This is my personal history of how a good Christian girl, an active member of a loving church, Christian Tabernacle, in a small town in Washington, Iowa was ashamed of her youth group peers who were members of a religious group known as The Walk.
Now, that the Church of the Living Word cult has fallen, I want people to know the truth at least from my personal perspective as a teenager back in the middle to late 1960s.
If you are a survivor of the Church of the Living Word cult founded by John Robert Stevens or simply curious about cults, we are about to embark on a twisted journey of rabbits trails before I tell you how this Iowa Girl Saw Her Home Town Get Terrorized by a “Christian Youth Group” from California. How this incident was handled by church leadership will shock you.
(Then again if you are ablow out of The Walk, you will this coming.)
For 50 years “The Walk” has dominated my thinking tho’ I left The Walk with my children in the ’80s. I had too much-unresolved questions and emotional trauma from the cult.
Keywords for this post: Trigger Warning!
The Walk, The Church of the Living Word, cult, Shiloh, Amish Kalona, John Robert Stevens, Christian Tabernacle, Washington, Iowa, Sout Gate, California, Bless-in, American charismatic movement, Hippie invasion, good Christian families duped, sexualized, groomed, private camp with flush toilets.
Mar 25, 2009 · The Walk of John Robert Stevens, popularly known as The Church of the Living Word, is a movement animated by extreme belief in a doctrine currently permeating large influential segments of the American charismatic movement.(1) It is the doctrine of the rhema (the alleged »living word« that replaces the static revelation of Scripture), a doctrine clearly antithetical to the orthodox Christian view of revelation.
My loving hometown church name and the corporation would later be changed to Church of the Living Word, just one of 100 churches that were part of “The Walk”.
In 1973 as I gave birth to my first child, my late father-in-law was on a piece of donated farmland in Amish country breaking ground for a private year-round-convention center and future nursing home for our members as they aged in our church. I had planned to gain nursing experience as a new RN graduate so that I was prepared to care for our aging loved ones in the same land. (How did that turn out? That is open for more discussion later.)
In 1974 Shiloh a communal living and conference center would be built in my home county on the outside of Kalona, Iowa. The camp would be named Shiloh.
The facility turned out far bigger than any church camp I had imagined. – It was nothing but a “twinkle” in anyone’s eyes that would introduce my hometown church and me to concepts we had not read about in the “good book”. ( MInus the nursing home as promised and donated for.)
Shiloh is a church and conference center located in Kalona, Iowa. Since its construction in the mid-1970s it has been the home of a community church founded on the belief that the Bible is the inspired word of God and is living and active through Christ’s involvement in the life of every believer.
As a baby boomer member of the Christian Tabernacle Church in Washington, Iowa I was in the middle of the conception of “The Walk” and Shiloh’s birth.
My ‘pain’ is different than most that were involved in The Living Word. I was part of the youth group that prayed for a permanent church camp with flush toilets. In late 1973 or early 1974, the dreams and prayers began to come alive.
But, those dreams in reality turned out to be a nightmare for many young people. I regret ever having anything to do with the dream of Shiloh.
There is probably only a hand full of 1st generations who prayed for Shiloh to be built and used for God that are still alive that will be willing to be open about the part we played in this dunk empire.
I have never really had the opportunity to voice what I’m going to share. My perspective is different from most who visited or lived at Shiloh’s dormitory.
The ground that Shiloh was built on is Iowa land with no neighbors across the street to complain about late-night singing or preaching that preceded the violent intercession that was to be a common occurrence in those walls.
- Everyone worked and worshiped at Shiloh.
- In decades to come most complained that they did “Slave Labor”. This issue should be addressed by those who suffered and survived.
- The concept of “working hard on the land for poor earnings is a conflicting concept In the farmland of Iowa. This conflicting concept is to be addressed in the future.
The Epitiomy of a Good Christian Girl
With the Kingdom being ushered in by the door opener, God of the walk or “Christ in the Flesh” sure needed sweet submissive young ladies. (I apologize for having to write this.)
There is nothing “special” about me. Now that I am a senior citizen, I was pretty normal for a Sunday-go-to-meeting mid-western female growing up in the ’50s and ’60s.
I was clean and well-groomed as a teen. I didn’t care too much about the latest fashions. I could have cared less if I wore make-up or not. I still don’t.
I wanted to do well in school. I had intended to be a teacher, but, decided in my sophomore year to become a nurse. That career choice has some conflict with ‘faith healing” in the Pentecostal sense even today.
I was a quiet and scared little girl who did not want to stand out in a crowd.
I had been told, ” You’re horrid and ugly and no one will ever love you.” In public, I was exceptionally well-behaved so that no one would notice what a “horrible little girl I was”.
But, at home, to be honest, I often had long meltdowns. I would cry for so long that I forgot what I was crying about.
[I am giving away my ‘secrets’ because, now, I know that I was never alone. From my education and research on abused children, we share the same shame thrust upon us by the gaslighting abusers. Survivors of all kinds of abuses have been groomed by tired and true manipulative tactics to submit and shut up -with shame for something that was never our fault. Remember that minors cannot legally consent. This extra note is a tad off-topic – but, is at the very heart of the problem as the cult of the Living world evolved. As a reader of this blog post, I will guess that you will patterns of behavior resonate with your own personal story.]
Ages & Stages of Child Growth & Development
From my experience and education that included classes on Child Growth and Development and Abnormal Psych, unless parents have had good examples from their parents, teachers, or other role models parenting does not come naturally.
To complicate the matter for Baby Boomers, our parents survived the Great Depression and WWII. Rather than diverting to a history lesson, please keep that in mind as the US entered into the great Hippe Invasion, the urban legend of Bra-burning, Hollywood movie stars suing for Pal-amony, The Beatles, and The Pill.
