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.

: How do you escape a cult?

The ever present threat of Humanism and Feminism in the world of Alon

There were two things I knew to be dangerous schools of thought. These were “isms” that were frequently referred to from the pulpit and blamed as the root cause of most of the evil in this world and in our hearts.

Now, this is not a dissertation on the origin and meaning of humanism and feminism. I think both of these movements are probably largely misunderstood by the majority of us and that debating their true meanings can become a contentious issue. I couldn’t tell you if I am either a humanist or feminist and I am not going to pretend that I understand the nuances of these powerful movements. If you were to ask me who the founders of either humanism or feminism were I’d turn to Google for the answer. Sure, I have some basic idea about what they stand for and I think I’d rather live in a world where humanism and feminism have a voice but that’s pretty much as far as my expertise on the subject goes.

Feminism

What I can tell you is that Davit had a very definite point of view and he openly scorned feminism from the pulpit, blaming it on the moral and socio-political decay of our world. Of course he would, Alon was a potently patriarchal society, but not in the benign traditional sense. There was a complete lack of chivalry, which became more pronounced as the years went by. A man would never hold the door open or offer to carry your groceries (unless you were obviously buckling under the load) without other men looking at him as if he were a bit of a wimp. Men and women had clearly defined roles. Women were men’s helpmates, not the other way around. A man was the head of the home and wives were to submit to their husbands (Ephesians 5v22…). Give it a read and you will be casting your eyeballs on one of the foundational scriptures by which we lived.

It’s a problematic subject to be sure, especially when you take the bible as the literal truth. Reading a book that was written centuries back and translated more times than any of us care to count, by people who not only lived in different times but in entirely different cultures and then taking it as black and white truth is, in my view, dangerous.

Davit was old school and despite being a hippy type raised predominantly by women folk he had a very clear picture of the way a submissive Christian woman should conduct herself and Sara was more or less the universal bench mark, attending to his every beck and call. She herself had come out of an extremely conservative household headed by a brutal father. I believe her childhood was far more traumatic than what any of us were ever told. Sara was the epitome of a well camouflaged sufferer of OCD. Home making and cleanliness was a passion for her and she could Mari Kondo the shit out of anything. I remember her roasting vegetables one day when I was still single and she had laid out all the various vegetables in neat little rows. The beans in one row, the peppers in another and even the sweet potatoes were lined up like little segregated soldiers. She would admit to being “neurotic” about order and cleanliness and regale us with stories of how she used to force Gad to play inside his big wooden toy box with his Lego because she couldn’t bear the thought of all those little pieces lying scattered on the floor. That word “neurotic” was a term she liked to fling around a lot when describing us women and any apparently quirky habits we displayed. For instance, I was a neurotic wife because I didn’t like being separated from my husband for long periods of time. It seemed that only women were able to be neurotic.

Sara was also lively and talkative, she was the “Joy in the home” which I thought was a verse in the bible but actually I think it’s just some kind of old fashioned saying similar to “Cleanliness is next to godliness”. It was the woman’s responsibility to keep everyone happy and to make sure that a husband came home to a stress free, welcoming environment where he could cast off the burdens of the day. His immense responsibility as a man and spiritual leader far outweighed any burden a woman might carry.

Don’t be mistaken, Sara was anything but demure. She was outspoken and wouldn’t back down for any man, besides her husband and later on her son. However, she did give all of us girls the distinct impression that we deserved a little less than the men folk, so it was a team effort of husband and wife that set the general tone in the battle of the sexes (not that I think there should be one).

Sara always had many words of admiration for the young guys and she scorned any woman that wouldn’t sacrifice her time, energy or food for a man. Sara took pride in speaking openly about the weaknesses of women and how petty and irrational we tended to be, she much preferred the company of men, especially the younger men in Anton’s age group – I am not suggesting that she was a cougar, I am just making an observation, and I think it had more to do with the fact that her beloved son was in the same peer group as most of the young guys.

In Sara I saw an example of constant self-sacrifice and surrender to her husbands hopes, dreams and wishes. She followed where Davit lead, she didn’t ever forge her own way or insist on him considering her wants and needs. Sara orbited Davit much like the earth orbits the sun. Yes, she rotated on her own axis and had her own personal seasons, micro moments of her own interests and enjoyment but she was always at the ready should Davit call. He set her trajectory and there was no room for deviation.

But her loud voice, sharp wit and vibrant nature prevented her from appearing like a docile wife.

Of course, there is the part of that scripture in Ephesians that instructs husbands to “love their wives as Christ loves the church” but the whole piece does still end with a final word of warning that “wives must respect their husbands”.

Davit could be heard insisting (rather repetitively I might add) that women were not second class citizens and that husbands should “carry their wives on a silver platter” which I always thought was a rather creative bit of imagery and pictured Sara lying on a bed of parsley bedecked in Israeli jewelry (Davit loved to buy her gifts from the Holy Land) with a little apple daintily perching in her mouth.

We were, however, second class citizens.

It’s a strange thing, how Sara loved to hang out with the guys and Davit really enjoyed chatting to women, just not all women. Sometimes I’d hear tales of their travels overseas when they were younger and how insanely jealous Sara would get because all the ladies loved Davit as he was so very charming. I’ll be honest, I’d never call Davit a lady killer but maybe in his youth he had a more irresistible swagger, who knows.

Davit wasn’t a burly man’s man. In fact Sara was far more adept at taking care of practical matters such as cars, maintenance and security etc. She always paid the bills, even if she wasn’t the official bread winner. If it wasn’t for Sara I don’t believe Davit would have had much success in all his endeavors at all. So they were “equally yoked” and a powerful team. And I sometimes wonder who really wore the pants in their relationship because if there is one thing I have learned it’s that appearances can be deceiving (which is funny because Sara literally never wore pants, only dresses). Maybe she was playing the fool but actually running the show?

