Sunday School Lesson Before the Cult Invaded

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So far no fire and brimstone has devoured any of me as “we survivors” of the cult The Walk or the Church of the Living Word finally feel we can blurt it all out about the cult we ended up in. This is my personal story of how I, a small town Christian girl found my self in a cult.

Bible Basics

First I have to say that I was a regular at Sunday School learning my Bible lessons. Would it be wrong of me to say that I don’t think that all members of The Walk knew the bible basic. I don’t mean to be bible snob. Please, correct me if I am wrong. I believe that lack of grounding in the Word lead too many people to fall for ‘twisted scriptures”

Am I the last one to recall the Bible promises to the children of Abraham?

I used to wake up early every morning with the fear that I would screw up not getting into the Promised Land. For me, the Exodus was the Hook that haunts me. Bible things got confusing for me as a child. And how could faithful servants who watered down bible stories be disposed of in the pits of Hell? I wanted to be “more that a Sunday go to meeting Christian.”

In the late 50’s and early 60’s Jess and Olive were the admins for children’s church at Christian Tabernacle. Jess and Olive were an older farm couple who had no children of their own. They owned a Bible Book Store in Washington where they sold Bibles and other Christian supplies when they weren’t on on the farm. Jess and Olive dedicated the rest of their time/ life to the children’s ministry. I think nobody else wanted to put forth the effort- it is effort to teach kids every week about the Bible and hold their interest..

We young kids learned lots of scriptural based songs; we had opportunity to accept Jesus; we learned bible verses; we did Christian crafts while the adults were upstairs in the converted sanctuary. of Christian Tabernacle. The building was originally a school building. In the basement with Jess and Olive was where I learned to love the word of God. Jess and Olive had dedicated their lives to the children’s ministry that they missed out on services especially when John came to town for special week long services.They were with the kids in the basement. This was cool because on school nights sitting in a pew night after night was boring. ( Not healthy for school age kids)

*I remember Olive teaching about Abraham and his sons; Joseph and his many colored coat and his brothers jealousy; Moses and the burning bush and the plague in Egypt, the blood of the lamb on the door posts- you know the stories about the the Children of Israel left Egypt as slaves to march into the Promised Land lead by Moses and the 10 commandments Bible stories- * hold that thought.

How much should small children be exposed to killing others as in Bible stories? I mean really, some Bible stories are not even PG 13.

If you don’t tell that David actually kill,ed Goliath is that a lie? Or does it twist the scriptures to tell kids that Goliath got knocked out by David’s Sling shot then he got up and ran away? the fluffy version was not a JRS version, but, the Sunday school version. -Let’s see if I make sense about my childhood confusion after Brother John Stevens tells all to the congregation filled with children. I was horrified when I heard the blood and guts versions of Bible stories- OK so he told the true story. I still feel the trauma.

But, I want to know, now is what happened that JRS got so good at twisting scriptures later on? That bothers me. Does it bother you? ( I never was in on mush teaching of the Hargraves later on.)


Hide god’s Word From the Commies.

In the 60’s the rumor was that there was “a Commie behind every tree.” We school kids practiced “duck and cover”. Nikita Krushov had pounded his shoe at the UN stating in Russian, “We will bury you.” The Russian leader scared the crap out me when I saw him on the news. If that was not enough to be fearful that the Reds would steal my Bible the Russian leader actually toured a farm in Washington, Iowa at that time. It was freaking scary for kid.

Jess and Olive taught us to “hide the word of God in our hearts because we never knew when the Russians would come in to steal and burn our Bibles.” I lived in fear with that alone. When the JRS circus came to town to preach I was so sure I would go to a lion’s den to entertain the Soviet Socialists of Russia.

But, we had some hope. Olive taught us if we loved Jesus we would be saved.

We learned lots of Bible stories which later on I learned that her versions were watered down as were the Sunday School teachers manuals and the Sunday school books. This is nothing to do with our church/ future cult. These Sunday school books were among the main stream denominational approved materials.

Decades later when I joined mainstream churches for the Christian fellowship I volunteered to teach Sunday school as I had when I was a teen at Christian Tabernacle. To my shock and horror the Sunday School Stories were still being edited down to fluffy versions * Main Stream Christianity from what I saw after I left The Walk were not really teaching the Bible as written, either. That still disturbs me.