Back to little ole me…
- My parents often forgot to feed my sisters and me or pick us up from school.
- We had work to do to help the family business.
- Bedtime was non-existent.
- Then we had church on top of all the long hours with not much playtime.
This was my parent’s lack of parental responsibility. It has nothing to do with our hometown church turning into a cult.…or did I provide the opportunity for a cult to grow?
All children need nurturing under the love and guidance of a consistent adult parent with consistent routines for meals and bedtimes.
My family was the perfect fit for what
God John had in mind for the kingdom he was building for him and his 2nd wife Marilyn.
Your personality and needs may be similar or may be very different. Think about the different personalities in the birth order of siblings.
Remember that JRS had a massive library that some of us actually had seen. Others only heard rumors. Stevens kept his book knowledge to himself claiming everything came as a revelation from God. We all have had to piece together small oddly shaped puzzle pieces. JRS planned it this way much like secret nefarious organizations do. Was he the complete mastermind? I don’t think so. It is my belief that Queen Marilyn the Frist had aspired to be the ruler of the kingdom all along. IMO What do you think?
The truth is that we all fit in somewhere ready and willing to be “used by the Lord”.
I think the above fact that my parents, tho’ creative business people, lacked effective parenting intuition, says something important that I am still trying to comprehend well enough to explain to someone else.
My parents tried their best with what they had to work with. In hindsight, my parents were healing from their own traumas that I could not have expected to understand when I was a child. Their peers, I doubt were an exception. Everyone, that I knew in the 1950s was able to breathe signs of relief but still recover from childhoods where they had nothing and then war. The adults in Christian Tabernacle and South Gate, I think let their guard down assuming they could trust the man of the cloth.
As we know, our religious group was not the only religious organization where complete trust was put in
God, a man of God, a preacher, a priest, a Boy Scout leader, a fun uncle… No one was allowed to talk about such things if they knew what was good for them.
The same applies to you, survivors. I know that you are trying to figure out how your parents stayed in The Walk and allowed unconscionable things to happen to you and your peers.
Maybe, my feelings as a child are similar to the same ages and stages you experienced as a normal child growing up in the walk under different leadership. At any rate, my story is what went on with this Iowa girl before you were born.
So, when I went to public school in a small town and Sunday School I simply wanted to blend in the walls with my peers. I wanted to be what I thought was normal. The kind of normal where the other kids had no reason to laugh at you.
I know that some of you had the personality that you were going to “kick -over-the traces”. Not me. And both are “normal” parts of growing up.
BTW: It was my understanding that Bobbie was bullied growing up. Perhaps we can explore that later. But, if I don’t take a side track on this rabbit, hunt, I don’t know when I’ll remember it. I think this is a KEY point. JRS has his own unmet childhood needs. So did Marilyn. Shiloh coming together in his ultimate plan meant that he would be on top. He knew what it felt like to be bullied – now he is the master bully.
I wrongly believed that I was a “bad girl”
I did not have the cognitive maturity nor the language to understand that things that were happening to me were not my fault.
My personal “secrets” have nothing to do with The Church of the Living Word except my psycho-dynamics made me more vulnerable to “cult mind control”.
I had been beaten to a pulp by my mother and grandmother. I had been molested by my uncle and 2 of my parents’ after-school high school employees. (#Metoo is not a competition. It is no longer have to hide the truth that some scum bag is emotionally blackmailing you and they should not continue to power and control.)
I was always exploring – which means I got into trouble most of the time.
Eventually, when I was 3 and 1/2, my dad was forced to keep me under his feet while he worked. I suppose that was to keep my mother from going insane and killing me, as she often publically proclaimed.
I did not want any of my schoolmates or the town to know what a “bad person” I was. Does that sound familiar?
And, I sure did not want the good people of the new church that my dad took us to know my “shame”.
I was afraid that I was so sinful that Jesus could not love a sinner like me. I was afraid that the personal ministry given by John Robert Stevens would reveal my secret shame.
I was a tarnished little girl of about 7 years old when I went to The Christina Tabernacle church in my hometown.
This shame made me vulnerable.
I found out much later that I was not alone in insecurities. All of us survivors had some kind of vulnerability in the first place where we needed to be accepted. And all of the survivors need resolution.
[More recently, we are becoming acutely aware of the fact that leadership knew our shame. If they did not already know, we were pushed to tell them so they could control us or punish us even more. But no longer! We are FREE from them.]
I call my hometown church Christian Tabernacle the “Mother Church” because this is where William J. Stevens, the father of JRS was the founding pastor.
For more details on the history of the Christian Tabernacle please read my previous post on How a Home Town Church Turned into a Cult.
The early church would rent a facility once a year for youth church camp – it was awesome! In Iowa, it was the YMCA campgrounds, Lake Darling in Brighton, Iowa. The youth dreamed of having camp more often someday with flush toilets any day of the year.
In the mid to late 1960s, I had the pleasure to be invited to a church camp in California by the youth of the visiting preacher’s youth. I think I got to go 3 times. I have no idea how I scraped up the money to get there and back. It is possible that my sisters and I had some kind of assistance…and things were going according to the ultimate plan…
In those years we kids never heard of the word ‘cult”.
Going to church camp was a good thing for any Christian Kid to do. Or so we thought…until the #MeToo movement open Pandora’s Box.
We Iowa kids really wanted our own church camp with flush toilets nearby.
We should have been careful about what we earnestly prayed for. How were teenagers supposed to know that we were being groomed and manipulated to convince our parents to donate to the cause of a tax-exempt private property that was the base for trafficking, addictions, and neglect?
