Growing up in and leaving the Children of God By Andrew McMillion

Growing up in and leaving the Children of God

By Andrew McMillion

In 1976 David Berg, the founder of the controversial cult then called the Children

of God, was in the middle of starting another one of his revolutions. He was in Tenerife

when he wrote to his congregation about flirty fishing and becoming hookers for Christ.

That was the year in which I came into the world adding another child to God’s Army.

I always refer to the years of 1976 to 84 as the hippy years: for me they were more or less bliss. We never had much money but we were a big family who lived and traveled together all the time. “ Home” was falling asleep in our Volkswagen hippy van to the rhythm of its motion or waking up on the side of the autobahn in Germany.  In 1984, my parents separated; this was the beginning of my depression. My father decided to move to India with me and two of my brothers.  To raise the necessary money we began singing on the streets of Scandinavia. At first, India was exotic. The feeling of being in the center of Gods will–having forsaken family and friends for Him–nearly balanced out the feelings of longing for my mother who was still in Europe. I cried myself to sleep a lot.

The more familiar I grew with India the more I hated it. I was ill with Malaria, which was no small thing for a boy of eleven. The lepers, whom we were there to help, gave me nightmares. Surrounded by them in the market place begging me for some pica is a picture etched in my mind.

Further attacks of malaria continued after I left India with my older brother to go to a training school in the Philippines. Meanwhile, my father remarried in India and headed back to Europe with his new family. Going to that training school was one of, if not the most, important decisions I have made. I saw there the true nature of the core leaders in the Group. I eventually learned of things that would change my world view dramatically. We were being trained to become God’s end time teen soldiers: life was hard.

There were times when I would pray for malaria to return so that I would not have to follow the program. It did, again and again, and it almost killed me.

When I was twelve years old, my brother and I were sent back to Europe. For the next four years, I traveled to many places. I stayed in different communes, in Scandinavia, East Germany, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Austria, Hungary, and Slovenia working for the Group. During that time I went from believing in the Group’s millenarian philosophy to not even being sure that there was a god at all. I had come to trust a friend whom I had known in the Philippines. He had lived in the same house as David Berg and told me all about the sick perversions that took place there.  I wanted out.

From about the age of fourteen I had decided that this was not the life for me. However, due to the fear of being sent to a retraining home, I decided to postpone my exit until I was sixteen.   At that age they could not forcibly send me anywhere. A few weeks after my sixteenth birthday I made an agreement with my brother to leave. We tried to leave the official way by going through the leadership and letting them know that we wanted to leave instead of just taking off without letting them know. We were sent to a campground near the commune where our father who lived in the same city met us. He could not believe that we really wanted to leave. He spent weeks trying to convince us to stay. We had long talks all day with him discussing the Group’s policies and rules: we let him know with what we disagreed. We made it clear what had to change for us to stay. He had   written it all down and sent it on to his superiors. They, in turn sent these views “up the line” of leadership. After a few weeks the leaders of all Europe came to talk to us and tried to change our minds. They had a letter from “Queen Maria”, the wife of David Berg and later his successor, stating that there were exciting changes expected for the teenagers and asked us to please wait and see.

What they did not know was that we had been in secret communication with the teens and young adults still in the commune and knew that there were a lot of them who also wanted to leave.  The whole situation was unstable for the leadership. We had a link with one of the young leaders who was letting us know what was happening at the leadership meetings.   In that way we were able to plan and be one step ahead of them the whole time.   We decided that we wanted to give it all one more try and agreed, after spending a month in the caravan, to return. We were given a lot more freedom for a few months. However, the leaders could not accept the changes we were trying to push through and again ended up tightening their control. Our young leader warned us about this new “crackdown” and we made our plans accordingly.

Early in the morning on the first of April 1993 three friends of mine and I jumped over the wall of the compound with enough money to get downtown. Once there we contacted our grandparents and had them send money to us at a bank. We then purchased seven tickets to various destinations in the USA and UK. People in the commune were not sure if we were just pulling an April fool’s day joke. We waltzed back in; packed our bags, gave tickets to the three other teenagers who also wanted to leave and left. I was off to the USA for the first time in my life.  I had never been to my passport country before: I had never been to an English speaking country. Ironically, the first person I met was speaking Spanish.

I attended High School within five days of arriving in the US. This was quite a shock. I had not been to school since the third grade. I was lucky to be accepted. School was a hurdle I thought I would never clear. I had no idea what I was going to do out here in the big world. The first months living outside the Group and catching up with work to the tenth grade were a non-stop struggle.

