Creating a Rebellious Heart

21 March 2012, 06:05



Two short months before leaving for Russia, I was blessed with the opportunity to travel Europe with my mom, both grandmothers, and my aunt. It had been a lifelong dream of my 88-year-old grandmother, and I relished every second of it.

One of the days that had the most impact on me was the trip to see the Dachau concentration camp. I had asked my mother to go see it, knowing the history of the Nazis. I wanted to see for myself the result of extreme oppression of innocent people. I don’t ever want to gloss over history–I want to learn from it. And I believe that the Holocaust should never be forgotten.

As I stood in the camp, the feeling of hatred was palpable. Despite the sunny day, the hatred felt cold, seething, contemptuous. Enough hatred to build concentration camps devoted not just to the destruction of a people, but to the utter agony of the victims’ last days. Particularly poignant was a bronze memorial statue, depicting gaunt, skeletonized prisoners enmeshed in the barbed wire fence.

That’s how I felt in the presence of a woman whom I’ll call Mrs. Doe when I came to the Moscow Training Center (MTC). Hated. Even when I played basketball in high school and discovered that, yes, there are racial slurs that can be used against Caucasians, I had never felt so despised. Those things were spat out about my skin color in the heat of competition and were easily shrugged off. These new attacks were against my very character and my faith. They burned. We were repeatedly subjected to  statements like “You are the worst group of girls to ever come to the MTC. We’re scared that you’re going to ruin our Pensioners;” “You’re here for selfish reasons;” “You’re the most immature girls we’ve ever seen;” and “You have problems with authority.” Well, I do now!

She couldn’t have been more wrong about me. My family went to the MTC for two weeks to see my brothers when I was only 12. Mom and Dad almost had to bind and gag me to get me on the plane to go home. I loved Russia with a passion that I can only describe as God-given.  I loved the people, the history, and even the food. I couldn’t believe that there was a place where tons of young adults (at that time there were well over 100 apprenticeship students alone) came to serve God and got to live in a place like Russia!

After I returned home, my goal was to go back as soon a I graduated from high school. With that goal in mind, most of the money that I earned went towards my Russia fund. All of the money given to me for graduation went into the fund or directly for the purchase of clothes and other items I would need. Most other teenagers study Spanish or French. I studied Russian. I went to a child training course, to the basic Character First course, and my first Children’s Institute, all in the summer before I left, to further prepare. It wasn’t that I didn’t have any other plans for my life or things that I wanted to accomplish. I had tons of goals and dreams, but the first was to serve in Russia.

When I landed at Sheremetyevo Airport, I almost cried because of that overwhelming, peaceful, happy feeling of being exactly where I was supposed to be. I was home.  Up to that point in my life, that was the most certain that I had been of anything God told me. Then there was this woman standing in front of me, judging me, telling me that I had wrong motives?

Mrs. Doe presumed to know what was in my heart and “saw” rebellion. What she really saw, or rather refused to see, was a girl who loved God, who had a heart for the Russian people, who was loyal, who was teachable, and who loved to serve. And yes, I had been hurt deeply by abuse, but that’s another story. She chose to ignore all of that and attack based on false premises.

“You play soccer with the boys. You must be here trying to get a husband.” I have always played soccer with boys. My dad encouraged it. And while you’re at it, don’t forget about basketball, skiing, and hunting with the boys.

“The guys are always hanging around the kitchen. You all must be trying to attract them.” Um, it’s called food! Have you ever seen these guys, they’re like bottomless pits? They’re hanging around the kitchen begging for handouts.

Everything that had been “normal” at home was flipped upside down. While I was okay with that, and had expected it to some degree, I was completely blindsided by the spiritual guilt trips that would accompany that previous night’s game of sand volleyball. It didn’t help that Mrs. Doe’s daughters were doing the very things that we were being reprimanded for.

Mrs. Doe could have been a mentor, a woman of Titus 3:5 who reaches out and disciples younger women. But she chose not to be. Sadly, she was an important leader. Others followed her example and treated the apprenticeship girls with disdain and distrust rather than valuing the young women in their care.