In hind-site- all the red flags were there – I present those from the perspective of a good Christian girl that my own father wanted me to be. He assumed that I was safe.
Why, exactly did the adult parents not see red flags? I cannot answer for them, other than they were manipulated to buy into a Pozi scheme.
Answered Prayers – so we thought
By 1974 our prayers would be answered.
All of the above put me into a unique position that I was unprepared for when our hometown church would be invaded by Hippies from California. and unruly California kids.
- It was the Great Hippie Invasion years. A perfect time to get a free labor force.
I heard from the horses’ mouth’s that “We built this city on Rock n Roll.” With no neighbors across the street or The Man breathing down their necks, alcohol, drugs, and loud music seemed to be acceptable. I was not in on that, personally. Few folks in town wanted to believe that at the time.
Not all of the California youth were hippies. A number were from core families before the Hippie Invasion.
JRS never seemed to have an original revelation as he claimed. With hippies checking out The Walk I guess it was easy to slip in our special version of a Love In. JRS called it the Bless-in. So novel and holy BS.
WARNING! This should scare the crap out of you!
It was rumored and I tend to believe my source from that time, that one of the Beatles and other superstars visited one of the CA groups. As did a number of members, possibly coming from or moving onto Charlie Manson’s family. Some hippies stayed around and are good friends.
Ask, any of us Baby Boomers about Hippies coming and going from this group to another Peace and Love group.
Considering the LA culture at the time – of course, hippies were looking for free love and free whatever high they could as long as “The Man” wasn’t telling them what to do. “You cannot trust anyone over 30. mentality.
JRS had the challenge of building his Kingdom, in the Amish countryside, for next nothing out of his picket while convincing staunch Christians from the Depression WWII era at the end of the Happy Days to donate all they had.
Hold that thought, because this is another KEY point in this complex trauma.
This should have been another RED FLAG to the people born between 1920 to 1935 who were the adult parents at the time. Please note that I am in no way blaming that generation for everything nor trying to skip out on the responsibilities of the Baby Boomer generation.
The teenagers, who became the parents of the current 40 to 50-year-old survivors born into the walk, did not yet have the life experience and age-appropriate maturity to be able to see JRS for the con man he was. Many gave up education, promising careers, and SSA benefits to intercede for the Kingdom to come in 1979 and so forth…
Shiloh was a haven – a cleft in the rock at the time of the storm.
A number of longtime members who have since left the cult remember a “Great Hippie Invasion” in the late 1960s centered around Saturday night “bless-ins”: marathons of “violent intercession” at CLW and Stevens’s original Living Word church, Grace Chapel in the southeastern L.A. neighborhood of South Gate. Led by Stevens, then called “Brother”
I Saw Satan by Andrew Marzoni https://thebaffler.com/salvos/i-saw-satan-marzoni
South Gate, California Connection
Before Shiloh was built the dream of a church camp in Iowa grew.
John Robert Stevens, the son of my loving pastor in Iowa.
John, or Bobbie, would come from his church in South Gate, California for special meetings along with his wife who sang, and his beautiful daughters. It was almost like the circus had come to town with all of the entertainment and energy in the sanctuary.
I was mesmerized by Steven’s voice and words about Jesus and intimidated at the same time. I was not the only one spellbound.
My late sister, Kathy was married in the old South Gate church in 1969. Previous to ’69 a number of our peers had older siblings who migrated to SouthGage, got married, and stayed in the church for a while. Then more siblings followed, married, and became leaders at Shiloh.
In case you did not already know it, by the 1980s many members of the cult were related by marriage or shirt-tail cousins. Our natural family support systems were deeply ingrained in the cult.
And JRS and his cronies were masters at pitting one against another or blackmailing with “secrets”. But, it took decades for the truth to come out in many cases. Or at least some of the truth from the ones that did not disappear into the “wicked city” with an evil label hanging from their neck.
Sounds familiar pattern, doesn’t it? Well, this goes way back to the beginning.
We Are the Most Special
Many of the lovely young ladies (help meets) were ‘set up’ to marry young “prophets”. I don’t think the “matching-making” was that fine-tuned, yet, in the mid-’60s. Or at least not as blatantly obvious.
This image is from an old Polaroid copy as my sister, the bride, was getting dressed for her wedding. I’m in the upper left – still young and skinny.
“Set up” ends up being the operative word for what we now call “arranged marriage”. We had not gotten to the “Delegated relationships and “Shepherding”, yet. It was the early days.
I felt that we kids in the church had special secrets of being the only ones chosen by God far more than any other kid going to any other church anywhere.
I already had my own secrets that made me so vulnerable to the private ministry of John Robert Stevens. He did “cold readings” much like a psychic’s stage show. The laying on of hands is popular in the Evangelical world.
So this process was appealing to newcomer families seeking the structure they were familiar with along with new and better revelation.
Teenagers needed something that appealed to them as well. Some were well-behaved.
The common dream of Shiloh spelled religious freedom to many.
Other teens were not so well behaved – and no one in charge seemed to give a sh!t. KEY point. Especially, if their parents had money and were willing to buy themselves a seat at the right hand of god. (OK, I admit, I may be a tad over-dramatic.)
We all brought something to the table that was hookable like a fish on a hook. The lucky ones got away unless they found another growing cult to get trapped into or lead, perhaps.
One of the greatest words on a young hand-maidens life at that time was to be trained as a “help-meet” for a budding prophet. (Cough-cough. ) Most of us young ladies were thinking about being the beautiful bride in the Lord’s Kingdom. We prepared ourselves to support a male ministry. It was oh-so spiritual.
Little did we girls know that the males were not being prepared as husbands in the eyes of a moral society. We were so naive. How long was each individual naive, I cannot say. I don’t know.
