Reiko Souma’s Story

Reiko was born deaf.  At the age of fifteen, on May 28, 2004, she prayed to God to restore her hearing and, as a result of her faith, God answered her prayer.  However, at the age of nine, she began attending an Independent Fundamental Baptist Church.  By the age of fifteen, when she regained her hearing, she was a teenage girl who was lost in the Independent Fundamental Baptist Cult and its abusive teachings and rules.  The “rules” affected every area of Reiko’s life at church and at home.   In my book, Religion’s Cell: Doctrines of the Church that Lead to Bondage and Abuse, I talk about the effects the teachings and rules of the IFB have on the children.  This is why I feel Reiko’s story needs to be heard.  Here’s Reiko’s story:

 Extreme Loneliness

“What is one thing I wish I could change about my life? → Not being so lonely. Hasn’t anyone ever stopped and thought about the real reason why I’m always sitting at my laptop? It’s because I have nothing else to do aside from typing away or playing the piano. The world outside of my isolated world is in a different galaxy from mine, and it seems as if everyone has decided to make me unapproachable. I understand that I’m not as good-looking or attractive as the rest of the world is, but that’s absolutely no excuse to leave me out in the cold like a stray cat. My family and the church people don’t know how much they’ve hurt me, and I’m through with holding back on it. Do I need counseling? NO. I’m just telling how I feel, and what I want to change about my life. Loneliness. No one knows what it’s like to spend almost your entire childhood without the ability to communicate with everyone else the same way, to always be shunned to your bedroom, to not have any true friends with the exception of the God who created you. At least I know that He listens to me and sees the tears that I’m letting go of right now. Far more than anybody else ever will. To understand what I’m feeling right now, one would have to have been through the same exact experience as me.

 

Some of the Rules:

  • No hanging out with certain people because you can’t even hear the words that are coming out of their mouths, and your lip-reading isn’t good enough anymore.
  • No going to certain places just because you don’t have a sense of direction.
  • No going to that Bible Study across the street because you’ve got your church that you go to on Sunday mornings.
  • No staying up later than usual because you’ve got school in the morning, yet your brother can stay up as late as he wants.
  • No bedroom with a real door. You have no right to privacy, but your brother can have a door with a lock because he’s a boy, and he needs his privacy.
  • No extra privileges because you’re doing a writing assignment for something that you’ve never even done wrong. That means you’re handcuffed to your room the entire summer.

 

…No doing this. No doing that. No meeting new people because we don’t know what they’re really like. No going anywhere, even if you’re with somebody. Why don’t you just say that I’m not allowed to have a life? It’s bad enough, I never really had one as it was. Like Jesus, I was rejected by so many people. Like Jesus, I’m still being rejected by so many people.”

Reiko’s story is one of knowing the pain of loneliness and isolation.  It was common in this cult to isolate the children from each other for fear of “influence.”  It was also common to isolate the entire family from those outside the church.  Religious Rules always lead to isolation and abuse.  What Reiko experienced as a deaf child and a hearing teenager is emotional abuse.  But her story does not end there. . .

“During my time in the Independent Fundamental Baptist cult, they took advantage of me by filling my mind with all of their opinions, attitudes and strange doctrines.  They had a way of inserting opinion into the message in such a way that it came across as being truth!  They were masters at twisting scripture to make it say what they wanted in order to enforce their many “rules.”  My personal Bible-reading would often contradict what I was being told and  it wasn’t long before I had problems with differentiating the truth from error when it came to doctrine.  I eventually found myself interpreting scripture based on what I was TOLD instead of what I was reading.  Because of this, it became very difficult for me to digest the messages being preached. The doctrines they taught have hindered my spiritual growth by causing confusion in my mind.  This confusion makes it difficult to function beyond their isolated world of fundamentalism and treat those outside the cult with the grace and respect and love they deserve.  When I finally found my voice and courage to speak out,  I found myself questioning everything that was preached!  I openly asked the preacher questions that put him in the position publicly to provide an answer.  As a result, I was shunned, gossiped about and slandered.  I learned quickly and the hard way, that NO ONE was allowed to question the preacher.

The abuse wasn’t just in the fundamentalism. My Atheist father (who has disowned me about five years ago) specialized in psychological abuse. My mother, a Pentecostal, was and is still an enabler of abusive behavior. While she didn’t turn a blind eye to my being bullied in public school, she did turn a blind eye to my father abusing one of my brothers and me.

The IFB has completely destroyed all traces of any relationship that my brother and I once had with each other. What I had thought to be “God’s Will” instead turned out to be the IFB manipulating to single out the strong-willed from the so-called “weak-minded” (which I strongly disagree with passionately) and removing the “weak-minded” from their congregation through psychological manipulation or just shunning them. Gossip and slander are what destroyed my brother’s positive outlook on life, changed the way he views and treats women, and ultimately led him to disown me. With my brother no longer in the church due to what I’d been told was him “refusing to follow the rules of the church,” I was the only one in my family who was in the IFB. I was alone, and I forcefully pushed away all feelings of feeling trapped. But I couldn’t leave. Why?