A woman who was not submissive and yielding was labelled a “strong woman”. While this term is usually a compliment in our day and age, at Alon being a “strong woman” was the very pinnacle of godlessness.

And don’t think that you could simply slip under the radar by keeping your mouth shut, because there was another even more sinister category of female godlessness: quiet strength. This was when you submitted and obeyed and didn’t talk back but your eyes told a different story. So basically, in order for you not to be a strong woman you had to transform from the inside out, you had to break to be rebuilt into a vessel fit for service unto man… oops, I mean God.

Humanism

“Stop being so humanistic.” I can’t tell you how many times I heard that line being hurled at myself and others. In context what it implied wasn’t really anything to do with the traditional understanding of humanism but instead an Alon style term to describe tolerance and benevolence. If someone did or said something that wasn’t acceptable then it was expected of you to observe and address this by confronting the person or situation and dealing with it in a very brutal and honest manner. If you were to hesitate or perhaps try to reason that the culprit in question was possibly innocent and meant well then it would mean that you were defending immoral behaviour and putting the interests of man ahead of the interests and commandments of God himself.

I get it. Humanism kind of lends itself towards the idea that people are generally good and can, if given the space and means, become better versions of themselves simply by tapping into their inherent human qualities such as intelligence, social awareness and reasoning. But in a Christian (or other fundamental religions too I suppose, but I can only speak from the experience of being an evangelical Christian) paradigm, only God is good and therefore any goodness in us can only be attained through God. We, as a race, are inherently evil. “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” Romans 3v23.

This breeds a rather harsh outlook on your fellow man. I am not saying that all Christians will be this short sighted and unyielding but I am sure you can imagine how this perspective can foster an atmosphere of criticism and judgement.

Of course, most of us were evil humanists a lot of the time and got into trouble for other people’s supposed wrongdoings when we were merely witness to someone stepping out of line and we didn’t at least acknowledge their sin. Or if any of us had “fear of man” which in essence meant a dislike for confrontation, then we were operating under the spirit of humanism.

Oh, these movements or philosophies were living moving beings, spirits to be exact, that could possess the spiritually undiscerning among us.

So, the tolerant, peace loving, anxious and introverted members of Alon had to do a whole lot of character overhauling. And if you added being female to the mix then good luck to you.

Conversely, if you were an independent, feisty, outspoken ambassador for justice and you had boobs then your days at Alon would simply be numbered.

You may be wondering why anyone would endure this distorted approach to life… this article might help:

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Larger than Life

The Ben-Avi family were larger than life. The sound of their voices travelled ahead of them wherever they went. Blue eyed and sharp tongued, they all seemed to exist in a world slightly separate from the one the rest of us dwell in. Untouchable. I envied that. I felt as if danger of misstep lurked around every corner for me and yet somehow, they managed to march surefootedly through life never requiring the guidance or correction of anyone but themselves.

Gad, his sister who left Alon, Davit and Sara

Exactly how Davit occupied his days I could never quite fathom, but he took on the appearances of an immensely busy person, always flurrying from one place to the next in a haze of bustling activity leaving a wake of disruption behind him. You didn’t call on Davit to calm the waters, that was Jesus’ job anyway. Davit wasn’t a mediator, diplomat or peacekeeper. He was a firebrand, but where would we be without the instigators and rabble-rousers of this world? These characters have a way of keeping us on our toes and pushing us to new heights, or at least that’s what we tell ourselves.

Expansion!

“Expansion, expansion!” he would declare from the pulpit with a pseudo-Spanish flair, waving his arms as if in the throes of a flamenco pageant. Gazing at him, dumbfounded, his busy flock would wonder what this great revelation held for them. He would go on to elaborate such things as, “I see us being scattered throughout the earth, as a mouthpiece for Christ.” And then tell us about the exciting developments that he was witnessing on his international travels. “The harvest field is ready! And a property, a penthouse, in Larnaca is selling for such a good price. I feel so strongly that the Lord has ushered us towards this island to use it as a springboard into the middle east. But we are waiting on him for a sure sign and provision. If anyone feels to pledge money, however small the amount, give what you feel the Lord has put on your heart.”

Sometimes the expansion would be more tangible, “People, we are going to build an Olympic size pool outside of Mosaic. This community is growing, and we need more space to accommodate everyone who wants to swim.” The flock would then ooh and aah in excited agreement sort of like the minions from Despicable Me. “It would be such a wonderful facility for the high school kids to use and imagine how beautiful when guests come to host their weddings at Mosaic and there is a beautiful pool outside, reflecting the sunset. Give what you feel the Lord has put on your heart.”

Eventually, the trust was purchasing flats, houses, properties and cars at such an almighty rate that most of us were often not even aware of many new acquisitions unless our services or finances were necessary for the purchasing or overhauling of these fine assets.

Principles

There were some principles at the heartbeat of Alon that were treated like the gospel; first and foremost was: stewardship. This was the bedrock of all we did. Being a good steward meant making the most of everything we possessed, whether that be money, food, talent or time. Nothing was to go to waste.

In order to make each penny go further, it was encouraged to find loopholes in the system such as applying for financial aid for our school fees, evading taxes and asking for discounts and freebies wherever possible. Every trip to town meant fuel consumption so vehicles were expected to be refuelled before returning to the farm and the cost was split amongst the passengers – needless to say, the more the merrier! Things like milk were regarded as a luxury item and there was a list at the breakfast counter that you could tick off every morning indicating whether you had consumed a quarter, half or whole cup of milk. At the end of the month, you could settle your milk bill.

In keeping with the idea of time being a precious commodity. The more you could accomplish in a short amount of time, the greater the slap on the back. We learned to squeeze a lot of activity into one day and function on rationed sleep. Sleep was essentially a waste of time and if you seemed inclined towards taking a nap then your social ranking took a serious blow. “Work hard, play hard!” was a phrase Davit loved to spritz from the pulpit whenever the troops seemed weary.

