enough then I had to pray two hours each day. If I just did that, things would become evident for me. I had a spirit of rebellion in me, some demons.
But the degradation only became stronger when they met me with condescension and criticism. "It is you who must sharpen yourself!" I just became more sullied and received more confirmation that I was the problem. So I became rather depressed and was still more disgusted with myself and unhappy because I felt that whatever I tried it did not work. No matter how much I prayed and how much I fasted, no matter how much I did, this did not make me frank or proud or happy. I just wanted to run away from everything, because I was so exhausted by everything.
In my eyes, the leaders were a strong elite in whom I had much confidence. I was very much afraid to say anything against them. At the same time, I saw that there were many who found life very difficult, basically they did not have the experience that God was merciful. People were working round in circles without any joy in life. Faith was an enormous burden. The truth that we were all happy and all the others were unhappy started to burst. When I, in addition, found out that the top leader was manipulating and lying, it came as a shock! I did not have any idea that they used such means and that the usage of power could functioning this way. I had experienced that earlier, but had not understood, because then I was on the same safe side as they were. Now I understood what had happened to people who had been pushed out. This was an enormous personal experience.
I was scared to death that one day it might be proven that I was not right.
For most people, the community represented salvation, security and community. In times of affliction, they try to find those values again. Therefore, they seek help within the community. But instead of finding understanding, many find out that the authoritarian structures do not tolerate to be challenged. Instead it will be made clear to them that there is no place for deviation, that the community does not have strategies to solve conflicts, and that there are no basis for democratic decisions.
Remain or break out? The reaction of the community will press you to breaking point instead of the contrary.
I left because of a mixture of desire for a better life and for freedom - I had never felt that I was free.
Of course there are many more who doubt at some point of time and then a number break out. Those who take that decision emphasize the drive for independence and justice as deciding properties. "I think I have a strong built-in sense of justice", said one person as being the reason why he had just left the community.
"If I experience something unjust then I have to do something about it", said another. Other give the reason for the breaking out because they feel a need for "freedom to think for themselves" and they don't want to be "put in a cage". Furthermore, they thought that they had a power which made it possible for them to do what they had decided. All agree that it had cost them much.
We started to talk about it, and it was a revolution.
Because one’s own shortcomings are used as the explanation for doubt, for many it is quite excluded that others ask questions about the community and the faith. Everybody thinks that he or she is alone in his / her doubt. The experience of loneliness becomes strong because fellowship has been so over emphasized. If they discover, at any point of time, that they are not alone anyway, they describe the feeling as overwhelming.
I did not believe that I heard what I heard because suddenly we were three who felt exactly the same. We had just played together, smiled and clapped - and there were two others who felt exactly the same way! I could not believe it! This was something quite great! Would I have fallen safely on my legs if I had been alone? - This would have been very difficult.
When it was clear to me that I would leave, it became very clear that I wanted to get better conditions on the outside, and that I could not survive if I had to continue inside.
When the break out is a fact, many describe it as a relief. For some, the process may have gone on over many years with doubts and lost affiliation - like walking through a no man's land. For others, the process may be shorter, the break out may be tougher and the farewell may be more painful.
The grandmother whom I loved so, was like a shadow in the conflict. I remember when I left - she came out on to the staircase and said: - Can you leave your "mother"? And tears were rolling down her face. This was our last contact. I don't know if she is still alive.
All of a sudden, I had had enough! I realised that everything which had been painful, all this pain - in any case partly, came from these people. I thought this was very unfair. What right did they have to condemn me and to treat me in such a condescending way? What gave them the right to treat me this way? This made me very angry!
Right to freedom to speak and to get information, among other things to seek, accept and distribute information and ideas.
Outside Impulsion – about mistrust and small openings
Afterwards, many may have wished that somebody outside the community would have seen and understood what happened whilst they were growing up. At the same time they realized that this was a nearly impossible demand. The walls built around the community made it equally difficult for the surroundings to look in, as it was for those inside to look out.