This complex rabbit trail is leading us back to the title of this post. What happened should have alerted the good people in the Washington, Iowa church to put a stop to the church camp right then and there.
As a teenage girl, I was already appalled by the action of the boys in particular at the previous camps and slumber parties I had been to with the CA kids. I’m still having a hard time wrapping my head around so much on the way to the finale of this post. There are so many moving parts and I apologize for having to run around every stinking one on my way to the next hole-in-the-ground distraction.
Distractions were plentiful. Were they demonic attacks?
The group was founded in South Gate, California, by John Robert Stevens in 1951. It has been known in the past informally as “The Walk” or “This Walk,” referencing the biblical view that every Christian should have a personal walk with Jesus Christ, from I John 1:6-7.
The special week-long services gave me electrical goosebumps – I could not get enough of learning how much Jesus loved me. I am curious as to how many others felt the same electricity.
[As we research or counsel with a real licensed therapist, we may learn that parlor tricks and rock concerts get the adrenaline pumping, naturally. I want to explore this later.]
The problem was that I was a schoolgirl who needed to get to bed before midnight on school nights.
Sure the service may be ended at 9 or 10, I can’t say for sure, but my parents loved to yak and yak and yak. Yes, the neighbors complained to the mayor in Washington. Why wouldn’t they?
M-m-m? Was it really being persecuted for Christ’s sake? Would the solution be our own private campgrounds where we could sing to the Lord at the top of our lungs with the enemy attacking us?
Sounds reasonable to me. And you?
My dad was so excited to learn the scriptures and all the secrets of god that John had to share. I loved being around people who treated me so nicely…
…but, my sisters and I had homework and we need to a good night’s sleep on a school night.
In hindsight, I wish that our Happy Days parents would have set limits in the 1950s on Steven’s ‘special services.’ I now feel free to dub When the Circus Came to Town. Going to school was an important part of the structure every child needs.
But, this was ‘free entertainment” for the family.
We kids had to ” be ready” for school days…even if “one should be taken and the other left behind”. So I think my parents and their peers were “brainwashed” into believing that “doing God’s work” was the greatest priority. They may have felt shamed if they missed out on “God’s Word”. JRS did not like missing out on the “Love offerings”. If you wrote a check to put in the plate it was “confirmation” to him who was going to be “thou good and faithful servant”.
As time went on a number of older youth siblings of my peers in Sunday School had moved out to California. My school teacher told me that the population of LA was destined to grow as big as New York City.
Now, mind you, my parents had saved up to take the family on the only real vacation trip that we ever had in our lives, to the east coast, and to NYC- nothing like Washington, Iowa at all.
I was a child with limited concepts of the world.
California was where my TV heroes lived like Roy Rodgers and Dale Evans who btw were Christians. I longed to go to California. I felt like I was in a special club with the movie stars when the preacher came to town from the state of California. The preacher from California was bigger than life to me. Maybe was as big as a movie star to other church members. Besides preaching Bobbie’s girls or his wife sang beautiful songs for us.
It was like getting Willy Wonka’s Golden Ticket or winning the big Teddy Bear at the Fair when the “spirit moved” to have Stevens lay hands on us and prophesy over our lives.
We need to have a serious discussion on how and why we still value a “Word over our lives”, still. This is another KEY point that reeled us by the Fishers of Men.
The Kalona Connection
My parents were in the Natural Foods Association.
That started before my dad found Christian Tabernacle.
This was decades before the Mac Dougal Diet.
Not only did my parents keep my sisters and me out every night of the week on school nights for the special meeting when John Robert Stevens came to preach we had to go to Natural Food meetings, too. (Exchanging one cult for another. Or exchanging one addiction for another. The patterns are all the same. All the same as a pyramid scheme.)
We sisters sat in the car while my parents learned about more vitamins and organic foods.
This made my parents really oddball fanatics in town. Organic healthy foods were their “new god” someone wrote in one of their loaned-out books.
Now, decades later I know the characteristics of the word “cult”. My parents hopped from one cult to another cult. In fact, they thrived on cult-like behavior. My late father lived to be age 90. He thrived on every Pentecostal church he could find in between every Tele-evangelist. I mean, all of them – even the ones who got caught in some kind of impropriety. He “forgave them” because the “devil made them do it”…
Their whole food fad with idolizing authors of healthy food and vitamin books consumed my parents’ lives before we even became regular church members. Then it was hard to juggle 2 cults at one time. After they realized that JRS was a crook fleecing the flock they went back to alternative medicine quacks, like the Carry Rheames. (Another story for another blog subject.)
I was exhausted and embarrassed with my parents dragging my sisters and I from cult to cult to learn more secrets. They “knew secrets no one else knew”. I just wanted to be normal!
I tell all of this in my history of this cult for a number of reasons. One reason is that my parents befriended a lovely Amish family from Kalona a small town in Washington County, Iowa. Kalona, of course, is where in the future Shiloh was to be built.
The land had been owned and donated by an Amish man – the father of the Amish man who was a friend of my parents.
It’s a small world, isn’t it?
Yakety Yak Don’t Talk Back
The couple owned a health food store in Kalona. In the 50s “health food” and “organic” were not popular at all. We would go to Kalona to get our whole wheat bread and other dried food. Every other kid in my lunchroom ate Wonderbread. My new secret now was hiding my ugly brown bread from my classmates
My parents and the Amish family loved Yakety-yak. We, children, were to “be seen and not heard”.
My sisters and I liked to play with their daughters.t least we were not bored sitting in the car for hours like we’re used to and hated doing so. From those long, long chats this Amish family decided to check out Christian Tabernacle, our hometown church. They loved them – they stayed and brought in other family members…and that is how the old Amish man started listening to John Robert Stevens on the radio and eventually donated his land to build Shiloh on.
