What I had done before going with the group was memorize Scripture and hear my pastor tell me over and over again that I didn't have to take anyone's word for anything the Bible said because I could look it up for myself.
Finding things out for myself was a completely new concept for me. For me to be considered as someone who could actually know something was a foreign idea to me. All my life I had few choices. I generally felt confused and alone, despite the fact that I had seven siblings. My dad was an alcoholic, very violent and reminded me often how stupid I was.
Finding out I could actually read the Bible for myself and make my own spiritual decisions was beyond my comprehension. But, I watched and listened and learned. And, unexpectedly to even myself, I grew in my faith.
When I got to Tampa, Florida to begin training with The Agape Players, the young man who had taken me to church to hear about Jesus, the young man to whom I was engaged by then, committed suicide by throwing himself off the town's water tower. I was in Florida; I could not travel back to Ohio for his funeral or for any comfort from home.
The leaders of The Agape Players, Rocky and Alice Adkins, took me to their hotel suite that night and tried to comfort me. All I remember doing is sleeping and crying. The next day, it was practice and rehearsals as usual. But I was undone. Except for my grandpa when I was nine years old, no one I knew had ever died. I had no idea what to feel/say/do/react. I cried inconsolably at times without seeing it coming.
Later that day, the day after I found out he was dead, Alice came to get me and she sat me down and took my face in her hands and told me to stop crying right then and there. She got very close to my face and told me I had cried all night and enough was enough and I was to never, ever cry about this again, nor was I to speak of him ever again. She said I was being ridiculous and disruptive with all this crying and she wasn't going to have it. She said that if she ever caught me crying or talking about him, I would be sent home immediately.
And that was that, at least Alice thought so. But, I did cry, at night, alone. And in the shower. And in the bathroom. And whenever I was alone, (which was not often since we even showered together some of the time, in the name of saving water).
Then they put me on "The Diet." I weighed 98 pounds when I first arrived, but had gained 3 pounds and was now "grossly overweight" at 101 pounds. So, I was put on "The Diet" to lose all this gross weight. Because I had been, according to Rocky and Alice, so careless with my weight and gained those horrid three pounds, they decided I should then weigh 96 pounds, losing an additional two pounds in hopes that it would teach me my lesson, so suddenly I was an even worse five whole, gross pounds overweight. This would not do.
Alice took me aside and told me that I was out of God's will because God said that "a false balance is an abomination to the Lord," quoting Proverbs 11:1, and that "a just weight is his delight." and I was not pleasing God at all in being so overweight and He would deal with me if I didn't lose that five pounds and weigh 96 pounds. They had public weigh-ins where many times, the guys weighed the girls and announced the weight out loud for all to hear. Imagine my horror when this guy said, out loud, "Oh, wow, still at 101! C'mon, girl, you have to lose this!" I would hang my head in shame, then secretly eat chocolate.
But, something didn't feel right to me. I could not have told you what it was to save my life, but it just didn't feel right. I didn't know what else to do, so I questioned Alice. She and Rocky had set themselves up as the authorities in my life. They owned The Agape Players, they had all authority over my daily schedule, my diet and what I talked and grieved about. I simply asked Alice why God wanted me to weigh 96 pounds and where in the Bible I could find this information for myself.
And Alice, always filled with drama, began to sing. I felt awkward. She and I were the only people in the room, yet she was singing and that felt odd to me. After she sang, she looked at me very closely and said, "You will not, you cannot, understand these things. You are such a sinner. You are still a sinner. I am not a sinner any more. I have grown to the point of no more sin in my spiritual walk. This is why I am in charge here. This is why God gave me the leadership here. So, you cannot ask questions since you are still such a sinner. You do not get to question me."
Nothing of this felt right to me. I did not respond to Alice when she was in my face telling me all this. I simply sat and listened and quietly determined that I had to find out for myself. Somehow. I had to know if my 101 pounds was really an abomination to the Lord. I had to find out if Alice was no longer a sinner. I had to find out if it was right to only grieve for a day after such a loss as I had suffered.
I stayed with the group for that year, as I had signed on for a year and had to honor that contract. But, I was filled with inexplicable relief when my year was over and could not wait to leave.
They used their experience and leadership as proof of God's blessings on them, blessings they claimed came from their righteous living. Blessings they claim came as a reward for their obedience to God. Blessings they claim were a result of their own faithfulness.
They were able to keep this abuse quiet even after the group disbanded. A local newspaper in Lake Wales, FL announced their decision to disband, but said, "Officials for the group are not explaining the reasons for the action." Of course they are not going to explain the reasons for the action. They can't bring themselves to say that Rocky Adkins was a pedophile who sexually abused the young men in the group while his wife, Alice, watched and hid the actions.
So, this might be why, when I see people misuse my precious Scriptures and take things out of context to prove some human point or to sell a book, I speak up about it. To this day, others who were involved with The Agape Players are very quiet about what Rocky and Alice did.
I will continue to speak up about spiritual, physical, emotional and all kinds of abuse.
I will speak up.
I realize this is long. Thanks for hanging on to the end.