Should someone have tried to come in with information, help or support, there is no guarantee that this would have been accepted – or even that it would have been needed. The distrust they had about everything and everyone outside themselves was so inbuilt that it blocked any help. It is even possible that an offer from outside would have provoked a contrary result: doors which had been opened a small crack would have been locked again. "I would have been sceptical had I received an offer from the counselling service, and I would immediately have gone to the community and told them about the offer. They could have pushed me still deeper inside", one person explained, while another one smiled over his own scepticism when he stated that had somebody with long hair and a beard come, he would have had lost immediately ... whether he was from the social services or a psychiatrist or anybody else". And he continued: "It should have been somebody that I trusted, or who had built up a relationship with me over a certain amount of time - then I could have allowed some influence. In any case it should have been a Christian person. I would have been extremely cautious should anyone have asked me questions on whether the community was right."
Because we are a Christian country with missions and many communities, it is difficult to see that there are problems. Therefore it is important that more people should learn about them - then one can be warned.
In the community where I grew up, everything may have looked good, correct, positive and open. Quite different from other cults where one heard about things which everyone knew were bad. This is part of the tactics. Therefore, one should always remain watchful when people want to do their own thing and protect themselves from society around them. In all closed communities, a type of abuse is happening. The isolation is an abuse in itself, and it is very dangerous.
The right to education, space and development
I knew that I had the right to decide. That was important.
A possible opening is to look at information from a judge’s point of view. In that way one does not attack the community or the faith, but one informs about circumstances which apply for everybody. This may strengthen the factors which could lead them to understanding that they have a choice, "... and this may contribute to the realisation that they are valuable, no matter what they choose", said a girl who, through this awareness, had had the strength to build up a network of friends outside when she was still in the community. This network became her bridge out.
If they had their own school – that was the worst thing that could happen. They would become even more isolated.
School is the place where youngsters meet and spend much time. School often represents another culture and stimulates other experiences than those at home or in the community. This may cause the child to feel different, but this may also contribute to develop independence and awareness that there is another choice. Children and youngsters who belong to communities with own schools don't get the same stimulation. Among those who broke out there is wide scepticism about more private schools related to the communities. They stress the need for authorities to follow up and control. Not only in school, but also in kindergartens related to communities. They suggest that it should be obligatory to have teachers from outside teaching subjects about society. In that way, it will be certain that children learn about the society outside.
This must reach them even when they are already educated.
Another way to reach the children and youngsters who grow up in closed communities is by providing information and knowledge about how they live. Some of the witnesses insisted that all training of people working with children and young people should include knowledge about how isolated faith movements are built up, what rules apply, what taboos children may carry with them. In that way, the possibility of understanding about how these children grow up will increase. Without understanding it is difficult to see how one could lighten the burden these youngsters have to bear.
Life outside – how to live one’s own life
One has two choices - one may let one’s misery take over, but one can also choose to go on. I got hold of things and I started to work with them. I was full of hatred - this caused me to lose grip on myself and today I can say that I am not even bitter. My life is not so bright - but in life there is always something, should I accuse them for everything that happened in my life, then they would win a victory over me.
It is very common that youngsters and young adults, who move away from home, get massive help from their parents when they begin to settle themselves outside their childhood's home. In addition, they have a solid knowledge about the society around them. For youngsters who break out from isolated faith movements, to create a new personality for themselves is quite another battle. They have to find an anchoring and they have live inside a system which they had previously earned to despise. This means that they have to think quite differently about many things, not the least important to understand who they are. Coming from a situation where they were much protected, they will be totally unprotected, without knowing anybody to rely on and without help from family and earlier friends. They have only themselves.
Many carry with them an ideas drummed in when they were growing up which has taught them that they were guilt ridden sinners. This is a difficult starting point for finding a new footing, rely on their own resources and dare to believe that one may have a significance for anybody else. To safely strike the ground, acceptance, practical help, networks and time are four important corner stones.
The only thing which was quite clear was that we had to get away from them - but where we were we to go? That was less clear.
Acceptance and understanding
"As long as such communities exist, there must be somebody who is ready to accept us with open arms!" was the message from a boy who had broken out. "A person who welcomes me without asking questions and says "you are good enough just as you are". You are good enough! That was also expressed by another youngster. The vulnerable situation which exists when breaking out could be made safe if there was someone who would readily accept them. Many have lived with rejection for what they were, for their opinions and their options. If they could only manage to exchange mistrust with trust, they need a forum where their stories, the system and the losses are understood.
