2019, a year of spiritual growth.
May the fire of our devotion
Light their way.
May the footprints that we leave,
Lead them to believe,
And the lives we live
Inspire them to obey.
O may all who come behind us
Find us faithful.
2019 was a year of spiritual growth for me and I felt the need to detail some of the ways God has worked in my life to encourage others and remind myself not of how far I have come, but of how far God has brought me.
So, last year, my church was targeted by a cult and I was one of the many who were approached by them. This was one of the last things I had expected to experience when I first moved to New Zealand. Even though this does sound really scary, on hindsight, I am grateful to have survived this ordeal, as it has allowed me to grow spiritually by seeing His love, His power and His perfect timing.
(this might be quite a long story, but bear with me, its honestly amazing and I personally am still amazed at how God has worked through this incident)
While sitting in the back pew of church one Sunday morning, a friendly girl, Alice* joined me, and we struck up a conversation about the sermon and our respective walks with God. I felt very encouraged by the exchange and we arranged to catch up in school sometime soon.
We met up during the following week and similarly, I felt encouraged by her sharing and was grateful to have a friend who seemed so fervent for God in such an ungodly world.
The second time we met, Alice came with Beatrice*, her sister’s friend, who she coincidentally met in school. Beatrice said that she had grown up in church, but left when she saw the pastor doing things contrary to the word he was preaching. However, she always believed there was a God and wanted to find God for herself and return to the faith. I sympathized greatly with Beatrice, having seen some so called “pastors” who (1) clearly preach the wrong things (i.e: preach things for their own benefit rather than preaching God’s Word) and (2) live not according to God’s Word, but according to the flesh (especially the pursuit of wealth). It angered me that such “pastors” have misled people, who like Beatrice, were seeking God. But at the same time, I felt encouraged that Beatrice was now willing to continue to discover who God is for herself. I wanted, as much as possible to let God work through me by helping her in this journey. We then exchanged contacts and arranged to meet sometime next week.
During the next meeting with both Alice and Beatrice, Beatrice mentioned she had a Christian friend who really lived out the faith, both in words and deeds. Coincidentally, this friend (Catherine*) was in town the following week and both Alice and myself then expressed our interest in meeting Catherine and we arranged to do so in the following week.
Fast forward to the 4 of us meeting weekly for Bible studies led by Catherine, who said that she studied at a Bible college in the States. After a couple of meet ups, Beatrice asked if we could meet bi-weekly as we were her only Christian friends and she found the Bible studies helpful in her walk with God. Honestly, I didn’t feel like it. I already had many other responsibilities and commitments in school and in church and I barely had any time left for myself. But because I didn’t want to stumble her, I agreed to it enthusiastically.
We continued to meet, and Catherine talked about these things:
- The story of Philip and the Eunuch in Acts 8: how the Eunuch wanted to understand God’s Word but could not do so by reading the Word himself and needed someone like Philip to explain it to him.
- How during Jesus’ time, the people did not know or acknowledge Him as the Messiah, because despite having the Word, they did not study it and recognise the signs pointing to Him as the Messiah.
- She then continued by adding that we should learn the signs of Jesus’ second coming so that when He comes, we will not make the same mistakes the Israelites made, and be able to recognise Him.
As of this point, nothing much Catherine had said gave me red flags as I had previously come to the same conclusion regarding points 2 and 3. Though some things they said didn’t exactly align with my views, I assumed that these same opinions could still be held by other Christians, and brushed these few instances aside. The only thing that struck me as slightly odd was Beatrice mentioning multiple times that though she has read the entire Bible, she could not understand it, as I believe that if you pray and read the Word with a willing spirit, God will reveal His Word to you.
After a couple of weeks meeting bi-weekly, the meetings started to take up too much of my time and I was severely sleep deprived. Coincidentally, it was the 7 day period (from Wednesday to Wednesday) where I had one or more assignments and tests due almost every day (yes, I had a test on Saturday). What was interesting was that literally none of my other friends had such a busy week, and as such, I had been complaining about how it had to be the papers I took that chose that week for all the assignments. The Saturday right before this horrible week, I suddenly fell ill with a high fever. Despite that, I felt fine and was largely able to continue doing my work. As I had arranged to meet the three of them for another Bible study on Monday and on Thursday that week, I excused myself from the Bible study on Monday, when I continued to feel ill on Sunday and also from the Thursday study due to the taxing week ahead I had. However, on Monday I was miraculously better. I had not eaten any medicine or rested particularly well, but my fever was gone and I was back at school.
