Chapter 24: Adam in the Garden of Eden

Pregnancy at Alon was a big deal. It was a sign of God’s blessing, of abundance, and progress. If you got married, you had kids. Every woman at Alon bore children, all except one. When you get a group of people together and the numbers start increasing, so too do the odds of becoming a…

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Moving Camp

At Alon we all had a home. Sometimes it was the corner of a dormitory and sometimes it was an entire house. But everyone slept in a warm bed with a roof over their heads. There were times when these roofs were even caravans, but no one was left out in the cold. This is true.

What’s also true is that you never knew when you might move house or room or caravan.

Owning a Home

Most of us weren’t home owners and none of us had written contracts that bound us to any one abode. Over time, as the community expanded, more and more houses sprung up and many of these were paid for by individuals – the professionals that made up a significant portion of our thriving community. Doctors, lawyers, accountants and the likes, the educated amongst us who ran their own businesses and earned salaries. These members would be approached by Davit and offered “Such a fantastic piece of land! Look at that view!” Then they’d pay to have a new house built for their family to live in. These houses would be designed by the owner and then re-designed by Davit. There were no contracts, no building inspections, just lots of money poured into the foundations of a home that essentially wasn’t truly theirs.

But, it was an unwritten code that if you’d paid for the home to be built then you had first dibs. No one would ask you to move out of your house besides the occasional temporary move when extra guest accommodation was needed.

Using your Home as Guest Accommodation

We had guest houses on the farm but sometimes they were so full that the guests would have to spill over into the homes of community members because it would be a shame to turn away a paying guest. In these cases, it was your responsibility to get your house ship shape before said guest arrived. If you were lucky, then you’d be given a couple of hours off work to make up beds, clear out your fridge, open shelves in your cupboards and be ready for inspection.

Someone, usually Micah, would pop in to run their fingers over your counters and check behind your couches for traces of dust and cobwebs. Bedding had to be ironed and crease free and windows had to be sparkling. If you blew the inspection then you were drenched in guilt and shame. Cleanliness is next to Godliness, remember? Micah or whoever was inspector for the day would huff and puff and let you know how hard they had to work to get your slovenly efforts up to scratch. A housewife’s nightmare because of course, cleaning was a woman’s job.

No one received any monetary compensation for these periods where their houses were occupied by paying guests. The money went straight through Airbnb or Booking.com and into the Alon farm bank accounts. No one questioned. It was all about cheerful giving and group effort.

On the Move

For the rest of us plebs that couldn’t rub two dimes together, our housing was not at all our own. We had no say, no dibs. At any moment Davit might come striding by and have a look around your living quarters only to declare, “I have an idea! Why don’t you move? I think it’s time you got a bigger home.” (He always put a positive spin on it). “What do you think?” And can you imagine if the resident in question disagreed? Because they could, of course, we live in a free world… But then they’d hear about it at the next communal meeting. Davit would smile sweetly and say something like, “Cindy really loves her home. I wonder if you can love your home too much? You know, people, it’s not good to live in a comfort zone.”

The next time you saw Cindy, she’d be asking if you had any extra boxes. “I’m packing up and I need to get it done today, so that all the guys can help us move tomorrow.” she’d explain with a thin smile and tear stained eyes. “You know it’s a real blessing that I found out on Friday because at least I have Saturday to pack and Sunday to move. I can be settled in before the new week begins.” she’d add if she noticed you looking at her puffy eyes and mascara stains. Keeping things cheerful was important. It was our responsibility to make sure no one (aka Davit) looked like the bad guy.

If you were really lucky, then you’d only find out you were moving once your entire home was packed up for you.

One evening I left my house early after supper to go to ‘show practice‘ and when I returned, all my possessions were packed up into boxes and crates. Granted, we were newlyweds and didn’t have that much, but it was still a stunning feat.

There my husband stood, surrounded by cardboard boxes, beaming with pride at his handiwork. I was gobsmacked.

“Surprise! We’re moving down to the circle tomorrow!” he cried, smiling from ear to ear.

“How did you you get all of this done so quickly?” I was trying to stay calm and mirror his apparent delight.

“Some of the ladies came and helped me. Isn’t that great? No stress for you.” I was horrified, imagining them rifling through my things and no doubt having a lot of opinions about my cleaning skills. “And tomorrow when you go to work,” (I was doing my first stint as a receptionist in town) “they’ve given me time off to move all our things in. It won’t even take that long.”