The first year was one of the hardest. Not fitting into the new environment and lacking knowledge of American culture, I had to re-evaluate everything: I also missed my family and Europe.  Crying myself to sleep became almost a ritual: it was so bad that I even did not want to let anyone know about it. I felt that America was not the place for me and that I had more in common with Europeans. I took an after school job and saved up money to visit my family during the summer. Once there, I knew there was no way I could return to the States. I enrolled into a high school in Norway but had to re- sit eleventh grade over again.

Life for me was better on this side of the Atlantic and I felt I was headed toward normality for the first time. I had a girlfriend and I finished high school. Then came the ethical dilemmas and philosophical questions. I had put aside these since I had so many problems sorting out my emotions and normalizing with my environment. I looked inward and tried to sort out my paradigm.

I became totally broken down, lying horizontal in my room for days with no food, no sleep and no drive, in total depression. Finally I could not drink and stumbled the hundred odd meters to the nearest hospital. The doctors had no idea what the problem was and put me on IV fluid for a few days. When I had recuperated they sent me to the psychiatric department to talk things over. I spent days crying and trying to explain the problem.

One day, shortly after that, I went to the library and picked out a book called “The History of Western Philosophy”. I could not stop reading this and other books: I loved Socrates’ parable of the cave and the shadows on the wall: Plato’s division of the State in likeness to the body. I felt I had to find my place in society: was I a brain cell destined to rule: a white blood cell designed to defend, or a muscle cell fit for work? With Plato in mind, and my time for mandatory military service, I joined the air force. It was there that I began talking to a psychiatrist on a weekly basis. With his help and my continued interest in philosophy I decided to do something for the future of others who were going to have to go through a similar experience to my own.

I started studying philosophy at the University. I also sought the Government’s interest and help with the aim of setting up a Project to help kids who have left Isolated Religious Communities. Eventually, with the help of an influential freelance idealist, some other youths and I ended up at a meeting with the Minister of Education and Research. He decided to pledge his aid to our endeavor. Within a year the Project was up and running.

The Project is called “Go-On” and is under the umbrella of Save the Children. It is funded by the Ministry of Education and Research. It has been a pleasure for me to see something good come out of all the hardship and chaos that has so ruled my past   and that of others. It was not the project’s policy to involve itself in questions of New Religious Movements or Sects or Cults. Rather we wanted simply to dwell on the future and positivism. We want to help integrate the second generation who have left Isolated Religious Communities into as successful and content a position as we can. We feel that there is an even greater need for such projects in the larger countries of the world and are willing to work together with any country or individual who has the best interest of these children in mind.

I still have days when the past creeps up on me; days when I’m depressed, days when I wish I did not have to repeat my story, days when I lose sight of the thread of continuity which we all need to make sense of our lives. Then come the days when the sun shines and I know that there are a lot of positive things in my life. I am a Third Culture Kid, a true child of the world. No longer a Child of God!

Andrew McMillion

Interesting links:

7 Responses

  1. Hi again, Yes I am on skype. Do feel free to contact me. The email address you have for me here is no longer valid. Could I ask you to change it?


  2. That was spam but this not. Do let us have a chat after such a long time. Are you on Skype?


  3. You’re welcome Kristeen! I would be interested to know why this article was such a find. Do put you’re colleague in touch with me if you like.
    It’s mostly behind me now. The occasional email of another old friend who has killed himself can bring it all back. Luckily that happens less and less often.


  4. Thanks Emylou!
    My life is great now! TCK life rocks!


  5. Hi Lynne,

    I have not been back to re-read this article since I wrote it in 2002. Funny to read it again with some distance to the events.
    Feel free to contact me if you have questions. My father is still in the group, but the rest of my family is out now.


  6. I have been interested in COG/The Family’s history ever since I heard about Ricky Rodriguez. My heart breaks for the thousands of children who were negatively affected. I noticed that when you read TFI’s current website, it’s difficult to grasp what their supposed beliefs are. I find most of the text a bunch of rambling drivel. I am still amazed how well they brainwashed first generation members, yet were unable to be as successful with the 2nd generation kids. Your story really touched me – and I’d be interested to know how your r-ship with your parents is now. Are they still in the Family?


  7. Oh wow what an interesting life! I came upon your site when I was looking for ideas for an article.

    Hope your TCK journey is going well,



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