The following is an excerpt from – Screams from the Trees: My Escape from a Cult.
In 1987 my mother and I joined a Christian cult. The story focuses on the subsequent four years, following me from 8th grade to the beginning of my Senior year at Scarborough High in Houston, Texas. In those few years I witnessed my mother become a “Faith Wife” to a Deacon at that so-called church, give birth to her second child, and endure constant domestic violence which ultimately led to a nasty divorce. Along the way my granddad shot himself in the head, I moved countless times, I fell into a psychotic crush, started speaking in tongues and went on mission trips to Mexico, the whole time swinging from degeneracy to sainthood back to degeneracy again. Here’s a window into the chaos:
THE YOUTH GROUP
The Youth Group at Christian Life Ministries was run by Jay Preston, who everyone affectionately referred to as Pastor Jay. Married to Melinda, the Worship Team leader, Pastor Jay was in his early thirties, had a laid-back, endearing personality accompanied with perpetually smiling eyes. Before getting saved, Pastor Jay told me, he was into Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin, smoked weed, did some speed, but he had walked away from it all except for his electric bass guitar and the remnants of his long hair now cropped into a curly mullet.
Whenever we spoke Pastor Jay made me feel like I was the most important person in the world. He never pushed anything on me and never tried to sell me on anything, which in the end made him all the more convincing. He certainly didn’t seem like the rest of the people at church. Pastor Jay was different, and I thought he was cool. In short time I would come to love the man, trust him, confess to him, and follow his lead.
But that’s not to say the Youth Group was a chorus of angels.
Not long after my first visit, it was Halloween season. As a Youth Group, we spent that time going to Hell Houses and watching movies like A Thief in the Night and some of the kids would hop in vans with a few adults and pass out tracts to all the “homosexuals” out on Westheimer Road. But the real fun happened on Halloween night at the Lock-In.
Lock-Ins are famous in the evangelical world. The youth are locked inside the church, running amok and eating Cheetos and drinking Mountain Dew and singing praise and worship songs and listening to various teachers all night long. That’s about it except for one huge detail. Lock-Ins were infamous for other “recreational” activities.
Every year the Youth Group at my church would have several Lock-Ins and every time, at least one teenage couple would get caught with their pants down. Apparently we had a serial perpetrator on our hands and, as I soon discovered, there was nothing anyone could do about it.
Bubba was fifteen when I first met him. He was the oldest kid in the Youth Group, a dead ringer for James Dean, and the oldest son of the most senior ranking Elder at the church. All the girls in the Youth Group drooled over this cat. And he was constantly getting caught humping girls at church.
On a Sunday morning?
Bubba was caught humping in a bathroom stall.
On a Sunday night?
Bubba was caught humping in the conference room.
On a Wednesday night?
Bubba was caught humping in the kitchen.
The girls and their families usually left the church and were never heard from again. And the girls who didn’t get caught, kept silent. But Bubba? Man, he strutted around the church like Foghorn Leghorn. His parents were awfully proud of him. They bought him a brand-new Ford Mustang when he turned sixteen.
Lock-Ins were Bubba’s prowling grounds. Every time the church had one, I would see Bubba at the beginning when we would all gather together in the sanctuary and lock all the doors but, within fifteen minutes, he’d vanish and I’d never see him again. I think he usually held court in his father’s office, but he always got caught humping one of the girls.
The first Lock-In I went to on that Halloween Night truly freaked me out. I was introduced to their version of the history of Samhain and All Hallows Eve, which – according to them – was a pagan celebration where Druids sacrificed infants and drank their blood. I was introduced to backward masking – the practice of speaking backwards which, I was told, is how Satan speaks, the practice of which was a Satanic ritual. Who practiced it? The Beatles, for one. And Led Zeppelin. The Eagles? They too were Devil Worshippers. They put Anton LaVey, founder of the Satanic Church, on the back cover of their album Hotel California. I was also introduced to demon possession and the concept of spiritual warfare.
There was a lot of scary stuff being shown and explained to me, but at first it all seemed just too fantastic and bizarre to be believed or even taken seriously. I tried to spend most of my time in the gym playing basketball with Lonnie, with quick trips to the kitchen to grab a scoop of vanilla ice cream and another red Dixie cup of Mountain Dew. Little did I or Lonnie know that while we were playing 21 on the court, Bubba was on the floor of the workout room adjacent to the gym pounding out one of the visiting Lock-In girls.
I survived that first Lock-In without too much of a scarring and simply shrugged most of it off. I was in it for the pizza and all the Doritos and soda I could handle. I could endure a few hours of lame music and shaming.
The following Sunday at church, the entire youth group was whispering about Bubba getting caught humping at the Lock-In. I was appalled at the idea that the head Elder’s kid was a notorious humper. I mean, it was one thing to have that reputation at school but at church?
As Brenda began to whisper more Bubba Stories to me, it became obvious. Bubba couldn’t be stopped. I’d just have to accept it—I mean, forgive and forget.
Guys like that can’t help it, I was told.
He has a problem, just pray for him, I was told.
Bullshit, I thought. Who doesn’t have that problem?
Over time, though, the Youth Group became a haven for me. There was always something in the fridge to snack on, I could play all the basketball I wanted, and it kept me away from all the weeping and gnashing of teeth going on in the sanctuary.