“But who’s house are we moving into?”

“Oh, Gabe and Micah’s house.” he looked really excited about that but all I could think was that it was such a huge place to try and keep clean. Also a bit of an overkill for just the two of us.

And just like that, we became permanent residents of the “circle”.

Outside our final home at Alon

You will Own nothing and You will be Happy

There’s a kind of weightlessness when you have little to no belongings of your own. This has the ability to either make you feel untethered and adrift, as if there’s no evidence of your existence. Or it can give you a sense of unfettered freedom, as if there’s nothing solid holding you back or pinning you to one place.

But here is the danger: take away land, control income and the result is a powerless people. When you’re in this position you literally cannot afford to oppose the powers that be. As far as I’m concerned, the World Economic Forum’s utopian/apocalyptic ad campaign… can pack their bags and bugger off.

Anyway, back to the kingdom of Alon…

At Alon, most of us owned nothing and lived a carefree existence where bills and bank accounts almost didn’t exist. But we had worries, they didn’t come at the end of every month, they were a constant gnawing dread. A nagging feeling that the next knock at the door or phone call would bring tidings of our sins and the resulting consequences. And sometimes that meant moving house.

Nomadic Discipleship

It wasn’t uncommon for families to move out of their homes temporarily in order to share living quarters with another family. In some cases, where space didn’t allow for a complete relocation, the families would simply share kitchens and prepare and eat meals together. “God wants to break your family bondage and selfishness. It’s good for your brats to be around other adults who aren’t going to idolise them.”

Sometimes people moved out of their homes as a punishment for their sins. Jeb and Freya, along with their three small children, were ordered out of their home because of their “slumber issues”. And possibly also because Jeb had become argumentative with Davit in the middle of a communal gathering, when Davit had accused him of some or other malpractice. The family were without a home for a number of months and lived in the orphanage. Anton and I were given their beautiful home. It was a bittersweet move.

Sometimes Davit got very creative with his discipleship, like the time that he made my mother move out of her home and live with another young family. The biggest catch about this arrangement was that although she had a room to sleep in, she had no allocated place to eat. At this point the community had expanded so much that we ate most suppers in our own homes and only had one or two communal dinners a week. So my mom had to find a new place to eat every night. She wasn’t invited, she had to invite herself to eat at a different couple each evening and sometimes she was turned away.

“My girl, it’s time to break your independence and pride.” Davit and Sara chided as they sent her packing.

At the age of fifty-something, she was essentially homeless for a couple of months while her little cottage stood empty and unused.

***

The other day someone said something to me about how a home is a sacred space. I’d never thought about it that way. But it’s such a beautiful way of putting it and I think it’s so true.

Chapter 23: A little Sleep, A little Slumber, A little Folding of the Hands…

It seemed there was a theme. I was dangerous – especially to those I held dear. And the only solution was to provide frequent periods of separation in order to eliminate any long-lasting damage I might inflict. At least that’s how I interpreted it. Anton would be sent away every couple of months for work….

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Camp Noah

There’s a town on the East coast of South Africa called Jeffreys Bay, about an eight hour drive from Cape Town. This “dorpie” is famous for hosting what used to be the Billabong Pro. But anyhow, it’s on the international surfing map because of the perfect elongated, sleek waves that cut slim lines along the shore, especially in the colder months. Supertubes, they call it, the name speaks for itself. And that’s about as much as I’m going to say about this because I’m not a surfer or a meteorologist.

Well, the point is that JBay is a vibe. The waters are warm in the summer months and a lot more inviting than the frigid currents that hug the beaches of Cape Town. The only thing you need to contend with is relentless wind. On a summer’s morning all will be still, clear and idyllic but if you’ve delayed your trek to the beach by a couple of hours you’ll be confronted with a very different scenario.

Much like the rest of the coastline, the winds pick up any time from 10am and when I say pick up, I really mean it. Umbrellas fly, little kids cry, waves crumble and all hell breaks loose. The rest of the day is good for snoozing, snacking and cruising around town.

