In the mid 80’s and at the age of 21, I was an au pair in California, United States. I lived in Mill Valley, a fancy neighborhood north of the Golden Gate-bridge.
In my free time I used to go to the Swedish Church, located on Hyde Street between Lombard Street and Fisherman’s Wharf, downtown San Francisco. The church was a safe haven for au pairs and other folks from Europe who had gone out to explore the big world.
they’d lost all contact with her.
One day I stumbled into two Norwegian siblings who had come to the States to look for their younger sister. Some years ago she had been caught up in a Korean cult called the Unification Church and they were very concerned about her wellbeing since they’d lost all contact with her.
The Unification Church
The Unification Church, also known as the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification, was founded in 1954 by Sun Myung Moon.
Mr. Moon, who passed away 2012, was a self-proclaimed Messiah who said he had met the biblical Jesus and now had his mandate to establish Gods Kingdom on earth.
As a Moonie you serve Mr. Moon, also referred to as the Father. You do this by recruiting new members, raising money to the movement and eventually marry a partner of Mr. Moons choise.
A true win win-situation
If you are truly blessed you can give away your children through adoption. This is a true winwin-situation, because by doing so a childless couple somewhere out there finally becomes a real family and you can once again give the Father your full attention without the distraction of a child.
This is the ultimate proof of love and devotion.
The cult had a recruiting base downtown and a training camp in the mountains a few hours’ drive from San Francisco. Since the siblings would not be welcome into the cults surroundings, they asked me if I wanted to make my way into the organization by allowing myself to ‘be recruited’ by the cult.
Hopefully, on the inside, I would be able to locate their sister, so that they could take action and let her be kidnapped and deprogrammed by a special team that was standing by. And oh, could I barely wait!
Prepared myself by watching interviews with ex-members on videotapes so that I knew what special treatment I could expect.
I learned about how lovebombing – overwhelming and unmotivated love and attention – in combination with little sleep and a tight schedule would serve their purpose to indoctrinate me and make me one of them.
… the plan was simple.
I also met with psychologists and deprogrammers who showed me of things I should be aware of, and take caution against. And the plan was simple.
We would arrange for me to be picked up by a Moonie on Union Square, downtown San Francisco. A square from which they recruit many new members.
I would then agree to come along to their student camp in the mountains.
Once in the camp I would take a lot of pictures, without attracting unnecessary attention. Lots of parents around the world had children hiding in the cult, and if I could return with picture proof that their sons and daughters were in the camp, captors stood ready to steal back the young people to their families.
more time to break some of the visitor’s mental defense
Most important of all was that I went home when the weekend camp was over. I was under no circumstances allowed to stay after the four day long camp ended.
Though, I was told that both the car and the phone used to be ‘broken’ the last evening of the camp, in order to prevent people from leaving. The reason was simply that they occasionally needed more time to break some of the visitor’s mental defense.
One Saturday we got to work. I dressed myself typically Swedish (neon-colored shorts), took a visible stand at the square, unfolded a big tourist map and waited. All supervised by the kidnappers who stood at a safe distance.
After approximately 15-20 minutes I hear a voice behind me; ”Hello?”
I turned around and meet Ted for the first time, my ticket into the Unification Church.
By coincidence the next camp started next Thursday
Did I need help, I seemed lost? Was I only passing through? Ah, I came from Sweden, that’s sounds nice. Ted told me that he belonged to an international Student organization.
And by the way, would I be interested in sharing a cup of coffee at their Office nearby?
A few hours later I had finished my coffee, seen the picture of the Organizations founder on the wall and met countless of smiling students who all spoke inspiringly of a camp in the mountains.
By coincidence the next camp started next Thursday. Ted asked me if I wanted to come along. Of course I wanted.
After a few hours’ drive, in an old minivan filled with young people, we reached our destination; Maacama Hill.
Maacama Hill was located beautifully next to a river, with dramatic vegetation surrounding it. And the place was undeniably lonesome.
How would I ever make it out of here if they refused to ‘repair the car‘? Hardly any vehicle passed on the small winding road outside?
The standard was really low
That would have to be a problem for days to come. Today was only Thursday and I would not go home until Sunday. Hopefully I would be okay.
I was guided to the girls building, where I was supposed to sleep. Everything was spartan and run-down with bunk beds squeezed in on minimal surfaces.