My mother has had a long-standing sympathy and support for the IFB, in spite of her being a Pentecost and despising the same group of people she agrees with. That is, I wasn’t allowed to go anywhere on Sundays and Thursday nights except for church. During the week, it was school and home to do homework. I’m surprised that I was allowed to own a television and video games (which I still own and play on my free time), what with my immediate family being the way they were. Punishments for the stupidest things included spankings from my mother, writing assignments with Bible verses from my father, and my bedroom cleaned out of everything except for my clothes, my furniture, my lamp, and my Bible. Other punishments involved having to watch every boot camp show on those talk shows like Oprah, Maury, Jerry Springer, Sally Jessy Raphael, etc., with my father while my mother worked during the day. My only source of freedom was at night, when I would climb out the window just to escape from every reminder of the IFB and my parents’ abuse.

My temporary freedom from the IFB didn’t come in the best way possible. We had to move, and I had been kicked out at thirteen for the first time in my life by my father. Having nowhere to go, I had to stay with a family friend who received multiple visits from the IFB and Mormon churches (soul-winning for the IFB, food deliveries for the Mormons). My aunt didn’t make me go to church unless my mother called and told her that I had to go. Unfortunately, my mind had already been so heavily indoctrinated with that of the IFB church that I felt I couldn’t avoid going to church. I made myself go just because I still had it in my mind that the church was a safe haven from all of those who bullied me everywhere else. Thankfully, my “vacation” from the IFB finally came when I was thrown out of my aunt’s house at the age of fourteen for “arguing too much” (which I felt then was me standing up for myself).

Still considered to be homeless, I ended up having to stay with one of my uncles. He’s now retired from the Pentecostal ministry after being a pastor for several years (due to health), but the apartment was already overcrowded. It was either sleep in crowded quarters, or I sleep on the streets and keep my stuff in storage. Not wanting anything to do with church or God at the time, I sucked it up and switched between sleeping inside and sleeping on the streets. It was a low point in my life for the several months that I was away from my hometown, but then a (temporary) house was bought in my hometown. Sadly, my moving back to town got me sucked right back into the same IFB church that had manipulated with my brother’s life and reprogrammed my mind. If only I knew then what I’d have been getting into…

…I was kept under very close supervision upon my return and expected to “shine” brighter than everyone else. It wasn’t long after my being sucked back in that I started to hear for the first time in my life, solely when I prayed for my hearing whilst on a road trip. I was in Baltimore and enjoying two days out of school when my ears opened with a loud POP before I could even finish praying. A doctor’s visit immediately followed upon my telling my family, and why not? I’ve wanted to hear all my life, and now I was able to hear. No more did I have to rely on placing my hand over a keyboard speaker just to differentiate each note that I played with a finger while reading the notes. I could now start playing the piano without what I only call a limitation. Of course, the IFB would have none of this. They welcomed my ability to play the piano, but believed that my being deaf was a hoax. Looking back, I can only laugh now. But I digress.

From 2004 until December of 2010, my mind has pretty much all of the memories blocked out. The snippets that I can remember, however, aren’t pretty. One in particular, which I’m finally starting to open up to my therapist about, was literally the time that I almost died from making myself sick. In short, it was the last time of my being homeless and having to stay with an IFB family…it only lasted for all of two weeks before it was decided that my mother HAD to make room for me at the place where I live now. This memory still haunts me to this day, but the lesser memories of having to sneak food just to avoid passing out and seeing the pastor shirtless…those aren’t so haunting. In the fuzzy areas of my mind, I remember being introduced to several pastors all over the region. The Chricton brothers, one of which is currently at Crown College and the other having the audacity to step into the church I currently attend to “visit,” are just two of them. Evangelists such as Dan Souza, Wendell Calder, the CLA, and the newly-built New England Baptist College/Central Baptist Church, are a few others.

Before you finish reading, I wish to insert some encouraging news here. I hate leaving anything on a negative note, so I want you to know that I’m looking back and seeing how far I’ve come from where I started. I’m amazed that, in the eleven years of abuse that I’ve been through, I’ve made more progress in healing in only a third of that time. My life has had a more positive outlook on it since leaving and, in spite of the darkest moments that I’ve experienced, I believe that there is hope. Not just for me, but for each victim of the IFB’s abuse.”

Reiko’s story about questioning leadership and the results of doing so, is common in an abusive church.  Many have found themselves on the receiving end of not just shunning, gossip and slander, but public humiliation.  Again, this is abuse. It is emotional abuse and spiritual abuse.

The abuse she suffered at the hands of her parents just adds to the trauma she has already had to deal with. This heaps abuse upon abuse. For a child, this is too much to bare.

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