Preachings & Teachings

The pulpit was an interesting place, you just never knew what might jump out at you from behind that tiny wooden structure. It could be spewing with outrage at the complacency of the crowd or bubbling with glad tidings of good news. Sitting your butt down on a seat was like getting a ringside view of a human lucky packet with the added bonus of possibly being roped into the sermon of the day. Davit loved to point individuals out, be it for a public display of appreciation or an example of poor behaviour. It added a certain tinge of adrenaline to every meeting. But, apart from that, the man could ramble. I don’t know if Davit ever spent any time preparing for a sermon, but it always seemed as if he spoke off the top of his head and jumped around from topic to topic randomly interspersing his view of the world with one-line scriptures from the bible.

“As I was walking up the hill, I overheard the children playing. Just imagine a world without the sound of children’s voices. So quiet. We must be like children. You know, if the rapture took place today, all the children would be taken up to heaven and I think that the thing that would plague the unbelievers left behind on earth would be the terrible quiet because there would be no sound of children playing and laughing and shouting. I heard yesterday on the news that the pope is now blessing gay marriage. I once met the pope in my younger days. But I tell you, we must be as children unto the Lord for the signs of the times are all around us. When we visit Italy after our cruise, those of you who are joining us will get a sense of the terrible spirit of lust and perversion that is hanging over Europe. Justin Bieber was in Europe recently and he was almost arrested for drug use, but he still speaks of Jesus. Isn’t that amazing? This is what happens when you forsake your childlike ways, people, utter destruction of talent. Even my good friends in France complain about the attitude of the children walking the streets, smoking and swearing already at the age of nine.

“Kyla, you would also have been one of those children, walking in your grungy clothes through the streets of Cape Town if your mother hadn’t brought you here, isn’t that amazing?” Blindsided, I dumbly nod in agreement. “And Maeve, she wanted to just come here and clean toilets and peel vegetables, but I said ‘No!’ imagine that waste of God-given talent and now she is going on a cruise to Italy! Yes Maeve, come up here, I will show you your ticket, it’s booked!” The crowd cheers as my mom walks up to the pulpit awash with gratitude.

Rules & Regulations

Davit wielded power over his flock in absurd yet effective methods. Our routines, as set as they were, could change at the drop of a hat when Davit was on the premises. Over the years, he and Sara frequented the far reaches of the planet more and more, travelling to Australia to visit their daughter, Bianca, on the way. With numerous connections in Europe and the middle east the pair could be found being entertained in circles of millionaires at five-star hotels all over the continent. So, when they graced us with their presence, Davit loved to spice things up and remind his jaded sheep that he was the source of cheer and festivity. “Fasting day is called off and we will have an off weekend from Thursday evening to Monday morning!” or “Pizza night tonight instead of shabbat meeting and we will watch a movie afterwards!” The real trick of the thing was that he and he alone had the authority to veto the rules because he was the one who put them in place.

Sometimes rules would pop up at the spur of the moment. One day, Davit happened to be on time for a Sunday morning meeting and noticed that a considerable amount of people dribbled in at the last minute. Outraged, he went on to admonish us about our lackadaisical ways and decreed that we should all strive to be at meetings fifteen minutes before the time to prepare our hearts to receive the word of God and at the latest five minutes before the actual time. This idea slowly trickled into meetings of every kind, including early morning prayer meetings. Needless to say, that was the last time we ever saw Davit on time for a meeting.

Some other rules included, “No toast for children.” (It was a waste of electricity you see – in fact Sara saved the bell for us once when Davit stumbled across and article on power consumption and discovered that hairdryers were greedy little appliances. He almost banned the use of them but fortunately Sara told him it would really tip us all over the edge, and she liked to blow dry her hair too). “No eating in front of the television in your own homes.” Or one of my all-time favourites, “No use of tumble dryers but also, no hanging of wet washing on clothes horses in your homes.” It’s interesting to note that Tzaneen has an average annual summer rainfall of up to 1500mm and sometimes it can rain on end for days or even weeks. “No picking flowers.” – unless it was for the shabbat table.

Many things were casually mentioned from the pulpit and then morphed into unofficial regulations. “It’s such a shame when parents use TV as a babysitter.” And you would get nervous every time someone glimpsed your kid watching a cartoon. “There isn’t really anything beneficial on the news these days, especially for children, so much negativity.” And then no children big or small were ever permitted to watch the news again. “Sometimes the biggest sign of disrespect is when a child doesn’t greet you by your name.” And then every little kid became a greeting robot.

The power of the pulpit

Another nifty trick was to address someone indirectly from the pulpit. “Isn’t it amazing that even today, despite having the funds, Sara and I still don’t own a car of our own and yet some people want to constantly trade in their cars for newer models. Just a status symbol.” And the poor soul who was hoping to upgrade their outdated jalopy for a newer model would keep bumping along the dusty roads decades behind the times.

There were moments when subtlety went clear out the window and we’d all bear witness to Davit’s ranting about someone’s transgressions, “This afternoon I went past Ruan and Kerry’s house to have a cup of tea.” And even out of the corner of your eye you could sense them beginning to squirm in their seats. “Aren’t they such a beautiful, vibrant young couple? Just like this beautiful Saturday afternoon with the sun shining and the birds singing. Well, unfortunately I had to get my tea somewhere else, because they weren’t there. I mean they were there in body – on their bed, but in spirit they were in la la land.” The colour rising to their cheeks their heads drop. “Did you have a nice sleepy Ruan? Maybe you were ministering to your wife and feeding her the word of God by the spirit, hey?” And then, the rest of us would thank our lucky stars that either we hadn’t succumbed to the urge of snoozing or that Davit hadn’t made his rounds past our houses.