The standard was really low and my heart was torn apart for all the young people who actually lived their lives here.
The pace was high right from the start with early mornings, late nights, and intense action all day long. I was not left alone for one second.
New boys were constantly shown attention by the sweetest Moonie girls and new girls shown dito by the most charming Moonie boys.
Boys and girls were kept strictly separated in the camp. You could seldom talk in private with someone of the opposite sex without having a smiling Moonie engaging in the conversation.
I marveled at how the new recruits did not see and react to this obvious unnatural behavior.
The Camp gets serious
The first few days focus was on sports and good company. So we played volleyball, laughed, ate together and enjoyed the nice weather. Religion wasn’t mentioned at all.
As time went by, the small talk more and more engaged into existential questions. Had I ever thought about the meaning of life? Was I satisfied with my life?
Now we were introduced to the first lecture in the class room. Participation was voluntary of cause. But not going to the lectures was simply not an option.
Soon we spent more time in the classroom than we did on the volleyball court and the purpose with the teaching was to prove that Sun Myung Moon was the new Messiah.
what would the leaders do if they found out I was a spy?
Now it was getting really hard to do this spy-thing. Emotionally hard. I felt as if I betrayed the new young people in the camp since I saw them become a prey without being able to warn them. But how could I?
I was sent into the camp with a mission and I simply could not reveal my true identity without endangering my assignment.
And besides, what would the leaders do if they found out I was a spy? My quest was to take as much pictures as possible, lay low and get a ride home on Sunday night. Period.
Everything intensified the closer to Sunday we got. The generally held “Good to see you”-songs at breakfast were replaced by religious songs with lyrics about the Father, a short prayer was held before every meal and the discussions became more personal and intrusive, the breaks got shorter and the lessons longer.
The Last Supper
Saturday evening we barbecued on the river bed. When all the sausage and marshmallows were eaten, there was a revival meeting.
Two dark-haired sisters sang religious songs with empathy, and told with tears running down their cheeks, how they found the true meaning of life in the Unification Church.
Then one of the leaders held a miniature preach with such passion that the fire next to him faded in comparison.
Finally Sunday came and Ted was more anxious than ever. Had I decided to stay yet? Surely my job could wait for a couple of weeks?
And by the way, did he not mention that I was an absolutely amazing person, that I brought life and color into Maacama Hill? This place would not be the same without me! Rationally I knew that the compliments had nothing to do with me, that the words spoken was lovebombing, a way of breaking my resistance down in order to make me receptive to their doctrines. But at the same time I thought they were friendly and considerate, how could they be wrong?
I would be in real danger
Emotionally this was extremely stressful. I tried to act flattered on the outside, while on the inside I fought it off. And I knew that I had to make my way out of the camp on Sunday night, or I would be in real danger.
As the darkness fell over Maacama Hill I insisted that I had to go home the same evening. Ted tried to convince me to stay and had increasingly hard to hide his irritation behind the smile.
Then all of a sudden we were told that something was wrong with the car. So perhaps it was still best to go home tomorrow? And besides, it was getting dark outside. I still demanded that I wanted to go home. Right away.
The hassle continued when I finally got enough. I Took Ted aside and told him that I knew who they really were, so unless they wanted me to start a scene in front of the other new recruits they would take me home. Now!
Suddenly it became urgent to get me out of there. I was no longer a potential member but rather a security threat. The car ‘repaired’ in a flash, a Moonie followed me when I picked up my belongings and then guided directly to the waiting car. The atmosphere was awkward and I was not given the opportunity to say goodbye to anyone.
The Norwegian sister was not to be found in the camp, her brother and sister went back to Norway without her. I still don´t know what happened to her.
I found a German girl who had been missing in the cult for a few years. Her family were grateful for this sign of life.
Ted kept trying to recruit me for a while. One day for instance, he showed up at my front door with a plate of freshly made chocolate chip cookies. He also invited me to one of their morning services in a typical townhouse in a suburb to San Francisco. It was like a regular worship service with hymns, prayers and a speech. If only I had not known…
After Sun Myung died he assigned his youngest son Hyung Jin Moon to become the new leader of the Church, saying: ”I hope everyone helps him so that he may fulfil his duty as the successor of the True Parents.”
At the morning service, some 25 years ago, the choir sang ”Lean on me”. A song I still can’t listen to without wondering what happened to the Norwegian girl.