My family’s friend was rouge Amish. They kicked over the traces of some of the Amish religion. The Amish stay with the old ways. They don’t drive. They don’t have phones. They use buttons to fasten their clothes. The women wear white bonnets. They do not have electricity. They still speak German.- low German I think. This family did not have electricity. The father did drive a car. They were very personable business people who talked to members outside of the Amish community like my parents and others in Natural Foods. The parents were looking for something different. I learned about a different way of living.
YOUTH Groups get-together
I was about 15 when our Christian Tabernacle youth group got an invitation to go to church camp in California. That was the motherload of all invitations to go to where “God was Moving in California”.
So we loaded up the truck and went to “Beverly Hills.” Not really- we went to South Gate in a car driven by one of the guys. South Gate is located by Watts, California.
One of the girls in the car beside my sisters was the daughter of the assistant pastor- John Robert was her uncle. It was “groovy” to see the older sisters from our church. This is when my sister knew that she wanted to go to live in California – she did so 2 or 3 years later and got married to one of JRS’s “boys”.
A good time was had by all- sorts of- I was uncomfortable about being what some of the CA boys called “Beverly Hillbillies”. I did not like the way I got “hit on”. When we weren’t at camp the older youth were drinking and were more promiscuous than it was acceptable in Iowa The California girls made fun of how I dressed. I did not fit in but all in all, I have an amazing “spiritual” experience.
The Walk Youth Camp in California
Washington, Iowa’s youth made several more trips to church camp in California. Then. more of our youth traveled out there. It was such a thrill! And we learned so much about the love of God and being baptized in the Holy Spirit and speaking in tongues. ( Pentecostal Holy Roller experience ) We were on Fire for God.
If our parents only knew that we were being taught occult practices behind their backs.
We, the kids, went back home. Some had graduated from high school- I was younger so still in high school. It was decided that it was time for the California youth to visit Iowa and bring back the new and exciting things that God had revealed to John Robert Stevens. ( The Bless-In, auras) the spiritual principles that god was gifting us.
On another topic, most of these new spiritual awakening things were taught to John Robert Stevens by an ex-witch in the church but John had to lead us to believe God had revealed to only him. These were occult techniques I now know. But, who knew back in the late ’60s?
John Robert Stevens (1919 – 1983) Founder of a fellowship of churches known as “The Walk” or “This Walk,” currently operating under the name “The Living Word Fellowship.” He further developed and popularized the Latter Rain teaching known Manifest Sons of God theology.
First Combined Walk Youth Camp in Iowa
Over Winter Break the California Youth group got on a plane and came to Iowa for the first time. ( Two of the youth group members’ father was top official of an airline- this made them very special to Iowa kids.)
We youth were so excited and full of hope for the future doing God’s will. The girls were excited about Kingdom Marriages. I think most of the guys were excited to “get laid”.
We had been going to Lake Darling in Brighton, Iowa for church camp – we rented a week. Baptism was held there if not at Rich’s farm. We studied the Bible and worshiped- very life-changing spiritual maturing for the youth of the church. This is what I think our parents believed was going to happen. The CA boys slept in the church and the girls slept over at the home of the youth/ assistant pastor.
Washington did not see this coming with the birth of Shiloh…
I sort of want to apologize for being critical- then again I want to be defensive. I kind of want to apologize for taking all the distracted personal side trails. But, hey, this is my blog and I am free to do it My Way.
Back to the topic…
The culture in CA was and is so different from that of Iowa.
In CA the Age of Aquarius and hippies and free love were really shocking to most of the country. To CA ‘freedom” was normal. Wearing make-up and clothes from the mall was also the norm for CA kids.
Please don’t react angrily to my next words.*
*I think that the old timers figured the CA kids could learn a few work ethic lessons in the cornfield of Iowa. KEY point: the old Iowa folk and the Amish were not going to have mercy on “cry-babies” pulling weeds.
Fact: At that time Washington, Iowa had the unique distinction of having the Most Churches Per Capita than any other city.
We had a lot of churchgoers, there. Washington was a Christian town with about every Christian denomination and we respected each other’s boundaries.
There were boundaries based on your family name; your income that you could tithe and what belief your family immigrated with Catholic, Amish, Mennonite… Dad Stevens church an offshoot of Four Square- Holy Roller accepted anyone and everyone who wanted to love God.
If someone did not go to church but wanted a Christian wedding or funeral or there was a bad accident Pastor Stevens was the one they called.
*Folks from farming communities work hard. If a farmer were to listen to the horror stories coming out of Shiloh, they would slough it off as “hard work ain’t gonna hurt nobody.” If any abused “kids escaped from Shiloh and told their stories back then, I doubt that they would have gotten any sympathy. JRS knew that.
The truth of the matter is perspective
A farmer and his family work hard together for their common goal. They have an invested interest in their future. They know how to run the family farm. But, there is no way that they could possibly relate to trafficking disguised as God’s work. I’m so sorry to have to blurt this out so harshly.
If only the church families that prayed for and donated everything they owned and had the foresight and discernment to understand that different pictures were being painted to different people when the youth group terrorized the town the vision of Shiloh would have stopped right then and there. But, the adults did not seem to have any more incite than what I have been meandering about my personal struggles as a kid.
We were duped!
Nov 17, 2018 · Forty years ago, people were worried about cults, especially after more than 900 people committed suicide in Jonestown, Guyana, at the behest of the California cult leader, the Rev. Jim Jones. It…
I am a Goodie-2-Shoes that everyone knew as Kathy’s sister.
Perhaps you remember me from long ago before we all figured out that the Christian Tabernacle was the early foundation for the cult of the Living Word.
