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Editor’s note: Recovering Grace has posted a personal narrative from a former Advanced Training Institute (ATI) student and Institute in Basic Life Principles (IBLP) Headquarters staffer. While Bill Gothard’s former secretary “Meg” was a well-known ATI student and IBLP staff member years ago, and was recognized and contacted by many when she added her photo to her story, “Charlotte” was not as widely known.
Several elements of Charlotte’s story of her life before, at, and after Headquarters are deeply troubling. Charlotte has waited years to safely tell of her experiences, knowing that what she shared would be questioned. While investigating Charlotte’s story in the eight months since we received it, we spoke with two former Headquarters staffers who were Charlotte’s contemporaries, and asked what they remembered of her time there. They volunteered the times and places in Charlotte’s story before they knew all the details of her story. After reading Charlotte’s narrative, they provided the following eyewitness accounts and context.
I arrived at IBLP Headquarters for a ten-week stay less than a month after my seventeenth birthday. It was a culture shock to say the least. I had lived on a small farm in rural West Texas. I had never been away from my family for more than three days, and that had been only a few hours from home. I arrived at Headquarters on a Friday so that I could settle in before starting work on Monday. The homesickness hit hard, and I cried most of that first weekend.
The night before I was to start work on the main switchboard, Bill Gothard called me into his office. He encouraged me to put away the tears because it was important that I succeed in adjusting to Headquarters life. He shared with me that, despite advice from senior staff members, I was the first student invited to come to Headquarters who was under the age of 18. He explained that there were many students who were mature enough to be at Headquarters, but hadn’t been able to be invited simply because of their age.
He told me I had the power to change all of that. He had chosen me because of my maturity, and he knew that I would be a real asset to the ministry. If I could put on a smile and show the staff that I was mature enough to handle life away from home, I would be opening up opportunities for not only myself, but for many other students as well.
To make a long story short, I put on that smile. People were counting on me. Bill himself was counting on me. I could be strong in order to help other people.
Fast forward nearly four years, and my “ten week stay” was still going strong. I was serving as the secretary of one of the IBLP department heads. I had been on several overseas trips with the ministry. I also served as a house mom for one of the residences that students stayed in while at Headquarters. I was living in major burnout and had just found out I would have the opportunity to return home and still serve the ministry as an Area Family Coordinator for ATI. I just wanted to keep my record clean until I left during the first part of October.
Many young people, some as young as 13, had started spending time at Headquarters during those four years. Late that summer, the girl you are about to hear from, “Charlotte,” moved into my house. She was a vivacious 16 year old, and she loved the outdoors. She was also what we called an “encouragement case.” In other words, she did not fit the mold. She dressed differently; she seemed much too friendly with boys, and we were told she had been giving her parents trouble at home.
She almost immediately started spending a good deal of time with Bill. He would pick her up between 4:30 and 5:30 a.m. every morning. Despite my burnout, I was still very loyal to Bill and I was very concerned that she would tarnish his reputation. I was very concerned with the time she was spending with him and the way she talked about how much she was helping him. I couldn’t imagine that this young girl could really be helping with anything.
I didn’t have a chance to think about this for long. Bill pulled me aside a few days later and told me that the young lady, and another 16-year-old housemate of ours, had complained to him that I was not doing enough morning Wisdom Searches (devotionals) with all the girls living in the house. He told me that this was not acceptable and that I needed to make that a priority. I would also need to be sure that Wisdom Search did not interfere with times that he needed her help in his office. This meant that we had to have Wisdom Search at 4 a.m. to be able to finish before she left for the day. It was not until years later that I found out that she had never complained, but in fact had been grateful for one less demand on her time. I quickly realized that this had been a way to isolate her. If I was upset because of her “tattling” on me, I would not be as likely to want to spend time with her, or to notice things going on in her life.
This isolation was very effective. I was not only sleep-deprived from getting up at four in the morning for Wisdom Search, but I had no time or sympathy for this young girl, even though she needed love and support. I totally made the switch to survival mode and started very anxiously counting the days to our IBLP trip to Australia. From Australia, I would get to fly straight home. I also completely stopped listening to her excitement about all the work that she was helping Bill accomplish.
Due to these factors, I was not aware of the extent to which she suffered at Bill’s hands. Had she told me, I wouldn’t have believed her anyway, because the principle of authority had been drilled into me to the point of hero worship. I would definitely have dismissed any bad report brought against Bill. I can, however, attest to the fact that she spent many hours in Bill’s office. The opportunity was there, beyond a doubt in my mind, for the events to occur.
Over the past 20-plus years since I left Headquarters, I have outgrown the hero worship. I have also come to recognize the distortions taught by Bill regarding authority. With this new perspective, I can say that I wholeheartedly believe the story that you are about to read. I want to thank this courageous woman for being willing to tell her story.
— Dixie Brown Rose
I first met “Charlotte” in April 1992 when we were assigned to the same team during an IBLP mission trip in Moscow, Russia. While we did not talk a lot (extensive fraternizing with the opposite gender was prohibited), I did gather that she had some struggles with her folks, who were also on our team.
A few months later, Charlotte came on staff at IBLP headquarters, where I had been on staff since shortly before that trip to Moscow. She told me she came to Headquarters “for encouragement” (which was IBLP-speak for not doing everything your parents desired—regardless of how reasonable that was—and coming for counseling). At first Charlotte was assigned to decorating, but later she and another young woman were reassigned to landscaping. We had a few conversations about how the two of them got away with that, since such things clearly were not “ladylike” in Bill Gothard’s world.
As the months rolled by, I’d see Charlotte here or there, and we’d exchange pleasantries. But I would more often see her alone in Bill Gothard’s office at night when my brother and I (rushing to get home before curfew) would cut across the access road that ran from Madison Street to North Adams Street right by Bill Gothard’s office window. I’d also see her in his car as I walked on North Adams, either on my way to work at the Production Center or while walking from the Production Center to the Staff Center for lunch. While seeing her so much in his office and car seemed inappropriate to me, given how strongly it was drilled into us young men on staff to avoid even the appearance of evil, I disregarded my gut and assumed Bill was counseling her for that “encouragement” she so desperately needed.
I left IBLP staff in December 1992 and returned to my parents’ home in Southern California. I was stunned the following summer when I ran into “Charlotte” at Disneyland! Gone was the ATI-style clothing she’d always worn at IBLP headquarters (which is why I almost didn’t recognize her). She told me she was living in Arizona and, if I remember correctly, she’d had a falling out with her parents.
So although I did not personally observe the behavior “Charlotte” references in this article, from what I did observe, all of the pieces fit, and I believe her.
— Ryan R.