I was nine when my parents decided to join the Advanced Training Institute (ATI). I have many memories of their decision and its effect on my life.
I remember being extremely happy before joining ATI. Happy with how we were homeschooling (using a mix of curricula), happy that my parents started a homeschool group in our area, happy that we had friends who understood what we were doing and made similar choices.
I remember my parents getting really excited about ATI after going to the Advanced Seminar. They’d known about Bill Gothard and the Institue of Basic Life Principles (IBLP) for many years and had attended the Basic Seminar several times, but they were newly introduced to this phenomenal homeschool program.
I remember that one of the application requirements was that the entire family be in agreement to join the program. My older brother didn’t want to join. He was 12, felt like what we had been doing worked fine, and didn’t want to try something new. I didn’t want to join. I liked how things were. My life was already in turmoil because my dad had just quit his job and started pastoring our church. I remember exactly where I was when my mom explained that we had to be in agreement and asked my input, and I remember her surprise and hurt when I said I didn’t want to join. I don’t remember knowing how my younger siblings responded, but they were 7 and 4.
I remember being extremely surprised when we were signed up for the program, since I knew we kids weren’t in agreement. I wondered if my parents thought we’d all come to agreement or if they’d just decided to mark the box anyway, but I never asked.
I remember my parents’ going to the admissions seminar at the Indianapolis Training Center (ITC). They came back telling story after story about these incredible young people with bright shining eyes, servants’ hearts, and joyful testimonies. They were thrilled to explain that these young men and women were “paying for the privilege” of working there because of the character benefits and life skills they would gain. They couldn’t wait for us to be old enough to do likewise.
I remember how my parents explained that they had carefully researched the accusations that ATI was like a cult. They asked around with many of the current students and parents who were in ATI and learned that none of the classic signs were present. (Why did they ask current members? That confused me then, but now it really troubles me. Especially now that I know from personal experience that, once you’re in, you’re given a list of pat answers to provide anyone who asks whether you’re in a cult.)
I remember how my entire life turned upside down when my parents came home from the ITC. Bedtime changed from 9:00 p.m. or so to 7:30, because the entire family needed to be up at 6:00 a.m. for wisdom search (family Bible study). My mom started getting up at 5:30 so she could adequately prepare for the day. My parents brought back matching hunter green polo shirts with the ATI emblem so we could be in school uniform. They shared story after story of what we could someday do when we reached apprenticeship age. Our school schedule went from manageable to overwhelming, because we kept all our previous studies and added three hours of ATI’s curriculum to every day.
I remember how we started pulling away from our friends. Or maybe our friends started pulling away from us–I’m not sure now. We turned into holier-than-thou little kids (couple that with the fact that we had just become pastor’s kids), and my parents sought to remove any ungodly influence from our lives. I guess it was mutual. Former friends didn’t want to be with us, and my parents wouldn’t let us be with them for extended periods of time. Gradually we became our own isolated unit with controlled interaction. Contact with others was okay, influencing others was okay, but being influenced by them was not.
I remember missing TV and movies. We didn’t watch very much before joining ATI–perhaps an hour a day at most. My mom felt really guilty any time she sent in the required monthly report to headquarters and fudged on how much time we’d spent watching TV because we had a family movie night or because we watched a baseball game at our grandma’s house. She didn’t want us to get in trouble for watching over two hours a week, but she didn’t want to lie, either.
I remember wanting to question all the changes, wanting to challenge why we were doing what we did. I was too much of a perfectionist, though, to be willing to receive the “rebel” label that I saw attached to my younger sister who challenged the teachings. Over time, I chose to conform. Over time, I became one of them. I wrote papers on building Christlike character through my efforts, on understanding God’s grace as an earned entity, on clearing my conscience over little things that people were shocked that I even thought to apologize for. I learned to stand alone against evil music, dancing, worldly dress. I learned to judge my peers and their parents as I was taught the “right” way to view life and counsel others. I learned to think according to the ATI culture surrounding me.
Eventually, I think I just quit thinking….