I was quiet and tried to not ever stand out tho’ I was very well known. I was a student librarian which meant I help townspeople check out books- that was really big. I volunteered for the summer children’s program. I was a respected babysitter and even babysat for the school principal’s kids.
If that was not enough, as I said before my dad was known as the best photographer around- that had put me in every church for weddings in every county around Washington, Catholic school for school pictures, and every senior who wanted my dad to take their senior pictures. this means that I knew people and they watched me grow up.
I started “watching the door” when my dad was in the darkroom when I was 3 years old. He told me that I was his secretary.
I watched the camera bag on shoots and quickly learned how to hold the strobe light.
I was very well-behaved and politely talked to every preacher, priest, and nun since I was 5. ( My dad did not have to hire a babysitter if he took me along on jobs) I
was respectful- I always wore my head covering. If I forgot my hat. I learned quickly not to do that after I had to wear my dad’s handkerchief with a booger in it. (Child behavior management teams call that learning from natural consequences. My dad just called it funny.)
I wore my white gloves and folded my hands as I bowed my head or kneeled in other church services particularly at weddings and funerals even if I was not part of that fair.
I had an incredible amount of first-hand knowledge of many other denominations and a few non-Christian faiths. I also became an expert at the art of blending into the woodwork. I knew dirty little secrets in every church and synagog from here to Davenport and the Little Brown Church in the Vale.
Asset or Worst Nightmare?
Trust me when I tell you that in every religious group no matter how humble they look or how grandiose and pious they present themselves to be behind every pulpit there are dirty secrets. As the church pianist for a few years in our own group, I heard a lot that I did not understand at the time and was intended to be privy to. My father taught me so well that I must have blended in with wallpaper or green shag rugs.
For decades I kept my mouth shut longing to spit out all of these loose puzzle pieces. But I didn’t have a barf bucket to spit in until now.
As Ken Rene’s daughter, I knew a lot of people all over Iowa and across the border of the Mighty Mississippi.
I had a very good reputation as a model teen girl. I was a good “witness for the lord” and made my dad proud.
I was trusted….bear with me on this point, please…I was not special. I just did not want to get my face slapped or the crap beat out of me when I got home if I was not perfect. I had to look perfect because I represented a business.
A lot of pressure was on my shoulders, but I had a good heart anyway. Generally, this is the same expectation for preacher’s kids to represent their parents’ tax-exempt business.
At a young age, I had been exposed to many personalities, ways of living, and ways of worship.
But…I was not prepared for what was to come…neither was the town when the hippies invaded Iowa and our hometown church turned into a cult.
Enter the California Youth…
This is it – finally! The rabbit hole I have been alluding to with my random puzzle pieces.
When the youth arrived at my hometown church I was embarrassed rather than joyful to see the visitors. Most, not all, of the boys, acted like undisciplined hooligans. (Lois would have been proud of her boys.)
My pastors had to tell the boys to calm down at the church sanctuary in Iowa.
I had seen the California youth could do what they wanted to do in the church sanctuary in California – no one said anything to them that I saw with my Iowa girl’s eyes. (I shared some of this story in another blog post.)
But, it was not until very recently after listening to video interviews on Youtube that I am beginning to grasp the two sets of gender-biased rules all along. (Living Word Cult videos are attached to other No Non-cents Nanna blog posts.)
I really don’t remember much about the youth group meeting other than teaching the “old fogies”, what they called the wonderful people I always respected.
The Iowa adults were taught a very watered-down version of the California youth ‘Bless-in”. It was rather fascinating, I think. but, not Christian or biblical. We may want to clarify with those who are more familiar with occult practices than I am. I don’t want to screw that up with a misinterpretation.
I do recall vividly working on some songs to sing with 2 brothers. I learned how to sing more modern than opera-type songs from my vocal coach.
Thinking about it now, sending the CA youth to Iowa for winter break camp was a sneaky ploy to introduce the changes in doctrine that would “usher in the Kingdom of John and Marilyn. It was an updated version of When the Circus Came to Town. The naive church folk witnessed a 3-ring circus entertainment instead of cute preacher’s kids.
TERRORIZED the TOWN
In our off time, the kids went to explore the town square without an adult…I went with them to the tour guide. I don’t recall where my sister was other than flirting with guy that she ended up marrying in South Gate.
The youth took over the town square the likes of which had never happened before since the introduction of the motor vehicle.
Each merchant in their own shops panicked when they heard a large group of rowdy teenage strangers burst into their businesses.
Little old ladies were fearful. Some women I knew well, talked about it years later. One was my nursing supervisor.
The store owners worried about damage to their merchandise from the reckless way the “Christian ” youth were handling everything. (Touching with sticky fingers.)
My parents never would have allowed this. I was frightened to tell my mother. I did tho. I think she kind of blew it off because she grew up with boys and was a WAC in WWII. Or maybe she thought I was being overdramatic. I don’t know.
I was feeling desperate. I think I have PTSD from the event.
Washington County. Washington County was originally organized and established in 1839 as Slaughter County; however, residents soon changed the name to Washington County in honor of George Washington.
All I can say is that the behavior was not acceptable in any store anywhere in the world. And this was my hometown.
The loud and obnoxious pulling things out and making fun of anything and everything. I suppose that behavior was not everyone from CA but, this was a group representing our unique walk with the Lord Jesus Christ.
My close friends from CA did not act as some people did. I have to say that. You know who you are.
My point is that the out-of-control rebels did not leave a good witness nor a good taste in the merchants’ minds or the entire county. It was awful – I don’t want to try any harder to paint an adequate word picture.
I was ashamed that I was part of inviting all those tacky people.
Here was a church youth group that was supposed to shine the light on the world and they blew it!
There was nothing Christ-like that stood out.