Then came Wednesday. I was barely prepared for the assignments and tests I had in the next 7 days and much less for the spiritual warfare to come. At this point you probably already know who the cult is, but well, I didn’t. It took an email to my pastor on Wednesday for me to realise that the people I was associating with, specifically Alice and Catherine were part of a cult and were purposely setting up the Bible studies to drag me into the cult as well.
Initially I couldn’t believe it. I thought this might just be one big misunderstanding. Alice and Catherine were some of the nicest people I’ve met since coming to New Zealand. There’s no way that they had such sinister intentions, right? But as I spoke to the pastors and some church friends who had been in different Bible studies with Catherine, I began to realise and accept it, and began to worry for Beatrice. How horrible it must be for someone who has turned back to Christ to be misled by cult members. I feared for her. I wanted to go back and meet them on Thursday just to get her out.
But guess what! After one of my church friends, Nicole, who left one of the other (cult) Bible studies, joined the dots together, I realized that Beatricewas merely a plant. Her role in this Bible study group was to be a character that was “returning to the faith” so that for fear of stumbling her and in hopes of guiding her back to Christ, I will continue to attend these Bible studies. Clearly, this scheme worked.
Here are some more dots Nicole was able to piece together:
- The emphasis of Philip and the Eunuch was to eventually bring us to the conclusion that we were like the Eunuch, unable to understand God’s Word by ourselves and needed the interpretation of a “Philip” who we guessed, would be their cult leader. This linked with Beatrice’s repetitive comments about not being able to understand the Bible even though she had read it in its entirety.
- Since we were told that we needed to know the signs of Jesus’ second coming, they would eventually wrongly link the signs given in the Bible to their cult leader / parts of their cult.
The next week felt like the longest week of my life. I did not pay attention in any of my classes that week. I stopped stressing and even thinking about my assignments and tests. The busyness of daily life paled in comparison to the spiritual warfare we were going through. On hindsight, this was also the week of the most spiritual growth I’ve ever experienced. During this week, I continued to meet with Nicole and other church friends and pastors, as we got together not only to figure out who else we knew had approached us with an ulterior motive, but also to support each other, by just being there, in prayer, in (proper) Bible studies and fellowship. We read through Psalms, and for the first time, I was able to empathise with David’s prayers to the Lord for deliverance against the enemy. As I continued to think about the week’s events, I began to see the totally unexpected ways God had worked in my life, in His perfect timing to protect me from the cult.
- The fever. It came so suddenly and left almost as fast. How did that happen? How was it that despite the fever I could still function and get the studying I needed done? Looking back at these events, I am fully convinced that the fever was God’s own way of keeping me out of Monday’s “Bible study”. He knew that the time to deliver us from the cult had come.
- The week packed full with assignments and tests that literally no one else had. I believe it was God getting me out of the “Bible study” on Thursday as well. The more I think about it, the more amazing it becomes. For this to work, God must first have made me choose these subjects (which required me to add an extra paper just before the term), and then have made all the lecturers choose that week and those days for the tests and assignments. That’s a lot of work just to keep me out of one additional cult “Bible study”.
- The email to my pastor. The timing. It was perfect. It came right before the “Bible studies” began to veer off from rather legitimate teaching (at this stage I’m a good month and a half into these things). I know for sure, that by my own strength, I would not be here writing this very thing today.
We wanted to know if we had other friends who were similarly approached by the cult and we took to Facebook to do that. Since Alice had her friends list hidden, all I could see were the mutual friends we had. I then saw that a friend from my hall, Tess, was also friends with Alice. Initially I brushed it off because they both studied the same course and it made sense that they could have met in school. I was also very socially drained by this point and I really wanted to do the easier thing, which was not to drop Tess a message since I assumed she was not at risk at being recruited by the cult. However, there was just this continual feeling at the back of my head that finally made me drop Tess a message and also head down to talk to her.
And I am so glad I did. Tess was approached by Alice and Beatrice in a slightly different manner but they had said exactly the same things to her. During our conversation, I brought up the different surprising methods God used to protect me from the cult, specifically the sudden illness He had graciously bestowed on me. And guess what! God had protected Tess from the cult in the same way. From what I understand, Tess had arranged to meet Alice and Beatrice in Wellington during the mid-trimester break, after she returned from her trip back home. However, right before she was due to fly back to Wellington, she fell ill. So ill that she was unable to get out of the house, much less board a plane back to Wellington. So, because of this illness, she (thankfully) had to miss the meeting with Alice and Beatrice. Honestly, before this conversation I was not 100% convinced the illness was a gift from God (thinking that it could’ve just been a coincidence), but after hearing that Tess had experienced the same thing, I knew for sure that all this came from God. I’m sure being sick, especially for her, felt uncomfortable, if not downright horrible. But God worked through this illness. He made use of this suffering to protect us in the grand scheme of things. To think that through these uncomfortable moments God is working to protect His sheep and to glorify Himself through us.