Putting someone on the spot to shine a positive light on them happened too, but that sly fox knew how to do it in such a way that it would make someone else feel less than or second guess their own actions. For instance, let’s say two couples had invited Davit and Sara for a meal that week. And you have to understand that when you invited Davit for a meal it was a lavish affair because he spoke so openly about his likes and dislikes, and we were all so acutely aware of his myriad ailments and allergies.

“Nina, my girl, what a beautiful spread you prepared for us. People, people, it’s truly a treat eating at Jules and Nina’s. Such a cute couple! And the food, what was that dish called? Oh, it was superb.” And that would be it, not a mention of the other couple. You can bet your bottom dollar that the unmentioned hostess would never prepare the unmentionable meal again and would walk around for a couple of days wondering if the food she cooked was perhaps an outward display of a sinful heart that she had been previously unaware of. No, my dear, what you have is a simple case of gaslighting.

Growing numbers

What began as a semi-circle of seating facing the pulpit eventually fanned out into a tight arc of multiple rows in front of the stage – eventually constructed as a permanent fixture in our place of worship. Every additional row of seats was like the rings on a great tree, marking its steady growth towards the light. We were likened to trees, and its true that we were rooted, only I’m not sure we were branching out so much as we were crowding together to form a tightly knit canopy that cast deeper shade with every passing year.

Meetings were an integral part of our life as a Christian community. Most were held according to a relatively predictable schedule but like all other societies ours too was impervious to the influx of the smart phone. WhatsApp meant that we were on 24hour beck and call. With the convenience of broadcast messages and WhatsApp groups, meeting times and locations could be adjusted at the drop of a hat. To switch your phone off at night was to commit spiritual treason, if there was need for an impromptu prayer meeting in the middle of the night, then hallelujah for the modern miracle of cell phone technology.

Praying for the sick

Davit was preoccupied with health and wellbeing – his health and wellbeing specifically, because the man endured health issues that a lesser being would have perished under. Joyce, his wayward mother was the cause for all of this because she had deigned to feed him milk and sugar instead of allowing him to suckle at her breast. But tit for tat I suppose…

The amount of times I have heard the phone buzz in the night and the tired shuffle of men’s feet passing by, making their faithful trek to Davit’s house or some allocated meeting place in an effort to pray off an allergic reaction of some sort is impossible to count.

Let me tell you, that a bigger baby I have never encountered. Sniffing and snorting and yelling for “Saaaaarrrra!” begging for another cup of her special ginger tea to wash away the allergens. Hours he would spend poring over medical journals and health blogs. Adjusting his diet until all he could consume was the fat of the land, free-range, organic, pricey fare purchased at the finest health shops and delicatessens our country could provide.

The man was a bloody medical marvel as far as I could tell. Allergic to wheat, gluten, dairy, sugar, preservatives and anything that didn’t taste good, he still managed to consume an enormous helping of colourful food – at least he never lost his appetite and survived countless scoops of ice cream.

To his credit, Davit loved to share with great enthusiasm, not only the word of God but also health tips from his pulpit. Cayenne pepper was glugged down in the mornings, there was a long spell of oil pulling with half the community going about their morning routines with a mouthful of coconut oil sloshing around in their mouths. Turmeric was suddenly added to the list of vegetables that grew in our huge veggie patch and we were all encouraged to consume mountains of it. Kefir, kombucha and honeycomb was readily available. At one stage we were advised to increase our vitamin D uptake by exposing 80% of our skin to pure sunshine for 20minutes every day. Where he thought we’d find the time to all strip down to our bathing suits and loll around in the sunshine, God alone knows. It was moments like these that I became more firmly convinced that he and his kin lived in a parallel universe.

Losing touch

As with many large organisations, the management becomes more and more out of touch with it’s employees and there came a time when I think many of us suffered under Davit’s inability to keep tabs on all his spur of the moment decisions. And like any good dictator, he had created a barrier between himself and his subjects that consisted of nothing else but fear. The fear would keep anyone from speaking up and reminding him that perhaps some of his mandates were out of date. Did he know how little we had to survive on when he encouraged us to buy expensive vitamins and buy sheepskin slippers? Was he really so oblivious to our financial standing that he assumed we could sashay into Europe on a cruise trip and happily make ends meet?

Oh, how he did love to cruise the high seas. I suppose there were many reasons for taking groups of his congregation onboard MSC’s majestic fleet of ocean liners. For one, you get a good discount when you make group bookings. It’s also easier to justify your lavish lifestyle if you make it available to others. And, for those who couldn’t afford to pay their way it was a handy tool for blackmail.

Subtle blackmailing was one of Davit’s trademarks. It’s a dangerous thing to allow yourself to feel indebted to others. A potent exchange of power.

Sara was more direct. Not one to mince her words, she simply cut you down with her quick and blunt assessments of your actions, attitude and personality traits. Like the moral loudspeaker of the community, Sara didn’t draw you aside and quietly counsel you in the hopes of moulding your character, honesty was her policy. Or so I thought.

That’s the thing about this power couple. They were nothing alike besides the way they rolled their R’s and projected their voices. Besides their sky-blue eyes and permanent tans they looked very different, Davit was tall and lanky, Sara short and stocky. Where Davit was an avid researcher on all things health and apocalypse related, the only reading material Sara ever got stuck into was her daily devotional bible. Davit was obsessed with healthy eating and Sara loved to graze on junk food. He extended his eagerness with a wholesome diet to his immediate family and his grown son would hide his coca cola under the table if his dad walked by, Davit seemed to be the only other living being capable of evoking any glimmer of trepidation in Gad. But Sara was immune to the haze of healthful living that encompassed the rest of her kin and happily drank coke and ate chocolates in full view of her manic husband. She seemed to be the only person he was willing to back off from.

But if Gad feared his father he made up for it in asserting himself in the lives of everyone else in the community and like an avalanche that picks up velocity and power as it thunders down a mountainside, Gad’s clout and sovereignty was growing insidiously until one day it was beyond the jurisdiction of even Davit and Sara.