Tho’ the inappropriate example tainted the entire church.
The town was appalled – the poor showing would stick in the town’s mind. A bad taste in their mouth would still be lingering when I returned home to work as a nurse around 1977. (That is an eye-opener I need to detail soon. It got worse because of a few who needed medical attention. My supervisor, a friend of the public health nurse, and some doctors cornered me at work a few years later. about what was going on out there.)
Yet, the youth group did not seem to care. They were there to be entertained as they were used to in their home state.
I see this incident as a bitter taste of what was to come once Shiloh was built and strangers came to town.
But, John Robert Stevens did nothing to tell the youth to behave. In California, as a goodie-2-shoes Iowa girl, I felt uncomfortable and out of place with how they acted. That was very different from what my father had taught me when I assisted him in photographing weddings in hundreds of rural and urban churches.
No one seemed to discipline these kids on the not-so-Christ-like behavior I was reiterating to my mother. So, I told her about the drinking and sex at a lead pastor’s house and when I had no place to sleep but under a table…have I shared that story, yet?
Finally, my mother pointed out that I had experience in writing short blurbs for the Washington Evening Journal for a number of years about club meetings. So she snapped at me to write a letter to the paper.
So I did.
I wrote a letter of apology to the town. I got no hu-rays for church leaders over that.
Christian Value Taught?
If the truth is told after the fact, very little Christian education occurred in the “walk”.
I did not understand why the youth groups from 2 different states had 2 sets of rules. The girls had more of the purity rules pounded into their psyche than did the guys.
Within those inconsistent rules, the California minors drank alcohol- it was accepted.
Drinking to excess was to become an accepted habit with members of TLW from then on. Again, I have gotten ahead of myself in my story about how a nice Iowa church turned into a cult.
Spoiler Alert: I knew that priests drank communion wine behind the altar. I smelled plenty of beer don’t he breath of country preachers performing nuptials for young couples.
But have you ever heard of bars in the church? Somebody has to tell all on that one.
Let’s get our own church camp facility.
Many heads, many ideas – let’s get our own campgrounds.
My idea was that if we had our own “Lake Darling” property we could keep unruly out of town and really focus on how to act like Christ. I
was a goodie- 2 shoes Christian so I forgave my CA peers after I wrote a letter of apology to the newspaper.
I turns out that I had no idea what JRS had in mind for Shiloh. I thought I was in on the conception of Shiloh as a special teen member. Boy was I dumb!
I participated in The Walk in various states. So much happened that in my heart I did not want to do. I was obedient tho’, I thought. In reality, I was part of enabling and covering up.
In 1983 – I had not seen the day coming – I officially left The Walk with my children. I “blew out “- and that is another story that is a huge ugly chunk of history that may give the disgusting truth about why no one stopped or spoke up about the abuse.
“Blew out” sounds like a baby’s diarrhea in an overloaded diaper. Well, I call it RELIEF from that sh!t!
Hint: do you know what happens when somebody, a woman in particular opens her mouth with concern?
I use the word, escaped. It – the cult – had been a setup all along from the beginning. I apologize for the sections that trigger my flashbacks – for now – I left his post rather raw and in need of better editing.
Edited 4/30/2023 after seeing important words left out changing the context intended.
I left my husband behind as well. He knew something. The Living Word Bro’ knew something. I expressed my concerns…I knew better…they denied…I was right all along. Only, it turns out that things were far worse that I could imagine. I feel a great deal of repsoncibilty for not saving innocent chidlren…
Building Shiloh was an exciting time and a very awkward position for me as a quiet hometown girl from the “Cleanest City” in Iowa.
The population of Washington, Iowa, the county seat was only 7,000, is one of the 99 counties in Iowa. Much of the growth was happening when I was living in Illinois and later back in California. People got moved around a lot. So it is hard for many of us to see the whole puzzle picture other than one or two irregular pieces that may or may not fit together in an effort to make the picture whole.
Do you want to know secret leaders made your promise not to tell? Often, men, in particular, were sent to other states under the guise of “missionary, work”. See the man in the image above? I don’t even know the secrets the leaders tried to cover up. I’d like to know so I can say that I am sorry. I care.
I know that sounds like I’m a “Beverly Hillbilly” – It seemed like fun to California youth to make fun of the “not so sophisticated” as they were. – And there was the rub that would “terrorize” my hometown a few years in the future. I never fit in.
I am deliberately repeating that the expectations of California youth were far different than Iowa standards.
Kalona was settled by Mennonites and Amish people, religious sects from Germany who live very simple lives working very hard in the farming community. Those community members lead very different lives than the CA kids were allowed to act out. The Walk had to have rubbed those people the wrong way.
WTF was JRS thinking? Maybe, out in the rural area, he could hide the truth…
I don’t know why leadership did not seem to be embarrassed by the behavior of the youth from California.
The rude, crude, loud, obnoxious, and unruly on the town square. They were more like heathens, I thought than representations of Christ’s love in the eyes of the churchgoers in my hometown. The guys could “take what you want and leave the rest” is a disgusting way to word this, but, there is no way to sugarcoat what I am alluding to. I believe that we have only begun to scratch the surface.
Why did they not fear the whole county’s reaction to what was going on out there in Kalona and train people how to be adult-like Christians? That is still beyond me how the obvious kept getting swept under the rug. I have a few theories.
The wise man built his house on the rocks…The foolish man built his house on the sand…
Shiloh needed to be built and it did get built with add-ons, but never the promised nursing home.
A mass workforce was needed. Most were unskilled laborers. Many had been drug-using hippies. Not all did. But, I never took a poll either and I have no body count, personally.