But, this is one reason why I think so many of our parents and grand parents got fed up with main stream Christianity besides the social status in the community and the amount of money you put in the offering- if that makes any senses or not. I makes no sense to me why some profess to teach Christianity and it is a twisted version. The more years TLW went on, I believe the less the Bible was taught. And when it was the scriptures were twisted. Can you tell, I feel disillusioned with religion.

At some point when John Robert Stevens came to preach Jess and Olive were told that they and the children needed to come up stairs to hear John. For some that did not go over well. But, I wanted to hid the word of God in my heart. Jess and Olive had been lying about the whole truth of the what the bible said- innocently. ( Really- many Bible stories as written are not age appropriate fore kids- and then again neither were violent intersessions at Shiloh- another story in the future.)

I listened to John preach about the Children of Israel and how rebellious they were. He said that they wandered the wilderness for 40 years before they got to go into the promised land. ( That is true)

JRS so boldly stated that the children of Israel had to dig a hole in the sand to take a dump then use their foot to cover the stench over. The way he worded the issue of toileting in the dessert was rather disconcerting to 10 year little me. His words about having to poop in the dessert like that for 40 years literally scared the crap out of me. I have no idea how that thought affected the grown ups, but in those days we did not talk of such things.

However, I really think that the threat of being rebellious to God’s will really began to sink in with the congregation. This was to be the new focus that would herald in the kingdom age- the allegorical Promised Land that would in the future be named Shiloh built on the out skirts of Kalona, Iowa around 1974.

Later on when the special services were over and we were back the routine life was normal again. Olive was again telling her version ( the Sunday school version) of the Jewish slaves being lead out of Egypt by Moses; the 10 commandments written in stone and the 12 tribes marching crossing the Red Sea on dry land into the Promised Land… no 40 years of wandering. No Egyptians drowning in the sea. She sure did not go into detail about taking knife to slit the throat of a sweet little lamb to get it’s blood. I just thought they poured some blood into a blow then took a paint brush.

OK, I was 10 or 11 at the time so Olive’s version no longer set well with me as the whole truth and nothing but the truth. According to JRS’s version of of shitting in the sand – excuses me- the difference in stories was very graphic- of course being 10 or 11 I had to correct Olive on these finer points of truth…story after story after Bible story did not line up with what John said- this bothered me.- and it still bothers me as to why Sunday school versions leave out the fact that the Bible is rather graphically bloody and Jesus was not always nice and sweet.

I mean just look at when Jesus cleared the Temple of the money changers! Jesus was not always meek and mild- so why did I get in trouble if I felt angry? It bothered me.

In early 60’s I don’t think John was twisting scriptures significantly, yet, but his judgement as to age appropriateness in details is questionable. Why was he so graphic? My answer is that he went for the shock and awe to begin his power trip. I really laid on the Hell fire thick for the next generation preparing them for his cult.

For me, this is when and where the line was began to be drawn from Sunday School Church to the “Truth” as John told it. I read that part of the old testament over and over. Jess and Olive had been LYING to us kids about almost everything!

Stories about the Children of Israel going right into the promised land with out fan fair. – then they blew trumpets and the Walls of Jericho came tumbling down….Now who do I believe? Details must be right when you are 10 or 11.

From a kid’s view this was the beginning of the battle of lies and truth and where the invisible line of allegiance was going to be muddled. ( From my experience every Sunday School teacher struggles with the war and blood and gore that are in the Bible. But, I have to question JRS judgement on how he started to change things over the line and hurtful to members. It was subtle.

Jess and Olive continued to do children’s ministry for a while. My older sister got to play piano for the children’s choir. I was given the job of leading the children’s choir – I suppose Jess and Olive decided that assigning me a leader role as an opportunity to try to control my argumentative mouth that rocked the Sunday School boat over the not so sweet unedited bible stories.

I was in conflict wanting to know the whole truth. Olive adamantly denied that any thing in the Old Testament was anything put warm and fuzzy God caring for His children – as I recall. Recently I have heard the kids younger that me no longer got Sunday School lessons. In my opinion, I believe that was a big mistake in The Walk that I will not ever understand.

As my sister and I grew older she played piano for the adult services. ( Christine was still the long time organist) I got bumped up to play piano for the children’s choir. I heard rumbles that some other girls might be jealous. Practicing hours a day I do not think is anything to be envious of. I was told that I followed directions well- it was excellent training for that build confidence that I needed.

