It’s weird how we found out about the New Kingdom Church. When I was 4, my Mom had some film developed- but it was accidentally sent back to the New Kingdom Church instead. They returned it with some papers about what they said was the “best community in the U.S.” My Mom decided to go to Rhode Island for a week to check it out. When she returned, my parents announced we’d be leaving our small Oregon town for the place I’d soon come to call “the community.”
All the people in the community met us with banners, balloons and flags to celebrate our arrival. A woman came up to me and asked me to dance, and I hid behind my Mom. I thought that was so weird! We moved into a small house that had about 30 other people living there: families, single people, kids, and elder. “Elders” are the leaders of the community. If there are disagreements, they make all the decisions.
The community was really religious. It was created by this guy who said he’d been visited by angels from heaven and that he communicated with God. He claimed he had been singled out to be the leader of our religious community. Every morning and evening, we had “gatherings,” where we sang songs about the Messiah, danced and prayed. Sin was a really big deal there. You had to treat all adults as if they were your parents, and if you disobeyed, you’d be severely punished. Any adult could spank you- for whatever reason. Like if you blew your nose without permission, you’d be hit! One day, I was trying to clean something up in class, and the class started prayers without me. The teacher took me outside and paddled me hard on the butt.
It seemed like I couldn’t do anything right, because I got beatings all the time. I’ve been hit on my arms, my hands and on my rear end. A few times I was hit on my back instead of my bottom- that really hurt; I even bled once. It was really hard to deal with- I’d never been spanked once before we moved to the Community, and even though I was still only a little kid, I knew it was wrong. For me, being beaten was awful, but it never made me understand why what I was doing was wrong, it just made me afraid to do anything.
There were other kinds of punishments besides getting spanked- and they could be even crueler. Once I was accused of lying to an elder (I was telling the truth!) and had to sit in the corner without any food for 18 hours. I passed out from hunger. But even though I hadn’t lied, I understood why there was a rule about telling the truth. Some of the other rules and regulations were totally baffling, though- and there were tons of them. Like we were only allowed to use one piece of toilet paper.
We never had playtime, either. There was simply no such thing as “play” in the community. The elder’s felt that’s how the devil would come to the children. They taught us that toys, especially those that play music or talk, make you imagine too much. Creativity was not permitted. But I’ve always had a big imagination, so I got in trouble a lot.
After a few years, we moved into another house, where the elder was really terrible. He had it in for my Mom- he thought she was too rebellious, because she often questioned things that went on. He actually got her banished from the community. It was awful for me- my Mom had to miss my 8th birthday. The elders told my little sister and I that we were better off without her, but we cried all the time. The elders told us my Mom wanted to leave. Kids in the community are just supposed to believe whatever they’re told without question, and I did. It hurt so much to think that my Mom abandoned us just like that. A few months later, my Mom came back, but my feelings toward her were so confused; I loved her and was happy to see her, yet I was angry too.
Life in the community was a lot tougher for girls and women than for boys and men. Guys did all the important stuff and made all the decisions. Girls and women had to do all the cooking and cleaning. Things got tougher as I grew up because I started getting crushes on boys. That’s totally forbidden. You can’t even kiss until you’re getting married, never before. A boy and girl, aged 15 and 16, were sent away for kissing. Each one had to find a relative to take them since their parents were still a part of the community. If you even talked about liking a guy, you were punished. I wanted to tell my Mom about my crushes, but I didn’t trust her. That’s because I still believed she abandoned me, and also because the community raised me to think women were stupid.
I began to get these intense feelings that I wanted to leave the community. I hated getting beaten all the time. I hated the endless rules, but I was scared to mention it: what if the elder threw me out without my parents? My Mom wasn’t good at keeping her mouth shut- she got sent away again. Three months later, my dad told my sister and I that he was taking us on a trip for the day, but he wouldn’t tell us where. We drove to a golf course about two hours away. We got out of the car, not knowing what we were doing there, and then there was Mom. “Are you ready for an even bigger surprise?” she asked us. I nodded my head nervously. I was afraid that the head elder would catch us we’d all get punished. That’s when Mom said she was taking us to live with her. I’ve never been back to the community since.
Whatever confused feelings I might have had about my Mom disappeared in a rush because of the flood of things all around me in the real world. I got to eat all kinds of food, for instance. But after a week, I got incredibly sick with stomach aches and diarrhea; I thought I was going to die, because that’s what I’d been taught by the community. I also really missed my dad so much. But my sister and I hung in there with Mom, and that helped dad decide to leave the community and join us. My stepbrother is still there, but the rest of us are a whole family again.
One of the hardest adjustments I’m trying to deal with is not having my life so strictly run by other people. On one hand, it’s great to be able to make my own decisions, but in the community, I never had to think about what to do. I always knew what to expect- and what was expected of me, whether it was doing specific chores or preparing for the Sabbath or whatever. To me, the biggest differences with living outside the community are the food, the clothes and makeup, TV and movies, the language and the toys. And no more beatings! I love toys, especially electronic ones, and magazines like TEEN. In the community, music was restricted-you could only listen to what was considered appropriate. Now I can listen to whatever I want. I love country music best.
Public school is strange. I’m doing well- I’m in accelerated English and math- but it freaks me out here because there are just so many kids! I don’t know everyone; like I did in the community- I really only have two friends right now. I miss my friends from the community a lot. Sometimes I wake up crying, because I wish I could see them, just once.
In the community, you couldn’t have opinions about anything and out here I can express my own opinions. I love being able to talk about whatever I want. I know this doesn’t sound great, but I can’t resist using swear words now. If you swore in the community, you were punished.
It’s not that we have the perfect family: my parents still fight a lot. To be honest, I’m pretty angry and frustrated about a lot of things, like why my parents brought us to the community in the first place, and feeling like I’ll never see my old friends again. But overall I’m glad we all got out of there. I’m still having trouble adjusting, but in time I know I will. In my heart I believe freedom is a wonderful thing.