“It is a very scary thing to send our sons to serve our country and have them fall prey to these vultures.”
This was a part of the plea written by Geneva Paulson to two state senators, one representative, and the State Attorney General for help in getting her son, Randy, out of the grips of the First Christian Fellowship cult. By the time Paulson wrote that letter, Randy had been involved in the group for more than three years. Paulson watched her son go from a bright, outgoing, and cheerful man to a withdrawn character with a “zombie-like personality.”
Paulson is a mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, nurse, and author of Rescuing Randy: A Family Determined to Rescue Their Son from a Cult. She and her husband, Roger, own a small farm in Minnesota. They raised their children to be Christians and were devout in their faith. After experiencing the trauma, drama, and heartache of having a son sucked into a cult and rescuing him from that situation, Paulson says, she decided to write a memoir. Her hope is that readers will be “informed about cults and the way they operate.”
Personally, I came to her book with my own set of experiences. Having been in the grips of a cult myself, I appreciated Paulson’s perspective a great deal. However, her writing has some significant shortcomings that detract from the read.
Paulson tells us how Randy was in his youth: “witty, loving to laugh, and he could never keep a secret.” He helped his father with maintaining the dairy farm and was a good student. The summer after his junior year in high school, Randy decided to enlist in a delayed-entry program with the Navy. Like many young adults, when he moved out of his parents’ home, he participated in partying and what Paulson refers to as “bending our family rules of conduct.” He confessed that he was in a dark place in his life and suffering spiritually.
However, things took a much more dramatic twist than his parents could have expected. After his training in the Navy, Randy found a church that offered fellowship and that made him feel what he believed was the forgiveness and comfort of god. When he talked about the church, Paulson writes, Randy was excited and euphoric. He then dropped a bombshell on his parents: He had been baptized there “in the name of Jesus like the book of Acts tells us to do.”
To some, this may not seem like a problem. But to the Paulsons, this was a blow, as their son had already been baptized according to their own faith. They had striven to teach Randy about God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit.
Over the next few years, Paulson and her husband began to realize that their son was slipping away. He began to withdraw from the family. He moved into a house that was specifically for the “brothers” of the First Christian Fellowship Church. He gave most of the money he earned directly to the church. When he would speak on the phone with his parents, they were constantly put on hold and would spend minutes waiting for him to return. Although it took the Paulsons a while to pinpoint the problem with Randy’s behavior, they finally realized that their son was in a cult.
They decided that they would stage an intervention and deprogramming for Randy. In her book, Paulson chronicles the various steps they took in the planning process. They were very thorough in their research; they contacted numerous people to gather information about the First Christian Fellowship Church and information on how to complete a successful deprogramming. An elaborate scheme got Randy, a deprogramming counselor, and his assistant to the “safe house,” a cabin deep in a remote area. Paulson kept a journal during their weeklong stay in the house and took notes on Randy’s behavior and responses. She describes her thoughts and feelings during this heartbreaking process of watching her son “snap.”
“Snapping is an unmistakably traumatic experience when a sudden exchange comes in a moment of intense experience that is not so much a peak as a precipice,” Paulson writes. “It is an unforeseen break in the continuity of awareness that may leave the cultist detached, withdrawn, disoriented, and utterly confused.” Paulson rounds out her memoir with a recounting of Randy’s struggles to acclimate to life outside the group, and his ultimate success in life, both personal and spiritual.
Fortunately, when I found myself sucked into a cult around Randy’s age, I was not nearly as tied up in it as he was. But I did experience something that is now interesting to read about from an outside perspective, like the one Paulson gives. For me, her account was touching and enlightening. And for people who may find themselves with a loved one who’s trapped, Paulson’s book could provide some ideas for planning an intervention.
Her writing, however, leaves something to be desired. The rhythm was choppy at times, and there were stories and memories that seemed out of place. The last third of the book felt disconnected in ways, and didn’t really flow well from the first two thirds.
Also, for readers who do not consider themselves particularly religious or spiritual, Paulson’s tone and phrases may come off rather preachy. I deeply respect her religious beliefs but I do think that some readers may be put off by her many Christian references.
Finally, although Paulson mentions various studies and reports, the bibliography is severely lacking. I would have appreciated having the names of those studies for future reference.
Overall, Paulson has still created a good resource for those who are struggling with someone in a cult. And for those of us who have personally escaped one, her book is worth a read.
Rescuing Randy: A Family Determined to Rescue Their Son from a Cult
WestBow Press, October, 2012
Paperback, 198 pages