I got to use the side door few parishioners ever used -only the elder could use to get to the “Holy of Holys”, the platform. I feel it unfortunate that i often heard the brothers talking about things I should not have known about. things that violated people’s privacy. Being in the position of a pianist gives one an entirely different view of worship. I knew things most people did not know about how they were manipulated into putting more in the offering plate by the song that was played for the offering. I would hear words like ” we got to pump up these lazy people.

I took my new responsibility seriously, tho’ I felt uncomfortable.

I felt like I had to stand guard again the Russians invading our church and what if I was rebellious and hampered the congregation from entering into the kingdom of heaven if I did not play the hymn with the right spirit?

John’s scary Bible details from the pulpit made me even more fearful that I would fail god of Jesus and never get to the Promised land or heaven.

I was a kid thrust into a position to keep me under control in a Christian way because …now, I knew too much! I learned more manipulation of the sheep tricks because of my privilege to use that side door by the piano.

When I later took over my sister’s piano ministry and I was given the opportunity to be a youth who read scriptures on the platform where the elders sat.

It was scary standing in front of all those people looking down at them. Being on the platform to sing or read a Bible verse gave me an interesting perspective – like who was paying attention, really worshiping or passing notes.

I really just wanted to be a good Christian girl and I was. It was kind of normal church stuff, no matter the denomination, except most parishioners were never allowed to step on the alter area that looked down on the congregation unless you were getting married.

There was nothing overtly sinister at that time that I could see- Hey! I was kid! What was I supposed to fore-see in the future?

What does this have to do with how the Walk evolved?


I was accidentally put into a position of trust where I could see and hear what was going on up there when the elders whispered or when they wanted to “inspire” the people to give more money in the offering plates. I suppose that this was the early days of brainwashing in the walk. “Brain washing was not in my knowledge base at the time.

I was all too often disturbed by things I heard on that platform when I was a teenager playing the piano or some kind of Christian service.- but- who was I supposed to talk to? I had to be submissive or I knew I was in big trouble.

“Missionaries Position”

I was still in grade school when the Arnold’s came back from Hawaii. it was exciting, especially, since Hawaii was still a very new state. I was busy being submissive trying to not upset the Sunday School Bible story version- but I respected Jess and Olive- BANG! Jess and Olive were booted from their children’s ministry position. They were ministered to by John Robert and told to spend more time in the adult services. they lost their position and the returning missionary took over.

I suppose it was for the best interest of the children. But, I was in conflict.

Had I complained too much about the bible stories not being accurate?

I was always guilt ridden – but that flaw is on my own shoulders. It was my stuff that I have to own – this guilt is where my weak point was. When the shake up of Sunday School came along with the transition of the Arnold’s I was an impressionable kid.

I heard gossip- that’s all it was- gossip. I had learned that I had better not open my mouth. With that said, I guess no grown up questioned anything either. This time was the on the cusp of change. The ushering in of the cult- no one saw it coming.

As John came to minister more and more different grown ups argued after church about The First Principals taking priority over the Bible and different interpretations of the Bible coming over the pulpit.

People came and went-the core families mostly stayed. But, the transition had started. As a kid what did I know?

As a long time member of maybe 25 years of Christian Tabernacle what were the parents and grandparents members supposed to do then? In hind site, now that I am quit grown-up and have survived the damage – and having seen and heard things without any Klout nor enough life experience to see predict the future – now we are asking what the HELL happened?

The changes were slowly sneaking in – many changes had to be made.

People in any church tend to get stuck in a rut, s,o they need new challenges.

Change is good.

But, who could have predicted what was to happen when I believe that we 1st and 2nd generations of our church only wanted to not be like those rebellious children of Israel who died off before they reached the Promised that God promised to Abraham. We wanted the truth! I know i wanted the truth- not some watered down version of what the Bible said. I have no idea what the new recruits wanted to hear.

I don’t know if this makes any sense at all. Too bad we the little people did not see the dollar signs in the self proclaimed Apostle’s eyes or in his mistress’ eyes. The warnings of a cult taking over were there all along. But who knew we should not be blindly trusting a man?

Perhaps it is a staring point for some of us to figure out when, where and how this mess started to get tangled and where to unravel the truth.

My words are my opinion from my disturbed memories as a child in the early years before it all ran a muck. Should I get more clarity I reserve the right to fix my words. No matter The Church of the Living Word was a cult which has now fallen.

Malika Bourne



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