When we started helping people move out, we learned that getting out and finding freedom is messy, and everyone’s situation is different.
When someone contacted us for help, we said that they went “active.” It’s like being on call for an emergency move 24/7.
They’ll tell us the situation is deteriorating, but we don’t know it’s going to happen until they call us, because we leave the choice up to them.
In summer 2013, when Homeschoolers Anonymous posted Hannah Ettinger’s Call For Help: A Quiverfull / Patriarchy Rescue, I wrote in an email to our network: “I think she is the first of many.”
The backlash is one of the most difficult things we all faced in leaving our cult-like churches and controlling families.
One morning in my apartment, right after Racquel and Ashley left the church, Racquel’s phone rang. She stepped into the next room for a private discussion.
She came back out looking troubled.
Ashley asked what was wrong, Racquel said Sister H. from Louisiana just called.
Racquel started crying.
“Sister H. told me that the pastor may be wrong, our parents may be wrong, but not to give up on the Pentecostal church. But I just can’t do it. I can’t.”
“Did anything like this happen to you when you left, Eleanor?” she asked.
Yes. Yes, it did.
One of the pastors and his wife at our old church in Dallas called me and tried to convince me to attend Bob Jones University.
They agreed with my pastor in Colorado Springs, said the only way to honor my parents was to do this one thing, to obey them.
My friend Anna called me a few weeks after I moved out. She said she’d gone back to the church. The pastor and his wife took her into the office, asked her about two of my Facebook posts she’d liked and commented on.
One was lyrics from “Keep your eyes open” by NeedtoBreathe (they believed all syncopated music was of Satan).
The other was heychristiangirl.tumblr.com. They said didn’t see the humor, they said it was sacrilegious.
Anna said the pastor and his wife asked her if she agreed with me moving out, if she’d aided me. They said they didn’t want her to influence their children to move out without their approval.
I caught my breath. I could see it now.
They can’t stand to lose one of their own, because that’s losing a soldier in the culture wars. You take one step back and now you’re one of the outsiders, one of the “lost” they evangelize. And they need your soul.
So when I hugged Racquel while she sobbed, I could say, “Yes, this happened to me, too.”
This is why leaving these churches, these homes is leaving a cult. And this is what it’s like to be a conductor, to walk beside abuse survivors and seek freedom.
I’ve had months of watching and preparations. I keep an emergency cellphone with an unlisted number in case a controlling parent blocks my regular phone. I carry pepperspray and a rape knife, both legal on my campus, so I can protect myself and those who ask for our help.
Our network discusses alternate scenarios, backup plans. We plan for the worst while hoping that one day this won’t be necessary.
Here’s we learned about helping people move out:
Take the essentials, but stay safe.
TESSA, a non-profit in Colorado Springs that offers advice and support to spousal domestic abuse survivors, has a checklist.
- Identifying documents
- Clothes to last a week
- Cash and bank information
- Keys to car and work
- Important paperwork and records
- Personal items like photographs and jewelry
When Ashley moved out, five of us showed up because we knew her father was armed, he’d wrecked the car and the apartment, and we didn’t know when he’d return. I learned anyone who feels threatened can request police protection while moving their possessions.
Sometimes we left something behind we valued.
I couldn’t take my heirloom violin from the 1890s or one of our family dogs I’d bonded with. Ashley left her dog Sasha and her bed because we couldn’t fit it in the van, and Racquel sold her horse when later she couldn’t pay board and her own living expenses.
We lost diaries, mementos, and valuables.
We decided our freedom was worth losing those things or that lifestyle. We realized the important thing was keeping ourselves safe and learning how to heal.
The Underground Railroad: Being an angel with a shotgun
The Underground Railroad: The trouble with freeing people
Why the name Underground Railroad?
The Underground Railroad: Racquel’s story
The Underground Railroad: Defecting from a cult
The Underground Railroad: Ashley’s story
The Underground Railroad: Cynthia Jeub’s story
The Underground Railroad: Options, not ultimatums
The Underground Railroad: Gissel’s story
The Underground Railroad: Homeschool, the perfect hiding place
The Underground Railroad: Self-care during activism
Underground Railroad Stations: How you can help (Cynthia’s thoughts)
Underground Railroad Conductors: How you can help (Eleanor’s thoughts)
The Underground Railroad: Surviving and thriving on the outside