But until then, this happy trio blazed a trembling trail through our little community perched atop a hill in the shimmering forests of sub-tropical Tzaneen.

green wooden fence

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Chapter 13: A Wayward Woman

The N1 is our national highway. It runs all the way from Cape Town city center, snaking a path between the sprawling metropolis before gliding effortlessly into the Huguenot tunnel as it bids Table Mountain farewell, where not even 200 years ago a band of courageous pioneers, the voortrekkers, weren’t so lucky. What they would…

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I don’t Regret Living in a Cult

If you’re reading this then first of all I want to say a big THANK YOU! Thanks for stopping by even if you don’t read another word of this post, I still appreciate that you took the time to check things out on this little corner of the web.

No Regrets, Sort of

But what I really wanted to say was that I DON’T REGRET MY TIME SPENT IN A CULT! I didn’t always feel this way. For a long time I felt like twenty years of my life had just disappeared into a mad vacuum of religious zeal and that I had nothing to show for it besides a marriage in tatters and my two beautiful boys. But over time these feelings have changed and now I just see it as a bizarre chunk of my journey on this planet. A necessary part of my story.

And while I have come to terms with what happened to me while living in a cult I have to live with the things that I have said and done, the people I have mistreated (and none more so than my very own children) while under the influence of a warped dogma at Alon. I recognise that there are flaws in my character that allowed me to become a tool for unkindness. I can be haughty, I can be stuck up, I can be fanatical, I can be judgmental, selfish, narrow-minded and a whole long list of other things. And all these little chinks can be infiltrated by what I choose. I can choose to ignore my flaws and blame the world for my misfortunes or I can choose to look at them and look out for them and get them patched up as best I can, but it will never be perfect and I am accepting that now. I am a magnificently flawed human being! It’s not an incredibly insightful or original revelation but it’s good to keep reminding myself of this.

And yet I am writing this weird book-like blog and I sometimes cringe because the words that spill out from my keyboard sound so pitiful – but that is only one part of it and for the sake of getting the point across it seems like this part is necessary. I was hoping I could somehow flit over that stuff and not seem like a victim but a story unfolds in its own way as if it has a life of its own and the characters spring onto the page in ways I would never have imagined, even though I have already seen the entire plot in real time. So weird but so true.

Props to Glennon

Lessons of a Lifetime

The point is though, that I am content with who I am, this person I greet every day in the mirror, this person I observe in past, spend time with in the present and try to prepare for the future. I have learned lessons that some people take whole lifetimes to learn and it’s not because I am any more special or wise than the next person but simply because I have been afforded this unique, intense chapter in my life where I had to run to keep up and I was forced to adapt or die and to learn stamina and to do hard things (as Glennon Doyle would say) and to lose all my freedom so that I understand in such a poignant way that it really doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks of you as long as you are being true to yourself. I say that it doesn’t matter but I do still care, I just know that I should care most about what I think.

What doesn’t kill ya….

Many people go through a crucible of some sort in the journey of their lives that molds and shapes their characters for the better. The process is painful and feels like it may kill you but in hindsight you can look back and say it made you stronger (cue Kelly Clarkson, baby!).

Chapter 6: Amazing Grace

So the first year of high school was the most tumultuous year of my school career. Battling to fit in with any peer group, battling to fit in at Alon and battling to remain invisible to Dustin within the corridors of our drab school. Maybe it was spiritual fervor from my recent trip to Israel…

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Chapter 4: A Time to be Silent and a Time to Speak

Shortly before Alon featured on the radar of my existence, I spied a pair of Dr Martens I’d seen in the shop window of our local shoe store. It was love at first sight. So, when my mom took me to the shoe store on my twelfth birthday and we bought that pair of oxblood…

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The Rhythm of Life in a High-Peformance Cult

Time is of the Essence

So, what does life in a Christian community (high-performance cult) look like, you may ask. Well, I can only speak about the community we were in, but my guess is, they all inevitably follow a similar template.

I would say that Alon looked like a holiday resort but felt like a boarding school. Now I have never attended boarding school myself, but it doesn’t take a wild stretch of the imagination to envisage the kind of routine that is necessary to prevent all hell from breaking loose amongst a large host of school children. Coincidentally we did in fact run a boarding school on the farm. Fortunately, Blue Mountain College (Davit had a flair for naming things) only transpired once I was well out of school. But that’s a story for another time.

Anyway, getting back to the ins and outs of community living; naturally, there was a schedule that we existed by. Ask anyone from a large family and they’ll probably tell you that their parents ran a tight ship. Most likely there was a roster on the refrigerator for chores and meal prep and everybody had to convene at a certain time for dinner and breakfast etc. Imagine a boarding school that didn’t run on a schedule – chaos. Get more than half a dozen people to live together and they will quickly fall into some semblance of routine. It’s just inevitable, we are creatures of patterns and systems.

Punctuality was a big deal at Alon, the only person who was ever late was Davit, but like any CEO, president or person of power, that was understandable – he did after all have a community to run.

Our routine adapted with the proverbial seasons; life at Alon was in a constant state of flux. For instance, when my mother and I arrived, we ate every single meal in the communal dining room but with time we were given different lodgings and thus afforded the luxury of breakfasting in the comfort of our own home.

At first there were a number of people who dwelt in the hostel-style accommodation that was built adjacent to the dining room and sanctuary and there were only a handful of small homes that were awarded to families who appeared to be in it for the long-haul. However, the entire community ate dinners together from Mondays to Fridays until I left school.

Fridays were a big deal; this was the start of the Jewish Sabbath and we celebrated as if we were part of the diaspora itself. There was traditional song and dance, lighting shabbat candles and eating challah bread. People would put on their nicest clothes, and it was the most festive evening of the week. It was also, most importantly, the only time that dessert was served.