***

Many years ago, long before JBay was on the surfing map, a family was allotted a prime piece of land on the estuary of the Kabeljous River, pretty much in the nature reserve. There are special little gems like this property dotted all over the country. They’re legitimate properties that somehow sprung up outside of the actual housing zones. I know of people who have land in the Kruger National Park and another family that holidays slap bang in the middle of the Cape Point Nature Reserve. It’s all about having the right connections.

So when Davit discovered that one of the families on the farm was set to inherit this riverside property all hell broke loose. Legal battles ensued. Tears were shed. Siblings were estranged. But in the end after much prayer and spiritual warfare (that means shouting at Satan to stop his evil meddling in the lives of God’s saints) the land was ours.

It was christened Camp Noah. I do remember chuckling to myself when I first heard the name and envisioning the Ben-Avis arriving by helicopter or limousine like the president of the United States arriving at Camp David.

But this wasn’t going to be some exclusive retreat for the high flyers of the world. Oh no, no. That’s how we won the argument in court, this was going to be a place for the orphans.

The orphans spent one holiday there. We had the place for over a decade.

***

When the JBay property came into possession of Alon it was in a dire state. Bad tenants over the years had resulted in the various houses falling into rack and ruin. But, we were not deterred, if there was one thing we had, it was man power and experience with property development and renovations. Not to mention Davit’s flair for design.

Kids paddling on the Kabeljouw’s River just outside our front door at Camp Noah

Camp Noah became the annual holiday residence for most Alonites and we’d be shuttled there by bus and car on a perfectly synchronised roster over December and January every year. As time passed more and more homes were added to the extensive property and it became a rather spectacular place. Private access to the gently flowing river/estuary meant kids could go out and paddle and fish from morning till night. The beach was about a five minute walk from the property and between the houses and the river was a huge expanse of lawn, perfect for impromptu volleyball, soccer and cricket games. Idyllic, really.

Of course, there were still the usual prayer meetings and the general air of communal living. Meals were a collaborative effort and we spent every waking moment in each other’s business. Lying on your own in the sun for a couple of hours quietly reading a book would appear anarchistic. Playing cards with ten other people was more the done thing.

Men around a table at Camp Noah, the women are presumably in the kitchen preparing food.

***

So, we holidayed in style on misappropriated land strewn with the memories of a family that now had no say over their rightful inheritance…”The meek shall inherit the earth.” Davit would bellow from the pulpit, in hindsight, I think he was right… But that’s a story for another time.

How do you escape a cult?

Not everyone sticks it out in a cult. The really honest, smart ones leave! And when they do, they become public enemy number one. The mere thought of wanting to associate with these defectors on any level is enough to send a shiver of holy terror down a cult member’s spine. It’s an unwritten code: if you leave, you are a lost soul with a one-way ticket to the dark side. 

Most defectors of the cult of Alon fell into two categories:

Not cult material

Either they were simply not community material; meaning they didn’t have what it takes to live within the hallowed sanctum of Alon. And to be in close and holy proximity to like-minded servants of The Most High (i.e. God). When these people left the cult, they were sent packing. We’d give them a fond farewell and a blessing and the leaders heaved a sigh of relief as they waved them goodbye. 

Please leave

Basically, if you want to leave a cult then you should just not fit the mold. Don’t work hard, don’t be obedient, and don’t give the slightest hint that you may be a useful asset. Before you know it, you’ll simply be asked to leave. Cults don’t like sponges, cults like to be the sponges.

But it’s hard to go against the grain because deep down most of us aim to please and so we try our hardest and fit the mold. It’s a rare breed that’s completely at ease simply being the odd one out. Or at least that’s the case within a cult-like social structure.

Perfect cult material

Perhaps you were indeed community material. A person of many and lucrative talents. Someone with a dazzling smile and a knack for small talk. Most likely you’d have nimble fingers and a fast metabolism. In essence, you were a good-looking cult ambassador with high energy and the natural tendency to work like a dog.

Dangerous thoughts

So you fitted in well. You gave your life to Jesus and you prayed the most eloquent prayers. But then one day, something sets you off and you just can’t swallow the bullshit anymore and start speaking your mind.

The cult leaders would try to snuff this critical thinking out and at first, you might fall for their tactics. There would probably be a period of deep remorse and anguish on your part that you ever questioned your destiny as a member of this sacred group. You would be wracked with guilt for being a rebellious follower.

