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Sacred Grooming, Part Six: A Secretary’s Account of Life With Bill Gothard
[Editor’s Note: The young woman referred to only as “she” and “her” in the following account is the author herself, "Meg," but she has written it in the third person. The author was twenty-one years old during the events in this post. The following is a true story. Click here for Part One of Meg's story, here for Part Two, here for Part Three, here for Part Four, and here for part Five. Today's post is the sixth and final post in this series. On Monday, we will share an important message from the RG team as we begin another series of articles and a more frequent publishing schedule.]
It was hot in the airport immigration room. She stood in the long line of people waiting to get stamped and checked off before they could officially “arrive” in Hawaii. She was queuing in the non-American line, while her boss, Bill Gothard, and all the other staff were getting processed much more quickly in the American section.
She saw him go through, then turn and stand to wait for her just beyond the booths. She was up next, and as she stepped forward, she smiled at the native Hawaiian immigration officer as he took her passport from her hand.
“Where are you going?” he asked curtly.
She told him she was going to Chicago, but first she would be staying in Honolulu for a couple of nights.
He looked up at her, and then back down at her passport. He asked how much money she was carrying.
She answered that she wasn’t sure, and would check. She put her carry-on bag on the floor and pulled out her purse. She told him she had about $250, and showed him.
He tapped something on the computer in front of him, looked at her passport again and then looked back at her. He wasn’t smiling.
She knew that immigration officials were characteristically unfriendly. It was part of their job. That wouldn’t have normally worried her, but what did worry her now was the way he was looking at his screen. She saw him bend down and touch something underneath the desk, then look over towards the row of windowless offices behind the booths. As she did, her eye caught the red light at the end of his booth. It was on. He had bent down to flick on a red light.
The dread in her heart settled down on her like a lead weight as he told her to go over and meet the woman coming towards them, a Hawaiian immigration officer in navy trousers, a tight white shirt, and a short, mannish haircut. She wore a hard, tight facial expression, and her eyes were cold.
The woman officer took her by the arm to lead her into the offices.
She asked the officer what was wrong.
“Wait here,” was all the woman said.
She sat forlornly down on the bench. There were others in the room as well, and hushed voices anxiously talking about their own predicaments. She heard two girls with backpacks talking to each other. One of them was crying. Their accent immediately told her that they were Australian. She wanted to go over and meet them, talk to them, but she dared not. Then she sighed with relief as she saw her boss come into the room and sit down next to her. He put his arm around her.
With her voice trembling, she told him she didn’t know what was happening, that she had asked and not been told.
He said he would stay with her and not leave her.
“I’m scared. I’m scared they’ll take me away from you. I’m scared they won’t let me back.”
He said that God knew this would happen, and that they should pray now and commit it into His care. She bowed her head as he prayed quickly.
Just as he finished, her name was called and she approached yet another booth. The same hard-looking woman was there waiting.
Her boss started to introduce himself, but she cut him off immediately.
“Are you a lawyer?” the officer asked.
He replied that he was not, but that—
“Are you a family member?”
He said that he was not, but that—
“Then you have no reason to be here. Please leave.” She clicked her fingers at a guard who was leaning against the partition, and he came over to them.
Her boss looked at her helplessly. He said that he was sorry, and sorrow was evident in his voice as the guard escorted him from the room.
She was alone now. All alone.
The One-Fingered Typist
She and the woman officer sat facing each other over a small desk in a small room. There were no windows. There was no paint on the walls, just a grey, cold, merciless brick, a concrete floor, and one door. The door was open because it was too hot to have it closed. The woman in the man-tailored trousers was perched on the end of a hard chair, leaning over a computer keyboard typing with one finger.
She sat opposite the woman, feeling exhausted after the long flight and the emotional and mental energy this interrogation was taking out of her. The woman had a badge pinned to the pocket of her shirt identifying her as a supervisor, and spoke to her in a gruff voice. There was no hint of the soft lilt of the local accents, those lovely, easy-going inflections that reflected the island way of life, reflected warmth, sunshine and timelessness.
“This man. He looks after you in Chicago?”
She nodded and said that yes, she was staying in one of his houses, and that he ran a Christian ministry—a charitable organization. She went on that he was quite well-known, that she was sure the officer had heard of him. She handed the woman one of the information brochures he always kept available for telling people about his ministry. He had put them into her hand before he was escorted out. The woman picked up the brochure looked at it.
Oh yes, she said, she had heard of this ministry. “I do not like this man.”
Oh, she asked, why was that?
The officer said that her own son heard Bill speak once, had changed his mind about going to university, and had instead gone “off to some god-forsaken country as a missionary. I will never forgive him for that.”
“Who? Your son?”