Shabbat dancing.

From 3am to 6am every Saturday morning you could find groups of members (excluding the children) praying. Prayer meetings were an integral part of Alon, prayer was the lifeblood of our existence. Apart from the Saturday prayer meetings there were also meetings on Sunday mornings at 6am for the men; Tuesday and Thursday mornings began with prayerful gatherings at 5am and at some point, the men also started praying on Wednesday mornings from 2am to 3am. Friday mornings were set aside for married couples to pray together in their own homes which, in my experience, was by and large just one big snooze fest, can you blame us?

I will say that when we first arrived, Alon was a lot more chilled than when I left. It’s hard to say exactly when the momentum picked up but by the time I bade that farm my last goodbye we were living on a jampacked treadmill.

Perfect Timing

To give you an idea of the level of activity we partook in, I will briefly outline a regular weekly routine as it was in my last year of Alon life:

Monday (known as bible study night):  

  • Work form 7.30am to 5pm. (bearing in mind that people working in town only arrived back on the farm between 5.30pm and 6pm)
  • Communion prayer meeting for mothers with small children from 7.30pm to 8pm. (there would be a communion meeting at the end of every weekday attended by a small group of people assigned to cover each day of the week so that essentially we all partook in communion twice weekly). When I say communion, I am referring to the ritual of eating bread and drinking wine in remembrance of how Christ sacrificed his body (the bread) and spilled his blood for the atonement of our sins (the wine).
  • Bible study in various homes from 8.30pm to 10.15pm

Tuesday (known as work night):

  • Prayer meeting from 5.30am to 6.30am (excl. mothers with small children)
  • Work form 7.30am – 5pm
  • Work evening 8pm – 10pm (some women with children excluded)

Wednesday (known as family night):

  • Early morning meeting for men and some women from 2am to 3am
  • Work from 7.30am to 4pm
  • Sport activities from 4.30pm – 6pm
  • Communal viewing of a TV series such as Downton Abbey from 8.30pm (this was not compulsory but if you never attended you would hear about it. Also, if you never socialised by either inviting people for dinner or being invited then you would also hear about it although the evening was initially designated as a time for families to spend time with each other)

Thursday (known as fasting day):

  • Prayer from 5.30am to 6.30 am (excl. mothers with small children)
  • Everybody fasts breakfast and lunch (unless pregnant etc)
  • Prayer meeting at midday from 1.30pm to 2pm
  • Prayer meeting in the evening from 6.30pm to 7.30pm
  • Peer review meetings from 8.30pm to 10pm (these were meetings where different peer groups such as parents with preschool children; parents with high school children or older people would meet in different centres and report back on the challenges they were facing and this would also serve as an opportunity to openly address issues between each other, which in essence became evenings for intimate public shaming. Once a month we would have a games evening just to, you know, break the ice.)
Just another praise and worship meeting in the sanctuary.

Friday (known as Potluck):

  • Work from 7.30am to 5pm
  • Potluck dinners hosted in different homes from 7.30pm to 10pm
  • Prayer for mothers with small children from 10.30pm to 12pm

Saturday (Shabbat):

  • Prayer from 5am to 7.30am
  • Communion (drinking bread and wine and reporting back on prayer meetings) from 7.30am to 8am (mothers with small kids would attend communion and take turns looking after the kids at the creche)
  • Coffee and fellowship from 8am to 9am (not compulsory but once again, you would hear about it if you didn’t ever attend)
  • Brunch in various homes during the course of the morning (it was up to you to arrange to either invite or be invited)
  • Meeting and communal “picnic” supper (excluding children) from 7.30pm to 10.30pm
Saturday morning communion.

Sunday:

  • Men’s prayer meetings from 6am to 7am
  • Morning meeting from 8.30am to whenever, followed by work until 2pm
  • Communal lunch from 2pm to 3pm
  • Movie night from 8.30pm (once again not compulsory, but you know the drill…)
Sunday lunch at the end of a day’s work.

Time is Money

Not to harp on about it (I know I have glanced over the colourful array of financial avenues that were explored by the well-oiled machine that was Alon Christian Community aka Alon Farm already in a previous post) but here’s a re-cap…

A culture of industrious pursuit was keenly fostered at Alon, after all, “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop…”. What began as a small avocado farm where a group of Christians spent their days in bible study and menial agricultural tasks mushroomed into a cluster of four small yet busy farms. Extensive vegetable gardens; greenhouses; a nursery; macadamia orchards; coffee orchards and a roastery that went by the name of Crown Coffee; honey production; water bottling plant; mechanical workshop; music recording studio (failed); Indigenous design, a carpentry workshop; art studios; guest house accommodation; wedding/events venue called Mosaic and coincidentally lavishly bejeweled in hundreds of hours’ worth of mosaic art and Blue Mountain College, the on-site boarding school. All this could be found right there at Alon farm.

Some images from our restaurants in Tzaneen and Somerset West:

But the span of endeavours reached further afield, a small office park in the town of Tzaneen that was co-owned by one of our resident doctors, lawyer and accountants was also developed. Here we opened a thriving restaurant which was open all day and on Tuesday and Friday nights. These commercial enterprises provided not only an extra little cash injection but more importantly were a source of employment for many of Alon’s residents.

The living room of the house in Isreal, located on the border of the Negev and Judean deserts.

Davit always had his eye on the property market and in its heyday, Alon Trust was the proud owner of several properties in the Cape Town area and even as far afield as Israel and Switzerland.  Apparently, this level of industry and equity lands a cult the title of being ‘High-performance’, where the driving force is to create financial success and appear to be very happy doing it, “The joy of the Lord is our strength.”

Time waits for no Man

While the monotony of the daily grind sometimes felt like it was going to kill me, there was also great comfort in routine. When every minute of your day is occupied and set aside for a particular task, your life retains this constant sense of purpose and time takes on an almost tangible quality. If you find yourself with some extra snatches of it on your hands, you savour it. Free time is a novelty and boredom doesn’t ever darken the door of your mind.