But then, your fuse would once more grow short and the whole painful process would start again until one day you would simply say, “Screw it.” and quit. Or, if you were really out of hand they might give you the boot. Either way, there’s pretty much no turning back. And good for you.

Good riddance

But you would know that as you walked away the entire community of brainwashed and spineless cult followers would be saying the most awful things about you. Tutting at the waste of talent and the inevitable misery that would now befall you all the remaining days of your godforsaken life. 

I’ve witnessed people leaving a cult

I have seen many people leave. Or at least, I’ve borne witness to the aftermath. Because some people literally ran away in the dead of night. Either on foot, making a brave dash through the forest or by car, if that was a possibility. Some people were there one day and gone the next. Vanished, as if into thin air. When this happened, you’d only speak about it in hushed tones.

Other cult defectors bravely left in broad daylight, moving trucks laden with all traces of their existence. We’d say goodbye pretending that everything was hunky dory. But they knew we thought they were failures and the terrible thing is, they probably believed it too – at least for a time.

In rare cases, these cult escapees would keep in touch with our cult leaders. Living in a sort of middle ground of uncertainty. They’d even come to visit Alon on occasion. As if they doubted their decision. Doubted their instincts. But in retrospect, our leaders would only encourage this kind of fuzzy middle ground if there was something to be gained from fostering a relationship. Usually, it had to do with business.

Some people make a clean break from cults and others slowly pull away. But neither method is easy or painless. Escaping a cult leaves you with a sense of deep loneliness. It’s confusing and jarring and you feel as though you have stepped onto a new and unfamiliar planet as you try to assimilate to “normal life” again.

Some cult escapees make it their life’s mission to set other cult members free

These people were the devil incarnate. Evil. Possessed by the spirit of Jezebel. Satan’s servants sent to destroy the precious work of God that was Alon. Persecutors. 

Their tactics were to reach out to members of Alon via SMS, email or phone calls. Any means necessary to help the blind sheep see the truth and walk away from our lives of subservience and captivity. Whatever it took to help their friends escape a cult.

Newspapers and magazines were tipped off. Articles and research journals were published. And we were on high alert. Members were told that under no uncertain terms should we entertain these lies. Stay off social media. Don’t read any articles. And don’t ever open any line of communication with these monsters.

At one point some of ‘these monsters’ were actively trying to expose the truth that Alon was an abusive religious group. A fanatical cult. ‘THEY’ got in touch with a young woman who had left Alon shortly after getting married. And together they tried to reach out to many of us in a last-ditch effort to save their friends. ‘SHE’ was a wayward woman and a Jezebel incarnate, according to our leaders. 

But actually, she was a young girl who knew her own mind and who had stood up for herself. And that’s a brave thing to do when you’ve been broken.

It was ‘HER’ sms that got me into a world of trouble.

Chapter 22: Lying Lips and Deceitful Tongues

“Did you read the SMS?” I was standing there with Owen in my arms wondering why Gad had called me over. Mario and Paul sipped on their coffees, eying me over the rims of their cups. I had no idea what this was all about. “What SMS?” He smiled; my heart sang. All is well…

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Chapter 21: A Mother’s Work is Never Done

Owen was born less than a year after our trip to Israel. Time of birth: 10:15am on a Thursday morning. I remember the time because I looked at the clock in the delivery room right after he emerged into the world and I know it was a Thursday because my husband was fasting and we…

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Chapter 20: A Woman Shall be Saved through Childbearing

Our trip to the Promised Land began on a promising note. I was greeted at the airport by Anton and the Ben-Avis all of whom had flown up from Cape Town where they’d been spending the past month together. Everyone seemed happy enough to see me and Sara was beaming at Anton when she saw…

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Chapter 19: The Fruits of our Labour

We lived on a farm up in the hills, secluded, tucked away from prying eyes and curious ears, yes. But, every day a little convoy of vehicles would exit the gates and bump along the dusty roads making a daily commute to town. Each car was filled to capacity and eventually our group of town…

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Chapter 18: Holy Cow

“Kyla, do you think there’s something going on between Gad and Bree?” Sara was asking me with a twinkle in her eye. We were sitting next to the pool at Mosaic and she’d patted a spot on her towel beckoning me to sit nearer to her. Whispering, giggling and conspiring about Gad’s love life felt…

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