“No. This … this minister. This preacher.” The officer spat the words out, threw the brochure onto the floor, and ground her foot on top of it. “That is what I think of that,” she said, turning back to the computer. The woman asked her, “Do you work for him? What other things do you do?”
She was puzzled by the officer’s words.
“What do you mean?” She explained that she only did the one job she was allowed to do under her visa, and that she didn’t do anything else, didn’t earn any money, was a volunteer.
The woman looked up at her and squinted, narrowing her dark eyes. “Well, how do you live? How do you pay for things?”
She replied that he provided her with everything she needed and that her parents sent her money for extra things.
Well, said the woman, didn’t she live in this house, with other people?
She replied that of course she did.
Didn’t she help with the chores, the woman asked.
She admitted that she sometimes did.
She explained that the girls took turns cooking, cleaning the bathrooms, and vacuuming, but that she was really hardly ever there.
Vacuuming, the officer said, that was work, wasn’t it? And cleaning and cooking, that was work, too. So, the officer continued, she did work other than what her visa specified, didn’t she?
She replied that she didn’t get paid for it.
The officer replied that it was still work, then again started typing with one finger on the computer.
It was driving her crazy watching the woman tap, tap, tap, stop, look for the letter, then tap, tap, tap again. She asked the officer whether she knew how to touch-type.
The officer answered that she did not, but that they were too busy today to have someone come and type, so she had to do it for herself.
“Would you like me to do it for you?” She asked. She said that she was fast, and that maybe the answers would be more accurate if she did the typing. She knew as soon as the words were out of her mouth that she shouldn’t have said that.
The woman looked up at her, mouth set in a hard, straight line, and said that immigration had reason to believe she was violating her visa conditions. As an officer, it was her job to find that out and record it.
She sighed. She knew then that, no matter what else she said, this woman was resolved. There would be no mercy. The woman had a personal grudge against the ministry. Otherwise, it didn’t add up. Her visa was legitimate, she had every right to be in America, and yet they were trying to find a reason to kick her out. There was nothing she could do to fight it right now. There was no going back.
Welcome To Hawaii
What followed this interrogation in the small room was an indignity she would try to block out of her memory. They searched her. They put her up against a wall and took her photo, and she actually tried to smile at the woman taking her picture. They took her up to a room where a man put ink all over her fingers and, manipulating her hand, touched the pad of each finger onto a sheet, imprinting her identity on its smooth surface. He gave her a cloth to wipe the ink off, but it didn’t really come off. She would be left with the black smudges for days afterwards.
Then they took her downstairs to the now-deserted baggage claim area, where a little man with a stern scowl on his face pointed to her little bag and ordered her to put it up on the table in front of him. The man refused to look at her. She heaved it up, giving the man a withering look of contempt over him not lifting the bag himself, but he never noticed. He made her take out all her clothes: her undergarments, her nightwear, her skirts, dresses, and tops, her scarves, and her makeup, hairbrushes, and shoes.
In her bag she had a little framed picture of Jesus with the children, a picture her Grandmother had given her for her first birthday. Tears silently rolled down her face now as the man took the frame and, turning it over, slit the back of it open with a small knife. She couldn’t imagine, didn’t want to imagine, what he might be hoping to find behind the small print. She just watched. When he was satisfied, handed her the pieces. She hugged them to her chest.
The man did this with many things, even slitting the bottom of her suitcase and checking under the lining. When the process was complete he leaned back on the wall and ordered her to put her things back in the case. They were piled up on the table, an ugly, messy pile of her belongings, reduced to this disorderly, disrespected heap. As she packed them away, the woman officer approached her again.
The officer announced that immigration had booked her a plane-seat back to her own country. The flight would leave at midnight. She would be released now, on trust, but if she did not turn up at the airport at the appointed time, the officer would send out an order for her arrest. She would be imprisoned in the Honolulu jail indefinitely if she tried to leave before her flight tonight. Did she understand, the officer demanded?
She nodded numbly as she handed her over an airline ticket.
“You may leave now,” the officer said, and showed her the exit door.
She picked up her bag and rolled it behind her heavily as she stepped towards the bright sunshine outside. The doors rolled open and a warm gust of island winds blew her hair behind her as she stood on the platform. She looked down and saw him, her boss, waiting there for her. Her boss picked up her bag.
“It’s not over yet,” he said. He told her he’d been on the phone to a friend of his who had been a senator in Hawaii for many years. The former senator thought he might be able to help.
She looked up at him, amazed. Grateful. A small spark of hope sprang into life in her eyes.
“The car is here. Let’s get to the hotel.”