Years of abuse had conditioned me not to speak up or defend myself. Combine that with the Gothard teaching of absolute, unquestioning obedience to an authority, and I felt helpless. The few that tried to stand up for the apprenticeship girls found themselves ostracized.

Now, with more years under my belt and after numerous sessions with a Godly counselor, I’m aware of how I handle this kind of pressure: I shrink back, ducking my head until I am backed into a wall. Then I realize that I’ve been pushed way too far and I fight back. Think of the cartoon “Tom and Jerry,” in which the cat chases the mouse into a corner. Once cornered, the terrified  mouse turns into a roaring lion and makes the lion pay. Not the healthiest response!

I have greatly improved, but I didn’t have the same self-awareness and help back then. I was barely 18. All I knew was that I was being abused again. Yes, it was abuse–spiritual abuse. And just because there are no marks does not mean it is not painful and cannot leave a scar. I was young and was hurting. Hurt by those I had hoped to rely on as mentors, to serve alongside.

Let me preface my next points by saying that my response was not Christlike and it did not honor God in any way, shape, or form. Part of me knew what was right and true, but that part was silenced by the abused victim who was fighting for self-preservation. I did not respond with false guilt to their games, I knew that what I had done was between myself and the Lord. What I did was allow her constant negativity to leave its cold, disdainful mark on my heart. Pride mixed with survival instinct, and I burned with resentment and anger. And the resentment and anger began to show outwardly–as rebellion.

The rebellion that wasn’t there at the beginning came around full force. I walked the line and looked for any way possible to bend a rule. I never did anything “big”–never enough to get into serious trouble (I didn’t want to get sent home).  I didn’t have to work hard at getting into trouble anyway. I was always in trouble for working in the kitchen, for being an English teacher, and ultimately, for being a female.

My attitude became “respect the uniform, not the person,” and even that was minimal. I know that the friction and negative attitude affected those who I was trying to minister to, and I know that it hurt my Savior.

Years have faded the memories a bit, but they will never go away entirely. I know this because I still jump and my heart races every time my boss asks, “Can I talk to you for a minute?”

So what have I learned from the experience? Some of the obvious: Judge not; Only God can read a heart; Don’t shoot your own troops. I also learned of the extreme vulnerability of the heart. I am mentoring a young woman in my church and I pray every day, not just for her, but for God to give me His words to reach her with His gentleness and compassion.

I’ve also learned of the damaging power that situations like this have on both sides. While writing this article, I heard from a friend that one of the moms was devastated to learn of the hurt that she had inflicted. She was only trying to follow the rules as she had been told. I’m grateful that at the end of my time in Russia, God let me see her in a new light and see aspects of her compassion and love for Him.

Most important, I’ve learned the power of God to forgive. Last fall, a decade after my experience in Russia was over, I was finally able to release my anger, disappointment, and bitterness. I haven’t tried to contact the people who so deeply hurt me. How would you even start a conversation like that? “Hey, I just wanted to let you know that you almost destroyed my life. But it’s okay now; God helped me forgive you.” Pretty hard to pull that one off without sounding sanctimonious. But I have forgiven them for what they did to me. And I know that God has forgiven me for my rebellious heart.

Katherine S is a physical therapist assistant and enjoys helping her patients return to their lives. She has been serving as the pianist at her church for about four years. Katherine was in ATI from age 4 to age 20 and volunteered at the Moscow Training Center for two years. She is married to a former ATI student, and they have two wonderful boys.
All articles on this site reflect the views of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of other Recovering Grace contributors or the leadership of the site. Students who have survived Gothardism tend to end up at a wide variety of places on the spiritual and theological spectrum, thus the diversity of opinions expressed on this website reflects that. For our official statement of beliefs, click here.


  1. Christy March 21, 2012 Reply

    Thank you for writing this article with such grace! I love that you are able to say "this is what happened to me, BUT GOD..." I really believe that our genuine love relationship with Jesus is the only thing that can allow us to get past the things we were taught and the things that happened to us. So many things we were taught had a hint of truth, but were just off target enough to be a lie. I've seen a lot of people who threw everything away rather than continue on in a relationship with God, reading His word, and believing His truth. So, blessings on you, and thanks again!