As a school kid I never had to endure the intense rigours of routine, in fact, we had a lot of freedom and time to ourselves back then. But the next generation of kids were born into a very different era of Alon, and their days were tightly scheduled from morning till night.

I would look at those mountains in the distance and it would feel as though the rest of the world and all its adventure lay just beyond them. I knew this wasn’t true because what really lay beyond them was Limpopo Province’s dismal, dusty capital, Polokwane. But if that’s how I felt, I can’t even begin to imagine what was brewing in the hearts of all the youngsters that weren’t even afforded the respite from community living that public schooling had afforded me. The only exposure they had to the outside world were other students that paid to attend our boarding school and the odd holiday at the sea.

Somewhere in the recesses of my mind I always knew that I had my father to turn to if I really needed him though I would never have even consciously acknowledged that. Perhaps the twice-yearly pilgrimage to Cape Town to visit my dad in the school holidays while I was growing up was more valuable than what I can even realise now. But by the time I left school, my trips home were fraught with bickering over the fundamentals of Christianity and defending Davit and Sara and their apparent lavish living. I am not sure when my loyalties began to shift from family to Alon but it’s a steady and insidious trickle of reasoning that eventually seems to infiltrate every crevice of your heart and mind.

Backstory

Sparks fly – Unsplash

*Many names have been changed out of curtesy and respect for innocent parties. It is also important to note that the story outlined below is merely a recollection of tales as shared by Davit Ben-Avi over the two decades that I knew him. There is no evidence to suggest that any of these claims regarding his heritage are true. What is true is the manner in which he used these tales to weave a web of both pitiful beginnings and staggering family drama to highlight his miraculous rise as a man of God despite his apparently questionable beginnings .

Two Star-Crossed Lovers

Let me introduce you to Duncan Hollis. Born in the fifties to a party girl and a con artist, it’s believed that Duncan’s mother, June, wasn’t delighted at the prospect of maternity and attempted to abort her pregnancy, but the baby refused to exit her womb and so began a battle of the wills between mother and child that would exist until her dying day.  In an effort to escape the law and some unhappy investors with diminished bank accounts, his father fled the country when Duncan was but a boy – never to return to his wife and children again.

June may not have been a natural born nurturer but her largely Jewish family provided the backdrop of domesticity to her children’s lives that she was unable to give them. Duncan’s grandmother took care of him and his younger sisters. It was her home that would be his reference of childhood and family ideals.

There was occasionally mention of the poverty they sometimes endured, having to resort to old newspaper when there was no money for loo rolls. But on the whole, the family home was an ebb and flow of relatives, friends and secular Jewish culture.

The Hollis’ lived in the seaside town called The Strand on the outskirts of Cape Town, overlooking False Bay. Duncan became a happy hippy surfer of the seventies and could be found padding down the main road, surfboard under the arm, his sun-bleached hair flapping merrily in the wind.

It’s on one such sunny day that Sara first saw her husband to be. The legend goes that the moment she laid eyes on him, this timid, conservative Afrikaans girl from a poor, inland farming community declared: “I am going to marry that man.”

They did get married, but not before their first child was conceived. Bianca was born soon after Duncan and Sara wed. Sara was just shy of twenty-one when she became a mother but having a baby in her arms was when she finally discovered her sweet spot in this life. Little did she know that in years to come she would be referred to fondly as “the mother of the nations” much like Abraham’s Sara from the biblical past.

Two years later Sara gave birth to a ginger haired little boy who would be her pride and joy despite his propensity for defiance and mischief. Dustin was everything his sister wasn’t: loud, energetic and constantly in trouble. But the two siblings balanced each other out and as much as Dustin found a haven in his mother’s arms, Bianca had a special place in her daddy’s heart.

Now with an expanding family to provide for, the Holwills opened a coffee shop that turned out to be a huge success. With Dougie’s knack for business and Sara’s finesse in the kitchen their little eatery was never empty.

Divine Inspiration

Heavensent – Unsplash

But Duncan wanted more. Domestic bliss wasn’t going to cut it for this wildcat. He hadn’t clawed onto the very wall of life from day one just to own a coffee shop. What else was out there? What was this life all about? What was the point to this existence? And then he found Jesus. He was engulfed by spiritual zeal almost from day one. “On fire for Jesus” as some might say. His heroes were the spiritual outliers and revolutionists who had not shied away from breaking the mould and risking their very lives and reputations for the message of the cross.

As much as Sara had found her purpose cradling babies, Duncan found his spark when the power of the holy spirit engulfed him – anything was now possible. The more he learned about the great evangelists and spiritual pioneers the more Duncan felt convinced that the little buzzing coffee shop he and Sara had built up from scratch was not his place in this world. He was searching, speculating and the cogs of his young mind were turning at a newfound pace.

They will run and not grow weary, They will walk and not grow faint.

Isaiah 40v31

Much to Sara’s dismay they sold their business and began their pursuit of evangelical proprietary. The church was God’s business and Duncan was ready to invest. His Jewish roots seemed to deepen as he studied the psalms and the exploits of Jesus. Duncan wanted to dance as David had danced in the streets of Jerusalem and pray as Jesus had prayed along the shores of Galilee. And so, with barely a penny to his name he booked a ticket to the Holy land of Israel and left his small family so that he could seek out the voice of the almighty and run his fingers over the stones his ancestors had laid in the land of the living.

Left behind to fend for their little family, Sara was told to trust in the Lord to provide as their bank account neared nil. She understood that zeroes didn’t bode well, after all she had been a bank teller before Duncan had thrust her into a life of entrepreneurship. But it had been easier to see reason in his bold take on life as the figures in their coffee shop books slowly climbed.  Now, jobless and nearly penniless with her zealous husband far away in a land she only knew about from Sunday school she was at a loss.