.People came from all over to help build Shiloh in, Kalona. It was unusual for that kind of traffic unless you were in Iowa City. And yes, folks did notice. They were afraid.
Once Shiloh was built many people stayed in the dormitories.
Everyone at Shiloh had chores*. I’m not the one to share those stories. My stay at Shiloh was because I needed to sleep after a breakdown. There has to be a wild interpretation of my health concerns. I’d love to hear those fake news on that.
Good manners always have been the general rule for a religious community. It did not add up in the eyes of outsiders.
That should have been a red flag.
Nov 17, 2018 ·
Charismatic preacher founds church, builds compound near Kalona
The Shiloh complex south of Kalona is shown in this 1983 Gazette photo. This is one of two clippings from a March 4, 1983, Gazette story about the Shiloh school in Washington County.
I think this is something that most Shiloh residents did not see – they were not an island to themselves but in the middle of a farm country settled by good people before Iowa was even a state.
I am thrilled to be able to reunite with a few of the wonderful well behaved youth I knew and loved from the Walk Not many of us are left.
A few of our parents are still alive. Those dear sweet people I grew up with nurtured me and loved me – I needed that love. No one knew my deep dark secrets of being abused, yet they loved me. They would have still loved me for me even if they knew my deepest secrets that were never my fault. I did not have to hide my hurts from people who loved me. I am grateful.
We good people never saw it coming – a scheming wannabe cult leader, in John Robert Stevens back then.
He saw our collective vulnerability tho’- it seemed like he could “look right through you”.
I felt as if he knew that I was hiding something. Yes, I had a secret.- That was never my fault.
In my mind, I felt he had the power and control to open my wounds and expose that I was a “bad girl’ to the whole congregation- worse yet, expose my shame to my parents.
I have recently come to understand that people who are empathic tend to be very vulnerable to narcissistic leaders. That is the understatement of the century.
I will guess that only a few survivors that still around know this side of the beginnings of the cult unless you are from the Mother Church in Washington, Iowa. I think it is important for us to know the many facets of this Kingdom gone wrong.
How did a nice small-town church become associated with a cult?
The answer is one twisted step at a time.
I think the history is worth knowing.
After all, is said and done with people behaving badly in an organization that was claiming to be “end-time saints” with an “apostle that would usher in the Kingdom of God,”
I have to ask, who was in charge of setting a good example to the small towns they built Shiloh near and the rest of the world?
John Robert Stevens and his mistress-turned-wife set the example.
For more details on the history of the Washinton, Iowa church, Christian Tabernacle, and how they were organized in doctrine and practices check this out:
There is a lot of bull story behind the scenes…
The term school of prophets originates from the Old Testament with Samuel and the group of prophets he trained. Stevens used this term to describe the company of prophets that would come forth as an instrument of God’s authority, speaking His Word and creating His will in the earth.
For 7 years during the 1970’s and early 80’s I was a member of a cult calling itself “The Church of the Living Word”, also known as “The Walk”. It was founded by a man named John Robert Stevens who, it was believed, was the ‘Apostle’ …
WALKING IN THE SHADOW OF THE WALK -Stevens was twice defrocked both the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel
The Beliefs of John Robert Stevens: As Cited From His Own Works J ohn Robert Stevens was a prolific preacher. To truly cover every subject he discussed—in the detail with which he discussed it—would result in a multi-volume encyclopedic work!
Shiloh, which served as the headquarters of the fellowship since the 1970s, is currently in discussion with the city of Kalona about a possible annexation of the more than 200 acres of church property south of the city limits. As of August, 2020, five women have filed lawsuits against the Living Word Fellowship.
- John Robert Stevens
- Religious and commercial
John Robert Stevens
…The elite members of the organization are known as the “apostolic company, ” and they reportedly receive “new levels of revelation” on a regular basis. All members of The Walk are expected to submit to such revelations.
Stevens, like many other cult leaders, is extremely intolerant of individuality. He wrote a book in 1977 called “From Many Comes One, ” in which he claims that “the day of individuality is ending….
Jun 4, 2019 · KALONA – Three Civil Suits were filed against the Living Word Fellowship in California, the church Shiloh was formerly associated with. However, Kalona City Administrator Ryan Schlabaugh said this does not prove to be an obstacle at this time as the city continues to look into the possible voluntary annexation of a portion of the property.
Living Word Fellowship – Shiloh Campus – Kalona, IA I am looking for anybody that has information directly related to Shiloh, the TLW campus in Kalona, IA. I document abandoned buildings around
How did this all turn out?
…the end of the rabbit trail…
Oct 14, 2020 · PHOTOS: Under the supervision of the Kalona Volunteer Fire Department, former Shiloh church complex buildings were burned on the evening of Oct. 11. Kalona Fire Chief Jerry
Kalona fire deptartment oversees burn of Shiloh buildings
- Source: Kalona News
- Published: 10/14/2020 01:07 PM
PHOTOS: Under the supervision of the Kalona Volunteer Fire Department, former Shiloh church complex buildings were burned on the evening of Oct. 11. Kalona Fire Chief Jerry Zahradnek said the firemen had obtained a permit from the state DNR to do a “live fire” controlled burn of the buildings. He pointed out that the firemen from Kalona, Wellman and Riverside were able to do practice burns and rescues in the buildings over the past couple months. There were 22 Kalona firemen on the scene from 3-11 p.m. with the fire chief staying at the site until about midnight. Firemen used shipping pallets and straw bales to help start the blaze. Adam Kos, project manager for C.J. Monya and Sons, owner of the property, said he stayed to watch what was left. “I was pleased to see the rain start about 3:30 a.m.,” he said. “Kalona is lucky to have such a great group of volunteer fire fighters. Very professional, very well planned out process, and the controlled burn went just as the department said it would.”