    • Katherine April 20, 2012 Reply

      Since coming out of all of this, my prayer has been to be able to say like Joseph, "...but God meant it for good." He can redeem anything. I am glad that my story is able to resonate with others, and hopefully encourage them too.

  2. BeverlyB March 21, 2012 Reply

    Oh wow, your article was hard to read--I wanted to tear up as I was reading it. I went through a very similar situation with my first trip to Russia with the Institute. I loved Russia with all my heart, and had started studying Russian in my early teens. I lived, ate, breathed Russia for years before my first trip over there. I knew God had called me to Russia (why else was I so in love with the culture and people from before I had ever been, and from before the iron curtain had even fallen?). I was beyond excited to get to go on my first trip there with the Institute when I was 17 years old. From the moment I got there, I was treated as suspect and all my motives were questioned. I had never been a rebellious or "bad girl" in my life before! But no matter what I said or did, it was assumed I was in the wrong. I was guilty without being innocent. I didn't know how to handle it, but from everything I had been taught on authority, I assumed authority was always right, and somehow I was wrong. I couldn't figure out how I was wrong, but I must be. So I buckled down and tried harder. But no matter how hard I tried, I couldn't get in the good graces of the leadership. When I got the Russian flu that went around, I was told that if I wasn't strong enough to make it on the mission field, I shouldn't be there at all. I knew God had called me, and I felt that a tad unfair to say. But my personality still didn't rebel. And I was still treated as suspect. Funny... no matter what the response--trying harder or rebellion--it didn't seem to matter in the outcome. :-( God has used my experience in many ways--but mostly to show me how ministry should NOT be run, especially on the mission field. I went on to work with several mission agencies and other Christian organizations, and I can say without doubt that no other Christian organization has treated their volunteers with as much distrust and disrespect. What happened was tragic. And I've heard enough stories to know that our two stories are not the only ones. So, so sad.

    • Katherine April 20, 2012 Reply

      I'm so sorry Beverly. It is tragic that so many young people were treated horribly. So many hearts were terribly damaged this way. I'm glad that you've realized that it wasn't your fault and that God is helping you find positives of the experience. Even if it is a "what not to do" manner.

  3. Karen Richmond March 21, 2012 Reply

    "Rebellion" is such a great self-fulfilling prophecy. At any age.

  4. Maddy March 23, 2012 Reply

    I am so sorry for the negative experience you suffered through. Such a pure, sincere, and innocent heart crushed by distrust and suspicion. Yet what you describe was the main thing I remember about ATI. I was an ATI parent. Ashamed to admit it, but yes I was. My daughter went to Headquarters for Sound Foundations. She was treated with the same distrust and suspicion. She would call home regularly and convey everything to me. This was not the first time we had encountered this attitude with ATI. But it was the first time my daughter has been to headquarters and I had thought things would be different there. I was wrong. As the time there progressed, there were some conflicts and accusations made against my daughter by a lady who was a leader. My daughter was told she had a "Jezebel" spirit and carried herself sensually because her collar bone was showing once. My daughter had a strong self confidence. That is what they were reacting to in her. She did not realize this at the time and was sincerely confused by all of this. I told her to go and seek forgiveness from this lady in leadership. My daughter did. Of course she worded her apology in the correct Gothard way we had all been trained was a correct apology. The lady told her "NO," she would not forgive her, and then walked away. Things continued to progress and another leader who was not so dysfunctional as the other lady called me, or perhaps I called her, I do not remember. Apparently she thought she was going to "tattle" on my daughter etc. It was to her shock and surprise when she learned I was completely aware of the situation. I also conveyed to her how my daughter had worked all summer and paid her own way to Sound Foundations. Apparently this leader had another opinion of my daughter, and I showed her otherwise. I also told her of the leader's refusal to apologize. Ultimately she would "stress" how we needed to let this whole thing go! My daughter was being called on the carpet for some ridiculous infraction, yet their leadership cannot accept the apology of a young girl. Wow, and wow. I marveled how suddenly, when I pointed out their failures and inappropriate behaviors that the leader suddenly wanted to drop the whole thing. So I DID, and I forgave her and so did my daughter. However, I do regret one thing. I regret that I did not call Headquarters and demand to speak to someone in authority and make issue of the first leader's behavior and unforgiveness. I too was being a puppet and playing the game I was expected to. I had the same dysfunctional view of authority and was in bondage as many others. Because of that, I lacked the self confidence my daughter had and was not the parent I should have been. I regret that I did not follow through further and speak out against the abuse my daughter was subjected to. I was hurt and angry over how they had treated my daughter who was a good girl. What I want to say to you is to consider writing a letter to that lady now and tell her what she did to you. Tell her you do not want  her to "fix" it. It is long ago over and you have forgiven. She does not need to contact you. But even now I think it would be okay to do that. Your feelings matter, you are important, and no one has the right to abuse their authority and treat you that way. If it helps you I suggest you do that. I am over it now, but I regretted for years that I did not stick up for my daughter when I should have. That I did not make an issue of an abusive leader. It hurt me as her mom that I allowed such pain in her life and did not speak out. I am sorry for the hurt and pain you endured and that we as parents did not put a stop to this abuse. I pray all of you young men and women will find healing in Christ and he will restore 10 fold what was robbed from all of us through Gothard's legalism.