And so, I conclude the narrative part of this testimony.
But wait. Here are the perhaps more important takeaways:
Firstly, God protects His sheep. It’s Him grabbing onto us with an iron grip, it’s not us holding onto Him with all our might, because that is not sufficient. I always prided myself in having Bible knowledge, and had never imagined being led astray by other religions / false doctrines, much less a cult. Although I did not get into their warped theology, I was definitely not immune to cults. Post-cult, I found myself wondering what would be of me if my pastor had not received that email on that fateful Wednesday. I began to think that if not for that perfect timing, I might really be lost to the cult. But then as I reflected on that thought itself, I found that it was still based off my pride in my Bible knowledge and my strength, rather than God’s power. Whether I ended up following the cult did not depend on my intellect, strength, Bible knowledge, or anything of mine. It depended solely on God. Just like how I cannot say that I came out of the cult on my own strength, I cannot say for sure that I would have been lost to the cult if not for that one email. The only thing I can say for sure is that this was a humbling lesson to rely on God and not my own strength. It was God being by my side, holding on tightly to me while I was blindly following others away “in search of God”.
Secondly, God’s timing and plan is perfect, especially in hindsight. In that moment itself, it might not feel that way, but when you look back upon it, you will realise how God used these tiny events for His own good will. Perhaps this is a good reminder to be joyous in suffering and not complain about it, knowing that God knows how this fits in His plan for us, and also acknowledge that we are but men, and have absolutely no clue how even tomorrow is going to play out, much less our entire life.
Thirdly, if people in cults work so hard to get people to believe lies, shouldn’t we, who have the truth, work even harder to bring people to Christ? Sure, they use methods like deceit to get people to trust and follow them (and as Christians we must most definitely not do that) but
They definitely put in so much effort to get us into the cult. For me, it was 3 cult members meeting bi-weekly (or more) just to get a single person into the cult. For Nicole and for others, it was a giant group of at least 6 people trying to get 1 or 2 people into the cult. Getting us into the cult was a very inefficient (and thankfully ineffective) operation and they had spent (wasted) so much time in hopes that they would succeed. If they are so persistent and so willing to carve out their own personal time just to teach us lies, shouldn’t we, who know Christ, who have experienced His saving grace and His peace, His love, His joy, work even harder than that? I for one, still struggle with this greatly. In this very small way, I think we can learn from them. As seen from their actions, their dedication to lies may far outweigh our dedication to the truth and for this I am greatly embarrassed.
Fourth, spiritual warfare is real and we need to be prepared for it. For me, fighting the evil spiritual forces of the world was always an “other people” thing and I definitely did not expect myself to be involved with it. Recently, someone shared something I now find particularly apt regarding the armor of God. The only part of the armor that is capable of attacking the enemy is the “Sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God”. We definitely need all parts of the armor, but to attack the enemy we need to know the Word of God and we need to know it well.
Lastly, when we were in the post-cult phase, I found myself constantly pitying the members of the cult. I chose to believe (or refused to disbelieve) that the kindness they showed me was at least partly genuine. Personally, I feel that Alice, Beatrice and Catherine were teaching the lies they themselves had been taught because they believed that it was the truth, and that everything they did to me, they did with a genuine heart thinking that it was right and for my own good, not because they meant me harm. Because of that, I continually pray that they will, one day, return to Christ and that day will come sooner. However, being the sinful human I am, these prayers end up becoming complaints to God, asking Him why He doesn’t just snap His fingers and get them and everyone out of the cult in an instance. I told that to mom and mom said something that pointed out my pride and at the same time gave me peace.
“If you, a sinner, loves them so much and wants so greatly for them to return to God, how much more do you think God loves them and wants them to turn back to Him? If you’re pained because of how they’re headed in the wrong direction, how much more is God pained?”
And yes, mom’s right. He loves them much more than I will ever be capable of loving them. He is in more pain than I can ever be. I just have to trust that He will “work for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28), if they are indeed His sheep. To add on to that with another thought shared by a friend: if God’s plan is the best and our idea of what is the best (practically speaking) does not align with His plan, doesn’t that just mean His best is so so so much better than anything we can even imagine? I look forward to seeing His plans play out, knowing for sure that one day He will prevail.
In the meantime, I can only hope that this testimony will be used by God to lead others to Him, to inspire them to obey, to light their way.
O may all who come behind us,
Find us faithful.
*names changed for perhaps legal reasons I don’t wanna get sued