She stood on the balcony of the hotel room and breathed in the clean, salty air of the Pacific Ocean, wafting towards her on a friendly island zephyr. She was on the second floor, and her room looked out over beautiful Turtle Bay. Below her she watched hotel staff wandering around the lawn, setting up tables, chairs, and lights. They strung lanterns through the palm trees dotting the lawn, and around the small open-air hut that stood at the end of the beach. The soft light of the gathering dusk gave the resort a muted look of perfection. In the warm air she imagined how nice it would be to dress up in an island muumuu with plumeria around her neck, breathing in the flowers’ heady fragrance as she strolled barefoot beneath the trees and among the lanterns, down onto the beach. She drank in the view of the rippling sea washing over the dark, volcanic rocks at the edges of the beach. The sun looked like a ball of gold melting into the ocean. The sparkle of colors, the last dash of flair and drama—you never forgot a sunset in Hawaii.
A knock at her door made her turn and leave the balcony. She opened it. Her boss was standing there.
He said he bad both good news bad news. The senator had managed to overturn her deportation that night. Her boss paused.
She said that was wonderful news.
He grimaced. He said the deferment came with a catch, he was afraid. The officials had only agreed to overturn the immediate deportation if her case was taken to court, to be heard in front of a judge. The senator had agreed, and Bill said he had signed as guarantor. He showed her the official papers. He continued that she was scheduled for a hearing in Honolulu within a month, but that he was sure a lawyer could easily get the case transferred to Chicago.
She sighed that it was at least something. Something that gave them some time.
He nodded and agreed. Yes, but not much. She wasn’t to worry, though. He would get the best immigration lawyer he could find as soon as they were back in Chicago. He would head back early the next day, and she would follow on the flight scheduled before all this had happened. It meant she’d have to stay in Hawaii an extra night. Was that okay with her?
She answered that yes, she was okay with that. She leaned over and took his hands into her own. “Thank you. Thank you for doing this for me. I’m so glad. So relieved. So glad.”
He looked up at her and his eyes softened. He said that he was doing it for himself, too. He said he didn’t want to lose her.
After he had gone, and she had locked the door and got ready for bed, she pulled back the bed covers and climbed in, flicking out the little bedside lamp. She had left the doors to the balcony open so that she could be lulled to sleep by the sound of the waves.
Where Is God?
It just kept getting worse and worse, she said, nearly in tears.
Bill was sitting with her in a small coffee shop in downtown Chicago. He was leaning over and holding both her hands. They had spent the morning with the immigration lawyer. Forty floors up in a Chicago high-rise they had sat in the chrome and marble office of a lawyer who had frizzy grey hair, silver-rimmed eye glasses, and ungainly limbs. She was twisting the handle of her bag around in her fingers as the lawyer explained to them that there was not much they could do.
The lawyer said that the woman officer in Hawaii had it in for them. She hadn’t left much room to wriggle.
Bill asked about a religious visa; could they get it changed to that?
The lawyer replied that unless she was an ordained minister—he paused and looked over at her, and she shook her head. Or a nun? The lawyer raised his eyebrows as he said that, and she actually laughed out loud. He squirmed a little in his seat and leaned forward, suddenly tucking his long legs under his chair. He said that he knew the judge who would be at her hearing, and that the only thing to suggest was that the lawyer meet with the judge prior to the hearing and ask the judge to grant her mercy. It was unconventional, the lawyer said he knew, but the judge owed him a favor. It was up to her, though. If the judge turned the lawyer down, there was nothing more to be done.
She looked at her boss, and he looked at her. She could just discern the slight shake of his head.
“Do you mean like an under-the-table deal with the judge?” he asked the lawyer pointedly.
The lawyer grimaced as he threw his head back. He said that was putting it bluntly, but yes, that he guessed that was what one might call it. The lawyer said it was either that or nothing, and threw his hands up in the air.
Her boss stood up, and so she stood up too, standing next to him.
“No,” he said, shaking his head firmly. “No. We’re not going to do it that way.”
She and Bill shook hands with the lawyer and left. She took his arm as they left the building.
She asked what they were going to do. There was nothing they could do, was there? Despair was filling her mind. She asked him why God was punishing her this way? Why did she have to give up this? Give up this job? She said she didn’t want to leave. The tears ran down her face and she got more and more upset.
“I begin to question your salvation when you start talking like that,” he said. He continued that she couldn’t question God like that, that she had to trust Him, had to believe that He knew what He was doing.
She looked up at him, shocked. It was the first time he had ever doubted anything she had said, had ever really told her off.
She replied that this was easy for him to say, that he was not the one having to go through it.
His voice was quiet as he replied, “You can’t blame God. Don’t blame God.” He said that she had to be stronger than this, had to show him that she could trust God.
She sniffed and looked away, frowning.