    • Kaarina March 23, 2012 Reply

      Maddy, thank you for sharing your story from a parent's perspective! (and wow what a story too - that is just terrible) As Beverly pointed out, this story of abuse of authority happened over and over again. I think there are so many who would be helped by some sort of acknowledgement from their parents that there was indeed misuse of authority and that the treatment was NOT deserved because of rebellion, lack of character etc. Thank you for standing up and saying something on behalf of those who have not opened their eyes and/or had the guts to apologize to their children.

      My parents have told me that had they not spent several weeks at the MTC, it would have been hard for them to really truly comprehend what I was trying to tell them. They knew me and they knew that when I was calling home and all I could do was cry into the phone, that they needed to do something about it.

  5. elizabeth April 23, 2012 Reply

    i don't entirely understand how your rebellion was not Godly. did not Christ himself rebel against injustice?

    • Katherine April 27, 2012 Reply

      Elizabeth, I agree with your thoughts and that is what I should have done. i should have stood up and said "this is wrong." I didn't know how to question the authorities in a way that would get results other than me getting into more trouble. I had watched others attempt to stand up for us and that was counterproductive, to say the least. Jesus had the attitude of calling people back to God and to stop their religious practices thats substituted a true relationship with Him. His "rebellion" was actually against the people who had rebelled against Him, and called them out to repent or face His judgment. I sang 80's classic rock songs while defrosting the meat freezer, among other acts. It isn't that I was such a horrible person with contemptible actions, but I let them project onto me rather than staying the person God created me to be.

  6. Seth April 23, 2012 Reply

    It is stunning how their paranoia actually created the problem. It just goes to show you how crazy it all became. Thank you for sharing Katherine!

    And thank you too Maddie, for your perspective on things.

  7. Joy July 14, 2012 Reply

    Thank you for sharing this so transparently. I am starting to grow out of some ATI misconceptions through articles like this.

  8. Mary September 26, 2012 Reply

    I don't know how to approach authority, myself, and have recently gotten into a lot of trouble with authority! I loved the comment about '80's classic rock songs. So here is my thought: why is this generation of missionaries not reaching and winning souls such as Elton John, George Michael, Paul McCartney, etc.? (What I mean is, we of the baby boomers generation were told, or it was implied, that this great movement was going to save the world.) That is honestly how hard the "selling point" came across at IBLP seminars. We would leave an IBLP seminar all hyped up, believing this group was "The Answer." We who were not in IBLP love you, believe in you, and want you to "keep on sharing". That's a line from the movie "Beaches", which I HIGHLY recommend. I look at your missionary work to Russia, and so admire you, honestly.