Until now, if they looked for support, they were helped through the normal help channels or they joined groups created by others who had broken out. Those who looked for help from professionals may experience a lack of recognition, knowledge and understanding of their special experiences. Only exceptionally, for example, is the importance of the religious aspect included in talks and therapy.
Those who seek help in real help groups experience the confirmation of the reality they had been a part of, but often there is little room for nuances and confrontation. In the worst case, well known authoritarian structures may arise in new clothes.
Many wish an offer which combines therapeutically professionalism and knowledge of own experience - a room for reflection and new orientation.
Knowledge and practical help
Their life in the community has not equipped them for orientation and understanding of the world around them. They don't share a common platform and they don't know the "codes". Coming from an overprotected environment with severe common rules, they meet a youth culture which is exposed, individualistic, self-assured and with large freedom of choice. Coming from an oriented opinion and depreciatory status they meet a public based on argumentation and knowledge.
Meeting youngsters who have grown up in isolated faith communities, it is difficult to understand that youngsters having always lived in Norway
do no know Norwegian society and suffer from an information void which results in their being ignorant of what they are deprived of,
are not used to normal choices which are related to their own life, and being faced with choice may be a big challenge an burden for them,
have not been expected to develop their abilities and gifts and therefore have no sense of worth to stimulate them to continue their education,
have not been respected in relation to basic rights and therefore don't dare to request them.
Youngsters who have broken out say that they need a place to turn to, and some would like to find a sponsor who can guide them in their new way of being and help them to "read" society. Someone ready to give them the time and space to make good and right choices related to education and social life.
"If one leaves a closed cult and does not know what to do in outside life - then negative thoughts come. If one does not find new friends and get work, education or another activity, then the way is short to depression, thoughts of suicide and strong guilt feelings."
In many of the isolated faith communities, internal solidarity is built on fear of everything outside. The price for the individual may be to distrust to the whole world. At the same time, family ties inside the community may be broken or in any case fragile. To create a network of friends may be tough. Many feel that they have much to hide, little to give, and the ability to accept is nearly destroyed. There is so much that they feel unable to share. Perhaps they talk about their easy and understandable experiences, for instance that they were not allowed to celebrate Christmas and similar superficial matters. The difficult and fundamental matters will not be touched, not even after a long friendship. The reason may be that they don't believe others could see anything positive in their experience.
There are differences in how strictly the communities forbid contact with members of the family and former friends if somebody breaks out. In some places, the orders are so absolute that parents who contact with their children anyway - for example to see the grandchildren - will be punished. In other communities, there are no such absolute restrictions, but contacts are sometimes self-limited. That which in the past created solidarity now separates them. It may be difficult, even for close members of the family, to find a new common platform to build a normal relationship again.
In addition, the break itself may have been so full of threats, rejection and sanctions that the way back for those who broke out was no longer possible. A boy who had experienced such a dramatic break, said: "The physical wounds they created are cured, but the psychological ones ... Some say that time cures all wounds, but I am not sure. I don't believe it."
No matter how the break occurred, it is crucial to get help to clear up the relationship with close relatives. Some must forsake any hope of contact whilst others may slowly rebuild a new solidarity.
The stories of those who have grown up in isolated faith communities are different. But they share the common experience that the framework in which they were growing up had become too narrow, and at a point of time they chose to leave. They were fighting to free themselves, but it was not always easy for them to see what they could use their new found freedom for. For some of them, the price of breaking out was so high that they needed a long time before they could find a way to create a new life for themselves. It is important to give them the time they need, because with time possibilities will follow.
There are many things for me which take time to work out. I have to find out who I am - isn't it so? And what I want out of life. This is hard - but it is better to do this now than when I am 40. I have won a new freedom - this thought makes me a little fearful, but I feel that I am becoming much stronger. I feel that I am on the right path to find myself and who I am in fact. Even if this was a long and hard process, I have won!
Redd Barna [Save the Childen]
Hammersborg torg 3
Postboks 6902 St. Olavs plass
Tel: +47 22 99 09 00
Fax: +47 22 99 08 50
Translated by Friedrich Griess