Quietly she spoke. She told him that she had been in foreign countries where her security was threatened. She had been followed on the streets of Thailand by men looking to kidnap white women as sex slaves. She had been ambushed in remote villages of Indonesia by crowds of excited men, and they’d pulled her hair, pinched her bottom, and grabbed at her arms. She had been surrounded by gunfire in the northern parts of Burma before, and that every time God had come through for her, that every time He had brought her through miraculously. He had always made a way of escape.
So yes, she said, she questioned Him now when it looked like there was no escape, in a Western country of all places! When it looked like she would have to leave him, leave the U.S.A., and maybe never be allowed to come back. Her voice broke as she tried to choke back the sob that was about explode from her chest.
He stood up and walked over to her, and took her hand in his. He said they would wait to find out the hearing date, then decide what to do. They would pray. He said they’d pray like they’d never prayed before, that he didn’t know what else to do. He said he was powerless before them, but that God was greater than the INS, that God could work a miracle. He said that God could do this, and that he was not going to give up so easily.
She turned to him, tears beginning to fill her eyes as she spoke softly. “What if this is what God wants?”
He shook his head and said that he didn’t believe that. “You are the best thing that has ever happened to me. I have been waiting all my life for someone like you. Someone with your heart. With your spirit. Someone I can trust.”
She answered that there were people who didn’t like her, people who thought she and he were too close. She said some people thought it was a threat to the ministry, to God’s ministry. That she would destroy his and God’s work. He knew that was what some people thought, she said. Maybe, she said, she was a distraction?
He shook his head firmly. No, he said, that was not true. She was not to believe that. He said she must promise him that she wouldn’t even think that.
She couldn’t make such a promise. She couldn’t.
My Soul Still Flies
Her plane ticket sat on top of the dresser in her bedroom. As she moved around her room, packing up her things, she would always see it sitting there, like a beacon; like a fire, devouring her old, loved life that she had here, and at the same time lighting the way to a new life.
An hour before she left for O’Hare Airport, she walked out of her bedroom for the last time. With one sad, fond look around the room she had grown to love, she closed the door behind her, picked up her bags and walked downstairs.
It was late Sunday afternoon, and there was that familiar lull in the atmosphere, of rest and peace and lazy days.
They drove her to the airport. In her hand she held a hand-written letter from him. He told her to open it when she was on the plane. He hadn’t been able to come. He had said goodbye at the office, but now, as she stood at the departure gate, she saw him coming towards her, striding purposefully down the long airport corridor. The tears rolled down her face as he gripped her hands.
A sudden sadness for him filled her heart. He was growing old and he had no one to love him. She would have loved him. She would have given her life to him. She would have cared for him and nurtured him and given him the companionship he craved. What did the age gap matter. It wasn’t unheard of. When two souls connect, age is no barrier.
It would be twenty years before she realized that he didn’t love her. Not really. It had been a selfish love. It would be twenty years before she learned that he had tried to marry her back then, and that he had been refused by the Board of Directors. His game, this dangerous game, could end only in hurt and disillusionment—and not just for him, but for all those he perpetrated this upon.
As she turned to leave America, she looked back at his face. At that dear, familiar face she loved and trusted.
Twenty years of doubt. Twenty years of being angry at God for tearing me away so drastically from the people and the job and the place I loved. Twenty years of wondering why God was so angry at me. Believing God had removed me because I was a hindrance to the IBLP ministry.
Why did you have to do it so drastically, God? Why did you have to make it difficult for me to ever return to the USA?
When I returned to my home country, I continued working for IBLP for several years until I met and married my wonderful husband who, along with others, has patiently helped me find the freedom in Christ that I used to have, before I met Bill Gothard.
God in His great mercy used the INS to save me. It was one of the few places where Bill Gothard’s influence and power could not reach.
The true heroes of my story are Lizzie, Annette and Grace. Without their courage I would never have begun the incredible journey to freedom. When I first began seeing a counselor I had a difficult time understanding what could be so very wrong with Bill’s behavior. My counselor encouraged me–as a way of understanding things–to write out my story in third person, as though I was on the outside looking in. It was only then that I began to see the systematic method of grooming that has defiled the hearts and minds of so many young women. The “innocent” wooing that beguiled us into believing our desire to serve God could be achieved through serving this man.
It is my hope that by reading my story from this viewpoint, others will see how he took our innocence, used it against us, beguiled us into trusting him, and ultimately led us down a pathway we never knew existed. I did not write this intending it to read like a romance novel. It is just how it was. This is what he did to me.
In my attempt to understand the past I corresponded with Bill last year, but his refusal to answer me directly and with compassion helped me make up my mind to sound another warning bell for those impacted by this man and ministry.
Half of my life I lived to please men. The second half I will live to please God.
“No one ever cared for me like Jesus, There’s no other friend so kind as He; No one else could take the sin and darkness from me, O how much He cared for me.”