  9. [...] Dad: The way kids were treated, especially those who were targeted. [...]

  10. John Doe March 12, 2013 Reply

    I clashed with various leaders... my parents backed me up... one of my few criticisms of iblp was Mr. Gothard kept leaders he should have gotten rid of.. i generally agree with Mr. Corduan.

  11. Russian April 11, 2013 Reply

    Dear Katherine and Beverly,
    I am so so sad to hear about your misfortunes at the MTC. I have also been there and I have also been abused and traumatised.

    It amazes me that you loved Russia with all your heart and soul and really wanted to do something good here. Thank you so much for that, I really mean it. My heart goes to you as I read your stories.

    You know, when I tell the Russians that you actually had TO PAY in order to come to Moscow to wash the dishes and scrub the floors, they
    first turn speechless for a few seconds and then they say the words I shouldn't use here coz they're not appropriate.

    Dearest sweet Katherine, I'm not sure I've met you but I nearly wept when I read how you've been saving your money as a teenager because you wanted to come to my country so badly! And not to drink vodka:) and have parties with Gypsies and bears but to do all the dirty work at the branch of "Dahau"!! It reeeealy amazes me.

    Dearest Katherine, I wish I could do something for you... It doesn't matter how much time has passed, I'm quite sure these memories will always be in your heart and it is painful to state this.

    Many years have passed since I've been in this cult, but I still suffer
    from the consequencses. I had no one to protect me and I was very desperate. When I first came there, I wanted to change my life so much that I didn't notice how naive I became. I really believed there was a man on heaven who created me and who cared about me. I truly believed that ATI students were some sort of "earthly representatives" of a creature called "God". I wanted to be like them so much. I was sure that we all had one purprose: to serve that "God". I was bright and hard-working.

    ...I don't believe in God anymore. Because I don't believe that a loving creator would bring so much pain into this world and into my life personally. I've been chronically ill since 2003. Had my first suicidal thoughts at the age of 9 due to a severe abuse at the place called "home". Those thoughts extremely increased when I was in IBLP. I am so much grateful to those Americans who showed their care and support to me. I still remember them and their kindness. You guys are much more sensitive and supportive than Russians. It's really tough to live here. Not a sinle person cares. The health-care system is rotten so I cannot get help. People with diseases like mine are also being humiliated and stigmatized here.

    I've been visiting this site for quite a while and have seen many people I've known. I'm so happy you had found the strength to turn away from that scary place. I wish I could see you someday but I don't think it'll ever be possible because it is hard for me to even leave the house, not speaking about travelling somewhere.

    I also wonder if some of the ATI people wouldn't actually want to see me, because at that time I was a sort of a wheedler, let's say so. But I didn't do it on purpose: I thrived so hard to serve "God" and authorities that I literally lost my own self. I also come from a very harsh background (alcohol & smoking abuse, gangs, sexual abuse, very bad family & relatives etc.etc.etc.) so I didn't (and still don't!) know how to hang out with "home-sheltered" people. I guess a lot of ATI students have considered me a weirdo and I have felt actually how they have been avoiding me. Guess I haven't been "cool enough". Oh well. But I do cherish my sweet memories about the true friends I've had in ATI. If I didn't meet them, I don't know what would've happened. I am really-really grateful to them.

  12. […] that he wants. This is a powerful method of spiritual manipulation. In the case of the “rebel,” when ATI parents attach Gothard’s terminology to their son or daughter, then the resulting emotions will like be that of fear—fear that they have failed as parents, […]

  13. James Van Keuren September 7, 2015 Reply

    Was Mrs. Doe Aileen Bair? I know Bob and Aileen Bair were there during your stay. We visited MTC in 1997 has non-cult members.

    Looking forward to your response. My wife is Bob's sister and we are interested in getting information about their time at MTC. Thank you.


    • Anonymous September 8, 2015 Reply

      Couldn't have been Mrs. Bair-- the author mentioned "Mrs. Doe's daughters."

      • Aila H September 9, 2015 Reply

        It's a woman she calls "Mrs. Doe"

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