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?”

Matthew 6 v 25

“Have faith Sara, the Lord will provide. Do not ask your family for help, this is a test of your faith.” His words would ring in her ears every night as she lay in her bed worrying about how she would feed her two sleeping children. And miraculously they pulled through.

On Duncan’s return she could see her husband was different. He had let go of the former things and he was more passionate about Christ than ever before, spending hours studying the word of God from his well-thumbed and battered bible. Trusting the Holy Spirit to teach him and reveal new truths to him, Duncan was on a one-man mission towards enlightenment and Sara had better start running or she may never catch up to him again.

The World Tour

Globetrotters – Unsplash

I don’t know how, but they managed to get enough funds together to allow them to begin travelling the world and meeting fellow believers from around the globe. Their travels took them to Minnesota, New York, Israel, New Zealand and possibly a few other pitstops along the way. At some point Sara’s belly began to swell once again and a little angel called Alona filled her arms one last time.

The family of five found themselves, by divine intervention, in a Christian commune in New Zealand where they spent a long season, reportedly learning the value of submission both unto man and unto The Lord. It was a harsh discipleship. Dougie was made to contribute to the community by doing physical labour and apparently, he was sometimes even called upon to clean the very toilets. It was a sore point for him and a scar that he seemed to carry into his Pastoral career.

One day Duncan had a vision while lying in a field gazing at the clouds scudding along the blue sky. He never said exactly what the vision was, but it’s clear that it involved him and Sara heading a group of people called to do God’s work and it definitely didn’t involve him cleaning one more toilet.

“All the believers were together and had everything in common.  They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.  Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

Acts 2v44-47

When the young visionary got home to his wife who had been, as ever, dutifully minding the children, he was pleasantly surprised to discover that she too had experienced something vision-like dropping into her heart. They knew now that the cloud was moving on and like Moses leading the Israelites through the Sinai, Duncan led his wife and family out of the confines of the Christian community in New Zealand.

Their meanderings also gifted them with a stay at another Christian commune in Minnesota called Ben Israel. As the name would suggest, this group had an affinity with Israel. Much of the teachings and bible studies were focused on God’s love for his people, the Hebrews, and Duncan Hollis appreciated these sentiments.

Ben Israel was an international community of born-again Christians and drew members from as far afield as Switzerland and Denmark. It is right there in the deep, cold Minnesota winter that Duncan and Sara met some of the people who, unbeknownst to them at the time, would turn out to be part of the founding group of their very own Christian community in the desert town of Oudtshoorn, South Africa.

A Symphony of Synchronicity

For the Hollis’, the world tour served as a crash course on communal living and a baptism of fire into the world of spiritual leadership. So, upon returning to their homeland they set out to find a place they could settle, much like the Israelites of old. At first, the pillar of cloud seemed indeed to point towards Oudtshoorn and by hook or by crook (for lack of a better phrase) Duncan secured an old house for them to dwell in.

In the Lord’s Army – Unsplash

At the time, the South African military had a conscription policy and by law young men were called up for one year of basic training upon leaving high school or after completing their tertiary education. Coincidentally, Oudtshoorn was home to a large military base and thus, Duncan had the opportunity to evangelise many a young, jaded off-duty soldier.

There were marches through the streets carrying crosses, banners and posters declaring Jesus to be the one and only saviour of the world. Bible studies were held within the walls of the Hollis’ home and more than a few baptisms took place in their bathtub.

Coincidentally, four of the young soldiers who spent their downtime in personal prayer and guidance from Duncan would later become anointed as leaders to help him and Sara fulfil their vision of a community of believers dwelling together in unity.

Feeling a strong calling to be a tool in God’s hand for the salvation of the Jews and considering Duncan’s Jewish roots, Duncan officially changed his name to Davit and the Hollis’ surname was also replaced by Ben-Avi. Duncan was no longer a son of a party girl and a con artist; Davit Ben-Avi was now a son of Abraham and of God (In Hebrew Ben means son and Avi is Abraham).

Oudtshoorn had served them well and provided a wonderful brotherhood of promising leaders, many of whom remained committed members to his small home church even after the completion of their basic military training. They were also joined by adventurous friends that the Ben-Avi’s had met on their international travels.

Davit could sense that Oudtshoorn was becoming too small for any further expansion of his ministry and after scouting out several possible new regions in the country, he finally felt the peace of God in the unexpected territory of Tzaneen, a far-flung agricultural town in one of the Northern-most fertile tracts of land the country had to offer. How this farm overlooking the subtropical valley of Tzaneen and it’s distant Wolkberg mountains was paid for, remains a mystery – at least to me. But the Lord’s ways are mysterious.

And so, in the early nineties, a caravan of young believers from all walks of life and nations could be seen making their way up-country in a trail of vehicles and moving trucks. Alon farm was established like a long-promised Oak of righteousness, a planting of The Lord.

Tragedy

Not a year later but Davit and Sara’s precious little girl, Alona was diagnosed with brain cancer and died in what would have been her first year of primary school. The loss was devastating, their little acorn was wrenched from her mother’s arms and buried beneath the wild fig tree at the bottom of the garden.

Unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground – Unsplash

 Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. John 12v24. It was the scripture that her parents clung to in order to try and make sense of her death. And it really did seem as though Alona was a little kernel of wheat that ushered in a big harvest of members to Alon Christian community. It also set the precedent for members to accept that blessings come from sacrifice. If Davit and Sara could sacrifice their own daughter for the kingdom of God, then who was anyone to complain about giving up their own ambitions and worldly goods?

Where my Little Story Begins

A couple of years later, a burnt-out artist and her daughter joined the ranks of Alon’s growing numbers. You guessed it, that kid is me! Our story isn’t the most tragic, dramatic or heroic, but it’s the only one I can give a first-hand account of, so here we go.