Staying with a cult
Source: Wander for life
June 16-18. Stonybrook Organic Farm, Hillsboro, VA.
I needed a vacation from my vacation–a few days off the trail where I could eat healthy food, do something different, but not spend a fortune. On my ‘Bucket List’ is working for stay on an organic farm, something you can do all over the world. It’s usually called WOOFing. This opportunity was available just off the trail and they would even come pick me up!
The group that runs the farm is the Twelve Tribes, a non-mainstream religious group. I’ve talked to other hikers and hostel workers about the community, which operates this and about 50 other communities around the world. Most are variety, organic farms with livestock (beef and dairy cows, goats, sheep and chickens) and a garden. Most also have a deli and/or market where they sell their produce and bakery items and have contact with the public. I had talked to several of the members during Trail Days and read their literature.
So I had some idea what to expect. I knew it was a commune and the community was based on religion. I suspected it to be a cult (depending on your definition, of course). That may sound scary, but I felt I would be safe, though I might have to listen to their pitch each day. Also, I know something about farm work and knew I could be helpful–which only seems fair since I’m working for stay. Basically, in exchange for work, you are fed three meals a day, shower, laundry and given a place to sleep. I will say that I worked well over the standard five-six hours per day typically suggested in the WWOOFing (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms). guidelines, but I wasn’t forced to do so. The work was menial. I weeded in the garden and the greenhouse. I helped with several meals and cleanup. I helped make pies in the bakery. I did laundry.
To be clear, I did not feel oppressed nor did I have any resistance when I said I needed to leave. They did not take my backpack from me nor make me surrender my iPhone. But most of the time I was paired with someone from the community who was always asking questions. I felt they were looking for the hole in my life. Oh, no family/husband/children? We can fix that here. You don’t have to worry about taxes/food/shelter because we provide that. Feeling lonely? Need direction? We can do that.
I also attended the twice daily community gatherings (6a and 6p, just before meals) which was NOT required. Each gathering starts with music then goes into an open sharing which lasts an hour. It was here that the place took on the character of a cult for me. The women all wear scarves on their heads and all adults wear a woven headband. I only saw these items during gathering. They consider themselves separate from ‘The World.’ They call themselves The Body. They have their own vocabulary and music and each take Hebrew names (which are strange to me and I can’t seem to remember them). They spend a lot of time quoting scripture and saying that they don’t depend on their own reason (I can’t agree with that). I have concerns about whether the children (all home schooled) are getting a decent education (though I worry about that in public school as well). And, of course, the women are subject to the ‘wisdom’ and authority of the men. Women can only have authority over other women and children, not men.
In the group’s defense, it is a peaceful place. They are kind to each other, which is more than I can say about most people. I have yet to hear anyone talk badly about someone or overheard a single argument. They seem happy, clean and better fed with high quality, fresh food than almost anyone (who wasn’t raised on the farm I grew up on). They consume few sweets or simple carbohydrates. Everyone seems to work, and to do so without complaining, cheerfully even! The homes are clean, everyone is washed, the animals are well tended. It’s an organized community and people seem to stay here willingly. They adore their children and spend much more time with them than most parents.
It’s still not a place I’d live permanently, and I can’t agree with their religious views, but it has a lot going for it, cult or not.
They talk openly about their struggles and plans. They hope to have a thousand communities like this one in fifty years, grown by raising children within the community and welcoming converts. There are two potential converts here now, Rose, who has been here about a week, and Chris who has been here a bit longer. Both are about 20. Both say they plan to stay here ‘forever.’ Each is estranged from family and is attracted to belonging (IMHO). Later Chris said he had changed his mind and would not stay.
There have been government raids in some of the communities charging child abuse stemming from inadequate schooling and less than adequate medical care. The latest one was last year in Germany where all the underage children were put into the foster care system. The German family here with five children escaped the raid by days. I don’t have any information on their schooling, but it’s clear that though they prefer herbal medicines and natural methods of healing, they do send people to the doctor and allow surgery, if needed.
There doesn’t appear to be a central leader that I’ve detected. There are about 40-45 members here and 10 or so visitors, Hikers, potential members. Of these, about five men seem to have some authority, based on age and length of time with The Body. The focus of discussions at the gatherings (there is no preaching or preacher) seems to be on submission, being humble, leading a ‘surrendered’ life, submission and not letting your life be so precious to you that you aren’t willing to give it away. A couple times a day you hear how we should “lay down our life” for each other. And they constantly say what The Master wants and is teaching them. And they believe only they know what Yashua wants, that they are the new chosen people, promised to Abraham. They believe this completely.
People are moved between communities, depending on need. I’m under the impression that you can apply for openings and are not forced to move. Though if you were asked to go somewhere it would be nearly impossible to turn it down and still be seen as willing and submissive.
What I hear over and over is that The Body are “of one mind and one heart.” I can understand that they might pull together for common goals, even share common land and money. But I get the impression that they strive to think the same way, to want the same things. That’s not something that would ever be a goal for me. But it seems to work for them.
I’m grateful for a safe place to stay with good food, a daily shower and laundry. I’ve enjoyed the soft bed each night and everyone has been friendly. I’ve worked hard and believe I’ve earned my keep. They have said I’m welcome to stay as long as I’d like.
But it’s time to get back to hiking!